Home > The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(14)

The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(14)
Author: Julie Kagawa

He didn’t say anything as he led me upstairs to the loft, sitting me down on the neatly made bed after pulling off the bear rug. Opening the jar released a sharp, herbal scent that was oddly familiar, reminding me of a similar scene in a cold, icy bedroom, with Ash shirtless and bleeding and me binding up his wounds.

Below, the piano music continued, a low, mournful song that pulled at my insides. Ash knelt behind me on the bed and gently tugged the sleeve off my shoulder, just enough to expose the thin line of red slashed across my skin. I caught a flicker of remorse from him, a flash of dull regret, as a cold, tingling salve was spread over the wound.

“I’m still mad at you, you know,” I said without turning around. The dark piano chords made me moody and pensive, and I tried to ignore the cool fingers sliding over my ribs, leaving blessed numbness as they passed. “A little warning would’ve been nice. You couldn’t have said, ‘Hey, as part of your training today, I’m going to beat you senseless’?”

Ash reached around with both arms and put the jar into my hands, using that motion to pull me back to his chest. “Your father will be fine,” he murmured, as my chest ached with bottled-up grief. “It just takes a while for the mind to catch up on everything it has forgotten. Right now, he’s confused and frightened, and taking solace in the one thing that’s familiar. Just keep talking to him, and eventually he’ll start to remember.”

He smelled so good, a mix of frost and something sharp, like peppermint. Lifting my head, I placed a kiss at the hollow of his neck, right beneath his jawbone, and he drew in a quiet breath, his hands curling into fists. I suddenly realized we were on a bed, alone in an isolated cabin, with no grown-ups—lucid ones anyway—to point fingers or condemn. My heart sped up, thudding in my ears, and I felt his heartbeat quicken, too.

Shifting slightly, I went to trace another kiss along his jaw, but he ducked his head and our lips met, and suddenly I was kissing him as if I were going to meld him into my body. His fingers tangled in my hair, and my hands slid beneath his shirt, tracing the hard muscles of his chest and stomach. He groaned, pulled me into his lap, and lowered us back onto the bed, being careful not to crush me. My whole body tingled, senses buzzing, my stomach twisting with so many emotions I couldn’t place them all. Ash was above me, his lips on mine, my hands sliding over his cool, tight skin. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t think. All I could do was feel.

Ash pulled back slightly, his silver eyes bright as he stared at me, his cool breath washing over my heated face.

“You are beautiful, you know that, right?” he murmured, all seriousness, one hand gently framing my cheek. “I know I don’t say…things like that…as often as I should. I wanted to let you know.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” I whispered, though hearing him admit it made my pulse flutter wildly. I could feel the emotion swirling around us, auras of color and light, and closed my eyes. “I can feel you,” I murmured, as his heartbeat picked up under my fingers. “I can almost feel your thoughts. Is that very strange?”

“No,” Ash said in a strangled voice, and a tremor went through him. I opened my eyes, staring into his perfect face.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just…” He shook his head. “I never thought…I could feel like this again. I didn’t know if it was possible.” He sighed, giving me a pleading look.

“I’m sorry, I’m not explaining it very well.”

“It’s all right.” I laced my hands behind his head, smiling. “Right now, talking isn’t what I was hoping for.”

Ash smiled faintly, lowering his head again.

And froze.

Frowning, I arched my neck, looking behind us upside down, and let out a squeak.

Paul stood at the top of the stairs, staring at us with wide, blank eyes. Even though he didn’t say a word and probably didn’t understand what was happening, my cheeks flamed and I was instantly mortified. Ash rolled off me and stood, his face shutting into that blank, expressionless mask as I tried gathering the frayed strands of my composure long enough to speak.

Rolling upright, smoothing down my tangled hair and clothes, I glared at my father, who stared back in a daze. “Dad, what are you doing here?” I asked. “Why aren’t you downstairs with the piano?” Where you’re supposed to be, I added sourly. Not that I wasn’t happy to see my dad actually looking at me for the first time since we got here, but his timing absolutely sucked. Paul blinked, still staring at me in a fog, and didn’t say anything. I sighed, shot an apologetic look at Ash, and started to lead him back down the stairs.

“Come on, Dad. Let’s go look for a certain cat I’m going to kill for not warning us.”

“Why?” Paul whispered, and my heart jumped to my throat. He looked straight at me with wide, teary eyes. “Why am I…here? Who…who are you?”

The lump in my throat grew bigger. “I’m your daughter.” He stared at me blankly, and I gazed back, willing him to recognize me. “You were married to my mom, Melissa Chase. I’m Meghan. The last time you saw me, I was six years old, remember?”


I nodded breathlessly. Ash watched silently from the corner; I could feel his gaze on my back.

Paul shook his head, a sad, hopeless gesture. “I don’t…remember,” he said, and drew away from me, backing down the stairs, eyes clouding over once more.


“Don’t remember!” His voice took on a pensive note, and I stopped as all sanity fled from his face. “Don’t remember! The rats scream, but I don’t remember! Go away, go away.” He ran to the piano and started pounding the keys, loud and frantic. I sighed and peered over the railing, watching him sadly. Ash’s arms wrapped around me seconds later, drawing me back to his chest.

“It’s a start,” he said, and I nodded, turning my face into his arm. “At least he’s talking now. He’ll remember eventually.”

Cool lips pressed against my neck, a brief, light touch, and I shivered. “Sorry about that,” I whispered, wishing, selfishly, that we hadn’t been interrupted. “I’m sure that’s never happened to you before.” Ash snorted, and I wondered if we could somehow reclaim that lost moment. I reached back and buried my fingers in his silky hair, pulling him closer. “What are you thinking about?”

“That this has put things in perspective,” he said, as the rumbling piano chords vibrated around us, dark and crazy. “That there are more important things to think about. We should be concentrating on your training, and what we’re going to do about the false king once it’s time. He’s still out there, looking for you.”

I pouted, not liking that statement. But Ash chuckled and ran his fingers up my arm. “We have time, Meghan,” he murmured. “After this is over, after your father regains his memories, after we deal with the false king, we’ll have the rest of our lives. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.” He held me tighter and brushed a kiss across my ear. “I’ll wait. Just tell me when you’re ready.”

He released me then and walked downstairs. But I stood on the balcony for several minutes, listening to the piano music and letting it take my thoughts to forbidden places.



The days settled into a safe, if not comfortable, routine. At dawn, before the sunlight touched the forest floor, I went out to the little clearing to practice sword drills with Ash. He was a patient yet strict teacher, pushing me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and fight like I meant to kill him. He taught me defense, how to dance around an enemy without getting hit, how to turn my opponents’ energy against them. As my skill and confidence grew and our practice scuffles became more serious, I began to see a pattern, a rhythm in the art of swordplay. It became more like a dance: a tempo of spinning, darting blades and constant footwork. I was still nowhere near as good as Ash, and never would be, but I was learning. Afternoons were spent talking to my dad, trying to get him to come out of his crazy-shell, feeling as if I was repeatedly bashing my head against a wall. It was a slow and painful process. His moments of lucidity were few and far between, and he didn’t recognize me half the time. Most of our days progressed with him playing the piano while I sat on the nearby armchair and spoke to him whenever the music stopped. Sometimes Ash was there, lying on the couch reading a book; sometimes he disappeared into the forest for hours at a time. I didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing, until rabbit and other animals started showing up on the plates for dinner and it occurred to me that Ash might be impatient with the lack of progress, too.

One day, however, he came back and handed me a large, leather-bound book. When I opened it, I was shocked to find pictures of my family staring back at me. Pictures of my family…before. Paul and my mom, on their wedding day. A cute, mixed-breed puppy I didn’t recognize. Me as an infant, then a toddler, then a grinning four-year-old riding a tricycle.

“I called in a favor,” Ash explained to my stunned expression. “The bogey living in your brother’s closet found it for me. Maybe it will help your father remember.”

I hugged him. He held me lightly, careful not to push or respond in a way that might lead to temptation. I savored the feel of his arms around me, breathing in his scent, before he gently pulled away. I smiled my thanks and turned to my father at the piano again.

“Dad,” I murmured, carefully sitting beside him on the bench. He shot me a wary look, but at least he didn’t flinch or jerk away and start banging on the piano keys. “I have something to show you. Look at this.”

Opening the first page, I waited for him to look over. At first, he studiously ignored it, hunching his shoulders and not looking up. His gaze flickered to the album page once, but he continued to play, no change in his expression. After a few more minutes, I was ready to give up and retreat to the sofa to page through it myself, when the music suddenly faltered. Startled, I looked up at him, and my stomach twisted.

Tears were running down his face, splashing onto the piano keys. As I stared, transfixed, the music slowly stumbled to a halt, and my father began to sob. He bent over, and his long fingers traced the photos in the book as his tears dripped onto the pages and my hands. Ash quietly slipped from the room, and I put an arm around my dad and we cried together.

From that day on, he started to talk to me, slow, stuttering conversations at first, as we sat on the couch and thumbed through the photo album. He was so fragile, his sanity like spun glass that a breath of wind could shatter at any moment. But slowly, he began to remember Mom and me, and his old life, though he could never connect the little kid in the album with the teenager sitting beside him on the couch. He often asked where Mom and baby-Meghan were, and I had to tell him, again and again, that Mom was married to someone else now, that he had disappeared for eleven years, and she wasn’t waiting for him anymore. And I had to watch the tears well in his eyes every time he heard it. It made my soul ache.

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