The mermaid inclines her head. “That is why I came. I am lonely.”
“Well, you are free to stay. We have welcomed everyone here and always will. We have no ocean close by though.” Althea frowns.
“I will miss the call of the sea, but there is water here. I feel it. If you will allow me to, I would like to remain here, in these woods. I will find the water and a place to live until the ocean calls me home to my family. It only holds pain, but these woods hold magic and purpose. I can feel it. Something big is coming, and I am where I am supposed to be.”
“Good or bad?” Althea asks.
“I am unsure, but I know whatever it is, it will change everything. May I remain on your land?”
“For as long as you need, and you are welcome inside the court whenever you wish to be around people, Tide,” Althea calls. “You do not need to be lonely, not here.”
“Thank you.” She stands, slipping out of the water, and her tail transforms back to legs. “You’re very kind.”
We both watch as she shakes off any remaining water and then starts to walk away.
Tide stops and turns back. “Althea, be prepared. I can feel plans on the air, evil plans. You are playing one game, and they are playing another. Remember that.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” I mutter.
“It means that this ball is going to be one hell of a party.” Althea laughs.
Nathair is stressed, so later that night, after he still doesn’t appear and we have all eaten, I go and find him. He’s sitting in the library, staring at his laptop with furrowed brows. Sighing, I shut it and throw it onto the other sofa then take its place on his knee. He grins as I kiss him softly. I rest my head against his chest, and he begins to stroke my hair with a sigh, his own head leaning back as he relaxes.
“You are stressed.”
“There’s so much to do,” he murmurs. “I need this to be perfect.”
“So share the duties, but for tonight, it’s time to relax,” I reply.
“What do you have in mind?” He grins, still petting my hair, and I sigh in pleasure. The others slowly filter in, and Azul lifts my feet, placing them in his lap, while Reve leans into my side and the others sprawl out around the room.
“Read to me?” I request. “Read us all a story?”
Osis grabs a book and hands it over before settling before the fire. Nathair opens it, holding it one-handed as he continues to stroke my hair, and then he starts to read. My eyes close as his deep, whiskey voice washes over me, making the words seductive and comforting all at once. The tension in his body slowly starts to seep out as the story continues, and the others add sound effects and voices, making us all crack up, even Nathair.
There’s no rush, no need for anything, as we enjoy our time together. My eyes stay closed as I soak in their comfort, their nearness, and everything I had been missing. Like Tide, I had been lonely, but now, I never will be again. They make sure of that. Even now, there’s the desire for their bodies and pleasure, but over it is the sense of comfort, like slipping into a warm, welcoming bed and snuggling in for a deep sleep or a good cup of tea on a rainy day.
That’s what they are to me.
Comfort. Happiness. Love.
No matter what I thought my destiny was, it was never that man or my past. It was always here, with them. Their hearts beat for me, and mine beats for them. Despite what we face, our duties, and what our powers demand, right now, nothing else matters.
As the rain begins to hit the window and lightning cracks through the air, I smile as hands stroke my legs, head, and side. Nathair’s voice fills my entire being until I drift off to sleep. When I wake up, the fire is still crackling and the rain is coming down hard, hitting the window in a relaxing lullaby. The lights have gone out, and the others are sprawled out, snoring with their arms thrown across each other. Nathair holds my head protectively, a blanket is thrown over my body, and Osis is asleep, holding my feet.
Reve’s head presses into my side, Conall is stretched over the other sofa, and Zale and Lycus are curled up together near him. With the rain as a soundtrack, I watch them before slipping from their arms and padding to the closest door.
The scent of fresh rain hits me, making my eyes close in bliss. In the distance, I hear the roars of my monsters. Stepping out, I hold out my arms and let the rain soak me with a wide smile. Giggling, I spin in it, just living in the moment.
Something about it sets me free as I twirl and dance in the rain. It soaks every inch of me as I jump into puddles.
I feel him before I see him, but I still don’t stop.
Arms wrap around me, and he spins me in the rain, dancing with me to the song in our hearts.