Page 136 of Court of Nightmares

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I’m sorry so much burden has fallen upon you. I’m sorry you will suffer such hardships. If I could take them from you, I would without complaint, but my destiny, like yours, was always written in the sands of time. There is so much I want to tell you, but know this.

We love you more than anything, and every decision we have made has been because of this. I hope, one day, your father can read this to you, but I have made him keep promises you will never understand—promises that will lead you to the road you must take. Just know he’s there, he’s always been there, and he loves you just as much as I do.

I hope you find as much happiness as I did, even as short-lived as I know it will be. I have not told him that, so please tell him I’m sorry. I knew if I did, it would kill him. He would fight the gods themselves to change fate, and that, my love, I cannot have. Not when you would face the consequences. I cannot see all, although I wish I could because then I could see if you find love. If you find the half of your soul. If you do, hold on to it tightly and never let go.

My daughter, my beautiful, perfect daughter, please do not be angry at the world. Please remember that despite the darkness and evil that lingers within our people, there is also beauty and goodness. Not all who are lost are not redeemable.

I will always be here with you, just look and you will find me.

The gods take, as they are selfish, fickle creatures, but they are not all powerful. They are immortal just like us. Do not ever forget that. Do not ever forget that they are no better than you. Whatever you do, whatever you decide, will be the right decision because it comes from your pure heart.

Until the day we meet again,

Your mother

My fingers linger over the tear stains, the words replaying in my head as I scan them. She loved my father, and he loved her. They were mated, yet no one knew. No one knows who he is. Just how many secrets was my mother keeping? How far ahead was she playing the game to keep me alive and safe and guide me to this moment? For a second, I’m angry at her and how easily she saw into her future, but her words are pure and true. She loved me more than anything, and everything she has done is for me.

I wish she could see me too, just like she wished.

I can see how much she loved me in every word. Would I be willing to give up everything for my child? The answer is yes, always yes, so I guess part of me can understand why she did it. I wish she could have seen me like this, happy with my mates, to know it was worth her sacrifices, but one day, we will meet again on the other side, and I will tell her.

I will tell her everything, and I know she will be waiting.

I find myself picking up the picture again, tracing my fingers over the hands covering the belly. She said my father loves me and that he’s close. Who is he? And if he’s close, then why didn’t he show himself when I needed him the most? I guess those are questions that won’t be answered right now. Folding up the letters and pictures, I carefully place them in the box, not hiding them this time, and put it back on the mantel.

I sit back down, tracing over the ornate mask, and for the first time, I notice the little details I missed before. There is a joined sun and a moon, a snake, a skull, a claw mark, a swirl, and a spider. Every single symbol reflects my mates. My mother might not have known what was waiting, but she knew this.

She knew the men who would love me, and I have to close my eyes to stop the tears from falling.

Is it foolish to mourn a woman I never knew?

I don’t think I care. She was my mother, and she loved me.

That’s enough for me.

* * *

The dress is in my room after I come back from eating, and I pick up the fluttering note carefully attached to it.

Knock them dead.

I can’t help but laugh, knowing Lilia wrote it and she means it. The dress is even more stunning than the last time I saw it, and I realise she added jewels along the slits. There are boxes of jewellery waiting on the bed, and I carefully open them. Inside the first is an ornate choker, with black diamonds and red jewels embedded around the neck. There is a matching crown, seven rings—one for each mate, I realise—as well as a bracelet. There is also a stretchy black garter to go around my thigh, with a red jewel hanging down from chains. It’s going to look incredible. I slip off my robe and start to get ready, unable to wait to show my men.

I have to shimmy into the dress. I don’t bother with a bra or panties, knowing my new friend made it to be worn without. Luckily, there’s no zip, and as soon as it touches my skin, it heats and moulds to my shape, hugging my every curve.

Adding the jewellery, I turn to the mirror and almost gasp. I look beautiful.

My hair ruins it, however, so I tug it up and turn my neck and realise it needs to be up. Quickly getting to work, I pin it into a messy updo. A few pieces tumble down to frame my face, but it leaves my long neck on display. After adding a bright-red lipstick and smoking out my eyes, I slip on the black, five-inch heels and step back. I check it all out together, and for a moment, I just stare at myself.

I can hardly believe I am the same girl as the last time I wore a dress like this.

Again, it’s not in the beauty of the dress, though that helps, or the jewels. It’s in the way I carry myself, embracing who and what I am. I glow with power and confidence. Smiling at myself, I wish my mother could see me now.

We are waiting, comes the call in my head.

My mother might not be able to see me, but my loves can. Taking my mask with me, I turn to the door and step out, seeing them gathered in the stone foyer below. I don’t even take in the room, too lost in the sight of my beautiful mates lined up side by side. They are so stunning, it hurts, and I almost stumble.

Nathair is on the left, his crown firmly in place, wearing a black and grey doublet half undone to showcase his skin, with some leather pants and high boots. A fur trimmed cape hangs over one shoulder. Next to him is Conall in an open vest and matching doublet, only his sleeves have been cut off and each wrist has a bracelet on it, his neck too, and I realise it has my name stamped across the gold. Possessiveness roars through me as he winks. Beside him is Lycus, who’s wearing a chain mail doublet with trousers and big boots. His hair is braided back with jewels sprinkled throughout. His beard is trimmed, his eyes are lined with kohl, his mark is on full display, and hanging from his hair are golden letters that spell out my name.