“Do not touch my daughter!” Druig commands, and my head snaps around to see a blade coming for my unprotected back, and then he’s there.
Druig, his own enforcer, picks Sinclair up, preventing him from attacking me, and throws him into the crowd.
Druig is . . . my father?
“Father?” I exclaim out loud.
Iturn, feeling shock ripple through our bond. The man is the one Nathair had been unsure of, since he had been watching Althea intently. Is this why, or is this a trick? But no, we read his bonds. How did he hide that from us? Or did we not look hard enough? I filter through all the memories that flowed through us during the judgement and find one where he stands with a female holding a baby and send it down the bond to Althea. She staggers, looking from him to me.
“You are sure?” she asks.
“I can check,” I reply.
“Althea—” He reaches for her, but she steps back, and his hand drops. He schools his expression quickly, but I saw the flash of pain on his face.
“Daughter? Impossible,” Sinclair spits as he stands, furious his own enforcer thwarted his attack.
“No, not impossible.” He sighs, rubbing at his head. “I did not want to do it this way.” He looks at Althea. “Please understand, I had no choice but to keep this a secret. I promised your mother so you wouldn’t be dragged into politics alongside me. I took the enforcer position to protect you and your mother, and when she—when she died, I stayed to protect you. I know you don’t believe me, I know it’s not good enough, but it’s the truth. You are my daughter, Althea. I loved your mother. She was my mate.”
He inhales a deep breath. “I have been so lost without her all these years. You are all that’s kept me going. Tonight felt like a second chance. You are so beautiful, my daughter, so beautiful and powerful just like she said. Look at what you have become.” His eyes are filled with tears, and he looks at me helplessly. “Do whichever test you are talking about.” He kneels before our queen openly and honestly, reaching for her with hope.
She hesitates then nods at me, staring at him in shock and horror. Simon comes to her side, taking her hand, and she holds it tightly. Druig, her father, smiles at that. “Simon,” he murmurs. “Glad to see I could help.”
“Help?” Althea looks at Simon.
“He helped me get away. I didn’t understand why . . .” Simon glances between them. “You do have his anger,” he jokes, and Althea chokes out a laugh.
“Are you sure?” I ask her as I step up to the man who could be my beloved’s father.
She nods, and I feel the bonds gathering in our head to protect her, but we cannot protect her from this betrayal.
Hasn’t my mate gone through enough?
Gripping the man’s head, I close my eyes and delve into his memories, sharing them through our bond as I see them. He lets me in, lets me see everything. I feel his devotion and love for his mate, along with his grief and agony over losing her. There is a memory of him holding her dying body as he bellows his agony to the world. Her hand comes up softly and covers his heart.
“Keep my promise, my love. I will wait for you on the other side.” Then she, too, is gone, fading in his arms, and he is lost in the darkness. The only light is her, the baby with my mate’s eyes. He watches over her from infancy to childhood. When she skins her knee, he is there. When she cries, he protects her without her even knowing.
Next, I see her as she is now, hurrying towards a door, and he watches her, knowing he will have to say goodbye. He wishes he could tell her the truth and take the pain away, but he can’t, and he knows he has to let her go or lose her like her mother.
The door shuts behind her, and he sinks to his knees, clutching his broken heart. His whole reason for living is gone, but he gets up and carries on to protect her from afar as much as he can. I pull free, and the utter love in his memories, the parental protectiveness, brings tears to my eyes. When I look at Althea, she is on her knees, staring at the space between them, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“Althea,” he croaks. “I deserve your hatred. I deserve for you to turn me away. I left you alone. No matter how close I was, you were alone, and I am so sorry. I couldn’t bear to lose you.” He licks his lips. “I will face you, daughter, for judgement once more.”
“You already have,” I inform him in a whisper.
“Not on these crimes. Judge me, Althea, for the crimes I committed against you.”
“Stop it,” she whispers. “Stop it.” She shakes her head, stumbling to her feet and backing away. After everything she has faced, this is her breaking point—a father who always loved her but left her alone, even when she needed him the most.
My brothers step before her, blocking her from his view. “Now is not the time,” Nathair snaps, crossing his arms. Zale is growling, as is Osis. I drop my hand from Druig and join them. Even though I can feel his pain and how badly he loves her and wants to make amends, I will always choose her.
I would rip myself open to have that chance with my parents once more, but this is her choice. A lot has happened today, and she needs time. I tell him as much as he looks at me. I nod, and he looks away, seeming to slump with pain.
“What do we do with him?” I ask the others, eyeing Sinclair, the king of her old court. “He attempted to kill a judge for doing her job.” I want to rip him to pieces for even daring to touch my mate. Had it not been for her father, she might have been hurt or worse. We didn’t expect it, and we should have.