Page 23 of Court of Nightmares

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Reve places a teacup filled with black liquid before me, as well as an ornate gold and black wine glass filled with amber liquid.

“The tea is a concoction Conall makes, and the wine is Zale’s doing. Both are excellent.” He leans down, his lips brushing my ear. “They are almost as delicious as you.” With that, he moves back to his chair, leaving me weak-kneed and licking my lips.

Not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, I pick up both, tasting the wine first since it’s cool. The flavours of amber, jasmine, and sandalwood dance across my tongue. It reminds me of fire and warmth as it slides through me, making me moan out loud. The resulting hiss from the others causes me to silence it and lick my lips before tasting the tea.

The comforting warmth of shadows, darkness, and cosy nights fills my mind, and I moan again.

“She’s going to kill us all,” Reve teases, holding a goblet of wine delicately in one hand, his other arm slung over the back of his chair as he watches me with a hungry expression.

“Indeed,” Nathair replies.

“They are both incredible,” I say, thanking Conall and Zale for each before turning back to Nathair, who seems to be in charge. “So we can communicate telepathically after feeding, I can choose whom to feed from, and we are bonded now. Oh, and I am to be a judge.”

“Yes,” he replies, wearing a smile filled with happiness. “For now, we will have no judgements for a month or so to allow you time to hone your skills and heal. Your life has taken its toll, and we want you to be healthy and happy. This court is now yours. You are welcome anywhere here, and I will gladly tell you of its history if you wish. You should spend time with all of us and get to know us to deepen the bonds between us. It is important when it comes to judging that we are as one. For now, I will not overload you with information, but there are a few important things you must know.”

I nod my head, and he leans forward.

“We do not kill unless we must. It is our duty to judge those who put our people and those of the other species in harm’s way. We never kill for pleasure or revenge. We do not feed from the unwilling, and only from judges. Our existence remains a mystery, and that is the way we like it. You will never ascend to a throne other than the one in our court, and you will never take place in society. You will be apart from it. We do not leave this place unless needed.”

“Why?” I ask curiously.

“It is easier,” is all he says. “There are some who know of our presence and find it . . . repulsive. You will never mate another—”

“Been there, done that, no thanks,” I mutter, making Reve and a few others laugh.

“And finally, we will always do our duty, now and forever. This is not a choice.”

I nod in understanding.

“Good,” he purrs. “Now, onto the fun stuff, as Reve declares it. Being a judge isn’t all bad. Yes, we kill and have a serious duty, but the rewards are plentiful. We are more powerful than we would have ever been in life, and we have freedom not afforded to those when assigned to a court for life. We can go anywhere if we please and explore anything we wish. There will never be any judgement between us, ever, and your darkness is ours now,” Nathair promises as I sip the tea. Before I know it, the cup is empty, so I switch to the wine, feeling the burn sliding down my throat and warming me from within.

“That’s a lot to take in,” I murmur, relaxing into my chair. “So what now?”

“Now, whatever you wish. Explore, rest, or eat. This court is yours, as are we,” Nathair says, a wicked lilt to his voice.

“Are you hungry?” Osis murmurs, watching me carefully.

“Starving,” I tease, and he jerks before hurrying to his feet and moving to the kitchen.

A moment later, Nathair’s voice floats into my head.Be careful with him, draya. He is desperate to please and love, and he has focused his intentions on you.

I nod, telling him I understand, and since I don’t know how to speak into his mind, I show him the truth—that I have no intention of hurting anyone the way I was.

We know, draya.

Before I know it, my wine is finished, and I reluctantly put the goblet down before turning to Zale. “The wine is incredible. I have never tasted anything like it.”

“I make it myself,” he says, his voice like embers on a dark night. “It is a hobby I learned.”

“It’s brilliant. The courts would go wild for it.” Leaning in like I have a secret to share, I wink. “Good job it’s just ours.”

A delectable laugh floats from behind his mask, wrapping around me like a lover’s caress. I tighten my thighs to suppress the flood of warmth and need between them. It seems like I’ll be walking around needy all the time.

Not necessarily, draya. I’m sure my brothers are more than happy to oblige. I know I am.

Unsure what to say to that, I clear my throat and smile at Zale’s mask. I don’t ask why they hide, it isn’t my place, so instead I study it. The front is the same ornate silver and black as the others, but the design tells a story. Flames lick at the edges, as do reaching hands, and at the very top is a baying black dog.

They will choose when to reveal themselves, draya. Some are known, while others have been used and abused and prefer the anonymity.