“The key wasn’t in the world he created for me,” she said as she turned to him. “But it was in what I created, if I had the courage to do it. If I could see the beauty of it, and make it real. He gave me the power to bring the key into the illusion.”
To forge it, she thought, with love.
“I bet that burns his ass.”
She laughed. “Yeah, that’s a nice side benefit. I heard you.”
“I heard you calling to me. All of you, but especially you. I couldn’t answer you. I’m sorry because I know you were afraid for me. But I couldn’t let him know I heard.”
He reached over to cover her hand with his. “I couldn’t get to you. I didn’t know what fear was until then, when I couldn’t get to you.”
“I was afraid at first that it was just another of his tricks. I was afraid that if I turned around and saw you, I’d break. Your poor hands.” She lifted his hand, pressed her lips gently to the torn knuckles. “My hero. Heroes,” she corrected, looking back at Moe.
She kept her hand in his as they drove through the gates at Warrior’s Peak.
Rowena stepped out, her hands folded at the waist of a flame-red sweater. Malory could see the gleam of tears in her eyes as she walked across the portico to meet them.
“You’re safe, and well?” She touched Malory’s cheek, and the chill Malory had been unable to shake slid into blessed warmth.
“Yes, I’m fine. I have—”
“Not yet. Your hands.” She laid her palms under Flynn’s, lifted them. “This will scar,” she said. “There, beneath the third knuckle of your left hand. A symbol, Flynn. Herald and warrior.”
She opened the back door of the car herself so Moe could leap out and greet her with wags and licks. “Ah, there, the fierce and brave one.” She hugged him, then leaned back on her heels, listening attentively as he barked and grumbled. “Yes, you had quite the adventure.” She rose, resting a hand on Moe’s head as she smiled at Dana and Zoe. “All of you did. Please come in.”
Moe didn’t need to be asked twice. He bounded across the stones and straight through the doorway where Pitte stood. Pitte raised an elegant eyebrow as the dog skidded over the foyer floor, then turned the look onto Rowena.
She only laughed and hooked an arm through Flynn’s. “I have a gift for the loyal and courageous Moe, if you’ll allow it.”
“Sure. Look, we appreciate the hospitality, but Malory’s pretty worn out, so—”
“I’m fine. Really.”
“We won’t keep you long.” Pitte gestured them into what Malory thought of as the portrait room. “We’re in your debt, more than can be paid. What you’ve done, whatever tomorrow brings, will never be forgotten.” He tipped Malory’s face up with one long finger and laid his lips on hers.
Zoe nudged Dana. “I think we’re getting gypped in this one-for-all deal.”
Pitte glanced over, and his sudden grin was alive with charm. “My woman is a jealous creature.”
“No such thing,” Rowena objected, then lifted a brightly woven collar from a table. “These symbols speak of valor, and a true heart. The colors are also symbolic. Red for courage, blue for friendship, black for protection.”
She crouched to remove Moe’s frayed and faded collar and replace it.
He sat through the business of it, Flynn thought, with the stalwart dignity of a soldier being awarded a medal.
“There. How handsome you are.” Rowena kissed Moe’s nose, then got to her feet. “Will you still bring him to see me, now and then?” she asked Flynn.
“Kane underestimated you. All of you—heart and spirit and spine.”
“He’s unlikely to do so again,” Pitte pointed out, but Rowena shook her head.
; “This is a time for joy. You are the first,” she told Malory.