SOME YEARS LATER
“Stars above, look at that," Ronan breathed out.
I pursed my lips and wiggled my nose, trying to inch the blindfold over my eyes upwards. "I can't."
Nireas chuckled, hands cupped around my hips, elbows, and shoulders, guiding me gently forward over the crunch of fine pebbles. I rolled my neck on my shoulders, and Nireas's fingers at my elbow trailed down to my wrists, helping me stretch in place.
We'd been traveling by carriage for the better part of three days, visiting monster acquaintances in the evenings to rest our heads, but I was sore and eager to see our destination at last. I sucked in a deep breath, and my eyes widened behind the mask.
"Oh!" I gasped as my head connected with the wildness that surrounded us, the ancient woods so close at hand, the warm flavors of earth and life sweetened on my tongue. I tried to reach for the cloth covering my eyes, but Nireas stopped me.
"Wait, little one," Hunter warned.
"It's worth it, love," Jude said.
We shuffled along together, the chuff of horses at my ear briefly before we reached some unknown stopping point. A great creak and groan of heavily burdened hinges sounded ahead of me. I jumped as hands reached for the blindfold's tie, Hunter's summer scent blending in with our surroundings.
A soft kiss pressed to my forehead, and then I was blinking against the glare of daylight, squinting to study the mass of shadow I'd been placed in front of. My lips parted slowly as my vision cleared.
"My god, it's a mansion," I breathed, gaping.
"It's…a country house," Hunter said.
I let out a panicked cackle of laughter at the thought of this behemoth of a building being referred to as either country or house. Constantine stood in the open doorway, smiling back at me, beckoning me inside.
Nireas nudged me forward, and I shook my head.
"You don't like it?" Hunter asked, face falling immediately.
"What? No, I—Give me a moment to look," I said, laughing and reaching out to squeeze Hunter's hands.
The country house was a massive, dressed stone building, with peaked gable roofs and brightly painted bay windows. Dozens and dozens of windows glimmered in the sunlight, and more roofs and hints of wings rose up behind, with a square tower and a battlement like something that ought to sit on a castle. I caught a glimpse of a beautifully carved dark wood banister through the open doors, and then my gaze snapped in an entirely new direction to a little thatched roof outbuilding. There was so much to look at!
Hunter was rattling off information, and I caught the thread only at the very end. "…and over a dozen bedrooms, so we'll have plenty of room to entertain."
"Dozen?" I cried.
"Come and see for yourself, sweet creature," Constantine called, laughing.
"Asterion and his lot will come to visit. Esther too, when she and her men can manage the trip," Jude said.
"This is madness," I said.
"You don't like it," Hunter repeated.
I laughed again and hurried forward, wrapping my arm around my orc's and tugging him along in my tide. "Quit telling me I don't like it! I'm just shocked, Hunter. It's incredible. It's overwhelming, but in a good way."
Hunter huffed, but his shoulders straightened and his steps joined mine in their urgency to explore.
"It's a long way from London," Nireas noted as we stepped inside, pausing together in a cluster as our eyes adjusted.
"Reddy has more than enough new acts," I said, drifting forward on my own to gape up the stairs. Lord, there were so many stairs. And every intricately carved bit of wood gleamed with polish. "We could cut back to one weekend a month. Would your business be able to spare you?" I asked Hunter.
He nodded, watching me with bright eyes as I explored. "I am disentangling myself from some of the businesses. It's time for my gentleman persona to seek retirement, after all. We can keep the Mayfair house, it's well-protected, but it might be best to find a new base for us together."
I nodded, licking my lips and stepping slowly into the next room, my breath still in my chest. This was as much a museum as it was a home. The floors were striped in two shades of wood, the ceilings bearing detailed crown molding and the ornamentation of wooden blooms on every panel. The walls were papered in a deep emerald shade sprinkled with jewel-toned birds. And this wasn't even a sitting room or a dining room, just an antechamber to pass through on the way to somewhere more significant.
Sunlight shone through dappled glass windows, and I closed my eyes as I stepped into their rays. Behind me, my men waited.
"It's so quiet here," I murmured, smiling. "Peaceful."
"We're overdue for a bit of peace," Ronan said, and I nodded.
I opened my eyes again, marveled at another gloriously decorated, incredibly lavish room through a broad doorway. Over a dozen bedrooms around here somewhere, and probably more for hosting to be explored. But really, the rooms weren't what called to me.
I turned slowly and smiled at Hunter. "You know what I want to see most?" I asked.
"The bed?" Ronan asked.
"The stage?" Jude suggested.
I blinked. "There's a stage?!"