Page 46

The Singer Elizabeth Hunter 2022/7/22 11:38:30

Ava didn’t know quitewhat to expect from the party that night. She tried to imagine, but she kept coming up blank. Her lessons with Orsala had been minimal. The old woman had focused on teaching Ava the magic to block the soul voices from her mind. It was a simple spell, designed for a child to be able to master. Orsala had helped Ava create a door in her mind, and for the first time in her life, that door was slammed shut.

It had been a revelation. Salvation. At first, the voices stopped all together, but the door cracked open after an hour or so as voices tried to push through a familiar hall. The next time she spoke the words, the door stayed closed a little longer. Then a little longer. The first day that she heard little to no voices at all, Ava had shown up at Orsala’s door, almost weeping with relief.

Since then, the spell had become a mantra. The voices never disappeared entirely around other people—Orsala said they weren’t meant to—but a quick recitation of the words was enough to shut the door so the whispers were only murmurs that came from a great distance. Her tension headaches disappeared. Her agitation lessened. Now when Damien took her hand and squeezed it, she felt happy and content. There wasn’t the desperate relief she’d once needed just to get through the day.

And for that she was grateful. Because though the weeks with Malachi had been a profound blessing, Ava knew she would probably never take another mate. Orsala had told her she might eventually find another partner. It was more than acceptable for Irin and Irina who had lost a mate to find love again. But Ava had a hard time imagining settling for anything less than what she and Malachi had once had, even if it had been brief. It was more than love. He was her soul mate. She didn’t want another.

And if she looked forward to sleep a little more than normal, well, that was understandable. There was comfort in dreaming of him, even if the waking reality tore her heart.

“Are you sure this shirt is acceptable?” Damien tugged at a brown shirt that brought out the color of his dark eyes. Ava had suggested it instead of the dull black button-down he’d been about to put on. They were walking to the main house, and Damien was as nervous as a teenager on his first date.

“I feel like I should have shaved.”

Ava rolled her eyes. “Will you stop? The beard looks good. She likes it. Trust me.”

“Do you seriously not pick up on the ‘I want to lick you’ looks that woman sends your way every time you’re in the room?”

“I…” Damien blinked rapidly. “No. Mostly I’m trying to not irritate her.”

“You need to irritate her more, not less.”

“That makes no sense whatsoever.”

“Sari’s a busy girl, and she’s filed you away under ‘things I’ll deal with later.’ You need to make her deal with you now. I’d suggest pissing her off. Like you said, she hates you the same way she loves you. The love is there, Damien. You guys just have to sort out your shit.”

He halted, forcing Ava to stop next to him when he held on to her arm. “I tried to rush her once. I tried to push past her grief before she was ready. And it caused more harm than good. I don’t want to do that again. I can be patient for her.”

Her heart warmed at his words. “I know you can. But you shouldn’t waste time. Trust me. You never know how much time you’ll get.”

Damien frowned and squeezed her hand. “I am sorry you didn’t have more time with Malachi.”

“I don’t… want to talk about that right now.” She couldn’t. Not if she wanted to get through this party without crying.

“I understand.” He started back up the path and deliberately changed the subject. “Are you curious what the sing will be?”

“I’m trying to release my expectations, or something like that. Whatever happens, happens.”

“You don’t want to know?”

“Nope. I’m getting my zen on.”

She could hear the smile in his voice even as they approached the house, which was lit up in every window, with more people spilling out in the garden. The fall air made their breath fog, and frost crunched under their feet. Soon, everyone told her, it would snow.

As they entered the house, calls came from every corner, and Ava pressed on the door Orsala had built with her, making sure it was shut. She closed her eyes, let the magic take root, and then she opened them. The women around her smiled in understanding. There were many she was beginning to recognize, but a lot of them still looked unfamiliar. There were also more Irin men than she’d seen before, standing in small groups or holding their mates. It was, quite obviously, a party. The smell of savory meat filled the air, and spices tempted her nose. Someone handed her a glass of what looked like cider, and she took a sip. It was delicious.

Damien nudged her shoulder. “Can I leave you with Astrid?”

Ava spotted her friend in the corner of the sitting room, waving. “Yep. Go find your woman and irritate her.”

“Somehow, I don’t think you’ll need it.”

He disappeared into the crowd as Astrid approached.

“Come,” her friend said. “Let’s get you some food. People eat quickly, then we head over to the barn for the singing.”

“What—” She caught herself before she could ask for explanations. “No, don’t tell me.”

Astrid smiled. “You don’t want to know what it is?”