Oh, God! What had I done? Had I really banished my own sister? I clutched my stomach, my breaths coming in hard, jagged rasps. Sweat beaded on my brow, and everything around me started to spin. I knew how much Piper loved Jax, and all I’d wanted to do was free her from this life so she could be with him. But instead, I’d caused chaos.
I doubled over and gasped for breath, my insides raw and aching. Banishing Piper didn’t just hurt emotionally; the physical pain was just as sharp and intense. Losing her had weakened me—our coven—and that was the dumbest thing I could’ve done right now.
“Sophie? Are you alright?” Peyton stood by my side, rubbing my back.
Around me, witches and guards shouted at each other, though I couldn’t decipher many of their words. King Draven barked orders, and my head pounded with every shouted word. I straightened. As much as I wanted to be alone to grieve the loss of Piper, I couldn’t.
I was now the queen of the Pendragon Coven, and that meant I had some power in this situation. If I didn’t act quickly, all my efforts would have been for nothing. I needed to hold my head high and act like a queen was supposed to act.
“I’m fine,” I said, though I was anything but, and based on the look Peyton gave me, she knew that, too. “I have to do some serious damage control.”
While I’d been initially horrified to see Piper shift into her dragon from in front of all the covens, I was also extremely proud of her. She’d looked incredibly majestic and powerful. I only hoped she and Jax and everyone else had been able to get away.
“I want that vampire killed on sight,” King Draven shouted and was met with cheers from the other covens and all the remaining guards. “And I want that witch brought back here alive!”
My ears rang, and I glanced frantically at Peyton and Sabella, who looked at terrified as I felt in that moment. If King Draven captured Piper, he’d lock her up in the dungeon, or worse—torture her, steal her power, and force her to unleash her dragon. I could not let that happen.
“Stop this. Right now,” I demanded as I marched up to the king. “Piper has faced the consequences of her actions already.”
King Draven looked at me with what I could only assume was disgust, and I gave him an equally degrading look. “Yes, Piper was punished for the betrayal of her own kind. Now, she must face punishment for mass murder.”
“Mass murder?” I scoffed. “You can’t be serious.”
“Did you not see her burn half my guards alive?” King Draven tilted his head, studying me. “That is an act of war and cannot be tolerated.”
The commotion around me stilled, and I noticed then that everyone was watching me and King Draven. As far as the magical community was concerned, I was a nobody. A rumor. They didn’t know me like they knew the king, which meant I was vastly outnumbered.
“Father.” Prince Gregory approached and rested his hand on his father’s shoulder. “This is business for the royal council and not something we should be discussing in front of our guests.” He subtly inclined his head toward the crowd that had formed outside the castle entrance.
“You’re absolutely right, son.” King Draven nodded, then motioned for a servant. “Please let our guests know the ball is over and see that they leave the castle grounds immediately. Then gather the royal covens.” Without so much as a glance in my direction, the king spun on his heel and marched back inside.
“Thank you for that,” I said to Prince Gregory. Or rather, the soon-to-be King Pendragon, for he’d become my husband, and we’d sit on the royal coven council together.
While he and I had forged a bond over the past few weeks, and I did have very strong feelings for him, I wasn’t completely convinced I could trust him yet. When the royal covens convened to decide Piper’s fate, would Gregory stand by me or his father?
“Come,” Peyton said, gently taking hold of my arm. “We need to discuss what’s about to happen and how we’re going to deal with it.”
I nodded and allowed her to guide me back inside the castle. Sabella was on my other side, and the three of us walked in silence toward our suite. Footsteps sounded behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder. Prince Gregory followed us, hands tucked in his pockets.
Stopping, I turned to him. “Do you need something?”
His gaze darted around as if he wasn’t sure I was speaking to him, but no one else was around. “Am I not invited to your secret meeting?” he asked, head tilted.
My eyebrows shot up. Was he serious? “Do you want to be?”
“Well… yeah,” he said slowly. “I mean, we are going to be married, aren’t we? Seems like I should be involved with Pendragon Coven affairs considering I’ll be king soon.”
Sabella rolled her eyes, huffing. “Oh, please. You just want to come so you can run back and report everything we say to daddy.”
“Sabella!” I scolded, glaring at her with irritation.
“No, it’s okay.” Prince Gregory’s tone was calm and patient. “I understand why Sabella doesn’t trust me. In fact, I won’t be surprised if you don’t trust me, either, Sophie.” His gaze landed on me and stayed there, unflinching. “But I give you my word that I’m with you all the way.”
I shifted on my feet, unsure what to say to that. I wanted to believe him, but this was my sister’s life we were talking about. I couldn’t risk Piper’s safety any more than I already had. I took a step forward, then turned to face my sisters.
“Can you two please give us a moment?” I asked.
Shock flashed across Peyton’s face, but she didn’t say anything. Neither did Sabella, which was one of the more shocking things to happen tonight. The two headed to our suite, and once they were out of view, I took a deep breath and turned back to Prince Gregory.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Do not lie to me,” I said, my tone firm. “Are you being genuine with me right now? Are you really on our side in terms of Piper?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitation.
When I didn’t speak or otherwise budge, he moved closer and gently rested his hands on my shoulders. “I’ve felt a connection to you from the moment we met,” he said, once again holding my gaze. “I was always planning to pick you.” He moved his hands up to cradle my face, his touch incredibly tender.
“You were?” Emotion clogged my throat.
He nodded. “Yes. For my father’s sake, I had to keep up the appearance of being undecided. I was afraid if I didn’t, he’d do something underhanded, and I couldn’t risk that happening.”
I hadn’t thought anything else could shock me tonight, but I’d been wrong. Heavier doubt crept into my mind, followed by guilt that caused my shoulders to sag. If I hadn’t reacted so impulsively at the ball, if I hadn’t given Gregory my kiss when I did, he would’ve chosen me, and I could’ve avoided banishing my sister.
But as soon as that thought formed, I shoved it away. No matter what I did or didn’t do, Jax would’ve moved forward with his plan. I’d done what I did to stop him, to save my coven, to free Piper to have the life she wanted.
“We really shouldn’t be talking about this out in the open,” he said, glancing around.
I nodded, still too numb and shocked to speak coherently.
“Let’s get your sisters and go to my suite. It’s a lot more secure.” He dragged his hands from my face, down my arms, and grasped my hands, lacing our fingers. “Please give me a chance to prove myself.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded again. “Don’t make me regret this,” I said, my voice cracking.
“I won’t,” he promised.
“Okay.” I sighed. “Let’s go get my sisters.”
We walked in silence to my suite. Gregory shoved open the heavy door, and I stepped into the room first. Sabella was on the sofa while Peyton paced nervously. Neither of them were talking, though, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. I cleared my throat to alert them to my presence. Sabella twisted around on the sofa to look at me. Peyton stopped pacing, face stricken with fear and grief. I hated that I’d been the once to cause her to feel that way.
“What’s he doing here?” Sabella asked.
“Stop,” I said, but my tone held no real authority. I was too exhausted to argue with Sabella right now.
“No.” Sabella stood. “We can’t trust him, Sophie, and the sooner you accept that, the safer we’ll all be. We’ve already lost Piper. You’re going to marry him.” She jutted her chin in Gregory’s direction. “What more are we expected to sacrifice?”
“Enough.” Peyton’s commanding tone cut through the room. “Now is not the time to turn on each other.”
I let out a long, heavy breath. Peyton was a natural-born leader, and she should be the rightful queen—not me. Oh, God, what have I done? Despair wrapped around me in a suffocating hug. I shuffled toward the sofa and sank down onto the cushion. My hands shook, and bile rose up the back of my throat.
“Sophie?” Peyton was by my side in an instant. “Are you alright?”
“No,” I whispered, tears pooling in my eyes. “I’ve made a mess of everything.” I buried my face in my hands and let my tears fall.
Peyton rested her hand on my back in a comforting gesture. “Stop it,” she said firmly. “I know this whole situation is a mess right now, but you did the right thing, and I’m proud to call you my queen.”
I lowered my hands and stared at her through tear-filled eyes. “You are?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“So am I,” Sabella said as she moved to sit on my other side. She put her hand on my leg, and I drew on their strength until my emotions leveled out.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Now, as our queen, you have a duty to lead, and that means we need to figure out what we’re going to do about Piper,” Peyton said. “And how we’re going to deal with King Draven.”
Prince Gregory shifted on his feet, and I glanced at him. His expression was pained and sympathetic, and something inside of me clicked into place. I couldn’t fully explain the feeling, but deep down, I suddenly knew he was truly on our side, that I could trust him.
I stood and made my way toward him. Taking his hand in my mine, I gave it a reassuring squeeze. “We’re going to Gregory’s suite to discuss this matter. It’s safe,” I said, giving my sisters a stern, knowing look.
They both nodded with understanding, stood, and followed us out of the suite without argument. That was a first. Then again, they knew what was at stake, and neither of them would ever do anything to harm Piper.
The castle was a bustle of activity as servants escorted guests out and cleaned up. Covens scurried about, collecting their belongings, whispering about tonight’s events. Guards were positioned at every hallway, entrance, and exit, their presence intimidating. I kept my head held high and ignored everything around me. I had more important things to worry about. Prince Gregory nodded to a couple of guards as we passed them on the way to the stairwell that led to the top level of the castle. Still, no one spoke. I wasn’t sure if the silence among us was a blessing or a curse.
I spun around at the sound of Isach’s voice.
He rushed forward, his gaze bouncing from me to Prince Gregory, finally settling fully on me. “May I have moment?”
“Always,” I said.
Isach hesitated. “Alone.”
I scrunched up my face. As much as I wanted to grant Isach’s request, I didn’t really have much time. My sisters and I needed to discuss our plan to keep King Draven from hunting down our sister and killing her soulmate. Then again… Isach was an ally.
“We’re headed to the prince’s suite to convene before the royal council meeting. You and your coven are welcome to join us,” I said.
Isach blinked as if he couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” His gaze darted toward the prince.
“Gather your coven,” Prince Gregory said. “We don’t have much time, but we’ll wait here for you. You’ll never be granted access to the upper level without me.”
“Okay,” Isach said slowly, drawing out the word. When he glanced at me, I nodded with encouragement. “I’ll be right back.”
“Tonight’s just full of surprises, isn’t it?” Sabella muttered.
“We need all the allies we can get,” I said.
“And you’re sure the Zoya Coven are solid allies?” Prince Gregory asked. There was no accusation or judgment in his tone.
“Absolutely,” I said without hesitation. “We trust Isach implicitly.”
“Agreed,” Peyton said, arms crossed. “He’s probably the single best ally we could have right now.”
I smiled, pleased that my sisters were on my side with this. Then again, they’d grown as fond of Isach as I had during the months he’d spent with us. We’d fought by his side against the Rose Coven, and we knew the power he possessed. If anyone was going to help us clean up this mess, Isach would.
Moments later, he returned, his entire coven behind him. “We’re all here,” he said. Prince Gregory gave a quick nod. “Follow me.”