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Luxuria: Chapter 23


    way up the aisle like she was a blood princess who’d been doing this her whole life. The sweeping gown of shadows I’d constructed trailed behind her, dark strands floating behind her like ribbons, and it scooped low enough between her breasts—at her insistence—to make my cock ache in front of the goddamn priest and my entire court. Our entire court.

Shades and Hunters alike stood to watch their queen make their way towards the altar where I was waiting for her, a beautiful golden crown sitting on a red velvet cushion atop a gray stone plinth. The Hunters who’d come here were still mostly holed up in Elverston House, getting accustomed to life here in the shadow realm, but some tenuous friendships were developing. We were able to escort them back to the human realm whenever they liked to get supplies, though most of them were too fearful of the Hunters Council to make the trip.

Fortunately, Astrid wasn’t afraid of anything. She regularly traveled back on supply runs with Soren glued to her side, watching her with an intensity that bordered on obsessive. He was so focused on Astrid, he’d nearly caught a silver dagger to the chest from her father the one time Astrid had tried to visit her parents, pleading for their understanding. It was only Astrid’s fast reflexes that had saved him, earning herself an impressive scar along her palm for her efforts.

Ophelia smiled as she waited at the bottom of the steps, her eyes shiny in a way that I knew signified tears, though I was fairly confident these were not the bad kind of tears.

Weylin, the priest who’d married us, hovered nervously next to me. The priests had all been oddly skittish around me since I’d made Garren eat his own tongue. It was fortunate for everyone that they’d taken a shine to Ophelia, otherwise relations between the priesthood and the monarchy would be very strained.

″Be seated,” Weylin called to the gathered crowd, who quietly took their seats. My gaze was entirely on Ophelia, who despite her tremulous expression managed to wink at me.

″Queen Ophelia, are you here of your own free will and willing to take the Coronation Oath here today?” Weylin asked.

″I am here freely and willingly.”

Weylin nodded. “Then I address my next question to those present today. We have gathered here for the coronation of Queen Ophelia. Do all those present solemnly swear to give your new queen your loyalty and service?”

″We do,” the crowd called back in unison, both Shades and Hunters alike. They may be new to our realm, but it hadn’t taken the Hunters who’d come here long to get attached to Ophelia. How could they not? She was all sweetness and light when she wasn’t a horny mess, and I liked her equally both ways.

″Queen Ophelia, do you promise to guide and govern the realm of Shades in keeping with the laws and customs of our land?” Weylin asked Ophelia.

″I promise,” Ophelia said solemnly.

″Do you swear to protect the interests of the Shades and the Hunters who reside here?”

″I do so swear.”

″Then take your place at the king’s side,” Weylin instructed, giving Ophelia a soft smile.

I extended my hand, and Ophelia placed her palm in mine as I guided her up the steps. As we agreed, she lowered herself gracefully to the ground on one knee, and I idly arranged the shadows cloaking her into a sea of blackness that seemed to pour over the stone steps. The gesture of submission was not for my benefit, but to show reverence for the crown, for the role she was undertaking, and the subjects she was bound to serve.

Ophelia’s beautiful brown eyes met mine, and there was nothing but happiness and light there. She was the perfect contradiction—all brightness and smiles, with a hidden dirty side. Kind to everyone, but willing and able to stick up for herself and those she cared about. Ophelia was compassionate, intelligent, watchful and strong. She was everything the Queen of Shades should be, and there wasn’t a soul in this room who didn’t know it.

Carefully, I lifted the golden crown we’d had especially made for her off the cushion. It was solid at the base, with thin arches of gold rising above it, culminating at the tallest point in the center where a large golden star sat.

Because my wife was my guiding star, and I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to be the crowning jewel in her crown.

The entire room seemed to be holding their breath as I lowered it onto her head. Ophelia exhaled tremulously as the weight settled on her, both physically and metaphorically. To be queen was no small responsibility, but it was one I knew Ophelia would be able to bear and with more grace than any who’d come before her.

My mother caught my eye from the front row, and she practically beamed with approval. While I’d had no luck persuading her to feed more from the stores over the past two decades, Ophelia had managed it in just one conversation. She claimed it was because she’d convinced my mother that there was plenty to go around now, and she didn’t need to deprive herself any longer to ensure the young ones got enough.

I was pretty sure it was because Ophelia had mentioned the possibility of grandchildren in the future, and that was a compelling enough reason for my mother to take better care of herself.

Either way, I hadn’t seen my mother so strong and healthy since I was a kid. She’d even resumed wandering around the palace and garden, inflicting terror on the staff with just her disapproving presence alone. I knew she was counting down the days until the public trial of Meridia and her co-conspirators, all currently being held at the Pit. It had been pushed back to accommodate the coronation because the realm needed something to celebrate, and Ophelia deserved to be celebrated.

My wife slid her hand back into mine, and I helped her up as we both turned to face the crowd. The Shades jumped to their feet, stamping them loudly on the ground as they cheered, and the Hunters clapped politely, looking slightly overwhelmed by the noise.

″King Allerick and Queen Ophelia!” Weylin yelled.

″King Allerick and Queen Ophelia!” they roared back. Ophelia’s hand tightened in mine as she startled, immediately glancing upwards to make sure she hadn’t disturbed the crown.

″You look beautiful,” I murmured, wrapping an arm around her waist and pulling her into my side. I almost groaned at the sensation of touching her bare skin beneath the shadows rather than the fabric I’d become accustomed to when we were in public. “Come on, let’s get this feast over and done with. I want to fuck you in nothing but that crown.”

“I still can’t believe my sister lives here,” Ophelia murmured, watching Astrid talk to Soren from our usual position at the high table. I glanced down to where they were standing near a side exit, wondering if I needed to intervene judging by how tense both of them looked.

″Don’t worry,” Damen laughed, catching my frown. “I just walked past them. There’s, er, nothing to be concerned about.”

″What do you mean?” my wife asked, twisting away from me to look at my brother. Stupid feast. Stupid everyone taking her attention away from me.

Damen gave her an apologetic look. “It’s just that Astrid smells quite… sweet.”

″No way,” Ophelia gasped, leaning forward and making no attempt to hide her open stare. “Astrid is hot for a Shade?”

″Is that so surprising?” I asked. “Given what we’ve learned about the history of our kinds?”

We’d pored over Affra’s translations for hours before disseminating them throughout the realm. From what we’d read, it made sense that the Shades had been so selectively terrible at their history keeping when it came to their relationship with the Hunters.

Or the Hunted, as they had indeed once been.

The Shades centuries ago had seen the Hunted as prey to be caught, not as partners or equals. I hadn’t hidden any of this from the Hunters who’d come here, and I’d sworn that we had no interest in emulating the abhorrent actions of our forbearers. Some were still wary, while others were trying to decide on a name for themselves that wasn’t Hunter or Hunted, but was representative of who they wanted to be.

″No, logically it’s not surprising… Well, yes, it is a little.” Ophelia frowned, and I plucked her out of her seat and onto my lap immediately, wanting to wipe the expression off her face. ”Biologically, it isn’t surprising, and some of the Hunters have seemed really open to getting to know the Shades, but this is AstridShe was on track to be the youngest member of the Hunters Council ever. She holds… records.”

I hummed in agreement, hating the reminder of the number of lives Astrid had taken. Only the fact that she’d done so much to help in the end could make me even try to overlook the fact that there was a murderer in our midst, sitting at the table in my court, eating my food and drinking my wine.

My tolerance of her presence here hadn’t eased the terror my subjects felt whenever they saw her. There would be no more devoted mate than Soren, but he and Astrid could never be.

Bored of discussing things that weren’t me and Ophelia tangled up in bed, I turned my attention to her hair, burrowing my hand beneath the silky strands to grip the back of her neck, while resting the other on her leg, rubbing circles over her knee with my thumb, my shadows concealing my movements.

″Bye,” Damen muttered, pushing his chair back hurriedly as Ophelia’s slick began perfuming the air around us.

″You are very bad,” she said breathily, making no move to stop me. “We are supposed to stay the whole feast.”

″Mm, you’re the queen, crowned and everything. The feast is over when you say it’s over,” I murmured, my lips pressed against her shoulder.

Ophelia hesitated, entertaining the idea. “Maybe we could just dip out for a moment, tell everyone to keep enjoying themselves. Oh no, they’d definitely know what we were doing though. It’d be like the throne room all over again.”

″I have no objections to repeating our throne room experience. In fact, I might insist upon it.” I ran a claw down her inner thigh. “I want to see if you can keep that crown in place while I bend you over the throne and bounce you on my knot.”

″Allerick,” Ophelia hissed, her scent growing too potent for the rest of the room to ignore. “Oh my god, everyone is staring. Do I stink?”

″You smell delicious,” I growled, standing up with her in my arms and not bothering to offer an explanation as I carried her into the throne room, the court cheering loudly behind us.

″My sister is going to be judging me so hard right now,” Ophelia laughed, wrapping her arms around my neck and leaning into me as I kicked the heavy door shut and carried her to the dimly lit throne.

″If she’s going to spend any amount of time here, she’ll have to get used to it. I have no intention of hiding how much I desire my wife.”

″I hope you never stop,” Ophelia said gently, leaning up to kiss my jaw. “I love you, Allerick.”

″I love you, my queen.”


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