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Chapter 143 – Butterflies – Ileana's POV

Our FIRST chapter in ILEANA's POV!

I watched my queen walk down the steps into the large atrium where we waited. Her eyes were sad and her lips were puffy and red; a telltale sign she had been kissing Marku. It was none of my business, of course, although it did shock the hell out of me that he was willingly letting her leave him. I wondered if that one action on his part said more about their relationship than the rest of their moments, combined.

Felaern's eyes blazed with sustained intensity, his attention on her as well. I scowled.  I hated that man. He was just like all the rest. Every single one of them, from Felaern to Armand to even the fucking hunters, all thought Brialle hung the damn moon. It had been sickening to watch them all fawn over her.

A familiar pain twisted in my stomach. She had taken everything from me. She had become everything I was supposed to be—Armand's queen, his lover, his friend and confident.

Armand had been stricken the instant he first laid eyes on her. And from that moment on, I never had a chance. Maybe if I had been able to bear him a child, an heir to the throne—would he have loved me then? 

My heart broke because I knew the answer. He never loved me. He only chose me for my lineage to bear him a son. I was selected like some breeding bitch. And I was too young and naïve and stupid to realize it until it was too late—I was trapped, bound to a monster.

Until Queen Raine.

I gave her a small encouraging smile when she reached our group. Even though she was obviously stressed and had a lot on her mind, she still took a brief moment to show me kindness and offered a genuine soft smile in return.

The warmth of my bond radiated through my chest. She was a hundred times more worthy than Brialle could ever hope to be. Queen Raine had risked everything for me. First, sacrificing her freedom to retrieve me from Marku's clutches, and then, she defied her own father, when she refused to bring me back to Armand. If he had his way, I would be locked up where no one could ever find me, so he could indulge in the sick pleasure of torturing me for eternity.  That bastard! I stifled a growl.

No matter, I was free now. Queen Raine had freed me. Ironically, in order to free me, she had actually enslaved me—irrevocably bound me to herself. I could never disobey her, or commit an act of disloyalty. The bond wouldn't allow it. But I was happy. She was compassionate, and I loved her. Not in the way a woman loved a man, but in the way a thankful servant loved their master. I was hers to use however she saw fit, and I would gratefully serve her until the end of my days.  

Her attention turned to Felaern. She pushed her shoulders back. "Let's go."

Felaern didn't respond. Instead he turned on his heel and exited the doors.  We followed silently, everyone tense for the dangers the next few days would bring.

..........

We ran through the night, once again careening around trees and dense foliage in the vast expanse of forest, with a new addition—Loki. Queen Raine wasn't physically able to make the trip on her own. Rather than force another member of our group to carry her, she had insisted the tiger travel with us.

It made sense. Somehow, the wild creature provided her comfort and a small reduction in her suffering.  Her legs were wrapped around his wide girth. Her head down, resting against his thick neck, eyes closed, her fingers tangled in the scruff of his fur. His gait was steady and smooth, never faltering, never missing a step. A low sustained rumble could be heard from his chest.

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