"If you touch that cookie, you will lose a hand." I growl the words at Kirin, my hangry mood worse than usual due to the small being growing in the vicinity of my bladder.
"You've already had five of them, Ev!"
"I don't care if I've had seventy of them, you little thief. I'm preggers. I can have all the cookies I want. It's almost Yule. I'm celebrating." Yule is one of my favorite holidays. Mostly because it involved a chance at a few days off with my crew in the old days. Now it involves all the treats I want, that I don't have to make myself. And presents. There is a mountain of presents under the towering fir tree in the great hall. I'm pretty sure we've got St. Nick beat here, no joke.
"You're going to get fat if you eat them all!"
I press a hand to my chest in mock affront. "How dare you!" I throw a spoon at Kirin.
Eryn peers over the top of her book, rolling her eyes at the both of us. "I can't take you two anywhere." She reaches her hand into the bowl of caramel popcorn on the table next to her and shakes her head.
"We're home. Who cares?" Kirin kicks his boots up on the table, probably only to annoy Eryn.
"We have guests." Eryn looks pointedly to the left, where the Unseelie princess, Kiara, sits with her guard, Brigid.
"Puh-lease. They're practically family now. They've been here for how long?" I look to Kirin for an answer, enjoying the easygoing conversation.
"Uh, I think, like, three months now." Kirin counts on his fingers like a five-year-old. "Yeah, you're going to pop that kid out when? Another three months, right? So three months."
Worry flows through me at my impending due date mixed with an unearthly excitement to meet the little monster that will be equal parts of Dare and myself. "That was painful to watch, Kirin."
He shrugs and turns back to his own book, the three of us falling into a comfortable silence. I lean forward, grunting at the effort it takes with the giant stomach in front of me. This kid is going to be fucking massive. Like, honestly. I look like I could pop any day, let alone in another three months. I take a sip of my hot cocoa, humming in contentment.
The spawn kicks and tumbles inside me and I follow the movements with my hands and smile at the flurry of activity. Simone has been working on a spell to ask her ancestors for the gender and we're going to try it today. I'm so excited to find out, but I refuse to try it until Dare gets back.
As if my thoughts summon him, the doors to the main hall bang open, a blast of cold air blowing in, and Dare, Dagan, and Dax walk through the doors, covered in weapons and looking dangerous.
I whistle for Dare, laughing when he winks at me. He hangs up his heavy coat before making a beeline for me. Instantly his hands go to my belly. The kicking starts again and a wide smile lights Dare's face.
"I missed you while you were gone." I rest my smaller hand over his and turn my face up for a kiss. He indulges me, his lips brushing mine, once, twice, and then firmly crushes them against mine and parts them with his tongue. I hum into his mouth, his taste like a shot of alcohol to my system. He makes me tingly and warm all over.
"I was only gone for a few hours. We have to patrol the area. I'm not taking any chances that the Order has found another way into the castle walls."
"We've sealed off all of the tunnels that they told us about. They can't get in."
Dare's mouth forms a thin line. "I won't risk it."
I pull him down for another kiss and pull back, smiling up at him. "I know. And I appreciate it." I hand Dare one of the cookies he's come to crave as I have. Simone calls them sympathy cravings. It amuses the shit out of me.
"Hey! How come he gets a cookie?" Kirin shouts.
"Because." Dare chuckles.
"Not cool, man. Bro's before h—"
I throw a cookie at Kirin's forehead, the sugary creation crumbling on contact. "Oy! He's my baby daddy. He gets a cookie!"
Kirin shoves a few crumbs of cookie in his mouth, flipping me the bird at the same time.
"You ready to go see Simone? Find out if we're having a boy or a girl?" I push up from my seat and Dare lets me grab his arm for leverage.
"I can't wait, mo grá. Let's go."
* * *
After about ten minutes of me waddling down the corridors to get to Amren's section of the library, I'm out of breath and cranky. That should have taken me, like, three minutes tops. Dare pulls out a chair for me and even though I want to pace to expel some of the excess energy flowing through my veins at the moment, I take it, thankful to get off my feet.
"Where are they?" I lean forward as far as I can, peering around the corner. "We're the ones who are late here."
Dare rubs a hand down the back of my head, smoothing my hair. "I'm sure there is a good reason, mo grá."
"Better be a good reason." I grumble the words under my breath but Dare hears them. He chuckles before fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. I raise a brow at him. He never fidgets.
Dare clears his throat. "Are you nervous, mo grá?"
"I'm fucking terrified." It's true. All I want is a healthy baby. But I can't help but wonder if Dare will be disappointed if it's a girl. Or if he wants a girl.
Dare kneels in front of me and places his hands on my belly. "Why are you scared, Ever? Nothing scares you."
I laugh. "You know that's not true. I don't want to disappoint you."
"How could you disappoint me?"
"I'm assuming you want a son?" I rest my hand over his.
"I do not care about the sex of our child, Ever. I only care that it's healthy, happy, and safe." He leans down, kissing the space between both of his hands, and I sigh. How the hell did I get so lucky to have Dare in my life? I mean, sometimes I want to smack him, but most of the time, I just want to be around him, letting his presence envelope me in safety and love.
"That's all I want too." I just need this baby to be safe. I have no doubt that it'll be loved. That's not even in question. But the Order has its own plans for my offspring, and while I'm pregnant, there's not much I can do to fight back against it.
"I found them! They're over here!" Arela's lyrical voice rings out, startling both of us out of our little bubble.
"Gods, Arela. You scared me half to death." I press my hand over my heart, running wild in my chest. I wasn’t this jumpy before I found out I was expecting. But now, every little thing startles me. It's annoying as hell.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to. I thought you heard me coming." She smiles sweetly at me and she's instantly forgiven.
"Is Amren right behind you?" I attempt to rise from my chair but give up when the move proves too difficult with a large belly.
"Yeah, and Simone too." Arela steps forward and rubs her hand over my stomach. The baby responds, rolling around and kicking at her hand. She giggles. "Hello, little one!"
I smile at her. Everyone wants to touch my stomach but it kind of freaks me out. I don't like people touching me on my best of days, let alone when I'm cranky, emotional, and feeling protective of my unborn child. But I don't mind it when Arela does it. Perhaps because I know she'd never harm me, or because the baby seems to like her voice. Either way, she's one of the few I don't swat away.
"Hello, Ever." Amren nods at me as he glides into the room. "Dare, how are you both today?"
"Impatient," I clip out, giving him a pointed look.
"So sorry. We were attending to Doyle."
Instantly I feel like the biggest jerk on the planet and embarrassment heats my cheeks. How could I have forgotten about Doyle? After I brokered the deal with Queen Mab, she'd followed through on her promise, delivering the antidote. Or that's what she'd told us. Doyle is no longer getting sicker. Instead he's gotten back to his healthy self. The only problem is he won't wake up. After a screaming match with the Queen of the Winter Court, when I accused her of breaking her blood oath and called her a few choice names, Arela had stepped in with a message from the Goddess herself.
Doyle needs to decide to come back on his own. For all intents and purposes, he's healed. But still he sleeps. We've tried everything. Talking to him, yelling at him, joking with him, pleading with him. I even insulted him, calling him the ugliest sleeping beauty I'd ever seen. None of it worked.
The Goddess told Arela that we need to be patient. It has never been a virtue of mine, so we went in search of what else we could do to wake him up. I sent Puck off on a mission to bring us some answers and he's been gone for weeks. The last we heard, he'll be back soon, but that was two weeks ago. I'd worry, but he's about as crafty as they come.
"I'm sorry, Amren. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful. I know you're working hard." Simone walks into my field of vision and I smile at her. "You too, Simone. Thank you for all that you're doing."
They both nod in acknowledgment, Simone gracing me with a smile of her own. "How are you feeling today, Ever?" she asks.
"Like I'm ready to have this kid at any moment. Walking is slow, movement is limited, and I'm hungry all the time."
She laughs. "Sounds about right. But you're staying as active as you can?"
"Yeah, I'm still training Kiara." I catch Dare rolling his eyes out of the corner of my own and I smack at his arm. "Hey, I can still manage a roundhouse kick despite the sack of potatoes that's currently sitting on my bladder."
Dare looks to Amren, his face mulish. "Please tell her she should not be moving like that. If she falls, she could hurt the child."
Amren purses his lips. "It's true that you should be careful, Ever. But if you limit your movements to perhaps your upper body and just keep the leg movements to brisk walks, you should be okay."
I point a finger at Dare. "Ha! I told you so!"
He shakes his head, mumbling in Goblin to himself.
I clap my hands together. "So, are we going to get this show on the road? I'm dying to know!"
Simone chuckles and grabs a jar of something off the counter, walking toward me. "This is ready now. We've got to put it right on your belly, so lift up your shirt." Dare growls, looking around, and I rub up and down his arm.
"No one is here to see me, Dare. It's just us and Amren and Simone."
"And me!" Arela chirps from across the room.
Simone looks to Dare, waiting for him to give his approval. He nods and she uncaps the jar. I lift up my shirt and shift in the chair. I'm so excited I could dance around the room, but at the same time, I'm so nervous I could puke in that bucket Amren has in the corner. And poor Dare. He's been overprotective to the nth degree. The further along I get, the growlier he gets at anyone who gets within five feet of me. Simone told me it’s a goblin thing. They're protective of their offspring and their mates. Dare and I still haven't confirmed we're mates, but according to Simone, the ability for us to create a child together bodes well.
Simone dips her hand into the jar, the dark brown substance making a squishing sound. "It will be a bit cold when I put it on. Sorry about that."
I frown. "It's fine. So long as whatever’s in that mixture of yours doesn't eat me." I open my mouth to ask what exactly is in it but then think better of it. Better if I don't know.
Simone spreads the paste across my belly and we all watch. The baby moves beneath my skin, a flurry of activity. I move my hand to place it on my belly but Simone catches my hand.
"You can't touch it. Let the mixture give us an answer first."
"Got it. No touching." I reach for Dare's hand and he's already holding it out, ready for me. Thank the gods for this man and his ability to read my mind despite the fact that we can't actually read each other’s minds.
As we watch, the mixture starts to move on my stomach and I gasp. What in the actual fuck is this shit?
"This is normal, Ever. Do not be alarmed." Simone smiles warmly at me and I bare my teeth in response.
"Sure, sure. Whatever you say, Simone." Slowly the mixture splits into two circles. First the right one forms into an uppercase Y with a line running through the center. The second clump of paste forms into a triangle with a line coming from the top. I look to Simone. "What does that mean? Is it confused?"
Simone looks over her shoulder at Amren. "Could it really be?" Her voice is soft and she looks awestruck.
"I suppose it could. Nothing is ever ordinary with these two," Amren replies.
"Would someone tell me what the fuck is going on?" I shout, my nerves getting the better of my manners.
"You see here?" Simone points to the triangle with a line above it. "You're having a little girl."
Warmth flows over me and I squeeze Dare's hand, looking up to see his reaction. He's slack-jawed and his eyes are watery. My big bad goblin is just as emotional as I am.
"And what about this Y-looking thing over here? What does that mean?"
Simone laughs and holds her hands in front of her like she's praying. "That means you're having a little boy."
Shock hits me like a bullet and I flinch back. "You just said it was a girl though." I look up to Dare, confused. "Which is it, Simone? Don't play with us please."
"I'm not playing with you, Ever. You're having a boy and a girl. Twins. You're having twins."
My vision goes blurry, and after the word twins, my ears ring. Two. Two children. At the same time. This isn't what the prophecy said. I’m only supposed to have one child. Just one.
Dare kneels in front of me again, his hand still in mine in a white-knuckled grip. "Ever? Ever, talk to me."
"Just give her a moment. This is a lot to take in." Amren walks forward and I watch him in a daze. He waves a bowl of something under my nose and I flinch back.
"What the fuck was that?"
"Smelling salts. They help when someone is in shock."
I look around at the faces staring back at me. Dare, whose face is contorted in worry. Simone and Arela, who both look cautiously happy, and Amren, who wears his ever-present frown of contemplation.
"Two babies. A boy and a girl. You're sure?"
"We're sure, Ever. That would explain why your belly is so large this early on."
"I'm not that big." I grumble the words defensively. I'm the size of a house, but still, rude.
"You are beautiful as always, mo grá." Dare kisses my belly and I run a hand through his hair, the motion soothing my nerves. Dare always knows just what to say.
"Okay, so what does this mean, then?" Plans of safety and protection run through my head like a movie reel and I realize we've got a lot to adjust with another baby in the mix.
"This means I will not be leaving your side for the next three months." Dare stands, putting his hands on his hips.
I groan. "Don't even think it. We're just going to have to adjust some stuff for the long term."
"I will not be swayed here, Ever." Dare narrows his eyes at me.
"Oh, yes, you will. I don't want you to hover over me like a pesky pixie. We have to tell everyone."
"I don't think that is a wise idea," Amren chimes in.
"I don't literally mean everyone, Amren. I mean my crew and those protecting me. They have to know since they'll be involved with the plans. As for everyone else... they can find out on delivery day."