This epilogue takes place in parallel with a scene from early in Book 2 of the Hawks (Val), but from Tristan’s perspective.
If you’ve finished book 1 (Tristan), there are no plot spoilers.
I hope you love catching up with Tristan and Nim as much as I did!
Tristan leaned back and folded his arms, watching as Val stalked over toward the firepit in the center of their small ring of tents.
Val grimaced as he sank down beside Nim, not even bothering to greet anyone. His beard was untrimmed, his eyes cold, and his wings were pulled back—battle-ready—as they’d been since the moment he stepped out of the tent on his first day back with the Hawks.
Damn, it was hard to look at his friend. Val had come back from the palace broken—dark and angry and mean. They could all hear his screams at night. And Tristan held at least part of the blame. He had left Val behind when his friend had needed him the most, and Val was in no hurry to forgive him for it. Not that Tristan was ready to forgive himself either.
Val glared, nostrils flaring as he looked between Tristan and Nim, his frown eventually settling on Tristan. “When are you going to marry my sister?”
Tristan froze as Nim went rigid beside him, her voice rough as she bit out a shocked, “Val!”
Silence fell around the campfire as the Hawks quietly turned to watch. Fuck. He hadn’t even thought about asking Nim to marry him, he’d been too focused on keeping everyone alive. And so had she.
Nim turned to Val, clearly about to argue with her brother. But before she could, Val continued, “No, Nimmy. I know Tristan, don’t forget. Do you think you’re the first woman I’ve seen him with? Do you think you’re the only one he’s ever had in his bed? Shall I tell you about the curvy little blond he picked up on the first week of our northern campaign?”
Tristan felt the shock of Nim’s stunned hurt travel through her body, his beast rousing with a wave of dark emerald scales that flickered up his arms and a long low growl rattling deep in his belly.
“Or what about the woman in Brichtelmes, Tris, what was her name,” Val continued, “Cait? Cara? Something like that. Gods, she was—”
Nim closed her eyes for a moment as if to block out the words, and Tristan surged to his feet, looming over Val and interrupting whatever was coming next. He would not allow Nim to be hurt like that. Not ever. He took a menacing step toward Val. “Shut your mouth.”
Val stood slowly, face pale and tight, lifting his fists. “No. My sister deserves better than this. Living in a tent, being treated like a common—”
The word never made it out of Val’s mouth. Before he could even think, Tristan’s fist was flying, smashing into Val’s jaw with brutal ferocity.
Tristan’s next blow took Val in his gut, and his friend doubled over, gasping for breath before launching himself back up with a roar. Val threw himself into the fight, wings flaring back as he pummeled Tristan with a savage flurry of vicious punches. A harsh joy etched across his face as if this brutal punishment was exactly what he’d hoped for.
Tristan felt Nim’s scream in his bones, in the fiery burn as his claws extended and the red haze of fury filled him. He was going to end this.
Tristan dropped his hand to his sword, his claws descending with a sharp ache as the primal battle lust of his beast flowed through his veins. But before he could move, the Hawks were there. Jos and Tor hauled Val back and held him still while Mathos forced himself in front of Tristan’s face. “Don’t do it, Captain. Nim won’t thank you.”
Mathos’s words penetrated the fog, and Tristan stepped back, panting, bruises blossoming over his cheek, trying to get himself under control. To remember that this was Nim’s brother. His friend.
Val’s face was already swelling, and he held himself gingerly, protecting the reopened wounds on his chest. But what truly made Tristan pause was how devastated he looked. Val’s eyes flickered across to Nim, to her pale face and shaking hands, and then away again. He looked shocked—horrified, even—by the hurt he’d caused.
Part of Tristan wanted his fury back. Wanted to throw Val’s guilt back in his face and wound him like he’d wounded Nim. But he couldn’t. Val was lashing out like a wild animal. A wild animal that had lost its mate, lost its hope for survival, been tortured, and abused, until all it knew was how to snarl and bite.
Tristan grunted, lifting his chin to acknowledge the Hawks, reassuring them that he was calm. Jos and Tor released Val with a last shake and then walked silently away to finish their food or begin their duties.
Val folded his wings back as he rubbed a thumb down his forehead, leaving a bloody line on the skin there. “I’m sorry, Nim. I didn’t mean—”
Nim shook her head sadly. “Yes, you did. But I forgive you anyway. I know how hard this is for you. When Tristan was captured….” She swallowed heavily but didn’t continue the thought. Instead she reached out and squeezed Val’s arm. “It’ll be okay.”
“I just want what’s best for you,” Val muttered. “I…. as soon as the princess is safe, I’m leaving. I want to know that he’ll take care of you.”
Tristan wrapped his arm around Nim and pulled her into his side, needing to feel her safe against him, wishing he could take the desolate look from her face.
“Why are you leaving, Val?” Nim asked. “I don’t understand why you want to be alone when we only just got you back. Don’t you want this chance to be with Alanna?”
Tristan’s beast rumbled in his belly. Nim had a core of goodness to her. A pillar of strength and hope that left him in awe. She had never abandoned her father, just as she had never given up on her brother even when the rest of the world called him a traitor. She had never blamed him—or the Hawks—for Grendel’s attack. And she had stood by Tristan when he had been so certain that he’d lost her.
No matter how difficult it was, Nim never ran. She stood and fought for what was right and for the people she loved. And she would expect the same of Val. A year ago, Tristan would have expected it too.
The others might think Val had lost himself when he was chained to Ballanor’s wall. Or under Grendel’s knives. But Tristan knew Val in some ways better than he knew himself. And he’d been on enough battlefields to know what a man looked like when he had given up hope. More than that, he knew that if he ever lost Nim, he would look exactly like Val did. Val had lost Alanna, and he didn’t think he was getting her back.
“I can’t….” Val ran his hand down his face tiredly and looped it behind his neck. “I need to get away.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Nim gave a tiny nod of acceptance. A tiny nod that branded Tristan’s heart like a hot blade. How many times had he and Val left her behind? How many times had she accepted it? Far too many.
“When are you going?” Nim prodded softly, watching Val as he looked away into the woods.
Val faced her slowly. “As soon as you, Alanna, and the Hawks are somewhere safe.”
That was it. She didn’t argue or try to change Val’s mind. And nor did Tristan. There was no point. And right in that moment, Tristan had more important worries. Worries that still had his beast rumbling unhappily, and emerald scales shivering in waves over his shoulders.
Nim turned away, and Tristan went with her, following her back to their tent and the slight privacy it offered. Before the tent flap had settled closed, he pulled her to face him, watching her in the dim light of the cramped space. “Nim, are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m just….” She chuckled sadly. “I thought he would stay this time.” She leaned her head against Tristan’s chest, and he wrapped his arms tight around her, resting his cheek on the top of her head, wishing he could fill her with the peace she gave him.
They were safe here. The woods around them were patrolled by the Hawks, the tent was warm, the light a soothing dim gray, and most importantly, Nim was in his arms. His claws slowly retracted, but his scales still flickered along his forearms.
Nim was strong and capable—no one knew that better than him—but her heart was vulnerable, and Val had hurt her by throwing Tristan’s past at them. By pointing out how very little he was giving her. No home. No stability. No real safety. No kind of permanence. “I’m sorry, Nim.”
She pulled back enough that she could look up at him, the silver in her eyes glinting against the deep blue of her irises. She wrinkled her nose. “What for?”
“That… with Val….”
She gave a rough snort, not entirely different from one he might give himself. “That was all on him.”
It was. And it wasn’t. Val was lashing out with rage and pain, but he hadn’t lied. There had been a blond on the northern campaign. And there had been a Cait. And maybe even a Cara. And, in all that time, all those brief nights and lonely days, Tristan hadn’t even realized that Nim had loved him, or what she meant to him.
Was he still as oblivious? Did she need more than he was giving her? He didn’t even know where to start.
He ran his hands slowly down her back to settle on her hips as her arms came around his neck. “Do you know how much I love you, Nim?”
Her lips twitched, the sadness in her eyes fading. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“I… ah….” Fuck. How could he explain?
She was everything. His soul had been slowly dying without her. Nothing had ever felt like it did with her, and he would spend the rest of his life trying to be worthy of her. The feelings filled him, blanking his mind, and trapping the words.
Nim laughed, that low, slightly husky laugh. Filled with understanding. And then she stood up on her toes and rubbed her nose down his. “Maybe you should show me instead?”
Gods. Yes. That he could do.
His hands clenched on her hips, pulling her closer as he slanted his mouth over hers. She was so soft and warm and sensitive. Their tongues slid together in a long slow glide of pleasure. Tasting, touching, as every nerve in his body came alive. He poured all his feelings, his love for her, his unrelenting desire for her, his need to have her close and keep her safe, into the joining of their mouths.
The small tent was warm and dark, restrictive in a way that highlighted every tiny movement. Every rasp of leather, the loud whisper of panting breaths, and the scrape of her nails in his hair. His groan, and the low hum of the beast in his belly.
He slid his right hand up to cup the back of her head, angling her, holding her even closer, drinking from her mouth in slow sweeps that grew steadily harder, hotter, more insistent, until they were both breathing hard, gasping for breath before consuming each other once more.
He couldn’t find the words, but he could show her that she was everything to him. Without her, there would be no air to breathe, no point in getting up in the morning.
He used his free hand to lift her leg, wrapping it around his hip, and hauled her higher. Her body pressed hard against his, her fingers gripping tight to his neck, her wings quivering as they wrapped slowly around him. He could taste her. Feel her. Her body was so close. Almost, almost, where he needed her most.
He should have been outside with the Hawks. He should have been planning strategy and looking at maps and dealing with their next move. But he didn’t care about anything except her.
He lowered Nim down onto the bedroll that they’d shared the night before, pausing only to rip off the clothes he’d worn to breakfast as Nim threw her boots and leathers into a corner and then lay back, naked, her wings gleaming like old silver in the soft light.
Damn, she was beautiful. “Spread your legs, Nim.” She widened her legs, arching her back as she moved, and his breath caught in his throat.
He lowered himself to his knees between her thighs and pulled a blanket beneath her hips, tilting her pelvis up toward him. Her knees bent, opening her even wider, entirely on display—for him.
Gods. He could smell her sweetness. Could feel the heat of her body, the rapid rise and fall of her chest.
His beast rumbled steadily as Tristan leaned forward to settle his hands on the pulse in her throat and then run them slowly down her body, over her breasts, his callouses catching on her pebbled nipples, past her navel, down to her belly, and lower, to flirt, tantalizing the top of her mound, tugging at the soft curls as she squirmed.
And then all the way back up to her neck, along the sharp ridges of her collar bones, up her cheeks, and over her lips.
She licked her lips, the tip of her tongue flicking against his fingers until he dragged them back down once more.
Her eyes closed, and she arched into his touch, body quivering as his damp fingers swirled over her puckered nipples, teasing and twisting. He pinched the distended buds, and she gasped, her pelvis rocking up toward him, the softness of her inner thighs like velvet against his legs.
He dragged his fingers down her body until his thumbs could part her folds, spreading her moisture to rub either side of that swelling bundle of nerves, as she shuddered, her hands fisting in the bedding.
She turned her face away, whimpering, revealing the thudding pulse in her throat, while Tristan kept stroking her, teasing her entrance, watching the flush rise up her chest, her breath coming in gasps.
Gods, she was so swollen and wet; the helpless noises she was making driving his beast wild.
Her hips lifted toward him, seeking more, and he had to be inside her. He took his aching, weeping cock into his hand and ran it slowly up and down, through her folds, nudging her clit and then into her center, tormenting them both.
“Tris. Please. Oh, gods. Tris….” Nim curled herself up to reach his neck and pulled him down, fusing her mouth to his.
He used the movement to slide inside her, grinding up against her clit as she shuddered, her legs coming up, heels pressed into his ass, pulling him deep inside her body.
He balanced on one arm, brushing his free hand up her side and along the soft skin of her arm until he could tangle their fingers together. Her fingers locked in his, gripping tightly as he thrust slowly into her, the blanket under her hips lifting her at the perfect angle to stroke against the deliciously sensitive roughness of her front wall.
“Yes. There… gods.”
“Fuck. Nim.” He ground down, his body caging her, pushing her into the mess of blankets as she whimpered, writhing beneath him, holding him deep inside her with her heels.
The base of his spine tingled with need, his own peak building in a storm of sensation. He needed her to come. Needed it now. He gritted his teeth to hold back the rising wave of pleasure and rolled, guiding her above him until she rose over him, her wings flaring out behind her, almost touching the canvas sides of the tent they shared. Her head fell back, her lithe body rising and falling as she rode him like a goddess.
He ran his hands around her hips to the cheeks of her ass, holding and massaging as the muscles bunched and tightened, her pace building. She was breathtaking.
He grunted, his beast vibrating between them as their movements grew more frantic. “Touch yourself, Nim, I want to see you own this.”
She slid her hands down her front, tweaking her nipples with a twist that made her gasp before dropping them to spread her fingers over her clit and down to the root of his cock. She shuddered, panting in short rough breaths as her inner muscles tightened, gripping him as she rocked on top of him. She fell forward, kissing him with hot openmouthed kisses, as he thrust up harder, deeper, their breaths mingling.
“Tris… I….” She groaned, body shuddering.
She was like liquid fire on top of him. Surrounding him. He used his hands to help her, driving her hard down to grind on his cock. Onto her fingers, tight between them. “Come for me, Nim. Show me that you’re mine. That I’m yours.”
She exploded, her inner muscles milking him in relentless waves. She might have screamed, but he pulled her down, onto his mouth, swallowing the sounds, consuming her as she consumed him. He was inside her. In her mouth. In her body. And the knowledge sent him over into his own shattering release.
Their frantic pace slowed, both of them taking deep, shaking breaths, and he let his head fall back, pulling her with him, nestled into the damp crook of his neck.
He lay like that, still buried in her, feeling her body soften, a reassuring weight blanketing him, anchoring him. Their fingers were tangled together. Holding each other.
The noise of the outside world slowly returned. Mathos called out duties, and men laughed. He would have to get up. Soon. But not yet.
She snuggled into his neck, and he used his free hand to pull a blanket over her, wrapping her tightly onto his body. “I love you, Nim.”
She opened her eyes, twisting to look up at him, and smiled. “I know.”
They lay together in the dim light, bodies warm and satisfied. But slowly his worries returned. All the doubts that Val had raised.
Everything in him ached to keep this moment perfect—to stay as it was—but his need to protect her was even greater. He needed to keep her safe. Even if it meant keeping her safe from him. “Is it enough?” he asked in a rough voice.
He could feel his beast turning inside him, guarded and alert as he waited for her answer.
She pushed herself up, straddling him as the blanket fell away behind her, and looked him in the eyes. “Yes, Tristan. It’s enough. You are enough.”
“Don’t you… ah….” Gods. Did he really want to know the answer?
She watched him patiently, waiting.
Fuck it. He forced the words out. “Don’t you want a home?”
She looked down on him, her face flushed, damp tendrils of hair curling, her eyes completely serious. “I’ve lived in a stable home all these years, Tristan, and I was happy enough. But I don’t ever want to go back. I can’t, not without you. Wherever you are, that’s where I want to be, whether it’s in a tent or an old shepherd’s hut or on the side of a mountain.”
He curled up to sit, Nim in his lap, her wings surrounding them, and cradled her face in his hands. Her eyes were as dark as midnight, focused on his.
His body stirred, his cock hardening between them once more, but he ignored it. Nim would never lie—but he was starting to realize that she would always put him first—that she would deny her own needs for him.
The thought was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.
“What?” His voice was a guttural rasp.
Nim leaned her forehead down to his. “I said that I’m not leaving, Tris. I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
He shook his head slowly. “No, the other….”
She tilted her head, quizzically, raising one eyebrow.
“You didn’t hear that?” he whispered.
Stop fucking around and ask her.
Gods. He’d heard it again. But by the bemused look on her face, Nim hadn’t.
“I thought… I heard… I don’t know.”
Her hands tightened on the back of his neck. “Maybe it was inside you?”
He froze. That wasn’t possible. It couldn’t be.
Nim nestled her face into his neck, tightening her arms around his stiffening shoulders, her wings behind his back. Holding him tight against her. “You used to speak to your beast all the time when you were younger,” she murmured into his skin.
He shook his head roughly. “No. I had an imaginary friend. I grew out of it. I grew up.”
He had grown up. He wasn’t a child. He wasn’t insane. He was a man. A captain. With responsibilities.
In fact, now that he thought about it, he really did have to get back to his men; they needed him. There was a never-ending list of duties to be done. They needed to plan their next steps, find somewhere safe to regroup, deal with Val and Alanna, and figure out how to help Reece. Yes, he had a lot to do, and he had to get up and start doing it.
He settled his hands on her hips, twisting slightly, ready to help her move, but instead of shifting as he expected, Nim locked her feet behind his back and held on tighter.
“Nim, sweetheart, I have to get up.”
“Okay,” she agreed sweetly. And then she kissed his neck and stayed exactly where she was.
“I have duties. Responsibilities. This was… wonderful. But I have to go now.”
Gods. You really are an asshole.
It took everything he had not to flinch. But Nim merely sighed a soft “Mm-hm,” and didn’t move.
Tristan was trapped. He could pick her up and move her, but that would hurt her. Not her body, but her heart.
“Please, Nim, I need you to move.”
“No?” He honestly had no idea what the fuck was happening. She knew there were jobs to be done. He’d asked very politely. And yet she wasn’t moving.
Nim chuckled against his throat. “I’m not letting go. If you get up and leave now, you’ll have to take me like this. I reckon Mathos would be pleased.”
His claws slid out as scales rippled up his arm and his beast rumbled menacingly.
Nim dropped a row of soft kisses gently down his shoulder, and the beast settled. Right up until she whispered, “I love you, Tristan. All the parts of you. Even the ones your father tried to beat out of you.”
How did she know about that? She couldn’t. He had crawled away from that final, brutal thrashing determined never to think of it again.
He told everyone that his horse had thrown him. And two weeks later, aged thirteen, he’d convinced Val that they should be soldiers. That they should train and study. Sword-fighting, knives, sparring, running with weights. He’d put on the muscle he needed to protect himself —and put away his childish need for comfort. Put away the invisible friend that he’d held onto way past the age of little boy games.
His father had never laid a hand on him again. And as soon as he was old enough, he’d left to join the army.
Nim’s kisses moved up his neck and over his face, onto his eyelids, the corner of his mouth, before leaning back to look at him. “You told Val that you fell from your horse.” She snorted, not at all delicately. “I still don’t know how he believed that. You. Fall from your horse.” She rolled her eyes, huffing. “And even if anyone believed that idiocy, how could falling from a horse cause black eyes at the same time as a torn-up back? Or turn a boy silent?”
She leaned back, her hands gripping tightly to his shoulders as she focused on him. “It was never believable. I saw you then. The same as I see you now. I see you, Tristan. All the parts of you.”
That. Right there. That’s why we need her to say yes. Ask her. Now.
What the hell was he supposed to do? He was at a total loss. He had things to do and an insane voice in his ear. He was trying to have a sensible conversation with Nim about her moving so that he could go outside… and… get… away.
She saw him. All of him. And he had promised never to run again.
“Nim….” He took a long, slow breath, his hands tight around her waist. Using her soft warmth as an anchor. “I think, maybe, my beast is speaking to me.”
She dropped a gentle kiss onto his lips and then smiled. “Good.”
Good? Good! Tristan grunted, completely perplexed. He was going insane, and she thought it was good.
“Other Tarasque talk to their beasts all the time, Tristan.”
He shook his head. That wasn’t possible. His father—
“Your father was a vicious bastard who couldn’t bear to allow his son one ounce of comfort,” Nim said firmly, reading his mind. “Whatever he said, whatever he did, he was wrong.”
His father was wrong.
Gods. It was like the sun had risen above a storm. The knowledge—the truth—of it filled him. He had known that his father would do anything to hurt him, and yet he’d lived his life believing the old man’s cruel taunts.
For the first time in his life, he truly let it go. Let go of the rage and shame and let peace come in. Something had changed within him. Something had broken that ice-cold grip.
Not something—someone. Nim.
Yes. Nim. That was one thing they were in complete agreement about. Was his beast… smug? Gods.
And it was also right. Tristan had been taking everything Nim gave without showing her, tangibly, irrefutably, what it meant to him. He needed to marry her. He needed her to know that she was everything to him. And he needed the world to know that she was his.
“Not now.” He wanted to do it right. He wanted a ring for her and a proper proposal. Not a sweaty, confused mumble in a dim tent. She deserved to feel beautiful. Treasured. To know that she was precious. That she was not temporary. Or in any way comparable to anyone else he’d ever known. Ever.
Nim tilted her head to the side, forehead wrinkling. “Not now?”
What was the last thing she’d said? She’d said his father was a bastard. He grunted, annoyed with himself. Fucking words. “You’re right. About everything. I was talking to… it.”
She chuckled. “And what did it want?”
“The same things I do.”
“And what’s that?” She tilted her hips as she asked, and his cock responded, deeply, intensely aware that she was lusciously naked and straddling his lap. All his blood and conscious thought rushed to the place where their bodies met.
“Something….” He groaned as she slid herself back along his length and then leaned forward to kiss him again. “I can’t remember now. Fuck, Nim. I need you.”
She kissed him slowly, still rocking against him, and then smiled against his lips. “I thought you had to go. You know, duties.”
He tightened his grip on her hips, pulling her into a long, slow grind.
“They can all wait.”
His beast rumbled in his belly. Yes, they can. Must.
“Yes,” she agreed against his skin, echoing his beast, “they can.”
Gods. For the first time in his adult life, Tristan was himself. Truly, completely himself.
With Nim in his arms, her body pressed into his, and his beast rumbling joyfully within him, he was finally whole.