Simple Man Epilogue
The lone piano produced sultry tones, but nothing compared to the voice that accompanied it. Killian Rearden sat behind the baby grand singing in the club. The curved booths were lined with navy velvet, and our drinks sat on a glossy wooden table. Each section gave the listeners their own intimate look at the performer. The whole place had an old-world vibe to it.
I felt the supernatural beings in the room. I supposed they were drawn in by the comforting tones of the bard. This town had no idea what was lurking in a small bar in the new entertainment district of Birmingham, Alabama.
“He’s so good,” Delaney whispered in my ear.
“Got a crush on the bard?” I asked.
“If I wasn’t already madly in love, I’d totally fangirl him,” she replied with a smile.
I didn’t know much about modern music, but she said that Killian sounded like a mix of James Arthur and Lewis Capaldi. Whatever it was, Killian had drawn a crowd. He’d been in Birmingham for a week when he invited us to come and hear him sing.
Winnie sat in the other side of the booth next to Kyrie. He left a space between them, but she kept moving closer to him. The only person in the room that seemed to care about that was the dragon, who as in previous meetings remained in the shadows.
“Will you folks be needing any more drinks?” the server asked in her deep southern drawl.
“No, thank you, Kelsey. You’ve been very attentive,” Kyrie responded, handing her a couple of folded bills. She was surprised by his offering, but took them from him. She looked at them, then back at him.
“Is this a mistake, Sir?” she asked.
“No, Cher. Thank you for your service tonight,” he replied with a brilliant smile.
She nodded her head in thanks, moving away with a couple of steps backward before turning from him. It was very much like a servant respecting a king. Kyrie certainly had that vibe now.
“What did you give her?” I asked out of curiosity.
“A tip,” he replied smartly.
“He’s rich now,” Winnie sassed.
“You aren’t hurting for cash either,” I responded. We’d visited the Black Rose building in Steelshore a couple of days ago, and I was blow away by the network that Seamus had built for her. He claimed it was his own network and gave it to her because he had no choice but to rule Neverland, but I knew the truth. Everything he did in Steelshore was his way of penance to Winnie’s previous life, and because he adored the new woman she’d become.
“Meh. I’ve got grumpy dragons to worry about and they don’t care about money,” she replied. Dev’s head cocked to the side, but he didn’t speak. He was well across the room, but I had no doubt he could hear everything she said.
Killian continued to sing and play, enthralling the crowd with his magical voice.
“You are just a piece of me that I’m leaving behind,” he sang. I hadn’t heard the song before, but it was beautiful. Part lost love. Part finding a new way. You’d think he’d had his heart broken by the soul in his tone. He hadn’t that I knew about. My eyes drifted to the last person in our booth.
Ruby watched Killian intently. She’d arrived unexpectedly and joined us in our booth. She was quiet and lacked the brashness I’d seen of her in the past.
“He wrote it,” Ruby said quietly.
“How do you know that?” Winnie asked.
“Um, I got a preview of it yesterday. He came to Summer and invited me to come tonight. I kinda convinced him to play for me,” she replied with a smile. Winnie eyed her skeptically.
I just hoped Killian knew what he was doing with the Summer Queen. I’d gotten a full report from everyone about their trials. Kyrie’s was the worst of them. It haunted me. He assured me that Rafe knew what he was doing and had made the choice. He said that I shouldn’t feel responsible, but I did. I felt his death as much as I felt Lyra’s and James’s . He was one of us, and we would miss him. It didn’t help that he was in Vallhalla leading the legions there. He had no memory of his time with us. He looked at Winnie like she was just another person, and I knew how much pain that caused her.
The Wild Wolves wanted to send emissaries to our allies. One to Summer, one to Winter, one to Shady Grove, one would join Killian in the F.B.I. building, and finally one to Winnie’s operations in Steelshore. Ryeok insisted on working with Winnie. I asked her permission before sending him, and she had agreed. She hadn’t mentioned him since he’d moved to Steelshore. I knew that she’d given him an apartment inside the Black Rose.
There were other Otherworld beings in the room. I sensed them. None of them more powerful than a man who sat in the back at a single table. He drank a clear liquid from a bottle marked with Asian characters. His eyes were almost black to match his long hair. His emerald aura shimmered brightly despite his dark features. His eyes flicked from Killian to me. I nodded. He lowered his head almost like a bow, then turned his attention back to our bard. I wanted to know who he was. His attention seemed different than the others in the room.
The club patrons were fixed on Killian’s music. He was fixed on Killian.
Killian’s song ended and a generous applause rippled across the room. Killian raised his hand in thanks.
“I appreciate your kindness,” he said as he rose from the piano. He sauntered over to us, squeezing into the booth next to me.
“Pretty damn good, Kill,” I complimented.
“Thanks. Gotta live up to my billing, right?” he replied.
“It was really good though. Very touching,” Winnie said.
“I’d like to have you come down to New Orleans and play. My father owned several bars down there, and I’m trying to get them back on track. One of them is a blues bar. I think you’d fit right in,” Kyrie said.
“We will book a date then,” Killian said to my surprise.
“Are you a legit performer now?” I asked.
“I can’t really do anything big because of my magical abilities, but playing in places like this and in Kyrie’s bar won’t hurt anything. If you noticed, I draw our kind. I wouldn’t want to cause any problems for anyone,” Killian said.
“What about this place? Won’t you draw attention here?” I asked.
“Nah. Magic City Blues is owned by my grandfather’s friend from the Otherworld. He’s a kelpie too. His son is the bartender.” Killian indicated the young man behind the bar who looked like a normal human to the rest of us, but my sight saw past that. His aura did give off a watery death vibe. My new abilities were drawn to darker beings. I was only just learning to deal with it, but I had Delaney, and that was all that mattered.
“How are the wedding plans going?” Ruby asked.
“Sully is driving Callum crazy about it, but it’s fun watching them plan. Something positive to look forward too after all the battles and fighting. I know the war isn’t over, but we made it through this one,” I said.
“If he needs any help, tell him I’ll be happy to participate. We have such exotic blooms and plants in Summer. He could do some gorgeous arrangements for the ceremony,” Ruby offered.
“I’ll let him know. It will be something else for Callum to grumble about,” I said with a smile.
“Callum thought it would be a small affair,” Winnie informed the rest of the table.
“He also knows that my brother doesn’t do anything small,” I added.
“They will find a compromise,” Delaney said. She was positivity and sunshine in one gorgeous package, and she was mine. I’d started making plans of our own. We were expanding the cabin, and I’d talked to the human town council of Dog River. The area that the cabin was in would be officially annexed into the city so that it would fall into my territory.
The wolfpacks in the South were already starting to rebuild. The unfortunate effect of the pure-breed werewolves being targeted by my mother meant that there were very few left. However, Ryeok had informed me that any of the Wild Wolves that produced offspring with humans would result in new pure-bred werewolves. I didn’t know if I liked the idea of the Wild Wolves mixing into the human population, but I valued those pure-bred wolves as much as the Faeborn ones. We were discussing options and would find a solution. Of course, Ryeok also mused about producing ice phoenix wolves with Winnie. I nearly punched his lights out, but Delaney reeled me back. He had a lot to learn about etiquette in the human world.
Who would have ever imagined that I’d care about etiquette and humans? But now, if one died near me, I saw their spirits and pointed them toward the bridge in the clouds. I saw others who had wandered in this world unseen by human and fairy eyes. They were lost souls who would never find their way.
Three days after we’d burned our dead, a man arrived at Crescent Moon to report to me for duty. His name was Tynan Deadman, and he carried a smaller version of my scythe. He informed me that the reapers were waiting on my orders as the new King.
Reapers. Collectors of the dead souls. I’d gotten a crash course in their duties that day. It was a system that worked without a ruler because it must, but Tynan wanted to make sure that I had no plans to change anything. I’d instructed him to carry on as in the past, but I wanted to know as much about his duties as I could. He promised to take me with him soon to see his daily duties.
He appeared in the world as a normal human, much like the rest of us, but he was part of the Star Realm, but instead of answering to Kyrie, the reapers answered to me. It struck me that these reapers would be the ones that my mother would have had me command to lead the souls into the Void instead to heaven. They dealt solely with the deaths of humans and the rare death of a Fire Realm or Star Realm being.
“What’s on your mind?” Delaney whispered in my ear.
“Just the weight of our new responsibilities,” I replied. She was now the Chooser of the Slain. Tynan had informed us that some of the reapers were tasked to bring the souls of warriors to her. She would choose whether to send them to the bridge or into Valhalla. It had only occurred once since she’d taken on the role, and she’d chosen to send the man across the bridge.
She squeezed my hand. “I think that we are the perfect pair.”
“I agree,” I said, giving her a soft kiss.
She blushed, and I realized that everyone was watching us.
“When are you two tying the knot?” Ruby asked.
“We are giving Sully and Callum the spotlight for now,” Delaney replied.
“She can’t be any more mine than she already is,” I added.
“I dare any man to think I belong to them,” Winnie stated. Kyrie’s eyebrows lifted, and the dragon bristled in the shadows.
“Winnie, good men don’t consider owning a woman. Saying that she’s mine means that all that I am is tied to her. Our souls are connected in a way that they are one. She is mine, and I am hers. It’s not ownership. It’s partnership. But it’s also claiming. Every man in this room knows that neither of us are available. She’s mine,” I explained.
“And he’s mine,” Delaney added.
Winnie smirked at us.
“Whatever. I’m going to claim a woman and she will be my possession,” Kyrie said boldly. He watched Winnie’s reaction. She slowly turned her head to him.
“Good luck with that,” she smirked.
“I love a challenge,” he replied.
Their chemistry had been good before, but now, it was off the charts. It was going to be entertaining to watch. Especially with the dragon in the shadows and the Wild Wolf at her disposal.
“I think you should have a harem,” Ruby said. My jaw nearly dropped because I’d thought the same thing for Winnie.
“What would I do with more than one man?” Winnie scoffed.
“I could show you,” Ruby replied.
Killian began coughing and quickly stood up. “I’m going to grab a drink.” He strode away, but the table behind us stopped him to compliment his playing.
Winnie looked from her brother to Ruby. Before she could speak, Ruby beat her to the punch.
“I’m not toying with Killian. I promise. Our trial made me see a lot of things, and I’m leaning on him for guidance. That’s all. I swear it on my crown,” Ruby said. The table shook with the oath.
“Just so you know that I will rip you to shreads and leave you alive to suffer if you hurt him,” Winnie said.
Kyrie nudged her. “Killian can take care of himself.”
“I have no doubt of that. This is in addition to that,” Winnie said, narrowing her eyes at Ruby.
“I’ve given my oath,” Ruby said, dropping her gaze from Winnie.
“I believe her,” I said. Winnie’s attention shifted to me. “I know about their trial. I know what happened, and Ruby’s intentions are pure. Well, maybe that’s the wrong word for it.” I began to stumble over my words.
“Not pure, but good,” Ruby offered. “Besides Colton and I have discussed exclusivity. He’s going to be elevated to Grand Druid of Summer soon. We might get married.”
“Really? That’s wonderful,” Delaney exclaimed.
“Thank you,” Ruby responded shyly. All I could think was poor Colton. I knew Ruby had changed, but it wasn’t a complete change. Summer beings had something built into them for deception and cruelty. I’d never seen anyone master it like Astor had. Ruby was trying. It had taken Rory’s life.
“Um, Ruby, I’d like for you to visit the Black Rose building. I have someone there I’d like you to meet,” Winnie said, changing her tone.
“I’d love to see your operations,” Ruby replied. “Is this about my brother?”
Winnie nodded. She’d told me about how Rory had been allowed to return as a guardian soul instead of being reincarnated. He was bound to Winnie’s service and her building. Ruby wouldn’t like it. He didn’t even look like he used to look, but underneath the changes, he still had that loyalty and steadfastness of his father. He got to keep the good parts of himself and dedicate those to the cause. We’d met him during our visit to the building. It was strange, but I could see both of his faces. His new one overshadowed the old one. I figured it had something to do with my connection to death and being able to see the souls in the world.
Killian returned with a glass that looked like water. “I have one more song, then the club is closing. Thank you for coming.”
Delaney placed her hand over his. “Killian, we are here for you. This task is a huge one, and we will be there in an instant if you call.”
“Definitely,” I added.
“We’ve got your back,” Kyrie said.
Killian blushed and a tear formed in his right eye. “Thank you. It means a lot. But I’m determined to make my own way in this. I’ll call if things get super bad, but I really want to prove who I am.”
“Who you are is a man with a huge support group. You need to remember that. But also, I understand wanting to make your own way. Our parent’s power overshadows us. I felt it in Shady Grove, which is why I had to leave. Something inside me told me that I was more than just a girl in a small town. I was right. That same feeling is nagging at you now. We already know that you are something special, Kill. We will be here as you prove it to yourself,” Winnie said.
Killian rose and moved to the piano without responding. He began to play and sing. Once again, the crowd was enthralled, except for the man in the back corner. His eyes remained on Killian. I didn’t sense danger from him, but he was dangerous.
“He’s a very handsome man,” Delaney said.
“Killian looks like Levi. Of course he is,” I responded.
“No. I’m talking about tall, dark and Asian,” she corrected.
“Oh, you noticed him?” I asked.
“Yep. I may be totally, helplessly in love with you, but I’m not blind,” she said with a grin.
I chuckled. “I’m not offended by you looking. I know you come home with me.”
“Whatever. You follow me home,” she replied smartly.
I kissed her again.
“Stop it,” Winnie mumbled.
I ignored her. I didn’t care who saw me kiss Delaney. The ring in my pocket was burning a hole there, but I’d agreed to wait for Callum and Sully. I wasn’t waiting for long. She was mine, but I wanted her to have my last name. Meyer.
Levi had asked me if I wanted to change it now that I’d found my place in the world. I told him no. I’d keep it to recognize where I came from to get where I was at. It would be a reminder of the struggles I’d faced and how I’d failed in the beginning to overcome them. I’d run. I’d wandered, but now, I was home. The crown still felt awkward, but Delaney’s hand in mine felt perfect. One for two wasn’t bad. She assured me that I’d get used to the crown. I didn’t care if I had her and my pack. I couldn’t have imagined feeling so complete. It didn’t seem possible, and I hadn’t dared to dream about it until I moved to Shady Grove.
There was something about that small town in Alabama that had spawned a whole new universe of royalty and leaders. I was honored to be a part of that group. For the times to come, we were going to need each other more than we ever expected. Each of us played a part in a much bigger picture that wouldn’t become clear for years to come, but in the end, we all pointed to Shady Grove and the magic there that brought us together.