So far, the right man hadn’t yet shown up, but he would soon. Madoc needed to remember that. Keep his distance. She wasn’t a convenient fuck. He had whores for that. Nika was to be protected, even from himself.
“We’re leaving,” he told her. The sooner he unloaded her onto someone else, the better. “Get in the truck.”
That single word froze Madoc in place. “What?”
“You heard me. I’m not going anywhere with you. Your phone is dead, so you’re not calling anyone to come babysit me, which means you’re stuck with me. Deal with it.”
“Did you seriously just tell me to deal with it?”
Madoc was done playing. The pain inside him was building, and without an outlet, he’d be crumpled in a sobbing heap by morning. He couldn’t let Nika see that.
“Get in the truck. I’ll find a phone and call someone to dig up the fucking grave, okay?”
“No. I don’t believe you.”
“Get in the damn truck, Nika.” The warning was clear in his tone. He stepped forward, intending to crowd her personal space and intimidate her, but she didn’t back down.
She tipped her chin up and warned him, “You come any closer and I’m going to kiss you.”
Hell, no. That was not going to happen. Not even if he lived long enough to watch the sun wink out.
If she kissed him, he’d fuck her. If he did that, he’d hurt her. He wasn’t exactly a gentle man when it came to sex. And if he hurt her, then the last, tiny sliver of his soul would shrivel up and die and he’d end up killing the people he was supposed to protect.
Nika eased away from the sink, moving toward him. Her body moved with sinuous grace, and for a moment, he forgot completely about how fragile she’d been only a few months ago. All he saw was the woman she was now—whole, seemingly healthy, and sexy as hell.
“Is that what you want, Madoc?” she asked in a quiet voice. “Do you want me to kiss you? ’Cause it’s what I want. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Especially when I go to bed. I keep wishing you were with me.Touching me. Sometimes I touch myself and pretend it’s you.”
Madoc’s brain sputtered, spinning around the image that created. Nika in bed, naked, with his hands the only thing to cover her. Would she shy away from him or arch into his touch? Would she tell him what she liked, or would he have the fun of figuring it out on his own?
Her hands slid over his chest, up around his neck. The slide of her fingers over the luceria around his throat made his body clench. He held his breath, waiting for his luceria to react to her touch, but nothing happened. She wasn’t meant to be his.
A wave of heat washed through him, and it was all he could do to keep his hands fisted at his sides and not pull her against him. As much as he wanted to press his erection into the softness of her belly, he knew what a mistake that would be.
It would only make him want more of what he would never have.
Her lips parted and she went up on tiptoe as if to kiss him.
Panic flared in his gut and he lurched away from her, knocking her off balance. She caught herself on the counter and stared up at him with hurt shining in her blue eyes.
“You win,” he whispered, unable to find enough air for anything else. “I’ll dig up your bones. Anything you want, just don’t . . . touch me again.”
Nika nodded her understanding and turned away, but not before he saw her blinking back tears.
He’d fucking hurt her feelings, but at least he hadn’t done worse. Yet.
Tori Madison heard the footsteps coming down the tunnel toward the cage where she was kept prisoner. She had no idea how long she’d been here. In fact, most of the time, it seemed like her life before the darkness was a dream—something she made up to keep herself from going crazy.
If it weren’t for the touch of her sister inside her mind, Tori knew she would have died a long time ago. Nika’s gentle presence whispering inside her was the only thing Tori had to live for.
And now she had to let that go. She had to push Nika away—block her out.
The Synestryn lord wanted Nika. She’d overheard him talking about it to the little girl who never grew up. They were planning on using Tori to lure Nika here.
Part of Tori wanted to let it happen. Her life would be so much nicer with her sister nearby, close enough to touch and see. But the rest of her remembered that there was a life outside these caves. That life had warmth and sunshine. On the good days, Tori could almost remember what the sun felt like.
Sunshine had been stolen from Tori, and she couldn’t let that same thing happen to Nika. She couldn’t repay her sister like that, so instead, she worked to distance herself. Instead of wishing for the touch of Nika inside her mind, she focused on something else when she felt that gentle brush of thoughts over hers. She would sing a song she remembered so loud it would echo off the stone walls, blocking out all else.
Slowly, she’d begun to build up barriers that kept Nika out. Tori was lonely and afraid more often than not, but at least her sister was still safe.
The footsteps grew louder. Tori scurried back into the tightest corner of her prison and tried to curl herself into a ball, but that had become impossible. The thing in her stomach had grown too big.
The Synestryn lord Zillah rounded the corner, making the blood in Tori’s veins ice over.
She hated him.
The things he’d done to her had been bad enough, but the blood he’d fed her over the years had changed her. She wasn’t sure what she was anymore, but whatever it was, it pleased him. Tori knew that meant it had to be bad, just like the thing in her stomach was bad.
Zillah’s fingers wrapped around the bars of her cage. They were set into the stone of the cave, trapping her in a dead end with no way to break free. She’d spent hours trying, but nothing had worked.
His fingers were too long, his skin too pale. And he was cold. Whenever he touched her, he sucked the heat from her body, feeding off of it until she shivered.
“How is our child?” he asked.
Tori refused to answer him. Anything she said would only make things worse. Of course, her silence angered him, too. She’d learned a long time ago that everything she did angered him.
His too-long finger crooked, the extra joint curling toward his palm as he motioned for her to come closer.
Tori stayed cowered in her corner. She didn’t want him to touch her again.
“Come here,” he said, his voice rising in anger.
Tori shook her head.
Zillah sneered and a scary light glowed behind his eyes. Slowly, Tori began to slide over the stone floor. The skin on one leg was scraped away before she could stand. Seconds later, a horde of bugs came skittering into her cell, feeding on the smear of blood left behind.
Tori didn’t stop moving until she was pressed hard against the cold bars. Zillah’s hand slithered around her leg, wiping away a drop of blood. He licked it from his fingers, his pointy tongue curling around to get every last bit.
Her stomach heaved with nausea, and she had to look away or get sick.
“You should take better care of yourself,” he told her, as if it had been her fault that she bled. “You’re going to need your strength. It’s almost time.”
“Time for what?” she asked before she could stop herself.
“Time for our child to be born and for your sister to come into the fold. Maura and I have plans for her.”
Just the thought of her name made their connection flare to life for a brief instant. She could feel Nika’s presence slide inside her mind, warm and comforting.
“That’s right,” said Zillah, his eyes brightening with anticipation. “Bring her to me.”
No. Tori wasn’t going to let him have her. She used every bit of control she’d learned and pushed Nika away, shoving her out of her mind. This time it worked. It didn’t always, because Nika was strong, but this time, Tori kept her away.
Zillah shook his head, his tongue clicking at her naughtiness. “You’ll bring her to me soon.”
His too-long fingers slid over her distended belly, sucking away all the heat from her skin. Beneath his hand, the thing inside her leaped as if it knew its father was nearby.
“I won’t,” vowed Tori.
Zillah just smiled at her. “You will. I promise. When the time comes, you’ll do anything to stop the pain. You won’t be able to help yourself.”
Fear curled around Tori, making her shiver. She knew what he meant. She’d heard some of the others that were kept here talk about it. Their whispers echoed off the cave walls, filling her head with visions of pain and blood. But the screams were the worst. She knew that when the thing inside her came out, it would hurt. It might kill her.
Before that happened, she needed to get rid of her connection to Nika completely. She didn’t trust herself not to reach out for Nika when the pain started.
Zillah’s hold on her body disappeared, and Tori spilled to the ground.
He turned and walked away, saying, “I’ll check on you later. It won’t be long now.”
Tori sat there, wrapping her arms around her the best she could. The shivers shaking her body would stop in a little while. She just had to hold on until then. Once she was warm enough to think straight, she’d figure out what to do. She’d come up with some kind of plan to keep Nika away.
And if she couldn’t, she’d find a way to kill herself before the pain started.
Zillah headed back to his quarters, savoring Tori’s warmth as it curled through his bloodstream. It would have been nice to stay longer and soak up more of her delicious heat, but it wasn’t safe for the child she carried. His child.
He was close to another success. He could feel it. Another day or two and he’d be able to hold his child in his arms and show him the world he would one day rule.
The only thing that put a damper on his good mood was Tori’s lack of cooperation. He sensed she was getting stronger and more able to resist calling out to her sister. Perhaps the child inside her gave her strength. He couldn’t be sure. What he did know was that if he didn’t bring Nika here, Maura was going to be unhappy.
The only thing that scared him more than death was Maura’s wrath.
As if his thoughts had summoned her, she stood waiting for him in front of his desk.
Maura’s blond hair was wild today—a snarled nest of tangles around her childish face. The tattered black clothes she wore were better suited to a street whore than the child she appeared to be. Not that Zillah would say a word. He knew better. Maura was no child, despite her appearance. She was older than he was by several lifetimes and had a kind of power he couldn’t even begin to understand.
Maura was deadly and Zillah respected it.
“Tell me,” she demanded.
Zillah moved around her, giving her a wide berth. If one of her visions hit and she began to flail around, he didn’t want to be near enough to her that she could touch him. He’d seen what happened to those she’d touched. Their deaths had been slow and painful.
“What would you like to know?” he asked, pretending ignorance.