I heard it—and I heard Huntley go silent.
I ran straight to his weapons and picked up his axe before I ran to the top of the stairs.
Queen Rolfe stood over him, her boot against his chest. “Another should do it, Commander Dawson.”
Huntley opened his eyes, his face bloody, but lay still.
Then Commander Burke walked over and kicked him right in the head.
It was too horrifying for me to react immediately, seeing a mother betray her son as he lay on the ground with a bloody noise. Just minutes ago, we were happy in bed, our bodies and souls tangled up into one. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
They both snapped their heads in my direction.
My eyes were reserved for hers. “He’s your son.”
Void of emotion like always, she gave a nod to Commander Dawson.
I knew what that meant. “Bitch, I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill you for touching my husband.”
“Husband?” she asked, appalled. “He is no such thing. But you got the bitch part right.”
“According to the Priest of Adeodatus, he is.”
“I’ll make sure that’s reversed.”
“We’ll see about that.” She nodded to Commander Dawson again.
He started to move up the stairs.
I gripped my sword and prepared to take on a commander, a man that outweighed me in every second. “He’ll never forgive you.” Queen Rolfe looked down at her son’s unconscious body then gestured to the men outside the door. They picked him up and moved him to the couch and applied dressing to his wound.
There was nowhere for me to go. I was trapped. “I’m taking you down with me, so make your best move.” I stayed at the top of the stairs, ready to slam the blunt of the axe down on his head when he came close enough.
He stopped a few steps down, considering his options.
“That’s what I thought, asshole—”
Something hit me in the head—hard. I toppled slightly and saw the book on the ground. “Cheap shot…”
That was enough time for Commander Dawson to find an opening, and he rushed in and circled his arm around my throat and squeezed.
My hands dropped the axe and reached for his arm trying to pry it free. I gasped for air, twisting and turning to throw him off, but it was useless. I slipped under and went weak in his arms.
Then everything went black.
The first thing I noticed when I woke up was the cold.
It jerked me away, and when I inhaled my first real breath, I felt it burn the lining of my lungs. My body rocked back and forth continuously, and that was when I realized I was on a horse.
Tied to the man in front of me.
My hands were tied around his waist, and my ankles were secured to the saddle. I was totally immobile, couldn’t even see in front of me because his shoulders blocked my view. I looked left to right, trying to make sense of my surroundings.
It was all a blur.
“Shit.” My rider addressed the other men in the calvary. “She’s awake.”
“Where are we going?” I yanked on his stomach but he wouldn’t budge more than an inch or two. I assumed I would never wake up, that Commander Dawson had choked me to death. But here I was—back in the cold.
He didn’t answer.
I slammed my head hard into his back and made him jerk forward. “Answer me.”
“Fuck.” He felt forward over the neck of the horse than slammed his elbow back into my house. “Sit still, bitch.”
“Bitch?” I slammed my head again.
He gave an angry groan then brought the horse to a halt. To my surprise, he untied my wrist.
Once my hands were free, I immediately leaned forward to my ankle, trying to get free as quickly as possible.
A man came from behind and smothered my face with a cloth, a cloth that reeked of death.
I threw arms and elbows, but it was no use. The cloth stayed right in place and I was pulled into darkness once more.
And I still had no idea where I was going.
I came to again, but this time it wasn’t cold anymore.
It was mild, just the way it had been in HeartHolme, the breeze pleasant rather than choking. When my eyes opened, all I could see was the ground, dirt instead of snow. My ankles and wrists were still bound.
I was alone.
I rolled onto my stomach and pushed myself to my knees. “Hello?” I looked to the right, and in the far distance I saw them. Men on horses. They stayed where they were and watched me.
I looked down at my wrists and started twisting and pulling, doing whatever I could to fray the binds. There was a sharp rock a few feet away, so I feel forward and started to crawl. The sky was a blue and purple, with just a tinge of pink, so the sun had already set. In a few minutes, I wouldn’t be able to see at all.
I reached the rock and pressed the rope against the sharpest edge. My arms moved up and down as fast as I could, trying to produce both friction and heat to force the threads in the rope to snap apart. “Come on…”
Footsteps. Loud. Distinguishable. Coming from behind me.
“You motherfucker…” I rubbed harder, only a couple threads breaking even though I was producing the speed of someone fighting for their life.
The footsteps stopped.
A black boot was right beside my face. I could feel the piercing stare in my back.
“And if you manage to break your binds…what will you do then?”
I kept going, watching more of the threads become frayed. “Kill your ass.”
His boot moved forward and kicked the rock away.
“Hey!” I immediately crawled for it.
His heavy foot pressed into the small of my back and pushed me down. “Get up.”
I turned over onto my back and looked up into the face I’d seen before, his teeth withdrawn into his mouth and throat. Eyes black like molten rock, they were empty of a soul. I clenched my jaw tight as I swung my leg as hard as I could, hitting him right in the shin.
He shuffled slightly and gave a slight grimace, but he didn’t make a sound. “You don’t want me to hurt you. Trust me on that.”
“I’m not afraid of pain.”
“But you should be afraid of blood.” He stepped away, and that was when his men appeared behind him. I recognized one of them from months ago. Spike. They both grabbed me and dragged me to my feet.
I looked over my shoulder, seeing the Runes already turn to leave on their horses.
I faced forward again and pictured feathers in dark hair, coldness in her tight lips, evil in eyes that I looked into every single night.
It was so different from HeartHolme and the Outpost.
The sweltering heat—that was new.
A river ran to a large lake, the water sparkling and bright, reflecting the sun high in the sky. Pine trees were everywhere, their branches unencumbered by piles of snow. It allowed the leaves to breathe, to let the smell of pine dissipate in the air. It was uphill from where I’d been dropped off, and when I looked behind me I had a distant view of the snow on the top of the mountains.
I was far away from home.
Their city was built into the side of the mountain, the streets rising higher and higher until it flattened against the wall. It had a few of the forests and the lake. Along the way, I noticed all the outposts where the guards stood far down the hill. If an attack was imminent, they would have plenty of time to retreat into the safety of their city.
It’d been a long time since I felt sweat on my brow, felt it down the curve of my back. It’d been cold most of my time down here, and I didn’t remember life in any other way. Without the fire in the hearth, the heavy furs on top of the bed, my husband’s warm body next to mine…I didn’t know who I was.
Hoped he was okay.
I didn’t expect him to come for me. It would be a betrayal against his people, against his queen. Our little plan hadn’t worked—and that was a surprise to us both.
The enormous wooden doors that led to the city were wide open for Teeth to come and go. There were cabins throughout the pine forests. I could see them as I passed. But there was no farming, no livestock, no other signs of civilization.
Then I remembered…they didn’t need those things.
Even if Huntley came for me, it would take far too long, and by the time he got here I’d be long dead.
I’d be the feast on the table.
As I was marched forward, I saw other Teeth pass me on the street. Some of them shifted their gaze and glanced at me, like they knew full well that I didn’t belong there—and I wasn’t one of them.
The only good thing was the shade the mountain provided. It dropped the temperature exponentially, actually left me slightly cold because the sun hadn’t hit the city the entire day. We passed dwellings and shops, but if they didn’t sell food, I didn’t know what they sold. There was no market like at home. The place was nothing like home.
We made it to the very top, to another set of double doors that led to a stone building several stories tall. The second we stepped inside, it was dark, so dark that my eyes needed to take a moment to adjust. Then I noticed the thick rug on the ground, the torches along the walls, the eerie silence.
I knew exactly where they were taking me.
I was marched deeper inside, down long hallways, and then entered a room with a glass ceiling.
I felt him before I saw him.
On a large throne he sat, smaller chairs on either side of him that were vacated. Dressed in all black with one ankle crossed on the opposite knee, he sat there with his arms sprawled down the armrests, his dark eyes on me with subtle interest.
The men positioned me feet from his throne then retreated behind me.
It was just like it’d been in the snow. But this time I didn’t have a sword. I didn’t have my bow and arrow. I didn’t have a fighting chance, not when there was nowhere for me to run, not when I didn’t even have a butter knife to cut his eyes out.
What I noticed most was the paleness of his features, the way his skin looked like snow while his clothes looked the color of night. He was so still he didn’t seem to draw breath. His eyes were so serious he didn’t need to blink. He bent his arms and brushed his fingers across his bottom lip. “Welcome to the Crags.”
“Happy to be here…” My sarcasm was all I had. I used it when I was scared to pretend I wasn’t. = used it when I didn’t have a weapon to do all the talking. I used it when I had nothing left to lose.
“Your sacrifice has prevented a war.”
“Not my sacrifice—as I didn’t come here willingly.”
His stare ensued, piercing through flesh and bone. “Then your queen made the right sacrifice—”
“That bitch ain’t my queen.” I didn’t respect a woman that betrayed her own son. That was so wounded by her own pain that she didn’t hesitate to inflict that same pain on others. Someone like that shouldn’t be in power.
Klaus made a subtle gesture to the men that brought me here. “Take her to my chambers.”
Their hands were on me a second later, but I could hardly feel them, because I knew the meaning of his words. “I’m not letting you touch me.” I threw my body into the one on the right then bashed my fist into his face. My elbow flew to the other and then I ran for it, heading to the nearest hallway.
A big guy came from nowhere and hit me hard from the side.
I hit the stone ground and nearly broke my shoulder.
Now all three of them were on me, pulling me to my feet and yanking me down the hallway.
I fought with tooth and nail, bit my attackers, kicked, screamed—you name it. But all it did was slow my progression down the hallway rather than prevent it. When I was dragged into the room, I saw the large four poster bed and the furniture that surrounded it. Everything was high-end and well made, just like everything at Delacroix.
I was pinned down and stripped naked.
“Fuck. You.” I bit into another then felt a hand slap me hard in the face.
Ropes were secured to my wrists and ankles and I stuck on my back, like a sprawled eagle. I wanted to cry when I never cried. I wanted to give into the grief for what was about to happen to me. I wanted to escape—and not return to Huntley or Delacroix. I wanted to take on Queen Rolfe—and stab her right through those fucking eyes.
The men vacated and Klaus entered. The door closed and he shed his cloak and left it on the back of one of the chairs.
I kept pulling and yanking, because there was no way in hell I was going to let this happen without a fight.
He stood at the foot of the bed and stared down at my naked body, his hands in the pockets of his pants. His eyes dragged over me slowly, savoring every single inch of my porcelain skin.
I’d never felt so violated all my life. “Let me go…or I’ll kill you.”
His eyes met mine, not the least bit wary of those words.
“I swear to the gods…”
“I’m not going to kill you.”
“Wish you would. Prefer that over this…”
“It’ll hurt at first—but you’ll get used to it.”
His hands pressed into the mattress and he leaned forward over my hips, his eyes on my left thigh.
I tried to squirm away but I couldn’t move at all. “You fucking bastard!”
He dipped his head and pressed a kiss to my inner thigh.
I bucked against him to hit him in the face.
“You really shouldn’t do that.” He opened his mouth, and slowly, pushed out all the rows of teeth forward. “One wrong move…and you could die.”
I was stunned into silence, seeing all those rows of teeth about to pierce my flesh. My usual sarcasm left me. Everything left me. My fight. My hope.
“I won’t kill you. Only take that I need.”
It was even more sinister than I realized.
“Now stay still.”