“We will figure it out.” Huskily said, softening expression.
How? she wanted to ask again, but didn’t. No telling when Amelia would return. Their privacy was limited, and she did not want to spend it grasping for solutions they would never find.
Apparently, Zane did not either.
“Climb on top of me,” he beseeched. “I want to see you there. Want to imagine.”
To her surprise, she obeyed without hesitation, eager, straddling his waist. His eyes closed, and he arched up. Imagine, he’d said. He was imagining sinking inside her.
Yes, she thought. Yes. She would like that. Wanted that. She imagined his hard shaft entering inch by inch and moaned. A few times, the act had felt pleasurable rather than painful, but those times had left her wallowing in shame. How could she have liked being bedded by those disgusting males, even for a moment?
This time, however, there was no shame. Only acceptance. More.
“I’m glad. Would you like me to—”
The entrance to the tent flapped, and Amelia strode inside. “Well, vampire. I have decided—” Her eyes widened, and she stopped. “Nola? What are you doing here?”
Nola jumped up as though burned. She wanted to scream in frustration, but held her tongue. One question had been answered, at least. Others could see her. “Hello, Amelia.” Did she sound as breathless to the warrioress as she did to herself?
“We thought you were dead.”
“You thought wrong.”
Amelia’s dark gaze swung to Zane, then back to Nola. “Either way, you will move away from my slave. If you wanted him for yourself, you should have been brave enough to return and fight for him.”
“I do want him for myself.”
No. It wasn’t. She refused to believe that.
“Nola,” Zane said, and there was a warning in his tone.
A warning of what? Nola didn’t face him, but squared her shoulders and forced her expression to harden. “Well, I am here now. Amelia, I challenge you for the vampire.”
“HURRY! SHE’LL RETURN any moment, and she’ll have others with her. Perhaps the entire army.”
Zane watched as Nola tried and failed to jerk the head of his chains from the iron pole they were attached to, a pole that was anchored deep in the earth. As before, her fingers merely passed through the object.
His shock had yet to diminish. Nola was here; Nola wanted him; Nola thought to help him. After her announcement—I challenge you for the vampire—his captor had stormed out of the tent with every intention of speaking to the Amazon queen. And having Nola imprisoned.
No. He would not allow that.
She was his.
Earlier when she’d apologized to him, it had not been remorse thickening her voice. It had been desire. Then she’d climbed on top of him without any uncertainty, had moaned when he’d arched into her. He hadn’t been able to feel her, but oh, just the thought of doing so had been enough for him. He’d never craved a female more.
“How do you propose to fight her?” he demanded. “You cannot hurt her, and she cannot hurt you.” Thank the gods. He would rather endure an eternity of slavery than watch this woman bleed.
“I didn’t want to fight her. Well, I did, do, but know I can’t. I just wanted time. And why are you just lying there?” She peered down at him, hands on her hips, dark hair streaming wildly around her delicate face. “Fight free!”
So lovely. Everything he’d craved these many months of his captivity—Nola, freedom, a chance to be together—was now being offered to him. No longer did he feel cursed. Never had he been so blessed.
He couldn’t feel her? So what. Being with her was more important.
“You will come with me? If I escape?” he asked.
“If I can, yes. I want that more than anything,” she added in a fierce whisper.
Again, there was no uncertainty. There was even a flicker of hope in her magnificent eyes. She truly did not hate him.
What had brought about this change in her?
Would she change her mind if she knew of his past?
He squeezed his eyes closed, wishing once again that he could cover his ears.
“Zane, darling. What’s wrong?”
Don’t tell her. Don’t ever tell her. “Nothing.” She would run from him as Cassandra had.
“You’re hurting,” Nola said. She tapped on his chest, just above his heart. “Here. Tell me why.”
“I will escape,” he said instead. “You will come with me.”
He was suddenly fueled with a fervor he had never experienced before. He wanted this. Would have this. Just as…soon as…he broke…free. For what seemed an eternity, he pulled hard at his wrists and ankles, straining so forcefully his bones eventually gave way.
Out came both his ankles; out came both his wrists. The pain of it nearly bowled him over as he sat up, then stood to trembling legs. He didn’t care about the pain, though. He was free at last.
Together. They could be together.
“I hear them,” Nola gasped. “Come on.” She made to grab him, but her hand misted through his body. “Damn this!”
There was no sensation, no chill, but the knowledge that she had tried to touch him caused him to shiver rather than shudder. From the very first, it had been that way. Others he ran from. Others he abhorred. Her, he only yearned for more of. Why? he wondered again.
“This way.” She raced to the far end of the tent. “Raise the flap.”
He lumbered to her, stumbling constantly, and did as commanded. All the while, his battered body screamed in agony, black winking over his vision, stomach threatening to heave. Vampires were fast healers, but he’d been without blood too long, the few sips he’d had earlier already used up.
Outside, light poured from the crystal dome surrounding all of Atlantis, heating and stinging his now-sensitive skin and making his eyes water. This kind of reaction had only happened once before. On that cursed island of the gods.
The reminder of his time there infuriated him and that fury gave him strength. He could do this. Tent after tent dotted the surrounding land. Amazons were scattered throughout. Some were bent over a fire and hammering at weapons; some were hanging animal hides.
“Walk behind me,” Nola said, “as if you are my slave.”
Without waiting for his agreement, she moved forward, head held high. Behind him, he could hear a murmur of voices inside his captor’s tent. Amelia had returned, and she had indeed brought an army with her. Zane kicked into motion. Thankfully, no one paid them any heed—until a horn blasted. The Amazons around him straightened, a few even reaching for weapons.
“Run,” Nola shouted, picking up speed. “Run.”
No longer content to remain behind her, he matched her pace. A forest loomed a few yards ahead, thick trees promising cover.
“Nola!” someone shouted. “Stop!”
“Vampire,” his captor screamed. “Not another step. I will punish you.”
Zane tripped over a rock. He lurched forward, his broken ankles unable to support him. When he hit the ground, he hit hard and lost every bit of oxygen in his lungs. Grimacing, he lumbered back up. Started running again.
All the while, Nola encouraged him. “You can do it. I know you can. That’s the way. Just a little farther. You’re so strong. You’re so brave. I’m so proud of you.”
Sweeter words had never been spoken. Such encouragement…no one, not even his king, had offered it. He soaked it up, bloomed under it. His speed increased, his steps firmed.
But when they reached the trees, Nola stopped and screeched. “No! No, no, no.”
He, too, stopped and faced her. He tried to grab her, but as before, encountered only air. “Come. Now. We’ll enter the forest and disappear.” Together, he thought again, satisfaction filling him.
“I can’t. It’s like a wall is blocking me.” Frantic, she tossed a glance over her shoulder at the scowling Amazon warrioresses bearing down on them. “Go. Please. Just go.”
Still she could not leave the camp’s boundary?
He remained in place, the screams in his head no longer for his bodily pain. He couldn’t leave this woman behind. But he couldn’t stay here, broken as he was. He was no good to either of them.
Damn the gods to Hades!
Demon whore. To think, even for a moment, that he’d felt blessed. Foolish.
“Will they attempt to punish you?” he asked. He had to know. He would stay here, even broken as he was, even helpless as he was. Anything to protect her.
“They can’t hurt me. They might be able to see me, but I’m untouchable, remember?” She smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Now go, before they take you. They will not be as gentle with you this time.”
“Nola…” She is mine. I keep what is mine.
“Zane. Go. Please. Save yourself. You are not meant to be any woman’s slave. Not even mine.”
A muscle ticked below his eye. “I will come back for you. Soon as I’m healed, I will come back.” As he spoke, he walked backward.
“I will think and dream of you always.”
A goodbye? Oh, no. “I will come back,” he repeated. “Watch for me.” Only when she was blocked from his view did he spin and run.
NOLA FACED OFF WITH HER sisters. They formed a menacing half-circle around her, each glaring at her.
“You freed my slave,” Amelia growled, and several warrioresses booed and hissed at Nola.
She had always been something of a tribe outsider, so she wasn’t surprised at the cold welcome. “He isn’t yours, but yes,” she said proudly. “I freed him.” And she would do so again. Anything for Zane.
I will come back, he’d said. Twice. She shivered.
A frowning Kreja stepped forward, separating herself from the masses and placing herself nose to nose with Nola. “I want five of my elite armed and hunting the vampire within the next five minutes.”