His brows jumped, his grin menacing as he reached between my thighs. It soon fell, his lips slack as he ran his fingers through me. “You’re extremely aroused.”
“Just because I do not wish to be passed around like a good pipe does not mean it didn’t affect me.” I licked my teeth, rocking onto the finger he inserted inside me. “Your plan worked.”
He stopped moving. “It was not a plan.”
“I don’t care for your lies right now.” I wriggled my hips. “Let’s go already.”
He removed his finger, his eyes sinking into mine. “I’m trying, I really am, but these…” He touched the skin where Zad’s canines had pierced. “Why?”
“He needed…” I stopped. “No. I don’t need to explain anything to you.”
Raiden’s nostrils flared. “He fed from you then? After the battle?”
I didn’t answer, couldn’t. The haze had broken, and in the aftermath, every bruised part of me awoke, screaming.
His eyes softened a little. “Are you okay?”
I swallowed thickly. “Perfect.” But my lungs emptied as I remembered how it felt to be encased in his arms.
Cherished, protected, vital, and loved.
I pushed Raiden off me, drawing in breath after breath. My hands tore into my hair, ripping at the braid.
Zad’s continued and increased presence in the city. In the castle. All these years, all this time, I’d ignored that primal, magnetic force. I’d accepted him with careful distance, thinking he was just another sly royal in search of more.
I’d thought so very wrong. He hadn’t been searching.
He’d been waiting.
“Audra? What is it?” Raiden’s hand touched the small of my back, and I launched off the mattress, stumbling into the bathing chamber.
Eternally my queen.
To him, I’d been his, and darkness only knew how long he’d been waiting for me to make him mine.
Staring at the pale face in the mirror, I counted each breath, willing my heart to beat properly. To slow down. It couldn’t, not while accepting what I shouldn’t. Like a steaming poker had been shoved inside my chest, everything burned and swelled and threatened to incinerate.
Painted paler from fear and sorrow, the face that stared back at me was one I failed to recognize.
I knew what I had to do. I knew, and still, it felt impossible—unfair that what I needed wasn’t easily attained or kept.
And how I’d even so much as allowed Raiden to touch me filled me with a shame so hot, I wanted to scream. The lies built upon more lies, the black tunnel of confusion he continuously swept me into with just the right look, a caress of his fingers… I’d never loathed myself or the male more.
Walking back into the room, resolved to end this charade already, I found Raiden sprawled on the bed, hands tucked behind his head, brows drawn as he watched me near. “What was that?”
“Me,” I said. “Remembering.”
“Remembering what?” he asked, impatient.
“That I shouldn’t be here.” I kicked the dress out into the doorway, then slipped into my own, which had been laundered and folded neatly on the wicker bureau.
A bloodcurdling scream, followed by another and another, clawed at my ears, my soul, and I grabbed my boots, racing down the stairs and through the winding halls.
Each twist of a corner stole my breath, my feet unable to move as fast as I willed them, as I needed them to.
Another scream, fainter this time, coming from the ballroom. I turned back, skidding and shoving past people into the room. “Truin?” I panted out, my eyes frantic as they searched.
Some mating couples stopped, confused, and others didn’t bother.
She screamed again, the sound cut off as I turned and backtracked, my hands shaking so hard I dropped my boots.
Raiden was already there with six of his guards when I finally found her on one of the balconies outside the ballroom. Bound and gagged, Truin laid upon the sandstone, and my heart turned to ash at what surrounded her.
Five males and blood. So much blood, she wasn’t even conscious.
I blocked the nightmare that tried to force its way in. One of a similar scene with a different female. I had to, or I’d be of no help to her, just as I hadn’t been then.
Seeming in shock, Raiden just stood there, his eyes vacant and his fists clenching and unclenching at his sides.
“Seize them,” I told the blinking guards, who snapped into action and grabbed four of the five males.
One jumped over the ledge, landing on a trellis, and then leaped to the ground.
I sucked the air from his lungs, and he toppled over.
Then I crouched down beside Truin as Raiden yelled for a healer. Shifting some of her damp hair from her face, I found a swollen eye. “Truin.” I gingerly patted her cheek and growled when Raiden approached, attempting to roll her over.
He raised his hands, his expression filled with apprehension. “I will not harm her, I swear.”