Heart hammering, she focused. The captive now radiated enough heat to melt the Arctic in a matter of seconds.
“Why don’t you come a little closer, female?” he asked.
Thankfully, panic did not assail her and she was able to draw on the audacity that only surfaced in her father’s absence. “I think I’ll stay right here, but I appreciate the suggestion.”
Vika squared her shoulders and looked over the male. Up close, she could see that his skin appeared to be as smooth as glass, the red fading into the beautiful bronze. His facial bones were slightly overgrown, but they were perfectly put together, creating a picture of rough, undiluted masculinity. In fact, he was as fierce in looks as One Day had been during the prime of his too-short life.
A sudden longing for what could have been swelled the chambers of her heart.
The otherworlder’s mouth was moving, she realized, but she’d missed his words. Rather than admit the truth, she remained silent. People often repeated themselves, saving her from having to ask.
Finally, he said, “What are you staring at, human?”
“I’m staring at you. Obviously.”
He grabbed the bars, his knuckles bleaching of color. The words NPRY ELIZABETH and JACOB were etched into his arms. Elizabeth and Jacob she understood. They were names, and she wondered what the people meant to him. But Npry?
Pulse points dancing to a wild beat she couldn’t control, she said, “Here,” and withdrew the piece of chocolate she’d stuffed in her jeans pocket to enjoy later. “Take it. It’s yours.”
She tossed, but he didn’t catch. He didn’t watch where the candy skittered to a stop, either.
“If you fail to eat it now, it will melt and you’ll have to lick it up. That can be embarrassing, believe me. But chocolate is good in any state, so it’s up to you whether or not—”
His mouth was moving again. Such a lush, pink mouth. “—asked you a question, female.”
Feigning nonchalance, she flicked her hair over her shoulder. “Ask again,” she said. None of the captives had guessed her infirmity, and she would never admit to it. As desperate as they were, as much as they blamed her for their confinement, they would use the handicap against her. “I was distracted.”
“Very well. Do you want to die?”
“How wonderful,” she replied in the driest tone she could manage. “My eighth death threat today. I’ll be sure to make a notation in my diary.”
“Yes, you want to die,” he said with a slow nod. “Otherwise you would free me.”
“Let me tell you how the rest of this conversation will go and save you time, yes? If I fail to set you free right this moment, you will escape. You will be the one to kill me. You will make me hurt. I will regret the day I was ever born. The end. So . . . you eat that?” Frowning, she shook her head. “I mean, you will eat the chocolate now, won’t you?”
Without ever looking away from her, he snatched up the treat, unwrapped the foil—and smashed the nugget into one of the cage bars, rubbing . . . rubbing . . . little crumbs falling into the dirt below.
A mewl of mourning slipped from her. Yes, she had a million more pieces in her trailer, all given to her by her father, just because he “loved” her. But that didn’t alter the fact that the otherworlder had just destroyed something she had earned with blood, sweat, and a whole lot of tears.
“Your loss,” she forced herself to say blithely.
“You have no idea the terror you have brought to this circus, little girl.”
Little girl. That’s what her father often called her. His beautiful little girl. His dearest little girl. His beloved little girl. Vika raised her chin and gritted out, “Don’t call me that. And I didn’t bring you here.”
One brow arched, turning his entire expression into a dare. “Doesn’t matter. You are guilty by association.”
“Am not!” she said with a stomp of her foot.
His eyelids slitted dangerously. “We are not children. Let me go.”
“No,” she replied without a single beat of hesitation.
“Very well. As I said, you will die with the rest.”
“Blah, blah, blah. I know.” Vibrations at her left caused her gaze to dart in that direction.
“—kill her, kill her, kill her,” Rainbow chanted as he jumped up and down in his cage.
Another vibration at her right. Her gaze returned to the newcomer . . . whatever his name was. He had decided to use her distraction to his advantage, was reaching through the bars, trying to contort his body to gain enough length to grab her.
She stumbled backward, out of reach. Frustrated, he snapped those saber teeth at her—sweet mercy, they grew before her eyes and were even longer than before!—his features radiating a dark rage she’d seen one too many times today.
Trembling, she barked, “I was trying to make your day better, and you decided to murder me for it? Perhaps you deserve to be in that cage, eh?” and stomped away to finish her chores.
But examine everything carefully, and hold fast to that which is good.
—1 THESSALONIANS 5:21
SOLO WATCHED AS THE female the captives called Vika—a young girl the owner of the circus had called “my heart”—sedated and bathed the rest of the otherworlders. She still labored over the last, the Cortaz, leaving only Solo.
Her touch was always tentative, shaky, and gentle, and he was highly curious to know if she would treat him with the same deference, considering all the threats he’d made. A curiosity he despised. He shouldn’t care one way or the other. To bathe him, she would have to tranquilize him, and the thought of dropping like a bear in the wild was utterly humiliating. Besides, if he slept through the entire episode, the sickening curiosity would never be assuaged.
And yet, he still liked the idea of having her hands on him.
Stupid. He needed to be smarter where she was concerned.
Already he’d made two grievous mistakes. The first? Attraction. Men forgot their purpose when they lusted after a woman. The second? He’d experienced a measure of pity for her. Because, here she was, a beautiful human girl surely clothed in the skin of God’s most treasured angel, yet she had a bruise the size of a fist on her face. The size of Jecis’s fist, to be exact.
Solo had come to the conclusion that Jecis was forcing her to work for him and that, if Solo could only convince her to trust him, he could flee with her. Her—his very own female, according to X. He’d truly thought he would have a chance to convince her, too. If she were being beaten, she would crave some sort of protection. Any protection, even from a monster. Protection he would have vowed to give. But when he’d offered to help her, she hadn’t bothered to reply.