“Good. Your father wants to talk to you.” Matas grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her away from the clearing.
All too soon, Jecis’s trailer came into view. Her father waited at the door and motioned her inside. She offered no protest, but she did stop, unable to take another step on her own. Her feet were simply too heavy.
Matas picked her up and carried her inside. To mask her growing sense of fear, she gazed around the home that no longer bore any hint of her mother’s presence. Like all the other circus vehicles, the trailer boasted metal walls; multiple padlocks lined the seam of the only door. There were no windows.
However, unlike the others—excluding hers—this one boasted brand-new furniture. There was a plush reclining chair, a leather couch, a projector television, and holo-images of Audra dancing in every corner. Multihued pillows were strewn around a faux fireplace, forming a small alcove that would have been pretty if not for the bear-skin rug that was stretched out in front of it. A rug courtesy of Zoey.
Yes, Jecis had skinned Vika’s precious bear. Actually, he’d put all of her beloved animals to “good use” rather than selling them. A “gift” to Vika. Sammie’s ostrich feathers had been made into hats and tails for a group of performers. Dobi the tiger and Righty the ape were stuffed and on display in the main tent. Gus the zebra, Angie the horse, Gabby the camel, and Barney the llama had been dipped in some sort of alien metal and turned into a carousel. Mini the elephant had been hollowed out and dipped in the same metal, now an enzyme spout between the two public bathrooms at the circus, where people could wash their hands.
Vika could hardly bear to think about what Jecis had done to One Day.
Beyond the living area, there was a queen-size bed. Audra currently lounged in the center, the bejeweled covers puffed around her. Grinning, she sipped a glass of brandy. One of the spiders etched into her arm began to move, crawling higher and higher, until finally resting on her shoulder.
The tattoos on Audra’s body had come to life a few months ago, after she’d begun her training sessions with Matas.
Audra loathed Vika, and enjoyed watching her punishments. But then, Vika kind of deserved all that loathing. Audra, Vika, and their friend Dolly had grown up together, inseparable, sisters in every way that mattered until Vika’s mother died, and Jecis demanded all of Vika’s spare time.
We’ll be together forever, you and I. You will never abandon me. I’m the only one you can ever trust. The only one who will ever love you. Never forget.
Every chance she could, Vika had snuck away to spend time with her favorite girls. The three of them had been playing with the animals, laughing hysterically at the noises Zoey made while she napped, when Dolly had accidentally shut Vika’s hand in the door of the cage.
Jecis found out and raged, saying the punishment had to fit the crime. Dolly had hurt Vika’s hand, and so Jecis had removed Dolly’s. When the girl’s parents protested, Jecis exiled the entire family.
That’s when Vika called Audra terrible names and even slapped her, hoping to send her away and save her from Jecis’s wrath. Looking back, she knew she had handled things poorly.
There was no undoing the past, she knew that, but she had later sought to make restitution and apologized. Audra had refused to forgive.
Matas eased Vika into a chair in front of the trailer’s kitchenette. He rubbed two of his knuckles under her chin and smiled smugly. Then he left, the door slamming shut behind him.
He shot Solo. Just shot him as easily as if the otherworlder was the main course for dinner, and now he dares to smile at me?
Would Solo live through the night?
Would she find his dead body in the morning, flies and ants covering him?
Would she even be capable of walking in the morning?
Jecis moved to the other side of the counter and took his time cutting and lighting the end of a cigar. Even with the thick slab of granite between them, dark smoke billowed around her, and she had to hold her breath to stop herself from coughing.
Jecis leaned forward and latched his hard fingers onto her jaw to keep her attention on him. His eyelids narrowed to tiny slits.
“Nothing to say to me?” he began.
“I’m . . . sorry,” she said, shifting in her seat. It was the truth. She was sorry he was the man he was, sorry Solo was here, sorry for everything that had happened that she hadn’t prevented.
“I’m not talking about tonight, I’m talking about this morning,” he said, surprising her with the calmness of his voice. He released her.
“I—I—” Had no reply that would encourage that sense of calm.
The only saving grace was that she hadn’t challenged his authority in front of witnesses. The way the circus worked, Jecis called the shots and no one was allowed to question him. Ever. Anyone who voiced an objection would find himself—or herself—fighting Jecis in front of every member of the family, and being made a very bloody example. If that person survived, he and all of his family would be kicked out. Unless he had a pretty wife or daughter, of course. They were allowed to stay and marry other men.
“Do you like Matas, Vika?” he asked casually. Too casually.
Wait. What? “No.” Violently she shook her head.
“He told me you’ve already given yourself to him.”
Outrage stormed through her, making her stupidly blurt out, “He lies! I promise you, he lies.” She had never been with a man, and, to be honest, had never had a desire to change that.
Until Solo. Until she’d kissed him.
But even then, she wouldn’t. Having sex meant sharing a part of yourself with another person, binding your body to theirs . . . perhaps even your soul to theirs. Sex was total vulnerability, just another way for a man to dominate a woman.
No, thank you.
“There’s no reason to deny what happened,” Jecis said.
“I must admit, I was upset at first. However, after some thought, I find that I like the idea of grandchildren.”
Oxygen congealed in her lungs. This had to be a trick. She’d yelled at her father earlier today, shoved him, and had gone to the clearing without permission. Again! Yet he talked of grandchildren?
A puff on the cigar, a haze of smoke, and for a moment, only a moment, she saw a mask descend over his features. One with sharp bones, red eyes, and fanged teeth.
“Matas is right,” he said. “You have too much time on your hands, and that time gets you into trouble.” Irritation infused his tone. “Just so you know, the Mec has already been found. Matas left us to take care of him.”