Worry not, the voice said. Evil will not win in the end.
Worry not? How could she stop from worrying?
Audra abandoned the bedroom and strutted into the kitchenette. She poured herself another drink, blew a tiny stream of fire over the top, and nibbled on a cracker as the flames died down, her hips swaying to a beat Vika would never hear.
Audra grinned when she realized Vika was watching her and said, “You might as well take Matas up on the offer. No one else will have you.”
Jecis sat up straighter and banged his fist into the counter, rattling the ashtray. “Anyone would be lucky to have her. She’s the daughter of a champion, and she will bear strong children. The problem has been finding a man worthy of her.”
A man he could control, he meant. A man who would keep her here, within reach, for the rest of her miserable life. A man who would occupy her time with one pregnancy after another, keeping her too busy to get into “trouble.”
“No,” she croaked. “I won’t do it.”
A treacherous light glittered in Jecis’s eyes—one she recognized. Danger was near. “I want this, darling little girl, and so you will do this. Audra will help you plan the wedding.”
“No,” she repeated, her mouth so dry her tongue felt like a strip of sandpaper. If Jecis insisted on going down this road, she would have to run away sooner rather than later, before she’d saved enough cash, before she’d found the key to the cuffs. But she would do it, no question.
Slowly her father pushed to his feet. He flattened his palms on the tabletop and leaned toward her. “You will marry him with a smile on your face, Vika, or I will give your treasures to Audra, and place the animals in someone else’s care. I will be forced to express my displeasure with you . . . over and over again. Do you understand?”
In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.
THE NEXT FEW DAYS passed in a blur for Solo. He should have recovered faster, and wasn’t sure if the drugs swimming through his system were the problem, if X still wasn’t able to feed him strength, or if the whip had been laced with a poison his senses were now too dulled to notice. Whatever the reason, he remained weak.
It wasn’t the weakness that tormented him, though. It was the memory of his failure. He’d tried to escape, had been so close to succeeding, but “so close” wasn’t good enough.
He had never before botched a job so sublimely.
At least he wasn’t dead like the Mec.
The thought wasn’t the comfort it should have been. Guilt filled him every time he recalled the Mec’s screams for mercy that had come only with the rising of the sun. Amid the silence, Solo had watched a satisfied Matas haul the dull, lifeless body away.
Solo had fallen back asleep, only to awake to find that his cage had been removed from the clearing and placed in front of Jecis’s mobile home. A monstrosity if ever he’d seen one. A skull and crossbones was painted on the side, staring at him. A giant cubby stretched over the driver and passenger seats, and the belly was almost too fat for the road.
He would have preferred something smaller, faster, sleeker, but there were no other trailers blocking the front of this one, so evacuation would be easy. He could carry Kitten and Vika away, no problem.
Yeah. He had a new plan.
Obstacle one still hadn’t changed: getting out of this cage.
Most times Jecis entered or left the area, he paid Solo no attention. Every so often, he would stop and stare, saying things like, “I’m lord and master here and I’ll break you yet. Just you wait.”
Audra stayed in the motor home every night. The two would call each other names, fight, have sex, then fight some more. Jecis was never afraid to use physical force, but he must have avoided the girl’s face, because she never emerged with visible bruises.
He wasn’t sure what he would have done if he’d heard Jecis beating Vika.
Vika, the contradiction. She’d sprung from the loins of the heartless Jecis, and yet she was kind. She’d helped Solo even though he’d heard Jecis order her to stay away, placing herself in danger.
Danger. From her own father. That wasn’t supposed to be the way of things. Especially with a female like her, handicapped by deafness, unable to hear her destruction coming, and as tiny as a fairy princess, unable to withstand very much abuse before breaking.
Even the thought of a single strike to any part of her body filled Solo with one of the darkest rages he’d ever experienced.
He wanted, needed, to talk with her. He could help her, and she could help him. She could be his biggest ally—he wanted her to be his biggest ally. But though she visited him three times a day, she never looked at him to read his lips.
Every morning she appeared mere minutes after Jecis’s departure, as if she was hiding somewhere close, watching and waiting. She returned in the afternoon, though never at the same time, and then again in the evening. She would give Solo food and water, and even rags and enzyme spray to clean himself, but she wouldn’t speak a word.
So many times Solo had almost grabbed her arm. If she wouldn’t talk to him, he couldn’t get her to help him. If he couldn’t get her to help him, he would have to force her. He would have to remove her thumb with his fangs or his claws, as he’d planned the first time he’d met her. Then he could hijack the trailer and drive her to a hospital, where the thumb could be reattached. But . . . he could never get past the image of her blood running down her arm as she clutched the wound to her chest. Could never get past the horror of hearing her scream from the pain. Could never get past the idea that she would cry.
Oh, if she cried, he would be a goner.
He was disgusted with himself. Freedom should come before anything, especially a woman partly responsible for his circumstances. Yet he’d come to accept two startling facts. With or without the vow, he wouldn’t be able to so much as scratch her and he had to include “keeping Vika safe from everyone else” in his plans.
“Feeling better, I see,” a female voice said, jerking him out of his head. “You’re even sitting up like a big boy. You must be so proud.”
He focused on the here and now. Audra was propped against the corner of his cage. She wore a black, bra-like top, with multicolored sequins sewn along the edges, a mix of yellow, blue, green, and red. Those same sequins were pasted to her bare shoulders and down her arms, along her—
One of the spider tattoos had moved from the inside of her elbow to her wrist.