Temporary tattoos, then. Though he’d never seen any that looked so real. He finished his study of her. Her middle was utterly bare. A pair of black panties covered her essentials, and a pair of fishnet stockings clung to her legs, though they were only visible to her knees. High-heeled boots looked painted to her lower calves and feet. A peacock tail rose from behind her, fanning up and out.
Her slick of dark, pink-striped hair was pinned into a bun, and her makeup was so thick and wild she almost appeared inhuman. Her eyes did appear inhuman. Contacts dusted the green with glitter. Her lashes were the color of the feathers, blue and green and black, fanning out over her brows and temples.
“Still have nothing to say to me?” she asked, and sucked a lollipop into her mouth.
One of the spiders popped its legs from her skin and walked down her arm.
No way. Just no way. Had to be the drugs, messing with his mind. He had to be hallucinating. “What would you like me to say?”
Lick. A slow, sensuous grin curled the corners of her lips, and she hummed her approval. “Why don’t you start with how beautiful I am?” Liiick.
She was beautiful, there was no denying that, but Solo knew better than most how deceptive appearances could be. He’d never been one to judge by exterior.
The one and only girl he’d dated had lived on the farm next door to his. Plain but sweet Abigail, whom X had liked but hadn’t wanted him to date and whom Dr. E had despised and had wanted him to bury in his backyard. Abigail was the first and only girl to ever want the man and not the monster. He’d picked her up every time she’d had too much to drink, protected her any time she traveled into the city at night, and helped her climb through her bedroom window whenever she’d snuck out. She’d kissed him a thousand times, said a thousand thank-yous, but had never given him anything more. Despite that, she had genuinely seemed to care for him—but only ever when they were alone.
One day, indignation had gotten the better of him and he’d given her a choice. Take all of him, all the time, in front of everyone, or have none of him. She had cried, she had begged him to remain in her life, but in the end she had been unwilling to change and so he had walked away.
He had never looked back.
Vika, he would think about forever, he suspected. His attraction to her scorched deeply, inexorably, and not just because she was exquisite, the loveliest female he’d ever beheld. Again, looks mattered little to him and he would have liked her if she’d been as ugly as, well, an Allorian. It was the way she’d treated him. As if he mattered.
What was he going to do with that girl?
He couldn’t troubleshoot with Dr. E and X—not that he was on speaking terms with either. Both males had abandoned him during the whipping and had only returned in quick snatches, vanishing the moment he opened his mouth.
“Well?” Audra demanded.
“I will not say any such thing,” he announced.
She straightened, her grin morphing into a scowl. “I have seen you transform into the ugliest beast alive, and yet you think you’re better than me. Well, I’ll put you in your place,” she said softly, fiercely, “right underneath me.”
She held out her arm, and the spider actually leapt from her skin and onto one of the bars of the cage. Okay, there was no way that was a hallucination. Eight legs crawled across the metal, tap, tap, tapping as the spider—
Hinges squeaked as the door to Jecis’s trailer opened. The male stepped into the light of day. Audra inhaled sharply, and the spider jumped back onto her arm.
Some kind of dark power was at work within the girl. Now that he concentrated, Solo could feel the crackle of it in the air. It was the same crackle Jecis and Matas emitted, only at a slighter degree. He would have to remain on guard around her.
Frowning, Jecis scanned the area. He spied Audra, and his frown intensified. He stomped toward the cage.
“What you are doing?” he demanded.
As Audra pasted a seductive smile on her face and wove a lie about Solo calling her over and asking her for food, Solo performed a scan of the area himself. Tent after tent, other trailers, but no hint of Vika.
A rock slammed into his left shoulder, and he glanced down, watching as jagged silver rolled to the floor of his cage.
“Are you listening to me? I said do not dare to speak to my woman again,” Jecis snarled. He curled his fingers around the bars and shook the entire wagon. “You got me? Otherwise I will kill you and send whatever’s left over to your family.”
Solo raised his lashes and met the man’s gaze. He kept his expression blank, refusing to give any kind of reaction. One day I will escape. One day I will end your reign of terror. “Sorry, but I don’t have a family.”
After a long, flustered moment, Jecis said, “Your friends, then.”
“What makes you think a man like me has friends?”
Jecis ran his tongue over his teeth. “Then we’ll let the dogs have you. If they will. They like their meat tender, and you look rotten.”
Solo just stared.
“Speaking of food,” Jecis gritted out, “you have been eating, haven’t you, Beast Man, despite asking my female for a morsel? Your color is too good for a starving man. Who’s been feeding you? My sweet little Vika?”
“Probably,” Audra said. She traced the lollipop over her lips. “I saw her running this way last night.”
“Because her trailer is beside mine, you stupid whore.”
Audra flinched. “O-of course.”
Not so brave in the light of day, and he could guess why. Jecis would tolerate her temper when they were alone and there were no witnesses. But the man would not be so lenient in front of others, when every challenge to his authority would have to be defused in the most violent way possible to stop others from thinking to rise against him.
More than that, Solo knew his type. Knew Audra’s type, too. Jecis was used to everyone bowing and scraping. Audra wanted to be something different, someone capable of holding such a “strong” man’s attention. So she acted out. In the end, however, Jecis would tire of her and she would pay for every one of her perceived crimes. A man like Jecis never forgot a wrong.
A man like Jecis—yet Solo was the same way.
He massaged the back of his neck. He didn’t like the comparison. But he wouldn’t think about that right now. An important revelation had just unfolded. Vika’s trailer was beside Jecis’s. Solo could see no sign of it, and could only assume hers was smaller, obstructed. He could steal it instead of her father’s. A kindness on his part, letting her take a little piece of her life with her—since Solo would never allow her to return.