“Actually, you are nothing.”
Rather than issuing another insult, she grinned. “I think I’ll take great pleasure in teaching you the proper way of things.”
Enough. “If you hope to survive the carnage I’ll bring to this circus, you’ll free me.”
“Free you?” she asked with a seductive purr. “And what will you give me in return, hmm?”
“Do not bargain with her,” X rushed out.
Solo pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth. As if he would do something so foolish. Other people could bargain, but not Solo. Never Solo. To go back on his word was to suffer painfully. A curse of his race, perhaps.
“I told you,” he said. “I’ll allow you to live.”
“How sweet. But no, I don’t think I’ll let you go. I like you right where you are. And maybe one day you’ll even thank me for my refusal. I promise I’m not a biter and that you’ll find heaven on earth in my arms. But guess what?” she added in a whisper as she leaned toward him. “I am a liar—and I do bite. Hard.”
A mouthful of feminine curses echoed behind her. He moved his gaze over the otherworlders. All but the Teran still hid in the shadows of their cages, their expressions frightened. The Teran—Kitten—sat in the same position as before, but she was shaking the bars, her gaze locked on the human.
“Why don’t you come over here and play with me?” Kitten snarled.
The girl paled.
Most likely the pair had tussled, and the girl had lost.
“Free me,” he repeated, snagging her attention. “I promise you. It’s the only way to save yourself.”
A tinkling laugh bubbled from her, her encounter with the Teran already forgotten. “Aren’t you just the most adorable thing? I know I hinted, but now I’m sure: I’m really going to enjoy your taming.”
Very well. By sunset, she would not be able to enjoy anything ever again.
“My name is Audra, by the way. I’m the star of the trapeze, as well as the circus owner’s lover. I’m someone of worth.”
Someone needed to teach her the definition of “worth.”
Gasps of horror erupted behind her.
“He’s coming,” one of the otherworlders said.
“Jecis is coming,” another cried.
Once again, the human paled. Backing away from Solo, she said stiltedly, “Until next time, slave.” Then she turned and raced from the clearing.
Deliver me from the mire and do not let me sink.
May I be delivered from my foes and from the deep waters.
X AND DR. E REMAINED silent as a big human male stomped into view. The newcomer stopped in the center of the clearing, bracing meaty fists on his hips and bringing Solo’s attention to the gun sheathed there on one side and the large blade sheathed on the other.
He was armed for war.
Solo studied the rest of him. He had dark hair and sun-weathered flesh, wide shoulders and a large chest, and legs as thick as tree trunks. All of that was normal, if oversize for a human, but there was a paper-thin quality to the skin on his face, and despite his tan, Solo thought he could see his facial bones, as though looking at him through X-ray goggles. Only, the bones were bigger than they should have been, considering the shape of his face, and his teeth sharper than daggers.
“We do not fight the man,” X said soberly, “but the wickedness inside him.”
Solo had no idea what that meant, and at the moment, he didn’t care. He just wanted out of the cage.
The male surveyed the captives with smug pride, before meeting Solo’s gaze. His lips curved into the semblance of a smile, revealing teeth that didn’t match the daggers Solo had seen.
“Good, you’re awake.”
“Free me,” Solo demanded.
A booming laugh scraped against his ears. “A fighter. I’m glad.”
Another refusal. Anger returned, a flash fire in his chest.
The silhouette the man cast on the ground suddenly moved. Frowning, Solo focused in on it. There was no way such a tiny silhouette belonged to such a brute of a man. It had to be—
A female, he realized.
A young woman stepped out from behind the male, and every nerve ending in Solo’s body perked up and took notice. She was absolutely, utterly exquisite. On the small side, with long, curling blond hair and eyes that hovered somewhere between jet-black and deep, rich purple—plum eyes.
She was a fairy-tale princess come to dazzling life.
He could not force himself to look away, could only drink in every detail. A smooth forehead, delicately sloped nose, high cheekbones, and heart-shaped lips created the most luminous face, a canvas of perfection. She was rosily flushed, a flower dusted with morning dew and someone please stab him and put him out of his misery because he sounded like a deranged poet, but he couldn’t help himself. The girl was a taste of heaven, sweetness and light, and he was suddenly starved.
The only flaw to her was the fresh bruise on the right side of her jaw.
He didn’t like that she had been hurt.
As if she sensed his gaze, she glanced his way. Their eyes locked. Her mouth formed a small O. He knew what such a reaction from her meant. She considered his size monstrous, just like everyone else did. But she never severed the connection, as though disgusted or frightened and desperate to hide. She continued to stare, those plum eyes growing wide, softening.
The air between them crackled with . . . something, and every muscle in his body clenched agonizingly on bone.
“Her,” X said, sounding dazed. “She’s the one. She’s yours.”
“No way,” Dr. E replied, incensed. “Just no way. She’ll never want anything to do with him, and even if she does—which isn’t likely, if I haven’t made that clear—he’ll kill her with his gigantor hands.”
“She’s the one,” X repeated.
Yes, she’s mine, all mine, Solo thought, then shook his head. Surely that thought had not budded inside his mind. She was too little, too delicate. And yet he heard, She’s mine, a second time, a booming roar now, and he knew beyond any doubt. Yes, he had had that thought.
Jecis pivoted to say something to another captive, and Solo stretched his arm through the bar, reckless in his bid to touch the girl. Just touch her. He had to learn the texture of her skin. Would it be as soft as it appeared . . . or softer?
With a gulp, she darted behind the male named Jecis.
Finally Solo had frightened her. He bit back his bellow of frustration.