The book could have been the catalyst. Maybe, when she’d read aloud, she’d somehow opened a doorway from her world into this one. Maybe Nicolai had somehow sent the book to her, and she was his only hope for freedom.
“Nicolai,” she repeated. “I want you to take me to him.” She had to see him, and was too impatient to wait. Would he know her? Was she right about the events that had unfolded?
Rhoslyn gulped. “But he’s the one who stabbed you, and your moth—I mean, er, the queen does not like to be kept waiting. She visited you once already, but you were sound asleep and could not be roused. Her impatience grows, and as you know, her temper…” Her cheeks flushed as she realized what she was saying. “I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect to the queen.”
Nicolai had stabbed Odette, the woman Jane was supposed to be? Talk about a plot twist Jane hadn’t seen coming. Damn. What if he tried to do the same to Jane?
He won’t, some deep, secret part of her said. He needs you. He said so.
“A few minutes more won’t hurt the queen.” Whoever the queen was, whatever she was supposed to mean to her, Jane didn’t care. Although, the fact that the woman was in charge, her word law and she apparently had a temper, unsettled her.
“Doesn’t matter.” She, too, was dead. Although, according to the book, Odette might just have a sister. That other princess. But again, Jane didn’t care. “Take me to Nicolai. Now.” Time to find another puzzle piece.
A breath shuddered through the girl, the seconds ticking by in tension-filled silence. Then, “Whatever you wish, princess. This way.”
THEY CALLED HIM NICOLAI. He didn’t know if that was his real name. He didn’t know anything about himself, really. Whenever he attempted to remember, his head throbbed with unbearable pain and his mind shut down. All he knew was that he was a vampire, and the females here were witches. That, and he despised this kingdom and its people—and he would destroy them. One day. Soon. Just as he’d destroyed one of their precious princesses.
Anticipation rushed through him. His captors thought him weak, ineffective. They kept him on the razor edge of hunger, giving him a drop of blood in the morning and a drop of blood at night. That was all. He was teased and tormented constantly. Especially by the Princess Laila. So highborn, but look at you now. At my feet, mine to do with as I wish.
Highborn? He would find out.
They assumed, just because he was chained and starved, he could not harm them. They had no idea of the power that swirled inside him. Power that was caged, like him, but still there, ready to burst free at any moment.
Soon, he thought again, grinning darkly.
They’d had their healer bind his powers, as well as wipe his memory, and they made no secret of those facts. Why they’d done the latter, however, they’d never said. What did they not want him to remember? Again, he would find out. What they didn’t know was that the witch had lacked Nicolai’s inner strength, and already a few of his abilities had seeped through that mental cage, allowing him to summon a woman who could set him free.
A woman who had at last arrived. Urgency and relief rushed through him, driving him to pace, back and forth, back and forth, his bare feet pounding into the cold concrete, his chains rattling. Even his guards were shocked by the miracle of Princess Odette’s appearance. Or rather, the girl they assumed was Princess Odette.
The real Odette was dead. He’d made sure of it. He had drained her, stabbed her, then shoved her over the cliffs outside this palace. Excessively violent, perhaps, but an enemy was an enemy, and his temper had been roused. And, as he’d known, not even the most powerful of witches could recover from that.
Hurry, female. I need you.
Nicolai had spent countless days, weeks, years—he wasn’t sure—with Odette before he’d killed her. She was the one who had purchased him at the Sex Market, after all. She’d been a cruel girl, with a taste for delivering pain, unable to reach her climax until her unwilling partner screamed.
She had never climaxed with Nicolai.
Remaining silent had been a source of pride for him. No matter the instruments used on him, no matter how many males and females the bitch had allowed to touch and use him, he had only ever smiled.
When Odette took him outside the palace, threatening to throw him over the cliffs if he continued to defy her, he was finally given an opportunity to strike. She’d made the mistake of leaving his muzzle behind. She’d also made the mistake of stepping within his reach, chained though he’d been. He’d fallen on her, pinned her and sunk his fangs into her neck. Starved as he’d been, he’d drained her in minutes. And after that last, life-ending gulp, he’d stabbed her with her own dagger, just to be sure, and shoved her over the precipice.
Too late had the guard realized what had happened, and Nicolai had turned on him, ready for another snack. They’d fought like animals. More beastlike than most, Nicolai had won. The guard had never stood a chance, really. When provoked or hungry, vampires became frenzied and ravenous—unpredictable, uncontrollable predators who scented prey.
As he’d drained his second victim, Princess Laila had swooped in. Having coveted her older sister’s right to the throne, as well as her possessions, including Nicolai himself, she had watched Odette, waiting for the perfect time to act.
Nicolai had inadvertently given it to her. She and her guards had moved faster than his gaze could track, unfettered magic giving them strength and speed, and though his first meal in weeks had rallied him, the chains had slowed him down. He’d been overpowered with embarrassing ease.
Footsteps suddenly sounded, followed by the waft of something sweet in the air, both catching his attention. Nicolai stiffened and stilled, his ears twitching, his mouth watering. Absolute hunger bathed him, his stomach twisting. Must…taste…female…
The desire did not spring from his mind, but from deep inside him. An instinct, a need.
Usually those footsteps heralded the arrival of Laila’s servants, sent to drag him up the stairs and into her bedroom. This time, a plump redhead rounded the corner. He inhaled deeply, growled. Not her. She was not the source of that sweetness.
Nicolai stopped breathing, hoping his head would clear, if only for a moment. He was so damn hungry for the one responsible…had to see her. He rooted his feet in the center of his cage, his pallet behind him, thick bars in front of him, waiting. Who would next enter the dungeon?