For the moment, he needed this woman on his side, and calm. Although, to be honest, she’d handled things very well so far.
“How?” she insisted.
He shook the bars. “Do as I told you, Jane. We must hurry.”
She arched a brow. “You’re cute when you’re ordering me around, you know that?” The color in her cheeks brightened, and her breath became shallow. “And you…you smell like sandalwood.”
She liked his scent as much as he liked hers, he realized. It aroused her. Her ni**les were pearling beneath her robe, begging for a touch, a kiss. Did her belly quiver? Was she already moist between her legs?
His hands fisted at his sides. “I don’t know why I’m here or how they captured me, but I do know that I don’t belong here. I know that if I stay, I will be tortured again and again. Tell me you are not like them, Jane. Tell me you do not like to watch a man be tortured.”
Her dark gaze fell to the metal linked around his neck, then dipped lower, perhaps following the beads of dried blood that rode the ropes of his stomach before stopping at his tented loincloth.
Another shiver from her. “I don’t,” she said on a broken wisp of air. “But what happens if they realize I’m not truly Odette?”
“They won’t find out.” This lie did not leave him smoothly. “All right? All you need to know to aid the illusion is that you bought me at the Sex Market. You own me. Demand my release, and escort me to your—”
The sound of footsteps echoed, and Nicolai pressed his lips together. Jane tensed. An audience, exactly what they did not need right now. Then Laila rounded the corner, a scowl marring her already ugly face. She was as short and squat as her mother, her cheeks just as padded as Odette’s, and her jowls just as noticeable.
Without the hooked nose, however, she was the “beauty” of the family. The length of her dark hair was coiled on top of her head, ringlets hanging at her temples. She wore an opulent gown of bright green velvet to match her eyes, though there was nothing in this kingdom or any other that could make her attractive. The evil of her soul was simply too dark.
A silver timepiece hung from a chain around her neck. She was never without it, and the sight of it never failed to twist Nicolai’s stomach with rage. Why?
She ground to a halt when she spotted Jane, hurriedly smoothing her features into a doting expression. “What are you doing here, sister dear? And in your nightgown, no less.” An anxious laugh. “You should be resting. We don’t want you getting sick, do we? You’ve already suffered so much.”
Her voice never failed to disgust him, either. He’d heard it over him, under him, behind him, her warm breath trekking over his skin. Now, so close to escape, he had to bite his tongue to hold his curses inside.
Soon, he would destroy her.
Jane gulped, looked at him.
Do what I told you, Jane, he projected at her, a part of him resenting the need to do so. He’d never had to beg for anything in his life. He’d always—a sharp ache erupted in his temples, cutting off his thoughts. A memory, dead and gone before it had a chance to live.
“You are Princess Laila. My sister. Yes.” Jane breathed deeply, squared her shoulders, and faced her “sister.” “He’s—he’s mine. I own him.” What she lacked in conviction she made up for with determination.
Laila gritted her too-white teeth, and shifted from one sandaled foot to the other. “Yes, but you were gone, darling. I took over his care. He’s mine now.” She stroked the timepiece. “In situations such as this, Mother always sides with the one in possession.”
“I don’t care. He’s mine.”
“Odette, be reasonable.” How patient Laila appeared. A falsehood. “He attempted to slay you once, and nearly succeeded. He is too much for you to handle and I have grown used to—”
“I said he’s mine.”
Good girl, he thought again. So badly Nicolai wished he could unleash the torrent of power inside him, now rather than later. He would crush Laila, smile when she screamed, laugh when she died, then raze this palace brick by brick and dance atop the rubble.
Soon. The word was a constant inside him.
He didn’t know what powers he could wield, or if they’d be strong enough to do everything he wanted to this kingdom. Absolute, total destruction. But he wasn’t worried. Were his powers not too weak, he would raise his army and they would march—
Another ache tore through his head, another memory destroyed. He hissed from the pain, clearing his mind before he shut down completely.
Both women flicked him a glance before refocusing on each other. But Laila’s attention quickly returned to him, to his erection—still pulsing with need of Jane—and her mouth hung open with shock. “You’re aroused.”
Silent, he reached under his loincloth and stroked his length up and down, taunting her with what he’d never willingly offered her.
Laila gave a strangled choke, her eyes widening as she faced her sister. “How did you arouse him?”
“I—I—” Jane blushed as becomingly as she smiled. So innocent and sweet, sunlight and moonlight twined together. Taste…
“Never mind,” Laila snapped, all pretense of love and patience vanishing. “It doesn’t matter. Mother’s on a rampage and demands a word with you. She mourned your death for days, and was ecstatic by your return. But that happiness will not save you from a whipping if you continue to defy her.”
A mother, mourning her child for days. How sweet, Nicolai mentally sneered. But then, the Queen of Hearts was known as a brutal tyrant, an unforgiving bitch and a power hungry murderer. Nicolai’s own mother had—
He clenched his jaw against the pain.
“I heard you were on your way down here,” Laila went on, “and came to get you. You don’t want to keep your queen waiting, do you?”
“No. You don’t.”
Damn this. Jane was letting Laila direct her, proving she had not the strength of will to lead. His one and only chance for escape was withering with every second that passed.
“Laila, no. I—”
“Your poor, addled mind hasn’t yet recovered from your fall, has it, darling? But you like having skin on your back, I know you do. Guards,” Laila called.
Jane twisted her fingers together, clearly agitated. “I—I— There’s no need. I don’t want to be whipped, but I really need to—”