“He’d ruin her, in multiple, scandalous ways.”
Unedited, I’m afraid, so you’re going to find a lot of typos. Sorry. It’s the nature of the beast.
This is a slower chapter to calm down from the rush of the 10 and 11. I think it’s missing some of the emotional depth but that will come in revision. I tend to write the action and dialogue first, then the character reflection and emotions.
I have also finished editing Tail, Dark and Handsome (available for pre-order now) and can now give Alek and Solenne all my attention. I’m hoping to post chapters more frequently.
“You’ve got an arrow… just there, in your back,” Luis said.
Alek reached over his shoulder and yanked out the arrow with a grunt. Violet blood gleamed on the silver tip. Using the sleeve of his shirt, he wiped it down and handed the arrow to Luis.
Miles wobbled on his feet, then sat heavily in a chair. The armor slid from his grasp into a puddle on the floor.
Godwin cleared his throat, crossbow slung over his shoulder. “Sorry about that. My aim leaves something to be desired.”
“Where is Mr. Parkell?” Solenne asked, stepping back from Alek. “Colonel Chambers is also here. I ran into him in the hall.”
Alek grumbled at the mention of the Colonel’s name.
“What the devil were they doing here, tonight of all nights? And explain why the blacksmith is about to pass out in my parlor.” Godwin used the stock end of the crossbow to knock out the broken glass from the window. The sound of broken glass hitting the stone outside was the sound of an expense they could not rightly afford.
“Mr. Bartram came to deliver a piece of equipment but was attacked in the woods. Mr. Parkell discovered him and brought him here.”
“Not to Chambers?”
“No time,” Miles wheezed.
“I expected better of you, Bartram. Gallivanting about on a full moon. Serves you right, but there’s nothing to be done. You’re here for the night,” Godwin said, Miles already forgotten as his gaze settled on Alek. Her father’s expression was inscrutable with the patch covering one eye. “Get patched up and go search for our wandering guests. Luis and I will track the beast. It’s moving slowly and will head to its den.” With that, Godwin pivoted on his heel and left before anyone could question his orders.
Luis looked from her to Miles, bent over with his elbows resting on his knees, and back to her. “What’s wrong with him?”
“Poison. A sedative, I think, but it is wearing off,” she said, glossing over the bite. Luis did not need the added distraction of worry about Miles.
“You’ll stay with him?”
“Until you return. Go,” she said, giving Luis a light push. He took another glance towards Miles, then departed.
Solenne smoothed back her hair, discovering that most, if not all, had fallen out of the bun. Her hand trembled, and she laughed. Now that the crisis had passed, her body succumbed to terror. Her heart pounded in her chest and her throat tightened, like she would never breathe again.
“Solenne, are you well?” Alke asked, taking her hand. The warm, solid feel of him grounded her.
“I’ve never seen one, a beast, before. Well, there’s Tristan in the library, but alive, I mean. Never alive. I fear I am babbling,” she said, seemingly unable to stop herself. The beast had touched her and shared her air. “It licked me”
Alek’s grip tightened on her hand, and a throaty rumble filled the room. A growl, she realized, the thought distant from herself, like an observation from afar.
“You did well,” he said. His chest heaved, as if the words pained him. “If he had hurt you… But a serving tray? What were you thinking?”
“Silver,” she said, irritated at his faint praise wrapped in concern. “For all good it did.”
She twisted her arm, breaking his grip to switch holds. Lifting his hand to the light, she turned it palm up.
“No,” he said, pulling back.
Solenne refused to let go, her fingernails digging in. He made no sound of distress, not that she expected her blunt nails to go against the rough skin of his hands. Thick, dense dark hair poked out from the edge of his cuffs. Violet blood stained the fabric, but that was not what she wanted to examine.
The crescent scar laid pale and almost silver across the palm of his hand. Lightly, she traced the curving shape.
“I remember this,” she said. Her own matching scar itched on the heel of her palm.
“We climbed to the top of the old mill to scavenge the solar panels,” he replied.
Amalie sent up the two children, as they were lighter and, therefore, safer to be on the rotted roof. Except they were, and the roof gave way. Solenne nearly fell, slicing her hand on a rusted nail as she gripped the edge of the hole. Alek pulled her back, also cutting his hand.
“I think Mama was more upset about the damaged solar panels than us nearly falling through the roof,” Solenne blurted before she could think better of it. She glanced to the door, and the smashed window, as if Godwin would hear her make a disparaging comment about her mother. It’s not that he never spoke about Mama, it was that grief had morphed Amalie into an irreproachable figure, incapable of flaws.
He broke her hold, picking up the heavy silver hammer and resting it on the injury-free shoulder. “I should find Chambers and this other fellow.”
“It’ll heal. It always does. He needs rest. Stay with him. Lock the door,” he said, already gone.
With a sigh, Solenne turned her attention back to Miles, who carefully examined the armor he crafted. “Were you bitten again?” she asked.
“No. The material performed admirably, but you can already see signs of wear and tear. Most distressing.” He held up a section to illustrate his point, but she could see no difference.
Travers boarded over the window to discourage other “unexpected arrivals,” as he put it. A vivid bruise was already blooming on the arm the beast clamped its jaws around. Solenne applied a thick layer of salve to help reduce swelling and promote healing, then found a serviceable bed for Miles. She poured a cup of tea down his throat to help with pain, despite his protests.
“You’ll hurt worse in the morning if you don’t,” she warned.
“I’ll hurt in the morning, regardless. It tastes foul.”
“That’s how you know it’s medicine,” she said, even as she added a spoonful of honey to the cup.
She kept watched as Miles slept, in case he had a delayed reaction to the bite or whatever toxins flowed through him. With an old quilt wrapped about her shoulders, she settled into a chair to read. Absently, she flipped through the pages of an old primer, reading the signs of a beast’s curse. She could recite entire pages from memory, but the touch of paper and ink helped her to think.
The beast had been unphased by the silver weapons. Pained, yes, but not grievously injured. According to the primer, with age, cursed creatures developed immunity to silver and other warding artifacts—the exact nature of a wedding artifact, she did not know. The primer took it for granted as an obvious piece of information and failed to elaborate.
Beasts could resist the effects of silver. The devils who craved blood could tolerate sunlight.
She did not want to imagine such a world filled with ancient monsters who could shrug off attacks.
Her fingers ran down a list of the signs of infection and the means to test if a person had the curse: skin irritation to silver, violet-tinted blood, accelerated healing, though infected bites were slow to heal, fangs and other excessive teeth, and a violet light in the eyes. Behavioral changes comprised a long list increasing in severity from irritability to completely feral mania during the full moon.
None of it made sense. If Alek—
But she had seen the damage the silver tipped arrow did to his back and the violet blood that stained his shirt. Unmistakable proof, yet his behavior did not align with what the book wrote. He should be unstable, unsocial, irritable with fits of fury and violence.
He should have shifted. How had he resisted the pull of the moon and remained human? Retained his mind?
The doorknob rattled, startling her awake from her rambling thoughts. The book fell to the floor.
“Solenne? Are you there?”
“Alek! Yes.” She moved to the door, fingers hovering over the lock before she hesitated. Was this a trick? Had he slipped into a feral mania now? No, Alek sounded as himself, but she did wonder how many teeth he had in his mouth and how sharp.
“Do not open the door. Swear to me. Do not open this door.”
Alek leaned against the door, exhaustion finally catching up with him. Claws had receded, but his hands were still distorted and not entirely human.
Returning to the Marechals had been a mistake. He expected the proximity to the nexus point to exacerbate his condition, but he had not expected Solenne to affect him so.
“You’re in my blood. Don’t open the door. I won’t be kind,” he said, annunciating carefully around the teeth in his mouth. They were the sort of teeth made for snarling and biting, not eloquence.
Inside, the beast howled to tear down the door because she was in his blood and it promised to be anything but kind. It wanted to cover Solenne with its scent, to erase the lingering stench of the other who bared to touch his mate. Bad enough the house reeked of the musk but an open window helped.
The door had to remain closed, or he’d ruin her, in multiple, scandalous ways.
“What’s happening? Talk to me,” Solenne said from the other side of the door, her voice muffled by the door but safe. Safe as long as the barrier was in place.
“Don’t open the door. No matter what I say. Promise me.”
“I don’t understand. What’s—”
“Solenne!” His clenched fist hit the door. “Just promise me. Say it.”
“I… I won’t open the door.”
“Good.” He sagged against the door before sliding down to his knees. “You’re in my blood. I don’t know how, but I can feel you. That was how I knew to return to the house. It wasn’t Luis or Godwin’s tracking. I felt your fear. It was delicious, Solenne.” He ran his tongue over his sharp teeth, drawing a thin laceration that healed almost immediately. “Does your blood taste as delightful? Or your–”
“Your skin. I want to lick every part of you, Solenne. Taste every part of you. Don’t let me. I’ll ruin you.” He gave a mirthless laugh at how he had gone years without speaking to another soul, and now he could not stop the vile words from spilling out of her. “Half of me wants to fuck you until you can’t walk and… No. The other half wants that no, but you wouldn’t walk away. You’d run because you’re my prey, and I would hunt you, capture you, and mark you so no one else would dare touch you.”
She anchored him. In the years since the bite that cursed him, every day had been a struggle to maintain control over the beast. It tore at him, wearing him down. Sometimes all he could do was let the lease slip a little to allow the beast to burn off energy. Each time left him shaky and half-starved, but ultimately more in control.
Being close to Solenne helped in a manner he had not anticipated. The beast’s constant fight to run wild calmed. Now the beast only wanted was its mate.
“But I won’t. I swear to you, I’ll keep you safe,” he said.
“As long as I keep the door closed.”
Replying seemed pointless. She knew the answer.
“Did you find Parkell and Chambers?” she eventually asked.
“I found no signs of them.” He had found a discarded coat, a cravat caught on a branch near the back of the house, but no sign of either man. They were foolish to leave the safety of the house and dastardly to leave Solenne, Miles and the household unprotected from the beast. “Cowards,” Alek muttered.
“I am inclined to agree. How disappointing.” Fabric rustled. “I had hoped they found themselves cornered by a beast or had barricaded themselves into a room.”
Alek had thought the same. “No signs of a struggle and no blood. My best guess is they fled when the beast entered the house.”
“I can not believe that of Colonel Chambers. He’s a military man.”
Alek could believe it, but kept his opinion to himself. Solenne had made it perfectly clear days ago that she could entertain no disparaging remarks about Chambers. Instead, he asked, “How is your patient?”
“Asleep. He was bitten, but only time will tell. Alek—”
“No, Solenne,” he said, knowing what she would ask. Only a small percentage of those bitten by a nexus creature ever received the cursed, perhaps one in ten. No one knew entirely why some were more susceptible than others, but where knowledge failed, superstition filled the gaps.
Some said that entire families had bad blood, that the line was tainted and it was only a matter of time before the curse arrived. Or the person invited the curse because of carelessness or a moral failing. The curse was a divine punishment from a wrath filled universe.
That one he could believe.
“Are you? I mean, I see the signs, but they make little sense.”
“Tomorrow.” He leaned his head against the door. “Ask your questions tomorrow.”
“Will you be outside the door if I need you?”
His damnable heart stirred at the idea that she might need him. He could not risk being in the same room, so tenuous was his grasp, but he could guard her door. Sleep would be impossible, regardless. “Yes. Anything you require. All night.”
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
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