Authors: Cassidy Hunter
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Romantic, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Romance, #erotic, #Fantasy
The guards grew accustomed to seeing her walk past the jail; one day she waved at them. The next day she called a cheery “hello!” And the next, she stopped to chat.
They were not about to turn away a pretty girl, these bored guards, and in a week, she had them panting like dogs, eager to do anything for her. Anything at all.
Except break her brother out of jail. She knew better than to try. They would have turned her over to Kai immediately. But even their fear of Kai couldn’t sway them when she coaxed them into the depths of the building for a little playtime, especially when she assured them Kai was away and wouldn’t return until morning.
She’d brought with her a bottle of wine. Before she’d left the house, she added to it every drop of the potion she’d stolen from Sampson. He had a cabinet where he stored his poisons and dried leaves and concoctions made from his private garden. His “poppy garden,” as the household healer referred to it.
She couldn’t feed it to them outside. Though it was the dead of night, anyone who happened by would be suspicious of two sleeping guards. But once inside, encouraged by her touches and promises of more, they laughed and drank her spiked wine. They groped her and kissed her and had her half undressed before finally, they dropped like hot stones, unconscious.
Kai would kill them. But she brushed away the thought as she would have a buzzing fly and lifted the ring of keys from one of the hapless, fallen guards. Jerking her top back over her unbound breasts, she went to find Constantine.
Her boots clattered upon the steps leading down into Constantine’s hell. She didn’t even have to pick the Barrows. Too bad. She liked to keep in practice.
Her stomach lurched, dinner surging on a tidal wave of nausea.
Focus. Think only of Constantine.
The unsettling quiet and dim lighting did nothing to reassure her, but she couldn’t turn back. Wouldn’t turn back. She was afraid of Kai. Of how he would feel when he discovered her betrayal. Of how he would look when he found out her plan was to betray him from the start. When he thought that nothing with her had been real…
She stifled a groan and crept down the long hall, holding her breath. A couple of flickering lights added a surreal feel to the pen. She held the back of her hand to her nose. The close, heavy air and the stench of men imprisoned for so long wrapped around her like a wet, moldy blanket.
Eyes searching the darkness, she went slowly on. The corridor of horror seemed to go on forever. Somewhere near the end was Constantine.
The silence was too loud, too heavy. In it lurked screams and bad things, fear and torment. In it grew winding, grasping vines of wickedness, born from seeds of dark despair.
It beat at her, that darkness, pulling at her until she felt she was walking through tar, through quicksand. Imaginary voices shouted whispers at her to
go back! Go back
! But, barely breathing, she dug her nails into her stomach and walked on.
Nothing moved. No one moved or spoke or snored. No one kicked in his sleep or grunted or turned.
Something was wrong.
She reached Constantine’s cell and wrapped icy fingers around the filthy, sticky bars, trying to work up enough spit to speak.
,” she hissed. “
A light down the hall spit and flickered, producing a buzzing that sounded like a five-ton bumblebee in the silence. She peered through the murky darkness into his cell, dreading waking the others in the cell with him, unwilling to wait any longer.
She fumbled with the key ring, which held only three keys. The first one she fitted into the lock didn’t work, but the second one did. With a squeaking
, the door opened. “Constantine…”
They had to hurry. Impatience warred with fear, and her belly clenched, dizziness making an uneasy appearance. But then he moved, a dark shape disengaging from the shadows at the back of the cage.
“Come into my parlor,” Kai whispered and flicked a flashlight on.
She screamed, unable to help herself, and her legs weakened like overcooked noodles.
The entire jail came to life then—men screaming to mock her, beating tin plates against battered bars, stomping, clapping, yelling.
She put her hands over her ears and backed away, a trickle of blood itching down her chin. She’d bitten her lip, but in her overwhelming fear and the disorientation of the sudden noise, she barely felt it.
Slowly, so slowly, keeping the flashlight on the grinning mask of his face, he walked toward her. His eyes were black holes of the most fearsome rage she’d ever encountered.
“Kai,” she whispered, her voice cracking. “Please…”
“Constantine? Where’s my brother?”
“Erik, bring her brother.” Shining a helpful light, Kai lit up a path to Erik, who led a shackled and gagged Constantine.
His eyes were the direct opposite of Kai’s. In Constantine’s gaze was desolation, anguish, shame.
She wanted to run to him. “It’s not your fault, Brother. I had to try.”
Kai held her back as Erik pushed Constantine back into his cell. Erik yanked out the gag, and Constantine took a deep breath. “Sarah…”
Kai’s fingers bit into her upper arms, unforgiving and rigid in his rage. “Leave him shackled,” he snarled to Erik.
He pushed her roughly ahead of him, but only into the cell adjoining Constantine’s. Wrenching the key ring from her hand, he left her shocked and confused in the cell. She stood against the wall, her hands clasped, and fought to keep a scream from clawing its way out of her throat. He would leave her here?
But he slammed the cell door shut and clicked off the flashlight. “Sweet dreams, baby.” In his voice, she heard the hurt and flinched from it.
Erik followed Kai down the hall but glanced back once at Constantine’s cell. “Are you sure we should leave him restrained?”
Kai didn’t answer, and Erik shrugged, but even through her horrified daze and frozen mind, Sarah sensed Erik was unhappy.
She stiffened her spine and turned to her brother. She reached through the bars that separated them, and put her hand against his grimy cheek.
“Brother.” She let her tears flow then, so glad to see him, so sorry she’d failed him. Heart breaking because she’d hurt Kai so. “Oh God, Con.”
He leaned his forehead against the bars. “Sarah, what have you done?” And he waited with the patience he’d always shown, while she sobbed out her sorrow and, finally, got herself under control. “What have you done, honey?” he asked again.
“I meant to save you. I escaped Sampson, and I meant to save you.”
“God, I wish you hadn’t—”
“You know I had to try.” The skin of his face was stretched tight, dry, and dirty, and she patted his cheek gently, tenderly, her happiness at seeing him tempered by the pain she was causing him now.
“I don’t want to see you die,” he told her, his voice quiet.
“We were so close to escaping.”
She sensed his smile. “No, Sarah. We really weren’t.”
“I had a bag, but I stashed it outside. It had food.”
“We’re fed okay.”
“You’re so skinny.”
He said nothing, but she felt his depression like a physical thing, nearly choked on the pain that rose from his skin like a noxious vapor. Finally, he whispered, “I’m so sorry. So sorry I failed and couldn’t get you away from Sampson. I was tormented, knowing what you were going through…”
She licked away the tears mixing with the blood from her chewed lip. “It’ll be all right, Constantine.” She took his hand. “And Sampson is in the past. He made me strong. So strong that, in the end, when his wife helped me to escape, I really don’t think he was all that interested in trying to get me back.” If her smile was merely a harsh distortion of the real thing, it didn’t matter. Con would understand. “It’ll be all right.”
Sure it would.
“I don’t think Kai is a bad person, Brother.”
Constantine tilted his head to the side, a familiar movement that brought the sting of tears to her eyes. “Sarah. You’ve fallen for the man?”
“I…” She sipped her cup of water and looked away. “Eat your breakfast.”
They’d sat and talked through what was left of the night. Though their positions were precarious, she was too happy to see him to care.
The guards had released him from his chains when they brought breakfast, but Kai had yet to make an appearance. He’d be back. Maybe to inform her he was sending her back to Sampson, but still. He’d be back.
She could be grateful he’d put her in an empty cell. The men were four to a small cell and could barely move without bumping into one another. This was cause for some of them to take offense, and fights were pretty much constant. “It gives us something to do,” Constantine told her, grinning. His eyes, however, didn’t smile. They remained an icy green, full of haunted bleakness.
She stared at the floor. “I can never make up for what I’ve caused. Telling you that I’m truly sorry won’t help you, I know, but”—she looked up at him, her eyes swimming in a sea of regretful, guilt-filled tears—“I am so, so sorry. If I had it to do over again, I would never have asked you to…” She gestured, unable to even speak the words.
“Sarah. Don’t. It’s not your fault. It was my responsibility to keep you safe. I couldn’t even do that. Father would have been disappointed in me.”
“Don’t say that! Don’t even think it, Constantine.” Con’s and their father’s fates were uncomfortably similar. Father had been imprisoned by Sampson for plotting against him. Despite the pleadings of their mother, their father had been full of heat and vigor and determined to help take down Sampson.
All he’d managed to do was drag them all, especially Sarah, under the very, very interested regard of Commander Sampson, leader of the settlement into which they’d been born.
Father had been murdered in prison, and life as they knew it had crumbled into cold, unsympathetic ash.
It wasn’t Kai who finally showed up, but Erik. His glance at her was casual but thorough. It gave her some measure of hope. Kai had sent him to see after her. At least, that was what she told herself.
She grasped the bars, pleading. “I need to speak with Kai.”
He turned his face to her, but his gaze went to Constantine. “He doesn’t want to talk to you,” he told her, his gaze still on her brother.
Butterflies awakened in her stomach. Why was he watching Constantine? Surely, no matter how angry Kai was, he wouldn’t use her brother to hurt her. No, not Kai.
“Con,” one of his cell mates said, “your sister sure is pretty. Maybe we can talk the big man into letting her stay awhile.” The speaker was called
, and she’d learned already he was the prison’s mischievous one. His eyes carried an innocent, childlike quality that touched her, even as he proved himself a pain in the neck.
Constantine ignored him, staring back at Erik with cool eyes. Neither said anything for a moment; then Erik motioned at two of the guards who’d followed him down.
“Take him out.”
These were two new guards. Kai had probably gotten rid of the two Sarah had duped, and in a hurry. Or worse. She watched, her heart in the throat, as Constantine was pulled from the cell and his hands secured behind his back. His thinness worried her even as fear for his safety wrapped icy fingers around her heart.
“Where are you taking him?”
Erik wrapped his big, rather freckled hand around Constantine’s upper arm. “Kai wants to see him.”
Her heart sank like a stone to the bottom of her stomach, where it lay bobbing in a sea of terror. “Why?”
Erik’s gaze might have been sympathetic, but he averted his eyes too quickly for her to tell. Ushering Constantine away, he ignored her yelled questions.
“Sarah, I’ll be all right. Don’t worry.”
She’d been worrying about him since the day he’d come quietly into the world, his eyes clear and bright. He’d studied those around him, in the weeks that followed, with an odd curiosity, as though they were strange, interesting bugs.
“Be careful.” Her whispered words wouldn’t have reached his ears, as Erik had already marched him from the floor. “God, Kai. Please, please don’t hurt him.”
, honey, don’t worry. He’ll be all right.”
reached long, scarred hands through the bars toward her, but she went to sit dejectedly against the middle of the back wall. It was the only place she could avoid eager touches from men forced to live without, she assumed, the company of women.
Being near Constantine had made everything that happened bearable. Now that he wasn’t there to dilute the agony, it crashed over her with a crushing weight. Only the cold, predatory stares of desperate men kept the tears at bay. You didn’t show weakness to men like these. They’d eat her alive and leave stripped bones for Kai. Serve him right, too.
Her smile broke through the threatening tears when she caught herself imagining just such a thing happening, with Kai on his knees in regret, when he realized that by putting her in prison, he’d killed her. She was such a child sometimes.
A fight in the cell across the hall pulled her out of her own mind. She ran to the bars, but none of the other prisoners paid the slightest attention to the ruckus. They watched her, however.
“Don’t worry about that, sis. Those boys fight if one of ’
breathes too loud.”
She smiled at
. With his short, bowed legs, close-set eyes, and ears that stuck out a little too much, he reminded her of an elf in one of the old books her father had kept. “I’m not worried. But it does get boring down here, doesn’t it?”
“You been here since last night. I was brought here ten years ago.”
“Ten years down here!”
scratched his chin through his scraggly beard. “I guess the big man likes having me around.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. The skin long denied the sun was nearly green in its doughy paleness.
. Kai. She stepped closer to him. “
“Has my brother been… Has he been okay?” She strived for a casual tone needlessly.
“Sure, honey. He’s been okay.”
She sighed. “You’re a nice man,
A nice liar.
Time passed with excruciating slowness, but finally, Erik returned with Constantine.
yelled, as if he hadn’t really expected to see Constantine again.
“Hey, man. Sarah, you okay?”
“Yes. You?” She craned her neck to see if maybe Kai had followed.
Erik unlocked the restraints, his hands lingering on Con’s arms. Constantine walked into the cell and seemed to see nothing strange in Erik’s touch. She frowned.
“Yeah.” The cell door made a loud, final
as he shut it.
“Kai—how is he?”
He snorted. “You shouldn’t worry about Kai.”
She licked suddenly dry lips. “Ask him if he’ll see me. Please.”
“Kai will send for you when and if he wants to see you. I’m not a message carrier.”
“Shut up, woman.”
Constantine wrapped his hands around the bars, eyes narrowed. “Watch how you talk to her.”
Erik slid his gaze to the smaller man, raising an eyebrow. “What in the hell, Con, are you going to do about it if I don’t?” He leaned against the bars and reached into his pocket for his tobacco. As if he had all the time in the world and liked being where he was just fine, he rolled one and lit up, inhaling deeply.
Constantine could have wrapped his hand around Erik’s throat and ripped out his esophagus had he wanted to, but Erik didn’t seem the least bit concerned. Constantine’s fingers tightened on the bars, and he shot a look at Sarah. “Just watch your fucking mouth with her.”
“Constantine, don’t. His mouth doesn’t bother me.”
“Does my mouth bother
, Constantine?” Erik blew a smoke ring and smiled.
Every ear in the place was tuned in to the conversation. A tear running down a cheek would have sounded like a bubbling stream in the sudden quiet.
Sarah clutched her stomach and stepped back. “Constantine?”
He put his forehead against the bars, blowing out a tired breath. “Go away, Erik.”
Erik straightened, opened his mouth to say something, then obviously thought better of it. He threw a regretful and rather shamed look at Con and, to Sarah’s shock, did as Constantine bid. What the hell? She shook her head, confused. “Constantine, what is happening?”
pushed the other two cell mates into a corner, where they hunkered down with a thin, battered strip of wood and a handful of smooth stones. “I’ll bet supper that I’ll win this round,”
said, drawing his cell mates into a game Sarah didn’t recognize.
That didn’t give her and Con any real privacy, but she appreciated his trying.
Constantine took her hands through the bars, his grip warm, comforting. “Sarah, for me, just leave things alone. Don’t ask questions. Don’t worry. Just…don’t.”
He wouldn’t let her pull her hands from his grip, and finally, she stopped trying. “I just… Are you…” She swallowed hard. “Did he
His laugh was the most joyful thing the jail had heard in years, she was sure. Cut to the quick, she yanked her fingers away and turned her back to him. “How can you laugh?”
“Sarah.” His chiding voice did nothing to urge her to face him. His sigh was loud. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, Sister. Erik is a good man, really. We’ve become…friends. He won’t hurt me. Now please. No more questions. Don’t think about anything except getting out of here, okay?”
She did face him then, a quick anger burning through her like a smoldering, ancient piece of paper. “Getting out of here? You want me to think about getting
of here? Exactly what good is thinking about it going to do either of us?”
“Sarah. I’ve never known you to give up so easily.”
“You’ve been down here for a long time, Constantine. You don’t give up either, but you’re still here.”
She sat on the filthy cot, for the first time beginning to feel the hopelessness of the situation. If Kai wanted to, he could leave her in this hole forever. She kicked at the tin dinner plate she’d been given earlier, furious with herself.
She’d completely failed. She’d failed everyone.
Curling up on her side, she slept. There was nothing else to do.