Then she’d all but hated Nykyrian. She’d feared him and been looking forward to going home.
Now . . .
She dreaded meeting her father. She didn’t know how he’d react to their news, but she was sure it wouldn’t be gracious. Please don’t be completely unreasonable. There were times when she was sure her father would overreact to something and he didn’t.
Let this be one of them.
When Gouran came into sight, a really bad feeling went through her. She wanted to urge Nykyrian to turn around and take them back. But she knew she couldn’t. Her father was worried about her. She owed him this meeting and telling him she’d married someone wasn’t something to be done over a link.
She just prayed he would listen to reason and not jail Nykyrian immediately upon their arrival.
As soon as they entered Gourish airspace, a hundred fighters surrounded them.
Nykyrian let out a low whistle. “Baby, I think your father’s just a tad upset at me.”
She could have done without his sarcasm. “You’re not funny.” She stared aghast at the number of ships. Her father definitely wasn’t playing around and if they ran at this point, she was sure they’d open fire on them.
We have to see this through.
“Drop your shield and disengage your main thruster,” the controller ordered.
Nykyrian tensed as a warning light went off notifying them they were targeted by another ship’s weapons system. “Drop target. There’s no need for this kind of hostility,” he said in that calm, dispassionate voice he always reverted to when threatened.
“You’ll know hostility after you land, you sonovabitch!” Her father’s loud shout echoed in her ears.
Kiara swallowed her fear. Maybe he’ll be better once we land. Yeah, and the world was filled with happy puppies and rainbows, too.
“Papa, everything’s fine. I’m in the ship. Please don’t open fire.”
“Angel?” His voice quivered. “Thank God you’re alive.” Then his tone turned lethal again. “You have the coordinates to land. You make one tiny variable and so help me, I’ll have you slaughtered where you sit.”
“He’s just such a nice man.”
She rolled her eyes at Nykyrian’s mocking tone. “He’s worried.”
Nykyrian snorted. “Honestly, I’m not exactly jumping for joy over here, either. I don’t like having this many targets on my forehead.”
“I know, sweetie.” The knot in her stomach coiled tighter. “We’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
Nykyrian bit back another sarcastic quip. He wished he was as naive as she was, but he knew better
Her father was out for blood.
Pushing his emotions aside so that he could think clearly, he followed the route in. You’ve had worse odds.
Yeah, he bore the scars from those, too. But there was nothing to be done about it.
He landed inside the main landing bay for the palace. The moment the ship stopped, at least six battalions came out with weapons trained on his ship. There were so many targeting lasers dancing over them, it looked like a light show.
Kiara trembled in apprehension. When her father was this angry, he was completely unreasonable. Never had she seen so many soldiers.
Her father strode out in the middle of them to glare up at their hatch. “Send Kiara down first!” he shouted.
Nykyrian’s strong hands unstrapped her helmet and her safety harness. “It’s all right,” he whispered. “Do what he says. Just move slowly and keep your hands away from your body so that none of the others get nervous or mistake your intent.”
Kiara nodded. Her head light with panic, fear, and anger, she stepped out and descended the ladder. Like Nykyrian had instructed, she moved slowly toward her father, with her hands held out at her sides.
She glared at her father as she reached him. “What is the meaning of this, Father?”
Keifer placed two icy hands on her cheeks, then drew her into his arms in a crushing embrace. She hugged him back, thinking he must be calmer now that he was sure she was fine.
Letting out a relieved breath, she stepped back and smiled up at him. “As I told you, I’m all right.” She turned back to see the guards hauling Nykyrian out of his ship at gunpoint.
They snatched his helmet off and held a blaster to his temple while he kept his hands behind his head and his fingers laced.
Anger tore through her at his treatment.
He could fight them and get away, but because of her, he was submitting. His humiliation on her behalf made her want to claw their eyes out.
Glaring at her father, she snarled, “It’s time you stopped this madness.”
“You’re right, angel.” He smiled at her. “It is time to put a stop to this. Someone has to.” His arms tightened around her as he looked up at his men. “Shoot him!”
Her father’s order tore through her.
“No!” she screamed, trying to pull free.
Her father’s grip tightened as she fought against him. He held her by her arms, preventing her from running to Nykyrian.
Light erupted inside the bay as the soldiers opened fire on him. Terror and disbelief tore through her as everything seemed to slow down.
Nykyrian recoiled from the shots and fell to the ground where he lay unmoving. Blood ran out from under his body, staining the light gray pavement.
Kiara went cold. No sound would leave her lips as she crumpled to the floor, unable to cope with what had happened. A denial screamed inside her soul. Nykyrian was dead.
Because of her.
No, because of her father.
Her father’s hands were still locked on her, preventing her from running to her husband.
She couldn’t breathe. All she could do was stare at Nykyrian as a soldier moved forward to feel for a pulse.
“He’s dead, sir.”
Tears flowed down her cheeks as sobs racked her body. It couldn’t be. It was a nightmare. It had to be.
But she didn’t. She wanted to die as excruciating agony tore through her soul.
The look of prideful satisfaction on her father’s face nauseated her. “Dispose of the body. Troops dismissed.”
When he moved to help her to her feet, she slapped and shoved at him. “I hate you, you bastard!” she screamed. “I hate you! I hate you!”
But those words were weak in comparison to what she really felt. She wanted to kill her father.
Wailing, she lay on the ground, too weak to move or to really fight.
All she wanted was to have this go away.
But it was too late. Her father scooped her up in his arms and carried her away from the one man she’d promised never to leave.
Nykyrian did his best not to breathe deeply as he watched his own blood pooling around his hand. He ached more now than he ever had in his entire life. At least four shots had hit him at point-blank range. And there was no telling how many more had torn through him.
Gah, it hurt . . .
Why couldn’t some of those bastards have missed?
“We’re so dead,” Tameron whispered as he draped a sheet over Nykyrian’s head to help shield him from the others. “If Zamir finds out about this, he’ll have my balls.”
“He won’t know unless you tell him,” Nykyrian whispered, thankful for the loyalty of his Sentella members. There were times when spies were extremely valuable.
This was definitely one of them.
Tameron cursed as he scanned the bay and the handful of soldiers who were still milling about. “Just how the hell are we supposed to get you and your fighter out?”
Nykyrian closed his eyes against a wave of pain. “Tell control you’re driving my fighter out on remote to get rid of it and me.”
Tameron smiled. “Brilliant.”
That’s why they pay me the big credits.
Nykyrian forced himself to remain limp as Tameron and Jayde picked him up and dumped him into the seat of his fighter. He had to bite back a curse at their roughness. But they all had to make it look real or die.
Kiara’s screams echoed in his ears and he wished for a way to let her know he was still alive.
Unfortunately, if he tried, he really would be dead.
Tameron threw his helmet against his stomach. Pain erupted through his body and for a moment, he feared he might pass out.
One, two, three . . . breathe.
He focused on the rhythm to distract himself from the physical misery. From the emotional damage of hearing Kiara’s sobs.
And yet a part of him treasured the sound. She wouldn’t have cried like that had she not cared about him. Those sounds couldn’t be faked.
She did love him.
The thought warmed him as they jettisoned his fighter out by remote.
Still, he wasn’t out of danger. Blood covered him to the point that he couldn’t figure out where he was wounded. If he didn’t get help soon, he’d bleed out.
He waited until he’d cleared orbit before he sat up and took control of his craft. Pain clouded his mind, dulling his thoughts. Every second seemed to bring more throbbing agony than the one before it.
By the time he reached home, it was all he could do to move at all.
Get out and get in. C’mon, boy, you can do it. He had to stop the bleeding.
Nykyrian staggered out of his ship, his eyesight dimming. He had to call Syn and get help with his wounds. He didn’t have much time left . . .
In spite of the sweat covering his body, he was freezing. He opened the door to his house, blood smearing over the white controls.
He let his helmet fall from his numbed hands. The lorinas ran forward, confused by the smell of blood. Think of Kiara. You can’t die. Not right now.
She’s still not safe.
You have to live to stop Aksel.
Nykyrian took a step forward and fell to his knees.
Get up, ass**le.
He tried to rise, but the pain was too much. He had to move, he had to.
Instead, he collapsed against the floor. His last conscious thought was of a tiny dancer who had promised never to leave him.
“The Probekeins repealed their contract on your life! You’re safe!”
Kiara barely heard Tiyana’s jubilant shout. Honestly, she didn’t care. Her life had ended eight weeks ago when her father had killed Nykyrian right in front of her eyes.
Nothing else had mattered since.
Tiyana squatted down beside the chair where Kiara sat in the palace’s garden, wrapped in her mother’s old woolen shawl—something she always wore whenever she was upset. It made her feel like her mother was still with her.
Every day, her father had her marched out here to the garden by his soldiers, thinking the beauty would soothe her and create some freakish miracle that could drive Nykyrian’s memory from her.
But all it did was sicken her, body and soul. How could she see any form of beauty when her heart had been shattered?
“Kiara, didn’t you hear me? You can return to the theater and dance again.”
Like she cared. How could Tiyana think that something so trivial would make her happy? In truth, she hadn’t danced since she’d held Nykyrian in her arms.
And she had no desire to ever dance again without him. The memory was more than she could bear.
“I heard you.”
Sighing, Tiyana took a seat in the identical white, wrought-iron chair across from her.
Kiara used to love sitting in the well-manicured garden behind the palace, breathing in the scent of all the flowers blooming around her, sunlight warming her skin, not doing anything except enjoying the sweet air, gossiping with Tiyana.
But those days were gone.
I don’t think I’ll ever smile again.
Tiyana looked past Kiara’s shoulder and shook her head. By that action she knew her father must be standing behind her. She didn’t bother to look. She really couldn’t care less where her father was.
“Tiyana,” he said roughly. “Could you excuse us for a moment?”
“Sure, Your Excellency.” She stood and touched Kiara’s hand. “I’ll be back in a minute. Do you want anything?”
Kiara shook her head, stifling a sob. The only thing she wanted was her husband and nothing could bring Nykyrian back from what they’d done to him.
With a trembling breath, Kiara looked away from her father as he took Tiyana’s chair.
“Don’t call me that anymore.” Every time she heard it now, it made her think of her father calling out for Nykyrian’s death, and of the countless other horrible things he’d put her through since then—in the name of “protecting” her. He’d made her take a rape test and marched her through countless psychologists who came up with all kinds of names for her “condition.”
“It makes my skin crawl,” she snapped.
He took a deep breath and extended a long, manila folder toward her. “Your medical report came back. I wish to God I could kill all those bastards for what they did to you.”
Kiara ground her teeth, wanting to claw his eyes out for that statement—she was so sick of him calling down the wrath of all incarnations to destroy The Sentella when all they’d done was protect her. Of course, it would help if the psychologists would stop calling it Captive Syndrome—the victim learns to identify with her captor and in time will even begin to think that she cares for him.