Night Pleasures (Page 21)

Night Pleasures (Dark-Hunter #2)(21)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

"And conquest," Dimitri added.

Kyrian smiled even wider. "Tonight, at least, that appears to be true."

"Commander?"

Kyrian turned toward the voice behind him to see a man cutting a swath through the men in the tent.

The soldier held out a sealed letter. "A courier brought this. It was discovered on a Roman messenger earlier today."

Taking it from him, Kyrian saw the seal of Valerius the Younger on the outside. Curious, he opened the vellum and read it, and with every word, his panic swelled. His heart beat faster. "My horse!" he shouted, running out of the crowded tent. "Saddle my horse."

"Commander?"

He turned to his second in command who had followed him outside. A worried frown creased his tired old brow. "Dimitri, you’re in charge until I return. Pull the army back into the hills, away from the Romans until you hear from me. If I’m not back in a week, then lead the men to Punjara and combine forces with Jason."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

A youth came forward with his black stallion. His heart hammering, Kyrian swung himself up into the saddle.

"Where are you off to?" Dimitri asked.

"Valerius is riding to my villa. I’m going to head him off."

Dimitri grabbed the horse’s bridle, horrified. "You can’t go alone to meet him."

"I have no time to wait for you. My wife is in danger. I will not hesitate." Kyrian wheeled his horse about and spurred it through the camp.

Amanda twisted in bed as she felt Kyrian’s rising panic. His need to protect his wife at any cost. The days ran together as he rode furiously, changing horses every time he happened upon a village. He never stopped to rest or eat. He was like a demon possessed, with only one thought on his mind. Theone. Theone. Theone.

He reached his home in the middle of the night. Weary and terrified, he leapt from his horse and pounded on the door for admittance.

An old man pulled open the heavy wooden door. "Your Highness?" he asked in disbelief.

Kyrian pushed past the man, his gaze sweeping his grand foyer looking for signs of hostility. Nothing out of the ordinary met his fearful gaze. Still, he wasn’t comforted. Not yet. He would not be calm until he saw her with his own eyes. "Where’s my wife?"

The old servant looked confused by the question. His mouth opened and closed like a fish. Finally, he spoke. "In her bed, Highness."

Starving, exhausted, and weak, Kyrian ran down the long, columned corridor toward the back of the house.

"Theone?" he called as he ran, desperate to see her.

A door at the end of the hallway opened. An incredibly beautiful and petite blond woman came to stand in the hallway. She closed the door behind her and swept a chiding glance over Kyrian’s dishevelment.

She was alive and unharmed. And she was the most beautiful vision his adoring eyes had ever beheld.

Her long, golden hair was tousled, her cheeks bright pink. She clutched a very thin white sheet over her nude body. "Kyrian?" she asked sharply.

Relief rushed through him and tears filled his eyes. She was alive! Thank the gods. Blinking the tears away, he swept her up into his arms and held her close. Never had he been more grateful to the Fates for their mercy.

"Kyrian," she snapped, bristling under his touch. "Put me down. You smell so bad I can barely breathe. Have you any idea how late it is?"

"Aye," he said through the tight knot in his throat as joy pounded through him. He set her down and cupped her face in his hands. He was so tired he could hardly stand or think, but he wouldn’t sleep. Not until she was safe. "And I must get you away from here. Get dressed."

She frowned. "Take me where?"

"To Thrace."

"Thrace?" she asked incredulously. "Are you mad?"

"No. I’ve received word that the Romans are headed this way. I’m taking you to my father for safekeeping. Now hurry!"

She didn’t. Instead, her face darkened dangerously as fury snapped in her gray eyes. "Your father? You’ve not spoken to him in seven years. What makes you think he’d shelter me?"

"My father will forgive me if I ask it."

"Your father will throw us both out. He made his proclamation quite public. I’ve been embarrassed enough in my lifetime, I don’t need to hear him call me a whore to my face. Besides, I don’t want to leave my villa. I like it here."

Kyrian disregarded her words. "My father loves me and will do as I ask. You’ll see. Now dress."

She looked past his shoulder. "Polydus?" she said to the old servant who had been waiting all that time behind Kyrian. "Have a bath prepared for your master and bring him food and wine."

"Theone-"

She stopped Kyrian’s words by placing a hand on his lips. "Hush, my lord. It’s the middle of the night. You look dreadful and you smell even worse. Let us clean you, feed you, and put you to sleep, and then in the morning, we can discuss what needs be done to see me safe."

"But the Romans-"

"Did you see any on your way here?"

"Well… no."

"Then there can’t be any danger at the moment, now can there?"

Too weary to argue, he conceded. "I suppose not."

"Then come." She took him by the hand and led him to a small room off the main corridor.

The next thing Amanda saw was a room lit by a small fire and candles. Kyrian was leaning back in a gilded tub while Theone bathed him.

He captured her hand in his and held it to his whiskered cheek. "You’ve no idea how much I’ve missed you. Your touch soothes me like nothing else."

She smiled a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes and handed him a cup of wine. "I heard you took Thessaly from the Romans."

"Aye. Valerius was incensed. I can’t wait until I march on Rome. I will have her yet, mark my words."

Kyrian drained the cup, then set it aside. His body burning, he reached for his wife and pulled her into the tub with him.

"Kyrian!" she gasped.

"Shh," he breathed against her lips. "I would have a kiss from you."

She acquiesced, but there was a coldness to her. He could feel it.

"What is wrong, my love?" he asked, pulling back. "You seem so distant tonight. As though your thoughts are somewhere else."

Her face softened as she straddled his waist and took him into her body. "I am not distant. I am tired."

He smiled, then groaned as she moved against him. "Forgive me for waking you. I just wanted to know you were safe. I couldn’t live if anything ever happened to you." He cupped her face in his hands and stroked her cheeks with his thumbs. "I will always love you, Theone. You are the very air I breathe."

Kissing her lips, he savored her taste.

She seemed to relax some in his arms as she slowly rode him. All the while her gaze watched him as if she were waiting for something…

As soon as he cli**xed, Kyrian leaned back in the tub to watch her. He was as weak as a newborn whelp. But he was home, and his wife was his strength. His haven.

No sooner had that thought crossed his mind than a strange buzzing started in his head. A wave of dizziness swept through him.

And in an instant, he knew what she’d done. "Poison?" he gasped.

Theone scrambled off him and left the tub. Hurriedly, she wrapped a towel around herself. "No."

Kyrian tried to get out of the tub, but another wave of dizziness gripped him. He fell back into the water. He couldn’t breathe as thoughts wandered randomly through his drugged mind.

But foremost in his mind was the very treachery of the woman he loved. A woman he had given the world to.

"Theone, what have you done to me?"

She lifted her chin as she watched him coldly. "I’m doing what you can’t. I’m protecting myself. Rome is the future, Kyrian. Not Andriscus. He will never live to ascend to the Macedonian throne."

Darkness fell.

Amanda groaned as she felt a severe pain lance through her skull. When the light returned, she found Kyrian lying nak*d against a cold stone slab that was tilted at a forty-five-degree angle. His arms and legs had been secured with ropes to winches.

He glanced around the medium-sized room to an old table set in one corner, the top of which was covered with all manner of torture instruments. A tall, black-haired man stood looking over the table’s offerings, his back to Kyrian.

Kyrian felt so alone and betrayed. So completely defenseless.

It was a terrifying sensation for someone who had never known vulnerability.

The room was stifling hot from the fire in the hearth. Somehow, Amanda knew it was early summer outside. The windows were open and a gentle Mediterranean breeze blew across the room, carrying the scent of sea, flowers, and olives. Kyrian heard laughter from outside and his stomach knotted.

It was too beautiful a day to die…

The man at the table cocked his head. Suddenly, he turned and pinned a menacing glare on Kyrian. Though the man was incredibly handsome, there was a cold sneer on his face that robbed him of his appeal. The man had the cruel, glittering eyes of a viper. They were soulless, calculating, and completely lacking in compassion.

"Kyrian of Thrace." He smiled evilly. "At last we meet. Though I’m sure this isn’t quite what you had planned, is it?"

"Valerius," he snarled as soon as he saw the banner on the wall over the man’s shoulder. He would know that eagle emblem anywhere.

The Roman’s smile widened as he crossed the room. There was no respect on Valerius’s face. Only smug satisfaction.

Without another word, Valerius turned the winch that held the ropes to Kyrian’s limbs. The ropes tightened, pulling at Kyrian’s muscles, tearing ligaments and popping his bones from their joints.

Kyrian clenched his eyes tight and ground his teeth at the agony that whipped through his body.

Tightening the winch even more, Valerius laughed. "Good, you’re strong. I hate to torture little boys who whimper and cry right away. It takes all the fun out of it."

Kyrian said nothing.

After locking the winch into place to keep Kyrian’s body painfully stretched, Valerius walked over to the table where a number of weapons and tools rested. He hefted a heavy iron mallet in his hands. "Since you are new to my company, allow me to educate you on how Rome deals with her enemies…"

He sauntered back to Kyrian, offering Kyrian a goading smirk. "First, we crush your knees. This way, I know you won’t be tempted to leave my hospitality until I’m ready for you to."

Valerius brought the mallet down over Kyrian’s left knee, shattering the joint instantly. Unimaginable pain ripped through him. Biting his lip to keep from crying out, Kyrian gripped the ropes binding his hands. He could feel the warm blood from his cut wrists trail down his forearms.

Once he’d shattered Kyrian’s other knee, Valerius picked up a hot iron from the hearth and brought it over to him. "I only have one question. Where is your army?"

Kyrian narrowed his eyes, but said nothing.

Valerius laid the hot iron against his inner thigh.

Amanda lost track of the wounds as Valerius tortured Kyrian. Hour after hour, day after day with resolute vigor.

She’d never known a person could suffer so much and continue to live.

She gasped as water was thrown into Kyrian’s face.

"Don’t think you can pass out to escape me. Nor starve until I will it."

Valerius grabbed Kyrian’s hair and pulled his head viciously, then poured broth down his throat. Kyrian hissed as the salty liquid stung the cuts on his face, his lips. He choked on the broth, but still Valerius poured it into his mouth.

"Drink, damn you," Valerius snarled. "Drink!"

Kyrian passed out again, and again the cold water brought him back awake.

Days and nights blended together as time went by while Valerius assaulted him, again and again. Always asking the same question. "Where is your army?"

Kyrian never uttered a single word. Never once cried out. He kept his jaw so tightly locked that Valerius had to pry it open to force-feed him.

"Commander Valerius," a soldier said as he came into the room while Valerius again turned the winches against Kyrian’s arms and legs. "Forgive my interruption, my lord, but there’s an emissary from Thrace wanting an audience with you."

Kyrian’s heart stopped beating. For the first time in weeks, a sliver of hope swept through him, overwhelming him with joy.

His father …

Valerius arched a curious brow at his underling. "This should be quite entertaining. By all means, show him in."

The soldier vanished.

A few minutes later, an older, well-dressed man entered the room with two Roman soldiers trailing him. The man looked so much like Kyrian that for a moment, Amanda thought it was his father.

As soon as the man was close enough to recognize Kyrian’s bloody, misshapen form, he gasped.

His dignity forgotten, his uncle ran to his side. "Kyrian?" he breathed in disbelief, gingerly touching Kyrian’s broken arm. His blue eyes were filled with pain and concern. "Dear Zeus, what have they done to you?"

She felt Kyrian’s tremendous shame and grief at seeing his uncle’s sorrow. She felt the need inside Kyrian to relieve the guilt that swam in Zetes’s eyes and to beg him to ask his father to forgive him.