I closed my eyes and let my mind relax. Whatever happened would happen, there was nothing I could do but wait. And hope Ash wasn’t trying to kill me.
If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead. No question there. Traitor.
I didn’t move my lips, but I answered him. “You’re the traitor. Not me.”
And then I saw a memory that wasn’t my own, and felt Ash try to pull me away from it. Get out of my head!
“I can’t . . . I’m trying!” I didn’t know what was happening, only that this was not how Traveling worked. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to. Up to three people could travel at a time, safely. Their minds didn’t meld together, though, and they didn’t suddenly see each other’s memories.
I was seeing through Ash’s eyes, a memory I knew from my own head, but not from that angle.
He was an Ender, but he was watching me as a child. The day my mother was killed.
The day Bramley was killed. Cactus and I were playing hide-and-seek, and Ash was bored out of his mind. My heart thumped hard against my chest, as if to escape what I knew was coming.
I fought against the memory. ‘”No, I don’t want to see this!”
But I had no choice. I was seeing it whether or not I wanted to.
A waste of talent, sending him to keep an eye on the brats. A smile flashed across his face, though he had to admit, it was easy enough. And the two kids were entertaining as hell, playing hide and seek, using their innate abilities to cheat. Especially little Lark. She was a natural when it came to tapping into her power. One day she would be a force to be reckoned with. He only hoped she would be more like her mother and less like her older sisters. He gave a shudder. That Belladonna was a wretch, and he avoided her whenever he could. Lately, though, she seemed to be able to sniff him out like a bloodhound.
Ash walked in tandem with Lark and Cactus, but they didn’t see him. He kept to the shadows of the trees, kept an eye on them with ease. They thought they’d left the world behind, but her father would never leave her without protection.
“Hello, Ash,” a soft voice beckoned and he spun. Belladonna stood behind him, her top open down to the middle of her ample bosom. At sixteen, she was just coming into her own, looking more like her mother every day and less like a child. She wore a deep red dress that barely hung onto the curve of her breasts and hips. So much so that he easily saw she wore nothing under it. Shit. His eyes widened, but he responded as best he could.
“Princess, I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Are you done watching the little bastard yet?” She ran a hand down his arm and grabbed his ass. He stepped back, away from her. She made a moue with her lips, pouting as if that would draw him in.
He gritted his teeth. Damn this girl, she thought to get him into her bed at every turn. But she was such a little bitch. Another part of her just like her mother.
“No, I have the shift for a few hours yet.” He turned his back on her and her arms slid around his waist, and down to his belt buckle.
“A few minutes wouldn’t go amiss, would they? Surely you have time for a princess who wants your attention.” Her fingers were deft and she had the belt off in seconds.
Goddess, he wanted to slap her. He pulled her hands away, and took the belt back from her, using more patience than he realized he had. “I thank you for the offer, but I am an Ender. I cannot be distracted, not even by a beauty such as you.” The words were false, but she fluttered her eyelashes appreciatively. He thought she would go away, and leave him be then. No, she took it up a notch.
“If you don’t, I will tell my parents you tried to rape me and they will have you banished.”
He spun to stare at her. “What did you say?”
She shrugged and slid out of her clothes with just a twitch of her hips, the material sliding down to pool in a ruby puddle at her feet. “You heard me. Pleasure me. And yes, that is a command, Ender.”
He was young enough to be afraid of her still. So new to being an Ender. What could he do? He didn’t want the princess, didn’t even like her. Her beauty was overshadowed by her nature, cold and hard and unkind. He had to think quickly.
“At another time, I promise to take you wherever you would go, the peaks of pleasure if that is your wish.” With a deft move, he leaned in and kissed her softly. That would have to hold her. He started to back away from her, yet again.
She arched an eyebrow at him. “Oh no. That is not near enough.” A flick of her wrist and the vines around them reached up, attached themselves to his clothing, and ripped them off.
What happened next, I managed to skip over. The last thing I wanted was to see my sister knock boots with Ash.
I closed my eyes and the images faded. But when I opened my eyes again, I wasn’t out of his head. Not yet.
He stood over my slumped form, Cassava in front of him.
“They will never believe you, Ender. My husband will only know that they died, from a disease. That is all the world will know.”
He dropped to his knees, and scooped the small version of me up with one arm. The queen had killed the kids? How could she? And then a breath under his arm, the girl was alive. “You let her live?”
A choking cry echoed in his chest as he crushed Lark to him, and pulled his medieval sword with the other, pointing it at Cassava. “You killed her brother and mother. By rights, I can kill you.”
Cassava tipped his chin up with a single finger. “Who will believe you, Ender? No one. Not even the girl. I took her memories. I took her friend’s memories. But I will leave yours. Yes, I think that would give me pleasure to see you suffer.”