Last Kiss Goodnight
Author:Gena Showalter

chapter Five



Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.

—PROVERBS 2:27

VIKA MET THE NEWCOMER’S gaze—and her entire body reacted, every cell she possessed coming alive, buzzing, heating. But she didn’t lose herself. Not even close. He was far more than angry. He radiated white-hot fury, his skin actually darkening to a deep, rich red. His eyelids were narrowed into dangerous slits, his cheekbones protruded, and his nostrils flared with his every inhalation.

His teeth had even grown, she realized with intensifying horror. They were so long they stretched over his bottom lip. And his ears had changed, now pointing at the ends. And his nails . . . oh, sweet mercy . . . they were claws.

Surely he was capable of slashing the bars of his cage. And when he did, he would stomp over to her. He would raise those heavy fists and destroy her. The pain would be too much. He would hit her face, and he would finally blind her. No!

Panic threatened to overwhelm her as she dropped her rag. Breath caught in her throat and crystallized, leaving a hard, jagged lump that choked her. Black winked through her line of sight as she scrambled to the back corner of the Targon’s cage.

Gonna hurt, gonna hurt, gonna hurt so bad.

Except . . .

Pain was never forthcoming.

She blinked, unsure how much time had passed. The newcomer . . . had not moved an inch, she realized. He hadn’t tried to get to her. And even if he had, she thought, courage at last making an appearance, he was cuffed and drugged, as helpless as a newborn babe. There was nothing he could do to harm her.

Bit by bit, the rest of her panic receded. Gulping, she looked him over. His skin had returned to its original bronze color. His teeth had shrunk and his claws had vanished. His eyes still blazed with a furious fire, but they were also wounded.

The same wound her reflection often showcased.

What had she done to offend him? She hadn’t locked him up; she had fed him delicious cookies. Cookies he had ignored, she realized. The little round treats rested on the floor of his cage. But she already knew the answer, didn’t she? She had flinched when she’d looked at him, scrambling away to create distance between them, as if he were disgusting, tainted.

Such a reaction would have offended anyone. But even still, a warrior such as he should have pounded his chest with pride. Her father loved the terrified reactions his power elicited, for they stroked his ego. But, okay, not all men were like her father. Or Matas. Or the other men at the circus. Or a good portion of the men who visited the circus. She knew that. She’d seen fathers with their children, smiling and protective. She’d seen husbands with their wives, adoring and loving. Real love, not the kind Jecis was selling.

I can’t leave the poor guy like that. His entire world had just collapsed, and a new one—a darker one—had taken shape around him. On this first day of his new, terrible life, she could grant him a kindness. Couldn’t she?

Determined, Vika scooted out of the Targon’s cage, engaged the lock with her thumbprint, and padded across the clearing toward the newcomer.

A pebble thudded against her arm. Frowning, she looked to the left and caught a glimpse of the female in the cage next to the newcomer’s. The Cortaz grinned smugly—and launched another pebble. This one hit Vika in the chest.

Vika didn’t bother asking Crissabelle if she wanted to die. Vika could guess the answer. Yes. Sorry, darling, but I’m not going to oblige you. “The fact that you remember I collect rocks is probably the sweetest thing ever,” she forced herself to say with a breeziness she didn’t feel. “Is it our anniversary?”

The otherworlder’s grin took on a darker edge. Despite the dirt smudging her cheeks, she was breathtaking. She was tall and slender, all long limbs and willowy elegance. Her skin was as flawless as the most expensive pearl and her hair a fall of black velvet.

“When my brothers come and get me, and they will, you’ll be burned alive while I watch and laugh.”

A pebble hit Vika from behind. She spun around to glare at the culprit, only to take a bigger rock to the chest. The Mec—Rainbow—was cackling and pointing at her, as if there was something wrong with her. He loved doing that.

The first few times he’d done it, Vika had run away to check herself in a mirror. A stain on her face? Ripped clothing? Something in her teeth? But not one time had she found anything out of place, and she’d realized he only wished to torture her.

“You found a few for my collection, too? That’s so thoughtful. But guys, I didn’t get you anything.”

The cackling stopped, and he hissed at her. His skin began to glow bright red, a sign of his growing fury.

At first, he and Crissabelle had tried to build a rapport with her. Criss had told her how nice she was, and Rainbow had told her that he hated the way her father talked to her, that he could help, if only she’d free him. After a while, Vika’s continued refusal had ruined all hint of goodwill.

Their transgressions had started out small, and they had hurtled insults, nothing more. When they realized Vika would not tell Jecis, they had graduated to straw, then food, and now rocks. They assumed that, in this, Vika would take, take, take, and never give back.

They were so—right, she thought with a sigh.

Head held high, she closed the rest of the distance with the newcomer. He was in the same spot, in the same position, but his gaze had narrowed on the Mec and the Cortaz. Like the Mec’s, his skin had once again taken on a cast of red.

“Hello,” Vika said.

Those baby blues swung to her, and she shivered.

She drew in a deep breath, hoping to suck in a little more courage and stop the sudden tingling in her veins. She failed at both. The tingling even increased. Hints of peat smoke, pine, and mint filled her nose, making her think of midnight bonfires in an enchanted forest. It was such a rare fragrance that she closed her eyes and inhaled again, and again, until she was light-headed.

There weren’t many forests left in the world. Most belonged to the government and trespassers were never allowed. In fact, she’d only ever seen them from a great distance because, while the circus traveled from city to city, state to state, and sometimes other countries, all year round, they were only ever allowed to stay in clearings where forests used to be.

Ultimately the glare of the sun and the man’s sizzling gaze reminded her that she was outside in view of anyone walking by, it was midday, and she had a lot to do. Failure to complete a single task would invite punishment, and punishment would put her out of commission for several days.

Heart hammering, she focused. The captive now radiated enough heat to melt the Arctic in a matter of seconds.

“Why don’t you come a little closer, female?” he asked.

Thankfully, panic did not assail her and she was able to draw on the audacity that only surfaced in her father’s absence. “I think I’ll stay right here, but I appreciate the suggestion.”

Vika squared her shoulders and looked over the male. Up close, she could see that his skin appeared to be as smooth as glass, the red fading into the beautiful bronze. His facial bones were slightly overgrown, but they were perfectly put together, creating a picture of rough, undiluted masculinity. In fact, he was as fierce in looks as One Day had been during the prime of his too-short life.

A sudden longing for what could have been swelled the chambers of her heart.

The otherworlder’s mouth was moving, she realized, but she’d missed his words. Rather than admit the truth, she remained silent. People often repeated themselves, saving her from having to ask.

Finally, he said, “What are you staring at, human?”

“I’m staring at you. Obviously.”

He grabbed the bars, his knuckles bleaching of color. The words NPRY ELIZABETH and JACOB were etched into his arms. Elizabeth and Jacob she understood. They were names, and she wondered what the people meant to him. But Npry?

“Woman!”

Pulse points dancing to a wild beat she couldn’t control, she said, “Here,” and withdrew the piece of chocolate she’d stuffed in her jeans pocket to enjoy later. “Take it. It’s yours.”

She tossed, but he didn’t catch. He didn’t watch where the candy skittered to a stop, either.

“If you fail to eat it now, it will melt and you’ll have to lick it up. That can be embarrassing, believe me. But chocolate is good in any state, so it’s up to you whether or not—”

His mouth was moving again. Such a lush, pink mouth. “—asked you a question, female.”

Feigning nonchalance, she flicked her hair over her shoulder. “Ask again,” she said. None of the captives had guessed her infirmity, and she would never admit to it. As desperate as they were, as much as they blamed her for their confinement, they would use the handicap against her. “I was distracted.”

“Very well. Do you want to die?”

“How wonderful,” she replied in the driest tone she could manage. “My eighth death threat today. I’ll be sure to make a notation in my diary.”

“Yes, you want to die,” he said with a slow nod. “Otherwise you would free me.”

“Let me tell you how the rest of this conversation will go and save you time, yes? If I fail to set you free right this moment, you will escape. You will be the one to kill me. You will make me hurt. I will regret the day I was ever born. The end. So . . . you eat that?” Frowning, she shook her head. “I mean, you will eat the chocolate now, won’t you?”

Without ever looking away from her, he snatched up the treat, unwrapped the foil—and smashed the nugget into one of the cage bars, rubbing . . . rubbing . . . little crumbs falling into the dirt below.

A mewl of mourning slipped from her. Yes, she had a million more pieces in her trailer, all given to her by her father, just because he “loved” her. But that didn’t alter the fact that the otherworlder had just destroyed something she had earned with blood, sweat, and a whole lot of tears.

“Your loss,” she forced herself to say blithely.

“You have no idea the terror you have brought to this circus, little girl.”

Little girl. That’s what her father often called her. His beautiful little girl. His dearest little girl. His beloved little girl. Vika raised her chin and gritted out, “Don’t call me that. And I didn’t bring you here.”

One brow arched, turning his entire expression into a dare. “Doesn’t matter. You are guilty by association.”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not!” she said with a stomp of her foot.

His eyelids slitted dangerously. “We are not children. Let me go.”

“No,” she replied without a single beat of hesitation.

“Very well. As I said, you will die with the rest.”

“Blah, blah, blah. I know.” Vibrations at her left caused her gaze to dart in that direction.

“—kill her, kill her, kill her,” Rainbow chanted as he jumped up and down in his cage.

Another vibration at her right. Her gaze returned to the newcomer . . . whatever his name was. He had decided to use her distraction to his advantage, was reaching through the bars, trying to contort his body to gain enough length to grab her.

She stumbled backward, out of reach. Frustrated, he snapped those saber teeth at her—sweet mercy, they grew before her eyes and were even longer than before!—his features radiating a dark rage she’d seen one too many times today.

Trembling, she barked, “I was trying to make your day better, and you decided to murder me for it? Perhaps you deserve to be in that cage, eh?” and stomped away to finish her chores.