Last Kiss Goodnight
Author:Gena Showalter

chapter Seven



Let his left hand be under my head, and his right hand embrace me.

—SONG OF SOLOMON 2:6

WELL, HIS CURIOSITY WAS certainly assuaged, wasn’t it? Solo thought.

She’d kissed him, confused him, overwhelmed him. Stunned him. Because she’d done it of her own free will. He hadn’t asked for it, hadn’t demanded it. She’d simply given. A gentle meeting of lips, followed by the sweetest little nibble.

His body had been immobile—was still immobile—but his mind had been working just fine both then and now. The entire time, in fact. He’d been highly attuned to her every action, her every breath. Her every caress.

He’d known the moment she spread mud over his toenails. It had taken him a few minutes to figure out what she was doing, and why, and when the answers had slid into place, he had reeled. She’d hoped to protect him.

Then she had begun cleaning him. While she’d been gentle but businesslike with the other males, she had been sweet and affectionate with Solo, lingering, doctoring—arousing. From the first, his blood had heated to a fever pitch.

His muscles had knotted as he’d tried everything within his power to move, to grab her—not to toss her away and escape, but to pull her closer. To strip her and take her, here and now.

And when she’d kissed him . . . a growl of need had razed the inside of his throat.

His desperation for her had finally given him the strength to open his eyes.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me,” she mumbled, and scrambled from his cage. After shutting and locking the door, she ran from the area and never looked back.

Solo wanted to shout and demand she return, but he couldn’t work his mouth. His absolute, utter helplessness enraged him.

He needed to hold Vika in his arms and return her kiss properly. It was the sweetest he’d ever had. And he had enjoyed it immensely. She had treated his mouth as if it were a treasure, and she an explorer. She had been gentle, and oh, so tender. She had lifted her head, then once again fit her lips over his, and the second time, she had tasted him. Had moaned, as though she’d adored everything she’d discovered.

“Solo,” Dr. E said, drawing him from his thoughts. “We’re basically alone. Shouldn’t you be planning your escape and the murder of everyone here?”

Escape. Yes, that was all that mattered. No warrior worth the kind of paycheck Solo received would have gotten lost during a time like this. And over so innocent a kiss, of all things.

But . . .

Why had she done it?

“You will save Vika and take her with you,” X announced.

“Wrong! You will kill Vika, as you threatened,” Dr. E replied. “But feel free to bring her better parts with you.”

A pulse of anger sprang from deep in his chest. He ran his tongue along his teeth. Good. Movement. “Both of you do me a solid and zip your lips.” Words. His jaw now worked.

He tried to roll his neck from one side to the other—success. He rotated his shoulders. That took a bit more effort, but still he managed it. The drugs were wearing off, then.

A deep breath in . . . out . . . and he was able to force himself into a sitting position. He surveyed the cages. All of the captives were sleeping soundly.

Beyond them and the equipment he’d already noticed, he could see a big red tent with multiple smaller white tents lined up along the sides. There were no trees to use as cover on the off chance he was spotted and chased, which meant there would be no limbs to use as daggers on the off chance he failed to find a weapon before leaving this clearing. That wasn’t a big deal. His hands were weapon enough.

His ears twitched, and he picked up a bickering conversation about . . . sixty yards away, was his guess.

“I’m telling you, he’s big and red and as ugly as sin,” a male voice he didn’t recognize said. “He’s got to be the devil himself.”

“And I’m telling you, we work for the devil himself.”

The two cackled with humor.

“You gotta get a peek at him.”

“Vika’s probably there.”

“So?”

“So, she’ll make us fetch and carry sooner rather than later, and we won’t be able to say no to Jecis’s precious daughter,” was the sneered reply, “or we’ll end up disappearing in Matas’s magic act.”

Relief cascaded through Solo, a warm waterfall he didn’t understand but wasn’t going to question. Vika was Jecis’s daughter, not his lover.

“If you can stare into the creature’s eyes, you can withstand Matas.”

A pause. The sound of spitting. “Fine. But only ’cause I don’t believe anything can be as ugly as you described.”

Two sets of pounding footsteps.

Solo knew the men were coming to check him out. Annnd . . . sure enough. About thirty seconds later, two stocky men with rotund bellies and swarthy skin stormed into the circle of cages and spun to search for the new guy. The one on the left spotted Solo, and his eyes grew wide. He stumbled backward, only to catch himself and shake his head.

“I’ll be. You was right, Leonard.”

“Yeah, but you gotta get a closer look to really appreciate the ugly.”

The pair stalked to just in front of him, allowing Solo to study the fourth and fifth people who would fall under his coming attack. Both had yellow teeth, and the man on the right was even missing a few. Tobacco filled their mouths.

“It’s hideous, ain’t it?” one said, and Solo realized his skin had once again taken on a crimson cast.

At any other time, in any other situation, he would have erupted. Here, right now, he had to control his temper.

The other spit a stream of black. “We should take pictures, you know. Prove we tangoed with a beast. Women’ll be so excited by our bravery, they’ll drop their panties and beg us to show our beasts.”

“You ain’t never gonna tango with a creature like that.”

“Oh, yeah? Watch me.” The speaker grabbed a few of the rocks that had been tossed at Vika and launched them at Solo.

Some slapped against his chest, some against his legs, but each one provided a slight sting, reminding him of all the times he’d walked outside for recess, the humiliation, the anger. Humiliation and anger even now rising to the surface. And if he experienced all of this, what had the much smaller Vika experienced?

His narrowed gaze strayed to the sleeping Mec and Cortaz. They had hurt her. They would pay.

“I think you’re ticking it off,” the other said with a laugh.

The word it echoed in Solo’s mind, and his nails elongated into sharp-tipped claws.

“Calm down,” X commanded.

“Get madder,” Dr. E retorted.

The two men clomped off, murmuring about finding a camera. Every word was quieter than the last, until Solo could no longer discern their voices. He wanted to shake the cage until the bars popped loose. He wanted to try something, anything, but he still wasn’t at full strength, and until he was, he was too vulnerable and couldn’t afford to put his plan on the fast track.

Shouldn’t have to wait too much longer, though. He would be stronger and ready to go by sunset, at the very least, but he would wait until everyone else was in bed. Then . . .

Yeah. Then.

• • •

A few hours later, the captives awoke. Most sat up with a jolt. Some eased up and stretched. All muttered and complained about Vika.

As though summoned by the complaints, she reappeared, wearing a new T-shirt and jeans. The top was pink, lacy, and the pants sparkly. She looked as though she’d just come from a nightclub after dancing for hours with the man of her dreams.

Solo’s hands fisted, a hot surge of irritation blasting through him.

She’d touched him, kissed him. He didn’t want her dancing with another man.

Stupid of him, yes. Did he care? No.

The tobacco-spitting men—who had never returned with a camera—trailed behind her, both carrying buckets and leering at her. When she stopped and faced them, their expressions cleared. She pointed to the ground, a queen with her subjects, expecting absolute and immediate obedience.

She got it. They placed the new buckets where she wanted and picked up the old ones. She busied herself with what was inside, but the pair remained where they were for several long moments, watching her, leering all over again now that her back was to them, elbowing each other with masculine intent.

“I think I’ll sneak into her trailer tonight and have me some fun with her.”

“You do, and you won’t have to worry about Matas’s magic act. He’ll straight-up murder you.”

A shrug. “Might be worth it.”

“ ’Course, he’ll only murder you if Jecis don’t get to you first.”

“I could take ’em both at the same time,” the guy grumbled under his breath.

“Fine. Go ahead, and do it. Shank the meanest thugs ever to walk the face of the earth, and I’ll sneak into her trailer while all three of you are too dead to stop me.”

They snickered.

Matas had been mentioned on several occasions. Who was he? And why was Vika showing no reaction to the conversation? A conversation about her possible rape? Instead, she concentrated on her task, lifting bowls from one bucket and filling them with bread and grain from the other. Only when one of the men did what Solo had wanted to do the first time he’d seen her and reached out to pinch a lock of her hair did she give a reaction. Her spine went rigid as she whipped around to face the culprit.

Solo gripped the cage bars.

“Touch me again,” she said, “and I’ll be wearing your body parts as jewelry within the hour. Got it?”

One man’s lip curled in fear. He nodded and strode away as fast as his feet would carry him. The other, the bigger one, kept his attention on her for longer than was decent, his gaze roving over her, lingering where it shouldn’t.

“You really think you’re strong enough to take me, Miz Vika?” he asked silkily.

She grinned with relish. “Let’s ask Jecis what he thinks about that, shall we?”

Before the man could respond, Solo jerked at the bars, the entire enclosure shaking and rattling, creating a ruckus. The man yanked his attention Solo’s way, and their gazes locked. His was brown. Solo’s was bloodred—and growing brighter by the second.

Paling, the man at last backed away. He crashed into one of the cages, turned, and darted from the clearing.

Vika’s shoulders sagged with relief.

Without the guards to dissuade them, the Mec and the Cortaz erupted into cruel taunts. Although Vika’s motions were stiff, she gave no other indication that she noticed as she leapt back into work.

Solo had never encountered anyone capable of tuning out the rest of the world with such success.

He watched as she slid a bowl of food into each of the cages, never getting close enough for anyone to grab, instead balancing the bowls on the end of a shovel and forcing the captives to accept from a distance.

“I want to talk to you,” he said when she reached him.

She ignored him, even refused to look up.

Most of the otherworlders thanked her, but the Mec threw his bowl at her, the grain flying free and slapping at her. Solo expected her to shout, to threaten, but she simply bent down, picked everything up, and gave the whole thing back to him with a muttered, “I’ll pretend that was an accident. This time.”

That . . . made no sense.

Why so generous? Why so kind? Why not let the offender starve? That’s what a cold, calculating witch lurking underneath an angel’s skin would have done. That’s what Solo would have done.

“I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is simple,” X said. “She sympathizes with those under her care.”

“Wrong! No one’s that good. She’s just plain pathetic,” Dr. E said, “hoping the creatures will behave if she’s nice.”

Solo didn’t know what to believe anymore.

“Stupid little cow,” the Cortaz shouted. “I want you dead!”

The otherworlder threw a handful of her own grain at Vika and several pieces stuck in her hair. Every muscle in Solo’s body tensed. Vika faced the culprit, and the Cortaz threw another handful, the grains slapping at her face this time.

Dr. E laughed. “I love watching people get what they deserve.”

X moaned, as though in pain.

Solo held his silence, though his jaw was clenched so painfully he could hardly stand it. He wasn’t sure Vika actually deserved what was happening, but he wasn’t going to get involved. He wasn’t going to be her protector or her defender; it wasn’t like she needed one, anyway. She was a freewoman. He wasn’t going to care what happened to her.

Yes, she had been gentle with the captives. But she’d still done her father’s bidding. She could have freed everyone and run away, but she hadn’t.

“Fine,” Vika said with a twinge of sadness. “Your loss. You’ll starve, and make it easier for Jecis to overpower you.”

They were basically the same words she’d given him over the chocolate. For some reason, that caused an ache in his chest. But judging from the Cortaz’s dark expression, starving was exactly what she wanted. Huh. She must have lied about the brothers. A woman with hope wouldn’t act that way.

Although Solo could understand wanting to die rather than remaining a slave.

“Help her,” X said.

Which “her?” “No,” he whispered, because the answer was the same either way. The Cortaz had hurt Vika, and even though Solo had decided not to protect or defend the girl, he wasn’t going to aid those who harmed her. Just the thought of doing so caused his anger to return.

Maybe . . . maybe he wouldn’t kill Vika when he escaped. He would burn the entire circus to the ground, spring Kitten, lock up Vika at his farm, and go to Michael. Together, they would gather an army, come back here and make Dr. E laugh.

What he would do with Vika after that, Solo wasn’t sure.