An offer. A dangerous offer…
And an irresistible one.
Over the rim of my chalice, I eyed the man standing opposite as I sipped the sweet wine he’d poured. He returned my stare unruffled, waiting for me to accept his offer.
An offer that could get me killed.
I lowered the jeweled chalice carefully to the table, the sweetness of the liquid lingering sinfully on my tongue, an unexpected pleasure in the midst of unpleasant business.
I’d had too few pleasures in recent years.
When was the last time I’d smiled?
When was the last time I’d felt safe?
“Allow me to reiterate,” I requested lightly, and he suavely inclined his head, the firelight catching glints of red in his dark hair and making his unusually pale blue eyes glitter like shards of ice. “You will kill my husband.” I couldn’t prevent the shiver of anticipation that simple declaration drove through me – blessed freedom! And once I attained it, I vowed never to be enslaved to a man again…
But this favor came with a price, I reminded myself.
A high price.
“You will kill my husband,” I repeated, savoring the sweetness of the promise as I’d savored the wine, then sobered and lifted a small, unassuming-looking capsule, “if I pour this into the king and queen’s goblets.”
He dipped his head in agreement, something that might have been a smile curving the corners of his lips.
This is what they call a deal with the devil, I thought to myself.
He certainly looked the part, for he was excruciatingly beautiful, his dark hair curling seductively at the ends and his sculptured features reminiscent of ancient renditions of the dark lords, mythical beings that had reputedly once invaded the realm of man to seize control and bend the weaker-willed human race to their will.
But this was a tale perpetuated by the priests of mist and I’d lost my faith in them when they’d persuaded my father to sell me in wedlock to a cruel, brutal man who extracted a sordid glee from tormenting others until they nearly reached their breaking point…and then brought them back only to begin the agony all over again. The priests were nothing but deceitful liars, propagating naught but what benefited their own ends. My husband had paid them well to convince my father to sacrifice me to him.
Now I would pay him back for his generosity.
“I might not be able to do it immediately,” I began.
“You have one day.”
“One day?” I repeated, taken aback. “But—”
He motioned languidly toward my discarded chalice. “One day before the poison starts to kill you.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What poison?” I asked, my throat burning with disbelief and my stomach churning.
He smiled faintly. “Don’t say you expected me to suggest such a proposition and let you walk away with the tale on your lips, my poison in your pocket and betrayal on your mind?”
“I wouldn’t…” My words faded away. He was right. I’d considered avoiding the dangers of poisoning the royal couple and using the lethal substance on my husband instead, then fleeing into the night…
I pressed my palms against my abdomen and asked in a small, pitiful voice, “You’ve killed me?”
Such an absurd and yet horrifying question.
His diabolical smile widened, baring straight white teeth. “If you return to me tomorrow with success in your hand, I will have the antidote in mine.”
It was over.
I’d done it. I’d carried out his terrible command.
The king and queen were dying as I left their chamber. They went silently, the poison having first rendered them mute, then immobile, incapable of doing naught but crumpling to the lush carpet and expiring in soft stillness.
I’d had to swallow the bile rising in my throat as I backed out of the room, afraid I’d defile their bodies with vomit, and I was shocked when the guards posted in the corridor noticed naught amiss, merely closing the doors behind me and resuming their stoic, now futile and superfluous stance.
I hurried down the corridor, shame and wasted remorse tearing my soul apart.
I burst into his chamber, finding him poised by the fireplace with a goblet in his hand, waiting for me.
He turned toward me curiously.
“I’ve done your wicked deed,” I informed him in a trembling voice, ashamed and sick at myself and hating him.
He bowed sardonically. “And I have done yours.”
My breath caught in my throat, momentary exhilaration wiping away searing regret. I was finally free! My husband was gone. Never to touch me again. I felt dizzy with relief, giddy with elation so long denied me…then my gaze fell on his chalice and I remembered. I took another step closer.
“Give me the antidote,” I requested evenly.
He shrugged carelessly. “There is none.”
I tried to catch my breath, stunned. Had he—
“There was no poison to begin with,” he added calmly, setting his chalice with deliberate care on the fireplace mantel and sauntering across the room toward me.
I stood rooted to the floor, trying to sort my thoughts. The inducement he’d used so ruthlessly to get me to carry out his will had been a sham? A ruse?
He stopped before me and I jerked away when he brushed his knuckles across my cheek with derisive tenderness.
“We’re done here then,” I stated firmly, but he grabbed my elbow before I could retreat.
“Not quite,” he averred, amused at my attempts to break his hold. “With the king and queen disposed of, the kingdom will need a new ruler, and he will have his slaves.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with me,” I snapped, endeavoring to stay calm even though his painful grip reminded me so much of…
“You will serve me well as my mistress,” he breathed, visibly relishing the fear rising inside me as his hand slid around the nape of my neck to tilt my head back. He pressed a feather-light kiss to my throat, laughing softly when I stiffened, then trailed his lips upward until they hovered over mine, a wicked smile curving his mouth. I could see his intentions in his steel-cold eyes and tried again to back away, but his hold hardened mercilessly.
I nearly screamed at the horrific, bitter irony of it. He’d saved me from my husband only to enslave me himself.
“So sweet. So naïve,” he murmured mockingly. “Haven’t you ever heard of the saying ‘Out of the frying pan…’?”
A Pact Sealed with Poison
Sonya Lano |
An offer. A dangerous offer…