Through the trees, he could see the new woman walking along the wall, trailing her fingers over the stone. He hadn’t yet met her, which was a small blessing. It was easier unleashing Zillah’s beast upon a woman he didn’t know.
Whatever was in there had been pawing and hissing, scratching at the wooden box nonstop. It never slept, never rested. That alone was enough to alarm Connal, but even worse was the fact that a few moments ago, one of the creature’s black claws had finally made it through the wooden cage.
Connal could feel it watching him. He could feel the compulsion Zillah had somehow infused the woman’s blood with, forcing him to obey. He couldn’t fight it any longer. He had to let the creature out.
It wasn’t that Connal wished any of the Theronai harm—he simply could no longer take the torture of constant hunger. Zillah fed him. The Theronai refused. To Connal, that aligned his loyalties more clearly than honor ever could.
And now the Theronai were going to pay the price for their stinginess. Whatever was in the box would hunt the few women here down and incapacitate them. All he had to do was follow behind and drink his fill before taking their bodies to Zillah.
Lexi made her way all the way around the giant wall until she was back to the place where she’d started. The gaping hole in the stone was ten feet wide and she could see the subtle difference in the construction—the variation in the gaps between the rocks—where another ten feet of rock wall had been repaired.
Whatever had broken through here had packed one hell of a wallop.
And yet this place still stood.
A ridiculous smile tugged at her mouth. If the kind of power that could do this much damage didn’t bring this place down, the few bricks of C-4 in her trunk weren’t going to even make a dent.
Not that she’d ever use them. Not now that she’d seen all the human men, women and children here. There was no way she could blow this place up, even if she did think it was the right thing to do. Which she didn’t. Not anymore. Dabyr was a place of safety and refuge. It was a home to hundreds of people. No way could she screw that up. A home was a sacred place. She could no more destroy that than she would spray paint over the Mona Lisa.
Lexi’s hand ran over the rough stones where the repair had been done. She could sense a low vibration seeping out of the rock. It felt warm and clean, like sunlight in the middle of winter, and there was something else there—something powerful and elusive she could almost touch.
She closed her eyes and pressed both hands against the repaired section of wall. Fatigue. Weariness. The wall was tired.
Lexi pulled away, feeling her heart pounding against her ribs. How the hell could she feel that? And how the hell could a wall be tired? It made no sense.
Then again, not much of anything had made a lot of sense in this place. Especially Zach. He didn’t want to have sex, but he wanted to read her mind? What kind of fucked-up logic was that?
She’d been asking herself that for hours and still had no answers. All she had was the beginnings of a headache and a rumbling tummy. She needed dinner.
Lexi turned to go back inside where she’d seen the dining room, and for the first time noticed she wasn’t alone.
Several large men stood guard around the opening in the wall. They hadn’t been there before, but the sun was starting to set, and she’d bet money they were here to keep the monsters out.
One of them turned toward her, and she saw his shimmering luceria glisten around his thick neck. He had dark blue eyes and a tall, lean build. His face was narrow, but handsome, and he had a way of moving that was almost hypnotic.
When he saw her, he stepped toward her, making Lexi’s body go tense. She didn’t want another repeat of what had happened in the exercise area when all those men had closed in on her, making her choke on her panic. She was weaponless, and Zach was nowhere to be found.
The man must have seen her anxiety, because he stopped in his tracks and held up his long hands. His voice was as soft as the fading daylight. “I don’t mean to frighten you, my lady. I only wanted to give you my vow.”
Lexi didn’t know what he meant, but it was one of those things that she was probably better off not knowing. “No, thanks. I’m good.”
He frowned at her. “You prefer to wait for the ceremony?”
“Yeah, I’m not really into ceremonies much, but I’m sure you’ll have a good time without me.”
A half smile lifted one side of his mouth. “The ceremony is for you, my lady.”
Why did he keep calling her “lady”? He must have been old like Zach, and not quite up on the way modern people talked. “No need to make a fuss.”
He stepped closer without looking like he’d moved. His body just kind of slid over the ground.
The other men were watching now, and they, too, came closer, their intense expressions and looming body language showing way too much interest in her for her peace of mind.
A ripple of unease fluttered down her spine. “I need to get going. Catch you all later.”
She backed away until she was well out of reach, then walked as fast as she could without looking like she was running away. She ducked into the trees and peeked over her shoulder to make sure none of them were following her.
She walked about thirty yards into the woods, back where the cabins stood nestled in the trees, isolated from the rest of the grounds.
The wind shifted, and suddenly Lexi felt like she was being watched. The past several weeks of outrunning Zach had taught her that feeling well. But this was different. It was more . . . malevolent, as if whatever watched her hated her.
She’d never experienced anything quite like it before, and it left her feeling edgy and nervous. Especially now that the sun had set and darkness came swiftly within the thick growth of trees.
She looked over her shoulder, peering through the trees, searching the deepening shadows for whoever might be there. She saw no one. Not even movement beyond the occasional swaying of leaves in the breeze.
As much as she wanted to tell herself she was being foolish, Lexi had learned to listen to those instincts. Someone or something was out there, and it was watching her. It was time to go back inside.
Lexi turned to go back to the main building when something streaked from the trees and lunged at her.
Instincts honed by years of dodging spilled food and avoiding near collisions with other waitresses allowed her to dodge the black streak.