Thorn Queen (Page 25)

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Leith stood there, frozen, eyes on the gun. Finally, swallowing, he slowly lifted his gaze to my face. He was pale, so pale that he could have been on the verge of passing out.

“Eugenie…you're hurt…are you okay? There's blood on your bandage….”

I didn't doubt it and didn't bother to check. “Stop it. Just stop your fucking concerned act. I don't want to hear it.”

In the corners of my eyes, I saw the gentry girls edge their way toward me like some sort of honor guard. I started to tell them to back off, but Leith had no real magic, and I was the one with the gun.

“What are you…? It-it's not an act, I swear it. I care about you. I love you.”

“Love me?” I snarled. “People in love don't fucking drug and rape other people!”

“It wasn't rape. Did I ever hurt you? Did I beat you?”

For a moment, I was so stunned that I couldn't even speak. “You…you're serious, aren't you? You really believe that? You really believe you didn't do anything wrong!”

“It was the only way I could convince you…the only way I could convince you that we're meant to be together. Normal courtship didn't work. Neither did Mother's attempt to just capture you and bring you to the Rowan-“

“Her attempt to what?”

“She used her magic to bind the power of several animals together and-“

“Jesus Christ! That was her?” Katrice had sent Smokey to bring me back for Leith. Lovely. Girard had mentioned her love of woodland animals but not her ability to control them.

“Look,” Leith rambled desperately. “We'd be a great team-you know we would. We'd have two kingdoms. You saw what I was able to do to help yours! With your power and my ingenuity-“

“Ingenuity?” I cried. I would have laughed if it wasn't all so horrible. “You have none! You've got a tiny bit more technological know-how than the average gentry, but everything else you stole from humans. You traded it in exchange for these girls' self-respect. You didn't even have the balls to kidnap from your own people!”

Again, much like when he'd raped me, I wished he'd be more belligerent. This idyllic, faux love was worse. It made everything he'd done to me worse. I could feel my temper surging, anger racing through me. I could hardly see because of my fury. Or maybe it was the blood loss. Odder still was a strange shift in the air, a cooling off. It had been humid and stuffy before, but it was definitely cooler now. Not in the way that heralded a Volusian appearance but something different altogether that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

“I won't do it again, I swear. If that's what you want, if that's what'll make you happy and let us be together…”

He took a step toward me, and I fired a warning shot that just cleared his arm and hit the cupboard behind him. He promptly stopped moving, face going paler still.

“Don't move!” I screamed. “Don't even think about touching me.”

I still couldn't believe it, still couldn't believe he was going on like this. I kept thinking about what it had been like in bed with him, that forcing and total violation of my body. Once more, there was a slight shift in the air, and I realized what it was. The barometric pressure. I didn't know how I knew, but I did. It was dropping. Rapidly. Ozone wafted through the air.

“I love you,” he said in a small voice.

“You are a self-centered, fucking asshole rapist,” I replied evenly. “And I-I am the Thorn Queen.” As the words left my mouth, I suddenly understood what Dorian had meant about me needing to believe I was queen. In that moment, I did. And a person like Leith did not do something like that to someone like me.

“I'm the Thorn Queen,” I repeated. Now the air stirred, around us, causing the curtains to flutter and a few things to fall off the counter. “And you are going to pay for what you've done.”

“Eugenie, stop. Put the gun down.”

I lifted my eyes from Leith's cringing form, and this time, I did laugh-but it was more of a choking sound. Kiyo, Dorian, and Roland stood in the entrance to the kitchen. My saviors. After leaving that front door open when Art had come home, it was like anyone could just traipse right in.

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “You guys are a little too late.”

It was Kiyo who had spoken, his face tense and worried. “Everyone needs to calm down. You got him, Eugenie. It's over. Put the gun away now.”

Roland was tense too, his face unreadable as he stood with his own gun. Beside him, Dorian didn't seem overly worried, but there was none of that usual laughter on his face.

“You don't know what he's done,” I growled. “You keep talking about mercy, but at some point it has to end. He needs to die.” The wind grew stronger. Some of my hair whipped in my face, but I had no free hand to brush it aside.

“I didn't do anything!” exclaimed Leith. He looked to the other men, face desperate and pleading. “I won her fairly. You know how it is. Back in the old days, that's how it was. The man who caught the queen became king. If she's pregnant, she's my common-law wife.”

I saw disgust on Roland's face, his hand tightening on the gun. He started to lift it, but Kiyo, still apparently the spokesperson, made a small motion that caused my stepfather to lower the gun back down. Slightly. “That tradition is like a thousand years old,” Kiyo told Lieth. “It means nothing anymore. She's not yours.”

“Besides,” I said, my gaze back on Lieth. “Do you really think I'd have your baby if I didn't want to? If I'm pregnant, it's an easy problem to fix.”

His mouth dropped open. “You wouldn't…that's blasphemous…”

And indeed it was among the child-hungry gentry. Abortion was nothing I relished either, but there was no way on this earth I would bear a child born of such brutality. A gust of wind suddenly picked up considerably, nearly knocking me over. The kitchen window shattered.

Kiyo was still unmoved. “Eugenie, stop it. Stop the magic. Put the gun down. We'll take him and the girls back. We'll deal with him in the Otherworld.”

“How can you say that?” I shouted. “You heard him! How can you let him walk after all this? You don't know what he's done!”

“He doesn't necessarily have to go free,” argued Kiyo. “There are other ways.”

A blinding flash suddenly burst in the kitchen, leaving me dazzled and unable to see for a moment. At the same instance, there was a crackling roar, so loud that I thought my eardrums would burst. And like that, the means to control lightning clicked in my brain. I understood the patterns, what I needed to summon it-and how to work my emotion into it as Ysabel had said.

I set the gun on the counter. “I don't need this,” I told Leith. The wind was roaring around us now, knocking objects everywhere, blowing my hair like a cloud of fire. I was the center of the storm. A very, very faint roll of thunder-nowhere near as loud as the last one-sounded around us. I turned my gaze to Leith, wondering if my violet eyes had darkened the way Storm King's had when angry. “I'm going to suck the air from you and then blast you out of existence with lightning.”

Leith sank to his knees. “Please…please don't do this…” The same words I'd uttered to him the first time he'd assaulted me.

The storm raged more strongly around me. “I'm the Storm Queen,” I said in a low voice. “And you will pay for what you've done to me.”

Kiyo took a step forward. I knew him well enough to guess his thoughts. He was considering attacking me but too greatly feared what I could do with the magic as it grew stronger and stronger. He made one last desperate plea.

“If you care anything about your people-about those girls-you won't do this. He's a prince. You kill him, and his mother will declare war on you. You think the drought was bad? Imagine armies sweeping in and devastating your land. Villages burned. Innocent people killed. Is that what you want? Can you do that to them?”

Around us, the storm raged, and within me, my hate for Leith was a storm of its own, a poison running through my veins. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him blighted. I wanted him dead. He could not be allowed to be free of his sins. And yet…somewhere in all that hate, all that fury, Kiyo's words penetrated. Is that what you want? Can you do that to them?

I stared at Leith for several more heavy seconds. And then, bit by bit, the storm began to recede. No more lightning. The wind faded. Clouds vaporized. The pressure rose to levels similar to those outside. Leith sagged in relief, and I noticed how ragged my breathing was from the exertion of such power.

“No,” I said softly, feeling all the energy run out of me. I was tired. So, so tired. “I don't want a war. I…I can't unleash something like that.”

Then, for the first time so far, Dorian spoke.

“I can,” he said.

And before anyone really realized what was happening, he strode across the kitchen. His sword came out from its sheath, brilliant and deadly in the light, and he plunged it straight into Leith's body. The Rowan Prince stiffened, eyes going wide, as Dorian pushed the blade further into Leith's stomach.

Time stood still for all of us. I don't think anyone-well, except for Dorian-really believed it had happened. A moment later, Dorian jerked the sword out in one swift, harsh motion. Leith's body fell to the ground. Dorian had used the new sword, I realized, the iron-laced one Girard had made. Blood poured out from where it had impaled Leith, as well as from his lips. It was a hundred times worse than the mess Art had left, and as that deep red liquid pooled and pooled, a bizarre image of blooming roses floated across my mind. I wondered if I was going to pass out.

Kiyo surged forward, like he might save Leith, but we all knew it was too late. The prince was already dead. Kiyo turned to Dorian in rage. “What have you done?”

Dorian's face was calm, voice smooth as he slid the sword-blood and all-back into its sheath. “What you should have done.”

Kiyo stared at Dorian, who returned the gaze squarely. Kiyo's face was a mixture of many things: outrage, shock, fear. “You have no idea what you've done…what you've unleashed…what you've unleashed on her….”

Dorian glanced down at Leith's body, then Art's, and then back to Leith. The look of contempt on his face clearly showed just how beneath his acknowledgment they were. They were not even worth his notice, not even worth regarding as people as far as Dorian was concerned. He looked back up at Kiyo.

“I know what I've done. And do you think I'd really abandon her to the consequences? Leave her alone to them? Besides…” A wry smirk crossed Dorian's face. “I'm the one who did it. I'm the one Katrice will come after.”

Kiyo shook his head. “No. She'll come after both of you. You shouldn't have done it.”

After what felt like an eternity, my voice had finally come back to me. I wet my lips, trying to speak. “Maybe,” I whispered. “Maybe he should have…”

Silence fell over us all, thick and heavy. Kiyo gave me a look…I couldn't fully interpret it. “You're in shock. You don't what you're saying. We'll get you and the girls back to the Otherworld. Art's records might show us how to track the others.”

I looked back and forth between his and Dorian's faces. I wouldn't go so far as to say I hated all men, exactly, but suddenly, I just couldn't be with either of them, even though I loved them both. Plus, at the moment, I didn't want anything to do with the Otherworld. I shook my head.

“No. Take the girls…I'm not going.”

Dorian arched an eyebrow. “What will you do?”

I turned toward Roland for the first time in a while. He still had his gun, but it was lowered now. He'd been ready to attack the whole time but had been content to let the other two men take the lead in this. Later, I would have to find out how this motley crew had banded together. Right now…right now I was more concerned with the look on Roland's face. He was regarding me like he didn't know me. I felt a piece of my heart break.

“I want…” And to my shame, I felt tears burn in my eyes, which was just stupid. Throughout this entire week, I'd never cried. I'd taken it all straight-faced. I'd fought and killed today without remorse. Now…now it was like a lifetime of sorrow was coming out of me. “I want to go home,” I said. The tears escaped, running down my cheeks. “I want to see my mom.”

For a second, I thought Roland was going to turn away, condemn me as the half-gentry he'd always feared I would turn into, the one who'd lied to him about her involvement in the Otherworld. I think if he had turned away, I would have died then and there. Instead, he held out his hand. I couldn't actually bring myself to take it. I didn't think I could let anyone touch me right now. I loved all the men here, but right now, I was inexplicably afraid of them.

Still, I felt safe leaving with Roland. Roland was my father. Understanding my feelings, he lowered his hand and simply beckoned. I approached him, stepping over the bodies in the kitchen.

“Okay,” Roland said softly, his own eyes shining with tears. “Let's go home.”