She eyed the package and then tore her eyes away. “You are sure you’ve had enough?”
Luka swallowed and nodded. “Yes, my Queen. You eat it. I am full.”
He was lying, of course. It only took one look at him—bony, haggard, almost cadaverous, in truth—to see that he needed the meat. She understood his loyalty, his fealty; it was as it should be, after all. In her own way, she loved and honored him, too, and regretted that circumstance and his devotion to her made him look like a man ravaged by a wasting illness.
At the same time, she was hungry. She shrugged and reached for the meat. “If you are sure, my Champion.”
“I am sure, my Queen,” he said, avoiding her gaze.
“Thou art mad now, Luka, and reft of mind,” she whispered, and he winced.
As she ate, her eyes drifted around the little efficiency with forced indolence, lingering on all the things she detested about the place: the peeling, atrocious wallpaper; the stained carpeting; the unstable kitchen table; the broken television—all of it. She forced herself to swallow. “This place…” She pursed her lips, then lifted her arms out from her sides and let them fall, unable to find English words strong enough to express the depths of her hatred for their present state of affairs. “Thath tyerir mik lankar til ath tayia.”
He looked at her, the small smile at hearing the ancient language dying stillborn on his lips as the meaning of the words sank in. “Please don’t say that, your Grace.” Luka’s eyes darted around the room. “This place is beneath you, I know. But it’s temporary, my Queen. We can pack and leave tonight. Or we can just leave. We can go somewhere else, another state maybe. Or back to Scandinavia. You pick the place, my Queen, and I’ll make it happen.” His voice rang with some of the confidence and competence she had come to expect from him.
Her eyes locked on his. “You’ll make it happen? You promised to take care of me.” She waved her hand at the room around them. “Is this taking care of me?”
He withered under her scrutiny, and his gaze slithered away from hers.
“Don’t you look away from me,” she snapped, mounting fury pounding its staccato rhythm in her temples.
He snapped his head up as if she had slapped him and met her gaze. “I’m…I’m sorry, my Queen. For all of it. This…this place…” He shook his head, looking lost and helpless. “I’ve allowed myself to grow soft. Everything is so easy here. It was—”
Like some wild beast, anger leapt into her mind, jaws snapping, saliva flying. “You’ve grown soft? It was too easy? For these…reasons…I go hungry?” Her voice boomed, filling the small apartment with her fury. Her breath tore air from the room in ragged gasps. She had to clamp her teeth together to keep from spitting out the words that would scorch Luka like a blistering green fire.
After a single glance at her expression, Luka snapped his mouth shut. He leaned toward her, a seated bow. “No excuses, my Queen. I will go out. The storm isn’t as bad as it sounds. Even if it is, what’s the worst it can do to me? Make me shiver?”
She shook her head, fury singing its slippery, dangerous song in her blood.
“I can find someone doing some last-minute shopping. I can be quick. I’ll be back inside an hour, and the freezer will be full.”
The rage-monster departed in an instant. The struggle to keep those words inside had burned the temper out of her, leaving her exhausted and downtrodden. “No, Luka,” she said, shaking her head. “We’ve hunted too much in this town built from dirty snow and rust. We can’t risk further exposure. We are still too close to Ontario County. And despite what you did to him, despite the curse I laid on him, that damn cop survives.”
“I should have killed him,” said Luka with a trace of the bloodthirsty fire he was known for. “I would have killed him, but you said you wanted him to suffer.”
She glowered at him. “I did, and I still do.” Her tone was biting, glacial, and bitter. “He was impolite. He demanded answers from me. He was so…familiar with me.” Liz crossed her arms and suppressed a smile as Luka’s eyes darted down for a peek at her breasts. “Too many hunts in one place will lead him to our door again. He still has friends. And seven years of running or not, we are still on his mind.
“Anyway, it’s not as if you leave no marks.” Her smile was fierce, almost savage, and she quirked her eyebrow at him.
He blushed and looked away like a school boy.
She loved the way he feigned such innocence around her.
Luka cleared his throat. “Then I can go back to the abattoir. I’m sure they didn’t find everything.”
“No. I just said we can’t risk further exposure. That meat was lost to us the moment those two boys found the cave. We can only go back there once, and for one purpose only.”
A panicked expression writhed across his face. “I can still take care of you if you’ll give me another chance.”
“No. This isn’t working anymore.” She took three long strides across the length of their home and stood in front of him, giving him no choice but to look up at her. She could see how much this conversation distressed him. He’d grown used to being her sole companion. He’d hate going home, and he’d hate sharing her with the others.
Luka gulped like a fish on a hook. His hands fiddled in his lap as if he were conjuring up some clever argument. “Just…just don’t do anything rash, my Queen. Don’t give up on life. I couldn’t go on without you.” He touched her arm.
She lifted her hand and rested it on Luka’s tense shoulder. “It has been grand, this time we’ve shared,” she said, almost purring. “We’ve been here a long time, Luka. We have shared so much.”
She was surprised to find that she meant every word of it. They fit together, hand in glove. He knew how to please her. He knew how to calm her. He knew how to excite her. She stretched with unbridled lubriciousness, knowing he would resist what she had in mind. She’d always known she possessed the kind of power that made men want to do anything she asked of them, and she used every ounce of it now to twist his will to her own.
Luka’s mouth drew a brutal line over his chin, and his hands twitched to a slow stop in his lap.
“But…” she said. The word sounded flat and terrible in the small, ugly space.
Luka nodded, his mouth set in a grimace, his eyes downcast and wet.
“It is time to go home.” Her voice was firm but kind. Her fondness for Luka was evident in how she tried to manage her expression, her tone. It was evident in the fact that she hadn’t set him on fire, too.
His face collapsed, and he closed his eyes as if it were too much effort to look at her. He shrank in on himself. He opened his mouth, and she wondered if he was going to stand up to her at last. She almost hoped he would.
Luka knew many things—about her, about this silly country they’d lived in for far too long. She mourned the loss of the brash, confident man he’d been before that damn cop stuck his nose in. But above all else, Luka had always known his proper place. “Why, Luka, lea’vst thou not off?” she asked in a whisper.
His gaze fell, and he slid off the futon to kneel with a formal precision at her feet. “As you command, my Queen.”
“Take me home, Luka. Let’s run the Reknpokaprooin, side by side, hand in hand.”
A crafty expression stole across his face like a thief creeping through a window. “Before we go, my Queen, there is one more thing I think we should do.”
“Kill that cop?” A small, vicious smile played on the edges of Liz’s lips. “That could be fun.”
“Better than that, my Queen.” His grin was a master painter’s study of mischief. “I think we should invite two guests to travel with us. A young boy and his mother, perhaps?”
Liz looked at him with quizzical eyes. “Would he follow, do you think?”
Luka nodded. “Oh, yes, my Queen, he will follow. He’s already promised to chase me wherever I may go. Taking his family home with us will just make it more…fun.” His eyes twinkled with a good humor that was somehow savage. “What do you think, my Queen? Does it suit?”
Liz laughed. “Oh, excellent, Luka. Your wickedness inspires me.” She looked at him for a long moment. “For the fun you suggest, I’m willing to put up with this wretched place a little while longer.”
She offered him her hand with a smile and pulled him to his feet when he took it. Hand in hand, the two lovers walked to the futon couch and converted it into a bed. “Inspire me a bit more, my Champion,” she said.