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The King pushed into the chambers, dismissing the guards as he went. When he found her room, he saw the three empty beds, and the one with the girl fast asleep. The King towered over Cassie, his slender form casting a shadow across her sleeping body.
When Cassie awoke, she gasped. Pulse pounding, she inched back in the bed until her back pressed against the headboard. Her frantic heartbeat rang in his ears. The King grabbed Cassie by the throat and yanked her from her bed. "You are coming with me."
The girl dangled, her hands frantically clutching at her neck trying to rip free from his grip. When the King realized he was strangling the girl, he dropped her to the floor. Cassie sucked in air and tried to scream for Will, for Kahli, for anyone, but she was totally alone. Kahli had not come back from dinner. Will wasn't around this night, and her horrible roommates hadn't come to bed.
Cassie cowered. The blood that covered the King scared her, and although her mind didn't piece it together yet, her body did. He was dangerous, more so than last time. Last time there was no blood. Last time he only wanted flesh. This time was different. Blood and burn marks marred his skin. Cassie knew that this wasn't a weak, anemic vampire. The blood covering him wasn't only his. She didn't know how she knew, but Cassie could tell. She could smell it, and instead of the sickening black tar that normally flowed in the vampire's veins, the King's blood was scarlet.
"What'd you do with her?" Cassie hissed, but the King didn't answer. He grabbed her nightshirt and pulled her to her feet.
"I've had a rather unpleasant night," he said as if he were addressing a member of the Regent. He wiped the back of his hand across his bloodstained lips, "So, if you don't mind, I'll ask the questions, and you will answer."
Cassie managed to get to her feet. The King dragged her through the halls and into the main corridors. They passed the maidens' quarters and headed towards the King's side of the palace. Before disappearing into his usual place, he stopped. This was important and required tact and diplomacy that he failed to plan for. The King pressed his fingers to his temples and dropped Cassie on the floor.
Breathing hard he snapped his fingers at her like she was a dog. "Up. Walk in front."
Cassie swallowed the lump in her throat and walked in front of the King. Her bare feet were cold against the marble floor. When they finally stopped in front of a door, she didn't know whether to be happy or scream. Just before Cassie stepped into the room, she looked up. Cole was standing in the shadows of the archway across from them. His eyes were filled with fear, as the King pushed Cassie through the door and closed it behind them.
The room had floor to ceiling bookcases filled with artifacts, but hardly any books. A fire was raging in the hearth, warming the small space. The King's tone changed from threatening to patient. Cassie's body shook, even though she tried to stop. Gripping her hands in her lap, she sat where the King indicated, in front of the fire.
This is important, the King thought to himself. He didn't know how far he should go. One or two missing girls were easy to hide - an accident or a sudden illness made it less than suspect. However, tonight there were already three missing girls, and Will. To make matters worse, each and every one of them was technically the Queen's property. This shivering girl made five.
"Cassandra," the King spoke her full name in a soothing tone, "please don't be afraid." Before Cassie could think, something thick and warm - like hot syrup - poured over her emotions and stilled her. The fear that was coursing through her body melted. She stared at the fire, unable to think. Cassie watched the flames dance, slack-jawed as the King paced. His compulsion worked well, and the King was pleased to see Cassie succumb to it so readily.
"Very good, my dear. Now, I have a question for you." The King walked toward her, lifting his hands as he explained, "It's rather simple really. Answer and you can return to your bed and forget this night." Cassie nodded, her eyes unblinking and staring straight ahead.
"Very good." The King walked behind Cassie and stood. Hooking his fingers on the back of her chair, he said, "I want you to think before you respond. Try to search every memory before you answer. It is important that you tell me the truth, Cassandra."
The warm feeling that had slipped over her was changing. Instead of feeling like a warm blanket it constricted slightly before releasing her. The display of power wasn't lost on her. Cassie's body was still in fight or flight mode. Her feet twitched, urging her to flee, but her mind was the King's. She stared into the fire waiting for the question, wanting to answer it with every fiber of her being. The willingness shocked her. Her heart raced faster.
"Did Kahli have any kind of friendship with Will Tatum?" the question was simple, direct. That worked best with fragile minded humans. The King had enough blood to compel her for weeks, but even as he asked, he could feel the power draining from him. The King knew he would need that power to find the wild girl - Kahli. She'd killed two guards and taken off on a snow mobile with a vampire in tow and Will chasing after her. Or accompanying her. He needed to know which one.
For the longest time, he was certain of the boy, but when he saw the expression in his eyes, when Will took off, running after the wild girl, he wasn't so sure. Fear flashed in the young Will's eyes, but fear of what? That was what he needed to know. His gut told him that Will saw the drained bodies behind him - that he saw the blood spilled on the floor. The boy knew of his power, of his ways for a long time, but he'd never reacted like that before. Every year the King had his way with a few of the girl's in the Queen's court. He did as he pleased, unknown to the Queen, and he drank directly from them. It made him stronger and stronger until it was difficult to hide his power. The King's lust for blood grew as his power increased. More bodies were required to sate his thirst, but when he tasted Kahli that changed.
After a moment, Cassie blinked. Her voice was soft and lacking any inflection, "No. He was her Handler. He took her blood. She didn't like it." Cassie fought the urge to delve deeper into her memories.
The King walked in front of the chair and leaned close to Cassie's face. The pale girl didn't move. He breathed in her face, "Does she have feelings for him?"
Before she could stop the words, they fell from her lips, "Yes, as her Handler."
The King looked puzzled, "Explain."
Cassie could feel the words being pulled from her. "Sometimes a Handler can arouse his charge. Kahli was upset by it."
"She's attracted to him." He said, and turned to look at the fire, stroking his chin. "Interesting. Very interesting. This is Will Tatum, correct? The same boy she stabbed? The same boy who was charged to make her presentable to the Queen?"
Cassie fought the urge to nod, but her head moved without her consent. Cassie's eyes fixated on the flickering flames. She wanted to say something to contradict Kahli's secret, but she couldn't. Not while the King had her under his thrall.
The King circled the chair and bent at the waist looking into her eyes. "One last question, Cassandra. Did she act on these feelings?"
"No," she said flatly. Her tongue twisted around the word, unable to hold it back, but she kept from saying more, from offering that she didn't know. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she suspected that something happened between them. The way Will and Kahli acted around each other wasn't one-sided. Will was always sweet, but he didn't look at anyone else the way he looked at Kahli. Cassie never spoke these words to her friend and she wouldn't speak them now to the King. They hadn't formed into full thoughts yet, just prickling premonitions at the back of her mind.
Disappointment shot through the King. "Damn it," he swore, turning from her. Staring out the window, the King's eyes raked over the frozen landscape below. The information that he gleaned was useful, but only if he captured one of them. If that stubborn girl had feelings for Will, the King would certainly use it. The question that still hung in the air was whether or not Will returned those feelings. That boy was difficult to read.
"Go," the King said, dismissing Cassie without a backward glance. "Return to your bed and do not discuss this with anyone."
Cassie's body stood and before she could blink, her feet started moving, and took her out the door. Cassie was aware of her bare feet on the plush carpet and of her hand gripping the brass door knob, twisting it closed in her palm. When she turned to walk back to bed, Cole bounded up beside her.
He grabbed his sister's shoulders and turned her toward him, "Thank God! Are you all right?" He looked her over, Cole's anxious eyes meeting hers. "Cassie, what'd he do to you?"
Cassie seemed like she was in a daze. Her feet continued to move as she spoke lethargically, "The King compelled me to speak about Kahli."
"What?" Cole asked, astounded.
But, before he could say anything, she droned on, "He wanted to know about her relationship with Will. I told him and he sent me to my bed, forbidding me to speak of it after I reached my room."
Cole grabbed her arm to stop her feet. Turning toward her brother, she looked into his face but the haze didn't lift. She couldn't think. The worry on his face didn't penetrate the King's command, it didn't stop her feet from continuing down the hallway, even though a look like that from Cole normally would have captured her full attention.
"What'd you tell him?"
Cassie pulled free and started walking to her room again, winding through the halls, she answered Cole's questions, until he knew what was said and what was asked. Finally he stopped his sister again, before she walked into the maiden's wing, "Did he drink from you? Or Kahli?"
Cassie's eyes were blank. She nodded, "He drank from someone, but it wasn't me. He was covered in blood, too much blood to survive a feeding like that."
Cole swallowed hard, as his sister pulled out of his grip and disappeared behind the doors. The guards were absent. Cole didn't realize it until he was standing alone in the hall. Cole glanced back and forth knowing he'd be reprimanded for being there so late if he was spotted. Something was wrong. Where were the guards? In all the time he'd been here, Cole had never seen them abandon their post.
Something bad was going on. That much he knew, and Cole would do everything he could to find out what.