Fantastical Page 25

Salem whinnied.

Noctorno’s body went still and I heard him draw in a sharp, hissing breath through his teeth.

“Stop playing that damned, bloody game,” he warned, his face close but I was still blinking away the bright lights in my eyes.

“I… I… I swear, God, I swear, I’m not.”

He shoved me away again and the small of my back hit the sharp edge of the top of a pew. I whimpered but he strode away.

He stopped at the door and looked to his horse.

“Do not let her leave.”

Salem snorted.

Noctorno turned and jogged down the steps, disappearing without looking back.

Chapter Ten

Minerva

“Get out of my way, Salem,” I commanded.

The horse snorted and shuffled across the space at the front of the church, blocking the doors with his massive body.

“Get out of my way, Salem!” I shouted and the horse snorted again, his front legs buckled like he was going to go down on his knees then he reared up and snorted again.

“I’m leaving!” I announced.

Salem whinnied what sounded like frantically.

I planted my hands on my h*ps and looked the horse in his eyes.

“You saw him!”

He blew through his lips and his mighty head swung side to side.

“He shook me! He nearly snapped my goddamned head off!”

The horse moved closer to me and butted the side of my head with his nose.

I grabbed it and pulled it down to catch his eyes again.

“I don’t care about Minerva,” I told him, my voice suddenly low and trembling. “Right now, the devil I don’t know is way, way better than the devil I do.”

A soft, apologetic whinny.

I shook my head. “I have to get away from him. He’s mean, he’s bossy and he won’t believe I am who I am.”

He shoved his nostrils in my neck and blew.

I felt tears sting my eyes and wrapped my arms around the beast’s necke.

“He hurt me,” I whispered.

That got me another blow making his horse lips quiver.

“You have to let me go.”

Salem was still.

Then he pulled his neck from my hold and twisted it to look down his body at the open church doors.

Then he looked back at me.

Then he shifted his big bulk so he was facing the doors and butted me with the side of the saddle.

Oh my God. Was I reading him right?

“You… are you…” I paused then whispered, “going with me?”

He threw his head back and whinnied then twisted it to look over his shoulder at me and jerked it up and down in an obvious affirmative.

“Are you serious?”

He whinnied a “someone’s gotta keep you safe” whinny.

So… totally… awesome!

I surged up his body, threw my arms around his neck, gave him a huge hug and whispered, “Thank you.”

Then I ran to the doors, snatched up the knife I dropped, shoved the hilt between my knees as I retied my belt tighter around my waist. Then I shoved the knife into my belt and approached the horse.

It took me three tries to heft myself into the saddle, I was not a seasoned rider and, mind you, I had ample fabric hindering me straddling a horse (so much for my kickass outfit, I had to get myself something that said “warrior princess”). Unfortunately, the minute I got up I realized the stirrups were way too low so I had to dismount, cinch them higher and do it again (this time, it took four dratted tries).

But I got on that beautiful beast, touched my heels to his flanks and off we went, out the door and into the unknown.

* * *

I felt the bed depress, I opened my eyes in exhausted confusion, saw Noctorno sitting on the bed, his h*ps in the crook of my lap and he was leaning over my body with a hand what I guessed was in the bed behind my back.

Uh.

What?

What was he doing here?

My head shifted back on the pillow, my eyes darting to the nightstand.

“Looking for this?” I heard him ask, I looked to him and saw his other hand raised, my knife dangling from his fingers by the tip of the blade.

Blast!

He flipped the knife up, losing hold on it but he caught it expertly by the hilt and he did this, no joke, without taking his eyes from me.

“You didn’t think, did you, that my own, damned horse was going to take you somewhere I couldn’t find you?”

Salem, a traitor.

What a disappointment.

We’d ridden the rest of the night and all the next day, stopping only to bum water and, for my part, answer the call of nature. An hour or two after night fell we came upon this hunting lodge which Salem, in his Salem way, assured me was safe. He even reached out his powerful neck and pointed with his communicative muzzle to the window ledge that held the hidden key.

I thought he was my horse in shining coat.

Totally a disappointment.

Now, clearly, as the sun was shining, it was sometime the next day.

And I was back in the clutches of the evil, black Prince Noctorno.

Foiled.

“I own this hunting cottage. It’s sacred ground. It’s safe. My horse is no fool,” Noctorno went on.

Great. Marvelous.

Or, more aptly put, phooey!

I carefully rolled to my back and just as carefully scooted up the bed until my back was pressed to the headboard. I pulled my knees up and circled my calves with my arms. I got in this protective position and held it all the while I kept wary eyes on him.

His eyes swept my truncated body and came back to mine. Then they warmed and he started to lean in, murmuring, “Cora.”

My hand shot up, palm out, and I whispered on a hiss, “Don’t touch me.”

His body stopped moving.

“Cora,” he repeated on a whisper.

“Tell me about the bones,” I demanded and watched his eyes flash. I dropped my hand and narrowed my own eyes at him. “I know you don’t believe me and yadda, yadda, yadda. Humor me. Tell me about the f**king bones.”

He studied me. Then he stated, “They have my saliva on them.”

“And?”

He studied me some more. Then he sighed and continued, “And, they can track me through my saliva. They can do it from miles away.”

“So that’s why you kept the bones in the cave,” I surmised.

He nodded. “They had no clue it existed and I use it for hunting or for war. I’m always careful, out of habit, it’s been ingrained in me since I was born. In ancient times, they could only track the females. They’ve adapted. Now they’ve learned also to track the mates. So, along with searching for you, they were searching for me. You threw out the bones, they found me or, since the remains of our rabbit meal were amongst them… us.”

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