“He could speak? With a curtain of hair in the way and my vision not cooperating, I closed my eyes in defeat.
“That should be apparent, I’d think. To die.”
“Why do you wish for death so badly?” the voice asked. Some of the anger had faded from it and was replaced by curiosity.
“Does it look to you like I came here by choice?” A harsh laugh escaped me. “It’s not my wish, but theirs, that I die.”
The longer I stood there, the more my injuries started calling attention to themselves. My shoulders ached from their position and the recent collision with the gate. My wrist oozed blood and my stomach twisted with nausea. His silence along with everything else made my next words dangerously impudent.
“Recent events having left me in a poor mood, I’d rather not waste any more time on idle conversation. I hurt everywhere and think I may vomit soon so, please, just be done with it.”
The vines around my wrists loosened, and I fell forward onto something hard, furry, and warm. Draped over the beast, I realized, a moment before we were moving.
Sadly, I vomited before fainting.
* * * *
The shrill voice cut through the fog clouding my mind, and I blinked my eyes open to stare at the rough shingled roof blurring above me. A growl filled the air, and my stomach lurched, not from the growl, but from the sour taste lingering in my mouth. I gagged.
“Leave us,” the feminine voice commanded.
A door slammed, and I turned on my side to dry heave. A gentle hand ran over my hair, lingering on the spot at the back of my head where I’d smacked against the pole.
“There’s the problem. Let’s sit you up.”
She leveraged a thin, wiry arm behind my shoulders and helped me sit. Slowly, my vision cleared and an aged, haggard face filled the space before me. White hair twisted tightly behind her head and pulled the skin of her face, smoothing a few of the deeper creases. Her brilliant green eyes glinted at me with cold humor.
“Got in the way of something, I’d say,” she murmured, leaning in close, her gaze shifting back and forth to study mine. “Best to stay awake tonight. You’ll feel sick, which is normal. Drink lightly. Don’t eat until your stomach stops twisting.”
Without mercy, she tugged me to my feet. The ground tilted and heaved, and I spread my stance wide to keep from falling.
“Smart girl,” she said with a laugh. “Too bad he brought you to me. You can’t stay here. Out you go.” She nudged me toward the door.
The stomach I’d thought empty heaved again, and I left a gift on her floor before I managed to clear the threshold. Her insulting laughter rang out behind me before the door closed and silence enveloped me.
Reaching out, I braced myself on the door. Night had claimed the sky and the half-moon weakly highlighted the area, not that it did me any good. The pain in my head clouded my vision. How would I manage a walk home, especially when I didn’t know where I was? I recalled the beast’s growl and knew I had to be somewhere within the estate. South, then, was the way to go. I lifted my head to the moon, trying to focus enough to get my bearings.
I took a lurching step away from the door, my skirt swishing through the grass. Within seven steps, I heaved again, and my eyes watered. The muscles in my stomach protested, and I wished for a cool drink to rinse my mouth. Instead, I received a growl.
“Vomit on me again, and you will suffer,” he said before he swung me over his shoulder. The grass flew past us, and I clenched my teeth as blood rushed to my head and pulsed in my ears. My vision clouded, and I knew I’d faint again and wondered if that counted as sleeping. The beast sensed something, though, because he stopped his run, and I found myself standing before him in the shadowy light beneath a tree.
“What did she say?” he demanded.
When the world tilted, I didn’t try widening my stance. Instead, I let my weak knees fold and sat heavily on the ground.
“Don’t sleep or eat until my stomach stops twisting. Drink lightly and get out.” I partially groaned as I struggled to my knees and heaved again, aggravating my stomach muscles and the lump on the back of my head. I spit weakly and let my head hang.
“Running upside down made it worse,” I said, swiping at my lips.
“You blame this on me?” His low growl increased in volume and clicked with menace as he crept close to me.
“Well, it was your fault that I hit the back of my head against the pole. Before that, only my wrists bled.””