Elle woke with a start. She opened her eyes slowly, unable to make out anything but blackness beyond the flicker of the candle which burned low on the table beside her. She could hear the creaking of floorboards near the window to her left, and she turned onto her side and stared wide eyed into the darkness.
She tried to scream when she saw a form coming towards her out of the shadows, but only managed a small squeak. She shot up in bed and scooted back until she was pressed against the headboard, bringing her knees to her chest.
When the figure became clearer thanks to the candlelight, Elle let out a shaky breath when she saw that it was only Mias.
"You scared the hell out of me," Elle breathed, pressing her hand against her chest.
Mias tilted his head as he watched her, a sly smile spreading across his lips. His eyes dragged over her face and down her neck to where she had the blanket tugged up over her knees, before his gaze met hers once more.
Elle shivered. He was looking at her as though he was seeing her for the first time. As though he was surprised to find her there, in his bedroom.
"Don't get any ideas," she warned, realizing that he was probably wondering why she was in his bed. "The only reason I'm in here is because I don't feel like being woken up at two in the morning when you drag me out of the guestroom and bring me in here."
"This is a most unexpected turn of events." Mias' said, more to himself than to her. His smile widened and he stepped closer. "Most unexpected, but most welcome."
"Are you feeling alright?" Elle asked. "You sound
"I'm fine, dearest." He murmured. "Why do you ask?"
"You seem...off." Elle nibbled her bottom lip. "Are you drunk?"
Mias gazed at her mouth, his devilish grin revealing a dimple in his left cheek that she hadn't noticed before. "As I said, I'm quite well. I'm just pleased to see you."
Elle frowned up at him, and for the first time noticed that his thick black hair was hanging in his face, in a sexy messy sort of way. She also noticed that his outfit wasn't as polished as it usually was. His boots were scuffed and powdered with dirt, as were his shirt and pants. He was also armed to the teeth, with a broadsword strapped to his back and a dagger fastened to the leather belt around his waist.
"What on earth happened to you?" Elle asked. "And what's with the heavy duty weaponry?"
Without answering Mias sat on the bed beside her, never taking his eyes from her face. He tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear, letting his hand trail down the side of her neck to where the collar of her shirt hung loosely over her shoulder. She flushed, tugging the collar up firmly around her neck with one hand.
"I'm not wearing those ridiculously skimpy nightgowns you got for me," Elle said hotly. "So until you get me something comfortable to wear to bed, I think the least you can do is spare a few of your shirts."
Mias grinned. "I would much rather see you in Miaer, MY shirts anyway. It's quite fetching."
Elle forced her gaze away from his, focusing her attention on rolling up her sleeve where it was hanging loosely over her hand, hoping that he didn't notice how her hands trembled.
"Am I making you nervous?" Mias breathed. He was only inches from her face now.
"No!" Elle said defensively, her cheeks hot.
Mias laughed, but there was something off about it. His laughter sounded cutting, not teasing as it so often did. Elle eyed him suspiciously, and he grew serious under her questioning gaze. She could feel that there was something not right about him tonight, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was.
Before she could voice her concern, Mias grabbed her by the back of the neck and pressed his lips firmly against hers. Elle gasped, and he seized the opportunity and deepened the kiss.
Elle shoved at his chest and tried to pull away, but her back was against the headboard, and his firm hold on the back of her neck held her in place.
She reached up to push his face away, slap him if she had to, but before she could he captured her wrists with his other hand, his vice-like grip bordering on painful.
Mias groaned against her mouth, before his kiss grew more demanding. Elle had to admit that it wasn't an unpleasant kiss. But she didn't like the way that he had forced it on her, and she couldn't understand why it didn't send the sparks of excitement through her that she had experienced when they kissed just days before. Hell, it was as though the Mias she had kissed three days ago was different from the Mias she was kissing tonight.
'Two different people," Elle thought absently.
That's when the pieces fell into place. His voice and his laugh were different. His clothes. His hair. She knew that Mias had a brother. But how was she supposed to know it was a twin brother? She had never felt like such a fool in her whole life, wrapped in the arms of Mias' brother without even realizing that something was wrong until their lips met!
Elle began her struggle against Elias anew, tugging to get her wrists free or turn her head away from him. But he was stronger, his grip on the back of her neck tightening enough that she let out a small cry against his mouth.
Elle's heart sank when she realized that she was trapped alone with Elias, the brother that Mias had described as cruel and barbaric. She didn't know what to expect from Elias, she could only hope that Mias had exaggerated in order to scare her. But with the way he was forcing himself on her, Elle felt certain that Mias had been honest in his description. Now, in the arms of Elias, all she could think over and over again was fight or flight. Since flight didn't seem to be an option, she knew she was going to have to fight. The very idea of which scared the hell out of her.
Elias had to admit that things had gone far better than he could have ever imagined. His plans for that evening had been simplea quick climb up the side of the manor, a cold blade to his brother's throat, and he would be gone into the night before anyone was the wiser.
But instead of finding a sleeping, vulnerable Mias, he had found a sleeping, vulnerable beauty. As soon as he laid eyes on her, Elias was determined to have her. After all, why should Mias have everything? Hell, Elias would even let his brother have the manor, the land, the wealth, all of it. All Elias wanted now was this woman. To hell with the rest of it. Besides that, his fool brother didn't deserve to have her if he could so easily leave her alone and unattended in his bed.
Elias couldn't get over the softness of her body crushed against his. Her skin, her hair, her lips. Her mouth was so sweet, her lips trembling slightly against the fierceness of his kiss. He knew he was probably being too rough with her, but he couldn't help it. It had never been in his nature to hold back, and he had no reason to start now. She would learn his ways, would learn to meet his fiery passion with equal abandon. And once they were wed
'Wed?' Elias thought. 'Yes. Wed. It can be no other way. I must have her as my bride.'
Elias focused on the kiss, aware that she had resumed her struggle against his hold. He tightened his grip on her slightly as a warning that she would do well not to cross him. Instead of ceasing her struggle, however, she bit down hard on his lip, making him jerk away with surprise.
He touched his bottom lip lightly and glanced down at his fingers, swearing when he saw fresh blood.
She flung the sheet off her legs and leapt from the bed, running towards the door with surprising speed.
Elias jumped up quickly and was behind her just as she closed her hand around the doorknob. She yanked the door open, but Elias grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back into the room before she could make her escape, slamming the door so hard that the painting on the wall trembled.
"MIAS!" She screamed towards the door.
Elias clapped his hand firmly over her mouth, pressing her back against the wall with such force that she winced.
"So I guess you've figured me out," Elias said darkly. "I assume Mias has mentioned me. Clearly though, he failed to mention the family resemblance."
She shouted against his hand, her muffled profanities against his character making it difficult for Elias to keep a straight face.
"You shouldn't say such horrible things about your future husband, dearest." Elias said, clucking his tongue. "We will have to work on your manners."
Her eyes grew wide at his admonition. She shook her head before biting down hard on his palm, jerking her knee up. He released her so that he could avoid the crippling blow, and she turned once more towards the door.
"Little hellion!" He roared, snatching at the air behind her as she leapt into the hallway. He launched into the hallway after her, when a porcelain statue made contact with his chest, slowing his progress. He staggered backwards into the wall, glaring at her. She looked at him with those same wide eyes, so full of fear that he felt a stab in his heart. She was terrified, he could see it, could feel the fear rolling off of her in waves. He knew all the signs well enough, had seen it in the eyes of men he had faced off against. In those situations, he had felt nothing but pride and arrogance when he recognized their weakness. Now, staring down a woman half his size, he felt things that he hadn't felt in years. Guilt. Regret. Concern.
He shoved the weak feelings aside and stepped away from the wall. He had no time, and certainly no use for such feelings. So he did as he had always done, he buried them deep beneath a layer of anger mingled with selfishness.
He watched as she grabbed another porcelain statue from the table to her right and bent her arm back, preparing to throw.
"That will not end well for you," Elias warned.
She glanced around as if considering his words, licking her lips. She glared at him before hurling the statue at his head with an angry cry.
Elias raised his hand and felt the familiar heat of his magic resonate from his palm, just as the statue exploded into a thousand pieces midair.
She gasped, staring at the ground where pieces of shattered glass lay spread out upon the hall carpet.
"Enough of this nonsense," Elias grated. "Come to me. Now."
Elias extended his hand, fully expecting that she would comply after his display of power. He could see her little knees trembling just below the hem of her shirt, could see the fresh tears begging to spill from her beautiful eyes.
Instead, she wiped her eyes and stuck her little chin up defiantly. "Go to hell."
She turned on her heel and ran down the hall, leaving Elias stunned.
No one had ever dared defy him. In fact, he had killed men for less. Yet this little hellion thought she could rebel against him? That she could reject him, a man whose very name made grown men tremble with fear?
Elias let out a frustrated growl as he charged down the hallway after her. She would learn soon enough that Elias was a man who always got what he wanted.
Heart pounding, Elle rushed down the hallway, all too aware of the heavy footfalls of Elias not far behind her. She grabbed the lance attached to a suit of armor to her left, yanking it forward with all her might. It crashed to the ground in front of Elias, and before he could slow down, his foot caught on the helmet and he stumbled forward wide eyed into the heap of metal.
Elle didn't hesitate to see if he was getting up, only continued on her path down the hall, which in her panic seemed never ending.
"You will regret that, dearest!" Elias bellowed.
Ignoring his words, Elle tried to focus on finding Mias. She knew that once this was all over he would find some way to hold this whole evening over her head, but at that point she didn't care. She knew that Mias would protect her, especially from his brother.
"MIAS!" Elle cried as she hurried down the stairs.
She ran frantically into the living room, then back through the foyer to the dining room and kitchen, but she couldn't find him anywhere. She checked his study, her panic spiking when she realized he wasn't in the house.
Elle rushed to the front door and threw it open, letting out a frustrated cry when she remembered the stupid spell that kept her trapped.
Elle could hear Elias still tangling with the metal armor in the hallway, and knew she had only a few seconds before he came rushing around the corner and down the stairs towards her. She left the door open wide, hoping that Elias would think she went out, and then she could lock him out until Mias returned. It was a weak plan she knew, but her options were limited. She inched her way to the closet just a few feet from the front door and hid inside, leaving the door open a crack so that she could see the open front door.
She held her breath when she saw Elias charge down the stairs, his jaw clenched and his eyes wild with furry. Elle placed her hand on the doorknob, readying herself to run and slam the door shut behind him before he had a chance to react.
But instead of going out the front door, Elias closed it and turned the lock.
Elle let out a shaky breath, her shoulders slumped; all too aware of how vulnerable she was, hiding in the closet. She had trapped herself, and now she had nowhere to run.
"I wondered why Mias used such a weak spell to protect his home," Elias said casually, running his hand through his hair.
In that instant he looked so like Mias that it made Elle's stomach turn. Where the hell was he?
"But now it all makes sense," Elias said, walking towards the closet. With each step he took, Elle's heartbeat quickened. "He wasn't trying to keep anyone out."
Elias reached out suddenly and yanked the door open, making Elle jump. She tried to shrink away from him deeper into the closet, among Mias' large coats.
Elias grabbed her upper arms and pulled her from her hiding spot, glaring down at her furiously. "He was trying to keep you in."
"Let go of me!" Elle shrieked, trying to rip her arms free.
"Although I don't blame him," Elias laughed. "You are quite a handful."
That last comment made Elle furious. "Whether he was keeping me trapped here or not, he would never treat me this way! You're hurting me!"
Elias loosened his hold slightly, concern flashing in his eyes before they blazed fury once more. "I am not Mias. You would do well to remember that."
Elias dragged her along beside him towards the front door. He threw it opened and a gust of cool night air sent goose bumps across Elle's skin.
Elias pulled her along down the front steps, and Elle knew she should have been happy that she was finally outside, that she was finally free of the manor. Instead, she wanted to run back inside.
Elle glanced over her shoulder, fear enveloping her as the distance between herself and the front door became greater and greater.
"Where are you taking me?" Elle demanded, shivering against the night air. Elias removed his cloak with one hand and draped it over her shoulders before sticking two fingers in his mouth and letting loose a whistle that cut through the silence.
Elle watched as a brown and white spotted horse approached them at a steady trot before stopping just a few feet from them.
"I'm taking you to my home. Our home." Elias said, leading her towards the horse.
Elle's panic mounted to the point where she wanted nothing more than to collapse. Her legs felt wobbly beneath her, her whole body shaking despite the heavy woolen cloak wrapped around her.
"I'm not going anywhere with you!" Elle cried shrilly. This whole scenario was too familiar, she realized as she stared up into Elias' dark eyes.
"Do not defy me, dearest." Elias pulled her against him, leaning down as if he meant to kiss her. "You can come willingly, or by force. Either way, you are coming with me."
Elle shook her head warily, staring off into the darkness. She was out of options, out of time. She willed Mias to appear out of the darkness, imagining him on a white steed riding to her rescue. She knew it was ridiculous, but she let the fantasy play out for just a few more beats.
Elle sighed, glaring up at Elias. She would have to rely on herself, as she always had. Since Elias didn't seem to respond well to strong willed Elle, she would try her hand at meek vulnerable Elle.
"I don't feel well," she murmured, touching the side of her head lightly. She feigned weak knees and went limp against him.
He loosened his hold on her immediately, letting her ease down onto her knees. She knew she had little time, so she felt along the ground in the darkness for a weapon, all the while letting out weak little whimpers.
Her hand closed over something smooth and solid, and she pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. This was her last chance. It had to work. She tucked the large rock in the folds of the cloak, twisting the material around it tightly.
Elias leaned over her, resting his hand on her shoulder. Before he could help her to her feet, she jumped up and swung her weapon at him with as much force as she could, but instead of hitting him in the head as she had hoped to, it barely grazed his shoulder.
She dropped the rock and ran towards the meadow, filling her lungs with air.
"MIAS! ABERNOS!" She screamed. It echoed into the night, sending swarms of birds up from the trees in the distance.
She dared a glance over her shoulder and saw Elias, his arms outstretched, his mouth set in a grim line of determination. She felt a slight tug when she realized that he had grabbed the back of the cloak. She undid the clasp at her throat and looked back to see that Elias was still chasing her down, the cloak bunched tightly in his hand.
"Almost there, almost there," she chanted, focusing on the wall of trees ahead of her.
A strong arm wrapped around her waist from behind. Her scream was cut short when another hand came up and smothered the sound.
"Very well," Elias growled against her ear, his breathing heavy. "You have made your choice."
Elias pressed his hand against her stomach, and Elle felt a searing heat burn through the thin cotton shirt and crawl over her skin. The heat didn't subsideit grew steadily more intense and painful, making her eyes water. She felt dizzy as the heat crawled up her body and wrapped around her head. If Elias wasn't holding onto her she would have dropped to her knees from the pain.
"Please stop!" She managed to cry. "Please, it hurts!"
"Only a few moments longer," Elias murmured against her ear. "You made this choice. I tried to be reasonable."
Elle felt as though she was going to be sick, the world around her spinning so violently that she wanted to curl up in a ball and close her eyes. Just when she thought she could stand it no longer, the painful burning and dizziness subsided, and all that was left was a feeling of intense exhaustion. She felt Elias wrap an arm around her shoulders, hooking his other arm behind her knees as he lifted her against his chest. She stared up at him through bleary eyes, her whole body numb and uncooperative. Elias glanced down at her, his hair hanging loosely around his face.
"Don't fight it, dearest." Elias said. "Sleep now."
Elle's lids grew heavy, though she fought against it. She tried to focus on the stars in the sky, the cool air against her skin, even the beating of Elias' heart.
She finally had no choice but to give in, to let the darkness consume her senses and pull her down into sleep. All she could think of as she was dragged below the surface of consciousness was Mias, her heart aching at the realization that she would never see him again.