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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 52

Paedyn

The Imperial’s smile is cold as he peers down at me, white uniform crisp and smelling of starch.

“I can’t let you do that, little lady.” His belittling tone has me biting back the retort rising to my lips.

I am not in the mood.

“I just need a few minutes outside for a bit of fresh air.” If I were in Loot right now, I wouldn’t even bother being polite.

“Like I said, I can’t let you do that.” He smirks and a few of the Imperials lining the hallway chuckle with him, apparently a part of whatever hilarious joke I’m missing. “You don’t have permission to be outside of the castle, little lady.”

I clench my fists at my sides, resisting the urge to dare him to call me little lady one more time and see what happens. “All I’m asking for is a moment outside.”

“Really? And what are you willing to do to get it?” He leans in, and the stench of alcohol on his breath is evident as he says, “What’s in it for me?”

Then he slings an arm around my waist, tugging me towards him.

Wrong move.

My fingers wrap around the handle of my dagger, feeling the cold steel I’m about to—

“Careful, she’ll press that blade to your throat. I would know.”

I still, turning my head slightly to see Kai standing several feet away, hands casually tucked into his pockets. “Now let her go and open the door.” His voice is like the steel of my dagger, cold and sharp.

The Imperial only sputters. “But, sir, we have orders that the contestants are not to leave the—”

“And now you have new orders. So I suggest you open the damn door.”

Kai’s blank expression hasn’t changed despite his deadly tone. He’s even leaning against the wall now, his hands still stuffed into his pockets. The perfect picture of power. “Oh,” he adds, “and if you want to keep your job, your hand, and your head, I suggest you release the little lady.”

I almost crack a smile at that. The Imperial doesn’t waste a second before practically jumping away from me. He knows just as well as I do that Kai’s threats are never empty.

The Imperial strides swiftly past Kai, but not before the prince’s hand finds into his shirt and slams him against the wall. “I lied,” Kai mutters close to the man’s face. “You’ll be lucky if I let you keep your head, let alone your hand for laying a finger on her.”

The doors swing open, tearing my eyes away from the scene I’m not sure I want to witness. Humid, sticky air hits me the moment I begin descending the steps into the courtyard beyond. The sky is dark and thick with heavy clouds that rumble with the promise of rain.

I take a deep breath, relishing the fresh air and open space around me. Something wet splatters on my cheek, and I turn my face towards the cloudy sky that is now beginning to drizzle down on me. I spread out my arms and tilt my head up, loving the feel of rain pelting my skin.

Then the drizzle turns into a downpour. Rain is falling rapidly while I’m smiling stupidly. My head feels clearer than it has in days as cool water coats my skin, my dress, my hair. I spin in place, the skirts of my gown swishing around my ankles, feeling like an idiot and absolutely loving it.

I slip the shoes from my aching feet and pad through puddles like I did as a little girl, reminding me of a time when I was younger and yearning for the love of a father who was no longer with me. When I was terrified and terribly traumatized. The crowded streets of Loot pressed in on me constantly, making me feel caged and claustrophobic.

But then I would climb up to the roofs of old shops and buildings with only the stars for company. I felt freer in the open air, impossibly more peaceful. I did that for months, years, before my fear fell away and Loot became more of a home and less of a horror.

Laughter bubbles out of me. Hysterical. I am completely hysterical.

Plagues, how much wine did I have?

Rain is sticking strands of hair to my face and dripping down the tip of my nose while I smile through it all, momentarily forgetting about my troubles and simply taking a moment to exist.

“I don’t know that I ever lived before laying eyes on the likes of you.”

I spin, blinking through the steady stream of rain before my eyes find the gray ones blending in with the sheet of water falling down on us. His hair is dripping wet, all wavy and tussled. His white button-down shirt is sticky and see-through, showing off an inked chest and tanned torso beneath.

 And the sight of him has me smiling.

“I’m sure you say that to all the little ladies who catch your eye,” I say, half laughing, half-hysterical.

“Oh, but I only have eyes for one little lady, and I can’t seem to take them off of her.” His chest is rising and falling just as rapidly as the rain while my heart is thundering just as loudly as the storm.

He’s suddenly serious, scanning my face. “Did you need some fresh air? A break from the crowded room?”

There he goes again, understanding me.

“Yes,” I answer softly. “I feel much better out here. Freer.”

He bends near the beds of flowers beside the stairs and plucks one from the soggy soil before rising to his feet.

“Good,” he says quietly, “because I am going to get very, very close to you.”

I let out a slow breath when he takes a step towards me. Then another. And another. He’s close enough now that I can feel the heat of his body, feel the heat that spreads through me when he gets too close.

I tilt my head up to meet his gaze, blinking at him as I try to see through the rain. I wipe at my eyes, suddenly aware that there is likely makeup running down my face before deciding that I don’t really care.

His lips are tugged into a smile as he holds up the flower to me, drooping and dripping with water. Its small petals are a stunning shade of vibrant blue that hints at purple.

“A forget-me-not, since you always seem to be forgetting who I am,” Kai says with a soft smile, a soft laugh. He lifts his hand, tucking the flower behind my ear before letting his fingers run through my wet hair.

“Oh, I know who you are,” I say breathlessly. “A cocky bastard.”

He shakes his head at me, his fingers still toying with strands of my hair. “I don’t give a damn if you forget who I am in title, so long as you remember who I am to you.”

I stare up at him, and something must be amusing because through my rapidly blinking eyes I watch a slow smile spread across Kai’s lips. I open my mouth to say something only to snap it shut when he begins tugging off his suit coat. It slips from his arms, leaving him standing before me in a white shirt completely soaked through.

Well, that’s not distracting at all.

He steps even closer, and with the coat draped over his arms, he holds it over my head to cover me from the rain.

“Kai…”

The smile that lights up his face stops me short, steals my breath. It’s one of those rare, real smiles of his that I confessed I wanted to see more of. One that belongs to me.

Dimples.

Both of them on display. Both distracting. Both devastating.

“What?” I ask, my voice filled with laughter.

He shrugs, a smile still spread across his face. “I just love the sound of my name coming from your lips.”

I clear my throat that has suddenly become far too dry. “Well, Kai isn’t your real name, now, is it?”

He’s silent, nothing but a smile and a sudden intensity in his eyes, daring me to say his full name. Wanting me to say his name. And apparently, I want to say it too because when I open my mouth, one word falls out.

“Malakai.”

His eyes flutter shut, his head falls back, allowing the rain full access to his face. The smile on his lips and the column of his neck makes me swallow. His head is still tipped towards the sky, speaking to it as he says, “Only you can make my name sound worth saying.”

“Well, what would you like me to call you? Kai? Malakai?” My voice sounds so breathy, and I almost wish I could blame it on a panic attack.

His answer is simple, straightforward, as he dips his head down to look at me. “Call me anything you like. I’ll never pass up the chance to hear your voice, darling.”

I can feel a smile lifting my lips. “Alright then, cocky bastard it is.”

I wasn’t prepared for the laugh that escapes him. It’s a rich, beautiful sound I wish I had the time to commit to memory.

“Careful, Kai,” his smirk grows at the sound of his name once more, “You’re being a gentleman again.” My gaze flicks to the black coat he is still holding above my head to shield me from the rain. “But you do know I’m already soaked, right?”

“Yes, well.” He sighs and ducks his head so we are eye to eye. “As adorable as you looked blinking up at me in the rain, I want you to see me clearly when I tell you this.”

There goes that stupid flutter in my chest.

“I meant what I said. I can’t take my eyes off you. I can’t take my mind off you.”

I look away from his burning gaze, shaking my head as I mutter, “Kai, I—”

“Paedyn.”

I still. I shiver. He says my name like it’s sacred, like it’s an oath he’s swearing.

He tilts his head to the side, eyes roaming over my face. “Tell me,” he murmurs, “what do you want me to call you?”

My eyes slowly meet his, confused by his question. “What do you want to call me?”

“I want to call you mine.”

We stare at each other. Both of us breathing hard, both of us taking in the other. The rain is still splattering Kai, clinging to his thick lashes and dripping from his jaw.

“I know you feel it too,” he says quietly.

“Feel what?”

“Feel alive. Feel on fire. Feel.” There is an intensity in his eyes, his voice, that makes my heart race even faster. He looks away, cursing under his breath before his gaze crashes back into mine. “Pae, when I look at you…I’m devastated. I’m drowning. I’m dying to catch my breath.”

The air leaves my lungs and now my blinking has nothing to do with the rain. His next words are nearly a whisper. “Look at me and tell me you don’t feel the same.”

Silence. And then—

“I don’t feel the same, Kai.”

Lies. Lies. Liar.

He ducks his head, and when he lifts it to look at me again, his smile is crooked. Then he slowly lowers the coat shielding me from the rain and wraps it around my shoulders, fingers lingering against my bare collarbones and sending a jolt through me.

It’s far too big, and his hands curl around the fabric before he tugs, pulling me so close that my body is pressed against his. He is still clutching the front of the coat, knuckles brushing my bare skin before his lips are against the shell of my ear.

“Now answer again,” his murmur is amused, “but without tapping your left foot this time.”

My mouth falls open.

His lips are smiling against my ear, and I’m trying not to focus on the feel of it. “I…I don’t—”

His deep chuckle cuts me off. “God, you’re stunning.” Rough fingers have never felt so gentle against my skin as he brushes a strand of wet hair out of my eyes. “But so damn stubborn.”

I can’t do this anymore. I can’t not give in to the temptation that is him. I’m suddenly unable to think of a single reason why I’m fighting this, why I shouldn’t close the gap between us right now. I want to—

His lips meet mine.

Barely.

It’s the whisper of a kiss, a promise of passion. And yet, I nearly melt at the contact. His hand is cupping my face, thumb stroking my cheekbone and then—

Nothing.

He pulls back.

I nearly gasp, wanting to grab him, pull him closer, press my lips to his. And I’m about to do just that when I suddenly remember a time when our roles were reversed. When I was the one teasing him with touches.

Now I understand exactly how affected Kai was by the lack of my touch during our game of archery and distraction. The feel of something and then nothing is a cruel thing to bestow upon someone, and he’s left me burning because of it.

His other hand has found its way around my waist under his large jacket, and the heat of his palm through my corset is a brand. He tilts his head, studying me with a small smile.

He knows exactly what he’s doing.

And yet, he’s taking me in as though he doesn’t want to rush this moment. His thumb has found my bottom lip where it’s now trailing lazily, igniting a fire inside of me.

“You promised that I could touch you when I was sober.”

My breath hitches and the corner of his lips twitch in response. I was not expecting him to say that. I was not even expecting him to remember my hasty promise from the last ball.

He ducks his head, his mouth suddenly a breath away from mine once more. “But I’m never sober around you, Pae. Never not drunk on every detail that is you.”

I’m speechless. Utterly speechless that this boy could feel so much.

Feel so much for me.

“If I kiss you—really kiss you, like how I’ve wanted to, how I’ve waited to—should I expect a dagger at my throat?” His voice is rough, his gaze greedy.

And then I reach up slowly and flick the tip of his nose.

This time, I do take a moment to memorize the smile he gives me.

“I guess you’ll have to kiss me to find out.”


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