Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 10


Surely an eternity had passed.

The king had been staring at her for hours at least, his expression maddeningly unreadable. Sophia wanted to melt into the sand. She was almost positive if he looked closely, he’d see her body pulse in time with her hammering heart.

It’d seemed like a perfect solution a minute ago. If he agreed to go on a walk with her, not only would she be able to give Alno some much needed time alone with Difila, she’d also be able to broach the subject of accompanying them on the trip to watch the new Queen’s broadcast if it happened.

But now she wasn’t so sure. What if he turned her down? How embarrassing.

Her skin went cold. What if he didn’t turn her down? On some logical level, she’d known what that would mean. But…

Steps slow, the king prowled forward. Each thump of his foot on the three steps leading to the ground were thunderous to her ears. She just managed to keep herself from flinching when his boots crunched into the soft sand directly in front of her.

His gaze bore into hers as he slowly slipped the pouch from her lax fingers.

Sophia swallowed.

“Let us walk, then.” His deep voice sent sparks skittering over her shoulders.

All she could do was nod and follow him toward a dim tunnel near the edge of the forest. Sophia peered back at Alno as the entrance to the tunnel neared and found him gazing stupidly after her. She gave a vicious head jab toward Difila, who was also staring at them, and he seemed to rouse, plastering on a hasty grin and saying something to Difila that Sophia couldn’t hear.

The corner of the woman’s mouth lifted, and she tilted her head down at him.

Even if this walk ended up being the worst mistake ever, at least she’d given Alno a shot with his dream warrior woman. Sophia let out a satisfied breath and snuck a glance at the king. Her heartbeat stumbled when she found him watching her.

They crossed the threshold of the tunnel, and sound from the party grew muffled. She could feel Sikthand’s stare still hot and heavy on her, so she busied herself with examining every decorative stitch of silver in the azure fabric covering their intimate path. The drapes of the walls were dense, but the fabric of the ceiling was thin enough that she could see the treetops and stars though it as they walked.

The king’s frame filled much more of the tunnel than she cared for, leaving her with two options. She could walk so close to his bicep that their bodies were in danger of brushing together with one swaying step or skim against the fabric walls and reveal how skittish she felt. She would not be doing that.

They walked in torturous silence. Wasn’t he supposed to be talking her up? Or was that her job since she’d been the one to ask him to walk? She chewed on her lip as she thought of what to say to break the silence. Lucky we had such good weather tonight. No. Stupid.

The king kept his massive arms clasped behind his back. Sophia suddenly couldn’t remember what she did with her hands while walking.

She plastered them to her sides, then groaned inwardly. Not right.

Pulling them in front of her only made her look like she was trying to imitate a speed-walking suburban housewife. His elbow brushed her arm, and she nearly squeaked.

God, he looked good tonight. His outfit might be a bit gruesome, but it highlighted the sexy bulges of his muscles perfectly. She breathed in, and her lids fluttered. He smelled good too.

“Why did you pull me away from that female?” His rumbled words had her shoulders tensing.

“What?” She knew perfectly well what he’d said and what the question had meant, but she needed time to think of an answer.

The king stopped and faced her, his wide chest seeming much wider in the close quarters of the covered tunnel. “You interrupted my conversation with Difila. Were you attempting to take her place in my bed tonight?”

Sparks of electricity exploded over her scalp. “N-No!” Sophia sputtered.

“There’s no other reason to ask someone to walk,” he reminded darkly.

“I…I thought if…” He let his silver gaze roam down her body, not bothering to hide his perusal. Heat pooled in her belly. He’d never looked at her like that before. This isn’t the plan. “Your Majesty, I…”

A wicked smile lifted the corner of Sikthand’s mouth, exposing one of his sharp fangs. She sucked a slow breath, lips parting. “Find me majestic, do you?” He inched closer, his smell enveloping her.

Her brows knit. “What?”

“You keep calling me majestic. It’s not often my looks are so exalted. Tell me, human, which parts of me are most glorious?” Sophia jumped when something slithered around her back and forced her a step closer. She realized as the tip came up to rest on the underside of her chin that it was his tail twining around her back and lifting up her front.

He pressed the sharp point into her skin just enough to force her chin to lift and her gaze to meet his. “It’s…” Sophia tried to organize her thoughts, but all she could think about was how close her body was to his. One more tug of his tail and she’d be flattened against him. The heat building inside her trickled to her core at the thought.

His silver eyes flashed, then darkened.

“It’s just a title,” she finally managed. “Something people on Earth say to royalty. Your Majesty. Your Highness. Your Eminence.”

“Despite your…current interest,” He peered down her body again pointedly. Her face blazed. He could smell that she was turned on. “We both know you didn’t bring me here to service you. So, I ask again, what do you want?”

“I want…” I want you to pull me in and put those fangs to use. She internally shook herself. No! Bad Sophia! That’s just the fire milk talking. She closed her eyes, not able to think straight while staring at his handsome face. Why had she thought this walk was a good idea again? Oh yeah.

“I want you to take me with you if there’s a broadcast from Tremanta.” The words spilled from her lips.

***

Sikthand should’ve never allowed himself to accept her invitation. They hadn’t been walking for more than a few minutes and he’d already almost crushed her to his chest, catching himself just before.

He was enamored with the human. Though he’d forced himself to remain in the shadows for the past two days, he’d given up trying to keep away from her. He liked watching her. He craved it. It calmed something in him.

He’d followed her as she explored his city, slipping between every crack, peephole, and mirror built into the tower by his ancestors. He’d scowled when she’d picked her dress for the night, regretting he couldn’t give her something better.

How wrong he’d been. Her outfit didn’t fit in with the other Vrulan costumes. It was gauzy and delicate. And it displayed hints of her bare body underneath in such a tantalizing way. His eyes had nearly dried out in his skull as he’d watched her walk toward him, heart braced for the moment he’d see a clear hint of flesh, but it never came.

Yet the dress was more than just a pretty frock.

She showed no signs of embarrassment for how out of place her outfit was compared to the rest. Quite the opposite. As he watched her expression, he’d seen a glimpse of it—defiance.

The mouthwatering female was making a statement. It had almost brought a grin to his face. But then the suitors, unaware of her fascinating mind, had descended on her in droves.

He wanted to rip every one of them apart. None of them saw the sly outfit for what it was. They just saw a luscious body wrapped in fabric thin enough to tear with a wayward slice of their tail.

The faint scent of her arousal drifted to his nose. His cock ached knowing if he dropped his tail from her chin at just the right angle, her dress would split apart like tissue.

But that wasn’t why she’d walked with him.

Her gesture had been selfless. One done to help her attendant, Alno.

He admitted he’d been jealous watching them lounge together, talking about one inane thing or another. Smiling.

He could never have that with her, and envy burned in him like molten lead. He’d been in the process of seducing Difila so the innocent male might feel some of the jealousy he felt.

Sikthand despised Alno. He hated the way he easily reclined, laughing and drinking, not a care in the world. He wasn’t constantly aware of who walked behind his seat. He didn’t have to ensure his drink was filled with liquor from his personal stores.

He could just…exist.

But what made him loathe the male more than anything else, was that Sophia could exist with him. If he wasn’t positive it would hurt his little human, Sikthand would have had Alno resigned days ago.

No, not his human.

His tail slipped away from the gentle curve of her back. She shivered.

Sikthand straightened, forcing his demeanor to harden. In another life, he could’ve been the one to warm her.

He turned and continued his slow steps down the tunnel. “I had already planned to take you along if Vila were to ascend.”

“Oh.” She sped to catch up to him. Her gaze slipped to his, hope lifting her dark brows. “Maybe you could allow Heleax to come too?”

“No,” he growled.

Sophia chewed on her delightfully pink lip but didn’t appear too surprised. The end of the tunnel seemed to grow farther away with each step, the silence making the air heavy.

“Did you… Did you ask Vila to send humans in exchange for reopening trade?”

He snorted. “Is that the rumor these days? No. Trade is closed until I have a confirmed ruler to speak with about reopening it.”

“Oh,” she breathed.

Sikthand swelled, wanting to say more, though he never usually felt the need to explain himself. He was not the kind of ruler who made a habit of bartering with lives.

“I like your outfit,” she tried, changing the subject. Her gaze caught on his chest where Japeshi’s name was almost visible. The drawing she’d done of him in which she’d omitted the name flashed through his head and made his jaw clench.

Her eyes were narrowed on his pec now. She was nearly glaring at Japeshi’s half-hidden name. Jealousy? Or pity?

“Do you have a problem with my tattoo?” He all but hissed.

Her gaze snapped to his, and she blanched. She shook her head, eyes falling to the ground.

They walked for a few more agonizing steps before he rumbled, “That pitying look in your eye tells me you’ve learned what it says and what it means. I suppose your attendant enlightened you?” Sikthand already knew he had.

Brief mentions of his past had been sprinkled through Sophia and Alno’s conversations, as if they’d discussed Sikthand’s tragedies many times over. His dislike for the male deepened.

“No.” Sophia stared straight ahead. “I heard about it from someone at dinner.”

Little liar.

“And who was that? I’d like to have a word with them.” He held back his smirk when her eyes darted around the tunnel, scrambling to think of a lie.

Horns blared in the distance, catching their attention.

“The umbercree are arriving,” Sikthand explained at Sophia’s confused expression. He scanned the tunnel in both directions. They were far closer to the end than the beginning, and most people usually ventured into the dark forest to watch the umbercree anyway.

He could lead her back, drop her with Alno, and let her watch the creatures from a distance. But then he recalled how amazed he’d been the first time he’d seen them. If she felt even a fraction as enthralled as he’d been, the work of art she’d create would be enchanting. She should have the best vantage possible.

“Step quickly.” He wanted to place a hand on her spine, but he kept his fingers crushed together at his back, the slight pain a tether to his control.

When they emerged from the end of the tunnel, the forest was dark and quiet. The sky above was a deep velvety blue, and the stars and moon emitted just enough glow to backlight the thin swaying leaves of the minata trees.

The party some ways behind them buzzed with excitement. Lights began blinking out, extinguished so they could better see the umbercree, but Sophia eased toward him, worry crinkling her forehead.

His chest swelled at her subtle movement. It was unlikely she even realized what she’d done, but Sikthand felt it in every fiber of his being. “Calm, female. We watch the umbercree in the dark.”

Her attention lifted to him, then she scanned the trees, shoulders tensing as if the fact they were alone together in a dark forest made her nervous. He hated that his presence had this effect, even though he’d worked diligently to elicit this exact response. He wanted her wary of him, didn’t he? Wary was safe. Wary meant she’d keep her distance.

“Maybe we should go back?” One by one, the lights in the tunnel blinked out, throwing them into darkness. “Or not,” she breathed.

He knew human vision was weaker and wondered how much, if anything, she could still see. From the way she wrung her hands together and scanned the space around the tunnel entrance miserably, as if she could no longer find it, he guessed not very much.

Rustling built in the air, and an umbercree swooped by their legs, hitting them with a blast of wind. Sophia shrieked and stumbled back. He caught her before she tripped over a minata root.

Damn her fear, souring the air around them. He wanted her to enjoy this. Not be terrified.

Sikthand pulled her trembling body in front of his and kept his hands heavy on her shoulders. “They are soundless creatures,” he whispered into her ear as more umbercree rustled the tree overhead, sending leaves floating down toward them. “But in a moment, they’ll begin boring their way into the trees.”

Droves of umbercree swooped past, making her hair fly. She startled each time, backing further against his chest, but her fear had ebbed, a tentative grin rising on her face. Sikthand wanted to groan in frustration. Keeping himself immune to her was impossible.

He exhaled against her ear, unable to stop himself, and watched as her breath hitched. It would take no effort at all to kiss the warm pulse point thrumming at her neck.

An umbercree flew by so close its long tail brushed her ear, and she laughed. He loved that sound, yet he hated hearing it—a taste of something he had to pretend he didn’t want.

She’d be gone soon. She wasn’t his to keep.

Her head turned from side to side when a low tapping echoed from the trees above. “They bore holes in the minata trunks and eat the sap,” he explained as the rumble of pecking umbercree built to a steady drum, filling the quiet night with sound.

“This is incredible.” Her gaze flew about overhead, searching for the birds who were nearly invisible except for a faint outline against the bright moon. “I wish I could see them. Are they sensitive to light or something?”

“Just watch.”

She chuckled lightly. “I’d love to, but I can’t see…a…damn…thing…” Her voice died out. The umbercree had pecked their way through, and now glowing green minata sap seeped down the trunks.

All around them the forest bled, the vivid bright syrup running down the trees in rivulets.

Sophia took in an awed breath as the world around them began to glow. She gazed at the towering trunks coated in luminous green liquid.

The umbercree were visible now, their black bellies and long stretched tails painted in the sap they were lapping up. “They’ll soon be full and drunk, then they’ll find a mate. By the time morning arrives, they’ll begin to build their nests.”

She lifted her hand to a tree nearby and dipped her fingers in the sap. “It’s like glowstick goo,” she said, rubbing the sticky substance between her fingers just before her nose. “How? Is it radioactive?” She stretched her hand away, eyes flying up to him from over her shoulder.

He couldn’t contain a grin, and her dark eyes slipped to his mouth. “No. It’s from the soil,” he explained, using all his considerable control to ignore the way her gaze lingered hungrily. “The trees love the metal deposits. They’re full of them, and it makes their sap glow.” She peered up at him through thick lashes. His resolve waned.

Her smell was making his mind go fuzzy. He could let himself slip. Just this once.

Sikthand allowed his hands to trail down her shoulders and settle on her narrow waist. The metal design of her white dress glittered in the glow of the minata forest. He sucked an inhale through his tight chest.

Her gaze deepened, as if she were thinking hard about something. “Can I ask you a question?” she whispered, her breath ghosting across his cheek. He nodded his assent. “Why do you still have it?” She searched his eyes and said the next words so quietly he almost didn’t hear them. “Her name?”

Dull pain rolled through him. Sikthand had thought about removing Japeshi’s name many times. As he gazed down at Sophia, he knew he needed to speak the truth aloud, not just to give her an honest answer, but to ensure he reminded himself.

He inhaled deeply, loneliness creeping in. “Removing it would imply there is room for something else to take its place.” His fingers slipped from her waist. “There isn’t.”

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