Her hands were moving through the dirt, moving upward to freedom.
Alexandra let out a small laugh of relief.
Then her hands hit something more solid than the earth.
Her fingers poked, prodded. She felt nothing, and yetsomething was there.
Concentrating her energy on making the pass, she pushed against that nothingness while her Opal Jewel glowed with her effort, drawing on her reserves, focusing her strength. She sent the force of the Jewel into her hands and pushed.
A dark, crackling, overwhelming energy snaked down her fingers into her arms. Alexandra shot backward, hitting her head against a dirt wall.
Her strength was gone. The Jewel hung around her neck, dark and empty. If she'd pushed against that energy another moment longer, her Jewel would have broken, and her mind would probably have shattered with it.
"No," Alexandra moaned. She beat her hands against the floor of her dirt coffin. "No." She felt dizzy. The air. There was no more air. Gathering her legs beneath her as best she could, Alexandra sprang upward, trying to break free of the earth.
Alexandra's chin hit the end of her bed. She lay on her stomach, gasping, shivering. A dream. It was, after all, a dream.
A soft, icy laugh filled her mind. "Not a dream, my dear." Daemon's voice rolled through her mind, sentient thunder. "A taste. I'm avery good,very discreet gravedigger. I've had centuries of practice. Just remember, Alexandra. If Jaenelle isn't back, unharmed, by tomorrow afternoon, you will feed the worms."
He was gone.
Alexandra rolled onto her back. It was a trick, a dream. Hecouldn't have.
She raised a shaking hand, closing her eyes against the weak glow of the candlelight.
A dream. An evil dream.
Alexandra pushed herself up on one elbow—and stared at her hands.
Her nails were broken, her hands laced with scratches. Her nightgown was torn and dirt-smeared. A sudden, wet warmth flooded down her legs. She stared at the spreading dampness for a full minute before she understood she had wet herself.
It was almost an hour before she dragged herself off the bed, washed herself, and dressed in a clean nightgown. Then she huddled in a chair with a quilt wrapped around her, staring out the window, desperately waiting for the dawn.
Kartane inserted a key into a small, inset door hidden by a row of shrubs. The parents who came to Briarwood during visiting hours didn't know about that entrance—unless a parent was also a select member. They didn't know about these softly lit corridors, thickly carpeted to muffle sounds. They didn't know about the gaming room or the sitting room or the little soundproofed cubicles that were just big enough to hold a chair, a bed, and other amusing necessities. They didn't know about the tears and screams and pain. They didn't know about the special "medicines."
They didn't know about many things.
Kartane strolled through the corridors to the "playpen," hungry for some amusement. He was furious with Sadi and that little bitch for spoiling the game tonight. It was hard enough to bring girls in. Oh, they could buy lower-class Blood—the right kind of drink during the right kind of game and a pretty girl became a marker on the card table. But it was the aristos, the girls gently brought up with delicate sensibilities that were the most fun—and the hardest to procure. It usually took enticing the father in order to get the child . . . except during Winsol, when a littlesafframate could be slipped into the sparkling wine. Then the girl could be broken and cleaned up before being brought back to her naive parents. The day after, when the hysteria started, Dr. Carvay would just happen to call and explain to the distraught parents about this prepubescent hysteria that was claiming a number of aristo girls of the Blood. The girl would be tenderly led away for a stay at Briarwood, and in a month or two—or a year or two—she would be returned to the bosom of her family, and eventually married off to spend the rest of her life with that slightly glazed look in her eyes, never understanding her husband's disappointment in her, never remembering what a fine little playmate she'd once been.
Of course, a few genuinely disturbed girls were also admitted. That little tart Rose had been one. And Sadi's whey-faced bitch.
Kartane shivered as he stepped into the "playpen," that guarded room where the girls selected for that evening waited in their lacy nighties for the uncles. The girls didn't seem to notice the cold, but the attendant had his shoulders hunched and kept rubbing his hands to warm them. It was like this sometimes. Not always, but sometimes.
Kartane's perusal of the girls stopped when he met a glazed, unblinking sapphire stare.
The attendant followed Kartane's gaze, shivered, and looked away. "They topped that one up after bringing her in, but something went queer. She oughtta be panting and rubbing against anything that'll come near her, but she just got real quiet." He shrugged.
She was nothing to look at, Kartane thought. What was it about her that intrigued Sadi? What was so special about this one that he would risk Dorothea's vengeance?
Kartane lifted his chin in Jaenelle's direction. "Have her in my room in ten minutes."
The attendant flinched but nodded his head.
While he waited, Kartane fortified himself with brandy. He was curious, that was all. If Daemon had taught the girl bedplay, she must know a few amusing tricks. Not that he would actually play with her after Sadi had warned him off. People could disappear so mysteriously after being around the Sadist. And Cornelia's room . . .
The brandy churned in Kartane's stomach. No, he was just curious. He wanted a few minutes alone with her to see if he could understand Daemon's interest, and he wouldn't do anything that would provoke the Sadist's temper.
The finger locks on the cubicles were set high in the wall both in the corridor and in the room itself. That kept anxious little girls from escaping at inconvenient moments. Kartane let himself into the room. Once inside, however, he couldn't stop shivering.
She was sitting on the bed, staring at the wall like a stiff doll someone had tried to arrange in a realistic pose. Kartane sat on the chair. After studying her for several minutes, he said sharply, "Look at me."
Jaenelle's head turned slowly until her eyes locked onto his face.
Kartane licked his lips. "I understand Sadi is your friend."
"Did he show you how to be a good girl?"
Kartane frowned. Had they given her something besidessafframate! He'd had the shyest, most distraught girls crawling all over him, whimpering and begging, doing anything he wanted when they were dosed with that aphrodisiac. She shouldn't be able to sit on the bed like that. She shouldn't be able to sit still.