“I warned you,” his gravelly voice stated. “Never try to touch me. You have no idea of the consequences!”
I threw my arms out. “Then you touch me! What are you waiting for, Husband?” I spoke his moniker with a sneer.
He landed before me with a boom, sending a rumble through the room. I stood my ground, hands still in hard fists, ready for the pain that would finally come. I shook openly now, my breathing ragged, not caring that my hair and face were a disaster. End this, I silently begged.
And then something impossibly soft touched my cheek. I swung my hand up to protect my face from him, earning a hiss from my husband.
“Lower your hand, Psyche,” he demanded. “And do not move.”
With great effort, I brought my arm down and braced myself. I stared ahead into nothingness, my chest shuddering when the softness touched my cheek again. The sensation was unbearably silky. It slid down my jaw with slow affection, beneath my chin, across my throat to the other side of my face. My eyes lifted to where I guessed his eyes might be. I meant it as a challenge, but what happened instead was a rush of unexpected intimacy. In that moment, with the sensation of a feathery touch moving over my earlobe and then down my neck, all anger and fear disappeared. A delicious shiver rose up from the parts of me that had been graced with the attention, and every other bit of skin on my body wept to be touched as well.
“Your soul,” he whispered, so close, “is glowing.”
My soul? I swallowed, coming back to myself, and stepped away. The peace of the moment shattered like crystalized sugar, cracking and falling all around me. I touched my throat, horrified by how he’d made me feel.
“You can’t see my soul.” I nearly choked on the words.
“I can,” he assured me.
“Oh, gods,” I whispered, stepping away, away, away. I’d never heard of a being who could see a soul through one’s body. If he could see it, perhaps he could possess it. Devour it. I pressed myself against the bed. “You can have my body, creature of the night, but you will never have my soul.”
He spoke my name, whispered it, as if I’d somehow broken him. “Psyche—”
A chill of unwelcomed guilt sliced through me, and I pointed to where I knew he stood. “I will never be yours!”
The room was silent and still until a raging roar split the air and the high-backed chair he’d been sitting in earlier flew backward, crashing into the wall. The windows burst open, letting in a hot gust of air. I covered my face with my arms and screamed until all was quiet. When I lowered my arms again the chair had been righted and the windows were closed as if the entire spectacle had never happened. My husband’s presence was gone, leaving me in a haze of confused emotions where there should have only been relief.
The madness was setting in. I had to fight it.
ENCASED IN WINGS
I must have really upset him, which baffled me, because he did not return last night, and I slept soundly. Today Renae brought a morning meal, afternoon tea, and a late day meal, yet darkness did not come.
“Renae,” I called before she left my chambers. “Will you stay with me? Play a game, perhaps? I think I saw a white and black board with stones—”
“I’m very sorry, Highness, but I’m not permitted to entertain you. Only your husband can do that.”
I felt my face grow into a frown. “But that’s ridiculous!” I tried to blink away the fury that filled me.
“Why don’t you take a walk about the palace?” she suggested. “You’ll find it quite lovely.”
“I don’t want to find this place lovely,” I said. “I hate it here, and I hate him!”
“Very sorry,” she whispered, and the door closed.
Everything I’d just eaten turned to heavy mud in my stomach. On top of being scared and suspicious every moment, I was also bored and restless. My body itched to run. The supposed freedom he offered was, no doubt, meant to lead me into a false sense of security, but I couldn’t stay in this room one more moment.
Barefoot, I ran to the door and flung the heavy wood open, my heart racing as I searched the hall. Then I laughed out loud to myself like a madwoman, because what had I expected to see? Nobody would show themselves for whatever odd, mysterious reason.
When my heart began to settle, I ran. My legs moved, the loose, flowing material of my stola never getting in the way. I took no time to admire the glamorous belongings sitting and hanging tastefully around each room. I ran, the marble cool under my feet. I passed rooms meant for studying, lounging, dining, entertaining, cooking, cleaning, bathing, and gods knew what else. I tried to memorize each twist and turn of the massive palace, its multiple winding staircases making me think twice about which way I’d come and gone. I ran until my feet ached, my legs burned, my stomach cramped, and I was out of breath. And then I burst out into the open, sprinting down the steps, falling to my hands and knees in the cushy, bright grass that stretched onward as far as I could see.
Damn the infinite beauty of this place.
Almost immediately, as I attempted to regulate my breathing, the sky began to darken.
“No,” I murmured, shaking my head at the ground. “I’m not going back in.” I sat on my bottom, pulling my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them. The quiet outside was eerie and unnerving. I peered around. Everything was so still. No wind. No animal noises or insects calling. No people walking or chatting. No sea moving and splashing.
And that quickly, it was pitch black outside. Not a star or moon to be seen. I held my breath and looked around, but it was no use. I knew the doors to the palace were directly behind me, but I refused to stand and fumble my way back to those chambers of doom. Instead, I tucked my head against my knees and held myself tighter, rocking and trying to ignore the trepidation coursing through me. At least the air was comfortable. I could curl up on this grass and sleep.
No sooner had I thought it than a chill prickled my skin and the air cooled. I tightened my grip and it got even colder. My teeth began to chatter as my body shivered.
“Come inside, Psyche.” His voice came from behind me.
I leapt to my feet and spun toward the palace where the door stood open and candles began to alight down the hall before me, welcoming us. I wanted to refuse him, but in only a matter of moments he had turned the outdoors into something uninviting. I crossed my arms over my chest and kept my head down as I climbed the set of marble steps and entered the grand doors. Warmth greeted me, and I let out an exhale.
I stopped and peered around. As much as I hated to admit it, I was lost.
The doors closed, shutting us in. Beside me, my husband cleared his throat and I took a step away.
“My behavior last evening was…unbecoming. This is more difficult than I expected.”
His words took me by surprise. “What is difficult, exactly? Being married to me?”
He cleared his throat again. “Getting past your fear and mistrust.”
I let out a huff of laughter at the ironic humor. “Why exactly do you need to get past my fear and mistrust? What does it matter? How I feel is not going to change.”
“You could find happiness here if you allowed it.”
“How so? And to what end? What happens when I let myself feel comfortable?” My insides shook as if I were still cold.
My husband let out a deep sigh. I cocked my head in wonder. I never would have believed creatures of Olympus could sigh with exasperation.
“I wish I could tell you, Psyche.” His voice lowered. “More than anything.”
His voice caused a tremor to run through me, finding its way to my core with a glorious warmth. I shifted my stance to try and ease the building pleasure, doing my best not to squirm. Wait…pleasure? No. I stood taller. Anger quickly took the place of whatever illogical thing he’d made me feel.
“Stop doing that,” I told him.
“What?” He dared to sound curious, even innocent.
“You know very well what.” I crossed my arms tightly, my cheeks heating. “That magical thing you do when you speak, and you spell me to make me feel…” My lips pursed, and I shook my head. I took another step away as he began to chuckle, the sound wrapping around me.
“I am not using magic. Your body is merely reacting to who, and what, I am.”
Impossible. “Then tell me; who and what are you?”
“You know I cannot say.”
“Of course not,” I said, seething.
“I assure you,” he said with underlying sensuality and confidence, “your feelings are your own and not forced by me in any way.”
“I am no fool, Husband!”
“I would never call you a fool, Psyche. You are merely unaccustomed to the physical response of attraction.”
My eyes widened, and my face grew hotter.
“I am not—” I sputtered. “How dare you?”
This time when he chuckled, deep and melodious, I marched away from him, getting as far as I could from the alluring sound in the depths of his terrifying voice. When I made it to the end of the hall and turned right, his voice called from where I’d left him.
“My wife…your bedchamber is the other direction.” And he laughed again, infuriating me. The fact that a vile, winged serpent could have such an ego was disgusting. Attraction. Ghastly!