No. Death first. She would fight him at all cost. She would not allow him to further dishonor her and her family. She would die fighting, but she would not allow him inside of her body.
Better a knife blade than him.
She shook that thought off quickly. Ferran was capable of anything. And he had no loyalty. It didn’t matter what he’d been like in that other life, in that other time. Not when he had proven all of that to be false.
She didn’t move, and neither did he.
“Do we have an agreement?” he asked.
“You will not touch me,” she said, her voice trembling now.
“I have no desire to touch you,” he said. “I simply need you where I can see you. You’re small, certainly, and a woman. But you are strong, and you are clearly a better fighter than I am, or I would have had you easily beaten. As it is, I had no choice but to use my size advantage against you. Now I have the size advantage and weapon. However, I still don’t trust you. So get on the bed, in the center, hands in your lap. I have no desire to degrade or humiliate you further, neither am I in the mood for sex. On that score, you are safe.”
“I would die first.”
“And I would kill you first, so there we have an agreement of sorts. Now get up onto the bed and sit for a moment.”
He moved away from her, slowly releasing his hold on her, the knife still in his hand. She obeyed his command, climbing up onto the bed and moving to the center of the massive mattress. Beds like this had come from another lifetime. She scarcely remembered them.
Since being exiled from the palace in Jahar she’d slept on raised cots, skins stretched over a wooden frame and one rough blanket. In the backs of shops. In the upstairs room of the martial arts studio she’d trained in. And when she was unlucky, on the dirt in an alley. When she’d arrived in the Khadran palace, as a servant, she’d slept in her first bed since losing her childhood room sixteen years ago.
The bed here, for servants, was much more luxurious than the sleep surfaces she’d been enjoying. Sized for one person, but soft and with two pillows. It was a luxury she’d forgotten. And it had felt wrong to enjoy it. The first week she’d slept on the floor in defiance, though that hadn’t lasted.
And now she was on Ferran’s bed. It made her skin crawl.
She put her hands in her lap and waited. She had no reason to trust his word, not when his blood had been found so lacking in honor. And not when he’d carried that dishonor to its conclusion himself.
The execution of her father. The order had been his. And no vow of bonds between royal families, or smiles between friends had changed his course.
As a result, she did not trust his vow not to touch her either.
“I’ll ask you again,” he said. “Who sent you?”
He still thought her a pawn. He still did not realize.
“I am acting of my own accord, as I said before.”
“For what purpose?”
“I see, and what is it I have not done to your liking?”
“You killed my king, Sheikh Ferran, and it was very much not to my liking.”
“I do not make a habit of killing people,” he said, his tone steel.
“Perhaps not with your hands, but you did set up the trial that ended in the execution of Jahar’s sheikh. And it is rumored you had part in the overtaking of the Jahari palace that happened after. So much violence…I remember that day all too well.”
He froze, the lines in his body tensing, his fist tightening around the knife. And for the first time, she truly feared. For the first time, she looked at the man and saw the ruthless desert warrior she had long heard spoken of. Thirty days in the palace and she had seen a man much more civilized than she anticipated. But not here. Not now.
“There were no survivors in the raid on the Jahari palace,” he said, his voice rough.
“Too bad for you, there were. I see you know from where I come.”
“The entire royal family, and all loyal servants were killed,” he said, his voice rough. “That was the report that was sent back to me.”
“They were wrong. And for my safety it was in my best interest that they continued to think so. But I am alive. If only to ensure that you will not be.”
He laughed, but there was no humor to the sound. “You are a reaper come to collect then, are you? My angel of death here to lead me to hell?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I should think I’m more than interesting.”
He stilled. “You made me fear. There are not many on earth who have done so.”
“That is a great achievement for me then, and yet, I still find I’m unsatisfied.”