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The remnants of scented smoke and sickly sweet perfume drifted through the air, mingling with laughter and the drunken slurs of party guests. Colorful women stumbled, hanging onto the arms of their escorts with their masked faces. Some lounged on couches while others twirled around the dance floor to the sounds of fading music: faster and faster.
Kari stood by the side, sipping from a glass at the punch bowl. The green mask sat heavily against her skin, disguising some of her features but leaving the lower half of her face exposed. The skirts of her dress swirled against her ankles whenever she moved, one of the only things she liked about it.
As she took another sip from her glass, a man walked across the room. He was like all of the others; his dark suit was well-fitted. His blue silk shirt matched the mask that covered his face, a spectacle of sapphires and emeralds set to look like the scales of a fish—the lord of the sea. Silver and gold rings glittered at his fingers, only adding to the illusion. But even with the mask on, Kari could that tell he was handsome. It was his firm jawline, the set of his blue eyes behind the mask, the cut of his black hair which fell to his shoulders. It was the confident way he strode across the room and the arrogant way he bowed his head when greeting her.
“I don’t believe we’ve met, but I would hate to miss such an opportunity. My name is Richard King, and you are?”
Kari curved her red lips into a smile, “I’d hate to miss the opportunity, as well. It’s Saralynn Kennedy. The pleasure is all mine.”
Kari woke with a start, her head jerking sideways as someone shook her. She groaned and opened her eyes, bleary with sleep. Immediately, she wished she hadn’t. Danielle was crouched in front of her, black eyes wide beneath her hood, “Robin says we need to go.”
“Of course he does.” Kari watched as Danielle started tying a rope lead around her neck. After that was done, she untied Kari’s feet before grabbing the lead and jerking it. Now I know how a dog feels.
Kari thought things couldn’t get any worse, but she should have known better. Things can always get worse, damnit. She stumbled to her feet, glancing around the forest. Her arm still stung from the cut Danielle had given her, but at least it was bandaged and slathered with salve.
They had been travelling for five days now, a relentless march that left her weary at the end of each day. Robin would often let Danielle scout ahead, and Kari noted with apprehension that he trusted the girl more and more as the days went by. Not a good thing for my situation, that’s for sure. Both of them rarely spoke to her, limiting their conversation to when they gave her commands: get up, eat this, hold out your hands.
Robin appeared from behind a tree, nodding briefly to Danielle and taking the lead around Kari’s neck. Danielle slunk ahead, her small frame flitting through the trees as she scouted. Great. Another long day with Robin.
She waited for him to start forward, to drag her along on the lead like some farm animal. Instead, he looked back at her. His eyes scanned her face, his mouth set with grim determination. Well this is a deviation from the routine.
“What did you do to anger him?”
Kari arched a brow, shifting her weight slightly from one foot to another. She had to be careful about what she said, “That’s a very good question. I assume it’s the fact that I humiliated him in a way that made it very hard for him to cover up.”
Robin narrowed his eyes, an expression that Kari had learned to interpret as his “I know you’re full of bullshit” face. He watched her for a moment and then tugged the rope on her neck, leading her forward. Apparently he had decided that talking wasn’t such a good idea after all. Kari sighed, letting her head droop as she walked. They passed the next few minutes in silence; then Robin spoke again.
“We’re headed to Point Hope.”
Kari felt her stomach give a tiny flip. She nearly stopped in her tracks before she realized that particular course of action would be painful for her neck. She cleared her throat, watching Robin’s back as he continued to walk, “Why are you taking me there?” Shit.
“Mr. King’s bodyguard related that it would be the best drop off point.” Robin paused briefly before continuing, “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what made him angry?”
The sounds of laughter, of a glass breaking, of shouts and accusations ran through Kari’s mind. She closed her eyes briefly. I guess there’s nothing for it.
“I stole money from him. About a hundred credits worth total…”
Robin didn’t even bother looking over his shoulder, “I find it hard to believe that he would hire several individuals to track you down if that’s all you stole.”
“I’d imagine that’s because you didn’t factor in the fact that Mr. King quite liked me at one time.”
That made Robin pause. He turned to look at her, his green eyes seeming to measure her worth. Kari looked back at him, keeping her face as stoic as his for once. Don’t give yourself away.
“He sent me after you because you jilted him?”
“Don’t be so surprised. He’s done worse things to people for less…as I’m sure you’re well aware.”
Robin was silent at this. Not surprising. He’s not exactly talkative at the best of times. Kari shrugged in response, turning her head away slightly; from that angle, she knew that he could clearly see the angry red welt forming on her neck from the rope, “You see why I’d want to keep that quiet…and why I worked so hard to avoid you. I’m not exactly looking forward to his…greeting…when we meet again.”
Again, there was silence. Then Robin jerked the rope slightly. Kari stumbled forward and started walking again. Point Hope it is. I hope I don’t die first.
Leaves swirled around them toward the ground, drifting into piles like the snow that would soon follow. Kari couldn’t help but detect the faint stiffening of Robin’s shoulders, the overly tight grip he now had on the rope. She allowed herself a brief smile as his back was turned. Right where I want him.