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When the smoke first poured over them, she’d found Reth’s touch electrifying.
Then he’d disappeared and her body had betrayed her. She’d been distracted by the other men whose eyes were lit up, their hands trailing over her skin, through her hair, and that tingling was delicious. But their touched lacked the thrill she’d found in Reth’s and she wanted it back.
She’d been confused, turning to find him, but he was gone, and another set of eyes, another pair of hands, had found her. It was distracting, but not for long. She pushed past, weaved through, always looking for him. It was as if she could sense his presence, somehow—she’d known what direction to take even when she couldn’t see him. And even when the touches of the males were alight on her skin, something inside kept tugging her towards him.
Then their eyes met and she took her first deep breath since the smoke began. Something in her chest tugged and a yearning bloomed inside her.
She took another step, beginning to smile, but suddenly there was another man in the way—this one more insistent. It took her a moment to find a way around him. But after him there was another, then another—males standing shoulder to shoulder, forcing her to find a way through.
And when she finally did… Reth was surrounded. There were women everywhere near him, they were five or six deep, and those closest to him pawed at him as if he were a toy, their hands on his shoulders, sliding down his back—even in his hair!
Elia stumbled forward intending to push her way through—that pull within her yanking now, demanding that she get closer. But when she reached the circle of women, those closest turned on her, hissing, growling, eyeing her—if they’d been cats they’d have had their ears flat back against their heads.
And they spoke in hushed whispers, and muttered curses.
“Weak woman. He isn’t for you. He needs someone so much stronger.”
“You don’t belong here. We will make sure you never succeed.”
“Human woman, you don’t have what it takes to handle a King!”
“Child. You’re nothing but a child.”
“A coward, that’s what you are, taking our King through deception and fear!”
On and on and on, her worst fears, her certain thoughts, her confusion, all whispered in her ear, hissed to her heart. And Elia felt herself want to falter, felt herself question.
She searched for Reth, but most of the women were so much taller than her, she was pushing between them on instinct alone.
Then, suddenly, there was a roar from the center—a raging snarl and the circle of woman loosened for a moment. Elia saw her chance and darted through a small gap between two women who were so broad, they looked like males from the back.
The circle closed again quickly, but Elia could see him now, his eyes wide and darting as he whirled and cuffed at hands that reached for him, turning from naked bodies that wanted to press in. And always, his eyes, left and right until they landed on her and he spoke her name.
She couldn’t hear him over thethe women, but she saw his mouth make her name and she sighed, pushing forward again.
Then a pair of lips pressed against her ear and hissed, “A lovesick fool with no spine—the wolves will end you the first chance we get!”
Elia hesitated, turning to find the woman who’d spoken, but there were several so close they could have leaned in, and all of them shifting to try to stand between she and Reth, their eyes narrowed and sharp.
She’d seen those looks before, knew what they meant. It seemed the language between women did not change between worlds.
These women wanted him for themselves. And they would fight to keep her away from them.
She stopped, midstep, and looked for Reth again, finding him with her eyes—his wild and rolling. But when he caught her, he paused. There was a crystalline moment between them, eyes locked, where it felt like something in him spoke to something in her.
But then a woman, her back to Elia, slid her hand down his chest—down, down, down—and Elia saw Reth’s body recoil when she found what she was looking for. He roared again, twisting. But now there were more women, all holding him, stroking him, pressing against him. He was overrun—not enough hands of his own to remove all of those that touched him.