Kadesh pushed the shoulder strap of her bag and it flapped away. Her bag hit the floor with a soft thump. “I took your virginity. What should I take this time?”
His dark eyes held her, the golden glint of torchlight flickering in their depths. Thia felt every breath pushing in and out of her lungs, bringing with it the dry, dusty taste of the air and the intoxicating hint of him. Her body ached, tight with a want she had to fight. She wasn’t playing up to him. She had to escape. But…in that moment, she wanted to offer him anything he wanted.
“You could take me home.”
His firm lips quirked upwards and her belly hollowed. Was she supposed to find the man who hated her so beautiful?
“Your…home is now wherever I am. That’s what forever means, Thia.”
He pushed her damp and heavy coat from her back and it joined her bag on the floor. What…? Her coat had been tightly buttoned. When had he undone it?
“You really remember nothing.” He lifted his palm and a glistening trail of gold followed its path through the air. “The Urmah burn with true magic, not the words and blood you used to fight my curse.”
Thia stared at the shimmer of magic. Somehow her life had taken an even more bizarre turn. She pushed her mind back to his words. “Forever? I’m…trapped here?”
“Here…” He ran a finger down her throat to the crumpled front of her shirt. “This world is an invention, a single moment caught by Ashurnasirbal when he bound me in stone. But…” the air around them shimmered, “it is mine to play with.”
The taste of dust eased away and a sharp breeze touched her skin, bringing with it the scent of sesame oil and the calls of unknown birds. Her vision cleared and she stood on a narrow wooden balcony above a whitewashed courtyard. Torches and lamps flickered, pushing back the dusk shadows. She frowned. Something about it seemed…familiar.
Kadesh cupped her chin, forcing her to look at him. His dark eyes were fierce. “You remember this place?”
“Yes. No.” She tried to twist herself from his hold, but failed. “I don’t know. Maybe I saw a reconstruction in a book…”
“This is my family home. I brought you here to avoid the eyes and ears of the palace.” He released her and a cold smile touched his mouth. Gold trailed from his fingers and drifted on the breeze down into the courtyard.
Its sinuous shape…changed and dropped like heavy sunlight across the tiled floor. Shadows moved, twisted and she saw herself, younger, laughing, in an embroidered tunic and shawl, her dark hair caught in elaborate braids. Thia’s heart turned over, her skin prickling at the strangeness of seeing her possibly teenage self. And Kadesh—not laughing, he never laughed, not like that—taking her hand, pulling her to him. His expression held her. It was more than lust, more than simple want.
“You loved me.” She broke herself away from the tempting images and met the hard gaze of the man before her. “Her. You loved her.”
“As I said, I was a fool.”