I do not understand Jareths (Journal Entry #75)

They reached for my mother’s hasha to clean the mess. I’ll admit it: I lost it right then. I started screaming and screeching. Yelling at them to stop. To just stop.

I was fighting almost as hard as I had been when they carried me away. 

That hasha… “No! It’s all I have left of my mother! Don’t ruin it! Please!”

I was hysterical. I pulled against the green hasha still binding my wrists, though looser than before. I tried to roll from the bed to get to mine. Anything.

Just…not my mother’s hasha. That’s the most important possession I have.

“Quiet her before she draws attention!” Cahum ordered. He tossed my hasha aside, thankfully. 

He must have decided his brothers weren’t working fast enough. Then he was there.

He scooped me from the bed. He pressed my face against his neck as the demonspirin spilled on the floor. He held me in place with one rock-hard, muscle-roped arm. Muffling the sounds I was trying to make. There was no way for me to fight him. His hands were so strong. “You will quiet. No one will harm that damned hasha. Hells, female, we could have tortured you, and you wouldn’t have fought as hard as you did over that stupid cloth. Do you have no sense, then? We’ve spent hours hunting for our sister with no answers except your name. We were told you were in on it.”

His arm tightened around me again, holding me in place. 

Could have tortured me? What exactly did he think this was, a meet-and-greet?

I thought about biting out his throat. 

I was just that angry.

But he had three brothers there. If I did that, they would kill me. 

I am not stupid. 

One of the brothers came at us. Navix. He had a dagger in his hand. I flinched and fought, certain he was going to use it to kill me. To silence me before they made me disappear. 

I felt sick again, too. 

I am going to die here, at the hands of my own Kind. 

For a moment, I hated every male Dardaptoan not of my own blood. Irrational perhaps, but true. 

I definitely despised every wealthy, high-ranking male Dardaptoan in this hotel right now, with the possible exception of Barlaam and Tol. They think they have the right to destroy the lives of those who don’t have what they do. Because they hold all the power. 

And the rest of us—we are powerless. 

I kicked and fought. And I bit. Right there on his neck. I sank my teeth into him so deeply I just knew he would scar. Would always remember me.

He roared, then hissed. His blood filled my mouth and I knew I needed it. 

I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to leave a wound so deep it will scar, so he would never forget me. 

They might kill me tonight, but I am going to make them pay for it.

Apparently, I said that very thing aloud when I pulled away from the hot, fresh blood.

“No, baby, no. No more biting, no more fighting.” His tone had turned soothing in an instant. That disconcerted me more than anything. His arms were hard around me. One hand cupped the back of my now sweaty and tangled hair. “We’re not going to hurt you. I promise. Just questions. And drink from me if you need. It is the least I owe you.”

The last was said at a whisper.

To my shock, he nuzzled my forehead.

He almost rocked me. Like I was a child he wanted to take care of.

“All I did was sit with him in the dining room because I didn’t know anyone else in there. And he saved my life yesterday when the demons came for me again. That is all. That is all.” I was saying it over and over. “I don’t know anything. I don’t. I don’t. I’d help if I could. M-meyka is my friend, too.”

I am ashamed to say I broke down. Weak.

Kellis would never have broken down like that. Neither would Ambrea. Or Riv.

But I am not as strong as them. I am not.

I just couldn’t take any more of this. I couldn’t.

It…is over now. I think. (Journal Entry #74)

They questioned me for hours. By the time they were satisfied that I knew nothing about what had happened to Meyka, the sun was bright through the windows. I was beyond exhausted. 

I mean…I had fought off demons just the day before. I had stayed out late with Ryrk after.

Cormac and Aodhan had been in my suite for hours early this morning. I was already exhausted before…this.

All I know is that as the hours passed, I started to despise Jareths more and more.

I felt every emotion coming off of them. 

And it…hurt. Every feeling they had stabbed at me like knives–anger, fear, panic, love for each other, disgust for the Lupoiux…determination, regret. The sheer volume of their feelings kept stabbing at me. And stabbing. It just wouldn’t stop.

I did not understand any of this at all.

“P-please…enough. I-I’ve told you all that I know. Can’t you just let me go?” 

I know the laws of my people. Working for Theo made that a given. They have abducted me and kept me against my will. For more than the six hours required by law to count as an abduction.

There should be some punishment for that. 

Not that I think there will be.

They are wealthy Jareths; I am literally just one poor Woald. Fit to serve the Jareths, but not worthy of their respect. That was the way it worked with most of those who wore Equan white around here.

No one will believe me about this. If they did, I am not certain that it would matter. The brothers had rarely touched me—they hadn’t had to. Their questions battered at me so quickly. Their emotions, their anger. They knew that I felt it. Someone had told my secret. Probably that evil guard. Or the healer brother had learned it when I was recuperating from demon poison. 

“Shouldn’t you be out there searching for her? Tracking them?”

The brother I had bitten just stood over me and glared—I had learned their names, at least. Boldek was the one from the Healers’ Hall. He had a healer-blue band on one arm. He was the one who watched the others carefully.

Maybe he thought he was somehow protecting me?

Some protector. He was just about as effective as that guard who had handed me over to them.

The next brother was Selton. I wasn’t certain how I thought about him. He was just as likely to accuse me of something as he was to ignore what was going on. Halfway through the interrogation, he stopped to read the Dardaptoan Herald! Out loud. To me. 

So I could supposedly calm myself down.

Like that was going to happen.

Navix was the quietest brother. He mostly stayed back unless the oldest brother—and it was clear who was in charge—ordered him to do something. 

Navix was the one who argued with the healer the most. Told him that I was the only way. That their cousin—my guard—had insisted I knew the answers. That Navix believed him.

I am not sure anything about Navix. 

But it is Cahum who terrifies me the most. The eldest. The most dangerous. The one I bit. It had been he who had carried me off in his arms.

He was the angriest. And the most afraid.

I could feel all of their anger, of course. And their worry for their sister. But the fury radiating from Cahum terrified me to my toes. The…hurt he was radiating.

Of course, I had bitten him deeply enough to draw serious blood. 

No male Dardaptoan took that kind of insult easily. Especially from one they probably considered beneath them.

I just stared up at him. And waited. 

My hands remained bound. 

I still wore the serviceable vestis and pardus I’d dressed in hours ago. They’d taken my mother’s hasha from me. Just to make me cooperative. They hadn’t damaged it yet, though Navix wiped his brow with it. Evil monster. 

I had no doubt they would just toss it in the trash when they were through with me. 

These beasts didn’t care how important my mother’s hasha is to me. 

I couldn’t help myself. It had been hours. I dropped my chin dejectedly. A tear escaped. 

I couldn’t tell them anything more than I already had. Yet I couldn’t make them believe me, either.

How could I keep doing this? I’m exhausted and my soul hurts—from their anger and pain. My own fear. 

Sweat beaded on my forehead again. My stomach rolled. Their anger hadn’t dissipated at all. Not at all.

And it was directed at me now for not giving them what they wanted.

“Please…” My head swirled as their…despair…started to surround me. Their grief was the sharpest knife I had ever felt. I slumped against the mattress. Defeated, at last. “I feel…so ill…”

“Enough!” the healer brother jerked to his feet. “This is getting us nowhere!”

He came right at me. Big and forceful and terrifying.

I flinched. I cried out and backed away, trying to bring my bound hands up between us. There were no flashing lights before my eyes. No. Everything went dark, then light again, and dark again. Light again. 

I was so dizzy.

And then…I lost it. 

I vomited right there on the floor of their ridiculously opulent suite, missing his shoes by inches. I wept. 

Begged the goddess in my head to just make my life what it used to be. 

And then I screamed as the lights came. Louder than I ever have before. Even though I knew it wouldn’t matter at all. The goddess had forsaken me long ago.

As the lights consumed me I heard Boldek yelling for Navix to hand him more of the demon brew…that I needed it desperately now. 

Before I shattered. 

Didn’t he understand? I already had.

I felt his healing gift around me then, as he offered demonspirin for my pain. But it was far too late. Far, far too late.

I don’t have their answers. (Journal Entry #73)

His hand went around my waist, and he lifted me—straight off my feet. 

I opened my mouth to scream. His other hand was already there. Then they just carried me away while my guard stood back and watched. 

I fought. I kicked. One lucky kick had my left foot connecting with Selton’s nose. He grunted. 

“Stop that!” his brother growled in my ear, far too close to my neck. “We won’t hurt you, female. But we will have our answers.”

I hissed against his hand, snapping and biting as much as I could. It was useless. Dardaptoan warriors are huge. I weighed a third what he did. 

But I had three times the determination of these four jerks combined. 

I kept fighting and kept fighting as he carried me back into a private hall. A private hall for the Jareth family that I have never been in.

Once they got me behind those walls, I could disappear forever. Security cameras aren’t exactly prevalent in the more private areas of the hotel, after all. 

I bit back a whimper when his hands tightened on me. 

“She’s a fighter. I can see why a wolf would pick her to while away the time. Quite beautiful. Unusual,” said the brother holding me. The hand over my mouth slipped. I pulled in a rush of air. “It’s ok, female. We’re not going to hurt you. You’re going to tell us what that wolf did with our sister.”

I bit him. As hard as I could. My fangs sank deep. He swore and fumbled me. I prayed he’d drop me.

He didn’t. 

Instead, his hand returned to my mouth and tightened to the point where I could not breathe. 

“That’s a good female,” I heard him say in a patronizing tone. “You just go right to sleep now. Don’t worry. We won’t hurt you…that’s a good girl…as long as you tell us everything you kn—”

Darkness took over. The last thing I felt was myself going limp in his arms.

Well, I’m Dardaptoan. We don’t stay out for long. 

When I opened my eyes, my hands were bound—with a Jareth-green hasha. We were in a room with similar green accents. The hotel, then. 

The brothers were arguing. 

None of them were even looking at me. 

I closed my eyes enough to look like I was still out, leaving them open just enough to watch my abductors. I forced myself to breathe steadily and evenly. 

“You’ve tied the female too tightly,” one brother said. He was close to me. I forced myself not to react when I felt his warm hands loosening the hasha around my own. “She’s three inches shorter than Meyka, and forty pounds lighter, for Goddess’s sake. What sort of threat could she pose?”

“She has the answers we need. She’s the only damned being in this goddess-forsaken place that does. Or have you forgotten that?”

Selton. That one was Selton—I’m almost certain of it. I’m starting to really despise that warrior. 

Maybe I should develop grudges against the Jareth House, in general?

“Does she? Or does she happen to just be a female he found interesting?” Another brother asked derisively. 

He grasped my chin in his fingers and turned my head to the light. 

I couldn’t help it. My eyes flew open, and I stared into his face. 

“That is most likely it. Just a comely female he whiled away the hours with,” he said in disgust, releasing my chin. “Perhaps she rejected him, and he went for Meyka instead. Or she wasn’t enough to satisfy an animal of his appetites. She looks rather frail. Unable to please a male of his…lineage.”

I couldn’t stop myself.

I’d show him frail and unsatisfying.

I snapped at him with my teeth. It truly was the only defense I had left.

I got him, too. My teeth sank in deeply enough to draw blood. And then I clamped down when he swore. 

He raised his other hand back. I couldn’t help it; I didn’t mean to flinch like a coward. 

But I didn’t want him to hit me. They had already abducted me—what was to keep them from striking me, too?

I let go of his hand and shrank back on the bed. I stared at the four of them, wondering just what in the Goddess I was supposed to do now.

That was the first moment I realized they’d tied me up and dumped me on a bed.

“I will not hit you!” he said harshly. As if the mere thought of it offended him. 

“Of course, she thinks you will,” the quietest brother spoke again. I looked at him. I have met him before. I am certain of it. His anger was directed at his brothers now. “She is weaker. And she is terrified. It wasn’t that long ago she was nearly killed by demons and some of their damned poison. I seriously doubt she helped a Lupoiux abduct a female tonight. From what I know of her, she just hides here in the hotel, trying to avoid the demons and mercenaries after her.”

In the Healers’ Hall. He was one of the healers who wanted to see what the demonspirin had done to me. “What do you want from me?”

“All in the three hells we want is our sister back,” the fourth brother finally said, as the one nearest me fussed with blankets he’d tossed over me. “What can you tell us about the wolf that took her? We know you have information we need. You’re going to give it to us.”

Why wouldn’t they just get it? I don’t know a thing about Ryrk and why he stole their sister! 

“I-I don’t know where she is. I don’t!”

It got real complicated next. (Journal Entry #72)

Her name is Meyka, she is the same age as I am, and we have known each other since we were young girls. Were even playmates at times. Her mother is a second cousin of Theo’s. And she is just…gone.

Her four brothers are nearly sick with worry, so I’ve heard. 

I ran into Selton, the youngest brother, in the lobby the day after Meyka was abducted. He glared right at me, as if I knew exactly what had happened to his sister. 

I don’t. 

And I told him that. I don’t think he believed me. 

I prayed to the Goddess, though I doubt she heard my prayers, for Meyka’s safety. Meyka is a professor of psychology at Dardanos U. Back when I was still taking classes on campus we grabbed coffee in the quad a few times. 

Rumors are saying she was taken right off the highway on her way home.

I have done nothing wrong. 

I don’t care what anyone here in Hotel Dread-anos has to say. 

Needless to say, I hid myself away in the private library for most of the morning. The new guard—who I strongly suspect is the one who first told Cormac and Aodhan about my so-called date with Ryrk—just followed along behind me, a suspicious look in his eyes.

Maybe it’s male Jareths, in general, I do not like. 

Them, or Adrastos.

Although…Mak is an Adrastos. 

I miss him. I’ll admit it. 

Of course, maybe it was just me building wishes in my head where he was concerned. I mean, it was a high-drama situation. Maybe my feelings for him weren’t all that real, after all. It’s been weeks; I don’t know what I believe about anything any longer.

I have now kissed a total of four males in my life (wow, I so get around! Insert sarcasm here!). There was a neighbor when I was sixteen and too young to know what I was doing. There was Barlaam under the mistletoe, Mak, and now Ryrk.

None of them are the male I am destined to be with, of course—since that male doesn’t exist, remember?—but I have enjoyed every kiss I have received.

But why must all this drama accompany the males I kiss?

I’m longing for my little room on the farm right now. In that room, everything made perfect sense.

Here, not so much. 

I checked out another book—this one on the five most-common demon languages—and returned the one about demon battles. I made notes from it yesterday, for Alaun, but it wasn’t a super-interesting read. 

Demons were battle-hungry creatures. And each battle was listed, along with strategic movements and casualties. 

I did find the sections on the Beskre, Phrymos, and Paleos demon battles mildly interesting, though.

Probably because Kellis is seriously intrigued by that ballad we found.

So is Alaun. She wanted me to find more research.

And Goddess help me, she wanted me to talk to the first demon guard I could. Ask him if he would mind being interviewed by my sister!

Dear Demon prince or king, or whatever you are, would you mind answering questions for me about your…romantic habits? You’re an Incubi? Even better? It’s for research! No! I don’t need first-hand experience…well, if you insist…

Maybe my next dinner date will be a demon?

I was walking down the hall from the library to the main lobby when four tall males in Jareth green suddenly surrounded me. 

I looked for my guard—who liked to walk fifteen feet behind me for some reason—but he was standing with his back to me.

He didn’t care at all that Selton and his brothers had cornered me. Not at all.

Some guard. 

Fear had my mouth going dry and my hands tightening on the books in my arms. I looked at Selton, the only one I knew at all. “H-have you found Meyka yet?”

Another, taller warrior wrapped his hand around my elbow and pulled me closer. One of his brothers took the books from my arms and the bag from off my shoulder. 

Selton pulled me nearer. I tried to hide the fear. 

I met Selton’s gaze straight on.

Fake it until you make it, Kellis always said. 

“No. And you’re going to tell us everything you know about that bastard Lupoiux.” The tallest, most frightening of the brothers said. “You’re the only one he’s been friendly with here at all. We have been told you helped him plot to steal our sister. Now you’re going to pay for it.”

I just looked at them. Terrified. 

Why didn’t they understand? I had no idea what had happened to their sister.

I certainly wasn’t involved in any plot. 

Why does it keep getting so complicated? (Journal Entry #71)

I really need to learn how to keep my doomsday thoughts in check. Those thoughts just seem to invite trouble.

At least for me.

I had no sooner laid down on the bed when someone was pounding on my door. Yelling.

I grabbed a quilt and wrapped it over my thin sleep vestis and hurried to the door. I was expecting Kellis. 

Or expecting that something had happened with Blaire. Or her sisters.

I wouldn’t let myself imagine something had happened to Ambrea or the rest of my own sisters.

When I peeked into the hall through the peephole, Aodhan and Cormac stared back at me. I opened the door, certain something had happened to someone that I cared about. My first thought was for Kellis—she was on duty late, after the demon stole that healer.

“What has happened?” 

“You tell us,” Cormac said. “You were the one getting chummy with the Lupoiux.”

“Ryrk bought me d-dinner.” 

“So we heard,” Aodhan said, pushing his way into my suite. 

I fought an angry response. I might be stuck here at the hotel because of demons wanting to kill me—or whoever else wanted the fifty thousand dollars—but while I am here, I deserve my space being respected. “Ever ask for an invitation, Equa Adrastos?”

“We don’t have time for that,” Cormac said, following his large friend. They dwarfed my little suite like the warriors they are. 

“Wh-what is going on?”

“Did the wolf tell you what he was planning?” Cormac demanded. 

“He is here to speak with Rand Taniss.” I backed up at the fury on his face. Cormac was one of the scariest males I have ever met.

“Sure, he is. And him abducting a young female from Cormac’s House this evening was mere coincidence,” Aodhan said, rifling through the notes on my small desk. I’d had Theo order me a cheap desk when I decided I was going to dig as deeply into demons as I possibly could. I fought fury at seeing it so violated now. “You doing research into the demon world now? Planning to become a Predatoi?” 

There are no female Predatoi; everyone knows that. He held up a book that listed every known demon battle with Dardaptoans to have ever occurred until its most recent publication a few years ago. 

“It is for my sister’s books. She pays me to be her publishing assistant now. I have to have a way to earn a living s-stuck here. I am not exactly wealthy, like some, you know.”

“What exactly did that bastard say to you this evening?” Aodhan asked, crossing his arms and looking down at me. He was the tallest male I have ever seen.

“We just talked. He told me of his family. Of his travels. He asked about me and why I am here, but I told him little of that. He…is not a bad male, just hurting.” The last escaped before I could stop it, but these males—they were very, very angry right now. 

“Odd that he was seen having a romantic dinner with you hours before he carried off my cousin,” Cormac said, stabbing hard at my head. “What do you know about that?”

I cried out, vaguely aware of Aodhan chastising the other male. 

The blow to my mind was so hard I almost fell to the floor. Only Aodhan’s hands stopped me from dropping to the floor at their feet. 

“Cormac! Enough! Good Goddess, look at her. She’s not strong enough for that!”

Aodhan lifted me and carried me to the small loveseat. When I could breathe again, Cormac sat on the coffee table in front of me, a mug of tea heavily laced with the cheap blood wine Kellis had left in my small minifridge two days ago in his hands. “I apologize, female.”

“Jume. My name is Jume, not female. I am Dardaptoan, too.” I looked up into his eyes. Only the worry in them had me softening toward him at all. “I have known you both for fifty years or more. Does that not count for something? The Lupoiux and I had dinner together, he walked me back here, kissed me, and then he was gone. That is all.”

“You had a very narrow escape then,” Aodhan said. 

“How so?”

“A young female from Cormac’s House was abducted tonight. By that Lupoiux. No one knows where he has taken her.”

“Unless you do?” Cormac asked softly. Sinisterly. “Jume?”

I really do not like him at all. I pity his poor female, being stuck with him.

I just shook my head. There was nothing else I could say.

I kissed a werewolf…and I liked it. (Journal Entry #70).

I called Alaun. She was the only one of us that would be up that late. There is no way that I am ever going to sleep now. 

I doubt any of us have ever started a conversation with the words I used tonight. 

“I kissed a werewolf. And I liked it.”

Alaun thought I was joking at first. Well, we all know that I wasn’t. 

Alaun was full of questions. Research questions starting out. How tall was he? What color were his eyes? Did he smell different than a Dardaptoan male? Those kinds of things. 

Then she got serious—and started asking how I thought about what had happened. And what was I doing close enough to a Lupoiux to be kissing him, anyway. 

She said she’d wanted me to get out and live a little, but she never would have expected this.

“He saw something about my future, and it terrified him,” I finally said, after we were winding down the conversation. “I don’t know what I think about that. He said…he said the worlds were going to change. And we would all just be along for the ride. I’m not certain what he meant.”

My sister asked if I wanted her to come stay with me for a few days. 

I considered it, but I didn’t want Alaun anywhere near this hotel and the demons that seem to be everywhere. 

Kellis, at least, can protect herself. Mostly. Alaun would be like a babe tossed into a ten-foot swimming pool. She’d try, but…

Alaun isn’t exactly the brave the demons type. She’ll write about them—but actually getting close to one, well, that is never going to happen…

Not that I am, either, for that matter.

I had finally ended the call with my sister around three a.m. and settled into my bed. I seriously doubted that I am going to sleep easy for a long, long while. 

What had Ryrk seen, and what had terrified him about me?

I’m not exactly the type of female that great destinies await. 

I know that deep in my very soul. I am a quiet female, content with my family, books, throwing pots, and planting a garden. 

That is really all I want from my life.

I want a quiet, restful life, with my sisters and hopefully the babes they will all one day have for me to spoil and love. 

Dear Goddess above, is that too much to ask?

Kisses and more…Questions. (Journal Entry #69)

I enjoyed dinner with Ryrk. He’s an ancient Lupoiux. An Alpha, with seventeen brothers and one sister. He is from a small village in eastern Europe and has been all over the world. He is an archiver—his task is to record every oral history of the Lupoiux people into written form.

Well, as he’d told it, not every pack was happy about that. He had the scars to prove it. He spoke of those scars as if they were battle badges. To a male warrior of any Kind, perhaps they are?

He is in Dardanos to hire some of Rand Taniss’s pack to serve as guards for him while he is in our country. 

And he wants to leave his sister with Rand Taniss, too, as he doesn’t trust many of the other packs that are around here. 

He is questioning leaving her at all after today’s attack. I don’t blame him. His sister is just twenty-six (same as my Julea), and he has never left her for more than a few days before. 

He needs a safe place for her, as their brothers are involved in something incredibly dangerous in the Ukraine right now, and his next project is expected to take weeks. He wouldn’t say much more about that. 

He did promise to bring his sister Solan to meet me tomorrow. 

And when he walked me back to the sixth-floor elevator—the guard wouldn’t let him get off on my floor—he leaned down and kissed me. 

Just swooped and did it. Right there in front of the guard! I rather think he may have been doing it to make that guard even more irritated than he already was.

Unlike Mak, who was far less aggressive about it, Ryrk just kissed me.

I didn’t know what to do, but I ended up with my arms around his waist and pressed right up against his hard, hot chest. 

I’m not sure if I kissed him back exactly, but… I enjoyed it. 

He pulled back and put one hand on my cheek. His thumb brushed my lips lightly. I just stared at him. What else could I do? 

“I…I…” 

“Shhh. If only…but we are not meant for one another, kitten. Though I would wish it so…”

I looked up, and into his brilliant blue eyes and knew. 

This male was a very powerful ancient—and whatever he had seen of the future had terrified him.

And it involved me. 

Questions, Questions, Questions (Journal Entry #68)

Well, my plans to eat alone and dare anyone to smirk at me and my cheap cotton vestis and pardus and serviceable cotton hasha in Woald yellow were completely derailed.

The instant I entered through the exclusive dining room doors, a lone diner stood. He was darkly clad and looking so dangerous I almost did a double-take. He would most certainly be a dark and mysterious hero in an Alaun Woald novel.

He just gave me the shivers when I looked at him. 

Ryrk came right to me. He held out his hand to me. As if I was the female he had been waiting for all the while. I have to say, he is an extremely attractive male. I felt my cheeks flame when I realized all eyes in the restaurant were on us.

I couldn’t help but wonder if all Lupoiux looked like male perfection? 

Maybe the reason I have no Rajni is that I am fated to be a Lupoiux mate? That…may not be so bad. 

If the wolf was just like Ryrk.

Even though I sensed he was very, very dangerous—I also sensed a similar kindness in him that I did in Tol—it was just buried in hurt in this male. That had me wondering about him, and about his story. And had me letting him lead me to his table. “Kitten, I am very pleased to see you this evening. I trust you fared well after the altercation?”

“The demons didn’t hurt me,” I said. “Not really.”

“I’m speaking of the healing chamber. And those…fools…who seem to think they have control over your life.”

“Well, they don’t. I am…demons are after me, and there is a bounty on my head.” I blurted it out, even though I had been cautioned to keep that secret to myself. “I am staying here where they can keep me safe.”

“They are failing at it, then.”

“I-I’ve rather noticed that for myself.” Somehow, I let him lead me to his table. 

The waitress hurried to take my drink order. Ryrk nodded at me, expectantly. I didn’t know what to say! I have never been in such a fancy place in my entire life. 

Maybe it had been foolish of me to consider coming here alone. 

“I hear the blood-red wine on the menu is supposed to be an…excellent vintage. You blood drinkers seem to prefer it. And from the price…”

“I should probably not eat here, then,” I said. “I just…wanted to celebrate the fact that I am still breathing. Coming here was an impulse.”

“My stay has been comped, kitten. By none other than the dhar of this place itself. Dinner…is on me.”

“Oh, but I…”

“Oh, but you will. As thanks for my saving your life. You will keep me from eating alone. None in this place dare to venture near the Lupoiux in their midst. They are frightened little rabbits, your people. Especially the females.” He smirked, but I saw it. There was a deep hurt and dissatisfaction in him. But no…malice.

At least not toward me. 

Now the Jareth guard that was now sitting at a table fifteen feet away from us—well, I sensed Ryrk wasn’t too keen on his presence. 

Well, neither was I.

“It is that the Lupoiux have been attacking our people for decades. When I was young, a pack came to our farm and tried to drag me and four of my sisters off. Fear is a powerful motivator. And now there are Lupoiux in our hotel, just weeks after Cormac Jareth—the male in green today—after his mate was viciously attacked by Redd Gothan Lupoiux in the public gardens. We’re a little on edge now.” And Ryrk was terrifying. Different from a Dardaptoan. He seemed far more dangerous, for one thing. 

And very, very mysterious.

“Wars will not be resolved in just days. It will take far longer than that for our people to not wish to kill each other. But not all of us Lupoiux are dangerous monsters. Dangerous beasts, perhaps. But not monsters. Tell me, kitten: What is it that demons want from you?”

Well, that was the question of the night, wasn’t it?

Vacation at Hotel Dread. (Journal Entry #67)

I had no choice. I ended up back in my suite. I took a long, hot shower—my room wasn’t glamorous enough to have a tub—and stayed there until the hot water heater was empty. 

Demons had nearly killed me. Again. 

Nowhere was actually safe. When am I going to finally realize that? 

The hotel certainly isn’t safe for me. 

I’m just warehoused here. Probably until the inevitable happens, and I end up on a demon’s piece of toast or something. 

Even with the heat of the shower, I still had to fight the chills. 

I’m going to die. And it’s going to be at a demon’s hands. 

I’m going to die after having barely lived.

Well, Jumena Kerrann Woald wasn’t going to go out that way. 

I dressed in the best vestis and pardus I have here at the Hotel of Dread. I fixed my hair in the most elegant style I could. 

I am going out. I am going to be with people, my people. Whether they are Woald or not. 

I may be destined to die, but I am going to enjoy every single minute I have until that happens.

There was no guard waiting at the end of the door now. Not until I stepped out of the elevators in the main lobby. There was a third guard. He introduced himself as Tol’s replacement.

I have to say that set me back a little. Tol had been replaced. The guard didn’t say it, but I just knew it was because Aodhan and Kierce and Cormac thought he had been derelict this afternoon.

Those…those assholes. 

To tell you the truth, I’m really starting to despise them. In so many ways. 

This guard wasn’t nearly as friendly or open as Tol. He just stood with his arms crossed over his Jareth-green vestis and watched me. “Should you be out here now, female?”

Female? Apparently with this guard I did not even warrant a name. “I am Jume. Please u-use my name and not f-female. Most of us think f-female is quite rude, you know.”

He just watched me, from dark-gold eyes. As if he was judging me—and finding me lacking. His vestis and pardus and hasha were of the finest silk. His watch cost probably more than my family’s entire food budget for a year. So why was this male warrior merely a guard to me?

I don’t know. But I don’t like him. At all.

I most certainly do not trust him. It’s just a feeling I’m getting at the moment.

“I am going to treat myself to dinner in the restaurant on the second floor.” Where only the wealthiest of Dardaptoans could afford to eat. Well, Alaun had paid me two days ago. She’d included a bonus—the same she would have with Landrey—once the most recent book hit its initial sales goals. 

I am going to celebrate tonight.

Celebrate that I am still alive, anyway.

I am not ready to be locked away in my cell for the night.

He just followed behind me, big and dark and hulking.

One good thing I can say about my enforced vacation at Hotel Dread: I am no longer intimidated by strong warriors watching my every move. I am almost starting to get used to it.

I am…Forgotten. (Journal Entry #66)

I left you hanging yesterday, and I’m sorry. There was a massive storm again, and it knocked out the hotel’s entire electrical system before I could finish the post. It took hours for it to come back online. 

I am 99 percent certain the storm was caused by what happened in the courtyard with those demons. Who knows? Maybe the statue sucked all the demon bodies back up again?

The healers in the Healers’ Hall were able to give Ryrk something restorative. He was back to full strength within a matter of moments. Marea, a young healer I have met once or twice, efficiently treated his wounds. She didn’t seem the least bit afraid of him. 

Even though he was a strong, very dangerous creature. 

Tol texted the head of security about the attack.

I found myself being interrogated by them again. Aodhan Adrastos, Kierce Adrastos, and Cormac Jareth. 

The three musketeers of intimidation. 

They asked so many questions and so rapidly that Ryrk stood from where the healer was examining him and crossed his massive arms and challenged the three male warriors right there in the small healing chamber. Demanding to know why they were harassing me, after I had been so viciously attacked! Asking if this is how all Dardaptoan females are treated.

Well, that just ended up as horribly as you can imagine. 

I ended up telling Cormac again that I knew nothing about what was happening in this place. And then, feeling more fire than I have in a long, long time, I demanded of Kierce to know what he was doing to find the ones threatening me in the first place. Or if he had bothered to do anything at all? 

I will admit, staying in the hotel these weeks, I am getting a bit more forward in my words than I have been before. 

Maybe a part of me has just…let my sisters do my speaking for me?

Not exactly something I am proud of.

I asked all three males the question that had been burning in my mind for weeks now: Have they just put me on the sixth floor and forgotten about me

None of the trio could give me a satisfactory answer. But at least, they know now that I am not going to just be pushed around any longer. 

I can’t. 

I won’t just stay up here forgotten forever. 

I can’t. I may not have a Rajni but I have a full life left to live. 

I can’t do that if I’m stuck in a two-room suite at the back of the sixth floor.