The lights flick on, and a cold voice speaks behind me. “How dare you.”
I turn around and see Archduke Devrim Levanter in the doorway. A thrill of fear goes through me. I’d forgotten how striking he looks in his scarlet uniform, tall and powerful and with so much presence that I can feel his displeasure with me. This isn’t just my friend’s father I’ve angered, but the head of the Court of Paravel and the King’s Guard.
I put up my hands. “Before you say anything, Aubrey asked me to tell Viscount Karloff that silly story.”
Levanter just stares at me like I’m the rotten spot on his apple.
I start to back away slowly. “She doesn’t want to marry that man and she didn’t know how to tell you.”
Levanter follows me. “Aubrey would never do such a thing.”
I risk a glance over my shoulder as he’s talking. Rats. There’s no other exit. I could throw myself out of a window, but we’re two floors up. “Maybe you don’t know her as well as you think. When was the last time you talked to her? Really talked to her? Go and ask her yourself and you’ll see I’m telling the truth.”
Instead of leaving, he shuts the door behind him. When he turns back to me his hazel eyes are glimmering with sadistic intent.
He doesn’t want the truth. He just wants to punish me.
“I warned you what would happen if I caught you sneaking around my daughter.”
My breath comes in short pants. “You wouldn’t dare.”
The Archduke smiles wickedly. “Wouldn’t I?”
He strides toward me and I dart around behind the sofa.
He halts, seething with irritation, and then starts around the sofa the other way toward me. I move too, keeping my distance from him. Then I pick up my skirts and flee across the room, taking shelter behind a desk.
The Archduke growls in frustration.
“If you cause a scene, people will gossip about us,” I point out.
His eyes narrow, scheming, calculating. Just waiting for me to put a foot wrong. “No one’s going to know unless you lose your head and start screaming.”
“Then I’ll scream!”
“Go ahead. I rather think your reputation will suffer more than mine.”
My heart pounds wildly in my chest. I glance toward the door as if I’m going to run that way and he steps toward it. Then I snatch up a cushion from a sofa and hurl it at his head.
He ducks, and the cushion sails past him, narrowly missing a vase and falling to the floor. A lock of his thick silver hair falls into his face and he brushes it back.
“Think about your daughter. What would she say if she knew what you were doing right now?”
I can see I’ve said entirely the wrong thing. His face suffuses with anger. “You really will use anyone for your own ends.”
He stalks around the writing desk toward me but I take off. I stop behind the sofa, panting, and he comes to a halt on the other side.
“I know your kind, and you’re a bully,” I say. “You hated me the moment you laid eyes on me and for no good reason. Can’t you just admit that you made a mistake when you assumed I was a thief so we can both move on?”
His eyes are darting everywhere, searching for a new strategy to get to me. “Perhaps you’re not a thief, but you still need to be taught a lesson. If I don’t uphold the sanctity of the Court then the country will come crashing down again.”
“I’m going to single-handedly cause another revolution by being friends with your daughter? Prison has made you paranoid.”
His eyes laser into me with pure hatred.
“Did they beat you in prison? Is that why you think that’s the answer to everything?”
He lunges across the sofa, grabs my wrist and drags me toward him. I wasn’t expecting him to move so quickly, and before I know what’s happening he turns me in his arms and has me pinned against the wall.
I try to free myself but his hands are like iron manacles. Damn, he’s strong. Did he do nothing for twenty-seven years in prison but lift weights?
I stop struggling and glare up at him. “Instead of terrorizing me, you should be trying to get to know your daughter. She’s desperate to get to know you better. Do you want to lose her?”
His face is close and those hazel eyes are blazing into mine. “You don’t know anything about us.”
“I know you don’t listen to her. You don’t talk to her.”
His large hands tighten on my wrists and his jaw flexes. Nice one, Wraye. Make him even angrier. I wait for him to speak, but he just glares down at me.
“Get it over with, then. If you could hurry up and ban me from ever attending a ball, I’ll be on my way.”
“No. The Rugovas are one of the First Families of Paravel. Your presence is required until I tell you otherwise.”
I lick my upper lip, thinking carefully. Maybe I can talk my way out of this. “You must be finding this experience crazy, too. Hurtled from one world into another without feeling in control of anything around you.”
I watch him closely, but he doesn’t react.
“I could help you get closer to Aubrey,” I offer. “Maybe in return you could let me be friends with her.”
Levanter’s eyes narrow. “A bargain, Lady Wraye?”
“If you want to think of it that way.”
He lets go of my wrists and slowly stands back. I let my arms drop to my sides. The Ironclad Archduke can be reasoned with, after all.
In a flash, he scoops me up in his arms and carries me across the room. Instinctively my arms wrap around his neck so I don’t fall. “Hey! Put me down.”
Levanter ignores me. His eyes caress my face as he sits down on a sofa with me in his lap. He shouldn’t be so sexy at fifty-whatever he is. Or rather, he can be this sexy, but I probably shouldn’t be noticing.
“Are you trying to scare me? It’s not working.” It’s rather lovely being held by him like this. He smells so good, and I feel weightless in his arms.
“If you take your punishment like a good girl, I’ll think about your offer.”
My eyes widen. “My what?”
“Say, yes Your Grace.”
He means to finish what he started the other day when he had me face down over his lap. This time, there’s no Aubrey to interrupt him. “You’re a bully.”
“If I were a bully, I’d just do it. I’m asking you to take your punishment.”
“But if I don’t say yes then you’ll throw my mother and I out of the Court.”
“I already told you, the Rugovas are required at Court. No one’s being thrown out.”
Yet. He already hinted he had the power to ban us, and what then? “Prison really screwed you up, huh.”
“I’ll thank you not to talk about things you know nothing about,” he says through his teeth.
I watch him carefully, gazing into his hazel eyes. I’ve never been this close to a man before. Is this how they’re supposed to make you feel, small and vulnerable but safe at the same time?
My question is the softest whisper as I gaze at his mouth. “How many times?”
His thick silver hair gleams in the dim light and his strong arms tighten around me. “How many times what?”
“How many times do you…want to spank me?”
“Until I feel that you’re sorry for all the trouble you’ve caused me. My Court. My rules.”