Chapter 20: Dance with the Devil
It was with weary triumph that Carina left the bar. She nodded to the doorman, who smirked and waved as she pulled up her hood and headed towards the alley. Behind her, the thugs filed back inside, no doubt to continue drinking or whatever their normal nightly habits were.
The closer she got to the alley, the heavier the relief that swept through her taunt limbs. Thankfully, with Ghost’s promise to aid her, Carina would likely have no further use for the Fox Den.
The image of Bryson’s disfigured hands pressed against the back of her tired eyes as Carina shook her head and took a deep breath. Alex had promised that Bryson would be returned to his residence come morning.
“Don’t worry, it might be rougher than what he’s used to, but fingernails grow back,” the Fox Master had remarked casually.
As unsettling as Bryson’s injuries had been, it was the mental trauma he had suffered that worried Carina. As an underaged half-blood, she relied on him to keep her business, investments, and research going while she remained the anonymous Mr. Frost.
‘What if he wants to sever our relationship now?’
She rubbed her neck as guilt prickled against her conscience. The tall walls of the alleyway closed in around her like a coffin. Poor visibility forced Carina to slow her pace as she made her way through the inky darkness, bumping into bottles and other unidentifiable forms of waste along her way.
Carina still remembered how protective Bryson had been during the early years of their lawyer-client partnership, how he had urged her to be cautious with all her initial investments. He even insisted on taking her to each business to make sure she understood what and where her money would be invested.
And no matter what insane idea she had presented to him, Bryson never laughed or brushed it off.
“Just let me do some research before we move forward,” was Bryson’s habitual cautionary plea. Even when his research suggested the investment would likely fail, he still listened and complied when Carina pushed him to follow her orders regardless.
Her foresight rarely proved inaccurate, and Bryson had learned to stop questioning her decisions. But he never stopped worrying about her. He even offered to write to Lady Helena’s father, Viscount Gilwren, to see if he’d be willing to become Maura’s legal guardian so she could escape the Turnbells sooner.
Carina had declined. The Viscount was an unknown risk. He might have been Maura’s maternal grandfather, but he had never once shown an interest in any of Lady Helena’s children.
Over six years, Sir Bryson had proved himself a kind and caring man of integrity twenty times over, which made the pain he had suffered tonight all the heavier to bear.
He had known nothing of these thugs, Ghost, and Carina’s future plans once she reached the palace. Even if Alex had pried her name from his lips, that betrayal had not come without a cost.
Her foot caught. Carina stumbled in the darkness and banged her shin into a crate. Once more, the dull absence of pain caught her by surprise.
No, Bryson hadn’t betrayed her. If their positions had been reversed, she would have given him up long before Alex even touched her hands. Without her frozen heart and immunity to pain, Carina was just like anyone else, afraid of torture and death.
‘I owe him a debt I’m not sure I can repay.’
Alex had called Bryson her friend, but Carina had never seen him that way. He was just someone capable she could trust and use. Carina had never wanted or needed friends since coming to this world.
After all, if it were not for her friendship with Jade—she might have never come to Lafeara.
‘I just want to survive, is that so wrong?’
The wind whipped against her with a chill as Carina emerged from the alley and reached Canary Street. A streetlamp illuminated her carriage, which waited where she had left it. The long trip back to Turnbell Manor would sap what remained of her energy, but she was eager to return to Ivy and her bed.
The coachman sat slouched in his seat with his hat pulled over his face. The distinct sound of snoring accompanied the rise and fall of his chest. Carina snorted and shook her head. So much for his earlier concerns. She cleared her throat loudly as she approached the carriage.
The door swung open, and Lincoln reached out to grab her.
Carina pivoted sharply as she backpedaled away from his outstretched hand. His grip caught her robe just as her heel stumbled on the edge of a pothole. She fell and pulled him off balance out of the carriage on top of her. His knee crashed into her stomach and drove the air from her lungs.
“Ha!” Lincoln hissed with a note of pain. “As feisty as ever.”
Carina stared at the stars in her vision as he flipped her over and pulled her arms behind her. Rope twisted around her wrists. Her lips spread desperately as she waited limply for her lungs and body to recover.
Finally, she sucked in a sharp breath of cold air. Then she wheezed, coughed, and attempted to scream. “Get—off me—”
His hand covered her mouth. Then he shoved something foul between her lips. The cotton texture tasted of tobacco and alcohol, and Carina realized it was his handkerchief.
“I saw you sneak away from the manor,” he crowed into her ears. “I knew you were up to no good, but who would imagine you’d wander all the way down here to Pimp Street.”
He pulled her up roughly and hoisted her over his shoulder.
Carina screamed into the gag as she struggled against his grip. Her gaze swung towards the coachman, who remained blissfully asleep, unaware of her plight as his snore continued to interrupt the silence of the otherwise empty street.
“No point in calling out to him,” Lincoln replied with a snigger. “I gave him a little sheep’s wool to ensure he slept soundly.”
Carina’s mind flipped methodically through the pages of medicinal anesthetic herbs. She spotted the bottle of spirits the man hugged to his side, and suddenly she understood. Lincoln had drugged him.
Sheep’s Wool was another name for a sedative, more commonly called Spider’s Purse after the plant from which it’s leaves were harvested. Toxic if taken in heavy doses, but otherwise effective at inducing almost instantaneous sleep. Side effects included long bouts of unconsciousness, short term memory loss, and numb limbs and joints.
‘Fuck.’ So much for thinking Lincoln was a fool. He had thought this ambush out a little too thoroughly.
Carina continued to twist and kick as Lincoln headed further from the carriage and turned down another dark alleyway. He ignored her struggle as he whistled merrily and stepped over the scattered debris that littered their path. His familiarity with the dark alleyway struck her as odd, and a cold fear slithered down Carina’s spine into her gut.
Her efforts against the gag finally paid off as she dislodged and spat it into the darkness.
“Lincoln! Put me down! What are you trying to do?”
He smacked her ass in reply and muttered, “Giving you a lesson. One you won’t forget.”
Terror rippled through her. Unlike the feeling Ghost had aroused, this wasn’t Maura’s fear but her own, and it claimed her body in a sheet of cold sweet. “Put me down!” she shrieked.
“Go ahead and scream,” Lincoln taunted as he continued towards their unspoken destination. “The locals here are used to it.”
Carina didn’t want to know what he meant by that. Instead, she focused on the rope which bound her wrist and the cold magic that awoke eagerly within her chest.
The rope stiffened as frost spread from her fingertips across its cords. Lincoln shivered but appeared not to notice. The fibers became tighter and tighter until they were biting into her skin. Carina sucked in a deep breath and yanked her wrists apart. She heard a slight snap, but the bonds held.
Lincoln laughed, unaware of her true intentions, and then, without warning, Carina found herself tossed down into the darkness.
Only it wasn’t the unforgiving ground that greeted her but a stiff woven surface with springs.
Lincoln dropped down on top and straddled her. His eyes were black shadows in the ally’s darkness, and she felt rather than saw the filthy grin that spread across his lips.
“You don’t look so bad in the dark,” he muttered.
Carina aimed her knee at his manhood, but her dress, caught beneath his weight, slowed her. Lincoln quickly pinned her leg down.
“Not happening twice,” he snickered. “This time, it’s my turn to punish you.”
‘No. No! Don’t panic, Carina.’
She focused on the ropes again as Lincoln’s hands roamed over her body and groped the flesh beneath her dress. Her connection to the magic sputtered and sparked chaotically at his touch.
“Come on, half-blood, why don’t you beg me to stop?”
Carina pressed her quivery lips together as his hand slid around her neck and tightened. She shut her eyes and tried to find the familiar cold light within this spiraling darkness. The animal within her chest scratched frantically as it demanded to be freed. Its panic overrode her ability to think and broke the last strands of her control.
Carina shuddered in agony as the magic broke free. The darkness shattered beneath a blinding light and an inhuman scream.
Her frantic pants filled the air between them with specs of snow.
Lincoln stared back at her with an expression of horror. His hand remained frozen in the small space between them. His pale face glistened with frost. A sharp gasp of pain slid past his blue lips as blood seeped around his teeth and dripped down his chin.
“W-witch—” Lincoln gurgled as more blood poured free and fell upon Maura’s chest.
A glint of silver flashed between them. Around Lincoln’s throat, a scarlet necklace glistened and widened as he struggled to breathe. His green eyes blinked once with confusion. Then he crumpled over onto the frost-covered mattress.
Carina stared in confusion at the blue mask that now loomed above them. She recoiled as Ghost reached towards her and raised her hand in warning. Ice shimmered in the air around her pale white fingers.
Ghost dropped his dagger and knelt slowly. Then he grasped the hem of her dress and pulled it down to cover her. When he looked up again, it was not at her eyes, but at the blazing light that glowed eerily from her chest.
Carina sucked in one shaky breath after another as she waited, for a question, an accusation, she didn’t care. Her hand dropped wearily to her side as the light in her chest grew dim and faded.
Ghost retrieved his dagger, stood, and held out his hand.
Carina didn’t want to be touched, but all strength had left her now that the magic was gone. She stiffened when he knelt beside her again, and this time lifted her in his arms.
“Shouldn’t you be afraid of me?” Carina whispered as she stared up into his mask.
“You’re not the first monster I’ve seen,” Ghost replied.
Then he turned and carried her away from the alley.