Her fingers became talons again. She lunged with a wild shriek, using all her force to drive them into the wood flooring. Coming to a dead stop, she launched herself to her feet. Dragging claws from the boards. Breathing heavily, she faced him across the hall. He felt the roots of magic she planted. Invisible rope won’t budge her now.
Her chest heaved with her breaths.
He stayed human as he faced her. A brawny golden giant. But only a man, nonetheless. His eyes vivid gold, sparking in the shadows of the hall.
Tilting his head, he acknowledged she was a formidable foe. “Are you not as intrigued by what I am, as I am you?”
“You merely want to destroy and leave?” His voice lowered. He clenched his fists reflexively. Fighting the motion rippling under his skin. The creatures inside him writhing.
“Leave laughing.” She added.
We’ll see who’s smiling soon enough.
You don’t want to be my enemy.
“So hateful.” His chin lifted as he eyed her.
She quirked him a dark half-smile as though he’d complimented her.
“I’ll give you tether, Little Harpie. But its length depends on you. Behave and you get more to roam.”
“Who are you to collar me?”
His tone was honeyed. “Well, obviously I cannot trust you, as you are. Fantasies of eviscerating me and all...”
“More of a goal, really.”
My, my, she’s quick witted.
Where have you been hiding?
“Good luck with that little goal, Harpie.” He tossed at her, with a dismissive wave. He turned and strolled the hallway with the bearing of a king despite his half-clothed state.
She gave an animal snarl. “Coward.” She muttered. “You can’t face me as a man?”
Whipping on his heel his boots knocked the floor in a fast stride back at her.
Tightening her body, she stood fast, despite that every muscle in her screamed the desire to bolt.
Waiting for me to strike her? He honed in on her thoughts. Shocked at what he discovered. Fear of being physical hurt despite her power, despite her strength, despite her courage. A basic fear of being outmanned and bodily harmed.
Something a human woman learned long before she became a formidable valkyrie.
As he moved in the torchlight, she saw his chest jerking. Glimpsed the black and gold markings twining over his torso. Elaborate enough to draw her attention.
“Wh-what are those?” She gestured to his chest.
As he closed in, his toes nearly tramped hers. He leaned to put his nose in her face. Reading her fear, he didn’t touch her.
“I’d not strike you, Harpie.”
But someone did. When she was only a tiny human woman.
“Every man will strike a woman with the right provocation.”
A wild breeze tore down the corridor, disturbing his hair from the side of his neck where she saw gold scales crossing his shoulder and climbing the column of his throat. Glinting in dim torchlight like precious coin.
“Do you challenge me, My Lady?” His voice was quiet.
“Remove yourself from my person, Lord.” She offered his title with equal derision.
“I’m not in your person.” The mocking note in his voice incited her further.
“And if I shan’t?”
She was livid.
Something scraping along the floor drew her attention. She barely caught the movement of something small and dark slipping from shadow to shadow behind the gold lord. Looking for all the world like a miniature version of the gold creature Sebastian became.
“My name is Sebastian.” He grated through gritted teeth. Averting her attention from the creature creeping behind him.
Shaking her head dismissively she lifted her gaze to meet his squarely.
Let her think she imagined it.
“What is it you want?” She demanded.
Relaxing, he smiled arrogantly. Opening his mouth to answer, he was cut off.
“You shan’t have that.” She gave him her back in a flash of white tunic and tan breeches. Several glances over her shoulder revealed her fear he’d hit her in the back.
Why would she think I’d do that? He frowned. Hitting someone in the back is the ultimate act of cowardice.
He noticed distance from him, eased her. He called after her. “Sleep well, valkyrie.”
“Now you call me what I am?” Her pride chaffed.
“I can go back to calling you my Little Harpie, if you wish?”
Her nose wrinkled, and lip curled but she did her best to hide the effect of his goading. Reaching the end of her unseen tether she was yanked off her feet.
He felt the jerk as well. Head lifting, he swept the air with his hand. Gold flecks dissipated as they fell. Their glitter fading in the dark.
The pressure around her waist relented.
She edged along the wall, seeing she needed to get around him to get back up to the second level .
His eyes watched her scooting between picture frames. He didn’t move. He heard her considering fleeing again.
“Go to bed.” His authoritive command floated to her like an echo in these walls.
Without conscious thought her feet turned and took her to the stairs and up into an empty chamber. At least allowing her to refuse the one he’d designated for her. This one was closer to the end of the corridor.