My eyes met his and, although I felt numb, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling the tiniest bit of fear when I saw the fury in his expression.
“I asked you to kill me. I am pleading with you not to wait any longer,” I said.
He growled loudly. “I am not going to kill you,” he said, his tone like gravel.
“Please, your majesty,” I begged, desperation strong in my voice. “I can’t handle any more tests. I cannot go to sleep now, knowing that tomorrow will be like this. I have known for a long time that I would die due to my lack of intelligence and inability to follow rules or do things right. I know that what I have done tonight has finally tipped the scale. I ask you—plead with you to have mercy on me, your majesty. Do not wait any longer. Although I know my infringements may be grave, creating cause for a drawn out death, I beg you not to play with me anymore. I do not deserve to be in this world any longer, this world where I cause so much unhappiness to others—and to you. Please end my life so that my misery and unhappiness I cause others and myself may end.”
The king didn’t move for some time after my short speech. In fact, he processed my words without any sort of violence or growling for the first time that night. I found myself wondering, had I finally said the right thing? Was he going to grant my wish?
But as a few more seconds ticked by without any sort of answer, I couldn’t stop myself from looking up in curiosity. And what I saw when I met the king’s eyes was what surprised me most that night.
The king was crying. Large tears were rolling from his eyes and down to his neck.
He took in a deep breath when he saw me look up. He opened his mouth and then closed it, looking for the right thing to say.
Finally, he asked, “You thought I was going to kill you?”
I nodded without hesitation. “There is no other punishment worthy of upsetting the king.”
His brows came together in confusion. “You didn’t upset me.”
I frowned. “I apologize, my king, I do not mean to disagree with you or correct you, but I am most certain I did upset you. You have almost shifted multiple times tonight, each shift caused by something I did or said.”
He touched my cheek gently and immediately shook his head. “No, no, baby girl. None of my anger was caused by you. Not one bit. I can’t believe that you’ve gone this entire night thinking that it was. I was angry because of the horrors that have been inflicted upon you by this monstrosity of a pack.”
My heart rate picked up. “You are mad at my pack?”
I would have much rather he be mad at me. I owed everything to my pack. They had cared for me since I was a child, clothed me, fed me, provided me with work. I would be dead if not for them. I couldn’t let the werewolf king be mad at my pack for something that I had done.
“Please, your majesty. I apologize for making any sort of requests of you, but please do not bring harm to my pack because of my stupidity. It is not their fault for training such a disobedient slave like myself. They truly trained me well. It is I who have failed to listen. Any punishment should be inflicted upon me.”
"Trained you?” the king barked out. “You call what they did to you training?”
I flinched. I swallowed down my tears. “You are correct, your majesty. There is no evidence of training in my actions or in my seemingly continuous need to argue with you and talk out of turn. And for that, I am unbelievably sorry. But this is not my pack’s fault. It was I who did not listen. It is I who made the decisions that lead to the situation we are in now. This is why I beg of you to kill me and not bring harm upon my pack. Please, your majesty.”
“No,” the king said immediately. “No, that’s not-” He sighed in frustration, running a hand down his face. “I am not mad because of your behavior. You have done nothing wrong. I will repeat that until you believe it. You have done nothing wrong. I am mad due to your pack’s despicable treatment of their so-called ‘slaves’. I am mad because they hurt you, beat you, whipped you, and did—goddess knows what else. I am mad because of the pain they have caused you and the other humans in this pack.” His thumb brushed over my cheekbone lightly as he continued to hold me. “I hate the fact that you are hurt. I hate the fact that you have scars and bruises and cuts all across your body. That is why I’ve almost shifted tonight. Because the pain that you have had to endure is not deserved. I am mad at myself for not being here sooner to stop it.”
I opened my mouth to speak but he clasped his palm over my lips, successfully silencing me.
“I do not want to hear you say you deserved it,” he said in a stern voice. My eyes widened. How had he known I was going to say that? “Listen to me well, my love, because what I am about to say next is extremely important. There is nothing that you can do or say that warrants the appalling things your pack has done to you. Absolutely nothing, you hear me? I know that you have been taught that you are less than for as long as you have worked here but it is not true. And as I said before, I am going to dedicate every day of the rest of my life to ensuring that you know your worth.”
His hand moved slowly off my mouth when he was done speaking. His eyes studied me as he awaited my response with patience.
I couldn’t stop the next words that came out of my mouth. “You don’t want to kill me?” I asked, hope leaking from my tone. I knew it was stupid to ask such a thing but I couldn’t stop the longing inside of me for it to be true.
His expression softened. “No, my love. I could never even consider harming a single hair on your head, let alone killing you.”
Relief like I had never felt before coursed through me. I wasn’t sure why I believed him but I did.
He wasn’t going to kill me. I would live through the night.
An uncontrollable sob crawled up my throat and came spilling out of my lips without my consent. It was loud and sloppy and filled with relief. I slapped a hand over my mouth as I stared into the eyes of the king.
Perhaps I would only come out of this beaten. I had never felt happier in my entire life.
His face softened as he watched me break down in relief in his arms. “Oh, baby,” he said quietly. He pulled me gently into his chest and tucked me under his chin. My body was wracked with sobs and shaking breathing but the king just hugged me close and ran a hand up and down my back. I couldn’t believe that I was seeking comfort from the king of the supernatural. There was just something about the way his skin felt on mine that made me never want to disconnect from him.
He kept whispering how sorry he was in my ear, soothing me with his calm, deep voice. I couldn’t believe how much I loved the sound of his voice.
I had to remind myself that, as much as I loved the way his skin felt against mine and his voice sounded in my ear, I couldn’t let myself become attached to the king. He was trained in social interactions and dealing with people. He would know how to comfort a subject in need even if it was just a worthless human. That’s what made him an amazing king, a worthy ruler. But that didn’t mean that he liked me. He was just doing his job.
It must’ve been at least twenty minutes before I finally calmed down and realized just how close I was to the king. I leaned back and wiped the tears away from my eyes. I tried to scramble off of his lap but he held me there with his strong hands on my waist.
He grabbed my chin and tilted my head up to look at him. “So this entire night,” he said quietly, “you thought I was planning on killing you? And you were just going to let that happen?”
I nodded my head slowly.
He leaned his head back onto the headboard behind him with a large sigh of anger. “No wonder you were so scared.” He looked back at me. “I am not going to kill you. I am not going to hurt you. In fact, no one is ever going to hurt you ever again; you have my word. And I am so sorry that I have let you go the night thinking that and being in so much fear.”
I opened my mouth to question him but I shut it quickly. I have taken far too many liberties tonight when it came to speaking out of turn with the king. He may not want to kill me now but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t want to in the future.
“No, no, please tell me what you were going to say,” the king said when he noticed my actions. “Remember what we spoke about earlier? Always speak your mind around me even if you think I won’t like what you are going to say.”
Well... if he says so. “What about the poison?” I asked in a timid voice.
His body stiffened. “What poison?” he asked. His eyes ran down my body in what seemed to be a panic as he inspected every inch of me. “Has someone poisoned you?”
I was a bit put off by his actions. “The poison you put on my knees earlier,” I explained. “In the bathroom.”
He gave me a confused look. “You mean when I tended to the wounds on your legs?”
“Tended?” I repeated. I had never heard that word before. “You put something clear on my legs that you said was going to hurt.”
“Yes, I used rubbing alcohol to clean your wounds and then healing ointment to help make them heal quicker and to make the pain stop. I said it would hurt but I only meant for a second.” He looked down at my knees in concern. “Does it still hurt?”
I shook my head. “No, it only hurt for a second like you had said.” I dropped my gaze from him, looking down at my fidgeting hands. “I’m sorry, your majesty. I didn’t know what you were doing. I feel very stupid now. No one has ever ‘tended’ me before.”
He lifted my chin yet again. “You’re not stupid. Of course you’re not stupid. Don’t ever say that. You were scared.” He paused for a moment. He searched my eyes with a sad expression. “You really thought that I had poisoned you?”
“Madame Melinda poisoned me once when I was a child. The pain from the poison started as bearable but then grew and grew until...” I swallowed hard, the memory overtaking me. I remembered screaming and crying on the floor, rolling around in misery while other slaves walked past me without sparing me a single glance. The pain must have lasted at least a day.
I looked back at the king who was waiting for me to finish with an intense expression that I couldn’t read.
“The pain was just really bad,” I continued, choosing not to go into detail. “I thought that was what you were doing with the scrapes on my knees. It would be smart to apply that kind of poison to an already open wound as it would surely be more painful. You might consider even telling Madame Melinda about it so that she can use it on me the next time I misbehave. That would surely remind me of my place.”
Something in what I said to upset the king greatly because, the next thing I knew, I was being harshly slammed back into his heaving chest as his growling commenced once again. The presence of his wolf became clear.
“No one is ever going to hurt you again!” he growled in a voice more wolf than human.
I sat frozen in his arms, waiting for him to calm down. I had spent enough time with the king to know that it took him a few minutes to calm down when his wolf tried to take over his body.
As anticipated, the king’s breathing slowed after a few minutes and his body stopped shaking. He took a few more deep breaths before he removed his head from my hair and looked at me with sad eyes. I met his gaze with curiosity and fear.
“You’ve been through so much,” he whispered. He touched the bruise on my cheek lightly. “You’ve been fighting your entire life and don’t even know it.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how to. The things he said made no sense.
“I’m here now,” the king continued. “I’m here and I am going to take care of you. Never again will you be treated like a slave or as if you don’t matter. You’re mine. My mate.”