An instant scowl formed on his face and he pulled her chin upward, jutting it toward the sky in an awkward angle. “What is that?”

Sienna couldn’t answer, her jaw was locked closed in his large hand. He released his hold on her chin only to pull her toward a patch of sunlight breaking through the trees.

He was less abrupt this time, but cupped her chin again, peering closely at her face. It was too close. He was too close. The Matrix Diamond Officer brushed his thumb across her cheek and when she involuntarily let out a gasp she understood what he was talking about.

“Oh,” she breathed out.

“You’re hurt.”

She tried to yank away as hot shame filled her. He grabbed her arms, refusing to release her and she lashed out. “Let me go!”

Officer Epherion looked down at her. “Sienna. Listen to me. I’m not going to hurt you. Do you understand?”

She shut her eyes. “Says the man taking me to Lord Darius.”

“Shall I take you back to him?”

Sienna peeled her eyes open.

“Did he hit you anywhere else?”

“What the hell does it matter? You are taking me from one abuser to another.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know exactly what I’m saying. I want to be free. I want you to let me go.”

He shook his head. “You don’t understand. There are a hundred Niles. Wherever you go, another man like him will find you.”

She winced.

“To let you go would be to abandon you to the same fate.”

She opened her mouth and then closed it.

“So you’re going to get on this horse and come with me. It’s your best chance of survival.”

Sienna wiped at her eyes. Had she been crying? She blinked up at Epherion. “This is madness.”

“It’s the way of the South.”

There it was again. “Then may all the gods curse the South!”

The officer paused and leaned into her face. For the first time his perfectly composed features took on a menacing edge. “That is blasphemy and I would advise you to never use such words again. Were you to say such a thing to Lord Darius it might just mean your head.”

Sienna caught her breath as he pulled back from her face.

“You would do well to remember that.”


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