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Kenzie felt the blade of a knife whisper against her throat a moment before her instincts kicked in. She screamed, more to distract her attacker than out of fear, and struck at his hand, clearing the knife from her throat and giving her space to maneuver.
She stomped on his foot and twisted her body, locking the Kru’dari’s arm and grabbing the knife as it fell, holding it to his side where it could sink in and nick his liver in no time.
By the time Mad looked over at her, it was done.
He looked… different. By killing Jadirel he’d taken the man’s place. He was the exile king now, and power emanated from him. But that wasn’t it.
He looked fucking hot. But Kenzie couldn’t get distracted when she was holding a struggling warrior. One wrong move and he’d turn the tables right back on her. Yeah, not going to happen.
Mad strode forward and grabbed the Kru’dari by the throat, slamming him down to the ground. “You dare to put your hands on my mate!”
Mate. Right. Oh. So that was the weird connection she could feel snap into place while Mad had been lying there on the brink of death. It had been almost impossible to focus on the fight with the pounding in her head, but the moment she stopped trying to fight the headache, it had disappeared, and a strange connection was left in its place.
If she closed her eyes, she could still feel Mad. She’d know where he was, and his emotions swam around with hers. Right now, he was riding high on the rush of victory and the anger that this man had touched her.
She wondered what else they could do. She knew he was taking energy from her, but she didn’t feel any weaker. If anything, she was exhilarated. It was as if whatever was between them was causing the energy that lived inside of her to multiply. This wasn’t whatever sick bond Jadirel had forced on his prisoners.
This was something beautiful.
But the look on Mad’s face was anything but at the moment. He towered over the Kru’dari and looked ready to take up the mantle of executioner. She didn’t care if he killed the Kru’dari. The man had willingly worked for Jadirel.
Then again, so had Mad.
Kenzie walked up to Mad and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Back off, big guy. You want to think it through before you make your first execution.”
Mad was frozen over the man for several moments before he let go and stepped back, grabbing Kenzie’s hand and tugging her along with him. The man on the floor held perfectly still, as if he was hoping Mad couldn’t see him if he didn’t move.
“Get out of my territory,” Mad growled at him. “I won’t be nice if I see you again.”
The man ran, and his flight notified the guards at the door that something was wrong. They came running in and four more came from different hallways. They looked at Mad and then looked at Jadirel’s body on the floor.
“I witnessed it,” the Kru’dari woman beside Jadirel’s—Mad’s—throne said. “It was a fair challenge.”
As one, all six guards bowed to Mad. Mad glared at them and held on tighter to her. It was only then that Kenzie realized how nervous he really was. She knew he didn’t want to be an exile king, but he’d just taken on this role.
“Carise,” she whispered. Her sister had to be close. She didn’t know what she would do if they’d done all this work for her to be gone. “And the two beside the throne.”
Mad gave a slight nod and addressed the head guard. “Unchain these two. If they want to leave, give them credits.” He turned to the humans, who both had carefully blank expressions on their faces. His voice softened. “You are welcome to stay for now. I can have rooms made up for you. You’re not prisoners anymore. Your choice.” Then he turned back to the guards. “Give each of them no less than what they were purchased for, plus monthly wages for every month they were held.”
One of the guards opened his mouth, and Mad glared at him. Kenzie probably shouldn’t have found it so hot. But the man sure as hell knew how to command a room.
And he was all hers.
“I want to know how many other people Jadirel enslaved. I won’t imprison them another night.”
One of the guards rushed forward to the woman prisoner and unlocked her collar with shaking hands before moving on to the male. The woman surged forward and one of the guards yelled, but Kenzie stepped between the woman and the guards before the guards could do anything stupid.
The woman towered over Jadirel’s body and kicked him in the stomach with all her might. It would have hurt… if he’d been alive. When she put her foot down, she slipped in his blood, and Kenzie held an arm out to steady her.
The woman’s eyes were wild, and Kenzie thought she would run. There was nothing to say to her that would make things better. Kenzie said nothing at all. The woman looked back down at Jadirel and spat.
Then she looked over at Mad. “I want a shower. And clothing.” She made the demands like she was asking for a pile of gold.
Mad nodded. He looked to the nearest guard. “See it done. And if you are inappropriate with her, the punishment will be severe.”
Kenzie never thought she’d see a seven-foot-tall alien cower, but it was a day of firsts. “Carise,” she said again. She was getting anxious. What if someone had taken her already? What if she was in trouble again?
“There was another human brought here,” said Mad. This time he looked at the woman who had witnessed his challenge. “She looks a lot like my mate. Her name is Carise. I want her brought to me.” Then he turned to the guards. “And I want this mess cleaned up.”
“We can send for servants,” said one of the braver guards.
Mad started to nod, then paused. “Are those servants paid?”
The head guard nodded quickly. “Yes, sire. The only slaves are the ones Ki—that is, the ones Jadirel kept for himself.”
“Very well. Have this place cleaned. And bring Carise to us in the antechamber.” He led Kenzie through the guards into a side room she hadn’t noticed before.
Once the door closed behind them, he slumped against it, most of the bravado going out of him. Kenzie wrapped her arms around him and let herself fall into the hug. He was huge and comforting, even if she was supposed to be the one comforting him.
“I’ll have them make up a nice room for Carise. I don’t know where she was forced to sleep before. But it will have a big bed and a window. You’ve found her.” Mad was making promises, but he didn’t move from where they were holding each other.
Kenzie was supposed to feel happy. And she was. Distantly. But sheer relief had flooded out everything else. After two years, she was about to be reunited with her sister once more. She could barely believe that this day had come.
But what did that mean for her and Mad?
He’d just taken power of a territory on Guerran for her. He was a king. And maybe one day he could get a pardon and go home. She was about to take Carise and get as far away from Guerran as a person could.
And yet Mad was her mate. How could she leave him behind?
How could she ask him to go with her?
There was a knock on the door, and she stepped back from Mad.
He offered her a grin. “She’s here.”
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