Bind the Soul by Annette Marie

“Of course,” he agreed without looking up. “I will be leaving at seven for the gala.”

  Unable to bring herself to utter anything pleasant to end their conversation, she walked out.

  Uncle Calder waited for her in the hallway. His expression was anxious as he came up to her. He searched her face. “Piper—”

  “Do you think he cares?” she asked. “About what I went through trying to save him? Protecting that damn Stone? Maybe it ended up being you and not him who I saved, and maybe I lost the Sahar in the end, but I still . . .”

  “He knows, Piper,” Calder murmured. “He appreciates it. He really does.”

  “You think so?” She stared blankly down the hall. “You know what my mom said? She told me she was proud of me. I don’t ever remember Father saying that. Not even once.”

  “He loves you, Piper. He wants to protect you.”

  She didn’t believe him. Couldn’t believe him. Maybe protecting her was a part of it, but he also wanted her out of the way. To get his embarrassing failure of a daughter out of sight so she couldn’t mess up his career anymore.

  “I’m going to my room. I don’t want to be bothered.”

  “Piper . . .”

  Tears threatened at his obvious concern. She turned and looked into his eyes, at the open caring in them and the worried wrinkle between his brows. Her mouth trembled. Why couldn’t Calder have been her father? Why did she even care what Quinn thought at this point?

  Calder opened his arms. She collapsed into his hug, shaking with sobs as all the hurt inflicted by her father overwhelmed her, worse than any injury from her Styx fights.

  . . .

  Piper stared into the mirror.

  Her hair was done. Her arms ached from two hours of painstakingly curling and pinning locks into an elegantly messy twist at the back of her head, with long curls dangling artfully around her face. She’d dismantled an old necklace and woven the chain with its tiny clear crystals through the twist.

  Her makeup was done. A dramatic dark outline with black eyeliner made her eyes pop, the smoky look completed with plum eye shadow to complement her green irises. Three coats of mascara made her eyelashes properly thick and dark, and a touch of blush and wine-red lipstick completed the look. Thankfully, she didn’t have any pimples to cover up. Even more thankfully, the makeup hid any sign that she’d been crying for an hour that afternoon.

  Yes, from the neck up, she was ready. Her gaze dropped to her t-shirt and stained sweatpants and panic simmered in her belly. What would she wear? She had nothing. Nothing.

  She went back to her bedroom and stared at the mess. Every article of clothing she owned was scattered around the room. Only three things waited on the bed for her decision: a short black dress, a dark gray pantsuit, and a sundress. She glared at the offending clothing. How could she not own a single fancy dress? She glanced at the clock beside her bed: 6:43. Miysis was picking her up in two minutes! Where had the last half hour gone?

  She pulled her sweats down and worked her shirt off without touching her hair. Her black bra and panties were lacy and pretty—her only appropriate garments, pointless because no one would see them. Unless she had a repeat of her visit to the Styx. Grimacing, she pulled on the little black dress. It wasn’t nearly formal enough, but it was better than the pantsuit and way better than the sundress. She yanked on strappy black sandals and wrapped the silk ties halfway up her calves. Her only jewelry that wasn’t cheap or gaudy was a pair of diamond studs from her sixteenth birthday. And, of course, Lilith’s truth pendant. Best she could do.

  Kneeling beside her bed, she pulled out the final piece of her outfit. The Glock 26 wasn’t the smallest handgun available, but it was compact enough that the thigh holster tucked neatly under the fluttery skirt of her dress. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was better than going unarmed.

  She didn’t like guns. It was too easy to kill someone with a gun. Consuls weren’t supposed to kill people. Bladed weapons were way better for self-defense. With a gun, you either shot the person or you didn’t. With a dagger, you could hold them off, scratch them up, or outright stab them—non-fatally if you knew what you were doing. Darting back into the bathroom to make sure the outline of the gun didn’t show, she glanced at her pale face in the mirror and knew exactly what she’d do with the gun if Raum showed up again.

  Trotting back into her room, she checked the time—6:54, damn it—and turned toward her window. Then she looked at her sandals. Maybe not.

  She crept to her bedroom door and cracked it open. The hall was empty. She grabbed her little clutch purse and slipped out. Was she sneaking out of the Consulate a second night in a row? Yup. Too much to hope that Quinn and Calder wouldn’t notice. If she’d had any chance at all of talking her father out of Westwood Academy, she was about to blow it.

  Holding her breath, she tiptoed down the stairs and into the foyer. Her heels hit the marble floor with a loud clack. Wincing, she slid to the front door in near silence and pulled it open. Twenty feet away, idling on the U-shaped drive, was a shiny, black car. She stepped onto the front stoop.

  “Piper?”

  Her heart jumped into her throat as she looked around. Quinn stood at the top of the stairs inside the Consulate. He looked striking in his black tuxedo, even with the white bandages on his head. As he stared, his expression morphed from confusion to disbelief to outrage.

  “Piper!” he roared.

  She bolted, arms flailing for balance as she ran for the waiting car. The back door opened. She caught a glimpse of Miysis before he moved back to make room for her.

  “Piper, get back in here right now!”

  She dove into the darkness of the car. Miysis reached across her and pulled the door closed as the car began moving. Piper glanced out the window in time to see Quinn running across the lawn after her, fear stamped across his face. Her insides squirmed with guilt. He couldn’t know who owned the black car and he couldn’t have seen Miysis in the shadowy interior. All he’d seen was his daughter, wearing a dress for the first time in years, sneaking out to a mysterious car with unknown occupants one night after he’d found out she was possibly participating in illegal activities. She hoped he didn’t think she’d just been picked up by a pimp.

  Miysis eased back into his seat as the car sped up. She pulled her skirt down to where it belonged and gave him a quick once over. Her heart sank. He looked like a million bucks in a smoky gray tux with a silvery vest and a fancy-collared shirt. His honey blond hair was tousled in a perfect mix of messy and deliberate and his golden-green eyes almost glowed in the dark interior of the car.

  Sitting next to him, she looked ridiculously cheap and underdressed. His gaze flicked over her stupid little dress. He opened his mouth to speak.

  “I didn’t have anything to wear,” she wailed before he could complain. “I didn’t have anything.”

  “I know,” he said with a hint of a smile. “That’s why I brought you something.”

  He pointed to a long garment bag hanging beside him.

  She blinked. “You bought me a dress?”

  He smiled, by all appearances totally serene. “You didn’t think I would let my date go in rags, did you?”

  “Your—your date?” She gaped at him. “I’m going as your date? I—I thought you were making me one of your attendants or something.”

  Daemon royalty always had a gaggle of advisors, attendants, and bodyguards following them around.

  “Really, Piper. How would I explain the daughter of the Head Consul waiting on me? You should be glad I didn’t have a date already.”

  “But—but—” She goggled.

  Miysis was one of the top-ranking Overworld daemons. Going as his date was like going to a coronation with a member of a royal family. She never imagined he would go out on a limb like that for her. The entire political community would be gossiping about it for months. She might be the Head Consul’s daughter, but compared to Miysis, she was a dirt-poor commoner.

  “But aren’t you worr
ied what people will think?” she asked.

  “I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces,” he said with satisfaction. “The confusion and alarm will be priceless. They won’t know what to make of it.”

  She thought about it then shrugged. “I guess if you don’t mind . . .”

  He canted one eye toward her. “Do you?”

  Her lips quirked in a frown. The materialistic and shallow side of her knew she couldn’t do better than Miysis at the most extravagant event of the year. The rest of her didn’t much like the idea. He was way out of her league and they both knew it. He was even looking forward to confusing his rivals by bringing her, since everyone would assume he had some crazy political agenda and wasn’t genuinely interested.

  She leaned into the leather seat. “Well, I’m fine with it as long as you don’t expect anything besides a dance or two.”

  “There is more you could do than just dance with me. The loss of the Sahar has put my family in a precarious position. Even though the situation was beyond our control, it looks like a failure on our part. Until we can recover the Stone, we need to keep our rivals and enemies unsure.”

  “What do you want me to do?”

  The mask of an easygoing aristocrat disappeared as his lips curved into a dangerous smile. “I want you to pretend you’re madly in love with me.”

  “What?”

  “If I control you, I control your father, and thereby the Consulates. That’s the illusion I want to create. That perception of power will keep the peace in the Overworld a while longer.”

  “But—but—” she spluttered. “My father will be there. He’s already furious with me. If he sees me all goo-goo-eyed for you, he’ll ground me for the rest of my life.”

  “His reaction will only confirm the illusion.” He appraised her, his stare cool and calculating. Manipulative tyrant indeed. “I need this to prevent war, Piper. We’ve already made sacrifices because of the Sahar. This is one more.”

  She swallowed hard. “You have to promise to explain it to my father after the gala.”

  “You can’t?”

  “He won’t believe me.”

  “I see.” He considered her. “Agreed. After the gala.”

  She nodded and hunched in her seat. Overconfidence. She had to stop being so damn overconfident. First with Raum. Now with Miysis. With his genteel charm, she’d thought she could handle him. Instead, he’d manipulated her into betraying her father. By pretending to be infatuated with Miysis, Piper would cast further doubt and embarrassment on Quinn, making him look weak. She didn’t care how weak and foolish it made her look. One step at a time, she was destroying her father’s reputation.

  What choice did she have? If she refused, Miysis might become difficult—and she needed his cooperation to corner Micah. Also, he wasn’t exaggerating about the risk of war. Daemons went to war like most people went grocery shopping. Going along with this plan was the lesser of two evils, especially since she suspected anything else Miysis asked of her would be worse. At least this was doable and didn’t involve her owing him any favors.

  She closed her eyes. There would be hundreds of people at the gala. Maybe she wouldn’t run into Quinn.

  Her luck was never that good.

  CHAPTER 6

  PIPER gripped Miysis’s arm and tried to ignore the stares.

  She could almost pretend they were staring at her dress, which was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Rich, iridescent white material hugged her body down to her hips, before flowing to the floor with a short train that fluttered behind her. Tiny flat circles of gold were attached to the material in elegant patterns over her torso and swirled down the skirt, distinctly Egyptian in design. Tiny cap sleeves and a sweetheart neckline made for a modest front, while the back plunged to the small of her back—she’d had to ditch her bra. The entire thing shimmered and glittered with every tiny movement. Considering the looks she was getting, the dress was more than flattering.

  She wished they would stare at their surroundings instead. There was plenty to look at. The main ballroom was a stadium-sized oval surrounded by architecturally gorgeous arches that led to a wide ring where buffet tables, bars, and delicate tables and chairs waited. At either end of the ballroom, massive curved stairways led to balconies that mirrored the oval below. Shimmering silver drapes and white flowers were wound around the pillars. Everything was sparkling silver or pearly white and so intimidating that Piper was scared to touch anything.

  Important men and women strolled all around. Daemons and haemons made up a third of the attendees; the rest were human. All of them were rich. Most of them were political powerhouses. These were the people who ruled the worlds.

  Remembering her role, Piper turned to gaze at Miysis’s face as though she’d never seen anything so wonderful. He tilted his head slightly away from the man he was speaking with—the president of a foreign country, she forgot which—and gave her a small, approving smile. She resisted the urge to bare her teeth at him. She didn’t care how much he’d paid for her dress; he owed her big for this.

  They’d been at the gala for over an hour and she hadn’t had to do anything except smile vapidly, follow Miysis around like a love-sick puppy, and gaze adoringly into his eyes at every opportunity. He introduced her to everyone, but no one wanted to talk to her when they could talk to the Ra heir instead. She endured the questioning looks and acted like she’d forgotten her brain at home. Along with her dignity.

  A few times, though, Miysis had severely tested her self-control. She knew when someone he considered a threat was nearby, because he would order her to fetch a drink as if she were his obedient serving girl. He’d be deliberately and cuttingly rude, like he was daring her to prove she wasn’t obsessively in love with him. He’d talk about her like she wasn’t there—and not nice things. She planned to slap him once they left the gala. Several times. She’d never said he could imply that kind of stuff about her. Her reputation had already been burned to the ground; he didn’t have to grind it into dust too.

  She knew why he was doing it: he had to prove his power over her, and therefore her father and the Consulates, or the charade would be pointless. But if he gave one more important world leader the impression she couldn’t function without his firm male guidance, she was going to kick his balls across the ballroom. See how much power he had over her then.

  Her father would eventually catch up to her. She’d seen him twice from a distance. Miysis had managed to steer them away before Quinn could reach them. It helped that everyone wanted to speak with the Head Consul; he was having a lot of trouble escaping to pursue her. The person she did want to see but hadn’t yet was Micah. The slimy incubus was here somewhere. Unless Lilith had been wrong. Piper wondered again how she would get answers out of him and decided she would just have to wing it. But first, there was one thing she needed to test out.

  As the foreign president and his wife moved off, Piper tugged on Miysis’s arm. He smiled tolerantly for the sake of their audience.

  She gazed sappily into his face as she concentrated hard on his eyes. “Tell me a lie.”

  “What?”

  “Any lie. Tell me one.”

  He pursed his lips. “The man I just spoke with is not unreservedly corrupt.”

  The pendant lying against her chest flashed hot.

  She smiled. “Thanks.”

  “What was that about?”

  “Nothing.”

  “Lie.”

  “I know.”

  He turned his attention to the crowd. “I think I see the Archbishop of—” He broke off, then made a thoughtful noise. “Your father is headed this way. Why don’t you go get a drink?”

  Panic flared through her. Her father was striding purposefully toward them.

  “Um.” She gulped. “Okay.”

  Detaching herself from his arm, she tried to look casual as she hurried toward the nearest archway. Ducking behind a velvet-wrapped pillar, she stepped closer to a buffet table, spyi
ng on Miysis. As Quinn reached the daemon, a face appeared in front of her, blocking her view.

  Piper jerked back, bumping the table. Two young women had approached, both smiling widely without any goodwill touching their eyes.

  “You must be Piperel,” the first one chirped with false brightness. “So nice to meet you. I’m Annabelle. This is Sunshine.”

  Miysis and Quinn confronted each other; the latter’s mouth moved with undoubtedly sharp words. Half the ballroom discreetly watched them. Piper glanced distractedly at the two girls.

  “Sunshine?” she repeated.

  “Yes,” the second girl tittered in an even higher-pitched voice. “For my hair, you see.” She lifted a hand but didn’t quite touch her huge, blond updo, with a frilly little hat somehow attached on top.

  Piper glanced past the woman to observe the tense exchange. Quinn’s hands were balled into fists but his expression was mostly blank. Miysis was smirking. Not good.

  “Piperel, I’m dying to know,” Annabelle said, fanning herself with one white-gloved hand. Her huge, poofy gown looked closer to a wedding dress than anything else. It had diamonds all over it. Some daemon was going to mug her after the gala to steal the diamonds for lodestones.

  “Know what?” Piper asked absently, picking up some sort of chocolate square as she leaned around Sunshine to get a better view of Quinn. His jaw was stiff, face noticeably reddening. Miysis was saying something, his attitude one of complete unconcern.

  “How in the three worlds did you land a date with Miysis Ra?” she asked with a giggle, trying to sound as though she weren’t choking on jealousy.

  “Oh, well.” Quinn stepped closer to Miysis, leaning in, lips forming words Piper couldn’t hear. She edged a little to one side, unable to tear her gaze away. Keep your cool, she silently begged him. It’s not real. Don’t cross that line.

  “Well what?” Annabelle pressed.

  Piper waved one hand dismissively, still watching her father. “Well, the sex is good, you know.”

  Noticing the other girls’ shocked faces, Piper pressed a hand to her cheek as if she were blushing and accidently poked herself with the chocolate square. She quickly stuck it in her mouth to hide her mistake.

 
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