Ashlynne moved through the next few days like a sleepwalker. She was nauseous in the morning, tired all the time. Every time she thought of Falkon, locked up in a cold, dark cell, she wanted to cry. And she did cry.
Constantly. She wept for him, for herself, for her unborn child, for the loss of her parents, who would never see their grandchild. Hassrick had little patience with her tears. Sometimes, when he looked at her, she was certain he hated her.
She counted the days until the wedding, trying desperately to think of a way to make him change his mind. Unable to sleep, she prowled the house in the dark of night. One night she had gone down to the dungeon in hopes of seeing Falkon, but the door had been locked. She had spent an hour punching random numbers into the keypad, hoping she might hit the right sequence, but to no avail. Defeated, she had returned to her room and cried herself to sleep.
Her initial dislike for Niklaus was quickly turning to hate. She had no choice but to accede to anything he desired, knowing that, if she refused, Falkon would be made to suffer for her disobedience.
There were parties and gatherings almost every night in the month before the wedding. Ashlynne would have much preferred to stay in her room. She was nauseous almost constantly and wanted nothing more than to stay in bed and be left alone. Niklaus was coldly unsympathetic. He didn't care that food and wine made her sick to her stomach or that dancing made her dizzy.
Putting up a good appearance was everything to Niklaus. She was his fiancee, and she had to play the part, had to pretend she was happy and eager to wed him. She must smile and laugh as if her whole world wasn't falling apart. Dance with Niklaus's friends. Listen politely to conversation that bored her to tears. Be agreeable to his mother, respectful to his father.
The days passed quickly, too quickly. And soon the day of the wedding was upon her.
Ashlynne looked at herself in the mirror and grimaced. The dress Zahara had chosen was green. Puke-green, she thought, with a shoulder-length veil and soft-soled slippers.
A short time later, she stood beside Niklaus, fighting the urge to vomit as she spoke the words that made her his wife. It was like a nightmare, only worse. There would be no waking up from this one. Tomorrow and for all tomorrows she would still belong to Niklaus.
It would have been the happiest day of her life if the man standing beside her had been Falkon.
Falkon. Pain twisted through her heart whenever she thought of him. She had begged Niklaus to let her see him again, but he had adamantly refused.
The last time she had asked, he had threatened to activate the controller if she bothered him about "that man" again.
And now she was Mrs. Niklaus Hassrick. She stood in his arms, stiff and
unyielding, as he lifted her veil and claimed his first kiss as her lord and husband.
"Smile." He hissed the word at her as they left the church.
She did as he told her, smiling and laughing like a robot as she accepted the congratulations of the wedding guests.
Later, she sat beside him at the lavish twelve-course dinner that followed the ceremony, danced the first dance with him, the second with her new father-in-law. She accepted more congratulations and good wishes, and all the while she was dying inside.
It was near dawn when the party ended. Exhausted and sick at heart, Ashlynne followed Niklaus up the stairs to his chambers, which occupied the third floor of the house.
She stood in the middle of the sitting room. It was a masculine room, decorated in shades of dark brown and rust. There was a telescreen on one wall, a shelf filled with old books and an antique clock. There was a large basket of fruit and a bottle of champagne on the marble-topped table beside the sofa.
"Sit down, my dear," Niklaus said. He removed his jacket and tossed it over the back of a chair.
She sat on the edge of the luxurious leather couch, unable to still the trembling in her hands.
Niklaus sat down across from her. Opening the wine, he poured a glass and handed it to her.
She didn't want it, but she drank it anyway, hoping it would calm her nerves.
"Relax, my dear." He leaned back, his legs stretched before him, one arm flung over the back of the chair. "You needn't worry. I've no intention of bedding you."
Her surprise must have shown on her face, for he laughed softly. "I'm afraid I've no taste for another man's leavings."
"Then why did you marry me?"
"All in good time, my dear. You look tired. Why don't you go to bed?"
She didn't question him, didn't care, at that moment, why he had been so determined to marry her. All she wanted was to be alone. She put her glass on the table and stood up, then hesitated. "Where should I sleep?"
"Never let it be said that my manners are lacking where my new bride is concerned. Please, take my bed. I'll use the couch."
With a nod, she left the room.
Falkon paced the dark cell. Today was Ashlynne's wedding day. Hassrick had visited him earlier to make sure he knew.
He stared into the darkness, wondering if Hassrick intended to leave him down here in isolation until he went slowly insane. Weeks and weeks of darkness, relieved only when one of the servants brought his meals.
Oppressive darkness, so heavy he felt as though it were smothering him.
Nothing to see. Nothing to do. He had lost track of time, didn't know if it was day or night. Only the arrival of food broke the endless monotony, and even then he was left to eat in darkness.
It was her wedding day. Was she alone with her new husband now?
Sharing his bed? The thought burned through him, eating at his soul like acid. She was his. His, dammit! She carried his child. What right did Hassrick have to marry her? He drove his fist into the wall again and again, a wordless cry of jealousy and rage rising in his throat, emptying into the darkness.
The sound of his own scream jolted him back to sanity. Pain exploded through his hand, up his arm. He cradled his wounded hand, feeling the warmth of his blood fill his palm. Stupid, he thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Filled with bitter despair, he sank down on the floor and closed his eyes.
Ashlynne, forever lost to him.
Her hands were still trembling as she removed her wedding gown. In spite of Niklaus s declaration that he didn't want her, she had locked the door.
Naked, she stood in front of the mirror, one hand splayed across her belly. Falkon s child was in there. Falkon. She closed her eyes, wondering if she would ever see him again. Niklaus intended to use Falkon to keep her in line. She stared at her reflection, her eyes widening as a new thought occurred to her. She would do what Niklaus asked, but with one proviso. She would insist on seeing Falkon. She would tell Niklaus that she had to see Falkon so that she would know he was still alive. She would insist on seeing him once a week, just to make sure.
The thought of seeing Falkon again made her smile. She had thought of him all day, wished it had been he standing beside her when she spoke her vows.
Slipping on the pale blue nightgown Zahara had chosen for her bridal night, Ashlynne crawled under the covers and closed her eyes, and in her mind Falkon was there beside her, his arms warm around her, his eyes dark with desire....
She woke to find her bags packed and breakfast waiting.
"You'll have to hurry," Hassrick said. "Our flight leaves in an hour."
She blinked up at him. He hadn't made any mention of a honeymoon, nor did she want one. "Where are we going?"
He nodded. "I'll wait for you downstairs."
"Wait." She sat up, holding the covers over her breasts. "What about Number Four?"
"What about him?"
"Is he going with us?"
"I won't go without him."
"You are my wife now," he reminded her. "And you will do as I say."
"He belongs to me, and I won't go without him."
He regarded her thoughtfully for several moments, and then nodded.
"Perhaps it would be wise to bring him along. Hurry now."
Falkon blinked against the morning light. For the first time in weeks, he was outside again. He drew in a deep breath, filling his lungs with the scent
of fresh air, of earth and grass. He didn't know what Hassrick had planned for him, and at the moment, he didn't care as long as it got him out of that dark hole.
A shuttle waited in front of the house. Hassrick's bodyguards stood nearby.
One of them opened the back door and motioned Falkon inside.
He glanced over his shoulder at Hassrick. "Where are we going?"
"Where's Ashlynne?" he asked, then reeled back as Hassrick struck him across the face, the heavy ring on his left hand slicing into his cheek.
"You will not speak my wife's name again," Hassrick said. "Now, do as you were told."
Anger boiled up inside Falkon. There was little he could do with his hands shackled, yet he had an overpowering urge to try, and only the sight of Ashlynne coming down the stairs kept him from attacking. By Jupiter's rings, she looked like an angel. She wore a dress of some clingy pink material that outlined every curve. Her hair was coiled atop her head and held in place by a jeweled clip; one long curl fell over her shoulder.
She stopped near Hassrick. "What's going on?" she asked, nodding in Falkon's direction. "What happened to him?"
"Just a little discipline," Hassrick retorted. "Get in. We're late."
One of the bodyguards shoved Falkon into the backseat and sat down beside him. The second bodyguard took the other side. Hassrick activated the shackles on his feet.
Moments later, they were speeding through the city toward the space dock.
Ashlynne settled herself in her seat as the cruiser lifted off. Pulling a palm-sized portareader from her pocket, she selected a book and pretended to read, but the words on the screen were a blur. She was going home, only her home was gone, her parents were gone, and she was as much a prisoner as Falkon. She had dared not protest when Hassrick locked him in the cargo hold. She could still see the angry cut on his cheek, the-blood dripping from the wound, the barely restrained anger in his eyes. She had to be careful, for both of them.
The Hassrick cruiser was sleek and fast. Hassrick rode up front, with the pilot, leaving her blessedly alone.
Now that it was too late, it occurred to her that she might have made a serious mistake in insisting Falkon go with them to Tierde. In her anxiety to have Falkon with her, she had forgotten that Drade was waiting on Tierde.
They arrived at Enjine Base Nine late that night. Hassrick had called ahead and made arrangements for a room. Ashlynne bit back her protest when Falkon was taken to the detention level, telling herself it would be for only one night.
Their room was small, just a bedroom with bathing facilities adjoining, nothing like Commander Gasman's lavish quarters. She undressed in the bathroom, then slipped under the covers of one of the twin beds.
She could hear Hassrick's voice coming from the bathroom, though she couldn't distinguish the words. She wondered who he was talking to so late, but she didn't really care. Tomorrow they would be back at the mine. She
didn't want to see it again, didn't want to be reminded of what had happened there, of all she had lost.
With a sigh, she burrowed under the covers and closed her eyes, wondering if the nightmare would ever end.