It starts, of all places, in a gas station.
A gas station at the farthest edge of the farthest sparsely-populated area which might reasonably be called a suburb of Oklahoma City, which in and of itself (once upon a time) would have been the farthest place from Darcy Lewis’ reality, but. Well. Things happened. People came. Crazy hot aliens came. Crazy hot aliens went. People went. Reality went out the window, and Darcy stayed behind – until it was clear that it was time to leave. Or time for her to leave, anyway, to find her way back to reality, her reality, six science credits be damned.
So it is here that she finds herself, in a threadbare convenience store attached to a threadbare gas station in this windswept, threadbare outpost of civilization, the majestic desert landscape of New Mexico having given way to nothing but flat, flat, flat open spaces and sky and nothing, nothing but this interstate that she’s been driving for hours and hours (and will keep driving for days, most likely), all by herself in Jane’s (
borrowed stolen borrowed, okay, because Jane freaking disappeared, like Erik before her) rickety white van, and fuck her life if she’s not almost excited to drive through Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City. As if.
But she is excited, a little bit, for real, because she’s never actually been there before, and even if she’s only driving through there are certain to be lots of other people around. Other people who might not all be either crazy hot aliens or whacked-out shadowy pseudo-government operatives, and there might also be tall buildings, and decent radio stations (if she’s lucky) and decent food (if she’s luckier) and maybe, who knows, maybe she’ll find a nice, inexpensive, anonymously suburban motel – one that’s not attached to a truckstop and therefore practically an invitation to be mugged, raped and/or murdered - and actually get some sleep. And a shower. Oh, god, a real shower, with an endless supply of hot water and those cute little shampoo bottles that she always winds up stealing.
So she hums to herself in happy anticipation at thoughts of soft beds and adorable miniature toiletries just ripe for the picking and actually does a little dance of glee (which really just consists of bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet a bit), just enough to burn off the sudden burst of energy - but not enough to actually catch the attention of the grumpy, wide, leathery-faced old woman behind the cash register who’d use Darcy’s hip-shake as an excuse to give her the stink eye again. First, though, she’s going to get something to drink with the two dollars that she has coming back from filling up the van and then, she thinks, (drumroll please) she is going to get this show on the road. To Oklahoma City. Oh yes. It’s gonna be epic.
Except, of course, that’s when Loki finds her, leaning face-first into the cooler, her head wedged into the glass door and her ass blocking the narrow, dusty aisle, debating the relative merits of Diet Coke (ahh, the old standby) vs. Red Bull (wakey-wakey!) vs. Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper (hello, high-fructose corn syrup, but yum) and she’s still humming to herself and so intent on not screwing up the monumental decision that is her next drink that she doesn’t even notice yet another crazy hot alien appearing out of thin air behind her. That is, until he speaks.
Darcy freezes at the sound of her name, spoken by a voice that she does not recognize, with an accent that she cannot place, in a gas station where nobody, and she means nobody, should know where she is. She wonders for a split second if the voice belongs to a cop and she is about to be busted for grand theft auto, but realizes that there’s no way that any policeman in freaking Oklahoma could possibly sound like that and that furthermore, there was nobody left in Puente Antiguo to report Jane’s van missing – unless Jane came back from wherever she’d disappeared to, or Erik did, and Darcy had left a note besides.
(J - wtf, it’s been two weeks, where the hell have you been!?! I’m going back to school. CALL ME. –D. ps, borrowing the van, you can have it back.)
So. Not a cop, then.
The power-point preso in her head flashes ahead to the next worst-case scenario: one of those aforementioned whacked-out shadowy pseudo-government operatives that messed with Jane and stole her iPod. But (she hopes) they’ve really got better things to do than pick on totally innocent, nearly-broke college students (Who ‘borrow’ vans, a shadowy part of her brain whispers) in the middle of freaking Oklahoma. After all, they already took her iPod, and she cannot think of any reason why they would be after her now. Especially since the van is a total piece of shit.
Right. She can deal with this.
She pushes down her rising panic and exhales hard, blinking, and very carefully straightens up and very carefully does not whack her head on the glass door of the cooler as she very carefully turns around. Because that’s totally something that she would do, and she’s decided that it is very important to be calm, cool and collected in this situation. Whatever this situation is.
Until she actually sees the owner of that voice, and the words calm, cool and collected suddenly aren’t in her vocabulary any more. Because it’s not some Secret Service wannabe, leaning casually against a shelf full of faded, dusty bags of fried pork rinds, it’s some extraordinarily tall (extraordinarily hot, that same shadowy part of her brain whispers) dude dressed like an extra from a Queensryche video, if metal rock-opera video extras have crazy bright eyes and crazy wide smiles and generally look just kinda … well, crazy.
Crazy hot alien, her brain helpfully provides, and she doesn’t know for certain but she thinks that it’s probably right, and suddenly she wants to kick her internal power-point preso because this? This is the #1 worst-case scenario, right here.
“Um.” Her voice sounds kind of strangled and she clears her throat. “I, ahem, no, sorry. I think that you might have me mixed up with someone else. I kind of get that a lot –”
He laughs then, a low evil chuckle through artfully pursed lips. He narrows his eyes and straightens his stance to loom menacingly over her.
“Foolish girl,” he rumbles in a low tone, “your falsehood is neither plausible nor convincing. I am well aware that you are unquestionably the very person whom I seek.”
He straightens his arm, which until now has been loosely dangling at his side, his hand partially hidden by his long leather coat-like-thingy and flowing green cape (a cape!) and Darcy’s eyes widen in alarm as she sees a short spear, its menacingly curved tip glowing blue, suddenly in view. “You will come with me at once.”
“The hell you say,” she gasps, and does a sort of sideways lurch so that she can yank the cooler door back open and duck behind it, swinging it into the arm holding the spear as she scoots backwards and darts around the nearest shelving unit. She quickly calculates the distance (about twenty feet) and number of obstacles (the candy aisle, a display made up of stacked beer cases, a spinner rack of ancient dog-eared greeting cards) between her current position and the door. She wishes she had her taser, currently tucked safely in her bag in the van, but why would she have thought that she’d need it, how could she have expected to bump into yet another crazy alien here in a shitty gas station in bum-fuck Oklahoma?
“Shit,” she breathes, and he laughs again, a little louder, and suddenly, somehow, materializes right in front of her. “Shit!” she screeches this time, and takes a wobbly step backwards as he raises the spear. “Don’t kill me! I didn’t do anything! I swear!” She risks a glance over to the cash register, where the bitchy old battle-axe is staring out the window, completely ignoring Darcy and the crazy guy with the spear. “Hey! Help! Call 911! Please!”
He follows her line of vision and chuckles again. “It appears that your would-be rescuer is somewhat … preoccupied.” She does a double take and notices that the old woman is stock-still facing the window, not moving at all despite the commotion, and that the one other person in the vicinity (outside at the gas pumps) is frozen in place as well. Loki’s gaze returns to her, sharp and assessing, and she now knows what a mouse feels like when it first sees the cat.
“Please!” Darcy’s voice is shaking now, along with her whole body, and she’s starting to feel jittery from fear and adrenaline. “Please, I don’t know what you want, just don’t kill me, please,” and she’s aware that she is babbling as she tries to imperceptibly back away from the pointy tip of the spear, its eerie blue glow now even brighter, looking out of the corners of her eyes for something, anything to put in between her and certain painful doom.
He grins then, back to the wide-eyed crazy, and the spear edges ever closer to her chest. He’s moving much too slowly to stab her, though, and she thinks for a minute he’s not going to kill me. Still, she wants no part of whatever is about to go down, and before she can even think about it she’s grabbed a box of candy bars from the shelf and flung the contents in his general direction. He snarls in surprise as the (Twix, awesome, her stupid brain not-so-helpfully supplies) bars bounce from his leather-clad chest with soft thwaps and plop to the ground, but by then she’s made it to the beer cases and is just feet from the door.
Keep moving, keep moving, she repeats over and over in her head as she blindly scrambles for the exit, but just as her fingertips reach the metal handle she’s jerked back, hard, by her hair. “Ow!” she yelps. “Fuck, really?”
Another vicious yank and she falls backward, expecting to land with a painful thud on the floor but instead collides with what (she assumes) is her assailant’s chest.
“Language, Darcy Lewis,” he grinds out as he hauls her upright and spins her around by the head, his black-gloved hand fisted in her hair, and she wants to laugh and cry at the same time at the sheer incongruity of being beaten up in a gas station in fucking Oklahoma by a crazy alien while simultaneously scolded for her potty-mouth. “Would that the Tesseract sanitize your filthy tongue.” He raises the spear to her chest and she pulls helplessly against his tight grip on her head. “Be still, you foolish girl,” he hisses, “You have wasted enough of my time with your futile struggles!”
A hysterical giggle bubbles up in her throat as the sharp tip of the spear touches her chest. She shies back instinctively and he growls, jabbing her once again. She jerks away once more and his hand pulls her hair even tighter, bending her neck awkwardly in a shooting spiral of pain, forcing her giggle into a squeak as she closes her eyes so that she doesn’t have to watch as her chest is sliced open.
Think, think, think, the chant repeats in her mind, and just as she feels something warm and tingly and weird buzz against her sternum, she realizes that she still has a can of cold Red Bull in her other hand. It’s all fizz by now, she thinks. She pulls back from the spear again and with trembling hands lifts the can up, up, up, above her head and into the face of her captor. She yanks the tab and hears him roar as the super-carbonated spray hits him squarely in the eyes, the spear clattering on the tile floor as his hands instinctively move to his face.
This time, arms and legs pumping, she makes it outside, heaving the glass door open with all her might and scrambling across the parking lot to the van as the frozen-in-place truck driver outside jolts free from whatever had held him, blinking in surprise. He barely makes it out of the van’s path as she guns it and floors it with one panicked stomp of the accelerator, swinging out of the parking lot and onto the access road with tires squealing and horn blaring. She doesn’t even risk a look back, doesn’t see Loki appear in the driveway behind her, energy drink dripping from his sticky face and a snarl on his lips.
“Next time, Darcy Lewis, I will not be quite as lenient.”
* * * * *
Google Maps pegs the drive time from Oklahoma City to the Culver University campus in Virginia as nineteen hours and some change. Darcy makes it in just over sixteen; bleary-eyed, hungry and shaking from exhaustion. She stopped only for gas and bathroom breaks, half-expecting her intergalactic tormentor to show up at every grungy rest stop along the way and finish his task of killing her. Or worse, she shudders, the image of the glowing blue spear and the corresponding expression on his face etched into her memory.
The chatter on news radio had started to pick up by the time she reached Nashville – reports were still garbled and sketchy, filled with speculation and hyperbole, but she was able to piece together the gist of it: a whole bunch of scary-ass aliens appeared over Manhattan and basically laid the city (along with a huge chunk of the populace) to waste. Their commander – her assailant, she is sure, based on the voice clips – has now proclaimed himself the Supreme Leader of Midgard and is demanding that all humankind submit to his rule. Darcy understands enough about how the military-industrial complex operates to realize that the powers that be must be clamping the lid down on this turn of events, but if this much mayhem is leaking out to the mainstream media despite their best efforts then the situation must be even worse than they’re letting on.
Crazy. Just. Fucking. Crazy. She shudders again as she cruises through the parking lot nearest her apartment, maneuvering the van down the narrow, overcrowded aisles. Like just about every college campus in the universe, Culver doesn’t have enough parking spaces for the number of students enrolled and she can’t find a single open spot. She’ll have to try the garage, then – just what I need right now, she thinks, a fucking hike across the quad while schlepping all of my stuff. Five minutes later, she pulls into the garage, hoping against hope that the van’s roof doesn’t smash into the low concrete ceilings, and begins the slow, careful process of spiraling her way to the top.
It’s just after 6:00 a.m. and the garage is deserted, which is pretty normal for a regular Sunday morning – although she’d half-expected a total meltdown of mass hysteria and an ensuing panicked exodus from school, based on the news reports. Then again, her fellow students are probably still snoring off their massive weekend benders and it’s a bit too early for the helicopter parents to start hovering. Besides, this sleepy college campus tucked into the rolling hills of Virginia is probably one of the safest places in the world to be right now.
Yeah, just like a fucking gas station in Oklahoma, right? Whispers her traitorous brain.
Darcy blinks away the tears that threaten her already blurry vision and gingerly makes the last hairpin turn to the top floor of the parking garage. Luckily, the furthest corner is empty, and she actually has room to back in while leaving an empty spot on the passenger side for unloading. She turns the ignition off and the van shudders, the engine coughing and sputtering and pinging before settling into a foreboding silence. She cracks the window a little bit and leans her head against the cool glass, gulping deep breaths of chilly morning air.
It’s so quiet up on the sixth floor of the parking garage that she lets herself relax a little bit. Even the silence sounds different here: a slight breeze rustling the thick green leaves of the trees, the lush vegetation muffling the chirping of birds, the soft hiss and then snick-snick-snick of a lawn sprinkler off in the distance. The pale, rosy-coral glow of sunrise paints the sky in delicate watercolors, and although she loved her time in the desert … this, she thinks, this is home.
She’s so relaxed, in fact, that she dozes off for just a second, right there in the driver’s seat of the van. Or at least she thinks that it’s only been a second when a clinking metallic tap sounds loudly against her ear and pulls her from a deep, dreamless coma.
She straightens up from her awkward sideways slump, wincing a little bit at the crick in her already sore neck, and realizes with embarrassment that she’s been drooling in her sleep. She swipes at her chin with the sleeve of her sweatshirt and adjusts her glasses, running a hand through her hair before turning to face the window. She’s got an excuse all prepared for the campus security officer when she realizes that (again) it’s no faux-cop standing on the other side of the van door … no, it’s the self-proclaimed Supreme Leader of Midgard himself, back in her life with his unnaturally bright eyes and feral grin and shiny metal-tipped spear tap-tap-tapping on the partially opened driver’s side window.
“Good morning, Darcy Lewis. Did you sleep well?”
This time she can’t even make a noise, doesn’t even move as they lock eyes and stare at each other. She’s so, so tired – beyond exhausted, really, and her brain just empties out under Loki’s hypnotic gaze, neurons firing ineffectually into the void. Seconds stretch out into minutes, time expanding into another dimension as his smirk widens at the sight of her, slack-mouthed and gaping. He slowly reaches for the door, tugging on the handle once, twice, and the realization that she hadn’t yet unlocked it – that she has a single precious second on her side - spurs Darcy to action. She unbuckles the seat belt and flings herself between the front seats into the back of the van, lurching for the rear passenger side door as Loki curses in a language that she doesn’t recognize. An instant later, all of the door locks release with a simultaneous bang and he yanks the driver’s side door open.
He half-leans into the van and reaches between the seats with a long arm, grabbing her by the ankle and pulling her towards him. She shrieks and kicks at his hand, clawing and fighting against his superhuman strength, twisting her torso around so that she can drag herself towards the back doors with both arms braced against the side seats. Her wild flailing causes him to momentarily lose his balance and his grip loosens, allowing her to surge forward and wrench the handles open. Unfortunately, she’d backed the van too close to the wall, and the doors swing out about a third of the way and then stop with a sickening scrape against the cement.
He laughs now, low and throaty, and seems to relish her panic as she realizes that she’s trapped. She turns back to face him. Man up, she whispers to herself. Might as well see it coming.
“My, my, my. How pathetic,” he drawls, ending with a tsk. “It appears as though your luck has finally run out.”
He leans forward again, moving with preternatural grace, and slides neatly between the front seats to crouch before her, spear in hand.
“Now then,” he murmurs, his voice low and gentle, sensual and hypnotic. “Shall we resume this ridiculous dance?”
It’s his sudden attitude shift that completely flips the freakout switch in her brain. Where just a second ago she was ready to face the inevitable, to stand bravely and take whatever he was going to dish out, to know that she’d fought right up until the very end – that was pretty cool, even if it did still suck. But this? Hearing his voice go all smooth and sexy, watching the soft, crazy look intensify in his eyes as he prepares to slice her open with his big pointy spear, and anticipating his intimate whispers tickling her ear as she bleeds out – here in the back of a van, of all places?
Absolutely. Fucking. NOT.
So Darcy does the only thing that she can think of, as she can’t run, can’t hide, can’t tase him, can’t throw candy bars at him and can’t use a can of Red Bull as a defensive weapon.
She offers up a prayer to any god that will listen (but not the one right in front of her, because no matter what Thor might have claimed, these bastards are just fucking aliens) –
* * * * *
Of course it’s not so easy, or so graceful, or even as final as she expected. In her mind, she turned and dove out of the two-foot gap between the van doors, sailing over the concrete wall in a perfect arch and floating down, down, down, surrounded by beautiful aquamarine sky and feathery velvet-green leaves and away from this insanity.
Well, she didn’t actually get that far in her head. Or in real life, as a matter of fact.
In reality, she lurches backwards through the van doors with an agonized “Guh” and hits the wall hard, knocking the air out of her lungs. She has just enough energy left in her legs to push herself up, braced against the rusty metal bumper, to the edge of the railing, hoisting herself halfway over as she struggles in agony to pull a breath into her burning chest. She leans semi-upright and swings one leg, then another over the edge, closing her eyes against sudden vertigo and willing herself to roll over so that she is facing the van, body over the wall, clinging to the ledge with her arms and shoulders, sneakered feet scrabbling for purchase against the smooth outer surface of the garage. Dimly, she hears a startled shout from inside the van and knows that this is it, her last chance of escape, and tells herself that she has to let go.
She doesn’t want to let go.
She really doesn’t want to let go.
But she knows that it is the only way to end this on her terms.
Just as her straining muscles are about to give way, Loki’s hand clamps onto her forearm, his gloved fingers closing tight around her wrist. She looks up and sees the expression of utter shock on his face, his eyes desperate and wild and his skin pale. His mouth opens and closes in horror and for once, it’s his turn to be speechless. But then the strength in her other hand gives out and she slips from the cement wall and dangles there, six stories high, held aloft by only his vice grip on her arm. The bottom drops out from her stomach and she wants to cry, she wants to barf, she wants to scream, she wants to fall, she wants to grab ahold of him and cling to him forever, and she’s never been so utterly terrified in all of her life.
For a second, he looks as though he’s feeling exactly the same things – and maybe even more so – but then he twitches a little bit, and it’s as though something completely shuts down behind his eyes and he blinks. He exhales deeply and sets his jaw, and when he opens his eyes again he’s got the crazy thousand-yard stare back in place. The corners of his lips quirk down and he begins to lift her up, just raising his arm as though her entire dead weight were nothing, and she really, really cannot comprehend why he can’t just leave her alone. Even if that means leaving her to die in a broken, battered heap on the ground behind the West Parking Garage.
The cold, arrogant expression has returned to his face and she knows without a doubt that this is it, that she’s managed to piss him off so thoroughly that he’s really going to kill her – and maybe even enjoy doing so – and she can’t let that happen. He may have claimed her entire planet, but goddammit he won’t claim her. At least not the way that he wants to.
Let it forever be known that Darcy Lewis is a stubborn motherfucker, she thinks, and catches his eye.
With irrational bravado, she cracks a smile that widens to a grin as she reaches up with her free hand and yanks open the zip on her hoodie. She can see exactly when he figures out what she’s doing, and his eyes go wide and shocked again, his lips mouthing “No!” but by then it’s too late – she’s got the sweatshirt open and one arm loose, then it’s off her shoulders and with a little tugging twist her wrist slips completely free of the fabric and out of his grip.
And then she’s falling, falling and not thinking and then –
She lands in his arms.
* * * * *
Even Darcy’s smart-aleck brain has run out of clever ideas by now. She’s still trying to process the whole not dead thing and barely notices when Loki releases her from his grasp and takes an unsteady step back. The only thing to dimly register as she drops to the ground is the chilly, slick softness of dew-covered grass, wet and cold against her bare arms. Instinctively, she weaves her fingers tightly into the strands and uses them to pull herself over, to press her face against the earth, taking deep, heaving breaths as her body shudders apart with exhaustion and adrenaline.
When Loki finally speaks, his voice is hoarse and unsteady.
“I did not realize …” He trails off and braces himself against a nearby tree. “Such madness, to let go … what fear, what desperation, to be on the other side, helpless, to watch as …” He closes his eyes, swallowing convulsively for a few moments.
Moving purely on instinct, hoping to use his current distraction as a means to escape, Darcy gathers the last remaining ounces of her strength and dizzily pushes herself up to her hands and knees. Disoriented, she can’t focus, can’t figure out which way to crawl, and only manages to shuffle forward, her head bumping into Loki’s boots. A frustrated, strangled whine escapes her throat as she unsteadily topples back onto the grass. Her movement breaks his reverie and he looks down at her, his expression pensive.
“Your spirit is impressive, Darcy Lewis. A true warrior soul, unfairly imprisoned in weak mortal flesh.” He considers her for a few more moments. “I must admit, I could not comprehend the full measure of your worth upon our first meeting. Nor did I understand the Foster woman’s desire for your presence.”
The mention of Jane’s name is a lifeline for Darcy, something for her focus on, to cling to, adrift as she is in her current sea of confusion.
“Jane? You found Jane? She is – is she – where?”
He continues as though she had not spoken. “However, I still cannot reconcile your value to the project at hand. It is clear that you lack the scientific acumen to assist in her current assignment. No, I believe that your talents lie elsewhere, and I rather suspect that you will be of further importance to me in the days ahead. Now, come.” He reaches for her, arm outstretched, hand beckoning. “We must be away. Time is of the essence, I am afraid, and we have spent far too much of it on this foolish pursuit.”
Her emotions churning, she shrinks away from his hand. “There’s no – I’m not – you can’t – I just – ”
“Come,” he repeats, as he bends slightly, grasping her shoulder with a firm grip. “You will not be harmed, at least by my hand, of this you have my word.” He waves his other fingers in a complicated pattern and the spear suddenly materializes. He does not threaten her with it, not that she has the strength to resist in any case, and tugs her closer to him. “Be still.”
For once in her life, Darcy obeys, but only because she doesn’t think that she has any choice. She (rather confusedly) considers the promise that he just offered her – wondering just how far this oath of protection actually extends – when suddenly the world pulls away from her, stretching out into an infinite distance of swirling white light and black emptiness before releasing back with a stinging snap against every cell of her skin like a giant rubber band. “Ow! What the – ”
He smirks at her as she rubs her hands against her arms to relieve the tingling. She realizes, with a start, that they’re no longer outside and surveys the room in confusion. “Where are we and how the fuck did we just get here?”
He sighs sadly and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Once again, I entreat you to mind your language, Darcy Lewis. The use of such pejorative vernacular is most unbecoming, especially from lips such as yours.”
Wait, what? Her brain spins. She fishes around in vain for a snarky response, then gives up with a shrug and sneaks another glance at her surroundings. They stand in what appears to be a smallish (but opulent) sitting room, decorated in soothing tones of ivory and taupe, fitted out with elaborate, intricately styled dark wood furnishings, plush fabrics and gilded accents. The décor is somewhere between early Colonial and old-world luxury, but with modern conveniences including a wide flat-screen television and a desk in the corner with an ergonomic work chair. The door beyond his shoulder is ajar and opens to what appears to be an equally fabulous bedroom. “Are we – is this – a hotel?”
“Correct,” he nods, a faint smile touching is lips. “The accuracy of your deductive reasoning is impressive, considering the rather extreme nature of your recent … experiences.” He moves to the window, brushing aside the sheer drape to glance at the street below. “You will be safe here for the time being; your anonymity is assured.” He turns back to Darcy and examines her with a quick, appraising flick of his eyes. “Your constitution has held up admirably despite the strain, but it is patently obvious that you are in desperate need of rest. I ask that you stay here and take advantage of this establishment’s amenities until my return.”
His words remind her of just how exhausted she really is, and it’s suddenly a major effort just to stay upright. Still, the thought of being trapped here – even if this is no prison cell but a lushly padded suite the likes of which she’s never even seen before – pisses her right off.
“I can’t just stay here and wait for you,” she snaps. “I know who you are, I know what you’ve done – what you’re still doing – and you can’t for a minute think that I will just go along with it – especially if you’ve done something to Jane – ”
Frustration flickers in his eyes and Darcy sees him struggle with the urge to flatten her. He manages to calm himself before the crazy takes hold again, and she internally gives him a couple of points for effort.
“I have not harmed Jane Foster; on the contrary, she is currently employed in the pursuit of scientific inquiry on my behalf. I do not damage those who aid me.” He straightens his posture and looks down at Darcy again. “Nor those who … interest me.”
Before she can even respond to this statement, he is back to reeling off instructions.
“I will take my leave of you, and you will use this time to sleep. I shall arrange for food to be delivered after an appropriate interval.” He glances down at her rumpled, sweaty, grass-stained t-shirt and jeans, his nose wrinkling slightly in disdain. “Fresh clothing, as well. Might I also suggest a bath?”
Riled up, she opens her mouth to protest, but he silences her with a finger. “Do not attempt to escape, and do not endeavor to contact any person other than those I send to these rooms. This is for your safety, and mine.” He tilts his head as though listening for something in the distance, although Darcy can’t hear anything other than muffled traffic sounds from the street below. “I must leave at once.” He looks down at her again, a touch of mischief on his face, and pats her head. “Stay,” he tells her, and disappears.
She looks around the parlor in disbelief, confused and exhausted and angry and incredulous and amused – did he just tell me to “stay”?! Really? – and wanders dazedly into the bedroom. The bed is huge – a king – and nearly three feet high, piled with down pillows and a thick white duvet and just like that every thought in her head vanishes, replaced a bone-shaking need for sleep. She moves on autopilot, toeing off her shoes and socks and stripping down to her bra and panties. Crawling onto the bed, she whimpers in pleasure at the amazing feeling of lying on a cloud, surrounded by soft, plush fabric, and burrows into the blankets. Before she can even formulate a plan for tomorrow, her head hits the pillow and unconsciousness overtakes her.