The memory of crashing in Victor’s spare room late in the night surfaced. Her hand landed on her phone. Hello?
Jaya pulls out of her anxious daze. I don’t know. Why?Did he claim anyone else?
Not that I heard. Jaya’s breaths shorten to quiet gasps. I—I could not stop shaking.I wrap my arms around her, guilt digging a gulch in my stomach. I have to leave her. I have to leave here. I should warn her, but the confession grips my tongue, reluctant to let go.A gong chimes, and all conversation dwindles to a close. Many faces shine with eagerness. Rumor of the rajah’s visit has spread like ripples across the meditation pond. I release Jaya but stay pressed against her side.
Priestess Mita commands our attention from the front of the chapel. I am certain by now you have all determined the identity of our benefactor. Rajah Tarek was pleased with the variety of your beauty and battle skills. She raises her fingers in a V. He chose two daughters.Gasps fly around the room. They know of Natesa but not of me. The others speculate in hushed voices, and Jaya rests her hand on my knee. I meet her searching gaze and nod. Tears sprout at the corners of her eyes.
Quiet in the chapel. Priestess Mita waits for silence to resume. Both daughters will leave for Vanhi to live in the Turquoise Palace. However, only one will wed the rajah. The second will be his courtesan.
Jaya clutches my leg harder in question. I shake my head. I do not know which I will be.Jake climbs over the ledge, his boots gracefully landing on the pine floor. Let me get rid of these so I don’t get mud all over your floor. He unlaces his boots and tucks them directly beneath the window. Then he shrugs out of his jacket and shakes his wet head like a dog that just had a swim.
A cascade of moisture splashes my face. Thanks, I say sarcastically.You’re welcome.
The next thing I know, his hands are on my waist. No, scratch that—his cold, wet hands are sliding underneath my tank top.You’re so warm. He sighs happily, then rubs his damp hair against my neck.