Love is death. In the searing second installment of Holly McDowell’s King Solomon’s Wives, lives hang in the balance as two Wives choose between duty and love.
In the aftermath of a brutal, coordinated attack by male Hunters, the descendants of King Solomon’s harem have gone into hiding. Terrified, hungry, and mourning the loss of their Sisters, they live in fear and isolation, trying to avoid capture and hoping to find a way to reach each other.
Unaware of their plight is Sonya, a rogue Wife who ran away to Las Vegas when she violated the clan’s cardinal rule: falling in love with a man. Now married and coping with her husband’s addiction to the chemicals in her skin, Sonya lives in self-made exile, knowing that if they are discovered, the clan will punish her and kill her husband Ashe.
But when Wives turn up in Vegas held hostage by Hunters, Sonya can only save them by revealing herself, potentially sacrificing her freedom…and Ashe’s life.
Her family, her conscience, and thousands of years of historical bonds are at stake. And once again, Sonya will have to choose between duty and love.
He was a tall, heavy man, so I poured an extra-large dose of chloral hydrate into his glass of whiskey. I shook the drink and watched the powder swirl and dissipate. I set it on the nightstand and then wrung my hands as I waited for him to return from the bathroom. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but this act of thievery—and all my others—was the only way I had of providing for the one who depended on me.
The man stooped to avoid the doorway as he came into the hotel room. His face was red and flushed, probably from the alcohol he’d consumed since I’d met him a few hours earlier. His name, he’d told me at the casino bar downstairs, was Henry Chathem, and he’d come to Vegas from Iowa to celebrate his retirement. When he’d ordered a drink, he’d given the bartender a proud smile and revealed a stack of cash in his wallet.
“I wouldn’t mind a celebration,” I’d told him, thinking of how badly I needed that money.
In the hotel room now, he stumbled over and sat by me on the bed. He seemed uncomfortable in his giant body. His hair was gray and thinning, and he smelled like cigars.
My phone buzzed on the nightstand. It had buzzed on and off the past few hours, but I’d been dealing with Chathem and couldn’t answer. I tried not to look at it, and I tried not to worry what the continual calls meant.
Chathem went right for what he wanted: he slid his fingers around my upper arm. His thumb moved back and forth over my skin. I knew the longer he held my arm, the longer he’d want to because the chemicals in my sweat would draw out his desire. They were a curse but also a weapon for women like me, and they were surely making Chathem feel joyful and confident, more attuned to my breathing and blinking.
“I’m thirsty,” I said, hoping to remind Chathem he might be as well and to encourage him to reach for the whiskey.
He did, but he only sipped it. He set the glass down and touched me with that hand, too. He ran his fingers up my spine and settled them around the base of my neck. He leaned down and pressed his nose to my shoulder. “You smell real nice. Nicer than anyone I’ve been around in a long time.” A crack in his voice revealed unexpected vulnerability. He wasn’t a Hunter, after all, just a normal man, come to Vegas for something more exciting than his daily life. I stared long enough to see something more than the coldness of an object: Henry Chathem was lonely, and he wanted me to like him.
We sat in silence, my heart beating faster than before. I didn’t like thinking he had feelings or needed me.
“Why’d you come up here with me?” he asked. He let the weight of his head rest on mine. “I’m an old man, and you’re young and beautiful. Pretty brown hair. So straight and smooth. Why would you come up to this room?”
I shrugged lightly, still under his weight. “I wanted company.”
“Are you a prostitute?” He quieted, and then I heard the sound of his lips parting. “I don’t have a lot of reason to be proud. I can pay.”
I swallowed. I wanted money, but not for performing that kind of service. “I came up because I wanted to keep talking to you.”
As he moved his hand to my leg, I reached over for his whiskey. I pretended to drink it and held it toward him. Instead of taking it, he massaged my leg and drew up the hem of my dress. He ran his thumb over my hip. He mumbled, “There’s a service here. My friend used it a few weeks ago.”
He clutched me. “They let you hit the girls or do whatever you want. I thought maybe you were part of it.”
As my body tensed, my cell phone buzzed again, and I knew it meant someone was in trouble and needed me. I worked hard to keep my gaze on Chathem instead of glancing at the screen. I finally caught sight of Chathem’s watch, and the time surprised me. It was eight p.m., though I’d thought it was only five. He’d stalled at the blackjack table, and time had passed too quickly.
I couldn’t wait for Chathem to drink and collapse; I needed to get away now. Maybe I could still walk out the door. I could say I wanted a quick snack and never come back to the room. I stood up.
Chathem gripped my wrist and held me in place. “Where’re you going?”
I blinked and gave no response.
“You can’t leave now.”
I needed to leave this room, but perhaps the fastest way to get out was to continue with my plan. Chathem’s assumption that I was a prostitute gave me an idea.
I relaxed my shoulders, my arms, and my neck. I calmly reached over for the glass and handed it to him. I gave him my most compliant expression. “Drink up, and you can do what you want.” I hoped my lips weren’t quivering. I caressed Chathem’s cheek and slowly kissed him. His body went a little weak as a strong dose of my chemicals shot through him. “I am with that service.”
Chathem swigged the whiskey and tossed the glass to the floor. Thank Venus, I thought, though I didn’t believe in the old gods. It was one of those expressions I’d never gotten rid of when I left the clan. I could have used a goddess looking out for me, but I knew none were.
Chathem reached up and grabbed the collar of my dress. He pulled until it ripped open, jolting my body forward. He caught me and pushed his tongue into my mouth. I knew what he was feeling. Every moment of the kiss would make him want me more.
My phone buzzed again.
“Shut that thing off,” he said, as his hand came back toward my neck, but this time, to the front, across my bare collarbone and toward my throat.
“All right,” I said, thankful for another reason to stall. I turned around and held the off button until my phone powered down. Chathem grabbed me by my dress and slung me down on the bed. He shoved me onto my stomach and pressed the side of my face into the mattress so I could barely breathe through my nose.
My thoughts turned to the one who was calling, the one I was trying to protect. Ashe. I’m trying to get to you.
Chathem’s hand pressed my face down, and he unzipped his pants with his other. I couldn’t see whether he was hard and ready to do the thing he’d said he didn’t want to do, whether he was capable with all those chemicals in his system. I tried to wriggle free but his knees kept my hips in place.
Holly McDowell lived in Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina before discovering the magical and inspiring city of Chicago. She can be spotted drinking glögg, searching for the world’s best tapas bar and writing in coffee shops all over the windy city. King Solomon’s Wives is her first novel.