This post is a slightly updated version to the one you can download. I found a couple of typos while copy-pasting, but didn't want to wait until I had a chance to compile a new PDF to share with you.
The Zodiac Heir Chapter 4 (Part 10)
She should be creeped out. Why wasn't she creeped out?
Because she still didn't believe that this was real. Oh, the crossbow had been real, but this... this alternate reality? This had to be the aftereffect of a recent head trauma, not a hole in the spacetime continuum. She wasn't a famous physicist who devoted her whole life to typing out theories of the universe one letter at a time, she was not the one fate would choose to send on a secret mission to a parallel world.
"Where are we?" she asked, chancing a peek through the single window at the poorly-lit neighbourhood racing past.
His Royal Highness looked puzzled by the sudden change of topic but answered her anyway. "About an hour south of the Shadow of London."
"How far are we from my home?"
"Given our travel time and the hard pace of the horse a handful kilometres, give or take."
"A handful kilometres in which direction?"
"The direction we came from. We left your home ten minutes ago."
She shook her head. "That was not my home."
"The Shadow of your home."
The Shadow of London. The Shadow of my home. If I can't come up with anything better than that I must be in worse shape than I thought."
"You are in lovely shape, I can assure you." His eyes lingered appreciatively on her disheveled form.
Sarah extracted her hand from his loosened grip. "Now I know I'm making things up."
He cocked his head as if trying to follow her train of thought. "You are not, milady."
"I am not your lady. At least on this we both agree. Call me Sarah," she said, when he looked ready to argue.
His moue turned into a blinding smile that turned her insides upside down. Sarah blinked. Nausea could be a side effect of her concussion.
"Sarah," he said, the word rolling off his tongue like a famous poem.
Maybe not the concussion then.
Sarah shook her head. "I remember you flattening me against the wall." And remember she should. Nice men didn't knock women over the head with a brick wall.
"Not just any part of the wall?" he said. "The part with your shadow."
"You want me to believe that I travelled through my shadow to the Shadow of my home?"
"Makes sense, doesn't it?" White teeth flashed briefly in the lantern's glare.
"Only if I lost my common sense along the way."
He started to speak, but again she cut him off. "Let's say I believe all this"—crap—"information you are dishing out. How do I get back to the real...my world?"
"The same way you came here."
"Run into a wall?"
"Any object showing your shadow."
"If I turn around in this seat and knock my head against the backboard of this carriage."
"You are likely to knock yourself unconscious. But," he added at her mocking expression, "if you would hurl your full body against your shadow you would end up scratched and bruised, most likely in front of the headlights of a speeding car."
"Compliance or death. Why does this sound so familiar." She hummed. "Oh, yes, you've used the same incentive before."
His lips quirked. "I wasn't lying. I did save your life."
She had to give him that. No way could she be dead and in this much discomfort. Sarah shifted to relieve her buttocks that kept bouncing most painfully on the solid wooden bench. Had nobody in this blasted world heard of cushions? And why didn't the breakneck speed of the horse affect His High and Mighty?
Sarah narrowed her eyes. At some point during their conversation Jud had sprawled backward and was now resting his elbow on the narrow window ledge. The carriage lurched around another corner and Sarah winced when more bruises were added to the ones she had already accumulated. Jud barely moved.
"You look awfully at ease all of a sudden."
"You would rather I rant and rave when you have no means to escape my ire? Should I loose my temper, while we are hunted by the best killer in the Shadow of London, maybe the best killer in the Zodiac world?" He arched a brow.
"You were close to losing your temper earlier," she pointed out.
"Earlier, my mate was in immediate danger, moments away from being skewered by a bolt."
"And now?" she asked.
"The Scorpion is under order from my father, the King, to prevent our mating. He will not stop until you're either dead or mated to me. I am working on the latter."
"By pointing out my options? Compliance or—"
She flung her arms wide. "It is kind of a theme, you have to admit. Let me go. I'm happy for you to find another queen."
He shook his head. "I am born Gemini. You are my other half. We are destined to be together. Fate cannot be denied."
"How romantic. And such a surefire way to win a woman's heart, not to talk about her lifelong commitment."
"I have no need to do battle with you, Sarah. Your heart and commitment are mine by right."
"You will force me to marry you?"
"I could never do you wrong, even if I wanted to. Your wishes trump mine. Always. Thus is the curse of the Gemini male."
"You are contradicting yourself. I want to leave."
"And if it was safe I would let you, no matter the price to my own life."
"What price could you possibly pay? You hardly know me."
"Yet you own me. I will not see another, hold another, love another for as long as I live."
Sarah stared. "You are telling the truth."
"So I am. But rest assured, there will be no mating if you do not love me back."
"But there will be a funeral." Sarah swallowed. "Mine."
He abandoned all pretence at reserve and gathered her hand in his once more. His eyes burned into hers when he said, "No harm will befall you, this I swear to you. I will protect you with my life. But I must ask you. Do you feel a pull towards me? An attraction, maybe?"
He looked unbearably vulnerable and Sarah swallowed. "I—"
Just then the carriage came to an abrupt halt and the moment was broken. Sarah stared in surprise at the forested landscape.
"Your world has fast horses?" she said, when she emerged from the vehicle.
"As fast as their steam-engines allow."
Surprised she looked up. Sure enough something other than air rose in great gusts from the animal's nostrils. "Amazing."
If she was truly concussed she had one hell of an imagination.
Jud pointed at a small cottage. Smoke curled from the chimney and the windows were bright with warm yellow light. When he led her through the door, welcoming warmth enveloped Sarah in a comforting embrace. The rustic interior was enough to invite even the most hardy traveller to linger.
"You will be staying here, until I can ascertain the Archer will bless our union, if you honour me with your love."
The cottage lost its charm.
He glanced at her. "This is the safest place. You will have everything you need. I will be gone a day at the most."
She looked at the shadows dancing on the wall from the fireplace. "And who is going to keep me from running back to my world while you're having your chat with your Archer?"
"Apart from your fear to run into the Scorpion?" he asked.
She jutted her chin forward.
"I have appointed a trusted guardian."Jud opened the door to the cellar, guiding her into the twilight with a disconcerting hand on her lower back.
A scream ripped from Sarah's throat as she scrambled back...and ran into an immovable wall.