DG was in the sleep of the exhausted when the van moved again. Cain shifted them so he sat leaning against the cab wall and set DG's head in his lap. His princess muttered, but didn't wake.
He toyed with a tendril of black hair that had escaped her braid. His beautiful wounded princess; what did it say about him that the women who made his heart beat were such fighters? He smiled. Adora hadn't let anything stand in her way either. She had made his worst days as a Tin Man and as a resistor worth going through. DG made life worth living again. He knew how Adora felt the first time they had kissed. But neither of them had lived through what DG had alone. Raw was right, and Cain was going to have to be gentle with her emotions, if very little else about her.
Moving his thoughts, he pondered what to do about this situation. He'd like the six to two odds a lot better if Glitch was with him instead. Plus, their captors had a habit of sticking the shotguns in first.
DG's head moved under his hand, and she jerked harder. She blinked up at his face. "Morning?"
He glanced at the sunlight coming from behind the van. "It still is. You can go back to sleep."
She twisted her head before looking back at his face. "Is this a hint?" She sounded more blunt than coy.
"You needed a pillow. Are you always this naughty in the morning?"
"Must be the company." She sat up, rubbing her eyes. "We're moving?"
"Since the first sun rise. Did you learn any hand-to-hand combat?"
"Only if you count the waltz. Those pigs have thick boots protecting their toes. I can shoot."
"Can you get a gun away from a man who outweighs you?" DG shook her head, and Cain tucked her under his arm. "What about magic?"
"Tutor would say blasting someone was too advanced or too negative or not a dignified image or unnecessary for my station in life. After a while, I asked to see what the excuse would be." She sighed, "I got parlor tricks. I can levitate things and I learned how to manipulate locks, but I have to see it, which I didn't last night. And I can shield and put up a sound barrier."
"What you did back at the inn?" She nodded. Cain pressed his lips together. Her list hadn't sparked any ideas.
"I'm sorry to be so useless." DG stared at the floor.
"Don't call yourself that." He forced her chin up to look at him. "This is out of your realm of expertise. Out of mine too." Her hesitant smile grew wider. "How do you feel?"
"I'm sitting funny because my butt's bruised. My head stopped hurting so I can do magic. I get drained really quick."
Cain's lips twitched. "Planning what to do would be easier if we knew where we're headed."
"There aren't any settlements big enough to hide a thriving slave trade. The Kingdom of Ev is the only other heavily populated realm, but they have a death penalty for slavery. Plus crossing the Deadly Desert."
"Could it be somewhere hidden like the Realm of the Unwanted?"
"The Realm of the Unwanted was around before the Sorceress gave it a population boom." Cain shook his head. "Damnit, these guys have an established route."
DG laid her head against him. "The rest of the kingdoms are a bunch of islands, right?"
"Right, but you can't cross the Deadly Desert in a van." He rubbed her arm as he tried to figure it out.
Her hand rested on his chest like she was afraid it wouldn't be welcome there. "What would you do if I wasn't here?"
Not be in this mess; they wanted you. He had enough sense not to say that out loud. "That still depends on where we're going."
DG's lips twisted. "You think we're leaving the O.Z. So they have to transfer us to something that can cross the Deadly Desert. What can we do then?" Cain stared at the ceiling. "You know I'm not a softie, and I'm not scared of those pigs. But we have to work together."
He wrapped both his arms around her and pulled her into his lap. She curled into the embrace. "I'm teaching you how to fight."
"Thank you, but you know we don't have time right now."
"When did you start making sense?"
She slapped his chest. "Not nice, Wyatt. My suggestions have always made sense."
He curled around her so she couldn't hit him playfully again. "Leave those pigs to me. Stay out of their grasp, that's all I need you to do." He avoided her wide blue eyes. "I can't fight them if they have you."
Her small, callused hand cupped his cheek and turned his head to look at her. "Do you trust me?"
"Since we left my cabin."
Those brilliant blue eyes blanked a moment before her cheeks flushed. "I'll get under the van and disable it. They won't get me there. Does that help?"
"It'll leave them stranded if we can get the horses. If you get a chance to get yours back, ride back to the Great Kells."
DG bit her bottom lip. "Only if you won't freak if I see a chance to use my magic and do it."
"I can agree to that." Cain pressed his lips to hers, needing to taste her. She made a soft sound in surprise, but met his tongue as she tilted her head back. He pulled away reluctantly. "Be careful, my darling girl."
"You too, my Tin Man." He closed his eyes at the thrill going through him when she claimed him. They moved to opposite sides of the van next to the door. He tried to memorize every feature on her body: how her black bangs framed her forehead, how her wide blue eyes blanked when she tried to hide her feelings, how wide her smile stretched, how someone so small fit him perfectly. It was a poor substitute for holding her.
The van stopped but the engine didn't shut off. Cain gritted his teeth and saw DG swallow hard. Two of their captors walked around to the back. He crouched, sparing DG another glance. She stood and pressed against the wall, but smiled briefly.
The redhead and the bald man swung open the doors. Cain flung himself at their mid-sections before they brought up their shotguns. The bald man twisted away, but the redhead landed flat under Cain. He punched the jaw covered in patchy red hair before grabbing the shotgun. He swung it and hit the bald man's paunchy stomach.
He saw DG's boots disappear under the bumper as the bald man doubled over. He hit him across the back with the shotgun before snatching the second shotgun from the bald man's now slack grasp. Cain had just enough time to settle into a stance when the second-in-command rounded the corner of the van on horseback.
Raping DG last night was this degenerate's bright idea, and Cain felt no remorse pulling the trigger. The man with the long brown hair caught the blast in his chest. The horse screamed and continued running, dragging the dead man dangling from the stirrups.
The shotgun was only loaded for one shot, and the one Cain had used as a club wouldn't shoot now. Hopefully, there were more weapons in the cab of the van. The engine spluttered and died as he headed around to the front.
They had parked on the edge of the O.Z. The yellow grass of the Grasslands ended a few clicks away in a cliff dropping into the Deadly Desert. The grey sand dunes stretched out to the horizon.
A large wooden ramp descended into the grey sand. On top of the ramp was a sailboat that had two sled runners down the length of the hull. He had heard the sand-boat fleet had been destroyed.
But more importantly, their horses weren't here. "Thea, fix the van! No horses!"
"Shit!" came muffled from under the van. He let her handle the mechanical; two more men charged from the boat and no extra guns were visible in the cab.
Cain recognized the bearded man DG had kicked, so the man with the grey muttonchops must be their leader. They pinned him against the van with a punch to the kidney. Cain braced himself and punched the grey-whiskered jaw. It rocked the leader back, but he returned a blow to Cain's temple.
While his head rung, the bald man punched Cain's stomach. He doubled over and the leader kneed his head. Cain stumbled, trying to stand, when he heard someone coming on his left. He turned and saw the redhead swinging one of the abandoned shotguns. The blow to his head dropped Cain face first into the grass.
He fought against the blackness but his body wouldn't move. "Just shoot him!" the leader commanded. Cain heard a familiar cocking; one of the bastards had kept his gun.
"No!" DG screamed.
Failure tasted as bitter as blood. I'm sorry, DG. I thought it would be different this time. Consciousness slipped away waiting for the bullet.