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Pepper Winters - First Debt


 

 



 

IF I HAD known my life would change so drastically, I might have planned a little better. Strategized a little smarter, researched a little deeper.

One moment I was the Darling of Milan, the next I was a Weaver Whore.

But despite my lack of skills and weapons, I wasn’t ready to go down without a fight.

In fact, I prospered into a woman I’d always been too afraid to find.

I became more than Nila Weaver.

More than daughter, twin-sister, and seamstress.

I became the woman who would bring down a family’s legacy.

I evolved into the woman who captured a Hawk.

 


 

I STALKED TOWARD the stables and the very lodgings Nila had inhabited the night before.

The image of her bounding away—pristine naked skin glowing in the sunshine and long hair flowing like black silk—played on a loop inside my head.

Everything I’d been prepared for—every argument, every hardship I’d been drilled to expect—hadn’t prepared me for the complication that was Nila Weaver. How could I understand and keep my bearings when the bloody woman had more personalities than a Picasso painting?

Sometimes naïve. Sometimes coy. Smart, fearful, proud, gullible.

And above all, evolving.

And rapidly.

I wasn’t used to…mess. The chaos of a human psyche or the disgusting pull of emotions was not permitted in my world. In the short time I’d known her, she’d successfully made me feel something I had no fucking right to feel.

Don’t admit it.

I balled my hands. No, I wouldn’t admit it. I would never verbalize the slow burn of possession in my gut or the confusion in my mind when it came to understanding her.

Run, Nila. Run.

And she had.

Despite her nakedness, lack of sustenance, and the fact that my family had just finished abusing her, she’d glared into my eyes and bounded away like a deer bolting from a gun. A flash of vulnerability glowed on her face before she was swallowed by the forest.

I expected her to faint with her ridiculous condition—an experiment, as it were, to see what she would do when I pretended to give her what she wanted.

Run?

I never for a fucking moment thought she’d do it.

I expected her to cower. To beg. To cry for the men in her life who had let her down. But she’d done none of those things. I’d known her only briefly, yet she’d demanded more of me than any other woman ever had.

It wasn’t permitted, and now that she’d run, she’d given away more of the disarray inside her. I’d glimpsed the perplexing woman who’d become my charge, prisoner, and plaything.

Someone who had successfully confused the shit out of me.

As much as you don’t understand her, you want her. She came on your tongue, for fuck’s sake.

I stopped in my tracks. She’d fought me on every turn, yet the moment I’d claimed her in front of my brothers, she’d given me ultimate control.

She’d spread her legs and forced her hips into my mouth, giving complete authority for me to lick and nibble and drive her high until she shattered, regardless if she meant to do it or not, she’d used me for pleasure.



She’d gotten off on me fingering her.

My cock stiffened.

The taste of her still lingered in my mouth—the phantom pressure of her cunt squeezing my tongue as she rocketed skyward and detonated. Her fingernails had scraped the table, hands spread thanks to the brothers holding her down. But she hadn’t squirmed to get away from me.

No, she’d fought to get closer.

And I’d obliged.

Drowning myself in her scent, bruising my lips as I licked her harder and harder.

She’d squirmed and moaned and gasped. She’d delivered herself into my clutches, all because I knew how to make a woman come.

But she didn’t just give me her pleasure.

Christ, no.

She’d given me the briefest taste of how divine it would be to own, not just her body, but her mind and soul, too.

It was fucking addicting.

It was fucking twisting with my head.

I growled under my breath, striding onward. The bloody hard-on I’d sported since she walked into my life poisoned me, turning me against everything I knew, everything I’d embraced since I learned the meaning of survival and discipline.

Hot lust tumbled through my veins.

How could I stay the cold beast I’d been groomed to be when my blood raged for another little taste? Another little indulgence of her tight, wet heat.

Shit, I was going to make myself come if I didn’t stop thinking about her.

My cock rippled, totally agreeing.

I shook my head, breaking into a jog toward the stables.

You will remain everything you are.

You will.

There was no other choice in the matter.

I’d been taught to be the master of my emotions. I prided myself on embracing all that he taught me. One little Weaver bitch would not undermine me. This was the way of our world.

My world.

Her world.

No matter how she bewitched me, no matter how she turned my body and willpower against me, I wouldn’t give in.

She’d learn that soon enough.

The moment I caught her, she’d learn her place. The moment I had her back in my arms, she’d never run again.

That was a fucking promise.

It’s time to hunt.

 

The stables were empty apart from Kes’s polo pony, my father’s prized thoroughbred, Black Plague, and my ebony gelding, Fly Like The Wind. That was his show and hunting name. In private, I had another name for him.

Wings.

Because riding him allowed me to fly the fuck away from here and find a small sliver of freedom.

Nila wasn’t the only one who wanted to run. Unlike my prey, I faced my demons and embraced them. I made them work for me, rather than control me, and forced them to submit by bowing at my fucking feet.

Just like I’d make her do the moment I found her.

The instant he saw me, Wings’ velvet ears pricked, his metal shoes clicking against hay-strewn cobblestone.

A stable boy appeared from mucking out the stalls. “Sir?”

“Saddle him. I mean to leave in fifteen minutes.”

You told her you’d give her forty-five.

I shrugged.

There was no point giving her any longer. Her feet would bleed from running barefoot. Her skin would bruise from whatever ludicrous illness she battled. And it would all be for nothing.

Contrary to what she thought of me, I wasn’t a monster.

I needed her strong.

Plus, I could grant hours, days even for her to run—but she’d never make it to the boundary.

I knew that completely and utterly.

I knew, because I’d been in the exact same situation she was—only it hadn’t been summer like it was now, but middle of winter. Training, he’d said. Masculine growth, he’d lectured. Run in the snow, become the ice that drips from boughs and stems. Use the primal part of yourself to seek out the edge of our property, or pay the price.

Three days I’d run, jogged, and crawled. Three days I didn’t find the boundary.

I was found the same way I would find Nila. Not through tracking or GPS or even the cameras dotted sparsely over the grounds.

No. I have much better means.

My lips twisted into a smile as I traversed the courtyard from stable to kennel. I whistled, listening to the scrabble of claws and excited yips inside. Then the hounds bounded from their home, bumping into each other, wriggling like they’d been electrocuted.

I stood tall, letting the sea of canines wash around my knees. Eleven in total, all with keen ears, sensitive smell, and the training of a hunter.

Leaving them to sniff manically around the yard, I headed into the tack room where supplies, medicines, and feed were stored for the horses.

My hands drifted over the blanket Nila had used.

My cock lurched, remembering how lost and young she’d looked with hay in her hair and eyes raw from tears. Yet she’d writhed on my fingers like a fucking minx. Her hips had tilted, seeking more as if she were born to be pleasured.

My balls ached for a release. Goddammit, I needed to come. Twice now she’d brought me to the edge, only to ruin the ending.

This wasn’t me—I was never this sex-driven or clouded. I couldn’t think straight.

The second I caught her, I was taking her. Rules be damned.

You think she wants you, knowing what you’re going to do to her?

The question caught me in a trap with sharp teeth.

I froze.

What the hell sort of question was that?

One I’d never had before or even contemplated. My hands curled. I’d never considered someone else’s wellbeing. Never been taught or shown how to be…compassionate. The closest thing I had to a friend was my younger brother, Kestrel. He somehow escaped the conditioning by Bryan Hawk. Kes took after our mother. God rest her soul.

And Daniel.

He took after the fucking psychopath who’d been our uncle until my father killed him for almost exposing us all those years ago.

Not for the first time, I wondered if my entire family tree was bat-shit crazy.

In the end, none of it mattered. Not heritage, or destinies, or debts.

The moment Nila came on my tongue, she owed me. Not my family. Me.

The least she could do was reciprocate.

Shaking my head, I gathered up a saddlebag and stuffed everything I would need inside. With each item I picked up, my heart thawed then refroze. A blanket of snow grew thicker with every heartbeat. As ice glittered and crept over my soul, the silence from my colliding thoughts deepened until all weakness, ideas of running, and traitorous concepts of betraying my family disappeared.

I sighed in relief as I slipped back into my icicle-barred cage.

You’re tired, overworked, and dealing with a runaway. Keep your head in the game.

I knew what would happen if I lost control. I could not let that happen.

I checked my watch.

Twenty minutes.

Long enough. To her it would feel as if she’d run for miles. She would never know the difference.

Turning to go, I brushed past the shelf where my extra whips and spurs were stored. I grabbed one, sticking a whip through my belt.

It would come in handy if she disobeyed.

Taking a pair of sunglasses, I quickly traded my dress shoes for knee-high riding boots, and checked inventory. Pity I didn’t have time to change. Jeans were a bitch to ride in—terrible chafing on long excursions.

But this isn’t going to be a long ride.

A smile stretched my lips. No, it wasn’t going to be long. But it will be fun. And fun wasn’t something I got to indulge in very often.

Exiting the gloomy tack room, I squinted in the bright sunlight and slipped the silver-tinted aviators over my eyes. Wings stood obediently by his hobbling post, his equine coat gleaming like the rare black diamonds we mined.

The foxhounds barked and threaded around each other like an organism, never taking their eyes off me as I gathered my reins and placed a foot into the stirrup. Swinging my leg over the massive animal, the rush of being on something so powerful whipped through my bones.

Wings was eighteen hands of pure fucking muscle. He was the fastest horse the Hawks’ owned, excluding my father’s race horse, Black Plague, and he hadn’t been hunting in days.

He pranced in place, his large lungs huffing with anticipation.

The energy vibrating from his bulk infected me, reminding me who I was and the life of privilege I lived.

Twisting his head toward the open grounds of Hawksridge Hall, I dug my spurs into Wings’ side.

An insane surge of power detonated through the animal’s muscles. Wings went from stationary to flying, his hooves clattering with speed. With a sharp whistle, I summoned my canine companions.

The sharp scent of dug-up turf hit my nostrils as we tore across the grass.

I’m coming for you, Nila Weaver.

I’m coming.

Over the roar of galloping thunder, I commanded, “Chase her.”

 


 

MY LUNGS BURNED.

My feet stung.

My legs ached.

Every inch of me screamed with fear.

Run. Run. Run.

I lowered my head, pushing harder, forcing my body to find non-existent energy and propel myself from hell toward salvation.

How long did I run? I didn’t know. How far did I get? Probably not very.

But no matter the stitches in my side or the spasms in my lungs, I kept going. Kept running. I thanked God for my endless nights of pounding the treadmill, and for the first time in my life, was thankful for my small chest size.

Shadows chased my every step. The sun remained blocked by the tree canopy. The yellow glow was still light, still bright, coaxing me on, screaming at me to get up when I stumbled, and ordering my tears to stop as I gasped for breath.

I kept running—zigzagging as much as I could, cutting through a stream, and almost rolling my ankle on the slippery rocks below. I did everything I’d ever seen survivalists do when being hunted.

With my heart whizzing, I bypassed woodland trails, avoided muddy paths, and obscured my scent as much as possible.

But I knew in my heart, it wouldn’t be good enough.

He’ll find you.

My body begged to stop and let the inevitable happen. To stop punishing myself for no purpose. My mind howled in frustration as lactic acid burned in my limbs.

It won’t work. Give up.

Go on, just…stop.

I shook my head, driving myself harder.

He’ll catch you.

It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.

I could run for years, and he would still find me. How did I know? I didn’t trust him.

I didn’t believe he’d let me get away so easily. Everything about him was a carefully scripted lie. Why should his word be any different?

I had no doubt if he didn’t find me, something else would—a snare, a trap—something just waiting to ambush its prey.

Every footfall I tensed, waiting for death—wondering if that last step would trigger a net or an arrow to my heart.

Stop running.

Just…stop, Nila.

My breathless inner voice was tired and hungry and completely worn out. My muscles cramped. My mind seized with too many questions.

At least it was summer, and I didn’t have to combat the cold on top of everything else. My skin glistened with sweat from exercising so hard.

But I hated the defeat in my soul—the rapidly spilling courage and hope.

This wasn’t about the chase. We all knew who would win. It was about defiance. The word that I never knew or put into practice until last night, but now I lived and breathed it. I would be the most defiant thorn, stabbing holes in Jethro’s carefully made plans.

I would never be able to win. The only way I had a chance at surviving long enough to reap vengeance on the men who ruined my ancestors was to fight his ice with fire.

I had to burn.

I had to blaze.

I had to cinder his beliefs and control to the ground. And smear his soul with the ashes of his sins.

A loud howl came on the breeze.

My knees locked, slamming me to a standstill.

No. Please, no.

My heart squeezed. I should’ve guessed. He wouldn’t run after me like a typical chase. Why would he waste his energy hunting in the wrong direction?

He was smarter than that. Colder than that. He’d use the tools he had to make sure this little inconvenience was over and dealt with. Of course, he would use the very animals who’d become my friends last night.

Teaching me not one but two lessons in quick succession. One, the animals currently tracking me, currently hunting me, were not my friends, no matter how warm and cosy they’d been last night. And two, everything here, no matter human or animal, would not hesitate to kill me.

The thought depressed then infected me with strength I’d only just become acquainted with. There was no hope at making Jethro feel. The only hope I had was to fight ruthlessness with ruthlessness.

I had to contest him on every step and ignite that spark buried deep within.

Another howl and a bark.

Energy shot through my body, hot and bullet-fierce.

I took off again, sprinting down a small hill, holding onto branches as a rush of vertigo threatened to spill me into nettles and brambles.

The collar on my throat was heavy, but at least it had warmed. The diamonds no longer felt alien but a part of me. The courage of my ancestors. The spirit-strength of women I’d never met, living in a piece of jewellery throbbing with their guidance and energy.

The hatred and repulsion I felt toward the collar disappeared. Yes, the Hawks had given it to me, sentencing me to death with an action I couldn’t think about, but they’d given me a piece of my family. A piece of history I could use to my advantage.

Another bark, followed by a loud whistle.

You can’t outrun him.

I scowled at my pessimism.

But you can hide.

I shook my head, fighting tears as a twig dug into the sole of my foot.

I wouldn’t be able to hide. He came with foxhounds. Their noses were legendary.

Up high. Get up high.

I skidded to a stop. My neck craned as I peered up the length of a knobby-looking tree. The branches were symmetrically placed, the leaves not exactly thick but its trunk strong enough to take me from earth to sky.

I’d never climbed anything in my life. I could fall to my death. I could cripple myself when I suffered a vertigo wave. I’d never been stupid enough to try.

You’ve never had to run for survival either.

Shoving useless fears away, I moved toward the tree with out-stretched hands. It didn’t matter I’d never climbed one. It didn’t matter I’d avoided all gym games and apparatuses, because I only ended up getting hurt.

I would climb the damn thing and conquer it.

I have no choice.

Either stay on the ground and sit quietly for him to arrive, run blindly through woodland, or climb.

I’ll climb.

My toes gripped the base of the tree as I reached for the first branch. I put my weight on it.

It snapped.

Shit!

Another bark—loud and clear, just over the ridge.

I moved.

Scrabbling at the tree, I hugged the rough bark and hurled myself up, reaching like a crazed, climb-retarded monkey for a branch just out of grabbing distance. I didn’t think I’d make it. I closed my eyes in preparation for a painful fall, but by some miracle, my fingers latched around the bough, clinging harder than ever before.

Go. Go!

I gave myself over to a skill I’d never used but hoped remained dormant in some part of my human evolution. I placed my foot against the bark, pulling upward with my hands. I reached for the next.

And the next.

And the next.

My breath came hard and ragged, my heart an overworking drum.

I used the tree as my own personal stepladder to freedom, climbing higher and higher until I daren’t look down in case I blacked out and tumbled from heaven to hell.

A large thundering came, overshadowing the yips and excited barks of dogs. The leaves around me shuddered as footfalls of a bigger beast came closer.

Had Jethro come with others? Would Daniel be with him? Or even his father?

My skin rippled with hatred. I meant what I’d said. I would find a way to kill them all before this was over. I wouldn’t let them spill any more Weaver blood. It was the Hawks’ turn.

I’ll make them pay.

Turning slowly, cursing my shaking legs and suddenly nervous hands, I faced the forest floor from which I’d climbed. I was at least two and half stories up.

I closed my eyes, swallowing hard.

Don’t fall. Don’t even think about falling.

Faintness existed on my outer vision, teasing me with the awfulness of what could happen. I dug my fingernails into the bark, lowering myself slowly onto the branch. The minute I was sitting, with the roughness of the tree biting into my unprotected behind, I wrapped an arm around the trunk and sat wedged against the wood.

I looked around for weapons, but there were none. No pine cones. No easily snappable branches to stab him with. All I had was the element of disappearing. A naked girl vanishing into the green haze of the forest.

My heart lodged in my throat as the first dog appeared. I didn’t recognise him from the night spent in the kennels. He whirled around and around, sniffing the spot where I’d stood.

Another dog appeared, then another and another, pouring from the woods like ants, growling in delight at the strength of my trail.

Distress gripped my stomach.

Go away, damn you.

Then, he arrived.

Sitting proudly astride a black horse, so big it looked like a beast from the underworld, he cantered into being. His polished boots soaked up the dappling sunlight; a whip with a diamond wedged on the handle glinted menacingly.

He looked in his element.

A gentleman out hunting with his faithful steed and gallant party of dogs. His silvering hair sparkled like tinsel in the sun. His ageless face the epitome of ferocity and winning.

In his late twenties, Jethro wore command like one would wear cologne. His strong jaw, pursed lips, and sculptured brow shouted power—true power. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Sitting with his back ramrod straight and hands fisted in the horse’s reins, he was…majestic. It didn’t matter if I hated him or wanted him. That fact would always be true.

Excitement blazed in his eyes as he scanned the undergrowth, a smile teasing his lips.

How long had this farce been going on? An hour? Maybe two? Had he kept his word and given me the full forty-five minutes? Somehow, I doubted it.

“Find her, goddammit,” he snapped, losing his smile and glaring at the dogs.

The canines wove around his horse’s legs, sniffing, darting into bushes only to come back to try all over again.

Jethro spun in his saddle, planting a hand on the rump of his horse, glowering into the dense foliage. “Have you stopped running, Ms. Weaver, or have you somehow managed to trick my companions?” His voice caused the leaves to shiver, almost as if they wished to hide me further.

I held my breath, hoping to God he didn’t look up.

A foxhound with a large black ear barked and took off down the path I would’ve continued on if I hadn’t decided to prolong my freedom by hiding.

Jethro shook his head. “No. She’s around here. Find her.”

The dog licked its muzzle, baying in the direction its wriggling body wanted to go. The rest of the dogs, either brainwashed by their leader or picking up on the scent of rabbit, all joined in the urge to leave.

My heart galloped. Please, let him go.

I might have a chance after all.

The horse pranced—hyped up on the dogs’ energy, wanting to chase after them.

Jethro stayed steadfast, his hand expertly holding the reins so tight the poor beast had no choice but to tread on the spot. His long legs wrapped hard around the animal, sticking glinting silver spurs into its sides. “Wait,” he growled.

The horse huffed, tossing its head, fighting the tight possession of its mouth. It cantered in place, puffing hard through velvet nostrils.

The dogs disobeyed.

Their patience was done and with a loud howl, they took off in a cloud of tan, white, and black.

“Christ’s sake,” Jethro muttered. “Fine.” Digging his heels hard, the horse broke into a gallop, disappearing in a whirl of black through the undergrowth.

Shakes. They attacked me hard and fast the second he’d disappeared.

Hope attacked me second.

Unbelievable hope hijacked my limbs turning me into shivering jelly until I was sure the entire tree vibrated. Did I actually stand a chance at making it to freedom? Could I make it to the boundary and escape their clutches?

I could save all of us—my father, brother, future daughters.

“Life is complicated, Threads. You don’t know the half of it.” My father’s voice popped into my head. Anger filled me. Dreadful, terrible anger toward the man who was supposed to keep me safe. If he knew this would happen, why hadn’t he protected me? I’d always trusted him. Always followed his rule explicitly. To see him as human who made a mistake—many mistakes—hurt.

A lot.

A wave of sickness had me clutching the tree; I swallowed back the misfortune of having vertigo along with the emotional upheaval of what I’d lived through.

The foreignness of dried saliva on my body made my skin crawl. The memory of shattering beneath Jethro’s tongue totally blasphemous.

The sun glinted through the canopy—highlighting trails of where men had licked me.

My stomach threatened to evict the emptiness inside. I was hungry, dehydrated, and cracked out on adrenaline. But beneath it all, my soul ached with growing pains. My claws were forming, my tail twitching with annoyance.

It didn’t escape my knowledge that, as a kitten, I’d stayed on the ground. But now I was in a tree—did that make me a panther? A feline predator that hunted from above, unseen?

I liked that idea.

Forcing myself to concentrate on the trees surrounding me, I strained my ears to hear.

Only insects and birds. No Jethro.

How far was it to the boundary? What direction should I go?

Time seemed to slow, braiding with the fluffy white clouds above as if there were no cares in the world.

It was hypnotic.

The lack of sustenance in my stomach made me tired; I needed a rest.

Just a little one.

 

The screech of a crow snapped me awake.

Shit!

How could I have faded out like that?

How long had passed? It could’ve been hours or just minutes.

I have no idea.

My heart rabbited, energy heating my limbs. Move. Run again.

Jethro was far away. I couldn’t hear him or the howls of hounds.

Looking at the ground, my lungs crawled into my mouth. Down there, I didn’t feel safe…up here, I did.

Move!

I couldn’t move.

I would probably cling to my sanctuary until I died of hunger and became fossilized. To be found like a mosquito wrapped in amber a thousand years from now.

The thought made me smile.

Would they be able to bring me back to life like in Jurassic Park, outliving the Hawks by thousands of years to finally have the last laugh?

A twig snapped below, wrenching my attention back to the forest floor.

Oh, shit.

Squirrel stood below, looking directly into my eyes. His bristle tail wagged back and forth, his tongue lolling happily. He yipped, scrabbling at the tree.

Tears.

I couldn’t hold them back.

The one dog that’d granted such comfort last night was the one to ruin my future today.

How could you?

I wanted to scream at him for destroying me.

Jethro stepped silently from the shadows like a glacial ghost. His horse was hidden, along with the pack of dogs. In his hand, he held the whip and a saddlebag.

He touched the end of the whip to his temple in a salute. “Well played, Ms. Weaver. I didn’t think you’d have the coordination to climb. I must admit, foolhardy of me not to think of all avenues.” A smile crept across his lips. “I suppose desperation will make one do things they might not ordinarily be able to achieve.”

Stepping forward, he nudged Squirrel out of the way. “What I would like to know is how did you manage to stay up there? Did you not have another one of your annoying fainting incidents?”

The oxygen in my lungs turned into spikes and spurs, digging painfully into my sides. I held tighter to the tree, wondering if I could kill him from up here.

When I didn’t respond, he smirked. “You look positively wild up there. My own little forest creature, caught in my web.”

My arms lashed tighter around the trunk.

Jethro shifted, his movements quiet even with the leaf matter littering the earth. The happiness from his victory dissolved. “Come down. It’s over. I’ve won.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Or do me a favour and fall out. That vertigo has to be useful for something.” Spreading his arms, he muttered, “Go on, I’ll catch you.”

The strength that seemed to feed off Jethro’s cruelty churned hot in my stomach. “You should know me by now. I won’t obey you. You or the rest of your family.”

He chuckled. “Found a backbone up there, did you?”

I bared my teeth. “I found it the moment you stole me from my family and showed me what a monster you are.”

He held up the whip, a shadow falling over his features. “I didn’t steal you—you belong to us. I only took what was rightfully mine. And I’m no monster.”

My heart raced. “You don’t know the meaning of the word, so how can you define yourself?”

He narrowed his eyes. “I think the height of the tree is giving you false confidence. I doubt you’d be talking to me that way if you were down here.” He twitched the whip. “Where I could reach you, hit you, make you behave like you ought to.”

He’s testing you.

I tilted my chin, looking down my nose. “You’re right. I probably wouldn’t, but right now I have the advantage, and I mean to use it.”

He laughed, absently stroking Squirrel’s head as the dog plonked himself by Jethro's feet. “Advantage? I wouldn’t go that far, Ms. Weaver.”

My skin crawled at the use of my last name. He didn’t use it out of consideration or even because the address was my identity—he used it to keep the barrier between us cold and impenetrable.

What is he so afraid of? That my first name will make him waver in his ludicrous family’s goals?

“Why don’t you call me Nila?” I leaned forward, not caring I was naked or stuck in a tree. I had the power for however long I kept him talking. “Are you afraid using my first name is too personal? That you’ll start to feel something for me?”

He sneered. “You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“What you did at the stables. Showing me sides of you that you’ve kept hidden, in the hopes it will spark some sort of humanness in me.” He shook his head. “I’m not someone you can manipulate.”

A small smile stretched my lips. “I already did.” Gathering my leaf-tangled hair, I draped it over my shoulder. The last dregs of sunshine disappeared behind a cloud, leaving us in green shadows.

“What?” His nostrils flared, his temper sparking like an uncontrolled blaze.

I smiled, enjoying his annoyance. He claimed he was cold-hearted and impervious. He lied.

I’ll show him. I’ll prove he’s as ill-equipped to play this charade as I am.

“Do you want me to paint it out for you? To show you how hypocritical you are?”

He grabbed Squirrel’s ear, making the dog flinch. Squirrel moved away, an angry reproof in his black eyes. “Careful, Ms. Weaver,” Jethro whispered. “Everything you say up there will have consequences when you get down here.”

I refused to let fear quiet me. Not when I had the freedom to speak—no matter how brief.

“Nila. My name is Nila. Say it. It seems we’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so you might as well save yourself breath when you need to summon me. Or do you like reminding yourself that I’m a Weaver? Your so-called hated enemy. Do you need to reinforce that knowledge every time? How about that beloved silence you keep claiming you wield? You think you hide so well. Listen up. You don’t.”

Jethro backed away, crossing his arms. A dark, unreadable expression etched his face. “I call you by your last name out of respect.” He spat the last word. “We aren’t friends. We aren’t even acquaintances. We’ve been thrown into this together, and it’s up to me to make the fucking rules on how you’ll be treated.”

We both froze, breathing hard.

Oh, my God.

He’s been thrown into this. My mind charged ahead with questions.

Did he not want this?

Was he forced, same as me?

Jethro hissed, “Get out of the fucking tree. I want to be home before dark.”

Hoarding my questions and the small furl of hope, I pointed at the sky. “It’s already dusk. How long did you hunt me, Jethro? How long did you search for a vulnerable, weak, little Weaver?”

He ignored my questions, focusing on the last part of my sentence. “You think you’re weak?”

“No, you think I’m weak.”

“How so?”

I straightened my shoulders. There was a…genuineness in his tone. The animosity between us suddenly…disappeared. It took me a few seconds to answer. My voice was quieter, less abrasive. “You think I’ll put up with what you plan to do with me—that I won’t fight? That I won’t do everything in my power to stop you from killing me?”

His face battled with a smirk and understanding. He settled on a frosty grimace. “Of course, I expect it. If you didn't, I’d say you were already dead inside. No one wants to die.”

I had no reply to that. A chill darted over my skin. For the first time, we were talking. So much had happened since we met. There was so much between us that it felt as if we’d been fighting this war for years—which maybe we had, and we just didn’t know it.

“What do you mean to do with me?” I whispered, dropping all pretence and opting for truth.

He jerked, his eyes tightening at the softness in my tone. “I’ve told you.”

I shook my head. “No, you haven’t.” I looked away. “You’ve threatened me. You’ve made me come in a room full of men, and you’ve told me the method of my death. None of that—”

“You’re saying that isn’t being honest about your future?”

I glared. “I wasn’t finished. I was going to say, before you rudely interrupted, what else is there?”

His mouth parted in surprise. “Else? You’re asking what else there is to this debt?”

“Forget the debt. Tell me what to expect. Give me that at least, so I can prepare myself.”

He cocked his hip, trailing the whip through the rotten leaves by his feet. “Why?”

“Why?”

He nodded. “Why should I give you what you want? This isn’t a power exchange, Ms. Weaver.”

I bit my lip, wincing at the sudden hunger pains in my stomach. What did I have that he wanted? What could I hope to bribe him with or entice some feeling of protectiveness and kindness?

I have nothing.

I hung my head.

Silence existed, thick and heavy like the rolling dusk.

Amazingly, Jethro murmured, “Come down, and I’ll answer three questions.”

My head shot up. “Give me answers now, before I come down.”

He planted his boots deeper into the mulch-covered dirt. “Don’t push me, woman. You’ve already gotten more conversation out of me than my fucking family. Don’t make me hate you for causing me to feel weak.”

You feel weak?”

“Ms. fucking Weaver. Climb down here right now.” His temper exploded, smashing through his iceberg shell, giving me a hint at the man I knew existed.

A man with blood as hot as any other.

A man with so many unresolved issues, he’d tied himself into untieable knots.

My heartbeat clamoured as Jethro’s ice fell back into place, blocking everything I just glimpsed.

I sucked in a breath. “Hypocrite.”

He seethed. “What did you just say?”

“You heard me.” Standing on awkward legs, I hugged the tree. “Three questions? I want five.”

“Three.”

“Five.”

Jethro moved suddenly, stomping to the base of the tree, gripping the bottom branch. “If you make me climb up there to get you, you’ll be fucking sorry.”

“Fine!” I moved carefully, wondering how the hell I would climb down. “Call me Nila and I’ll obey.”

He growled under his breath. “Goddammit, you push me.”

Someone has to. Someone has to smash that hypocritical shell.

I waited, face pressed against knobbly bark, fighting against the weakness in my limbs from exhaustion and hunger.

The mere thought of climbing down terrified me.

Jethro paced, crunching the undergrowth beneath his black boots. He snapped, “I will never say your first name. I will never be controlled into doing something I don’t want to do ever fucking again—especially by you. So, go ahead, stay in your tree. I’ll just camp down here until you either fall or wither away. I don’t revel in the thought of you dying in such a fashion. I don’t relish the conversation I would have when I returned empty-handed with just a diamond collar sliced from your lifeless neck, but never think you can make me do something I don’t want to do. You’ll lose.”

He smashed the whip against the tree trunk, making me jump. “Is that quite understood?”

His temper seethed from below, covering me like a horrible quilt of scorn. I pressed my forehead against the bark, cursing myself.

For a moment, he’d seemed normal.

For one fraction of time, I didn’t fear him because I saw something in him that might, just might, be my salvation.

But he’d been pushed too far by others. He’d reached his limit and had nothing else to give. He’d shut down, and the brief glimpses I saw weren’t hope—they were historic glints at the man he might’ve been before he’d been turned into…this.

I climbed.

It was a lot harder going down than going up. My eyesight danced with grey, my knees wobbled, and sweat broke out on my skin, even though I was freezing now the night had claimed the day.

I battled with him and lost.

Time to face my future.

The closer I came to the ground, the more fear swallowed me.

I cried out as Jethro’s cold hands latched around my waist, plucking me from the tree as if I were a dead flower, and spinning me to face him.

His beautiful face of sharp lines and five o’clock shadow was shaded with darkness. The hoots of owls and trills of roosting birds surrounded us.

“I have a good mind to whip you.” His voice licked over me with frost.

I dropped my eyes. I had no more energy. It was depleted. Gone.

When I didn’t retaliate, he shook me. “What? No reply from the famous Weaver who swore at my father and brotherhood and earned the right to run for her freedom?”

I looked up, stealing myself against his golden eyes. “Yes and what was the point?”

“There’s a point to everything we do. If you’ve forgotten it, then you’re blinded by self-pity.”

A ball of fire rekindled in my belly. “Self-pity? You think I pity myself?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think. I know.” Letting me go, he grabbed the saddlebag resting against another tree and pulled out a blanket. Spreading it over roots and crinkly leaves, he ordered, “Sit, before you fall.”

I blinked. “We’re not—we’re not leaving for the Hall?”

He glowered. “We’ll leave when I’m damn well ready. Sit.”

I sat.

 


 

WHAT THE FUCK are you doing?

I couldn’t answer that. I had no clue.

I should throw her over my shoulder and escort her back to Hawksridge. Instead, I made her sit. In the middle of a forest. At dusk.

What the fuck?

Nila sat by my feet smiling sadly as Bolly, the top foxhound, nuzzled into her naked side—his wet nose nudged against her breast as he whined for attention.

She sighed, hugging him close, pressing a kiss into the ruff of his neck. “You outted me, you rascal.” Her voice wobbled, even though a tight smile stayed locked on her face. “I want to hate you for it, but I can’t.”

Bolly yipped, hanging his head, almost as if he understood exactly what she jabbered on about.

I stood staring at the odd woman—the woman who, even now, surprised me.

Something twisted deep inside. Something I had no fucking intention of analysing.

Everywhere I looked, she was scratched and bruised. New bruises on top of old bruises, shallow lacerations that’d scabbed over and deeper ones still oozing blood. My eyes fell to her feet. They were covered in cuts with a puncture on the fleshy part of her large toe.

I waited for a twinge of guilt—for that humanness I told her I didn’t possess. The only emotion I got was annoyance at her hurting herself. She’d marred herself, and that reflected badly on me.

“You would rather slice yourself to pieces while running away from me, than suffer a few debts by my side?”

Her head snapped up, dark eyes arresting mine. “I would gladly hurt myself to gain my freedom.”

“And why is that pain any different from the pain I might give you?”

So much feeling existed in her gaze as she whispered, “Because it’s my choice.” She let Bolly go, dropping her hands into her naked lap. “It’s what I’ve been saying all along. You’ve stripped me of any rights. You’ve planted photographs ruining the only life I’ve ever known. You’ve destroyed—”

Something cold and angry slithered in my heart. “You talk of hurt and pain—as if I’ve treated you so unfairly.” Leaning over her, I hissed, “Tell me one instance in which I’ve hurt you.”

She frowned, her body neither flinching nor curling away from my encroachment. “Pain comes in many appearances, Jethro. Just because you haven’t raised your hand to me—apart from a slap in the dining room—doesn’t mean you haven’t hurt me more than anyone else before. You degraded me.”

“I’ve been nothing but civil. I wiped it all away for you. I did what I promised.”

She shook her head, sadness glassing her eyes. “You think that by taking me at the end, everything that happened is forgotten?” She laughed; it was full of brittle anger. “You say I belong to you—that I’m yours—custom-made and born for your torment.” A single tear fled her gaze. “Then why didn’t you stop them? Why let them have me if I’m meant to be yours?”

I stumbled backward. “That’s what hurt you the most? The fact that I let my father welcome you the way it’s always been done? That I’m obeying tradition? You’re hurt because I’m following the rules—the same rules which you don’t seem to comprehend?”

My brain hurt. I’d never talked so much in my life. Never argued a subject or tried to understand another’s point of view. That wasn’t my world.

Shut her up.

I hated her questions and accusations. They didn’t just stop at one but dragged a whole caravan of inquiry and slurs behind it. She made me second guess everything I knew and was.

I hated it. I hated her.

She said, “Those rules aren’t mine. I’m not yours or theirs. I’m telling you how wrong all of this is, yet you shut down the minute I see something normal inside you.”

Growling under my breath, I grabbed the saddlebag and turfed the supplies onto the blanket.

Bolly moved in front of Nila, sniffing at the items as if they were a danger to the woman he’d helped hunt down.

I was a hypocrite?

Look at the bloody dog.

Nila glanced at the packets strewn on the plaid. I shoved the damn dog out of the way, reaching for her.

She ducked, unable to disguise her flash of terror.

My stomach twisted. I bared my teeth. “What? You think I’m going to hurt you?” Breathing hard, I grabbed a blister packet and threw it at her. “I’m not going to hurt you, even though my whip would like to strike something more than just my horse after the issues you’ve caused.”

Her dark eyes met mine, rebellion bright. Then her eyebrow rose as she glanced at what I’d tossed her. “You—”

I snatched the packet and popped out two high-strength painkillers. Stealing her hand, I placed both into her palm. She cupped them instantly.

“You’re hurt. I told you I’m not a monster, Ms. Weaver. Would a beast give you something to mute your pain? The same pain, I might add, that you brought on by yourself?”

Her face went white, her fingers unlocking to peer at the two white tablets. Her face twisted with a mixture of disbelief and utter confusion.

Another dagger to my gut. There was something about her injuries and vulnerabilities that were the perfect chisel to my iron-clad resolve.

The resolve that’d saved me from myself. The lifestyle that I’d been taught when nothing else had worked.

Fuck.

Looking away, I tossed a water bottle at her. She caught it clumsily. Unscrewing the lid, she placed the tablets on her tongue, and drained the contents in three seconds flat. She wiped her mouth, eyeing up the bag by my feet.

Silence existed for a heartbeat. Then two.

Her eyes met mine, granting me something I hadn’t sought to gain. Her gratefulness. The fight and future was forgotten—her bodily needs overtaking everything else. And I was the one who could give her what she needed.

“If you’re looking for food, I have some.”

She swallowed hard.

I forced myself to shove aside my tangled emotions, grabbing my icy persona with both hands. “I need something from you first.”

She grabbed the damn dog again.

I hated how her arms lashed around him, seeking something else she needed—something I couldn’t give her.

I whistled.

Bolly instantly heeled, leaving Nila rejected on the tartan blanket.

She rolled her shoulders, looking longingly at the dog. Slowly, the strength I grew to recognise cloaked her; her eyes met mine. “Fine. What do you want?”

Everything.

The parts of myself I kept hidden, driven so far inside I’d forgotten they’d even existed, sparked with possession.

“You owe me something.”

Her gaze popped wide. “Excuse me?”

I fell to my haunches, balancing myself with a fingertip placed on the ground. My heart beat thickly. “I gave you something in that dining room…remember?”

Her lips curled in disgust. “You gave me to your father and twenty of your so-called brothers.”

I shook my head. “More than that. I gave you freedom. I took their memory and made it mine…” I devoured her with my gaze, saliva filling my mouth remembering her taste.

Realization slammed into her. “You can’t be serious. You expect me to repay the favour?”

I balled my hands.

She shook her head. “No way. You’re insane.”

Insane?

I couldn’t do it.

I’d done my best to be civil. I’d spoken calmly, rationally. I’d been perfectly cordial and fought everything I was to become something I knew I had to be.

I was the exact opposite of insane.

“You really shouldn’t have said that,” I muttered.

She knew what I expected. I’d told her. It wasn’t my fault she was totally stupid. I’d warned her never to question my mental state. And I wouldn’t permit such ridicule from a girl who didn’t recognise the entire world was fucking nuts.

Punish her.

I stood, towering over her. Moving forward, I grabbed the whip from the top of the bag, slapping it against my palm. “On your knees.”

She scurried backward, slamming into a tree behind her. “Jethro. Please—”

I pinched the brow of my nose. “You insulted my mental state again, Ms. Weaver. I told you what would happen the next time you did.” Bending over, I grabbed her shoulder. “On your damn knees.” With a sharp push, I shoved her from sitting to kneeling.

Tears streaked her dirty face. “I didn’t mean—I’m—”

I cocked my head.

If she apologised, I’d stop. Just one little word. A sign that she was permitting my power over her.

It wobbled unsaid between us. Sorry. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Her lips tasted the words, the syllables echoed silently in my ears.

But then she ruined it by sucking in a breath and clamping her lips together. With a glare that shot heat straight into my heart, she planted her hands on the blanket, and cocked her hips.

Fuck. Me.

My cock immediately sprang to attention. The perfect lines of her overly skinny body. The pert breasts and hard muscles of her back and thighs.

Shit.

I squeezed my eyes. What the fuck is going on with me?

Sure, I wanted her. Sure, I wanted to use her and come so deep inside her, she’d taste me for days. But lust had never made me see things like this. Never made me lose the fine frost of control. Every second spent with her undid all my hard work.

She was my pet. Her wellbeing and happiness hinged on me. Just like Bolly, Wings, and all the other hounds tethered in the forest just out of ear reach. I’d left them there so I could sneak upon her silently.

I’d known she was up there. I’d felt her eyes boring into me.

But this was all a game.

What was the fun in reaching the destination when the chase was the best part?

Nila looked over her shoulder, daring me with flames in her eyes. “I hate you.”

Her words slammed me back to earth, her fire somehow giving me back my ice. I smiled. “You don’t know the meaning of hate. Not yet.”

Hair fell over her shoulder, hanging thick and enticing. “You’re wrong again, Mr. Hawk. I know the meaning of it. It’s becoming a favourite emotion of mine. I told you before you’ll never own me. And you never will.”

That reminds me.

“I caught you. You agreed you’d willingly sign that nonsense away.”

“What nonsense?”

I fell to my knees, positioning myself behind her. Grasping her hips, I dragged her against my front. My jaw locked as my erection dug into her firm arse.

She cried out, trying to squirm away—not that it did any good.

I hissed between my teeth at the delicious friction she caused.

“You’re mine. You ran and failed. I’ll have the papers drawn up to ensure you know your place, and we can put this idiocy of you not believing this is your future behind us.”

She gasped as I rocked into her, pressing punishingly hard.

Fuck, who was I kidding? She owned me. Her laughable rage, her stupid sense of fairness. Somehow, she’d ensorcelled me.

Fuck.

Forcing my terrifying thoughts away, I said, “I’ve made you come. I gave you a gift, which you took wholeheartedly. It’s your turn to do the same for me.”

The whip grew slippery in my grip as I pulled back. “You have three questions, and I have a point to make. You ask, and I’ll make it. We both get what we want. Then, when it’s all over, we’ll go home and start our lives together.”

“Until you kill me.”

I sighed. Really? She was so repetitive. “Yes, until I kill you. Now, ask your first question.”

She smashed her lips together, thoughts skittering over her face. Fine, if she needed prompting, I would oblige.

The whip was firm—plaited black leather and two supple ends made for shocking with noise rather than pain. Wings was so obedient, he didn’t need it most of the time. It was fitting to use the equipment on something else that needed breaking in.

I stroked her lower back, ignoring her whimper. “You’re green and unbroken, Ms. Weaver. Don’t think I won’t tame you before this game is through.”

I struck.

The sound of the two leather ends snapping together ricocheted through the woods.

She cried out, rolling her hips.

“Question, Ms. Weaver. I’ll keep striking until you ask.”

To prove my point, I hit her again. “That’s for your smart mouth undermining my control in front of my father and brothers.”

Her skin pinked as I struck again. “That’s for riding my hand like I’d given you everything you ever dreamed of, then looking at me as if I was a piece of shit.”

“How long? How long will you keep me alive?” she screamed, staying my hand.

I paused. In all honesty, I didn’t know. Her mother had been my father’s charge for over two years. She’d known her place enough to permit a brief visit to her old family to sever ties once and for all.

I doubted Nila would ever be so well trained, but I didn’t want to rush what we had. After all, once we reached the final debt, it would be over.

And that…didn’t sit well in my gut.

“It depends,” I murmured, stroking her burning skin.

I waited to see if she’d ask another question, but she remained silent. Pliant and listening. Her quietness soothed my nerves, and I allowed myself to give her a little of what she needed.

You’re doing that far too often.

I shot the voice in my head.

“Years, Ms. Weaver. We have years ahead of us.”

Her head sagged, lolling forward. Quietly, another question came. “And the debts? How bad are they? What do I need to prepare for?”

“Ah, ah, ah, I said you could have three questions in total. That was three in one breath. Pick one or forfeit anymore.”

Nila sighed, a small hiccup jolted her frame. “How bad are they?”

I struck her. Short and fast. The noise was worse that the bite. I knew. I’d been on the receiving end myself.

“They start easy. Simple really.”

She sucked in a breath, already knowing what I would add.

“Then they get worse.”

I struck her again, loving the bloom of red and the way every muscle in her sinewy body twitched. Throwing the whip to the ground, I murmured, “One more. Don’t be shy.”

Her breath was ragged. “Will—will you ever be nice to me?”

The question hung between us, so at odds to the scene of her on her hands and knees and me positioned behind her. It wrapped around us with sadness, digging the newly placed dagger deeper into my heart.

“I am nice. Once you get to know me.”

Her small laugh surprised both of us. “You’re a lot of things, but nice is not one of them.”

Anger boiled in my stomach. “You pissed me off before I had the opportunity to be nice. Didn’t I say you deserved to be rewarded after this afternoon? I have many things to lavish you with, Ms. Weaver. You only have to give in. Grant me the power. Give up and stop fighting me.” I stroked her spine, gritting my teeth against the ripple of pre-cum shooting up my cock. Goddammit, she was too delicious. Too strong. Too much.

She’s a Weaver.

I shook my head, dispelling everything until only silence remained.

“You must know I can’t do that. I’ve given up power to men all my life. I stupidly let my father control me, believing he knew what was best for me. And you know what that got me? A one-way ticket to hell to play with a devil I never knew existed.” She looked over her shoulder, making eye contact. “Why should I give you that courtesy? Why should I let you rule the remaining shortness of my sad, little life?”

For once, I was speechless.

Nila murmured, “You can’t reply, because you know this is wrong. On some level, you know the only right thing to do is to let me go and forget about this madness, but you won’t. Just like I won’t give you the power you seek. Just like I will never stop fighting you.”

She suddenly shot forward, breaking my hold on her hips.

My heart raced at the thought of her running again, but she turned to face me, kneeling upright so we were eye-to-eye. The muscles in her stomach shadowed in the rapidly gathering darkness, her white skin glowing with interspersed cuts and bruises.

“You said I owe you. I agree. You gave me something in that dining room. As much as you think you were only helping save my mental state, you showed me more than you probably wanted. I see you, Jethro Hawk. I see what you’re trying to hide, so don’t delude yourself into thinking I buy your hypocritical bullshit.”

Crawling forward, her tiny hands landed on my belt, releasing the button and zipper in one short second. It was my turn to blink in shock.

She’s a seamstress, idiot.

She dealt with buttons and zippers every day—they were her forte. Dealing with what lived behind them however was entirely another.

I hated, positively hated, that she’d stolen my power again. She’d drugged me with her witch potion, making me think only with my dick.

Fisting her hair, I growled, “You’re on thin ground, Ms. Weaver.”

Her temper exploded like a firework. She snarled, “Wrong. I’m on Hawk ground, and I’m still standing. You want me to pay you back? Fine. Tell me what to do, then feed me and take me back to your vile home. I’m ready for this day to end.”

My mind went numb as her hand disappeared into my jeans, cupping me boldly.

“Or better yet, take what I damn well give you.”

 


 

I HAD NO words for what I was doing.

Seriously, no words.

Part of me hated myself for being drawn to Jethro even now—especially after he’d hunted me down and punished me like some animal. But the other part—the bigger part—loved the woman I was becoming. I didn’t have anyone to rely on. I had no one saying what was right or wrong. The rules of everyday life had no place in this new existence, and if Jethro thought I would play by his rules, he was a fucking idiot.

His erection leapt in my hands, hot and scalding—the only part of him warm.

His golden eyes were blank of all feeling, and for one blessed moment, he stared at me with lust. Only lust.

Then anger saturated him, his fingers latching around my invading wrist. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

I tugged the waistband of his boxer-briefs with my free hand, twisting my other from his grip, and sliding my fingers into the dark heat of his underwear. He locked his jaw as I traced the length of his cock.

“I’m paying you back. This is what you had in mind, right? An orgasm for an orgasm?”

He growled low in his chest, his eyes narrowing with hate and need.

Don’t lie to me, you bastard.

He opened his mouth, but no words came out. I squeezed him hard—hard enough to cause shooting pains in my palm.

He jerked in my hold. “Jesus.”

That one word switched the rage splashing my insides into lust-blazing gasoline. The hardness of him sent electricity humming in my fingertips. The anger brimming below the surface turned my insides into hot liquid.

This.

This power.

This body-consuming connection.

It was pure.

Simple.

Intoxicating.

The whipping he’d given me hadn’t made me wet. I’d never associated pain with pleasure. Sure, I’d read the books and heard rumours about how exciting a BDSM relationship could be with someone you trusted implicitly, but that was the key difference.

I didn’t trust Jethro.

At all.

This was a battle.

Every time we touched, licked, and eventually fucked, it would be war.

And only one victor would come out alive.

I have every intention of winning.

Sex to me didn’t come with past perceptions or notions. Sex wasn’t wrapped up with love or sweetness in my brain. In a way, I had my father to thank for keeping me secluded and untouched. I’d uncovered an aptitude for delivering pleasure—an affinity for the basest of need.

I trembled, glowing so damn bright inside, I felt as if I’d swallowed the stars.

Jethro wanted me.

He couldn’t deny it. He didn’t want to deny it.

And I wasn’t above using my body to make him feel. Make the cold-hearted, untouchable bastard come apart beneath my touch.

Holding a man by his most precious body part and making him bow to my commands.

That was true power.

This was true power.

Testing my theory, I jerked my hand up and down, thinking of every text Kite had sent me. Every dirty innuendo he’d replied.

I’m stroking my cock.

I’m jerking hard.

Stroking. Jerking. Made sense. In a way the motion would be the crude action of fucking. Jethro would be forced to make love to my palm all while my fingers squeezed him to death.

With determination strong in my heart, I stroked.

Jethro wobbled on his knees, his eyes snapping closed. “Fuuuck,” he groaned as I squeezed hard, stroked even harder. There was no build up. No tease.

This is war.

Two sides. Two players. He’d made me come; now it was my turn to learn everything about him, so I could make him unravel.

Pushing his shoulder, I barely hid my victory smile as Jethro toppled backward. His eyes flared wide. “What the—”

I didn’t speak. Instead, I clambered closer, never stopping the mind-crippling stroke of his cock. Up and down. Twist and around.

His sharp gaze turned hazy, his lips parting as his breath grew heavy.

His hips thrust, just once. Surprise battling for supremacy over his need. I didn’t let him overthink it or realize I was winning. I crawled on top of him, spreading my legs, straddling his large, powerful bulk.

My heart strummed; my blood grew thick and cloying as every stroke I gave caused my inner muscles to clench. Giving him pleasure—taking his pleasure—was the headiest aphrodisiac.

I was a goddess. An accomplished geisha.

I lost track of lust versus vengeance. I didn’t care about last names or futures. All I wanted, all I focused on, was the sweetly plaited emotion where the rush between my legs took control.

My touch turned frantic, jerking rather than stroking.

His icy hands clamped around my hips, grinding himself hard against my grip. Our eyes locked, our breathing synced, we became two animals in the forest.

More.

I wanted more.

Yanking at his boxer-briefs, I tried to push them down. Jethro raised his hips, taking my weight with him as he gave me room to wrench his jeans and boxer-briefs t


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 1618


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