Learning To Drown

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WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

This book is for sale to ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It contains substantial sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which may be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

All sexually active characters in this work are 18 years of age or older.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover Design: Selena Kitt Learning To Drown © February 2011 Sommer Marsden eXcessica publishing All rights reserved

Learning To Drown

By Sommer Marsden

Prologue “Shut up, bitch,” he growled and fear curled low in my belly. His hands were cruel on my skin as he marched me up the splintered wooden steps and shoved me onto the screened-in porch. I barely registered a plaid sofa, some fishing gear, old dirty boots before he bent me forward at the waist and kicked my legs apart. “Now we’ll have some fun. You and me, baby. I can hear you breathing, you know? And I can smell your pussy.” I shut my eyes and tried to focus on not shaking with fear. I must stay in control. But it wasn’t easy when he started ripping at my clothes. The slow drag of his hands up my inner thigh, yanking and tearing the cotton of my leggings as if they were made of cotton candy. They parted so easily under his brutal touch. “Please,” I whispered. An entirely useless plea. His touch was crude, his voice cold. He pulled the leggings off and dropped them at my feet where they pooled, black like a puddle of ink. His fingers severed the small side string of my panties. Then the other. The small piece of white fabric dropped like a felled surrender flag. “Oh, you don’t have to say please. I’ll fuck you no matter what you say.” He grabbed my hands up behind my back. I felt the scrape of rope as he hastily looped it around my wrists. I struggled harder, to test my bonds and he yanked the rope tighter so it burned my skin. “Keep it up and I’ll hogtie you, whore.” I dropped my head and stared at my feet, still clad in my black flip-flops with the rhinestones. Where was I? Who was he? It was impossible to tell because his black mask covered everything but his mouth and blue eyes burning bright in the murky light. Eyes that shiny usually meant fever. Or madness. He pushed me forward, my hips banging the arm of the old sofa. It smelled like wet leaves and dust. I stifled a sneeze and he pushed his big fingers into my cunt from behind. Heat flooded my cheeks and tears clogged my throat. A wet pulse started where his fingers met my flesh. A swell of warm arousal that made my throat ache worse. I swallowed a small whimper as his finger thrust perfunctorily before he added another. “You’re so wet. Did you know you were this wet, slut? I can fuck you any way I want. But first I think you need to take care of business.” More moisture slid from my pussy. It warmed the insides of my thighs and I shut my eyes even as he turned me so the world went topsy-turvy for a moment. Alice through the Looking Glass. Alternate reality. Insanity. Lunacy. All of it fit in this scenario as he manhandled me and I bent to his will.

He shook me hard and I opened my eyes, meeting his glacial blue gaze. “On your knees, pretty.” Then he dropped me a wink and pushed firmly on my shoulders until my knees unhinged and I could only drop to the cold dirty wooden floor with a thud and a cry. “Please, mister,” I whispered. My voice caught in my throat--a wet watery mess of nerves and shame. “I don’t want to.” But I licked my lips, belying what was swirling around inside my head--at my true emotions. He just smiled. “Open wide and say, ah,” he said. His zipper a buzz saw in my ears, his skin smelled of spice and car oil. He pushed the head of his flushed cock to my bottom lip and pressed. I sealed my lips, squeezed my eyes shut. Squeezed my knees together, too, to try and tame the traitorous thump of arousal between my legs. “Open.” He pushed harder, slapped my face and a hot sting of pain coursed along my cheek, blazed across my scalp so that I felt each shaft of hair that grew from my head. I sobbed and when my mouth opened, he slid his cock past my lips with a thrust of his hips. I tried to breathe, shifted against the steady pulse between my legs. He pushed deep, gagging me before I could catch my breath. My nipples spiked, my clit throbbed. I shook my head but allowed myself a brief moment to savor the thrill. My eyes wet with tears, he fucked my mouth, forcing me to suck harder. His thumb bit into my chin as he turned my face to his liking. A surreal bright light from the house filled my vision, blinding me. “I like it when your makeup runs like that.” He pulled free and I arched forward for just a second, chasing him with my mouth. Was he done? He trailed the wet head of his cock down the wet mess of my mascara and chuckled. “Something for flavor,” he said, forcing back inside my mouth. Holding my chin again like I was a horse under inspection. I sucked in a breath through my nose and it was full of the scent of him. My ears full of the sound of him. My skin burning with the rough grasp of his skin on mine. He yanked my hair, gathering two big handfuls and tugging until fire burned across my scalp. My chest shook with unleashed sobs. I had to stay calm, had to. What would he do to me if I freaked out? I didn’t want to know. When he got bored making me gag, he hauled me to my feet. When he kissed me, his lips coming at me through the hole in the dark knit that allowed for a mouth, I wanted to scream. But his hand held fast to the front of my throat, an unspoken threat, and his tongue shoved against my tongue replacing his cock. The kiss was no less brutal than his dick had been. Big fingers trapped my pulse under the skin, marking off each beat of my heart. I was spinning again, the world off balance at his will. An oversized rag doll solely for his pleasure. His hands shoved me and he tugged the rope around my wrists so they bent awkwardly, painful enough to make me scream. My hips slammed to the old sofa, my pussy slick with fear and

something more. I kicked out and he took his boot, pressing my foot back down. It landed in the small pile of dark fabric that used to be my leggings. “Watch it, missy. I will hurt you.” To prove his words, he pinched brutally hard at the very top of my thigh. The place where the skin is most fragile, like tissue paper rubbed nearly translucent. His fingernails bit right below my bottom not even a finger’s length from my wet opening. I shivered under him, then his presence was gone. A vacuum created in the air by the removal of his bulk. I tried to see but couldn‘t twist enough. The air was cold against my skin. My heartbeat filled my head. “Whatever you want. Whatever you want.” I could hear my voice thrusting the words out at him. Scratchy and raw, I sobbed them out like a mantra. A broken record. A department store recording stuck in a loop. “I promise. Whatever you want.” And I meant it. “I want pussy,” he said and laughed. The laugh scared me more than his rage. So foreign, so detached. He kneed my legs wider apart, shoved me forward. I tottered over the arm of the couch, spread to him. His little broken toy. Tracing the curve of my bottom with a ragged fingernail, he hummed. There was another rush of warm fluid between my thighs. The tip of his cock ran the seam of my wet slit, I pressed back. I would do anything. Fingers gripped me, cock slamming home so that my face grated the harsh plaid sofa cushion. “You’re such a little whore, you know that? Look how wet you are. You were just asking for it.” His fingers probed my ass, sparking that dull bite of pain that can never be escaped with anal. “I bet you’d come if I fucked you up the ass.” The first hot coil of orgasm grew in my cunt. A gathering pleasant tightening that filled my belly, my pelvis. I shook my head no, no, but he pushed his finger a bit deeper. Slow. No lubrication. Slow so I felt every insistent little pinch of pain. “I bet you would.” “No.” His cock slammed higher. The wet sounds of his fucking me seemed so loud. His length brushed every bundle of nerves. I held my breath as the orgasm swelled bigger and brighter inside of me. His cock slid through the shameful moisture of my outrageous arousal. “Yes,” I said before I could stop myself. My fingers gripped at themselves. Bound behind my back as they were, helpless but restless Playing tug of war with each other as I tried to hold it off. Do not come. Do not come. “Yes.” He fucked me harder. “No.” It was wrong. “You’re going to come,” he hissed, pounding into me. He pinched me and I sobbed. He pushed his finger deeper in my ass. When my cunt went tighter around his thrusting cock he laughed. When he laughed the orgasm crept closer. A dark liquid monster that I tried not to welcome. And failed.

He grabbed a handful of my hair, yanked so that my neck twisted and my vision dimmed. “Come for me, whore.” “No!” But there it was--sneaking in, filling me like warm black water. I bit my lip, drawing blood. “ You know you want to,” he said in a serial killer sing-song. The tiny hairs on my arms stood up. He froze his breath all I could hear before plunging in rough and high so the tips of my toes left the dirty wooden porch. “Fuck yes, you do. You want to. Don‘t lie.” And I did want to. I came, let go and fell under. Salty tears wetting my cheeks, fingers bent double over one another behind my back. Twisting and turning under him at the mercy of my orgasm. There was not enough air in my lungs. There was not enough air in the world. All of me lost to the roar in my ears and the jagged unkempt beat of my heart. My pussy spasming with the very perfect, very intense pleasure. My captor came, curses flying from his lips before he dropped his hands and his head. “Jesus fucking Christ, Ember. Are you trying to kill me?” Damien tore off the knit cap, eyes still shiny, face slick with sweat. He grinned. “Like that?” I could only nod, my head only partly turned to see him. My nose and one eye still pressed to the cushion. My heart rate pulled back a bit so I could breathe. My mind a pleasant white fuzz of cotton gauze and nerve endings still firing from my climax. “Like that.” “I did good?” He cut the bonds and help me stand, opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, I kissed him. “Shut up Damien or you’ll ruin the whole damn thing.”

Chapter 1

What the hell was I doing? Another cold shiver wracked me and the hard side of the tool box bit into my back. The rude metal of the handcuffs worried the skin on my wrists. There was a blanket under me, sure. More than one, actually, but fuck it was what, nineteen degrees? And here I was in my flimsy skivvies, handcuffed, ankles bound in rope, resting none too comfortably in a big ass tool box in the back of a pickup truck. “For sex,” I hissed, though no one would hear but me. “For sex and for the sake of my relationship,” I snorted. At first my abduction fantasy had worked wonders. It had been manna from heaven, breathing life into a dull and boring (yet still new) sex life. Damien had manhandled me and tied me up. Cussed at me (you dirty fucking whore), humiliated me by making me crawl to him, tossed me in the back of his truck under the tarp (per my explicit instructions). He’d driven around in the then cool fall air until I had been bumped and bruised enough to have adrenaline coursing through my thumping veins. Then he had taken me home to his screened-in back porch and bent me over the old plaid sofa he kept out there. Or marched me into the basement stairwell as I struggled against the bonds that held my wrists and ankles together. With a Bowie knife he’d cut the rope around at my ankles, put my tethered hands around his neck and fuck me. My back rubbed raw on the stone basement wall or my knees scratched from the rough wooden porch floor. Damien fucked me until my breathing was more like sobbing. He’d smack my face, pinch my skin, call me a slut and then fuck me some more until I was boneless and my head buzzed. It had been amazing. Such a good surrender. Almost what I wanted. Almost. But then…it had waned. Every time after, the whole scenario was a little less. Not quite as bright or magical or surreal as that first time. I didn’t come as hard. My heart didn’t beat as fast. My surrender was less crisp and a little petulant. So I ask again, what the hell am I doing? The big black truck rumbled under me, the vibrations of the engine rocking up my spine and shaking my teeth in my head. I was so cold, my jaw clenched painfully. Nipples spiked against the flimsy green bra that barely covered me. Any moisture that may be between my legs was surely frozen. Then Damien’s voice drifted through the lid of the tool box. “Ember? You there?” Was I here? Where the fuck else would I be? “What is it?” I wanted to sound terrified and submissive. Nervous, unsure and weak. Instead my voice was cold and annoyed.

“I forgot the whip. You wanted me to…well, it’s in the house. I’ll be right back. Okay?” Then the crack and pop of the driveway gravel under his boots. He would be right back? I stretched, trying to push back the fear. It swelled in my chest like some thick black liquid. No good. Panic still pressed against my lungs. My hands, cuffed so I looked to be praying, hit the lid of the box with a thud. My knees banged metal in front of me. I was twisted in a loose kind of fetal position. It was only supposed to be a short ride. And he was not supposed to leave me! That was not part of the abduction scenario. It was all controlled and scripted and safe. And boring. The side door to the porch banged. I could picture it painted a shiny green, the screen old and shredded in places. Now Damien would be unlocking the kitchen door. He’d be inside. Any minute now he’d find the whip and come back out and I would be free of the anxiety that filled me. Then I heard it. First, a dream-like monstrous growling of another engine. Over that--barely-- the crackle crunch of other feet on the drive. My heart faltered, mouth went dry. Who the fuck was that? “Hello?” Something creaked and groaned and there was the sound of metal on metal. Great hisses of what sounded like pressurized air. A swell of noise swallowed my voice, but I yelled again anyway. “Hello! Who is it?” I banged the walls as hard as I could given my twisted position. Heh. That was funny. Twisted. Dear God, I certainly was. Whoisthat? Whoisthat? Whoisthat? My brain chattered as hard as my teeth. The truck went semi-vertical on me, like a dog standing on its hind end. I slid, my back smacking the diamond-patterned metal of the box. What the fuck? This was not Damien. Damien was not driving this truck. Was I being towed? I yelled in earnest but every word was swallowed by deafening sound of big machinery. Then came little bucking motion as the truck started to move. I was going to pee my pants. I was sure of it. Not that I had any pants but my panties were in danger and the possibility of a heart attack seemed very real. What a headline this could be: Nearly naked bound woman found frozen in pickup tool box! It was a sex game says the boyfriend! The truck rolled impossibly fast down the drive and we were off. I pictured it in my head. The end of the drive. The mailbox. The old farmhouse receding like a bad dream as someone piloted me into an actual nightmare. I clawed at the metal but all it did was make my fingers ache worse. Very faintly, over my wildly beating heart, I heard the slam of the screen door and Damien’s voice. “Hey! That’s my truck, mister!” That’s my truck, mister?

And that is when I decided I was done. No more Damien. No more trying with games and toys and scenarios and work, work, work. He was too much work. It shouldn’t be this hard. And it sure as shit should have been, “Hey! You’ve got my girlfriend, mister!” Asshole. ****

The blindfold covered my nose a bit and it was hard to breathe. The imagined lack of air swelled the panic in me until it was big and bright and toothy. “Down the steps. Move slow or I’ll just give you a nice little shove and speed you up a bit.” His voice cold, nasty. And I could believe him because he sounded sincere. My body thrummed with an urgency. Fear mixed with excitement. The headiest of all scents on my skin, the cool sweat of terror. I hated the dark cold stone basement stairwell with its spider webs and creepy crawly things. I hated the dirty earthen floor and the cold breeze that always seemed to seep in between the stones and mortar. I hated the malicious feel of the empty looming space. I loathed the cellar and Damien knew it. But he was angry at me, so this is how we would play. “You have to be in charge of everything, don’t you, Ember?” His petty arguments and jibes were bleeding into our game, but his annoyance was real and that made my heartbeat quicken. He was truly angry with me. And though it wasn’t the best idea to provoke him, I did. I stopped and threw my head back like any good prisoner would. Felt my skull connect with his sharp Roman nose. Heard his gasp of surprise. Nipples pointed, pussy moist with excitement, I waited. And it came. He thrust me forward with big strong forearms so I had to stumble and shuffle to keep from falling. “Do not tempt me, Ember,” he growled. I blinked under the blindfold. My heart rate so high I could feel my pulse in my ears, my forehead, my cunt. “Let me go.” Part of me really wanted him to. Part of me was scared I had fucked up. I heard his feet clad in work boots come toward me. Thudding fast like he was angry. Because he was. “Stupid fucking, cow. You’re down here because you want to be.” When he yanked my arms up to cuff me, he yanked too hard. Pain sang in my armpits and my body let loose more warm want. This is what it would really be like. Roughness and disdain. Insults and yanking. I didn’t think. I kicked out, my toes connecting with his leg around the sharp bone of his shin. I heard a toe crack. Wondered if I had broken it kicking his hard body with my bare foot. “Motherfucker,” Damien hissed. “Why are you doing this, you cunt?"

Authentic. Real. Anger. I shivered, my whole body rolling with urgent desire. “Please,” I breathed. He stopped. I heard the fridge kick on upstairs, the neighbor's dog, Clancy, barking up a storm. I heard Damien’s breathing and I heard him toeing the dirt floor. Thinking. “Please what?” He traced his fingers along my belly and the muscles fluttered and jumped. His hand slid into my panties, his fingers found my wetness. He sank two big fingers into my pussy, pressed until the words flew out of my head like little restless birds.

He took his hand away and the crack of the slap sounded in my ears before the pain lit my head up a camera flash. “Please what?” I shook my head, bit my lips, tried not to cry. My throat coiled thick and tight with unshed tears. I felt him walk behind me. He reached around, pushing his big clumsy hands back into my little white panties. He flicked my clit, pinching too hard, too fast until I shuddered. His other fingers thrust into me like he owned every inch of my skin. I sighed, cried. Shook with rage, humiliation, need. Damien’s knee spread my legs wider and his hand came down again, this time the backs of my thighs--hard and sharp like a gun crack. Every single time my ears detected the sound of his strike before my body felt it. My skin beat with my pulse, my ears too. My head full of cotton and the sound of the ocean as every blow thrummed up the backs of my thighs in to my wet pussy. Damien struck me over and over, running a pattern up my legs. But never higher. Just a running vine of blows up my long legs. Damien is an artist. How many times had he threatened to paint small portraits, words, pictures up along my thighs? Down the backs of my legs? Now he left handprints where he had once sketched invisible works of art. He yanked me so my arms suspended me and my legs left the ground. He tugged my panties so I swayed in my cuffs. Trying to help him but tangling myself up. I heard the snick of scissors and the sound of a zipper and the word, “Bitch,” rolled off his lips before he pushed into me from behind. One big rude thrust and he was in. In me and moving in huge, parting thrusts aided by the moisture my body had provided. “Look what makes her wet. Look how bad she is. What a little whore you are, Ember. Don’t you ever hit me again,” he growled. And that tone, that was Damien telling the truth "Don’t you ever do that again.” He bit the side of my throat so that sparkling halos flashed behind the blindfold. His fingers found my clit, pinching again. Pinching almost too hard for me to get off. Almost. The anger in those thrusts--real. The blows that had rained down--real. The ragged brutal thrusts deep inside of me--real. It all pin wheeled inside of me. Gathering speed and intensity until I sagged from the cuffs, sobbing, coming, saying it over and over again. “Please. Please. Please.” When Damien came he growled like an animal. With a bit of sadness in his voice he said, “There is no pleasing you. Not really.”

****

The hardest jolt rattled me and I tried to force myself back into my reality, pulling from my self-hypnosis of sex. What I realized was a farewell analysis of my time with Damien. He was right, that had been the last time it had really, really worked. There was not pleasing me. At least not for Damien. I tried to focus, freaking out would solve nothing at all. I would only blow out my energy reserve and leave myself weaker, colder and worse off. But it was hard, I had no idea where I was or who was driving. Bright white spots flowered in front of my eyes in the gloom. Maybe this was what death was like, startling flashes of white in a crushing dark. And here I was ready for death in my panties and thigh highs, tartish four inch heels and my hair teased up into a fuck-me-big-boy bed head. A hell of a way to meet St. Peter. Not that I believed in all of that for the most part. But still, it would be pretty damn embarrassing to stumble up to the pearly gates dressed like a hooker on the prowl. “You are not dying. You are forgetting to breathe.” Funny, I sounded so calm and reasonable. Too bad I could hear my own heartbeat over the Hemi engine. “Breathe, you moron. Just. Breathe.” So I did. Pothole after pothole, speed bump after endless speed bump, I did my yoga breathing. Left turns, right turns, uphill, down. My teeth chattered, skin pebbling with goose bumps over my goose bumps. I worried at my misery, rolling my doubts and anger around in my head like river rocks I was trying to smooth. How did I get here? To this fucking place? Where was my intimacy? My happily ever after? Hell I’d take a happy just for now. Another bump smacked my forehead against the low lid and I screamed. I had been using my fantasy and the kink as glue to bind me and Damien together when I should have let us drift apart. Let our relationship die a natural death. “Free self analysis, no clothes required!” I chirped and then laughed. A slight edge of hysteria in my voice. I screamed for real to let the frustration out. Jangled my cuffs, kicked and then caved and gave up. The tears came and went. Returned. Dried. After what seemed like hours but was probably only minutes (time sure did fly when your nipples were threatening to poke through your bra), the truck stopped. Painfully slow, it lowered before finally banging terra firma so hard my bones seemed to rattle. “Fuck!” I screamed and started banging again. I held my breath, body trembling uncontrollably, heart jackrabbiting. Could anyone hear me? If it wasn’t so damn dark, I’d be able to see the skin above my heart jumping. “Hello! Oh God, please, hello?” I struggled, trying to ignore the shooting pain in my toes and knees and elbows. All the bony unforgiving parts of me.

The door of the bigger vehicle slammed. I steeled myself and belted out the loudest scream possible. The sound bounced back--a shot gun blast of noise--my head swimming with my own terrified shouts and the dull electric reverberation. “Who’s that?” The voice was rich and gruff. I felt warm just hearing it. It quelled my fears to know that he, whoever the hell he was, could hear me. I wouldn’t die half naked in a utility box, after all! I could just hear my mother now, bemoaning my white trash death. One simply does not die in the back of a pickup. If you must die in a vehicle go for a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce. I shook my head to clear it. “Me! It is me. The lady in the box! I’m in the toolbox! Please, oh, god, please. If you hear me, which you clearly do,” I babbled. “Please, let me out! Now!” “Hello?” I could hardly hear him. A cold sweat popped up, followed by a hot flash and a surge of arousal. Fun. The cold sweat pricked my upper lip even as my pussy warmed. My nipples apparently thought they were turned on when they were simply frozen. Wasn’t this what happened when you died? Your whole body went haywire? And why was my pussy wet? That sealed it, I was insane. Jesus Christ, I had to stop thinking death thoughts, the man was right there! I flailed around, making as much noise as possible. Hopefully I wouldn‘t just knock myself unconscious. The point was to be really loud so he wouldn’t leave me here. “In here. Here!” I banged awkwardly with my knees and hands until blood trickled from my knuckles. I strained to hear the sound of the crunch and pop of boots on gravel. And it occurred to me, who was this person? And what would happen if I got out of the box? Who, exactly, was I dealing with?

Chapter 2 I jumped when someone banged the outside of the box. Another huge scream burbled out of me and my poor ears roared with the feedback. “Yes! Yes, in here!” I rolled from side to side ridiculously elated and relieved. “Here I am. I am freezing. Hurry, please open the box! Oh, please mister whoever you are, open the box.” “Motherfucker,” he said. He was close enough for me to make out his words clearly now. “Lady where’s the key?” The key? Where was the key? I took a shot in the dark. “The key ring!”

The truck had been running when it was taken. So surely they were on the key ring. But something in my mind said no. No. Damien lost his key and gotten a spare. Where had he hidden it? Where? I held my breath when his footsteps receded. Lucky bastard, outside instead of in a big stainless steel coffin. The truck door open, it screamed because it needed to be oiled. I prayed. Please God, I’m not so sure where you stand on sex games and I know Damien and I aren’t married. And you may be totally against handcuffs barring their use for law enforcement, but please…Please, oh please, let the key be on that ring. I swear I will only wear big white granny panties forever and ever amen if that key is on that ring and he can save me! Amen and Hallelujah and thank you Lord Jesus, Saint Peter, Mother Mary, The Holy Spirit and Joan of Arc… I was way out of my element when it came to religion or prayers, but fuck it. It was worth a shot. “Hey!” Bang, bang, bang. He rapped on the box and my head ached worse. I had a killer of a migraine and would gladly chew off my right arm to be free. “Lady. There is no key for this box on that ring. Any other ideas?” Where? Where, oh where had that stupid fucktard Damien put his key so that he would not lose it? He didn’t use it often. He never locked the damn thing but for our game. Tears streaked my face, growing cold as they ran. Oh sweet God, where was it? …I lose everything you know that. So I put it in my wallet behind the condom. I was screwed. “Oh no!” I wailed, completely defeated. I tried to be a make it work kind of girl. But how did one make frostbite and imminent death by hypothermia work for them? “Don’t cry!” he said. His tone clipped and annoyed. The sharp order somehow comforting given the circumstances. “I can’t help it.” I could feel that he was there and it was reassuring. I was not alone. If I pressed my hand to the cold metal he was only inches away. “I’m scared and freezing. I’m going to die.” “You’re not going to die.” His voice sneaked through the seams in the metal. A rough voice like sandpaper on the skin. It got into my head and made me have to fight not to beg. Get me out now! Please, please, please save me! Instead I fought shivers and curled up as tight as I could to keep warm. “You don’t understand.” He pulled at the lock and let it fall. The heavy bong felt like it was in my skull. I clenched my jaw harder. “What don’t I understand?” His hands slid along the seams of the lid and I held my breath, praying. “I’m practically naked.” I blurted out my dirty confession. A muscle in my calf doubled up on me. Pain shot up my leg to my ass and I made that horrible dying cow sound.

“What’s wrong now? Are you okay?” For just an instant he sounded worried. But calm prevailed. “Tell me what you’re talking about.” A poof of cold air slid under the tiny crack he made when he tested the lid. The slack didn‘t even allow a crack big enough for him to peek in at me. I was grateful for a moment but realized he‘d see me anyway. Hopefully. When he rescued me. If he rescues you. I couldn’t let myself think that way. “I’m not so much…um…dressed.” Would it be inappropriate to just beat my head against the metal until I achieved a blissful state of unconsciousness? Probably. “I’m nearly naked.” “Look, lady, are you naked? If you’re naked we have a problem because you’ve been in there a while and it’s pretty fucking cold out here.” The lock jangled again as he messed with it. Was he picking it? “I’m in a bra and panties and…” “And?” “Handcuffs and rope.” Another blurted confession. Total silence. Total. Fucking. Silence. And then, a slow cruel chuckle. “Okay. Got it. I hijacked you during a game. Okay. Sit tight. Think warm thoughts. I’ve got some bolt cutters in the back of my truck. I’ll have you out of there before all the good stuff is frozen.” Another soft chuckle that seemed to tiptoe up my spine like soft little cat paws. “Don’t move.” I threw back my head, frustrated beyond measure. “Like I have a choice!” ****

When that lid swung back, revealing a blue-black sky dotted with pinpricks of white stars, I cried. I imagined this is what it was like to be pulled from the ocean in a riptide right before you started sucking water into your lungs. A very big man gazed in at me, saying nothing at all. My body clenched tight like a fist. I didn’t think it was possible to be colder than I was right at that moment. His mouth moved but all I heard were my own hysterical sobs. I was inexplicably terrified now that I had been saved. “What?” My teeth chattered louder. I couldn‘t hear him over my own clicking jaws. “One more time,” I said. “I said, come here. Take my hand.” And then he simply took my bound hands in his. He pulled me to my feet. My body balked at unclenching. It hurt to unbend myself.

“Green, eh?” He smiled. When my knees gave out, he caught me. Effortlessly. As if I were some tiny boneless rag doll instead of long and leggy and completely awkward at the moment. I realized he meant my bra and panties. “I was feeling spring-like.” My body melded to him instantly. He could have been Jack the Ripper and it wouldn’t have mattered. He was warm. “Too bad for you it’s like twelve degrees,” he said. “But I’m digging the panties. And the thought behind them.” The truck rocked when he walked to the edge of the bed. When he jumped to the ground, I prayed again. Please do not let the large slightly scary man drop me. My legs are bound. So are my hands. All my bones will break. Please let him be athletic. Amen. He landed easily but I huddled closer. “Freezing,“ I said. I yawned. I was so tired. The stranger smoothed his hand over my ass, thumbed the back of my thigh. His fingers stroked my lower back. His hands tried to warm me but there was too much of me bare to warm. My body responded, though sluggishly, when he palmed my bottom. His heat penetrated me. “F-f-freezing,” I said. “I’m working on it. Let’s get you in the cab. I have some overalls in the back and I think a spare jacket. The heat’s on full blast. And then…” He laughed again. It was a nice only slightly terrifying laugh. “Then?” “We’ll deal with the cuffs.” I rubbed my hands together as well as I could while cuffed. I buried my face against his blue jacket and willed myself to vanish. To time travel back and decide tonight was not the night for the abduction game. He opened the cab and the light winked on. His eyes were dark brown and warm, laugh lines crowded the corners, stubble peppered his chin. Dirty blond hair and a sharp nose. “I’m still here, “ I said. Beyond embarrassed, beyond mortified. He pulled the knots and freed my legs, face intent like he was working a puzzle. “Yep. Sorry, it wasn’t a dream, girl. Just you and me. Your knight in shining armor.” He smirked and left me on the cracked vinyl seat. The heater poured warm air over me. I put my hands out to soak it up. “But you are my knight in shining armor,” I said. It was safe to say it because he wasn‘t there to hear. When he got back he looked less sure of himself. Or maybe he was just freaked out by finding prisoner me locked up like a heroine in a bad horror movie. “Did you steal me?“ I blurted. God help me, my panties were wet. I didn’t realize until I blurted it out, but there it was. And what was there to stop him from seeing that if he chose to look? Nothing at all. The panties certainly were not going to shield me from those eyes.

Stupid abduction fixation. What a time for it to rear its head. Now. With nothing between his gaze and my truth but a pair of lime green panties. A very real urge to kiss him arose. Followed closely by the need to have him kiss me. “Technically, yes. Does that flip your switch?” He wrapped me in a thick wool blanket. “Better than the overalls while you still have those on.” He nodded to the shiny silver cuffs holding me captive. “So back to our conversation, don’t ignore me--does that get you off?” I studied my fingernails, busted and cracked now from my ordeal. I watched him work bolt cutters over the chain between the cuffs. “A bit. The whole abduction thing is a fantasy kind of thing for me.” Jesus. Why was I telling him this? Easy. He’d asked me and I felt compelled to answer. He nodded as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “I figured it was something like that. No big deal. Do you possibly want to know my name?” The metal chain parted like warm butter and there I sat in two heavy silver, but separate, bracelets. “Thank you,” I said. “And yes, I would very much like to know. What is your name? My name is Ember Sullivan.” He stared at me. “Ember. Nice. Very hot. And I’m sure that is the first time you’ve heard that.” He pulled a pair of overalls from the front seat and tossed them to me. “My name is Lucas. Or Luke if you prefer. And I just took your boyfriend’s truck because he hasn’t been paying and it’s my job. I repo from guys like that.” I shrugged into the overalls, shaking so badly that he finally reached over and helped me. His big fingers worked the snaps over my bare skin. There was another urge, I noted clinically. The urge to arch up into his big, nicked up, grease stained hand. Place my frozen breast into his warm palm with a small shift of my body. Instead I said, “My full name is September. Bet you can’t guess what month I was born.” That earned me another laugh. His eyes found mine and then he was back to the snaps. I shifted, nervous and excited. “So, Damien wasn’t paying on the truck. Hunh.” Then it hit me. “Shit! I bet he reported me missing for real. I mean, he clearly wasn’t expecting you.” “Damien and Ember,” Lucas said. He climbed in and turned the key. The engine caught, complained, and the air from the dash got hotter. “How very Dante’s Inferno. Before you get your panties in a bunch ”more laughter here that made me blush “let me call your man and see what he says.” I was afraid of what he would find out. Sad but true. I waited, body trembling even under the huge overalls and the blanket. The wool smelled vaguely of gas and possibly dog. He handed me a hot cup of coffee while he dialed. The heat from the cup nearly made me weep with joy. “Lucky guy.” I barely heard him over the engine. “I‘m done for the night and I find his girl all trussed up in her pretty green panties. Pretty panties, pretty girl. I might not give you back,” he teased.

There it was again. My secret little fetish. I might not give you back. My initial secret instinct was to submit and please. I sipped instead, the coffee burned my tongue. It gave me something to focus on, that hot little pain on my tongue. “Hey there, friend. My name is Lucas Crow, I just took your truck.” Damien’s enraged voice issued from the phone. I couldn’t help but smile. He was pissed--good. Fuck him. Yelling about his truck but not me? He deserved it if Lucas doused the truck in gasoline and lit it up like the Fourth of July. I pushed my free hand to the warm dash and strained to hear. Lucas frowned. Shook his head. Crow. I liked that name. I’d have to ask if he was Native American. His hair was light but the nose was right. And the high cheekbones that begged to be traced with a fingertip. I shook my head and looked out into the dark rushing past the windows. Get a grip, girl. Focus. “I understand that, Damien, but that’s not my concern. See, I work for Sideswipe. And independent contractor, if you will. They give me an assignment and I wrangle the vehicle and bring it to the lot. After that, the company figures it out. Not me. Doesn’t matter one lick if you had to pay a vet bill for your dog or you mother needed an operation.” He rolled his eyes at me. “Lie and lie,” I mouthed. Crow grinned and nodded. My belly did a slow, lazy roll and I had to shift in my seat again. Inappropriately horny. What did one do about that kind of situation? “Dude…hey, man, listen to me. You can call this number in the morning and plead your case.” He rattled off a phone number while I hunched toward the heat. I opened the blanket a bit, trying to catch the warm drifts of air. I ignored how muscular his forearms were. And how big his fingers seemed. He was imposing without being inflated. An air of confidence surrounded him. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me, sir? About the truck?” Lucas pointed to me and to the phone. I nodded. Here was Damien’s chance. He could step up and try to save me. I held my breath. Lucas frowned and my heart sank. “That’s it?” he said. I leaned in but the words were lost to me. Lucas sighed, and hit the disconnect button on his cell. He cut Damien off in mid bellow. “Well?” “He told me he’d just had the paint touched up and not to scratch it.” Crow looked mortified on my behalf and somehow that was even more embarrassing. “Not a word about me?” “No. I’m sorry, la Ember. Really. Look, let me take you home and I’ll kick his stupid fucked up ass for you.” He leaned in and grinned. So close to me he was sucking up all my air. It felt like he would kiss me, he was that close. I wanted him to kiss me. Despite how much I loathed men at the moment, I wanted his lips on mine.

“I can’t go there. He left me to die.” I tried saying it matter of factly, but my voice shook. One tear broke free. I wanted to die of embarrassment right there. “I have to go somewhere else.” “Where do you want me to take you?” He put his hand on my arm, a comforting gesture that somehow exuded a heavy sensuality. It was simply that he‘d saved me. I knew that deep down. It didn’t make his masculine pull any easier to handle. Then it hit me. The ugly truth. “I don’t have anywhere to go.” A wall of tears obscured my vision. I swallowed and swallowed again to keep from crying. Bit my tongue and pinched my thigh and tried to slide away from him on the bench seat. But he caught me up, a kind arm around my shoulder as the first wave of tears broke the barrier of my lower lashes. “Hey, hey, Ember. September--can I call you that? Good,” he went on without waiting for my approval. “Why are you crying? Don’t cry. Why are you crying?” “Because I keep biting my tongue so I won’t cry.” “But you are crying.” “I know.” “So why are you crying?” “Because now my tongue hurts!” For whatever reason, his gruff barely audible laughter made me feel better. I had to figure out where to go. I’d be fucked blue and tattooed before I’d go home to Damien. That ass.

Chapter 3 Lucas put the tow truck in gear and it took off with a grunt. He hit a button on a remote attached to his visor. The gates opened slowly in the darkness. I sniffled, trying so hard not to let the embarrassment turn me inside out. My emotional state was not making a good first impression. Abduction Fantasy Barbie in my green undies wasn’t a great start either. I was pretty much screwed as far as first impressions went. “Where are you taking me?” My heart pounded. If he said the police station, I’d open the door and jump for it. What more could a girl want than to take a flying leap from a moving truck while handcuffs circled her wrists. Oh yeah, a boyfriend who’d think it important to mention that you were locked in the back of his truck. You know, so you didn‘t freeze to death. “Home. I’ve got some cuffs and the key should work just fine. We’ll get your wrists free, dunk you in a shower, dress you in some sweats and regroup.” I blinked at him, feeling stupid. Streetlights threw flashes of yellow and silver over his strong profile. One moment he looked angelic, the next nearly demonic. A surreal and gorgeous play of light that showed me how little I knew about the man sitting next to me. No matter what the light, he always appeared gorgeous, I noted. “I’m sure your wife will love that.“ I was testing the waters though I wanted to deny it. Not quite ready to admit my attraction, I was cheating. Probing. If a shrink got a hold of me, he’d have a field day. “No wife.” He put his turn signal on and took a sharp left. My ass slid across the bench seat, my thigh banged his before I could scramble back to my side. The chains on the cuffs jangled merrily and he smiled. “And before you go there, no girlfriend either. So no one will care if I bring home a woman who’s cuffed up and bare. And you‘re kind of blue, in case you were curious.” He stared at me not smiling and my heart grew too big for my chest. “ No one will care if I get her out of her cuffs and no one will care if I put her in a hot steamy shower and dress her in my too big clothes. No one. Except maybe Daisy.” His description in that soft sure voice made my heart flutter. With Lucas it seemed that every word was deliberate. He’d be the man who rarely cared what others thought. Who did what he wanted and that was the way it was. If you didn’t like it, I bet Lucas Crow would tell you to go fuck yourself. “Daisy?” “My dog. She might be pissed. But if you give her a treat, she’ll love you for life. She is a little big, so don’t freak out, okay? You’ll want to, but don’t.” In my head, X-rated images played of me pinned to the shower wall by a huge wet Lucas. I struggled to inhale, barely managed. The movie in my head was full of steam surrounding us. His big

hands pinned my hips to the cool white tile. His knee parted my thighs, forcing my stance wide so that I was open to him. Exposed to his touch. When his fingers found my pussy, I arched to meet him. His thumb rubbed my clit in perfect circles until I made a soft sound. His fingers slipped inside of me, pushing into my warmth, seeking out every secret place in my cunt that would make me shiver in his arms like I was still cold. His lips would taste like coffee and cinnamon. They would cover my lips and his tongue would push hard into my mouth. His kiss would be almost angry. Possessive. Alarming. I heard a small sound when my throat squeaked. He leaned in and I jumped like he’d burned me. “Earth to Ember, I said, okay?” “Yeah. Okay. Your dog is big. Got it.” I sucked in a shaky breath and pushed the rest of the stuff in my head away. It came back instantly. Showed me in detail, Lucas Crow rubbing the head of his cock to my wet slit. I gasped and then covered poorly with a cough. I managed to clear my mind when he pulled up in front of a small cottage. He helped me down from his giant truck. I stumbled when my knees gave from a mix of exhaustion and relief. Lucas steadied me, mumbled easy and helped me up the dark walk to his house. The barking started half way to the door. Big Daisy. Big dog that would love me if I gave her a treat. No big deal, I reminded myself. Lucas opened the door and a blur of black and white the size of a small person came bounding toward us. Daisy made a sound that put my hair on end. I backpedaled, bouncing off of Lucas. I grabbed at him with clumsy fingers, trying to find something to clutch. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” I was chanting it as if I could summon up a savior. “That’s not a dog. That’s a horse.” “Oh, she’s a baby,” Lucas said but stepped in front of me. “Daisy, heel!” Daisy did so but didn’t look happy about it. I peeked out. “I don’t think she likes me.” “Don’t be silly. Let’s get you a treat to give her.” He rummaged in his pocket but I couldn’t help but notice that he stayed in front of me the whole damn time. ****

Daisy greeted me in a super aggressive way. It was clear the behemoth was not happy. I could tell by the way she showed her teeth. As if to say, he’s mine, bimbo, back off. A huge Dalmatian colored beast, Daisy had big paws, floppy ears, one blue eye and one green. “She’s pretty, if not frightening. What is she?” “Part Great Dane, part Burmese Mountain Dog and part other stuff.” “Part bear?” I followed him up the steps when he tugged my hand. Daisy followed close on my heels, hot breath rushing over the backs of my legs. The dog was tall. Her snout probably waist high to

me. I couldn’t help but imagine what might happen to my poor spine should Daisy decide to sink her teeth into me right above my tailbone. “She just wants more treats, don’t act afraid. Trust me. You do not want to act afraid.” “Shh, then! Saying that makes me more afraid.” I took the steps faster, staying right on Lucas’s heels. My own unstable breathing didn’t distract me from noticing how nice his ass looked in faded denim. Or how his jacket hugged his broad shoulders. What would he look like with the jacket off? Or all his clothes. “…in here. I have a few that might work. If not, I can try and pick the locks. Might be able to do it, too. I bet I can.” “What?” Damn. I had to stop going off into pornographic fugues. I was not here to get laid, I was here to…what? Hide? “I said, the key should be in here.” He pulled me into what could only be his bedroom. Daisy sat at the threshold, settling down in the doorway like the Sphinx. She seemed to be blocking all possible escape routes. I cleared my throat, nerves making my belly tingle. The hair on the back of my neck tingled too. My pussy was so wet and hot that I was hyper aware of it. The whole thing made my cheeks blaze. I dropped onto his tall, old fashioned bed. It sported an ornate wood headboard that dominated most of one wall. Antique. Nice. I touched it, feeling mildly stunned, while Lucas rummaged through his closet. I wouldn’t even ask why he had handcuff keys. Not one key. Plural-- keys. “Let’s try this one,” he knelt. The elevated mattress hit him at shoulder height. “I like this bed. Is it a family heirloom?” Lucas nodded, pushing a small silver key into the hole. “Family heirloom, yep. Rough guesstimate is it’s about a hundred and twenty years old and I’m the fourth generation to have it. Nope. That one didn’t work.” He pushed a slightly larger key into the hole. “You have a lot of keys on that ring,” I said, my voice soft. Daisy snorted, lowered her head, her eyes drifting shut. “I have a lot of use for them. When I choose.” He bent his head, turned the key, the cuff sprang open. He didn’t say any more on the subject. Simply undid the other cuff, took them both and dumped them in a tall silver trash can in the corner. “Better?” I rubbed my wrists, though they weren’t raw, they felt it. It was surprisingly emotional to have them off. “Yes, thank you.” He plopped onto the bed next to me, hands on his thighs. Big hands. Nice hands. Squared off fingertips and big knuckles. Some oil and grease stains at the knuckles. Lots of small nicks and scars. The

hands of a man who worked hard and played hard. And fucked hard? “So you and this Damien…you played games?” I nodded, studied my own hands. The same hands as before. A bit stiff and cold still. Plain, boring, event planner hands. “Yeah. Sorry you were pulled into it. Sorry you had to find me that way. Trust me, very sorry. I’m sure that was not on your agenda for the night.” He grinned and hooked an arm around my neck. “You were a very pleasant surprise on a cold, lonely night.” His brotherly way made me feel somewhat shunned. He kissed the top of my head, which seemed both normal and shocking. “So, let’s talk. You were the one who wanted the playtime?” His voice was almost tactile it was so rough. Something in my chest loosened. Felt a little freer than usual. “Yeah. Me. I couldn’t…I didn’t. It made stuff better for me. We were stale.” “Rape or abduction? Or both?” His voice dropped lower. Fear prickled at the nape of my neck even as a whorl of pleasure unfurled in the softest spot between my legs. I cleared my throat. “Abduction. I’m sure you think I’m insane.” “No. Not insane. But you have an abduction fantasy. An urge to submit. To be taken, yeah?” I nodded, too mortified by the confession to speak. I could feel twin hot spots on my cheeks. My fingers plucked at the woolen blanket. “But you would say you wanted it. You’d tell him, or did he ever instigate? I mean, clearly you don‘t have to tell me.” “No-no, it’s fine. I can say it. I would tell him.” His voice dropped even further to match mine. “That’s why it still wasn’t working. Do you trust me?” “What? I…” Did I? Shit, I should. The man had hauled me out of danger and given me a small corner of safety. “I think so. I suppose.” “Not good enough.” Lucas grabbed my arm and pulled me to another door. “Shower’s in there. There are towels under the sink and shower gel on the shelf. I’ll dig up some sweats for you. Then we’ll see about some food. Okay?” Warm brown eyes, sharp nose, calm low voice. He had the effect of a big glass of wine, taking my jangling nerves to a calmer more serene place. “Yeah, sure. Okay. And Lucas?” He turned, half way out of the door. “Yeah? “Thank you. You have no idea how grateful I am. For everything. Especially for not laughing at me.” I said the last to my feet. Unable or unwilling to look him in the eye.

“Nothing to laugh at, September,” he said and shut the door.

Chapter 4

I lathered my hair for the second time. I wasn’t dirty. I had showered and primped before letting Damien haul me kicking and screaming down the steps in a sloppy fireman’s carry. There he’d dropped me (unceremoniously) into the back of the truck. I’d done my makeup for the night before Damien slammed the lid on my little prison, shutting off the world. I’d put on careful black swipes of mascara, painted my lips cherry red. Spritzed myself with Juicy Couture perfume. I’d been ready for play. Now I huddled in the warm water, exhausted and shaky. The hot water that sluiced over my head, across my scalp and between my breasts was heaven. A million hot wet tongues on my skin. A knock sounded, then that voice. Immediately I felt it in me. My pussy growing slicker than the shower could make me. My heart beat hard in my chest. “Ember?” “Yes?” It was like rolling a boulder uphill to push that word over my lips. Just him saying my name had somehow caused all of my nerves to misfire. I clenched up my internal muscles and let a small pulse of pleasure roll through my pelvis. I had to stop. But I did it again. He was right there. So I did it a third time. My own muscles inching me closer to a very needed orgasm. “Clean clothes on the bed. I’ll be downstairs. Omelet? Are you hungry?” He was just on the other side of the opaque white curtain. Plain white. No muss, no fuss. Barren of decorations or flair, his bathroom was black and white with a few red towels. Spare but clean cut, like him. A no bullshit, no foo-foo kind of person. “Sure. I could eat, I guess.” I really didn’t want to eat. I flexed my insides again as heat flooded my cunt. I tried to breathe quietly, hoping the steady hiss and drip of the shower would cover the small gasps I made. The curtain wagged and I clamped a hand over my mouth when his head appeared. He stared at me for a beat. His big brown eyes studying my neediness, how I shook in the spray. I covered only my mouth which was insane. “You’ll eat. You were damn near frozen.” He didn’t smile, just raked his dark gaze up and down my body. Eyes stopping a beat too long at breasts, navel and then the shaved mound between my thighs. A moment before the water had been perfect, now it was too hot, like I might burst into a flurry small red flames. “Hurry up,” he said and the growl in his voice made me close my eyes. “Coming.” I had the nerve to look into his eyes for three heartbeats. And then my eyes dropped and the curtain whooshed and he was gone. “Coming,” I said again and set about doing just that.

****

My fingers tickled over my clit, moving in slow, soft circles. My shoulder blades hit the cool tile wall and I spread my legs a bit. Closing my eyes, I let the heavy exhaustion settle on me like a lead blanket. My fingers moved over my wet skin, rubbing the tender spot that made my heart beat even faster. I felt light headed from the goodness of it. I let my mind go. It was him. On his knees like he’d been when he had unlocked my cuffs. It was his face pushing between my soft upper thighs, his tongue parting me and pressing my clit with a wet weight that staggered me. I slipped one finger, then another, into my cunt. Pushed my feet further apart and thrust my fingers higher, stroking my G-spot. My fingers rolled faster over my clit as I fucked myself. He would be rough with me. In bed, he would be rough. In life, gruff. The sounds of my fingers sliding in and out of my pussy was an even wetter sound than even the falling water could make. My body coiled tight for release. My fingers flew, drawing warm wet circles over my clit as my over stimulated brain showed me beautiful scary Lucas kneeling, his full gorgeous mouth on me. The flash of his hot pink tongue on my pussy. Licking me slow, staring up with his dark, dark eyes to watch my face as he lapped at the pink flesh between my legs. Making noises just so I could hear him drinking me in. Eating me and make me come. God, he was so imposing. Harsh. But somehow he made me feel the world was spinning at just the right speed. Not too fast, which was how I felt a lot of the time. “And you’ve known him a whole hour, genius,” I whispered. The orgasm rushed over me. It took me down in a knee weakening rush and then started to die off a bit too fast. I could have drawn the release out but fatigue was winning. I was grateful for it, too, because it let me not examine what I was feeling for my rescuer. Or was he my warden now? I opened my eyes and screamed. My voice big and booming and then gone from my throat. I yelped again but nothing came from me but a wheeze. He stood there watching me, just a small grin on his face. I hadn’t heard a sound. Not the door or the curtain. No steps on the tile. He was like smoke. A voyeuristic ghost who had just watched me get off. And had heard me talking to myself. About him! “I’m pretty captivating,” he said. I wanted to liquefy right there. Swirl down the drain like a ribbon of water. “I…” Cracking from the stress of it, I started to cry all over again. I cried from my huge frustration, because part of me was completely turned on that he had just watched me. That he knew. Part of me was jubilant. What the fuck did that mean? I was so confused. “You’ll figure it out,” he said. “It’s very difficult sometimes to figure out just how you’re bent.” That was all he said. He ripped the curtain open all the way and held a huge red bath sheet open wide. I waited a moment. Stark naked, dripping on the cool tile, getting cold fast.

Lucas stared. No embarrassment, no tell of any kind. I thought briefly that he must be a hell of a Poker player. But his face was kind. Handsome without being pretty. His huge hands holding warmth open for me. Comfort within my reach. I took a deep breath and stepped into the warm embrace of the red towel and Lucas Crow. ****

The omelet was kick ass. Better than any I’d ever had in a restaurant. Some mild white cheese, mushroom, sautéed onions, a hint of garlic. And toast. Toast had never tasted so good to me. A few strips of crisp bacon and another steaming cup of coffee. I couldn’t remember being so happy to have breakfast for dinner, or more grateful to be safe and clean and warm. I was so peaceful I managed to not be mortified. I wasn’t angry at Lucas for spying on me or invading my privacy. Or any of the things I would normally be fuming about. Instead, I felt glowy and pretty and secure. “So you steal cars?” He stopped, mid-bite and grinned. That grin lit me up on the inside. Like taking a shot of liquor and feeling it warm as it traveled lower and lower. I shifted in my seat, determined not to feel the arousal I felt every time I looked at him. He laughed. “No. I repossess vehicles from people who have reneged on their commitment to pay.” “Ah. Got it. You’re like what’s his name in that 80s movie.” “I am in no way like anything from the eighties,” he said. He swigged some more coffee and then stood, opened a cabinet, poured a shot of whiskey into his mug. Without asking, he slopped a dollop into my coffee. “I don’t like whiskey,” I said. My head buzzed with how close and warm the kitchen felt. “Drink it. It’ll get your system all ironed out. You were cold to the bone. Then all that hot, hot water on top of it.” His gaze slid over me again and I felt naked as opposed to wrapped in his oversized sweat clothes. “It will reboot your system. Get you settled.” I sipped it and felt the burn of coffee and liquor on my tongue. Searing down the back of my throat. The whiskey warmed an auburn trail through me, I hummed. “Not as bad as I thought it would be.” Lucas put his hand forward, slow and steady like I might spook. He smoothed the hair from my forehead and shook his head, a frown bowing his mouth. “What?” I asked. “I should go kick his ass, is all.” His brown eyes had turned darker. Nearly black in the pale buttery light of the ceiling fixture. He swigged down the rest of his coffee and dialed on his cell. “Marcus? Hey man, it’s Lucas Crow, let me ask you a favor. Sure, I can hold.” I finished the toast and omelet. Sipped the coffee and managed a smile. It really wasn’t so very terrible once you took a few sips. Like the first time sampling red wine, at first it is intense and overpowering if not off-putting. But the more you sip, the more your palate adjusts, the more you want.

I watched him on the phone. Resting my chin on my hand to hold my own head up I was so tired. I really studied him while he was distracted. Lucas paced the small kitchen. I was fixated on his faded jeans and how they fit him. His body was lean and muscular but not pumped. This was no gym-rat body, this was a man who worked hard and probably earned that body with heavy lifting, movement and time outdoors. “Yeah, let me ask, anything come through for a missing woman in the last few hours? Local. About a ten mile radius of the station house.” While he waited, I watched his broad back, his hard shoulders, his strong neck. Crow’s dark blonde hair swirled here and there with unruly cowlicks. His intense eyes made me think bad things. “You okay?” He frowned. I laughed. It sounded high and nervous and so fucking stupid. I downed the rest of the tepid spiked coffee. To him, I probably looked stoned or stunned. I wasn‘t any of those. Just muzzy headed, trying to figure out how I got from playing a sex game to where I was. Part of the confusion was my bizarre comfort being around him. “Fine. Just tired and very, very sore.” I moved my shoulders and winced. “Beat to shit from rolling around in the truck bed.” He moved behind me, kneading the hard muscles in my shoulders. His fingers, insanely strong, dug into my tight muscles. I moaned before I could stop myself. Lucas laughed but then Marcus, wherever he was, must have returned. “No, that’s too old. That one’s too young. How about mid to late twenties? Tall, blonde, blue green eyes, thin but not bony. Built.” This last word he said right into my ear. His voice had dropped a bit and it sent a zing through me. Singing in my blood, making my nipples go hard. My head had never felt more full of cotton, but in a pleasant way I didn’t want to end. I liked the way his voice alone could send my whole self into throbbing confusion. I tried really hard to breathe then. Tried to suck in some air as he hovered right there at my ear. His lips so close to me. My earlobe, my throat, the tingling nape of my neck. Just then his mouth could have found my shoulder, his teeth my collar bone. Right then it felt as if he could see straight through the gray billows of his sweat clothes and into my heart. Into the part of me that both feared and knew the truth. “He didn’t,” I said. As usual, he moved so fast it was hard to track him. Lucas trapped the phone between his ear and shoulder, hooked his foot in the chair leg and turned me a quarter turn. He dropped to one knee God, there he was, so close all over again and fixed stern dark eyes on me. What? he mouthed. I shook my head. He mouthed it again. Tapping my thigh with his hard fingertip. Like he was punching in a code to make me talk. I shook my head, eyes welling with tears that doubled my vision. What the fuck was with me tonight? All of my wires were crossed. I felt like a crazy woman from all the emotions swirling through me. One moment I felt sad, the next thrilled, the next scared.. It was all too much and I felt my lips tremble like I was freezing. Lucas frowned harder, then his attention went back to the phone.

“Yeah. Okay, man. Thanks for checking. Listen, if anything does come in for that area that matches her description, will you ring my cell? Nah. Nothing to worry about. A friend. And she’s fine, but I don’t know if the guy will report her missing. Right.” Quiet laughter here, he stood. “Yeah. No sweat, Marcus. See you next Friday. Bring lots of money because I plan on whipping your ass. I’ve been brushing up on my mad Poker skills.” Lucas disconnected. “He’s a good friend. We grew up together.“ He squatted back down in front of me. “What were you saying? He didn’t what?” “Report me missing. He just…left me. Oh my god, that stupid motherfucker left me for dead.” That did me in. I started to vibrate with tears and it felt like I would vibrate apart right in his rustic little kitchen. Right there in front of a man who had watched my face while I came, daydreaming about him and his mouth, completely oblivious to his presence. I said it so I could hear it for myself. Nothing is as hard as the truth. “He didn‘t care. He left me for dead.” I dropped my head even as he cupped my chin. He said into my hair, “Basically, he did. And at some point, I’m going to kick his dumb ass until it’s in front of him instead of behind.” Lucas pulled me into his arms again. How many times this night had he done that? I’d lost count. It was pity. It had to be. I told myself that even as he stroked my back, a dry kind of anger radiating off of him in invisible but nearly tangible waves. God help Damien. “Come on, let me make you another cup of coffee.” “I hate whiskey.” I reluctantly let him break the embrace. He had an inch long scar on his left jaw line. Another through his right eyebrow. There were golden flecks in his eyes and his front tooth was crooked. “Why are you staring at me?” “Your tooth is crooked.” “So’s yours.” He grinned. I ran my tongue and then a finger over my front teeth and noticed he was right. It was crooked right like his. I smiled. “We match.” “Wine?” He brushed the bangs off my face. In need of a trim and way too long to tame, they fell right back in my eyes. “I would like wine. I’m freezing. I’m pissed. I’m pissed and freezing.” “I hear you. Now tell me. Why would you bother playing games with that turd? That cannot have been the first time he was an asshole. You had to have known.” Before I could answer, his phone beeped. “Yeah, Max? Personal emergency. Send my calls over to Toby. He needs the extra work with the baby coming. Yeah. I’ll be back on tomorrow. No, I’m fine. Probably a bad crab cake.” Lucas laughed long and hard, but never took his eyes off of me. He mouthed

the word boss. I huddled with my wine, worrying his borrowed sweatshirt between my fingertips to soothe myself.

Chapter 5

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You can go to work. I can go to a hotel.” “And pay with what?” “Um. I can go to a shelter?” My stomach bottomed out at just the thought. But I had no family here. They were all in West Virginia. And I had no good friends. They were all back home, too. There were two women from work that I was on the verge of friendship with. And there was Damien. But now I didn’t have Damien any more. I bit my bottom lip and steadied my breathing. Freaking out and acting like a victim would not change this awful mess. There was no reason to make Lucas Crow responsible for me in any way. It simply wasn’t fair. “September,” he said, frowning at me. “Look, I know we just met, but I cannot picture you in a shelter, sweetheart. They’d eat you alive.” “Well…I can’t stay here!” I threw my arms up and let them fall into my lap. A gulp of wine burned my throat. Careful, don’t drink it too fast. You just had whiskey. Down he went again. On his knees on the jaunty red and yellow floor tile. I really loved his kitchen. Or was it that I loved he even had a kitchen like this? “Why not? Do I scare you?” His smile was boyish and playful but under it all he really wanted to know. “No,” I mumbled. “Maybe. Just a bit.” But in a good way, I wanted to say. Like my blood was flowing faster and cleaner. I forced myself to look him in the eye. He smiled wider, still kind but a bit devious. “What was that? You just turned bright pink. Is it because I saw you?” He traced the nearly invisible line of my kneecap through the huge sweatpants. The fingertip must have been dipped in lava because it blazed up my leg like a brush fire. Hot and fast and right to the heart of the matter. Right to my pussy where I had yet to be satisfied the way I’d originally intended for the night. “Yeah. Most women would turn pink if someone caught them…” I trailed off. I could force myself not to cry but I couldn’t push these words past my lips. I traced my other kneecap to keep my focus, to keep a balance between his touch and mine. His fingers were making my head swim. It wasn’t the alcohol. It was him.

Lucas leaned in and his face was close enough for me to see each individual hair that pushed through his tan skin. I could make out each tiny wrinkle at the corner of his eyes, showing how much he had laughed in his life. And how much sun he had gotten over the years. I could smell coffee on his breath and oil on his clothes. He was so striking it made my heart hurt. “Masturbating?” he asked softly. His lips a fraction of an inch from mine. His warm breath on my lips, my cheek. “Yes, that.” Not much of an answer. I wasn’t even sure he’d heard me. “Touching yourself?” Closer now. His fingers still rubbing circles and patterns and whorls on my knee, though my own finger had stilled. My pussy literally thumped now. A wet, hungry heartbeat at my very center. Wanting so badly for him to grab me, shake me a bit and take my mouth in whatever way he chose. Yes, it was unsafe. Not wise. Maybe just stupid, but here I was with him looking at me that way and those were the pictures running through my mind. “Yes. Touching myself.” Lucas pushed his fingers higher when I said it. My confession earned me a rough rub of his wide thumb over my clit. He went right to it like he had that X-ray vision I feared. Simply ran a line up my leg and centered in on me there. He stroked, the pressure soft and perfect. My eyes fell closed and my head tipped back. “Does that feel good, Ember?” I nodded, it was all I could do. Lucas removed his hand. I opened my eyes and he stared at me like I had been here a thousand times and we’d known each other forever. I read that look and said, out loud, “Yes. It feels good.” I was rewarded for my verbal skills. His finger returned and pushed me more firmly, rubbed a half-assed, lazy circle that curled my bare toes on the cool tile floor. Watching his face made me uncoil inside. Pieces of the horrible night lifted off of me, fell away in dirty chunks as he moved closer. I would have been surprised if a sheet of paper would fit between our lips, and yet, he did not kiss me. Instead he said right up to me, so close I couldn’t lie. “What were you thinking about?” My breath stuttered and I blew it out softly. My lips shivered belying my nerves. The truth? Lie? I found his eyes. So close and so brown, gold flecks like some gorgeous but dangerous animal. His hand had left--he wasn’t touching me. I felt the absence of his touch. Lying wasn’t an option. “You. I was thinking about…” I forced the last word out. “You.” This time he did not touch me through the sweatpants. He pushed them down just in the front. Just enough to expose the angle of my hipbones, the smooth hill of my shaved sex. I watched, my breath stalled in my lungs, my ears rang. He pushed a finger into my cunt. Slow. It disappeared to the first knuckle and only then did my brain and body reconcile the sight and the sensation. I inhaled the air I’d been denying myself. Middle knuckle. All the way in. He stopped, one finger deep in my wetness, smiled. That fraction of an inch disappeared and he kissed me. Softly at first. Gentle. “Oh,” I said. I didn’t take the time to feel stupid. It had slipped out and this bizarre but perfect moment in time could not be wasted with worrying that I was stupid.

“Yeah. Oh. You’re very wet down there, Ember. Your pussy is wet. For me.” He flexed deep inside me and it was as if he had pushed an invisible switch with the pad of his finger. My nipples went taut, my belly fluttered with a delicious pressure. “Your cunt is wet. For me.” His lips pressed to my earlobe and he pushed another finger inside. “Yes, it is. It is for you.” “Say my name.” “Lucas.” “Say it.” His thumb slipped over my clit, wet with my own silken juices. Had I stopped breathing? It felt like it. “Yes, Lucas, for you.” My hips bumped up under him. I gripped the sides of his ladder back chair. Holding hard to the woven seat like it would crumble under me. I watched his hand in my pants. Watched his eyes track my movements. I sat trapped and mesmerized as he leaned in, kissing me again. He bit my bottom lip. Pain and pleasure warred in my nerve endings. Holding the pink flesh between his sharp white teeth he said, “Say it.” My mind scrambled for a moment. Frantic beats of anxiety pulsed in me. Say what? What should I do? But then he pressed my clit, circled, pressed harder and harder until my vision was peppered with little white spots. I started to come and he almost pulled his fingers free to deny me. Magically, mercifully, my brain kicked in. “Yes, Sir,” I whispered. “Yes, Sir. For you.” “You’re coming for me.” He bit my throat above my collar bone. The sparks of pain accenting the liquid pleasure that rolled through my cunt, filled my womb. “Yes, Sir, for you,” I managed before my head fell back and my hips shot up. His hand in my pants, his mouth at my throat and what wanted to be fear in my mind. But I tamped it down. Just for now. I could worry when it didn’t feel so fucking good.

Chapter 6

It all stopped. Everything. The whole world. His hand was still in my pants. Hell, still in me. I could feel the two hot spots of red on my cheeks. Could hear myself panting. The wet liquid sounds of his fingers in my cunt so loud it filled my head as my orgasm unwound in a slow warm spiral. Lucas watched me. Not a lazy gaze, no shred of being smug. He watched me intently as if studying to remember something for later. The tilt of my head, the angle of my neck, the way my hair fanned out and my bangs fell in my eyes. He seemed to tick off the points one by one with his intent gaze. It made me feel pretty. Spectacular. Important. Had Damien ever really seen me when he looked at me? Now I wondered. And how much of other people did I see when I looked? I watched the scar below his wrist as he flexed his fingers one more time, wringing the very last swell of pleasure from me. His forearms bulged below the pale blue sweatshirt that must have seen a thousand washings. His eyes had gone from intense coffee brown to damn near black and there appeared to be green flecks in there with the gold. More than anything I was fixated on that scar in his eyebrow. How had he gotten it? Would it feel good to him if I ran my tongue over it? Would he make noises like I made or be more stoic? His mouth came down on mine even as he pulled his hand free and tucked the sweatpants up over my hipbones. His hands pinned me in when he leaned on the seat. Lucas pushed between my thighs with his body. Holding my face. “Do you just like to dress up and play or are you for real?”

I paused, thinking. I had always thought I was for real. I truly got off on the thought of being abducted. Used, abused and kept against my will. Playing it out with Damien had worked at first, but then it hadn’t. Too much orchestration and requesting on my part. Then Damien let me be hauled off, possibly leaving me for dead. Obviously that was the end. I chewed my lip and Lucas sat back on his haunches. So patient. So very, very calm on the outside. Like a lake on a still day--no ripples or waves. Nothing to betray whatever was underneath and deep down in the darkest depths. “Well?” “I don’t…know. The first time it was great. I told him and he did it.” “And then he fucked you and you came hard. More than once, I bet.” His finger tugged the simple gray ties that fell from the neck of the sweatshirt I wore. His fingers tucked back in my pants and

he touched me again. His finger pressed my clit until my breath felt too big for my body. He pulled a bit harder on the ties and the hood cinched up around my neck in a loose lasso. “Yeah. More than once and harder than ever.” I leaned forward, seeking a kiss or just his closeness? I wasn’t sure. “But then the next time…” I shrugged. “You didn’t get off?” Lucas watched every flicker, every twitch. He circled his finger and I tried to keep my breathing steady. I failed, my breath coming in short bursts as I tried not to raise up to meet his hand but sit and let him do what he wanted. He hardly blinked. “I did get off. I did. But when I told him--” Lucas tugged the strings a bit harder and the hood gathered tighter. The way he pulled it like a rein set me off. His fingers slipped into my pussy as a whole new want rushed through me. A fresh rush of need. I tilted my hips and he stroked my G-spot. I tried not to think, tried to just feel. Lucas said, “Did you always tell him when you wanted it? Was this like a scheduled event?” “Well…” What was the right answer here? My brain was between my legs. When he was touching me, nothing else registered in my head. His thumb pressed me and his fingers delved deeper. What had I done wrong? How does your lover know if you don’t say? “I cannot expect him to read my mind. I had to tell him. And then he could do it.” He let the strings go, laughing softly. His hand slipped free and I made a little sound in my throat. “Don’t you see what you were doing, babe?” “What? What have I been doing?” I wondered what he would say if I asked him to pull those strings again. Touch me some more. Tug until the strings bit into my neck just enough to scare me. “You have been dominating him. By telling him to do it. By giving him a schedule. And sweetheart, if he was doing it your way, then…” Lucas shrugged his big shoulders and my eyes returned to the scar in his brow. I leaned forward, running my tongue along the pale pale sliver of skin. Lucas froze but I swore I heard his breathing change. Lucas grabbed my upper arms, pulled me away. “Why did you do that?” His eyes were all over me again, studying. “I don’t know. I wanted to. I mean, I have wanted to for a while and…” “And?” His fingers bit into my skin and my pulse jacked up. Excitement beat at the base of my throat. Between my legs. “I thought you would like it.” I held my breath. “Listen to me. Are you listening?” His voice was gruff but his eyes had gone an amber whiskey shade that belied some profound emotion. Something I had triggered? “Yes. I’m listening. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. But listen to me. Shh.” His finger settled on my lips to quiet me and I could smell my own scent on his skin. I bit my tongue to keep it in my mouth. I had to because I could picture licking his finger until he drove his cock home right between my legs. Right where he had left me wet and aching for another release. When I shifted in the chair, I felt him hard against my leg. My knee bumped his hard-on and my heart jumped. He clenched his jaw, in total control. Unruffled. “You were in the driver seat by telling him when you wanted your game. You weren’t submitting to him. You were dominating him.” I opened my mouth even though his finger stayed put. Lucas shook his head no, hair falling over his forehead. I managed silence, a minor miracle for me when I’m nervous. “Submitting is about letting go. Losing yourself.” His lips found my chin, his teeth touched me there. So far away and yet so close to my lips. He tugged that string again and the hood started to close in on my throat. It didn’t take much before the cotton was binding the thin skin above my pulse. “It’s like learning to drown. Letting go even when you think you might disappear. Can you do that?” “I don’t know.” I said it automatically, so it was the truth. Lucas approved. He kissed me softly and sat back again. “Do you want to find out or are you happy with your merry housewife bondage games?” “I’m not a housewife,” I stammered. Lucas frowned. “Sorry. I mean I’m afraid.” He nodded, watching me so intensely I felt like my skin may go up in flames if he looked any harder. “Being afraid is normal. But what do you feel? In here.” He touched over my heart. My chest jumped under his fingers. “And here.” Again, he pressed his big palm to my pussy and gave my clit the slightest pressure with the heel of his hand. “I feel yes. I feel excited. I feel like…” Here is where I lost my nerve and stopped. But Lucas was having none of it. He leaned in and tugged the strings tighter until it bit into my throat with a sharp pinch. “Like what, September?” “Like you’ll help me.” If I was stupid for saying it, so be it. How I felt was no more stupid than being locked in a box in my panties. Just then a phone rang. The distinct tune of the Commodores’ Brick House. “Is that my phone?” I looked around. I felt scattered but I wasn’t sure why. “Yeah. It was in lover boy’s cab. I grabbed it before I left the truck at the impound. Do you know the ring?” Lucas stood, grabbed the phone from the counter. No movement was wasted with him. “It’s Damien. It’s his ring,“ I said. Why was he calling? To save me?

Lucas answered. “Yeah?” He frowned, clenching his fists. Damien should be grateful he wasn‘t here. “No. It’s not hers anymore,” Lucas said. His voice soft and dangerous. The sound of quiet controlled rage. Damien’s voice blared through the tiny cell phone speaker. I tiptoed closer on the cold tile floor. I leaned into Lucas, feeling pretty much dwarfed by him. He wasn‘t that much bigger than me, he just felt it. “What the fuck, man? Where are you? Who is this? Where is Ember?” “Who? The girl? She’s gone.” Lucas’s eyes found mine. He gave me a once over. His eyes were not smiling but they were warm. “What do you mean gone? Are you the guy she hired to take her tonight? And my truck? Are you?” So much in Damien’s voice. Anger, confusion, fear, rage, annoyance and of course, petulance. “Look man ” Damien was yelling. All I could hear were jumbled words between all the yelling. I heard the word truck more than one. “Yes, for real. I took your truck for real.” “But this is a joke!” I heard that as clear as a bell. “She set it up!” “It’s no joke, my friend, and she set up nothing.” “But…aren’t you the guy she hired to take her!” Damien demanded again, willing Lucas to say yes. I could tell. I heard the fear in his voice then. The slow realization that yes his truck was gone and now so was I. Lucas shrugged, grinned. Nearly malicious but entirely confident. Sexy as hell. “No one hired me to take her, man. But I did. And she’s safe. But she’s mine now. She doesn‘t want to talk to you. Tell him.” He put the phone to my mouth. Without thinking I said “Goodbye, Damien. We’re done.” “See? Bye Damien,” Lucas said and flipped the phone closed.

Chapter 7

“But safe is relative,“ Lucas said and dropped the phone on the table. So much swirled in my head. More thoughts bombarded when his large hand clamped over my wrist. He turned me and I moved with him. Lucas gathered both of my hands in one of his larger hands. His skin warm, his touch none too gentle. “You weren’t planning on going anywhere, were you, little girl?” His mouth pressed to my ear, his stubble tugging at my hair. He yanked up just enough to steal my breath and make me yelp. “No. I…” I tried to process and could not. Was this for real? Was he playing with me or was he serious? How did I feel if he was? I couldn’t think my pulse was slamming so hard. My head went light, my body hummed with fear and want. Lucas kneed my legs apart from behind. Kicked my feet out further with his boot. His movements not violent but firm. “Let’s see. I can answer my own question.” His voice was sandpaper. His tone abrupt. More fear snaked over my skin and I shivered. He pushed his free hand down the back of my sweats and briefly trailed a finger along the split of my bottom. I made a sound in my throat. Then with precise brutality, he pushed his finger into me from behind. “You’re really, really wet, sweetheart.” I knew I was but him saying it so loud in his little kitchen made it that much dirtier. That much more shameful. I hung my head. Lucas pushed his mouth to my nape so hard it hurt. He flexed his finger in my pussy while his thumb ran over the tight circle of my anus. I stopped breathing as he continued to stroke. “Because you’re a little slut.” The word worked into me like some dark smoke. More fluid between my thighs. The wet hot apex of my legs. There was no way to hide it from him. He laughed softly and began slow even thrusts with his fingers. Fucking me with his hard fingers. “Say it, then. Say it, slut. Tell me what you are.” “I’m…” I couldn’t. I wanted to but couldn’t. My heart was in my ears, my vision blurry from unshed tears. My body clenched up around him and he wiggled his fingers showing me that I could not hide.

“You’re what? It’s time to be brave. Time to drown. Nobody’s here but you and me and your secret that’s not an actual secret any more. What are you, September? Tell me. Say it.” He pushed just the tip of his thumb into my ass, flexed his fingers so I shook inside the half circle of his arms. I felt him smile against my cheek. He breathed in my ear like the big bad wolf. Lucas was pushing me. It was a big enough push that I dropped my head, my body converged in a pinpoint of pleasure and pain where he touched me. “I’m a slut.” He bit me hard, not tempering himself at all. I waited to feel blood on my skin but it never came. Lucas breathed against me, “Good, good girl.” His hand came free of my pants. And he hustled me forward. Fast enough that I stumbled to keep from falling. Lucas pushed me forward through the living room and up the steps. Prodding me with hard motion like a prisoner. Which technically, I realized with a surge of genuine fear, I was. ****

They weren’t cuffs and for that I was grateful. I’d had enough of cuffs thanks ever so much. But they were restraints and a fresh anxiety filled me, my throat tight. He let me use the bathroom but then he smiled and said, “Off with the sweats. Put these on. They’re clean. I ran them while you were in the shower.” I only hesitated for a moment. In for a penny, in for a pound. I shucked the shapeless clothes and pulled my green panties on. They were slightly damp in the back but I didn’t say. I put the bra on and snapped it in the front while he watched. Then I waited-- goose bumped and shivering just a bit. The cold, the nerves, his eyes on me, it was all too much for me. “Go on. Climb on the bed, slut.” His tone matter of fact like he was saying my name. I climbed onto the bed eyeing the dark purple ties. He caught me. Grunted. “Nothing to be scared off. Nice high count cotton. I just knot you in and give you a good amount of motion. Tonight will be both wrists and both ankles. If you’re good, I’ll give you some more slack. Another night.” With easy, measured motions Lucas tied my right wrist to the headboard, then my left. I’d still be able to sleep on my side the way I liked. I wanted to kiss him for that. I wasn’t a back or belly sleeper. I always awoke curled in a comma shape on my side like I was protecting myself while I slept. He stroked his fingers on my ankle before tying me. Touched the arch of my foot so I danced for him. My motions inadvertently testing my bonds. They were tight but he’d given the promised slack. The thought of being tied for real filled me with uncertainty. I nearly came apart right there. Instead, I swallowed it and watched him move to my other ankle. “I like to see the ties on your skin,” he said. His voice so soft I strained to hear his voice. Even with the room quiet but for the tick of a small clock on the dresser. I was in the guest room. Truth be

told, the fact that Lucas would be in another room scared me more than anything. Why was he leaving me? “Thank you.” It felt right to say it. He met my eyes, gave a half smile. By body responded with a warming tingle to the small gesture. There was nothing I could do to keep it from him. I was powerless if he wanted to look. Lucas moved over me, his breath on my face. His fingers, beat up and brutish, pinched my nipples. I forced my body to be still. I wanted to rise up to meet his hand but some part of me was starting to understand what was expected of me. And what was not. I watched, him, feeling each heartbeat between my legs. Lucas laid his warm palm on the flat of my belly above my navel. My cunt so ready the tempo in my pelvis ticked off each skip of my heart. I knew just by looking at him that he would do absolutely nothing about that now. He would leave me this way. Which was the point. I was fragile under his fingers. Artfully broken of will. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see his handprint branded there on my skin. Lucas shocked me by dropping to his knees, eyes level with my belly. He pulled my panties back and blew over my shaved pussy and the tops of my thighs. Little puffs of air rained down on me when he spoke. “If you behave, you’ll get a little more freedom every day. A little more reward. Do you trust me?” He had asked me earlier and I’d failed. Now I overruled all my normal self doubt. I answered from instinct alone. “Yes.” “Yes, what?” “Yes, Sir,” I said. I was rewarded with one light caress. His hand slid from navel to clit. He pressed me there. Not hard, not soft-just a firm, even revolution. Like pressing a button to open a door or work a lock or turn on a machine. Wetness graced the insides of my thighs and I considered pleading with him. Begging this beautiful, silent man to fuck me right there in his cozy, neat guest bed. Take me like I had no choice. I shook my head. Instead I just shut my eyes and tried not to disintegrate. Lucas dropped one kiss directly in the hollow between my hipbones. The sensation shot straight to my pussy and up through my chest like a ray of light. “Good night, my beautiful slut,” he said. “I like new toys.” He raised his head and gave a short whistle. The behemoth, Daisy, came barreling up the hall. Her claws clattering on the hardwood floor. I’d forgotten all about her as scary as she was. “Lay,” he said and the horse sized canine dropped in the doorway like a hundred pound stone. “She’ll let me know if you try to get out. And she won’t like it either.” I believed him. When I looked at Daisy she bared her teeth. Daisy was not a fan of mine, to say the least.

“Call me if you need something. But make sure you really need it,” he said. His dark eyes almost black again. “Do you understand? Don’t call me because you’re cold. There are blankets next to you and you have enough play to get them on. And don’t call me because you’re scared. If you call me for something stupid, there will be a punishment. There will be a price either way, if you happen to call me. But if it’s not a necessity, it’s a punishment. Do you understand?” He repeated. I nodded, trying to ignore the little hairs on my arms that stood on end. I tried to ignore how I had to pee and how my bowels felt watery from anxiety. All the horrible possibilities flitted through my head. Appendicitis, stomach virus, vomiting, peeing, dying. God, what if I died tied to this bed? What a disaster that would be. The blood drained from my face and I wanted to ask him to help me. To make me feel better. “Good thing you’re laying down, you look like you might faint.” I barely nodded. Freaking out would do no good. In the pit of my stomach I know that if I asked he’d let me go. I was sure of it. Mostly. He gave me one small kiss on the lips. It warmed me briefly like a goodnight prayer. He brushed the bangs out of my eyes. “Remember what I said. Like learning to drown. Like giving up. Total loss of control. You can do it, September. Be a good little girl and go to sleep. You’ve had a long day. And tomorrow is going to be longer, but in a very different way.” Then he left, whispering something to Daisy as he passed her. She tossed her giant black and white head and chuffed, assuring him that she was on duty and ready for anything. I turned to my side and wrestled the blankets. Getting tangled once, twice, three times in the ties before finally getting it right. Tomorrow is going to be longer, but in a very different way… What did that mean? It scared me to think about it so I hoped for sleep to come fast.

Chapter 8 Damien messed with the mask and he wasn’t supposed to do that. I wanted to tell him to stop, but couldn’t find the words. Not with his cock in my mouth, half way down my throat. I sucked and licked, trying to go faster the way he liked. Making myself gag a little so my makeup would run from my lashes, sad little tracks over the pink blusher on my cheeks. Damien liked a girl to look broken and used. I liked Damien to act rough and tough. He rarely did. I went down fast, came up faster. Instead of fucking my mouth in rough messy bucks, he wrapped his hand in my hair and twisted. Looped the blonde mess up around his knuckles like a handle and pulled. “Easy girl,” he said, his voice a growl, his hands harsh in my hair. “Slow down. This is not a race. I want to watch you.” His voice was different and the pain that filled the tender skin under my hair was very real. The tears that filled my eyes and overflowed were very real. When my mascara rolled down my cheeks in warm rivulets, I had earned it. I slowed my pace, licking the vein along the back of his cock, listening to his breathing. My pussy grew flush and swollen. The thick feeling of desire that made me shift on my knees. “Slow and easy wins the race, September.” I looked up for approval. I don’t know why. I never had before. I simply had focused on the task at hand. Sucking cock. But now my eyes strayed up to the eyes staring back at me. Not big blue eyes. No--dark and sleek like some perfect secret. Fear wormed through me but the insistent wet arousal in my cunt grew larger. I sucked, his hands tethered in my hair, tugging me the way he liked. “Good girl,” he breathed and my fingers worked down into my panties. My arousal so consuming, I was mindless. I slipped a finger, two fingers deep inside my cunt and flexed, fucking myself. I had never felt the need for that before and here it was. My need to touch myself, to come. “Stop that. Did I say you could do that?” he said. He tugged my hair again and slipped free of my mouth. I chased him forward with my lips until he yanked and deep red pain filled my head. I cried out, waiting. My fingers stilled, lips moving against nothing but air. “You need a ride,” he said. Ducking down like a footballer about to tackle, he lifted me up, up, up and carried me out. Cold air bit my skin. Dark all around but for pricks of white light in the sky. Little punctures in the blackness that were stars. “Please,” I managed. His hand cupped my inner thigh so close to my pussy. It would only be a matter of inches for him to touch me and it was all I could think about. Just a rolling perfect image in my mind of his fingers

slipping inside of me and stroking me. Tossing me over the nearest object, spreading my thighs, driving his cock deep. And then when I begged, deeper still. “You need a little ride,” he said. “Yes.” I thought he meant sex. I thought he meant fucking. Instead he meant the truck. And he tossed me in the back when all I really wanted was to be back on my knees, his cock in my mouth. I cried, waited. But the truck didn’t start. It was so dark in the box. I panicked. I really couldn’t help it. I tried to suppress the anxious part of my nature when it reared up. I always tried to remember to breathe and stay in control. Even when I was scared. This time I wasn’t successful. Where had he gone? Why had he left me that way? I kicked out and my feet went further than expected. But something held me tangled in the dark like a fly in a spider web. I struggled, my hands flying out into the pitch black. But then the stopped dead in the act of reaching. I was tethered. In the blackest parts of the darkness, something snorted. Something looming and possibly malicious. I sobbed before I could stop myself. Tugged against something I couldn’t see. I swallowed a scream but some of it still managed to escape between my lips. Was I still in the box? Shouldn’t I be? Hadn’t the man put me in the tool box? I searched with blind eyes for any sign of my surroundings. Any sliver of light I could find. I found none. The thing in the dark snorted again. A wheezing sound. A click of maybe a nail or a talon on something hard. I curled into a ball, squeezed my eyes shut. Surely this was the world’s worst nightmare. I was never in the box long. I would wait. I would not panic. Snort went the monster. My heart pounded. I held my breath. I would just wait… Somewhere a siren sounded. Loud and long, a plaintive, nerve wracking sound . Were they coming for me? To get me or save me? The siren kicked up. Doubled. Trebled. More than one unit? Or a police car, fire truck and ambulance? The trifecta from hell of emergency vehicles. What was that sound? Where was I? My anxiety climbed higher in my throat. My ears roared with white noise. The dark, a crushed velvet presence. The slobbering beast crouched, unseen but so close. Waiting. A terrifying thought occurred to me. Maybe I couldn’t see because I’d gone blind. Was I now blind? Tied up, blind, hidden from the world with the snorting, growling thing? That’s when I finally screamed. ****

Lights blinded me and I shouted louder. Slowly it started to come back to me-where I was. I remembered that the snuffling, grunting thing was Daisy. The ties that bound me to the bed were why I couldn’t move. I cracked. Fuck stoic and strong. I tilted back my head and simply sobbed. Every dark and secret thing I’d held in for so long welled up and out of me. I cried from relief that I was safe. Grateful that the sounds had only been a dog, that Lucas had come to me when I called. He sat on the bead, my head in his lap. He watched me cry. A quiet but copious flood that I couldn’t get to stop. “You okay?” I nodded and turned to my side, remembering that I was in nothing but the panties and bra. The blankets tangled around me revealing a nearly bare breast here, a hipbone there. The mole on the top of my thigh. The scar on my ribcage. I was thoroughly exposed to him. I felt more naked in the trunk ensemble than when I was truly bare. “Bad dream?” he asked, stroking the top of my hand. I swallowed, finding a rough but watery bit of my voice. “Yes, very bad. Kind of. It’s hard to explain. It didn’t feel like a dream at all. More like a twilight sleep. I forgot where I was. I’m sorry, really sorry, I was half asleep and I could hear the dog.” I twisted to face Daisy and she promptly bared her teeth in a humorless grin. “And then sirens. I dreamt I was in the box and with my hands tied I didn’t know if they were coming to get me or save me. If I was good or bad. And you were Damien. Or really, Damien was you…” I petered off. My tongue a traitor who refused to explain my actions. He put his finger over my lips and I stopped. I expected him to offer to untie me but he didn’t. He simply stroked my hair and my cheek. His fingers on me tracked the pulse beating at my throat. When it slowed and he was satisfied, he said, “I live near the fire and police stations. They’re side by side about a mile up. After all this time, I guess I don’t hear them anymore.” “There was no light. No. Light.” I said, and shivered all over again. “Black-out curtains. My brother stays here sometimes. He works a lot of overnight shifts as an EMT. They really work. The black everything out. It’s like a tomb in here at night. Which I’m sure you know better than anyone right about now.” He smiled. His fingers tickled through my hair and chills raced along the curve of my ear, down my neck. Goosebumps peppered my skin, my nipples grew hard, sensitive to the cool air in the room. He kneaded around my shoulders until I relaxed some. Peace came over me. He was here. “Better?” “Yes. Better. I’m really sorry.” Lower still went Lucas’s hand. Along the ridge of my spine, fanning over my lower back. One finger traced the top of the crack of my bottom, warm and intrusive. I’d heard there was a bundle of nerves there and my skin tingled with sensation as he stroked me. “Ready for your payment, then?”

“Payment?” It was only when I said it that I recalled what he’d said. There will be a price either way, if you happen to call me. Part of me sprang to life with a sharp and colorful excitement. Part of me wanted to give in to another long and frustrated crying jag. Maybe then Lucas would just give me what I wanted. I just wanted him. Wanted him to fuck me. And that was exactly how it was in my head. Fucking. Not romance or wooing or any of that romance novel shit. Primal, fast, hard and no nonsense fucking. Simple and dangerous, just like Lucas. It would be all lips and tongue and teeth. Hands hard on my skin holding me down. Taken and fucked. Cock in cunt, in and out, harsh coupling. A roar would echo when we came together. Like a storm raging at sea. That is what it would be like to fuck Lucas Crow. “I told you there would be a price.” He smiled, his eyes still sleepy. He looked as if he could read my every secret just by looking at my face. I didn’t doubt it for a moment. “I know but it was a dream. An accident. I didn’t do it ” “There are no real accidents and the reasoning doesn’t matter anyway. You’re mine now, I’ve taken you. So I can do what I please with you, September. I was simply trying to be kind.” “Oh, I…” What could I say to that? I knew what my body said. It said yes, I am yours, fuck me, tie me, gag me, take me. My body answered with a sudden pooling moisture in my pussy. By making my belly buzz and my breath hitch in my throat like I was about to come. “Yes. I can pay you. What would you like? What do I do?” That is what I said. In my head it was, What can I do to get you to fuck me? What can I do to be taken? “Flip over on your belly,” he said. I waited for him to untie me. He didn‘t. He simply stared, waiting. Patient and handsome and looking like he could be heaven or hell in a man shaped package. My guess was a bit of both and it made her even wetter to think there was real and true danger in him. “I can’t.” I waited for help or instruction. Nothing. I’d never met a man who would seem so warm one moment and so removed the next. “Sure you can. In your head you think logically that you can’t. But you can. Trust me.” I did trust him. As insane as that made me. “How? “Tuck your right arm under your belly, right ankle over left and just…roll,” he flipped me as I obeyed. Now, crisscrossed with purple X’s of bonds, I faced the mattress. He got right up in my space. Right above my ear. Lucas liked to invade my personal space. Hell, not invade it, pillage and plunder it. Leave it in smoking rubble at my feet. “Did he ever spank you? That douche bag who left you in the truck. Did you ever let him?” My face went hot and I made a sound that told him the truth before I could even speak. It was an almost sad sound. He sighed, waiting for me to answer. He would make me answer. There would be no letting me off easy. “No. I never let him. I never told him.”

“Virgin ass, then?” His fingers stroked my ass crack. A strange sensation wormed its way up inside of me. Setting off ripples of almost unpleasant pleasure in my cunt. “I’ve never told anyone.” “You didn’t have to tell me. It’s written all over your face. If you know how to read it.” That couldn’t possibly be true and yet, I didn’t doubt him even for a second. “What are you going to do?” I feared his answer, yet hoped for the worst. “Spank you, of course. You can pay me in strokes. We’ll start with ten. And let me tell you, September, I am being very benevolent.” He touched me and I broke out in goose bumps. My body so confused, was I hot or cold? Scared or horny? Did I trust him or fear him? I wanted to scream, I wanted to laugh. “Ten? What if it hurts?” I froze at my own stupidity, but it was too late. No way to suck the words back. Lucas pinched my upper thigh so hard I flopped on my belly like a fish. “Oh, but it should. But only enough. So if I am hurting you too much. If it’s too unbearable. And you need me to stop in the most true and honest sense of the word, you say red. Got it?” I nodded. My throat tiny with apprehension, my stomach knotted tight. “Red,” I repeated. “Yes. It is my favorite color. And it is the color your ass will be when I’m done with you.” I almost wished for the dark and the twilight dream again. Until Lucas stroked my bottom.

Chapter 9

I knew I should be careful knew it would end but I couldn’t help but relax into his touch. He palmed my ass, going with the curve of my body. Lucas rubbed the very tops of my thighs where they met my ass. My skin tingled like I was being electrocuted. The same feeling I had had before a sudden summer storm. He pushed his fingers along the crack that separated my ass cheeks. Hitting that bundle of nerves again, I squirmed under him. I gasped like I was drowning. Lucas laughed softly. The sound made me wetter still. “Anticipation,” he said. His voice was whiskey and campfire and darkness. “It is the best and the worst of it all, don’t you think?” I made a sound meant to be yes. He parted the seam of my ass and he pressed his finger to the small star of my anus. For the second time I was startled but intrigued by the feel of him pushing his finger to that entry. It wasn’t something I’d ever done and the thought of doing it with him was terrifying. And I wanted it. Lucas slid his palm along the other half of my bottom but my mind had already wandered off. He was mounting me from the rear in the porn movie that played behind my eyes. Yes, mounting. Like an animal. No preamble. Pushing into the tiny pink hole of my behind and fucking me hard. My head bowed down, shoulders pressed to the mattress while he called me whore, slut, bitch…all the beautiful ugly words that secretly thrilled me. Lulled by his hands on me, my mind drifted. Soothed by his possessive touch, I let my guard down. He slid his hand over me as if he had known me for a million years instead of hours. He parted me again, examined my flesh. His lips pressed to my left ass cheek and I moaned. His mouth was hot and soft against me, his tongue trailed up the crack of my ass and then back down. He left a wet trail to dry on my body. The hot tip of his tongue touched that star and I held my breath. I wanted to move up to him. I wanted to touch him. I wanted a lot. I did none of it as my heartbeat filled my head with a drum beat. Instead, I stayed still because I was the slut and he owned me. My abductor. Just when I thought I might die, the first blow landed, forcing air into my lungs like the great rush of an ocean wave. I was drowning in air but my skin was on fire. “How many was that?”

“One.” It wasn’t a word, it was an animal sound that came out of me. The next blow landed and before I could say two the third blow fell. Then the fourth and the fifth. I tried so hard to count them off for him, I struggled. The pain was searing and white. I imagined hot sparks shooting off my skin like the sparks that fly from road flairs. “Seven,” I sobbed. I wanted it to be over and I wanted it to never end. The pain stitched into my skin, needlepoint made of fire and lightning. But I didn’t want it to ever end, because each crushing blow thudded a dull warm pleasure through my cunt. Every blow whittled at my body until I became a pinpoint of pleasure painted with agony. I tossed on his big white bed, tangled in his purple spider web of ties. “Good girl,” he said. An absurd sense of pride filled me for pleasing him so. Blow nine was staggering. It bowed my back up, threw my head back. My stomach pressed flat to the firm mattress and soft sheets. I was acutely aware of how soft they were under my hips. “One more, you good little slut,” Lucas said. I thought I might come from the words alone. I lost my chance to analyze how I must’ve slipped into insanity because the final blow landed and then his mouth was on me where I pulsed the worst. ****

His hands stroked the places that throbbed with dull heat. All of my focus was on the way he touched me. My head spun and tried to pick apart the night. I pushed away rational thought. Focused on the beating echoes of pleasure in my pussy, in my chest. Tears pricked my eyes. Not from the pain but from the urge to second guess myself. “Good, good, girl. You did very well, September,” Lucas said. His fingertips danced over the spots where he had spanked me. His fingers felt like cool water on sunburn. “You have some nice marks here. I think you’ll like them. And tomorrow they will be a lovely shade of purple and hot pink and red.” “I…” I couldn’t think how to finish that sentence. So I said nothing. I simply listened with all of myself to the thump of blood under my skin. His fingers slipped into me. I was so wet it was effortless and fluid, he fucked me with slow even strokes of his hand. “You what?” The wet sounds of my pussy taking his fingers deeply filled my ears. He pushed another finger into me and I tried to stay in place, but failed. I tilted my ass high in the air, the skin tingling with excess of blood, trying to open myself more for him. My arms buzzed with pins and needles crushed under me gracelessly. My legs, crossed at the ankle, left very little access for him. “You what, Ember?” He prompted.

“I don’t know.” “I bet you are so ready to be fucked you want to cry. Aren’t you? You have no power here. I can fuck you or I can leave you welted and primed and go back to bed. What do you think I should do, Ember? What do you think I should go with-a warm willing pussy or a few more hours shut eye?” Lucas pulled his fingers free and I sobbed. My arms sang with a cramping pain, but I didn’t care. I wanted him. “Fuck me, please,” I said. God. Had I said that aloud? His wet fingers found my clit and started slippery revolutions that had me grinding my hips down mindlessly. Seeking out more of his touch. Release. The pain in my ass spread like a stain. Hot and dull but pleasant in its own right. What I felt when he touched me between my legs accented brilliantly by the sting and bite of his punishment. I thrust down against his hand and embraced my shame. That was what this was all about. Being his slut. Being shameful. Not thinking. “Look at you. Desperate. Slutty. Gorgeous, needy little whore.” Coming out of his mouth, the words that should sound so horrible sounded as bright and shiny as new coins. There was a tone of reverence in his voice that I knew I wasn‘t imagining. As if he were marveling at my bravery and strength. My ability and willingness to accept his pain. More pride, shiny and big, filled my solar plexus. “Yes,” I managed. “Yes, Sir. I am needy. I need you.” The world turned wildly when he rolled me on my back. The light stung my eyes, the ceiling fixture an interrogation light. Lucas shed his pajama pants in an effortless motion of flexing muscle and sinew. His hair still twisted in whorls to one side, eyes sharp but still a bit sleepy. He was beautiful and perfect and a new kind of fear rippled through me. I didn’t stop to look at it. Instead I studied him. His cock stood out before him, hard and perfect. He stroked himself and watched me. I noticed the birth mark on his hipbone, how his cock curved to the left, the way his thigh muscles bunched when he pumped his shaft. The smooth head of his flushed sex. The dark trail of hair from his navel to his groin was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. I licked my lips, moved a little. My entire body resonated with my want of him. I spread my legs for him to see me. The swollen, rosy flesh between my legs that beat with my rapid pulse. Beat so hard it felt as if my heart had relocated from chest to cunt. “Spread them wider for me. Let me see everything. You’re so pretty. You know that, right? Red on your ass end, red between your legs. Not pink like most women. True red. You have a red, red cunt, September. Like a sinful little flower.” He moved closer as he threw his praise at me. My belly curled in on itself and relaxed, spasms of excitement that bordered on pain. I moved my hips, flexed against the ties. Begging him with my body to be fucked, for him to touch me. Touch me hard, touch me soft, however he wanted. I simply craved the feel of him. There was that half grin again. So immensely cocky and yet he backed up every assumption with the talent to make me feel this weak and wanted. I would not think about time or logistics. I flexed my calves, spread wider, watched him move to the bedside table and open the drawer. “What were you just

thinking just then,” Lucas asked. He didn’t look at me. He looked at the foil packet now in his hand. Peeled it open so slow I heard every crinkle of the shiny wrapper. “That I shouldn’t be thinking.” I tried to pull my gaze up to meet his, but my eyes fixed on his dick. He was large and so hard. The rational parts of me shut down at the sight of him. What was left were the animalistic parts that were so eager, maybe too eager, to get him inside of me. To feel that first immense thrust that would seat him deep inside my pussy. And then to feel the whole of me pressed to the all of him. “Scared?” I nodded, watching him roll the milky pale rubber over the perfect flushed length of his cock. I almost said, No, no don’t do that. I want to feel you. All of you. But that was just plain stupid and if he was using one he was too smart to listen to the likes of me anyhow. “Yes, I’m very scared.” “Want to change your mind?” He turned, holding his now sheathed cock in his hand. Smiled. Pointed it at me like a gun. He was trying to push me off balance. Pushing my boundaries, my nice girl sensibilities. My common sense. “No.” My eyes found that scar in his eyebrow again. Why was I so fascinated with that damn scar? Because it was the only evidence of weakness? That Lucas Crow was indeed flesh and blood and not a perfect, invincible alpha male. He came at me, his brown eyes sleepy but dangerous. The cut of his jaw, the angle of his brow hard and malicious. His sleep spiked hair shone in the stark light of the overhead making him appear, in that breath of time, almost angelic. A dark angel come down to steal my soul. “Say red and you’re out of here. Untied, in my sweats, which I will give to you. Returned to your man and your life and all of it. Or I can take you to the police. Family, friends, neighbors, any or all of the above. Just say the word. Tell me no.” I trembled, finally in this place of my abduction. A dark place I had silently imagined for a long time. How many daydreams? How many nights dreaming it? Waking up sweaty and on the verge of orgasm. Twice, coming awake mid-orgasm. My own fingers tangled and stroking between my legs, bringing myself to climax while I dreamt of the overpowering, strong, violent dark him who would take me. Now Lucas was here, being the him I’d imagined. Fantasized. Wished for in some shadowed part of myself. A dream come true. Someone to do the things to me I craved, hell, needed. But trustworthy enough to not be a monster. “Tell me no, September,” he said, watching me. Stroking his cock, moving one step closer. So I said the only thing that maybe would save me. I parted my legs farther, arched my hips toward the ceiling to show myself to him fully and said, begging. “Please.”

Chapter 10

He tore the panties with his fingers. I watched. Rip, rip went the little scraps of lace that held them together at my hips. I didn’t care. I could buy new panties. This, I could never get again. This first with him. His lips came down on my belly and he kissed me right above the swell of my sex. Soft, teasing kisses that had me thrashing in his bonds. Lucas’s own little personal marionette, bouncing around. Wishing, praying and hoping his lips would move lower. Part my nether lips, suck my clit, make me come with long laps of his tongue. “I’m impressed,” he said and kissed a fraction of an inch lower. I whimpered. Such a cowardly, powerless sound but I let it loose like a whispered supplication. His mouth on me felt almost too good. His kisses a heady blend of Heaven and Hell. I needed him lower. I had never needed to come more in my life than during that small blink in time. Trapped in the sexual equivalent of a fever dream. Time was elastic, pain and pleasure merged so one was indecipherable from the other. I bucked and Lucas put his hands on the angles of my hipbones, pinning me tight. Holding my pelvis to the bed with his muscular forearms. “You need to be still. Do. Not. Move.” I obeyed though it seemed impossible. Tranquil on the surface, I focused on simply drawing air. His tongue swept over my clit, licked the wet seam of me. His licks grew harder and his finger fanned over the sharp rise of my hipbones. His tanned hands standing out boldly against my pale white flesh. He held me down so tight, I could not move. Helpless, I wanted to promise him anything, anything at all, if he would make me come. I forced the babbling down in my throat and watched his blonde head between my legs as he forced the rigid tip of his tongue inside of me. His tongue fucked me slow and lazy until I was weeping with desperation. “I didn’t think you could do ten,” Lucas said, raising his head and staring at me. Taking note of the tears, he asked almost kindly. “How bad?” I shrugged, denying myself complaint. He would fuck me or he wouldn’t. He would let me come or he wouldn’t. If I was going to do this be at his mercy then I needed to do it completely. I stayed silent as tears continued to roll and my chest hitched with emotion. “Cat got your tongue?” He grinned. “Tell me. That’s not a request.” Before I could speak he pushed his fingers inside of me and touched the evidence of my want. His fingers made slippery silver sounds inside of me when he thrust.

“Bad,” I stammered. My teeth and lips wanted to chatter from my attempt at control. “A little reward then. For doing so well your first time. Your ass is red and pink and tomorrow some blue and purple for fun. You did extremely well for a beginner. For that I’ll reward you.” My heart warmed, tingled. Nearly lightheaded with gratitude I said, “Thank you.” Lucas forced my legs apart, pushed his cock to my belly and rested it there. Watching me. His tan face flushed and darkly stubbled. He rubbed his cock on my belly, pressing the back of his dick to my clit when he thrust. Faux sex. He slid along the top of my split, fucking me without entering me. My pulse pounded as I suppressed the urge to beg. Then I remembered. “Thank you, Sir. Thank you.” A few more tears. He wiped them off. “Enough of that,” he said. and pushed into me with one long thrust. His cock stretched me, filled me. I was falling, tipping back through the mattress like falling into the ocean from a cliff. At least it felt that way. Lucas watched me, not smiling. Being under his eyes was like being pinned naked to a wall. Or put in a shop window without a stitch of clothes. I’d never felt more naked than when I watched him drink me in, studying my face, reading my mind. Lucas moved over me, his belly brushing mine as he thrust. My cunt grew taut and eager and I shut my eyes to feel him better. “Open your eyes, September,” he said, the intimate feel of his breath in my ear.I forced them open, letting his gaze penetrate me as surely as his cock did. His chest warm against my breasts as he moved slow. Fucked me slow and easy, each inch he thrust generated a mile of pleasure. His movements drawn out so I felt a crawling restlessness in my chest. Lucas slid his hands under my bottom, pushing his fingertips against that tender welted skin. Yanking me up to him even as he pushed into me. His eyes stayed on mine curious, dark thoroughly unnerving. I shut my eyes without thinking. His movements slowed and my eyes flew open. “That was a reminder. If you don’t listen, you don’t come. And you are right there, right on that edge, my girl, aren’t you?” I nodded, my cunt tight and slippery on the cusp of the first sweet spasm that would bring me pleasure and relief. “I’m sorry.” His hips moved faster, he slid deeper. When his eyes grew darker I knew Lucas was right there with me. He’d probably never admit it but my body twisted with satisfaction to know it. “I want to watch you the first time I take you. The first time I fuck you and make you come. I want to see that because you’re mine now,” he said. His lips so near my skin I could feel them even though they weren’t touching me. His energy meshing with mine as his hips pistoned faster. I came on the word mine. A perfect, fierce orgasm that pin wheeled lower and lower in my body like a falling star. I shook under him. He felt so big to me then. I cried out, failing his order of stillness miserably.

Lucas kept his head tucked against my throat, his teeth homed in there. Sharp and intense but not breaking my skin. His fingers pulled at my sore bottom and his cock slammed into me harder and harder still. Lucas hitched my legs up higher, tilting my pelvis, moving me like his own living breathing doll. His thumb found my clit and circled until shocked and breathless, I came again. His eyes watched me, a human lie detector I couldn’t fool. “Good girl,” he said. “You’re a fast learner. Dirty little slut,” he said and a final aftershock of pleasure rocked through me. This time, Lucas came with me. ****

I didn’t know what to expect. What would he do? With Damien it had been scripted. He would ‘steal’ me, then fuck me and then we’d have dinner or watch a movie. It was nothing but fluff. This time, it had all been real. I was really tied up, he had really spanked me. I really felt that spark of warmth and intensity in my belly and pussy and heart when Lucas Crow said mine. I waited, listening to his heart beat. He laid still, pressed to me so each beat of his heart pounded through me. In tandem with my own heart. He kissed me. It was a soft kiss but his stubble scraped my skin. His hands tangled in my hair and tugged at my face to pull me closer. If I weren’t bound, I would have touched his face too. Memorized the planes of his features. The sharp places and the soft ones. I started to speak but he shushed me. “I’m going to leave you now till morning. It’s not far off, but you need to go to sleep and remember I’m right next door. And Daisy is right there.” He nodded to the doorway where the beast could be heard but only her paws were visible. I was used to a shower, at least a chance to use the bathroom. That wasn’t up to me this time. Lucas had decided I would go to sleep. I could live with that, but my heart hurt to think of him leaving me all over again. He read my mind like he always seemed to do. “I want you to sleep. I’ll let you up when dawn breaks and you can use the bathroom. Go to sleep, Ember,” he said and covered me with a quilt. I didn’t balk, though my nature was to do so. This is what he wanted me to do, it was what I would do. Period. I shut my eyes, knowing I would never ever sleep. But I would try. I was still aroused, had to pee, my ass stung and I kept playing it all in my head over and over and over again. Lucas fucking me. Saying mine. No, I would never fall asleep. I focused on the steady thump of blood in my welted, tender bottom and somehow fell asleep counting the heartbeats that pounded in my skin.

Chapter 11

“Time to get up,” he said. His voice sandpaper and broken glass. I opened my eyes to him and smiled. Lucas smiled back and untied my wrists. My ankles were already free, the covers bunched around my middle, a blue hill of cotton. “I’m sure you need to use the toilet and would kill me for a shower if I let you close enough.” When he grinned at me it went straight to my pussy. Lucas smelled shower fresh and his face was shaved smooth. I wanted to touch it but didn’t reach out. His hair, damp and a bit too long fell in his eyes. And the eyes themselves flashed as dark and rich as my usual morning coffee. Coffee I was already craving intensely. “I wouldn’t kill you but I’d beg,” I said. I sat up, rubbed my wrists. No marks but my shoulders ached dully from the constant bit of tension. I was already wet from his close proximity. I could feel my insides, wet and swollen and still tender from the night before. He watched me suffer all of those thoughts and I blushed at my choice of words. But it was true. I would beg him. “I like the sound of that.” He touched my bottom lip. His finger smelled like soap and coffee. My stomach rumbled. Lucas pushed his finger into my mouth, moving slow, stroking my tongue like it was my cunt. A lazy warmth filled my pelvis. I felt like I was glowing. I sucked his finger, swirling my wet tongue along the length, when he shut his eyes for just a beat, I sucked harder. “I like the sound of that very much but you need to go wash up and I’m going to feed you. You need food for fuel. And coffee, really strong coffee.” I sucked again and grinned around his probing finger. “Coffee?” I moaned like I was mid-orgasm. Lucas laughed. “Hot, strong and black as sin. Waiting just for you. Go get washed up and I’ll make sure you have as much as you can stand when you come down.” I stumbled to the bathroom, sleep deprived but happy. My bare feet cold on the hardwood floor, my steps a whisper on the bare planks. The bathroom was lit with sunshine that filtered through a sky light. A butter yellow light in the stark black and white room. His sweats and a new tee were on the toilet tank. A pair of socks. A comb. I didn’t think I’d ever stop peeing but when I finally did, I stood under the hot shower spray letting the water beat the sleep knots out of my muscles. I worked the fuck knots out of my hair with conditioner.

If I closed my eyes I could still feel his finger on my tongue, a phantom touch. I wasn’t nearly as nervous as maybe I should be. Who knew what the day would bring. Would he tie me back up? Was I spending the day thrashed to his guest bed? Inside was so much at once-curiosity, terror, elation. I touched my tender butt cheek, the skin slightly warm under my fingers. I pushed my fingers on the flushed skin, feeling the bite of a deep bruise. I turned off the shower, dried off, tried to wipe the mirror. Mainly, I smeared it. But even my smudged and humid reflection was the mottled bruise of his marks on my skin. He had marked me. I was marked by Lucas Crow. Was there any walking away from it now? ****

He greeted me with a steaming mug off coffee, fried eggs, scrapple, bacon, fresh fruit and cottage cheese. “I thought you might be hungry. I know I was starving. Ate two plates full.“ When Lucas spoke I had to touch the table to keep from feeling floaty. His voice did odd things to me. Everyone has a trigger. Mine was the sound of his voice like pebbles under my feet at the ocean. His voice never failed to make my body respond. “I am famished. I could eat all of this and start over again, I think.” I kept my voice soft. I barely heard myself even though the house was quiet. “Are you afraid of me?” The question startled me and I looked up from my plate before I’d even tucked in. “No. Not in a classic sense. I don’t think I’m afraid of you so much as…” He waited. That trait, alone was admirable to me. I could never manage that psychologist’s tool of quietude. Patience was a virtue, but it was not my virtue. “Respectful of your power.” There. That was the best way I could put it. He seemed pleased. Which pleased me. And I noted here I was at ground zero. Wondering why the fuck I really cared if Lucas Crow approved of my feelings, thoughts, or reactions. And yet I did. I really, really did and that freaked me out a bit. Luckily, I was too hungry and too desperate for caffeine to let the confusion bog down my brain. I pushed half a piece of bacon into my mouth and added two teaspoons of sugar and a splash of cream to my coffee. Swallowing the bacon, I sipped the still too-hot coffee and gave a damn near orgasmic moan. “Did you know you make the best coffee in the world?” He grinned at me, straightening his place mat and then mine. “It’s the brand. Dave’s. Dave’s Coffee. The best Baltimore can bring.” “It is divine. And you’re a hell of a cook, too. I can burn some toast. Hell, I can burn some water, but as far as cooking actual non burnt things, I have issues.”

“Who put you in charge of way too much for your soul to bear, September?” He spit it out just like that and I stopped, an unchewed piece of scrapple in my mouth. Anger rose in me, harsh and fast. Red and bright like a shot gun flaring in the dark. “Who took your power?” I hissed. The anger was not to be reasoned with and though I recognized him at this point as my Dominant, my rage had teeth and moved fast. Lucas sat back, looking smug for a moment. Almost proud, I thought. Of himself? Of me? “I asked you the question, September. I want you to answer me.” I tossed a bit of scrambled egg into my mouth. My appetite was gone but I faked it. “I have a shrink.” I swigged my coffee, burned my tongue. “I don’t want to be your shrink. I want to be your confessor.” Lucas put his hand on mine. It felt like it could crush me even though his touch was gentle. It soothed me and scared me too. “No one put anything on me. I’m fine. I just get off on abduction.” I lied through my teeth, ate my eggs. Tasted nothing. “Ah. So, you never had unfair responsibility heaped upon you. Never daydreamed of ending up in the hospital to get a break. Or death. Or illness. None of the things they say those who are too burdened and relied upon dream about. The loss of your power, being at mercy has nothing to do with being in charge of too damn much?” I shook my head even as my eyes filled with tears. I’d signed on for the game. And the fucking. But not for this. I didn’t need this at all. “I’m fine.” “Oh, I know you are. Because you make sure to be fine. Explains why you could just drop that man, as useless as he is, without a second thought. No talking or working it out or sharing your feelings. Most women want to share the shit out of their feelings. You just dropped him like a hot potato, right?” I swallowed around the knot in my throat. My eggs wanted to come back up but I steeled myself. “He was a dick. He is a dick.” “Agreed. But most women would have to have their final say or explain. Something. Not you, you just ” He scraped his palms together in that age old pantomime for washing your hands of something. “Called it off.” “I did. And it’s because of who he is and not who I am.” “That is never the case.” “Let’s say it is.” “I can’t force you. At least not on this thing.”

“I know,” I said. Random images of him fucking me while I sprawled bound on his stark white sheets. Let it go. Let it be. Please…I cleared my throat. “Please don’t,” I amended. He ran his finger over the back of my hand until I had to readjust in my seat. “Tell me something, September. Something about why you would surrender yourself to that douche bag.” “But you said I wasn’t surrendering,” I breathed. It did feel tainted somehow now that I‘d seen Lucas in action. Now that I had had a little taste of real submission. Seen the difference in the two men and the two acts. He laughed. “Not really, no. But in your head and in your heart you were. You thought you were which is the very same thing on many levels.” “I don’t know. I just wanted things to be…” I tried to find the words but they were gone. They had all vanished with the bluster and anger. “Easier?” Lucas had my wrists in his finger now. His long thin fingers forming flesh and blood cuffs around my joints. “Yes.” “On someone else’s shoulders?” “Yes.” “Will you do what I tell you when I tell you?” I didn’t hesitate. “Yes.” “Even if it scares you or hurts your feelings or you don’t understand it at the moment?” I did wait for single heartbeat. Long enough to take stock of how he made me feel. “Yes.” He nodded. “Eat up. You’re going to work with me.”

Chapter 12

I didn’t ask him why. Already, I’d figured out that asking Lucas why anything was a waste of time. Because, that was why. It had been a struggle to not ask him about that scar. Due to my fixation on it, it felt important. It was the chink in his armor. The sign that he was fallible. The scar held some secret about why he was the way he was. I’d swallowed the question and finished my breakfast. Wondering all the while why in the world an obviously accomplished Repo man would drag me to work with him. Surely it would bungle the job. I tried to picture myself stealthily getting into cars that needed to be repossessed. It was enough to make me laugh. I washed my dish, set it in the drainer and the doorbell rang. I froze. What should I do? Did the game apply to other people? Was I a visitor or a hostage? I stood at the counter, heart pounding, not breathing. Lucas was talking. His voice a oxymoron. Smoothly rough, harshly gentle. I smiled and tried to hear what was being said. “September, come in here,” Lucas called. Did he know I was trying to hear? I hurried toward the living room but inside of me I wanted to stall. There I stood in my frumpy clothes, staring at the second best looking guy I’d ever seen. They had to be related. “September, this is my brother, Matthew. Matthew, this is Ember.” Matthew gave me the once over and laughed. “Half brother, actually. God knows I wouldn’t want to claim him. And you, I take it these are for you?” He thrust a bag at me. Silver and white with red letters The Scarlet Letter. Inside were jeans, a black sweater, boots. A smaller bag was tucked inside of that bag. It contained a bra and a pair of panties. “I guessed at the sizes,” Lucas said. The brothers exchanged a look and I felt my face blaze with heat. Did Matthew know who I was? Why I was here? “Why don’t you go on up and get dressed.” Lucas said. His smile told me he knew what was going through my head. I nodded. Started out of the room. “It was nice to meet you,” I called to Matthew. He tipped me a wink, rocked back on the heels of his work boots. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be here when you come back. I’m coming with you guys.” His eyes took stock of me and Lucas watched his brother. There was a charge in the air I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Just an inch shy of being eye to eye with his brother, Matthew Crow’s hair was

even longer and shaggier. His eyes were a lighter shade of whiskey and the flecks within were blue. I’d bet when he was angry his eyes turned the same color as dried leaves. His lips were a bit thinner, face a bit more severe, his mouth wider. His voice was softer but had an underlying cruelty. “Ember?” “Yes, sorry?” “Go get dressed, Ember,” Lucas said and I bolted. My bare feet hissed on the hardwood like they were telling secrets. Halfway up the steps I heard Matthew. “So, bro, is that your new toy? I like her. She’s the best one yet. So, let’s talk…” ****

I must’ve passed muster because when I came down both men gave me the once over. Both nodded with satisfaction. And then Lucas scared the shit out of me, he said, “This is a big one. It’ll take all three of us. So you, you are the bait and you ride with Matthew.” Shit. “Okay.” I said, dying inside. “How are the clothes? You look good.” He dropped me a secretive look when he said it and my insides flooded with a warm feeling that only he seemed to trigger. “They’re good. The jeans are a little tight. But they fit,” I added, quickly. All the while my mind raced. I was to ride with Matthew. What would I do? What would I say? How much did Matthew Crow know about his brother’s sexual habits and had Lucas filled him in on me? I hoped he had and I feared he had. It was a tie. My body felt torqued up, full of nervous energy. Kinetic. “Too tight jeans? No such animal.” Lucas offered his hand and I took it. “You and Matthew are decoys. This is going to be difficult. The guy has a very nice red Mustang. He also has an eagle eye and he parks his baby right outside his office window. That’s where you and my brother come in. So tart it up. Take his cues. Got it?” I nodded even though I was having a really hard time processing the plan. Decoy? Tart it up? My stomach bottomed out. What if I fucked it up? Lucas grinned and smacked my ass hard while his brother watched. Matthew shook his head in mock disgust. My already bruised skin resonated with a dull pain that sharply turned to satisfaction. I sighed before I could catch myself.

“Stop groping her and let’s go,” Matthew said from the doorway. He did an up and down of me, grinning. From the toes of my black boots to my smoothed blonde hair, wrangled into a messy pony tail. “Nice,” he growled and then sauntered out the front door like he owned the world. ****

Lucas watched the look Matthew got with Ember. He saw the way his brother tracked her every movement. It was the same way the old man had taught them to track the animals when they were kids. When the old man was around, that was. Even the most skittish deer could be lulled into a peaceful death, he would say. Just be careful. Move slow. Be quiet. No sudden movements. Patience was a virtue. Funny coming from a man who thought that a good punch in the face could spur his eldest into action and obedience. Either way, he had taught them well with tracking and hunting. And that was where Matthew was headed. He had it in his mind that September was up for grabs. He would be shocked to know that this time, Lucas wasn’t so keen on his brother’s participation. Lucas gave him a pointed look and Matthew looked down before stalking out onto the front porch like the king of the world he thought himself to be. His half brother wasn’t used to being denied. Especially by Lucas. And Lucas rarely kept things from Matthew that Matthew wanted. A nasty side effect of having a fucked up childhood and a wandering parent who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. They hadn’t met until Lucas was fifteen and Matthew thirteen. Then Matthew’s mother, Noah Crow’s mistress from his youth, had dropped Matthew off with a small suitcase and a note. “He’s yours now” it read. And that was it. Noah, a long haul trucker who was rarely at home, had handed the note to Lucas and said only, “Congratulations. It’s a boy.” And then he’d headed out on a two week trek in his rig. Lucas watched him go, unsure of how much he would tell his brother. Or how far he’d be willing to go this time. He didn’t seem himself passing Ember off like a broken toy he was done with. Or offering her up as a prize to Matthew. He’d have to play it by ear. His brother was the closest thing to love he had in his life. But things had changed a bit. Rapidly. He didn’t like it at all. “Ready?” Ember smiled. “Not really, but I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” “That’ll do,” he said and locked the front door after them. ****

“Did my brother fill you in on what we need to do?”

I nodded. I tried to sound sure of myself. “He said we were the decoys. But I don’t know what that means.” I stared straight ahead feeling Matthew Crow’s eyes on me. Even in my peripheral vision I could see him grin. It was an entirely wolfish grin. His big hand slammed down on my thigh and I yelped. “We are to play it up, my girl. You and I are lovers who are not going to be getting along very well today. The clothes were for you because Lucas said you didn’t have any. And they’re meant to be sort of revealing.” He rubbed my leg. My heart beat fast with fear, my cunt with lust. He reached over and easily popped two of the four buttons on the sweater. “Revealing,” he repeated. I glanced down at myself, tit shoved high and more than half exposed, tight jeans, high black leather boots. “Revealing or slutty?” “Yes,” he said, sliding his hand a little higher on my leg. His thumb a mere sweep from touching my now thumping clit. “You were not what I expected at all when Lucas said he had one of his visitors.” I wanted to shift to get him to move his hand, but was afraid the movement would be misinterpreted. I wanted him to move his hand away. Didn’t I? Even I wasn’t sure. I shut my eyes tight, whispered, “Wouldn’t he mind you touching me that way?” When I opened my eyes he was staring at me. The same hard penetrating gaze his brother had. He turned into a parking lot and parked. “Are you serious?” “What?” My face colored with embarrassment. There was something I didn’t know. “You’re serious? How long have you been staying with Luke?” “Just overnight. Why?” His hand was still there, high on my jeans. His fingertips mere inches from the top of my thigh. A violent need to be touched washed over me and I gritted my teeth, determined to ignore it. “You don’t know then?” Matthew leaned close. He was so imposing and huge, but fast. His lips trapped mine for a moment and his tongue slid between my lips. I was so surprised I didn’t react until he was pulling back. “No. He would not mind at all,” Matthew said and opened his door. He was out of the car before I could even close my mouth.

Chapter 13

“Look, you dumb bitch, don’t make me get physical!” Matthew bent and hit me in the belly with his shoulder. Not as hard as it appeared to others, thankfully. He stood, me slung over him, screeching and caterwauling like a cat. God, I prayed that no one called the cops. I could see Lucas out on the lot pop the door on the Mustang. Then he was hooking the sleek ride up to his truck as I kicked out and connected with Matthew Crow’s thigh. Hard. Harder than I had intended. But I kicked him again for good measure and as payback for making me feel like a lunatic in his car. For touching me that way and making me even more confused than I’d already been. “Good thing for you I like it rough, too,” he said so that only I could hear. Then he smacked me on the ass and turned his head and bit me. His teeth sunk in deep, his bite really hard. Even through brand new denim it stung like a snake had clamped down on my leg. “Ow! Goddammit!” I screamed. Good show we were putting on but it really hurt. Lucas’s head swiveled and behind his dark sunglasses he looked annoyed and angry. He shielded his eyes glaring at us. Matthew bit me again and I let loose with another yell, head tossed back to the bright blue sky. My pussy thumped and grew slicker. My body hummed with confusion. A dreadful mix of arousal, attraction, terror. I squirmed, my pelvic bone connecting with Matthew’s shoulder. “He’s going to fuck you senseless when he sees my teeth mark on you,” Matthew hissed and he turned so that our combined profile blocked the car from the office window. We had planted ourselves right in front of C. Michael Ritter’s office and had set about creating one hell of a spectacle. Lucas, started the chain and the Mustang’s nose bobbed up. He gave us a thumbs up. Then, heart racing, body still shaking with adrenaline, I saw him motion to Matthew with a slash across the throat pantomime. Matthew put me down and I wobbled on my feet. My inner ear tried valiantly to make the world steady and when it did I glared at Lucas’s bratty brother. He glared back but then he grinned. Licked his lips. Leaned in, his mouth coming at mine. And I clocked him. ****

“You really shouldn’t have hit him,” Lucas said. He sounded displeased and I instinctively wanted to apologize to him. I didn’t. I watched the busy people walking through the lobby. In and out and up and down. In the elevator. Off the elevator. People on cell phones and people holding papers and people reading while they walked. The lobby with its steel accents, gray color scheme and red accents was charming and modern. A nice place. But why were we here? “He bit me,” I reminded Lucas. “Hard.” My skin still throbbed and rippled with pain where Matthew had gone all wolf man on me. Matthew stood by the restroom entrances, glowering like a surly teenager. He wasn’t happy that Lucas had come and taken his new toy away. Me. “I know. But it couldn’t have been any worse than your spanking. And Matthew tends to get carried away when he’s excited. And you excite him.” “Lucky me.” “Yes and no. Matthew has good taste. A girl of mine he doesn’t covet is a girl who isn’t worth my time.” I bristled at the word covet but only because it made my insides go loose and hot for him. And his brother. “Great. I’m coveted. Next the plague and locusts will descend. He bites me and you defend him? That is rich.” I snorted, rolled my eyes. Anticipation and annoyance warred in me. I was simply a mess. “Watch yourself, Ember. Behave,” he said. Lucas pulled me in and my heart sped up. Maybe he would kiss me. Right here in the bright, crisp lobby of the office building where Ritter worked. Ritter’s repossessed car around the corner secured to the big ass tow truck that Lucas drove. “I’m sorry.” Those words were becoming second nature to me. “I what is that?” Lucas did kiss me but only for a second. Barely long enough for my lips to register the subtle warm brush of his mouth over mine. My tongue peeked out, seeking more but he pulled back and clipped something over my ear. “That is an earpiece. It has a pretty high powered microphone on it, believe it or not.” He smiled. Mischief in his eyes. “What’s it for?” I ran my fingers along the sleek curve of the small piece of plastic. It was so light, I barely knew it was there but for touching it. “Do we have another….mission?” Christ, now I sounded like an astronaut. “I mean, is there another car here?” “Nope, no other cars. But I guess you could say you have another mission. He laughed. He flipped up his flannel shirt in the back and pulled out a brown paper bag. It had been rolled so that a very narrow length of brown paper was given to me. “This is for you.” I started to unroll it. “I wouldn’t open that here,” Lucas said.

“Why?” I touched the bag and all I could feel was something long and hard. It had a slight swell at one end and I stroked it some more, trying to identify the contents. I had never been any good at this game. “Trust me.” He leaned in and thumbed the ear piece. He showed me his cell. “I can hear you through this. And Matthew can hear you through his.” I looked to Matthew and he grinned at me. Something in that grin made my fingers and toes go numb and tingly. His smile was predatory at best. He gave me a nod and watched a tall brunette saunter past and slip into the ladies’ lounge door. Matthew caught me looking and waggled his eyebrows at me, stuck out his tongue. I quickly dropped my gaze. “What is going on? Please tell me? You’re scaring me. Is this something to do with the repo?” “Nope.” “Is there someone in the rest room I need to talk to?” “No.” “Then what?” Lucas touched my lower lip, leaned in. “You’re going to take that bag in with you. Inside are two small lounge rooms. Like little dressing rooms for women to change after lunch work outs or do their makeup. Very swanky, this building. You are going to go into one. Lock the door. When you’re in there, you’re going to tell me. Got it?” “But…” “But nothing. Do as you’re told, Ember.” He frowned. His dark brown eyes unreadable to me. My stomach twisted up and I nodded. “Fine. But can I ask you one thing? Please?” “What?” “Whose idea was this?” Lucas rocked back on his heels. He laughed but the humor didn’t reach his eyes. His eyes looked uncertain which made me more nervous. He should not look uncertain at all. “Matthew’s. But you knew that before you asked didn’t you?” “Yes.” “I’d offer you lube,” he said, tracing the V of my blouse. His fingertip outlined the come hither Y formed by my trussed up breasts. “But I doubt you need it. I bet you’re wet already, aren’t you?” His mouth came down on mine before I could react. His tongue forced past my lips until I opened for him, letting his tongue dance over mine until I could feel the kiss in my cunt. In my toes.

“Lube for what?” My face felt a bit numb. What was in the bag? “You’ll see. Answer my question. Are you wet?” “I…um, yes. Yes, I’m getting there.” “Good.” He smacked my ass hard and fast. So fast, no one passing through the lobby reacted until I let out a sharp yelp. Then they reacted, looking at me as if I were a crazy woman. My cheeks blazed and I tried not to pout when I saw him laughing. “Go on then. We don’t have all day. If you take too long, Ritter’s going to find us out here. That guy’s a nut.” Go on and what? Take too long to what? It all ran through my mind but I didn’t dare ask. I headed toward the ladies’ lounge, head down and determined. Matthew reached out and grabbed me before I could pass him. “I’d offer you lube too, but I know damn well you don’t need it. I don’t doubt it. I’m sure of it.” And then Matthew kissed me too. My body went stiff and he squeezed my arms tight in his big hands. The bite of pain on my arms wound around my limbs, wormed into my pelvis. My heart swelled into my throat, my ears. When he let me go, I stumbled back, my lips throbbing like they were bruised. “Go on, then.” He opened the door for me, the muscles in his forearm bulging from the motion. I spared one uncertain glance at Lucas. He stood across the lobby, hands in his pockets, jaw bunched. He looked angry but he was so hard to read, I could be way off. He kept me off balance he was so hard to decipher. He gave me a short nod and in I went. There were two women in line for the small separate rooms. Privacy was in demand it seemed. Finally I walked into room number two. The size of a small powder room, it was painted a soothing green with little vines painted on the walls. A mirror, a overstuffed arm chair, a small vanity and an outlet for a curling iron or hairdryer. I turned the lock and it snicked at me like it was laughing. Then I faced myself in the mirror and said. “Okay, boys. I’m in.” Lucas came into my ear like the voice of some dark god. “Open the bag.”

Chapter 14

It was a vibrator. But then again, I had know what it was all along, hadn’t I? Somewhere in me, I knew right away. I could hear Matthew in my head. So let’s talk…Had this been his suggestion to his brother? It had to be. “Ember?” “Yeah. I’m here. It’s kind of big isn’t it?” I tried not to panic. I mean, it was a vibrator not a snake. Nothing that could hurt me here. “I want you to use it on yourself.” Lucas’s voice piped directly into my head. It would have been very Big Brother if it hadn’t been so intimate. Wetness pooled in the crotch of my brand new panties and the vibrator looked very appealing. “I can do that. Sure.” I tried for bravado but didn’t quite manage. “Go on, then. Let’s hear that zipper purr.” That was Matthew and my physical reaction to him was so much different. Excitement tainted with anger. It was a confusing mix. With both of them in my head, it felt sinister. A party call to the extreme. “I…” “Do what he says, Ember,” Lucas said. I popped the button and pulled the zipper on my tight jeans. I wriggled and twisted to get them down, tugging my panties along for the ride. “Ready?” Lucas asked. “Yeah. I guess.” I was so wet and eager now. I could picture the queue of women out there waiting for their turn at privacy, but even the guilt and worry of being heard couldn’t put a damper on readiness. “Turn it on. Let’s hear it.” Matthew laughed softly when he said it and I could picture his cocky swagger, his lupine grin. He was easy to hate but entirely sexy in his cruelty. I twisted the base of the vibrator and it sprang to life in my hand. The sound that came out of it was staggering. I twisted it quickly to turn it off. “Jesus Christ!”

From outside the dressing room door came murmurs. A few gasps, too. “Ember turn it back on,” Lucas ordered. “My god. Did you two hear this thing? It sounds like a weed whacker!” I gasped. I shook my head no to my own reflection in the mirror. “There’s something wrong with it,” I growled. Someone knocked softly and I stammered, “Just a few minutes, please!” Matthew laughed in my ear. It was demonic in nature. Like an evil entity in my thoughts. “There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just loud. Very, very loud. But I assure you, sweetheart, it does the job. Turn it back on.” “No.” I breathed. “Ember,” I could hear the threat in Lucas’s voice. Was I playing and staying or was I flipping the switch and ending our agreement? Was our time together over? “Fine, fine,” I hissed. I closed my eyes and turned the base and the vibrator gave a hearty buzz and jumped to life. More muffled chatter from outside the door. More shocked outrage voiced at what I was doing. The nerve!… Of all the places…Oh my god, can you imagine…I wanted to die. Because trust me, there wasn’t a woman out there who didn’t know what I was doing. “Now do it, Ember. And let’s hear you when you come. I’ll know if it’s real,” Lucas reminded me. My face blazed hotter and I touched the very tip of the loud toy to my clit. Despite the roar of it, it felt good when it buzzed my skin. I pushed harder on my swollen clit and my hips arched up on their own. I focused on the feelings in my cunt, my belly. I pushed away the hushed irate whispers from the other side of the door. “Good girl,” Lucas said in my head. “You’ve picked a really pretty whore,” Matthew said in my ear. Lucas laughed. “Thank you, Matthew,” he said. I circled my clit with the tip of the toy and a sound slipped out of my throat. “Does that feel good?” Matthew asked. I could picture his sharp features. I circled harder with the toy. “Yes,” I whispered. “So, when do I get her?” Matthew asked. Lucas said, “Maybe soon. But you have to behave.” “I’ll be good.” Matthew laughed. Then, “Fuck yourself, Ember. Are you yet? I don’t think you are. Go on now, do it.”

Someone knocked and I slid the tip of the vibrator around my slick opening. My pussy clenched up, ready for the toy. “Just a minute!” I wheezed. “Do what he says, September,” Lucas told me. I slipped the vibrator deep inside of myself. My hips rose, my stomach slammed taut. I was so close. They were talking in my head. Ordering me around. Bantering like a comedy duo. Women were listening. Waiting. And they knew what I was doing. “I am. I am. What do you mean get me? When he gets me? How is he getting me?” “I told you he’d share,” Matthew reminded me and I slammed the vibrator higher. Someone knocked again. “Coming!” I shouted and my voice hitched as warmth filled my womb and the vibration filled my muscles and bones. Both men laughed in my head. “Soon, but not yet,” Lucas said. “I can tell by your breathing.” I couldn’t even think about that. I thrust higher, the angry bee buzz of the very loud vibrator filling the room. It took up the space in my head not occupied by the brothers. “Lady,” someone shouted on the other side of the door. My breath came in pants and gusts and Matthew said. “I think you need to dial it up to high.” My god. How loud would it be on high? “No!” I yelped. My cunt grew tighter still, gripping the gyrating purple toy eagerly. The lace bra rubbed my aching nipples adding to the sensation to the reality of the men whispering dark words in my ears. “Do it,” Matthew growled and the orgasm inched that much closer. I twisted the base and even buried deep in my pussy it sounded louder than before. Ridiculously loud. Horribly loud. I wanted to hate them for doing this to me. I wanted to throw it away and storm out and be angry and strong. Instead, my cunt started to flutter and I said, “Oh, god.” “Don’t you come yet, Ember,” Lucas said, startling me. “What?” Oh shit. I was right there. I wanted to cry. “Not yet. Not till I say. Got it?” I clenched my jaw and tried to push my climax back. “What do you want? What do you want?” I chanted, still working myself with the toy but backing off just enough to keep from coming. “Take it out but don’t turn it off.”

I didn’t move. If I took it out and left it on high it was going to sound like a fucking lawnmower. Anyone in a mile radius would pick up the sound! “Do it now, September.” He did not sound happy with me. Everyone could hear. Matthew and Lucas could hear. The women out there could hear. I was on sound display. I heard, just barely, someone say custodian and keys. They were going to open the door. “They’re going to come in here!” I hissed. “Then I guess you should hurry,” Lucas said. Matthew laughed and I did hate him for that moment in time. I pulled the toy out of me and the sound of it trebled. “It’s out,” Matthew said. He chuckled. “Shit, I could hear that even without the ear piece.” `I blushed though there was no one there to see it. “Run it over your nipples,” Lucas said, his voice thick. That tone in his voice made me forget it all. The eavesdroppers and the other man on the line. I bared my breasts of sweater and bra, ran the shimmying tip over each distended nipple. A tugging pleasant sensation blazed from nipple to cunt. A yank of an invisible string that bound tit to pussy. I moaned. “See, it feels good, yeah?” Lucas whispered. “Yes,” I managed. I might come from just this, I thought. I was already a kiss away from coming and feeling this in my breast and him in my head was all too much. Someone knocked and this time I didn’t even answer. I ignored it. Still terrified the door would come swinging open and yet, not so terrified that I stopped. “Slide it down your belly. It’s my tongue,” Lucas said. “Where’s my tongue?” Matthew said in my ear. I slid the vibrator lower on my tummy. Felt the buzz sink into my skin, work through my muscles. The vibration worked through my navel and into the floor of my pelvis. I tightened my cunt, gasped at the wave of pleasure. “Shut up, Matthew.” I bit my tongue. “Slide the vibrator over your hipbones. A little lower. Closer to your pussy. I’m ” “No, this time it’s my tongue,” Matthew interrupted. I lowered the toy, its high pitched scream almost gone to me now. I was solely feeling my body. I didn’t care how loud it was. I didn’t care about being embarrassed. I didn’t care about the people on the

other side of the door. I simply did not care, and that was a freeing feeling. The vibration shook my thighs, my ass, my groin. I made a soft sound and Lucas said, “Soon, baby.” “This time it’s my tongue, bro. And I want to put my tongue in her cunt. I want to lick over that little hot pink button of hers until she forgets your name. I don’t want her to be able to even remember what you look like.” “Matthew.” Lucas’s voice was full of warning. “Oh, you know I’d make her happy. I could eat pussy all day long and I bet hers is sweet. Like watermelon. Or strawberries. Tell me I’m wrong.” “Lucas?” I asked. I heard a man’s voice on the other side of the door. My guess, the custodian and his big ass key ring. “Go ahead. Sink it in, Ember. Come for me, baby.” I could tell by his voice he was talking to me and only me. Like we were alone. Like in his kitchen. His bedroom. His guest bed. I slipped the vibe back into my body and my hips shot up, ready and impatient. It wouldn’t take much. Not much at all. I saw Lucas in my head. His hard cock. His eyes on me when he fucked me. His hands on my flesh and that scar. “I’d eat her pussy until she pulled my hair out in chunks,” Matthew whispered. “I’d lick and suck and fuck her with my tongue until she spoke in tongues. I’d make her beg me, Luke ” “Matthew,” Lucas said. I fucked myself faster, listening to the people outside and the men in my head and the insanely loud buzz of the vibrator. “Boys…” I couldn’t think what else to say. I gasped, the joy in my body becoming bright yellow like sunlight. Big like the sky. Perfect. “And then I would fuck her, Lucas. And I wouldn’t watch her when I did it. Not like you, brother,” Matthew laughed. “I’d push her face down into the bed. Grab those curvy hips and yank at her. I’d fuck her like an animal. Like a dog in heat. I’d fuck her until she forgot every fuck before me.” I started to come. My body slamming tight around the toy, my free hand tugging at my nipples. I heard the jingle of keys and a man say, “I’m coming in if you don’t unlock the door, miss!” Fire filled my belly, warmth swelled in my cunt. “We’ll see,” Lucas said in my head. “I haven’t decided if you get any of her. I haven’t decided to share.” Like I was a toy or a movie. A car. An object. I came. Came at the memory of Lucas fucking me, the criss-cross of purple ties on my wrists and ankles. Came at the thought of Matthew touching me, kissing me in front of his brother. Came from them bickering over me in my head. At maybe being shared. At the women outside this room who knew what I was doing and the man who was about to enter and find me, sprawled in this chair, toy jammed in my pussy, sweater yanked down to bare my breasts. Common and whorish and flushed.

“You’d better share,” Matthew growled. “Shh. She came,” Lucas said and laughed. The tension slipped from his voice like water swirling down a drain. “I came.” I said. “And there’s a man about to come in here. He has keys.” Now the panic surged in me. “Get yourself together and get out here. You have three minutes.” “Hey, look who it is!” Matthew said in the ear piece but then they cut me off and the line went dead. I dropped the vibrator in the bag and stood just as someone grabbed the door knob. I yanked up my sweater, my bra still wedged under my boobs. I tugged up my jeans and pulled the zip up as the door swung open. I saw my own startled, red face reflection in the mirror for a brief instant and then a man came in. He looked more mortified at my mussed, blushing appearance than I did. “Sorry, miss, but…” “Sorry. Sorry. I got um..hung up,” I said, pushing the brown paper bag into the back pocket of my jeans. “Very sorry,” I said, giggling. Suddenly the whole thing struck me as hysterically funny. Maybe it was nerves or relief. Either way, I giggled and snorted my way past the gaggle of frowning judgmental women in the waiting area. I giggled down the gray carpeted hallway. I giggled right into Matthew Crow’s broad chest and it stopped me cold. I looked over his shoulder for Lucas. “Hey, pretty.” Matthew grinned down at me lasciviously. “Where is Lucas?” I couldn’t find him in the lobby chaos. “He had to go. Ritter showed up and tossed a nut. He told me to take you home.” Matthew leaned in, his lips a bare breath from mine. “I win,” he said. “He meant…” My voice petered out. I had no idea what he meant. “He meant I get to take you home.” “And then?” I took a step back from him. He unnerved me. Beautiful but deadly like some exotic animal. Matthew shrugged, took my arm. “And then whatever I want.” He grinned wide, his eyes flashing, and pushed me toward the front door. ****

This was where any sane person would back out. Anyone with common sense would put a halt to it right here. Instead, I let him take my arm and lead me out to the car. I let him put me in the seat and buckle me in like a child. Odd how very gentle he was being, almost valiant. Was it because he was getting a turn? Was Matthew just an overgrown child? He dispelled that thought by dropping to his knees after securing my seat belt. He buried his face at the crotch of my black jeans and inhaled me like I was baking bread or the most expensive perfume. Dark soot lashes slamming shut over his big dark eyes. They swished along the sun kissed tops of his high cheeks. "Your pussy smells perfect. Screw cookies or french fries or any of that. A woman who has just had an orgasm is the best scent of all." He pushed his face to me harder, his breath invading the denim with humid wisps of air. "I have to decide what to do with you." "I'm scared," I admitted. I didn't know what else to say. My throat felt too small when I said it and my heart hurt a little. "I'm scared," I repeated. He stalled, looking up into my face, studying me. His thumb rand softly over the pulse beating at my wrist, almost absently. A strangely gentle gesture from crude, boyish Matthew. "Maybe you should be," he said softly. Then he got in the car and turned the key. He took a hard left out of the lot and we didn't pass Lucas on the way back to the main road. Something told me that was intentional.

Chapter 15

"You can throw your bag there." There was no dog to greet us at Matthew’s. There was no ambiance either. A hardwood floor, white-washed walls, a black sofa and a chrome TV stand. A flat screen dominated one half of the room, a huge ugly mirror the other. Something told me it had come with the place. I dropped my bag next to his gym shoes and a pile of newspapers by the front door. "Nice...um..." I gave up. Didn't even try. His grin made me wary and I stood still, as still as I would facing a strange growling dog. "Why don't you go upstairs, second room on the right. Strip down to your skivvies and wait for me there." "I don't think so." It was hard to say. Partly because I wanted to say yes and do what he said. Capitulate and set myself free, give myself over to his will. "Oh, I think so. Should I call my brother and ask his opinion?" The way Matthew flipped open his phone with a great flourish, an eager gesture, I knew who'd win this one. Or who would be the best poker player. Matthew. I followed his pointing finger. Feet heavy, gut tingly, head buzzing and partly because the warmest parts of me were warmer. The wettest spots on me were wetter and my heart threatened to burst out of my chest at any moment. I used the bathroom first this time and didn't ask. Matthew could chalk it up to wisdom or ignorance, whatever he chose. My pussy still swollen from my run in with the weed whacker variety of vibrator. So sensitive that just removing my little black panties and standing bare in his barren guest room had me wet and a steady drum beat of arousal between my legs. I folded my clothes on a small nightstand and sat on the edge of the double bed. The wide chenille spread a dead ringer for one on my mother's house from when I was a kid. "You look like you might levitate at any moment," Matthew said from the doorway. His face was handsome in its own right, longer and narrower than Lucas's. And not as kind. That made me want him to take me more and the second I recognized the emotion, my face blushed scarlet. "I might," I said. Matthew stepped into the room and though not big or bulky, he was imposing. His being seemed to suck up all the oxygen, eat up all the breathing room, dampen all the sunlight. He was a force

and I was currently alone with the force and at his mercy. "Don't do that. That would be no fun. Well, it might, chasing a naked woman as she floated around the room." His hand ran down the crown of my head and my eyelids drifted shut. I had not expected his first touch to be gentle or lulling. "I could catch you up in the air and tie your wrists together." His fingers drifted down my neck and I shivered, mesmerized by his voice. Was this the snake charmer's voice right before he slammed the lid on the wicker basket? "And then your ankles." My pussy flexed, the contraction deep and moving. The fine hair along my body stood up and my skin tingled. I said nothing. It was not my place. I prided myself on being a fast learner. "I could tether you to the bed like a girl balloon. Watch you while I took the paddle to your ass, fuck you from behind and pull your hair and call you whore and slut and all the dirty names I just bet you like." Another contraction in my cunt, echoing in my womb to the tune of his nearly cruel but soft words. "And then as I came, I could cut your ties and watch you float. What do you think?" His lips came down on my shoulder, hot and full. Then his teeth nipped and I feared I would come right then and there. Would that make him angry? I didn't know. A little sound escaped me. I wanted to be right here, but I felt Lucas missing. Matthew made me feel an entirely different range of emotions than his brother, and yet I still missed Lucas being there. The safety of his presence, even when he was quiet. Even when he made me listen to Matthew. "Climb up on the bed now. Cat got your tongue? You had so much to say before." I started to obey and he said, "No, no hands and knees. Now about your quietude." "I don't know what to say. I'm scared of you." He smiled then. Nodded like it made all the sense in the world, most likely because it did. Would he ever hurt me for real, probably not. Would he push me, maybe harder than Lucas? I'd bet my bottom dollar on that one. I positioned myself on hands and knees and felt suddenly like livestock. Matthew palmed my ass--soft, gentle drags of his hand over my skin. "Nice marks. You're black and blue and pink and red. Some purple too." Each color earned me a kiss on the ass until my eyes slid shut and my back arched. I'd give anything to have him do that for the rest of the night. Nice gentle kisses on my bare skin, fingers skating over my flesh. I hummed low in my throat and gasped when his fingers slid into my pussy with a soft liquid sigh. "Looks like the little girl is wetter than wet," he laughed and pushed his fingers hard against my G-spot. I curled my toes to keep from coming. I didn't know if I was allowed to yet. Matthew took my hands and put them one atop the other before binding them. He shoved his hands under the mattress, coming up with red ties from underneath like a magician. "Put those sexy little legs out."

The fear rose up then. It filled my chest like black water and I coughed. Lucas inspired trust. Lucas moved and talked and worked like a trustworthy man. Matthew inspired unease wariness. What would he do when he had me bound? Would he leave me and get mean and cruel like Damien had? I shook my head but stayed silent. "Was that a no?" I held my breath, praying he'd simply move on. Praying that Lucas would show up and put an end to this or at least be here to watch over me. "Was. That. A. No?" He leaned in and I could nearly count the flecks of blue in his dark whiskey eyes. "No." I averted my eyes, heart pounding. My hands worried at each other beneath the soft red bonds. "No, it was not a no or no, period?" "No. I won't put my feet out." I bit my tongue and refused to cry. "Should I call my brother, then? Do you need his word that big bad Matthew won't do you wrong?" He laughed when he said 'do' and my body tensed up on the outside, went fluid on the inside. Right then I could have easily begged him to fuck me. Push his fingers into my mouth, bite me, fuck me until I cried and came and begged. I shook my head. "Then put your feet out, September. Don't make me ask again." I put my feet out. "Good girl." There was that fierce rush of pride again. I tried not to squirm or react as he circled my ankle with his big hand and just held me there. Then he tied my right ankle, followed by my left ankle. Hands bound in front of me, ankles tethered to the bed, I waited. "What shall I do with you?" A million images flew through my mind. Him fucking me, spanking me, caning me, even. Fucking my mouth, pulling my hair, making me come. They rolled through my brain like rainwater down a gutter. Gutter mind. Needy, little slutty whore. I blushed. "Oh, she's thinking dirty things. She's such a dirty girl." Matthew grinned. His phone chirped like some small animal and he frowned. "What? I haven't even had a chance to do anything to her yet!" I tested my bonds and he pointed at me, shook his head. I was to stay there and behave. I did so, trying to hear what was being said. I knew it was Lucas. I could feel it. My chest and my cunt and my heart all lit up with fire when he was near. I strained. "How long? No way. No fucking way! Hey, man..." Matthew broke off. Pacing and prowling like some big caged wild thing. "Fuck you, Luke! No. Fuck you! I can do whatev " And then he was staring at his phone like it was broken. His sharp dark jaw clenching and unclenching with anger.

He threw the phone against the wall and the back flew off with a metallic rattle. It hit the floor with a thud and anxiety became my best friend. How would Lucas reach him now. How would he control his lunatic brother and keep him from...what? And did I want him to? I shut my eyes and waited Matthew growled low in his throat and tugged the foot of the bed until the mattress and box spring and me all came sliding away from the light green wall. I yelped, unable to hold in with bound hands. Matthew had moved the entire bed to the center of the room. The ties at my feet grew tighter with the motion and Matthew mumbled to himself under his breath, angry and clipped. He came to the head of the bed and smiled down at me. The smile made me feel cold and panicky. It also made me feel like he was about to take my control and that excited me. I tried to breathe and wasn't sure I succeeded. "Seems I am not allowed to fuck you. Brother has some issues with that. I knew you were different. He's not acting right." Matthew traced the line of my jaw, his touch soft and soothing again. His fingertips slipped over my lips and he pushed his fingers to my tongue. "Suck them," he whispered. So I did. I could taste soap on his skin and something sweet like he'd unwrapped gum or candy recently. "Do you love my brother, Ember?" I froze. The question was so unexpected it stunned me. "Keep sucking." He stabbed my tongue with the tip of his finger to remind me. I sucked. I watched the front of his jeans grow rigid with his hard-on. I listened to the ticks and pops of my body as it warmed up like a car. The soft noise in my throat, the slide of my thighs over the sheets because I had to move my pussy was so wet and ready. The creak of the silk that tied my wrists. Outside a car engine rumbled, loud music went by, a plane buzzed overhead. My eyes and ears and body were on high alert. "Do you?" he asked again. He pulled his finger free of my mouth and painted my lips with his wet fingers. The button on his jeans made not a sound when he popped it. His zipper only the barest of complaints. I watched, mesmerized, lips tingling. Did I love Lucas? That was crazy. "That's crazy," I said softly. It sounded weak even to me. “We just met yesterday. Crazy,” I repeated. "Is it? He's calling me to say I can't fuck you. He won't tell me I can't play with you, but he won't let me fuck you. You're looking around like you want him to come in like your knight in shining armor and save you. If this were a Western, I'd be in the black hat and Lucas would be in the white." Matthew pulled his cock free and slid it along the still wet trail on my lips. Warm, steely velvet, that was the feel of his cock on my mouth. I sighed. "That's fine. I don't mind being the bad guy. Bad guys have bigger guns, don't they? And they cheat. So go on, Ember, suck my gun." He smiled and pushed his cock into my mouth. I ran the flat of my tongue along him and my cunt clenched up, begging to be fucked. "You know what will drive him more ape shit that me fucking you?" I shook my head but I knew that answer and it sent a thrill through me. So dirty, so wrong, so much jealousy and angst and anger. But I sucked harder, teasing the tip of him with my tongue so he

growled, pulled my hair, forcing a tear free finally. "Me fucking your mouth. He'll want to kill me. And maybe you." So I sucked harder and waited.

Chapter 16

I felt him before I saw him. Heard the sound of his breathing from the doorway and his heavy boots on the hardwood floor. "She's good, brother dear," Matthew said. He hadn't pulled my hair yet, but he did. His fingers intertwining in my crazy windblown locks. He tugged, pulling so that his cock stuffed my throat closed and tears pricked my eyes. I struggled for air, hitched, arched my back. My eyes met Lucas's and his smiled at me. There was a lot in that smile. Affection, pride, anger. Matthew grunted but tugged my hair so my head arched back further. "Your little cockslut likes to suck dick. Were you aware?" It was all a ploy to get Lucas angry. To make him snap. Matthew was bigger and broader and in ways badder, but he was trying to push his big brother's buttons. Lucas frowned but then grinned. "I think my cock slut likes to do whatever I tell her. She's mine after all. I hijacked her." He was talking to me now. To the dark fantasies that lived inside my head. "I think she'd let me use her any way I want, because she has. No. Choice." He accented the last two words by stepping into the room. The air felt thicker. Like lightning boxed inside four walls and a roof. I ran my teeth down the length of Matthew's cock and he sighed. "Fuck." "Exactly. Now here is how it goes, brother. I'm fucking her and she's sucking you and nobody comes until I say go." "You're not my Master, Luke," Matthew said, but I felt the pull-back in his thrusts. He was obeying his brother despite bluster and mouth. My pussy tightened, tightened and I feared I would come just from being told I couldn't.

"Be a good girl for him, Ember. Don't make him mad. He's rougher than me and not as good at aftercare." "Fuck off," Matthew said, but he pushed harder into my mouth, yanked my hair harder still. I was so fucking wet, I couldn't stand it. I pushed back with my hips, seeking nothing at all. Heat, air, Lucas. But there he was in the doorway, watching me.

"Yank her head back, Matthew," Lucas said. I felt a rush of warm fluid as my body lost its capacity for my moisture. I moaned even as Matthew fucked my mouth harder. He was angry, and every stroke of his cock spoke volumes. "You don't get to Top me, bro," Matthew whispered. Somehow the whisper was scarier than a scream. "Do it or I take her back." There was no doubt in me after hearing that tone who would win. Lucas was giving Matthew a choice. Play by his rules or don't play at all. I spread my legs as much as the ties allowed, opening myself to the cool air of the bedroom. I was a void that needed to be filled. I wanted Lucas to see that or feel it. To somehow deduce it from the sight and smell of me. In my head I begged him to hear me. His steps, despite the boots, were soft. He moved like a predator and that sent a skitter of fear up my spine. I heard the whisper of denim and the soft sounds of skin and then the bed bowed even as Matthew tried to skewered me on his cock. I did my best to keep up and the feeling of being a tool or a hole to fill had me tense, trying so hard to not be needy. Lucas would come to me or he wouldn't. He would reward me or punish me as he saw fit. And I would take it. That was a freeing thought. The bed bowed and sighed and he was behind me. The warmth rolled off of him in waves. The strength a close second. Lucas leaned over me, his tee tickling my bare back, his hard-on pressed to the crack of my ass. He breathed in my ear. "You're a good little slut aren’t' you? You've done what he said and he followed my orders?" I could only nod and barely that. "He didn't fuck you did he?" Lucas's breath covered my ear and I shivered. I shook my head no. "No, I did not fuck your brand new shiny loyal toy," Matthew said. "Oh, you mock her but look how bad it was for you. How you couldn't wait to get your hands on her. Or," I felt the stare between brothers despite my close up view of Matthews cock and hips and belly. "How you couldn’t wait to get your cock in her. Somewhere. Anywhere." "Shut up, Luke." "Your weakness," Lucas said softly. He ran the head of his dick along the wet slit of my pussy. I gasped, inhaling the rigid flesh of his brother, choking, sputtering, crying long mascara rivulets down my ace. I felt them running and my eyes burned from the ruined makeup. "I have no weakness." "You covet Matthew. Whatever I have, you want."

"And whatever you have you give me. What does that say about you?" Matthew went slower still. His movements more ragged of offbeat than before. He was holding on, trying not to come. I didn't do anything. I wanted to play nice. I did not suck or run my tongue along his length or any of the things I would normally do. I simply stayed right where I was, mouth open, full of him. He smelled like soap and warm man and a bit of rage. "It says that I'm also weak," Lucas sighed and slid into me. The trust was fluid and perfect and my pussy fluttered. I shut my eyes, trying so hard not to come. I didn't want to come. He thrust again and I did—just like that. Like a blink, like a breath, like a heartbeat. "Oh, Ember," Lucas said and I let the tears come. "Why did you go and do that? Now I have to punish you." I sobbed around Matthew who was wisely staying still. He didn't want to break the rules either. Lucky him, I was helping out. But Lucas had me on edge. The whole scenario and then the perfect tight slide of him inside of me. I had no control, I was powerless and that right there had me on the urge of coming all over again. "Come here, Matthew." My heart stopped beating. Maybe not for real, but it sure as hell felt that way. Matthew frowned. "Don't worry. I'll let you go back to that. And I will let you come. But come here for now." Matthew pulled free of my lips and my mouth closed on its own. My jaw ached from sucking him and yet, most of me wanted him to come back. What would they do? I slid my arms out, trying to relieve the screaming muscles in my shoulders. I heard a drawer and then another and then Lucas, his voice calm and dark saying, "I think ten will do and watch it, brother. You're really pissed at me. Don't get carried away on her. She's already marked up a bit." "A bit," Matthew said and then something that was not a hand bit into the back of my thigh. Lower than the marks left by my spanking. Fresh skin shrieked with the smooth fire delivered by what felt like wood. Lucas came to the front of the bed, knelt down, face to face with me. He shocked me by kissing my lips, his tongue delving into my mouth. The same place his brother's cock has been moments before. "A hairbrush, doll baby," he said to me and I hitched in a sigh when the smooth wood struck a bit lower. Halfway down the back of my thigh. Midpoint between ass cheek and the back of my knee. "That's four," he said, biting my bottom lips so that the red spark of pain clouded my vision but then filled my pelvis. "And when I go back to fucking you, don't you dare come until I say, you hear me?"

I nodded and then sobbed on blow six. My skin blazed with heat and pain, my cunt tight and ready. My ears rang and I swallowed, swallowed, swallowed from the force of my tears. "Yes, Lucas," I managed and on blow eight he kissed my forehead almost tenderly. "You're so pretty, baby. You take your punishment well." The he stood, tracing my lips with the head of his cock. the bright shiny gem of pre-come smearing my lips like lip balm. I opened my mouth for him but he only sank into me once. Balls deep he went, filling my throat until my stomach nearly turned. Then he was gone and I was once again left with an empty mouth. Nine and ten took an eternity as Lucas cooed in my ear, words I couldn't quite make out at that point in my pain. It was hot and red and held me tight until it stopped. A vacuum of relief and then the substantial agony of the force of my pulse under my skin. I hung my head, rested my forehead against the bonds on my wrist. "I think she's learned her lesson. Come on back, Matthew." He had given Matthew reprieve--a break--I realized. Now he would have more stamina. There was less chance he would come without permission. Even in my pain I could see the protective nature of Lucas when it came to his brother. But then I could see it in relation to me, as well. In an odd way, granted. But it was there. Matthew shoved his hands in my hair and raised my head. He pushed his still-hard dick to my lips, tracing the split of my mouth before inching into me. His dark eyes were drunken and intense. His hip muscles flexed and I watched the play of light on them as I felt Lucas thrust into me again. His fingers slid over the tender welts and I moaned. My eyes rolled back and my body tightened around him. I wanted to come but I would wait. Lucas pushed his finger into my wetness. I could feel him swirling the tip around and around on the slippery sex painted skin. Whorls and lines and symbols. He painted me and it was magic. Then his finger, pushed, pinched, inched into my back door. My body protested with a bite of pain but I arched my back, pushing against him. Cock and finger. The pain made the goodness that much better. And after a moment the pain evaporated, leaving him stroking into my cunt with his cock and my ass with his finger. The friction of finger against dick through that very thin membrane was crazy. I wept more. "Luke?" Matthew didn't say anything else. That was it. But I could tell by the way he held my face, his thumbs sweeping arcs along my jaw, and the way his eyes were squinched tight that he was there again. That line in the sand, that precipice, that point of being almost done. Lucas stopped inside of me, rolling his hips so that his cock pushed all the perfect pleasure points in my cunt. I sobbed again, licking frantically at Matthew in hopes it would distract me. Lucas was cruel, he fucked in and out and in and out with is finger so that my G-spot was nudged and battered from both sides. I sucked harder and Matthew groaned.

"Okay, everyone. You may come," Lucas said softly and pounded into me, hard and frantic. No more control, he surrendered to his orgasm. Matthew came in a slick rush of salty come and I swallowed eagerly, wanting him to feel good. Wanting him to feel pleasure, though a large part of me did not like him. I did want him, and there was a difference. Lucas's fingers brushed the bruised and in some places broken skin of my bottom and I was done. My orgasm swelled to fill my pussy, my womb, my whole pelvis. One excruciating and wonderful spasm after another. And then all I could hear was us breathing.

Chapter 17

They left me that way. I heard them talking even as my body cooled and my heart beats became slower, more serene. I was exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally. I realized I didn't much like Matthew but wanted him, really liked and trusted Lucas way too much and was willing to listen to them both. I had helped repo a car which to me felt like stealing and had gotten off with a vibrator that sounded like a small engine. And just now, for the first time in my life, I'd been fucked simultaneously by two men who, to make matters even more twisted, were brothers. Paging Jerry Springer. I giggled. Which was a bad sign. It meant I was so tired I was getting punchy. I strained to hear the men who seemed to be arguing. "...her here!" that was Matthew. His voice high and angry. Matthew showed his emotions too much. He was easy to read because if he was livid, he looked livid. If he was horny, he looked horny. And so on. "No way. That was that. I have to think." The lower, even keeled tone of one Lucas Crow. His voice inflection stayed fairly regular even when he was upset. A man who did not like to let people see when he's flustered or pissed or worried. I envied him his control and yet, I could never be that person. I could never mask over all that I had going on on the inside. So maybe that was what made me feel like a moth to Lucas's flame. His control. "...her...she can...here!" I shook my head. If they were arguing about me, then I supposed I should have a say. But I knew deep down in the parts of me that just seemed to be waking up, that despite my true wants, I'd defer to Lucas's request of me. That scared me and thrilled me all in the same breath. "...final." Lucas. The door sprang open and even though I was literally stuck there by them, I felt guilty for overhearing. "I..." Lucas shook his head, face pinched, jaw set. He went to the foot of the bed, untying me. "I want you to get up, freshen up and get dressed. Meet me downstairs in a five minutes. Understand?"

He was angry. Truly angry. I nodded my head and he helped me sit up. He knelt and startled me by kissing my the knuckles of my bound hands as he set me free. "How do you feel?" His dark eyes found mine and I dropped my gaze, shifted on the bed, leaving more of myself on the sheets I was sure. Lucas grabbed my chin, forced me to look at him. "I asked you a question. Answer me, Ember." How did I feel? Used, abused, loved, cherished, tainted. All of the above. "Fine. I feel fine. I feel..." "Yes?" I told him the truth. "I feel good. Boneless and tired and sore but good. Very good." He kissed me on the lips. Gentle. Like a knight in shining armor. "Good girl. Go on then." He set me on my feet and pointed. "Straight down the hall. You have five minutes." I grabbed my clothes and hurried down the long dark hallway. I passed another doorway and just inside stood Matthew, arms crossed, glowering in the darkening room like an angry specter. I jumped, clutching at my heart. He didn't say a word. So I hurried past and shut the bathroom door behind me. I felt like something. Some invisible time monster was chomping at my heels. Panic knotted my stomach and I shoved my legs into my jeans, zipped my boots. I washed my hands, twisted my hair up into a knot and stared at my face in the mirror. Same face as always and yet, not. "What are you doing?" I asked the girl. She didn't answer. But her cheeks had color and her eyes had spark and she didn't look as limp and tired as the girl who normally stared back at me. I heard my cell phone chirp and then Lucas's voice. I opened the door to see him shutting my phone and both men staring at me. I waited. "Go on down, Ember. I'll be right there." I wanted to ask who was on the phone, I wanted to ask why they were fighting. Was it me? Had I done something wrong? Instead, I went past them, the sore places on my buttocks singing with the pain of the denim brushing the skin. At the foot of the steps, I heard muttering and arguing but in more muted tones. Lucas came down, his boots smacking the hardwood steps. His jeans came into view first and my body responded automatically to the sight of his hips and pelvis. Then his beautiful but imposing face. He smiled briefly like he had a secret. Matthew was right on his heels. "You are being a dick!" Matthew said, his voice rising. Right on Lucas's heels, his face was flushed with anger. "Matthew, settle down."

"Don't you tell me to settle down. Fuck you! You always let me have them! It's my turn." I blinked. He was talking about me. "Not this time." Lucas's voice was soft. Almost a whisper. He nodded at the door. I opened it. Cool air rushed in, the temperature was dropping. "Lucas!" Matthew's voice was one of a man who had just figured out he would not get his way. "I said no," Lucas said. He took my arm, piloting me out the door. It was then that Matthew threw the punch and it was then that Lucas moved just fast enough to avoid the blow. Grabbing Matthew's arm, he pivoted, getting his brother in a hold. "You need to knock it off little brother or else." "Or else what?" Matthew hissed. Lucas let him go, stepped back. His demeanor cool and calm, while my heartbeat pounded like a drum and my head swirled with fear induced vertigo. "You know." Matthew, Matthew, what was he thinking? Matthew swung again and Lucas stopped it right there. One good punch and his brother sagged a bit, stunned. Lucas caught him. "Come on then. You're coming home with us. You have a lesson to learn." Lucas nodded to the door again and I pulled it wide for him. He helped his stunned brother out and I said, "Lucas?" "Lock the door behind you. Come on. Let's get him home. He has to learn some manner and you're going to help teach him." I didn't know what that meant but part of me was thrilled and part of me wanted to run. ****

At the house I took a shower to let the boys talk. I lingered in the hot Bergamot scented suds. My head was also full of the sights and smells and memories of being caught between the brothers. Pushed and pulled and used and yes, even adored. I had felt that. A surreal feeling almost like worship. "September?" Lucas. I stuck my head out, wiping my eyes. "Yes?" Just seeing him made me want to fling the curtain wide. Ask him to come in and take me. Right up against the wet white tile the way I had imagined the night before. It felt like so long ago and it was only a day. "Yes?" "When you're done, come down. I've made food. Then we'll talk. Some woman named Dawn Dunloe called about a wedding. I told her you were on vacation this week."

I nodded, a little shocked. Would I lose the job? I worked freelance as an event planner. A wedding was a big deal, and yet, with all that was going on right now...I needed time. I needed to process and regroup. I would be a failure at a wedding. Too muzzy headed and loopy. "I talked it over with her. Told her it was an impromptu much deserved thing and that she was the top of your list when you returned. She's good. It's fine." I let out the breath I hadn't even realized I'd been holding. Why was I not surprised that Lucas commanded trust and respect. "Thank you." "Sure thing. I aim to please." He winked in an almost ornery way that made me smile. "So come on down and get fed and we'll discuss Matthew's lesson." I couldn't help but wonder if Matthew's lesson to learn was anything like my lesson to learn. Part of me, the dirty desperate secret part of me, sure as hell hoped so.

Chapter 18

"I'm not doing this, Lucas. You may be my brother and older, but it's only half and the half of you telling me to do this is the half I disown." Matthew poured coffee, his lean jaw tight with anger. Why hadn't he just left, I wondered. He has a submissive streak too, but only to his brother. Lucas had seemingly given up the better part of his youth to care for his brother. Shared everythingincluding the occasional woman it seemed, so there was loyalty there. And the need to please. I dipped my head, sipping my own coffee. Waiting. "Then leave. No big deal. I choose not to share Ember with you and now you can go." Matthew stammered, obviously unaccustomed to being told no at all. "But why? Why her? What's the big deal about her? Is it because you rescued her? So what? Once upon a time you rescued me and..." He trailed off. Maybe realizing he was being a brat, maybe realizing that there was a correlation. I did wonder why I was special, but I cherished it too. Bottom line, my insides, my gut, told me to do what Lucas asked of me. If that meant I was shared, so be it. If I meant that was his, so be it. And I wouldn't even turn it over and over and over in my head the way I normally did. I would embrace it for what it was. I would not analyze. For me that was huge. "Learn your lesson. Get a taste of what she feels, and you can stay." Lucas put his clean mug in the dishwasher. His voice was soft, his eyes kind, his demeanor easy. This was a yes or no deal, no questions asked. Matthew would capitulate or he wouldn't. Case closed. "No." Matthew said, dumping his coffee into the sink. He put the mug away, despite his anger and I found that amusing. He gave Lucas a half assed salute, grabbed his car keys and turned. "Hope she's worth it, bro." He grinned and went out the kitchen door. "I'm sorry if I had something to do with this...upset." I said, sipping my coffee. Sugary and darkly sweet, it was heaven. "It's been a long time coming. I think little brother needs to not have every little thing handed to him and life shouldn't be so easy. He needs it. He needs to see what others go through for him to be happy sometimes." "Have you ever--" I cut myself off. Maybe I should let it go.

Lucas sat, rested his chin on his hand and watched me. His eyes tracked me like I was prey. I bet he was a phenomenal hunter. I felt both threatened and protected in the same breath and the irony wasn't lost on me despite being partially drunk on sex at the moment. "Have I ever what, Ember? Go on. Don't stop now." "Have you ever been on the other side of the coin. Have you ever been the um..weak one?" "The submissive?" I nodded, looking quickly down at his hands. They didn't twist or fret. They sat on the table, large and strong, marked by scars and the passage of time and hard work. "I have. But only to my father. And that was a long, long time ago. And he was not a kind man. So my submission was against my will and had nothing to do with sex. I was his son. I was his possession. So I would bend to his will no matter what. At least that was how he saw it." My gaze went to the scar in his brow and something in me went cold and sad for him. "I'm sorry. But you weren't that way with Matthew. You changed that." "Yes. And no, I guess. I think me being so protective of him has given him that little taste of the cruel streak our father had. And now I don't want..." He stood and I started at his sudden movement and the shriek of the wood chair legs on the kitchen floor. "What?" "I'm not sure I want to share you. And if I do, it's on my terms. Completely. Not factoring him into the equation, but operating completely and thoroughly selfishly. Fuck it. Once in a while we are worthy of something just for ourselves." He bent and kissed me on the lips. I kissed him back. It was an entirely different kind of kiss. Soft and fragile, tasting sweet on my lips. Like affection. "Come to bed when you're done that coffee. Come lay with me." It didn't sound like a command. It sounded like a request. It sounded like a plea. I nodded. "I will." I drank my coffee slowly. ****

I crawled into bed sure he was asleep. It felt somehow odd to be lying down in his bed of my own accord. I wasn't being carried or told or topped. I was just a woman crawling into the warm bed of a handsome man in the dark of night. Nothing more.

"I wasn't sure you were coming. I thought maybe you came to your senses and left," he said. His arm snaked out, unseen but strong and pulled me into the warm curve of his body. I kissed his bicep, snugly fitted with an affectionate, possessive ease around my neck. "Just finishing my coffee and absorbing. Marveling at the fact that I'm here." "And considering the madness that is me and my brother?" he laughed. When he turned to me, I felt serene. It was a welcome feeling. Bizarre in context but one I embraced. "No. Not so much. Marveling more that it took me so long fit this oddly shaped puzzle piece about myself to fall into place." "But you knew." He parted my thighs, running his fingers along my skin so that I shivered. There was sweetness here. Not a power move, but a intimacy that made my heart ache a bit. It was one thing to be dominated and topped. It was another to be vulnerable. We were equal here. And that was wonderful and unnerving. I opened my legs a bit more and he settled between my thighs, pressing the length of his cock to the split of my nether lips. I opened my mouth for his kiss, shook a little when he shoved his hands into my hair and held my head still so he could kiss me deeper. "I didn't know it all," I said. "It was just a fucked up fantasy. Like being turned on by those nasty kinky ads at the back of magazines," I confessed. Lucas rocked against me, the friction from his cock readying my body for him yet again. I didn't know it was possible to take a man over and over and not tire, to always be open to him. Want him. With Lucas, I wanted him always. Every time he looked at me. Every time I heard his voice. Something in the most secret part of me responded to him like a sinner to a confessor. "Oh, dirty girl," he teased. He moved a little faster, big hands moving from my messy mane of hair to hold my wrists flush to the mattress. He pressed hard and I gasped, the air forced out of my lungs even as his tongue forced past my lips. His hips banged relentlessly to mine. My clit responding first with a sweet soreness, then with a thumping pulse of arousal. That fast I was ready. Lucas rolled to his back pulling me with him. I sat atop him, my pussy flush to his belly, his cock brushing and nudging the crack of my ass. "This time you're on top, love. I want you. I want you to want me. And I want you in control." "I can't top you," I laughed, my face flushing with heat that I was grateful he couldn't see. "I didn't say top me, Ember. I just said, you're on top. I want to watch you." "But you can't see me." I felt him reach out and a small orange glow lit by the bedside. A tiny lamp, antique and golden, giving off a meager light through an antique frame. It didn't even illuminate his whole face, it only gave it shadowy edges and plains lit by amber. "You look golden now," he said.

I felt all golden. I pulled the tee he had given me to sleep in over my head and dropped it off the edge of the bed. His hands came up to find my breasts, cupping me. He rolled my nipples between his strong fingers so that a tiny echoing tug of excitement sounded in my throat. I rocked my wet hole to his cock and waited. I wanted to see his hands on me before I was lost in the fucking. I wanted to hear the whisper of his hands moving over my skin. He stroked down my ribcage so that goose bumps jumped up on my skin. His hand traveled the flat of my middle to the small swell of my belly to my bare mound. He found me with his thumb, pressing my clit so that my body warmed and trembled and began to move on its own. I raised up, putting the head of his cock to me, sinking so slowly that even I felt a bit mad and restless, but I wanted to be slow. I wanted to sink into all of it. Not lost in the ties and the orders and the sharing of brothers, but locked right here in this shallow golden light with him. Just him and I. Me on top, him eager and hard and ready. "Jesus, Ember," he groaned. Lucas surge up under me a bit, forcing his cock home. Forcing into my cunt a millimeter at a time so that I fell forward, my lips to his lips, my breasts to his chest. Our hands tangled and I began to move, sliding him all the way in so that I was full of him. By body full of his hardness, my mouth full of his tongue, my soul full of whatever it was he was showing me. Impossible to completely decipher yet, but so important. So wildly needed. "I love you," I whispered, and when he opened his mouth to answer me, I kissed it shut. "Don't answer me," I said. "It makes no sense." He didn't. Instead he moved up, up, up into me over and over again. His forceful fingers pressed into my hips, pulling me down. Anchoring me to him. Cunt to cock, pelvis to pelvis. I gripped his hands to hold on. To not fly away. I moved in a slow sinuous dance until that was wrong and then I threw my body forward again over his and moved faster. Lucas locked his hands behind my back and moved harder into me. I was so close and he said, "Ember, about what you said, I--" I cried for a second then and blurted a flurry of words "Please. If you care at all how I feel, let it go. Just let me come. Don’t remember that I said that. It’s all too fast, I know." Lucas moved faster, kissing me softly, dark eyes locked to mine in the barely there glow of the antique lamp. "Come on, then," he said. "Come for me." I did. A damp heavenly release that had me muttering under my breath. Words I couldn't hear myself or even feel on my tongue. Some secret language of that perfect moment in time where I felt understood. Completely.

Chapter 19

It was barely dawn, I felt Lucas roll out of the bed. Watched him pad to the door and I heard Daisy grunt. Most likely not too happy with the fact that the female in his bed wasn't her. "Good girl," he said. I flushed as if he were talking to me. My body, now wired to react to his tone and his voice itself, warmed for him. How swiftly I had gone from frustrated, orchestrating, bossy girlfriend of Damien to easy, pliable submissive. Lucas's woman. Easy and pliable for him. I shook my head. I knew Dawn would give me the wedding job if I got back to her soon. I would play this out and see where it went. I had time. I’d make time. My secret fear was it was short termed. I would be his toy for a week, he'd share me with his brother and toss me aside. Logically that made sense and it sent a spark of shame and anxiety burning in my stomach. But my heart said that wasn't the case. My instinct and that small quiet place in the center of me said that he felt more for me. The same way I inexplicably felt more for him. I sat up, hearing voices downstairs. It was barely six and the light was a surreal cornflower blue making the air look more like water than anything else. Daisy grunted again and I smiled. Bitch. She still didn't like me and that was fine. I wasn't too keen on her, either. I could hear the deep mutterings of men talking and I sat there, the white, smooth sheets draped around me. It was an odd feeling not knowing what to do. Rising in the morning with no purpose other than to find out what was in store for you today. Not waking up with an alarm, a schedule, an agenda. I waited, listening to Daisy breathe, listening to Lucas talking to someone. Listening and waiting. Finally, I heard footsteps on the steps. I expected the door to open, but it didn't. The shower in the hall, not the master suite, kicked on and I heard Lucas whistling. A sound I had only heard before when he was cooking. Downstairs the cabinet slammed. The one that had no stopper on it, so heavy wood smacked heavy wood with a bang. Someone else was here. Were they going out on a job? Was I going with them for that matter? I lay back on Lucas's bed, stretched, waited. He'd tell me what was what eventually. For now I'd wait. I studied the window blinds as the sun climbed into the sky.

The sun was fully up and the white walls were golden with sunlight when the door opened. Lucas sat and the bed bowed under his weight. "I know you're faking it, September," he whispered and I could hear the smile in his voice. I grinned, trying to keep my face turned so he couldn't see. Part of me did not want to know what the day would bring. Part of me wanted to stay right here in limbo. Maybe with him curled up next to me, his body warm and hard against my back. "I am not," I whispered back and he laughed. "Rise and shine. There's food downstairs and coffee and more clothes for you. We have a job to do and we want you to come." "We?" My stomach rolled with a nervous energy. I couldn't figure if it was excitement or fear. "Matthew came back. We worked a few things out. We have to pick up a Jeep over in Beltsville and then we have some stuff to work out with my brother." I shivered and he hadn't even touched me. "So, you've decided, then." I felt a thrill in my chest and a dip of sadness in my heart. My emotions were at war over Lucas's decision. "Decided what?" he asked. It was nearly cruel, making me say it aloud, but I did. "To share me?" I turned. His face was smooth and freshly shaved. A small dot of blood stood out on his chin and I pushed my finger to it. Then I stuck my finger in my mouth without thinking, the way I do when I have cut myself. He grinned. "To an extent. My rules. My boundaries." I nodded. He leaned in, kissing my lips where my finger had just been, licking like he was seeking out his own coppery flavor. "Why did you do that?" I shrugged but I was lying. The moment he asked, I knew. "Liar, liar, pants on fire." His hand anchored my hips to the mattress and he kissed my neck until I shimmied under him. Then my breasts received his attention through the cotton tee I slept in. He nipped me on my left breast but didn't pull up the shirt. His breath left hot wet rings on the cotton. "Why did you do that, Ember? Why did you lick your finger?" His hands skimmed over my skin but he didn't touch me between my legs, though deep inside I was making deals with the devil so he would. I did the only thing I could do. I told the truth. "Since we met, since you found me--sometimes when we’re together, I'm not sure where I leave off and you begin." He stilled, his dark eyes watching me like a hawk watches prey. "And?" "I did it as second nature. The same way I would have done if I had cut myself. Only it wasn't me who was cut. It was you."

"Get on downstairs and eat. Then we'll toss you in the shower and hit the road. We have a bright yellow Jeep to repo today." He grinned and my insides turned to warm syrup. "And then?" "And then you get to boss Matthew around. This should be fun." I didn't know about fun, but my pussy felt tight and ready at the thought. Full and swollen and thoroughly excited. I didn't know if it would be fun, but it should be interesting to say the least. ****

Matthew drove me to the job. He didn't say a word. I clenched my hands in my lap feeling as if I had somehow done wrong when I had done nothing at all. I had simply been sent in to flirt with the owner of the Jeep while the boys loaded her up and handled the paperwork. Which was what I was doing. My cell phone rang and the ring was Damien's I hit the button to silence it and continued to flirt and have Derrick James, the Jeep’s owner, explain to me how to get to a farmer's market I already knew how to get to. Matthew had brought me more clothes. A faded pair of boyfriend jeans with small holes at the hip and knee, a white, snug thermal top and a pair of kick ass brown ankle boots with snaps. I wanted to kiss him for the boots. Especially if they let me keep them. I felt like a bit of a bad ass and I think that had been the point. "So you want to take a right up here at the light. Follow that down until you pass the farm. Then you want to..." My phone beeped at me. That was Lucas's ring. They were done. "I think I have it, hon. Thanks a lot." I touched his arm and he blushed. Off I bolted into the wind and the cold to find the boys. My boys. The thought registered before I could blink. My boys. "Over here, Ember!" Matthew yelled and I ran toward him. I saw Lucas taking off with the tow truck and I jumped in Matthew's car. I was barely in and he accelerated. Derrick James came running out about two seconds later, waving his fist and yelling words that the wind greedily snatched up and stole "Wow. That was close," I said. A giggle escaped. Nerves. I always got the giggles when I was anxious. "Closer than most. He was probably following your sweet ass to get up the nerve to ask for your number." He turned to me, big eyes flashing in the sunlight as we drove below an arched canopy of very old trees. "I doubt it," I said, blushing. I looked down. "You're one of those then," Matthew said, turning back to watch the road.

"One of what?" "One of those women who has zero realization about the effect they have on men. Shit, you've damn near turned my brother inside out. Got me and him in each other's faces, something that never happens. You even have the man saying no to me. Me. And I'm supposed to be the most important person in his life." He smiled. In that smile I saw happiness and anger. An oxymoron of an expression. "I'm sorry." Part of me meant it, a good portion of me did not. "It's good for us, I think. Maybe it's time. But damn. I'm not crazy about it. We'll see, though," he said, and he put his big hand on my thigh and pushed it height. My pussy responded immediately and I bit my tongue to keep from squirming. I couldn't give in, couldn't show him that his touch did something for me too. "Me coming between you..." He laughed and I blushed. "I mean, disrupting the normal flow of your relationship is good? How is it good?" "I said maybe it's good." Lucas turned on the beltway toward the impound, Matthew continued on straight, taking the exit that would lead us to home. My cell phone chirped. "How so?" I eyed the display. It was Damien. I depressed the button to turn it off and slid down in my seat a bit, exhausted and saddened by just seeing his name. "Maybe it's time Luke and I backed out of each other's lives a bit. We are growing up. I think," he laughed. "Is that him? The douche bag." I couldn't help but smile. "Indeed, it was Damien the douche bag. How old are you, Matthew?" "Twenty-six." I nodded. Two years my junior. But I didn't have the heart to tell him I had yet to feel more mature. More grown up. I still felt as if I stumbled and bumbled through the majority of my life. "Come on then," he turned onto the beltway. "I've got to get you home and ready. Lucas will be pissed if you're not." "Get me ready? I thought I was off limits." I watched his sleek profile and the barren trees as they whizzed past our window on the side of the high way. "You are. No touching. But I do have to do what he's asked. That's the way it works with us." "I don't pretend to understand you two," I said. But God, I did get caught up in the middle when they were together. Like being in a charged environment. The middle of a storm or a room right after a huge fight. You could feel the energy when the brothers were together. And when I was there, I hazard a guess that it was more intense than usual. Judging by the way they reacted to each other in my presence.

"Me, either, doll. Me either."

Chapter 20

"Here you go." Matthew handed me a small black bag with no markings on it. "From Luke’s favorite place. Lingerie." He waggled his eyebrows in a comical way that nearly made me laugh. "For me?" "For you. Now go slip into that and let's see what we have to deal with." He leaned in before I could react and kissed me. It was harsh and hot and fast like his other kiss, but finished with a soft touch that was nearly tender. His full lips brushing mine so that I felt the skin along my spine tingle. "What was that for?" I asked, breathless. "I wanted to get that in before I wasn't allowed. Before the warden gets here." Trying to picture Lucas as a warden was hard, but then again, I wasn't his younger brother. "Oh," was my brilliant reply. Matthew turned me and smacked my ass, the sharp sound filled the small room. "Now scoot or he'll find a way to blame it on me." I hurried into the small bathroom, looking at myself in the chrome trimmed mirror. Shiny eyes and rosy cheeks. Even my hair was behaving. I opened the small bag and stared. Plum colored silk. The most beautiful bra and panty set I had ever seen. Stunning in its simplicity. A balconette bra with minimal tucking of the luxurious silk. The panties were hip hugger cut and with a small inset of black lace at each hip. Beyond that, they were the epitome of minimalism at its best. I shucked my work clothes, only balking a bit at having to give up the boots for now. Also in the bag were thigh high fence nets that seemed chic when once upon a time I would have labeled them sluttish. It's what hookers wore on the docks at night, I would have said. But when I pulled them on and turned to face myself, I was floored. Had Matthew picked this out for me or had Lucas instructed him on what to buy? I heard the front door slam. God knew how long it would be before I got to ask that question. Knuckles rapped the door and I heard Matthew whisper. "Lucy...Ricky's home. You ready, darling? I know I'm sure as shit not. From what I hear, you're the boss today. At least of me." His laugh was soft and intrusive My nipples peaked behind the plum colored silk.

****

My heart banged so hard I felt dizzy and I turned the brass knob to exit. The door swung open to Matthew's smiling face, his grin more animal than man. "Nice," he said, dragging the word out. "I did good, yeah?" "You picked this?" "Of course I did. If you get to tell me when to come and all that, at least I can decide what your attire is. Seems fair, don't you agree?" "I just never would have guessed..." "Picture me more of a white latex and elbow length gloves kind of fetish guy?" "No. Not that." I heard Lucas's boots one the stairway and grabbed Matthew's arm for support. Nerves had gotten the better of me. I was learning to operate in a constant state of arousal slash anxiety lately. "Ah, slutty is what you mean. Less silk, more pleather." I laughed and it was high and jittery. "You okay?" He stroked my fingers with his for just a split second and then stopped. "Nervous, I think." "Don't' be. I can play nice when I decide to." He kissed my forehead above my eye in a nearly brotherly gesture. Surprising me yet again. Matthew Crow was full of surprises. "Well, what do we have here?" Lucas asked, his jaw clenched, voice low and menacing. "Wouldn't you like to know?" Matthew asked grinning. Provoking. Oh shit. "I brought lunch. Everyone go on downstairs. We'll eat first." Lucas looked me up and down but did not smile. I shifted from foot to foot, desperate for him to tell me something. Anything. That I looked good or bad or in between. He simply pointed to the steps and Matthew took the lead. "I'll just get dress and--" "You're fine like that," he said. And that was all. I went down the slick wooden steps, praying my feet wouldn't go out from under me and dump me down the steps. Lucas walked right behind me. So close I could feel his breath falling down onto my bare skin but not so close that he was underfoot. I stopped at the foot of the steps and turned to look at him. Maybe force him into commenting.

His eyes took me in again. Up and down, hovering around my belly, and then my hips. But he didn't say anything. I sighed and walked into the kitchen, my ass swinging a little more than normal. I wanted him to look at me. To watch me. God, I wanted Lucas to want me. Matthew had put out a plate for me. A bed of spinach, crisp veggies, some grilled chicken, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. He grinned. "You have him eating even healthier than before. He can be a real food Nazi, you know?" I tried to smile but fear was swirling around in my head, hijacking my nerve endings. Had I done something wrong? Lucas pulled my chair out and I hesitated for only an instance before sitting on the ladder back chair. I felt more naked in a bra and panties and thigh highs than I would have sitting in the kitchen buck ass naked. I tried to cover my belly, my cleavage, my thighs with my forearms, but it made it impossible to eat and I could only cover so much of me at once. "Stop. Sit up straight and eat. We were both fucking you at the same time last night, what do you have to cover that we have not someone seen, touched or used by now?" Lucas’s tone was dark and his voice was clipped. "I..." I put my head down and ate a bite of salad. It tasted like lawn clippings and old meat. Horrible. I'm sure it was lovely, fresh and yummy, but my mouth was tied into my worry and that sucked every ounce of joy from my taste buds. "I mean, you've seen it all, haven't you Matty? Did you see it while I was gone, even though I told you not to?" Matthew's head shot up and he frowned. His eyes narrowed and he swallowed hard. Was he just not picking up the anger radiating off of his sibling in hot invisible waves? "I did what you said, Luke. I brought her home and I got her set up. That's all." "That true?" His dark brown gaze had turned to me and my heart started pounding again. "Yes, it is. I mean...yes." I blinked over and over as if that could clear away the tears coming to my eyes. "You mean what? He either handed you the bag and told you to get ready or not. What else is there?" My brain had gone to the kiss that was why I’d hesitated. I hadn’t meant to say it aloud. The night before I had been a human tug of war between them. One fucking my mouth, one fucking my cunt. What could a kiss possibly mean? I stared at Lucas, watching his mouth pinch into a tight, thin seam. His pulse jumped at his throat and I could tell he was angry. Very angry and I simply did not understand. "I--"

"I kissed her. I kissed her. Me. It was me. And it was no big deal. I've been a shit to her and I thought I owed her that and I kissed her," Matthew spat. He looked enraged at even having to explain himself. "So what? Last night I was sinking my cock down her throat. So what? What the fuck is a kiss?" "The so what is I told you not to. And you knew, too, didn't you?" I nodded, trying desperately to swallow a bite of lettuce. "Sort of." "Yes or no, Ember." "Yes," I said, because it truly was more yes than no. "Come here, then." He pointed to his lap and my stomach bottomed out like I was on a roller coaster ride. I stood, thankful at least that I didn't have to try and eat. I couldn't manage it. I walked to Lucas and stood, his breath slipping over the skin above my panties. "Kneel, Ember," he said. “Over my lap.” I dropped to my knees, draped my belly over his knees, praying that it would not hurt as bad, knowing it would and relishing it still. "It was me," Matthew said. From fucking with me to sticking up for me in twenty-four hours. Go figure. "Okay, how many do you think you deserve?" Lucas asked. Matthew froze. "You are not spanking me, brother. I will kick your ass." "I never said I was spanking you. I asked you how many you thought you deserved for doing what I asked you not to do." Matthew shrugged. "Twenty? Twenty-five? With your fucked up sense of chivalry and loyalty, who knows. What you gonna have Ember give them to me? Now we're talking." "Is it twenty or twenty-five, Matthew?" Lucas asked. As he went back and forth with his brother, he ran his palm across my bottom. His hand whispered on the plum colored silk. His touch, not too firm and not too soft was heaven. I shut my eyes, sinking into the feel of him petting me that way. "Twenty," I heard Matthew say. "Good." And when the first blow landed, my head shot up and my eyes flew wide. I screamed, being suddenly pulled from the hypnotic feel of his touch. "I thought you said me!" Matthew yelled, his face red with anger. He banged his fists on the coarse wooden table and started to rise.

By then Lucas was on blow three and I could feel his handprints rising on my skin, a red remembrance of disobedience. "These are yours, but I figured you wouldn't mind having Ember take them in your stead. I mean, obviously, she's no big deal. She shouldn't be. I ask you to leave her alone and you kiss her. You insist I share. You treat her like a shoe. I tried to explain that she's different. And you don't listen. So what difference does it make if she takes your punishment? The punishment earned by you taken by the woman you don't even like." Lucas paused and looked down at me. Hot tears tracked down my cheeks and I shook a little on his lap. But it had not escaped my notice that his hands were soothing again and my pussy was so wet I felt confused. A raging mass of nerve endings and a stark beating need in my groin. "How many was that, September?" "Eight," I gasped. "Good. Only twelve more to go. You can thank my brother later." Then he continued the blows, alternating cheeks and pressure as I squirmed and kicked. On blow thirteen he pushed his fingers under the crotch of my panties and sank his fingers deep. Three fingers flexed and pushed in the wet pool of my pussy until I had to bite my lip to keep from coming. Coming would be bad, I thought. Coming just now would make him angry. "Don't do it. Good girl. I can feel you right on the edge there. Do not give in." He accented the last few words with the hardest blows yet. The force rocked up my spine. I felt it in my teeth and I felt the empty place where his fingers had been almost like my body was grieving. "Oh, Lucas. I..." I had to think of other things. I had to focus. He moved to the bottoms of my cheeks, right at the upper thigh. The last three blows were different then. Shorter and sharper and they resonated like flesh and blood tuning forks. The force going down to the backs of my knees so that my breath died in my lungs and my throat seemed to shrink. "Now. That's out of the way. You can thank Matthew." I raised my head, licking salty tears off my face. I said, "Thank you, Matthew" as my heartbeat pounded in my ass cheeks and my thighs. Matthew looked angry, stricken, utterly confused. "Now, then, boys and girls. Let's talk about Matthew," Lucas said and smiled.

Chapter 21

Lucas rose, pulling me with him. "I think the way that my brother can understand his bad manners is if he walks a mile in your shoes." I stared at Matthew and blinked. He gave no indication that he understood where Lucas was going with this. Lucas pulled my wrists behind my back, looping his long strong fingers around my wrists he bound me loosely in his grasp and hustled me forward. "Come on, brother," he said casually, propelling me through the door and into the living room. I didn't turn my head but I heard Matthew's loping gait as Lucas pushed me ahead of him. Not too rough, but hard enough to make it clear that he was in charge. I felt the warm pool of fluid in the gusset of my plum colored silk. My cheeks flushed at the thought of my arousal. I was still confused when I tried to analyze it. The spanking had left me warm and plump with want. My brain raced with what would happen when we got upstairs. Or possibly, with what would not happen. With Lucas, I never could tell. He pushed me to the bed and I landed with a dirty kind of grace, I turned to see brother face brother, Matthew's eyes darting from Lucas to me and back again. "I think maybe you need to cool off. I realize she's not the average " Lucas cut his brother off. "She's not the average anything. To me or to you, it seems. If you're racing ahead when I tell you not to, apologizing and kissing. Well, hell, little brother, that says a lot right there. So you should have no problem taking her submission for a bit. For her. The special, special girl." Lucas's smile was intense. At a glance it looked average enough, but on second look the anger that simmered just below the surface was visible. A gorgeous kind of rage that accented his handsome features in an almost frightening manner. I opened my mouth to argue, or ask, I wasn't sure which but a quick shake of Matthew's head had me snapping my mouth shut again. He was warning me off, and since he had been with Lucas for a lifetime, I trusted his instinct. "I don't do submission," Matthew said, his voice dark. "Not even for her?" Lucas asked.

"Not for anyone." "Here are the options. We send her home for good or you take a quick tour of bottoming. That's the choice." My heart bottomed out. Send me home for good? Set me loose and abandon me. I mean, I was a grown woman. I ran a business. I had recently been bossing around the man I was with, telling him what he needed to do to get me off. But now, when Lucas said those words, an invisible, hollow kind of wound opened in my gut and my body ached right along with my heart. I silently prayed that Matthew would just this one time submit. Just this once, so I could stay. Matthew gritted his teeth and the muscles in his jaw jumped and bucked under his tan stubbled skin. I held my breath, awaiting my fate. While he waited, Lucas ran his hands along the back of my thighs, down my calves. He stroked me the same way I had seen men stroke vintage cars or motorcycles. My heart pounded so hard that I could hear my blood in my ears, the rush of my pulse and I bit the inside of my lip, waiting. "Fine. I'll play your game, Lucas. But at some point, I'll get you. You know I will. Whether it's a sucker punch after too many beers or..."

"Yeah. Got it," Lucas laughed. He looked at me. "Tell him what to do." I shook my head, real fear filling the pit of my stomach. Tell him what to do? How did I know what to tell him to do? "I um..." "Nothing happens if you don't play, Ember. We're role reversing. He's going to be the sub and you're going to be him. Maybe you won't be such an asshole in your role of Dom." I turned to Matthew, my heart racing. "Sit in the chair," I said, putting as much steel in my voice as I could. Which wasn't much. It almost sounded like a question. Matthew smirked at me, but I thought the hostility in his look was more for his brother. But he sat. Dropped his ass in the small black chair by the bed like his legs had come unhinged. "Yes, Ma'am." The words were clipped and begrudging. Lucas grunted. Pushed his hands under the silken covering of my panties. He gripped my ass and rubbed, his strong fingers biting and kneading into my skin so that I groaned without thinking. Liquid heat flooded my muscles and I realized how good it felt when he touched me, even when my flesh was sore. Not necessarily sexually, just a touch. A normal touch was enough to shift my body's perception of its surroundings. He laid me down on my belly. Tension bled into release. Tightness morphed into a hot

lazy feeling. I shivered, holding my breath as the tips of his fingers kissed the moist entrance of my body. He pushed just a fingertip in and I didn't breathe, letting the slowing pound of my heart echo in my ears. "Take these off," he said, his mouth coming down on the back of my thigh. My heartbeat was so strong I felt it in my belly, where my skin pressed to the white sheets. Each heart beat jumped my stomach muscles against the flat of the mattress. I shimmied out of my panties, having to work my hips more because I rested on my front. I wiggled and kicked until they were gone and all I could feel was each hot breath that escaped Lucas wafting over my skin. Matthew made a soft sound that was half grunt, half sigh. His eyes drifted shut and his hands moved. "Don't you dare touch yourself," I said without thinking. Matthew narrowed his eyes at me, his face clouded with annoyance, but he obeyed. Lucas gave a soft laugh behind me, leaning in close he said “What shall we do Ember? I’ll take suggestions. Might not happen, but I’m happy to listen.” I turned my head to him feeling overwhelmed and a bit wobbly, but oddly powerful too. I whispered but it was loud enough for Matthew to hear. “I think you should fuck me the way he would. The way he described. I think you should fuck me from behind and so hard that I can’t tell up from down.” My voice was a bit watery but I meant what I said and my body responded to my suggestion by opening and flexing for Lucas to take me. I felt the warm rush of my own fluids and I bit my lip, waiting. Eyes darting from one brother to the other. “Not like we did last night, then?” HIs voice was dark, almost gloating. His words a reminder to me, a warning to his brother. I was Lucas’s. Until he said otherwise. Lucas’s eyes glittered with malicious joy. Matthew looked pale and cross. Lucas gave me one hard nod and without preamble stuck his fingers into my pussy. They slipped inside easily and he sighed. “You are so ready. Let’s leave this pretty bra on since Matty picked it out. We’ll just make an adjustment…” Lucas reached around and pulled the cups so they rested under my breasts, thrusting them higher than they were already trussed. “There we go.” Then he circled my wet pussy with the tip of his cock so I squirmed. “What about brother?” he asked me, his partner in crime. “No touching,” I said again and then pushed my ass back toward Lucas, eyes pinned to truculent Matthew in the corner. Watching but with no relief. He was deep in me, thrusting hard when he asked, “Who overwhelmed you? Who heaped too much upon you?” I shook my head as best I could with my head pressed to the mattress. Not now, not now… The spank landed with the sting of a thousand wasps and I flipped my head back sobbing. The endorphins kicked in a blissful thumping heat replaced the painful sting. “No,” I said. Something I had never said to him thus far.

“Who made you feel like you had to carry the world strapped to your back?” I lowered my head, shoulders straining, refused to answer. I could feel them both watching me. Two looming dark presences. Fallen angels, talented demons, affectionate predators. Whichever you chose, the brothers were truly a mixed bag. Trustworthy and loyal and jealous and angry. Pick one, pick them all, mix and match! I laughed at my own internal dialogue. Earned myself another good smack on the ass, but Luke’s cock was pressing hard and the tip of him was nudging my G-spot to a place of deep and welcome relief. And yet I said “No.” “Who September?” Matthew this time. Soft voice from a hard guy. It startled me so much tears came to my eyes but I remembered my power. “No, you, shut up.” He shook his head, his eyes unreadable. His gaze going from his brother to me to my breasts trailing over the bright white sheets. The most surreal porn movie ever, I thought and laughed again. Lucas stilled. His cock still deep in me, filling me. His big workman’s hands smoothing over my hot, pulsing bottom. I shut my eyes, swaying on my knees, trying to move against him but he stayed still like a stone, not allowing me any relief. “Who?” he said again. I shook my head. My whole body had taken up a fine tremor as I tried to push my emotions back down. I wanted to confess. I wanted to give him what he wanted, beg him to finish me off, I wanted him to know so that I wouldn’t be the only one to know any more. But I shook my head and refused. “Then we’re done.” Lucas started to pull free and Matthew shook his head, gritting his teeth. “No, please,” I blurted. Lucas’s fingers gripped my hips hard, I would wake with his fingerprints on my skin tomorrow, I knew. “Then tell me. You need to tell someone. Have you ever?” He moved just an inch, maybe only a fraction of an inch but enough to remind my body of how much it craved him. I shook my head again and a small sob bubbled out of me surprising even me. “Tell him, Ember. Tell us,” Matthew said. His eyes were almost kind, which did something to my heart considering how much I had hated him just the day before. Lucas moved again, bumping that desperate bundle of nerves deep inside of me. My pussy clenched up tight around him, wanting more, seeking more. “Tell me.” “My mother!” I blurted. “My mother was a drunk! A total fucking drunk!” Now that I was talking, it came out of me in a an angry rush of words. Rage made my voice something more like a bark than a voice. “She woke up and started drinking. She could barely get her shit together to come to school events. And when she did I always ended up wishing she hadn't.”

Lucas was moving again. His hands soothing the stinging skin he had just punished, his cock surging deep, his thrusts controlled so that he kept me just on edge without letting me come. I looked at Matthew, so intent on my words he’d forgotten about his own pleasure. “Go on,” Lucas said, gently pinching the stinging skin on my bottom so that a small fresh blip of pain accented my pleasure and I gasped. “I raised myself. I didn’t want anyone to know. My father died when she was pregnant with me, but she was never…” I put my head down, the words I was pushing out of my mouth too heavy for me. I felt suffocated and crushed with this unwanted emotion. “She was never a mother to you,” Matthew said, understanding me. He nodded, his dark eyes going to his brother and then back to me. “But you had no one to step in and take over.” “So you raised yourself,” Lucas said almost tenderly. The shift in his voice made all the tiny hairs along the back of my spine rise up. It sounded like love, that sound in his voice. But that was impossible—and I knew—wishful thinking. “Yes. I raised myself. I made my lunch, set an alarm. Checked her every morning to make sure she hadn’t choked to death on her own vomit. I signed my own papers and monitored my own grades. I made sure she got the bills and I stood there when she paid them. Up until five I had been partially raised by my mother’s sister. She came and stayed with us off and on.” “A surrogate mother,” Matthew whispered. His eyes were on his brother, moving in and out of me. I dropped my head and shoulders, shoving my ass high, letting him watch. “Yes, a surrogate mother who kind of taught me what it all should be like. I even went to stay with her on summer breaks or when my mother got so bad. But then she got ill and couldn’t help. She died when I was twenty.” “And you kept it so that no one knew. So that no one could help you. Because you kept it all together and so hush,” Lucas said with absolutely no judgment in his voice. I nodded and now the tears did start. Not great giant swooping sobs like I expected but soundless tears rolling down my cheeks. “Turn on your back. Come on now,” Lucas said and pulled free of me. I glanced at Matthew as I turned. “You may touch yourself, Matthew. You may come. I have no interest in telling you what to do.” And I meant it. Right now I had zero interest in being in charge. Lucas laid me back like a honeymoon lover. I watched him, waiting for the play, waiting for the punishment of letting Matthew off that easy. “Spread you legs,” he said, pushing them wide even as he said it. Lucas, rubbed the length of my hole, making me crazy, making me gasp. I was swollen and ready and so, so close. I knew it and so did he.

“Lucas,” I said but that was all. Just his name. Like a password. “Now you’re going to come about two seconds after I slide into you, girl. We both know it. You’ve been on the edge for a while now.” His lips came down on my forehead, my shoulder, he bit my collar bone just enough to make me breathe out a deep stuttering breath. “May I?” I asked without thinking. He was telling me I would but the question to me at that moment, as my body seemed to hum, eager and desperate for release, was I allowed to? “You may. But when you’re done, listen to me. Don’t get lost in it. Listen to my instructions. Got it?” “Yes,” I said and was shocked but pleased when he bent and kissed me with a tender sweep of his plump lips over mine. I could hear Matthew in the corner. I could hear the whispering sound of his hand on his cock. I could hear the callused ridges of his palms moving over the silken head of his cock. It was a secret sound and the fact that he was here to see my undoing was somehow appropriate and seductive. Lucas slid into me slowly. My body gulping and grasping at his invasion. My hips sidled up to his hips, my cunt taking him deep and with three thrusts, his hands holding my shoulders flush to the mattress, I came. I came and he kissed me with an open mouth, swallowing the bulk of my cries, stifling my verbal release. In my mind it was like he was tasting my soul. Swallowing my cries to feel what I felt. Eating my sounds to make me more his. The last spasms worked through me and he moved more softly to give me time to steady. Then his hands came down on my throat, crisscrossed, his fingers forming a fat X. My eyes flew wide, I could feel them. I could feel that cool air of the room stinging the whites of my eyes I was so very scared. “I—” “Shh, listen to me. I want you to come again. I want you to trust me and I want you to come. You have to trust me,” Lucas said and he started to move. “He won’t hurt you,” Matthew said quietly. “Shut up, brother,” Lucas said, his eyes never leaving me. I nodded and felt the fingers dent the flesh of my throat. Felt my pulse banging in my neck because it was trapped under his fingers. Lucas moved faster, deeper, his movements more aggressive. He was taking me and he would be the one to control my air. He would be the one to determine how much I could have and if I had enough. Little white dots crowded my vision and beyond that the sight of his face filled my field of vision. The orgasm that snuck up on me was sweet and profound and ripped through me like a sudden summer

storm. Lucas’s hands stayed firm around my throat, letting through just enough air that I did not pass out and when I gave into that orgasm he gave into his. I laid there, his hands on my throat, trusting a man I’d just met to know how much air I needed. Talk about learning to drown.

Chapter 22

I heard Matthew come. The sound he made, deep down in his throat like a grunt, was the same as the day before. A thrill unwound in my belly at knowing he had witnessed my dismantling, my confession and then my surrender. For once since I’d known him, Matthew turned and left the room. Yanking up his jeans as he went, his back to us. Gone. Lucas bent his head to kiss me. He rested his forehead to mine, those dark eyes of his studying me like I was some fascinating creature. I kissed the tip of his nose, touched the scar at his jaw and then the one in his eyebrow. He sighed. Staring me down. His pulse jumping at his throat. Then he turned his head to the door. “Matty!” Lucas yelled. Matthew stuck his head through the door, interested but annoyed. “Yeah?” “You’re in charge for a few days. All repos are yours. Keep the boat floating.” Matthew frowned. “Where are you going?” “Look, if you can’t handle it…” Lucas said. “I can handle it fine, but where are you going?” “I’m taking a few days off. I’m taking my abducted and abducting her up to the cabin.” Matthew disappeared without another word. “The cabin?” I said. My heart jumped to my throat but my body warmed to him. He was still pressed flat to me, just barely keeping his body from crushing mine. I felt safe and suffocated, caged and adored. There was no figuring it out. “Yep. My father didn’t give us much but there is a cabin. For when he went deer hunting. It was supposed to start as a simple deer stand, but he kept going and a cabin was born. Pack your stuff,” he said, no question in his tone. All command. I stared at him. “What stuff?” Lucas grinned and my heart seized up for a moment. It twisted sideways in my chest and I wished for all the world that Lucas Crow loved me. That he could love me, that this could be more than a game. But I didn’t see that happening. I would not pass muster with a man like him. Not in the long run.

“Good point,” he said and kissed my nose. “Take a quick shower and then we’ll hit the store. We’ll get you some stuff and get gone.” “Why are we going?” I asked. “We have some stuff to figure out. At least, I do. And since you’re mine, you come with.” He tucked my breasts back in my bra, wrapped one hand around my throat for just a heartbeat. Just enough to remind me of that fuzzy, liquid orgasm. And then he left. I took my shower wondering what it was that he needed to figure out. And how I could figure out my own life. ****

“I thought you weren’t sure you wanted to share me,” I said quietly when Lucas piloted his pickup truck down the bumpy dirt access road his house sat on. “I didn’t share you, did I?” He’d left the tow truck with his brother along with an emergency number in case Matthew couldn’t get through on cell. “Well…not technically…but—” He shrugged his big shoulders, taking a left and heading toward the mall. I needed everything. Barring some panties and bras and one slut outfit, I had nothing. “I guess it was my way of compromising. He got to be involved, included once more. With me and with you, but he didn’t get to touch. He didn’t get to fuck you or anything else. No touching. Right?” I nodded and he went on. “Matthew and I have done this fucked up sharing thing for ages now. It was fun and almost a competition. We had our toys and usually the women got off on the brother angle. It was a win-win situation. But then you came along.” He bunched up his jaw as I studied him. Here. At this moment. This was something he did not want to tell me. So, of course it would drive me insane, the wanting to know. “And?” The impatience in my voice was audible even to me. He laughed softly but shook his head. “And it’s different. That’s why we’re going off. We’re going to figure this out. You’re going to figure if you want to stay with you quote unquote jailer.” Lucas cocked a thumb at his own chest. “And I’m going to figure out just what the fuck is going on in my own head.” We hit the highway and he let the windows down just a touch. Just enough to lift and tangle my hair. The rushing hiss of air through the truck was white noise between us. “Doesn’t you being my jailor take my choice away?” I said. We were quiet just long enough for me to feel antsy and I watched the trees and other cars fly by. He finally spoke when I was ready to scream or cry, it was a toss-up.

“Not in this instance, September. This is a weird fucking situation and we’ll have to look at it the same as a voluntary committal.” I snorted, tossing my head back. “Oh, god! Now you’re calling me insane.” “Both of us,” he said. “If you’re crazy, I’m right there with you. Let’s go get you some clothes. You’ll need some warm stuff for the cabin. No central heat there. Just woodstove, fireplace and man heat.” I shivered at the last, hearing the joking tone but still instantly thinking of him entering me. Over me. Fucking me. “Got it. Can I get some wool socks? I am a wool sock addict. Especially if I’m going where it’s cold.” “Sure thing, sister. It’s on me.” “I can pay you back.” I said it fast and anxious. I wanted him to know that I didn’t expect anything from him. I could pay my own way. Lucas glared at me, brown eyes flashing almost topaz in the afternoon sun. “I said it’s on me.” I swallowed, catching the tone and the gaze and on some levels the need for him to do this for me. “Got it. Thanks. I really appreciate it.” “Of course,” he grinned and I felt a small slide of warmth in the crotch of my panties. He was turning me on just talking to me in the cab of his truck. I was dumbstruck, awestruck, love struck. The last one scared me some. I wasn’t ready to love anyone. Maybe not ever. “That does mean I have a say in your clothes. Especially the skivvies.” I got out and he took my elbow as we walked. Not guiding me or pulling me or even propelling me. Just touching me, that was all. “Lucas?” “Hmm?” “Why is this different? You keep saying this is different?” I held my breath, waiting, hoping, praying that he would tell me. Even Matthew had said those words. Had told me I was different. I didn’t believe it. I was too afraid to believe it, truth be told. “Come on. We can talk about that later. I want to get you set up and get on the road. I’d like to be at the cabin before dark. It’s been closed up for a while.” ****

Lucas watched her walk, watched her stroke the jeans around her like they were the finest garments. He had to smile, the way her slender hands tickled over the varying shades of denim. She

finally settled on a medium wash. Not so dark they looked brand new, not so pale they were out of date. The perfect distress worn-in and loved color of blue. She held them up and he nodded. “They’re kind of loose,” Ember whispered, glancing down at the black jeans Matthew had bought for her. They were the trouser equivalent of a tight leather glove. They fit her like a second skin. Lucas kept his voice even but he really wanted to laugh. “Well, I do love the ones you have on, but I like to know what’s in them without seeing every detail from the outside. A little mystery. Plus, baby, I know what lies beneath.” An older woman by his shoulder let out an amused little chuckle and Lucas fought a smile. He watched Ember’s cheeks flood with a rush of color and she nodded. “Okay, got it. These?” She held up three identical thermals. Red, black and snow white. “Hurry up,” he said. "Try them on. You still need sweaters and underthings and your socks. And boots.” “Boots!” Her face lit up and his dick got hard. He loved that look she got when she was excited. Such an innocent and endearing look of joy on her face. It made him want to hug her. Just hug her. That scared him. “Yes, but useful boots. Not froo-froo boots. Boots that will keep your feet warm and be okay if they get wet or snowy.” “But cute,” she said, looking concerned about the book protocol. “But cute,” he agreed and watched her hustle her lush, fine ass into a dressing room. “How long have you two lovebirds been together?” the woman whispered. “Just a few days since I stole her.” “From another man’s loving arms?” she asked, looking wistful. “From another man’s utility chest,” he said and watched the lady blink. “Oh, um…” she looked alarmed but not enough to concern Lucas. He smiled at her, showing he was joking. Mostly. “Good luck to you,” the woman said and hurried off. Lucas blew out a big deep breath of frustration and ran a hand through his hair. Be careful what you wish for is what they say. “And they sure are right.” Lucas wasn’t much of a praying man. You can’t believe in some benevolent caretaker of life when your father drinks too much, hits you, puts you in the care of yourself and another kid you don’t even know when he first shows up. When you grow up wondering if you’re going to be discovered by social services and taken away. Some days you daydream about it and being discovered is more like being rescued. He wasn’t much of a believer. Let’s leave it at that. But he did believe in something. Some

great unknown something. Something his great great grandfather who he’d only met twice in his life called Great Spirit. Just two days before taking Damien Rossi’s truck, Lucas had realized, he wanted a life. He wanted to let go of all that anger, stop playing at life. He wanted to build a life, not play at one. So he’d gotten good and drunk, lit a pipe that had belonged to the old man with stale tobacco and went out offering smoke to the star and the heavens. It was a bogus, half assed offering to something he wasn’t even sure was up there, but he’d said simply “Bring her to me. Bring me someone who will get me. Who will understand and love me and be with me no matter how fucked up and crazy I am. Make it undeniable. Make it something I can’t ignore. Make her love me and I promise to love her. And protect her, even if it means sometimes protecting her from myself.” And then he’d been sick and gone to bed. Two days later he was cutting September out of a tool box and then out of cuffs. And he was taking her away so that Matthew couldn’t cloud his judgment and he wouldn’t fall into that old way of his. Where he treated her like a toy or something to use. He wanted to protect her from himself. Because you don’t get much more undeniable than a woman trussed up in hr underpants looking to you to be her hero. Be careful what you wish for.

Chapter 23

“Well?” I asked, tossing the curtain back. The way he looked at me made my stomach warm and nervous. “Nice. Let’s go.” “Well? Should I try on the other colors?” Lucas looked at his boot. “Same shirt, right? Different color?” “Right.” “So what’s the point?” he asked. Okay, I certainly felt that in the belly like a kick. I had been having fun dressing for him. Primping and trying to tempt him. Instead I got tall, gruff and grumpy. I blew my bangs out of my face and turned. “Right. I’ll get dressed.” “I found you a sweater while I was waiting,” he said. “Now we need unmentionables, pajamas, socks and boots.” So I got excited when he said boots. So sue me. “Coming!” “Soon enough,” I heard him say and then he laughed. My body, truly attuned to him now, reacted. I shimmied into my tight jeans and sweater and bundled the new clothes under my arm. When I walked out he was holding a cream colored cable knit sweater out to me. I touched it, feeling the sheer heft of it. I’m sorry, not to be a snob, but only expensive sweaters felt that way. Heavy and rich, almost like a physical presence when you wore it. Something pressing you down, keeping you warm, anchoring you to earth. “I can’t,” I said, handing it back. I wouldn’t even look at the price tag. I couldn’t. It would make me cry. “You can and you will,” he said, handing it back. “No,” I said. Something I doubted I’d ever say so much to Lucas Crow. “Take it and…” He turned, his broad shoulders tense with annoyance and frustration. “This one.”

The other sweater was lipstick red. A gorgeous blue-toned red that would make me look like a pale, flaxen haired goddess. If I’d take it. Which I wouldn’t. Thinner than the cable knit it felt like cashmere and I rubbed my fingers lovingly over its surface before thrusting it back at him. My voice reedy and flustered. “I can’t!” “Take the goddamned sweaters, September or I will take you back to your hovel and leave you with that asshole you called a boyfriend.” My throat clogged with emotion and I swallowed hard. “You wouldn’t.” “I will if you don’t listen. Take the sweaters and try it on. Right here. Now. Do it.” I watched him, trying to decide if he was telling me the truth. Finally, fear propelled me and I started to pull it on over my thin black sweater Matthew had bought me. “Nope. For arguing, you can go on and peel that puppy off,” he said, his face showing no humor. No hint that he was joking. “But I—” “No buts. Come on, we’re burning daylight. Peel that fucker off and try these on.” It was like streaking, which I’d only done once in college. Don’t think about it or you chicken out. Instead, just clear your mind and go. I set the pile of clothes down on the sweater display and yanked the black one over my head. My nipples pebbled in my bra from the chilled air. I heard someone gasp–sadly, not Lucas. I yanked the red sweater over my head, feeling even in that insane moment, the sensual lick of the fabric on my skin. I turned, fluffed my hair and kept my eyes on no one but him. If I looked at another person and read their expression I would simply die. Float off like dandelion fluff. He grinned at me and my pussy spasmed just enough to let me know that he had me. Hook, line and sinker, he had me. “Well?” I breathed. “Nice. Very nice. Brings out those big, innocent baby blues.” Lucas leaned in and kissed me. One rough kiss on the lips that set my whole being on edge. “Now this one.” I took a deep breath like I was about to dive and tugged the red sweater over my head, it tangled around my head, my hair forcing itself into my nose and mouth. I refused to panic and I tried to hurry without yanking the delicate fabric too hard. I felt Lucas’s hands on me and then he helped me extricate myself from my expensive bondage. He handed me the heavy fisherman’s sweater and I pulled it down over my head. My hair was charged now. It danced and drifted around my head like it was weightless. He pushed the stray strands away and rubbed his thumb over my bottom lip. The move made me think of how he had rubbed his cock over my bottom lip right before I’d sucked him into my mouth. “I like it. You look warm and cozy and very, very fuckable.” His voice was like smoke, worming its way into every nook and cranny of my body that craved his want, his acceptance, his approval.

“Thank you,” I managed, determined not to argue with him anymore. “I have money, Ember. My old man was a shit in the dad department but he left us enough money that we don’t have to work. I do what I do for the challenge and because I believe a man–hell, a person–needs a purpose. Needs something to do. So I do that. Now you’ve been such a good, good girl…” I felt my cheeks flush hot when he said that. I wanted him to see me as his good girl. I wanted to please him. And I refused to analyze that part of myself right now. He chuckled and I mumbled, “Thank you.” “Now get dressed and let’s pay. We can go to the shoe store. It took balls to do what you just did. Especially…” He turned fast to eye an older woman who was eavesdropping. “With so many people not minding their own business,” he said right to her. She opened her mouth, shut it and then turned and scurried off. Lucas grinned and I had to stifle a laugh behind my hand. “Like I was saying. It took balls, I think two pairs of boots are in order. One for the snow and one for show. The second ones you can wear during our alone time.” An hour later we left the mall with a brown pair of futuristic kick ass snow boots with faux fur trim and a pair of Lucite stiletto ankle boots made of the most buttery black leather I’d ever felt. A few pairs of flannel pajamas, six expensive bras, almost invisible expensive panties, wool socks and a negligee and I was good to go. In the truck, Lucas handed me my phone. “What’s this?” “You have it if you need to call that Dawn woman. Or him. Or anyone. No more prisoner. This is something we’re in together. You can take your phone and stay. You can take your phone and leave. It’s time for this little game to stop and the figuring out to begin.” I remembered that I told him I loved him. I remembered how inappropriate it felt and yet so honest. And I realized, that even though I wasn’t sure what the fuck was going on–not really anyway–my heart said the same thing when I looked at him. I love you…I love you… I put it on silent and stuck it in my purse. I watched the scenery fly by as we headed toward the cabin. When it started to snow it looked magical. When Lucas reached out absentmindedly and put his big hand on my thigh and rubbed my leg affectionately, I felt magical. The cabin was bigger than I expected and more gorgeous to boot. A blonde wood work of art, it sat by itself in the middle of towering trees. Dusk was falling and the air was blue. Lucas carried our bags in and we uncovered the furniture. He lit a fire and turned to me. “I’ll be back, running up for groceries. You’re here alone and if you want to make calls you can. If you want to leave, you can. There’s a spare truck in the garage for hunting. The keys are over the sink on the hook.”

“Lucas, I’m not going anywhere,” I said. I toed the rag rug in the center of the room. “I don’t want to.” “I’m not a good guy. You could do better.” His face was stone, I couldn’t read him. “You are.” “I shared you with my brother.” “I wanted you to.” “I knew I didn’t want to.” “That’s all that matters now,” I said, feeling anxiety crawl in my chest. Did he want me to leave? Was that what this was about? He stared at me. “No,” he said, simply. “No what?” “No, I don’t want you to leave. That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it?” I nodded. “Right. Like I said, no. I do not want you to leave. But I need you to understand that you have the option. Wrong, scratch that, I want you to understand. That if you stay, it’s you who’s staying, not me making you. Not some game. Not some scene. Not some scenario.” “I know.” “I hope so. Because I’m kind of freaked out. And when I get freaked out I get pissed. When I get pissed, I’m hard to be around. So, here I go, off to get our provisions. You are aware of the vehicle, you have a phone, you are free and clear of me if you want.” His voice was gravel, hard and unforgiving. "Any requests before I go? “Hurry back,” I said and turned my back before I started to cry. I wanted to be here. I didn’t know how to get him to believe me. When he left, I watched him do a three point turn in the truck and head down the road in a sudden burst of gravel dust. The tail lights winked at me, glowing red and demonic in the sudden dusk. It had fallen from a twilight purple shadow to darkness in a blink, or so it felt. The snow continued to drift down, looking more enchanting out here in the woods than it ever did in the city. I dialed Dawn and told her I’d had a family emergency. An issue that had to be dealt with. She was free to choose a new planner if she wanted. I felt a pang realizing I was cutting her loose verbally the same way Lucas had just done to me. There was a difference, though. Dawn had hired me to do a

job and I was lagging. Lucas was cutting me loose after doing the emotional equivalent of getting me hooked on heroin. But in this case, he was the drug. Dawn assured me that she would be patient, we had plenty of time and I was the planner for her. She showed some faith. So now I had to set about showing Lucas some faith.

Chapter 24

He returned with a bottle of red wine, rotisserie chicken, what looked like a whole garden of vegetables from the salad bar and a chocolate cake. He nearly looked startled to find me there, and I smiled, uncorking the wine with a wine opener I’d found while peeking in the kitchen drawers. “I’m starving.” “Did you call anyone?” I nodded, not looking at him. I poured each of us a glass but let them set to breathe. “I called Dawn and told her she could find a new planner if she liked.” He frowned. Was he really expecting me to leave that easily? Did he really think he was that off-putting. “And?” “And she said no way, Jose, I was the girl for her. So she was going to stick with me.” I said the last few words slowly so they’d sink in. “That’s nice of her,” he mumbled, pulling out plates and silverware. “Not so much. She knows I’m right for her and she doesn’t need to second guess it.” We pretty much ate in silence. The wine was phenomenal and the sofa felt like heaven. A big overstuffed, off-white monstrosity draped in various throws and padded fat with throw pillows. I curled in around Lucas and he draped a loose arm across my back, stroking the small of my back so softly my eyes eventually drifted closed. Some movie with explosions and bad guys blared on the TV but I was listening to the lulling sound of his heart. I woke to him carrying me in his arms. I wasn’t much shorter than him so I had no idea how he managed me, a cumbersome, gangly package. “Come on, Sleeping Beauty. Time for bed.” He took me to the bathroom where I sleepily stumbled through my nightly routine. In the hall, he took my hand and led me down the hall. Instead of veering into the room he’d shown me as he master bedroom, he veered into the guest room. I opened my eyes, feeling so sleepy I felt drugged. The last few days had sapped me emotionally and that always made me feel like I’d been hit by a truck. “Why here?” “I need to think.”

“About what?” I pulled back but he tugged me gently. He stripped me of my clothes and basically dressed me in the new flannel pajamas. I let him. I wasn’t sure why. I wanted to punch him on some level. He was banishing me again. “About us. About me and how I feel and why you are so goddamn different.” Each word he spit out felt like a nail flying from his mouth. Sharp and dangerous and possibly rusty. “Can’t you do that with me in there with you?” I snapped. “No. If you’re in there with me, I’m going to fuck you. And when I fuck you I’m going to want you.” “You want then fuck,” I growled. “Not with you. I fuck and then I want. I want you more after I’ve had you than before. On all levels. My heart…” I stared at him, eyes narrowed, stinging with tears that I absolutely refused to shed. We weren’t away together if he was putting me in separate room like some visiting cousin from Kalamazoo. “Your heart what?” “Aches. My heart aches when I’m with you. And I don’t know if I like that.” “I…” I shook my head and then gasped when he pulled my arms out and put two leather cuffs on my wrists. They were soft and pink and connected. A figure eight of buttery pink leather with buckles that I could not reach once he’d put them on me. I know, because I immediately tried. “What’s this?” “If you decide you want to leave, you can. Come to me and I’ll take these off for you before you go.” “Why not just leave them off and I can go if I want to go,” I bit off each word, my heart racing with hurt and outrage. He leaned in and kissed my forehead in a shockingly tender manner. “Because you’ll have to come tell me this way. I can’t stand the thought of you sneaking out of here in the dead of night like a thief. I’d just need to know.” One more kiss on the head and then he pulled the covers back for me. I climbed in, swallowing convulsively so I wouldn’t cry, or worse yet, beg him to change his mind. “Goodnight, Ember.” “Yeah,” I said and turned my back to him. “I’m right next door,” he said. I nodded, but stayed silent. He shut the light off and I tried to look at the bright side. At least Daisy wasn’t here.

****

I was sure I wouldn’t fall asleep. I simply knew I’d never drift off this way. Not as hurt and pissed and irritated as I was. So of course I drifted off immediately upon Lucas leaving the room. But I woke at two thirty, the chartreuse green digital numbers of the alarm clock stared maliciously as me from the nightstand. I wasn’t hindered in any way other than having my hands bound so I tossed the covers off and sat up, smelling the air. A lake air smell that spoke of fewer vehicles, open land and big bodies of water. I’d go in and I’d make Lucas let me sleep with him. I tiptoed, the cabin's floors creaking and groaning in certain spots. I stilled and heard outside some night bird sound its call. Probably an owl, I thought. Hopefully and owl. A country girl I was not and though I adored the cabin, the landscape and the seclusion was a bit unnerving. Lucas’s door wasn’t latched and I pushed it open with the tips of my toes. “Lucas?” Silence. No snoring or heavy breathing or anything. His room was darker than mine and I wondered if he’d left the shades cracked to the outside just enough to let the light from the side porch shine a yellow beam of light into my room. I inched forward in the dark so I wouldn't stub my toe or trip. My fingers, close together because of the leather cuffs, waved through the darkness like feelers. Finally my knee hit the edge of the bed and I leaned in, groping for the feel of him. Slowly, my eyes were showing me the darker outlines of objects and the hump shape of a man in the bed. When I touched his leg a hand shot out and grabbed me hard, pulling me off balance. I screamed as I fell but then Lucas clamped his hand over my mouth. “Are you leaving? Did you need me to take your cuffs off?” he said, his voice velvety in the darkness. “No. I was lonely. I wanted to be in here with you.” He sighed. I heard the frustration in that sigh. But I also heard something that sounded like desire. But that could have been my imagination. “Go back to bed, September.” “Lucas. Let me sleep with you. Please?” “No. I can take the cuffs off and you can go or I can help you back to bed.” Okay, so my throat felt pin-sized at that point and my own frustration was so out of control I felt like throwing a temper tantrum. Simply coming unglued and screaming and carrying on until he either gave me my way or tossed me out into the night on my ass. “Lucas—” “It’s not up for debate. Those are your choices. Will you want to leave if I forbid it? If I won’t fuck you? Will that make you go?”

Silence. Dark and silence. I felt like I was in a cave, lost and on my own. I hated that feeling. “No,” I said, my voice wavered with tears and I willed it to stop. Why did I have to be such a fucking girl sometimes? “Then I’ll help you back to bed.” I felt him rise more than saw him. When his warm hand wrapped around my bound wrists I wanted to beg him again. The urge to try anything and everything to get him to change his mind was overwhelming. But either respect for him or pride got in the way and I willingly let him tug me back to my bed. Lucas tugged the sheet up over and sat down on the edge of the bed. His hand smoothed over my forehead and now that we were in my room I could see a slice of his profile from the meager light through the window. “Good night again, Ember. Don’t come back. Okay?” “Yes,” I said. “Can I…” I shook my head as a wash of unwanted tears overflowed my lower lids. “Can you what?” He smoothed my bangs. I didn’t know if he could tell I was crying. Part of me hoped so, so that he felt like shit. Part of me hoped not, so he wouldn’t know how fucking weak I could apparently be. “I was just going to ask if I could ask a question.” “Ah but that is a question,” he teased. I actually laughed. It was an almost angry laugh. “But yes, you can.” “Why? Why do I have to sleep in here? Why if you are so protective of me? Why if I am different?” “See, you are different. Which is why you have to be in here. You're so special that when I’m with you, I can’t think. I’m not sure I like that, and I’m damn sure not used to it. So you’re close enough that I have you and you’re not so close that you’re fucking up my head. Until I come in and touch you. Then you fuck up my head.” His fingers slipped under the covers and he slid one into my panties. I bit my lip to keep from making sounds. I arched my hips and held my breath when his fingertip met my clit. He pressed and twirled and little swirls of pink stirred up in my vision. “When I touch you, I can’t be rational,” he confessed. He slid that finger into my pussy, then another and slowly started to curl his fingertips against my G-spot. I held my breath, my head swimming and my body thumping with pleasure. “When I touch you, all I want is you. All I think of is you. All I can feel is you.” With each word he thrust just a bit and his fingers curled and my pussy clenched. And when his lips met mine in a soft, reverent kiss I came, my cunt seizing up around his fingertips, my body greedily taking whatever pleasure he was willing to give. “Oh,” I said. “Which is why you have to sleep in here sweet September. I’ll come get you when the sun comes up.”

Lucas left my room again. And this time I heard him lock the door behind him.

Chapter 25

“Rise and shine sexy,” Lucas said. He watched her struggle, watched those big blue eyes flick open and then drift closed. Open and then closed. He wanted to smile, wanted to chuckle at her. Though he rarely every put anything in the category, Ember could often only be described as cute. Hot and sexy, funny and smart, a bit unsure of herself and easily flustered, but there were times that the only word he could dig up from his memory banks that handled all that was September Sullivan was cute. “Hunh?” “I said rise and shine. It’s sunny and it’s chilly and we’re going to eat some kick ass pancakes, courtesy of me. And then we're going to go on a hike.” His eyes drifted to her window where he’d pulled back the curtains. Fat flakes of snow drifted down and swirled around the small deck that lay outside her room. “It’s snowing.” “Then why in the world would we hike?” she mumbled and threw a pillow over her head. Lucas did laugh then. He stalked over to her as quietly as possible and then pounced, jumping on the bed, tearing off the pillow so that she shrieked like an axe murderer was on the loose. One thin hand clutched at her chest, the other twisting restlessly in the attached leather cuff. Seeing her hands held together that way, her at his mercy again, made his cock hard. But he ignored it and leaned in, pressing his lips to her temple. He watched the pulse jump at her throat and wanted to press his teeth there. Instead he said “Because we need to do something that isn’t fucking.” “Good god, why?” But then she smiled and he felt his heart break a little. When she smiled sometimes he felt like he’d swallowed a lit light bulb. It was an entirely horribly pleasant feeling that often left him feeling angry. Good things did not come to him easily, even when he asked for them. So he looked at Ember being dropped in his lap, into his bed, into his life almost as some cruel universal joke. The Trojan horse. The bomb wrapped like a birthday gift. “Because we do. I said so,” he growled and found the key for her cuffs in his pocket. He set her slender wrists free, watched her rub them to get the blood flow back. Her hand darted, almost too fast for him to track, and she touched him. His belly, his belt buckle and finally she went for the bulge in his pants that even half asleep was visible to her. Lucas snorted, grabbed her hand and held it tight while he climbed off.

“Please,” she said, looking like she would cry. “I feel like you’ve abandoned me.” Her face said maybe she hadn’t wanted to admit that to him. Again he felt his heart seize up uncomfortably. The urge to comfort her rose up in him, an unexpected wave of emotion and he turned away from her before he could. “If I’d abandoned you, Ember, you’d be back in town, on your way to finding a new place or asking that dipshit you were with to take you home. You wouldn’t be here one room away from me and locked in so I could keep you safe–know where you are. When I want you,” he tossed over his shoulder feeling simultaneously like the dominant and a huge shit. He heard her make a soft sound that might be crying. He didn’t turn but he said, “ Come on, now. No time for that. Hop in the shower so I can feed you and then I’ll show you the woods. You’ll like it.” “Yes, Lucas." He smiled, but there was that feeling again. That he had to at least give her something. Let her know. She wasn't just some toy and he wasn’t sure he liked it. But didn’t he at least owe her the honesty. “What a mess,” he said to himself. And then “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. And then you have to change. And change sucks.” ****

I pushed the pillow to my head and let out a half-assed scream. Part of me wanted to take a shower and then kick Lucas Crow in the shin and storm out like some movie star in a bad romantic comedy. Another part of me wished we still had Matthew here as a distraction. When the brothers had been butting heads I had felt the attraction and want coming off Lucas. I could read him better because he wasn’t guarding himself from me, he was too busy warring with his sibling. “But now it’s just us and he’s determined to mull every little thing over. So get used to it, Ember. Get used to being frustrated and anxious–physically, mentally and emotionally because that man is the most stubborn man…ever!” I kicked at the covers in frustration and ended up stubbing my toe on the footboard and let out an enraged shriek. “Stop talking to yourself and take a shower!” Lucas yelled and I stuck my tongue out. His silent treatment and inability, or unwillingness, to talk to me about his feelings was making me a bit childish and I recognized that. I couldn’t stop it, but at least I recognized it. The shower was hot, the jeans were perfect, the sweater was soft and the boots cheered me up. By the time I got to the breakfast table, Lucas was filling my plate with bacon and fluffy pancakes. I almost forgot to be pissed at him. Almost. “Looks good,” I said grudgingly.

“Glad you approve." He grinned at me and that grin went right to my pussy. Then right to my heart. And then I felt another wave of anger. “I do. Thanks so much. Won’t talk to me but you’ll feed me like a queen. Truth be told,” I said, shoving a huge bite in my mouth and talking with my mouth full--on purpose just to annoy him. “I’d prefer a granola bar and an adult conversation with a man who didn’t need to lock me up and lock me in and close me off, emotionally, that is.” He glared at me and I mentally marked myself a single point in the battle of Ember and Lucas. I smiled, shoveled in another bite and took a sip of coffee. “I told you we’d talk. I told you I was trying to figure some stuff out and I told you that you were free to go.” He said this all in a low flat line voice, clearly he was keeping a rein on his emotions. “Ooooh, so generous of you. My way or leave. Thanks so much for playing, Em. Have this ridiculously loud sex toy as a consolation prize. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass one the way out. The ass marked up with little bruises from my hand. Don’t forget your luggage. The clothes I bought, the boots too. But don’t ask me to have a normal fucking conversation!” My voice was going up despite my best efforts and he gave me a head shake and a warning look. I kept going. “Because big bad Lucas can hijack cars and tie up women and share with his brother and take off into the woods. He can do it all. But he cannot let anyone know how he feels. God fucking forbid he show an emotion. God fucking forbid he says what’s in his—” He was fast. I’d forgotten just how fast. Funny how you don’t remember stuff like that until you see it again and it jogs your memory. He grabbed my arm and yanked, yanked me right out of my seat and I dropped my fork. I swallowed hard as his thick forearm tugged me in and he used his other hand to lever me down. I flopped over his lap like a broken doll and I knew just where this was going. Exactly where. I kicked out, terrified and turned on at once. A tornado of emotions locked in the small space that was my belly and my cunt. There was no game in it. There were no words. He did not make me count and he did not address me at all beyond saying “I think we’ve way surpassed ten at this point.” His thick strong fingers snatched a spatula from the table and he started in on me. A flurry of blows that stung like a million tiny thumbtacks pricking my skin. Even through my jeans. Even through my panties. He used the flat of the tool and kept his blows to the fleshy part of my ass, but Lucas’s displeasure with me radiated through my ass, the backs of my legs, the small of my back. I grunted and squirmed, caterwauled and shrieked and yet he didn’t stop. I had no idea how many blows he landed or when the flood of pain morphed to a flood of endorphins. I had no idea when my desperate struggled turned to writhing on his lap, trying to come in any contact with him at all. His knee, his thigh, any part of him I could press my sex to was what my body sought. Then Lucas stood suddenly, tumbling me to the floor. He tugged up on my arm at the last minute so I didn’t hit too hard. So I didn’t hurt myself. I stared up and he glared down and then said,

“Finish your breakfast if you like. I’ll meet you out front. You have permission to get yourself off if you need to. And your face says you need to.” Then he turned on his boot heels and walked out. I stared after him, heard the front door slam. “Well,” I said. My voice a bizarre mix of anger and wounded pride, I forced the rest of the words out, trying to sound brave to my own ears. “Thanks so much, Lucas. Thanks so much for your permission to get myself off. Thanks for your input. Your opinion. Your royal declaration.” But even as I said it, I felt the insistent pulse in my pussy, the fluttering anxiety in my belly, the need that seemed to echo like a second heartbeat in my chest. I knew what the rest of my day in close proximity to him would be like if I didn’t finish this. It could be done, but it would be terrible. Achy and needy and irate. That would be the bulk of my day with him. I pushed my hand down in my jeans, knowing by the flexing beat of my cunt that this would take no time at all. My body was awash with fear and anger and want and need. A deep seated need that was nearly painful. I pushed my fingers deep into my pussy, feeling the flickers of pain and pleasure dance across my flesh. I noted how they swapped places and then merged at time. First a hot sting on my skin, then a steady unfathomable pulse of pleasure, and then some bizarre mix of joy studded with pain. “Fucking jerk,” I said and pushed my fingers deeper. I slid my other hand down into my panties, worked my clit. My hands working overtime to take me where Lucas had refused to. I imagined him with his face pressed to the kitchen window, watching my pathetic self ministrations. I imagined him arriving and gathering me into his arms, saying he was sorry, going down on me. I imagined him coming in silent and strong but taking me there on the kitchen floor. Fucking me slowly and brutally and exactly as I needed. I imagined it all and none of it happened. What did happen was my juiced up body gave up the orgasm with a rush of fluid and spasms and soft cries that I did my damndest to swallow. Then I cleared my plate and hit the bathroom and pulled my coat on. I wasn’t hungry anymore and already the orgasm was fading. But I’d be fucked if I’d let him know that. So I shut the door behind me and smiled at him, my biggest fakest smile when he looked up from clearing snow off the front steps. “Ready for our hike!” I announce, trudging toward him. I had that horrible sick moment of realization as my feet went out from under me and my ass hit the granite steps.

Chapter 26

There were tears. Lots and lots of embarrassing tears. And there was a true look of concern on Lucas’s face as he rushed to me. I felt a sickening satisfaction to see his deep concern. Served him right. Treating me this way. Now watch me fall and break my ass and die of a broken coccyx! That struck me as funny so by the time he reached me I was alternating laughing like a hyena and crying like a small child. “Are you okay?” he asked, brushing my hair out of my face, wiping my tears. “No! No I am not okay. You won’t talk to me and you spanked me. On the ass! And then I fell. On the same ass!” I was half yelling and half wheezing from all the tears. “And now…” Anger replaced the upset and I grabbed his arm and hauled myself up. “Right. Never mind. There is a hike. Let’s fucking hike. Here we go.” I started through the few inches of snow, struck a rock, stumbled. For a moment I thought I’d fall again. And I decided right there that if I fell and became mortified yet again I was going to just punch Lucas right in the head. I didn't care. Pushy or not, dominant or not, abductor or not. I would punch him right. In. The. Head. But I didn’t fall and I heard him coming up behind me on the barely discernable trail. “Ember,” he said. “I trust I’m going the right way.” I refused to look at him. “Yes. The trail. I thought we’d hike it.” “Here we go!” I said like a maniac. “Let’s hike it! Let’s go. Up and at ‘em big boy.” I walked faster, my ass singing with the recent punishment and now with a biting, tender pain from hitting the stone steps. I winced but tamped down the pain. Fuck it. It was just an ass. A bruise was no big deal. I’d had worse. Worse had been his swift and wordless punishment not a half hour before. Worse had been his permission to get myself off instead of just being with me–taking me, fucking me, making love to me. Whatever label you wanted to put on it or whatever sweetness level, Lucas had decided to leave me to my own devices instead of being with me. Lucas grabbed my arm and I shocked both of us by yanking away. “Hey, now, we’re not in the bedroom, Sir. We’re out in the great outdoors. Just two people hiking. Just two people taking a stroll.” I didn’t even know what I was saying. I felt like I was babbling. My anger seemed to have a voice even when my hurt feelings did not.

“Fine. Let’s hike.” He pressed his lips together. “Good." “Right.” I bit my tongue. I would not say another word. He was baiting me. I shook my head and stuffed my hands in my coat pocket. I felt the cool metal outline of my phone in my pocket. Maybe I should whip it out and call a cab. That would set him straight. That’s not showing very much faith in him. I blinked back tears. My anger and my bruised ego was overruling what I’d set out to do. Show Lucas that I had faith in him. That I believed in him. That I was more than his current walking, talking sex doll. I blew out a big breath but it didn’t help my raging emotions, it did rein me in a bit though. I slid and he reached out to steady me. His jaw was tight with unspoken words, I guessed. Or just plain annoyance. But he steadied me without flinching and we kept climbing the trail. A barely discernable upgrade that kept us hiking a bit higher and higher as we nearly marched in our silent travel. We came to a brief clearing where the woods opened up a bit. The field was pristine. White and perfect. A physical manifestation of peace. Something in my chest felt a bit softer, some tight part of me loosened. I glanced at Lucas in my peripheral vision, not ready to say I had been a jerk. I so wanted him to for once admit to being less than perfect. To admit that he had been overtly cruel to me. That it had been wrong. He didn’t. But he did shock me by saying softly “The scar you are obsessed with, the one you touch–and the one on my jaw for that matter–is from the last fight I had with my father.” He kept his head straight and he didn’t look at me. I felt like if he did turn and face me the spell would be broken and he’d clam up again. So, I didn’t turn to look his way, instead I watched the fresh snow powdering the already packed field of white. “I told him I wanted to go to college. I’d set up the financial aid. I’d done everything I needed to do. Matthew was his responsibility then and I was off to college to start my life.” I waited, feeling my chest clog with fear of something that had already happened. Something I could not change for him and yet wished I could. My eyes stung from the wind and impending tears. “We got into it. Fists and he had a can opener in his hand when he clocked me. He didn’t attack me with it. Not intentionally. He was drunk and honestly I think he forgot that he had it in his hand. He said fine. Go. Matthew would be fine. He had a father. And I should never come back.” I drew a line in the snow with the toe of my boot. I waited. I listening. I did not speak. I was silence incarnate. For once. “Then he passed out. I knew he was leaving the next day for a long haul. I knew he wouldn’t change his life. I knew that was what Matthew would have for support, as a role model. And I knew I couldn’t do it. So, I slapped some butterfly bandages on my wounds and I left the house. But only until

he left for his job the next day. He was killed on that haul. The truck jackknifed, there was speculation he was drunk, but the life insurance paid out and I became Matthew’s legal guardian.” He started walking. Without another word. I stumble-ran a few steps and caught up with him. I reached out and put my hand in his. I knew there was the chance he’s reject me, but I did it anyway. I felt his fingers stiffen but then he took my hand and we walked. After a moment Lucas said “I don’t want your pity.” “Good, because you don’t have my pity.” I stopped and tugged, forcing him to either pull free and keep going or stop and face me. He stopped. I stood on tiptoe and kissed him. I didn't say I was sorry, I didn't try to analyze. I simply kissed him and kept kissing him until his tense lips softened and he pushed his hands into my hair, cupping my head, holding me tight, he took over the kiss and blissfully bullied my tongue into submission. I pressed myself to the hard warm length of his body, soaking up his heat, feeling the rigid planes of his muscles. Lucas broke the kiss and we turned back to the trail. I started to shake from the cold. It was too much. Too much emotion and turmoil, too much had happened and my body felt like I’d been creamed by a car. A physical manifestation of my confusion and worry and hope for him to…what? Love me? Yes. At the top of the hill the land fell away in a steep slope that eventually leveled out to the shores of a lake. “Here is the last place I felt like a kid,” he said. "Matthew and I came here right before they contacted us about dad. We drank pilfered beers and tossed rocks. Fished a little, blared music, shared the girl who lived about a mile up the road." I laughed, shaking my head. “Even then?” “Actually, that was the first time. And I want you to know something. It’s not every girl. It’s not every time. It’s more about this weird power thing we have. He thinks the power lies in being the young one–me needing to care for him. I think it comes with being the eldest, the provider. I’m not blind to the fact that lots of people would frown on what we do. But we only do it if it’s welcome. And I know it’s strange to some folks, but no harm, no foul.” “No harm, no foul,” I said. “Right.” “You’d be surprised at how many women want—” “Um, no I wouldn’t,” I said and smiled. “But look out there and realize that Matthew is a grown man now. You don’t have to care for him. You can have things for yourself and he can care for himself. You taught him how, right?” “I don’t know.”

“You did.” I turned away, putting my back to the wind that seemed to be whipping right through me. I had started to shake. The tremors were unsettling but I didn’t want him to see. He did anyway. “Hey, what’s this?” “I have no idea. I’m just so tired. So cold. It’s fine. It is snowing after all. Cold is a pretty normal way to be.” I laughed but the chills that wracked me so suddenly made him frown. He felt my head. “You’re warm. Not burning up but warmer than you should be. Let’s go, let's get you home.” Lucas took my arm, the other hand resting at the small of my back as he piloted me down the path back toward the cabin. “I feel like an ass,” I said, my teeth chattering. “You’re sick.” “I’m weak, is what you mean.” “No. I mean you’re sick. And probably exhausted. It might simply be exhaustion. You’ve had a bit of a…week. As my favorite teacher in grade school used to say. Mrs. Scully was prone to saying it’s been a week when it was only Tuesday,” he said. My heart panged like a guitar string breaking. His tone said me that Mrs. Scully was the closest thing in Lucas’s mind associated with a mother. “It has been a week,” I said, a shiver working through me with a vengeance. He wrapped an arm around my shoulder and hustled me along. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit I liked his coddling attention. That I liked that—maybe, just maybe-- he was regretting making me sleep alone last night. “Yes, it has. And some of yours has been due to me. I’m not good at emotions. Especially mine. It’s complicated.” “You mean you’re complicated?” “I mean it’s complicated. Life. Things that make me feel-–or hell–think, or question, or want…” “Want what?” “More than I should have.” “You should have it all,” I said. “You're brave and loyal. You’re kind.” My tongue felt too big and my brain felt like it might float right out the top of my head. I tried to go on. “You’re strong like no one else I know. And you're handsome.” “You okay?”

I could hear the mushy quality of my words but couldn’t seem to sharpen them. I gave him a nod and the world swayed. “Fine, fine,” I insisted. I would be fine. “You’re funny, too,” I barreled on, my tongue tripping over itself, my words smashing against one another and I felt him stiffen next to me, on alert. “I mean, you could cut loose once in a while and really laugh. But in your own way you are fucking funny,” I said, the last word coming out fenneh. “Ember?” “And I think you should catch me now,” I said, my voice going wispy and my knees buckling. Then I was falling, falling, falling toward a field of white. But at the last minute I didn’t hit, I had big strong warm arms around me. I sighed. “Let’s get you home, September,” he said. “Let’s get me home,” I said. My world was gray around the edges with little flashes of magic white light in the center. My head hurt suddenly and I was cold to the core. “Let’s get me home,” I said again. “Jesus. I’m sorry.” His words were soft and dark and full of pain. Oddly I felt no victory in that apology. I just wanted to make it better for him. I wanted him to get it, but I couldn’t really form any thoughts beyond cold at the moment. I shook my head but the world rocked. “No,” I said. “No what?” Then the gray ate up the little white bits and I was out.

Chapter 27

Had he tied me up! Really. Was this the time for sex games? I struggled, and pushed and whipped my body around. It was not lost on me even in my muzzy headed state that this was very much how Lucas Crow had found me. And now here I was again. I felt warm hands on my belly, sliding to my hipbones, pinning me. But I was pinned to something soft and comfortable not some horrid box. I felt his presence then. He’d pressed his lips to my cheek and said, a smug smile in his voice “Stop struggling. It’s only your sweater. I’m trying to get you in some warm dry clothes.” I blew out a breath and then the panic truly set in and I shivered with the rush of tears. I refused to make any noise though. I could leak but I would not sob. He tugged once more and the sweater pulled free of my snow-damp hair. “There. Now we can--” He paused, stone carved face going from satisfied to confused. “Why are you crying? Did you hurt yourself?” I shook my head. “I’m not crying,” I said and a wave of cold washed over my bones. My body jerked and trembled and Lucas shook his head, annoyed with me, or just in general. “September, you are crying.” He dried my breasts and my arms and my neck with a soft towel. He tugged the new red thermal over my head and pushed my arms in the holes. Then Lucas unbuttoned my sodden jeans. When the shiver overtook me, he dropped a throw blanket over my naked skin while he dealt with my jeans. “No I’m not. It’s snow.” I turned my face to the wall, not helping him with my jeans and not fighting him. I was suddenly too tired to do either one. He stilled and sighed mightily. Wearily if you must know. “Ember, look.” He dipped his fingertip in the silent trickle of upset leaking out o my eyes and then chuckled. “I know you’re stubborn but snow is not leaking out of your eyes. Why are you crying?” “I don’t know.” “Yes, you do.” The jeans were off and the towel was back on my skin. My skin felt hot and then instantly cold and he pulled a warm pair of sweats on. His. He seemed to know somewhere in his stubborn male self that his clothing would be more comforting to me than mine. “Tell me.”

Instead I changed the subject. “That’s rather advanced, you know.” He dropped to the sofa next to me, brown eyes slightly golden in the early afternoon sun. “What are you talking about? Are you delirious, woman?” “The sweatpants,” I said. “They’re yours.” “They were closer.” “You’re lying,” I said, wrapping my own arms around myself. “You knew that your clothes would make me feel safer and more cared for than my own. Offer a girl your jacket if she’s cold is Women 101. Dress her in your clothes if she’s sick or injured or sad is definitely Women 102.” “I think your fever’s spiked,” he laughed. “Who taught you that?” I pressed. He was getting pissed. I could see it, but at least I’d stopped crying. Lucas grabbed my foot and I yelped but then he slipped my foot into one of the bulky wool socks he’d bought me. “No one taught me anything. I put you in my sweats because I did. There is your answer.” “Why?” I pulled my foot away. “Tell me.” He stared at me, mouth open, plump and kissable and yes, annoyed. I almost laughed. “Because I did.” “Tell me,” I said. I leaned in close and when he reached for me, I yanked myself back. I was blazing hot, I was freezing cold. His big hand clamped down on my wrist and trapped my racing pulse under his thumb. My nipples spiked and goose bumps raced across my skin. “You must be high,” he said. “You’re provoking me.” His jaw set with a mix of amusement and anger. “Are you scared to tell me?” I prompted. “There is no reason." “You’re afraid,” I said. He pushed my hair back off my forehead. “Ember,” he tried to be gentle. “It’s okay that you’re too scared to tell me,” I said. Dead silence. This tactic would work. “I am not scared.”

“Tell me." I had learned my interrogation techniques from kindergartners it seemed. “Tell me, tell me, tell me!” His jaw clenched in anger and then “Because I wanted to!” he boomed. His voice bounding off the exposed beam ceiling like some blind winged thing. I reared back but he held me tight. My body raced with chills and then my nipples spiked again. I felt the fever everywhere. “ I wanted to put you in the goddamn sweat pants because…” His hand still wrapped around my wrist, he yanked and I yelped but then he pressed his lips to my pulse point silencing himself. “You what?” He shook his head, licked my skin. I hummed. The fever was in all of me. Heat under my arms, a molten lust between my legs. My head felt full of cotton and heat and my body craved him in the same way I craved water. “No,” he said. “What, please. Lucas. Please,” I said. As I said it, I pushed his hand to the sweats over the V of my thighs. Pressed his fingers to the heat. “I’m hot,” I said, simply. I trusted him to know what I meant. That it was my body that was haywire but my thoughts were clear. I wanted him, but at the moment, my body felt a need for him. It made no sense and yet, it made perfect sense. “I wanted to put you in my clothes because it felt like you’d be safer. Like I was taking better care of you,” he said. I nodded, understanding. He pushed his hand, not nearly as hot as my own body, into my pants and touched me. Just a fingertip. It was like a match being set to a pile of dry leaves. I shut my eyes, sighing out how good it was. “I don’t know why. I just need—” I started. “I understand. It’s an altered state kind of thing,” he whispered to me. He pressed his rough cheek to mine, leaning into me and said in my ear. “Everything is heightened. Everything is more intense when your body's running on high alert.” He slipped a finger into me, testing my pussy which was as wet as my skin was dry. He slid a second finger into me and started to fuck me with his fingers in a slow even rhythm. His skin seemed so cool to me. Refreshing, like pressing your head to a cool marble countertop in August. “Yes,” I said. “That’s it.” “Does that feel good, Ember?” he said, nipping my ear. The instant his teeth shut down on my lobe, my pussy clenched tight around his fingers and I made a soft sound like I was crying again. “I see it does.” He nipped me again. I came. That fast, that easy. My cunt growing taut and slick around his fingers. I came with a tiny whimper of gratitude and exhaustion. “More,” I said. Not so much bold as having nothing to lose. No shame in trying, I thought. He tugged the loose sweats off of me and moved me like his own little toy. Swung my leg over his lap and then sat me there while he worked his belt and his zipper, freed his cock and watched me

watching him. How his hand slid along the shaft. How his thumb ran over the slightly weeping tip. How good he looked touching himself. I swayed a little and he moved me gently. “I’ll do all the work, honey. Don’t worry.” He laughed but something in me had started to glow when he called me honey. And in the kindness in his tone. And what sounded like true caring. And affection. And love. But that last part had to be the fever talking. He settled me over his cock and then pressed up just enough to give me a taste. To set off all those nerve endings. I gripped his shoulders, shaking with the heat in my body, shaking with the need of him. Lucas kissed my neck and his hand found my breast, he tweaked my nipple and I swallowed hard, my throat clicking. His hips arched up, driving his cock deep into me, giving me no time to dally. I was full of him, holding his shoulders, more tears. These coming from nowhere and having no reason behind them. My body just wanted to cry. So it did. “It’s okay. You can cry.” He fucked me like he might break me. No ties, no bonds, no guard dogs, no brothers. He simply moved up under me, thrusting deep and even so that each movement brought its own stroke of pleasure until the building pleasure was too much and the tipping point was reached. “Lucas, Lucas,’ I said almost panicky. “Lucas, Lucas, Lu–” until he kissed me quiet and I came. His fingers sank into the flesh at my hips and with two more upward surges he came, his teeth pressed to my shoulder as I shook and shivered in his arms. He pulled back and stared at me. Those mystical eyes studying me like I held some kind of secret. “Let’s get you dressed and wrapped up on the sofa. I’ll find you a movie. Feed you.” I was half asleep as he said it and maneuvered me off his lap and wrapped me up. I was almost fully out by the time he found an eighties teen flick on cable. The sounds of him in the kitchen so comforting, I let the fever pull me under. I let the heavy sleep that only comes with illness take me down.

He pushed two pills into my mouth and I jerked awake. “Sorry. Thought you were already awake. You were looking at me.” I shook my head. Had I been looking at him? I’d thought I was dreaming. “What’s this?” “For the fever. Which is one hundred and one. Too high for my taste. Truth be told, I think it’s a little bug exacerbated by the stress of the last few days.” “Stress? What stress?” It was my attempt at a joke. I let him lift my head enough for me to sip off a straw. “Ginger Ale. Yum. I’m lying. I hate ginger ale. No cola?” “Caffeine,” he said and shook his head. “Not good. Dehydrates you.” “Nurse Crow,” I snorted.

“That’s Doctor to you, babe.” He sat, pulled my head onto his lap. Lucas put his feet up on the coffee table and crossed them, surfed through until he found a cooking show we’d discovered we both liked “What the hell are they going to make with that,” he grumbled when they revealed the ingredient list. “A mess,” I said, drifting again already. He offered me more soda and I took it. My body felt heavy and floaty simultaneously. I felt the pleasant sore ache from having sex. I felt the phantom touch of his fingers over my pulse from earlier. My body seemed to be stuck somewhere in the middle of past and present. I heard the announcer on the show. Heard Lucas crack a beer. Late afternoon, had to be. “Whassat?” I managed. “A beer. I’d offer you one but a) you are loopy and b) again with the dehydration.” I watched him read the cap. Study it like a secret clue. “What?” He shrugged. “Nothing. They put little messages in their caps is all. Was just reading it.” “Like a fortune cookie,” I said. “More fun than a fortune cookie." He ran his fingers through my unruly bangs. “There’s beer.” I smiled. “Way more fun that a cookie. What’s it say?” My tongue heavy, my head empty. I wanted nothing more than more sleep. More sleep with my head in his lap and his fingers in my hair. “It says What exactly are you waiting for?” I waited but Lucas didn’t comment. “That’s nice,” I mumbled. He laughed softly, brushing my bangs back and then pulling them forward. The rhythm of his touch was lulling me to sleep. “Yeah. You think?” “What are you waiting for?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. ****

Just what the fuck was he waiting for, he wondered. He pushed his hand into the silken mess of her honey brown hair. Curling one long piece around his finger he watched September breathe. She had tried so very hard to be stoic. She had tried to show him that she cared and that his gruffness and his past and his plain old stupidity wasn’t important to her. He’d kept her at arms’ distance and she took it. Took it better than he ever could have had the roles been reversed. “So who’s the strong one, smart ass,” he said. She tossed in her sleep and he stopped talking.

She was different. It was pretty much time he stopped being afraid and angry and examined that fact. Every other woman to come along since their father had died had been disposable. There were some he’d liked and some he’d truly cared for but the thought of anything long term had been ridiculous. The last thing he needed in this world was another person to take care of. He had his hands full with himself and his little brother. He didn’t need a woman. Lucas let himself feel everything at that moment. Stroking the smooth skin on Ember’s brow he realized why he had actually put her in his own sweat pants instead of any of the clothes that he’d bought her. Firstly, it felt more protective. Secondly, he wanted to care for her–got angry when she wouldn’t let him, in fact. The simple fact that she had already told him that she loved him and still let him struggle and flounder and fuck up, and yet stuck around spoke volumes. “I made you sleep in another room.” He watched her. “That must have broken your heart.” She said nothing. Simply hitched a sigh, frowned, turned a little. The fever would break and they would talk. That would be his chance. He’d come clean. Tell her how he felt and that is scared the shit out of him. And if there were two things he’d never planned on doing it was being scared again and being in love. He’d spent enough time scared as a kid. Scared of his father, scared of failing Matthew, scared of fucking it all up. And love had shown him that it was just another word for hurt. But he wasn’t so sure that was the case with her. In fact, he knew it wasn’t. So the only fear he was truly dealing with was the fear he had of putting himself out there. Showing how he felt and actually taking a chance on someone who seemed to have the magical ability of making him feel happy. Lucas bent his head and kissed her softly. She mumbled something, snorted and he couldn’t help but laugh. When he was calm about it, there really was no way he could not love her. He couldn’t change how he’d been the last few days, but he could tell her the truth when she woke up. “Bed for you,” he said and picked her up gently. His cell phone bleated and her eyes flickered open. Blue eyes the color of an autumn sky. Crisp and staggering and gorgeous. “Phone,” she said. “It’s my brother. He can wait. We have to get you to bed.” “Oh, what are we going to do to me in bed?” Already her eyes drifted shut and he chuckled. “Tuck you in and let you sleep.” “But you won’t be there." She frowned. “I’ll come in in a bit. I have to chop some wood for the fireplace and you need to sleep uninterrupted. When I’m around you keep rousing yourself.” “Because you’re sexy." She smiled and a small snore following the words.

“You too, babe. Ditto on the sexy. Your cell phone’s in your pocket if you should need me.” His phone rang again when he was putting his boots back on to go out into the yard. He’d call Matthew back after he chopped some wood. He needed to get his blood moving, burn off some energy and worry. Then he could deal with what was probably going to be a million little issues from Matthew. Matty needed to grow up a bit and Lucas needed to let go some. Maybe then he’d realize that he’d had room for September in his life all along. He was actually whistling while he walked out to the shed. He tried to remember the last time he’d whistled sober and couldn’t. That girl. She did strange things to him.

Chapter 28

“Sweet September.” I heard the sing-song in my ear and tried to open my eyes, but I’d been down and out for so long and so deep that it was a struggle just to focus on the words. Something made my stomach sing with anxiety but I lost my grasp on it as hands scooted under me, moving me. “Now where?” I sighed. “Home,” he said. Home? His home? My home? Back to the city? Had something happened with Matthew or was he simply done thinking now? Had he made his decision and if he had what was it? Should I stay or should I go now? I opened my mouth to ask him but he said, “Shh, need to stay quiet now.” Something in his tone, in the words, in the feel of him was off but the fever had my head confused and my body exhausted. I put my head against his chest, feeling the bump and shuffle of his steps across the floor. And then he took me out the side door to the small patio outside the master suite. Why? Gray daylight hit my face and I squinted, smelling the wet wool smell of him. The cinnamon and suede scent that triggered something. Finally, my brain connected, my eyes flew open and I was looking right at Damien. I opened my mouth to yell for Lucas and Damien said, “Oh, even sick you like your game? Okay, I’ll play.” And he clamped his hand over my mouth to stifle my cry. “I didn’t think you’d be up for it, but who am I to question you.” I shook my head but his big hand stayed clamped over my mouth. He either truly thought we were playing, or he chose to believe it. Damien dragged me to the car, my feet touching the snow off and on. He’d parked far enough from the cabin that we hadn’t heard his motor. How had he found me? How had he possibly found me? Then I felt the cell phone bump my thigh through the oversized sweatpants pocket. Probably from the phone, that I had only because Lucas had wanted me to know that I was free to leave whenever I wanted. That I was there by choice. With him by choice. And now I was being removed without a choice. Something I used to crave, now I feared. Damien pushed me into the car and snapped the seatbelt buckle over me. Then he hit the remote lock and scurried to his side of the car. He hit unlock once more and got in. “I figured it out. You

had big, dark and gruesome come steal you and now I’m stealing you back. I came to get you, Ember. And I know how to do it right now.” “Damien." I struggled for air I was so panicky. “Shut up.” “Damien, it’s not a game. I want you to take me back.” “Shut up, Ember.” “Damien–” He reached out and smacked me. He probably didn’t think it was too hard, but with the fever it was staggering. Light exploded in my vision and I cried out. “Shut up or I’ll put you in the trunk. When we get home I’ll get you out of that bastard’s clothes. We’ll put this whole mess behind us.” “I didn’t hire him to steal me,” I attempted. He still believed that. Maybe he had to. “Of course you did,” he said, and turned down the winding access road to the main road. “Fate doesn’t just hand you that kind of coincidence. It did if it was being kind, but for now I was just trying to figure out how to get back to Lucas. I pushed my hand into my pocket, hoping to just hit a button and call Lucas. But Damien spotted me and pushed his hand past mine, bullied my fingers into releasing the phone “I'll take that. Good little phone. This is how I found you.” So I was right. Damien was whisking back to the city toward his house and he said “We'll get you home and then I'll take care of you, little girl.” He waggled his eyebrows at me but there was real menace under it all. I could tell my his facial expression and his tone. His ego was bruised and he was pissed. I’d run off with the man who had taken his prized vehicle. I’d left him and gone on with my life. I’d tossed him aside the same way he did broken down stuff he found around the house his father had left him. “I don’t want to be a taken care of." My voice was faint, my body trembling from the cold air and now fear. “Not by you.” “Of course you do. It’s your fantasy.” He put his hand on my thigh and squeezed. His fingers so hot and somehow angry I waited for them to puncture my skin right through Lucas’s sweatpants. I would’ve given a million dollars and my very soul to see Lucas at that moment. I would’ve given anything at all, I think. “Not anymore,” I said.

I didn’t add. At least not with you. Self preservation told me that would be bad. He squeezed again, painfully heart and my heart flip-flopped in my chest. “Oh, sure it is. We’ll rekindle that for you, okay? I’ll tie you up and make all your dirty fantasies come true. I’ve had time to think about it, after all.” I winced at his squeezing fingers and wished I had yelled. Wished I’d hit any or all the buttons on my phone. Wished, wished, wished I hadn’t been sick and that Lucas and I were out hiking when Damien showed up. I shook my head, looked out the window, stayed silent. I didn’t know what to say so maybe if I was quiet and tried to focus I could figure this out. Damien wouldn’t really hurt me, would he? ****

The phone rang again and Lucas growled, dropped the axe and flipped the phone open. “What do you want, little brother?” “Is he there? Did he come? Do you need help? I’m on my way–” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What the hell are you talking about, Matthew?” Matty went silent. Lucas heard traffic and the engine of Matthew’s beast of a truck. He heard his brother’s breath tearing in and out and he felt a spark of real fear. Matthew rarely got flustered, never got upset and never ever got scared. He sounded like he was currently all of the above. “Where is Ember?” he asked, softly. Lucas nearly flinched at the tone. “Please say she’s sitting right there where you can see her.” “I…she’s in the bedroom. She came down with a fever and I put her to bed.” “Fuck. Go check her!” Matthew’s voice left no room for argument and Lucas’s feet were already moving through the snow toward the house. Still he said “She’s fine. I just put her in there like a half an hour ago. I put her to bed after giving her some meds and then came out to chop wood. What’s going on?” “That guy. Derrick? Dante?” “Damien,” Lucas said, his fingers and toes feeling numb all the sudden, and not from the cold. “What about him?” “He found her from the GPS in her damn phone. He had it figured. He came here first and I nearly fed him his own shoes for supper. But the pussy ran off and hopped in some piece of crap sports car. But if you have the phone and the phone is on…”

“Fuck,” Lucas hissed. How stupid was he. Not only did he have the phone, he’d given Ember the phone. A way of showing her that he needed to be here because she wanted to. A way of showing her that he trusted her, cared. He cared so much he might as well have strapped a god damned strobe light to her and put a big giant arrow over her head that said EX GIRLFRIEND HERE. His feet slipped and his body swerved on the wet snow. He couldn’t remember feeling more useless and frustrated. Or more like he was moving in slow motion when all he wanted in the world was to go faster. In his mind’s eye he tucked her in and kissed her forehead. The door to the patio had been locked. Hadn’t it? He replayed his time outside, remembering the distant sound of a motor, wondering about it but not being concerned. The access road led to a few cabins. It wasn’t so unusual to hear a random vehicle here or there. And there was a state park not far off and they used the same access road. So park workers could be found on this byway especially when it snowed. “But it was him. You fucking ass, it was him!” he said to himself and literally slid over the threshold to the front door. “So?” Matthew's voice hissed from the phone. “Is she there?” Lucas had nearly forgotten that he was even holding the cell. “Wait. Hold on. I’m going.” His boots stuttered on the wood floor almost dumping him on his ass. Then he rounded the corner, threw open the door and breathed a sigh of relief. She was there. Under the covers. Then his eyes adjusted to the dim light and he saw the corners of the pillow cases. Saw the covers tossed back in different spots. And most importantly, felt the cold stab of winter air through the barely cracked patio door. “He’s got her, Matty. He’s got her. That motherfucker.” “I’ll call you back,” Matty said and hung up. Lucas wanted to throw the phone but knew he’d need it. Instead he kicked one of Ember's sexy boots hard. It sailed across the room and hit the side window. “Fuck.” He followed the footprints out the door down the patio and to the side yard. When he saw some drag marks he knew that Ember had been trying to stay. As sick as she was, she’d still made the effort. Does he even know she’s sick? And what are his plans? Abduction? For real or does he think this is all part of her game? His throat was threatening to close with rage. He raced back through the house, hitting Matthew on speed dial. “Hey, I’ll call you ba—” “Call Marcus!” “Back. Because I’m on the phone with Marcus. He’s running her info. We’ll contact the cell phone provider. Hopefully he can talk some GPS info out of them. Or something.” “Or something,” Lucas said. “I’m headed to the city. Call me when you know. And tell Marcus that he'd better help her. It better, for goddamn once, pay off to be so tight with a cop.”

“Got it.” He nearly wiped out his truck pulling out of the drive and barreling down to the access road. If that shit did anything at all to her, he’s have his guts for garters. That man would know pain like he’d never known. He hit seventy before he was on the main road. Once he was on a semi-cleared road that plows had touched he hit ninety. Maybe he could just catch up with them. Pull them off, beat the merry hell out of Damien, that dick. His knuckles were white, his heart raced. All he could think of was her whispering I love you. Of tucking her in and her feverish face. Of her asking him what he was waiting for. And pulling her down slowly, ever so slowly onto his lap and fucking her deep. Watching her face. Letting himself for that perfect moment in time admit to himself that he loved her. “But you didn’t admit it to her, yet.” He pushed the truck to ninety-five. ****

Damien pulled off when I said it again. “I have to pee. I have to pee, I have to pee, I have to pee!” My voice was weak but determined and Damien never had had much patience for that kind of stuff. He snapped pretty easily, which was why I knew he would not be a good dad. One temper tantrum and he’d pack his bags and leave. “Fine! Jesus Christ, Ember. Shut up. I'll pull over and you can pee. I need gas anyway. But hey–” He grabbed my arm, grinning in a way that made my stomach feel cold. “No running. I know what you like. I can give it to you. Hard. Painful if you need be.” I wondered briefly if he’d snapped, but my head weighed about a thousand pounds and I was so tired the roots of my hair hurt. I nodded. “I won’t.” All I was praying for in the world was a restroom with two exits that was within staggering distance of a phone or a person or a policeman. “Good girl.” He pulled into a small service station set in the middle of nowhere. Two pumps, a small office, a garage with one bay open. The restroom was clearly marked and on the side of the building. One door. Maybe there was a phone… Damien pulled up to the door and said “Get out. I’ll be right there.” He pointed to the first pump that was only about thirty feet from the restroom. “And I’ll be watching.” I flinched and nodded. When push came to shove I didn’t know if he’d actually hurt me. He’d never done so before. But one of the small character flaws of Damien was his brittle pride. It was the only time I’d seen him be irrational or cruel. Once in a heated argument, when I’d made some jibe about his sexual prowess, he’d hit me. Not as part of a game. Not as domination. In pure anger and with the intent of hurting me. This was the only other time I’d seen that side of him. It scared me.

The restroom was basically a concrete cell. One small window set high in the wall near the ceiling that even a cat would have trouble fitting through. One filthy stall. No phone. No nothing. I locked the door and waited. All I could think to do was stall. Stall and hope that Lucas would notice I was missing and come after me.

Chapter 29

I stared at myself in the mirror, trying too hard to think straight. My eyes were glassy, my face pale but for twin spots of heat on my cheeks. “Think, Em. Think for god’s sake.” What would Lucas do? What would he expect of me? Or better yet, what would he instruct me to do? My eyes darted around the dim room. There was no way in hell, even after the most extreme diet in the world, would I fit out that window. And even if I could, I didn’t have the strength to get up to the window. There was nothing to stand on, the toilet was too far away and I could not climb a sheer concrete wall. Spiderman I wasn’t. “Shit, shit, shit.” I faced the mirror again and looked for a weapon. Nothing. There wasn’t even a bar of soap. There were rust stains in the ancient sink and a leak underneath that had slowly spread across the nasty grey floor. I stared at the door. One hook and eye lock. Wouldn’t keep Damien out for long if he wanted to come in. On the back was a dry erase schedule for cleaning the bathroom. “That’s rich,” I snorted. “This bathroom hasn’t been cleaned since I was in diapers.” My eyes finally noticed a bulge in the woefully neglected sheet of laminated paper and I reached out and plucked pen from behind the sheet. My throat was now full of my wildly thumping heart. I prayed the universe would not be cruel. “Please work. Please, please, please work. Please God don’t let it be dried out. Oh, dear sweet Jesus,” I was mumbling and muttering like a crazy woman. I ripped the cap off with weak– almost numb–fingers and touched the pen to the tip of my finger. It left a wet black mark the size of a freckle. I nearly wept. The door rattled in its jam and I yelped. “Come on, woman! Don’t make me come in there!” “I’m coming! I’m coming!” I screamed. I heard another voice, I thought and scurried into the stall and wrote a hasty note. Taken against my will. Please get help! And then the license plate of Damien’s car. I started to cry when I realized that I loved Lucas but didn’t even know his phone number. I could never have called him in the first place. I’d been with him since I met him with no reason to call him on the phone. More banging and then that voice again.

I tucked the note into the toilet paper on the existing roll–thank god there was some–and hoped the next woman who used the facilities saw it and took it to heart. Then I hurried to unlock the door. A frowning gray haired woman stood there tapping her foot. “Your fiancé is rude,” she said. “I’m sorry. Make sure you check for toilet paper,” I said softly and Damien stared at me. She humphed and hurried in. “What the fuck was that about? Check for toilet paper?” “Women’s rooms always have like…three squares,” I said and rolled my eyes. Hoping he believed me. Hoping he didn’t check. Hoping the grumpy old lady didn’t wipe her ass with my note for help. ****

“Talk to me,” Lucas said when the phone rang. “We got a hold of the provider. They said the GPS indicated on the Beltway headed this way. He’s not very bright, Bro.” “Her ex boyfriend?” “Yeah, sadly he seems like he’d be an okay guy normally. A bit dull and not too quick on the uptake. But he was pissed, that irrational kind of pissed that good quiet guys get when they’ve suffered one too many indignities.” Lucas grunted, zipped around a yellow Jeep and kept his foot heavy on the pedal. “Like Billy Kent in the eleventh grade,” Matthew said softly. “Enough of that. Just tell me why you keep saying he’s not too bright.” “Because I don’t think the son of a bitch would think to run off with her. I really think he’s—” “Taking her home. Where I got the truck.” “Yep. Bingo.” “Okay, I’m headed that way and—” “Hold on. Don’t go.” He heard Matty click over and then he was back. “He’s headed home. That was Marcus. An old woman n a service station bathroom found a note for help in the toilet paper dispenser. Right license plate. Right description for September. Lady said she looked sick as a dog.”

“Because she is. And I’m afraid that asshole is going to think it’s all part of some elaborate game. He said that when he called that day. Aren’t you the guy she hired to take her? So what if he thinks his part of the game is to take her back?” “I’ll head that way. I’ll be ten minutes.” “I’ll be twelve. Maybe,” Lucas said. “What about the cops?” “You know them. They have to check it out first. Especially since Marcus said the guy has no record. They won’t dick around too long, but they have to at least talk to the folks at the station.” “Right. Let’s go then.” Lucas didn’t wait for a response. He hung up and blew out a breath. Then he beat his fist on the steering wheel until his arm throbbed. Billy Kent had been a kid in Matthew’s junior class. It was Lucas’s first year out of high school and their dad was dead. He was legal guardian of his brother and working a part time job repoing cars. Billy Kent had suffered one too many practical jokes and half-assed beatings. Too many small indignities that had ended up shortening his fuse to the point of no return. He’d brought his father’s service pistol to school and killed four classmates and one teacher who had always defended his attackers before he turned the gun on himself. Everyone always said what a nice guy he was. Such a nice boy, not too bright. A good egg. Until the end, that was. ****

I actually dozed. I’m not sure how, the fever won over the nerves. When Damien pulled into his driveway, the wheels scattering gravel up into the car’s undercarriage woke me. It sounded like someone tossing pebbles at a glass window. “Lucy we’re ho-ome,” he said. His whole demeanor creeped me out. Damien had always been a bit of a prima donna and a pain in the ass. Now he seemed like someone who was one step away from doing something stupid. “You need to let me go, Damien. Just let me call someone. A cab, even.” I could take a cab to Lucas’s house. I knew where it was. I’d wait there or I’d hit redial or I’d find Matthew. He might even be at his brother's. “No, no, sweetheart. You drove me crazy with this shit. Abduct me, spank me, take me, make it rough. Against my will. Non-consent! Almost, almost, almost.” He got out and yanked me from the car before I could even try to scramble to run. “I always almost had it right. And I tried. I tried, really, really fucking hard for you.”

“I know,” I said, stumbling on the gravel and the dirt to keep up with his hurried, angry steps. “I’m sorry. You’re right, Damien.” You have been dominating him. By telling him to do it. By giving him a schedule. I heard Lucas in my head. I had never wished more to see a person than I wished to see Lucas Crow at that moment in time. “Damn fucking straight it’s your fault. You had me convinced that I couldn’t do anything right. That I was a failure. Couldn’t make Ember happy. Couldn’t give her what she wanted. Then she gets abducted. I think you set it up. You didn’t. And you’re gone! Poof! Some big goof telling me you’re his now. Like I’m a shoe that can be tossed away. Or you’re a toy that can be stolen. What the fuck?” “I’m sorry. I thought you’d abandoned me. Left me for dead. I thought you didn’t care and then I…” I bit my lip realizing I should stop. I shouldn’t say the rest. But I’d said too much. Damien literally shoved me up the wooden steps the back porch. Once upon a time, he’d done that to get me off. And I had gotten excited by it. Now I just started to cry, realizing that he had gone a little bit crazy. And that he was scaring me. “And you fell for some asshole who took my truck and my woman and then treated me like I was less than. Do you know how many times I called this phone and got your voice mail? Do you know how many times I tried to call you?” He threw the phone and it hit the wall with a thud. The back popped out and the guts flew free and he crushed it under his boot, grinning at me as I heard the pieces tick and pop under his destructive foot. “But now here you are. And I want to show you how much I’ve learned.” He grabbed me by the front of my thermal and shook me. The world went haywire. Up and down and side to side. The whole of my existence felt like it was n a snow globe being agitated by an angry giant. “Damien, please. Please. I’m sorry. You deserve better. I was confused. I was trying to figure stuff out about myself.” He smacked me, hard enough to rock my head back and my vision wiggled like a bad TV picture. “This is not a talk show for fuck’s sake! I don’t care anymore, Ember. I don’t care. But I was a good study and we’re going to see how good.” “Please!” I shouted, my lips had gone numb and I was sweating. “I was trying to figure me out, Damien and you got sucked it. It was unfair! It was cruel! I am so, so sorry, please don’t hurt me. Please don’t. Don’t do anything rash,” I said. “Don’t.” “You’ve gotten better at your pleas, Em,” he said and I stared at his eyes. I couldn’t tell if he believed I was play acting or not. His fingers plucked at my waist band and I went limp like a doll and hung my head, moaned. Plan B.

His fingers pushed down past the barrier of the elastic. I didn’t have panties on. Damien’s fingers stroked over the skin of my hips and I moaned again. Really not having to work to sound miserable. “Damien,” I said with warning in my voice. “What?” Now he sounded annoyed. “I’m going to be sick,” I said. “No you’re not, baby. You’re going to get fucked good and hard. Just the way you like. Don’t you worry, daddy got you back from that man and now I’m going to show you how well I took notes.” I moaned again, swaying a little. The sway was more pronounced than intended because I was so sick and so exhausted and now so upset my legs felt like they were going to buckle. I clutched at him and made another low pitched sound. “You are not going to be sick, September,” he said. But he pulled his hand free of my sweat. See, Damien is vomit phobic. If anything would make him back up, the promise of a mess was it. I forced myself to gag, just a bit, just for show but not obviously dramatic. Despite feeling like the walking dead at the moment, the one thing I was not was nauseous. I had to fake it. Damien took one step back, just out of the path of anything that might come out of me. “I’m going to be sick, Dae.” He hit me. That’s when I knew he had snapped. Some part of Damien that had been in tact before was now damaged. My ears began to ring and my stomach really did roll over and I felt like I was falling. My knees unhinged and I went down on one knee. He stood over me, watching, anger burning bright spots on his face and neck. “You really do fuck everything up now don’t you? First you get taken, then you stay taken, now you’re going to be sick while I’m trying to play with you.” I nodded, feeling some relief way down deep inside of me. I was trying to calculate in my head how long I’d been gone. I tried to speculate if Lucas even knew I was gone yet. I tried to figure out what kind of damage I was going to suffer thanks to the fever and the virus and now the blows to the head. I felt like I was being punched with a boxing glove full of rocks instead of suffering a few open handed smacks from the world's worst boyfriend. “Damien,” I said, now pleading with that one word. The other knee dropped and I kneeled there. He grinned down at me. Something occurred to him and that smile made my fingers tremble. “At least you can do something while you’re down there. You’re not looking so green.” My brain made the connection. Me on my knees. Me his captive. Me burning up. Me a hot orifice that he could stick his dick in. It was just the cruel juvenile thing that would occur to him.

He laughed and I hung my head, trying so hard to think. All I could think was if he was going to bare his cock, I was gonna take advantage. I had teeth and I had fingernails and he’d be putting his most vulnerable spot right in my face, literally. I steeled myself as he undid his button and his zipper. Damien reached in his pants and when he opened his mouth the wrong voice came out. Lucas’s voice said “Pull that out and lose it for good, my friend.” Somewhere in the distance I heard sirens.

Chapter 30

I opened my eyes, closed them. Opened them, closed them again. In my head were flashes of motion and remembrance. Matthew bursting through the front door a wild look in his eyes. The two brothers dealing with Damien and using restraint with their tempers, though I didn't know how. “Didn’t beat him,” I said. I felt myself list to the left. I was in motion. Or I felt like it. “No. Sadly, we didn’t beat him. Okay, so we each hit him once, but we didn't beat him. But we wanted to.” I opened my eyes and saw Lucas’s dark brown eyes studying me. Trees and fields and snow whizzed by. I shut my eyes again, knowing I was safe made it okay to give into the crushing fatigue. There had been cops. The infamous Marcus I had heard about. And cuffs. Damien spewing threats and Lucas talking softly, reminding Damien that he had been the one to leave me to my own devices when he found out I had not hired an abductor. A coldly calm reminder to Damien that if he spilled all, we would too. Matthew suggesting that if he went in and calmed down maybe they’d take it easy on him. Maybe I’d take it easy on him. During all the commotion I sat on the floor Indian style, by body throbbing like a rotten tooth. My fever so high my eyes felt like they were burning. Then there was an EMT and cold drinks, medicine and me refusing to go to the hospital. “Regular old flu,” the EMT had said. “Probably swooped in when she was stressed. Weakens the immune system, you know.” “Take me home,” I’d told Lucas. “Wherever that is for now.” And then I’d put my head to his broad chest and sleep came. I didn’t so much as drift off as drop like a rock. And here we were. “You in there, girly?” “Mmph,” was the best I could give him. But I got my tongue untangled and said “Where are we going?” “Back to the cabin. We’re going to ride this out and get you better. Then when things calm down you’re coming home with me.” “While I figure this out?”

“While you decide if you want to stay there for good. I’m ready. No more bullshit. Not to say I’m not going to tie you up and boss you around and fuck you blue whenever I want,” he chuckled. “But it will be our room. Our place. Our home. You sideswiped me, Ember. Hijacked me. I’m in love. I love you.” He kept his eyes to the road, jaw tight like he was afraid that I’d reject his love. “My fever must be really high,” I sighed. ‘I just heard you say you love me.” Lucas turned, his eyes so dark they were nearly black. He put his hand on my thigh and rubbed my leg so that it tingled. A bright spot of feeling in a heavy numb body. “I do love you. I love you more than I can comprehend. And I love you more than is currently comfortable for the likes of me. But there it is anyway, so I might as well have the strength I’m always waxing poetic about and face it.” My eyes slipped shut and I struggled. “But Daisy hates me,” I said irrationally, but he laughed. Long and loud and it was a good sound in the cab of his truck. “She’ll adjust. I’m telling you, you just need to give her more treats.” “There are not enough treats in the world,” I sighed. “I’m going to sleep now,” I said. “I surrender.” “Good. Sleep is what you need to get back on your feet. Sleep and we’ll get you all tucked in and safe and don’t be surprised if I just sit and stare at you until this passes.” “By back on your feet you mean in shape for sex,” I snorted. “I do not.” There was a pause and I was almost out when he chuckled. “Okay. Mostly not. Maybe a little.” I smiled and that was the last I could remember until he was tucking a quilt around me on the sofa and the pleasant peaceful sounds of him moving around in the kitchen filled my ears. ****

Six days I slept. I slept and Lucas fed me. He watched movies, chopped wood, built fires and helicopter around me like a possessive handsome maniac. The day I knew I was better, he helped me to the shower to get clean. “I feel like yuck and death,” I said. “But you look fabulous,” he joked. He turned the shower to scorching the way I liked it and helped me out of his old oversized sweatshirt that I had now officially claimed as mine. Then he pushed down my pajama bottoms and helped me step out. I’d lost weight and my ribs peeked out along my torso, little rails of bone that reminded me how hungry I was. My stomach growled.

“I’m starving,” I said. “Good sign,” he said. Let’s get you in and out and then I’ll make you whatever you want. “Grilled cheese and tomato soup.” “Done.” “Brownies!” “Done.” He grinned at me and held my hand like I was a debutante as I climbed into the spray. I had been so weak he was afraid I’d fall. I dropped my head back under the falling water and when he went to pull the curtain shut a whole new kind of hunger overtook me. “Lucas?” “Yeah, babe.” “Come in here with me.” He peeked in, his face set resolutely. His jaw line bunched with muscle, his dark eyes hooded. He was warring with his own lust and that made him even more desirable to me in that moment. I had seen that Lucas could make me succumb to his will but he could also make me feel priceless and loved and cherished. No one had ever taken care of me the way he had since I got sick. “You dizzy?” he asked. I grinned. “Yes, I am dizzy. I am dizzy and I am hungry and I am so weak I feel like I’m made of wet tissue paper. But there’s one thing I am more than all of that.” “What?” His eyes narrowed and he stared at me hard. Then his gaze broke free of his will and it skittered down my neck, over my breasts, lingered on my belly button and then my mound. I remembered that first day him watching me silently, like some predator, in his shower. A shiver of want worked through me. The fever trembles had passed, this was nothing more than arousal. “I’m horny,” I whispered and grabbed the front of his tee and yanked. I caught him off guard and he stepped forward to keep himself balanced. One leg going into the shower, his jeans darkening with wetness as I tugged and yanked at his belt, his button. He took pity and helped me with his unforgiving jeans. Finally, he dropped his head and kissed me. It was the hungriest kiss I’d ever experienced. When he pinned me to the cool wet tile I gasped, taking his tongue in my mouth, kissing him back, warning all the way through with the feel of his big hands on my waist, exploring my slick skin. He dipped his head and bit my throat, hard enough that a tiny spasm of pleasure sounded in my cunt. “God, I missed the feel of you. God, I was worried. You were really sick, September.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” “Christ, don’t be sorry,” he said, dipped his head, sucked my nipple tight between his lips so that all of me broke out in goose bumps despite the steaming shower. “But I missed you. I missed being with you and being in you. Fuck I missed being in you.” “Then fix it,” I said, wrapping one leg around his hard waist, yanking as much as my meager strength would allow. “Be in me.” With my leg up, my pussy pressed to the jut of his hard-on. He growled against my cheek, his lips moving restlessly as he tried to kiss me everywhere at once. He pinned my arms high above my head with one broad palm and slipped the head of his cock along the wet split of me. A nudge, a thrust, a sigh and he was seated deep and my body caught up his cock and tugged. Lucas groaned and I came. Three slow thrusts and I was coming, my lips working but no sound coming out of me as the pleasure pulled me under. “That was easy,” he said. I felt him smile against my throat. “I am easy,” I said. “I missed you. I missed you in me.” His hand gripped my wrists harder still and he bit my nipple hard enough to make my cunt grow tight again. “I can fix that. Right now. After I feed you. After we make brownies. While we’re eating brownies, before bed,” he was joking but his voice was getting huskier and huskier as he fucked me. I opened my mouth and it filled with water and then his kiss. For just a moment I couldn’t breathe and then it he broke the kiss and the water fell free and I said, “Learning to drown. You told me that. Being with you would be that way. I think I’ve learned.” Lucas’s free hand pinned my hip to the wall and he drove into me. He watched his cock going in and out of my body, his dark eyes darker than I’d ever seen them. “I love you, Lucas,” I said. Realizing that I hadn’t told him so yet. Not lucid. Not since that first mistaken slip. “Aw, Christ,” he said and his hips drove forward. “I think we’ve both learned to drown,” he said in my ear, his face pressed to mine, his lips touching my earlobe. “You certainly taught me something about losing myself. About surrender.” Another orgasm rolled through me and I tipped my head back, feeling the echoes of pleasure all through my body. He pressed his teeth to my throat and came too. We stayed there until the water ran cold and I started to shiver again. “Matty called while you were sawing logs,” he said, drying my back with a big soft towel. “Oh yeah? Everything okay with the repo stuff?”

“Fine, fine. He’s done three jobs and no one’s had to wait. Which is good. Don’t want to ruin the old reputation.” Lucas smacked my ass gently. Way more gently than he ever had before. He was just being nice, I knew there were much more staggering smacks in my future. And that turned me on. “Then what?” “He met a girl.” “He met a girl,” I echoed, waggling my eyebrows. “Yep. Get this, her name is June.” I snorted. “It’s a calendar theme. So he likes her?” “I really think he does. And it’s good. He’s moving toward his own stuff. I have you. We need this.” “Agreed,” I said. “And they all lived happily ever after,” I said. My stomach roared and I winced. “Food,” I said a moment later as he combed through my wet hair. “And then more of that.” He nodded toward the shower where we'd just coupled and grinned. He tucked my wet hair behind my ear, kissed me on the lips. “And then more of that,” I agreed. I totally, totally agreed.

The End

ABOUT SOMMER MARSDEN

Sommer Marsden’s work has appeared in dozens anthologies and on numerous websites. Some of her favorite books include I is for Indecent, J is for Jealousy, L is for Leather,Spank Me, Tie Me Up, Whip Me, Ultimate Lesbian Erotica ‘08, Love at First Sting,Open for Business, Tasting Her, Hurts So Good and Yes, Sir. She is also writes The Seekers novellas for Eternal Press and is the author of The Anniversary Party for Whiskey Creek Press Torrid. She lives in Maryland and keeps her alter ego to herself. Not really. She had a big mouth and knows how to use it. She has many addictions and has no intentions of getting help for any of them. They currently include red wine, writing smut, long walks, the downward dog position, emails, blog hopping, and biscotti. You can reach her at [email protected] or visit her at sommermarsden.blogspot.com to keep up with her dirty ramblings.

If you enjoyed LEARNING TO DROWN, you might also enjoy:

MAN IN THE MIDDLE By Sommer Marsden A two story collection of hot couples who decide to make things even hotter by putting a man in the middle. In Some Things, a friend of Joe's stirs the pot and puts Zoe in a corner. "There are some things you simply don’t ask for. I know that. And I had done a damn fine job of keeping this particular thought-wish-dream to myself. Until that jackass, Drake, undid it all." Zoe ends up confessing a long-held fantasy of seeing her husband with another man while he's with her. What Zoe is not expecting after spilling the beans is that Joe will do whatever he can to make sure she gets what she wants. In Hidey Hole, a drawer riddled piece of furniture shows Jill a glimpse of Peter's past in a note. Now that we’re moving, I want you to know that you mean so much to me. And when I’m lonely or sad, I will always think of us together. How you smelled, how you touched me, what you tasted like...

Jill pieces together her husband's adolescent experimentation and wonders (aloud) if he might just do it again. But this time for her. Lucky for Jill, Peter's all about pleasing his wife. Warnings: This title contains graphic sex and language, m/m sex, anal sex, and multiple partners.

EXCERPT: From Some Things: “So what is it?” He didn’t look directly a t me but instead at his five o’clock shadow in the mirror. He stroked his jaw as if considering shaving. We both knew damn well he wouldn’t. He never shaved on the weekends. “What’s what?” I pulled the toilet paper roll so viciously I ended up with enough toilet paper for a baby elephant. “The fantasy you’re keeping from me.” More mirror examining as I wiped and flushed. “I’m not—” “How long have we been married?” he asked, confusing me for an instant. I sighed. “Thirteen years.” “How often do we lie to each other?” “Pretty much never.” I tried to scoot by him, but the bathroom was so damned small, he took a step back and nearly pinned me against the tub. “So why are you lying now? What’s so horrible about this fantasy that you can’t or won’t tell me?” “There is no fantasy!” I growled and felt my fists ball up on their own. As if on cue, I had a vivid mental flash of what I imagine almost every time we make love. I gritted my teeth and willed it away. “Yeah. Well, your face says you’re lying. Your voice says you’re lying. And you look guilty as all get out.” “Why is this so important?” I hissed. Tears. I could feel them coming like an impending storm. And goddamn I hated to cry. My throat was squeezing shut, and my eyes were prickling. I felt panicky. “Because I love you.” From Hidey Hole:

There was a nightstand that matched the demo dresser Peter had been showcasing. It was in this beautifully carved piece of his past that I found the letter. I pressed the drawer liner to see if this one also had a false bottom. Who knew, maybe I would find a vintage skin mag or an ancient desiccated bud of pot. Instead, I found dried up glue holding down the delicate paisley patterned liner. I was all ready to move on when a square of white-lined paper flashed in my peripheral vision. I pulled the liner a bit more and tugged the triangle of yellowed paper. “Man, someone really wedged it back there,” I said to the dog. He was lying on my feet, bored and snoozing the way dogs do. Simon raised his eyes, sniffed, went back to sleep. “Try not to get too excited,” I said to him. This time he didn’t even open his eyes. I unfolded the paper, standard college-ruled filler paper, and saw the heading Dearest Peter. I folded it back. “I shouldn’t read this Simon. I think it’s a love note.” Simon snorted like a pig, but beyond that he barely registered my addressing him. I sighed, curiosity getting the better of me. I unfolded the paper fast, the way you would take off a band-aid, and continued reading. The opening was mundane enough. Flirtatious and sweet and flattering. Someone who was clearly just star-struck by Peter back in the day. The date in the upper right hand corner would have put my husband at a week shy of eighteen. “Oh, Simon, I really, really should put this down,” I said. But I kept reading. And Simon didn’t say a word. He didn’t even raise his head or thump his tail on the hardwood floor. This summer with you has been the best of my life. Now that we’re moving, I want you to know that you mean so much to me. And when I’m lonely or sad, I will always think of us together. How you smelled, how you touched me, what you tasted like...

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