Page 24

Author: Pepper Winters

He’d switched so quickly from worshipping kisser to crazed psychopath. There was no helping someone with such deep-rooted psychological issues. I should just turn around and forget about all of this.

Even as I thought it, I knew it wasn’t an option.

Clutching my bag closer, I took a few deep breaths, forcing the build-up of stress to filter away. Only once my fingers were steadier and I could move without jumping did I traverse the office and open the parallel door.

Looking left and right, I held my breath. The length of the corridor held no one—empty as a gravesite.

Once again, the sensation that my life was changing occurred. I’d felt it when I first locked eyes with Fox—the pull, the gravity between us. It tugged me in a direction I hadn’t known existed until him.

Fate had brought us together because we could help each other. I didn’t believe in fairy-tales, but I did believe in serendipitous encounters. Fox could help me with Clara. I could help him with his demons.

After I hurt him.

My mind swam with Clara. The crushing weight of missing her kept me glued to the carpet. I would never forgive myself if I failed her.

Swallowing hard, I tiptoed toward Fox’s bedroom. Pressing copious amounts of codes on the keypad, I finally figured out the right one. Turned out I hadn’t memorized it very well.

The lock clicked open, and the door handle turned easily in my hand. The moment I entered the room, there was no turning back. I would tell the truth. I would force him to listen. And I had no clue how he would react.

What are you doing, Zel?

I honestly couldn’t answer that question. I truly didn’t know. The risk of coming back to a man as unstable as Fox was suicidal. It wasn’t just the allure of money that brought me back. Yes, my heart never stopped bleeding at the thought of losing Clara, but something else drove me, too. Something, I didn’t like. Something, I couldn’t ignore.

Pushing the door open, I strode in, eyes zeroing in on the bed.


My heart raced as I moved forward. The black decorated room was vacant. Sun danced on bronze and iron, glittering off statues of wolves and faceless boys. All around me I felt the threat of pain held tight in the metal sculptures.

A shield hung on the wall to my left, glinting with symbols and careful etching. The markings summoned me, whispering of a story—maybe a key to Fox.

Every chisel line looked angry, too deep, too filled with violence. Three Russian words caught my attention, scratched with no finesse, looking angry and sinister.

Letting my bag fall off my shoulder with a soft thud, I reached with inquisitive fingers to trace the foreign letters. I wished I understood what they meant.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up; my heart galloped. There’d been no sound, no hint that anything dangerous had entered the room, but my senses knew.

I stepped back from the metal shield, looking toward the bathroom door.

Wide open, with a cloud of steam billowing behind him, Fox stood glaring at me.

My stomach twisted drinking in his tight posture, the dampness of his hair. He didn’t say a word—he didn’t need to. His gaze was so intense it pummelled me from across the room. So many questions, so many accusations lived in his snowy depths.

I thought I’d never see you again.

Our deal is broken.



I don’t want you here.

I tried to communicate just as silently, showing him just how pissed off I was, but that I understood, too.

You hurt me, but I came back.

You owe me for what you did.

I hate you, but I want to help you.

The silent conversation ended with Fox standing taller, drawing my eyes down his fully clothed body. His messy dark-bronze hair dripped moisture onto his shoulders, but his toned body was encased in a black sweater and black cotton trousers.

He dressed even thinking he was alone—why? I could understand physical shyness—even though he had no reason to be shy with his physique, but I couldn’t understand the need to hide whatever existed beneath his clothing.

I spoke before I consciously made the decision to communicate. “What happened to you?”

His jaw was swollen, and one eye had a large cut beneath it, all puffed and purple. Blood crusted his hairline and he kept an arm tight against his side, protecting either his organs or ribs.

I balled my hands, fighting the urge to nurse him as he shuffled from the doorway toward the bed. He never took his eyes off me.

The energy in the room sparked and fizzled with awareness. I’d never been so in-tune with someone before—regardless if I lusted for them or hated them.

I bit my lip as he hissed in discomfort, lowering himself from standing to sitting on the bed. Despite his obvious pain, there was something different about him.

Gone was the fine edge of…I didn’t know… power, hatred, poise maybe? He lacked the tense fierceness, the tightly reined control. Before, he looked like he could reap Armageddon, now he looked…relaxed. He looked tired.

The man before me was… content. A strange conclusion for someone bleeding and breathing shallowly, but his white-grey eyes weren’t haunted. They were clear and focused and angry.

My heart fluttered, drawn to the damaged, magnetised to the need in him. Seeing him vulnerable wilted away my anger.

Carefully, he swung his legs onto the bed and reclined against the black fluffy pillows. His eyes trailed over my body, taking their time, branding me.

The bruising in my core turned from aching to throbbing.

You came here to scream at him. Don’t fall into the trap of attraction.

Sucking in a determined breath, I stomped to the end of the bed and clutched the gnarly tree bed-end. The cold metal gave me something to focus on. I glowered. “You hurt me last night. I came back to tell you exactly what I thought of you—to inflict some pain in retribution, but I see karma works fast and someone beat me to it.”

His jaw worked, but he didn’t reply.

Fine, if that was how he wanted to play. “Want me to guess how you came to be bruised and beaten? You want to know the truth about me…well, I want to know the truth about you. If I had more sense I would never have come back, but lucky for you I care about someone more than myself, and I’m doing this for them. I’m earning the money for their future.”

“Well that just makes you fucking selfless then, doesn’t it?” Fox snarled. “I don’t want to hear about your reservations and regrets returning to me. If you feel that strongly just piss off.”

I rolled my eyes, my temper heating. “You think I would willingly come back for abuse? Don’t kid yourself. You practically raped me, and I should feel what exactly? I’ll tell you what I feel: lust for the money you promised. I made a mistake thinking I could enjoy my time with you. I wasn’t mentally prepared for you taking me because I’d hoped I would find satisfaction, but you taught me yet another lesson, and I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

Fanning my arms, I snapped, “I’m here. I’m here for your enjoyment, and I don’t expect anything in return but your cash. I guess I truly am a whore.”

His eyes flashed. “You’re not a fucking whore. And I get it—you want to hurt me by saying you no longer want me in any capacity but to pay you. Congratulations, I understand completely.”


“Fine!” His face twisted, bruising and redness on his cheek highlighting his scar. “At least this way we know exactly where we stand.”

I nodded. “Precisely.”

Fox’s eyes lost the flash of anger filling suddenly with tiredness. “Anything else you wish to scream at me before I pass out?” He looked defeated—smaller and vulnerable.

My heart thumped, diluting my anger with compassion. Running my finger along the top of the bed-end, I asked, “What happened to you? Where did you go last night?”

He scowled, shaking his head. “I went nowhere and nothing happened.” He winced a little as he shifted on the bed. “Oscar told me he dropped you off last night, but he refused to tell me your address.”

Relief siphoned through my blood. There was no way I wanted Fox knowing where I lived—not while Clara was there. “And he beat you up for asking?”

Fox laughed, holding his side. “As if.” His eyes narrowed. “I got someone else.”

My mouth plopped open. “You asked for that to happen to you?”

His lips twisted, refusing to answer. His eyes fell to the necklace he’d put on me last night. The silver disappeared down my cleavage, tickling my stomach whenever I breathed.

I sucked in a small breath as his eyes flashed to smouldering. Ignoring the burn in my belly, I pointed at the split in his lip. “Did you go searching for pain?”

His eyes flared and he winced. “Shut up.”

My heart thudded knowing I was on the right track. “I’m not going to shut up until I know the truth.” Pacing at the bottom of the bed, I added, “You’re bleeding. If you didn’t ask for this, then what happened? Did someone mug you?”

He sighed heavily. “Something like that.” His gaze latched onto mine. “You’re forgetting our deal. You agreed to answer my questions, not the other way around.” He flinched as a wave of pain went through his body. “It doesn’t matter anyway. You left. Our deal is void. Get out. I don’t want you here.”

I scowled. “I left because you hurt me. You promised me you wouldn’t. It wasn’t me who broke the rules—it was you.”

He snarled. “I got what I wanted. I fucked you, and I didn’t have to pay. You’re the one who walked out the door and left—you’re the one who decided I wasn’t worth two hundred thousand dollars to stick it out for a few weeks.” His hands balled on either side of his body. “Don’t you get it? I got what I wanted. I fucked you and now I’m over it, so do me a favour and leave. I don’t want you here.” He clipped every word, layering them with hostility.

My pissed off mood deflated. I should’ve been offended, annoyed, or jilted, but instead I just felt sad. Sad for him. Sad for his lies.

The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more my heart went out for him. He was like a rabid dog, snarling, frothing at the mouth, guaranteed to bite my hand off if I got too close, but in his feral eyes lurked a plea. Something that said: don’t give up on me even if I bite.

Narrowing my eyes, I snapped, “You’re rude, but it won’t work.”

“What won’t fucking work?”

I moved from my place at the foot of the bed, inching closer to him. He stiffened, glaring at my every step. I stopped at the side of the bed just out of touching distance. His body never unwound. If anything, his muscles bunched harder.

“You’re pushing me away because you’re a coward. You don’t want me to leave as I’m the only one strong enough to put up with your bullshit.”

His face went stark white. Eyes flashed with livid rage. “What did you just say to me?”

“You’re a coward. You hide behind violence. You dish it out. You invoke it to happen to you, but really, you’re lost and alone and you’re drowning.” My mind collided with so many things I wanted to say. “Something’s destroying you inside. You’re looking for a way out but you can’t find it. That’s why you surround yourself with fighters. It’s a world you know. The only world you can breathe in.”

His teeth ground together; his body vibrated. “Get. Out. Get out!”

Ignoring him, I rushed on. “I think you bribed me to stay, because I’m the only one you have ever felt any connection with. I think chemistry and attraction is completely new to you and instead of asking me out on a date, you stole my knife and kidnapped me. I don’t know what’s going on in that brain of yours, but I’m beginning to understand.”