Chapter Twenty-six


When the bathroom door opened, Z looked over and kept his curse to himself. Bella was rosy from head to foot, her hair knotted up high on her head. She smelled like that fancy French soap Fritz insisted on buying. And that towel wrapped around her body just made him think how easy it would be to get her totally naked.

One pull. That was all he'd need.

"Wrath's agreed to be temporarily unreachable," he said. "Which is only a delay of forty-eight hours or so. Talk to your brother. See if you can bring him around. Otherwise Wrath has to respond, and he can't really say no, given your bloodline."

Bella hitched the towel up a little higher. "Okay... thank you. Thank you for making the effort."

He nodded and eyed the door, thinking it was back to plan A: running himself into the ground. Either that or having Phury go at him.

Except instead of leaving, he put his hands on his hips. "I am sorry for something."

"What? Oh... Why?"

"I'm sorry that you had to see what I did to that slayer." He lifted his hand, then dropped it, resisting the urge to rub his head raw. "When I said I won't apologize for it, I meant I never regret killing those bastards. But I didn't... I don't like you having those images in your head. I'd take them from you if I could. I'd take all of this from you... bear it all for you. I'm so... fucking sorry this happened to you, Bella. Yeah, I'm just sorry about the whole thing, including... me."

This was his good-bye to her, he realized. And he was running out of steam, so he hurried his last words.

"You're a female of worth." He hung his head. "And I know that you'll find..."

A mate, he finished to himself. Yeah, a female like her would most certainly find a mate. In fact, there was one in this very house who not only wanted her, but was right for her. Phury was just around the corner, as a matter of fact.

Z looked up, intending to beat feet out of the room¡ªand jerked back against the door.

Bella was right in front of him. As he caught her scent up close, his heart went jackrabbit on him, doing some kind of flutter thing that got him light-headed.

"Is it true you cleaned up my house?" she said.

Oh, man... The only answer he had to that was too revealing.

"Is it?"

"Yeah, I did that."

"I'm going to hug you now."

Z stiffened, but before he could get himself out of the way, her arms wrapped around his waist and her head came up against his bare chest.

He stood in her embrace without moving, without breathing, without returning it... All he could do was feel her body. She was a tall female, but he had a good six inches on her. And even though he was thin for a warrior, he carried at least seventy pounds more on his bones than she did. And still she overwhelmed him.

God, she smelled good.

She made a little noise, like a sigh, and burrowed into his body even more. Her breasts pressed against his torso, and as he looked down, the curve of her nape was too damn tempting. Then there was the it problem. That godforsaken thing was hardening, swelling, lengthening. Fast.

He put his hands up to her shoulders, hovering just above her skin. "Yeah, ah, Bella... I've got to go."

"Why?" Closer. She came closer. Her hips moved against his, and he gritted his teeth as their lower bodies made full contact.

Shit, she had to be feeling that thing between his legs. How could she miss it? The stiff was pushing into her belly, and it wasn't like the flipping shorts could hide the bastard.

"Why do you have to go?" she whispered, her breath brushing over his pecs.

"Because..."

When he let the word drift, she murmured, "You know, I like these."

"Like what?"

She touched one of his nipple rings. "These."

He coughed a little. "I, ah... I did them myself."

"They're beautiful on you." She stepped back and dropped the towel.

Z swayed. She was so damned beautiful, those breasts and that flat stomach and those hips... And that graceful little slit between her legs that he saw with shattering clarity. The few humans he'd been with had had hair there, but she was of his kind, so she was utterly bare, achingly smooth.

"I really have to go," he said hoarsely.

"Don't run."

"I have to. If I stay..."

"Lay with me," she said, easing up against him once more. She pulled the tie in her hair out, and dark waves spilled all over both of them.

He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, trying not to get buried by her scent. In a gritty voice, he said, "Do you just want to get fucked, Bella? Because that's all I've got in me."

"You have so much more¡ª"

"I do not."

"You've been kind to me. You've taken care of me. You've washed me and held me¡ª"

"You don't want me inside of you."

"You already are, Zsadist. Your blood is in me."

There was a long silence. "Do you know my reputation?"

She frowned. "That's not relevant¡ª"

"What do people say about me, Bella? Come on, I want to hear it from you. So I know you get it." Her despair was palpable as he pushed her, but he had to snap her out of whatever daze she was in. "I know you must have heard about me. Gossip reaches even your social level. What do they say?"

"Some... some think you kill females for sport. But I don't believe¡ª"

"Do you know how I got that rep?"

Bella covered her breasts and stepped back, shaking her head. He bent down and handed her the towel, then pointed to the skull in the corner.

"I murdered that female. Now tell me, do you want to be taken by a male who could do something like that? Who could hurt a female like that? You want that kind of bastard on top of you, pumping into your body?"

"It was her," Bella whispered. "You went back and killed your mistress, didn't you?"

Z shuddered. "For a while I thought it could make me whole."

"It didn't."

"No shit." He brushed by her and walked around, pressure building in him until he opened his mouth and the words just shot out. "A couple of years after I got out, I heard she... shit, I heard she had another male in that cell. I... I traveled for two days straight and snuck in close to dawn." Z shook his head. He didn't want to talk, he really didn't, but his mouth just kept moving. "Christ... he was so young, so young, just like I was when she got me. And I didn't have any intention of killing her, but she came down right as I was leaving with the slave. When I looked at her... I knew if I didn't strike, she was going to call for her guards. I also knew that eventually she would take another male and chain him down there and make him... Ah, fuck. Why the hell am I telling you this?"

"I love you."

Z squeezed his eyes shut. "Don't be a tragedy, Bella."

He left the room in a rush, but couldn't go more than fifteen feet down the hall.

She loved him. She loved him?

Bullshit. She thought she loved him. And as soon as she got back to the real world, she was going to realize that. Christ, she'd come out of a horrific situation and was living in a bubble here at the compound. None of this was her life, and she was spending too much time with him.

And yet... God, he wanted to be with her. Wanted to lie side by side and kiss her. Wanted to do even more than that. Wanted... to do it all to her, the kissing and the touching and the sucking and the licking. But where exactly did he think all that was going to lead to? Even if he could get past the idea of penetrating her for the sex, he didn't want to risk coming inside of her.

Not that he'd ever done that with any female. Hell, he'd never ejaculated under any circumstances. When he'd been a blood slave, it wasn't as if he'd ever been sexually excited. And afterward, when he was with those few whores he'd bought and fucked, he hadn't been after an orgasm. Those anonymous interludes were just experiments to see whether sex was as bad as it always had been for him.

As for masturbating, he couldn't stand touching the damn thing to take a piss, much less when it stood up for attention. And he'd never wanted to relieve himself, never been all that aroused, even when the it was hard.

Man, he was so whacked with the sex shit. Like there was a short in his brain.

Actually, he had a lot of them, didn't he?

He thought about all the holes in him, the blank places, the voids where others felt things. When it came down to it, he was really just a screen, more empty than solid, his emotions blowing through him, only the anger catching and holding.

Except that wasn't entirely true, was it? Bella made him feel things. When she had kissed him on the bed before, she had made him feel... hot and hungry. Very male. Sexual, for the first time in his life.

From out of a sharp desperation, some echo of what he'd been before the Mistress had had him started looking for air-time. He found himself wanting again that feeling he'd gotten from kissing Bella. And he wanted to crank her up, too. He wanted her gasping and breathless and starved.

It wasn't fair to her... but he was a son of a bitch, and he was greedy for what she'd given him before. And she would be leaving soon. He had this one day now.

Zsadist opened the door and went back inside.

Bella was lying in the bed and obviously surprised he was back. As she sat up, the sight of her brought back a lick of decency. How the hell could he be with her? God, she was so... beautiful, and he was nasty, a nasty bastard.

His momentum lost, he stalled in the middle of the room. Prove you're not a bastard by bailing, he thought. But explain yourself first.

"I want to be with you, Bella, and not to fuck you, either." As she started to say something, he silenced her by holding up his hand. "Please, just listen to me. I want to be with you, but I don't think I've got it in me to give you what you need. I'm not the right male for you, and this is definitely the wrong time."

He released his breath, thinking he was such an asshole. Here he was telling her no, playing the gentleman... while in his mind he was yanking back those sheets and replacing them with a blanket of his own skin.

The thing hanging from the front of his hips pounded like a jackhammer.

What would she taste like, he wondered, in that soft, sweet place between her legs?

"Come over here, Zsadist." She opened the covers, baring herself to him. "Stop thinking. Come to bed."

"I..." Words he'd never spoken to anyone hovered on his lips, a confession of sorts, a treacherous unveiling. He looked away and let them go for no good reason he could think of. "Bella, when I was a slave things were... ah, things were done to me. Sexual shit." He should stop. Right now. "There were males, Bella. Against my will, there were males."

He heard a little gasping sound.

This was good, he thought, even as he cringed. Maybe he could get her to save herself by revolting her. Because what female could stand being with a male who'd had that kind of thing done to him? Not the heroic ideal. Not by a long shot.

He cleared his throat and stared a hole right through the floor. "Look, I'm not... I don't want your pity. The reason I'm telling you this is not to sap you out. It's just... I'm scrambled. It's like my wires are all crossed when it comes to the whole... you know, the fucking thing. I want you, but it's not right. You shouldn't be with me. You're cleaner than that."

There was a long silence. Ah, shit... He had to look at her. The moment he did, she rose from the bed as if she'd been waiting for him to lift his eyes. She walked to him naked, nothing on her skin except the candlelight from the single wick that burned.

"Kiss me," she whispered in the dimness. "Just kiss me."

"God... what is wrong with you?" As she winced, he said, "I mean, why? Of all the males you could have, why me?"

"I want you." She put her hand on his chest. "It's a natural, normal response to the opposite sex, isn't it?"

"I'm not normal."

"I know. But you're not dirty or contaminated or unworthy." She took his shaking hands and placed them on her shoulders.

Her skin was so fine, the idea of marring it in any way froze him. So did the image of him pushing the it into her. Except he didn't have to involve the lower half of his body, did he? This could be all about her.

Oh, yeah, he thought. This could be for her.

He turned her around and drew her back against his body. With slow sweeps he ran his hands up and down the curves of her waist and hips. When she arched her spine and sighed, he could see the tips of her breasts over her shoulder. He wanted to touch her there... and realized he could. He moved his hands over her rib cage, feeling up the pattern of delicate bones until his palms enveloped her breasts. Her head kicked back farther and her mouth parted.

As she opened for him like that, he had a screaming instinct to get inside of her any way he could. On reflex, he licked his upper lip while he rolled one of her nipples between his thumb and forefinger. He imagined himself thrusting his tongue into her mouth, going in between her teeth and fangs, taking her in that way.

Like she knew what he was thinking, she tried to turn and face him, but it seemed too close somehow... too real that she was giving herself to him, that she was going to let someone like him do intimate, erotic things to her body. He stopped her by grabbing her hips and pulling her hard into his thighs. He ground his teeth at the feel of her ass against that stiff thing straining his shorts.

"Zsadist... let me kiss you." She tried to turn around again and he stopped her.

As she struggled in his hold, he kept her in place easily. "It'll be better for you this way. If you can't see me, it'll be better."

"No, it won't."

He put his head down on her shoulder. "If I could just get Phury for you... I used to look like him once. You could pretend it's me."

She yanked her body free of his hands. "But it wouldn't be. And it's you I want."

As she looked at him with feminine expectation, he realized they were headed for the bed right behind her. And they were going to get down to it. But, God... he had no idea how to make her feel good. He might as well have been a virgin for all the shit he knew about pleasuring a female.

With that happy little revelation, he thought about the other male she'd had, that aristocrat who undoubtedly knew so much more about sex than he did. From out of nowhere, he was struck by a totally irrational urge to hunt down her previous lover and bleed him out.

Oh... hell. He closed his eyes. Oh... shit.

"What?" she asked.

This kind of violent, territorial impulse was characteristic of a bonded male. The hallmark of one, actually.

Z lifted his arm, put his nose to his bicep, and breathed in deep... The bonding scent was coming out of his skin. It was faint, probably only recognizable to him, but it was there.

Shit. Now what was he going to do?

Unfortunately, his instincts answered. As his body roared, he picked her up and headed for the bed.

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