- The Darkest Surrender
His hair had been wet and plastered to his temples, darkening the strands. He’d had a white towel wrapped around his neck and no shirt to hide a stomach that boasted rope after rope of bronze strength. She’d watched, fascinated, as little droplets of sweat had traveled his golden happy trail before disappearing into paradise. A paradise she’d wanted to visit. With her tongue.
His shorts had hung low on his waist, revealing the jagged edges of the sapphire butterfly tattoo on his right hip. The moisture in her mouth had dried. Clearly, he’d just come from a workout. A very intense workout. Breath had still sawed in and out of his lips. Lips, she had realized, that promised untold pleasure when they curled in sinful amusement.
“Nice outfit,” he’d said, navy gaze blazing a slow journey from the top of her rumpled head to the purple polish on her toenails, lingering on her pearled nipples and between her quivering thighs.
“All’s I could find,” she’d replied in an uncertain voice, thinking this might turn out to be the immortal version of a walk of shame. How can I fix this?
“Lucky robe, then. It’d look better without the belt, though.”
Okay, maybe I don’t have to fix anything. For the first time in their acquaintance, desire had layered his tone. That desire affected her far more strongly than the once-over had. “Yeah?”
“Oh, yeah. So, you looking for someone in particular?”
“That depends.” Sultry arousal sweeping through her, she stepped closer to him. “What does someone have in mind?”
Behind her, hinges squeaked as a door opened. “Kaia?” Paris suddenly said, and she turned, her stomach rolling. He tossed a pair of fluffy pink slippers at her. “You forgot these. I’d keep ’em, but they aren’t my size.”
“Oh.” They plopped to the floor right in front of her. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Strider. Hey, man,” Paris called.
“Hey,” he replied tightly. “Interesting night?”
“None of your business.”
As Paris disappeared inside his room, Kaia wheeled back around. Now Strider’s expression was guarded, closed off.
“Interesting night?” he asked, directing the question at her this time.
She gulped. “Not really. Nothing happened. This time,” she forced herself to add. If he did anything with her tonight, and found out the truth about Paris later, he’d hate her. So, full disclosure. Except—
“See ya around, Kaia.” Strider skirted around her, wandering off rather than teasing her about what she’d done. Or asking her what had really happened. Or caring on any level.
Clearly, nothing would have come of her sudden attraction to him even if Paris hadn’t interrupted.
“—some goddamn attention to me!” Strider was snarling now. “Not that I want it, you understand. You’re pissing off my demon.”
Pissing off his demon? She wanted to seduce his demon. Right? Or had she written the two off as she’d told Bianka?
She blinked, focusing, and studied him anew. His fury had very nearly sharpened his features into deadly blades, and her knees did buckle. So damn magnificent. A savage, a brute. Paris caught her before she hit the pavement and held her up.
Oh, gods. Weakness? Here? Now? Her cheeks flamed with embarrassment.
Strider took a menacing step toward her, then froze in place. “Paris, dude, let her go,” he snarled, and Paris immediately obeyed. Navy eyes snapped to her, more animal than man. “When did you last eat, Kaia?”
Thank the gods. He thought her weakness stemmed from a lack of nourishment, not the irresistible sight of him. She shrugged, happy she remained on her feet under her own steam. “Don’t know.”
As she had chosen not to steal or earn one of the bowls of slop given to the residents of Cell Block B, and as she’d been in the slammer for two days…well, she was starved.
Fine. She could have eaten. Bianka had come to the rescue, as always, eager to bust her out and feed her. She’d shooed her sister away with a stern warning—followed by a figurative bitch slap—not to return. Otherwise, Kaia would ensure the nickname Heavenly Hills Ho spread and stuck. Forever.
“Damn it, Kaia. You’re shaky on your feet and you can’t concentrate worth a damn.” His gaze shot to Paris. “Phone Lucien for pickup. I’ll meet you in Buda. I want to feed her, and then we can—”
Paris was shaking his head. “I’ll phone Lucien for pickup, but I’m not waiting for you in Buda. When you finish your business, if that’s what the kids are calling it these days, have Lucien or Lysander bring you to the heavens. Either one will know where I am.”
Strider gave a stiff nod.
Paris ruffled the top of Kaia’s head before striding off and disappearing around a corner, leaving her alone with the warrior of her dreams. Exactly what she’d furtively hoped and prayed for as she’d shoved Bianka out of the cell and locked herself back inside.
They stared at each other for a long while, neither moving, neither speaking. Tension spreading, thickening. His warrior nature had never been more evident. He stood with his arms at his sides, his hands inches away from the now-visible butt of his guns, and his legs braced apart, ready to spring into action. Against her? Or anyone who thought to hurt her?
Finally, she could stand the silence no longer. “You’re going to the heavens?”
He nodded, his skin like polished gold in the sunlight. The vibe of animal savagery left him, and he actually relaxed. She liked this side of him, too.
“Why?” What she really wanted to ask: How long will you be gone? Are you meeting a woman? An angel? His friend Aeron had fallen in love with a goody-goody with wings. Why not Strider, too?
I’ll kill the bitch.
“Sure you want to know?” he asked. “It involves Paris and another woman. A woman he wants.”
Relief bombarded her. “Sweet! Gossip.” Grinning, she rubbed her hands together. “Give me.”
He ran his tongue over his teeth. “I never repeat gossip, Kaia.”
“Oh,” she muttered, shoulders sagging with disappointment.
“You didn’t let me finish. I never repeat gossip, so listen closely.” He was fighting a smile, and the knowledge delighted her. “The woman Paris loves…hates, whatever. He wants her, like I said, and she’s being held prisoner up there.”
Sooo. Strider was going to war to aid his bro, not to give some wide-eyed, ripe-for-the-plucking winger a booty call. Her relief tripled. “I could, I don’t know, help you help him. I have connections up there—” not necessarily a lie “—and I—”
“No!” he shouted, then more calmly stated, “No. Thank you, though. But… Do you really not care that the man you desire now desires someone else?”
“Wait. Who says I desire him?”
His expression didn’t change, but he did clear his throat. “Not that it would have mattered either way, you understand. But as I was saying, he’s already spoken to Lysander about getting a little angelic help, and gotten a no-can-do.”
“Of course Lysander won’t help him. He’d help Bianka, though, and Bianka would help me.”
Stubborn brute. He was so desperate to get rid of her, he wouldn’t even consider using her. Another rejection; how quaint.
Motions stiff, he waved her over. “Come on. Let’s take care of your hunger.”
All I want is a few nibbles of you. “Don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself.”
“I know, but I’ll stay until you’re fed. I want to make sure you aren’t arrested again.”
Her Harpy squawked inside her head, a command to prove to Strider just how capable she was, just how worthy. Are you? “Fine. Oh, and here’s a truth missile for the demon who always wants to win. I doubt you can keep up,” she taunted, more out of habit than anything.
He huffed out a breath, and she figured this was round two of pissed-off mode.
“Lead the way,” he snapped before she could apologize.
Okay, so maybe she shouldn’t have pushed so hard. My bad. “I will.” She didn’t take him hunting, though. Not yet. She took him to the cabin she and Bianka shared a good distance from civilization. Thankfully, her sister was nowhere to be found. “Feel free to look around. I need to shower and change.”
“Kaia,” he began, following her down the hall. “I’m kind of pressed for time here and because of what you said, I need to keep up with you and—”
She shut her bedroom door in his stunned face, heard him snarl low in his throat and grinned. The grin vanished as a thought occurred to her. There was plenty of stolen food in the kitchen. If he noticed, there’d be no good reason for her to take him hunting.
Have to risk it. I smell. Kaia hurried through a shower, grateful as the grime and total body makeup that had caked her washed away. She almost raced from her room after changing into a glittery pink T-shirt that read Strangers Have the Best Candy and short jean shorts, but caught a glimpse of herself in her full-length mirror. Outfit was fine, but not her hair. The red mass was sopping wet and practically glued to her head and arms, making her resemble a drowned clown.
Back to the bathroom she raced for a crucial blow-dry. She thought about applying another layer of makeup to her exposed skin, wanting Strider to want her for her, not any other reason, but discarded the idea. Let Strider see. Let Strider crave. Right now, she’d take him however she could get him. Later, they could work on their reasons why.
If she decided to give him another chance.
Finally, she raced from the bedroom. In record time, too. Just under twenty (forty) minutes.
A trail of fragrant steam followed her as she strode down the hall. No Strider in the living room, where she kept her life-size hula dancer lamp and the castle she’d built from empty beer cans. He must be looking around. She wondered what he thought of her place, her things, and tried to see the room through his eyes.