PART I – Darkness
The near future…
“Hold still or I’ll cut your throat.” Carl dipped the sharp-toothed comb he had been using to comb out the wench’s matted wet hair dangerously close to the soft flesh of her throat.
The heat from the growl singed the tip of Shay’s ear. Piercing gray eyes with murderous intent looked down at her. The fierceness swirling within the depths of those stormy pools matched the ferociousness of the sharp yank her hair had just received. The force was so brutal that it pulled Shay’s head in a painfully awkward angle and left a tight pinch in her neck. Shay froze, but her pulse continued to hammer against her eardrums. For a terrifying moment, she thought he would do it. Sizzling adrenaline flooded her veins, while she decided her next words. Be bold? Or be smart? Judging by how her tormentor was ordered to bathe her in clean water then clothe her in fresh linens, she was sure that her mysterious host would be displeased if she were returned to him battered and bloodied, or even dead. With this in mind, she turned down the dark path of testing the gaunt man’s patience.
“Try it,” Shay said.
She narrowed her eyes up at him over her shoulder. The icy and defiant stare dared him to act on his threat.
He matched her glare then fisted a palmful of her hair in a tight grip.
The man’s handsome face, almost feminine in its appearance and aged no more than thirty years, leaned in close. His delicate-looking lips quivered with anger. Before the ragged curse hanging at the tip of his tongue could break free, a familiar voice sounded from the entryway.
Every muscle in both Carl’s and Shay’s bodies tensed. Though they were enemies, they shared the sensation as one. A quiver slid through Shay and passed to Carl then doubled back to quake the woman he held captive on the lounging chair. The velvety tenor they heard was laced with a curious mixture of seduction and menace, neither of which could be taken lightly.
One glance at the barely restrained rage peering at him from Ethan’s cold blue eyes then Carl quickly understood the reason for the glare. He had been caught in an act of defiance. Even after being given strict orders to treat the little wretch with care, he still had not been able to control the jealousy brewing in the pit of his stomach. After all, why was this one so special? Although the stench of this filthy city had been washed from her, she was barely anything to behold. He could offer no denial of his obvious rage, because one of his hands remained balled up in Shay’s thick hair.
Ethan’s solid frame took up most of the arced doorway. Death itself hovered so very close by, yet Shay couldn’t tear her eyes away from his form. She scanned the full length of him without discretion. Tall with a slim and muscled build, he had pale skin that almost shimmered with vitality, even under the gloomy lighting of the dressing room she was held hostage within. Although he had been shirtless when she first encountered him, he was wearing a sleeveless tee now, crisp and white that had a V-neck which plunged down to reveal the sharp outline of what would be two perfectly formed pectoral muscles. The man with the piercing azure gaze leaned against the door frame with his arms folded against that hard chest, but Shay’s memory had not forgotten how the powerful and greedy grip within those hands had held her pinned to him, refusing to give her even a slip of space for breathing. Why did her breasts now ache to feel the tingle of his cool flesh against them again, even though she had once nearly clawed to escape his hold?
The answer to his bewitching effect upon her would have to wait. His servant’s stuttering words cut her thoughts back to the tense scene still playing out around Shay.
“Sir…I…she.” Carl tried in vain to stammer out his excuse, but the words simply would not hold together.
“Leave.” When he responded, though Ethan kept his tone level, his response was not a request, it was a command.
Without uttering another sound, Carl heeded to his master’s demand. Ethan’s brutality was the source of his stomach-quivering beauty, but Carl would never want it unleashed in his direction. Bitterness and hate filled Carl’s final glare at the peasant. Then he unfurled his fist from the female’s long spiral curls, finally releasing her neck from the painful arch he had intended.
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