|She pulled the silk robe around her more tightly.After God
only knew how many weeks in that pipe in the ground, being free was alarming. It
had been what she’d prayed for, and then given up any hope of, and she felt as
though she should be rejoicing. The problem was that everything around her felt
fake and insubstantial, especially given the luxury of this room: The heavy
velvet drapes, the canopied bed, the museum-quality antiques, should have been
grounding in their stately beauty. Instead, it was all papier-mache to
Only one thing felt real. And she had to find him.
opened the door and put her head out. The hall was empty.
perfect. She didn’t want to be seen.
Slipping from the room, she glided
over the oriental runner, making no sound at all in her bare feet. When she got
to the head of the grand staircase, she paused, trying to remember which way to
The corridor with the statues, she thought, remembering another trip
down that hall so many, many weeks ago.
She walked quickly and then ran,
clutching the lapels of the robe and holding the slit on the bottom closed over
her thighs. She passed statues and doors, until she remembered the right
combination of the two.
As she stopped, she didn’t bother to collect
herself because she was uncollectible. She was loose, ungrounded, in danger of
disintegration. She knocked loudly.
Through the door came a growl. “Fuck
off. I’ve crashed.”
She turned the knob and opened.
In the light
from the hall, she watched as Zsadist sat up on a pallet of blankets that laid
on the floor in the corner. He was naked, his muscles flexing, his nipple rings
flashing silver. His fearsome face, with that scar, was full of aggression.
“I said, fuck off- Bella?” He covered himself with his hands. “Jesus
Christ. What are you doing?”
Good question, she thought as her courage
dimmed. “Can-can I stay here with you?”
He frowned as if she’d lost her
mind. “What are you- no, you can’t.”
He grabbed something off the floor
and held it in front of his hips as he stood up. She drank in the sight of him:
The tattooed slave bands around his wrists and neck, the plug in his left
earlobe, his black eyes, his skull-trimmed hair. His body was as starkly lean as
she remembered, all striated muscles and hard cut veins. And he threw off raw
power like a scent.
To her, he was utterly beautiful.
out of here, okay? This is not the place for you.”
She ignored the
command in his eyes and his voice. Because although her bravery was gone,
desperation gave her strength. Now, her voice no longer faltered.
was so out of it in the car, you were behind the wheel.” When he didn’t respond,
she said, “Yes, you were. That was you. You spoke to me. You were the one who
came for me, weren’t you?”
He flushed. “The Brotherhood came for
“But you drove me away. And you brought me here first. To your
room.” When he stayed silent, she said, “Let me stay. Please.”
you need to be safe-”
“I am safe only with you. You saved me. You won’t
let them get me again.”
“No one’s getting you here. This place is wired
like the Goddamned Pentagon.”
“No,” he snapped. “Now get
the hell out of here.”
She started to shake, fear surging. “I can’t be
alone. Please let me stay with you. I need to…”
She needed him
specifically, but didn’t think he’d respond well to that. “I need to be with
Zsadist ran his hand over his head. A number of times. Then his
“Please,” she whispered. “Don’t make me go.”
cursed. “I have to put some pants on.”
That was as close to a yes as she
was going to get, she thought.
Bella stepped inside and closed the door,
lowering her eyes only for a moment. When she looked up again, he’d turned away
and was pulling a pair of black nylon sweats up his thighs.
with its streaks of scars, flexed as he bent over. Seeing the evidence of old
wounds, she was struck with the need to know exactly what he’d been through. All
of it. Each and every lash. The idea that he knew what it was like to be at the
mercy of someone cruel was a powerful common thread.
He’d survived. So
had she. They were… linked.
Zsadist walked over to the bed and pulled
the covers back. Then he stood to one side. Awkwardly.
“Get in,” he told
As she came forward, she noticed that he wore something around his
Oh, my God…
“My necklace. You’re wearing my necklace.”
She reached out to touch it against his skin, but he flinched away and
removed the thing.
He dropped it in her hand. “Here. Take it back.”
She looked down at the fragile gold and the little diamonds that were
set every couple of inches. Diamonds by the Yard. By Tiffany’s. She’d worn it
for years and now couldn’t remember what it felt like against her throat.
Such a symbol of the normal life she’d led, she thought. And an
opportunity to get back to herself.
She put it into the pocket of the
robe, hiding it from herself.
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
moved a little closer to him. She wanted to throw her arms around him, but he
wasn’t looking at her. He was staring at the floor.
“Yes, Phury brought
A flicker of expression passed over Zsadist’s face. But it was
gone so fast she couldn’t read it.
“Are you in pain?” he demanded.
Please look at me, she thought.
Except he didn’t so she got into the bed. When he leaned down, she
scootched over to make room for him.
All he did was pull the covers up
over her and then go back to the corner, to the pallet on the
Bella closed her eyes for a few minutes. Then she grabbed a
pillow, slid out of the bed and went over to him.
“What are you doing?”
His voice was high. Alarmed.
She dropped her pillow next to him and laid
down, easing onto the floor beside his big body. His scent was so much stronger
now, smelling of evergreen and pine and distilled male power, and she sought the
heat of him, inching closer until her forehead hit the back of his arm. He was
so hard, like a stone wall that had been warmed by the sun.
relaxed. Next to him she was able to feel the weight of her own bones, the hard
floor underneath her, the currents in the room as the heat came on: His presence
somehow helped her connect to the world around her again.
herself forward with her feet until she was flush against the side of him, from
breast to heel.
As he trembled, she recalled that he couldn’t bear to be
touched, but she couldn’t help herself.
Not this day. Maybe tomorrow.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I need this from you. My body needs…”
You. “Something warm.”
Z shifted, moving away, until he hit the wall.
Then he abruptly leapt to his feet.
Oh, no. He was going to kick her
“Come on,” he said gruffly. “We’re going to the bed. I can’t stand
the idea of you on the floor.”