His for a price(6)

By: Caitlin Crews

“I’m not trying to change your mind, princess,” Nicodemus had told her in a voice pitched for her ears alone, at odds with the way he’d spoken to others that night—mighty and sure, bold and harsh. He’d shifted in his seat and pinned her to hers with that knowing dark glare of his she’d come to know far too well. “We both know how this will end. Your father will indulge you to a certain point, but then reality will assert itself. And the longer you make me wait, the more I’ll have to take it out of your rebellious little hide when you’re where you belong. In my bed. Under my...” He’d paused, his dark eyes had glittered, and she’d felt it as if he’d licked the soft skin of her belly. Like a kind of glorious, transformative pain. His lips had crooked. “Roof.”

“What an inviting fantasy,” Mattie had retorted, aware he hadn’t meant to say roof at all. “I can’t imagine what’s keeping me from leaping at the opportunity to experience that great joy.”

“Suit yourself,” he’d replied. He’d shrugged, but she’d been far too aware that every inch of him was hewn of steel, that he was himself a deadly weapon. She’d felt the power he wore so easily like a thick, hot hand at her throat. Worse, she’d been aware of that part of her that craved it. Him. More. “I have a very long memory, Mattie, and a very creative approach to retribution. Consider yourself forewarned.”

“Be still my beating heart,” she’d snipped at him, and then had tried her best to ignore him.

It hadn’t worked then. It didn’t work now.

“Will we reminisce all day?” she asked, injecting a note of boredom into her voice that she dearly wished she felt while he continued to hold her immobile. “Or do you have a plan? I’m unfamiliar with the ins and outs of blackmail, you see. You’ll have to show me how it’s done.”

“You’re free to refuse me yet again.”

“And lose my father’s company in the process.”

“All choices have consequences, princess.” He shrugged, much the same way he had at that benefit dinner. “Your father would have been the first to tell you that.”

That he was right only infuriated her more.

“My father was misguided enough to consider you like a son to him,” Mattie said, and there was no keeping the emotion at bay then. It clogged her throat, made her eyes heat. But she didn’t care if he saw this, she told herself. This wasn’t the emotion that would destroy her. “He adored you. He thought more highly of you than he did of Chase, at times.” She paused, as much to catch her breath and keep from crying as for effect. “And look how you’ve chosen to repay him.”

She’d expected that to be a blow to him, but Nicodemus only laughed again then dropped his hand from her hair, and it took everything Mattie had not to rub the spot where he’d touched her. The worst part was, she didn’t know if she wanted to wipe away his touch or hold it in. She never had. He canted his head to one side as he studied her face and then laughed some more.

“Your father thought I should have dragged you off by your hair years ago,” he said with such lazy certainty that Mattie flushed with the unpleasant understanding that he was telling the truth. That Nicodemus and her father had discussed her like that. “Especially during what he liked to call your ‘unfortunate’ period.”

She flushed even darker, and hated that it hurt. And she suddenly had no trouble at all imagining her father discussing her regrettable, motherless and rudderless early twenties with Nicodemus, no matter how much it scraped at her and felt like a betrayal.

“I did the best I could,” she bit out, and she broke then, because that was scraping a bit too close to truths she didn’t dare voice, and that terrible guilt that lay beneath everything. She stepped back and would have put even more distance between them, but Nicodemus’s hand shot out and wrapped around her upper arm, stopping her that easily.

She refused to think about the impossible strength in that hand, much less its dark heat, no matter that it blasted into her through the soft, black cashmere knit of her dress. She wouldn’t think about it and she wouldn’t react to it. She wouldn’t.

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