By the time we return to the road, our men are nearly finished with their tasks. The wagons and carts look ready to be driven back to the chateau. I don’t see any of the surviving republican men, and I’m too afraid to ask what will happen to them or if there even are any more survivors other than the captain we just left in the woods. What would be the point of my performance if there was someone else to counter it? To provide an alternate story for what happened here tonight? To kill all the others is heartless and bloodthirsty, and exactly what someone like the baron would do, so I must assume it’s been done. And as much as I hate to admit it, part of me understands the need. It’s much more harrowing if an entire well-armed force disappears into the woods and only a sole survivor emerges, ranting about monsters and demons.
“We’ll stay to the back again,” Henri says, pulling me out of my dark thoughts.
I make a noncommittal noise, and I must look as overwhelmed as I feel because he rests a large hand on my lower back and applies gentle pressure to get me moving. He keeps his hand in place all the way to the rear of the line, and I take far more comfort from his touch than I probably should. Am I supposed to be angry at him? Blame him for what has befallen me? If so, I can’t bring myself to do it. He said he’s been trying to protect me this whole time, and I believe him because his actions reaffirm that declaration. Earlier, when the baron made it clear he wasn’t letting me go, Henri raged against the injustice of it and only stopped apologizing about what happened when I all but ordered him to.
In a weird way, we’re stuck in this together, and it makes me feel less alone, knowing that I’m not the only one caught up in the baron’s machinations. Instead of being angry at Henri, it makes me feel closer to him.
Relief washes over me when we pass the last wagon, and I clap my eyes on our horses. I look them over quickly, but they don’t seem any worse for wear. In all the confusion, I forgot we left them tied up in the woods. Someone must have realized it and thought to fetch them. It’s a wonder they didn’t break loose during the chaos or that one of the fleeing republican troops didn’t come across them and use them to escape.
We stop beside them, and I shiver when Henri’s hand falls away. Even with his magic acting as a buffer, even with the collective power of the nearby men, the cold is creeping into my weary bones. I’m dazed and drained, and I think whatever the baron did to me must be fading because I become more and more exhausted with every passing second.
Henri turns me to him and tugs my hood higher before dropping his hands to my cloak and tying it shut. “You look about ready to drop,” he says, his voice low, meant for my ears only.
I crane my head back and nod up at him, and he uses his hold on my cloak to pull me closer. His dark eyes roam over my face, concern etched across his brow. “Can you sit a horse like this?”
“Perhaps with your magical aid,” I tell him.
He shakes his head, and that stray lock of hair falls over his forehead in a spill of silken strands. “I don’t think that’s wise. It’s not truly helping you, at least not physically, just masking whatever symptoms of exhaustion you may have.”
“Then why don’t I ride with you?”
I surprised him with that comment. I can tell from how his brows climb up and his lips fall open. It’s gone a moment later, replaced by a wicked smile and teasing eyes. “That’s what I was about to suggest, but I thought I’d have to work harder to convince you.” After last time, goes unsaid.
I shrug. “No point keeping our distance now.”
His amusement fades, and I hate to see it go. I don’t want to think about the position I’m in or the fact that if the baron gets his way, I’ll probably never leave this accursed forest again. Not right now. Let those thoughts be for tomorrow. Tonight, I want to enjoy the last of my freedom while I can, so I lift a brow and pull my gaze from Henri’s, giving myself leave to ogle him for once, taking in his broad shoulders, thick waist, gloriously long and muscular legs. Damn his clothes for hiding so much of him from me.
“Will you behave this time?” I ask him.
He chuckles. “On my honor, my lady.” I know he’s teasing me, but disappointment flares through me, bright and unexpected, and he catches sight of it in my expression and leans closer. “I thought you didn’t like the way I make you forget yourself.”
I meet his piercing gaze, exhaustion making me bold. It’s hard to care about things like propriety and good manners and how a young noblewoman should behave after the night I’ve had. Vampires are real. I’m about to be engaged to someone who may or may not become a monster. Surely, the rules don’t apply anymore? “I never said I don’t like it. Just that it might not be a good thing when it makes me forget where I am and who might be around us.”
Henri raises a hand and cups my cheek. “That’s where we disagree.” He bends down enough to brush a fleeting kiss over my lips, and, God, it’s happening again because as his warmth envelopes me and his scent fills my nose, the road around us seems to fall away, leaving us alone in our own little world. “I more than like the fact that I can drive you to such distraction.” He slides his cheek against mine, stubble abrading my delicate skin, and all but growls the next words into my ear. “It makes me want to see how reckless I can make you.”
Oh, lord, I don’t have the leg strength for such a declaration right now. My knees give an ominous little wobble, and I cling to his jacket to keep myself upright. Why on earth does the idea of him following through on such a threat make me so aroused? Heat flares from my core and out through my limbs in a rush, making me hyperaware of every place we touch. He drops his lips from my ear and brands my neck with a line of kisses, and I nearly combust.
At least I’m not cold anymore.
Behind us, someone clears their throat.
Henri, however, kisses his way back up my neck before pulling away just far enough to snap, “Go away.”
An amused laugh floats on the breeze. “We’re almost ready to leave. Your father wants you two with him at the front of the line.”
That gets Henri’s attention. He pulls away from me, and I see Rufus standing near the back of the closest cart.
“Tell him we’ll have to decline,” Henri says.
Rufus rubs a hand over his face, looking tired. “You know that won’t be enough, my friend.”
Henri lets out a low sound of annoyance. “Tell him it’s too much for her. Our energy, it…” he glances down at me as if wondering how much to say.
I sigh. Might as well be honest. I’ve already damned myself. How much worse could it get? “If your energy joins together and rises too high, I sort of…start to hear your thoughts.”
Rufus stiffens, shoulders pulling taut like a bowstring. “You what?” His gaze snaps from me to Henri as if looking for confirmation of this outlandish claim.
The sigh Henri lets out is even deeper than mine was. “It’s a new development. I’m not willing to have her experience it twice in one night. Not after what she’s already been through. Find some way to convince my father that whatever he wants to say to us can wait until tomorrow.”
Rufus scratches the back of his neck, turning to stare at me with what might be unease in his gaze. “All right.”
He’s frowning as he turns and leaves us, throwing one last wary look over his shoulder at me as he goes. Did I just disturb a man whose other form comes with jaws bigger than a bear’s and six-inch claws? What a strange night this is.
Another tremble ripples through me, but it’s not caused by the cold. It feels like I’ve hit some sort of physical limit, and now my body is threatening to revolt.
Again, Henri notices. “Come, let’s get ready to leave.”
He ties my horse’s reins to his with a lead line and then climbs into the saddle with more grace than I’ll ever be able to manage, making the movement look fluid and elegant. When he’s settled, he has me turn my back to him before hauling me up by the armpits. I have enough strength left to swing my leg over the pommel, but once I’m in place in front of him, all the energy fades from my limbs, and I go nearly boneless.
He scoots back as much as his saddle will allow and wraps an arm around my waist to keep me upright. “Are you warm enough?”
I lean my head against him and nod, reveling in the heat radiating off his chest. “I am now.”
A low sound of contentment rumbles out of him, and he pulls me closer. We’re flush together, my back pressed to his front, his meaty thighs bracketing mine. I fit so perfectly in the shelter of his large body that I’m reminded again of puzzle pieces slotting together.
A large part of me wants to be angry about tonight, wants to be bitter and rebellious and fight the baron’s plans for me every step of the way, all while looking for some chance to escape. But will I be opening myself up for more of his threats if I do that, putting Livy, Vivienne, and all my other newfound family members at risk? It seems likely. I don’t think I’ll ever underestimate the baron’s capability for cruelty again, not after tonight.
Another part of me wants to choose the path of least resistance. If I act like I’m genuinely cowed and fall in line like a good little soldier, he won’t have reason to suspect or distrust me. Livy will be safe. Vivienne will be safe. But I want to choose that path for more than one reason. If I make a true ally of his son, the baron will be less likely to want to hurt me or those I love because by doing so, he’d be hurting his son. As much as I loathe the man, as antagonistic as he can sometimes be, even to Henri, I can see how much the baron loves his son. Surely even he has some sort of paternal instincts and would stop short of harming Henri’s betrothed?
And if I get Henri on my side, I might convince him to let me flee to England with the Beauchenes. Won’t he want me safely away from all this danger? Especially if I promise him it won’t be permanent? That I’ll return when the fighting is over?
The line ahead of us starts to move, but Henri holds our horses steady, letting space open between us and the others. He drops a kiss on my temple, unaware of my thoughts, and a frisson of guilt worms through me. I don’t want to use him. I don’t want to hurt him. But I can’t stay here. Can I?
I think of everything that’s happened since we left the chateau, hearing someone else’s thoughts, sparring with Henri in the dead of night, racing through the forest, seeing an honest to god vampire, destroying a bullet with a thought, the dark thrill of terrifying that republican captain, getting ravaged up against a tree afterward. Life with Henri would never be boring, that’s for sure. And I have to admit that he’s right about one thing: despite all the danger surrounding me, I’ve never felt more alive. It’s insanity – it has to be. I could have died tonight. Shouldn’t I be terrified of joining these men again, of putting myself at risk over and over again?
I try to drum up some fear, but it doesn’t come. Maybe I’m just too tired. Maybe after a good night’s sleep, I’ll wake up in the morning, and everything will hit me then. But a part of me doubts that. Because if I’m not fully human, then doesn’t that mean my instincts aren’t human? Who knows, maybe whatever else I am thrives on danger and bloodshed. It would certainly explain some of my darker tendencies and the utter lack of remorse I feel for putting the fear of God into another human being tonight, not to mention my troubling bloodlust when I fought those sans culottes.
Henri nudges the horse into a walk, and I come back to myself. I don’t have any answers tonight. It’s too much, too momentous, and I think I need more time to come to grips with everything that’s happened before I try to figure out how to respond to it. For God’s sake, vampires are real. I nearly laugh, but I choke it down, worried it might turn into a sob instead.
The rest of our party is still in sight up ahead, but we’re far enough back that their collective energy feels like the memory of a warm summer wind.
“Why isn’t our torch lit?” I ask.
“Because it makes me night blind,” Henri says. “Without it, I can see further into the shadows. And without the distracting sound of it crackling and fizzing, my hearing is sharper too.”
Meaning it’ll be harder for anyone to sneak up on us. I appreciate how seriously he’s taking my warning from earlier about not being alone out here. I wasn’t lying when I said I had no idea what I was doing or where that feeling came from. Most men would probably have disregarded my feelings, chalked it up to a woman jumping at shadows, and in this case, they might be right. But not Henri. He believes in me. Even more than I do myself, it would seem. It makes me like him even more. It also makes it impossible to deny that I might not have any answers to the questions I’ve been asking myself lately, but one thing is certain: I want Henri for myself. I want his hands on my body, his lips crushed against mine. I want him in my bed, over and under and behind me, again and again, and again.
He drops his head a little, nose pressed to my temple as he drags in a breath. Can he smell my sudden change in thoughts?
“Isabelle,” he drawls, nuzzling against me.
A shiver runs through my body that has nothing to do with cold or exhaustion. “What would your father do if we don’t announce our engagement tomorrow?”
His chest expands against my back as he draws in another deep breath. “He would either do something to ensure we were affianced by the end of the day or lie and say he caught us in a compromising position.”
I nod. It’s just as I thought. “So no matter what, we’re about to be betrothed?”
“Yes,” Henri says, voice low.
“And unless some sort of miracle happens, married.”
It’s not a question, but Henri mutters an affirmation anyway.
Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Well then. I might as well earn that damnation, shouldn’t I? All my choices have been taken from me lately, my freedom draining away like water running through a sieve. If tonight has taught me anything, it’s that tomorrow isn’t promised. Do I really want to leave this world with regrets? Without stealing as much happiness and pleasure for myself as my circumstances will allow?
No. No, I don’t. And by choosing to find pleasure with Henri, I take the power back from his father. I know fully well that by society’s rules, any indiscretion between Henri and me must lead to marriage or ruin. So be it. This is my choice now, and I will happily make it.
“Isabelle?” Henri asks, his voice gone low and gravelly.
In answer, I arch backward into him, bracing myself on his thighs. He stiffens in response, muscles flexing beneath my fingers even as his manhood starts to thicken against my ass.
“Can anyone hear us back here?” I ask.
“No,” he grounds out, low and rough. The arm around my waist loosens just enough for him to slide his hand over my ribs, long fingers spanning the entire side of my body. How deep inside me could he reach with them? I’m dying to find out.
“I want you to touch me,” I tell him.
He goes utterly still behind me and pulls the horse to a stop. “I thought you were exhausted.”
“Not too exhausted for this,” I say, digging my nails into his pants and sliding my hands up his thighs. If anything, the thought of another dalliance with him has returned a surprising amount of my strength.
His hand shifts, too, slipping inside my cloak and cupping my small breast through my layers. A low sound of frustration climbs out of his throat, and I nearly answer it with one of my own. My chest is bound with linen so tight that I can barely feel his fingers, just a hint of warm pressure. It’s not nearly enough. The light of the others disappears around a bend in the road, and I grab his hand and pull it down instead, yanking my shirt from my trousers so I can feel his fingers slide against my belly.
He pauses there. “Are you sure about this?”
“Is there anyone else out here with us to see if something happens?”
A long moment passes before he answers me. “I don’t believe so. What about that feeling you had earlier?”
“It’s gone now. Touch me, Henri. I’ve never been so sure about anything in my life,” I tell him, and he groans. “I want you. I want you to pleasure me. And when you’re done, I want to grip your manhood in my hand as you tell me what to do to give you the same pleasure.” I plan on being well and truly ruined when this is all over, by my own choice and not anyone else’s.
His hand disappears from my stomach, and I have just enough time to be disappointed about it before he grabs my jaw and pulls my head around enough to crash his lips against mine in a kiss that steals my breath away. This is different than the other two we’ve shared. They were exploratory, polite even. But now his kiss is more like a series of toe-curling demands. Open for me. Wider. Take my tongue like you’ll take my manhood. Taste me, feel me, need me.
My head is spinning when he wrenches away. I’m desperate to keep kissing him, but he has other plans, shoving his hand back into the waist of my trousers, pushing, searching, lower, lower.
Oh, God, he’s almost there.
“Tilt your hips forward,” he orders in a growling baritone that does things to me. I comply, and he pushes his hand the final inch, fingers landing on my most sensitive point. His nose is back against the side of my head, and he nuzzles into me again. “You’re so warm, Isabelle. So soft.” I lift my hips just enough for him to dip his fingers lower, and he groans into my skin. “And so goddamn wet.”
I drop my head against his shoulder, panting as he strokes into my folds. I’m staring into a star-drenched autumn sky as the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen presses his thick fingers against my entrance. The thought nearly makes me giggle, but the urge vanishes as he starts to work his way inside me, making sure to keep his palm pressed firmly against my clit.
“Fuck,” he bites out, and for some reason, hearing him curse right now only makes me more desperate for him. “You’re so tight. I’m going to have to train you how to take my cock.”
I let out a low whimper, grinding my hips down onto him, wanting to draw him deeper, imagining it’s his manhood pushing into me.
“You’ll love it,” he tells me, sliding his finger out of my slickness only to drive it in again, “feeling your hot little cunt stretch around me so tight you don’t think you can take anymore. But you will, won’t you?” He thrusts his finger into me again, harder this time.
“Yes,” I moan. I’ll take all of him, every pulsing inch, and still beg for more. I thought I wanted him before, but it’s nothing to how I feel now, with his finger working me wider and his palm abrading my needy bundle of nerves with every demanding thrust.
With one last push, he’s as deep as he can reach, and I feel a tight pinch at the intrusion. I use my own fingers to pleasure myself on a somewhat routine basis, but they’re tiny compared to his, and I shift and shudder as I breathe around this new sensation of him filling me up. How much further will I have to stretch around his manhood? How much better could it possibly feel than this?
He curls his finger a little inside me and strokes against something that has me seeing stars. A nip against my earlobe brings me back to earth, the sharp sting of teeth making me clench and shudder around his finger. If he keeps this up for much longer, I’m going to come undone in his arms.
“I’ve wanted to be inside you since the first night I laid eyes on you,” he says.
“I wanted that too,” I tell him, and he rewards me with another nip and a deeper stroke. I’ve never admitted that before, not even to myself, but it’s true. Maybe not since the first moment I saw him, but certainly since the first time he put these big hands on me, pinning me to the operating table. Half the reason I was so wary of him in those early days was because some part of me recognized he had the power to ruin me. To make me forget all my morals and scruples. I never dreamed it could feel so good to give in to that desire.
“Do you trust me?” he asks.
It’s hard to form a rational response when he palms my clit and thrusts into me again, but I manage to slur out a “Yes.”
He drops the reins and shoves his free hand up my shirt. There’s a tug on my chest and then a tearing sound, and suddenly the constriction around my breasts is gone, and I can feel the linen pooling around my waist. How on earth did he cut that off me so quickly? Did he sprout claws or something?
Oh, God, he probably did.
I only have a heartbeat to consider that before his hand is on me, large enough to fondle both breasts at once, fingers bumping over my nipples, no trace of claws across my skin. Can he change parts of himself on a whim? How much can he change at a ti-
I moan and decide I don’t give a damn. “Keep doing that, Henri.”
“This?” he growls, rolling his fingers over my nipples right as he thrusts into me.
“Please, yes,” I pant.
“I want to be inside you so badly, I can’t stand it,” he snarls, grinding into my ass, making me feel every straining inch of him branding my low back. “I want to pull my fingers out, drag you off this horse, and fuck you on the ground until you scream.”
The sound that comes out of me is guttural.
“Do you have any idea how hard the past two weeks have been?” he demands, his fingers picking up speed. “How much I’ve had to restrain myself? Every time you slipped on the balance beam, I imagined laying you on the training room floor and driving into you. When we fought, I pictured myself catching your punches and pulling you into me. I know how often you end up embarrassed when you’re red-faced and sweaty at the end of the night, but that’s when I want you the most because all I can think of when I see you like that is that’s how you’ll look after I fuck you senseless.”
His words prove my downfall, the images they invoke branded into my mind as his fingers drive into me. All that time I spent frustrated, worried, and humiliated, he spent it trying not to bend me over the nearest piece of furniture. And now I don’t think I’ll ever step foot in the training room again without imagining all the potential other uses for the equipment up there. I start to clench around him as I fantasize about our future “training” sessions, somehow still climbing, more lust coursing through my body than I’ve ever felt before.
“I want to feel you come,” he growls, keeping his palm flattened to my clit as he works his hand faster. His power flares, warmth and magic rushing through me, heightening my senses, making me feel everything he’s doing to me on a whole other level.
I cry out into the night as he pushes me mercilessly over the edge, dragging every last drop of pleasure from my ravaged body that he can, his fingers still working even though they can barely move with how tight I’m clenching around him.
Afterward, he brings me down slowly, fingers stilling inside me, his other hand rising to pet my hair as he whispers into my ear, words of affirmation and praise that I barely hear because I’m pretty sure my consciousness has left my body and is now floating somewhere overhead. I’ve never experienced anything like that before, and certainly never made myself come that hard. And that was just with his hands.
“I want to touch you,” I say a few minutes later when I’ve regained the ability to speak.
“I can tell,” he says, wiggling the finger still inside me. An echo of the orgasm he gave me shudders through my body, and I clench around him. Holy hell. I didn’t even know that could happen. “But I’d rather do that to you again,” he purrs into my ear.
I grab his wrist, trying to hold him still. “I can’t. You’ll kill me.”
He drops his forehead to my shoulder, shuddering with silent laughter, and I whimper when it makes his finger jerk inside me. Why does that still feel so good? Normally I’m sated after I’ve pleasured myself, but for some reason, that’s not the case with Henri. If anything, I want him even more than I did before, and now my desire has gained a hungry edge that’s left me feeling ravenous, like I’ll never get enough of him.
“I won’t kill you,” he croons against my shoulder. “But if you don’t want to…”
He starts to slide his finger out of me, but I grip his thick wrist with newfound strength, keeping him where he is.
“You’re sure I can survive another one?” I ask, my voice thready.
He pushes my hair from my neck and drops a kiss against my skin, the scratch of stubble making me shiver. “Would you believe me if I told you a second one will feel even better than the first?”
“Not possible,” I say. There’s no way anything could feel better than what he just did to me. I will carry the memory of that orgasm to my grave, think about it every time I get myself off for the rest of my life, however long that might be.
He nips my neck with sharp teeth and lets out a low, masculine laugh. “Oh, I’m going to have so much fun proving you wrong.”
And he does. He really does.
Somehow, I survive it.
Copyright © 2022 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.