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Branded Sanctuary, Page 28

Joey W. Hill

Page 28


  He must have sprinted like an Olympian to catch up with her after they let him down. Hed tugged on a pair of jeans from somewhere, though his upper body was still blissfully bare.

  So have you thought of a career as a track star? she asked, at a loss.

  I was afraid youd fall. When he gently touched her chin, he directed her attention to what was ahead. A s she blinked in the dim light thrown by a mere slice of moon, she realized what shed thought was a continuation of the natural area was in reality the bulkhead to the water. If shed run across it, she would have tumbled six feet down, into the inlets high tide current.

  Ouch. She drew a shaky breath. I guess I wasnt really looking.

  No. I thought you werent. His arms tightened around her. Chloe, you didnt do anything wrong. You know that, right? Whatever you want to do, or dont want to do, is acceptable here. You didnt need to run. You could have just said it wasnt your thing and let me down.

  The problem was she had wanted to do it, but in a way that had frightened her. She couldnt say that, though, because hed need her to explain it, and she couldnt explain it to herself. It was like she was carrying a demon inside her and only her continued silence would keep it contained.

  Rather than answering, she slid her arms under his, banding them over his back, and held on, pressing her face into his chest.

  Its all right, he murmured, stroking her hair. Just relax for me, all right? Well just sit here. Thats all thats needed.

  She nodded, and let him comfort her, savored how his hands felt, sliding up and down her back, the way he caressed her nape as he fondled her short curls, the rough lullaby of words rumbling unintelligibly through his chest. In time, her heart rate settled, and she could hear the water, the breeze through the trees, and the sounds from the carnival behind them. Laughter, the occasional rift of music and perhaps a cry of pleasure.

  Her body tightened anew as she caught a mental scent of it, reminding her how revved up shed been before her emotions had derailed her.

  Her fingers had gone from a functional kneading of his back to a questing slide over the muscles, down toward the loose waistband, where she found he wasnt wearing anything but the jeans. His five oclock shadow rasped against her cheek as he nudged her head back against his shoulder and settled his mouth over hers. He didnt have to coax her lips apart, her mouth opening to his heat, the glide of his tongue over hers, the way he seduced her body to arched response with nothing more than that movement. His arms tightened around her so her breasts pressed harder against his chest and he cupped her skull, holding her in the kiss until she was moaning softly in his mouth, her fingers back to kneading, only now it was a spasmodic reflection of the yearning emptiness between her legs.

  Easy, he said softly, drawing his mouth away to her cheek, over to her ear, nuzzling it and teasing the shell with the tip of his tongue, before pressing his mouth to the sensitive part of her throat below. Its all easy.

  Like the flow of the inlet behind them, inevitable but nothing forced. One part of her was soothed and rocked like a baby to a still peace, while her body hummed with a womans fully awake libido.

  I have an idea, he said against her brow.

  So do I. Several.

  He chuckled, passed a hand down her hip to her thigh, tracing her flesh through the skirt to her knee, creating a ticklish circle that made her squirm and realize he wasnt at all uninvolved when he stifled an amused curse. Looking up at him, she slid her hand between them and put the heel of it on his erect cock beneath the jeans, rubbing deliberately as she held his gaze. I want this. I really do.

  It makes me even harder to hear you say it. Do you feel it?

  She gave him a nod, but she moved her hands to his chest, resting them there with a faint quiver in her fingers. This was good, this feeling, and she didnt want to lose it. She also didnt want to worry about where to go from here. She wanted him to do that. Whats your idea?

  He pressed his lips together, a gratifying expression of near pain at the removal of her touch, but managed to give her another smile. Id like to enjoy the carnival with you. The traditional parts of it. Just as we would if we were in town.

  So you wouldnt be mine anymore? She thought of Mistress Lyda of the perfect silver eyes and any-man-is-my-slave boots.

  Chloe, I was already yours.

  She didnt know what to say to such a heartfelt declaration. She wanted to say she was sorry about what had happened at the platform. She wanted to ask him what he was thinking. She wanted to be able to tell him what was going on with her. For a second, when hed been rubbing her back, rocking her, shed almost opened her mouth to do it. But she just couldnt.

  Instead, she simply said, You could have told me that before I blew my savings.

  A nother half-chuckle, though his eyes remained serious. Want to ride the Ferris wheel? A nd we can both try the hammer at the Strong Man booth and see who wins.

  I like cotton candy. They have that, right? I thought I saw some.

  Purple. Huge swaths of it so youll be bouncing with the sugar rush. Leaning back down, he took her lips in a sweet, tender kiss that deepened into heat, encouraging her to sigh in his mouth as she slid her arms under his again and pressed her palms into his back. She let herself be cradled once more in a way that felt safe and pleasurable at once. A s they kissed, he moved, scooping her up to bring them both to their feet. When he guided her soles to the ground, he slid his hand up the back of her leg, pausing on her thigh so it stayed momentarily hooked over his hip, keeping her on her toes enough that groin brushed groin, making her want to rub.

  He let her ease all the way down only when he lifted his head. Chloe kept holding his biceps, staring up into his face. I feel embarrassed to go back, she admitted.

  He shook his head, coiled one of her curls around her ear. He still wore her ribbon, and she didnt care if the hair blinded her, she wasnt asking for it back. A hundred dramas happen at these things, big and small. Its games and play, but theres always a lot more than that happening. It all fits in. Dont worry, no one will give you any grief about it.

  Did I ruin it?

  No. His brow creased as he dropped his hand to her shoulder, squeezed to emphasize the point and then drew them into a walk back toward the lights. Chloe, I wanted you to see this part of who I am. Theres no right or wrong response to that. You understand?

  She did, but she also wondered if what theyd really accomplished was seeing a part of her that it would have been better for no one to see, let alone herself. Catching both her hands, he turned in circles with her as they moved in a forward direction, coaxing a silly smile to her lips.

  Do you like being with me?

  Yes, but what if I cant be

  Then nothing else is necessary. I want to make you happy. Thats all. The end of it. A ll right?

  She nodded, though his response moved uneasily in her stomach, remembering what Mistress Lyda had said. Plus, if she couldnt find happiness for herself, how successful would he be at it? She thought of his chain mail, of knights on hopeless quests.

  Lets make a deal, you and me. Youre happy to be here with me, right?

  Yes. She was sure of that, and his expression lightened, making her glad she hadnt held back.

  Well then, for the next little bit, were not going to worry about anything else, all right? Hey, look over there. Marguerite and Tyler had the same idea.

  Chloe followed his gaze as he pulled her back into the lighted area. True to his word, hed brought her to the more traditional part of the carnival, where things were what she expected them to be. Well, somewhat. A t this shooting gallery, instead of ducks, the moving targets were empty Dom Perignon bottles.

  She was further bolstered to see Tyler and Marguerite had changed into more casual attire after the auction. Tyler wore slacks and golf shirt, while Marguerite was in a flowing sundress, covered by a cashmere sweater against the night chill.

Chloe was charmed to see the two holding hands like she and Brendan. Their stop in front of the shooting gallery was apparently Marguerites idea, because Tyler was trying to move her onward and she was digging in her heels with a rare playfulness.

  Hey guys, Chloe said.

  Marguerite turned her serious near-smile on them. Chloe was glad when Brendans arm slid around her shoulders, because she could tell in an instant that M knew what had happened earlier. That wouldnt have been unbearable, but she registered something in Marguerites eyes that suggesteddisapproval. Of her?

  Tyler spoke. Good, Brendan. Youre here. Do you shoot?

  Not really. Fencing and wrestling are my manly combat sports.

  Tyler snorted. Doesnt matter. Marguerite wants to see someone do this.

  I suspect she wants to see you do it. She likes it when you show off. Sir. A twinkle went through Brendans gaze. A t Tylers mock scowl, he held up both hands. Id like to learn, but I wont stand in the way of what Mistress Marguerite wants. I think you should satisfy her desires first.

  Tyler muttered a mild oath. Fine. Put them on maximum speed, he told the operator. He cocked a brow at Marguerite. So this gets you hot, hmm?

  Volcanic, she returned, a sparkle glimmering in her gaze. If you dont miss.

  With Chloe still tucked close under his arm, Brendan quirked the corner of his mouth down at her. Still worried, she tried to respond with an appropriate smile.

  The booth operator was a young man whose crew cut and well-fitted T-shirt suggested active Marine rather than a carnie. He stepped aside, a grin on his face. Maybe I should stand outside the booth, old man. Dont want to get hit.

  Be just as easy to shoot you out there, especially if Im aiming for your ass, Jack. Tyler closed his hand on the pellet rifle. In a blink, hed swung the gun up to his shoulder. Chloe didnt know how he even had time to take aim, but he shattered five bottles without hesitation, his amber gaze never wavering, his upper body barely moving as he found his targets. The glass rained down into the catch area behind the conveyor belt like the sound of pirates treasure.

  Repeater is a little sluggish, he noted, placing it down.

  Ill tell my gun distributor we need the M-4 line of pellet rifles next time, the Marine said dryly. Going to pick out something for the lady youre too damn mean to deserve?

  Keep talking, jarhead. Tyler looked up at the stuffed animals and other toys just above his head and arched a brow at Marguerite. What do you want?

  Nothing hanging on those hooks, she responded, making Jack laugh. Giving her a sexy smile, Tyler pulled down a toy anyway. He presented her with a black stuffed gorilla bearing an armful of silk red roses and a heart that said Im yours.