Burn, p.16
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       Burn, p.16

         Part #3 of Breathless series by Maya Banks
 
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  Deeper, harder. His vision blurred. Her gasps sounded in his ears.

  “Get there,” he growled. “Now!”

  Her cry splintered the room. Her wail went on and on as her body spasmed around him. His release was edgy and painful, boiling low in his balls and then exploding up his cock. He began coming in endless streams, the semen spilling from her pussy and onto the bed.

  He thrust again, flicking over her clit with his thumb as she screamed again. Then he yanked himself from her pussy and grasped his pulsing cock in his hand. He pumped hard, directing the release onto her pussy and then her belly.

  It jetted onto her skin, marking her. Streaming onto her flesh in thick spurts of white.

  She was sobbing. His ears were roaring. And then he slid into her again, no longer able to bear being outside of her body. He went still against her, enjoying the last bursts. He closed his eyes and leaned into her, his body heaving with exertion.

  Never had he been so gutted. Never had he felt more like his insides had been ripped out and laid bare. He lay there on her, his semen sticky and warm between them. Then he kissed just below her breasts.

  “You undo me, Josie,” he murmured. “Completely and utterly undo me.”

  chapter twenty

  When Josie saw the restaurant where she and Ash were meeting his friends, unease gripped her. It was a restaurant that Michael frequented with regularity. It was his favorite place to eat, a place he’d taken her many times.

  Shaking off her momentary hesitation, she settled into Ash’s side, his arm wrapped securely around her as they walked in. If she ran into Michael, and it seemed likely she would since he ate here almost every Sunday evening, she’d not act as though she was ashamed of anything. Certainly not of the fact that he’d attacked her. And she certainly wasn’t ashamed to be out with Ash, no matter how quickly she’d fallen into a relationship after she’d broken things off with Michael.

  “Is something wrong?” Ash murmured as they were shown to their table.

  She shook her head and smiled brightly.

  “Not nervous are you? Relax, darling. They’re going to love you.”

  This time her smile came more easily. “I’m not worried, Ash. Really.”

  He squeezed her to his side. “Good. I want you to have a good time.”

  When they arrived at their table, situated in the far corner where they’d be afforded quiet and privacy, Josie saw that his friends were already there.

  She blinked when she took in the two men who rose when she and Ash got to the table. Holy hotness factor. Individually, each of the three were gorgeous. But together? They were the epitome of rich, arrogant and devastatingly handsome.

  She looked right past the two females sitting, because hello, she was female and how could she even see anything beyond the three alpha men gathered?

  “Josie, I want you to meet my friends and business partners, Gabe Hamilton and Jace Crestwell.”

  The one he called Gabe stepped forward, a broad smile carving his rock-hard face. He extended his hand, and she shivered when their skin made contact.

  “Very happy to meet you, Josie,” Gabe said in a husky voice that just screamed sexy. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”

  “It’s very nice to meet you too,” Josie murmured.

  She turned to Jace and swallowed. The man was Ash’s polar opposite. Dark and brooding where Ash was lighter and seemingly less broody, but Josie knew that appearances were deceiving. Ash’s looks were in direct contrast with his true personality. He might seem laid-back and carefree, but he was utterly serious. At least with her he was.

  Jace leaned in and kissed either cheek before retreating with a smile that made his dark brown eyes warm and inviting.

  “I’ve heard a lot about you, Josie. Glad Ash finally let you out of his apartment long enough to mingle with the rest of us.”

  She laughed and relaxed and then turned her attention to the two women she was now insanely curious about. Anyone who managed to capture and captivate two men like Gabe and Jace had to be pretty damn special. And according to Ash, they were very much captivated. Completely and unapologetically in love.

  She wanted that. Craved it. She wanted it with Ash. And if Ash’s words were anything to go by, they were on their way. It still baffled her that it had happened so fast, but then he’d explained that it had happened just as fast for his friends. In that context, perhaps it wasn’t so unbelievable that she and Ash would become serious in such a short time.

  “Darling, I want you to meet two very special women, Mia and Bethany. Mia is the newlywed and I’m sure if Jace has his way, Bethany won’t be far behind on taking the marriage leap.”

  “Damn right,” Jace growled.

  “Hello, Josie,” Mia said, her smile open and friendly. She was Jace’s sister according to Ash and now Josie could see the resemblance.

  “Hi,” Josie returned. “I’m very happy to meet you both.”

  “Hello, Josie,” Bethany said, her smile no less friendly than Mia’s had been, but it was obvious she was shyer and more reserved than Mia.

  Remembering everything Ash had told her about Bethany, Josie studied her, taking in the fact that the young woman sitting next to where Jace had retaken his seat had come a long way and had endured a very hard life.

  And there was the fact that this woman had been to bed with Ash. Ash and Jace. Josie wasn’t sure whether to be jealous of the fact Bethany had had Ash’s hands on her or envious over the fact that Bethany had enjoyed a threesome with two unbelievably gorgeous alpha males.

  She was teetering solidly in the direction of the latter.

  “Hi, Bethany,” Josie returned warmly. “I’ve heard so much about you all. You’re all very important to Ash. His family as he calls you. I couldn’t wait to meet you all.”

  Ash ushered her into her chair next to Gabe and across from Bethany and Mia.

  “He is family,” Jace said in a firm voice. “And we’re his. Absolutely.”

  “I think it’s wonderful he has such loyal friends,” Josie said softly.

  “So Ash says you’re an artist, Josie,” Jace spoke up once they’d all settled into their seats. “And that you design jewelry too.”

  Josie nodded, suddenly shy about having the attention focused on herself.

  “She’s amazing,” Ash said. “Her work is beautiful.”

  Josie turned to Ash, surprised. “But you haven’t seen it. Or not much of it. Not yet anyway.”

  Ash looked briefly uncomfortable but then smiled. “I’ve seen what you’re working on now. It’s very good.”

  Heat flushed into her cheeks and she knew she was blushing. What she was working on now was quite a bit more erotic than her previous works. But it was for Ash and Ash alone.

  “Did you design the necklace you’re wearing now?” Mia asked, leaning forward, her gaze riveted to Josie’s collar. “It’s gorgeous!”

  Now she was really blushing. She was convinced of it. Ash squeezed her hand underneath the table, and she controlled her awkwardness. This was important. It was what he wanted. For her not to ever be ashamed for people to know she was his.

  “No,” she said in a husky voice. “Ash had it designed for me. It was his gift to me.”

  Mia’s eyes widened with understanding, and to her credit she didn’t press further or try to cover the awkwardness by hastily saying more.

  Josie’s gaze was drawn to the choker that Bethany wore. Her hand had automatically gone to it the minute Mia had commented on Josie’s. Evidently, it was a collar as well. One given to her by Jace. Did all of Ash’s friends share his sexual proclivities? She could certainly see Gabe and Jace in a dominant role. It was evident in the way they looked at Mia and Bethany. Evident in their body language. How protective they were even just sitting in a public restaurant.

  Maybe others wouldn’t notice, but Josie did. She was in tune with that aspect because it was one she lived. It was a need in her, just like it appeared to be a need for Ash, Gabe
and Jace.

  She had a million questions. Nosy questions that she’d love to be able to ask Mia and Bethany. But she held her tongue. She wouldn’t want them prying into her relationship with Ash, and she’d offer them that same consideration. But it didn’t assuage the burning curiosity she had. Perhaps in time, if they became friends, she’d feel more comfortable having those kinds of conversations with the other women. But still, she knew without a doubt she never wanted to get into a discussion with Bethany about the fact she’d had a threesome with Ash and Jace. There was only so much envy she could handle!

  Gabe and Jace were looking at her, open curiosity in their gazes. They likely were as curious about her as she was about them. But if they knew Ash, were as close as Ash had hinted, there was little doubt they knew exactly what kinds of relationships he preferred and that Josie was . . . submissive.

  But if she thought they’d look at her with “less” in their eyes, somehow looking down on her or thinking they were “more,” she was wrong. There was nothing but interest. Concern for their friend, no doubt, and they were likely weighing whether they thought Josie was a good match for him.

  Ash had said that in the beginning he hadn’t thought Bethany was a good idea for Jace, and in fact he’d been vocal about it. Were his friends thinking the same thing about her?

  She didn’t want to be deemed unworthy. They didn’t know her and she didn’t want them passing judgment after only one glance.

  “I’d love to see your work sometime,” Gabe said. “Think we could use a little jazzing up in our office building. All we have is a bunch of boring abstract shit. Think you’d be up for taking a look sometime and see what you could do to color up the walls a bit?”

  She smiled. “Of course. I’d like that. But I’ll warn you now. My paintings are definitely colorful. I’m not into the dull, darker stuff. I like . . . vibrant colors. Themes. And I’d definitely have to shift gears. What I’m working on now would hardly be appropriate for a business setting.”

  Ash coughed, choking on a laugh.

  Jace’s eyebrows went up. “Oh? Do tell. What are you working on?”

  She blushed again, knowing she’d stuck her foot in her mouth.

  “The hell you’ll see what she’s working on now,” Ash said in an even tone. “That is for my eyes alone. But you’re welcome to see whatever else she’d like to show you.”

  “Oh, now I’m curious!” Mia exclaimed. “What is he talking about, Josie?”

  She cleared her throat, mortified at setting herself up this way. Her mouth had always gotten ahead of her brain, unfortunately.

  “Uh, well, they’re kind of erotic.” She blushed again. “Self– portrait stuff. I mean it’s not like I had anyone else to use.”

  “Oh,” Bethany said, her eyes twinkling with laughter. “Yeah, I bet Ash would go crazy if you showed them to anyone else.”

  “Damn right,” Ash muttered. “No one’s seeing that but me.”

  But someone else had seen them. Or at least the first one she’d taken to Mr. Downing. It had been sold with all her other paintings, and the others in that series that she’d taken to the gallery after the first sale. She wondered if it bothered Ash that some unknown person out there owned those paintings of her. She wished now she hadn’t sold them. Wished they could be for Ash alone.

  “Josie, we’re planning a girls’ night out this week and we’d love for you to come,” Mia said.

  Gabe and Jace promptly groaned and Ash grinned.

  “What’s with the groaning?” Josie asked.

  Ash laughed. “From everything they’ve told me, I definitely think it’s a good idea for you to go. But I’ll be very disappointed if you don’t come home shitfaced in a sexy dress and fuck-me shoes. It’s all I’ve been tortured with ever since the last time they all went out. Now that I get to participate firsthand, have to say I’m looking forward to it.”

  Josie sent them all puzzled looks.

  Gabe chuckled. “Let’s just say when our girls go out, they get drunk, have fun, but then they come home and take advantage of us poor menfolk.”

  Bethany snorted. “Like you don’t enjoy it.”

  “Didn’t say that, baby,” Jace said, amusement thick in his voice. But his expression and his eyes said it all. They’d grown positively smoldering as he looked at Bethany.

  “So you’re okay with that?” she whispered to Ash so the others wouldn’t overhear.

  Ash laced his fingers with hers underneath the table but then dropped her hand and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her in close so their chairs bumped and she was nearly in his lap.

  Evidently he hadn’t lied when he said he’d want to touch her, be close to her, and he didn’t give a damn who saw it.

  “Oh yeah, I’m okay with it,” he murmured back. “If I get what Gabe and Jace get when their women go out and get drunk? Then yeah, definitely. I’ll even go buy you the dress and the shoes for the occasion.”

  She laughed softly. “This warrants a new dress and shoes?”

  “Definitely.”

  “I don’t drink much, as I told you, but for this maybe I’ll have to make an exception.”

  His eyes gleamed as he stared back at her. “Make an exception. I’ll make sure you don’t regret it.”

  They chatted about casual topics. Gabe and Mia’s honeymoon dominated most of the conversation as Mia recounted their trip to Paris. After their meals were served and they’d eaten, the dessert menus were passed around and Josie excused herself to go to the restroom.

  Mia and Bethany got up to accompany her and the three women headed toward the ladies’ room.

  Josie finished first and waited outside. She heard a door open and turned to see if it was them, but her mouth fell open when she saw Michael walk out of the men’s room that was just across from the ladies’ room.

  He looked like hell!

  Their gazes met and held a brief moment before his flickered and he looked hastily away.

  “Michael?” she whispered. “What on earth happened to you?”

  She could swear fear flickered in his eyes. He couldn’t leave quick enough and Josie was too stunned to do more than stare after him as he hurried away.

  There wasn’t a spot on his face that hadn’t been bruised. And it was ugly. Lip split, swollen eye.

  “Josie?”

  Josie whirled to see Mia and Bethany standing there, looks of concern on their faces.

  “Do you know that man?” Mia asked. “Is everything all right?”

  “I knew him, yes,” Josie murmured. “And everything is fine. Let’s go back for dessert. I’m sure it’s there by now.”

  The entire way back to the table, Josie’s mind was a whirlwind of what the hell. She hadn’t imagined Michael’s face or the fact that he’d damn near broken his neck getting away from her. And she hadn’t imagined the fear in his eyes. Why would he be afraid of her?

  Ash’s gaze was sharp when she sat down. He didn’t miss a thing and his eyes narrowed as he looked at her and then over to Bethany and Mia as if he thought they’d done something to upset her.

  “What’s wrong?” he demanded. “You’re pale. Did something happen?”

  “Not here,” she said under her breath.

  Without another word, Ash stood and reached for her hand. She followed openmouthed behind him as he dragged her out onto the patio to stand in front of the fountain. He pulled her to him, cupped a hand to her cheek and stared intently into her eyes.

  “Tell me what happened,” he said bluntly. “Did Mia or Bethany say anything to upset you?”

  She shook her head, her thoughts still jumbled. She couldn’t keep the one prevailing thought out of her mind, even though it was ludicrous. Wasn’t it?

  “I saw Michael,” she blurted out.

  Ash’s face darkened with fury, his eyes sparking. “What? Did he say anything to you? Did that bastard follow you here? Why the hell didn’t you immediately come to me, Josie?”

  She held her hand up to ha
lt the flow of questions. “This is his favorite place to eat. He and I ate here often. And he’s always here on Sundays. I would have been more surprised if I hadn’t seen him.”

  Ash swore. “You should have told me, Josie. We would have eaten somewhere else.”

  She swallowed and glanced up at Ash. “He looked terrible, Ash. He looked like someone beat the holy hell out of him.”

  “Did he? Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Maybe now he won’t raise his hand to another woman.”

  “Tell me something, Ash. Did you have anything to do with him getting the crap kicked out of him?”

  It was a plunge. A reckless question spurred by the fear that had swamped her the minute she’d seen Michael. She remembered Ash’s resoluteness that he’d take care of it. That she didn’t have to worry about Michael anymore. She’d thought they were just words to comfort her. Spoken in the heat of the moment. Everyone had moments like that. It didn’t mean they followed through on them!

  His eyes flickered and he stared evenly back at her, his lips tight.

  “I won’t lie to you, Josie. So be careful what you ask.”

  “Oh God,” she whispered. “You did. Oh my God, Ash. What did you do? How could you? And why?”

  “You have to ask me why?” he bit out. “What the fuck, Josie. He hurt you. That son of a bitch had you on the floor. And you don’t think that’s reason enough to make sure he never does anything like that again?”

  The blood drained from her face. She wavered, unsteady on her feet. Ash cursed again and then reached for her, pulling her against him once again. He stroked his hand over her cheek, pushing back her hair.

  “You put yourself in my care, Josie. That’s not something I take lightly. And when you gave that to me, when you submitted to me, it also gave me the right to take care of any threat to you. You need to deal with that. Accept it. Because it’s not going away. I will not hesitate to do it again if you’re ever threatened.”

  “Jesus, Ash. You can’t do stuff like that. What if he reported it? You’d get arrested. For God’s sake, you could go to jail!”

  His expression softened. “Not going to happen, baby.”

  “How do you know?” she asked desperately.

  “I took care of it. That’s all you need to know. This doesn’t touch you, baby. Wish to fuck you’d told me we had a good chance of running into him here. I would have never stayed. I want you to forget about it and him.”

  “How am I supposed to forget seeing him that way? Now I’m not going to be able to sleep for worrying that the police will come and arrest you. Ash, this could fuck up the rest of your life! It’s not worth that. Nothing is worth the rest of your life.”

  “You’re wrong,” he ground out. “Me making sure that son of a bitch never comes near you again is worth everything. I’m not going to argue with you over this, Josie. This was my call. We do it my way. You knew that going in. Rules don’t change because you decide you don’t like something.”

  “But you said . . .”

  “What did I say, baby?”

  She huffed in a breath, expelling it long over her lips. “You said it wasn’t like that. That I have a choice. That you wouldn’t do something I didn’t want.”

  He sighed patiently, his gaze boring into her face. “Baby, it’s done. You don’t get a choice because the choice has already been made. And I’m not going to apologize for not discussing it with you beforehand. It was my choice to make. You belong to me. Told you from the start that I take that very seriously. That means I protect you. I do whatever it takes to make sure you’re safe and well cared for.”

  “Would I have ever known if I hadn’t run into him?” she whispered.

  Ash immediately shook his head. Unapologetic. Gaze steady. Unwavering.

  “No. Not something I’d ever want you to know or even think about. I’m pissed because you had to see him at all.”

  She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to shake off the buzzing in her ears. This was crazy, wasn’t it? Ash had taken a huge risk. For her. Not one she’d have wanted him to take. No way in hell. How could he be so certain nothing would fall back on him? The only thing he seemed annoyed about at all was that she’d run into Michael. It was obvious that Ash never had any intention of her knowing anything about it. And she wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

  The saying went that ignorance was bliss, and she supposed in this case it was. She wished she didn’t know. Maybe she wouldn’t feel so unsettled. And so uncertain of the man she’d committed to in a huge way.

 
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