Just one touch, p.8
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       Just One Touch, p.8
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         Part #5 of Slow Burn series by Maya Banks

  every single time that fucked-up shit comes out of your pretty mouth. If it takes forever, I’ll get you to see the woman I see every time I look at you.”

  She flushed, heat invading her cheeks until her face felt as though it were on fire.

  “And I’ll tell you something else,” he said, his expression growing more somber and an edge to his voice that indicated he was deadly serious. “I will never let them take you back.”

  He stroked her cheek, letting the backs of his knuckles graze lightly over her skin, leaving a peculiar tingling sensation in their wake.

  “I will never let them touch you or put their hands on you again. And furthermore, should we ever be so fortunate as for them to get injured or even better, killed, you will not lift a single finger to heal their sorry asses.

  “I intend to hunt every single one of those assholes down and make them pay for every mark, every blow, every beating, every bruise and every single word they ever said to make you feel like you were nothing.”

  Terror exploded in Jenna’s heart, nearly paralyzing her with its intensity.

  “No!” she burst out.

  Isaac looked at her in surprise, but before he could say anything else, she pushed his hands away from her cheeks and buried her face in her hands. She moaned in despair, because she knew she would have to confide her last shameful secret. The thing that had forced her to speed up her plan of escape.

  “Baby, what is it?” Isaac asked in concern.

  She lifted her head and saw him flinch at the rawness in her expression.

  “You can’t go after them, Isaac,” she said hysterically. “The elders aren’t the ones who are after me now.”


  ISAAC stared at Jenna in shock even as his mind burned with anger. Fury like he’d never known was about to force him right over the edge, and now to find out there was more? A bigger threat to his angel than he thought? He didn’t even stop to have a “what the fuck” moment with himself over thinking of her as his angel—his anything. She’d been his from the very start, from the moment she’d shared the beautiful light of her soul with him. Now she was inside him, a part of him attached so deep that there was no hope or thought of ever digging her out. There were only two things he knew at this moment. She belonged to him and he would protect her from whatever the fuck threat she faced.

  He reached out to touch her, but she flinched away, fear and self-condemnation clouding her beautiful eyes. Fuck that. He wrapped himself around her, holding her tightly against him until finally she stopped fighting him and went still, sobs wracking her tiny frame, and he swore to make those bastards pay for those tears. For every tear she ever shed because they’d made her life hell.

  “Jenna, honey, calm down and quit crying,” he soothed, holding and rocking her back and forth as months—hell, years—of pent-up pain and misery worked their way from her system.

  “I need you to tell me everything, baby,” he said softly. “I have to know how to keep you safe, and that means you tell me everything. There is nothing you can’t tell me. Do you understand? There is nothing that will ever make me feel badly about you and there is damn sure nothing that will ever make me let you go.”

  She went completely still, her sobs halting. She went so quiet that it worried him. Then she turned, staring up at him with her heart in her eyes. She looked so innocent and utterly guileless, but then how could she be anything else having lived her life sequestered from the world, her only knowledge coming from fucked-up, twisted, sadistic minds?

  “Do you mean that?” she asked, a note of anxiety in her voice.

  His heart went completely soft, the hard steel around it splintering wide open.

  “I never say things I don’t mean and I don’t make promises that I don’t keep,” he said, staring back at her intently, barriers down so she could see as easily into him as he could her.

  She hung her head again and drew her hands between their bodies, twisting her fingers anxiously together.

  “Baby, don’t look like that,” he said. “Tell me what has you so afraid so I can take care of it.”

  “I don’t want anything to happen to you or your men because of me,” she whispered.

  “Jenna, look at me,” he said, beginning to sound like a broken record. “Do you forget that if not for you I’d be dead, and Shadow would be in the hospital getting stitches and raising hell about being forced to receive medical attention?”

  Her expression only grew sadder. “If it wasn’t for me trying to steal your vehicle, neither of you would’ve been hurt in the first place.”

  “But then I wouldn’t have you. Here right now in my arms. I’d say it was worth nearly dying,” he said softly.

  She stared at him, shocked, swallowing multiple times as she tried to get her emotions under control.

  “No one has ever cared what happened to me,” she said quietly. “Only so much as to make sure I was capable of doing what the elders wanted.”

  Isaac put a lid on the red haze of fury that billowed up inside him and focused on the woman he held, waiting for her to confide the last of her secrets. He lifted her from his lap and laid her next to him, and then he stretched out his long length and turned so they were on their sides facing one another.

  She blinked and then flushed, discomfort evident on her face. “This isn’t appropriate,” she whispered. “It’s a sin for me to be in your bed. I’m sorry. I didn’t even think when I came in here.”

  “Jenna, I want you to listen to me and listen to me very closely. First, I’m very glad you came to me when you were scared. I want you to always come to me when something—anything—frightens you. Secondly, I want you to forget every fucked-up thing you were taught in that goddamn cult. They’re wrong. You know they’re wrong. It’s why you wanted to escape so badly. Not just because of the shitty way they treated you and the fact they abused you and then used you for their selfish purposes. Aside from all of that, their teachings are wrong. Not just wrong but so fucked up I can’t even wrap my mind around it. I get that what they taught you, what’s been instilled in you for most of your life, is hard to just discard in a few minutes, days or even weeks, but this is where I need you to trust me, baby. You being in my bed isn’t wrong, and not just because we aren’t doing anything but talking. It won’t be wrong when I make love to you either.”

  A horrified look crossed her face. “No! I don’t want that. I never want that.” She shuddered. “It’s horrible.”

  A dull roar began in his ears and he had to clench his jaw to prevent the angry roar from escaping. “Did they rape you, Jenna? Did they put their goddamn hands on you? Did they force themselves on you? Did they ever force you to have sex with anyone?”

  She shuddered again. “No, but I saw . . .” She shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it. Please don’t make me talk about it right now,” she pleaded.

  “I just want to know one thing and then no, sweetheart, you don’t have to talk about it right now.”

  He purposely injected right now because they would discuss it later. It was obviously a traumatic subject for her and he had to know why. Even if the very thought of having to listen to his angel tell him that someone had violated her was enough to send him spiraling out of control.

  “Did one of those bastards ever touch you or hurt you sexually?” he ground out.

  She flushed but shook her head. Thank God. He took in several deep breaths to rein in the rage that had threatened to consume him.

  “I was a pariah. It was forbidden. But not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t because they were protecting me or cared whether I was hurt. The elders had a stupid superstition that if I ever lost my virginity I would lose my power to heal. I was grateful,” she whispered. “Their stupidity and ignorance is the only thing I was ever grateful to them for.”

  Finally he could breathe again, until she said her next words.

  “But it was coming to an end,” she said, fear flooding her features once more.
But more pronounced, more raw than any fear she’d shown until now.

  Before he could demand to know what she meant, she went on, her voice trembling as much as her body was.

  “I had always planned to escape,” she admitted. “It was the only thing that kept me sane. The idea of one day escaping. But they were so careful and they kept me under lock and key most of the time. The only times I was ever able to sneak from my room were after a healing session. Because I’m always so weak and exhausted afterward, they were more lax about watching me. They’d dump me in my room, but no one bothered to guard me. I played up my weakness, making it seem as though I was utterly helpless after healing someone. Then I would sneak into one of the elders’ quarters, where they had information that was supposedly forbidden. It’s how I learned of the outside world, what little I had time to learn. It was also the confusing and contradictory teachings of the cult. I knew it would take me time, years, to learn enough and plan my escape, but I didn’t care. It became my obsession and the way I’ve dealt with the punishments I received. I would imagine being free somewhere far away where I was just another face in the crowd and no one knew who I was or what I could do. I just wanted to be normal and to have a normal life,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

  Her sadness made Isaac’s chest ache, but more than that he wanted her happy, for him to be the one who made her happy.

  “You can have that now, baby,” he said gently, palming her cheek and caressing away the tiny damp trails.

  “But I can’t,” she said sadly. “They’ll never stop looking for me.”

  “Tell me about they. Who is they, and if you lived in such seclusion, how would anyone outside the cult know anything about you or that you even existed?”

  “Because the elders sold me to them,” she said bitterly.

  “What the fuck? Who did they sell you to, Jenna, and is that why you ran?”

  She nodded miserably, biting into her lip to keep from crying again. “I knew I had to take a chance and escape or I’d never have another opportunity.”

  “Who did they sell you to?” he repeated patiently. “And are they the ones after you now? The ones who shot me and Shadow?”

  She flinched, flushing with guilt. “I don’t know exactly who they are, but they’re dangerous,” she whispered. “They had guns. They always had guns. They offered the elders a lot of money for me but the elders had conditions. One was that I be made available anytime they needed my services and another was that I had to remain untouched.”

  She flushed deeply. “Their leader wanted to speak to me alone and he told me I was his property now, and then he laughed and said, ‘Those crazy assholes believe that if you lose your virginity your powers will be gone, but you and I both know that isn’t true, don’t we?’ ”

  She shivered and curled her body inward, pressing herself closer to Isaac, though he doubted she was conscious of it.

  “He told me that he was going to enjoy fucking a virgin, that he would be the one to break me in, and then his men could have me as often as they wanted. He laughed more and told me that the elders would never have use of my powers again no matter what he’d agreed upon. He planned to kill them all when they came for me.”

  Isaac swore viciously, his fingers curling into tight fists as the urge to kill returned. And he would. He’d kill every last one of those fuckers before ever allowing them to touch what was his.

  “The exchange was set up for a few days later and I knew I had to escape. I had to take the chance because even if I died, it would be preferable to being sold to those men.”

  Isaac closed his eyes, hurting for someone so innocent to have been exposed to so much evil in her young life. The knowledge that she’d embraced death so calmly as an alternative to being used and degraded by the men who’d bought her like a possession nearly broke him.

  “God was with me,” she said softly, surprising Isaac with her mention of God. He would have thought that with the twisted aberration the cult presented God as, she would have lost any and all faith in a higher being.

  “One of the elders had a heart attack. He was dying and I was called to heal him. Everyone knew how grave his condition was, and until him and then . . . you . . . I had never healed someone so close to death. So I did just enough that he wouldn’t die and pretended to be completely incapacitated, drained and exhausted. I told them I had to rest and then I would need to do a second session to completely heal him, but that he wouldn’t die. And that after the second time it would be as if the heart attack had never happened and he hadn’t been at death’s door.”

  She looked down in shame and his brow furrowed as he looked at her in question, waiting for her to continue.

  “I wanted to kill him, to let him die,” she whispered. “It was only because I knew this would be my only opportunity to finally escape that I helped him.”

  “He deserved to die,” Isaac bit out. “Don’t waste one minute feeling shame for wanting him to die, baby. After all they put you through, it’s only human to feel the way you did. Not even God could blame you if you had let him die.”

  His reassurance seemed to mollify her and she sucked in a deep breath.

  “They dragged me to my room and tossed me in, and then they all went back to pray for the elder. To pray,” she said scornfully. “How does one pray to God to save the very face of evil? They didn’t spare a single thought to my escaping because they’d witnessed how weak I was so many times before after I’d healed. And though I had greatly exaggerated my condition, I was very weak, and it took me a while to gain the strength to crawl to the door and drag myself up so I could escape.

  “I had found maps in one of the elders’ offices before, so I knew the layout of the compound and which direction was the shortest route through the dense woods surrounding the place. I managed to slip out quietly and then I ran. It was so dark and I was terrified. I couldn’t see where I was going, and just prayed that I was running a straight line through the woods and not going in circles.”

  Isaac’s stomach churned, imagining how helpless she was running through God only knew what in the woods, still weak from the forced healing session. He’d never craved someone’s blood more than he craved the blood of those bastards for all they’d done to his angel. Never had he entertained killing anyone in cold blood, but in this minute, he knew if he ever caught any of them he’d take them apart with his bare hands.

  “Not long after I entered the woods, I knew my escape had been discovered, because I heard them turn out the dogs.”

  She shivered, her small body quaking as she moved even closer into his body, almost as if trying to crawl right inside of him where she could feel warm and safe.

  “I knew I had very little time before they caught up to me, so I ran faster and prayed for mercy. And for help. Just when I thought I had no hope, I stumbled out of the woods and fell flat on my face onto a gravel road. It was just beginning to get light enough that I could see into the distance and there was an old gas station down the road. I fled, praying the entire way to find a way into the city. I knew it was the last place they’d expect me to go because I’d never even seen the outside of the compound, so what were my odds of surviving five minutes in a city the size of Houston? I snuck into the bed of a truck that was hauling produce into the city and when the driver stopped after what seemed like forever, I slipped out and ran.”

  Her mouth twisted against his chest, her next words muffled by his skin.

  “I guess it was fate that I was so close to the parking lot where your vehicle was parked unlocked.”

  “Yes,” he said quietly. “Thank God I’m forever leaving my keys in the ignition.”

  She pulled slightly away, and he could see her frown and the fact that her eyes had turned fearful once more.

  “What’s wrong, Jenna?” he asked sharply.

  “Isaac, the elders don’t have guns, and certainly nothing that could have shot you from such a long range.”

  She grabbed his hand,
clutching it to her chest, and he felt her heart racing wildly beneath his palm.

  “How could they have known?” she whispered. “How could they have possibly found me so quickly? They weren’t supposed to come for me for two more days.”

  Isaac’s brow furrowed as he considered her words.

  “They had to have been watching the compound the entire time just in case you did exactly what you did. Then they followed you, tracking your every move. If I hadn’t found you and interrupted you stealing my vehicle, they would have either taken you right there in the parking lot or followed you and either forced you off the road or abducted you as soon as you stopped.”

  “Then how was it that you and your men found me before they did after I’d pulled off the road?”

  Isaac sighed. “They were distracted and forced to defend themselves when my backup arrived and began shooting back. I doubt they were expecting any resistance. They likely thought taking you would be effortless. I have a tracking device on my SUV that led us right to you. Unfortunately, I also led them right to you, which is how they found my house and shot Shadow as we were leaving to come here.”

  She shot upward in the bed, the T-shirt she was wearing stretching tightly over the lush ripeness of her breasts.

  “Then we aren’t safe here either,” she said, panicked.

  “Shhh, baby, I need you to calm down,” he soothed. “We would know if they were anywhere close to this house, but you’re right. We can’t stay here. I’ll have to make some phone calls while we figure out our next move.”

  She licked her lips nervously and Isaac nearly groaned at the innocent, sexy gesture.

  “Will you be safe?” she asked hesitantly. “Will your men be safe?”

  His expression went dark and anger was a fierce battle within him. She was only concerned about him and his team. Not one word about her own safety or whether they could keep her safe. Did she think she had so little value?

  Of course she thought just that. When had she ever been shown anything to the contrary? Disgust filled him. She’d spent a lifetime being beaten down, devalued, told time and time again that she was nothing, not important, when in the space of a day she’d become his entire world.

  Unable to resist and passing only a moment’s worry over spooking her, he wrapped his arms around her body and pulled her to him, delving one hand into the silky pale curls of her hair as he lowered his mouth to hers.

  He pressed his lips tentatively to hers at first, judging her reaction, but to his surprise she melted into his body, molding herself tightly to his as if they were meant to fit together. Then he deepened his kiss, sweeping his tongue over her lips, coaxing them gently to open under his persistent demand. With a breathy sigh, she parted her lips just enough that he could slip his tongue inside her mouth and entwine it with hers, absorbing the sweetness of her taste.

  Never had anything felt so right in his life. So perfect. She was made for him just as he was made for her and he’d be damned if anything ever separated them again. He’d go to the wall for her time and time again, placing his body between her and any danger posed to her. And he knew one truth above all others. She belonged to him. Nothing that felt this right could possibly be not meant to be.

  “I will never let anyone hurt you again, Jenna,” he whispered against her lips. “You’ll have me and my entire organization devoted to your safety just as soon as I sound the alarm and we call a meeting to plot our next move.”

  Her look of sadness was enough to break his heart into a million pieces.

  “I’m nobody, Isaac,” she said in a tone that told him she believed every word of it. “You can’t risk everything for me. Do you think I could ever live with myself knowing that you—any of you—were hurt or killed because of me?”

  “That’s where you’re wrong, honey,” he said in his most loving voice, a voice he’d never imagined using on another woman. On anyone. “You are everything to me. My entire world. And if you think after finally finding you after so many years of missing a piece of myself that I’m just going to let you go, then you’re quickly going to find out how very wrong you are. You’re mine, Jenna. Do you understand that? You are mine. And I am responsible for every part of your well-being, your protection, your happiness, making you smile, making you laugh and making every dream you’ve ever dreamed come true. If you’ll just trust me, I swear to you that I’ll make every one of those things happen.”

  She looked shell-shocked. Tears crowded her beautiful eyes as she stared at Isaac in stunned confusion.

  “Do you mean that?” she barely managed to choke out, asking him the same words she’d voiced earlier.

  “I’ve never been more serious about anything in my life. But this can’t be one-sided, Jenna. I have to know that you feel at least something for me. I need you to give me hope that I’m not operating solo here and that you feel even a fraction of what I feel when I look into your eyes, when I touch you and when I kiss you.”

  She flushed, dropping her gaze, but not before he saw such longing in her eyes that it made him want to cry for all she’d never had and all she’d ever dreamed of.

  “Trust in me, Jenna,” he said, huskily, nearly begging when he’d never begged for anything in his life. “Give me the chance to prove myself to you. It’s all I’ll ever ask of you. Just a chance. And for you to place your trust and your heart in my hand. I’ll treat them like the most precious things I’ve ever been given.”

  “I’m broken, Isaac. How can you want that—me?” she asked tearfully. “How can I be worthy of a man like you?”

  He scowled despite his best efforts not to. “That’s the biggest line of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life and I will not hear it come out of your pretty mouth again. Are we clear?”

  She was shaking but she nodded her head, color tinging her cheeks as she stared at his lips, the lips that had just kissed her.

  “I never knew,” she said in wonder.

  He cocked his head to the side, cupping her cheek in his hand. “What are you talking about, honey?”

  “That kissing was so beautiful,” she admitted hesitantly. “So intimate. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before and I don’t understand what it’s doing to me.”

  He smiled tenderly at her and then kissed her softly once more. “You’ll understand this and a whole lot more very soon, baby. I promise you that.”

  Then he sighed and drew away. “I want you to lie down and try to get some sleep. You’re exhausted and I need you rested for what comes next. I need to make some calls and plot our next move. I’ll wake you in a few hours and I swear to you that I’ll keep nothing from you. Deal?”

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