Total pages in book: 1
Estimated words: 23330 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 117(@200wpm)___ 93(@250wpm)___ 78(@300wpm)
Estimated words: 23330 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 117(@200wpm)___ 93(@250wpm)___ 78(@300wpm)
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He walked into the truck stop diner one rainy night and my life was never the same. The mysterious big rig driver made me feel flustered in ways I barely understood, with his hands. His words. His observant eyes. Now he’s telling me that I’m unsafe. That I’m in serious danger, unless I trust him. In all ways. Physically. Emotionally. In the back of his rig, I become his, without exception. But our happy ending could be cut short by the men who want to hurt me. They underestimated what my truck driver would do to keep me safe, though…and come home to me forever.
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It’s a Tuesday night and it’s raining. I’ve only made $13.50 in tips since my shift started at four o’clock and the parking lot of the truck stop diner is empty, so I guess I’m not leaving here a millionaire tonight.
“Maybe tomorrow,” I murmur, using my breath to fog up the window, etching a little heart into the condensation with my pinkie finger. Humming to myself, I lean my forehead against the cool center of the heart and let myself drift, green neon blurring where it reflects in the expanding puddles on the other side of the glass.
I close my eyes and think of the panel I’m working on, envisioning a pencil in my hand, the lead tip scratching along the surface of the paper, adding details to worlds I create in my own imagination. My sketchbook is in back of the diner, tucked into my messenger bag where it hangs on the coat hook. My boss doesn’t like me working on my comics in the diner, but surely he’ll make an exception when there isn’t a single customer in sight.
A little buzz of excitement zaps my fingers and they twitch, my butt already scooting toward the aisle of the booth where I’ve been daydreaming since sunset. I chew my lip in anticipation of where I’m going to take the scene next. Maybe I’ll make myself a chocolate shake to really get those creative juices flowing—
Blinding lights sweeps across the interior of the diner.
I shield my eyes until it cuts off, then scoot back toward the window to peer out, already knowing it’s going to be a rig. The diner is located on the edge of the interstate, so almost all of my customers are truck drivers, hauling goods from point A to B. Passing through. They’re stopping for a cup of bottomless coffee to help stay awake. Maybe some conversation to remind them they’re alive after fourteen hours on the road with no one to keep them company. My boss is always saying this is the perfect job for me, because I’m a chatterbox and truck drivers are the only ones who don’t mind someone else’s voice nattering on about everything from the latest celebrity gossip to comics.
The door of the rig slams in the parking lot and I reach for my apron, but my hand pauses in mid-air, my breath catching at the sight of the figure slowly cutting toward the entrance through the rain. It’s a downpour and he’s not even hurrying to get out of the wet. His slow stride is purposeful and measured, head down, rain soaking into his gray T-shirt and jeans. As he gets closer, I spy the rivulets of water snaking down his forearms like veins, the droplets hanging on the ends of his dark brown hair.
Why do I feel anchored to the leather seat?
I’m supposed to be up already, preparing a menu and a mug of coffee, a greeting on my tongue. Instead, my mouth is dry, stomach clenched while I wait for the bell to ding over the door. Rain pounds harder against the window and I swallow heavily, my pulse picking up when the lights flicker overhead, signaling the potential for a power outage. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’ve never been nervous to be alone in the diner before. Sure, the cook is in back watching television on his overturned bucket, but I almost never see his face. He cooks and goes home. Not really someone I would rely on for protection.
The bell rings over the door, seemingly louder than usual.
I jolt to attention in the seat and whisper, “Move,” to myself, inching my butt toward the aisle, attempting to put my apron back on at the same time. My fingers are incapable of securing the tie behind my back, though, because he’s inside now, stopped dead in his tracks just inside the door, and his eyes…they pierce me like a bullet.
My lord, he’s big and thick.
Handsome in a weathered way. Like he started off pretty but saw some things along the way and lines were etched on his face, features turned a little weary. My fingers twitch, wishing to put those unique lines on paper. To replicate the sinew of his shoulder in my sketchbook.
That drenched shirt is stuck to muscles I don’t typically see on my regulars. He must be a new driver. Hasn’t gone soft from sitting for long hours and existing on road food yet. This man appears to be in his early thirties, too. Younger than my usual crowd. And about ten times as intense. His jaw pops while looking me over, his attention tracing down and over the generous curve of my hips, down to the tips of my sneakers. Back up to my dark, messy ponytail.
He makes a low groaning sound and drags long, blunt fingers through his wet hair, slicking it back from his face—and then he’s picking toward me, slowly, leaving wet footprints in his wake. I have the strong urge to run and I don’t know why. Maybe I have an undiscovered sixth sense like so many of the superheroes in my comics. Mine is knowing things are about to change. That’s what this man’s eyes are telling me. Nothing is ever going to be the same.
I snatch up a laminated menu from the closest table and hold it in front of me like a shield. He watches me do this with an amused flick of his brow, stopping when his boots are two feet from my sneakers. “Hello,” he rasps in a voice like smoky midnight.
“Hello,” I whisper, tilting my head back to maintain eye contact. This man is well above six foot three and I’m a full foot shorter. “Are you here to tell me I’m a long-lost descendant of a revered warrior and I have to come with you to fight in a battle between good and evil?”
Three ticks of the oversized neon wall clock go by. “No.”
“Oh,” I breathe, realizing I just said all of that out loud and my face is turning beet red as a result. “Just here for coffee, then?”
Blue-black eyes track a path down the center of my breasts. “Something like that.”
I’m usually launching into my third topic by now, but this stranger has me completely tongue tied. I’ve never been so aware of the tight fit of my white blouse or the high hem of the black skirt it’s tucked into. I’m still making a feeble attempt to tie my apron and with my hands behind my back, the blouse is stretching over my breasts more than usual—and he’s watching. Jaw clenched, he’s watching—
And then he moves so quickly, I gasp in alarm.
I’m being turned around by his strong, impatient hands. Before I know what’s happening, he has taken hold of the apron strings, yanked them tight enough to jerk my hips back, and tied them soundly into a bow. It’s such an intimate—and let’s face it, inappropriate— gesture coming from a stranger that I don’t know how to respond. I should probably call the police, but I can only stand there and breathe, goosebumps decorating every inch of my skin. The heat of his breath ghosts over the back of my neck and I whimper, my loins constricting for the first time in my life. I’m…aroused. By a man. For the first time in my twenty-one years.
My eyes fly wider than they already are.
I was beginning to think it would never happen.
But why is my body responding to a man I also seem to…fear?
Maybe I’m fearful because I’m turned on? Because the feeling is so new?
His breath turns hot on the side of my neck, his body heat permeating the thin layer of my blouse and heating my spine. My shoulders. If I lean to the right, my ear will touch his mouth. What is happening here? Am I still sitting in the booth daydreaming?
Or has the moment where I explore physical pleasure finally arrived?
“Where do you want me?” he scrapes out.
A shiver almost violently over the forward question. “I don’t understand…d-do you mean l-like…which position? Because I don’t know anything about this sort of thing.” I drop my voice to a whisper. “About sex. If you told me I’m supposed to hang from the ceiling fan, I would probably believe you. Or are you asking me where do I want you, as in, a location? Like a bed or—where else can it be done beside a bed?”
“I’m asking you where I should sit, Tatum.”
I’m on the verge of dying from embarrassment when alarm captures me in its grip, my temples pounding. “H-how do you know my name?”
Thunder shakes the windowpanes while I wait for his response. “You’re wearing a name tag,” he drawls finally, his lips making the barest yet potent contact with the side of my neck. Dragging up to the spot behind my ear. “Now show me where to sit, baby, before I decide to educate you on just how many locations there are to fuck besides a bed.”
God help me, the picture didn’t do her justice.
I’ve never seen lusher, more dramatic curves on a female and my hands are desperate to grip them, trace them, memorize every mind-blowing inch. We’re alone in this godforsaken truck stop and she’s so horny she’s tripping all over herself, flushed, picking up coffee mugs and setting them down with a rattle, as if she’s completely forgotten how to do her job. Virgin. No doubt about it. My dick is hard as stone for the innocent waitress—
And I’m here to traffic her.
I’m here to drug and smuggle this beautiful creature across the border to Canada before she’s taken to parts unknown. Sold off. Never to be seen or heard from again by her loved ones. Used to slake the lust of sick, depraved men for the rest of a severely shortened life.
At least, that’s what I’ve been hired to do.
What I will do? Another story entirely.
Finally, she sets down a steaming mug of coffee in front of me and it’s everything I can do not to knock it aside and reach across the counter, haul this gorgeous girl into my lap and pop her cherry right here on this rusty stool. I’ve been sick with hunger since my boss showed me Tatum’s picture, a candid shot of her cleaning her clothes at a laundromat, leaned over a folding table, her brow furrowed in concentration while she drew in a sketchbook.
I’m not a man who has ever been absorbed by lust. Women are occasional entertainment. I don’t remember their names, faces or anything they say to me. But hell if there isn’t something about this one. A picture of her has kept my stones in a chokehold for a week. I’ve dreamed about her. Imagined her in stores and in passing vehicles. Everywhere. Actually seeing her in person, though? There’s no comparison. If she touched me, I swear to God, I’d lose my grip on whatever control I have left. She’s soft and blushing and sweet and everything I’ve always thought was a myth.
And if my boss gave this job to someone else, I might never have known about her.
I drain the scalding hot coffee to distract myself from that horrifying thought.
“Would you like something to eat…” She looks at me expectantly, a smile flirting with the corners of her incredible mouth, no idea that I’m the big bad wolf. “That was your opening to tell me your name,” she quips, sliding a menu in my direction. “Seems fair, since you already know mine.”
Is it unwise to tell her my name? Absolutely. Does my will to hear her say it in that musical voice override any concerns? Christ yes. “Hoss.”
One of her brows ticks up. “Hoss?”
I grit my teeth to combat the rush of blood to my cock. “That’s right,” I growl.
Her throat works with a nervous swallow. “What would you like to eat, Hoss?”
You. Whole. Now.
I need to get a hold of myself or she’s never going to trust me. I need her to trust me, so I can help her. That means being patient. Putting my burning need on hold until I’ve done what is necessary. “Do you have any pie?”
She nods toward a row of clear cases. “Cherry and apple.”
A pained laugh almost escapes me. “Cherry.”
The lights flicker overhead while Tatum is cutting me a slice of pie, adding whipped cream and bringing it back, setting it down in front of me. “It’s a bad one tonight,” she murmurs, adding a fork to my plate. “The roads must have been terrible.”
I grunt in agreement, sinking the fork into the flaky crust and carving out a huge bite. Watching her pupils dilate as I carry it to my mouth and slide it in. “Let’s just say I like it much better in here.” I swipe my finger through the cream and lick it off, imagining I’m tonguing it out of her pussy while she gasps and squirms. “I thought it got lonely out on the road, but you’re pretty isolated in here, too, without any customers.”
She glances over her shoulder toward the back of the diner. “I have my sketchbook to keep me company.”
Sketchbook. The one she was drawing in at the laundromat. I’ve been dying to know what she was drawing. Been dying to know everything about her, really. All I know so far is her name, age and address. Plus the location where she’s supposed to be delivered in a week’s time—not that it matters a damn bit. “What do you sketch, Tatum?”
Her lashes sweep down to hide her eyes. Shyly. “I’m a comic book artist. Or…aspiring, anyway. I’m still saving up for art school.” She gives the empty rows of booths a wry look. “Tonight isn’t exactly going to put me over the top.”
Art school. Comics. This girl has a whole future planned out, but my boss takes none of that into account, does he? She’s just a number. A payday.
Not to me, though.
“I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else,” she whispers, growing animated, eyes sparkling. Gorgeous beyond words. “There are no rules. And so much of the worldbuilding can be done in photos. For someone like me who doesn’t like a lot of description, but loves dialogue, it makes the story so much more compelling. My…”
I realize I’ve been holding my breath listening to her talk. “You what?”
“My favorite series is called Comeback Girl. The heroine is this underdog, all the odds are stacked against her, but she fights back every time.” The sound of pouring rain fills the diner, but my heartbeat is louder. “Sometimes when I’m bored and there are no customers, I think of what Comeback Girl would do. And this place becomes my secret lair where I plot world domination. Or at least, plot to take down the bad guys.”
I’m a bad guy, aren’t I?
Technically, yes. I’m one of the worst out there.
That fact sticks in my throat and stops me from responding.
When her words have been hanging in the air too long, she grows visibly self-conscious. Twin spots of red appear on her cheeks and eyelashes fluttering, she looks away quickly. “I’ll leave you to y-your pie,” she stammers. “Just signal me if you want a refill on that coffee.”
She turns to leave and my fork is already clattering down to the plate, my hand shooting across the counter to trap her wrist. “Stay,” I rasp, unable to hide all of the desperation. “I’m sorry, I’m not…great at making conversation.”
Sympathy makes her eyes go from brown to honey colored. “Most truck drivers aren’t. I usually talk enough for the both of us.”
“Why aren’t you doing that with me?”
“I don’t know. You’re different.”
“Drivers usually remind me of my corny uncle Pete,” she explains, slicking her lips with that pretty pink tongue. “You don’t remind me of my uncle at all.”
My cock pounds in my jeans. “Good.”
“Why is it good?” she breathes—and I realize my grip on her wrist has tightened.
I’m guiding her through the opening of the counter and dragging her around to my side, despite my better judgment. All the way into the V of my thighs, her belly stopping an inch away from my bulge. Jesus, I want to yank her closer. All the way. But I rake my knuckles up and down the curves of her sides instead, listening to her soft, surprised expulsions of air. “It wouldn’t be appropriate to stand like this with your uncle, Tatum.”
Her gaze travels to my mouth and lingers. “If we’re getting technical, I shouldn’t be standing like this with a customer, either.”
I flick a glance at the kitchen. “Is the cook going to rat you out?”
“No. I don’t know.” She’s getting flustered. Her nipples are in hard little points and she knows I can see them, clear as day, and it’s causing her to shift around in between my outstretched thighs. Making me want to trap her, hold her down like a fucking predator. “I-I’ve never done anything bad enough to test his loyalty,” she adds.
“Maybe we should.”
“How?” she asks.
“Tell him you’re closing early and let him see us leaving together.” I drag her an inch closer, my hands flexing on her full, perfect hips. “By morning you should know whether or not he squealed to your boss.”
“So it would just be an experiment?” she says quietly. “I wouldn’t actually go to your truck.”
“Yes, you would. We have to make it believable.” I lean in and inhale against the side of her neck, letting my chest press to her tits. “Once we’re in my truck, of course, we’re just going to play Monopoly, but he won’t know that.”
A full-on, girlish little giggle and God help me, my world tilts sideways.
I grow so stiff behind the zipper of my jeans that my vision triples and I start to sweat. Oh shit. Shit. That giggle. I need to hear it again. I’m aching for a replay, my balls drawing up tight to my undercarriage. What the hell is wrong with me?
“Do that again,” I order thickly, my mouth open on the slope of her shoulder. “Laugh like that again, baby. Come on.”
“I…can’t do it on command. You have to give me something to laugh about.”
My fingers move of their own accord, tickling her sides—and that giggle fills the air again and I don’t know what comes over me. Teeth on edge, I crush her against my chest and continue to wriggle the fingers of my right hand into her side. She thrashes around, letting loose that sweet, innocent sound and I want more. More. My hand drags down over her plump, sexy ass to her bare thighs and I squeeze them in turn, making her squeal and dance around, her tits jiggling around between us.
“You like that, baby? You like when I tease and tickle you?”
“Stop!” she cries. “It’s too much. I can’t breathe!”
“You love it.” I surge to my feet and drop her ass down on the nearest stool, leaning back a little so I can witness the effect of what I’m doing. The way her skin is turning rosy, her eyes glassy—and that giggle. It’s like angels singing. Only it’s not having a heavenly effect on me whatsoever. My dick is throbbing in time with her tinkling laugh. And this stool is not good enough. I need her beneath me wiggling around like this. I’m fucking panting for it. My cock is swollen and my breathing is ragged, my hunger becoming rawer by the second. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me, but I’m too revved up to care. I want her naked and tittering beneath me, all flushed and breathless, calling me…
Am I sick in the head and never realized it?
Or is it Tatum alone making me need something I never could have imagined?
I don’t have a chance to answer that question, because a horn beeps twice in the parking lot and Tatum gasps, pulling out of my grip and off the stool. She stumbles a little, trying to catch her breath, and all I can do is sit there and reel at what almost happened. I almost blew this whole operation.
She straightens her skirt and tucks loose hair into her ponytail, her cheeks on fire when she looks over at me. But then, oh hell, she gives me a wobbly smile and my heart slingshots up into my throat. In that moment, I remember why I was sent here. To traffic this sweet girl so some faceless monsters could make a profit from her pain. I won’t be worthy of her until I’ve made her safe. I won’t deserve her until the threat has been eliminated. The need to commit violence against anyone who would think to harm her is teeming in my chest. Multiplying.
I will begin tonight.
“Tatum,” I bark, before she can greet the incoming customer.
She blinks at me. “Yes?”
“You will be here tomorrow night.”
It’s not a question, but she answers anyway. “Yes. My shift starts at four.”
I have a week before she is expected to arrive in Canada. I have time. That’s how I reassure myself on the way out the door of the truck stop diner, everything inside of me screaming to go back in, collect the girl and lose myself in her.
Another quiet night.
Not totally dead, at least. There are two customers seated at the counter eating burgers and discussing truck routes. Near the window, there is a lovestruck teenage couple that I’m pretty sure are runaways. They paid me in quarters and their feet are resting on duffel bags beneath the table.
Everyone has paid their check, so I’m leaning on the counter, pencil in hand, working on my latest panel, which is basically just Comeback Girl fan fiction. In this scene, she is charming the devastatingly sexy truck driver, totally robbing him of his common sense with a bat of her eyelashes. She’s pretending not to know he’s evil and, of course, he has underestimated the underdog at his own peril.
This scene is nothing like what happened last night. Hoss gave me no indication that he’s evil. As far as I know, there are no villains in history that tickle their victims to death. Maybe he was simply a gorgeous figment of my imagination and I lost my chance to see him again by giggling like a deranged toddler. Of course he couldn’t get out of here fast enough.
With a sigh, I flip my pencil over and erase a wayward strand of Comeback Girl’s hair. I put lead to paper again a moment later with the intention of fixing my error, but the tip of my pencil breaks off. “Shoot,” I mutter, ducking down to look beneath the counter for a new one.
What I see instead has my jaw dropping.
Sitting amidst the waitress supplies is a glossy comic book covered in plastic.
Holding my breath, I pick it up and make a short, punctuated sound that halts the conversation between the truck drivers. “This…this is the first issue of Comeback Girl. This is literally number one. One!” I can’t breathe. All I can do is stare down at the item in my hands, afraid to damage it. “Where did this come from?”
And how long has it been sitting here?
There are tears in my eyes. I hold the comic to my chest as carefully as possible, hugging it like an old friend. I’m probably dreaming, but this is the best one I’ve ever had. Almost as amazing as the truck driver dream from last night, which I’m positive now must have been my overactive imagination trying to entertain itself. Only…
I told Hoss about my Comeback Girl obsession, didn’t I?
Does that mean this number one issue is an extension of the dream?
Or does that mean last night was real?
With a frown, I turn toward the kitchen, planning to put the comic safely in my purse where it won’t get damaged. Comeback Girl isn’t a popular comic and this won’t be worth a fortune or anything, but to me, it’s pure gold.
As I start to turn, a new figure appears out of nowhere at the end of the counter and I jolt back, nearly dropping the glossy magazine in my hands. Hoss.
Hoss is back. Sitting at the end of the counter.
Chocolate-brown hair in disarray. A black eye. Cut lip. Lounged back casually.
His expression is anything but casual, though. His eyes are twin blue beams that could burn a hole right through a superhero’s body armor. That jaw is bunched, his right hand in a fist on the counter. He is making the other customers uncomfortable, obviously, because they throw a tip on the counter and skedaddle toward the exit without so much as a thank you in my direction.
A lot like last night when I was in the presence of the trucker, my belly starts to feel funny, flexing in odd places that make me uncomfortable and curious at the same time. My shirt goes from professional to indecent in two seconds flat, my bra too flimsy to hide the way my nipples harden with awareness. I suddenly have the urge to play with my hair. I can feel his big fingers in my side last night, searching out spots that made my womanhood clench, made me strain to keep from peeing my panties.
I assumed my loud laughter turned him off.
But he’s back. Does that mean he liked it?
Liked…tickling me? Liked touching me, period?
“You don’t have that one,” he says, voice gravelly. “Do you?”
Disbelief steals over me. Even though I had a suspicion Hoss left me the comic, I can’t quite wrap my head around the gesture. What it means. “You…this was you?”
His fingers drum once on the counter. Slowly. One fingertip at a time, one by one. “It had better only be me leaving you presents, Tatum.”
Oh. Oh my.
Is he my boyfriend now?
Am I too dense or inexperienced to know what’s going on here?
“You are. Mostly. Someone brought me a little Route 66 sign once with my name on it. You know how they have those turnstiles in gift shops with a whole bunch of names on key chains or refrigerator magnets? They never have a Tatum, so that was a nice gift to receive. Just knowing it’s out there somewhere on a turnstile for other little Tatums to find. You know?” My heart is walloping in my chest as I go toward him. “This is the best gift I’ve ever, ever received, though. Where did you find it?” I study the damage on his chiseled face. “And did you have to beat somebody up for it?”
“No.” He touches a tongue to his split lip. “This was a separate job.”
Swallowing, I glance toward the parking lot. “Did you have an accident with your truck?”
Alarm bells are beginning to clang in the back of my head. “Do you have a second job? Something besides driving a rig?”
He stares at me for long, silent moments before inclining his head slightly. “Yes, Tatum. I do.”
The front door of the diner opens and closes. The teen couple is gone.
Now it’s just me and Hoss in the diner, no sound except for the oldies playing. The ticking of the giant neon clock. The rush of the interstate in the distance. And my pulse. I can hear that pounding like a fist on a door. “This second job involves you getting into fights?” His jaw ticks in response. “Should I be…nervous?”
At this, he shakes his head without hesitation. Slowly. “Everyone else should be fucking nervous, baby. Not you.”
“I thought my manic giggling freaked you out.”
He huffs an incredulous laugh. “You have no idea how wrong you are.” He leans in, forearms flexing on the counter. “Give me the chance to prove it. Come to my truck.”
A tremor runs through my inner thighs, turning my juncture hot and confusingly damp, making it necessary to squeeze my legs together. “But I’m working.”
“The way you make me ache, Tatum…” He shifts in his seat, something hot and desperate blanketing his features. “It doesn’t give a shit about the rules.”
“I make you ache,” I repeat in a whisper.
All other sounds around me fade out, except for his voice. “You make me do a lot of things.”
“Come over here and I’ll tell you.”
My feet are trapped in quicksand. I can’t move. Do I want to circle the counter and experience this man’s incredible hands on me once more? Yes. More than I want this comic book in my hands. More than I want anything. But there is a voice in the back of my mind warning me that I’m about to get a rude awakening. Warning me that there is more to this man than meets the eye. “I should probably stay over here,” I murmur, wetting my lips.
A dangerous light comes on in his eyes.
He crooks a finger at me. “Come here, Tatum.”
“I can come back there, if you like.”
“Customers aren’t allowed back here.”
“Like I said, there are no rules when I’m aching like this.”
My head is growing more muddled by the moment in the presence of his gruff intensity, but I’m thinking clearly enough to remember that if my boss comes in and there is a customer behind the counter, I will get fired. “No, I’ll come to you,” I eek out, setting down the comic carefully and brushing the wrinkles from my skirt.
Slowly, I start to make my to the opening in the counter—but I only make it three steps when Hoss lunges to his feet with a growl and strides there faster. “Can’t wait that long.”
I stop dead in my tracks and watch the human equivalent of a bull bearing down on me. I tilt my head back at his approach, stumbling back until my butt hits the metal refrigerated cabinets—and then he’s pressing me against it. Hard, with his hips. He’s gripping the sides of my skirt and yanking me up on my toes, his hips pinning me to the metal barrier. “Quit my job and made a lot of dangerous enemies to get back to this pussy, Tatum,” he rasps into my hair. “To get back to your giggle. Your beautiful face. Your soft skin. Don’t tease me.”
I can barely speak around the heart in my throat. “I’m not teasing,” I whimper.
“You tease me just by standing there. Crossing your legs and squeezing, like maybe you think I don’t notice, baby? I can see every one of those little goosebumps around your nipples. I can feel you wiggling around beneath me, laughing and squealing.” He fists my hair and draws my head back, baring his teeth against my lips. “God, you’re so deep in my head already and digging deeper, deeper, by the fucking second. So don’t tease me. Don’t do it. When I ask you to come here, please understand I’m on the verge of dying if I don’t touch you.”
My skin is made of molten lava, knees weakening. “I-I didn’t realize…”
“You didn’t realize I’m a lunatic? Neither did I. Not until I saw your picture. Now you’re day and night. You’re my day. You’re my night.”
“Picture?” In my mind, pages are flipping. We’ve gotten to the twist. I had an intuition in my stomach that I wasn’t seeing the full picture and now…now I’ve stumbled upon a clue, haven’t I? Comeback Girl would be slowly removing the hidden dagger from her bot. “What picture, Hoss?”
Clearly, he didn’t mean to let that slip. His nostrils flare and he slams his fist down on the counter behind me, rattling my nerves. “Goddammit, Tatum.”
I try to push away, but he hauls me even closer, bringing our mouths an inch apart. My toes are barely scraping the tile ground. “You are going to come out to my truck and listen to me. Calmly.”
“Like hell I am.”
“You are in no danger from me.” He tilts his hips, groans, then rams my hips up against the waist-level refrigerators. A hard protrusion is pressed up against the seam of my panties, and despite my well-founded fears, I can’t help wanting to rub my femininity all over it. “I don’t want to harm you,” he growls. “I want to worship you.”
“Maybe you say that to all your victims.”
“Victims? Jesus Christ.”
The next thing I know, I’m being thrown over his shoulder and he’s stomping through the diner, my comic book dangling from his free hand. I’m so stunned that it doesn’t occur to me to scream until we’ve almost reached the door. I twist around, frantically looking toward the kitchen, but the cook isn’t there. He’s probably out back, having a smoke. But I scream anyway. I scream as loud as possible before the glass door closes behind us, the tinkling of the bell fading into the night.
I need to fight. I need to get away.
He saw a picture of me. Where?
Has he simply been trying to charm me out to his truck?
Why would he do that when he’s strong enough to carry me there against my will?
“Let me go.”
A truck door opens and I’m being drawn off his shoulder, lifted, crowded through an opening by his big body. Frantically, I look around at the tiny room. It’s located behind the front seat of the rig and it’s only big enough to hold a twin-sized mattress, the bedding messy. A small refrigerator. A desk lamp in the corner. “Oh God, how many people have been killed in here? Some luminol would light this place up like a Rorschach test, wouldn’t it?”
“Enough,” he says through his teeth. “No one has been killed in here.”
I lunge for the lamp and swing it at his head. “Save it for the judge!”
He catches the neck of the lamp in mid-air and smashes it against the wall, the bulb shattering onto the floor, leaving us in the barest bit of light coming in from the front seat. For long moments, we stare at each other, breathing hard. I’m shocked to find out I’m still severely attracted to this man, even though he’s about to make me a future cold case. And that attraction only amplifies when he takes a step in my direction and slowly strips off his shirt.
Oh lord. He’s like a sculpture. A sculpted work of art that has been graffitied on.
“Lay down, Tatum.”
Christ, she has so much spirit.
So much life inside of her, it makes me feel alive, too.
I almost wanted her to succeed in clocking me with the lamp, just so she could be proud of herself. I’m fuck-starved and starry-eyed for this girl—and thanks to my slip-up, she obviously thinks I’m a murderer or something equally terrifying. Yet when I toss aside my shirt, she blinks several times and starts to breathe faster, because no matter what incorrect assumptions she’s made about me, she’s still horny as hell and I’m going to have to use that. I have no choice. If I don’t distract her, if I don’t use every weapon at my disposal, she’s not going to let me keep her safe. And her safety is paramount.
If something happened to her, this world would never recover from my rampage.
“Lay down, Tatum.”
“Did you get those tattoos in prison?” she blurts.
I point at the mattress. “Down.”
She shakes her head.
I move like a shot, catching her around the waist and wrestling her down onto the mattress, careful not to hurt her. She tries to knee me in the junk, but I get her pinned down roughly beneath me, wrists trapped above her head. “Now, you’re going to listen.”
“You can’t make me. My ears are closed.”
“My cock is hard.”
“So you are listening.”
“You villains and your sneaky tricks.”
“I am not a villain.” I bring my forehead down on hers and brush my lips side to side over her softer ones, memorizing the way her thighs turn pliant around my hips, almost against her will. “I work for a man who is a villain, though, Tatum. All right? I got in deep with him growing up. I had no family, no education. He gave me a job driving a rig, smuggling medical supplies across the Canadian border, selling them at more affordable prices in the States. I lost both of my parents to illnesses when I was real young and…listen, it might be illegal, but it’s a cause I believe in.”
She’s not breathing, just searching my eyes. At the very least, I have her attention.
“But this man I work for…his operation has been changing over the last few years. He started moving stolen merchandise, possibly weapons. He never asked me to do any of that. Maybe he knew I wouldn’t. I don’t know. But last week…” The rage starts to boil up inside of me. “Last week, I overheard a meeting between my boss and a man I didn’t recognize. They were talking about trafficking women. I was going to call the FBI, Tatum, but then I saw your picture. I saw it on the screen of my boss’s laptop and I knew I couldn’t leave it to chance. The FBI could take months to get evidence and arrange a sting, but I don’t have to deal with the red tape. So I convinced my boss to cut me in. He thinks I’m bringing you across the border.”
She starts to tremble. “Are you?”
“No, baby. God no.” I lean down and kiss her, initially as reassurance, but her taste is like a warm wave rushing through my head, my chest—and I can’t stop. I groan and press her mouth wide, sweeping in with my tongue and moving it in and out, in and out, deeper each time, showing her what it’s going to be like to fuck. Her taste is a mixture of cherry cola and innocence, turning my dick into a pulsing rod. “Tatum, I’m not waiting for law enforcement to stop this man. His plans have advanced too far and he’s too smart. Maybe if he hadn’t targeted you, I would let the FBI handle it. But he made a very big mistake, threatening what’s mine. Didn’t he? He’s not getting away with it.” I slant my mouth over hers and lick the whimper from her tongue. “Going to kill for you. Going to burn the whole operation the fuck down. It’s the only way I’ll ever sleep at night. I need to know they’ll never come for you, Tatum. That they’ll never even think about you again.”
When we break for air, she scans my face with a mixture of wariness and concern. “How did you get the black eye?”
“Last night, I drove down to Indiana for the comic. I found a man selling it online.” I let go of her right wrist and reach down, slowly gathering her skirt higher and higher on her thighs. “I also arranged a meeting with another driver. One of the others who has been hired to kidnap the women on the list.” Memories of bones breaking and a mouth gasping for a final breath float through my mind. “He won’t be completing the job, let’s just leave it at that.”
“Did you kill him?”
“Don’t ask me questions like that, Tatum. Not unless you want the answer.”
Her heart is fluttering beneath me. “I can feel you lifting up my skirt,” she whispers. “You villains and your sneaky tricks.”
“I’m only a villain to anyone who fucks with you.” I drop my mouth to her neck and lick a path from shoulder to ear, sinking my teeth into her sensitive skin. “I saw the picture and you became mine. Then I met you in real life and found out what the word obsession means.” Looking her in the eye, I roll my hips, grinding my cock against her little white panties, rejoicing in her stutter of breath. The way she’s beginning to pant like she’s excited despite her nerves. “I’m a good decade older than you. I’ve done bad things. Every night, when you laid your head on your pillow and started to dream, I was out committing crimes.” I hook a finger in the waistband of her underwear and start to draw them down her thighs. “I’m violent. I’m cynical. I’m mean. But you will be my fucking princess. You will be my…”
“What?” she whispers.
I leave her panties mid-thigh and stroke my fingertips up to her pussy, slipping my middle one up and down between her wet folds. “God help me, you’ll be my little girl. The only one I’ve ever wanted. The last one I’ll ever need.”
Her expression verges on confusion, but the gush of moisture onto my fingers tells me she likes what I’m saying, even if she doesn’t fully understand. Yet. “I’m not a little girl, though,” she whispers, her eyelids struggling to stay up, thighs growing restless.
“And I’m not a Daddy. But I think you want me to be yours.” Securing our mouths together, I slip my pinkie finger into her tight little hole, drawing it in and out. “I think you want to be tickled and fucked by Daddy in the back of his truck.” She clamps around my pinkie so hard, I couldn’t tug it out if I tried. “Don’t bother answering. Your pussy just did it for you.”
I’ve never been like this. Burning alive for anything or anyone.
My back and chest are prickling with hot sweat, my nuts are throbbing with the weight of my semen. I can smell the sweet flesh between her thighs and possessiveness rattles the inside of my skull. I’ve got her naked from the waist down, but I need her nude. Immediately. Taking hold of the sides of her white blouse, I rip it down the center. “I want you naked. The way you came into this world. Because you’re about to enter a whole new one, Tatum. Our world. We do what makes us hot and we don’t give a fuck about right and wrong. Answer me how you should. How it feels good.”
Her lashes flutter down, briefly hiding her eyes. “Yes, Daddy.”
Oh my God.
I spoke of her being reborn, but with that single word, I’ve been renewed, as well. My life has a new purpose and she’s on a mattress in the back of my truck, silver in the moonlight, her trust in me expanding by the moment. Because her instincts tell her it’s right.
Triumphant, I dive down and close my teeth around the front snap of her bra, attacking the final barrier like a rabid animal, tearing side to side until the clasp gives way and her tits come bouncing out, big and supple and creamy. Mine. “Goddamn, you’re beautiful. You’re my princess, head to toe.” I drag my mouth down the valley of her breasts, licking side to side, up and over her nipples until she’s squirming, gasping, then down, down toward that place between her legs where we both need me to be. “Yeah, head to toe, you’re a princess. But tits to pussy, Tatum, you’re going to be my tormenter, aren’t you? You’re going to make me crazy with this soft, sexy body. I’ve already ridden it a thousand times in my head and I’m about to have it for real. Finally. Right after I wet up your tight, little fuck pocket.”
Wedging my cock good and tight to her heat, I reach down and tickle her ribs.
That sweet giggle bathes my ear and I groan uncontrollably. I feel a click in my stomach, a rush down lower. My whole life, this is what I’ve needed. This girl to laugh and wiggle around beneath me. Perhaps it’s perverted, but I’ll never be able to live without it again. When I find the backs of her knees and tease them with my index fingers, that’s when she really lets loose, bucking and filling the truck cab with girlish squeals that ruin me and make me a god at the same time. “Yeah, you like that don’t you?”
More laughter. “I…I don’t know!”
“Maybe we should try tickling you with my mouth, baby,” I mutter thickly on my way down her body. She’s shoving at my shoulders because she doesn’t understand what’s coming. Or maybe she’s self-conscious, because she’s never had a man give her oral—and no other man ever fucking will. But despite her half-hearted protests, I press my mouth against her cleft and wiggle my tongue between her folds, releasing some trapped moisture and letting it coat my tongue. Getting my chin and lips as wet as possible, lubricated for her pleasure, and I use everything I’ve got, licking and nibbling and raking my mouth up and down her pulsing, swelling clit, savoring her shocked intakes of breath, the way her thighs open and close, as if she doesn’t know what to do in the face of such an overwhelming sensations. But finally, she gives into it and lets me dominate that pretty nub, groaning and stroking it with the tip of my tongue until her body starts to tremble and she’s saying words that don’t make sense.
Time to claim her.
Time to fuck.
My throat is choked with emotion as I give her perfect pussy a final lick and reach down to unzip my jeans, letting out my rigid dick. “It’s our first time,” I whisper against her gasping mouth, jacking my cock in my hand. “I’m making you mine, baby. This is the beginning of our lives together. You will never, ever get away from me as long as you live.” I bring my shaft to her opening and drag it side to side over that sweet, wet hole, teasing it into accepting me. She tries to look down at what I’m holding, but I nudge her head back with my forehead, not allowing her to see, knowing my size will only scare her. I can’t afford another delay when I’m this primed. This desperate to make her mine. “There’s going to be a little pressure, baby, but I promise you this.” I sink in the first third of my cock and watch her eyes flare with a mixture of panic and excitement. “I promise that after you bleed on it, you’re going to come on it, too. Do you believe what I’m telling you?”
Only a second ticks by before she nods. “Yes.”
“Good girl,” I praise, giving her a long, winding kiss. “You want my cock.”
“Yes,” she sobs, gripping my shoulders.
“Best girl. Best girl,” I mutter into her neck, rocking my hips forward, filling her, almost losing my seed over the first slap of my balls against her big, beautiful ass. Then, oh fuck me, I can’t process anything but how tight and tiny she is, her hot, sodden pussy wrapped around my inches and squeezing the life out of them. Her breath saws in and out against my ear, our heartbeats rapping in perfect sync. I’m home. I’ve found heaven, right here. She’s the end game I didn’t know my whole life was leading to. “Open your legs,” I grit out. “Show me trust.”
Slowly, the muscles of her inner thighs lose tension and they fall sideways onto the mattress, the release of nerves turning her wetter. More pliant. But she’s still whimpering, obviously struggling to get used to me being inside of her.
“Listen to me, Tatum,” I whisper into her neck, reaching up to fist her hair, my hips dying to buck. To nail her into the mattress. Patience, though. I have to have patience with my future wife. “This is the first and last time I’ll ever hurt you.”
Those words calm her down and she looks into my eyes, nodding, shifting her hips—
She gasps. “Ohh.”
“I th-think it’s better now.” Her death grip on my shoulders eases. “I think I like it.”
“Oh, you’re going to like it, little girl,” I growl, using my grip in her hair to tug her head sideways, exposing her neck for a long lick. A bite and a rough suck. “You’re going to fucking love it. Just tell me when you’re ready for Daddy to start pumping.”
“There’s so much more.”
The leash is off. My hands leave her hair and slide beneath her ass, holding it in two firm hands—and I hit her with six quick drives. Just enough to make her scream. Then I tilt my hips to bring the trunk of my cock up against her slippery clit and I grind on it gently, catching her breath, making her gorgeous eyes roll back in her head. And I stay right there, riding that pretty pink source of pleasure, watching color climb her face, feeling her nails sink into my back.
“Oh…please. Hoss. Don’t stop. Don’t—”
“I’ll never stop,” I grunt. “My job is to make you come. Your job is to fucking let me.”
“That’s right. I’m Daddy.” I apply a little more pressure, hips dropping slightly, and she whimpers, her back arching involuntarily, her hands sliding through sweat on their way down to my ass—and hell yeah, those little hands grasp at my flexing cheeks, nails scraping, her hips beginning to roll and lift in time with my grinds. “Horny girl. Knew you’d be a slick horny ride.”
She cries out, her core beginning to clench.
My cock throbs painfully in response, dying for a rough-as-hell ride, but not until she finds pleasure. Not until her body understands that my dick is a tool and she knows how to use it. “Almost there,” I murmur, studying her, sweat dripping down the side of my face. “Going to give you a little more pressure. You can take it. Don’t be scared of it.”
When I release my weight and bear down on her clit with more purpose, more friction, her nails sink into the flesh of my ass and she screams, her pussy tightening around me like a fucking belt, her moisture sluicing down the thick trunk of my johnson—and I go for broke after that. I pin her down to the fucking mattress and I pound her like a piece of meat. Her whimpers of pleasure fill the back of the truck, almost drowned out by my harsh groans, the shit that’s coming out of my mouth. Promises to treat her like a princess and fuck her like a whore.
My Tatum doesn’t take offense to the filth, though. No, she’s the opposite of offended. Never felt anything more tight and eager in my life. If she was strong enough, I swear to God this horny little hellcat would flip me over and ride me—and it’s only our first time in the sack. By this time next month, she’s going to be sucking me off on the highway, begging me to pull over and get her pregnant.
Get her pregnant.
That mental demand has me bellowing brokenly into her neck, my lower body rifling up and back, dick smacking wetly into her hole. Putting a child in her belly didn’t occur to me until this moment, but Jesus, that’s what I want. Do I even have a choice? I didn’t even consider putting on a rubber and I’ve got a sack full of come that I’ve been saving up just for Tatum. Her pregnancy might be a foregone conclusion—and hell if that doesn’t make me goddamn wild.
I slide my hands out from beneath her ass and grip the edge of the mattress above her head, riding rougher than a virgin can take, but can’t do anything about it. Her pussy is wet as fuck and she’s hollering for me to keep going, so I do. Keeping my grip on the mattress with my left hand, I spit on the fingers of my right and bring them down to her clit, massaging it in circles. “If you can come while I’m fucking you this mean, baby, I’m going to have you on your back day and night. You perfect princess. You perfect girl. Mine. I’m banging the shit out of what’s mine. Say it. Tell me who this pussy is wet for.”
Jesus save me, that’s what gets her off. Screaming my shiny new title loud enough to hear on the interstate. She’s coming on a thin mattress in the back of a rig in the parking lot of a truck stop, getting railed like I paid for it, but we might as well be in the finest hotel on our honeymoon, because that’s how it feels to be with her. To be together. My chest wells up with a crowded feeling right before I come, leaving me unable to breathe, my heart going a million miles an hour. I’m too choked up to say another damn word, so I simply flatten my girl and bellow brokenly, my hips shaking through three final drives, pressure being driven from my balls into her body where it belongs. Where it’ll breed my future wife. My life. My Tatum.
“Oh my God,” she sobs. “It’s so hot. There’s so much of it. I can feel it everywhere.”
She’s talking about my semen. Out loud. Praising it. And it makes me pop off harder.
I’m panting and boneless by the time I’m finished, collapsing beside her like a man who has just been baptized, razed by the holy spirit. I pull her into my arms and she comes so sweetly, so trustingly, I know I’m finding a church tonight. I’d sell my soul to be her husband. She’s my everything. Today, tomorrow and always. “Tatum—”
The sound of car doors slamming out in the parking lot is followed by the sound of clipped voices, raising my hackles. Men. They sound familiar—and they shouldn’t. Not here, so far from home. From the headquarters of the freight company I work for.
They’re here for Tatum.
My boss knew I was bluffing. That I could never traffic a human being, let alone this one. This fucking angel on earth that belonged to me the second I saw her photograph. Mine.
If they touch her, I will slaughter them like dogs.
“What’s wrong?” she whispers, looking up at me, drowsy. Beautiful.
There are at least half a dozen men out there. I can’t take chances with those odds.
Fuck. Being apart from her now is going to be like ripping the heart out of my chest, but I don’t have a choice. Keeping her safe is my priority. “Tatum, listen to me very carefully,” I tilt up her chin. “I need you to take the truck and go. Drive somewhere safe, then switch to a train. Travel at least a hundred miles west, then find a motel and wait for me there. I’m going to give you my phone, so I can call you and find out where you are.”
“But…why? What’s happening?”
The voices are getting louder. Approaching the truck. They recognize it. “I don’t have time to explain, baby. I have to protect you. Please just do as I ask.”
I’m in love with her. I realize that when she nods and jumps into action like a badass, fixing her clothing and climbing into the front seat. Starting the rig, even though she has no experience driving one. We give each other one long, final look.
“I’ll find you, Tatum,” I vow before I jump out, still shirtless.
And take on the six violent men approaching me with everything I’ve got.
Three months later
I walk across the dark campus, holding my nightly ginger ale in my hand…but this time I’m surprised to find I don’t need it. Glory hallelujah, the morning sickness has passed. Honestly, if I wasn’t so exhausted from attending a full day of art school classes, I might even dance a jig, right here in the darkness.
After stopping long enough to stow my ginger ale away in my backpack, I continue across the empty pathway, traveling beneath streetlights, darkness, then back into the light. A pattern I’ve grown familiar with since I finagled my way into art school in Minnesota. Dark, light. Night, day. Work, sleep, repeat. But at least I’m safe. At least I found a way to follow my dream, despite having my life knocked over like a house of cards that night three months ago.
Up ahead, on one of the benches, there is a couple making out. The girl is all but straddling the boy and I’m pretty sure they’re up to no good inside his overcoat. Not wanting to disturb them, I consider my alternate routes. There is a narrow alleyway between two campus buildings that leads to the street, but it’s pitch black, so I usually only take the shortcut during the day. Still, when the girl whines and fully seats herself on the boy’s lap, I veer toward the alley, trying not to think of the one and only time I truly lost myself like that.
On reflex, I curve a hand over my belly, which is only beginning to swell with signs of life.
Hoss never came for me. Never called his phone.
I did exactly as he told me. I drove the rig several miles down the interstate and left it at a truck stop near a train station. Using the money he gave me, I booked a train ticket to Wisconsin, found a motel room and waited, leaving only for food and to buy clothes, toiletries. I waited for weeks, sketching comics on the surfaces of motel notepads. Somewhere around the beginning of the third week is when I started to throw up. And I realized my period was late.
What would Comeback Girl do?
I asked myself that so many times.
But until I saw the two red lines staring up at me on the pregnancy test, I never really, truly answered the question. If Comeback Girl was pregnant and on the run from possible human traffickers—would she sit around and wait for a man to show up and make everything okay? No. She would pull up her big girl panties and start over. She’d make her own comeback.
And the terrible truth is that…
Hoss could be dead. Those men I watched approach him in the rearview mirror might have killed him for helping me escape.
I have to stop walking because the pang in my chest is so severe. I prop a hand on the wall of the building and breathe in and out. This happens every time I think of Hoss, but the pain is slowly starting to get easier. It has to. Because I have a mission now. He or she is growing in my stomach and I’m going to do what’s necessary to take care of my child. Our child. And that includes making money, putting myself through art school and becoming a steady provider. I will give this baby the stable life it deserves. I’ll be their superhero. And my own.
I’m halfway down the alley when footsteps approach me from behind.
My blood instantly turns to ice, my sneakers halting mid-stride.
I exhale, watching my breath curl in the air.
Slowly, I turn, praying it’s just the make-out couple hunting for more privacy.
But I don’t see anything.
There is a dumpster pushed up against the wall, some trash dancing around on the asphalt. My fingers curl around the straps of my backpack and I start to walk faster, mentally cursing myself for not spending some extra money on pepper spray. Comeback Girl would never be caught out at night without a weapon.
With one more glance over my shoulder, I start to jog—
And I run smack into a man.
I stumble backward and fall. My backpack breaks my fall, but alarm is racing down my spine, a shriek building in my throat. This man doesn’t belong here. On a college campus. Bald and hulking, he looks like he should be checking identifications at a biker bar or something. “Come with me.”
“No way,” I spit out, crab-walking backwards until I have enough distance between us to lunge to my feet, spin and run in the opposite direction.
Another man steps out from behind the dumpster, blocking my exit from the alley. “Hello, Tatum.” His smile sickens me. “You didn’t think you could run forever, did you?”
Oh God, it’s them. The traffickers.
My hand wants to cover my stomach protectively, but some instinct warns me calling attention to my pregnancy is a bad idea. “Why me? Why go to all of this trouble to track me down? I don’t understand.”
“At first, you were just convenient. A girl with a deadbeat family who wouldn’t bother looking for you. Working alone at night on a truck route. One of our scouts happened to stop in for coffee one night and knew you’d be perfect. No muss, no fuss,” says the bald man, licking his lips. “And let’s not forget about those big bouncy titties. They definitely helped your cause.”
“Or hurt it,” quips the second man. “Depending on how you look at the situation.”
They’re so casually confident, I can’t help but be terrified. I’m strong and smart, but these men have the air of professional criminals. They probably have guns.
“Yeah, that’s how it started,” says the second man. “But then…the boss became convinced you know too much. We couldn’t just leave you in the wind.”
What am I supposed to do here? I don’t know. But I’m not going quietly.
I throw my head back, open my mouth and scream as loudly as possible.
So loud that my own ear drums start to throb.
Not three seconds passes before a hand clamps over my mouth and I’m dragged back against the bald man’s chest. The other one pulls his gun and advances on me, murder replacing the jocular quality of his expression. “Scream like that again and I’ll—”
A hand snakes out of the darkness and lowers the gun, twists the man’s wrist, making him cry out. Then an elbow flies up, sending blood and teeth scattering onto the ground.
I barely have time to process Hoss stepping out of the darkness. Or how different he looks. Deranged, really. Homicidal. Scarier than these two men on their best day. And righteously angry. So full of rage that even though I know he’s here to help me, I’m scared of him. There’s a feral quality in his eyes that wasn’t present before.
He brings the edge of his hand down in a concise chop of the man’s shoulder and he cries out, the gun dropping to the ground…only to be caught by Hoss. Two clean shots are fired into the man’s forehead, a silencer making the shots sound like quiet zings. The gun is leveled at the bald man before the other one even hits the ground. As the lifeless corpse slumps sideways onto the asphalt, a scream lodges in my throat, horror burning a path up my esophagus. “Hoss…” I whisper.
If he hears me, he gives no indication of it. His face is a mask of malice.
No humanity to be found anywhere. Where has he been for the last three months?
I don’t know. But I don’t think it was somewhere good. That is fast becoming obvious.
“I’m giving you five seconds to let her go,” Hoss grinds out. “Or you’re going to end up like your friend.”
“You’re the one,” the bald man breathes. “You’re the one who has been killing us off.”
A sinister smile transforms Hoss’s face. “They should have shackled me a little tighter. Or bumped me off, instead of keeping me prisoner. There is nothing, there is fucking nothing, that could have kept me from her. And your five seconds are up.”
Hoss cocks the gun. He can’t fire, though. It’s too risky. I’m being used as a shield.
That hesitation costs us, because my captor has time to reach for something.
Now there is a gun pressed to my temple, as well.
Every ounce of color drains from Hoss’s face.
“It’s going to be all right, baby,” he says, voice strained.
“She’s coming with me.” The bald man begins to back up, taking me with him. “The boss is adamant. We leave her alone, it means you win. And she’s a loose end. He can’t allow that.”
“When was the last time you spoke to the boss?” Hoss asks.
My captor hesitates. “Last night.” A tremor goes through him. “Why?”
A muscle pops in Hoss’s cheek. “That tracks. Since I killed him this morning. You’re the very last of the vermin.” A glint flashes in Hoss’s eye. “Let. Her. Go.”
“Fuck you. You’re bluffing,” sputters the bald man.
The man holding the gun to my head is distracted. Caught off guard. This could be my best opportunity for escape. Without hesitating another second, I drop my weight. Completely allow my knees to collapse. It’s a move I learned from Comeback Girl—and it works. The bald man is so startled by my sudden plunge that he can’t hold on. Hoss is already surging forward to get between me and the man. “Don’t kill him,” I blurt, reaching for Hoss’s leg. “Just let him go. Please. No more—”
A shot is fired into the center of the bald man’s forehead.
He drops lifeless to the ground.
And then there is only Hoss, seething in the evening fog, his arm muscles bunched and rippling in the sleeves of his T-shirt, his broad back tensed. Eyes still carrying that wealth of homicidal rage that scares me. When I met him, he was a truck driver. Now he’s a murderer.
You’re the one who has been killing us all off.
“Tatum,” he whispers, kneeling in front of me. Dropping the gun and taking my face in his hands. “Ah Jesus, you’re even more beautiful than I remember.”
My heart dances in my chest.
He’s alive. So solid and gorgeous and reassuring.
But there is blood all over his face and that terrifies me. How casual he can be about the fact that he killed two men seconds earlier. Still, I allow my heart to operate my actions because I have no choice. I’m throwing myself into his arms before I can guess my own intentions. His thick arms crush me to his chest and he makes a strangled sound, running his hands everywhere. Up and down my back, over my hair and sides and hips.
“Baby. Oh God, baby,” he says, helping me to my feet. “I’ve been sick without you. Every day has felt like a goddamn year.” His mouth finds mine, his lips dragging mine wide with a gruff intake of sound, his tongue sweeping in to taste me. Sinking in to claim me more fully, his large body swaying into mine. As if the taste of me has sapped him of tension. “Everything is okay now. I’m going to take you from here. We’re going to leave tonight and I’m going to bring you somewhere safe.”
Everything inside of me wants to nod, to let him take my hand and guide me wherever we can be together. But…no. I can’t. I can’t do that. My new life is here. I’ve struggled every second of the last three months to build this new foundation and I’m not giving it up. There is no way I’m just going to walk away. And furthermore…
I have my baby to think about.
My child is going to need stability.
And this man…Hoss. When I pull back and look into his eyes, I can see that he’s changed. He just murdered two men without batting an eyelash. He’s cold and ruthless. I know he would never hurt me or our child, but…he could bring trouble to my door. He could kill again. Even if this trafficking ring has been eliminated, I could see him bumping off a man for flirting with me. Whatever he’s been through, he’s not in his right mind now. My instinct is telling me that. There are too many red flags when all I want is a peaceful life for my baby.
“I can’t go with you.” I sink back onto my heels. “This is where I live now. My life is here.” I’m not sure why I decide not to tell him I’m pregnant. Maybe because I don’t think he’ll allow me to remain behind if he knows I’m carrying his child. I don’t know, but I tuck my secret down deep and guard it like only a mother would. “I’ve worked really hard to carve out this little routine. This life. And I’m staying here.”
“I see how hard you’ve worked to make a life in this place without me and I’m so goddamn proud of what you’ve done all by yourself, baby. Those comic book heroes don’t have anything on you. But we can’t stay here, Tatum,” he says, beginning to look concerned. “The ring has been eliminated, but I just killed two men. We have to move. Tonight.”
“I can’t,” I whisper. “You did these terrible things in order to protect me. As much as I’m grateful for them…they scare me.”
“No.” He searches me eyes, a realization seeming to dawn on him. “I scare you.”
My throat starts to ache. “Yes.”
All at once, he seems to realize there is blood on his face—and in kissing me, the red substance has transferred to mine. Looking horrified, he strips off his shirt and uses it to clean the smears of blood off my face. “Let me take you home, Tatum. We’ll talk about this. I’m not leaving without you.” He drops the shirt and takes my shoulders, shaking me gently. “I’ve barely been able to fucking breathe for three months.”
I’m not going with him.
But we can’t stay here.
We need to leave this crime scene now, before we’re discovered. I’m surprised I’m able to think this clearly when he’s pinning me with those intense, imploring eyes.
“Come on,” I whisper. “Come to my place. Get cleaned up. I’m not far from here.”
He keeps hold of me, like I might run away or disappear. “Tatum…” All at once, he lunges, flattening me against the wall of the alley. “I need to fuck,” he rasps into my hair. “You going to let me fuck you in your bed? Tell me yes. I’m half insane—I know that. I know, baby. Being away from you did this to me. Tell me I get to have your pussy tonight or I’m going full-blown mad. I need that hot little pussy. Need to wreck it.”
“I d-don’t know,” I stammer, lust sneaking in like a summer heat wave and wafting its way through my middle. Lower. Tickling my loins into a twist. “Won’t that only make leaving harder?”
His frustrated curse peppers the air. “Every time you suggest we’re going to be apart, I go a little more insane, Tatum,” he says in a warning tone, his body pressing me tight, tight, tight to the wall. “Please stop.”
I swallow hard, my fear sensors ringing over the unnatural light in his eyes. “Let’s go home. For now, let’s just focus on getting cleaned up. Okay?”
Between us, there is a thick ridge trapped between our stomachs and I can see how badly he wants to use it. Right here in the alley. His fingertips are tracing the waistband of my jeans, ready to yank them down. “Not in front of…th-the bodies…” I whisper.
“But later?” Hoss says against my mouth. Urgently.
A hot full-body shiver passes through me. “I don’t know.”
He presses his forehead to mine and lets out a rocky exhale. “Tatum…don’t punish me. I did what I had to do.”
With my heart in my throat, I take his hand and guide him from the alley. “So did I.”
I already suspected I’d gone a little crazy without Tatum.
The way she peers up at me confirms it. I’ve become a beast.
Look at me. Walking down the street shirtless, my hands covered in gunshot residue and blood, walking beside this innocent creature. My princess. My reason for living when the walls were closing in and I hadn’t seen daylight in weeks. I’m starved for her breath on my skin, her body beneath mine. I scared myself back in the alley, because Jesus, I almost ripped off her pants and took her, despite her denials. Despite her obvious nerves in my presence.
We stop in front of a boarded-up restaurant and she guides me to an outdoor staircase climbing the side of the building. It leads to a beaten-up door—and no, no, please don’t tell me this is where she has been living. There isn’t another soul out on the street because it’s largely deserted. The perfect place to prey on a female.
Did I get to her just in time?
Or am I the animal preying on her now?
I don’t know. My head is so fucked. I’m broken and restless and desperate to find solace between her thighs. In her arms. I miss her voice and scent and sense of humor. And as she lets me into her little apartment, perhaps against her better judgment, I toy with the notion of boarding the door and never letting her out.
That’s how I know I’m bad for her.
She’s right—I should leave.
I’ve murdered and suffered so much since the last time we were together that I am not fit to be around this sweet girl. I also know damn well I won’t leave her alone until my pulse stops beating. That’s a dead certainty, more reliable than the tide.
“Are you hungry?” she asks, setting down her messenger bag.
When I see the sketchpad sticking out, I find it hard to swallow. “Yes.”
My growl turns her cheeks pink. “I’ll make you something while you’re in the shower.” She walks to the kitchen sink, opens a cabinet and bends down, stretching the jeans across her gorgeous ass and I automatically unzip my jeans, because I’m swelling so fat, the goddamn thing no longer fits inside the denim prison. When she straightens, holding a garbage bag in her hands, she gasps at the sight of my cock jutting out from the V of my fly. “Um…”
“We should put our clothes in this bag and get rid of it, right? S-so there is no, um…evidence…”
“Baby. Come get this cock.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“It’s the only idea.” I stroke myself a few times and watch her eyes turn glassy. “Horny as ever, aren’t you?”
“I haven’t been. Not until now.”
“Because I wasn’t here.”
She wets her lips. Nods. Thank Christ. I knew she wouldn’t let another man touch her, but I don’t even like the idea of her being wet unless I’m here to take care of the problem.
“I’ve never been…” She shakes her head. “Never mind.”
I surge forward, desperate to hear what she was going to say. “What? Tell me.”
When I tilt her face up so she can’t avoid eye contact, she confesses her secret in a whisper. “I’ve never wanted to be with anyone else. Like we were…in your truck. I thought there was something wrong with me.”
“There is nothing‚ not a damn thing, wrong with my princess.” I jack off while looking at her mouth, those swollen pillows that were made for kissing me. “You were just waiting for your king.”
“Don’t you mean my prince?”
“No. I mean your king.” I snag her hand and place it on my throbbing dick, hissing through my teeth at the softness of her palm, the mere fact that I’m with her and she’s touching me is almost overwhelming enough to make me ejaculate on a dime. “I’m the king and you’re the princess. You remember how we play, baby.”
Her eyelids flutter closed and she fists me, finally, the soft circle of her hand giving me a gentle pump, then a rougher one. “Yes. I remember.”
“Good girl,” I whisper beside her ear, licking the lobe crudely. “Show Daddy your bed.”
Her hesitation causes a roar to build in my throat. I look around for something to put my fist through, frustration welling inside of me. The need to be destructive. I’m bad for her. I’ve lost my mind and she knows it. The knowledge is right there on her perfect face. I’m lucky she even let me inside her apartment.
“I shouldn’t…” she says quietly.
“Yeah,” I return in a hoarse tone. “Maybe you shouldn’t.” I take her wrist and drag her along behind me to the bathroom. “Shower with me, Tatum. You’ve got blood on you, too. And Christ, I can’t let you out of my sight. I’m already teetering on the fucking edge. I need eyes on you or I’m going to lose whatever sanity I have left.”
“Shower?” she squeaks when I lock us into the small bathroom. “Together?”
“I’ve seen you naked before, Tatum,” I say, shoving down my jeans, stepping out of them, along with my socks. “I see you like that every time I blink.”
Again, I’m made painfully aware of how thoroughly I’ve lost my mind, because the fact that she’s shielding her body from me starts a vein ticking behind my eyes. A growl builds in my throat and I have to concentrate on not ripping the garments from her body. Calm down. Calm down, she’s scared of you. I settled for backing her against the door and, as calmy as possible, unfastening her jeans and pushing them down her hips.
“Show me what I need to see,” I demand, lips to her forehead. “Show me those big tits and that luxury pussy, before I starve to death from missing your skin on mine.”
Her head falls back and she’s dazed, denials growing weaker, weaker by the second.
I waste no time getting her jeans all the way off, ripping open her blouse and fumbling with the snap of her bra. Those lavish tits spill out and I almost spray my seed everywhere.
“God, you are so fucking perfect, baby.” I lean down, guiding one of her tits to my mouth in a gentle hand and suckling that little raspberry tip, my balls pounding with a riotous pulse, dick begging to be planted between her curvy thighs. “My lush little girl,” I breathe, licking my fingers and trailing them down her stomach toward her…
My heart seizes in my chest.
There is something different about her shape.
Her belly has a subtle swell, a barely noticeable difference to the naked eye, but I remember every square inch of this girl. I’ve thought of nothing else for months.
Tatum’s alarmed gaze flies to mine and I have my answer.
I’m immediately winded. With hope. With relief. And…pain. I’m in terrible pain.
“You weren’t going to tell me?” I fall to my knees and press my face to the bump, incapable of swallowing, my hands roaming over her hips, her belly, memorizing the changes in her, small though they are. “You were going to send me away. Keep this to yourself. Weren’t you?” My vision doubles from the agony ripping through my chest. “That’s not happening, Tatum,” I wheeze. “Leaving you would have ended me. Hollowed me out for life. Leaving you and our baby? Might as well chain me up in hell. You think I could leave my family unprotected?”
“That’s just the thing, Hoss. We don’t need protection anymore. Not from anyone but…”
I ask the question to her belly, pressing my lips there.
Kissing her. Kissing our child.
“Yes,” she whispers.
And I know she’s right. I’m not normal. I’ve been reborn in blood and mayhem. I’m fueled by anger and hunger and desperation right now. I have no place around this perfect girl and this innocent child. But there is no way in hell I can walk away. Ever. And the pain of Tatum keeping this secret from me, when all I want is to cherish her, is too much to bear after everything else I’ve been through.
Pressure builds inside of me, expanding, pushing outward from all sides, my temples pounding, heart rioting out of control. I’m in such a fucking state of need and pain and love, I don’t realize I’ve carried her out of the bathroom until we’re already entering her bedroom and I’m pressing her down onto the bed. “I’ll be better, baby,” I grunt, coming down on Tatum’s sweet body, quelling her struggles with my weight. “Kiss me. Open your legs. Let me remind you how good it is when you trust me.” I rake my mouth up the side of her neck. “Heal me.”
For some reason, those two words seem to register with her more than anything else I’ve said. She goes still beneath me, our breath mingling together, her eyes searching mine. Slowly, her hands come up and her fingers thread through my hair.
I moan, long and loud and shamefully, at the caring gesture. I’ve never been cared for. I’ve never had someone look at me the way she is right now. Like I’m a wounded animal and instead of kicking me or closing the door, she’s considering bringing me inside and bandaging me up. “Please,” I say hoarsely, urgently. “Please.”
“What happened to you?” she whispers.
I swallow, bury my face in her neck. “The night you left, I fought them in the parking lot, but there were too many. The two men who were still standing at the end took me to the boss and he locked me up. For a month. In the basement of some warehouse, barely any food. Constant darkness. Daily beatings. They thought I was an undercover fed or an informant, since I helped you that night.” I press down tighter to her body, wanting to absorb her warmth and goodness, use them to battle the bad memories. “Finally, I got free and…Tatum, I killed my way out. I’ve been killing ever since to make you safe. Killed every last one of them. And I’d do it again.” I trail my lips up to her mouth and snare her in a kiss. A hot, promissory one that makes her gasp, her back arching beneath me, her plush tits on display. “No one touches Tatum,” I growl, feasting on her nipples. Sucking them one by one. Licking at the peaked sweetness with hungry strokes of my tongue. “No one but me.”
“Th-thank you for defending me,” she chokes out, starting to tremble. “I’m sorry for what you went through. It must have been terrible. But—”
“Shhh.” I kiss my way down her body, nibbling at her swollen belly and hips, hands pressing her knees open. “Like I said, I would do it again.” She’s still wearing her panties, but they are thin and easy to rip off with two hooked fingers—and then, there it is. The pussy that I’ve been thinking about nonstop since I first walked into her diner. It’s as perfect as I remember. Soft and juicy, her slit glistening in welcome, leaving no doubt that she wants this cock. The evidence is right there in front of my face and it’s on my tongue, too, because I’m already lapping at her. Kissing the split of her sex, tracing it with my thumb.
I’m using my fingers to make a V and gently parting her flesh, revealing that slick, private place and the quivering little bud that’s going to push her over the edge. Not only into orgasm, but into needing me. Allowing me into her body, even though I’m an animal now. I lock eyes with her up the front of her body and I keep eye contact while jiggling my tongue against her clit. I do it without cease, seconds going by while she grows more flushed, hips restless, eyes unfocused. But I keep on looking at her and applying more pressure, more, jiggling until she’s panting, palming her tits and rubbing her nipples. Fuck. Hottest sight of my life. Knowing I’m tending to the pussy of the woman carrying my baby fills me with pride. Lust. Love.
Need her. Need our connection. The deepest one I can get.
Desperate for it, I do something that makes me a bastard. I wait until she’s right on the verge of coming and then I retract my tongue, savoring her sugary taste inside my mouth. I prowl back up her body with she shakes her head in disbelief. “No, please…just a little bit longer, Hoss. Please.”
“Be with me. Be my wife. I’ll lick you down every night of the goddamn week. I’ll sell you my tongue in exchange for one hard fuck, baby. You can do whatever you want with it.” I notch my cock firmly between her thighs, rubbing it in the stickiness of her arousal, gliding the trunk of it up and down between her damp lips, listening to her gasp when I ride over her sensitive clit. “Heal me. Let me in. Let me fucking love you.”
Emotion crests in her eyes and she pulls me down for a kiss. I feel the barrier give way between us, feel permission in the way she gives me her tongue, her inner thighs perching on either side of my hips.
With a ragged sound, I reach down and guide my dick to her entrance, struggling to get it inside for several seconds, before grinding it deep, deeper, all the way to my balls, my harsh expletive loud in the small, dark room. “Motherfucker. Baby’s even tighter than I remember.” It’s a wonder I don’t flood her right then and there, but I can’t. Not when she’s already so wary of me, her trust so hesitant. Thank God for her attraction to me or I wouldn’t be buried in the sweetest pussy on earth—and I show her I’m grateful for that. I scoop my hips up and twist them, stroking her inner walls on all sides, giving attention to her G-spot.
“Hoss,” she moans, her head beginning to toss on the pillow.
“Touch me,” I beg her, angling my hips and keeping them arrowed in the direction that makes her whimper. “Touch me everywhere while I tickle you on the inside.”
Her hands twist in my hair, fall to my shoulders and glide down my pecs, back up my arms. Everywhere she touches becomes her property and I get harder, harder, my balls wrenching tighter at the rasp of her fingertips and palm. My nerve endings are baying like dogs when their master has come home.
“You own me. Feel that. You own me, Tatum.” I kiss her hard, sweeping my tongue in and making love to her pretty little mouth, kissing her while life grows between us. While she feels every ounce of the life she gives my dick. I’m driving her up the bed with every nasty thrust, the mattress creaking below, flesh smacking off of flesh. “Tell me I’m hitting your spot. Tell me my cock is rubbing it right.”
“You are,” she sobs, slapping and pushing at my shoulders, drawing them closer, writhing beneath me. Confused by how much pleasure she’s getting after so long without it. “Hoss. Hoss. Oh my God.”
“That ain’t my name when you’re getting drilled by this cock, little girl. And you know it. You call me Daddy when it’s fuck time.”
“Daddy,” she whispers, eyes glazed—and her pussy screws up into a spasm, throbbing, the tightening and loosening of those little muscles making me bellow into the pillow beside her head. Jesus Christ, this tight fucking goddess. This perfect, beautiful creature. Thank God I’ve found her again. “Feels so good. So good.”
With her pleasure achieved, there’s no other word for what I do to her after that but one. Rutting. “In the future, baby, you’re going to get more than one orgasm, but I’ve been without this pussy for months. I need you to hang on tight while I filthy fuck you and get my nut. Can you do that for me?”
Still dazed, she nods, gripping my shoulders.
Not expecting me to pull out, flip her over face down and yank her ass up to my lap. Dick in hand, I spit on her asshole and watch the moisture snake down over her pussy, giving me the additional wetness I need to enter her from behind and pound her little pink pie. Hard. I grip the headboard with my left hand, taking her throat in my right, and I lose touch with reality. I can hear the smack of hips meeting ass, can hear her crying out with pleasure—oh, Daddy—but the beating of my heart is the loudest. Finally mine. Finally mine again.
“Tatum,” I choke, my mouth moving through her hair. “Need to give you my come.”
“I want it,” she whines, clenching around me.
I can hear the pout in her tone. She’s baby talking on her hands and knees, as if I needed any more proof that this is the last women I’ll ever need. The only one I’ll ever love. The one I’m obsessed with down to the marrow of my bones. My Tatum.
“You want Daddy’s sperm?” I grunt in her ear.
“Are you sure? It’s hot and nasty.” I lick up the center of her back. “So much of it.”
She looks back at me over her shoulder, pushing out her bottom lip. “Please?”
Come rockets from my balls so fast, I don’t have time to prepare. I fuck her in a blur, trying to get rid of the insane pressure that isn’t ebbing nearly fast enough. My vision blurs and I ride that tight gash until it’s filled, until my spend is splashing everywhere, squelching onto her thighs and my stomach because I can’t stop grinding and thrusting like an animal. Somewhere in the middle of it all, she crests again, too, constricting around me and pushing my lust to another level, sending me into another lengthy round of spasms, until finally I drop face down on the bed beside Tatum, gathering her tight to my body before she can leave. Or disappear. She’s pliant and boneless, rolling up right against me.
But instead of falling asleep, she fights the unconsciousness.
She battles the drowsiness, keeping a wary hand wedged between us.
My girl doesn’t trust me. I make her nervous. She won’t let down her guard.
That’s how I know I have to be a better man for her.
For my child.
I’m a feral animal right now. I want to take Tatum and go on the run, but she wouldn’t be happy. She doesn’t want to leave this place. So I have to work with that. I will. I’ll do anything it takes to remain at her side. I’ll do anything it takes to make her love me, trust me. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I welcome the chance to prove myself to her. That I can give her the normal she seeks. That we can be a family.
I’m sick over having to leave, yet I know there is no choice. The bodies have to be taken care of if we plan to remain here—and that’s only the beginning of the work I’m going to put in to earn this girl’s affection. I lean forward and kiss her temple, her lips.
“Sleep now, Tatum,” I say gruffly, my chest packed tight, close to bursting. “I’m going to make everything better. You’ll see.”
Finally, she gives up the fight and falls asleep.
With one final look at her, I leave the apartment with my chest in shreds.
Two months later
I take off my backpack and plop down on the bench, taking out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the front pocket. I’m in between classes and starved after eating only a fistful of Cheerios on my way out the door this morning, due to sleeping through my alarm. I’ve been doing that more and more lately. Not only because the baby growing in my belly is making me tired, but because…I think I messed up really bad.
It’s hard to get out of bed when I’m sad.
I’m doing my best to be upbeat for the baby’s sake, but every time I close my eyes, I see Hoss’s face. His mask of pain and adoration and need. I trust myself to remember that I was truly afraid of him the night he returned. How could I not be when he killed two men so easily? When all of his movements were so sharp and raw and alarming?
I told him I couldn’t go with him.
That I needed to stay.
But I didn’t know I would be left feeling so hollow once he vanished.
I’m losing my mind a little, too, in his absence. I swear I feel him everywhere. Even when I’m sleeping at night, there is a sort of electric presence in my apartment. As if he left a piece of himself behind to haunt me. Haunt my decision to let him go.
I miss him.
I miss the way he looks at me, like I’m the ultimate treasure. I miss the way my heart trips over itself at the sound of his voice and the cherishing manner in which he kisses me, strokes my skin. I read somewhere that pregnant women get really aroused as the pregnancy wears on and I can now attest to that. My nipples are so sensitive that I am flushed by the time I finish fastening my bra in the mornings. I’m waking up wet and achy on the regular—and I can’t seem to get the same relief that Hoss gives me. What I manage to do with my fingers pales in comparison to the consuming rush I get with him inside of me.
Why didn’t I ask him to stay? Why didn’t I ask for time to get used to the new, rougher edges of his personality? It would have been worth it to feel his love right now.
To give my love to him in return.
Because I do. I love him.
It gets stronger and more obvious with every day that he’s gone.
I bite into my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chewing even though it tastes like dust in the wake of my troubling thoughts. Where is Hoss? Is he all right? Does he still think and worry about me? Am I imagining the tingle at the back of my neck when I’m walking home at night? Or switching classes during the day? Maybe. Possibly. I don’t know, but I always, always feel safe now, no matter where I’m going. Or what I’m doing.
It's like I’ve been surrounded in a protective bubble.
Last month, I started working as a campus tour guide to make some extra tuition money, so I could cover the extra costs not included in my student loans. After one day on the job, I was toast. Pregnancy and three hours on my feet did not mix well. I went home that night sore and frustrated. The next day, I was let go from the position—with six months’ worth of pay. My supervisor told me they wanted to help out a single mother in need, but I didn’t quite believe him. Still, it’s crazy to think Hoss had anything to do with my unexpected windfall, isn’t it? If he was near, I would know. Wouldn’t I?
I take a second bite of my sandwich and start to reach for the caffeine-free iced tea in my backpack, but something across the street from campus catches my eye. A new shop. The sign is colorful. Bright. Why does something about it feel almost familiar?
It takes me a moment to grasp why.
The font used on the sign is the same one used on the cover of the Comeback Girl covers. And the name of this new shop is Comeback Comics.
I drop my sandwich. “What…the heck?”
Before I know I’ve moved, I’m on my feet, backpack dangling from my fingertips as I walk through the crosswalk, drawn to the shop by a magnetic force. The font, the name…it has to be a coincidence, right?
Only, when I walk through the door, there is a scent in the air that immediately wakes up all five of my senses. There is the smell of musky comics mingled with fresh ones, yes, and that is enough to make my fingertips tingle. But underneath that is a dangerous frosted pine aroma that my body would know anywhere. My mouth salivates at the introduction of it and I make a small sound in my throat.
I spin around in the center aisle, my vision a kaleidoscope of color. “Hoss?”
There’s no answer.
There is nobody in the store, except for me, making me wonder if I’m imagining all of this. Like some weird pregnancy hallucination?
Seconds pass with nothing but the sound of my breathing and then I hear it. Rummaging coming from the back room. I turn in that direction, drop my backpack and start jogging, almost crashing into the very prominent Comeback Girl display.
Not a coincidence. This can’t be a coincidence.
“Hoss?” I call, running into the back room.
A man is bent over a stack of boxes, a ballcap pulled down low over his face.
“Hoss,” I sob, tears rushing to my eyes.
I expect him to drop the clipboard in his hands and open his arms. Embrace me. But he doesn’t. Instead, he takes several steadying breaths and lifts his head, looking at me briefly out of the corner of his eye, his knuckles turning white around the clipboard. “Not Hoss anymore. Daniel.” His chest rises up and shudders down. “Don’t come any closer. I thought I was ready to see you, but I just…I need a minute to get myself under control.”
The last part of that sentence is spoken in a rasp, his hand pressed to the center of his chest, rubbing furiously. What is going on here? I don’t understand. “Get yourself under control?” I sob, wiping at my eyes.
“So I don’t scare you again,” he explains, dropping the clipboard and bracing his hands on the cinderblock wall. “I can’t fuck this up.”
I’m trying to process everything at once. His words. The changes to his appearance. He has bulked up, become huskier. Grown a beard. Instead of his usual T-shirt, he’s wearing a button-down that strains around the swell of his muscles. My panties turn damp just looking at him, remembering the pleasure that body gives mine. Relentlessly.
But he isn’t touching me now. Why?
I can’t fuck this up.
My heart twists at the realization of what’s going on here. He scared me last time he arrived without warning. For the last two months, he’s been planning this. He’s been transforming himself with a new identity, preparing this shop in my honor, trying to get himself normal again so he could be right for me and the baby.
Now he’s afraid of breaking.
He’s holding parts of himself back because I wasn’t ready before and he doesn’t want to drive me away again. But I’m ready now. Not only have I been given the time and distance to know I don’t want to live without him, I know he would never be anything but good for me. For our child. The kind of man who would make this grand of a gesture is a king.
That’s how I want to treat him.
Like he’s the king to my princess.
“Daddy,” I whisper. He buries his mouth in the crook of his elbow and groans. Great shudders pass through him and he pounds a fist into the wall, but I’m not scared of him. Not anymore. I advance on Hoss…no, Daniel now. And I fit myself in between him and the wall, framing his face with my hands. “You did all of this for me?”
“I’d do anything for you,” his breathes raggedly.
I trace his cheekbones with my thumbs, along with his bottom lip. “You’ve been watching me.”
“I keep my Tatum safe.”
“You got me fired with six months’ pay.”
“When you walked home that night, I could tell your feet were hurting. I had to…drink myself unconscious to keep from breaking down your door and making you better. It wasn’t time yet. I had to learn how to be normal again. For you.” His hands lift and cradle my stomach. “For the baby.”
My chest is packed so full, I can barely draw breath. “I missed you. Every second.”
His eyes betray his inner turmoil. “I could say I missed you, too, but that wouldn’t even begin to cover the hell I’ve been living in without you.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The name is perfect. Comeback Comics. It’s perfect.”
“All for you,” he says, kissing my forehead hard. “Everything for you.”
My fingers go to the button of his jeans, unsnapping them. Carefully lowering his zipper over the part of him that is already huge and hard. Ready. I reach inside the opening and mold my hand to his thickness, massaging it while he moans, his hips rolling into my grip.
“No, baby,” he grunts. “Not yet.”
What? My brain refuses to understand. “No?”
Teeth gritted, he circles my wrist and tugs it away from his lap. “Please, I have to show you the rest before I lose myself in you, Tatum. Having a plan and sticking to it…that’s how I’ve learned to keep my hunger for you leashed. To control my rage at the world for having the nerve to be dangerous while you’re living in it. I’m barely holding on, but I can do it for you. I’d do anything for you. I just need you to trust me. Feel safe with me.”
“No. No, you’ll see the home I made for us first. I need to show it all to you. I need you to understand how much I love you, so you don’t send me away again.” He reaches down and cups my womanhood beneath the loose skirt I’m wearing. Encompasses all of me in his calloused grip. “Because the next time I’m buried in this, I want you to have confidence in me. I want you to be fully aware of what I’ll do to make you happy. You’ll be proud to have me as the father of your child.”
“I am.” The regret that has been building up inside of me for months breaks free, along with my tears. “I should have held on tight to you. I will now. Just let me.”
“I’ll let you do anything you want with me,” he breathes, cautious hope flaring in his face. “As soon as we’re home. I want you to see everything I’m offering before you give yourself to me. Your body. Your heart and future. You need to be sure.” A light of madness flickers briefly in his eyes, reminding me of the night he left. “Because God help me if you ever change your mind, Tatum. God help everyone in my path. Do you understand?”
Yes. I do. He needs me to commit completely.
I already am. I’m ready to be his. I never want to be apart from him again.
Maybe he needs me to understand the full scope of his love, the deep, the dark, the magnitude, before I throw myself to the wind. So he can always be sure I knew what I was getting myself into.
“Take me home, then,” I whisper.
Daniel locks up the shop and we walk hand in hand for five blocks, the trees growing denser, the houses larger. Kids play in the street and the sound of traffic grows more distant. Every time we reach a stoplight and have to wait for the crossing signal, Daniel pulls me into his arms and kisses my forehead, my cheeks, my mouth, whispering fervently how much he’s needed me. More than once, we miss the signal completely and have to wait for the next one.
I’m sensitive everywhere. My breasts are heavy, the back of my neck is hot.
I want to be laid down and ravished by this long-lost man.
But the set of his jaw speaks to his determination and I have no choice but to ignore the swelling desire and keep walking, until finally, we stop in front of a house.
It’s robin’s egg blue. The windows are trimmed with fresh white.
Shade and sunlight dapple the yard, a hammock swaying lazily in the breeze.
It’s private and cozy and exactly the house I would have picked if I’d had a choice of every single residence on the block. It’s perfection.
“Ours,” he says, unlatching the gate and pulling me through. “It’s ours, Tatum.”
The daisies planted on either side of the brick path blur with my tears. Wiping away the moisture with my shoulder, I watch Daniel unlock the door with capable fingers. It pains me to know this wonderful man who loves me has been living in this dream house without me, but never again. I’ll never let him leave again.
We step into a small entryway and I can see the entire first floor from there. The brand new, rustic kitchen to the left. Living room furniture gathered around a fireplace to my right. A staircase traveling upward from the center of the space. But instead of leading me up, he takes me past the stairs, toward a small door. When he pushes it open, I give up all hope of stemming my tears, because there is a desk bathed in sunlight. Framed Comeback Girl comics on the walls. A portable crib folded up in the corner. A big, thick, round rug on the floor covered in pillows of all shapes and sizes.
“You’ve been doing so well in school,” he breathes against my ear, his hand sliding along the back of my neck and taking hold. “This is where you’ll study. Where you’ll sketch.” His hand scrubs down my spine. “Right where I can see you. Right where you’re safe.”
“It’s incredible. The whole house…is incredible.” I make a choked sound. “You did all of this for me?”
He bares his teeth at my temple. “There is no end to what I would do for you.”
Love and lust are snaking through me at such a rapid rate, I can barely remain standing. I’m…worshipped by this man. He’s showing me the proof. Now I need to feel it.
Moreover, I want him to feel the proof that I worship him back.
I am done being waylaid. I need to get…way laid.
Thank God I didn’t say that out loud.
“I love it, Hos—Daniel.” I glide my palms up and down his pecs, listening to the growl kindle in his throat. “I want to live here with you forever. You, me and the baby.” I unfasten his jeans again, both of us already starting to breathe faster. “But right now, it’s just you and me…”
Unexpectedly, his left hand circles my throat, his hold firm, but gentle. He searches my eyes long and hard. “You making me a commitment, Tatum? Because if you are, it’s forever. No exceptions.”
“Forever,” I say, trembling under the onslaught of need, the wet rush between my legs. “Forever,” I echo, kissing the notch of his throat.
“No matter what, Tatum.” His jaw ticks. “Even when I’m a little insane?”
“Yes.” I lick the stubbled curve of his throat. “Because I know your love is stronger.”
A hoarse rendition of my name is his only response.
I trail my mouth down his chest and stomach, landing on my knees on the soft rug. I force myself to be careful unzipping over the large protrusion even though I’m desperate to get the taste of him in my mouth. He’s never been there before, but somehow my body already knows what his exact texture and size and flavor will be.
Perfect. Smooth and hard.
Beating veins and a thick tip.
His fingers sink into my hair like he owns me, my mouth—and he does. I look up at him like a servant while I bring him repeatedly to the back of my throat, lavishing attention on the bulbous head of his erection with my tongue, watching it turn more and more purple every time I break for air, stroking him in a tight fist, wet friction noises filling the room.
Nostrils flared, he looks down at me and groans my name, over and over again, one hand leaving my hair to massage his balls until I’ve learned enough to take over the task. He unbuttons his shirt with shaking hands and tosses it down on the ground.
Looking up at his broad, muscular form, the hair and tattoos and wounds, I suck harder. I suck like a woman in awe of a warrior, because I am. I’m shaken by my gratitude and appreciation for this man. My need to please him. My love. My relief that he’s back.
“You missed your man’s body, didn’t you, baby?” He takes hold of my head, beginning a slow, crude thrusting rhythm into my mouth. “Turns that hole slick and willing, doesn’t it?”
I moan a yes around his arousal, rubbing the underside of him enthusiastically with my tongue, his balls growing harder in my palm.
“You should feel what your body does to mine. There’s no comparison.” He grits his teeth, head tipping back to face the ceiling. “I can’t even believe you’re sucking my cock right now. I’m…maybe this is a dream.”
Wanting to convince him otherwise, I open my throat and bring him another inch deeper, swallowing, the walls closing in on him, earning a stripe of salty spray on the back of my throat and a shouted expletive from Daniel.
“Fuck!” He guides his erection out of my mouth with a wince and reaches for the leather office chair, dropping down into it heavily, pulling me off the ground with desperate hands. “Sit on it, little girl, and ride. Need some of that pregnant pussy. Now.” He hauls me between the V of his thighs—and Lord, he is such a marvel of masculinity and lust that I’m straddling him in the middle of his hoarse instructions, both of us yanking my panties to the left so I can sink down, down, down on his thrumming inches.
Before I can roll my hips, his fingertips settles on my ribs…
And I’m being tickled.
The high-pitched notes of my giggle fill the office and I squirm on his lap, gasping when he grows harder, his eyes flintier. His touch digs more firmly into my sides and I jerk up and back while he hisses expletives, my womanhood turning damper around his impaling erection. “Fuck yeah,” he growls, slapping my ass hard. “Wiggle around on it, baby.”
I do as he says. I wiggle and squirm while he tickles me, giggling uncontrollably.
Until he bares his teeth and rams his hips upward, bouncing me on his lap several times, rattling my molars. My scream splits the air, an orgasm that has been building for months careening through me, pulling every one of my muscles taut, dropping me into an endless round of spasms. Tight, release, tight, release, moisture flooding down where our bodies join and dripping to the rug. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” I chant, writhing as close as possible, grinding my womanhood against the base of his hardness, the rub of my clit making the climax fuller, longer, so overwhelming that my vision triples.
“Broke into your apartment while you were in class. Every fucking day. Jacked off with everything you own. Stroked my cock with your pillows and scrunchies and panties.” His hands take my backside in a bruising grip and he starts to pull me up and back, impaling me again, again, again on his hardness, his hips thrusting up to add to the impact. “Even broke in a few times while you were there, sleeping like a little princess with these buns up for grabs.” He spanks me roughly, one cheek after the other. Smack. Smack. “Licked in between them once, couldn’t help it. Had to get some sugar, baby, and your legs opened right up in those sheets, wanting more. Never come so hard in my life. Right there on the shitty carpet.” The rhythm of his body entering mine grows jagged, urgent, his breathing erratic. “Until now, huh? You’re about to fuck me up so bad with that tight little brat hole, aren’t you? You know what Daddy needs. That wet cram. Those hips hitting just right. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
I’m picked up and laid down on the floor, pinned, his hips giving one final drive before he begins to shudder, his body straining, flexed. Getting deep as he can before letting go, his jaw slackening, thick semen filling me almost instantly and seeping down around the connection of our bodies, his body jolting with aftershocks, more releases of moisture, for long, fraught moments, our hands clinging, eyes locked. Looking into one another’s souls.
“I love you, Tatum,” he rasps.
“I love you, too. Hoss. Daniel. Whoever you are, whoever you’ll be.”
He can’t speak for long moments. “One of these days, I’m going to get the girl of my dreams into an actual bed,” he finally says into my neck, his mouth worshipping me with kisses.
“How about today?” I whisper, bringing his forehead down to mine, letting him see how much I adore him. Accept him. Always and forever. “We have nothing but time.”
Five Years Later
I’m late for back to school night.
I hate running behind. Hate knowing Tatum is waiting for me, wondering where I am. The very thought of her being disappointed has me wiping sweat from my brow while crossing the street toward the elementary school our son attends. I don’t disappoint my wife—not fucking ever. But thanks to a shipment arriving just as I locked up Comeback Comics for the day, the delay was unavoidable. I’m fifteen minutes behind.
When I reach the front of the school, I’m about to jog up the steps to the main entrance, until I realize I can see our son’s classroom from the street. It’s lit up, full of parents. No kids. They’re all home with grandparents—or a babysitter, like Daniel Jr.
I step onto the grass and peer through the window, my gaze seeking out my wife immediately, my cock growing the moment I find her in the back of the room, leaning against the wall in her pretty blue dress, listening intently to the teacher. Her purse is at her feet, sketchpad sticking up out of the top, as usual.
God, I’m so proud of her.
She doesn’t know it yet, but today’s shipment contained her very first edition of her first published comic—Truck Stop Idol. It will be waiting on the front window display when we arrive for work in the morning and I can’t wait to see her light up. Can’t wait to tell her how proud she makes me. To be her best friend, her husband, the father of her child. Her lover.
Yeah. I’m her lover. Although that word doesn’t really describe what we do together in bed. Not completely. I’m her lover at times, yes, when she wants it sweet and slow. Usually when she’s getting close to her period and feeling emotional. I stroke deep, look her in the eye and tell her she’s perfect, because hell, that’s what she is. Other times, I’m the man who holds her throat and fucks her face down in the storage room of the shop. I’m the man who takes her home on our lunch break and licks her clit until she breaks, sobbing and shaking and lacking in any filter. Those are my favorite times. When her guard is totally down and she admits to being obsessed with me. The way I’m fucking obsessed with her. Endlessly. Madly.
I’ve got a hotel room booked for tonight. After back to school night ends. I’m going to rip her pretty blue dress to shreds to get at those big, beautiful tits.
Just as I’m willing myself to look away from the perfection of Tatum and join the rest of the parents, I notice a man behind her. Notice him leaning forward to say something in my wife’s ear, brushing a strand of hair out of the way in order to do it. And I see her shoulders stiffen, eyes going round with alarm. My heart drums uncontrollably in my chest, rage turning my blood to boiling. What the fuck did I just witness? Did that man just make a pass at my wife?
I can tell by the way Tatum moves to a different part of the room, hugging her elbows. Searching the entrance of the classroom for me.
I’m running before I know I’ve moved.
On the way to the room, I know this is bad. I know damn well how capable I am of violence. After all, I slaughtered a dozen men to keep Tatum safe five years ago. I made positive back then that no danger could ever touch her—or our family—again. I’ve managed to bottle the intensity and let it out only in doses, but it threatens to erupt now.
In one fell swoop, I could ruin everything.
I’ll get arrested. That’s the only way my fingerprints or DNA could be linked to any of the murders. If that happens, I’ll be taken away from my family, found responsible for the kills I made as Hoss.
Unless I’m careful.
Outside of the classroom, I manage to get myself under control, schooling my features before walking in with an apology, going to stand near Tatum. Since I’m the local comic book shop owner, everyone knows me and I receive several waves. Very deliberately, I don’t look at the man who dared touch a strand of my wife’s hair. I don’t look because I know I won’t hold it together. Instead, I thread my fingers through Tatum’s and tuck her against my side, shielding her from view of the man I plan on…speaking with tonight.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper into her hair.
“It’s okay,” she says back. “You wouldn’t be late unless it was important.”
My chest swells with so much love, I have to focus on breathing in and out. I love this woman so damn much. I love her trust in me. That she knows I can be counted on. I’m the luckiest man alive to have her. To be this woman’s protector—and protect her I will.
Half an hour later, I’ve let go of Tatum’s hand long enough to let her converse with some of the other mothers. And that’s when I finally let myself look at the son of a bitch. I smile at him and tip my head at the hallway. After a slight hesitation, he follows, probably reassuring himself that I couldn’t have seen what he did. That I didn’t witness him taking the biggest risk of his life. But he’s about to find out he’s wrong.
As soon as he joins me in the hallway, I wrap his necktie around my fist and drag him to the closest stairwell, kicking the door shut behind us while he chokes in alarm. “What…what the hell are you doing?”
I don’t bother answering. I simply tighten my hold on his tie and pull down with all of my strength, bashing his nose into the metal railing. Hard. Teeth clenched, pulse hammering wildly in my temples, I lift his bloody face back up to mine and look him dead in his terrified eyes. “If I ever see you so much as look at my fucking wife again, I swear to God, they will institutionalize me for the things I do to you. Do you understand me? I will walk around this town with that slimy hand dangling from my belt. Your death will be so painful, you’ll be begging for it by the time it arrives.” I slam his face into the railing twice more, satisfied by the crunch of bone. “Do you understand me, motherfucker?”
“Yes,” he slurs, blood pouring from his mouth.
“You’re lucky I’m leaving you alive this time.” I twist his tie another time around my fist. “I’d love to snap this neck like a twig.”
“It’s a shame you were hit by a car in the parking lot. They kept right on driving, didn’t they?”
He nods vigorously. “Yes.”
“Keep your mouth shut about me. And don’t ever, ever, ever breathe in my wife’s direction again or I’ll pay you another visit. I’ll be a lot less lenient.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” he heaves raggedly, slumping to the stairs when I finally let him go. “Hit by a car. Fine.”
The man stumbles to his feet and lurches down the stairs, out an emergency exit.
I remove my own tie and use it to clean the specks of blood from my face and hands, breathing through the rage until I’m together enough to rejoin Tatum. But when I turn to pass back through the stairwell door, I find my wife standing there. Watching. Waiting.
For several seconds, her expression is blank. Unreadable.
Fear of her reaction threatens to topple me. No. No. No. I’ve been so careful not to show her the dark side of me for five years. She feels safe with me. And I’ve ruined all of it, all of those incredible trust building moments with her in one fell swoop—
The sound of her swallowing reaches my ears and I notice…her nipples are hard.
At first, I’m confused.
But she lets out a shuddering breath. A sound I recognize well. It’s one she makes when she’s turned on. Or I’ve done something that inadvertently made her hot, like planning a surprise weekend trip or getting our son to bed while she sketches in front of the fire. Is it possible that she liked me defending her with my usually leashed violence?
“Tatum…” I approach her with caution, scared to death she’s going to run from me. Say she doesn’t feel safe with me. “I’m sorry, baby. But…I’ll never be capable of letting another man touch you and get away with it. He’s lucky I didn’t kill him.”
“I know,” she breathes, setting down her purse, reaching for me. “I’m lucky too. Aren’t I? To have someone who loves me so fiercely.”
Inundated by shocked lust, I pin her hard to the stairwell wall. “You don’t even know the fucking half of it,” I rasp against her mouth.
“Yes I do. You show me every day.” She chews her lip a moment, glancing toward the hallway. “You can’t be inside me now. I’m…too worked up. I’ll be too loud.” She turns around and presses her palms to the wall, angling her hips back, her ass curving right into my waiting hand. “But I need you to erase the memory of anyone but you. Remind me who I belong to.” she whispers. “Please, Daddy?”
I love this woman so much it’s criminal.
And I know we’re reached a new level of understanding about each other. I’d kill for her and she’s not just okay with it, now that she trusts me. She wants it that way.
Craves me in all forms, the way I crave her with my very soul.
My teeth pull back in a snarl and I ruck up her dress, pulling her panties down. Taking a moment to groan over her hot little jiggle, I slap the pretty, round cheeks of her ass, the sound echoing through the stairwell. “Mine,” I growl into her ear, already planning the many ways I’m going to take her tonight. “Forever.”