What did that feel like?
You are tired.
The only person who loved him like that who could ever touch him was Simi. She thought the world of him and it was why he was so protective of her.
He touched the tattoo of her on his chest, grateful she was with him. He needed to let her loose soon, but honestly he hated whenever they were apart. There was such comfort from having her with him . . .
It was selfish, but he couldn’t help himself.
Gripping the strap of his backpack, he continued up the stairs, to his room. Like the rest of the house, it was small and cozy. The curtains and comforter were beige with pink flowers.
Someone had come in and turned the sheets down for him. He didn’t know why, but it made him feel welcome.
He set his backpack down and reached for an acoustic guitar that was set in a rocking chair. He felt a presence behind him. Turning, he saw Tory in the doorway, watching him.
"Do you play?" he asked.
"I torture it from time to time. What about you?"
"I do sometimes."
"You any good?"
"I do all right."
She entered the room with a small stack of towels and washcloths that she set on the dresser. "The bathroom’s across the hall. You need anything else?"
You to touch me like I matter . . . He shook his head at the forbidden thought. "I’m a man of few needs."
She sighed. "I’ve noticed that about you."
Before Ash could stop himself, he took a step closer to her. Close enough that he could smell the precious scent of Tory mixed with peaches from her shampoo. He savored it. Just as he savored the sight of those inquisitive brown eyes that questioned everything about him.
Gods, how he wanted a piece of this woman . . .
Tory couldn’t breathe as Ash stood so near her, she could feel his body heat. He was so incredibly sexy. So beautiful.
He’s going to kiss you . . .
She could already taste those masculine lips. Feel his arms around her.
But that wasn’t reality. The moment he would have touched her skin, she leapt away. "All righty then. I’ll just leave you alone."
Ash wanted to whimper as she shot out of the room so fast she left a vapor trail. How could she not want him? All his life he’d been fighting people off. Fending away unwanted gropes and touches. Now he finally found someone he wanted to touch him and she treated him like a leper.
What the hell was this?
Aggravated, he raked his hand through his hair and cursed under his breath. It was going to be a long night with her sleeping so close to him and yet so far away.
Too early the next morning, Tory was awake and still bleary-eyed as she staggered downstairs to her kitchen. The moment she entered the room, she froze in her tracks.
Ash was there. Dressed only in jeans, he stood with his back to her.
Holy saints! The expanse of flawless tawny skin was more than a mere mortal woman could see and not salivate over. Wide muscled shoulders tapered down to narrow h*ps and a perfectly formed butt. His hair still mussed from sleep, he popped the top off a beer.
Tory made a sound of disgust over his actions. "You have got to be kidding me."
He turned and what little sanity she had fled. Yes, he still had those annoying sunglasses on, but the top button of his jeans hadn’t been fastened. They rode low on his hips, and the dark trail of hair that ran south of his navel was slightly thicker at the opening.
He was commando . . .
And that long, hard body was made for sin. Really, no man should look like that and definitely not one who was standing in her kitchen . . . In her bed was another story. Man, how she wanted to take a bite out of him.
"Is something wrong?" he asked innocently.
It took her three heartbeats before she could remember her objection to his near nak*d state. "You’re drinking a beer first thing in the morning. What kind of alcoholic are you?"
He flashed a taunting grin at her before he took a deep swig. "I’m not an alcoholic."
Yeah, right. "That’s what they all say. At least put something on your stomach before you drink that."
His features hardened. "I don’t need a mother, Tory."
She didn’t believe that for one minute. Angry at what he was doing, she tried to take the bottle from him, but he refused to let her.
She glared at him. "You need someone to take care of you. Jeez! How can you do this to yourself?"
"It’s just a beer."
"And hell is just a sauna." She went to the fridge and grabbed eggs and some cheese. "Sit down and I’ll make you something to eat."
"I’m not hungry."
"And I’m about to be wielding a frying pan and a knife so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop arguing with me and sit down."
"I don’t eat breakfast," he mumbled under his breath as he moved out of her way.
"I really don’t care," she mocked in a sing-song voice that was as close to his thick accent as she could manage.
He moved to the other side of her breakfast counter. "You are so bossy."
"Yes I am. Now sit."
"Yes, Your Majesty. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Put a shirt on like a civilized human. Do you know how unsanitary it is to be in a kitchen with no shirt?"
Ash laughed even though he wanted to strangle her. She had to be the only person he’d ever met who wanted him to wear more clothing. He started to get up, but she made a squeal of disapproval.
"What now?" he asked, truly baffled by her mood swings.
She pointed threateningly at him with her knife. "Don’t you dare move until after I see you eat something."
He let out a frustrated breath. "You told me to go put on a shirt."
"Since when do you listen to a single thing I say? Never. I know what you’re planning to do. You’ll go upstairs and not come back. So sit."
He held his hands up in surrender while he watched her crack open two eggs and put them in a bowl so that she could beat them with a fervor that would have scared him if he wasn’t a god with protective powers. "You’re not a morning person, are you?"
She put a handful of cheese on top of them. "No and I haven’t had my caffeine IV either which means it would be wise of you to humor me."
Ash hid his smile. Why did she amuse him so? He didn’t understand it and unless he wanted to tell her the truth about what he really fed on, he had no choice except to sit here while she made him an omelette, bacon and toast.
She plopped the plate down in front of him. "Fie!"-Eat in Greek.
He stared at the delicious smelling food as buried emotions surged. You want to eat, whore? Please me . . .
In the back of his mind, he saw himself in Estes’s office, on his knees on the floor, nak*d and chained to the desk while his uncle read late into the evening. Starving because he’d been allowed nothing to eat all day while he’d worked until he was bleeding and sore from it to make his uncle rich, Ash had stared at the bowl of dried sugared figs Estes had left in front of him. His stomach cramped from hunger, his mouth had watered for a single taste. For over an hour he’d stared at the food, biting his lips in desperate agony. Convinced Estes was so engrossed in his reading that he wouldn’t see him, Ash had reached for one.
He could still feel the sting of that vicious slap. See the anger in Estes’s eyes as he snatched at his hair and held Ash at his feet. "Did I give you permission to eat, whore? You don’t ever take from me without earning . . ."
Even Artemis withheld her blood from him in an effort to control him. If he didn’t please her, he starved. More than that were the memories of being force-fed by his father’s guards. Shovel it down his throat. Hold his mouth and nose shut until he swallows. And when he’d choked on what they were brutally pouring into his mouth, they’d punched and slapped him, too.
He hated to eat.
Tory reached for the cheese and froze as she caught the strange look on Ash’s face. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he was afraid of the food in front of him. "What’s wrong?"
"I really don’t eat breakfast."
This time she heard the underlying note in his voice that reminded her of a small, fearful child. Before she could stop herself, she walked over to him and stood by his side. He continued to look at the plate.
Gently, she took his whiskered chin in her hand and turned his head so that he was looking at her. "I won’t force you to eat against your will, Ash. But I don’t want to see you starve. Please, eat something."
Ash stared at the vein on her neck that throbbed with the vitality of her life. He could hear her heart beating . . . that was the food he craved.
His incisors elongated at the surge of hunger that went through him. His senses sharpened as he felt his eyes turning red.
Eat . . .
But he couldn’t bring himself to feed from her the way Artemis had done him when he’d been human. Even though he could make it pleasurable for her, he couldn’t do it. It was such a feeling of being violated to have someone drain the blood out of your body. Have them rip through your flesh with their teeth while you were powerless to stop them . . .
I won’t do it.
She reached down and cut a small bit of the eggs off before she brought the fork up to his lips. "Would you please take one bite?"
His instincts were to shove her away from him as his teeth receded. Instead, he found his lips parting so that she could place the eggs on his tongue. The taste stunned him. He hadn’t tasted food since before he’d died.
But even better than the food was the satisfied smile on Tory’s face. She reached out and stroked his jaw with the backs of her fingers.
Closing his eyes, he savored the tenderness of that touch as his c**k hardened forcefully. In that moment, it took every ounce of strength he had not to pull her to him and kiss her. Or more to the point, strip her nak*d and sate the hollow ache inside him.
Never in all of his existence had he tasted lust like this. It was more than a mere craving, it was a raw, demanding need.
She broke off a piece of toast and held it up to his mouth. Dutifully, he parted his lips and let her feed him again.
Tory couldn’t explain the peculiar sense of satisfaction she had from feeding him, but there was no denying it. She felt as if she were taming a feral lion. And when she fed him a piece of bacon, he gently nipped her fingers.
A shiver went over her.
"It’s not so bad, is it?"
He shook his head.
She gave him another bite of the eggs. He swallowed them, then took a swig of beer. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she could feel the weight of his gaze on her and it made her entire body hot.
"Now that I’ve placated you . . ." He pulled her against him and captured her lips.
Tory moaned as his tongue touched hers. Never in her life had a man kissed her like this-as if he were breathing her in. Possessing her. His kiss was hot and demanding as he cupped her face in his hands.
Ash was on fire from the taste of her, of the feeling of her tongue against his. Over and over, he could imagine himself buried deep inside her. Feel her hands on his back, stroking him with the same tenderness she’d used to touch his cheek.
Unable to stand it, he trailed one hand down her arm, and around her h*ps to press her closer to him.
Tory’s body throbbed with an unbelievable demand. She wanted to strip those jeans off and taste every inch of his body until she was blind from ecstasy, but at the end of the day, she wasn’t stupid.
A man like this didn’t date a woman like her. It just didn’t happen.
"Whoa, boy," she said, pulling back. "Down. We just met. For that matter, I don’t even know what your eye color is."
Ash wanted to whimper as she stepped away from him. His gaze dropped to her ni**les that were plainly visible beneath the tank top she wore. All he wanted was to shove her shirt up and take one of them into his mouth.
Would she hold him like he mattered?
Or would she slap him after he’d pleased her and kick him out her bed?
That last thought went over him like ice water. He didn’t want to feel used anymore. Not to mention he had one large, red-headed problem who would beat him until he had no skin left on his body if she ever found out he’d kissed another woman.
Damn it. His life had never been his own.
"I’m sorry," he breathed. "You’re just extremely irresistible."
"Strange, men have been resisting me for years."
"Yeah well, they were idiots."
Smiling, she reached up for his glasses. "Can I take these off?"
Ash swallowed as fear tore through him. "I wish you wouldn’t."
"Because they’ll make you uncomfortable. No one likes to look at my eyes."
She scowled at him. "What are you? Rosemary’s baby?"
She shook her head at his fear. "Well in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not most people."
No, she wasn’t. But not even the gods could look at his eyes without curling their lips in disgust. "Just remember, when you do this, there’s no going back."
Tory froze at those dire words. Now she had to know what they looked like. Reaching up slowly, she pulled the sunglasses off his eyes.
Ash looked down at the floor, preventing her from seeing their color. But dayam, the man was even more gorgeous without the sunglasses on. Never had she seen a more perfect set of features.