By Maree Anderson
Whoa. Chalcey mentally fanned herself so she didn’t do something stupid. Like hyperventilate, and get all dizzy and fall on her ass. He’d been poured into those scarred leather pants. And as for the chest-hugging leather vest and shit-kicker boots…. Lord have mercy. He looked like a warrior king of old. He could have stepped right out of one of her private nighttime fantasies.
He turned his back on her and stalked toward Ray. The stiffness of his spine, and the rhythmic clenching and unclenching of his fists, screamed deadly intent and purpose.
Oh no. This could get out of hand real quick. She wasn’t the sort who’d stand helplessly by, wringing her hands in dismay, while a guy got pulped—not even if he did deserve it.
“Hey!” She darted forward and clutched her rescuer’s arm, hauling him around to face her.
His gaze latched onto hers again, ensnaring her. She couldn’t look away. Her heart raced, its beat echoing manically in her ears. Her bare skin prickled as though he’d run cool, caressing fingers down her flesh. She flushed with heat as parts lower down clenched and throbbed with lust. Her body responded to him, cried out for him, even though she’d never met him before in her life.
“Who—?” Her question died when he grabbed her and planted a kiss on her lips that stole her breath.
He speared his fingers through her hair to cup the back of her skull with one big hand. He held her immobile and lowered his mouth to hers. His kiss was hungry, demanding, brutally intense. She was so stunned that she didn’t even try to struggle. He took her mouth as though he would brand her as his own. And she would have let him mark her. Hell, she would stoop to begging!
When her legs wobbled, he clasped her so tightly against his body that she was forced up on tiptoes. She stared into his eyes. So intensely blue… like the sky viewed from a mountaintop on a crystal-clear day.
His mouth hardened on hers, forcing her lips apart so that he could thrust his tongue inside her mouth. Still she didn’t protest. Her head spun. Her eyelids drifted shut. She became a creature of pure sensation. There was only him and her. His lips on hers, her body pressed against his. Her yearning for him to fill a gaping hole in her soul that she’d not realized existed before now. His needs and wants and desires, all of them focused upon her, all of them centered around her. The rest of the world dissolved beneath his sensual assault. Nothing else mattered. Nothing but him.
“Hey!” somebody—Ray—shouted. “Who the fuck d’ya think you are?”
Chalcey blinked. The hulking great hunky stranger, the one who had dealt to the sleaze-bag mauling her, was now… well… mauling her. Did she have “Grope Me” tattooed on her forehead, or something? What was with this guy? He was just as bad as Ray.
So she did what any self-respecting girl who’s had enough of men would do—even if the man was an incredibly hot one who kissed like there was no tomorrow. She totally overreacted. She grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head back. And kept on yanking until he quit kissing her and released her enough that she slid down his body. The instant that she had her balance, she drew back her arm and punched him in the face. Hard. Putting all her strength and the power of her body behind it.
He grunted and backed off.
“I don’t know you from a bar of soap. Where the hell do you get off thinking you can manhandle me?” She flexed her fingers, shaking out the pain as she squinted at him, trying to spot where she’d hit him. She’d been aiming for his nose but he’d angled his head at the last second and she’d missed her target. The cheek, perhaps? A reddened patch of skin was the only evidence.
His gaze suggested that he was more shocked that she’d dared hit him than hurt. Huh. Obviously she hadn’t punched him as hard as she’d thought. And she didn’t quite know whether to be relieved she hadn’t done him serious harm, or majorly pissed that she hadn’t defended herself more effectively.
“Nice move, babe.” Ray peeled himself off the pavement. He limped toward The Warrior, as Chalcey had christened her would-be rescuer-turned-victim in a fit of inappropriate whimsy. All semblance of boy-next-door good looks had fled, leaving Ray’s features twisted and ugly.
In one hand he clutched a wicked looking knife.
The unholy glee lurking in his eyes sickened her. She lost it. She saw red—literally, for her vision became washed in a blood-red haze. “Stuff your ego back in your pants and fuck off, Ray!” Her shout hung in the air, unnaturally loud and menacing in the stillness. “And while you’re at it, how about you stuff that stupid knife where the sun don’t shine, too.”
Ray sized her up as though testing her resolve. She straightened her spine and socked him with the “I’m totally serious so don’t piss with me!” evils.
He resorted to what passed for charm for a guy like him. “Just wanted to give you a lift home. Was worried about ya, babe. ’Specially with assholes like him looking for some hot tail to tap.”
“For fuck’s sake, spare me the ‘I’m such a gentleman’ routine, Ray. You and I both know it’s a crock. Piss off.”
Ray’s gaze cut to the man behind Chalcey, as if sizing up his opponent. Then he had the nerve to turn his full attention back to her and leer at her chest. “Shoulda told me you liked it rough, babe. I can do rough.”
“Be gone, scum,” a voice rumbled from directly behind her. “The woman is mine.”
“Excuse me?” Chalcey glanced over her shoulder at The Warrior, and before she could so much as squeak, he grabbed her and thrust her behind him.
Ray lunged at him. A scream ripped from Chalcey’s throat. The Warrior slapped the knife from Ray’s hand, sending it skidding across the pavement. Then he grabbed Ray by the scruff of the neck and tossed him aside like he weighed nothing. Again.
Ray scrabbled about on all fours, shaking his head like a confused dog. The Warrior stood legs planted wide, arms akimbo, lips curled in a derisive sneer. “Do you wish to try that again, scum? I do not believe that you will provide much of a fight but I find myself in the mood for some light entertainment.”
Huh. The Warrior was goading Ray.
Men! Testosterone-fueled dickwads.
Well, she refused to provide these two with an audience while they beat on each other. She made a beeline for the knife and crouched to pick it up between thumb and forefinger. A full-body shudder racked her. Nasty. It was so going in the Dumpster. She stood on tiptoe and tossed it in. The foul stench of the garbage made her gag but it was all good. Ray wouldn’t be keen on jumping in to retrieve it any time soon.
Next on the agenda was her handbag. She peered around until she spotted it, stalked over and bent to snatch it from the ground, then kept on walking. There. Just like that she’d wiped her hands of Ray and The Warrior.
It was a pretty good plan except, fool that she was, she couldn’t resist glancing back.
The Warrior had twisted Ray’s arm behind his back. His piercing blue gaze caught hers and, as he forced Ray to his knees, they shared a moment. A really intense “you’re gonna be mine, all mine!” moment.
Commonsense finally crawled out from whatever hole it’d been cowering in, and Chalcey took off at a flat-out run. Jerk-off Ray she could handle, but this guy? Not so much.
All the way home thoughts of him haunted her. His eyes, that expression on his face as she’d turned away—she’d never seen a man look so bereft. And as she searched for her keys to unlock the street door to her studio, she was forced to admit another truth. Never in all her twenty-five years, had she experienced such instant, gut-wrenching wanting for a man.
Wulf eyed the pathetic excuse for a male cowering before him. He speared his fingers through the man’s hair and dragged him upright. The stench of the man’s piss stung his nostrils. Weak-minded coward. For all his foulmouthed bravado, the man was soft as a cushion. Even a cosseted priest could have given Wulf a better fight. Or a woman.
One woman in particular. The woman he’d just kissed. She slammed into his mind, rocking him back on his heels as she pervaded his senses and sank deep into his soul.
Wulf did not hesitate to toss the man he had been about to punish aside. Nor did he attempt to prevent him from slinking off like a cowardly dog. A vision such as this was a gods-sent portent, ignored at one’s peril. Wulf would not risk inflaming the ire of those omnipotent beings who might, on a whim, choose to pluck him from this alien world and return him to his homeland. He closed his eyes and acceded to their wishes, allowing the vision to sweep him away.
She was tall for a woman, slim but strong, with breasts that would overflow even his large hands. Riotous curls framed a strong, elegantly boned face. Bones could not lie. She would be a beauty even in her dotage. Her syrup-dark eyes had spat ire at him, before clouding with wanton desire as his mouth possessed her full, soft lips. She’d worn a short, clinging gown. It appeared to have been spun from spider’s silk kissed with starlight, allowing tantalizing glimpses of the pale skin beneath. She was a prize, indeed. A woman worthy of a Lord Keeper, worthy of him.
An emotion he was loath to name clawed his gut. It was a twin to the despair that had smote him when she fled the scene.
He’d let her go, telling himself all the while that chasing after a mere female was far less pressing an engagement than dispatching an opponent. In truth, he’d let her go because his reaction to her had troubled him to the very depths of his warrior’s soul. One kiss had hauled him to the brink of losing himself in her to the exclusion of all else, unworthy opponents and lurking enemies alike. For a warrior of Wulf’s caliber, allowing himself to be so thoroughly distracted when all about him was unfamiliar and potentially deadly was unforgiveable.
He dared open his eyes, blinking until she faded from his mind and his surroundings resolved into light and shadow, and reality—such as it was—again held sway. He swept his gaze about the alien surrounds and spotted his opponent climbing into a strange conveyance the likes of which Wulf had never before seen. Its exterior glinted like the hard carapace of a beetle.
The thing roared, and lamps that shone like miniature suns pierced the darkness ahead. The wheels of its undercarriage spun. Wulf’s jaw dropped as it rumbled past him. He glimpsed the hunched form of the man inside, one of his hands clenching a circular device, the other manipulating something in the interior. He appeared to be directing the apparatus.
Gods above and below. What would the priests make of such an infernal thing? Wulf had listened to the tales of many an old warrior dispatched to alien worlds, but never had such a thing been described.
His awe was a fleeting thing, soon supplanted by disgust. If it had been he who had escaped a superior opponent and could command such a device, he would not have hesitated to run his opponent down. One should never leave an enemy at one’s back. The man was not only craven, but a fool.
He made a concerted effort to cease flexing his sword hand, aware that he sorely felt the lack of the weapon that had become so much a part of him. If the conveyance the man had climbed into was commonplace in this world, he would have to learn more about it, and quickly. He did not relish to the task. He much preferred dealing with living beings that he could bend to his implacable will. Horses, for example, were simple creatures. Train them to the bit and bridle, feed and water them regularly, pet them and praise them when their behavior merited, and they were yours to command. Much like a woman….
Hah. He snorted. The woman he’d kissed, the woman who’d drowned his senses and haunted his gods-sent vision, would doubtless protest such simplistic treatment. She would chafe at the bit, challenge him. He would enjoy taming a fiery one such as her.
He didn’t realize he’d moved until he found himself standing at a crossroads of sorts. For the first time in his life, Wulf was unsure, undecided which path to take. A tug of insistence pulled him to the left. Stubbornness made him head right. He managed half a dozen strides before pain knifed his belly. A half dozen more, and pain spiked through his skull. He forced himself to keep walking, and with each step, the throbbing in his skull increased twofold.
So be it. Wulf was a stubborn man, but not foolish, never that. He would not ignore such obvious portents. The pain dimmed to a dull throb as he backtracked and took the left-hand path. He would allow himself to be led by the nose. For now. And, gods willing, he would find her again. The woman who’d set his loins aflame with her kiss, and then shown her displeasure at being manhandled without her permission by punching him in the face.
He prodded the bruise forming on his cheek. His lips curved ever-so-slightly upward. This world’s females were not fragile creatures, easily cowed and overwhelmed by a man’s superior strength. And, despite its unnaturally constructed dwellings, and a myriad other aberrant sights that made his hackles rise and his sword hand ache with the need for a weapon, this world promised a thousand-fold improvement over the unending black-on-black void of his former prison. At least here he could feel—even if what he felt was a desire so intense he burned with it. Even if his warrior’s soul yearned for something he could not yet name.
So far as tortures went, lusting after a woman and suffering the indignity of an unsuccored cockstand, was an exquisite agony. Still worse would be to go haring after her, and then, just as he reached her, pressed his lips to hers, filled his hands with her, to be snatched up and condemned to the crystal once more.
To be imprisoned again, eternally enduring memories of the woman he had been so close to possessing. That would be hell, indeed. But Wulf had never been one to back away from a challenge.
THE CRYSTAL WARRIOR
Copyright 2011 by Maree Anderson
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