From Blood and Ash

Page 37

“I’m aware that my hair is in need of a trim, but your aim is off,” he said. “You should really work on that since I’m quite partial to my face.”

My aim had been spot-on.

With a silent snarl, I waited until he was close enough, and then I kicked out, catching him in the lower leg. He grunted as I jumped to my feet, ignoring the ache of what was surely a bruised hip and rear. I whirled to the right, and he jumped to block me, but I darted to the left. He came right back at me, and I kicked out once more—

Hawke caught me by the ankle. I gasped, arms pinwheeling until I steadied myself. Wide-eyed, I stared at him. He raised his brows as his gaze traveled the length of my bare leg. “Scandalous,” he murmured.

A growl of annoyance burst from me.

He laughed. “And such dainty little slippers. Satin and silk? They’re as finely tailored as your leg. The kind of slipper no guard of the Rise would wear.”

How astute of him.

“Unless they are being outfitted differently than I am.” Hawke dropped my ankle, but before I could run, he caught my arm and yanked me forward. Suddenly, I was against him and on the tips of my toes.

Air seized in my lungs at the sudden contact. My breasts were flattened against the hard leather and iron of his stomach. The warmth of his body seemed to bleed through his armor, sinking through my cloak and the thin gown underneath. A flash of heat rolled through me as I dragged in a deep breath. Beyond the rot of Craven blood, he smelled of dark spice and lush smoke. A flush crept into my cheeks.

His nostrils flared, and as crazy as it sounded, the hue of his eyes seemed to deepen to a striking amber color. He lifted his other arm. “You know what I think—”

The blade pressing into the skin of his throat silenced him. His lips thinned as he stared down at me. He didn’t move or release me, so I pressed the tip of the dagger in just enough. A bead of blood swelled just below his throat.

“Correction,” he said, and then he laughed as the trickle of blood seeped down his neck. It wasn’t a harsh laugh or a patronizing one. He sounded amused. “You’re an absolutely stunning, murderous little creature.” Pausing, he glanced down. “Nice weapon. Bloodstone and wolven bone. Very interesting…” His gaze flicked up. “Princess.”

Chapter 16

The dagger. Damn it. I’d forgotten that he’d seen the knife at the Red Pearl. Gods, how could I forget that? I jerked the blade away, but it was too late.

And it was also a mistake.

Hawke’s other hand moved lightning-quick, catching the wrist of the hand that held the weapon. “You and I have so much to talk about.”

“We have nothing to talk about,” I snapped, irritated at myself for making not one, not two, but three incredibly foolish moves. And beyond frustrated with Hawke because he’d gained the upper hand.

“She speaks!” He widened his eyes in false shock and then dipped his chin, causing me to tense. “I thought you liked to talk, Princess.” He paused. “Or is that only when you’re at the Red Pearl?”

I said nothing to that.

“You’re not going to pretend that you have no idea what I’m talking about, are you?” he asked. “That you’re not her?”

I pulled on my arms. “Let me go.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” He turned sharply, and suddenly, my back and the bow were against the stone wall of the Rise. The contact sent a dull wave of fire over my healing back, but he pressed in, caging my body with his. There was barely an inch between us. “After all we shared? You throw a dagger at my face?”

“All we shared? It was a handful of minutes and a few kisses,” I said, and the truth of that struck me with startling clarity. That was all we’d shared. Gods, I was so…sheltered. Because in my limited experience, it had become…so much more to me. The wake-up call that it was only a few kisses was utterly brutal.

“It was more than a few kisses.” His voice dropped low. “If you’ve forgotten, I’m more than willing to remind you.”

Tiny coils of tension formed in my stomach. Part of me wanted to be reminded of what I surely had not forgotten. Thank the gods, the smarter, logical part of me won out. “There was nothing worth remembering.”

“Now you insult me after throwing a dagger at my face? You’ve wounded my tender feelings.”

“Tender feelings?” I snorted. “Don’t be overdramatic.”

“Hard not to be when you threw a dagger at my head and then cut my neck,” he shot back, his grip on me surprisingly gentle compared to the hardness of his tone.

“I knew you’d move out of the way.”

“Did you? Is that why you tried to slice open my throat?” His golden eyes burned from beneath heavy, thick lashes.

“I nicked your skin,” I corrected. “Because you had a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Obviously, you haven’t learned anything from it.”

“I’ve actually learned a lot, Princess. That’s why your hands and your dagger aren’t getting anywhere near my neck.” His thumb slid over the inside of my wrist as a reminder, and my fingers spasmed around the handle of my weapon. “But if you let go of the dagger, there’s a whole lot of me I’ll let your hands get close to.”

I choked on my next breath. Did he not realize who he was speaking to? Was the sound of my voice so common that he had no idea it was me? But if he hadn’t figured it out yet, that meant I still had the advantage. A small one, but still. “How generous of you,” I retorted.

“Once you get to know me, you’ll find that I can be quite benevolent.”

“I have no intention of getting to know you.”

“So, you just make a habit of sneaking into the rooms of young men and seducing them before running off?”

“What?” I gasped. “Seducing men?”

“Isn’t that what you did to me, Princess?” His thumb made another slow sweep along the inside of my wrist.

“You’re ridiculous,” I sputtered.

“What I am is intrigued.”

Groaning, I pulled at my arms, and he chuckled in response, eyes reminding me of pools of warm honey. “Why do you insist on holding me like this?”

“Well, besides what we went over already, which is the whole being partial to my face and my neck thing, you’re also somewhere you’re not supposed to be. I’m doing my job by detaining and questioning you.”

“Do you typically question those on the Rise who you don’t recognize like this?” I challenged. “What an odd method of interrogation.”

“Only pretty ladies with shapely, bare legs.” He leaned in, and when I took my next breath, my chest met his. “What are you doing up here during a Craven attack?”

“Enjoying a relaxing evening stroll,” I snapped.

His lips curled up on one side, but there was no dimple. “What were you doing up here, Princess?” he repeated.

“What did it look like I was doing?”

“It looked like you were being incredibly foolish and reckless.”

“Excuse me?” Disbelief thundered through me. “How reckless was I being when I killed Craven and—”

“Am I unaware of a new recruitment policy were half-dressed ladies in cloaks are now needed on the Rise?” he asked. “Are we that desperately in need of protection?”

Anger hit my blood like wildfire. “Desperate? Why would my presence on the Rise signal desperation when, as you’ve seen, I know how to use a bow? Oh, wait. Is it because I happen to have breasts?”

“I’ve known women with far less beautiful breasts that could cut a man down without so much as blinking an eye,” he said. “But none of those women are here in Masadonia.”

I would’ve liked to know where this group of rather amazing-sounding women lived—wait. Far less beautiful breasts?

“And you are incredibly skilled,” he continued, snapping my attention back to him. “Not just with an arrow. Who taught you how to fight and use a dagger?”

Clamping my mouth shut, I refused to answer.

“I’m willing to bet it was the same person who gave you that blade.” He paused. “Too bad whoever they are didn’t teach you how to evade capture. Well, too bad for you, that is.”

Anger flooded my system once more, overwhelming me. I thrust my knee up, aiming for a very sensitive part of him—the one that somehow made him more qualified than I was to fight.

Hawke sensed my move and shifted, blocking my knee with his thigh. “You’re so incredibly violent.” He paused. “I think I like it.”

“Let me go!” I seethed.

“And be kicked or stabbed?” He shoved his leg between mine, preventing any future kicks. “We’ve already covered that, Princess. More than once.”

I lifted my hips off the wall, attempting to throw him off, but all I accomplished was pressing a very sensitive part of my body against the hard length of his thigh. The friction created a sudden, jarring rush of heat that was so powerful, it was like being struck by lightning. Sucking in a startled breath, I stilled.

Hawke had done the same against me, his large body filling with tension. His chest rose and fell against mine. What…what was happening? I felt hot despite how far up we were and that we stood in the cold night air. My skin seemed to buzz as if fine currents of energy were dancing along my flesh, and hard, pounding heat had replaced the aching coldness in my body.

Several too-long moments stretched out between us and then he said, “I came back for you that night.”

The noise from below was beginning to calm. At any moment, someone could come up here, but I was so incredibly reckless and foolish because I let my eyes drift shut as his words cycled through me.

He had come back.

“Just like I told you I would. I came back for you, and you weren’t there,” he continued. “You promised me, Princess.”    

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