Dagny gave Alice a count of ten that she tried not to hurry. Her heart beat heavily in her chest. Sweet Nótt, he was magnificent—muscles coiled, ready to pounce, blue eyes glowing so bright she almost couldn’t look into them, lips pulled back into a leering grin, showing his dangerous teeth.
His eyes made a slow sweep of her body. She pivoted until she faced the door, then turned to look over her shoulder. A nearly inaudible rumble vibrated through her.
She dashed through the door. Not knowing the layout inside, she tried to buy herself some time by closing the door partway. Behind her, Brand slammed into the metal and threw it open with a bellow. She only made it to the end of the hallway before he caught her.
One hand tangled in her hair and pulled her back into him. The impact drove the air from her lungs. He grabbed her about the waist and held her against him. He leaned down and smelled her, pressing her into the wall of the narrow hallway with his massive body.
He trembled, then made a noise in the back of his throat reminiscent of a large cat. His cheek pressed into her neck and slid up until his lips were at her ear. His voice was a rasping whisper. “I’m not exactly certain how you got in this position, but I like it.”
Apparently, he’d somehow won the battle with the beast once again. Not sure if she was more relieved or disappointed, she struggled to calm herself.
He turned her around fast, pushing her back. His thigh came up between her legs and pinned her against the wall. “I trust Erik got away safely?”
She nodded because she couldn’t form words to answer.
“And here you are almost naked in my living room… at my mercy.” His voice was ominously low.
The feeling of his chest against her torso drove her to distraction. She couldn’t even manage to nod.
“Dagny, I don’t have much in the way of mercy.” He chuckled in response to the tensing of her muscles and eased his leg away from her. His hands traveled down, opening her robe as they went. Wherever he touched, her skin heated to an almost uncomfortable level. He stroked his fingers over her breasts before continuing down her belly.
When his hands reached the level of her hips, he suddenly backed away. Terror made her gut clench, as she knew without a doubt what he felt. The shame overwhelmed her. He lowered his head.
She glanced down, dreading what she would see and knowing that he would tell her to leave. If she saw pity in his strong face, she thought she might die.
With his head tilted down, she couldn’t see his expression, only the top of his dark head. His fingers caressed the edges of the burns that marked her from one hip to the other below her navel.
“Who in the fuck burned you with runic warnings?” He looked up, his face carved with fury.
She sagged with relief and almost fell, but he managed to catch her and ease her to the ground.
“Dagny, answer me, who did that to you?” Rage shook his voice.
If he didn’t want her anymore, that was all right, but she couldn’t take the pity, not from him. Her hands trembled as she tried to close the robe again. “It’s not important. It was a long time ago.”
He gripped her chin hard, forcing her to look at him. His blue eyes bored into hers. “Unless the pig is already dead, I want to know who did that to you.”
“I really don’t want to talk about that right now.” She tried to look away, but he held her face toward him.
He pushed forward. The anger radiating from him was so intense she couldn’t breathe. “Let me make this absolutely clear. I’m going to kill whoever did that to you.” His voice took on a dangerous purr. The lines of his face were stark, taut with barely controlled wrath.
She swallowed twice before she could speak. “Why would you do that?”
An expression of shock crossed his face, followed soon after by the small curve of a smile touching his lips. “Anyone who hurts you has me to contend with.”
His hand slid down, pulling her robe open when he reached the marks across her lower belly. She didn’t try to stop him, but her stomach muscles clenched.
Repressed memories came back in a rush. The terror and pain flooded her. She felt the ropes that tied her down, heard the screams torn from her throat as the heated iron seared her skin over and over again. Blinking several times, she swallowed past the rising fear.
Brand backed away, eyes closing slightly. “So much agony.”
She should have been insulted that he read her without permission, but the roughness of his voice spoke of outrage as much as compassion. The light touch of his hand on her skin soothed her.
He brushed his fingers across her belly until he reached the left-most mark, and then traced the raised scar from bottom to top with one slow stroke. He proceeded to the next rune and gave it the same treatment.
The sensation was strangely erotic. She found herself struggling not to squirm to meet his touch. The marks were shameful, yet he treated them with a bizarre reverence. The fourth rune was directly under her navel. After he traced that one, he kept moving up until his finger circled her belly button. He reached the end of the row in the same manner.
He lifted his gaze to meet her eyes, a serious expression on his face. His fingers moved over the skin of her belly with a light, idle touch. “Dagny,” he spoke slowly, each syllable flowing to the next. “May I bite you?” Lines crinkled at the corners of his eyes as a slow smile spread over his face.
A tremor coursed through her and, before she could consider the wisdom of the action, she nodded.
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