“If you ever touch her again,” I hissed, slowly peeling the brass knuckles from my fingers. My hand was coated in Leo’s blood, but his face was worse. Some cuts would leave scars—a constant reminder to him to never cross me again.
“I will kill you, do you understand?”
Bloodied, unable to see through his swollen eye, he nodded, his face unrecognizable. I tossed the brass to the cold stone floor, where it clanged and echoed through the empty space. I never conducted such business within my household, and so as I turned to leave, Gabe fell in step beside me, handing me a handkerchief to wipe down my bloody hand.
“Might wanna change, boss,” he said, nodding to my once white shirt. Speckles of Leo’s crimson littered the canvas. I grit my teeth; as therapeutic as it had been to bash his face in, I was still furious. I had thought Eira was making progress. She seemed to be calm at dinner, enjoying light hearted chatter with me and a few of my father’s old consorts. She even ate, and drank her fill of my family’s wine. I had thought it was all good—all steps in the right direction.
Until she had run away like a frightened little rabbit.
Something had snapped within me, seeing her so distraught, seeing her so fearful. All the same, I was thankful she finally told me who’d touched her. It was something I would have found out regardless, but she had made it easier with her honesty.
I needed her to be calm, to feel safe and secure. She couldn’t work—flourish in an environment where she felt less than. And if I wanted her to solve this puzzle, then I would ensure her safety.
But as we drove home, I knew that was only one side to all of this. The other side was something I was not yet willing to face head on; I was attracted to her, plain and simple. She was intelligent, witty, fiery. She kept me on my toes with her intense conversations. She made me smile when she was happy. We were more alike than we were different.
I had never felt such strong emotions toward a woman before.
I climbed out of the car, loosening my cuff buttons. When I glanced up at the entrance to my home, Mateo stood, leaning against a column with his arms crossed. Shit. I had forgotten her run-in with my sister and her family. Mat would want an explanation. I wracked my brain as I approached.
He straightened. Gabe patted my shoulder as he passed, taking the keys to his car with him.
“So, care to tell me why an inconsolable young woman with no shoes is running around the property, climbing out of windows…?”
I sighed, frowning as I fixed him with a level stare.
“What? Are you going to go tattle on me to my sister?” I growled. He chuckled, shaking his head.
“Hell no. I’m not that stupid. But she is pissed, for whatever reason. I told her you probably have a good explanation…” he trailed off, quirking his brow at me. I rolled my eyes.
“Does saving her from torture and death constitute as a good enough reason?”
His eyes wavered, his thick brows pulling low over his intense blue orbs.
“How…why is she constantly trying to run, then, Dante?”
I shook my head, sighing, my knuckles pulsating from beating the shit out of Leo. It said a lot about Mateo to not even notice the blood splatters littering my crisp white dress shirt.
“She tried to escape the other day, yes, but that was my own fault for bringing her here and not giving her a better explanation as to why she is here. As for tonight…” I trailed off, my blood boiling again. I shook my head, squaring my shoulders. All I wanted to do was see her.
“Someone took advantage of a situation, and I fixed it. I am sorry you and your family had to witness part of that.”
“Is she alright?” Mat asked, concern clear in his voice. He was a father, and therefore even more protective than most. It warmed me, that he cared. Perhaps he could get my sister to see his view as well, though I knew that would be an uphill battle.
“She…will be alright, I will make sure of it.”
He sighed, wiping at his face before he nodded and turned, falling into step beside me as we entered my home.
“I’ll properly introduce you all, when I believe she is ready,” I said.
“I would enjoy that,” he said, though there was a note to his voice that pulled me up short. I paused in the grand foyer, brows furrowing. He wore a coy smirk, his hands shoved into the pockets of his slacks.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I growled. He shrugged, nonchalant.
“You seem very…protective, of her.”
“So?” I bit back like a petulant child. He chuckled.
“Remember the last girl you introduced us to?”
I rolled my eyes. It had been years ago, and it had been a shit show. I hadn’t even been that serious with her, and I only brought her home because my father kept urging me to marry her—she had been the daughter to one of our longest running allies. But she was vapid, and annoying, and chewed with her mouth open, and she had gotten so drunk at dinner that she had teetered off and fallen into the pool.
I still, to this day, believe my sisters had something to do with that mishap, but both attempted to maintain their innocence on the matter. I was still silently grateful, though, that it hadn’t worked out. That had been the first and last time I allowed myself to be swayed by my family’s wishes.
“Yeah, well, Eira is…she isn’t like that. She is brilliant…and…good,” I stumbled through my words. There wasn’t much else to say about her, not to Mateo. I couldn’t slip up and say how beautiful she was, and that I wanted nothing more right now than to go upstairs and make sure she was alright. He could tell I was antsy, though.
He chuckled, clapping me on the shoulder before we exchanged goodnights and parted ways. When I entered my room, Eira was nowhere to be found. I kept the panic from my veins as I stalked forward, finding the bathroom door closed, the sound of the taps running easing my concern. She was just taking a bath.
I sighed, heading to the fire, stoking it before I went to my whisky decanter and poured myself a decent amount. I sat, stewing in front of the flames as I sipped on fire itself. My world could be summarized in those flames alone; hellish, dark, evil. There were those darker than me, but then there were those who were innocent and dragged into this life by circumstance. My sisters, my nieces, and now Eira.
None of it was fair. The danger that lurked around every corner was ever-present and real and sickening. Even I couldn’t escape it. And that was saying a lot.
I turned sharp as the door opened, and out came Eira wrapped in nothing but a towel, her alabaster skin glowing, her long, dark tendrils dripping. Her wide, glacier eyes snapped to mine, and she clutched her towel tighter to her chest. I rose, setting aside my whisky, drawing myself nearer. She backed away, her eyes round as they first searched my face before dropping to my bloodied clothes.
She gulped, her shoulders bumping into the doorjamb. I stood only a foot away, feeling the heat she was exuding. It was easy to see how fast her little heart was beating, for her veins jumped beneath her skin with the motion. I grit my teeth as a possessive urge rolled over me. It was something I was used to feeling when I saw a woman I desired. But this, this had been growing steadily stronger for some time, and now it was becoming unbearable.
“Are you alright, bellissima?” I said, keeping my voice as gentle as possible. Her plush, ruby red lips trembled as she stared me in the eye, but she eventually nodded. I had to give her props for not commenting on my attire. She knew better than to ask. She was already falling too seamlessly into my world, and I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it.
Slow, cautious, I reached up, my bruised knuckles stark in comparison to her ivory skin. I had pummeled Leo with my bare fists first before I opted for a more sinister punishment. Her eyes flitted to my hand, and then back to my face just as quickly as she sucked in a harsh breath.
I smoothed my aching knuckles across her supple cheek, feeling her blush at my simple touch.
“You…you said I was…you-yours,” she said, her eyes falling, her words tremulous. I brushed my thumb across her high cheek bone, feeling myself smirk.
“Yes,” I said, keeping my voice low. Her eyes flickered up to mine once more, deep pools of icy confusion. After a moment, her eyes betrayed her—curious. She wondered why I would say such a thing. I wasn’t all too keen to share with her yet, though.
“Why? Why me?” she finally breathed. I felt my smirk grow.
“Do not worry about such things, sì?”
Her lips twisted down into a pout, her brows pulling low over her eyes.
But before she could say another word, I leaned in, pressing my lips to her warm forehead, allowing them to linger as I memorized the way she felt, as I left my searing mark on her luscious skin. When I pulled away, I was rewarded with a beautiful, deep blush, and her eyelids fluttered in her confusion.
It was clear, after that reaction, that she was just as attracted to me as I was to her. I felt aroused at the thought. One day, I would show her what a real man was like—not what her ex pretended to be. She would learn what it was like to be mine—she already had a small taste.
“Might I shower, bellissima?”
She nodded quickly, eyes wide on my face. I smirked again at her stark innocence. She may have her past, but she did not know me, did not know how I chose to pursue things, and therefore she was afraid. She didn’t need to be, but there was nothing I could say that would make her feel less apprehensive. I would simply have to show her.
I stepped back, taking in her small form, my mouth running dry as I eyed her. I chuckled as she shivered in the drafty room. If only I could convince her to shower with me, but I knew that she needed time. Time to see I wouldn’t hurt her. Time to see I would protect her. Time to see I wasn’t a monster from her worst nightmares.
“Go warm yourself,” I said lowly, jerking my head toward the fire. She blinked a few times before pressing her lips together, studying me rather critically right now. She wanted to know my angle, to see if I was doing this to use her. That was something I could easily address here and now. I would never use her in such a low way.
“You…did you…kill him?” she whispered, brows pulling together in the center in deep concern. I sighed, frowning as I studied her nervous face.
“No. But he will never touch you again. And if he does, I will kill him.”
“You…you’ve killed people…” she whispered, eyes falling to my chest. I grit my teeth. She was about to panic, and I needed to reign her in.
Her watery eyes jumped to my face, her chin wobbling. She held her towel tighter, stretching it taut across her curvy breasts. She shook her head, leaning away, but she was trapped by me. Instead of being a gentleman, I drew closer, aroused at her fear of me, sickeningly delighted that I had her cornered and within my reach. I would never hurt her, but that didn’t stop the monstrous side of me from reveling in her fear.
“Shh, bellissima. You’re safe with me.”
I reached out, cupping her cheek once more. She was trembling from cold and from fear, and after beating the shit out of Leo, all I wanted to do was quench my lust, once way or another. It was simply part of being a man, I had learned. Killing had a way of bringing urges to the surface. Exercising your dominance and power over another also had the same effect.
I wanted Eira.
It was clear, though, that she didn’t want me.
As difficult as it was, I pulled away from her, stalking into the bathroom and locking myself in, leaning against the door as my fantasies swirled in my whisky-clouded mind.