Dark Hunger


Page 39



When she saw Matthias working at the counter, she almost turned around and went back to her room.


“You did not come for the evening meal,” he said without looking at her.


“I forgot the time.” She smelled something sweet. “I’m not very hungry anyway.” At the same time, her stomach growled.


“Sit down,” he said, taking some strawberries from the bowl Rowan kept on the kitchen table. “I will share my fruit with you.”


Jessa watched Matthias sort through and pile the strawberries into a crystal bowl before he began adding other things to them. After seeing him work out with his odd stone weights she expected him to be clumsy or heavy-handed, but instead he worked with a chef’s confident skill.


“Do you always cook for your prisoners?” She winced as she saw him pour balsamic vinegar over the fruit. “Or is this your way of getting rid of them?”


“You do not eat as you should. That is why you are so quick to anger.” He added sugar and cream to the bowl before bringing it to the table. “An empty belly only feeds the temper.” He reached for the pepper grinder and twisted it over the fruit.


Jessa muffled a laugh. “Just out of curiosity, have you ever heard of using a cookbook?”


“No.” He swirled the bowl a few times before he reached in and plucked out one of the cream-coated strawberries, holding it by its green top as he offered it to her.


“Thanks, but I’m not crazy about—”


“Taste.” He rubbed the tip of the strawberry across her bottom lip, smearing some of the cream mixture along the curve when she didn’t cooperate. “Are you afraid you will like it?”


She bit the strawberry in half, intending to spit the vile thing back into his face. Then the warm berry’s tart juice, made silky and sweet by the sugar and smooth cream, filled her mouth. The vinegar and pepper only amplified the tastes, giving it a very subtle edge and touch of heat.


“Oh.” Jessa didn’t realize she had closed her eyes until she opened them. “That’s … different.”


Matthias’s faint smile didn’t reach the translucent jade of his eyes as he brought the rest of the strawberry to his mouth, his teeth neatly separating the berry from the top. His jaw muscles flexed as he slowly chewed and swallowed, but his eyes never left hers.


“Okay, so I was wrong.” Feeling a little self-conscious, she licked the cream from her lips. “It’s good.” She tried to take another.


One big hand pushed the bowl out of her reach. “Only good?”


He had to rub it in, of course. “It’s great.”


“Do you want another?” He took a second berry from the bowl, but when she tried to take it from him, he moved his hand away. “Open your mouth.”


Jessa didn’t like the way he was looking at her—as if she were something he wanted to bite. “I can feed myself, you know.”


“Not very well.” He held the strawberry under her nose. “Open.”


With a sigh she imitated a guppy.


Matthias didn’t let her have it this time. Instead he teased her, placing the berry between her lips and then taking it away before she could take a bite, rubbing it here and there until she grabbed his wrist.


Shadowlight.


Jessa stood at the edge of a winter forest. Thick, icy air wrapped around her, and snow was everywhere, under her feet, weighing down the tree branches, and slowly swirling above her head, spinning and floating as it fell from the sky. The setting sun polished each flake until they glinted like tiny bits of glass. Ahead of her a clearing funneled its thick white drifts between two enormous, frost-covered stones.


Sunlight.


Her heart beat once, twice, and then she was back in the kitchen, still trying to arm-wrestle a strawberry away from Matthias.


Disoriented as she was by the unexpected touch-sight, she couldn’t seem to let go of his wrist. “Is this really necessary?”


“When you want something, it is.” He didn’t seem to notice anything was wrong with her. With a deliberate show of strength, he brought the strawberry to his mouth, biting it so that streams of juice and cream ran down his palm and onto her fingers.


Jessa released him, but now he took hold of her wrist and guided her hand to his mouth. The shock of returning to herself so quickly faded as he put his tongue to her skin and slowly licked one finger and then another clean. Her breath rasped in her throat as he took the tip of her smallest finger into his mouth and sucked lightly.


“What are you doing?” she heard herself ask, her voice so low and distant it seemed to come from that faraway winter forest.


“Tasting.” His free hand spanned the front of her throat before he slid it under her hair and curled it over the back of her neck. “Do you want more?”


He didn’t mean the strawberries, which was fine, because she couldn’t think about them. As she tried to form the word “no,” his tongue found the center of her palm and stroked it before his teeth tested the sensitive mound of flesh beneath her thumb.


That love bite set something loose inside her, a hot, heavy, feline ache that climbed over her breasts and inched down to curl in her lap, sinking sharp little claws into the tense muscles of her thighs and drawing a thick, silky tail of sensation between them.


His hand on her nape tugged, urging her forward. He was going to kiss her.


In her mind she saw herself crossing the now unbearable distance between them, pressing his mouth to the tight peak throbbing over her heart. She saw her own hands tearing open her blouse so he could get at it, so he could suck her properly, while she took his gilded hair in small, tight fists—


His face blurred before her eyes as he came closer, and the warmth of his breath touched her lips. “Jezebel …”


The name and all its secrets hit her like a slap, and she jerked, finding her feet and almost knocking over the chair as she backed away. A stumble later she had put three feet and a fortress of sanity between them.


If Jessa understood anything, it was the shadowlight. It never lied to her, never showed her anything but cold, hard truth. Matthias had walked through that winter forest; he had left something terrible in it. He might have killed and buried someone there; that might explain what she had seen and felt the first time she’d touched him.


“I think I’ve had enough.” A quick turn allowed her to hide most of the shaking and the stupid look she felt sure was plastered on her face. “Good night.”


Jessa didn’t hear him following her, but halfway to her room she felt him loom up behind her. Confronting him interested her about as much as encouraging him, so she kept moving. She reached her room and turned the pretty porcelain knob when his hand shot past her cheek and flattened against the edge to hold the door in place.


A wall of hard chest muscle brushed her shoulders before he bent his head to murmur beside her ear, “You’re afraid of me. Why?”


Afraid of him? If he didn’t soon get away from her, she was going to climb up him and the wall and dig her way out of here with her bare hands.


Or worse, she wouldn’t.


“I’m tired of you.” She pulled on the knob and managed to get the door to open an inch before he shoved it closed again.


Jessa ducked under his arm to get out from under him, but he turned her and had her up against the wall before she could blink. This close she could see every detail of the mark on his throat. What sort of man believed that forever was a black snake biting its own tail? She forced herself to look up into his face, but light from behind him effectively masked his features.


“You are still empty.” His fingers spread over her abdomen, the edges of his fingernails scratching the fabric of her skirt as he pressed them in and out in a kneading motion. “Do you feel it here?” His hand shifted lower, stopping just short of sliding between her legs. “Or here?”


“I said I would stay here and let you protect me from Genaro,” Jessa said, keeping her tone reasonable. “You never said that I’d have to sleep with you for it.”


“Sleep with me?” He sounded amused. “That is not what I want.”


“Good.” Now she was lying, too. “Just so we’re clear.”


“Just so we’re clear,” he repeated, almost thoughtfully. “It means so that we understand each other, yes?”


“That’s it. No sleeping together. No dreams.” She glanced down meaningfully, but he didn’t step back. “Now you say good-night and go away.”


“But you do not yet understand me. When I have you”—he clamped his hands around her waist—“you will not dream. You will not sleep.”


Jessa grabbed his shoulders as he lifted her off her feet and pinned her to the wall. His head bent, but instead of forcing a kiss on her lips he put his mouth to her ear.


“When I have you,” he said again, “there will be nothing between us. No clothes. No fear. No words.”


The smell of him, all summer heat, clouded her thoughts. “It doesn’t work like that.”


“You will give yourself to me. I will take you.” He pushed the hem of her skirt up with his knee and nudged her thighs apart. “I will put myself inside you here, where you need me. Where I need to be.” He bit her earlobe, the side of her jaw, and the spot where her neck curved into her shoulder before he lifted his head. “That is how it will work. Am I clear to you?”


Jessa closed her arms around his neck and held on as the unyielding iron of his thigh rubbed against her. Sweat traced the line of her back as her struggle turned inside out and she fought the wild heat rising inside her. If she didn’t put a stop to this now she would do anything he wanted, right here against the wall.


“That’s enough.” She pushed at his shoulders. “Put me down. I can’t do this. Not with you.”


“You will,” he said, his mouth as cool and hard as his words against her lips.


April 29, 1998


Dear Mom,


Hi from Italy! I’ll probably get home before this letter arrives, but Donnie’s on the phone trying to confirm our flight back and I have to write all this stuff down before I forget something. You would not believe what’s happened in the last three days. Seriously!



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