The witch, naked to all the world. Her face pinkened from her bath. Tendrils of black hair clinging to supple skin. And the brush she'd hidden behind had revealed as much as it'd covered....
If Malkom could get that image out of his head, he thought he might find this night enjoyable, relaxing even.
After he and the witches had eaten fish, he'd sat in front of the fire, watching Carrow and Ruby playing cards on the rug, a game called blackjack. They were wagering seashells. Either Carrow was letting the child win or she was a poor player indeed.
They'd asked him to join them, but even if he'd been inclined, he couldn't read the symbols.
So he'd reflected on his day, realizing it hadn't been miserable. The girl was bright and had proved to be agreeable company. This island was a paradise, filled with all the things they needed to survive and even to thrive. The air was clean, the water from the cloudy sky sweet.
Which meant he couldn't hate the witch for where he'd ended up. However, for her deceit ... that was another matter.
And still he wanted her just as much as before. Hell, more so.
Now he regarded her expressions, watched the firelight on her shining hair. He missed touching her, missed taking her neck. Or breast. He missed merely sleeping with her against him -
"So, you two were busy today," she said.
Ruby answered, "We put traps out, and now nobody can get here. And tomorrow, we're going to string pots that will make a lot of noise if anybody gets too close to our ter'tory."
At that, Carrow grinned in his direction, as if she wanted to share her amusement with him.
"The peninsula is closed off," he said stonily. Preparing for an attack was normal for him. Relaxing with others like this, hearing their laughter, was foreign. "You should be safe." And if anything approached by air, he would hear its wings from a mile away.
"Then, Malkom, I have a favor to ask you," Carrow said, taking another card. "I need you to search for a way to get us off this island."
To get them to the home she spoke of. Malkom knew it surely couldn't trump this place of plenty, with food all around. He'd scooped the night's meal straight from the water! "What do I know of that, witch? 'Tis not my world."
"You could venture out and try to find any of our allies, or maybe a boat. Perhaps there's another island nearby - this could be one of a chain. And as you said, we should be secure here until you return."
"I will consider it." He would never consider it.
The child asked, "Why can't you just trace us away? Demons can trace, can't they?"
"I could, long ago. But I no longer have that talent."
"Because I am not truly a demon anymore."
"Then what are you?"
"Ruby, I'm sure he doesn't want to talk about this," Carrow said, clearly growing nervous.
The witch had all but signed Malkom up to be a protector for the child but hadn't revealed what he was? Out of shame?
The old anger simmered up, that rage he'd felt at being turned into an abomination against his will. Made into something hated.
Carrow acted as if she could accept it, but she didn't want others to know.
"I became a Scarba," he said.
"What does that mean?"
Something that must not be. Neither a true vampire nor a demon. "A vampire demon."
"V-vampire?" Ruby's eyes went round. "You drink blood?"
"I do," he said. "I have drunk Carrow before."
Ruby swung her gaze to Carrow, who looked like she wanted to throttle him.
"Did it hurt, Crow?"
"Yes, witch, did it hurt?"
She faced him with a determined glint in her eyes, then turned to the girl. "No, honey. It's like a hug. It's what Malkom and I do when we want to feel close to each other." She turned to him once more. "Isn't that right, demon?"
His lips parted.
"In fact, I could use a bite right about now."
Woman, I would kill for another taste of you!
Their gazes held.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Ruby demanded. "I'm not supposed to talk to vampires. Unless they're married to Valkyrie."
After a laden moment, Carrow dragged her gaze away to answer Ruby. "Because I wasn't sure that Malkom wanted you to know. Besides, he's not a vampire."
"Nope. You remember how Peter Parker got bitten by a spider and had superpowers?" The girl nodded. "But he's not a spider, is he?"
"Of course not!"
Who is Peter Parker?
"Malkom got some superpowers from a vampire, but he's still a demon," Carrow said decidedly.
"Ohhh, so he's like a superdemon."
Carrow's lips curled at him. "The stuff of legend, honey."
Malkom sat there, wound up with tension, grappling with what Carrow had said. Was that truly how she saw him? Not as something less but somehow as something more?
In that cell with Kallen ages ago, Malkom had vowed to find a way to become fully demon again. In Oblivion, he'd even briefly considered asking the witch to help him. Now I do not know....
"So, are you going to let me win back my shells?" she asked the girl.
"But I want Malkom to play," Ruby said with a pout.
He and Carrow shared a look. Would she tell the child he couldn't read the symbols?
"They might not have cards where he comes from. Maybe he could team up - "
"With me!" Ruby bounded over to him, dropping her cards all over to grab his arm. "You can be on my team." She pulled him until he relented and joined them on the floor.
Carrow looked surprised. "Okay, then. The object of the game is to get to twenty-one points without going over."
"The cards with people on them are worth ten." Ruby displayed a card that depicted a crowned man.
Carrow said, "And aces can be one or eleven."
Ruby showed him a card that looked like all the rest. "This is an ace. It's got an A on it."
Reading and ciphering. Any remnants of his relaxation disappeared.
"Ruby, since you're on vacation from school, why don't you do all the adding? Ask Malkom if you can."
"Can I, Malkom?"
He gruffly replied, "As you will ..."
The next hour flew by in a haze of numbers and even some amusement. Additional rules to the game were revealed, which made it even more interesting. Soon he could recognize aces, and he'd even learned some of the number symbols - easy enough to deduce when Ruby counted on her fingers with many of the cards.
At one point, the girl had cried, "Double down!"
He'd frowned at their hand. "What does that mean?"
Between peals of laughter, she'd said, "I don't know!"
But in the end, he and Ruby had won more than they lost, and Carrow had finally run out of shells.
"You guys were merciless. But I want a rematch soon." She turned to him, caught him staring at her before he gazed away. More softly, she said, "That was fun."
Surprisingly, it had been.
Though the child's energy had begun to wane, Ruby said, "We can give you more shells." She scooped up a handful, solemnly offering them to Carrow.
"Nope. Time for bed."
The girl grumbled but did rise. "Good night, Malkom." She leaned in and kissed his cheek, then trudged toward Carrow.
"And to you, deela," he muttered brus"uely, not liking Carrow's delighted smile.
"Come on, kiddo." As she s"uired Ruby to bed, she glanced over her shoulder. "I'll be back in a minute." She bit her bottom lip in that way that drove him crazy.
Gods, he desired her, still craved her, but taking her would be reckless. Cannot do what my father did.
Then stay away from her.
* * *
As per Ruby's re"uest, Carrow had promised to hold her hand until she'd fallen asleep, assuring her that she and Malkom would be close by if she woke up.
Naturally, when Carrow was dying to get back to Malkom, the girl had been chatty, talking about her day with him. Already, Ruby nursed a serious case of hero worship for the demon.
Makes two of us. When he'd freed Ruby from those rocks ... no one else could have done it.
Once Ruby had drifted off at last, Carrow crept out of the room, her heart racing.
He was gone.
Earlier, by the fire, he'd been looking at her with that dark, hungry expression. She hadn't known if it was an invitation or not.
Assuming it was, she set out to find him, wearing only a sweater, her leather skirt, and a blanket wrapped around her. She found him on the calm side of the cape, deep in the water he'd earlier fished.
"What are you doing?"
His breaths fogged over the freezing water. "Learning to swim."
"I could have taught you." She laid out the blanket, sitting down to wait for him.
"I figured it out." He seemed to have gotten the hang of it, swimming with fairly sure strokes. Eventually, he made for the shore.
She was just about to ask him if he was cold when he rose up, naked and magnificent. Her lips parted. Not cold at all.
As he stalked toward her with his long-legged strides, she nearly whimpered with need. Water lovingly sluiced down his torso, drops clinging to chiseled abs before reaching his muscled thighs, his narrow hips ... and between. He stiffened under her gaze, his length distending.
He'd gotten her used to enjoying him almost hourly. Now she'd gone a week without him. She needed release - but she also merely wanted to be close to him again.
"What do you want, witch?"
"To talk to you. Have you thought about my plan?"
He reached for his clothes. "I told you I will consider it."
"Just look at me." A shake of his head. "No? You couldn't keep your eyes off me tonight."
Finally he faced her. "You are the one who put us in this situation. I am just trying to get us through it."
"By not talking to me? By not touching me?"
He stabbed his legs into his pants, hissing in a breath as he fastened them over his erection.
She rose, sidling closer to him. "I know you still care about me. When I'd drowned, you were a mess. You were relieved to see I was going to be all right."
"I did not want my fated female to die, no."
And he's learned snarkiness!
She touched his arm, but he flinched. "What can I do to earn back your trust?"
"Leave me be, so I can think on my own."
"Okay. If that's what you want. I just thought you needed more, from the way you looked at me."
"And what if I did need more? What would you offer me, wife?"
"Sex. I'm offering to have sex with you."
He gave a bitter laugh. "All you would be doing is keeping a vow you already made."
"If you are so eager for it now, why did you not let me claim you in Oblivion?"
"I don't have sex with just anyone, Malkom. You were out of control at first, frightening me at times. And then when I did offer, y-you bit my breast!"
"Which I paid for dearly."
"Yes, you did. But the fact remains that I offered myself to you because I had feelings for you. Undeniable ones."
In a scoffing tone, he said, "You were that sure of me in Oblivion? When you had no fated tie to me?"
"I was well on my way to being sure. I trust my instincts. And they were screaming that you were the one for me."
"A pretty story from a deceptive witch."
"Malkom, I know it'll take time for you to trust me again. But I also know it will happen. Maybe we can enjoy each other until it does? I'm asking you to make love to me."
"So I will continue protecting you? You are offering yourself up to a demon you seek to use. Just as before, witch. Nothing has changed."
"I'm offering because I desire you so much." She took his hand, kissing his callused palm before trailing it down her chest, her belly. ... "Touch me. See how much."
Seemingly of its own will, his hand continued down. At the leather hem of her skirt, he hesitated.
Carrow didn't think she breathed until his hand disappeared beneath her skirt. She trembled as his palm grazed up her thigh.
When his fingers met the wet folds of her bare sex, his brows drew together, and he cast her a look so fierce, part scathing, part adoring.
A wild, lost male.
"I miss the way you touched me, Malkom. The way you kissed," she breathed. She was wetter than he'd ever felt her, "uivering with need.
His nostrils flared at the tantalizing scent of her arousal. "Damn you, witch," he bit out, unable to stop his fingers from stroking her slick flesh. His cock shot even harder for that damp heat.
She leaned into him, laying her palms flat on his chest. Against his skin, she murmured, "Will you kiss me?" Then she licked his pierced nipple.
He shuddered, cupping her head tight to his chest with the crook of his arm. "Again," he rasped brokenly as his fingers continued rubbing betwixt her thighs.
Her tongue darted out, flicking till his knees went weak.
"You want my kiss?" He released her. "Come to me."
She stood on her toes, leaning up to him, but when she licked her plump lips, he was helpless not to meet her, slanting his mouth over hers. He groaned against her, having missed her lips over the long days and nights in that cell.
He could fool himself, letting himself believe that they were truly close, that they had no history. Yes, he could pretend that there was nothing between them - nothing but need. He kissed her harder, his tongue thrusting against hers.
She'd begun moaning, soaking his fingers. When he realized she was about to come, he drew his head and his hand away.
In truth, there was nothing between them but their need. No bond, no trust, no future.
She sagged against him, brushing her kiss-swollen lips again his chest. "I want you," she whispered. "Please make love to me."
He stared at the trees above as a soft rain began falling, misting his face. Lust clawed at him - but if he didn't trust her, then how could he do this with her?
I have to know my offspring will be wanted and taken care of.
Earlier, he'd remembered there was a way he could take her and still prevent a child. But it might take more control than he had. Mustn't bite her, then. Else he'd definitely spill inside her.
So 'tis done? He would have her this night?
Before when he'd thought he would claim her, his chest had been full of emotion, unbearably so. Now it felt hollow inside.
Just enjoy this, as any other male would do.
Finally, he would know what it was like to desire and to possess.
He gazed down when she began caressing his chest. His stomach dipped as she lightly dragged one fingernail above the top of his trews, back and forth through the trail of hair just below his navel. His cock strained to her touch, the crown jutting past the material.
"Oh, Malkom." She sucked in a breath. "Stop me if you don't want me to touch you, love. Otherwise ..."
Stop her? He wanted to shove her cool hand into his trews, make her fondle his heated shaft and soothe his aching testicles.
When the pad of her finger met the sensitive tip, he groaned, knowing he was nigh defeated. She began rubbing the head, up and down the slit, coaxing until it gave up drops of seed for her.
Grabbing her wrist, he pulled her hand away, then lifted her into his arms. He carried her to the blanket, laying her down to yank and tear her clothes from her.
Once she was stripped before him, he sat back on his haunches, releasing a pent-up breath. He stared, staggered by her beauty, feeling almost drunk on it.
The mist dampened her flawless skin. Her creamy breasts rose and fell with her panting breaths, her nipples stiffening as if to beg for a lash of his tongue.
Her heavy-lidded eyes seemed to glow with her desire. "Malkom, please don't stop now." She was s"ueezing her thighs together, her body subtly rocking with need.
"Ara, I have never ... I do not know ..."
"You can tell me anything."
"I have never done this and ..." He wanted to get it right. To not hurt her, only to pleasure her -
She wordlessly drew up a knee, parting her legs to reveal her glistening curls.
A growl was ripped from his chest. As he yanked off his pants, he told her in Demonish, "I am defeated, female." Naked, he dropped to his knees beside her. "Tonight I must have you, else die from the wanting."