The Erotic Romance Scavenger Hunt is a blog hop featuring nineteen authors, a ton of exclusive material and fantastic giveaways, and an amazing grand prize for one lucky scavenger hunter.
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RULES: Hidden within each post on the hunt will be a single letter that is red. Jot those letters down because they're part of the following mystery phrase you'll need to unscramble:
At the bottom of each post will be a link to your next stop on the hunt. Once you've completed the hunt, read all the fantastic exclusive material and entered all the individual giveaways, unscramble the letters you collected to reveal the mystery phrase. When you've uncovered the phrase, fill out the entry form in order to qualify for the grand prize. Grand prize is open internationally. You must be 18 or older to enter.
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On with the hunt!
Today, I have the pleasure of hosting fellow author Carole Cummings. Here's a little info on her, followed by her exclusive content, never shared anywhere else before!
CAROLE CUMMINGS lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. The recipient of various amateur writing awards, several of her short stories have been translated into Spanish, German, Chinese, and Polish.
Free shorts, links to other works, sneak peeks at WIPs, and other miscellany can be found at http://www.carolecummings.com.
Wolf's-own, Book One: Ghost
© Carole Cummings
Dwelling in the land of Ada and defending magic users called the Jin, Fen Jacin-rei is a trained assassin and an Untouchable, one whose mind hosts the Voices of the Ancestors, spirits of long-dead magicians. His fate should be one of madness and solitude, yet Fen Jacin-rei desperately clings to his sanity and ferociously protects the family he loves. But how does Fen do it? Kamen Malick has every intention of finding out.
When Malick and his own small band of assassins ambush Fen in an alley, Malick offers Fen one choice: join us or die. Determined to decode the intrigue that surrounds Fen—and to have the Untouchable for himself—Malick sets to unraveling Fen's past while Fen delves into the mysteries surrounding Malick.
As Fen's secrets slowly unfold, Malick is drawn into a crusade that isn't his, one surprisingly similar to his own quest for vengeance. Yet irony is a bitter reward when Malick discovers the one he wants is already hopelessly entangled with the one he hunts.
Excerpt from chapter eight:
He'd poured four shots down Fen's throat before Umeia had gotten to the stitching, and then another two while she was doing it. Fen accepted each one without argument, without reaction, without expression or so much as a harsh breath as they went down. Malick had no idea if Fen generally drank, besides his watered beer at supper, or if he did, what his limits might be, so Malick stopped at six. It didn't seem to matter, at any rate—there wasn't so much as a twitch or creasing of Fen's brow as Umeia's hooked needle dug in and out of his skin. Either he was too used to pain for it to matter, or the liquor was doing its job. Or he was too deep inside himself for any of it to register.
He seemed all right going down the stairs, though, hobbling along with his torn trouserleg flapping down over his knee and bouncing against the top of his boot. He'd refused to let Umeia get him out of the trousers, no matter how reasonably or snappishly she'd insisted. Malick figured it was because Fen wouldn't have been able to do it without help, and he didn't want to show himself so vulnerable. Malick understood this for two reasons: one, because he was male, and grasped fully the idiotic things testosterone could do to the logical part of a brain; and two, because he'd learned more about Fen tonight than he had all week. Malick had been somewhat impressed that Fen had stood his ground with Umeia and prevailed. It was such a rare thing where she was concerned. Then again, no one had apparently filled her in on Fen's stunt at Pon's tonight, or she might've raked him over the coals until he was nothing but a quivering mass of apology—sutures or no sutures; siblings or no siblings.
…Right. Probably not. This was Fen, after all, who was looking like a pretty fair match to Umeia, much to her apparent chagrin.
Malick kept a good eye on him as they descended, but Fen had yet to seriously stumble. Slight wobbles now and then, which Fen handled by pointedly gripping the banister instead of Malick's offered arm, but he didn't go headfirst, so Malick let it pass. No banister on the stair down to the baths, though. Fen paused at the top of them, seemed to measure his chances of getting down them unaided, then looked down at his boots, at the stone stair, at his boots, at the stair….
With a grunt, he abruptly sat down on the top riser, right leg held out stiffly, bobbed a little nod to himself, then yanked his left leg up by the knee and dragged off his boot. Then his stocking, toes unconsciously giving a brief wriggle of freedom that, for whatever reason, made Malick smile. It figured Fen would have pretty feet too. Without even looking, Fen merely tossed both boot and stocking over his shoulder and bent to do the same to the right.
Malick stopped him much the same way he'd stopped the knife from doing further damage: he crouched down on the top step and laid his hand firmly over Fen's. Tightened his grip when Fen tensed and tried to wrench himself away.
"Put a strain on it, and you'll tear the sutures," Malick said calmly, quietly, "and then Umeia will have to do it again, and I don't think she'll be happy with us if we try to get her out of bed this time."
Fen's head was bowed, but his whole body was rigid, his breath coming fast and shallow. Malick waited until the hand beneath his loosened, uncurling slowly from its fist, and Fen's shoulders went just the slightest bit slack. Without a word, Fen jerked a tiny nod and slowly pulled his hand from Malick's. The message was all too clear: Don't touch unless you absolutely have to. So Malick tried to touch as little as possible, gripping the back of Fen's knee only briefly so he didn't yank him down the steps on his ass as he pulled the boot off by the heel. The wool of the stocking stretched as Malick dragged it free and tossed it and the boot to lay with the others. And then he let go, stood on the step below Fen, and waited. Fen peered at him steadily out the corner of his eye through the messy clumps of chestnut clotted over his brow—not quite suspicious, but not trusting, either.
Ah, well. Uzin could only do so much.
It didn't matter. Malick had found patience tonight, hadn't even had to dig for it, but found it just lying there at the top of his chest, waiting. Stirred to life when he'd watched Fen with his brother, watched the non-reactions and complete lack of expression when they'd spoken, then watched everything Fen had been holding back fly across his face, bash around inside his eyes, when he'd left his brother behind.
Malick hadn't quite understood it before, and he didn't altogether now, but he understood it a lot better now than he had. He'd seen it all in the brother's eyes, seen Fen beating back its twin in his own. Not only did Fen love, but he was loved in return, and more deeply than he could apparently bear. Malick had known there was passion down there beneath all that ice. He'd seen it in the way Fen had driven into those guards at Pon's with such grim abandon. He just hadn't understood entirely.
Hopelessness. Guilt. Loneliness. All of it seething inside Fen, bubbling up like a boiling-over pot, and Fen was practically throwing himself over the lid to keep it all in.
I'm the one, Jacin! Fen's brother had called, and Malick hadn't really understood what it meant, but he got the gist as he'd watched Fen keep walking then flinch a little when the rattle of wood hitting frame reached him, watched him stop and close his eyes and take a deep breath. Malick stood watching from the scraggy yard, thinking for a moment that Fen might turn back, but he only paused long enough to slam down his control again, give his head a quick jerk, and head off east. Back toward the city. Back toward the Girou, where Fen had been ordered to make his home, toward people who called themselves "family" and yet had wrenched him all unknowing—uncaring—from those who truly were. From everything he had left. Allowed him to hang on to only his hunt for a corpse and his revenge.
Malick had felt… a little bit despicable as he'd stood there and watched the candle's light vanish from the empty window, watched Fen's back as he stepped purposefully along, not pausing once to look back. Perhaps "craven" was a better word. Base. Low.
And then had felt things writhing, hot and tight in his chest, when Fen had finally stopped and given in to the inevitability of the pounding pressure, gone down to his knees beneath the weight of it.
Insight too long in coming had hit Malick then with a slow, spreading ache.
Fen loved, Fen felt. And the passion with which he was loved back… antisocial little pricks just didn't get that kind of devotion.
Malick had looked long and hard as Fen had broken down, alone in the dark, had marked every single miniscule emotion that had cried out from inside a soul that refused to cry out at all. Understood.
Fen was a prick because Fen was in pain. Fen believed—perhaps had been taught—that any emotion besides anger made him weak, so he showed nothing but the rage and the grief to anyone but the moons. Fen felt too much, so he pretended to feel nothing, only letting anything real out in short bursts that merely added to the grinding strain. Building layer upon layer of icy perfection and control between him and everything else, so that any who tried to reach beyond it were frozen out, butting up against a solid stratum of anger and loathing until they'd been bitten too deep by the frost. Retreated.
Malick wouldn't retreat. He had been going about it all wrong before, adding to the pressure because he'd thought it would be fun, had been intrigued and challenged. Now, he'd seen at least the murky outlines of what lay beneath the ice, and found himself wanting to see it all, wanting Fen to show it to him—wanting to be the sort of person Fen could trust enough to let him see.
He paced slowly down the stone steps, braced and ready to be a buttress if necessary for Fen—limping and wobbling behind him—should he slip. He didn't. Fen made it to the bottom of the stair, still silent, blinking a bit myopically at the closed door, until Malick dug the key out of his pocket and let him through. Empty, all business tonight having been concluded and the evidence cleaned away for a fresh start tomorrow. They were alone, as they'd been that first night—full circle. Strange, how things had changed in so short a time.
"You can leave now." Fen's quiet voice rang against the silence as his bare feet padded toward the shower-boxes, the stone of the walls snapping up the aggressive tone and bouncing it between them. "I don't need your help."
He hadn't let Umeia have a look under his shirt; now Malick had himself a good one as Fen clumsily shed it behind him on the floor. Malick marked the length and depth of the cuts and slices down Fen's ribs and across his torso, judged them bad but not serious, and so let it pass. Already dried and beginning to scab over—a good cleaning could be nothing but beneficial. And Malick hadn't even asked Fen tonight if he'd been hurt, like he asked every one of the others after each job, and without fail.
"No?" Malick said quietly as he turned up two of the low lamps and strode slowly after Fen, but kept a bit of distance; close enough to catch if Fen fell, but not close enough to unnerve, like he would've done before. "How d'you think you're going to get those trousers off, then?"
Fen paused with his hand on the reed screen, muscles tensing, head down. Malick could almost see the angry scowl darkening Fen's face as he realized his quandary. A week ago, this small fissure in the ice, this tiny show of weakness, would have had Malick driving in for the kill. It was intensely arousing, that suspense in posture, strangely erotic—and forlornly dangerous. The fact that Fen was leaving his boots and clothes behind him in a messy trail told Malick that Fen was… off, not himself, control still slipping steadily, and the uzin had to be adding to it all. Now, the fact that Fen sighed miserably, shoulders slumping as he leaned into both the screen and—thankfully—the stone around it for balance, nodding acquiescence, told Malick this was not the time for taking advantage.
With another sigh and a shake of his head, Fen slouched into the wall, face pressed to his arm, shoulders vibrating with strange, silent little chuckles. "You never told me how much, but I think…. You don't want my koin, do you?" He snorted, words muffled and slightly slurred. "I suppose it hardly matters now." He pushed himself up, turned unsteadily, and let himself fall back against the wall, peering at Malick through his fringe with a small smile-that-wasn't. Moving probably less elegantly than Malick had ever seen him, Fen pulled the braid over his shoulder, fingers clumsy as he loosed the bit of leather that held the tail of the queue in place. He wagged it at Malick like a mother would wag her finger at a child, almost brushed it along the tip of Malick's nose, but missed. "Not supposed to see it undone," Fen said, low and… fuck, please don't let that be seduction. "But you've been wanting to." The strange little smile turned sly, and Fen's voice went deep and hoarse. "Haven't you?"
More than anything. Wanting to see Fen undone, but now….
Long fingers untangled the leather, slipped into the seams of the plait and began unthreading them, strands of chestnut, crimped by the braid and catching the lamplight in gleaming folds of gold with flashes of deep-set russet. Malick couldn't take his eyes away.
"Fen," he said quietly, forcing himself to take a breath, "there is no payment for my help." Bloody damn—Malick could barely credit the things that had been tripping out his mouth lately. Could barely credit that he actually meant them. He dragged his eyes away from the hair and the fingers entwined in it and locked them onto Fen's. "You need to get cleaned up."
Fen paused, eyes narrowing, then the not-smile came back, and he nodded, fingers once again unwinding yards and yards of braid into a satiny stream of wavy silk fanning out over his thigh as it unfolded. "Yes," he agreed, "cleaned up." His eyes misted up, and for a second, an awful mix of grief and shame flashed over his face. "Lots of blood tonight," he whispered. Then he shook his head, set his face back into the lines of seduction, and turned his mouth back up into that not-smile again. "You don't care, though, do you?" His hand came up, fingers reaching, tracing lightly over the shape of Malick's lips. "It doesn't matter what you are. You're just as foul as I am."
"Is that what you think you are?" Malick asked softly, fighting the very real temptation to slide out his tongue, catch the tip of Fen's finger with it. "You think what you do makes you… sullied?"
Fen snorted, took his hand away, and went back to loosing the braid, eyes cast down, dark lashes splashed long and full over high cheekbones. "I think what I did tonight… makes it not matter what I think."
He'd been ruthless tonight, a dervish of death, and Malick had watched it all with lust and admiration. They'd slashed their way through men who likely had nothing to do with what their Lady and her lover had been up to, and done it with no more thought than that which went into the strategy of it all, such as it was. They'd worn Blood-amulets; that was all Fen saw, all he cared about. He'd gotten a name and more out of Sonji-onna, and hadn't flinched once at what he'd had to do to get it. And what he'd had to do had been… messy.
Malick had kept silent as he'd watched, hadn't even cared that the name that had finally come from Sonji-onna had been the one he'd been dreading. He probably would have slit Yakuli's throat right there, and the gods and their orders be damned, if Fen had asked him to. Nothing and no one had mattered but Fen, with his tragic eyes and his blood-streaked face, twisted into a strange mix of fury and hate and shame and relief.
"You want to know what I am," Malick said, slipping his fingers over Fen's jawline, noting abstractly that there was no flinch or gasp at the touch anymore—Fen had gotten used to these moments of silence, or he'd simply stopped reacting to them. "I'm the man who is telling you… there is no foul, there is no clean. There is no good or bad—there's only better and worse. Sometimes we're better, sometimes we're worse. Tonight, I think we were a bit of both, but… Fen—you're exquisite. You're Wolf's own treasure, he stole you right out from under Raven, and he watches you with a smile on his face. I know." Because he really did. "Look at me, Fen." He waited until Fen did, a slow lift of those thick lashes, a slight shimmer to gilt-gray eyes. "D'you believe me?"
Fen only stared at him for a long while, steady and thoughtful, then: "Do you honestly believe," he answered, low and soft, "I give even the slightest fuck?"
Oh, bloody hell, and why did that land in Malick's groin like a ball of fire?
Yeah, I do. I think you give more of a fuck than is good for anyone.
He'd leaned in, without even realizing it, fingers sliding into softest silk, lips almost brushing Fen's, and fuck, Fen was letting him, Fen was tilting his chin up, Fen was looking him in the eye with… desire, yes, it was there, but not the right kind. Acknowledgement, resignation to some kind of compensation he'd invented from words and not their meaning. Words Malick himself had spoken, but he'd never meant them like this.
Malick drew back, watched Fen's brow twist in thwarted confusion, and shoved himself away.
With a will he didn't know he had, Malick coerced his legs to move and take him across to the cupboard. Keeping his eyes on his own hands, he collected two buckets and a bathsheet, thought better and snagged another, along with soap and a clump of sponge. Turned back to find Fen's eyes on him, no smile this time, loose waves draped over his shoulder and swathing down the whole right side of his body, all the way down to his shins. As Malick watched, Fen slowly lifted his hands, undid his belt.
"Going to help me with these?" All smoke and sex.
Oh, fucking hell. This was Malick's own bloody fault. He deserved every agonizing twitch in his trousers, every sharp ache of want grinding in his groin. He'd been prowling around Fen's edges since he'd laid eyes on him, and now that an actual invitation was being handed to him, he couldn't take it. Wouldn't. Not like this, not… not when it would make him something he'd been convinced he was but abruptly and too sharply realized he didn't want to be.
Malick took a long, deep breath, snatched his gaze away from Fen's, and firmed his shoulders. With a groan he hoped was only internal, he threw the bathsheets over his shoulder and stepped over to the pool, dipped the buckets in and carried them over, then squeezed past Fen to set them on the floor of the shower-box. Without letting himself think even a little bit about what he was doing, Malick roughly opened Fen's trousers the rest of the way, stopped himself before he yanked them down and ruined all Umeia's work, and slid them carefully from Fen's hips, dragging the linens along with them, and oh, bloody fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck, Fen was half-hard, Fen was… Fen was….
No. Not like this.
Firmly willing his hands not to shake, Malick dropped down to one knee, eyes steadfastly on his own hands and nothing else. He tapped lightly at the back of Fen's left calf until Fen lifted his foot, then his right, and slipped the trousers from him completely. Bared, hair unbound, aroused, waiting, expectant….
Malick didn't know what he wanted to touch more.
He thought he might've blacked out for a few seconds, because the next thing he knew, he was standing, arm locked at the elbow and propped to the wall, supporting him, while his other hand prodded at Fen, pushing him into the shower-box and sliding the screen shut. And all Malick could do was stand there, breathing as quietly as he could. Eyes shut tight, listening to the splish of water, trying not to imagine it runneling down all those mouth-watering dips and angles, while he dangled the soap and sponge over the top of the screen until wet fingers took them from his hand. With the very last of his self-control, Malick draped the bathsheets over the screen and dragged himself over to the door, then leaned his back to the wall and rubbed roughly at his face.
"Try not to get the stitches wet," he managed to shove out between his teeth, then he let his head fall back and stared at the uneven curve of the stone ceiling. Cursing silently, he clenched his hands into fists and pounded them to the wall behind him. Again. Listened to the sporadic splash and trickle of water and really, really tried not to let the mental pictures take hold. Tried—though he knew he'd fail—to talk himself out of the pounding arousal knocking all through him, making every sense he owned more acute, honed. The mineral scent of the water, the flicker and flare of the lamplight, the bloody sounds coming from behind that screen, and knowing—knowing—that if he threw it back, stepped in, Fen would let him.
The slide of the screen against the stone floor made Malick wince, and he shut his eyes until Fen's soft voice came at him, all uncertainty and diffidence: "I need more water."
Malick blinked, blew out a thin breath when he peered over to see Fen leaning demurely around the screen, body sheltered behind it, arm extended and bucket swinging by its rope from his hand.
"Would you mind?" Fen asked quietly.
A jerky bit of a nod was all Malick managed, but he did get his legs to move again, angling himself around the pool, eyes focused on the bucket as he approached. Except when he took hold of it, gave it a tug, Fen didn't let go. Instead, he yanked it and shoved the screen aside at the same time, drew back and punched Malick square on the jaw. There was no leverage problem this time, no awkward angle. It came straight from the shoulder and knocked Malick down on his ass. Huh. Seemed that if you got hit hard enough, you really did see stars. Malick's ears were ringing, and painpainpain radiated from the point of impact and out through his head, right down his spine.
"…the fuck?!" He blinked up to see Fen standing over him—gah, still naked, and wet now too—bucket still clenched tight in a white-knuckled fist, all that hair hanging heavy and sticking to him everywhere, the ragged fringe dripping down into his eyes. For whatever reason, Malick's gaze caught on the chunky, ugly tracks of the sutures in strange fascination as he watched the scarred skin shift over the thick-hewn thigh muscles.
"I've just been thinking," Fen said, amazingly calm and cool as he stared down at Malick. "You've been mocking me since the moment I met you. I don't like it."
Malick cradled his jaw with a careful hand, blinked some more. "Mocking." He shook his head. Augh, bad idea.
"Not as much fun when it's offered freely?" Fen wanted to know, a little bit of fire blooming in his hard gaze.
Malick sat up, indignant. "It wathn't off—" Damn it, had he lost a tooth? He stuck a finger in his mouth, gingerly poked around… no, all still accounted for, but it seemed he'd bitten his tongue rather smartly. Damn Fen and his… his… whatever the fuck this was. "It wasn't offered freely," Malick snapped. "It was offered in payment. There's a difference, and I'd prefer to keep on this side of it."
Fen frowned, eyes narrowed. "This side."
Frustrated, Malick waved his hands. "Yeah, this side… the better side, the, the… the not-disgusting side." And then he remembered how that might sound to Fen's ears, so he clarified: "The side that doesn't make me feel like I'm demanding sex in payment for doing someone I like a good turn. The side that doesn't make me feel like some sick deviant for getting what I want. You know—that side."
Fen only stared at him, thoughtful, for a long, long moment before he shook his head. He shrugged. "It wasn't in payment. It would've been, if you'd demanded it. But it wasn't."
Malick's mouth flapped, brow twisting. "No?" Could a person die of confusion?
"No." Apparently, that was all the answer Fen was going to give, because he merely turned—all that hair covering the good bits, naturally—and limped back into the shower-box, pulling the screen shut behind him. "I still need more water."
Malick… stared. Rubbed at his jaw again, and then ran a hand through his hair. What he needed was to make it a point to meet and begin associating with not-crazy people. The novelty alone should keep him entertained for… all right, probably minutes. But still.
Growling, he hauled himself up from the floor and found the bucket that Fen had apparently dropped while Malick had been admiring the stars grinding up from his jaw and bursting behind his eyes. He dipped it into the pool, pausing briefly when all the blood rushed to his head and settled, hot and pounding, at the base of his teeth. Fucking Fen. Malick hoped he'd at least bruised his knuckles good.
"It was the other things," Fen said as Malick set the bucket just outside the shower-box.
Malick straightened, squinting at the screen, like he could gauge Fen's expression through it. "All right, it's in the right language and all the words make sense."
The screen rattled aside again. Malick couldn't help the bit of a flinch backward, but Fen merely cut him a wary look as he leaned around it and pulled the bucket through before sliding it closed again. Contained splashing again, the sound of the sponge being wrung out, then: "The other things you said. I was trying to pretend you meant them. And it's been a while, so… I wanted to."
Quiet. Subdued. Said to the floor, Malick could tell just by the way the stone nearly absorbed the words before they reached his ears.
He was afraid to guess at what things he'd said that might've meant enough to Fen that he'd wanted to—
Gah, he'd wanted to, and Malick had….
Fuck. Fucking fuck fuckitty fuck.
Yeah? Well, maybe he could explain it Malick, then, because shit, he'd had the best intentions he could recall having in a very long time, and Fen had wanted to, and… and then this.
"Understand what, Fen?"
One of the bathsheets slipped from over the top of the screen. Half a moment later, Fen slid the screen aside again, water dripping over his shoulders, down his chest, and into the fold of the sheet knotted about his hips. He reached for the other, pulling all that hair over his shoulder, and began working excess water from the base of his skull and down. His face was blank, his movements all unconscious reflex, and his gaze divided its time between the hair and the floor.
"I haven't any clothes."
Damn it, Malick hadn't even thought of that. And didn't much care now. "No one's up," he said, troubled by the statement he did care about. "Fen—understand what?"
Fen sighed, shut his eyes. "You think I'm too distracted. You think I don't see anything." A shrug, and he opened his eyes, but he still wouldn't look at Malick. "You didn't want it—you wanted me to want it. You win." He opened his mouth, like he meant to go on, but then just shut it and went back to squeezing water from his hair. "I think I might need help with the stairs."
Malick couldn't do a single thing but stare as Fen turned and slowly limped toward the door. What was that—four sentences? five?—and inside them, an entire lifetime of rejection, and calm acceptance of it, like he didn't expect anything else. Bloody hell, if that was what Fen thought Malick had been doing, it was amazing he'd gotten away with only a sore jaw.
"Was that how it was with Asai?" Malick asked softly.
Fen stopped dead, every muscle in his back and shoulders tightening. His head turned slightly to the side, dipped down, but still, he wouldn't look at Malick. "I'll take the stairs myself," he said, and started hobbling off again.
And Malick couldn't stand it, couldn't stand anything about it. That Fen loved that son of a bitch enough that Malick could still hurt him with only a name. That Fen thought Malick would do what Fen thought he'd been doing. That Malick's own behavior since he'd met Fen had probably made it all too believable.
He stood there like an idiot, gaping, until Fen was three shuffling steps away from the door, then stalked over, shoved it back the two inches Fen had gotten it open, then spun Fen's back into it, and pressed in. Fen's fists were clenched just as stiffly as his jaw, but they didn't come at Malick this time, just locked in tight to his sides, body rigid, the damp warmth of the bathsheet seeping all down the front of Malick and heating him through. Words were not Malick's friends tonight, and Fen was never good at them, so Malick avoided them, just leaned in and kissed him.
Not as hard as Malick's flaring temper would have had him think, but deep and sweeping, aggressive and immediately intense. Fen kissed like he fought—all-in and no backing down, driving in and taking Malick over absolutely. There was a directness to it, the strange candor of wanting in the harsh breaths through his nose, the soft, demanding moans rumbling at the back of his throat, and the way his hands came up and sank into Malick's hair, closed into fists, held him still.
This is what I want, it said. Give it to me.
Simple; much more clear and unguarded than anything else about Fen.
His hair—the scent of almonds came from Fen's hair, winding right through the blander smell of the pine soap he'd used to wash it. Malick could smell it so clearly as he took a handful of it in his fist, let his fingers curl through the chill-wet of it, like he'd been wanting to do since the first time he'd seen Fen out on the floor of the Girou.
Panting, aroused almost beyond rational thought, Malick pulled back, trailed his lips along Fen's jawline, slipped a little nip to his earlobe. "D'you still love him?" He hadn't known he was going to ask it, almost appalled that it had come out his mouth, and now, but it was suddenly imperative that Malick knew. Even more imperative than the aching arousal at his groin, Fen's answer to it jutting against Malick's hip. "Does he love you? Does he even pretend to?" Fen pulled in a tight breath, and Malick… smiled. There it was—there was the way in. The right one, the one that would stick. Malick slipped a kiss to Fen's temple. "Would you like me to pretend for you? I'm fucking brilliant at it."
Fen tensed a little at the question, still distracted enough by Malick's mouth at his throat and ear that he didn't shove him away. "Please."
"Please" what? Please don't ask me that? Please keep doing what you're doing? Please just shut up and fuck me stupid and let me pretend this is whatever I need it to be to keep my fucked-up head from exploding into a million tiny pieces?
"'Please' what, Fen?" Malick pressed, he couldn't help it, and he soothed it just a little with a quick snap of his hips, crushing his erection into Fen's until Fen gasped and pushed back. "D'you want to close your eyes and pretend I'm him?" He ran his hands over Fen's arms, his shoulders, swept one hand in until it rested lightly about Fen's throat. Traced the other down the silky swells of chest and torso, fingers just brushing the drape of damp hair that swathed the whole left side of Fen's body. "Take from me what your beishin wouldn't give you and scream his name when you come?"
"Fuck you," Fen breathed, tilting his head to the side obligingly when Malick sank in to run his tongue over the cords of Fen's throat. Malick's hand pressed in just a little to settle firm around the side of Fen's neck, thumb brushing the small jutting bumps of the trachea. Fen's own hands had curled around Malick's back, fingers digging in to the thick muscles just below the shoulder blades, real pressure, jabbing almost right through the skin when Malick's hand settled over Fen's erection through the bathsheet.
"Tell me, Fen," Malick whispered, pressing in tight as he took hold, letting Fen rock into his hand a few times before he squeezed, stones and throat both, tight enough to still all movement. "Say it so I'll know. Who are you going to see tonight while I'm fucking you?"
He didn't think he really wanted an answer, but he had to have one, had to know. And even if Fen said it, said the name that could rise such pain to his heart that it completely stilled his body—a body that he controlled so completely otherwise—Malick thought he still might not be able to walk away, still might not be able to stop himself from giving Fen exactly what he wanted.
Fen's eyes were squeezed shut, his head resting back against the smooth cedar of the door. Panting. Trembling with need. Hips swaying little stutter-stops, both fighting Malick's grip and rocking into it. His hands had bunched in Malick's shirt, knuckles digging into his backbone.
Fuck, he was beautiful. Color high and swathing his cheeks with warmth; muscles tense and quivering, scars and gashes and cuts standing out in soft relief against their lines and curves; dark hair contrasted like a splash of ink down his entire body; face pulled into wanton lines of unthinking expression, silently shouting his need and hunger. One thing Fen couldn't hide, one thing he couldn't blank from his face and pretend to be unaffected—the effect was vibrating in Malick's hands, in the fluttering pulse at Fen's throat, the undeniable heat and solidity at his groin.
Not from his eyes, either, Malick thought, dazed, as Fen slid them open slowly, looked right at Malick, swallowed so his throat bobbed against Malick's thumb, and pushed his hips in hard to Malick's hand. Eyes still locked to Malick's, Fen tipped his head back, bared his throat—submission; deliberate and cognizant—and Malick sucked in a sharp breath, hands reflexively tightening the tiniest bit.
"Iam the ghost," Fen said, hoarse and low, "I don't see them," then he leaned in and brushed his lips over Malick's—
—took him by the shoulders and spun him, shoved his back into the door before Malick even realized he'd lost the leverage advantage. Turnabout.
Oh, yeah. That'll teach me.
Malick grinned, his arousal redoubling so fast it almost made his knees give. It made him wonder exactly who would be topping whom. Somehow that half-inch Fen had on Malick was looking like a lot more right now. Smug, Fen swept his hands down over the breadth of Malick's chest, stirring warm little shudders, then tipped in, nipped at his throat.
"Dumbass. Help me upstairs."
Wow, Carole! What can I say, I'm privileged to host such hot and exclusive content here at Blogging It with Katrina Strauss. All authors participating in today's scavenger hunt are sharing exclusive content made public for the first time today. In fact, a little blue bird tells me that if you peck around enough, you may just find a special Blue Ruin outtake somewhere during your search. Not only will you find another clue for the Erotic Romance Scavenger Hunt, but if you read my excerpt and then e-mail me privately at katrina.strauss AT gmail DOT com to tell me what street Cameron lives on, you'll be entered to win one backlist title of your choice! (Hint: Cameron's street is the first left after McDonald's.)
Ready to move on? The next stop on the Erotic Romance Scavenger Hunt is... Katey Hawthorne!