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Authors: Rayne Forrest

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“You said
it made a noise. Did it sound surprised?”

“I think
so. It seemed so. I don’t know, Ryder. It just…” She held him tighter.

okay. Take a breath. I won’t let go.” He hugged her again. It was the best
reassurance he knew to give her. She went limp and still in his arms.

creature grabbed her. Its fingers were like talons and they dug into her flesh
and she bled. She screamed and screamed. She kept looking at me and screaming
for me to run. I couldn’t. I just stood there. She looked at me and…”

didn’t move. She had to get this out in her own time. He’d already pushed her.
To be cruel now would be unforgivable. Finally she spoke again, her voice low
and thick with the strain of keeping her composure.

looked at me and her eyes were yellow. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out.
I know what she said. She told me that she loved me. And then I knew she was
gone. The creature dropped her and disappeared.”

You mean it ran off?”

“No. He
was simply gone. Vanished. There were no tracks for Tyree and the men to
follow. All we could do was bury what was left of my mother’s body and go on living.”

closed his eyes. If his fears were confirmed, they’d be in a lot of trouble if
he failed.

Chapter 18


drifted to sleep as they lay together on the bed. Ryder inched his way to a
more comfortable position. His back had stiffened but he’d be damned before he
woke her over something so trivial.

He wished
she could let go, let more of her grief come out. His shoulders were broad
enough to bear it. He wanted to take that burden from her, only he knew he
couldn’t. Grief could never be borne by another, only shared. He closed his
eyes and left himself drift along the places where they touched skin-to-skin
seeking solace of his own.

Xenturan. The
had to be a Xenturan. It made perfect sense. The
Xenturans were bird-like bipeds with disproportionately long arms for a biped.
Their torsos were covered with a hard exoskeleton that shielded them from
penetrating weapons such as knives, arrows and some metal alloy projectiles.
Their digits were more like the talons of a raptor with venom-carrying spurs.
Xenturans fed on everything and would even scavenge if necessary. A helpful
trait if one was stranded on a strange planet with the indigenous humanoids
trying to kill them. They were skilled survivors and very intelligent.

And they
made dangerous enemies.

afternoon had grown quiet. The sounds from the village yard grew less frequent.
He contemplated sneaking out of bed to see if he could get the fire going again
and maybe begin to prepare something for a meal. His stomach growled and
gurgled in agreement. Saba’s soft, muffled voice drifted up to him from the
vicinity of his chest.


tightened his arms around her and gratefully curled up, stretching his spine.

“I could
eat something, I suppose. I could put my pants on, see if the damned boots fit,
and stir the fire while you just relax here for a little longer.”

“No. I must
get up in case someone in the village needs me.”

“I need
you, angel. I need you to rest. I’ve been awake. No one has screamed for
anything, or tapped on the door.”

She was
going to argue, he could see it on her face. She surprised him by closing her
eyes. “All right. Just for a few more minutes.”

Her hand
drifted down across his abdomen. He closed his eyes and thanked the universe
she enjoyed the act. Still, he had to put up the appearance of a protest. He
didn’t want her to think he was easy, which he was where she was concerned.

thought you were going to rest.”

fingers found him. He was already half hard and growing more so with every beat
of his heart.

fingers stroked the outside swell of her breast.

thought you were going to stir the fire so I could prepare a meal. I find this
relaxing. Don’t you?” She stroked him boldly and his erection completed.

“Very. Do
that again, angel. Hmmm.”

nibbled at his nipple. It tingled and drew up into a little nub for her. She
gave it a harder nip. An electric jolt shot straight to his cock. Aftershocks
of need rippled through him, and a darker desire.

take me in your mouth.”

Her lips
paused their delightful teasing of his nipple. She blinked at him then wrinkled
her nose. Gods, she was cute sometimes, but he really ached to feel her mouth
on him. He was prepared to beg, barter, or accept whatever blackmail she named.

“Will it
give you great pleasure?” She looked so solemn. His heart skipped a beat.

“Yes.” He
cupped her breasts, thumbing across her taut nipples. “Didn’t you like it when
I did that to you?”

She made
her eyes cross and smiled coyly at him. He pulled her to him, kissing her until
she pushed away from him and drew in a lungful of air. The look in her eyes
changed from playful to purposeful. The air clogged in his throat. His cock
stiffened beyond his belief, rising off his belly as if to make sure she’d take
notice of it.

trailed light kisses down his body, pausing when she got to his fading bruises.

“Do these
still pain you?”

“No. Go
lower if you want to find what’s in pain.”

rested her chin in his navel and looked at him. “Perhaps if it hurts, we
shouldn’t aggravate it.”

Damn, she
was a quick learner. “There’s only one thing that will ease it.”

licked her lips. Slowly. Intentionally. He’d have told her to stop teasing him
if he could’ve formed words.

shifted a bit and kissed the inside of his thigh. Arousal streaked through him.
She cupped his balls, rolling the testicles inside the sac. She was so very
gentle but he detected a bit of healer curiosity in the action. Her fingers
wrapped around his shaft. The moist tip of her tongue touched his glans. He
closed his eyes and willed her to go on.

delicately she tasted him. The pressure of her tongue was feather-light at
first, then bolder. She pressed her lips to the tip and moved down over him,
taking him. His hips surged up, a reflex he couldn’t prevent. He moaned her
name and gave himself over to whatever she would do.

settled into a slow, gliding rhythm that sent shiver after shiver down his legs
and up his spine. His arousal built until he could no longer lie still. She
increased the pressure and speed of her hand stroking his shaft. Her tongue
flicked over him. His balls drew up. Suddenly she released him.

He levered
himself onto his elbows, intending to see what was wrong. She straddled him and
pushed him back down on the pillow. She lowered her lips to his. Heat enveloped
him. Heedless of where she’d been heading he rolled them and rose over her. Her
legs came up around his waist and he drove into her.

welcomed him with a soft cry. Her hips found and matched his pounding pace as
he hurtled toward oblivion. He was going to come whether she did or not. It was
too late for him.

Her hand
snaked down between them. Her back arched. He was aware of it, and yet not, as
his orgasm took him, battering him with each thrust into her liquid heat. He
hazed on the intensity of the pleasure, spilling into her and then crashing
back into himself when her nails dug into his flanks.

Ryder. Please.” She squirmed beneath him.

He pushed
into her one last time and stilled. Gods, she’d be the death of him if they
kept this up. He eased down and gathered her close. She sighed, a soft,
contented sound.

To hell
with food, and the boots, and the needs waiting for them outside the door. It
could just wait for a few more minutes while he sheltered her. She was the woman
he’d been afraid to even dream for. The woman men like him didn’t deserve.

Surely it had to be that
had longed for someone. She was goodness personified. The gods had certainly
answered some request of hers to bring him here. He’d have to reform, change
his ways, to be worthy enough to stay with her. And he wanted to stay with her.
Could it be as simple as asking her?

“Stay with me, Saba.”

* * * *

Where did he think she was going?
She buried her face in his neck and breathed in the maleness of his scent, floating
in the peaceful aftermath of their coupling.

Her body still pulsed around his,
rippling in feminine satisfaction. She had the sense of fullness inside,
although she was aware of the changes going on as his body returned to normal.
It was very interesting. There were so many things she’d never thought about.
Maybe she needed to include some of it when the younger girls came seeking
advice on using the
mind suddenly focused on what he’d said. What he’d meant.

Oh dear Wae. Her heart stuttered
then began pounding.

Could he really mean it? She
couldn’t agree to anything with the threat of the
looming over
them. Didn’t he know that?

“I am with you now, Ryder. What
happens tomorrow, will happen.”

He was silent for the space of
several very long, very loud heartbeats. Or so it seemed they were loud.

“We need to go talk to Tyree about
tomorrow.” He eased from between her thighs and settled beside her. She rolled
to him and he wrapped his arms around her.

“I’ll need Tyree’s help, and the
help of all the men in the village, if I’m to corner the
and deal
with it.”

It was warm in the bed, tucked in his
arms, but she shivered. Her heart ached. Would there ever be a time when the
did not intrude on her life? On
all their lives? She finally had hope of it. Ryder spoke as if he planned
something. It was what she had wanted and now it chilled her very blood.

What if the
Ryder? How could she live without him? She loved him.

“What will you do, Ryder? Tell me,

“So much depends on how many men
Tyree has. I’ll insist you sit with us when I talk with him to protect me.” He
kissed her.

“Don’t try to be funny because this
is not. You could die.”

“We all could die. It’s a miracle
all of you haven’t died if the
is what I think it’s. That’s why I
need to get a look at it.”

“I don’t
want to speak of this right now.”
I just want you to hold me. I just want
you to truly need me.

right, angel.” He stroked down her side. It seemed an energy flowed out from
his hand over her skin. “Saba, I mean it. I want you.” He sighed tiredly.
“Maybe I haven’t got the right to even think in terms of staying here.”

“You are
welcome to make your home with the Ramalho. You have a place here. Many are
willing to teach you our ways. You can learn to hunt and to build.”

“And the
women? Do they welcome me as well? Am I a potential breeder?”

bitterness in his voice was unsettling. He would be sought out by a few of the
women for just that purpose. She had no doubt of it. It made sense to introduce
a fresh bloodline. Of course, she would prefer that she and Jennica be the ones
to bear those children.

“Do you
not welcome the opportunity to have children and establish your line?”

“Is that
how the Ramalho look at things?”

We are careful about having children with those we have too many blood ties

“And do
you have any blood ties to Tyree?”

Only the
truth would do. She owed him that. “No. I have none.”

He fell
silent, one hand idly stroking her hair. She sensed he had questions, or
something he wanted to say, but he didn’t.

He said
he wanted her. Why couldn’t she just speak up and say the words? He’d asked her
to stay with him when in truth he would need to stay with her and her people.

“Ryder, I
want…I think…”

typical humor surfaced. “Just spit it out, angel. I’ve already made a fool of
myself. You can ask me to leave. I’ll find another place to sleep.”

surprised would he be if she smothered him with the pillow? She had a powerful
urge to find out.

pushed away from his warmth and his scent and the luxurious feel of his skin
touching hers.

“You are
the most infuriating man I have ever met!” She started to crawl over him to get
out of the bed. He grabbed her.

“You are
the most annoying female I’ve ever met! I tell you I want us to stay together
and you ignore me!”

When did you tell me that? When did you say ‘us’? You want me to stay with you?
Where? Here? You would be staying with me, you idiot!”

He gawked
at her, mouth open. She gave into temptation and tapped his chin. His jaws
snapped shut. She narrowed her eyes and glared at him.

“Now what
is your problem?”

He looked
dumbstruck and shook his head. “I’m an idiot.”

What does that mean?

Wae, when had she ever screeched at a person like that?

A slow,
lazy grin spread across his face. “You do want me, don’t you?”

“I do
not!” She scrambled away from him. He rolled off the bed, stalking her.

“You do.
You know you do.”

Oh by Wae
he was a magnificent sight, all naked and graceful as the great mountain beasts
as he padded after her.

“You do
want me to stay here. Say it, angel.”

She tried
to slip past him. He was too quick, grabbing her around the waist and carrying
her back to the bed. He dropped down beside her.

“Face it,
Saba. We’re made for each other. I want you and you, whether you want to admit
it or not, want me. We’ll do well together.”

Yes, they
would. She felt it, too. But there was one little detail she had to have an
answer for. The one thing that would make all the difference. Without it, she
couldn’t be with him.

she? She took a deep breath. Maybe she could.

Maybe she
could swallow her pride and accept him as he was, whether or not he loved her.
If he wanted her and would stay with her, could she really be content without
his love?

“I want
you, Ryder Vaughan.”

BOOK: A Hero's Bargain
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