A reason to live.
His protective instincts soared. No man would go near his prize. He sat up in the bed, anxiety creeping in. He didn’t feel safe with such a treasure as Ashley out of his sight. Even his most loyal man could be tempted to steal a marked fertile away for the bounty promised by the government. Or to fill her with their own seed.
He was about to rush downstairs, when someone knocked on his door.
The door opened, and Luke had his hand firmly around Ashley’s upper arm. He gave her a shove into the room as she protested being restrained, brushing off her jacket once away from him. Her little scowl reminded him of an angry kitten.
“You wanted this one?” asked Luke.
Ashley wore new clothes, a slightly fitted blouse and long, flowing skirt. Her face was clear of grime, a cute spattering of freckles on her cheeks. That beautiful blonde hair was brushed smooth, falling around her like a shawl.
“She’s a fertile. Why would I want the other one?”
He motioned for Luke to leave them alone. The other man closed the heavy wooden door behind him. Ashley turned and stared at the closed door. She stayed frozen in place, refusing to face him.
“Have you eaten?”
She tentatively turned around, as if being forced to face a monster. Maybe she saw all men in a negative light. He’d have to change that with time.
“Cat got your tongue?”
She nodded. “I’ve eaten.” Her voice was a soft, little whisper, pure sweetness and femininity. His claim on her grew tenfold. He noticed she kept rubbing her wrist, trying to conceal her mark with the other hand.
He got up and paced, his hands clasped behind his back. “How long have you been out there on the run?”
She shrugged. “I can’t really remember. The days seem to blend into one another.”
“Survival will do that to a person,” he said. “That’s over now. You’re safe here. I’ll protect you.”
Ashley looked him in the eyes. “Why?”
He smirked. “I can’t be a nice guy?”
“There’s no such thing. Not anymore.”
Draven tried to imagine the horrors she’d faced before showing up at his gates. He didn’t even want to think of another man’s hands on her, hurting her, taking when she didn’t give freely. The world had hardened her, like so many others, and it would be a challenge to prove he wasn’t a complete asshole.
“You’ve been through a lot. Tell me, Ashley, have you been violated by men while you were out there?”
She tensed, her body visibly stiffening. She shook her head.
“Are you sure about that?”
“Luanna has. A lot of women have. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones.”
“Lucky for me.”
Ashley wasn’t sure what to feel, what to think. Her mind told her not to trust any man. Her body, on the other hand, wanted to give in. When Luanna had mentioned Draven and his kingdom, it had intrigued her. She never imagined such a place existed, and she certainly didn’t imagine a king with tousled dark hair brushing his collar and eyes as dark as night. His size intimidated her, tall and thick with muscle. He carried himself with pride and confidence, maybe a bit of arrogance … and damn it turned her on.
He’d taken care of her, fed her, offered her safety and everything that had been taken from her. But it was all lies. He only wanted her because she was fertile, a rare commodity. Even though he was nice to look at, he only wanted her to become a baby-making factory, not unlike the remaining government sector she’d escaped from.
She wasn’t an animal, a vessel to be bred.
What she wanted no longer existed. Love and family were things of the past, something for future history books. If only his narrowed gaze, the one perusing every inch of her body, saw something more than a fertile. If Ashley had to choose a man to love her, she wouldn’t hesitate to select Draven. He was perfect—rugged and fearless, powerful, hypnotizing.
He came closer, and she instinctually backed away.
“Relax, little one. I said I won’t hurt you.”
There was a scar across his cheek, his thick stubble not growing along the seam. It only added to his appeal and intrigue. She caught his scent as he walked back and forth in front of her, a spicy sandalwood that she breathed in deeply.
“Sit down.” He pointed to a loveseat near his bed. She complied, cautiously sitting on the floral print cushion. “Tell me about yourself. Before the virus. What did you do for a living?”
She cocked her head, confused by his question.
“People don’t talk anymore. The art of conversation died with most of humanity, it seems. Tell me something. A memory. Anything.”
Ashley swallowed hard. This was strange, almost dreamlike, but it took her focus away from basic instincts and allowed her to think back to when life had been normal. Sane.