No. He won’t be able to send me away.
The bus ride to Long Shadow takes an hour, but I’m too excited to sleep, even though I didn’t catch a wink last night. So I watch the passing scenery and breathe through the knots in my stomach. After about forty-five minutes, the foliage becomes dense and a forest builds, the trees stretching higher and higher toward the blue sky.
Rex only gave me a cursory idea of where he’s staying, but my stepfather goes on hunting trips up this way. I’m surprised I retained a word of his boring stories, but I did. And I know there are two hunting lodges where less experienced hunters bunk overnight, before going out with guides in the morning. I’m going on instinct, but I doubt Rex would lump himself in with less experienced anything. So I’m going to rent a bike once we reach the mountain summit and check rental properties until I find Rex’s truck.
Me on a bike. Shouldn’t be too dangerous, should it?
My knee throbs harder as if to mock me.
I know something is fishy as soon as I walk into the cabin.
“What the fuck is that incredible smell?” asks my buddy, Hank, sniffing at the air. “Whatever it is, I’m eating two helpings of it.”
Rudy, the third in our hunting party, joins us in the entry. “Roast beef and baby carrots.” Eyes closed, he holds up a finger. “With a sprig of rosemary on top.”
With a sigh, I ease off my camouflage vest and toss my cap toward an entry table. “Ain’t you two idiots concerned with who is cooking in our cabin?”
Rudy leans his rifle up against the wall and rubs his hands together. “Probably should be.”
“I don’t question free food,” Hank adds. “Plus, we didn’t take down anything today, so it’s the mysterious meal or takeout. I choose option one.”
Both of them clomp past me toward the kitchen, leaving filthy footprints behind them. Which normally wouldn’t bother me one bit. Unfortunately, every damn thing is bothering me today. The sun is too bright, the leaves are too crunchy, my friends never shut the fuck up. I’m anxious and irritable and it’s all because of the girl I left standing in her princess bedroom last night, looking so vulnerable and confused that I’m haunted by the memory.
A scream cuts through the air.
At first, I think it’s my imagination. I’ve been psyching myself out all day, picturing robbers converging on Clara’s bedroom and scaring her, making her call out for me, but I’m not there. I’m not there to protect her.
No. I’m not imagining the scream, though. Rudy and Hank back out of the kitchen with their hands up, their jaws on the floor. And I know. I know my niece is in the kitchen. Especially when Hank uses one finger to push back open the swinging kitchen door and peeks in, letting out a low whistle. That’s when I see her through the crack.
She’s wearing nothing but a tiny white apron.
“Clara.” I thunder toward the kitchen, my bellow bouncing off the living room walls. “You two jackasses. Get the fuck away from the door.”
“Damn. You know her?”
“Yeah. She’s my goddamn niece.” I shoulder through them, one hand poised on the kitchen door. “You know what that means?”
“Look but don’t touch,” Hank says with a nod. “You got it, boss.”
“Wrong. It means, don’t even look.”
“Roger that.” Hank backs away. “But, uh…you might want to wait for her to cover up before going in there…”
Something passes between the three of us in that moment. It’s obvious I’m not waiting to go in there, meaning I’ve already seen her without clothes. Or I want to. I’ve known Rudy and Hank for a damn decade, but they don’t see it coming. Don’t know what the hell to make of it, either. They simply stare as I use my body to block the opening and close myself in the kitchen with Clara.
Jesus. My cock hoists like a main sail at the sight of her pressed back against the kitchen island, breathing like she just ran a race. The bottom of that dinky apron doesn’t even hit her thighs. Nah, it shows off slinky, little black panties I’m willing to bet ride straight up the crack of her ass in back. Her tits aren’t showing, but they’re plumped and pointed at the apron’s square neckline…and fuck…the slope of her sides and swell of her hips are all on display.
Now I’m pissed. My friends saw her this way? They’ve probably already ran off to their bedrooms to jerk themselves into a stupor. She’s indecent. She’s innocent. She’s too many things to pinpoint…except for one unshakable certainty.
She’s about to be mine.
I start toward Clara, intending on demolishing her. I don’t know how I’m going to do it yet, but I’m not restricting myself anymore. I can’t. The obsession is choking me, crowding me in from all sides. Coming to Long Shadow was my last-ditch attempt to avoid debauching her. She came to me, though, and I’m losing control. I’ve almost reached her when I stop short, noticing the cuts and bruises on her legs. They’ve all been bandaged, but that only ticks me off more, because I didn’t have the privilege of fixing them up. “What the hell happened to you?” I cage her in against the island. “How did you get here?”