“If you have to ask, there must have been too many.” He sets me down carefully and leaves a hard kiss on my forehead. “What do you mean by ‘marketable skill’?”

“It’s something you’re good at that makes you useful.” A lump rises in my throat. “Last night, when my father helped tie me up like a sacrifice, he told me he wouldn’t…miss my help on the farm…because…”


I have to stop talking because my voice is getting wobbly.

Ike tips my chin up, looking horrified all over again. “How many men do I have to kill for hurting your feelings, Diana?”

“None.” I wipe the moisture away quickly. “None, because you’re not a killer.” I pause. “Those men at the stream are the real monsters, aren’t they? They’re the ones who have been killing and stealing animals in the village.”

Ike grunts and turns away, but I see the answer in his eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He tugs up the ill-fitting sweatpants that are way too small to contain his bulk. “Would you have believed me?”

No. I wouldn’t have. But in just one day, I’ve witnessed how honorable this giant of a man is. Just now, those men only needled him because they were secure in the fact that he wouldn’t use his size against them. Ike is no beast.

He’s a man. A huge one.

I’m starting to suspect he was made extra large to house his big heart.

Slowly, other pieces begin clicking into place. “They sacrificed another girl. Long before me. You wouldn’t have been alive, either, but…”

He’s quiet for a moment. “My grandfather used to call my grandmother his lamb. They would laugh about it. Perhaps because she was the sacrificial lamb?” He shakes his head. “I don’t know. But they were happy. In their old age, they needed medicine and so they left the hills. I haven’t seen them since I was a child.”

All this time, the villagers thought her dead, when really…she was happy.

Could I be happy here, too?

My eyes roam over his bare, muscular back and travel down to his thick butt and the hard thighs beneath. If he turned around, I would see the outline of his manhood because those pants hide nothing—and I want to see all of him, I realize. I want to touch him and be touched in return. Ike needs my touch. That much is made obvious by the tension in his frame and the way he spears me with hungry looks over his shoulder.

My nipples harden in response and a funny feeling curls in my belly, making my thighs tighten and squeeze together. Just like last night, when I slept with my female flesh pressed up against his steel abdomen, slickness coats my folds and dampens my panties. I move closer to him because I have to, running my hands over the rigid planes of his back.

His head falls back on a groan.

“You’re so warm,” I breathe, tracing my hands down to his waist, my fingertips delving into the waistband of his pants and curling in the material. I want them off. I want him naked and lying on top of me, the way I’ve seen—mostly be accident—in R-rated movies and that one time I got curious and clicked on an adult website. I remained there for all of fifteen seconds, but it was enough to learn the mechanics of sex, and while I’m highly doubtful Ike’s body will fit with mine, I’m suddenly desperate to try. To not only reward this man for being…him, but also give my body what it seems to be yearning for.

“Will you, um…” I whisper. “Will you take off these pants and lie down with me, Ike?”

His big chest is heaving as he turns, walking me backward toward his pallet. “You want to lie with me?”

“Yes.”

Rounding up my courage, I reach back and unzip my dress, peeling it off my body and letting it fall in a heap at my feet, leaving me in nothing but white panties. A whimper leaves my mouth when Ike stops, stunned, then falls to his knees in front of me, his hands hovering over my breasts, eyes reverent. “Diana.” His fingertips brush me and my nipples tighten further, causing him to suck in a breath. “You are magnificent.”

I slide my fingers into his mass of hair. “So are you.”

He takes my hips in his hands and tugs me forward, his open mouth taking over my belly. “I cannot. I cannot lie with you, Diana.”

Now there’s an unexpected twist. “Why not?”

His eyes are miserable when he trains them on me. “I peeked this morning. I looked under the skirt of your dress without permission.” He falls back on his haunches, throwing a forearm across his eyes as if it pains him to look at me. “I am sorry, tiny person. I was weak.”

Instead of indignation, I’m caught up in another wave of heat. “I-is that why you left the cave to, um…touch yourself?”

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