The man within, p.1
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       The Man Within, p.1

         Part #2 of Breeds series by Lora Leigh  
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  Sandy Hook,KY

  “Roni, dammit, what kind of trouble did you manage to get yourself into this time?” Roni Andrews tried to suppress her grin as she heard Taber’s voice echoing through the corridor of the cells housed in the county jail. She sat back on the uncomfortable bunk, trying for nonchalance. No way in hell would she give him the chance to see just how much he could intimidate her. And boy could he intimidate.

  Well over six feet tall, his body corded with powerful muscles, his expression often savage, remote, he could set her heart to pounding in both fear and arousal. The fear she could handle. It was the arousal she often had problems with. It had first hit her right after she turned sixteen. It had intensified several months ago after her twenty-second birthday. There were nights she burned for him, and it terrified her.

  She welcomed the sensation of cool stone at her back, easing a bit of the stifling heat that surrounded her. The heat that built inside her as well. The air conditioner had broken down that night and the cells had been stifling. Thankfully, old Mort, the jailer, had opened the windows rather than let her suffer.

  The hard smack of Taber’s boots on the stone floor caused her to wince. He only walked like that when he was pissed. She carefully pasted an expression of bored amusement on her face. Wouldn’t do for him to know she was really scared to damned death of him when he got pissed.

  Not that Taber would hurt her. Instinctively she knew he would never lay a hand on her. But there was something about him when he got mad. Something primal, predatory. He wasn’t a man she wanted to risk pissing off too often. Unfortunately, trouble just seemed to find her and more often than not Taber was left to bail her out of it, one way or the other. She was terrified that one day he would get tired of being her knight in shining armor and write her off entirely.

  Within seconds he was standing at the cell door, his hands braced on his lean hips, a frown etched on his proud, sun-darkened face. Damn, he made her want to start rubbing against him, like a cat. He was tall and muscular, his shoulders broad, his chest powerful and tapering to a flat, corded abdomen that tempted her to touch.

  Long powerful legs were encased in snug denim and there was no way in hell she was going to let her gaze drift to…oh hell. That bulge between his thighs just looked too good to be true. Hastily she jerked her gaze back to his face.

  His eyes were narrowed on her now, the jade-green color brilliant and snapping with fury. She swallowed tightly. He was none too pleased with her this morning.

  “I didn’t do a damned thing,” she snapped back, allowing all the awakening senses he managed to flip into overdrive to fuel her own anger. “I was just standing there, Taber. Honest. That sheriff has lost his mind.”

  She fought to hide her amusement. Of course, he knew she was lying. He always knew when she was lying.

  “I should let you rot here.” She loved that growling thing he did when he was pissed. His voice would lower and just vibrate…like a cat. She had a fondness for cats.

  She rolled her eyes, though the muscles in her lower stomach quivered in reaction. She could literally feel her breasts swelling, her nipples peaking at the sound, and she knew he hadn’t missed the reaction.

  Instantly his expression shut down. No anger, no ire. Like a damned robot. Everything in his face seemed to tighten, to chill, causing her to shiver in reaction. She hated it when he did that, hated when he hid from her any response he might have to her.

  “Are you rescuing me here or what?” she snapped, hurt by his retreat. “It’s damned hot in here, Taber, and getting hotter.” In more ways than one.

  He sighed then, shaking his head as though being in trouble was no more than he had expected of her that early in the morning. At least it wasn’t that bland, I-don’t-know-you look that she so despised.

  “I ought to paddle your ass.” He stepped aside as the jailer, well into his fifties and grinning at her knowingly, unlocked the cell door.

  Roni didn’t fight the shiver that worked over her body at the dark sound of his voice. He could spank her any day she thought. As long as he touched her. Maybe he would kiss it and make the hurt all better later? Her own thoughts had her suppressing her smile as well as a shuddering response.

  “Spank me, daddy,” she drawled softly as she rose from the cot and strolled over to the opening door.

  He snorted in disgust. “Your father obviously neglected discipline while he was here or else you wouldn’t tempt me this far.”

  Roni scooted past him and walked over to where the sheriff had thrown her pack by old Mort’s desk the night before. She kept her back to Taber, bending at the waist to pick it up, feeling his gaze on her backside like a caress.

  As she rose, she slung the strap over her arm and turned back to him with a bright smile. “I’m ready whenever you are. Think Sherra would let me stay with her for a while? That old house is getting boring this summer.”

  To be honest, it was getting terrifying. She didn’t know who was playing the little pranks on her lately, but she was going to find out. She might be wrong a time or two about who the culprits were, like she was last night, but she would figure it out eventually.

  The hard look he shot her assured her that even that small lie hadn’t escaped his notice. He knew damned well she wouldn’t be asking to stay with his sister unless she was scared to death. She considered asking him to let her stay at his place. But she knew her weakness for him and she was terrified of begging him to touch her. The quiet isolation and intimacy of his home would only shatter the control she fought so hard for, though. She didn’t want to beg for his touch. Didn’t want to risk the heartbreak when he rejected her.

  This reaction to him was getting out of hand, she admitted. She blamed it on her lack of social skills, her fear of dating over the years. You never knew when a guy really wanted to go out with you or when he was trying to find a way to get back at your father. Unfortunately, she paid often anyway for the myriad crimes, both petty and felonious, that her father,Reginald, committed.

  “Sherra’s out of town this week.” He gripped her arm firmly as she made to pass by him again. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten, anyway?”

  She knew she had lost weight over the past month. Fear and worry had a way of affecting the appetite on the best of days.

  “Why, yesterday.” She tried to pull this lie off, though by the tightening of his fingers on her upper arm she had a feeling she had failed. “Come on, Taber. You bailed me out like a good boy, now I’ll just go home and twiddle my fingers a few days until you get over your mad. Do I still have a job?” She glanced back at him as that thought hit her. She needed that job.

  “You should be back in school, not working in a greasy garage,” he snapped as he led her outside to his pickup. “When is your father due back?”

  “Hell if I know,” she sighed, biting back her regret at the thought of college. It wasn’t that she hadn’t wanted to go, dammit. But she needed to eat, too. The two weren’t coming together very well. “He took off last week. Left a note that he’d call. I haven’t seen him since.” Not that she really cared if she didn’t see him anytime soon. Even when he was home she was alone.

  Unless he needed money and she didn’t have any to give. Then things really got interesting.

  He jerked the truck door open without releasing her arm. She looked up at him, swallowing tightly at the look in his eyes. They were darker than normal, glittering with some emotion that made heat sweep through her body, made her thighs tingle, her vagina clench. For once, he was watching her like something more than a pesky little child.

  “What happened last night?” Uh oh. He was using that tone that brooked no refusal. The one that made her heart speed up in her c
hest, the blood to pump hard and heavy through her veins.

  She shrugged carelessly. “Some boys playing pranks, most likely. You know how they are.” He was silent for long moments. “What. Happened.” There was that freaking rumble again. She shivered beneath it.

  “Someone tried to break into the house, okay?” She tried to jerk away but there was no getting free of him. “I chased them as far as the main road before I could shoot. Then I shot. Unfortunately, either old Reverend Gregory is into breaking or entering, or I was shooting at the wrong car. I still haven’t figured out how they got away from me.”

  She hadn’t been shooting to kill. Just to kind of maim a little. Fortunately the Reverend seemed to have a sense of humor and only demanded a night in jail to teach her a lesson. It wasn’t her first night there. She doubted it would be her last.

  “Shoot?” Damn. He was really mad now. “Why didn’t you just call me, Roni? What the hell are you doing with a gun?” His voice had steadily lowered rather than risen. That was never a good sign.

  “I know how to use it.” She twisted out of his hold, but was more than aware of the fact that he had let her go only because he made the decision, not her. “Dammit, Taber, I’m tired of those bastards trying to torment me. Every timeReginald leaves they pull the same crap on me.” They were terrifying her. The phone calls Taber didn’t know about. She could never reveal the brief, horrifyingly descriptive notes, either. She paled to think about them. They were graphic, explicit, terrifying.

  “In the truck.” She had never heard that tone before. Danger resonated around her and the shiver that washed over her had nothing to do with arousal and everything to do with flat dread.

  She did as he ordered, though she watched him carefully. The door slammed behind her and Taber proceeded to stalk—yeah stalk, there was no other word for it—around the front of the vehicle and to the driver’s side.

  “What did he do this time?” She assumed he meant her father.

  She shrugged carefully. “I don’t know. He came in late last week, threw some clothes in a bag, told me to stay with friends and left.”

  “And you’re still at the house why?” he snarled. Man, he was an animal when he was pissed, she thought worriedly. That deep voice was driving her insane, though.

  “Where am I going to stay?” Her laughter was self-mocking. It wasn’t as though she had a lot of choices. “I called Sherra, but she wasn’t answering. I called you a time or two, but you weren’t around either. That left the gun and me. The gun is always there.” She didn’t like the look he was giving her. Furious and…hungry. He looked like he was looking for a meal and considered her fair game all of a sudden. He shook his head, amazement flashing in his eyes.

  “You have got to be insane,” he finally sighed. “Certifiably insane. Goddamn, Roni, why didn’t you leave a message?”

  “How many do you want me to leave?” she yelled back at him. She hadn’t slept in a week; she was hungry and sick of being frightened. “I called three days straight, Taber, and left messages. Why don’t you check the damned machine? Better yet, go do that growling thing at the damned people who haven’t fixed cell phone reception in this county yet. Even your cell wasn’t picking up and by then I was tired of begging you to help me.” Which wasn’t unusual in the small, mountainous area they lived in.

  He stilled, his hands clenching on the steering wheel. “There were no messages.” Dangerous, rumbling, he was only growing more furious by the moment.

  “Then one of your brothers erased them,” she told him, just as angry. “I left the messages, Taber. I’m surprised you came this morning. When the sheriff said he had to leave a message…”

  “There was no message.” His voice lowered further. “The sheriff met me at the garage when I came in this morning.”

  She snorted. “Well there you go. Did he tell you he left a message last night?”

  “No. But I’ll be asking him about it.” From the tone of his voice he’d be getting answers, too.

  Her gaze flickered away from him as he stared at her intently. His eyes were so dark, intense. The look reminded her that she was female, and made her ache for things that often left her blushing when she thought about them. He had rarely looked at her like that. Having him do so now threw her completely off balance.

  “You can stay at my place, over the garage.” He started the motor and backed from the jail as he spoke. “There’s a good bed and a small kitchen up there. No one will bother you.” But she didn’t want to be alone. She was sick of it. “Look, just take me back to my house. I’m sureRegi nald will be back soon.”

  He snorted at that. “I don’t have time to bail you out of jail every morning, Roni. We’ll go get your things and move you in over the garage. You’ll be going back to school this fall…”

  “I don’t have the money yet…”

  “I’ll fucking pay for it,” he snarled, his gaze slicing over her, his fury almost tangible now. “Shut the hell up and listen to me for a change before that crazy father of yours gets you killed.” His voice rose with each word. Roni looked over at him warily. She had never heard him raise his voice.

  “I don’t need your charity.” She crossed her arms over her breasts, staring back out the windshield, her chest heavy with anger and pain. “I’m a grown woman, Taber. All I needed was the damned job.”

  “You’re about to get something you’re going to regret and sure as hell don’t need right now.” Her head snapped around as the truck jerked to a stop behind the garage.

  He was losing his temper; she could feel it. Like electricity the tension between them began to crackle, stroking over her, almost taking her breath.

  It was still early morning, hours before the garage was due to open. The back lot was deserted, enclosed by a high fence, leaving them sheltered, hidden from view. The intimacy of it hit her like a ton of bricks. She was suddenly breathless, achy, and much too aware of the man beside her.

  He was watching her with that look that never failed to arouse her. And it was arousal. Roni was a virgin, but she wasn’t stupid.

  “Would I regret it?” The words passed her lips before she could halt them.

  A blush burned her face as she turned quickly away from him, shaking her head, feeling just as immature and stupid as she knew she was being right now.

  “Forget it.” She shook her head as she stared into the deserted lot. “I’m sure I didn’t mean that.” But she did. She was honest enough with herself to know it.

  “Roni.” His voice was softer now, resonating with a power, a heated emotion that had her heart tripling in speed.

  “Look, I don’t need any sweet little speeches,” she said as she fought to hide her humiliation. Damn, when would she learn to keep her mouth shut? “Why don’t you just take me home and we’ll forget I ever said a word…”

  “Do you think I wouldn’t love anything more than to take you to my bed? To give you what I know we both want?”

  She stilled. She whimpered. Oh God, that pathetic little sound did not come from her throat. She turned back to look at him, feeling the desperation that she fought inside her welling to the surface.

  It was there on his face. Heavy lines of regret, the hunger she only glimpsed occasionally in his eyes.

  “But you won’t,” she whispered, her heart breaking. “Will you?”

  “Look at you,” he said gently, though his voice was rough. “So innocent and sweet and you have no idea the animal you’re trying to set loose here.”

  “You wouldn’t hurt me.” She knew that. Knew that if she gave herself to him he might break her heart, but he would never hurt her physically.

  “You can’t be sure of that, Roni.” He lifted his hand from the steering wheel, reaching out to touch her cheek.

  The warmth of his calloused fingertips, the touch of his thumb at her lips had a sobbing breath of need escaping her throat. She had to touch him, to taste him. Her tongue peeked out, swiping over his flesh as they both groaned. The sounds
were hot, hungry, filling the interior of the truck with a tension that tightened every cell in her body.

  “You make me ache.” She couldn’t hold back the words or the need. “Sometimes I can’t stand it, Taber, I need you so bad. I love you.”

  They had been friends for years. His cabin wasn’t far from hers and he had been a presence in her life for so long that she wondered if she could survive without him.

  He swallowed tightly. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

  “I’ve loved you since I was eleven, Taber. Ever since you carried me out of the damned mountain and took me back to your mother’s house. Don’t you know you own me?” She hated that thought. Hated how much she needed him, how much she ached for him. “Am I so terrible, Taber, that even you don’t want me?” Were the upright, uptight prudes who judged her forReginald’s actions right? Was she somehow tainted? Unworthy of love? The thought of that pierced her soul.

  Taber’s eyes flared with hunger, as though her words had set loose something inside him he could no longer contain. Hope surged within her. Arousal heated further, searing the already moist depths of her cunt.

  “Not want you?” he almost snarled then. “Dammit, Roni, it would terrify you if you had any idea what I do want from you.”

  There was nothing he could ask of her that she wouldn’t give him.

  “Then it’s yours,” she whispered as his thumb stroked across her jaw, drawing slowly to her lips.

  “Anything, Taber. I would die for you.”

  “You’re still a baby,” he groaned, his thumb pressing against her lips until she enveloped it in the heat of her mouth. “God, Roni…” She bit down on it, holding him there as her tongue raked over the rough pad.

  Roni had always hated her lack of control, the hungry needs that often pushed her to hurt herself, to reveal her emotions in ways that allowed others to hurt her. She was hungry, starving for Taber in a way she never had for anyone else. She needed him now worse than she needed the air that sustained her.

  “Let go,” he whispered as his other hand pulled her closer. “Let’s see if I can’t fill your mouth with something a hell of a lot more enjoyable.”

  Before she knew what was happening he had pinned her to the seat, rising over her as he jerked the handle under the seat to slide it farther back and allow him more room. Roni whimpered, staring up at him in dazed disbelief as he moved between her thighs, the hard, hot heat of his denim-covered cock notching between her thighs perfectly.

  “Taber…” Her womb convulsed then. Like a punch to her lower stomach it stole her breath, leaving her gasping.

  “Feel me, Roni,” he ordered her hoarsely, grinding against her, his eyes darkening further as she felt the moisture spill between her thighs. Feel him? How could she do anything but feel him?

  It was too intense. A broken cry escaped her throat as she arched to him, feeling her breasts throb, her clit swell. Her hands gripped his arms as he braced himself above her, his expression pulling into a painful grimace as he stared down at her.

  “I bet you’re so fucking tight I won’t last minutes inside you.” His voice was grating, exciting her senses in ways she could have never imagined.

  “Find out.” She could barely breathe, let alone speak, but she forced the words from her lips, needing him now with a ravaging hunger she couldn’t dispel.

  One touch. That was all it had taken. Just one touch from him to destroy any self-control she might have had.

  Her hands went to his waist, clawing at his shirt as she jerked it from his jeans, desperate to touch him, to taste him. She wanted to run her fingers down his chest, test the hard packed muscles of his abdomen, loosen his jeans and see if his cock was as thick and hard as it felt.

  “Inside.” He lowered his head to her neck, his lips trailing down the side of it, his breath hot and heavy against her flesh. “I refuse to fuck you in the damned pickup like a kid.”

  “I need to touch you.” Her hands flattened against his skin, her fingers curling against the heat of it, her senses overloading with the silken feel, the impression of small, downy hairs covering what she’d thought was a hairless chest.

  He jerked against her, a pure primal growl issuing from his throat as her hands trailed down to his abdomen, then to the waistband of his jeans. Her fingers moved to the wide belt buckle, her gaze locking with his as she slid the leather of his belt through the metal loop.

  “No. Not like this.” His hand covered hers, though his hips thrust fiercely against the mound of her pussy. “Not like this, Roni. Get your ass in that garage and think about this. Think about it hard and deep, baby, because I promise you, once I get inside you, that’s how I’ll fuck you. Hard and deep and without mercy. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let you ever walk away from me once I do it. So you better be real fucking sure it’s what you want.”

  He jerked away from her, groaning at the effort she could tell it cost him. He wanted her. The thought rushed through her brain as pleasure heated her body. Roni stared up at him, amazed, a little frightened, but more than willing to give him whatever he needed from her.

  “I have to get the hell out of here before I rape you.” He settled back into his seat, watching her carefully as she sat back up. “Open the garage up for me. I’ll be back later. And do as I said, Roni. Be sure.

  Because once I take you, there will be no escape. Remember that. This is your last chance, baby. I won’t have the control to give you another.”

  “I don’t want to escape.” She promised herself she wouldn’t beg, but God knew she was within seconds of it.

  He was breathing hard, heavy. His face flushed, his eyes glittered with stark, unabashed lust. “I’ll be back this evening. If this happens, I want it to happen right, baby. I want you to be sure.” She turned to open the door, to stumble her way from the cab of the truck. Before she could do more than turn to leave he caught her around the waist, his mouth pressing against her neck.

  “Taber.” Her entire body weakened, her eyes closing at the feel of him against her back, his arms going around her, his tongue stroking over her skin.

  “I need to taste you.” She could hear the war being waged within him in his voice.

  His tongue was rough, rasping, almost like a cat’s, causing her to shudder with the sensual pleasure streaking through her body. It licked over her lower neck at the point where it met her shoulder. Then his teeth raked, tearing a strangled moan from her throat as he bit her a little roughly, the pleasure/pain overwhelming her, destroying her.

  His hands flattened beneath her breasts, pulling her tighter against his chest as he suckled gently at her skin, then licked over it with a rough growl of pleasure.

  “God, how good you taste,” he whispered at her ear. “Will you be this good, Roni, when I lick your soft pussy? Will your sweetness drive me insane for you?”

  “Oh God.” Her head fell back against his shoulder as his lips and tongue continued to torment the sensitized skin.

  “You’d better rest today,” he whispered as he slowly released her. “Rest well, Roni, because if you’re still here when I come back, it may be days before you sleep again.” Roni fought for breath. Fought to find the strength to leave the truck. She didn’t want to let him go, didn’t want to take the chance that he would change his mind and leave her aching like this forever.

  “I don’t have to think about it.” She didn’t look at him, terrified if she did, she would beg him to take her. “I want you now, Taber.”

  “Then it won’t change in a few hours.” His voice was strangled, rough. “Go. Before I lose all control.” She moved slowly from the truck before turning back to look at him.

  “You’ll be back? For sure?”

  “Oh, I’ll be back,” he said softly. “We may both regret it later, Roni, but I’ll be back.” She closed the door, stepping back so he could leave, so she could think about and anticipate the coming night.

  The night came, but Taber didn’t. The next morning, his brother Da
yan was there, and in his hands he held the destruction of all her dreams. The letter Taber had sent her had shattered everything inside her.

  You’re still just a child, Roni. I’m a man. Mature and needing more of a woman to fulfill the needs I have. Someone old enough to understand those needs, not a ripe little virgin. Go home. You’re just a little girl playing with something you and I both know you can’t handle. Upon reflection, I’ve decided it’s best that our friendship terminate. I’m sick of rescuing you. Sick of the burden you’ve placed on me to protect you.Learn to protect yourself, and how to grow up. I have no idea how to raise a child, and I don’t want to start with you. Taber.

  She returned to her home, the silence, the fears, and a hunger for Taber that had grown to nearly painful proportions. And fury. Sweet, hot fury coursed through her, both at Taber and at herself. Little girl. The words haunted her. He may not have fucked her, but he had made certain she had grown up quickly.

  One day, she swore, he would pay for that alone.

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