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Authors: Rayne Forrest

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Chapter 23

 

Saba woke
at dawn with the worst headache of her life. Her low moan brought Jennica to her
side.

“Are you
thirsty?”

Saba
moaned again. The sound of gurgling liquid reached her ears. Jennica held a cup
under her nose. Red vegetable juice with herbs. By Wae it smelled nasty! No
wonder everyone argued about drinking it when they’d had too much to drink.

“Ugh. Get
that away from me.”

“Drink
it, Saba. You know you need it.”

She
rolled away from Jennica. “Leave it. I’ll drink it in a little while.”

“Yes, you
will. I don’t suppose you want any breakfast?”

Her
stomach heaved. “No,” she replied tersely. “Is the sun up?”

The bed
shifted as Jennica lay down behind her and draped an arm over her. It was a
great comfort. Jennica reached for her hand.

“Try not
to worry, Saba.”

“Aren’t
you worried? Tyree is there.”

“I know.
He will be careful, and he’ll keep an eye on Ryder.”

“You
didn’t tell me that you and Tyree were keeping company. Why did you seek to
hide it?”

Jennica
gave her a hug. She appreciated the sentiment but her stomach didn’t care much
for the pressure.

“It just
came about. I don’t know what will be. Perhaps nothing, but his company is
pleasant.”

“And his
kiss?” Saba really wanted to hear about this—when her head quit pounding. She
decided she’d better get what she could from Jennica now, though.

“His kiss
is very pleasant, and that is all I will tell you until you tell me about
Ryder.”

Saba
closed her eyes. She didn’t have the energy to talk right now. She just wanted
to go back to sleep in her own bed. She struggled to sit up, moaning. Jennica
sprang to her feet.

“Are you
going to be sick? Don’t do it in here!”

She cast
a baleful eye at Jennica’s panicked face. “No, I’m not going to be sick. Give
me the juice.” Jennica handed it to her.

It tasted
as nasty as it smelled but she drank every drop.

“I’m
going home. I want my own bed.”
The one with Ryder’s scent in it.

“I’ll be
over in a little while with something for you to eat.”

Saba
pressed both hands to her stomach. “Oh no. Don’t bring me any food. The very
thought does strange things to my belly.”

Jennica
laughed. “You’ll change your mind in a little while. I wouldn’t tell you false.
You go and I’ll be there soon.”

Saba
stood up and the room swirled. “Oh, this is horrible.” She took a deep breath
and lurched toward the door. She would get to her hut on her own and that’s all
there was to it. Shoulders squared, she walked across the village yard in what
she hoped was a straight line. Her hut never felt more welcoming, even though
the hearth was cold.

She
didn’t care as she stripped and crawled into her bed, into the comfort of
Ryder’s scent lingering on her pillow. Saba pulled the blanket over her head
and vowed to never, ever let anything intoxicating pass her lips again under
any circumstances, be she conscious or comatose. She closed her eyes and slid
into oblivion.

The sound
of quiet movements intruded on her peace. The room was warmer with the faint
tang of wood smoke. Water trickled into a basin. She rolled over and saw Ryder
standing naked in front of the fire, washing his face. Relief swept through
her, but she didn’t move, didn’t let him know she watched. She didn’t want to
spoil it.

His hair
was already wet. Doubtless the men had stopped and washed off the worst of
their travels at the stream, as they often did. But the stream lacked the
comfort of warm water and scented oils that made lather. He’d been inside long
enough to heat the water and she’d slept through it instead of aiding him.

Ryder
lathered his cheeks and began casting about on her shelf. He found her razor
and small mirror and started reshaping his beard. Satisfied, he rinsed his face
again and tossed the soapy water out the back door. Steam rose when he poured
fresh water into the basin. He took a fresh cloth, lathered it, and washed his
torso. Another basin full of clean water and his legs and feet were clean.

When he’d
finished straightening up her shelf, he slid her rug aside and helped himself
to a bottle of her wine. Her stomach clenched as he sat and sipped in front of
the fire. The queasiness would pass by tomorrow and she could once again sit by
the hearth and share quiet moments with him.

He toyed
with something as he watched the fire, turning it over and over in his hands.
The light glinted off it and she realized it was the strange gold coin that had
been in his pocket when he crashed. It must have great meaning, one he’d not confessed.
He finally put it on the table and went back to sipping his wine.

“Do you
want some of this?” His voice was soft and quiet, yet it startled her. How long
had he known she was awake and watching? Her belly burned.

“Perhaps
not today. Tell me what happened. Is the
errol
dead?”

“Yes,
it’s gone.” He patted his lap. “Come and sit with me and I will tell you what
happened.”

She slid
from the bed, pulling the blanket with her. He seemed absorbed in the fire, his
gaze fixed on the flames, and she saw that whatever had happened weighed
heavily on his heart.

Saba
draped the blanket over his shoulders and eased onto his lap. He buried his
long fingers in her hair and brought her mouth to his. The world started
spinning again as his lips moved on hers. He pulled away and looked at her
quizzically.

“Are you
alright, angel?”

“Yes.” She wrapped her arms around
his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. “I don’t know what happened to me.”

“Try stress. It’ll get you every time. You’ve been
carrying a heavy load. Here, take a sip of my…your wine.”

“Oh no. Please get it away from
me.” She buried her nose behind his ear to keep from smelling the fragrant
liquid and getting sick. He set his cup back on the table and picked up the
gold coin again and handed it to her.

She turned it over, seeing it
closely for the first time. The skin on her arms prickled. The image was that
of the
errol
. Where had Ryder gotten the thing? On what world? How many
worlds were there, beyond? She had myriad questions and only one certainty. The
coin was all Ryder had of his life before. He would speak of it when he was
ready.

“The
creature was what I thought—a Xenturan. They are a spacefaring race my people
encountered over one hundred years ago. This one was very old. I spoke with
him, Saba. He wanted to die. I gave him the means to take his own life.”

“What do
you mean? What did you do?”

“I gave
him the weapon. His people invented the thing. It would fire for him, for any
Xenturan. One of its safeguards. He turned it on himself, and now he’s gone.”

“Why does
that make you sad?”

“He was
stranded here, just like me. He was a link to the world I came from.” He met
her gaze, his blue eyes intense.

“I wanted
that weapon to be gone from this world, Saba. It doesn’t belong here. Giving it
to him to use was a way to accomplish that.”

“I’m not
angry you did that, Ryder. I understand. I even understand why you’d be sad the
errol
is gone. But I am glad it’s gone because we have lived in fear for
so long, and now we are free.”

“Yes, you
are.”

“You are
free, too. What will you do now?” She dreaded his answer, but she had to know.

“I will
stay with you if you’ll have me.” Ryder shifted her around on his lap, forcing
her to look at him. “Will you have me?”

Her eyes
overflowed with tears of relief. The doubts and uncertainties were gone. He’d
come back to her and she couldn’t—wouldn’t—let him go of him again. She sensed
there was more to his story of what had happened with the
errol
, and
that he needed to tell her many things about his home. He’d always have sadness
over his home, as it had not been his choice to leave it.

But the
man in front of her was a survivor. Ryder was here, and he would make this
world his own. He would always be her hero.

She
kissed him. He tasted of the wine, and a bit like the lather he’d shaved with.

“Yes,
Vaughan Ryder Vaughan. I’ll have you.”

A smile
transformed his face. He stood with her in his arms and carried her to the bed.
She grabbed at the blanket. They might want it, later.

“Are you
not hungry? I should fix you a meal.”

“I’m
starving, angel, but this won’t wait.”

“What
won’t wait? Oh!” He dropped her onto the bed and quickly straddled her. Saba
forgot her dull headache and the odd burning in her stomach.

She tried
to slide away, but his mouth fastened on her nipple. Ryder suckled her, a long,
strong pull that went all the way to the secret flesh his fingers teased.
Moisture dewed her thighs. He drew it out of her with long, deliberate strokes.
He cupped her, his fingers dipping deep within her woman’s flesh. The pressure left
her restless, not knowing whether to squeeze her legs together or fling them
wide for him to do more.

He
released her nipple to claim her lips in a searing kiss. Her thighs opened wide
without conscious thought. Deep in her belly, a drumbeat pounded. The throbbing
nub under his hand fluttered once, then again. Her woman’s sheath drew tight
around the empty ache only his body would ease. He rose over her.

Saba
clawed at his flanks, surging up against him. He was hard against her belly,
moving down to slide his length over the liquid welcome of her flesh. He dipped
that first bit into her, and her body gave way to his without truly yielding.
She called his name and lifted her hips. He drove into her, impaling her in one
thrust, holding himself tightly to her to let her adjust to the swiftness of
it. It was more than she needed.

She
reveled in the feel of his body invading hers, rejoiced in the merging of their
flesh into one again. She lifted her knees and he slipped deeper. Lowering his
body to cover hers, he kissed her again, and again. His hips jerked to hers and
she breathed her acceptance into his mouth. He began moving in her, quick
thrusts that became longer glides as their rhythms matched and became one. Everything
but him disappeared as her body pulled him deeper and deeper. She could stay in
this place forever, in his arms, his body moving strongly and sweetly in hers.
She didn’t want it to end, but it was not to be.

Ryder
gathered her close, cupping her head. His breath was ragged in her ear as his
lips traveled up and down her neck, trailing kisses. Her name was a rough
whisper, torn from him as his passion drew near. The wonderful rhythm faltered.
His hand snaked between them. The pleasure inside her sparked and ignited,
lifting to his. Her body quivered. Her sheath gripped his iron flesh as she
grabbed for the beckoning pleasure and let it seize her.

Sensation
shivered through her, again and again, as he slammed into her. He rose up over
her, driving into her with enough force to touch her womb. Scalding heat
flooded into her as his seed spilled from him. Her body pulsed, pulling it
deeper, wanting its gift.

He
groaned, a low sound of such complete male satisfaction that laughter welled up
in her. She might have laughed had she been able to draw a deep enough breath,
only she couldn’t. He’d come down on her, limp and heavy. He moaned again,
calling softly on his gods and struggling to slide off her. She rolled with him
and they settled thigh-to-thigh, holding each other. His lips brushed her forehead,
then her eyes.

“When I
crashed here, I thought you were a demon.” His voice was so low, she had to
listen intently for fear she’d miss a word.

“It’s all
pretty hazy. I thought you were going to keep me alive just to torture me.” He
smiled. “And so you have.”

She
smiled, too, knowing his meaning. “You crave this torture. Do not seek to
mislead me. You will come every time I offer it to you.”

His smile
widened. “You’ve got that right, angel.” He kissed her, a light touching of his
lips to hers. His gaze met hers. The smile faded.

“I don’t
know what to say to you, Saba. Did you offer yourself to me now thinking it
payment for killing the Xenturan? Did you want me just for myself?” He licked
his lips and she sensed his hesitance.

“I don’t
want you to feel you need to continue this if you don’t want it just for
itself. What I want is more than that.”

Saba’s
chest hurt. Surely he couldn’t mean to walk away from what they brought to each
other, could he?

“I could
have chosen any man in the village, Ryder Vaughan. I could have chosen Tyree
and been headwoman
and
the wife of the headman. A very powerful person
to the Ramalho. But I didn’t. I choose no one—until you came. Does that not
tell you anything?”

He held
her tighter for a moment. “It does. But I would have this out in the open. I
would have it said so you know. I don’t want you to think I stay with you
because I’ve no place else to go on this world.”

BOOK: A Hero's Bargain
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