Authors: Nina Lane
She flinched, but did not cease her suckling of his thick phallus, bathing it almost devotedly with the heat and moisture of her lips and tongue. Gabriel traced her bruises with his fingers, then stroked his hand up the arched curve of her back.
With a jerk of his wrist, he pulled her unfastened dress off, a motion to which Lydia provided assistance as she shifted her arms to let the printed cotton fall from her body.
Gabriel’s eyes tracked over his captive’s full nakedness as she crouched next to his thighs. Her head was lowered in submission to his prick, her hair cascading over her shoulders as she continued to work him in and out of the slick cavern of her mouth. Her breasts dangled like little pendulums, the round succulence of her belly and thighs painted a deep gold from the breaking sun.
So dedicated to her task was Lydia that she failed to notice when Preston pushed open the bedroom door. He stood in the doorway for a moment as he took in the explicit scene before him, and then a jealous anger hardened his lean features.
As his verdant gaze met that of the other man, Gabriel did not move his hand from Lydia’s naked back, sustaining the gesture of both protection and possession.
The sound of Preston’s voice caused Lydia to jerk upward with a gasp of shock, her eyes clashing with Preston’s in fright. Gabriel pressed his hand more firmly against her back to indicate that she need not move.
“Preston, you’re not welcome here now,” Gabriel said, his voice icy. “I suggest you leave.”
The two men stared each other down with sparks of irritation lighting the air until Preston broke first and stepped back. His eyes darted surreptitiously to the long, glistening length of Gabriel’s erection as he took hold of the doorknob.
“Excuse me, then,” Preston said flatly as he closed the door with an audible click.
Gabriel gave Lydia, who was looking at him with trepidation, a gentle smile. With a murmur of reassurance, he placed his hand on her neck and pressed her back down toward his groin as she willingly resumed her bathing of his bursting shaft.
Her hot mouth quickly proved too much for Gabriel to withstand. With a groan, he spurted all over her lips and hands so copiously that Lydia had to stroke her tongue over the entire shaft in order to clean every last drop.
Wiping the corner of her mouth, she gave him a shy smile as she sat back on her heels. Gabriel fastened his trousers and leaned over to press his lips against her temple.
“Don’t worry about him,” he murmured. “He’ll never really hurt you. He’s too obsessed with you.”
Lydia’s eyes widened. “Obsessed?”
“He has been for years, since you were children apparently. Didn’t you know that?”
“When we were teenagers, I…I knew he wanted to have sex with me, but I didn’t think much of it.”
“He’s kept track of you for the last fifteen years,” Gabriel said. “He always wanted to know where you were, what you were doing, who you were with.”
A dawning fury lit in her eyes. “How on earth did he keep track of all that?”
“You were enough of a public figure that some things were well known,” Gabriel said. “Others he discovered mostly from private detectives. That’s why it was so easy for you to contact him. He already knew you were in trouble.”
“Oh, God.” Lydia pressed a hand against her belly as if she felt ill. “I can’t believe this.”
Gabriel reached out to tuck a stray lock of Lydia’s hair behind her ear. “It’s all right, Lydia. As strange as it seems, he’ll protect you to the death. Why do you think he offered to help you?”
Lydia shot him a glare. “Because he wanted to fuck me, of course. And disgrace me.”
“He wants to control you, yes, but he will allow no harm to come to you. Especially not from people who want you imprisoned.”
She smiled without humor. “I’m imprisoned here, aren’t I?”
“And who made that choice?”
Lydia looked down at her hands, rubbing her fingertip over a small scar on the back of her hand.
“I did,” she finally said.
“Always remember how fortunate you are to be here,” Gabriel said. “And be grateful for Preston’s intervention. You have no idea of the lengths he’s gone to in order to ensure your anonymity and safety here.”
He rose from the bed and left the room, closing the door behind him.
She was alone. When Lydia padded cautiously downstairs the following morning, her bottom still burning from the leather lashing, she found both the solarium and the drawing room empty.
She had long overslept, as they took breakfast at precisely seven in the morning and now it was ten minutes to eleven. Usually Gabriel roused her in time for breakfast, but he had obviously recognized how exhausted she had been and allowed her to sleep.
Lydia went through the porch to the gardens, stepping onto the soft grass. Although her weary mind still couldn’t process the utter confusion of pain and pleasure she had endured last night, she had slept heavily enough to replenish both her poise and sense of balance.
She filled her lungs with warm, humid air as she searched the gardens and stables, but she found no sign of the three men. Bewildered and slightly alarmed, Lydia returned to the house and peeked into the kitchen.
It was a vast, airy room with long, wooden countertops, a huge, glistening steel range and refrigerator, and a polished, tile floor. One door led to what Lydia assumed was the basement, and another led to the gardens. Copper pots and dried herbs hung from the ceiling, infusing the air with the spicy scents of rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Her belly rumbled with hunger. She selected a ripe peach from a bowl of fruit before she left the kitchen and went to the library. She had never been in the library before, but the moment she stepped inside, she caught her breath with delight.
The ceiling was immensely high, composed of two floors and lined from top to bottom with all manner of books. A spiral staircase led to a mezzanine that encircled the room and allowed access to the upper floor, while wooden ladders were attached to sliding racks to reach the top shelves. Buttery, leather chairs and a sofa were arranged around a marble fireplace, and a massive oak desk sat at one end of the room.
Lydia walked around the library, trailing her fingers over the spines of the books. She had loved to read as a child and adolescent, but when she began working in the corporate world, she simply lost both the time and desire to read.
She had been so immersed in projects, accounts, and budgets that reading seemed almost like a frivolous pursuit. She hadn’t realized until this very moment how deeply she missed the pleasure of stories. And what a joy to think that she now had an endless supply of time in which to immerse herself in books!
The thought alone was nearly enough to wipe away the pain and shame of the previous few days. When her fingers paused on an edition of Dumas’s
The Count of Monte Cristo
, she pulled it from the shelf and tucked it underneath her arm. Even if she wasn’t allowed to take items from the library, none of the men would miss just one book. She made a mental note to ask Gabriel about her privileges when she next saw him.
After finishing her exploration of the library, Lydia went into the drawing room. A door at the other end of the room had caught her attention the first evening she arrived, and she pushed it open curiously. A huge ballroom adjoined the drawing room, lined with windows along one side and with a painted, coffered ceiling. She wondered when the ballroom had last hosted an actual ball. Years ago, probably.
She ascended the stairs again, the carpet soft beneath her bare feet. Her bedroom was located midway down a corridor on the second floor of the house, but the staircase continued to a third floor. Deciding she had a right to explore the house in which she would be living indefinitely, Lydia went to the next floor.
She opened the first door, which revealed a large bedroom dominated by an enormous, four-poster wooden bed layered with pillows. The high windows were covered with light, airy curtains that contrasted sharply with the masculine tones of rust and amber.
Framed oil paintings of naked, supine women hung on the walls. Discarded clothing lay scattered over the footboard and on several overstuffed chairs. A high-tech entertainment system rested against one wall, complete with a huge flat-screen television, stereo, and speakers.
Preston’s bedroom. Lydia didn’t have to think twice before coming to that conclusion. She went inside, furtively pleased to think she was invading his personal space without his knowledge. The scent of his cologne lingered like a whisper in the air.
She walked through the room, examining the toiletries spread out on his dressing table, the shirts and jackets hung neatly in the closet, the DVDs stacked on a shelf. As she was heading back to the door, her gaze fell on a worn photograph tucked into a mirror frame.
She looked at it for a moment before picking it up. The truth took a moment to penetrate her shocked brain as she realized she was staring at a photograph of herself. Not merely any photograph, but a photograph of herself as a younger woman.
The photographer had captured her without her knowledge as she strode along the street. She was wearing a white shirt unbuttoned low enough to reveal a hint of cleavage and short, pink skirt that fell to mid-thigh. Her dark hair was long, falling almost to her waist in a shiny waterfall.
With a trembling hand, Lydia replaced the photograph. Preston had taken the photo, of that she had no doubt, and the fact he had kept it all these years—displayed it, no less!—was enough to make her ill.
She remembered what Gabriel had revealed to her last night, when her emotions and strength had been entirely depleted. Just how long had Preston been obsessed with her? And how else would he exact penance for what he thought were wrongs she had committed against him? Despite what Gabriel said, Lydia knew Preston’s fascination with her was threaded with a streak of malice.
She knew Gabriel had been correct, that she must be grateful for the fact that Preston had provided her with a sanctuary where no one could punish her. Well, except for the dark trinity of men who lived here, of course. But the armies of investigators and lawyers could not touch her within the plantation boundaries. All she had to do was submit.
Lydia hurried from the bedroom, pressing a hand against her belly to stop it from swirling.
, she told herself.
It will be all right. You’re safe here. No matter what Preston does or says, you know that he’ll keep his word. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters.
She opened the door of another room. Kruin’s bedroom. Although as large as Preston’s, Kruin lived in a much sparer environment. His bed was covered with a dark blue, utilitarian coverpane, the shelves only contained a few non-fiction books, and the counter of the adjoining bathroom held just a comb, toothpaste, and a razor. Yet even those meager belongings served to humanize Kruin somewhat in Lydia’s eyes, for she had begun to wonder if he possessed any mortal qualities at all.
She checked the other rooms on the third floor, but they only contained several spare bedrooms and a storage room. Lydia returned to the second floor and opened the door of the bedroom next to hers. She was surprised to realize it was Gabriel’s room, not having known he was lodged so close to her.
Unnerved by the thought, she looked around the room with its colors of deep blues and greens, the large bed covered with a rumpled, feather comforter, the shelf of paperbacks and magazines, the comfortable easy chairs beside the window. Along one wall, a desk held a computer and scattered pieces of paper.
Lydia touched the hairbrush on the bathroom counter, trailed her fingers over a discarded shirt, moved a few pieces on the chessboard.
When she had finally satisfied her curiosity, she returned to her bedroom and closed the door. Her newfound familiarity with her surroundings gave her an odd feeling of calm.
The bizarre happenings within this old plantation were so unsettling that obtaining a basic understanding of the house’s blueprint seemed to balance Lydia’s equilibrium. She curled up in a chair by the window, opened the book, and sank her teeth into the savory peach.
Lydia woke to the touch of a hand on her hip. She started, fearing for an instant it was Preston coming to subject her to further insults, but then she recognized Gabriel’s touch. She shifted into a wedge of juicy sunlight that spilled across the bed, letting it warm her face and shoulders. The long fingers of the sun teased her nipples into tight points.
She stretched long and hard, feeling the glorious pull of her muscles as blood flowed through her body. In that brief instant, she felt wholly herself, unfettered from the mental shackles that bound her to this place and these three dark men.
How long had she been here? She tried to think. Three weeks at least, perhaps longer. After her whipping under Kruin’s authority followed by relief at the hands of Gabriel, she had been granted only a short reprieve. The three men had all appeared preoccupied for the past couple of weeks, although clearly still determined to sustain their control over her.
They were forever reminding her to keep her legs spread, but Gabriel was the only one who had not indulged himself in her body. Several times Kruin had ordered her to bend over the rounded arm of a sofa so that he could administer a quick, hard fuck that seemed as much for Lydia’s debasement as it was for Kruin’s own pleasure.