The rules are simple:
Never speak to outsiders.
Never yearn for something more.
And never, ever seek the pleasure of a stolen kiss…or a whispered promise that with him, she can finally be free.
Abby Merkley has been a member of the Church of the Apocalyptic Faith since she was a child, and there’s no way out…until her darkly handsome, brooding neighbor defies the rules and takes her into the safety of his arms.
He should frighten her, but everything inside Abby thrills at Luc Stanek’s rough manners and shockingly gentle touch. He excites her, ignites her, leaves her shaken and wanting more. But evil men follow in her footsteps, and it may take more than one fierce beauty to defend her loving beast.
Blank Canvas series:
Under Her Skin (Book 1)
By Her Touch (Book 2)
In His Hands (Book 3)
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Abby took her glass, her hand brushing Luc’s in the process.
It sent a zing of awareness down her arm, reminding her of how little she knew about life out here, about men and women and reality.
Was this man a seducer? No. No, he was too gruff, too straightforward, all matter-of-fact with no frills. She quelled a tremor with a warming sip from her glass, but deep inside, something raw and uncontrollable reared its head, trying hard to burst free.
Another sip, and Abby rolled her head on her neck. She sucked in a deep, shaky breath to relieve the nerves that bubbled up, reveling in the feel of this shirt she had on—big and soft, like the pants, and brazenly open at the back. She’d wear men’s clothes all the time, she decided. No starch, lace, or modest undergarments. No struggling with too many buttons and ties.
“How do you feel?” Luc asked, shifting the sofa cushions as he sat down beside her, close enough to feel his warmth. It took Abby a moment to understand he meant her burns and not the cotton rubbing her breasts into achy points.
She blushed and coughed, but her nipples didn’t go down.
“Much better, thank you.” She lifted the glass and sipped again, glancing sideways at his profile. “This seems to be helping.”
He smiled—oh, goodness, he was lovely—and she squeezed her legs together, hard.
“It’s been known to do the trick.” He turned the glass to the single lamp in the room and eyed its dark glow.
“Would this be different if I were a normal woman?”
He stilled, looking slightly suspicious, before lifting the glass higher and asking, “This?”
She pointed toward him with her wine. “Sitting with me. Having a drink.”
After another brief silence, he set down his glass and shifted beside her, suddenly seeming too big for the sofa. “I’m not exactly a normal sort of man.”
“I figured as much,” she said with a smile of her own. “But what if…what if we’d met in town? At the market, maybe. What would it be like?”
She took another swallow of wine, and it lit her right up. Or maybe that was his interested gaze.
She sputtered, nearly losing half her sip in the process. “Well, thank you very much.”
“No, not you. I mean me. I’m not good at being natural.”
“Okay. When you meet someone, usually. What’s it like? You go out to dinner? To see a movie?”
“Oh. Yes, I suppose so.”
He opened his big hands, looking almost as clueless as she felt. “Well, not me. I don’t go out to dinner.”
“What do you do?”
He looked to the side, and she couldn’t tell if he was searching for the right answer or sifting through memories. “My encounters with women tend to be more…casual.”
She pictured him in loose, low-slung jeans, slouching and shrugging in that way teenagers did. Casual. “What’s that like?”
His expelled breath sounded frustrated, and she came dangerously close to letting him off the hook, until he answered. “It’s just sex, I mean. No real relationships. Well, I had one, but…” He trailed off, leaving her with nothing.
She wanted much more. Sex? She wanted to know. Instead, she asked, “How did that start? Your one relationship.”
Even that word felt funny. Grown-up and modern.
He frowned. “She told me she wanted me. We fuc—” He cleared his throat, which had turned a mottled red, the color disappearing into his neckline. Abby had to see how far down it went. The need was ravenous, pulsing, painful and hot. “We did the…sex.”
“Where?” she whispered, picturing a barn or a vineyard—she had a hard time imagining this man anywhere but in the great outdoors.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I…” She couldn’t tell him the truth, could she? That she liked him. That she was curious. That she had absolutely no idea how to be normal, but there was this demon inside, stretching her skin painfully taut in its bid to get out. “I want to do it right.”
The look he gave her said she was crazy, and yet there was something else in that expression.
“What, with me?”
“Yes. How… How would you touch me? If I were normal?”
“How would I—”
“Start? How would you start?” She barely forced the words out through a throat that was hoarse with embarrassment, not to mention that yearning inside her— coarser and baser than anything she’d felt. This wasn’t an emotion, exactly—more of a compulsion. “Where would you put your hands?” the demon goaded.
He looked at them—his hands—where they sat on his knees. Such vital parts of this man’s body, cut and scarred and torn apart and missing a piece. They were lived-in and beautiful. Hands that had seen a thing or two, like these softly folded mountains with their low profile and vast knowledge of time. Would they feel that way on her? Experienced? Wise?
Sounding as frayed as she felt, he said, “I told you, I’m not good at speaking.” It wasn’t until the words sank in that she understood the underlying meaning.
“You’re good at”—she swallowed, more brazen than she’d been in all her twenty-two years, because, despite the accusation that put those old scars on her arms, she’d never actually seduced a man before—“doing, though. Is that what you’re good at?”