Beyond the ShadowsBy: Cassidy Hunter
To Christy Lockhart, who has phenomenal editing skills. Her help and support are very much appreciated.
“Try not to kill anybody today,” Kai told his men and jumped from the armored truck. “Don’t get killed either. I don’t have time for it.”
His second in command, Erik, grinned and spit a blade of grass from his lips. “We’ll be at the Black River. We’ll be back in…an hour?”
“Forty-five minutes. I’m just going in to have a look. It won’t take long to see who has petitioned me today.”
Erik shook his head and sighed, a bit louder than was necessary. “Come on, men. Let’s leave our mighty leader to take on another stray. I feel like having a drink.”
“I feel like getting laid,” Sean said and followed the other three men across the muddy, ruined road to the only bar in the settlement. Sweetie, the owner of the Black River, had killed or scared off every man who’d tried to give him some competition.
“Bring me back a bottle,” Kai yelled after them. They’d all had a long, hard day and deserved some whiskey. His decision to stop in town and pay a visit to the petitioner’s hall had been last minute. He wasn’t due to show up for his normal monthly visit for another two days.
He kicked some of the mud from his boots before he went inside the Velvet Box, more out of habit than any concern for getting the bare wooden floors dirty.
The inside of the huge building was a confusing maze of mysterious rooms, some of which he’d never seen and wasn’t sure he wanted to. The petitioner’s hall was a long, rather skinny room hung with exotic tapestries, most depicting scenes of sexual intercourse with crudely painted couples in various painful-looking poses. They’d been discovered in one of the boxes stored in the original bunker after the world war that had wreaked such havoc decades ago. The war was known as the Flash War because of the way it had flashed through the world, destroying entire nations almost before people were aware a war had begun.
The hostess smiled at him, her face betraying nothing as she led him into the holding room. The holding room was full, as usual, of women who petitioned for care and men who offered their protection.
It was a hard world, especially for unconnected females. As New Haven’s commander, Kai couldn’t show many weaknesses, but no one could cure him of his softness for women. Women who needed him, anyway. His strays, as Erik called them.
A man could take on as many women as he could afford. He would give his protection, his home, his bed, if they wanted it, and in turn, they would…well, they would do anything he asked.
Not that there weren’t strong women protectors offering the same services to men who didn’t have a chance of surviving without a little help. Just not many of them. There was only one in all the settlement. Amelia, a sweet-looking sheriff with a heart of gold, was more dangerous than almost any man Kai knew. At last count, she’d been petitioned by twenty-seven men. She’d accepted twenty-six of them.
“No.” He smiled at the hostess, softening his terse refusal. “Thank you.”
The entire left side of this room was taken up by the petitioners, all sitting or standing on a platform that put them just a little higher than the interested men. The women were nude. Some wore boots or shoes; some covered themselves with their hair; some wore their hair clipped and dyed vivid, strange colors.
He eyed the crowd, then slid his gaze back to the wall of petitioning females, all silent, all desperate. Any one of them could have been his sister, his mother, his wife, his child. He couldn’t save them all, but he could save those who—
“What’s her story?” He lifted his chin toward the beautiful girl whose long, nearly black hair covered her shoulders and fell to her hips. Several protectors already stood staring at her, and he knew if he wanted her, he’d have to move quickly. If she’d petitioned someone, he’d have to buy her petition from the bastard.
When he came here to look over the petitioners, it was never with the thought of getting a warm body for his bed, someone to help run his property or cook his meals—not really. It was his attempt to make up for his past.
But this woman… This woman made him think only of a warm body. Nothing about her reminded him of his dead mother or his lost sister. This one didn’t tug at his heart so much as his cock.
The hostess smiled at his attention. “Her name is Sarah, Commander Trinder. And she has petitioned for you and only you. She will have no one else.”
His heart leaped as unreasonable pride flooded his veins. She was his. “When did she come in?”
“Four weeks ago, sir. But this is the first time she’s shown herself.”
The brunette, Sarah, looked up and met his gaze, and it was as though the earth shifted beneath his feet. Her eyes, even from a distance, were astounding. Not because of their vivid green color, which all on its own was enough to knock a man down. No, it was because of the depth of them, the…emotion in them.
He sucked in a deep breath and tried to force his face blank. It must have worked, because her stunning gaze dimmed and dropped from his. “Let no one else near her. Do not tell her of my interest.”