When the new regulator rides into town and takes an interest in him, Dae is unwilling to believe that anyone who is a regulator can be a gentle, caring lover.
Is Coby strong enough to protect Dae and his sister Delia when there's hell to pay in the form of McBane?
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The only one to stay behind is Coby -- I figured as much. He waits until the door closes on the last of his men before he pushes away from the table and stands, not looking my way. I watch him approach the counter, digging in his pocket for a battered wallet, the leather held together with rubber bands to keep things from falling out. Not that there's much inside -- he opens it up on the counter, riffles through the few bills in there, frowns slightly and asks, "What's it gonna be?"
I'm surprised he's paying. Most regulators try to talk me into giving them a tab, which I don't want to do because that's an open invite right there to come back and that's the last thing I want. But it's quiet in here now, the noise from his men trapped outside beyond the window panes, and he hasn't raised his voice at me, hasn't touched me, and there's something to be said for that. Another time and place, he might be just a normal boy on the other side of my counter, paying for a meal.
This close I see he's about my height, maybe a few inches taller, and he's about my build, too, though more muscle than me, not as filled out in some places, bulkier in others. Those eyes are like silver dollars winking in the lights overhead, and the scars across his nose just add to his boyish air. I wonder who he'd be in a different world, if he'd still be this soft-spoken, this polite. I watch his fingers as he toys with the cash -- he has big hands, with scuffed knuckles and scraped palms, and I wonder if they're as deceiving as the rest of him. If they're as soft, as gentle, as his voice when he prompts, "Sir?"
Sir. It's the sir that makes me undercharge him, I decide, not his hands or his voice or his eyes. "Five's fine," I tell him, taking the offered bill and turning away. "Have a good night."
He doesn't leave. Instead he leans on the counter, stares at my mouth and says, "We need a place to stay."
Here it is then, what I've been expecting since they walked through that door. The proposition. Let me fuck you and I'll keep the men away from your sister, that's what those words mean. Bend over and we won't trash your place. I've heard it all before. How could I even think he might be someone different? My voice hardens when I say, "There's a boarding house down the street. Kyla's. She's got extra rooms in the back, don't let her try and tell you she doesn't."
He watches as I wipe down the counter -- it doesn't need it, it's just something to do to keep from meeting his steady gaze. He's trying to get a bead on me, I know he is, and as long as I don't look at him, he can't really pin me down in his mind. Go on, I plea silently, feeling him watch my every move, the circular motion of my hand as I rub the counter, the muscles in my arms flexing, I wish I had on long sleeves to hide that pale skin. Go on, don't say another word. You said you weren't like everyone else, remember? So prove it already. Just say goodnight and go.
I should have known better. So he has pretty eyes, so what? So he has manners and a nice smile and a soft voice. He's still a regulator, he's still one of them, those men who ride through this war-torn wasteland and control what's left. "You don't get my drift," he says in that damnably quiet voice of his, and then, when I don't reply, he wants to know, "That girl? What did you call her, Delia?" Involuntarily my hand closes into a tight fist, a gesture he doesn't miss. "Who's she to you?"
"My sister," I tell him through clenched teeth. "I'll not have your men stay the night --"
"Just me," he corrects. Yes, that's what I thought.
Now I look up and I see the hunger in his eyes, the lust, the need, and dammit the hell, I was right all along. I don't realize there's a part of me that hoped he might prove different until I feel my heart twist angrily in my chest, fuck him. "I guess I can't really say no, can I?" I ask, bitter.
He shrugs. No would be stupid, no would dissolve this civil discussion into a brutal rape, no would send Tarn up the back stairs for Delia and Ravid in here with his knife -- I can't say no. That's not even an option. I let this kid have his way, a quick fuck and a bed, and it's over with. He might smack me around a bit but I'm not thinking of me anymore. I've been hit before. I'm thinking of the girls upstairs. I'll get by as long as I think of them.
Touching my hand, he trails one finger down an old scar that's healed crooked along my thumb, more of McBane's handiwork, when I made the mistake once of trying to shield myself from his blows. "I'm gentle," he murmurs, tracing the scar. "I'll not hurt you, I promise."
That's something I've never heard before, and the faint press of his skin against mine rouses my blood in a way I'm not sure I like. I don't like it, I tell myself, I won't. But when he looks at me with those mercurial eyes, I find that I can't look away, and his hand covers mine with an unexpected warmth that surprises me. "One night, sir," he says. There's that sir again. "That's all I'm asking."
One night. And he's asking so sweetly, too, like there's nothing else at stake here, we're just two boys looking to find something together, and that's not the way it is, not at all. He's not even asking, not really -- I say no and this whole charade, this whole pretense, is over. He signals to his friends and they come back in, hold me down, he takes what he wants anyway and that gentle crap is just another lie.
But his hand on mine is softer than I imagined it would be, his touch is gentle, and he holds his breath as if I might actually say no after all. I stare into his depthless eyes and think I've had worse. A lot worse. And it keeps Delia safe ... I pull my hand out from under his and attack the counter with renewed vigor, hating the small part of me that is almost looking forward to a tender touch, sex without pain or blood, sex with him. "Fine," I say, defeated.
If it keeps his men away from Delia, then fine.