Read Challenge Online

Authors: Montgomery Mahaffey

Tags: #romance, #erotica, #passion, #dark fantasy, #fairy tale, #fable

Challenge (7 page)

You don’t seem especially
troubled by that,” he shot back.

The girl chuckled. Her demeanor was
seductive, yet also terrifying. Her eyes glittered when gazed at
him, and her large teeth gleamed when she smiled.

That’s because I want
something from you too, Wanderer.”

Her voice grew soft, a rumbling whisper that
made the heat rise from the depths of his belly and the hairs
prickle on the back of his neck. The Wanderer wondered if the girl
could see inside his darkness, knowing the desires he dared not
think about. Then the vision of a hungry wolf stalking prey came to
his mind.

“And the longer you stay,” she said. “The
more likely I’ll take it.”

“Why don’t you tell me what it is? Maybe
I’ll give it to you.”

“I’d really like to spare you, Wanderer. But
you’re exhausting my good intentions.”

She chuckled again and stood up. Her
movement was so swift and fluid, the girl had already taken his
plate and skillet along with hers before he understood what she was
doing. Just like that, the mood shifted. Her eyes were empty when
she glanced at him, her manner distant.

I’ll wash up,” she said.
“My way of saying thanks for tonight’s supper.”

But the girl had only taken a few steps in
the direction of the nearest creek before she turned back. Shadows
from the dimming fire flickered across her face.

“Take the Lawman’s advice, Wanderer, and go
home. There’s nothing for you here.”

He didn’t move for a few minutes. Listening
to the splash of water as the girl cleaned the dishes, he could
still feel the light slap of her braid against his cheek, the brush
of her fingers when she took his plate, and the honey musk scent of
her he tried to force out of his mind.

The Wanderer knew she was right. He had no
reason to stay once he finally recognized the emotion borne in him
during her fit of laughter. It was hatred.






The dream started like the others. He
drifted through heat until he came to the cabin, but this time the
Bard held onto him longer. He wanted more than anything to rest in
the safety of that embrace, but the Wanderer knew their reunion
wouldn’t last. When the old man pulled back, there was sorrow in
his deep black eyes.

“There was something I never told you,” he
said. “Sometimes it can destroy a man to follow his heart.”

Before the Wanderer could answer, his
grandfather pushed him through the fire and he came out in the
garden surrounding the manor. He knew it was summer from the sweat
on his brow and the scent of lilies. Then he saw the couple.

The Patroness had never looked more
beautiful. Her eyes sparkled and she had a robust bloom in her
cheeks as she strolled with her husband through the garden paths.
The Wanderer arrived in time to hear her say she was pregnant. The
Patron gave a shout of joy, picking up his wife and spinning her
through the air. His beloved was light as a feather floating and
fading away.

Her chambers were the next destination in
this journey of dreams. The Patroness seemed ready to give birth,
her belly swollen and round beneath the sheets. But the Wanderer
was aghast at her appearance. Her cheeks were hollowed, her skin
the color of ashes, dark circles under her eyes. He suspected she’d
been confined to bed for months. The Patron was at her side,
reading a parable in the rhythm used to lull a child to sleep. But
his wife was agitated.

Be good to

Her voice that once rang with the clarity of
a silver bell was ravaged, now raspy and hoarse. She gripped her
husband’s hand and pressed her lips to his palm.

Please,” she

The Wanderer had to look away from the
desperation in her eyes. The Patron paused, then set his book aside
to stroke her forehead.

My love, please don’t
distress yourself.”

The baby is a girl. Girls

She trailed off, her face crumpling before
she turned away. Her husband caressed her and murmured soothing
words, but she turned back to him with a hard set to her

Give me your word that
you’ll be good to her.”

Everything will be fine,”
the Patron said. “You’ll mend after the baby comes.”

“Promise me!”

She tightened her grip on his hand until his
fingertips were white. The ferocity in her gaze forced the Patron
to look away.

If you love me, then you
will be good to our daughter no matter what—”

That’s enough!” the
Patron shouted. “Of course I’ll be good to her. I give you my word
along with the promise that we will make wonderful parents for our
little girl.”

Her features softened and the terrified
urgency in her eyes was gone. The Patroness was almost beautiful
again and she kissed her husband’s hand with ardor, disappearing
from the Wanderer’s view as he drifted back into the mist between

But there was no warmth and all was black
around him. The chill on his skin reminded him of nights in early
spring before winter was ready to let go. Then he heard her

He came back to the chambers of the
Patroness, startled when a servant walked through him. He realized
she must be the midwife and the birth must have gone horribly
wrong. The woman’s features had the distortion of grief and the
bundle she held in her arms was silent. The Wanderer thought the
baby must have been stillborn, for the Patron’s anguish was
deafening. He sat in a pool of blood, the cords along his neck
bulging from the howling threatening to tear the room apart. He
held his wife in his arms, rocking her back and forth. Her head
rolled aside and the Wanderer stared into eyes that had gone black,
seeing only into the land of death.

He knew this was only a dream and struggled
to come awake, but he couldn’t. The dead stare of the Patroness
blurred, leaving the Wanderer gazing into the black eyes of his
mother. He never realized how frightened she had been that night
until he saw her as a man. He reached out to her, but she looked
right through him, standing at the door with a finger to her

“Be quiet,” she said. “And do not move.”

The Wanderer turned around and saw himself.
He was a little boy in bed with the covers up to his chin, his eyes
wide with terror. Then his mother closed the door and thrust him
into the darkness. He couldn’t do as she told him this time. When
his mother screamed, the Wanderer screamed with her. Silence and
stillness had killed her. He would yell and fight. He would rail
against the demons he was blind to, the intruders who had murdered
his parents.

He felt a touch on his shoulder and swung
his arm. His hand balled into a fist, his fingers crushed against
skin and bone. The punch was gratifying, but it wasn’t enough.
Suddenly his wrists were gripped, his arms pressed above his head,
and one of the demons was upon him.


He wasn’t a child anymore. He knew he was
stronger than his attacker, pushing back until the weight on him
gave way. Then she leaned into him and he heard her voice in his

Wanderer, wake up!” she
said. “You’re having a nightmare.”

He opened his eyes and saw nothing. He
pushed again, but confusion exhausted him enough she was able to
keep his arms pinned above his head. He knew it was the girl from
her scent. The honey musk was undeniable. Her breath was warm on
his face.

Wanderer, do you remember
where you are?”

He was shaking, and before he could stop
himself, began to sob. He felt the girl stiffen and her weight
shift. But he sat up and grabbed her, burying his face in her

“Let me go, Wanderer!”

But he had to hold on. He couldn’t see
anything but the nightmares and memories still haunting him. The
images were slow to disappear, but as he became aware of his
surroundings, they did. He felt the hard ground underneath his
legs, the chill on his skin, the feeling of his rough blanket
fallen around him. The girl was rigid in his arms, but warm and
soft. He held her tight, breathing in her aroma. He was surprised
when he noticed her folded legs hugging his hips. She must have
climbed on top of him during his nightmare. Then he remembered.

Did I hit

“Yes, you did,” she said. “Now that you’ve
finally come back to your senses, will you please let me go?”

He strained to make out her shape, but, in
the darkness of his tent, that was impossible. Her smooth liquor
voice and sweet pungent smell disoriented him. Only the feel and
smell of her made this seem real. He wished she would touch him.
Maybe then he could stop shaking.

“Can’t you just hold me for a while?” he

“You can’t be serious. You want me to
comfort you?”

“Is that really asking so much?”

“Yeah it is,” she said. “I’m not exactly the
comforting type.”

“You woke me up from a nightmare, didn’t

“Because you were screaming and woke me up.
What else was I supposed to do?”

The girl sounded as bored and detached as
always. For once, the Wanderer welcomed the bitter hardness to
pulse inside him, anything to make the terror go away. But his rage
wasn’t enough. His limbs were overpowered with a violence of
trembling he couldn’t stop. He didn’t know who he despised more,
the girl for her indifference or himself for needing her not to

“I’d like to know something about you,” he
snapped. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Go ahead,” she said. “Ask whatever you

“Do you ever hate yourself?”

He savored the sharp intake of her breath.
He had actually gotten to her. The Wanderer knew for certain when
she didn’t answer right away, a victory he hadn’t foreseen.

“Well,” he persisted. “Do you?”

“All the time,” she said. “If you must

“I dare you to try something different. You
might surprise us both.”

“I have no idea what you want of me,

That’s crazy,” he said.
“Hasn’t anybody ever calmed you down when you were

She fell silent, but the Wanderer didn’t
push her to answer. The thrill of cruelty was already wearing off
and left him ashamed. It was strange talking to the girl without
being able to see her. The blackness made their dialogue a specter
floating in the abyss where it would be forever suspended.

“Yes,” she finally said. “Once, there was
somebody who did.”

There was weariness, even sadness, in her
voice he never heard before. The Wanderer was surprised by the
flush of sympathy pouring into him. He was even relieved. His
compassion brought him back to the man he had always been, whose
kindness and goodwill made him friends all over the world - the man
his grandfather had raised him to be.

“All right,” he said gently. “Why don’t you
start with that and go from there?”

The Wanderer couldn’t believe it when the
girl did as he asked. She leaned into him and wrapped her arms
around him, her head falling to his shoulder and nestling against
his neck. She gave a long sigh when he pulled her close, her body
melting into his and her hands slowly stroking the length of his
back. The Wanderer gripped her until the shaking subsided in
smaller waves. Then he loosened his arms and they continued to hold
each other, their breathing merging and rolling in mirrored
rhythms. His lungs expanded with the air she pushed out and, every
time he exhaled, his breath flowed into her.

Then his trembling was gone. His face was
still buried in her neck where her scent was lighter. He inhaled
deeply and let his hands roam over her back. The girl didn’t
resist, returning his caresses with her own. Before the Wanderer
knew what he was doing, he brought his lips to the flesh below her
ear. He felt the offering she made of her neck, her sighs longer
and louder as he nibbled down the canal to the base of her throat.
In a swoon, the Wanderer collapsed to the ground and the girl fell
with him.

Her head rested on his chest, and her
moaning reverberated into him before her lips pressed his left
nipple. The subtle bite of her teeth made his heat surge, and the
Wanderer clutched at her blouse, the rough fabric irritating his
skin and keeping him from the flesh underneath. Her arms gave and
stretched above her head when he pulled her shirt off, her breasts
crushed against his chest. The Wanderer pulled her head down,
bringing her mouth to his. Her lips were surprisingly soft, her
taste hinting of salt and savory.

Then the girl spread her legs and opened
those lips, moving along his shaft. He could feel her through the
cloth of their pants and groaned. The pressure was exquisite,
making him harder as he clawed his hands down her spine. Her scent
was changing to pure musk and her back arched into his fingers. The
girl cried out, but she hadn’t reached her peak yet. Her taut
muscles still quivered under his fingers. She gripped his hands and
took them away, her undulating rocking harder waves upon him.
Pleasure gave way to pain, catapulting the Wanderer back to that
day at the hot springs. He remembered her smoldering gaze just
before the girl iced over and pulled away from him.

She was right at the edge. Her cries reached
a higher pitch the moment she was ready to fall. But the Wanderer
rolled her off him, making her suffer the denial she brought on
him. But he couldn’t restrain the urge to bring his mouth to her
breast and suck. The girl whimpered at first, her body soft against
him. Then she chuckled, a low and nasty sound reverberating in the
darkness. Her hands came to his waist; her deft fingers untied the
laces and pulled his pants down. She slipped from his grasp and the
Wanderer’s breath was trapped in his throat when she took him in
her mouth. Her steady rhythmic suckling built the pressure slowly.
The Wanderer saw white spots in the blackness and he rocked his
hips to push deeper in her mouth, his belly quivering as he reached
for the climax. The girl pulled away, and agony clenched his

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