Read Challenge Online

Authors: Montgomery Mahaffey

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

Challenge (8 page)

He doubled over in pain. Her chuckle taunted
him, prodding him back to that day at the pool. He could still see
her tresses he had just combed into silk, the golden strands
slapping him in the face when she whipped her hair back. The
Wanderer snarled, gripping the girl around the waist with one arm,
undoing the string at her pants with his free hand and pulling them
off. Then he cupped her pubis with his hand, pressing the heel of
his palm into her mound until her resistance melted. He waited
until her breath caught in her throat before bringing his fingers
up the lips, parting them where he found the nub. With tender
firmness, he embraced the moist flesh between his fingers and
rubbed slowly. Her long humming sigh sang in his ears and her scent
inflamed his senses. The girl arched her pelvis towards his
fingers, and the Wanderer brought his mouth down on hers and sucked
on her lips. He wanted to engulf her, but forced himself to hold
back. The girl must have sensed he was about to stop. She brought
her forearm down, pressing his phallus and she pulled until her
hand came to his head. She gripped and kept pace with his

Then he couldn’t stop. The pressure built
inside him, he saw white spotting in the darkness again, and the
moan borne from the depths of his belly escaped from his mouth. The
girl’s tension also rose; her breath came in rapid puffs, the nub
grew hot and her musk turned to sweet. She undulated her hips, the
wetness between her legs inviting him to push his fingers inside
her. She was at the precipice, but the Wanderer didn’t give in. The
girl cried out, biting his shoulder. The sharpness of her teeth
pulled him back from the edge to another memory of the springs. He
could still see the disdain in her cold blue eyes when the girl
held her hand out to take back the comb.

The Wanderer was reaching his own crescendo,
wanting more than anything to give in to the wave, its crest
frothing before the crash. It took all of his strength to stop. He
took both of the girl’s hands and pulled them above her head. Then
he rolled on his back, and brought the girl with him to rest on his

Damn you, Wanderer!” she
snarled. “What are you doing?”

I was curious as to why
you haven’t told me no.”

Because I don’t want

Then she spread her legs and took him. The
Wanderer gasped when the soft jaws devoured him. He reveled in her
moist before the blackness went completely white. The girl screamed
and shuddered the moment he exploded inside her.




Darkness gave way to light, but the Wanderer
hardly noticed. Immersed between her legs, his hands roamed over
her belly, and the soft melted under the tips of his fingers. She
gave herself over to another climax, her moaning alto hum
resonating in his bones while he drank from her. He wanted more of
her nectar. But the girl brought him up, engulfed his mouth with
hers, wrapped her legs around him, and let him enter her again. The
Wanderer lost himself in the storm that went on without end, the
girl shuddering in his arms. Her head was thrown back, and a low
growl escaped from her mouth the instant her body was no longer her

Then it was night again. Falling with the
rise of the sun and going down when the moon rose, the Wanderer and
the girl came together and apart in a rhythm of their own, the
union of their bodies different each time. She fell over the edge
time and again, but she would never surrender. She was never pliant
in his arms, lying on him with her head against his chest and her
face averted. The more they made love, the more he craved that
softening. He tried to enfold her in tenderness, but the girl
always pushed him away. The Wanderer had never known a lover like
her. She had the delicate flesh of a woman and the hard drive of a
man, a lust equal to his. He saw it in the hunger blazing in her
eyes every time she reached for him, and his heart beat violence
inside his chest.

The Wanderer lost count of the days that
passed, their carnality both bliss and torment. He yearned for the
girl to melt in his arms just once. But after each shudder that
claimed her body, she grimaced like one in pain, moaned and turned
her face away.

Are you all right?” he
would ask.

But the girl never answered. Before she fell
upon him again, her gaze was primal, ensnaring the Wanderer in a
delirium of coupling that left him exhausted and exhilarated. He
fell into near unconsciousness while making love to her. When he
woke up joined to her again, his peak crested into his dreams and
blurred his reality, their bodies churning in a rhythm that left
them breathless.

Eventually, they had no choice but to stop.
The girl collapsed, too spent to resist. She was soft in his arms,
the closest to surrender he would ever get from her. His pulse
slowed and the Wanderer dozed. The slumber was a relief until the
bite of her teeth woke him up. He saw the girl gnawing on him, her
thick teeth piercing his flesh where she sucked below his left

Stop it!” he yelled,
jerking away. “That hurts!”

The Wanderer was shocked at the blood
dripping from the wound, his skin mottling around it. When he
looked at the girl, his heart started pounding hard against his
ribs. The ferocious longing in her eyes stirred up tentacles of

What was that about?” he

She groaned, that muscle twitching in her
jaw. The girl reached for her naked throat, her fingers groping for
nothing. Then her gaze turned to ice and she started to laugh. He
heard the edge of hysteria in the sound, and wondered if this was
the start of a fit. But the girl heaved for air until she stopped,
and wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth.

You are one lucky fool,
Wanderer,” she said. “You’re the luckiest fool I’ve ever

She reached for him again and the madness of
coupling continued. Finally, the Wanderer fell off his last peak to
soar into the realm of dreamlessness.

How long he stayed there, he didn’t know,
but he knew the girl was gone before he opened his eyes. The
soreness of his flesh permeated his bones and he ached. Her absence
was as acute as her presence had been. He fought to stay in the
limbo between sleep and waking, but the crack of burning wood and
the smell of smoke pulled him awake. He almost collapsed when he
sat up, his hunger making him dizzy. The scent of savory was a
relief, a hint of food made ready. The girl must have gotten up
early to prepare the meal for them.

The Wanderer came outside his tent to an
explosion of color. He was shocked to find the autumn season
reaching its peak. The trees had been mostly golden when last he
remembered, but the clearing seemed on fire with the orange and red
leaves glowing from the evening sun. He was spellbound for a moment
before he saw the girl had left.

The camp was desolate without her things to
fill it up. The only trace of her was the iron mesh resting over
the pit. On top was his skillet filled with the meat, herbs, and
mushrooms she had cooked for him. The fire was nearly dead, the
embers spitting their last flares. Next to the pit, she’d staked a
pole where the carcasses of two squirrels dangled. They were
skinned from their necks to their hind feet, the meat of their
bodies still fresh, their eyes filmy and unseeing.

Too weak to forage, the Wanderer couldn’t
ignore the meal she prepared for him. But he tasted nothing as he
ate, knowing emptiness would consume him later.

Chapter Four








Once he left No Man’s Land, the Wanderer
didn’t stop moving. He found irony in the strangers who smiled at
him, looked him in the eye, and called him citizen. After he sold
his mare to a farmer who needed a gentle horse for his daughter to
ride, he lived more like a vagabond than ever. He only took on
labor he could finish in a day and declined anything more. But
hospitality was accepted with gratitude, because he wouldn’t have
to go back into the woods.

He couldn’t get the girl out of his mind. In
his dreams, he could remember her under his fingers, those cold
blue eyes staring through him. Sometimes he’d wake up with his
flesh tingling from the memory of her touch, the smell of her
lingering in his nostrils. He’d open his eyes and see she was gone,
the numbness crushing him just like the day she had left.

The Wanderer hated the girl, but ached for
her in his bones and sinews. He was a fool, as the girl had said.
He knew he should go home to the people who loved him. For two
weeks, he kept moving until he drifted into the port town where his
journey started.

He didn’t recognize where he was until he
saw the ship. He blinked and had to look again. Except for the name
on the stern, the vessel was just like the one he had been on five
and a half years before. When the horn blew, he started, suddenly
aware he was on the wharf, immersed in a mass of people swarming
around him. The crowd blew kisses to the passengers on deck, while
they leaned over the railings, waving to their loved ones who were
sending them off as the crew hoisted ropes from the dock.

His heart squeezed from the joy and sadness
around him. But the sight of an old man crying and shouting
good-bye to a youth on the ship stopped him in his tracks. In that
moment, he saw his grandfather as he had been on the day he’d left.
Their Patron and Patroness had stood on either side of him. The
gnarled hand had been at the level of his heart and the Bard had
never stopped waving, growing smaller from the Wanderer sailing
away. But he had remained on the deck, waving back long after his
grandfather was gone.

A swell rose from the depths of his belly
and returned the Wanderer to the moment the Bard’s soul passed. The
tears streaming down his face flooded his vision, making him blind
to the stranger drawing him close. There was warmth and strength in
that embrace, and he sobbed into the unknown shoulder. After a
time, the other pulled back and the Wanderer looked into the
whiskey brown eyes of the old man.

Son,” he said. “It always
hurts to lose someone. But the pain is worse if you hold on when
it’s time to let go.”

Before the Wanderer could say anything, the
horn bleated farewell. The old man touched his face and slipped
away. He turned back to the boy on deck, waving with one hand and
blowing kisses with the other. The youth’s face was filled with the
bittersweet of excitement and sorrow, and the Wanderer couldn’t
stop crying. He left the crowd behind for a lone stump down the
wharf. There he faced the sea and surrendered to mourning.

His heart throbbed in the same manner
whenever the girl had angered him. But this time, he was thinking
of the last time he saw his grandfather. Shocked, the Wanderer
tried to push it away, but the sentiment wouldn’t be denied.
Breathing deeply, smoke from the ship’s furnace mingled with the
salt of the ocean, both acrid and refreshing at once. His tears
dried up and he wanted to curse at the sky. His limbs were taut
with the urge to run and make his escape.

But he didn’t. The Wanderer finally admitted
he was angry with the Bard for insisting he leave, and with himself
for going when his heart told him to stay. He remembered his first
sight of the boat and the blinding white of its sails. He felt
again that rush of guilt when he knew he wanted to get on board
more than anything in his life, even while his grandfather was
dying. He couldn’t breathe when he thought of how alone he had been
since the Bard passed on. Solitude was the one thing in life he
found unbearable.

The memory of his parents’ murder rushed in
and the tears came again, and a torrent of sobs wrenched him apart.
But he allowed the terror to consume him, just as it had that
night. He flinched when he remembered the intruder who had come to
his room. Then he saw himself, suddenly overcome with tenderness
for the terrified child he had been. He finally recognized the
shame he carried all his life for surviving an ordeal his parents
didn’t. Something lifted from the Wanderer. The relief made him
giddy, so much he almost fell over.

Then he continued through the early years
with his grandfather. Rage disappeared in the onslaught of love
showered on him for the rest of his childhood. He had nothing but a
deep gratitude for the man who saved him from the abyss of darkness
that could have consumed the rest of his life. He could still see
the Bard’s face, with its deep lines and black eyes filled with the
wisdom of life well lived. He wept until no tears were left.

Alpenglow streamed across the sky once he
was done. The crowd had long dispersed and the ship was tiny at the
edge of the horizon. The Wanderer smiled at the last glimpse of the
vessel before it disappeared into the eastern mists. He felt as if
he were a shade above the ground when he stood up, the buoyancy
like nothing he’d ever known in his life.

Go home.”

The voice was soft. The Wanderer turned
around to find nobody was there.

It’s time to go

Then he realized the whisper came from
inside, the voice of his heart echoing through him. Suddenly he
yearned for the village, for his friends and neighbors. Then the
cabin came to mind, the windows and door lit up from the fire
blazing in the hearth. He saw himself enter, and savored the aroma
of wood burning, the heat warming him to the bone. Everybody was
inside to welcome him home. He could hear their voices tinged with
affectionate joy. The image was so vivid he almost believed he was
there until the call of the fishermen pulled him back to the

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