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Note: A version of this scene originally appears in White Horse Black Nights (The Godkissed Bride Book One) from Sabine’s perspective.


The Manywaters Inn, Blackwater


“Sabine, it’s me,” I bark as I rap on the door. “The water for your bath is here. Are you decent?”


While I wait for her answer, I glare with bald hostility at the two slack-jawed young men waiting at the top of the inn’s staircase, straining under steaming buckets of boiled water. By now, they’ve surely heard of  Lord Rian Valvere’s infamous command for his bride to ride naked from Bremcote to Duren. If they’re hoping for an eyeful to brag about to their friends, they’re about to be disappointed. They can either avert their gazes, or I’ll avert them permanently by ripping their eyes out of their skulls.


Sabine’s soft voice calls that she’s ready, and I bare my teeth at the boys one final time before entering the inn’s sloping attic room to find Sabine scantily wrapped in a bedsheet. Her long locks are tangled from weeks on the road. A smudge of soot from last night’s campfire streaks her forehead. With her big eyes, she looks like a half-feral animal caught in my arrow’s sight, and a surge of raw instinct floods me:


The urge to pounce.


To rip off that thin sheet.


To claim what I’ve fantasized about every damn night since we left Bremcote.


The boys fill the copper tub and scramble over one another to escape back into the hall before I growl at them. Once it’s only the two of us, I drop Sabine’s new clothes on the foot of the bed.


Her head cocks like a bird. “What’s that?”


“A dress. I thought you must be tired of wearing my shirt, given how often you tell me I smell.”


She lifts an eyebrow, and doesn’t contradict that statement.


Well, why would she? I do smell.


As I stroll to the window to give her privacy, her scent torments me mercilessly. Beneath the cloying lavender soap, the air is filled with her. Violets and leather. Sweat and campfire smoke. It’s a combination that fills every crevice of my skull until I can hardly think.


Fuck—I wish she’d never bathe that smell off.


It’s sweet torture to listen to her skin slip into the water, and the slide of soap over her curves, and the rasp of a towel through her hair. An invisible hand keeps trying to steer my head her way for a glimpse, but I keep a hard stare fixed out the window.


Finally, she stands, and water sluices off her curves in a melody that has me praying it was my hands instead.


I silence a groan. My cock is as hard as that copper tub. Fucking great.


“Your turn in the tub,” she chirps.


When I turn, she’s toweling off her hair, humming a light tune. The dress I bought her clings to her frame, a hair too tight. Soft cotton begging to be touched. Lace that trembles as her chest heaves.


I didn’t think Sabine Darrow could look more mouth-watering than she does naked, but I was wrong. Clothes bring out a softer side of her. Like this, she glows.


I can’t tear my eyes off her.


By the time we trade places, the bathwater is frigid, but that suits me—and my raging hard-on—just fine. Though she pretends to keep her back to me, my heightened senses pick up the rustle of her clothes and her labored breath as she steals a peek at my bare backside.


And damn, it feels good to know she’s looking.


The innkeeper delivers a supper of wine, bread, and roast chicken, and Sabine pounces on it like a wildcat. She refills her wine glass again…and again…until her eyes shine with a relaxed gloss. When she sinks her teeth into the fresh bread, she gives a moan that rivals any she’s ever made for me.


I smile, silent, content to bask in her glow. The woods are where I’m most comfortable; it’s only now in the inn’s meager comfort that I realize how hard the forest road has been on her.


How hard I’ve been on her.


The wine and a full belly bring out her lighter side, and soon, she’s sighing contentedly. “I hope Myst is getting fat off some honeyed oats at the moment.”


“You never told me how your father came by such a fine horse.”


She puffs out some air. “Myst was never his. My mother brought her when she left her village in the north, and bequeathed her to me on my first birthday.”


I quickly figure the math. “She’s an old mare, then. What, twenty-three years old? Twenty-four?”


Sabine tips her wine glass in my direction. “You’d better hope she doesn’t hear you call her old.”


I give a slight grin. “Your mother wasn’t from Bremcote, then?”

Her face sobers, and I worry I’ve broken our tentative peace. Sabine never speaks about her deceased mother.


But then she refills her glass slowly and says, “She was a very private woman. About her past, I mean. She was incredibly loving to me—always ready with a hug and a tender word. But she kept to herself otherwise. She and my father didn’t get along. She was generous to the townspeople but not particularly social. She spent her days with me, or riding Myst.”


Sabine’s eyes go glossy with memory, and I can see how much she misses her mother. A distant smile flickers over her face, followed by a thoughtful laugh. She continues, “She had a bawdy sense of humor. No one would have expected it of her—such a quiet, elegant noblewoman. But behind closed doors, she told the most wicked jokes. Oh! I remember one. ‘Why did no hair grow between Immortal Alessantha’s legs?’” Before I can even answer, she blurts out, “‘Because grass does not grow on a well-beaten path!’”


She snickers into her hands as her cheeks flush pink.


I can’t help but smile—her reaction is far more amusing than the joke.


“Oh! Another one.” She leans forward, her eyes alight, and slaps the table as she fumbles through a joke about a farting goat. Eventually, she wipes the tears from her eyes, then darts me a tentative smile. “And your mother? You must know something about her.”


I drag my head back and forth as my foot bobs under the table. “I’m told I was raised by a washerwoman who took me in as an orphan, but she passed away when I was barely four. If she knew who my parents were, the information died with her, I’m afraid.”


She places her hand over mine. “Basten, I’m so sorry.”


The conversation turns to speculation over whether horses would like bawdy jokes, and Sabine’s hand stays on mine. She’s tipsy; I think she’s forgotten it’s there. I don’t dare move an inch out of fear of chasing her away.


I wish the evening would go on forever, so I could openly gaze at her dazzling smile in the candle’s warm light, but eventually, she glances outside at the moon.


She jumps up, clapping her hand over her mouth. “Oh! It’s late. I didn’t realize . . .”


My heart aches to have this time with her end. I briefly rub the back of my hand—still warm from her palm—stand up, clear the table, and then kick over my rucksack on the floor near the foot of the bed.


“It is. You should sleep, Lady Sabine.”


While I unbuckle my leather breastplate, she slips out of her overdress, so that she’s left in the knee-length chemise. As she draws back the bedcovers, I pick up on her heart beating off-kilter from its usual rhythm.


She’s anxious about something.


She clears her throat as she slips between the sheets and says in an unsteady voice, “You don’t have to sleep on the floor, you know. We shared a blanket in the forest. It’s no different to share a bed.” She pats the empty side of the bed.


Now her heart is really hammering. But fuck, not as much as mine. Is Sabine really suggesting what I think she is? That we sleep together? Maybe another man could dismiss her offer as innocent, tipsy kindness for a man with a busted shoulder, but I know better. I can smell the dampness between her legs. Feel her unsteady breath’s vibration. Read the lustful apprehension in her blown pupils.


This is no innocent request.


My head tells me one thing. Say no, Wolf. That bed is nothing but trouble.


But my body? Yeah. That demands something different.


“Very kind of you.” My throat bobs as I force her formal title. “Lady Sabine.”


If I thought that weak attempt at propriety would remind both of us of our duty, I was lying to myself. Because as soon as I join her in bed, I know I’m more fucked than the gods themselves. Her warm body is more welcoming than a campfire. She smells clean and cottony and ripe as a fucking peach, and that cold bath from earlier does nothing to quell my throbbing erection.


I roll to my side, facing her, to hide the obvious rise of the sheet around my groin.


The mattress groans.


“Basten?” she whispers, like a confession, as she bites her lip deliciously. “I’m worried about what happens when we get to Duren. When I marry Rian and—and the wedding night.”


Hearing her talk of wedding nights makes my balls tighten. “Trust me, Lady Sabine, no man would be disappointed to find you in his marital bed. Some men like an inexperienced woman.”


She blinks at me with eyes as big and round as a doe’s as she guilelessly asks, “Do you?”


A moan originates in my groin and shoots strain out my throat. What does this little vixen think she’s doing? First she invites me into her bed. Now she’s baiting me like a codfish.


Maybe she does want trouble.


That’s impossible. The physical attraction between Sabine and me is undeniable—I’ve smelled how wet her body gets for me. But she loathes me. It’s written in her sneers and scowls. To her, I’m an extension of Lord Rian, the villain who forced her humiliating ride.


She would sooner spit on me than seduce me—right?


“You’ve had women before, surely?” she whispers while just a breath away from me on her pillow.


I nod curtly, trying not to stare at her lips.


“And you know what to do.”


“Yes,” I bark.


She nibbles on her fingernail in the perfect picture of innocent seduction as she says, “Maybe you could . . . train me? Like how you taught me to fight in the woods?”


Immediately, I’m back in the woods. Sabine is pinned beneath me, clutching a stick in place of a knife as I drag her palm down my bare torso to show her where to stab me. Her tight little body squirming so temptingly. The thrill of the chase setting my loins on fire.


And now she wants more training . . . in bed?


Fuck, no. That’s too lucky for a cursed man like me. This little wildcat is up to something.


I start to confront her. “Sabine, what the devil are you—”


She silences me with a finger over my lips. “I’m not asking you to break your vow to your master. But, well, you could pretend to be him. Show me how to please him. You’d be helping him. And me.”


I stare at her in disbelief.

The nerves along my skin snap. In an instant, I’m on my feet, practically fighting for breath as I pace at

the side of the bed. I look at her lips. At the fire. Then back at her lips.




Yeah, she’s up to something, all right, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out she’s doing all this because she wants to use me. Maybe it’s to lure me into a lustful stupor so she can stab me with a hidden knife.


She’s smart. I’ll give her that. This whole ‘pretend’ ruse gives us the perfect excuse to skate right up to the edge of transgression.


She wants to pretend?


Fine. I’ll pretend. I’ll pretend like I don’t know exactly what she’s doing.


I stalk toward her with a heat in my eyes that makes her breath stall. “I swore a vow. I broke it once, and I won’t again. But if you want to know how a man takes a woman, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you exactly what I would do with you if you were my bride.”


Her eyes widen in both alarm and excitement as I straddle her hips, gripping the headboard behind her. She doesn’t need my heightened senses to feel the hard weight of my cock digging into her belly.


I’ve thought about making love to Sabine a dozen times. A hundred. A thousand. Every night, as the haze of sleep eclipses my mind, fantasies play out of her body under mine. In those fantasies, I catch her like I did in the woods, only this time, the tussle leads to so much more. Soon, she’s moaning my name with her knees splayed wide. Her perfect breasts bob up and down as I fuck her until she cries out that she wants me. She needs me. I try to force my fantasy Sabine to say she loves me, but not even in my imagination do I believe that’s possible.


So, I play out a chaste version of my fantasy in this game of pretend. My fingers show her the path across her body’s landscape that I would blaze with my lips. When my thumb grazes the peak of her breast over her chemise, she whimpers.


And every sound, every word nearly fucking breaks me. I don’t know how long I can do this—pretend what’s happening isn’t happening.


She isn’t yours, I tell myself, and repeat it like a prayer.


She belongs to Rian.


She isn’t yours.


She belongs to—.


“And then what?” she asks breathlessly.


I know she’s playing me. She has some ulterior motive, but I can’t help but walk willingly into her trap. If she has a knife, she’s welcome to stab me. She can garrot my throat with the curtain strings. All I ask is that before she does, I can bask a little longer in her perfection.


She isn’t yours…


With a growl, I drown out the voice in my head that tells me this is wrong, and say instead, “Since it would be your first time, I’d go slow. I’d make your body as ready as a ripe peach, dripping with juices, begging to be plucked.”


Her perfect lips part. “Basten.”


She smells so swollen already. I can feel how hot she is between her legs. Touch is one of my heightened senses, and my cock feels things as intensely as my hands do. To thrust inside her would be heaven.


This is only pretend, I tell myself as I drag my fingers over her thigh.


I haven’t kissed her, I insist as she grinds her hips up to meet my palm.


I’ve barely touched her, I plead to the gods and anyone else who might be listening.


And it’s true. All this time, I’ve hardly done more than breathe filthy words over her curves, and there are far worse sins—but every ounce of my flesh is begging for me to act out those dirty promises.


She shifts her hips to allow my hand better access to her inner thigh. One light stroke of my knuckle against her panties confirms she’s soaking wet. Her head falls back against the pillow, baring that beautiful expanse of pale neck. It’s all I can do not to wrap my hand around her throat and crush my lips to hers.


“I don’t want you to be gentle the first time you fuck me,” she breathes.


Despite my superior hearing, I still can’t believe I’ve heard her right. My desire for her is so strong there’s a ringing in my head, like an echo. Adrenaline and testosterone and plain, simple lust make a mess of my thoughts. So, with my head reeling, I turn to my heart instead.


The only person who has ever given a damn about me is Rian. My parents, who she was so curious about? They abandoned me. I never had hugs or tender words or giggled jokes. And I still have nothing to my name. No coin. No title. All I have is my word—and if I thrust my cock into Lord Rian’s bride, I’ll lose everything.


But fuck.


What if Sabine Darrow actually gives a damn about me? This girl shines with more warmth than the morning sun, promising to chase away the long, black nights. All my life, I’ve been stranded in those dark hours. Craving the sun. The day. The hope that comes with dawn.


But thinking that Sabine could love me is just as much a fantasy as the filthy sex dreams I’ve played out a million times in my head. It’s impossible. A fucking joke. She’s playing me for all I’m worth.


But even if just for a night, I want to pretend that she might.

My fingers curl into one of her thighs, squeezing like a plum. She’s panting. Practically gushing. Hell, it isn’t all pretend. She really does want me. I dip my head close to her lips, so I can breathe in her moan. She smells like sweet summer wine . . .


An itch snags in my head. How much wine did she drink, anyway? I lost count after three glasses, too lost in her shining laughter.


That’s when reality comes ramming its ugly horns straight into me.


There’s no way I can take a woman who’s drunk.


A virgin who’s drunk.


A drunk virgin who belongs to my master.


Her top lip grazes my bottom one, and the little gasp it elicits from her throat makes me second-guess everything.


She smells too fucking good.


Violets and leather and smoke—




This isn’t the smell of a three-day-old campfire in her hair.


This is smoke. Here and now. The reek of it burns the hairs inside my nose. It’s somewhere close. Here. In the inn—


Our night of pretend is over. The game of seduction half-played, our cards still on the table, our hearts still laid bare. But not every game reaches its conclusion.


I latch onto her wrists with an iron grip. “I have to get you out of here.”


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