He will not touch you. I’ll make sure of it.

A shiver trekked along her spine. The voice was fierce, feral, deadly. And right. She would text the owner, let him know the box was safe and that she would mail it to him before disappearing. Even if he decided to come after her and River, he would never find them. They would be long gone, hidden.

With that thought, opening the box was no longer a question. It was a certainty.

Farrah eased onto the edge of the bed and gently placed the box on her lap. The wood was heavy, warm, just as she remembered. The beautiful male face seemed to stare up at her, into her. She untied the golden ribbon and placed her shaky hands over the center seam.

Open, open, open.

She slowly raised the lid. Before she’d raised it two inches, however, it was ripped from her fingers, springing open of its own accord. Something—a butterfly?—gusted from the hollowed center, its flowing cobalt wings flapping furiously.

Farrah watched, open mouthed. Yes, it was a butterfly. But…how? How long had it been inside? How had it survived? As the thoughts poured through her mind, the insect’s wings began to grow, expand.

Right in front of her eyes, the insect lengthened…lengthened…taking a solid shape. Bright blue wings became bronzed muscle and sinew, scars and tattoos. Piercings and skin. Skin!

Shock rolled through her. Shock and awe and disbelief. She rubbed her eyes, knowing the incredible sight would be gone by the time she refocused. Nope, still there. Shit. Shit! She scrambled backward, all the way to the other side of the bed. She hit the edge and tumbled to the floor, knocking the air from her lungs.

“Woman,” the seductive voice said, no longer in her mind but here, with her. Alone with her.

Dear God. She jumped to her feet, knees banging together. There was now a man in her room. A freaking man. Oxygen burned in her throat as she studied him. He was amazingly tall, shirtless and ripped with corded row after corded row of strength. He had hair as black and silky as the velvet on the bed. His eyes were the same color as the butterfly’s wings had been, a pulsing blue. Otherworldly. Surreal. They were fringed by spiky black lashes, a deliciously perfect frame.

His face…it was the face on the box. Savage, raw, elemental. Stripes of blue paint slashed his sharp cheekbones. His nose was slightly bent and his lips were too full, but he was exquisite nonetheless.

The rest of him, well…she gulped. Both of his nipples were pierced, completely at odds with the butterfly tattooed on his chest, its wings stretching over his pectorals, his collarbone, and onto his shoulders. He wore crudely made black leather pants and well-worn boots that reached the middle of his calves. A silver cuff circled his left bicep.

He splayed his arms wide and roared. Roared with rage and frustration, relief and need. Her knees almost buckled. Never had she been faced with a more primal, erotic picture: terrifying, yet unbelievably arousing.

“You’re…you’re…” She didn’t know what to say, could hardly breathe. This wasn’t happening, couldn’t possibly be happening. Who was he? What was he? She would have liked to tell herself he was a dream, a hallucination, but couldn’t. Real, every cell in her body shouted.

“Violence,” he purred in that deep, wine-rich voice. There was rage in his eyes, such rage. “I am Violence, and I am hungry.”

As he spoke, his blue eyes locked on her face, intense, consuming, and she knew, knew, he wasn’t talking about food. He radiated heat. Scorching heat. Blistering heat. A hum of zinging energy traveled the length of her body. Her nipples hardened painfully, and a delicious heat pooled between her legs.

She gulped. Who he was and what he was no longer seemed to matter. Slowly she inched backward, trying to reach the door without alerting him to the fact that she meant to bolt.

“Where do you think you are going?” he demanded.

Okay, he’d noticed—and he now looked ready to kill her. Farrah didn’t waste another second. She whipped around and sprinted to the door. Locked. Damn it! With her unsteady grip, working the simple lock proved more difficult than the tubular she’d battled only a few hours ago. Finally, though, she made it outside. Cold air bit and nibbled at her exposed, damp skin.

Panting, trying not to panic, she raced through the moonlit parking lot, her bare feet slapping at the frigid cement. Rocks sliced at the sensitive skin, and she grimaced. But she didn’t slow. The best way to escape him, she thought, cornering the side of the building, was to lose him in the shadows, in the twists and turns of the back allies. When she was totally safe, she would call River and tell him to meet her in another location.

There were no footsteps behind her, so she dared a quick peek. No sign of him. Good. Maybe he’d decided she wasn’t worth the trouble. As she returned her attention in front of her, she slammed into a hard wall—a wall that enveloped her in aroused heat. She was thrown backward and landed on her ass with a hard thump.

“Woman, you cannot escape me. I have your scent in my nose.”

How had he gotten ahead of her? How, how, how? With a gasp, she jolted to her feet and bolted in the opposite direction, the same way she’d come. Before she managed three steps, he was blocking her path.

Eyes widening, she ground to a halt. How was he doing that? “Who are you?” she managed to squeak out.

“King Maddox. Violence, as I told you.” He paused, peering at her with determination. “The man who is going to know the taste of you.”

King? Violence? Shaking her head, Farrah backed away from him. “You’re crazy. I’m crazy. This is crazy. Just…leave me alone.” With that, she spun on her heel and ran as fast as her feet would carry her. Again.

MADDOX WATCHED HER GO. He didn’t materialize in front of her this time, for he knew that at any time, with a simple snap of his fingers, he could find her. Oh, yes. Wherever she went, he could—and would—find her. He hadn’t lied. Her erotic scent, a fragrance of wild passion and sweet female, would instantaneously lead him to her location. The beast’s magic gifted him with the ability.

He was hard for her, his blood a molten river inside his veins. For a moment, one breathless moment, she had looked at him and there had been desire in her eyes. Stark, needy desire that had intensified his own.

He could find another woman to slake his body’s centuries of denied desires—he smelled several nearby—and maybe he would. Soon. Right now, he wanted that one, with her silky fall of midnight hair, with her dark eyes and lush, red lips. With her delicate curves and siren’s voice. Her breasts and their hard little nipples had been made for his mouth. The long length of her graceful legs had been made to wrap around his waist.

At the moment, no one else would do.

Farrah, she was called. An elegant name for a woman of many contradictions. In the time span of a few hours, he’d heard her angry, fierce, tender, teasing, incredulous and afraid. He’d liked the fierceness best. Had wanted it directed at him. In bed.

She’d stolen his box with a skill that surprised him. Tempted and aroused him. He wanted those expert hands on his body, stroking him to full awakening. Yes, he mused again, he would have that woman. Under him, over him, a part of him. But he would have her a little later. Outside now, he simply reveled in the fact that he was free. At last, he was free from the constrictions of that hated box.

He was Pandora’s prisoner no more.

He breathed deeply of the night air, its crisp coolness a caress to his skin. And still rage filled him, consumed him. Such rage. How long had he wished for a moment such as this? How long had he prayed to gods who had refused to listen? Eternity, it seemed.

A roar gusted past his lips. Fists tightened, he pounded on the closest wall. The entire structure shook. He kicked metal bins and bent the bars of a staircase. He was glad Farrah was not here to witness his tantrum. But he wanted to destroy everything around him. Everything except, perhaps, the woman. Her, he wanted to fuck. Hard and long. Until the rage was spent.

When he calmed, his eyes closed and he tried to savor the night. He did not know where his men were or what Pandora had done to them when they’d escaped. Were they still alive? He must know, for he was responsible for them. No matter where he had to look or for how long, he would find them.

“Free,” he shouted to the heavens. Pinpricks of light winked down at him. “Free.”

Locked away these many years, with no one but the beast inside of him for company, he had finally learned to control his need for blood and retribution. He was still dangerous, still more of a weapon than a man, but he could operate in this modern world. He could, at last, forge a life for himself and his men. A life they had been denied because of one foolish mistake. His mistake.

He strode back to the room he’d abandoned. As the walls closed around him, he mourned the loss of the outdoors. He hurriedly gathered the box, the material Farrah had covered it with, and her bag. He grinned. She would want that back, he was sure.

“I’m coming for you,” he said, knowing she could not hear him. But perhaps she would feel the warning in her bones.

He did not know where Pandora was, but he would find her, too. She would know the taste of his beast at long last. He would kill her as he’d dreamed all these years, without thought, without hesitation, heaping yet another sin upon his already heavy shoulders—a sin for which he must atone when the guilt invariably hit him. But he did not care.

Go. Find the little thief and sate your desires. Afterward, he would begin to hunt down Pandora and his men. One by one.

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