He kept his eyes averted, almost giving her the impression he was ashamed. “I have no heart.”
Oh, but he did. A pulse throbbed at the base of his neck, steady and fast. “They say you’re responsible for the fires. They say—”
His head whipped up, his gaze sparking up dangerously. “That I killed the woman I loved, is that what they say?” One second he stood ominously still, and the next he was gripping her jaw so tightly her teeth almost fractured. “Get out of here,” he hissed.
The Villain released Stella in an instant, leaving her completely winded, making her think that it would be marvelous to let the likes of him alone, if only Faith Harrison left her alone, too.
“If you know people don’t want you here,” she said tightly, “why don’t you leave?”
Is it because of Faith? she thought, but dare not ask him.
“Why don’t you?” he countered.
Her shoulders stiffened almost automatically. Was it that obvious, her dissatisfaction with the state of her life? “I can’t leave my mother alone,” she found herself saying, though why she should confess herself to him was just another of what was becoming a long list of unsolved mysteries. “My dad left us years ago. It would break her heart if I left her, too.”
“A classic little martyr,” he said, the contempt in his voice telling her exactly what he thought of those. “I knew one in my days.” He crossed his arms, his face distorting into a sneer. “So tell me, wandering young miss. Has your morbid curiosity been satisfied yet?”
“My name is Stella,” she said. “Stella McKenna.”
And for some reason, he only stared at her with those fathomless eyes, refusing to tell her his. “Answer me,” he said sharply. “Have you seen enough to go back and gossip to your friends and live your boring little life?”
Stella had never cared much for gossip. Ms. Windham’s mysterious affair with the barber didn’t interest her, nor did Doc Hill’s toupee, or Mr. Farmer’s sudden weight loss. But she couldn’t help but be enthralled by the tales about him, tales about the Villain. “Oh I don’t care all that much for the local gossip,” she said, then shrugged. “They gossip about me, too.”
He looked doubtful, his brows slightly rising. “Who did you kill?”
There was the barest hint of a smile on his face, a trace of the man he must have once been, and strange little things fluttered inside Stella’s stomach.
He looked very attractive when he smiled.
“Look, um, er…Villain. I would like to help you if I can.” And maybe you could help me find some answers. She finished off her words with a sincere smile, thinking how he should very much appreciate that someone cared enough to do something instead of only gossip. Thinking what a relief it must be for him to realize there was someone willing to do something to help!
Yet he looked affronted not only by her smile, but by her offer, and the way his face reddened left no doubt as to the direction of his temper.
“Would you, Stella?” he asked with unnerving gentleness. He gripped her upper arms, squeezing her flesh with rough, calloused hands. The feel of his filthy flesh against her own shouldn’t have excited even Ginger Thomas—the biggest slut in town—and yet it excited Stella McKenna. A lot.
It sent her heart racing to what would surely result in a coronary, her breath nearly expiring from the experience. His eyes looked even darker up close, turning blacker still when they settled on her breasts, which were so very near his chest she could almost feel her wanton nipples extend out to him. She felt a clenching pain in her belly, her legs, her chest. Something she’d never felt before. Her thighs felt loose and liquid, barely doing their duty of holding her upright.
Jerking his jarring gaze back up to hers, he spoke in a low hiss. “You want to help, and what do you expect from me in return? My heart was given long before your day, my soul has been bartered to the devil, and my body has suffered for so long I’m sure it’s anything but gentle.” He pulled her against him to prove it, letting her feel him, all of him, his strength mocking the way her softer, smaller body molded to his. “Tell me. Do you have fantasies of being seduced by the Villain, of being fucked until your heart stops, of being robbed completely of your innocence?”
Had he not been mocking her, she would have admitted that at this very instant, she did. Images swam inside her mind. Images of his lips, plush and surely warm, gently moving over hers. Of the rough hands on her arms spreading her shirt apart and smoothing over her naked flesh. A wanton shudder coursed through her.
Instead of skimming across her skin, his hands tightened around her arms, squeezing out a reply from her hesitant lips. “Don’t hurt me.”
“I told you to leave. What is there to stop me? Tell me. You?” His seductive whisper spread over her womb like liquid satin while one of his fingers slowly ambled down her shirt. “I don’t live by your laws. Your God forsake me long ago, and I have nothing to live for. Why should I stop, tell me?”
A needy sound quivered up her throat, her eyes heavy as she gazed up at him through a thick fringe of lashes.
He squeezed her arms until she yelped, and then he shook her, almost snapping her neck. “I am not seducing you, you fool! My words are true and meant to scare the breath out of you. If you had any sense at all, you’d leave now!”
Stella didn’t move, and like him wondered why she hadn’t taken herself and her sorry old brown skirt out of here some time ago. Common sense said she should be frightened. She had no doubt some of the
stories about him were true, and the man certainly didn’t look like one with much compassion. But rather than someone cruel, she suspected he was merely troubled. Otherwise why would his hands feel tremulous on her? Why would his voice suddenly turn hoarse? And why would her body yearn for his like it had never yearned before?
Hadn’t she determined she was frigid long ago?
Yet not even the merest fraction of her body felt anything even resembling cold. Not even partly cold. She was more than a little warm and…
She was filled with a deep, acute longing. The feeling was too sharp to be altogether pleasant, but it made her feel deliciously alive.