First Debt Page 1

Author: Pepper Winters

Series: Indebted #2

Genres: Romance

IF I HAD known my life would change so drastically, I might have planned a little better. Strategized a little smarter, researched a little deeper.

One moment I was the Darling of Milan, the next I was a Weaver Whore.

But despite my lack of skills and weapons, I wasn’t ready to go down without a fight.

In fact, I prospered into a woman I’d always been too afraid to find.

I became more than Nila Weaver.

More than daughter, twin-sister, and seamstress.

I became the woman who would bring down a family’s legacy.

I evolved into the woman who captured a Hawk.

I STALKED TOWARD the stables and the very lodgings Nila had inhabited the night before.

The image of her bounding away—pristine naked skin glowing in the sunshine and long hair flowing like black silk—played on a loop inside my head.

Everything I’d been prepared for—every argument, every hardship I’d been drilled to expect—hadn’t prepared me for the complication that was Nila Weaver. How could I understand and keep my bearings when the bloody woman had more personalities than a Picasso painting?

Sometimes naïve. Sometimes coy. Smart, fearful, proud, gullible.

And above all, evolving.

And rapidly.

I wasn’t used to…mess. The chaos of a human psyche or the disgusting pull of emotions was not permitted in my world. In the short time I’d known her, she’d successfully made me feel something I had no fucking right to feel.

Don’t admit it.

I balled my hands. No, I wouldn’t admit it. I would never verbalize the slow burn of possession in my gut or the confusion in my mind when it came to understanding her.

Run, Nila. Run.

And she had.

Despite her nakedness, lack of sustenance, and the fact that my family had just finished abusing her, she’d glared into my eyes and bounded away like a deer bolting from a gun. A flash of vulnerability glowed on her face before she was swallowed by the forest.

I expected her to faint with her ridiculous condition—an experiment, as it were, to see what she would do when I pretended to give her what she wanted.

Run?

I never for a fucking moment thought she’d do it.

I expected her to cower. To beg. To cry for the men in her life who had let her down. But she’d done none of those things. I’d known her only briefly, yet she’d demanded more of me than any other woman ever had.

It wasn’t permitted, and now that she’d run, she’d given away more of the disarray inside her. I’d glimpsed the perplexing woman who’d become my charge, prisoner, and plaything.

Someone who had successfully confused the shit out of me.

As much as you don’t understand her, you want her. She came on your tongue, for fuck’s sake.

I stopped in my tracks. She’d fought me on every turn, yet the moment I’d claimed her in front of my brothers, she’d given me ultimate control.

She’d spread her legs and forced her hips into my mouth, giving complete authority for me to lick and nibble and drive her high until she shattered, regardless if she meant to do it or not, she’d used me for pleasure.

She’d gotten off on me fingering her.

My cock stiffened.

The taste of her still lingered in my mouth—the phantom pressure of her cunt squeezing my tongue as she rocketed skyward and detonated. Her fingernails had scraped the table, hands spread thanks to the brothers holding her down. But she hadn’t squirmed to get away from me.

No, she’d fought to get closer.

And I’d obliged.

Drowning myself in her scent, bruising my lips as I licked her harder and harder.

She’d squirmed and moaned and gasped. She’d delivered herself into my clutches, all because I knew how to make a woman come.

But she didn’t just give me her pleasure.

Christ, no.

She’d given me the briefest taste of how divine it would be to own, not just her body, but her mind and soul, too.

It was fucking addicting.

It was fucking twisting with my head.

I growled under my breath, striding onward. The bloody hard-on I’d sported since she walked into my life poisoned me, turning me against everything I knew, everything I’d embraced since I learned the meaning of survival and discipline.

Hot lust tumbled through my veins.

How could I stay the cold beast I’d been groomed to be when my blood raged for another little taste? Another little indulgence of her tight, wet heat.

Shit, I was going to make myself come if I didn’t stop thinking about her.

My cock rippled, totally agreeing.

I shook my head, breaking into a jog toward the stables.

You will remain everything you are.

You will.

There was no other choice in the matter.

I’d been taught to be the master of my emotions. I prided myself on embracing all that he taught me. One little Weaver bitch would not undermine me. This was the way of our world.

My world.

Her world.

No matter how she bewitched me, no matter how she turned my body and willpower against me, I wouldn’t give in.

She’d learn that soon enough.

The moment I caught her, she’d learn her place. The moment I had her back in my arms, she’d never run again.

That was a fucking promise.

It’s time to hunt.

The stables were empty apart from Kes’s polo pony, my father’s prized thoroughbred, Black Plague, and my ebony gelding, Fly Like The Wind. That was his show and hunting name. In private, I had another name for him.

Wings.

Because riding him allowed me to fly the fuck away from here and find a small sliver of freedom.

Nila wasn’t the only one who wanted to run. Unlike my prey, I faced my demons and embraced them. I made them work for me, rather than control me, and forced them to submit by bowing at my fucking feet.

Just like I’d make her do the moment I found her.

The instant he saw me, Wings’ velvet ears pricked, his metal shoes clicking against hay-strewn cobblestone.

A stable boy appeared from mucking out the stalls. “Sir?”

“Saddle him. I mean to leave in fifteen minutes.”

You told her you’d give her forty-five.

I shrugged.

There was no point giving her any longer. Her feet would bleed from running barefoot. Her skin would bruise from whatever ludicrous illness she battled. And it would all be for nothing.

Contrary to what she thought of me, I wasn’t a monster.

I needed her strong.

Plus, I could grant hours, days even for her to run—but she’d never make it to the boundary.

I knew that completely and utterly.

I knew, because I’d been in the exact same situation she was—only it hadn’t been summer like it was now, but middle of winter. Training, he’d said. Masculine growth, he’d lectured. Run in the snow, become the ice that drips from boughs and stems. Use the primal part of yourself to seek out the edge of our property, or pay the price.

Three days I’d run, jogged, and crawled. Three days I didn’t find the boundary.

I was found the same way I would find Nila. Not through tracking or GPS or even the cameras dotted sparsely over the grounds.

No. I have much better means.

My lips twisted into a smile as I traversed the courtyard from stable to kennel. I whistled, listening to the scrabble of claws and excited yips inside. Then the hounds bounded from their home, bumping into each other, wriggling like they’d been electrocuted.

I stood tall, letting the sea of canines wash around my knees. Eleven in total, all with keen ears, sensitive smell, and the training of a hunter.

Leaving them to sniff manically around the yard, I headed into the tack room where supplies, medicines, and feed were stored for the horses.

My hands drifted over the blanket Nila had used.

My cock lurched, remembering how lost and young she’d looked with hay in her hair and eyes raw from tears. Yet she’d writhed on my fingers like a fucking minx. Her hips had tilted, seeking more as if she were born to be pleasured.

My balls ached for a release. Goddammit, I needed to come. Twice now she’d brought me to the edge, only to ruin the ending.

This wasn’t me—I was never this sex-driven or clouded. I couldn’t think straight.

The second I caught her, I was taking her. Rules be damned.

You think she wants you, knowing what you’re going to do to her?

The question caught me in a trap with sharp teeth.

I froze.

What the hell sort of question was that?

One I’d never had before or even contemplated. My hands curled. I’d never considered someone else’s wellbeing. Never been taught or shown how to be…compassionate. The closest thing I had to a friend was my younger brother, Kestrel. He somehow escaped the conditioning by Bryan Hawk. Kes took after our mother. God rest her soul.

And Daniel.

He took after the fucking psychopath who’d been our uncle until my father killed him for almost exposing us all those years ago.

Not for the first time, I wondered if my entire family tree was bat-shit crazy.

In the end, none of it mattered. Not heritage, or destinies, or debts.

The moment Nila came on my tongue, she owed me. Not my family. Me.

The least she could do was reciprocate.

Shaking my head, I gathered up a saddlebag and stuffed everything I would need inside. With each item I picked up, my heart thawed then refroze. A blanket of snow grew thicker with every heartbeat. As ice glittered and crept over my soul, the silence from my colliding thoughts deepened until all weakness, ideas of running, and traitorous concepts of betraying my family disappeared.

I sighed in relief as I slipped back into my icicle-barred cage.

You’re tired, overworked, and dealing with a runaway. Keep your head in the game.

I knew what would happen if I lost control. I could not let that happen.

I checked my watch.

Twenty minutes.

Long enough. To her it would feel as if she’d run for miles. She would never know the difference.

Turning to go, I brushed past the shelf where my extra whips and spurs were stored. I grabbed one, sticking a whip through my belt.

It would come in handy if she disobeyed.

Taking a pair of sunglasses, I quickly traded my dress shoes for knee-high riding boots, and checked inventory. Pity I didn’t have time to change. Jeans were a bitch to ride in—terrible chafing on long excursions.

But this isn’t going to be a long ride.

A smile stretched my lips. No, it wasn’t going to be long. But it will be fun. And fun wasn’t something I got to indulge in very often.

Exiting the gloomy tack room, I squinted in the bright sunlight and slipped the silver-tinted aviators over my eyes. Wings stood obediently by his hobbling post, his equine coat gleaming like the rare black diamonds we mined.

The foxhounds barked and threaded around each other like an organism, never taking their eyes off me as I gathered my reins and placed a foot into the stirrup. Swinging my leg over the massive animal, the rush of being on something so powerful whipped through my bones.

Wings was eighteen hands of pure fucking muscle. He was the fastest horse the Hawks’ owned, excluding my father’s race horse, Black Plague, and he hadn’t been hunting in days.

He pranced in place, his large lungs huffing with anticipation.

The energy vibrating from his bulk infected me, reminding me who I was and the life of privilege I lived.

Twisting his head toward the open grounds of Hawksridge Hall, I dug my spurs into Wings’ side.

An insane surge of power detonated through the animal’s muscles. Wings went from stationary to flying, his hooves clattering with speed. With a sharp whistle, I summoned my canine companions.

The sharp scent of dug-up turf hit my nostrils as we tore across the grass.

I’m coming for you, Nila Weaver.

I’m coming.

Over the roar of galloping thunder, I commanded, “Chase her.”

MY LUNGS BURNED.

My feet stung.

My legs ached.

Every inch of me screamed with fear.

Run. Run. Run.

I lowered my head, pushing harder, forcing my body to find non-existent energy and propel myself from hell toward salvation.

How long did I run? I didn’t know. How far did I get? Probably not very.

But no matter the stitches in my side or the spasms in my lungs, I kept going. Kept running. I thanked God for my endless nights of pounding the treadmill, and for the first time in my life, was thankful for my small chest size.

Shadows chased my every step. The sun remained blocked by the tree canopy. The yellow glow was still light, still bright, coaxing me on, screaming at me to get up when I stumbled, and ordering my tears to stop as I gasped for breath.

I kept running—zigzagging as much as I could, cutting through a stream, and almost rolling my ankle on the slippery rocks below. I did everything I’d ever seen survivalists do when being hunted.

With my heart whizzing, I bypassed woodland trails, avoided muddy paths, and obscured my scent as much as possible.

But I knew in my heart, it wouldn’t be good enough.

He’ll find you.

My body begged to stop and let the inevitable happen. To stop punishing myself for no purpose. My mind howled in frustration as lactic acid burned in my limbs.

It won’t work. Give up.

Go on, just…stop.

I shook my head, driving myself harder.

He’ll catch you.

It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.

I could run for years, and he would still find me. How did I know? I didn’t trust him.

I didn’t believe he’d let me get away so easily. Everything about him was a carefully scripted lie. Why should his word be any different?

I had no doubt if he didn’t find me, something else would—a snare, a trap—something just waiting to ambush its prey.

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