First Debt Page 2

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.

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