Chapter Two

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I have spent the last several weeks working on just this scene! Hopefully my work has paid off. Happy reading.

Sykes dropped backwards, his limp and heavy body weighing him down, exhaustion dragging the energy out of him. He felt hazy, drained, a little numb. As he let out a deep sigh, he landed. He stayed down. Sykes was quite unable to move. Completely at mercy.

He blinked at the shower of goose feathers floating around him, blissfully uncaring. He must have knocked the stuffing out of the fluffy pillows when he dropped.

A halo of fiery hair popped into his vision. The feathers twirling gently to rest on her head and melt into the tangled mess like snowflakes.

Her laugh sounded like Christmas bells.

"Have I tired you out?" she asked.

Sykes roused himself from dozing, dreaming of a perfect winter. He reached up and brushed the feathers from her hair.

"Am I heavy?" she asked a second question. He noticed her insignificant weight on him for the first time.

"Not at all," he said, coaxing her down onto the pillows beside him. "An' I feel quite awake."

Tallera cuddled against his bare chest, enjoying the closeness. It was unusual for her. Normally, she was halfway out the door before her companion had regained his senses. Like a lioness, she specialized in catching her quarry unawares, taking them down swiftly before moving on to the next chase. Sneaking a glance, she had to agree that he was no ordinary prey. Lionesses preyed on gazelles, and Sykes reminded her more of a bear.

He'd closed his eyes, so she took the liberty of studying him. She'd seen a bear once in the forest as a young girl. A rebellious adventure into the woods had become suddenly perilous; her heart had beat in her small chest like a trapped hummingbird as the huge bear had stood on its hind legs, ignoring her as she hid behind a tree, searching for food. Sykes' heavy build, tall stature and shaggy brown hair and beard matched the bear from her memory perfectly.

Sykes stirred beneath her and she raised her head. A colossal yawn escaped him, coming out as a low, gruff growl. Tallera hid a grin at the further resemblance.

He stretched and sighed, his bones crackling and popping like firecrackers as he settled. He hooked one arm around her torso. Tallera shot him a half-smile.

"Have I knocked a few years off you, old man?" she teased.

Sykes looked down his nose at her, chin tucked into chest. "Old man?" he repeated, thoroughly offended. The image of the bear, disgruntled at his unsuccessful quest for food, came to her mind.

Tallera sat up, teasingly scratching her nails across his chest. "If it helps, you didn't seem like an old man until a moment ago."

Sykes snorted. He sat up abruptly, level with her. "I'll have ye know, Tallera, that I am in peak condition."

The redhead dropped her eyes to admire his nude, battle-worn body. "Hmm," she purred, arching a salacious brow. "I've seen worse."

A smile twitched at the corner of Sykes' mouth. "C'mere lass." He tackled her, planting a kiss on her mouth while she shook with giggles. Trapping her beneath him, she tried kicking her legs wildly to escape, shrieking with laughter when he blew a tickling breath into her ear.

"Sykes," she grunted, unable to catch her breath, "You're crushing me."

He rolled away, holding her close to his side in the circle of his arms. He sighed again, and a content rumble traveled through his chest beneath her head.

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