Chapter 25 Part I

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Sam pressed her mouth to Braeden’s maw, her lips mashed against his teeth. He growled low in his throat, his mouth stretched open wide as though he wanted to devour her. As he ground his jaw against hers, she cut her lip on his sharpened incisors, her blood trickling into their joined mouths. Braeden’s tongue snuck out to swipe at her bottom lip, lapping up the coppery liquid. Sam gasped in shock at the touch of his tongue, her mouth opening under his.

And then he was kissing her back, violently, his lips molding over hers, his tongue thrusting inside her mouth. His hands left her waist and tangled in her hair, pulling her closer until she stood flush against him. He nipped at her lips, his nibbles just shy of painful, and then he cupped her face in his clawed hands and kissed her deeply.

Sam’s eyes drifted closed. When she opened her eyes again, she knew what she would have to do, but until then, she would allow herself to get lost in the moment, to be with Braeden as a woman with a man, without the complications of the Paladins, secrets, or broken tattoos. Her free hand flattened against his chest, and she leaned into him, deepening their kiss.

Braeden growled again, tasting her everywhere—her lips, her tongue, her teeth. Sam felt an answering hunger low in her belly, and her tongue entwined with his until all she could see and feel and think was Braeden. Sam had never felt like this before, the sensations overwhelming. Her breath merged with Braeden’s, and they breathed as one, in short, desperate gasps. The wildness that infected Braeden spread into her, and together, they were savage beasts, clawing to get closer to one another. Braeden’s nails bit into her cheeks and her knife sunk deeper into his neck as she dragged her free hand from his chest to around his neck, and then scratched down his broad back. This -- thing -- between them didn’t smolder; it burned like fallen leaves set aflame.

“Sam.”

The sigh of her name was so quiet that at first Sam thought she’d imagined it, but it was enough to bring her back down to earth, to remind her that when this kiss ended, she had a duty to fulfill. She squeezed her eyes tighter, unwilling to open them to the inevitable.

The kiss between them gentled, still urgent, but soft, almost reverent. Their lips lingered, and then pulled apart. Sam opened her eyes, ignoring the wetness that rolled down her cheeks. “Goodbye, Braeden,” she whispered again, and re-angled the knife, readying to drive it home.

Braeden’s hand wrapped around hers. “I believe this is mine,” he said, and tugged at the knife—his knife. A small, crooked smile curved his lips, and his eyes, now clear, were bright with some foreign emotion.

The knife dropped from her hands, clattering to the floor. Sam launched herself at Braeden with so much force that he stumbled backwards, taking her with him as they fell into a graceless clump.

She grasped his face with both hands. “Braeden? Can you understand me? Are you really okay?”

“Aye.”

The single word was like a balm to her soul, and she gave him a quick, bruising kiss. “Thank the gods,” she said, and then she punched him hard in the stomach. “Don’t you ever do that to me again, do you hear me? The next time, I’ll kill you, I swear it.”

Braeden nodded towards the discarded knife. “You almost killed me just now.”

Sam’s face crumpled, and she had to grit her teeth to fight back the tears, gods damn her stupid, female emotions. “Do you think I wanted to do it? I thought you were gone. I thought you had slipped over the precipice and weren’t coming back. What should I have done?”

“You should have killed me,” Braeden said matter-of-factly, rolling onto his side. He brushed his thumb against her cheek. “But I’m glad that you didn’t.”

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