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"Ash Bringer" Excerpt

Draven had disappeared into another room and I heard running water. I waited uncomfortably for him to come back and tell me what awful thing he wanted me to do next. When he came out a few minutes later, his hair was tied up in that same, sloppy bun and his hands were wet as if he’d just washed them. When he looked at me, I was almost shaking. I was trained to be prepared for dangerous situations, but this Draak made me feel like a mouse beneath a tiger’s paw. All my concentration went into hiding that fact as he approached me. I fully expected him to do something hurtful, but instead his eyes dropped to the bloodied knuckles hanging by my side. His eyes were void of any emotion. There was just a flatness as he reached down and took my wrist to raise my hand up in front of him.

“I suspect whatever you hit was supposed to be my face,” he said.

“Would have been nice,” I said.

“Would have yielded the same result,” he smirked, squeezing my wrist harder.

I took a sharp breath through my teeth as a stinging heat seared through my skin under his grip. I tried to pull away, especially when I saw orange, glowing veins begin to climb up my hand from his touch. It burned, like little bits of fire coursing through my blood. Perhaps this was part of his torture. I pulled harder, but he didn’t budge. When I felt the burning in my knuckles, I hesitated, watching as embers lit within the bloodied abrasions. I gawked while the wounds sizzled closed and gradually disappeared with the pain as if nothing had happened. Draven let me loose, grinning faintly while I ogled at my now flawless flesh.

“You can’t bathe me with fractured knuckles,” he said, making his way back into the bathroom.

I looked up, less than thrilled. My feet wanted to flee the room and disappear, but before I could leave, I felt a twinge emulate from the handprint on my other wrist. I looked down to see it glowing slightly, followed by a flash of hot pain.

“I can do much worse,” Draven said from the doorway, staring at me as if he enjoyed the burn he was inflicting.

I pressed my lips together and walked toward the bathroom. The closer I got, the more the pain subsided. I felt like a horse being whipped into submission and if I was submissive I’d never get free. I needed to spin things in my favor somehow. Perhaps use my compliance as a way to turn on him soon.

The big, square tub in the middle of the floor was filling with scalding hot water. I could feel the steam on my skin from the doorway and swallowed as Draven swung the door shut behind us. The room felt more like a cage now and I found myself alone with the beast. He walked past me, dropping his cotton pants to the floor. He was cut in ways that made him look sculpted from clay. The contours of his muscles were made more obvious when the steam blanketed him in a light sheen. I averted my eyes, thankful when he stepped into the hot water. There were scented oils in the air. Lavender and sage. I hated that it smelled pleasant. Nothing pleasant should have been wasted on Draven.

Once he was settled in the water, I took a more complete scan of the room, from the granite counters to the large, stone shower that was divided from the rest of the area by a glass door. Around the tub was a short ledge and on that ledge was a stack of washcloths. I glared at them, certain he wanted me to use one to wash him, but when I saw the straight razor folded next to them, suddenly getting to the tub was much more tempting. Draven reached back, taking one of the cloths and extending it toward me. I walked over and took the cloth from his hand, careful not to let our fingers touch. Kneeling, I dipped the cloth into the hot water, beads of sweat already forming on my forehead.

“So this is what you do?” I said. “Sleep, take baths, and order people around?”

“Among other things,” Draven answered.

Every movement I made was slow and hesitant, but eventually, I managed to bring myself to start massaging the cloth along Draven’s shoulder. My breath shook, my eyes darting subtly toward the straight razor as Draven relaxed into the bath. I felt his muscles soften under each of my strokes. I brought the cloth up to his neck, dipping it in the water continually and following the lines of his body, along his arm and down his chest, eyeing a few visible markings that made his skin less than perfect. Scars and tattoos were sparsely placed, each image done in a deep, red ink instead of black like mine. I caught myself growing mildly interested in their origins before I shoved my mind back toward the straight razor.

“Is this your game?” I asked softly, trying to distract him. “Make me wash you. Rub your feet. Serve you food.”

“No,” Draven sighed. “Any of the other ladies could do this. You’re doing it because you hate it.”

I shrugged. “Actually I thought your idea of torture was going to be a lot more...torturous. This shows a lack of imagination.”

My other hand crept toward the razor as I brought the cloth up the side of Draven’s jaw and through his hair.

“This is barely work,” I said, unfolding the razor. “I can’t say I’m surprised that you can’t even bathe yourself. Do you Draak ever really exert yourselves for your luxuries? Do you ever work for anything or do you just glare at people and get everything you want?”

Draven let out a small laugh, his eyes closed.

“Why do anything when we have humanity to do everything for us?” he said. “You’re so easy to control. So impressionable. Gullible. Yes, we glare, because that’s all it takes to make a man fall to his knees and beg for his life.”

“Then you’ve only ever met cowards. I won’t beg and you’ll never get me on my knees.”

“We’ll see.”

Like lightning, I swept the razor forward, aiming for Draven’s exposed throat, but like he’d seen the move coming before I thought of it, he reached back and grasped my wrist with bruising force. I inhaled sharply. I couldn’t say I didn’t expect him to catch me, but it was worth a try. It was always worth a try.

Draven pulled me forward, flipping me into the large tub in front of him. I plunged into the hot water, his grip still on my wrist, but I hadn’t dropped the razor yet. I held it firmly as I struggled to the surface of the bath. Draven grabbed my hair with his other hand and gave me a harsh tug, whirling me around and pushing me against the edge of the tub. Gods, now I did it. I opened my eyes to see his immense, naked form towering over me, eyes like sparks. I’d never felt so small in my life.

“You know it’s a bit exciting knowing you’re going to try to kill me at every turn,” he grinned, the thrill apparent in his expression. “You know you can’t, but you still give it your best effort.”

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