Yes, I’ve been planning to post excerpts in a much speedier manner but, as usual, life interfered. So, tardy as it is, here’s the next excerpt from the Three Degrees of Heat anthology I have with the incredibly awesome Stephani Hecht and Jackie Nacht.
First, the blurb:
Everyone knows that if you love someone, you must set him free— but sometimes the only way to do that is by holding on tight.
When Leash Alpha Joe Fields turns feral, everyone in the clan suffers, but none more so than Scotty Stephens, the Leash Omega. After months of abuse in private, Joe finally snaps and makes Scotty an example in public. Leash Beta and Enforcer, Alexander “Axe” Ashe, has wanted Scotty ever since the young Omega came of age, but he didn’t think someone as gentle and tender as Scotty could ever want him back. When Joe crosses the line from cruel to psychotic, Axe knows he has to do something. In a desperate attempt to keep Axe from unforgivable violence, his brother, Ben steps in and challenges Joe, ultimately becoming the Leash’s reluctant new Alpha, and leaving Axe to pick up the pieces of their broken Omega so that he can finally heal.
And the excerpt, from the first of the three stories, my story, “Setting Him Free”. First a tiny bit of set up: Axe has rescued Scotty and brought him home. He’s helped him through his initial anxiety attack, and is determined to just take care of the Omega the way he’s always wanted to.
Scotty was wandering the house like a ghost. The fact that the house consisted of a great room, a single bathroom, and two bedrooms just highlighted the fact. Particularly since he was very conspicuous in avoiding any room Axe happened to occupy.
Axe wasn’t sure what to do about it. He’d gone out of his way to make Scott feel safe, and he’d been very careful not to make any demands on the Omega, but it seemed like the more room he gave the younger man, the more restless and anxious Scott became.
Axe was at his wit’s end. He couldn’t stand to see Scott so frantic, and the younger man’s incessant wanderings were starting to fray Axe’s nerves. By lunch time, after watching Scott not eat breakfast and not sit in one place for more than a minute or two at a time, Axe was ready to snarl. Not at the Omega—he had reason enough to be unsettled. No, Axe wanted to go drag Joe Fields out of the hole Ben had put him in and kill the bastard all over again.
Finally, desperate for them both to get a decent meal and some rest, Axe did the only thing he could think to do. Scotty had responded well to commands last night, maybe he’d be equally obedient today.
“Come sit at the table.” He kept all the anger out of his voice.
Scott was seated across from him almost before the words were out of his mouth, and Axe breathed a sigh of relief. Now maybe the younger man would settle a bit.
His relief was short lived, however. Rather than eating the soup Axe had laid out for him, Scotty was playing with it, poking with his spoon, mashing the potatoes and carrots against the side of the bowl, and shooting surreptitious, frightened glances Axe’s way whenever he though he wasn’t looking.
It was unacceptable. The younger man was already too pale, too thin, and had bruised-looking pits under his eyes.
After a moment of thought, Axe decided to go with what worked.
“Eat your soup, Scotty.”
Scotty tried, Axe had to admit that. But his hands were shaking, and when a chunk of beef landed on the table with a wet plop, the Omega dropped his spoon and shrank back in his chair, looking for all the world as if he were bracing for Axe to hit him.
“Dammit.” Scott flinched, which just fuelled Axe’s anger. With a deliberate—and Herculean—effort, Axe brought his face and voice under control.
“Bring your chair over here, little one. Sit by me.”
Scott did, of course, moving jerkily and shaking the whole way. That was okay, though, Axe decided. As long as the younger man followed directions. Eventually, he’d learn not to expect pain from Axe at every turn.
Once Scotty was perched on the edge of his chair at Axe’s side, the shaking calmed a bit. Oh, he was still clearly terrified. His eyes were wide, the pupils so large there was only a fine rim of dark emerald visible around them. But it was increasingly clear that if Axe gave him specific directions, Scotty felt more comfortable, so that was what Axe would do.
When he leaned across the table to get Scotty’s bowl, the younger man’s breath caught. At least this time, he wasn’t flinching from an expected blow. Axe didn’t respond, and the younger man blew out an almost silent sigh when the Beta sat back in his chair.
He wouldn’t go so far as to call it progress, but at least Scotty wasn’t a shaking wreck.
Scooping up a spoonful of soup, he held it in front of Scotty’s mouth. The Omega’s eyes grew even wider, which he hadn’t thought possible.
With a slow blink, Scotty opened his mouth and accepted the soup. Axe chose to ignore the way the younger man’s lips looked closing around the spoon. And he really chose to ignore the way his cock twitched and showed signs of waking up at the sight.
Everything about the man turned Axe on. His slender body would fit perfectly against Axe’s, Axe just knew it. The lush line of his lips begged to be nibbled and licked. Axe could only imagine how the man would taste. Would he be sweet or spicy? Whatever the flavor, Axe knew it would drive him out of his mind.
Scotty was an Omega, a natural peacemaker, and naturally submissive. That calm seeped into Axe’s skin, even as Scotty all but shook with nervous tension. That was one of the benefits for an Alpha or Beta of mating with an Omega—the Omega smoothed the stronger fox’s rough edges, gave him peace. At the same time, that soul-deep submission appealed to every dominant instinct Axe possessed, triggering every protective tendency while arousing him almost beyond bearing.
So not the time for that.
That first bite was successful, so Axe continued feeding the Omega, taking a bite himself, then pressing a bit of beef or chunk of potato against those plump lips. He’d fed him about half the bowl when fearful green eyes flicked up to meet his. Pink lips opened, then closed silently.
“What is it, little one?”
“D-do I have to eat any m-more?”
“You’re full?” Scotty nodded quickly, eyes back on the table. “You’re sure?”
“Any m-more might m-make me sick.”
Axe was reasonably sure the Omega didn’t stutter, which meant he was frightened enough of Axe’s reaction to stammer out his words. Joe Fields had died much too easily. On the upside, though, at least Scotty felt safe enough to speak up at all.
“Promise me you’ll eat something more in an hour.” That should be long enough for the younger man’s stomach to settle, and if he made it a direct command, he was fairly certain Scotty would do it. And, God knew Scotty needed as much food as he could get. The Omega could stand to gain ten or fifteen pounds easily. Maybe even twenty.
He was inarguably beautiful, but right now it was a brittle beauty. His bones were too near the surface, sharp and fragile looking. Axe wanted to see him healthy, body wrapped in lean muscle and enough flesh that he didn’t look like he’d break under the lightest touch.
“All right then,” Axe nodded. “Take your things to the sink. I’ll get everything rinsed and in the dishwasher when I’m done.”
“I can do that.”
Axe blinked. It was nearly the first thing Scotty had said without prompting. He couldn’t help but notice that, when the younger man wasn’t stammering, his voice held a velvety rasp that was…appealing.
“Okay.” Scotty’s shoulders seemed to relax at Axe’s quick agreement. “Take care of the dishes, and then I want you to go into the great room and lie down on the couch.” He’d be damned if he let the man go fluttering around the house again, burning off any calories—and calm—he’d managed to take in.
Scotty’s expression was so surprised and confused, Axe couldn’t suppress a smile. He smiled even more when a soft flush crept up those too-pale cheeks.
“You may wrap up in an afghan if you’d like,” he added. Scotty was blinking at him, looking as if he didn’t exactly understand what Axe was saying. The Beta’s smile faded with the realization that it would never occur to the younger man to take care of himself, let alone that someone else might take care of him.
“You’re to lie there for at least an hour. Eyes closed. Hands still.” Maybe if he made it a command, the younger man would be able to rest. “Would you like me to let you know when your hour is up?”
Scotty nodded silently.
Axe had a sudden thought. “If you’re asleep, I’ll leave you alone. You need the rest. So don’t be upset if you wake up and several hours have gone by. In fact,” Axe reached out with slow deliberation and cupped the Omega’s cheek, running his thumb just below the dark circle ringing one green eye. “I’d prefer you sleep for several hours.”
Scotty’s lips opened slightly. His expression was still all confusion, but Axe thought that just maybe there was a hint of hope there, too.
“I want you healthy and strong, little one,” he said, and wondered if Scotty would realize the words were a promise. “Now go take care of your dishes and then go rest.”
The Omega drew in another breath, looking like he wanted to speak, then pressed his lips together with a nod and carried his dishes to the kitchen.
Axe was pleased to note that he wasn’t shaking at all.
* * * *
Scott couldn’t remember the last time someone had said that to him. His mom, probably, before she got sick. Before Joe had taken them in. Before…
No, he wasn’t going there again. Not when he felt almost safe.
Scott wrapped the afghan more tightly around his shoulders, even though he knew it couldn’t combat the ball of ice that lived in his gut. It smelled good, spicy and musky, and like Axe.
Scott felt the faintest stirring of longing. He craved the Beta’s touch; the man’s scent just made him want Axe more.
And what a surprise that was. Not only that Scott flat out loved the scent of the man, but how everything about Axe was different than he’d expected.
He was strong, terrifyingly so, but he’d been so gentle with Scott, treating him like something fragile and precious. And he seemed to have some sort of ability to read Scott’s mind. Well, maybe not his mind—nothing in his mind was coherent enough for Scott to make sense of, let alone a man like Axe. No, maybe it was that Axe could read Scott’s soul.
Whatever it was, Axe somehow had discovered the key to shutting down the roaring in Scott’s brain. A few sternly spoken words, and the chaos went quiet, and Scott could function.
Joe had recognized Scott’s need for structure and control, too. In the beginning, he’d even given Scott most of what he’d needed. He’d stood in as a parent, as a guardian, and even a comforter as Scott’s mother’s cancer had progressed.
Scott wasn’t sure when comfort and guidance had morphed into control, and when control had bled into abuse.
Yes. There’d been a good deal of bleeding.
Things had started so well with Joe and ended in blood. Scott squeezed his eyes closed and tried to shut off his brain.
He’d been given a command by a much stronger fox, and, for once, it was a command he wanted to follow. Scott drew in a deep breath and blew it out, along with a small amount of the tension that was cramping his muscles.
There was nothing he could do now, not about Joe, not about Axe, and not about the snake pit that was his mind. So he’d do as he’d been told and rest.
Three Degrees of Heat is available now at eXtasy Books and from Amazon for Kindle.