Strip You Bare

By: Maisey Yates

This time she had a very clear idea about why she felt hot. “Usually men only shout these kinds of things at me from across the street.”

“Those aren’t men. Those are boys. If I want something I take it. I don’t shout about it.”

For some reason she had the very clear thought that it was entirely possible every man she had interacted with up until now really had been a boy. That Micah was the first actual man she had ever encountered.

“Is that so? According to you, you want me out on my ass. And yet here I stand, firmly on my high heels. I think you’re all talk, Micah.” A sensible woman might have backed down in the situation, but Sarah didn’t know how to back down. Her spine was steel, and she’d never figured out how to make it bend.

It was why, no matter how hard she tried, she had always been slightly at odds with her mother, her grandfather. Why, when push came to shove, she never could make the best decision for a woman in her position.

Why she hadn’t been able to marry Charlie, even when Tansey and Jillian—her best friends—had insisted they would never compromise the future of such a sensible union    .

Why she tried so hard to fit into life as a debutante while always being painfully aware of how confining it was. Of how much her status limited her.

Why she used it as a sword sometimes to cut people down, even as it rebounded and stabbed her clean through.

He laughed and took a step forward, bending at the waist and wrapping his arm around hers before straightening, hoisting her over his shoulder. She was too shocked to do anything for a full two seconds as Micah began to carry her out of the room.

“What that hell are you doing?” she shouted, her mouth catching up with proceedings a lot faster than her brain.

He didn’t answer, he just kept walking. And then his big, warm palm settled over her butt and she nearly incinerated from her rage. “Get your hands off me!”

There was no staying cool in this moment. Not when this . . . this ape was carrying her through the house, lifting her like she was a kitten. Light, fluffy, and harmless.

She was not harmless.

Her breasts were resting against his shoulder blade, her stomach draped over his shoulder, her thighs pressed against his chest. He was too much all over her. Add that hand, and she was engulfed.

“Don’t you sound like a lady about to get tied to the railroad tracks. You wanted this, don’t pretend differently. You challenged me. And I’m proving to you that I’m exactly what I said. So don’t complain about it now.” They arrived at the front door of the mansion and he turned the knob and pushed the door open, depositing her none too gently onto her feet on the concrete. “There. Now your pretty ass is outside. And you understand a little bit better that I’m not the kind of man you fuck around with.”

“What do you want from me? Do I need to pay . . . Hush money? Rent? What’s the deal?”

“Simple truth? I don’t know.”

“Oh great. The large, blunt instrument is ignorant. Both a surprise and an inconvenience.”

“Our president was murdered, Sarah. And he owned this place, hell if I know why. It’s shady as fuck. And anything that might be tied to Priest’s death isn’t something we’re going to let go.”

“But I . . . it doesn’t make sense to me. How can the Deacons own something that has been in my family for generations?”

“Because it was signed over to us, I assume. But none of that is in the records we have. That’s the sum total of what I know. That and I was sent here to keep watch on the house and protect you.”

“Protect me?” She patted at her chest, her stomach. “That’s so funny, because I don’t feel very protected.”

“Maybe this isn’t the kind of protection a little rich bitch like you might recognize. But it’s the truth. I have no issue with you going ahead and throwing the Christmas party. What happens after isn’t up to me.”

“You mean you aren’t the big boss?”

He chuckled, gripping the cuffs of his dress shirt and unbuttoning them. He slowly started to roll one up, revealing more of the tattoo she’d noticed earlier.

Roses. He had roses tattooed on his forearm. Dark leaves, prominent thorns. And a skull settled in the middle, the creeping vines growing through its mouth and eyes. He set about rolling up the other sleeve. The tattoos started higher on that arm: a crucifix, another flower, an even more gruesome skull.

She had no idea what she was supposed to think about him based on the combination of objects he’d chosen to permanently etch into his skin.

“No, baby. I’m not the boss. This isn’t my game. But I was sent here to keep an eye on you. So I’m going to do it. I’m following orders, but don’t think I want to be here.”

“Wait. Are you babysitting me under sufferance?”

“I told you, I’m following orders.”

“Right. Excellent. So now that you’re done beating your chest like a mostly hairless gorilla.”

“You don’t learn very quickly, do you?”

“It’s a flaw,” she said, doing her best to keep the impenetrable wall in place. The one she’d cultivated years ago to withstand the pressures of always being on show. “But you will find that when I do learn, I take action quickly.”

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