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Butcher & Blackbird by Brynne Weaver


Butcher & Blackbird

by Brynne Weaver

Published by Zando

Book 1 in The Ruinous Love Trilogy


Every serial killer needs a friend.

Every game must have a winner.

When a chance encounter sparks an unlikely bond between rival murderers Sloane and Rowan, the two find something elusive—the friendship of a like-minded, pitch-black soul. From small town West Virginia to upscale California, from downtown Boston to rural Texas, the two hunters collide in an annual game of blood and suffering, one that pits them against the most dangerous monsters in the country. But as their friendship develops into something more, the restless ghosts left in their wake are only a few steps behind, ready to claim more than just their newfound love. Can Rowan and Sloane dig themselves out of a game of graves? Or have they finally met their match?



Genre


Triggers

(Copied from Brynne Weaver's website) This is the book with the craziest list, so hold on tight cracks knuckles. Yes, this really is the list. Yes, it all does happen.

  • Eyeballs and eye sockets 

  • Amateur surgery

  • Skin ornaments

  • Chainsaws, axes, knives, scalpels - a lot of sharp objects

  • Accidental cannibalism

  • Not-so-accidental cannibalism

  • Questionable use of a mummified corpse

  • Lobotomized man servant

  • Ill-advised use of kitchen implements

  • I’m sorry about the cookies and cream ice cream (I’m not really)

  • Detailed sex scenes which include (but are not limited to) cock warming, rough sex, praise kink, anal, adult toys, choking, spitting, dom/sub interactions, genital piercings

  • References to parental neglect and child abuse

  • Parental loss (not depicted - one parent murdered, one parent passed in child birth)

  • References to child sexual assault (not in detail)

  • It’s a book about serial killers, so there’s some generally messed-up murder and chaos

 

Well, that was an unexpected delight.

Butcher & Blackbird has been on my radar for a few months now, but my best friend once again encouraged me to read it with her.

This is the same friend who pushed me to read Haunting Adeline with her, and I remember reading the trigger warning for that book and immediately messaging her and saying what the fuck.

I didn't let it deter me, and I ended up liking the book, so there is that.

Did I ever think I would encounter another trigger warning list that would have my eyes bulging, and shaking my head?

No.

But damn it, I loved this book!

I loved the characters.

I loved the overall story.

I loved the romance.

I even loved the absolutely unhinged things that happened in this book.

I mean, I'm not crazy. Some of those things really grossed me out.

It was Brynne's wit and humor that got me through those moments though.


Butcher & Blackbird was a refreshing take in a heavily saturated market of dark romance. First of all, we don't just have one morally grey character. We have two. Serial Killer's in general are rare, so when they discover one another, and they both have similar kill lists, there are an immediate feeling I got as the reader of kindred spirits.

The only way this book worked was because they hunted the bad guys. Other serial killers, rapists, human traffickers, you name it.

So while they do these messed up things, you don't hate them for it.

Then Brynne did this awesome thing, that added so much tension and longing in this book.

She gave them a reason to see each other once a year, and make it a competition. Making their relationship so drawn out between meetings just added that extra bit of desire that I love in a romance.

The situations these two find themselves in are a mix of hilarious, and disgusting, but damn is it entertaining.


Sloane is definitely an interesting character, that I couldn't help but love - quirks and all. She is definitely guarded, and damaged, but this is where Brynne did something I haven't really seen before.

Her trauma is hinted at. We get enough information to know why she does what she does, who her first kill was, and why, but Brynne never has Sloane go into "story time" and tell the whole story.

In this case, less is more.

We didn't need the whole story. We were able to put enough together to piece together why Sloane does what she does. The same goes with Rowan's backstory. We know just enough to know who and why his first kill is, and that he was a bad person.

Rowan. Damn, I love that name. Brynne had me loving this guy with his name and accent alone. haha.

Do you know what I like about him? Despite being a serial killer, he is just so normal. I mean, he is obsessive, but we love that in a dark MC, right?

Plus, he is a chef. Love a chef MC.

In all honestly, what I loved about his character the most was his absolute support of Sloane from the moment he met her. '

He respected her as a killer. He loved her intricate and complicated displays (I loved the message she was giving in her displays). As he learned more about her, he respected her as a whole.

There was never a moment where he wasn't 100% a Sloane stan, and I love a man who stands by their woman.


I wasn't sure if I was going to like Butcher & Blackbird, let alone love it. Those trigger warnings are intense. There are parts that are definitely gross. But Brynne wrote a story that was not only unique, but entertaining, romantic, humorous, and yes, steamy. This book was a major hit for me, and I can't wait to read Leather & Lark!



 



 

Being a serial killer who kills serial killers is a great hobby …

Until you find yourself locked in a cage.

For three days.

With a dead body.

In the Louisiana summer.

With no air conditioning.

I glare at the fly-riddled corpse lying beyond the locked door of my cage. The buttons of Albert Briscoe’s shirt strain against the bloat of his distended, green-gray stomach. His moving stomach, the thin skin undulating over the gasses and maggots that chew through the flesh beneath. The stench of decay, the buzz of insects, the smell of shit and piss that have vacated his body, it’s fucking revolting. And I’m not squeamish. But I have standards. I prefer my corpses fresh. I just want to take my trophies and stage my scene and go, not hang around and watch as they liquefy.

As if on cue, there’s a quiet tearing sound, like wet paper ripping apart.

Sloane: “No …”

I can almost hear Albert from beyond the grave: Yes.

Sloane: “Oh no, no, no …”

It’s happening. This is for killing me, you fucking bitch.


Rowan: “I’m guessing you made it your business too, judging by the quality of the hunting knife stuck in his throat. Handmade Damascus steel. Where’d you get it?”

I sigh. My gaze lingers on the body and my favorite blade before I press my cheeks to my drawn-up knees.

Sloane: “Etsy.”


Rowan: “Oh my God. I knew it. I fucking knew they had it wrong. It had to be a woman. The Orb Weaver! Such a cool name. The intricate fishing line, the fucking eyeballs. Amazing. I’m such a huge fan.”

Sloane: "Uhh ..."

Rowan continues to shake my hand despite my effort to pull it away.

Sloane: "Thanks ... I guess ...?"


Rowan: “Have a shower. I’ll find you some clothes. Then we’ll burn the house down.”

Rowan unlocks the door and extends a hand into the shadows of my cage.

Rowan: “Come on, Blackbird. I’m in the mood for barbecue. What do you say?”


A weighted silence thickens the air, both of us paused with ribs heading toward our mouths. A sly smile spreads across my lips as Sloane’s face falls.

Rowan: “You totally know who I am.”

Sloane: “Oh my God.”

Rowan: “You do. You know what I like to hunt on my home turf. How long have you been a fan?”

Sloane: “Dear Christ, stop.”

I chuckle as Sloane drops her forehead onto the backs of her bent wrists, a rib still clutched between her sticky fingers.

Rowan: “Which one was your favorite? The guy I flayed and strung up on the bow of that ship at Griffin’s Wharf? Or what about the guy I suspended from the crane? That one seemed popular.”

Sloane: “I can already tell you are the worst.”


Rowan: “You’ll love me one day,”

I purr, keeping hold of her eyes when they reach mine. My tongue passes in a slow lick over the sauce she left on my skin. Sloane’s eyes glitter in the warm afternoon light filtering through the diner’s windows, that dimple next to her lip a shadow of the amusement she can’t quite contain.

Sloane: “Don’t think so, Butcher.”

We’ll see, my grin says.


Sloane: “You still haven’t really answered my question about Briscoe.”

Rowan: “Yes, I did. Hacking limbs. Enjoying agony.”

Sloane: “But why him?”

I shrug.

Rowan: “Same reason you picked him, I assume. He was a piece of shit.”

Sloane: “How do you know that’s why I picked him?”

Rowan: “Why wouldn’t it be?”

I reply as I lean my forearms against the aluminum trim on the Formica table. Sloane raises her chin, her expression indignant.

Sloane: “Maybe he had nice eyeballs.”


Sloane: “I didn’t gouge them out, Butcher. I plucked them. Delicately. Like a lady.”


Rowan: “You know what they say, Blackbird. ‘It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye,’”

I whisper.

Rowan: “And that’s when the real fun begins.”


I roll my eyes and gesture to the carrot.

Rowan: “What the hell. Is this a new phase in your CrossFit indoctrination, walking around with raw root vegetables?”

Fionn: “Beta-carotene, motherfucker. Antioxidants. I’m helping my body eliminate free radicals.”

Rowan: “Take a vitamin. You look like a douche.”


Lachlan: “Let’s say you manage to claw your way into the friend zone, and then by some fucking miracle you get yourself beyond that and into the spider lady’s good graces without losing an eye, how would you like me to refer to her?”

Rowan: “I don’t know, asshole. How about Queen. Or, Your Highness. Fuck off.”

I groan as Lachlan’s laugh surrounds us again, even louder than before.

Lachlan: Fuck Off it is. ‘Pleased to meet you, Fuck Off. I’m your brother-in-law, welcome to the family, Fuck Off.’”


My laugh seems to do little to reassure him.

Rowan: “Nothing about us is normal, but I’ll be fine. I have a gut instinct about her.”

The burner phone dings in my pocket.

Sloane: I’m about to take off. If this were a race, you’d already be behind

Sloane: Oh wait… it IS a race! Look at that. I hope you like disarticulated eyeballs because I’m going to kill this shit, pun intended. Safe travels and get fucked *Kiss Emoji*

Rowan: “Yeah, Fionn,”

I say with a bright grin as I slide my phone back into my pocket and head toward the door.

Rowan: “I think I’ll be okay.”


I swallow down a sudden burst of nerves.

Sloane: “Maybe I should consume the cat’s soul. Mine just left my body.”

Rowan: “I figured that was how you acquired your freckles. Stealing souls.”

Sloane: “I see you’re just as hilarious as the first time we met.”


Rowan: “What does my nervous little Blackbird like to read, I wonder?”

he teases as he waves the device at me.

A dismissive huff leaves my lips, even though his words crawl into my veins and inject my cheeks with crimson heat.

Sloane: “Monster porn, clearly,”

Rowan laughs and I manage to snatch the device from his grip, which only makes him laugh harder.

Sloane: “The sentient dragonman has two dicks and he knows how to use them. A forked tongue too. And a very talented tail. So don’t make fun.”

Rowan: “Give me that back. My TV is broken in my room and that’s the kind of entertainment I need in my life.”

Sloane: “Get fucked, Butcher.”


Sloane: “I’m upset that you’re taking too long to pass the bottle over. And you’re getting your boy germs all over it. You’re probably trying to infect me so I’ll be sick in my room with your manpox while you go and win our little competition.”

Rowan: “Manpox.”

Rowan snorts as I take a long sip and pass the bottle back. He keeps hold of my glare as he takes a drink, the smirk in his expression still gleaming in his eyes.

Rowan: “Well,”

he says, presenting the bottle with a flourish as he hands it to me,

Rowan: “I’ve got your girl cooties now, so we’re even.”


Rowan: "I love running my own kitchen. I like the pace. It can be frantic, but I enjoy that. I do well with a bit of chaos. Maybe that’s why I like you,”

he says with a wink.


Sloane: “Good night, weirdo. I’m going to bed. Early bird gets the worm, you know. Might plan myself a solo hiking trip to Davis Creek. No boys allowed unless they have scales and a breeding kink.”

Rowan: “Of all the times to forget my dinosaur onesie at home.”


All that fury combined with all that shyness, all her lethal ability wrapped in an easily flustered package. She’s so fucking adorable. It takes everything in me not to laugh, and she can tell.

Sloane leans over the threshold, her fingers gripped to the edge of the door as she tries to keep me from seeing inside her room. Her furious gaze scours my face.

Sloane: “I’m a serial killer, you know. I could break into your room while you sleep and suck your eyeballs right out of your head with the industrial vacuum that Francis uses to clean the cat hair from the hideous lobby carpet.”

Rowan: “I’m sure you could, Blackbird. No doubt.”

My grin spreads and I raise my hands in a truce, though Sloane doesn’t seem convinced.


Sloane: “Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on all the gory details later.”

With a final tap on my chest that’s really more like a slap, she turns and strides away.

Rowan: “But … I was the one who was supposed to be gloating,”

I call after her as she reaches the lobby exit.

Sloane: “Sorry, not sorry,”

She flips me the bird before she slips through the doors, leaving only an echoing thud behind.


Rowan: “What are you doing?”

Sloane: “I’m boobing boobily, Rowan. What does it look like?”

Rowan: “You’re … what?”

Sloane: “Chasing that motherfucker down, that’s what.”


Rowan: “That emo wannabe fuckboy with the pink tie is the killer? And you went on a date with that wanker?”

Sloane snorts a laugh but doesn’t stop.

Sloane: “Gross.”

Rowan: “Sloane—”

Sloane: “It’s a competition, Butcher,”

she says as she reaches the corner of the hotel. She doesn’t even look over her shoulder as she gives me the finger and leaves me with two parting words:

Sloane: “Get fucked.”


Sloane’s heavy breaths flood my senses with ginger and vanilla. She blows a lock of hair from her eyes and glares at me before she squirms beneath my weight.

Sloane: “Get the fuck off. He’s mine.”

Rowan: “No can do, Peaches.”

Sloane: “Call me that again, and I swear to God I’ll chop your balls off.”

Rowan: “Whatever you say, Blackbird.”

I grin and give her a swift kiss on her cheek, the feel of her soft and yielding flesh branded into memory the moment my lips touch her skin.

Rowan: “See ya.”


Rowan: “I’m going to love every fucking second of this,”

Francis is already begging for mercy when I grasp the back of his shirt. I clutch his hideous pink tie in my fist to strangle him with it but it pulls free of his neck.

I glare at the fabric balled in my fist. Then at Francis. Then back again.

Rowan: “A fucking clip-on? What are you, twelve?”


Rowan: “That woman you were watching …?”

My fingers tighten around his throat as he desperately nods.

Rowan: “She is mine.”


Sloane: “He looks like a Picasso,”

she continues as she nods toward Francis’s destroyed face. Her hand flows in his direction with birdlike grace.

Sloane: “Eyes over here, nose over there. Very artsy, Butcher. Embracing your cubism era. Cool.”


Rowan: You know what I did this morning?

Sloane: deep sigh

Rowan: I decorated my toaster strudel

Sloane: Fascinating. I’m riveted.

Sloane: Also, toaster strudel? Isn’t that meant for hormonal teenagers who need significant quantities of processed sugar to function in the AM? I thought you were a grown-ass man

Rowan: A man who appreciates mass-produced flaky pastry and icing that can be used to spell “WINNER” in vanilla-ish frosting

Sloane: I’m 100% positive that I hate you

Rowan: And I’m 100% positive you’ll love me one day


Lark: “That’s nice.”

She nibbles at the corner of her lower lip and I roll my eyes.

Lark: “It’s sweet. You stayed. You made another friend.”

Sloane: “Shut up.”

Lark: “Maybe a future boyfriend.”

I bark an incredulous laugh.

Sloane: “No.”

Lark: “Maybe a soul mate.”

Sloane: “You’re my soul mate.”

Lark: “Then a best friend. With benefits.”

Sloane: “Please stop.”

Lark: “I can see it now,”

Lark says, her eyes sparkling as she sits up straighter, one graceful hand held aloft. She clears her throat.

Lark:He can show you the world …”

she sings.

Lark: Glittering something shiny … ‘I think our love can do anything that we want it to.’”

Sloane: “You did not just mash up a butchered version of Aladdin with The Notebook. You have the voice of an angel, Lark Montague, but that is atrocious.”


Lark: “I’m in a dry spell. You’d think there would be some hot musician types on the road but they’re all way too emo. I just want to be tossed around a bit. Manhandled, you know? Call me a dirty little slut and I’m all for it. These cry-into-the-mic types aren’t doing it for me.”

I snort a laugh and toss a piece of popcorn in the air in a failed attempt to catch it with my mouth.

Sloane: “Don’t talk to me about dry spells. I’m going to need a supercomputer to calculate my days of celibacy at this rate.”

Lark: “Or—and hear me out,”

Lark says with a slap to my arm when I groan.

Lark: “You could take a little trip to Boston to visit your Butcher man and see about ending that dry spell. Fill that well, sister.”

Sloane: “Gross.”

Lark: “Fill it up until it’s gushing. Overflowing.”

Sloane: “You’re disturbing.”

Lark: “I bet he would oblige.”


I turn the phone off and set it on the coffee table, then drop my head into my palms and hope that they can absorb me into another world.

One where I don’t have to feel anything.

Because revenge is easy.

But everything else is hard.


Sloane: “You delivered food to my house?”

There’s a pause. I imagine she’s probably checking the windows, looking for any sign of me.

Sloane: “I have food, Rowan.”

Rowan: “Good for you. I think that qualifies you as a fully fledged adult.”


Sloane: “You were busy. I was … intruding.”

Rowan: “I would have made time for you. You’re …”

I swallow before I can say more than I should.

Rowan: “You’re my friend. Maybe someday my best friend.”

The silence stretches on so long that I pull the phone from my ear to check if the call disconnected. When Sloane’s voice comes through the line, it’s little more than a whisper but still cuts louder than a scream.

Sloane: “You hardly know me,”

Rowan: “Really? Because I bet I know the darkest parts of you better than anyone. Just like you know the darkest parts of me. And despite that, you still want to hang out with me. Most of the time, anyway.”

I smile when Sloane’s breath of a soft laugh travels through the line.

Rowan: “So, I think that makes you my friend, whether you like it or not.”


I thought I had finally escaped Rowan when I slipped out of the hotel and his rental car was still in the parking lot.

Clearly, I misjudged him.

And he is fucking elated about that.

Rowan: “I’m sorry to interrupt,”

Rowan barrels on, ready to light the fuse for every cannon in his arsenal of charm. He aims his fucking flawless smile at my prey, his skin bright and flushed, probably from the excitement of successfully chasing me down.

Rowan: “I saw my friend’s car here as I was passing through and it’s just been so long, I thought I should stop in and say a quick hello to her.”

And then he turns the full force of his charm attack on me.

Rowan: “Hello, friend.”


Sloane: “You are the worst,”

I hiss as Rowan pulls open the driver’s-side door for me.

Sloane: “You and your”

—I wave a hand in his direction as I slide into my seat—

Sloane: “skullduggery.”

Rowan snorts as he leans down into my vehicle, his face so close to mine that I feel his every breath on my cheek. I try to ignore the way it twists my belly with a different kind of fury.

Rowan: Skullduggery. Should I take this as a sign that you’ve moved on from dragon smut to pirate porn?”

Sloane: “Maybe I have.”

Rowan: “You know, you’re kind of adorable when you’re indignant.”

Sloane: “And you are still the worst,”

I snarl as I tug my door free of his grip. He manages to move before I slam it on his hand, but I still catch his teasing laugh and his parting words:

Rowan: “You’ll love me someday.”


Rowan: “That’s a pretty dress. Someone help pick that out for you? Whoever they are, they clearly have impeccable taste.”

Sloane: “Great taste. Absolutely zero boundaries.”

He grins.

Rowan: “I’m so happy we’re on the same page.”


Sloane: “Oh, we’re just friends,”

I say at the same time that Rowan says,

Rowan: “An expedition in the bayou.”

We give one another a pointed look as Thorsten laughs.

Thorsten: “Seems like you might have differing opinions on the subject of your relationship status.”

Sloane: “Well, it’s hard to compete with the stunning waitstaff and Rowan’s adoring socialite regulars,”

I say with a sickly sweet smile.

Rowan: “No one competes with Sloane.”

Rowan’s eyes anchor on mine, dragging me into the depths of a navy sea.

Rowan: “She just hasn’t realized it yet.”


Sloane: “Just a little snip. There you go.”

The screaming stops abruptly and Sloane’s shoulders sag with disappointment.

Sloane: “Wuss.”

She reaches behind her without turning around, her gloved fist covered with blood, and drops a severed eyeball next to another already resting on the bread plate next to my head.

I retch.

Sloane whips around at the sound.

Sloane:“In the bowl, Rowan. Jesus Christ.”


Sloane: “He seems pretty harmless.”

Rowan: “Then what’s the problem?”

Sloane: “He’s eating. In the kitchen,”

I shake my head, not following what she’s laying down.

Sloane: “The next courses. The … food.”

Rowan: “That’s what most people eat. Food.”

The color has drained from Sloane’s face.

Sloane: “Yeah … most …”

Rowan: “I don’t get it—”

Sloane: “You ate a fucking person,”

I blink at Sloane once before pulling the bowl back to heave again.

Sloane: “Oh my God, Rowan, it was really gross. You stuffed it in. Couldn’t get enough.”

I retch.

Sloane: “You passed out while chewing. I had to scrape it off your tongue so you wouldn’t choke.”

I glare at her through watery eyes before vomiting again, though thankfully there’s not much left to get rid of.

Sloane: “Did you know it was a rump roast? I tortured Thorsten until he told me. I had to dig human ass out of your mouth.”

Rowan: “At least you didn’t fucking swallow it, Sloane. Why the fuck didn’t you stop me?”

Sloane: “I tried, but you just went for it. Don’t you remember?”


Sloane: “Voilà!”

she exclaims into Thorsten’s ear, but he doesn’t wake.

She watches him for a moment, nudging his bloody arm where it’s tied to the chair. When he remains unconscious, she sighs and turns to face me.

Sloane: “He’s not very tough, this one. This is the fifth time he’s passed out on me.”

Rowan: “To be fair, you did gouge out—”

Sloane: “Pluck, Rowan. I plucked his eyes out.”

Rowan: “You did pluck out his eyes. Though I dunno, Blackbird … that eye hole on the left looks a little gouge-y.”

She leans toward Thorsten with a scowl, scrutinizing the empty eye sockets as I bite down on a grin.

Sloane: “His left? Or my left?”

Rowan: “His left.”

Sloane: “Fuck off, it does not look gouge-y,”

Her doubt turns into a scowl as she looks back over her shoulder and catches the amusement in my eyes.

Sloane: “Dick.”


Sloane: “Did David beg you to stop when you decided to play Lobotomy Barbie with his face? I bet he pleaded with you, and you loved the sound. But the funny thing is, Mr. Carmichael, you and I have something in common. I’ll tell you a little secret,”

A devastatingly beautiful smile creeps across her lips as she leans close to his ear.

Sloane: “I love the sound when my victims beg too.”


Sloane: “The man you remind me of, he presented such a civilized mask to the world, yet underneath, he was a devil. He promised the best education. The best opportunities for students gifted in the arts. He promised a safe place to learn and the best chance for getting into the most exclusive universities for those of us whose parents were wealthy enough to pay the price. And since mine were never around, they didn’t notice the price I truly paid.”

For all the times I’ve thought my soul was little more than a fucking stone, Sloane Sutherland proves me wrong. Her words echo in my head until my imagination takes me to every dark and terrible possibility. My heart hits every bone on its way down to the floor. All that’s left behind is a black space that burns hotter with every hollow beat.

Sloane: “I could take it. I could cope. I had an end in sight. And in a way, I was learning. I was learning how to keep my rage and darkness beneath a mask so I could carry on in the world. So I kept my mouth shut as I gave pieces of myself away. But you know the one price I could not pay?”

she asks as she stops behind Thorsten. Her smile is gone. She stares straight ahead, her eyes nearly black in the dim light. Her voice is low and drips with menace when she says,

Sloane: “The price I could never pay was Lark.”

Ice infuses my veins. A chill spreads through my arms. It sluices down my spine.

Sloane: “She was the only person I cared about. When I found out what he was doing to her, what she had been hiding, I did some hiding of my own. That same night that she confessed someone else’s sins to me, I waited in the shadows. I made a vow in the dark. That I would wipe out everyone like him that I could find. That I wouldn’t stop until I found the worst, the darkest, the most depraved, and I would erase them from the world, one at a time. And I promised myself that I would never let anyone hurt someone I cared about ever again.”

Sloane’s arms raise on either side of Thorsten’s head, the handle of the knife gripped in both hands, her skin bleached over her knuckles.

Sloane: “This is me keeping my promise,”


When I halt at her side, she looks up at me with a grimace, her nose crinkling, a little spattering of blood dotting her cheek like a crimson echo of her natural freckles. If I could, I would tattoo it right into her skin.

Fucking adorable.


Sloane: “It’s too quiet. I don’t like it.”

Rowan: “Maybe he wandered off.”

Sloane: “Or maybe he’s in a meat coma.”

Rowan: “Christ. Too soon.”


Rowan: “Did you consider at any point that you might want to clue me in about a cannibal inviting us over for dinner?”

Sloane shrugs, her attention still not shifting to me.

Sloane: “Maybe. Mostly only when I was scraping human meat off your tongue. Up until then, no, I can’t say that I did. You insisted on worming your way into my dinner invite, after all.”

Rowan: “Christ.”

She giggles, clearly delighted with herself. Her eyes shine with amusement when she turns to me as she dries her hands with a paper towel.

Sloane: “Worked out pretty well in the end, wouldn’t you say?”

Rowan: “Not really.”


She’s still reading the homemade label when she draws to a halt in front of me.

Sloane: “I might never look at ice cream the same way again.”

Rowan: “I don’t want to know.”

Sloane: “Ingredients: cream—”

Rowan: “Sloane—”

Sloane: “Sugar—”

Rowan: “I’m begging you,”

I say, but as soon as beg leaves my lips, Sloane’s grin ignites. My stomach flips in the most uncomfortable way.

Sloane clears her throat.

Sloane: “‘Semen, milked April tenth to April thirteenth.’ That’s an interesting substitute to salt—”

I push past her and vomit in the sink to the sound of her traitorous laugh. Christ, I thought there wasn’t anything left, but I was wrong. It takes a long moment to recover myself before I can rinse my mouth and the sink, my breath and balance both unsteady.

Rowan: “Chrissakes. What a fucking weirdo,”

I say as I wipe a thin film of sweat from my forehead and turn to face Sloane where she stands next to David with her arms crossed and a shit-eating grin spread across her lips.

Sloane: “Yeah, he was a strange one.”

Rowan: “I’m still not sure if I’m talking about Thorsten or you.”


Lark: “That’s the one,”

Lark says with happy claps as she bounces on the edge of her bed back in Raleigh.

Lark: “One hundred percent. Hair down. Do some old Hollywood waves. Gold star! Two gold stars! One for each boob.”


Lark: “He’s going to be floored by those boobs,”

I snort a laugh.

Sloane: “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

My smile quickly fades as I plug in my curling iron and run some styling cream through my hair with my fingers.

Sloane: “I need more to go on than just tits.”

Lark: “You have murder too, he likes that.”

I roll my eyes and stare her down through the screen.

Lark: “Boobs plus murder don’t equal a relationship, Lark. That math ain’t mathin.’ ”


Sloane: “What’s wrong with a Honda Accord?”

I ask as a flurry of butterflies dances across my rib cage.

Sloane: “I drive one.”

Rowan scoffs and rolls his eyes.

Rowan: “No, you don’t. You drive a silver BMW 3 Series.”

Sloane: “Stalker.”

Rowan: “You’re overdue for an oil change, by the way.”

Sloane: “Am not.”

Rowan: “Liar. The car has literally been telling you Change my fucking oil, you heathen for the last three weeks.”

I guffaw a laugh and whack Rowan on the arm.

Sloane: “How do you know that?”

He grins and shrugs.

Rowan: “Got my ways.”


A thick swallow catches in Rowan’s throat.

Rowan: “I can’t lose you.”

Sloane: “Then you’d better kiss me,”


Sloane: “You’ve been a terribly bad boy, Harvey,”

I say in my best imitation of an old woman’s voice as I continue sliding the corpse toward Harvey’s face. He struggles, trying to kick it off, but Rowan intervenes and holds his good leg down.

Sloane: Good boys don’t chop people up with chainsaws.”

Another desperate scream. He’s absolutely losing his shit and can’t do anything about it.

I take my sweet, sweet time. I enjoy every second of Harvey’s torture, slowly dragging Mama Mead up his torso as strained breaths saw from his chest. His pulse pounds in his thick neck. Sweat beads across his creased forehead, dripping down his temples as he shakes his head.

Mama Mead and Harvey finally come face-to-face.

Sloane: I think you deserve to be punished.”

Rowan: “This is very dark,”

Rowan says behind me, though he doesn’t sound like he’s complaining.

Sloane: “Shush, you. Mama Mead’s got some things to say.”


Sloane: “Uhh …”

The veins in Harvey’s temples protrude. His flesh turns red and then rapidly drains of color. His lips turn blue.

Sloane: “What the …”

A rattling breath leaves his chest. His eyes go dim. His pupils fix to the ceiling and dilate.

Rowan: “Did he just have a heart attack?”

He stops by Harvey’s unmoving head to stare down at his bloodied face.

My shoulders fall with disappointment.

Sloane: “This is so uncool, Harvey.”

Rowan: “You literally scared him to death. You should be proud.”

Sloane: “I had so much more in me.”

I give Mama Mead a petulant shove and she rolls off Harvey’s unmoving chest.

Sloane: “Do you think we should give him CPR?”

Rowan: “If you want to, but I call dibs on not doing mouth-to-mouth.”

Sloane: “… Dammit.”


Rowan: “Blackb—”

Sloane: “Don’t you Blackbird me. That can-can motherfucker stamped my fucking forehead. I can even see the Carhartt logo on it,”

she says, her voice taking on a watery quality as she draws closer to the mirror before turning back to me, a tear spilling over her lashes as she leans over the center console and points to the circle in the center of her forehead.

Sloane: “See? Right there. Carhartt. Why couldn’t he have just punched me in the face like a normal person?”

Rowan: “Probably because he wasn’t a normal person, love. I thought the chainsaw was a big clue.”


Goddamn.

I am going to have so much fucking fun punishing her.


Sloane: “What’s your name?”

The banshee’s dark eyes dart to Sloane and stick there.

Rose: “Rose.”

Sloane: “Rose. Cool, okay. Nice. I’m Sloane.”

Rose: “You look like one of the bally broads kicked you in the face in clown alley,”

Sloane blinks. Her mouth opens, then closes, then opens again.

Sloane: “I … I honestly have no idea what that means. But he didn’t do it, I swear.”


Sloane: “He’s Rowan,”

Sloane says, gesturing at me again. Rose narrows her eyes as though this is insufficient information.

Sloane: “He’s my f-fr … boy. Guy. A man-guy. I’m … with. Here.”

I snort a laugh as Rose’s face scrunches.

Rowan:Man-guy. Real smooth, Blackbird.”

Sloane: “Shut up,”


Rose: “There’s a beat-up chick here with a tall guy claiming to be your brother. He stole my fucking crutch,”

Rose bites out. She falls silent as Fionn says something in the background, and her eyes then fix to me like lasers. She jerks her chin once in my direction.

Rose: “He’s asking to confirm your childhood nickname.”

Blood drains from my extremities as my gaze darts to Sloane. I shake my head.

Rowan: “No.”

That seems to delight the hellcat—Rose’s responding smile is fucking feral.

Rose: “Great. Then I knife you in the balls.”

Rowan: “Yeah? Hobble over here and try it,”

I try to poke her with the rubber end of the crutch but Sloane bats it away.

Sloane: “For fucksakes, you two. I’ve got a messed-up arm here. I need a doctor,”

Sloane says, shifting side to side at the waist to give a demo of her limp appendage. She turns enough to give me one sad-puppy eye. The longer she stares at me, the more my resolve crumbles. Her lower lip juts out in a pout, and even though it might be fake, I know I’m a fucking goner.

Sloane: “Help me, Man-guy.”

A long groan rumbles in my chest as I drag a hand over my face.

Rowan: “Fuck. Fine.”

Both women watch me with unwavering stares, their eyebrows hiked in anticipation.

Rowan: Shitflicker.”

They face one another. There’s a moment of blessed silence. And then a fit of giggles. Rose relays my response back to Fionn and I hear him cackling on the line before he gives her some clipped instructions and disconnects the call. She pockets her phone and sheathes the blade as Sloane tugs the crutch free of my grip and passes it over to her.

Great. These two are going to be best friends now. Just what I need.


Sloane: “I want …”

She trails off as her eyes dart away and back again. Then her dimple peeks out at me. That fucking thing is like a beacon of mischief. I barely manage to suppress a groan.

Sloane: “I want to know how the Shitflicker name came to be.”

Rowan: “Sloane,”

Sloane: “Was it your own shit you flicked, or someone else’s? Regularly? And like … why?”

Her diabolical mask falters when I lean forward and brace a hand to either side of her knees.

Rowan: “You’re lucky you’re injured.”

Sloane gives me a smug little grin. Fuck, I want that smart mouth and those plump lips wrapped around my cock so badly it aches.

Sloane: “Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

I drift closer still. Push into her space. She resists the urge to sink deeper into the cushions as her breath hitches. My hand folds around her throat, one finger at a time pressing into her skin, her pulse like music beneath my palm. She shivers when my lips graze her earlobe.

Rowan: “Because I’d bend you over my knee and spank that perfect ass of yours until it glows. And then do you wanna know what I’d do?”

She gives me a shaky nod. Three uneven breaths.

Sloane: “Yes,”

Rowan: “I’d teach you a lesson about wanting. About wanting to come so badly you have to beg for it.”

My cock hardens as Sloane’s blood surges against my fingertips.

Rowan: “And once I was sure you’d learned that lesson, I’d teach you about wanting to stop coming so badly you beg for that too.”


The next pass of his caress follows the swoop of the bruise beneath my eye.

Rowan: “That color right there, how many things can you think of that are that color? It’s rare.”

He grazes my bruise again, his touch so soft that I don’t feel pain. My lip trembles in the mirror. More tears well in my eyes.

Sloane: “Eggplant,”

I say, my voice tremulous.

Sloane: “It’s the worst vegetable.”

Rowan’s huff of a laugh warms my neck and sends a current through my skin.

Rowan: “It’s not. Celery is the worst vegetable.”

Sloane: “But eggplant is mushy.”

Rowan: “Not when I make it. I promise you’d like it.”

Sloane: “I have an eggplant face. That’s basically a dick face. A mushy dick face with a Carhartt logo.”

Rowan shifts the hair back from my shoulder and lays a gentle kiss on my cheek. I don’t have to see his reflection to feel his smile as his lips linger on my skin.

Rowan: “This is not having the intended effect. Let me try again,”

he says, amusement warm in his voice. His other arm wraps around me to unclip the first of two buckles for my sling. My wince of pain is met with another kiss.

Rowan: “That color doesn’t remind me of eggplant, for what it’s worth. It reminds me of blackberries. The best berry, if you ask me. It reminds me of irises. They have the best scent of any flower. It reminds me of night, just before dawn. The best time of day.”

The other buckle clicks free and I close my eyes against the pain as Rowan slides the sling from my arm.

Sloane: “But—”

Rowan: “You’re all the best things to me, Sloane. No matter how many bruises are in your heart or on your skin.”


Sloane: “Something caught your eye, pretty boy?”

Rowan: “Yes,”

he says, his voice pained.

Rowan: “God, yes, Sloane. All of you.”


Rowan: “I need to get my shit together,”

he mutters, his voice low and gritty, the words not meant for me. He holds out a hand for me and I take it.

Rowan: “Come on. Into the bath before I fucking die.”

I drag my feet as he tugs me toward the cloud of white bubbles shimmering in the tub.

Sloane: “Would that mean I’d get an extra win?”

Rowan: “I’m about ready to forfeit every game, Blackbird. I don’t think we need to go to the extreme of killing me off just yet.”


Sloane: “You okay?”

I ask as I steady myself with his hand and place my other foot in the water to stand in the small tub, my faint smile serving only to deepen his frown.

Rowan: “Not really.”

Sloane: “You’re doing great.”

Rowan: “Shouldn’t I be telling you that?”

Sloane: “Probably.”

Rowan: “Just get in, for the love of God.”

Sloane: “I am in.”

Rowan drags his free hand down his face.

Rowan: “How do you still have the energy to take the piss out of me?”

Sloane: “I always have the energy for that. Your suffering is my number one priority.”

My smile starts out bright but falters when Rowan’s gaze shifts from me to the corner of the room as though he can’t bear to keep his attention on my face for a moment longer.

Sloane: “What is it? Rowan …?”

Rowan: “I’ve been suffering for four years, Sloane. I’m begging you here. Get in the fucking bath.”


Rowan: “I need to look after you. It’s my fault you’re like this. The game was my dumbass idea.”

Sloane: “Hey, do not shade the game. It’s the most fun I’ve had since … maybe ever. As long as I can remember. It’s the thing I most look forward to every year,”

I say, the amusement slipping away from my voice with every word spoken as the truth rises to the surface.

Sloane:You are the thing I most look forward to, Rowan.”


Rowan: “Remember what you just said when you think you can’t possibly come again. Because you will. We’ve got four fucking years to make up for.”

Rowan sinks down between my thighs, his calloused palms wrapped around my tender flesh to keep me bared wide open. Every exhalation warms the moisture gathered at my entrance. His eyes still hold mine from the length of my body, a gravitational pull I can’t escape from.

Rowan: “Pick a safe word. Do it now.”

I swallow. Hard.

Sloane: “Chainsaw.”

His breathy laugh is a burst of warmth against my core.

Rowan: “How fitting, love. Now be a good girl and find something to grab on to”

—he says, then passes one long, slow lick over my center—

Rowan: “because I’m about to destroy you.”


She’s everywhere, in every drop of my blood, in every spark of thought, and I want to fucking destroy her for it. To shatter her just like she’s broken me. Because she brings me to my fucking knees. I want to ruin her so that she’s mine, my beautiful disaster. My wild creature. My goddess of chaos.

And I fuck her like that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


Rowan: “About the tattoo, Sloane,”

he says, his voice saccharine.

Rowan: “You asked me why I got it.”

I whimper as a deep thrust pushes me closer to an intense orgasm that’s nearly within reach.

Sloane: “Right … uhh …”

Rowan: “Any guesses?”

My forehead presses to my arm as I let out a strangled cry.

Sloane: “… like me …?”

Rowan: “Because I ‘like you …’?”

Rowan cackles an incredulous laugh.

Rowan:Like. You. Seriously …? Christ, Sloane. You are fucking brilliant but also the most willfully oblivious person I have ever met. Do you really think I just like you when I framed a drawing you left for me on a scrap of paper you tore from a notebook? The one I hung in the kitchen so I can look at it every day and think of you? Do you think I just like you when I tattoo it on my skin? I play this fucking game every year and tear my heart out watching you walk away, only to do it all over again, and I like you? You think I just like you when I fuck you like this?”

The pace quickens. Rowan’s hot palm caresses my breast. He pistons into me. I cry out his name and he fucks me harder.

Rowan: “I would kill for you, and I have. I would do it again, every damn day. I’d turn myself inside out for you. I would die for you. I don’t just like you, Sloane, and you fucking know it.”


Sloane: “I’m sorry,”

I say, my cheeks heating with fire beneath my skin.

Sloane: “You’ve been so kind to take us in on zero notice. We didn’t mean to keep you up with the whole uh … pent-up … um. Stuff.”

Rowan: “Don’t worry, Blackbird. He’ll be just fine. Dr. Blueballs is just a little jealous.”


Fionn: “I thought I said something about taking it easy. Getting rest. No rough … sports.”

Rowan’s grin is nothing short of diabolical.

Rowan: “We weren’t playing sports. We were having sex.”

Rose cackles at the table and stuffs another bite of waffle into her mouth.

Rose: “Amazing. I love these two. Can they stay?”

Fionn:No.”

Fionn glares at Rose and then Rowan before shifting his attention to me, his expression taking on an apologetic quality.

Fionn: “I’m sorry. Under normal circumstances, definitely. But that prick over there,”

he says, hooking a thumb toward Rowan,

Fionn: “he’s going to make my life hell for the nickname thing until he gets it out of his system. I need sleep at night. And so do you."


Sloane: “Well, I hadn’t made a reservation, so you have nothing to apologize for.”

Meg: “But you have a standing reservation at 3 in Coach,”

Meg says with a sweet, knowing smile. She pulls a thumbtack from her podium and passes me a sheet of paper.

Table 12 is PERMANENTLY RESERVED for:

—any reservation under the name Sloane Sutherland

—a beautiful, black-haired woman with hazel eyes and freckles, 5'8", probably alone, shy, looks like she wants to run

Inform Rowan immediately of any reservations under this name or any guests fitting this description.

And then, in red text as though it was added at a later date:

IMMEDIATELY. I AM NOT FUCKING AROUND.

The word IMMEDIATELY is underlined six times.


Sloane: “You’re hella excited,”

I say to Lark, trying to divert attention from my own blistering anticipation as we weave through the busy restaurant. The lunch rush has passed, but there are still more full tables than empty ones, even if many of the patrons have finished main courses and have moved on to desserts.

Lark: “Of course I am. My bestie is in l-o-v-e and I get to meet her man for the first time.”

I snort.

Sloane: “I never said anything about love.”

Lark: “Didn’t you sneakily install a security camera in the kitchen?”

Sloane: “That’s stalking, not love.”

Lark: “To-may-to, to-mah-to.


We hug her goodbye at the door and Rowan winds up with a gold star sticker on his cheek before Lark dances away.

Rowan: “Come on, need your help,”

he says, taking my hand when Lark turns a corner two blocks down, heading for her hotel. Rowan tows me along in the opposite direction.

Rowan: “Very important job, Blackbird.”

Sloane: “What job?”

Rowan: “You’ll see.”

Sloane: “Are you going to leave that sticker on your face?”

Rowan scoffs.

Rowan: “Of course. Makes me prettier.”


Rowan: “Such a good girl you are, Blackbird,”

he coos into my ear as he slides the spoon through the crème brûlée and brings it to my parted lips.

Rowan: “And good girls get rewards.”


Rowan: “It’s not unique. It’s like every other crème brûlée in the city. It needs something different. Something new.”

Sloane: “Thorsten Harris probably would suggest—”

Rowan: “Blackbird,”

Rowan says, punctuating his warning with a bite to my earlobe.

Rowan: “Do not even think about finishing that sentence, or there’ll be hell to pay.”

My eyes remain closed as I grin.

Sloane: “I like your version of hell.”


Sloane: "I just saw a woman walk by with her groceries. She does not want to see that. No one does.”

Rowan: “Of course they do. And even if they didn’t, there’s an important detail that you might be missing: I don’t. Fucking. Care. So are you using your safe word?”

Sloane: “No.”

Rowan’s hands press flat to the surface as he leans closer, pinning me with an unwavering stare.

Rowan: “Then get on the fucking table, Sloane.”


Rowan bands an arm across my back and yanks me off the table, never breaking our connection as he pulls me down to straddle him on the bench.

Rowan: “You’re going to take my cock as deep as you can. You’re going to ride it the way you want until you come all over it. And these tits,”

he says as he unzips the back of my dress and pulls the low neckline down along with the cups of my bra,

Rowan: “you’re going to bounce these glorious fucking tits in my face.”


Rowan: “I should be saying, ‘Let’s go out and party once everyone’s gone and we can place bets on whether or not they’ll hook up again,’ but really I just want to steal your e-reader and curl up in bed with some pirate porn and then fall asleep for a thousand years.”

Sloane rolls her eyes and looks away as I grin.

Sloane: “You need to catch up. I’m on the hitchhiker smut now.”

Rowan: “Then let me borrow your e-reader.”

Sloane: “Get fucked,”

she says, and presses her lips to my cheek before tucking herself beneath my arm and threading her fingers between mine.

Sloane: “In a loving way, of course.”


Rowan: “What the fuck are you eating?”

I ask as I trace a touch across the pulse in her neck as I continue my trek to the blessed coffee machine.

Sloane: “Individually dyed Cheerios, clearly. Took me all morning,”

I grin, though she doesn’t see it.

Rowan: “That smart mouth is going to get put to good use as soon as I’m caffeinated.”

Sloane: “Are you threatening me with a good time?”


Rowan: “Sloane …”

She doesn’t move.

Rowan: “Sloane, love—”

Sloane: “No.”

Rowan: “Um … Blackbird?”

Still nothing.

Rowan: “… Peaches?”

Her head whips to the side and she pins me with a glare over her shoulder. But there are tears there too, streaking through the blood splashed across her cheeks.

Sloane: “I told you I’d cut you if you called me that again.”

Rowan: “Blackbird it is.”

I give her a weak smile.


She turns to me then, her eyes blazing and her arms crossed.

Sloane: “I’m counting this as a win.”

Rowan: “That’s fair.”

Sloane: “That’s three for me. Best of five.”

Rowan: “Deserved. Totally.”

Sloane: “And I’m still very angry with you.”

Rowan: “I get it, love.”

Sloane: “I want to stab you.”

Rowan: “Yeah, that makes sense. Please not my dick though. Or my balls. Or my pretty face.”


Rowan: “Come on, Blackbird. Let me up so I can prove to you that I fucking love you to pieces. Maybe I’ll take that first aid kit by the door too if you don’t mind.”

Her ferocious glare returns.

Rowan: “Or I’ll just bleed out on the floor, that’s cool … but getting out of the chair would still be aces. Preferably with no stabbing.”


I lower my head and hold her eyes, keeping her face steady between my palms.

Rowan: “You have never been unlovable. You were just waiting for someone who will love you for who you are, not for who they want you to be. I can do that, if you’ll let me.”

I press my lips to hers and taste salt and blood but pull away before the kiss deepens.

Rowan: “I fucking adore you, Sloane Sutherland. I wanted you from that first day at Briscoe’s. I have loved you for years. I’m not stopping. Not ever.”

Sloane’s gaze drops to my lips and remains there. She nods.

Rowan: “You might be psycho,”

I say with a grin as her eyes narrow,

Rowan: “but you’re my psycho, and I’m yours. Got it?”

When she lifts her eyes from my lips, she finally smiles.

Sloane: “You’re still kind of the worst.”

Rowan: “And you still love me.”

Sloane: “Yeah. I do.”


Rowan: “You’d better make yourself come, because I am right on the fucking edge and we need to go.”

I slow the motion of my fingers, slide my lips to the crown of his erection, and grin. My insolence is met with a growl. Rowan’s hand darts to my throat and catches the giggle that begs to be set free.

Rowan: “Are you being a brat?”

he asks as I run my tongue along the underside of his erection and pin him with my most innocent eyes. His hand tightens.

Rowan: “Have you forgotten the last time you were a brat?”

I shrug, even though I most certainly have not forgotten. When I decided to push his buttons and disregard most of his orders while riding his cock a few weeks ago, he kidnapped me as I was coming home from drinks with Anna, blindfolded me, and strapped me down on a table in the restaurant to eat a full range of delicacies off my naked body. He edged me for hours, drizzling caramel sauce across my nipples to suck it off as he fucked me, dripping cold whipped cream onto my genital piercings before licking them clean. Every time I begged for mercy, he laughed.

Rowan: “Good girls get rewards,”

he’d said as he turned down the vibration on the anal plug he’d pushed into my ass after he tied me down. He slowed the rhythm of his strokes as he thrust into me, pulling me back from the brink of an orgasm.

Rowan: “Brats receive punishment.”

He’d slid out of me, jerked off until he sprayed his cum in warm spurts across my chest, then started all over again.

It probably had the opposite effect of what he had intended, because I had the best time that night.

Rowan: “That’s your answer?”

he says now, his eyes lethal and dark.

Rowan: “Just a shrug? That seems pretty bratty to me.”


Rowan: “Oh holy shit, Sloane—”

Sloane: “Are you using your safe word?”

Rowan: “Fuck no.”

I grin and add a second finger, gently stroking until I find the touch that makes him tremble.

Sloane: “What a good boy,”

I coo, my tone saccharine.

Sloane: “And good boys get rewards.”


Lachlan: “Fine. But don’t expect me to stick around when it’s done.”

Sloane: “Of course not.”

Lachlan: “And I’m not going to show her around the city or some shit.”

Sloane: “Absolutely not.”

Lachlan: “We’re not like, friends. She can’t call me for … milk.”

Sloane: “Okay … I’ll let her know not to call you for milk. Done.”

Lachlan grunts. I grin.

Sloane: “Thank you,”

I say as I walk over and give him a hug I already know he won’t return.

Sloane: “You won’t regret it.”

Lachlan: “Yes, I will.”

Sloane: “Okay then.”


Rowan: "I like working with you.”

Sloane: “I like working with you too. I think we should catch the Forest Phantom together next year, even though I technically won, because I am the ultimate winner, just in case you forgot. And you probably deserve a runner-up prize anyway since you didn’t even vomit this time,”

she says as she reaches up to point to the eyeballs hanging in fishing line over Dr. Stephan Rostis’s head.

Sloane: “Go, you.”

Rowan: “I’m never going to live that down, am I.”

Sloane: “Probably not, no.”


Rowan: “One thing has stayed pretty consistent though …”

Sloane: “What’s that?”

I jerk a nod toward the body when Sloane turns to face me. The question in her eyes rapidly dissolves into suspicion. When she folds her arms across her chest, I raise my hands in apology, though I’m not sorry at all for what I’m about to say. And she knows it.

Sloane: What,”

she says flatly. I point to the not-so-good doctor, whose blood trickles down his face in drying streaks.

Rowan: “Left eye hole. Always a little gouge-y.”

Sloane guffaws a laugh, but it wanes when I shrug. A sliver of doubt etches a crease between her brows.

Sloane: “It is not.”

Rowan: “I’m sorry to say, it is.

Sloane: “You’re so full of shit.”

I drag my stepladder in front of the body and gesture toward it.

Rowan: “See for yourself.”

Sloane’s lips part, her cheeks flushed with rising frustration. Fucking adorable. Flustered Sloane with her feathers ruffled and her talons ready? That’s always my favorite version. And I savor every moment, from her fierce glare to her determined steps as she stomps to the ladder to get a closer look.

Sloane: “Rowan Kane, you fucking weirdo with this left-eye-hole shit, I do not gouge, I plu—”

Her irate tangent stops dead as she takes in the bloody hole, then looks down to me, then back again. Though I manage to bite down on a laugh, there’s no hiding the amusement in my eyes, not from her.

Sloane: “What the fuck is that?”

she asks, pointing to the dead doctor’s face.

Rowan: “I dunno, Blackbird. Maybe you should check it out. Unless …”

Sloane: “Unless what?”

Rowan: “You’re not squeamish, are you?”

At this, her laugh breaks free, though it’s short and unsure.

Sloane: “How’s the ice cream looking these days, Butcher? Managed to crack into some cookies and cream yet?”

Rowan: “Ouch, Blackbird,”

I say with a hand over my heart. It thunders beneath my palm.

Rowan: “Wounded, yet again.”

Sloane grins, her dimple popping out next to her lip, and then she focuses on the lifeless face before her, the eyes rimmed with blood and the features slack. She reaches her gloved fingers to the left eye socket and pulls out a small, round packet wrapped in tape.

Sloane: “See?”

she says as she balances the mystery on her palm and descends the ladder.

Sloane: Plucked. I plucked it right outta there.”

Rowan: “You did. Almost like you’ve done this before. Elite-level plucking.”


Sloane swallows. A burst of nerves floods my veins and I’m about to launch into all the things I want to tell her when she says,

Sloane: “Did you just propose on a napkin with a ring you stuffed in a guy’s eye hole?”

I blink. My mouth opens. Nothing comes out for a moment that feels about as long as eternity.

Rowan: “You know, it seemed pretty cute in my head, but in hindsight … maybe it’s too much?”

She shakes her head.

Rowan: “Not enough?”

She shakes it again, a few tears jostling free of her lashes.

Rowan: “Just right?”

Sloane: “It’s fucking perfect,”

Rowan: “Oh, thank Christ.”


So I wait until he finishes with the dishwasher and then takes a sip of his coffee before I announce,

Sloane: “I call skullduggery.”

Rowan sputters and coughs. When his watering eyes finally land on me, he’s clearly fucking delighted.

Rowan: “Skullduggery? Does this mean you’re going to put on a sexy pirate costume and fuck me while you’re wearing an eye patch?”

Sloane: “No.”

Rowan: “What about if I wear the eye patch?”

Sloane: “Still no.”

Rowan: “What about if I throw in a stuffed parrot?”


Rowan: “I got something for you too. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. Get naked and stay right here.”

Sloane: “What are you—”

Rowan: “Just trust me,”

he tosses over his shoulder as he heads down the hallway to the bedroom. I start to undress as Winston’s growl precedes the sound of the bathroom door closing. And then a few moments later, Rowan appears from the dimly lit corridor, stalking toward me with a new purple dildo and a bottle of lube in one hand.

… A purple vibrator that matches his outfit.

A dragon onesie costume.

Sloane: “Rowan Kane, what the fuck,”

I say as I cackle with disbelief.

Rowan: “I’m not Rowan. I’m Sol,”

he growls as he stalks closer. His ravenous gaze pins me and doesn’t let go. I take a step backward and then another, every laugh that escapes me only feeding the hunger in his eyes.

Rowan: “And I’m going to breed you, little human.”

Sloane: “You are so weird,”

I say on the heels of a shriek as he surges forward and I run around the end of the island, narrowly avoiding his reaching grip.


Sloane: “Why are you like this?”

Rowan: “A sentient dragonman knows not why it is a talking dragon. Only that it must make little dragonlings with its two dicks.”

Rowan tries not to smile as I giggle maniacally.


Sloane: “For a dragon, you’re not very scaly, Sol. This will be more like being fucked by a velveteen rabbit.”

Rowan snorts a laugh as he tosses me onto the bed.

Rowan: “A half-boiled rabbit at this rate. This is not breathable fabric.”

Sloane: “Take it off then, you weirdo.”

Rowan: “No way. I’m committed to the bit, Blackbird.”

He clears his throat and resumes his booming dragon impersonation when he says,

Rowan: “On your hands and knees, little human.”


Sloane: “You’re really doing it,”

I say as I look over my shoulder and grin. His hair is already clinging to his damp forehead beneath the hood where two little orange horns are sewn.

Sloane: “You’re fucking me in a non-breathable velveteen dragon suit.”

Rowan: “Damn straight I am,”

he grits out, not breaking the cadence of his thrusts as he grips my waist with one hand and opens the bottle of lube with the other. I watch as he drizzles the thick liquid onto the crack of my ass.

Rowan: “And I’m going to fill this perfect cunt and then this tight little hole before I pass out from heat exhaustion.”


Rowan: “I thought I could go another round, but I need six bottles of Gatorade first.”

Sloane: “Maybe we should do the pirate costume next time.”

Rowan: “You be the pirate, I’ll be the parrot.”

Sloane: “You are so fucking weird.”

Rowan: “But you love me,”

Rowan says as he shimmies off the bed to take off the dragon costume, his body slick with sweat.

Sloane: “I do.”


Rowan: “You know, that ceremony where we say some vows and exchange rings and you look smoking hot in a beautiful dress and I look pretty dapper in a fancy suit. Then we eat cake, have a little dance, a bit of a craic, take bets on whether Lark and Lachlan will hook up, go back to our room to have some mind-blowing post-wedding sex, and then you’re stuck with me forever. That kind of thing.”


Sloane: “Skullduggery.”

Rowan: “Maybe a little bit.”

Sloane: “But you said I was way off course.”

Rowan: “You were.”

Sloane: “You said you were only scheming to get into my pants.”

Rowan: “No lies spoken.”

Sloane: “Then what the fuck is this?”

Rowan: “Clearly, additional skullduggery. Minus the parrot.”


Lachlan: “You sure you want to marry that eejit? There’s no escaping him if you do.”

Sloane: “There was never any escaping Rowan Kane. I didn’t want there to be,”

I say as I turn my smile to Lachlan. Lachlan lets out a low and thoughtful hum. His dark blue eyes seem a little lighter than usual. A little softer.

Lachlan: “You’re kind of all right, Spider Lady.”

Sloane: “You’re not so bad either. Most of the time, anyway,”

I reply as I turn my attention ahead.

Sloane: “Kind of a dick to my best friend, though.”

Lachlan: “Feckin’ Christ. I helped her move. Have you seen the size of her couch? You said she didn’t have much stuff—”

Sloane: “Still a dick. Sort it out.”

Lachlan grunts and shuffles his feet.

Lachlan: “For a methodical, reclusive serial killer, you’re pretty feckin’ brazen.”

Sloane: “It’s my wedding day. What if I just embrace it? Boss around my brothers-in-law, marry the Boston Butcher, eat some cake. Sounds pretty great, actually. So, yeah. You need to dance with Lark. Bride’s orders.”

Lachlan: “Then I hope you enjoy watching me hate every minute of it.”

Sloane: “Lachlan Kane, you’re just like your brother,”

I say as I turn a beaming, lethal grin toward him.

Sloane: “Always threatening me with a good time.”

Lachlan scoffs but turns his gaze away too slowly to hide the little glint of delight in his eyes.

Lachlan: “Yeah, Spider Lady … You’re kind of all right.”


 


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Jul 02
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