A Few Ground Rules

He stood up, marching over to the table against the wall. He swiped the lone bottle of whiskey on the tabletop, unscrewed the cap, and took a deep swig. Then he turned to face her, his expression thoughtful.

“Just so we’re clear—you’re asking for my protection?”

“I’m asking for everything,” she repeated. “Your protection, your silence, your . . . body . . .” Her voice tripped over the last word.

“You’re a greedy little thing, aren’t you?”

“If you think that’s greedy, then fine, I guess I am. But I’m not going back to the city. I want to stay here in the free land.” She sighed. “I’m not stupid, okay? I’ve seen how dangerous it is out here, and I know I can’t survive alone.” She hopped off the bed and advanced on him. “But I’ve seen the freedom too. That house you took me to tonight . . . I liked being there. I liked what I saw.”

He cocked his head. “And what did you see?”

“No shame, no fear, just people letting go of their inhibitions and giving in to . . . everything.”

He chuckled. “So that’s the word of the night, huh? Everything.” He lifted the bottle and took another swig. “Suppose I let you stay. How do you envision your life here?”

She thought it over for a moment. “I see myself staying out of everyone’s way. I see myself contributing, doing whatever you ask of me.” Her gaze roamed his hard body. “I see myself in your bed.”

For the first time since she’d met him, genuine laughter rumbled out of his throat. It wasn’t mocking, wasn’t wrapped around a taunt. It was deep and husky and made her heart skip a beat.

Until he answered, and she realized she was indeed being mocked.

“I’m not going to fall in love with you, if that’s also part of your little utopian vision.”

Hudson shrugged. “It’s not your heart I’m interested in.”

She bridged the short distance between them, feeling bolder than she’d ever felt as she placed her hand directly over his groin. The bulge of his arousal strained against her palm. Thick and male and tempting. She wanted to feel him inside her. In her mouth, in her sex, everywhere.

Connor’s hips rocked slightly before he drew back, once again depriving her of what she so desperately craved. “There’ll be ground rules if you stay.”

She’d expected that. “Like what?”

“I call the shots.” He smirked at her. “And that rule extends to the bedroom. I decide how fast we go, what we do, where we do it, who joins us.” A wicked gleam sparked in his eyes. “I get total control.”

Whoa, this man was intense.

She wasn’t sure why that surprised her, though.

She also wasn’t sure if she could hand over control to a complete stranger. She hadn’t been raised to follow orders—she’d been raised to call the shots. The people in her family were born leaders.

She was about to answer, when her mind registered what else he’d said. “Who joins us? Do you mean . . . Rylan?” The prospect triggered an unexplainable burst of heat.

“You like that idea, huh?” Connor said with a knowing laugh.

It was hard to breathe again.

“I knew you would. And yes, if you want him, you’ll get him. I’ll give you whatever you need, Hudson. I’ll do whatever it takes to get you off.” His eyes became heavy-lidded. “I’m very good at knowing what people need to get off.”

She remained apprehensive. “What about the others? Xander and Kade, and . . . Pike.” She swallowed. “I’m not comfortable around Pike.”

“For chrissake, you’re not obligated to screw someone you’re not attracted to. I know it looked like a free-for-all at Lennox’s, but believe me, it wasn’t. People fuck only who they want to fuck, in private, in public, whatever turns them on. We don’t force ourselves on anyone.” His mouth tightened. “That’s the way the bandits operate, not us, okay?”

The words brought a rush of relief. “Okay.”

“You don’t have to worry about Pike. He won’t touch you unless you want him to. And Xan and Kade? Wouldn’t touch you even if you did want them. They don’t share with other men.”

“But . . .” She wrinkled her forehead, remembering the woman who’d been writhing between them earlier.

“With other men,” Connor emphasized when he caught her confused expression. “They only share with each other.”

It was so hard to make sense of that. To make sense of anything she’d seen tonight. She’d never heard anyone talk so openly about sex, at least not in West City. Sure, everyone there engaged in it, but it was done and discussed behind closed doors. At the Enforcer compound it was out in the open, but there’d been something filthy and violent about the way the Enforcers treated their women.

Hudson had been caught in the middle of both worlds. Too knowledgeable for the city, but too sheltered for the compound.

Except now there was a third world available to her. The outlaw world, where people had sex because they liked it and advertised their “kinks” without giving a damn what other people thought about them.

“There’s one last rule,” Connor said. “When one or both of us is no longer interested in the sex, then we call it. No arguments, no tears. We shake hands and life goes on.”

She studied him. “Do you lay down these ground rules for everyone you sleep with?”

“No.”

“Why me?”

“Because this isn’t a whorehouse. I won’t be able to sleep with you and then walk away. You’ll be living in this camp, sharing meals with me, working beside me. I won’t let sex complicate my life here.”

“How long can I stay?” She couldn’t contain the happy quiver in her voice.

“As long as you’re useful.”

“As long as I please you sexually, you mean?”

He gave a harsh laugh. “I told you, sex has nothing to do with camp. It’s your other skills I’m concerned about. If you don’t pull your own weight, you’re gone. If I decide you’re more of a threat than an asset, you’re gone. If Knox comes pounding on my door, you’re gone. Are we in agreement?”

Since it was the best offer she was going to get from this man, she nodded in response.

“Good. Now go back to your cabin. It’s late.”

Surprise rippled through her. He wanted her to go? Now? After they’d just struck a bargain that gave her permission to put her hands all over him?

She took a step closer. “Or . . . you could kiss me.”

He touched her chin, his thumb drawing a teasing line up her jaw, leaving shivers in its wake. “Yeah? Is that what you think I should do?”

His mouth lowered, and warm lips brushed her cheek before retreating.

A frustrated noise slipped out. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

Something sinful passed through his eyes as he brought his lips to her ear. She gasped when his tongue darted out to circle her earlobe. “You already came once tonight, greedy girl.” He drew back slightly, his breath a warm tease on her skin. “I’m sure that’ll tide you over until I’m ready for you.”