"I was in a fight at the tavern."
She clicked her tongue a few times. "That's not like you."
The statement was loaded with such unintended irony that Kev nearly laughed. In fact, a few huffs came from deep in his chest, and he was so amused and miserable that he couldn't speak. His expression must have been odd indeed, because Win stared at him intently and sat up. She removed the compress and set it aside, and pulled the sheet up over her br**sts. She ran a light, graceful hand across his bare shoulder, her touch soothing. And she continued to caress him, stroking his chest, his neck, his midriff, and each loving pass of her hand seemed to erode his self-restraint further.
"Until I came to your family," he said hoarsely, "it was the only reason I existed. To fight. To hurt people. I was… monstrous." Looking into Win's eyes, he saw nothing but concern.
"Tell me," she whispered.
He shook his head. A shiver chased across his back.
Her hand slipped around the nape of his neck. Slowly she drew his head down to her shoulder so that his face was half-hidden. "Tell me," she urged again.
Kev was lost, unable to withhold anything from her now. And he knew what he was about to confess would disgust and revolt her, but he found himself doing it anyway.
He revealed it all mercilessly, trying to make her understand the vicious bastard he had been, and still was. He told her about the boys he had beaten to a pulp, the ones he feared might have died later, but he'd never been certain. He told her how he had lived like an animal, eating scraps, stealing, and about the rage that had consumed him always. He had been a bully, a thief, a beggar. He revealed cruelties and humiliations that he should have had the pride and good sense to keep to himself.
Kev had kept the confessions inside forever, but now they were spilling out like garbage. And he was appalled to realize that he had lost all control, that whenever he tried to stop, all it took was a gentle touch and a murmur from Win and he was babbling like a criminal with a gallows priest.
"How could I touch you with these hands?" he asked, his tone shredded with anguish. "How could you stand to let me? God, if you knew all the things I've done-"
"I love your hands," she murmured.
"I'm not good enough for you. But no one is. And most men, good or bad, have limits to what they would do, even for someone they love. I have none. No God, no moral code, no faith in anything. Except you. You're my religion. I would do anything you asked. I would fight, steal, kill for you. I would-"
"Shhh. Hush. My goodness." She sounded breathless. "There's no need to break all the commandments, Kev."
"You don't understand," he said, drawing back to look at her. "If you believed anything I've told you-"
"I do understand." Her face was like an angel's, soft and compassionate. "And I believe what you've said… but I don't agree at all with the conclusions you seem to have drawn." Her hands lifted, molding against his lean cheeks. "You are a good man, a loving one. The rom baro tried to kill all that inside you, but he couldn't succeed. Because of your strength. Because of your heart."
She eased back onto the bed and drew him down to her. "Be at ease, Kev," she whispered. "Your uncle was an evil man, but what he did must be buried with him. 'Let the dead bury the dead'-do you know what that means?"
He shook his head.
"To leave the past behind and look only to the journey ahead. Only then can you find a new way. A new life. It's a Christian saying… but it would make sense to a Rom, I think."
It made more sense than Win perhaps even realized. The Rom were infinitely superstitious regarding death and the dead, destroying all the possessions of those who had passed, mentioning the name of the deceased as seldom as possible. It was for the benefit of the dead as well as the living, to keep them from returning to the living world as wretched ghosts. Let the dead bury the dead… but he wasn't certain he could.
"Hard to let go," he said thickly. "Hard to forget."
"Yes." Her arms tightened around him. "But we'll fill your mind with much better things to think about."
Kev was quiet for a long time, pressing his ear to Win's heart, listening to the even beat, and the flow of her breathing.
"I knew when I first saw you, what you would mean to me," Win murmured eventually. "Wild, angry boy that you were. I loved you at once. You felt it, too, didn't you?"
He nodded slightly, luxuriating in the feel of her. Her skin smelled sweet like plums, with an arousing hint of feminine musk.
"I wanted to tame you," she said. "Not all the way. Just enough that I could be close to you." She threaded her fingers through his hair. "Outrageous man. What possessed you to kidnap me, when you knew I would have come willingly?"
"I was making a point," he said in a muffled voice.
She chuckled and stroked his scalp, the scrape of her oval fingernails nearly causing him to purr. "Your point was well-taken. Must we go back now?"
"Do you want to?"
Win shook her head. "Although… I wouldn't mind having something to eat."
"I brought food to the cottage before I went to get you."
She ran a flirtatious fingertip around the rim of his ear. "What an efficient villain you are. May we stay all day, then?"
Win wriggled with delight. "Will anyone come for us?"