She couldn’t believe she was going to let someone muck about inside her head. If she’d known that would be the cost of dealing with the Defenders, she would have decided to starve first.
Zach’s hand splayed over her throat, and she felt her necklace lift until it came in contact with his ring. The two bands locked together like magnets, and a slow trickle of warm energy sank into her skin, radiating out from the necklace.
The hair on her body lifted, and a potent shiver raced through her, lighting up nerve endings as it went.
Lexi let out a low groan of pleasure. She couldn’t help it. Whatever he was doing felt too good, almost like a narcotic streaking through her system.
Her bones softened, and her body slid down the wall. Zach’s strong arm eased her down slowly, keeping her from falling hard. She ended up in a loose heap on the floor with her shirt dragged up her back, leaving it bare against the cool, hard wall.
“That’s right,” he whispered. “Just relax.”
She didn’t really have an option, not that she was complaining. If she’d known being mind- fucked was going to feel this nice, she might have let him do it before.
Her eyes were barely open, just cracked enough that she could see Zach’s dark face hovering above her. He was so beautiful, so manly. That mouth of his was full and soft, unlike the rest of his hard, lean body, and he knew how to use it to make her feel so good. Just kissing him was better than full-blown sex with other men. She wasn’t sure how that worked, but she was pretty sure that if she spent some time studying it, she’d figure it out.
Lexi reached for him, her arms going around his neck in a sloppy stack of limp fingers. She couldn’t find the strength to hold on, and her hands slipped back into her lap. She tried again, but Zach gathered her wrists in his free hand and held them in place.
“Just relax,” he told her.
If she got any more relaxed, she was going to sink into the carpet, making a wet puddle. Maybe that was what he wanted. She thought she could do it if it was.
“You’re doing great, honey.”
Honey. He wouldn’t call her that if he hated her, right?
Lexi latched onto that idea and held it close. She didn’t want him to hate her. She wanted him to love her.
Love. The thought shocked her to stillness. Why would she want him to love her? That would only complicate things. She hadn’t even decided if the life he led was going to work out for her or not. Sure, he’d gone a long way toward convincing her to stay. He’d given her a home, made her feel like a queen. Made her feel important. Needed.
What girl wouldn’t want to get used to something like that? It just showed she was sane.
But love was a big deal. It changed things. Made them harder. Messier.
A blunt pressure behind her eyes made her wince, distracting her from her train of thought.
“Don’t fight it,” said Zach.
Lexi wasn’t fighting anything, but her mouth wasn’t working well enough to tell him that.
The pressure increased until it was pain. A whimper fell from her lips and the pain eased off somewhat, but didn’t disappear.
“You’re fighting me, honey. You’ve got to let down those guards of yours.”
“Don’t know how,” she heard herself whisper.
He was silent for a moment, and she felt a subtle tension running through his hand. A single pulse of fear slid into her and she could tell instantly that it wasn’t her own. It had a different feel to it. A different shape, more jagged and rough than her own.
It was Zach’s fear. He was afraid. For her.
Something was wrong, but Lexi couldn’t figure it out.
“It’s okay. We’ll try it again. This time, I want you to picture a thick brick wall in your head. Can you do that?”
She gave a small nod as the wall popped into existence inside her mind.
“Good. Now take that wall down, brick by brick. You don’t need it anymore. You’re safe with me.”
Safe. That was nice.
Lexi did what he said, tearing down the wall, only she never reached the bottom. There were always more bricks, like they were growing up from whatever passed as earth inside the fluid constructs of her head.
Refusing to give up, she kept doing what he’d said while the pressure behind her eyes once again started to build. Heat grew inside her head, making her shake. The wall kept growing, keeping up with every attempt she made at shrinking it.
Pain radiated out, filling her skull to bursting. A noise sounded somewhere distant: a shrill cry of pain and the dry rattle of panting breaths. Hard bands tightened on her wrists and a brittle heat bit into her neck.
This was wrong. Even without any sort of experience at these kinds of things, she knew in her soul this was all terribly wrong.
The brick wall shot up, thickening as it grew. Taller than Jack’s beanstalk and wider than she could see, the thing kept growing and swelling, fighting against the pressure that filled her head.
A buzzing sound clogged her ears. Her blood burned as it sped through her veins, searing them from the inside out. There was nowhere to run to make it stop. Nothing she could do.
Dimly, she felt a popping inside her head, like little bursts of static electricity igniting oxygen. As each spark burst, she felt less of the world around her. Hearing faded. The cool press of the wall against her lower back became a memory. The feel of Zach’s hands around her wrists disappeared, along with feeling in the wrists themselves. Awareness of her body dissipated like fog under the sun until there was nothing left but the brick wall and an incessant pounding against it.
Then suddenly the pounding stopped. Or maybe it hadn’t stopped, but she could no longer sense it in any way. Everything but the wall slipped away and Lexi let it all go. She didn’t need any of it. All she needed was to let go.