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A smile spread across the imp’s face, revealing a row of crooked, coffee-stained teeth. He stepped toward her, then faltered as if worried she might retreat. “Dry your eyes, my sweet, and sit down at the wheel. Let my hands guide yours, and together, we will make magic.”
“Fine. I’m desperate,’ Katarina said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to earn my freedom. But what do you ask in return?”
The beast put a hand to his forehead and rubbed his temple. He tilted his head sideways and smiled at her. “Nothing. Other than the pleasure of your company,” he said. “A man like me doesn’t have many friends, let alone a beautiful woman to help pass the time.”
Katarina nodded in agreement and accepted his outstretched hand. As soon as their fingers touched, she felt an inconspicuous jolt of electricity ripple down the vertebrae in her back. Her eyes shot open in surprise. The imp drew back momentarily as if he endured a similar shock to his system. He motioned for her to take a seat, then moved to stand behind her. With her seated in the chair, they were almost the same height. He leaned into her. The warmth of his broad, muscular chest radiated through the translucent cotton shift she’d worn to bed. He flexed his fingers, using them to place Katarina’s delicate appendages along the spindles of the wheel. So close, his heated breath rolled across her skin, and sent shivers over the slender column of her neck in a series of tantalizing waves. The whisper-soft sensation caused goose bumps to form. Rather than pull away, Katarina let her body relax, enveloped in the beast’s feverish embrace.
He extended his arm, grabbed hold of the wheel, and spun it. Its clickety-clack sound reverberated around the room as it completed its first revolution. “Shut your eyes. Surrender all your inhibitions, and visualize what you want.”
Katarina groaned. She took a deep breath and laid her head against his well-defined bicep. What she wanted to do was lose herself in his comforting touch. Forget about the straw that blanketed the frigid concrete floor. Wipe away the memories of Aleksander’s brutality. Soon, the muscles in her back and shoulders relinquished their unwavering grip. She turned her head and took in her companion’s unique, earthy scent. Pine and sandalwood permeated her senses.
“Keep your eyes closed. Otherwise, the full force of the magic won’t take affect.”
Katarina heeded his warning. She allowed his talented digits to do their intricate work. The thin reeds of straw slid through their entwined fingers. Up and down. Over and under. In and out. She felt the rigid fibers give way, transformed into the smooth, silky fabric that cascaded down to the floor and pooled at her feet.
“Tell me your name, little man. Who is this knight in shining armor that sweeps me off my feet and saves the day?” Katarina felt him tense at her back. He stopped moving altogether.
“I’m sorry, my lady. I cannot tell you.” He rubbed his palms down her arms as if to calm her rattled nerves. Or maybe his own.
“Please. Call me, Katarina.”
“Katarina, it may not seem possible, but I haven’t always been the repugnant barbarian that appears before you. Once, I was a handsome man from a prosperous family living in a nearby village. Unfortunately, I cannot jeopardize my identity. If my parents discovered me in this condition, it would be a terrible disgrace.”
Katarina sighed and settled back against his bulky frame, her vision still masked. The sinewy muscles in his arms wrapped around her again as he returned to his work. They labored late into the night. Her fatigued body ached something fierce. Several hours later, she heard a rooster cackle somewhere nearby. The man behind her lifted his head and released the wire spindles on the spinning wheel.
He turned his head and whispered soft words that tickled her ear. “Katarina. Open your eyes and behold our masterpiece.” Her eyelids slowly drifted up, and to her amazement, a luxurious golden-hued textile was laid out like an elaborate carpet draped over the frozen stone tundra.
“It’s magnificent!” Katarina turned and threw her arms around his neck. The warm, exhilarating feel of his hulking form pulled tight against her pliant curves. His brawny biceps dangled over her torso and clung to her narrow, spiraled hips. He shifted his weight, and she felt the unmistakable proof of his desire. Katarina’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. She pivoted on the balls of her bare feet and pulled away. “I wish there was some way to repay you. There must be something with which I can tempt you.” Her humble servant winked and shot her a devilish grin. “Be careful what you wish for. I might return one day and demand you turn over your first-born child.” Katarina’s eyebrows popped up, uncertain of his sincerity, until his robust laughter resounded in her ear. Then his expression turned serious. “Don’t worry, princess. In my current state, I can hardly swat at a fly, let alone abduct a child.”