“That's an order, General,” he says languidly, eyes already flicking back to the piles of correspondence on his desk. He ignores Charlie's open-mouthed stare and the way Miles bristles at being told what to do, but they can suck it. They'd served him up on a fucking platter when Blanchard and Affleck had decided they wanted a single, friendly power in the Plains rather than an unreliable patchwork of endlessly warring Clans, so if they object to him being that guy again, well, fuck 'em.
Nothing he hadn't handled before, Bass thinks viciously, and stomps on the nest of vipers that starts to squirm in his gut whenever he thinks of the past. He can't afford those feelings, now. Their broken little world needs President Monroe, fascist black uniform and all. And General fucking Matheson, dammit, who needs to get his ass to Austin, pronto.
“Go on, then,” he dismisses his surly general, and turns his back just as Miles jerks his head to Charlie. Gear up, kid.
“She stays,” Bass says without turning around. “That way I know you'll come back.”
It's the only truth either Matheson would accept, he thinks bitterly. They'd kill him a lot more dead if they knew the real reason he needed her here.
Safe. Close. Maddening.
His very own hair shirt, every bit as prickly as this damn uniform. Unimpressed, unafraid, unbowed. He'd come to terms with it now, the unbridgeable gulf between them. Embraced it even. Charlotte Matheson was his living, breathing reminder that there was still beauty, and good in the world.
And that he couldn't, shouldn't just take everything he wanted.
No matter how she looked at him sometimes.
“So, I'm a hostage then.”
The words are even, if slightly contemptuous, but she's hardly the shrieking virago he'd expected. There's amusement lurking in there too, as if she knows something he doesn't. Perhaps, he acknowledges, knows something he does, but won't admit.
The air crackles between them, the way it always has, and he tries not to see her, not to drink her in. Charlie is headier than 40-year-old port, and just as likely to steal his good sense. He tugs at the edges of his sleeve, pulling General Monroe around him. He'd loved the severity of black wool and silver buckles once; now he's never hated an inanimate object more.
“Hostage might be harsh. Security, perhaps. Maybe I just want to keep you safe.”
Her explosive laugh marks his success. “Yeah, because I didn't fight my way halfway across the country with you. Can't take care of myself at all. Just a weak little woman.”
Yes, get angry, he thinks. Just another dinosaur telling you what to do, brat. Hate me for it.
But she can read him too, and her anger has barely receded before something bitter takes its place. “Besides, I'm Charlotte Matheson. General Matheson's daughter. President Monroe's bedwarmer. Who's gonna touch me?”
Her voice throbs with the argument she's been making for weeks now. Never voiced, but hot in her eyes, and the line of her body when she sprawls on his sofa and invites him down. Burning in the brush of her lips against his cheek, or the way she stares at him sometimes, daring him to touch her as she toys with his buttons.
“Not even you, apparently.”
“Charlotte,” he croaks, because he can't let her think he doesn't want her, no matter how much safer that would be. He grabs for her wrist but she twists away, smoke in his hands like the warrior she is, dancing up the stairs. Their eyes collide once more when she reaches the landing, and her chin edges higher into the air. Go on, Monroe. Take the risk.
He aches with the familiarity of the challenge, that constant from his other, best life. Bass Monroe would be in there swinging, stripping the sword belt from her hips and pushing her back onto the dirty ground to peel off those buckskin pants and feast, but … he's not Bass Monroe. She's not wearing a sword, or even that jangly belt he loved so much, and they're no longer allowed to fuck in the dirt.
This girl is President Monroe's honoured guest, not-a-hostage, the daughter of his most rebellious functionary. (Not even a friend, not anymore.) No matter what they're saying in the marketplace, he doesn't touch her, affords her every respect, plays the gentleman. He refuses to sully her with his bloody hands, and this uniform, the one that had made her gasp the first time she saw it.
“You look like him,” she'd said, and he'd wanted to pull her into his arms and whisper it was just a joke, a ridiculous costume that he'd let her strip off later, but then Rachel had marched in. She'd taken one look at him and fainted, spooking them both. Miles had swept her up, spitting curses at him, foul accusations that both of them knew weren't true. He's not sure exactly when he gave up on Miles, but the shock in Charlie's eyes, the worry - his hopes of winning back his family, maybe even building a new one, had died right there.
She'd recovered, come looking for him that very night, in fact, but he hadn't. He had another betrayal to heap at Matheson feet, and this one hurt more than Miles' shaky gun ever had.
President Monroe had been born again.
He works past midnight, exhausts himself, then heads upstairs. The staff are long since in bed, and he extinguishes the lamps in the corridor one by one as he passes. Oil, he thinks. And tallow for the candles. Beeswax is too precious, these days.
He's still thinking about the fast-vanishing bees when he notices the yellow light filtering into the shadowed hallway from his bedroom door. It's ajar.
Who leaves doors ajar?
Monroe draws his pistol and moves tight against the wall. He angles his body to let him peer around without being seen.
Charlie has her back to him, staring into the long mirror next to his bed. His spare uniform jacket hangs loose on her shoulders, falling to her knees, and … his senses threaten to riot. She's eying her reflection, one hand sliding over her midsection, tracing around her navel and tickling along her ribcage before moving up to glide the pad of her thumb over a softly pouting nipple. Naked, his screaming brain insists on telling him. Under his uniform jacket, she's completely bare.
Her little puff of arousal echoes into the silence as her nipples peak. Charlie tips her head back, eyes closed for a moment to appreciate the sensation, then returns her gaze to the mirror. She turns her face into the rough black wool and breathes deep. His scent, Monroe knows, trapped in the fibres. She's smelling him, and shifting, reaching. Groaning loud as her fingers slip between her own folds, nudge at her clit until her hips start to undulate, then jerk. She stops, though, frustration chasing the slumbrous pleasure from her face, then glances towards the bed. Considering.
Monroe is frozen, his cock so swollen that he's running the risk of permanent damage. But he's not willing to move, not willing to breathe, until she makes her decision. He tries not to pray – she could turn now, and make for the door, and he'd vanish into the aether. Pretend to have been further up the hall, and look away from her exquisite golden beauty. Refuse to meet her eyes, refuse to entertain the idea that this, them, now … that anything exists. That they are more than just Matheson and Monroe.
Or, he finds her in his bed. Wearing his jacket. Pleasuring herself, wrapped in his smell. And no one, not even Miles Matheson himself, could make him walk away from that. Charlotte Matheson, declaring herself the President's woman. The monster's lover. Monroe's wife.
He nearly drops to his knees when she smiles, and climbs up onto the bed, making sure to smoothe the jacket underneath her, then spreading it wide. Her knees drop down into a breathtaking butterfly, and the tang of her sex, the sweet, wet glisten of it, slams into him as she slicks her fingers once more.
He waits until she is fucking herself in earnest to step inside the room.
“Don't stop,” he orders, pulling the heavy armchair to the end of bed, and settling back into it. Her eyes lock onto him as he separates the silver buttons from their holes, then works the ornamental belt free. She licks her lips as the bulge in his pants becomes apparent, then abandons her clit to plunge three fingers deep inside herself.
“Been there long?” Charlie asks, as if he's been caught her sorting through invoices, or reorganising the library, watching her the way they pretended he didn't. (He'd push her up that ladder, and eat her from below, he'd decided. He'd spread her out on his desk, bend her over her own, and make her brace her hands on the window as he slammed into her from behind. Not that he's thought about this.)
“Long enough,” he says shortly, and releases the last button, the one that exposes him to her fully, angry red head protruding from the waistband of his favourite threadbare briefs. He pushes them away, liberating himself completely, then swipes the moisture around, and pumps.
They moan in concert, excitement and need and raw appreciation hanging in the air between them. He wants to climb up next to her and sink into those depths he misses more than anything else in his joke of a life, but … he wants to stay here, and watch her surrender to him.
More. He wants that more, he decides. President Monroe needs that.
“Pinch your nipples for me. Both hands,” he orders, and watches her, watching him, debating whether to comply. She's close already, reluctant to abandon the imminent orgasm, but her hands creep upwards anyway, fingers glistening as she yanks desperately at the hard little buds.
“Harder,” he growls, and sits up to watch, splaying his legs to give himself more room to work his cock. She gasps, and he can't hide his satisfaction at the telltale ripple of taut stomach muscles. He'd always suspected she likes it when he looms, but this is a whole new category of predatory. And little Miss Charlie is halfway to coming at the sight.
His cock jerks with delight, and he has to pinch himself around the base. Is he going to give in and fuck her, or is there a lesson to be had first? Show her who she's dealing with?
Fuck yes, there is.
“Thought you didn't like my uniform,” he says idly, watching the frustration mount on her face as he slows the pace.
“Don't like President Monroe,” she fires back, spiteful.
Bass would laugh at such an obvious lie, but that's not what this is about, so he just sneers and pumps himself slowly, feeling the heat of her eyes on him. “Liar,” he says as she starts to pant, obviously desperate for stimulation. “What you don't like is the fact that you like him too much.”
She groans, and a ragged “please” slips out from between gritted teeth.
“Why are you wearing my jacket, brat?” he asks, and pumps harder, feeling his balls start to pull up.
“It …. it … smells like you,” she writhes, one disobedient hand venturing back down her torso.
“Uh, uh,” he objects, and his own hand stills. “Tell me the truth, and I'll let you come. Make it good,” his eyes flick down to his desperate, weeping cock, then back to hers, “and I'll come all over you.”
She practically babbles in her need to get the words out. “I like it. It reminds of that first time. The way you looked at me. What it made me do.”
“Did you do this, then? Locked up in your bedroom, dreaming of bad General Monroe?” he asks, shocked. He'd thought about fucking his glorious little prisoner more ways than he could count, but it had never occurred to him that she might have wanted that. Just as well, he winces. Nothing about that situation had been right – and back then, he wasn't inclined to care.
But now … she's grown up. She's his equal, in every possible way. She's not his prisoner.
He strangles himself again and forces the words out before his cock can regain control.
“The hostage thing. You know that's BS, right?”
“Yeah,” she pants, and that joyous smile, the one he hasn't seen in months, blooms across her face. “Fucking hot, though.”
He doesn't bother to hide his own grin, or the gasp that follows as his limits are reached. “Charlie. Fuck yourself for me,” he says urgently, and lurches to his feet.
It's her little exhalations that get him in the end, the nonsense words full of gratitude and praise as she slaps at her clit and grinds down onto the fingers of the other hand, eyes wild and body twisting like molten metal. Gold, he thinks as he begins to jerk. Golden buttons next time, to match her skin. And the dark blue of those lust-blown eyes.
He crowds over her, and she arches up to touch him, hand grazing his cock and directing it as he begins to come. Thick gouts of cum, decorating her breasts, and belly, and the tops of her thighs, neverending cataclysms of white-hot glory that she's already trailing her fingers in, smearing over herself.
He's not claiming her, he realises slowly. She made herself his woman the moment she pulled on the jacket, and this? This is him signing away his right to object, ever again.
President Monroe bridles at that for a moment, and Bass laughs. Pussy. Enjoy it while you can, punk.
Because he's pretty damn sure they'll be gossiping about the old guy warming President Matheson's bed before too long.