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Should I Fast?

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Julia picked up a heavy silver brush from the rosewood vanity. Strands of pale gold hair were caught in the bristles, glinting the dim sunlight. The suite was full of Rachel Matheson's leavings – her notes on the desk, her smell on the cushions and doubtless her whining tears on the pillows. What it was short on were the creature comforts that Julia was used to – wine, little luxuries, her own clothes.

In a burst of petty irritation Julia threw the brush at the wall, chipping the plaster. It didn't make her feel any better, so she wrenched the mirror off the table and smashed it against the ground. Glass shattered and dropped onto the floor, crunching under her feet as she stamped over to the windows. She twisted her hands in the heavy burgundy velvet curtains, nap rough against her palms, and yanked until the came down round her in a sloughing, dusty pile.

Breathless and shaking, Julia kicked her way out of the tangle of fabric and stomped over to the bed. She sat down, the old frame creaking, and buried her face in her hands. The temper tantrum hadn't helped – it never did – and now she had a sick headache from adding adrenaline to the cocktail of exhaustion and worry she'd already been carrying around.

Not fear. She wouldn't give Miles Matheson the satisfaction.

Julia rubbed her fingertips against the aching bones of her skull. She wanted a cup of honey-sweetened tea and her own bed, she wanted to go home and most of all she wanted Tom. She wasn't going to get any of them. Kicking off her shoes she curled up on another woman's bed, in another woman's prison and stubbornly didn't cry herself to sleep.

The morning sun on her face woke her up. She groaned and threw her arm over her eyes. This is why she didn't have tantrums, she always ended up having to tidy up after them herself. The sun wasn't going away. Julia sighed and rolled over, propping herself up on her elbow and yelping in shock as she saw General Monroe sitting on the end of the bed.

'Good morning, Julia,' he said, tilting his head. 'I see you've made yourself at home.'

She scrambled up the bed, bare feet kicking at the blankets, until she was squashed against the pillows. Her heart hammered against the inside of her chest.

'What are you doing?'

He brushed a bit of fluff from his sleeve and gave a mild, disarming smile. 'You're my guest, Julia. I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable.'

She pulled her knees up to her chest and brushed her hair back from her face, trying to find her composure. It was easier when she was more...put together. She managed a smile.

'I'd be more comfortable at home.'

He glanced around at the ruin of velvet and glass on the floor, then back at Julia. 'My hospitality not up to your standards, Julia?'

The conversational minefield was actually calming Julia down. It was a familiar game - imply and block, infer and deflect - although one she usually avoided playing with Monroe. He was too unpredictable, and too rash in doling out punishments.

'I'm sorry, General,' she said, spreading her hands helplessly and adding a nervous little smile. 'Of course I appreciate your hospitality. You concern for my well-being, for all of us, is always heartening. It would just be comforting to be in a familiar space.'

Monroe braced his arm on his thigh, fitted jacket tugging tight across his shoulder, and heard out attentively. He stood up as she finished and walked around the bed, curling his fingers through her hair.

'That's very brave,' he said, rubbing his thumb over the captured strands thoughtfully. 'After your ordeal at Matheson's hands, however, I think you'd safer here, close to me. Where I can take care of you – since Tom can't.'

She stiffened. 'My husband has always taken care of me and our son.'

'Hmm,' Bass said, seemingly engrossed in her hair. 'Yet he didn't protect you from Miles – and he can't protect you from me.'

Julia slanted a side-long look at him from under her lashes. 'I'm a loyal citizen of the Republic, General Monroe. Why would I have to fear from you?'

He tucked her hair behind her ear and let his knuckles brush down her throat, a lazy caress that made her flinch. Monroe leant in to whisper against her bared ear, lips brushing her skin.

'Nothing, but a man should be able to protect what's his.'

Julia took a quick breath and pulled her lips back in a tight, nasty smile. 'He wouldn't have needed to protect me, if you'd killed Matheson when you should have.'

The hand at her throat turned into a hand around her throat. Not squeezing, but tight. His thumb pressed under her chin, forcing her to look around at him. 'You're smarter than that, Julia.'
She swallowed hard, tendons working against his grip. Tantrums, never ended well. She dipped her lashes remorsefully, 'My apologies, General. It's been a trying week – first my son was being sent to California and then Miles Matheson had a sword to my throat. Just about where your fingers are.'

Warm, dry lips pressed against her cheek. She could feel the scrape of his stubble against her skin.

'I spared your son, and your husband, even though they betrayed me,' he said. 'You'd think you'd be grateful, Julia. You'd think you'd appreciate my restraint.'

She caught his wrist, wrapping her fingers around the heavy flex of bone and muscle. 'General, you have your choice of beautiful, young women, who would all be very grateful for your attention and restraint.'

'Restraint isn't usually the word they use,' he said. A hand slid up her stockinged leg, ruching her skirt up around her thigh. She clenched her knees together, knuckles pressing against her muscles. 'Grateful, yes. Come have breakfast, Julia. I have coffee.'

He got up, tugging his jacket straight, and walked around the end of the bed. Julia pushed her skirts down, stretching the hem down to her knees. Monroe paused as a bit of mirror crunched underfoot and regarded the destruction.

'I'll have the maids clean this up,' he said. 'I don't expect it to happen again. I'm always admired your pragmatism, so don't disappoint me now. This is your new home.'