Return to poughkeepsie, p.34
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.34

           Debra Anastasia

  She sat up and swung her legs around so she was sitting properly. “I used you. This hasn’t been fair.”

  And there it was, his heart flayed open. He closed his eyes as the pain took root. She came close to him again, when she should be leaving. Eve hugged his head, pulling him to her stomach.

  “I never thought I’d care if you were hurting. But damn you, Ryan, you have a way of getting inside. Do you know how numb I am? How dead I have to be to kill someone?”

  She went to her knees, parting his legs to hug him around his middle. He gripped the table to keep from showing her affection. The wood protested his force with a crack. He wanted her.

  “I wanted kids who chased lightning bugs and ate sticky ice pops on hot summer days. I needed the most normal stuff—snowmen and stepping on Legos. I needed a guy that bitched about his day who I could sneak into the bedroom while the kids watched a movie.”

  She twisted until she had him in a deadly headlock. Her voice was so different when she spoke again. “This is what I’m good at now. Snapping spines and inserting knives. Plotting and killing and committing the kind of crimes that should have me in prison forever.” She slapped his own handcuffs on his wrists smoothly.

  She moved around him, torturing him by rubbing her breasts across his face. Spreading her legs, she straddled him again. “Can you stomach that? To have me? Are you going to lie to everyone? What will you say when I come home covered in blood and you never find the crime scene because I’m too fucking good to get caught?”

  Eve was biting him now, clawing his skin. His moan was probably heard four blocks away. His dick was trapped in his jeans, and it was going to die there soon. He stood, but she was too quick. She caught her balance and stood with him. And that’s how they were: criminal and cop. He with his hands cuffed and she with tears of defeat in her eyes.

  “What if I told you this is all bullshit?” He stepped toward her as he worked to dislocate his thumb. “What if I said you don’t have the balls to live like a stand-up bitch? And maybe I’m twice as deadly as you?” With that he pulled his hands from behind his back. Using the chain and cuff to aid in his restraint, he had Eve facedown with his knee in her back like the felon she was claiming to be. “All I have to do is lean in and your spine cracks. You’ll be paralyzed from the moneymaker down.” He put weight on her. “And maybe you shouldn’t be so certain that sleeping next to me is the safest fucking thing either.”

  He waited for her to cry uncle, to beg even a little for him to let up on her. The best she could do was sigh. He stepped off of her and gathered her against his chest. He expected the tiger fight in her eyes, not a tear escaping. He let her go, mumbling, “I’m sorry. I scared you.”

  She laughed then, one empty cackle before covering her mouth.

  He sighed. It hurt to look at her. She was still so beautiful and vulnerable.

  “You do scare me, but not in the way you think.” She backhanded the tear from her face like it’d pissed her off. “You’re like a ghost to me. You remind me of the man I lost, the one I pictured that perfectly, wonderfully normal future with. He was kind and amazing, but when it really came down to it? I knew he’d fight for me. He’d want to save me too.” She rubbed her eyes.

  Ryan walked away from her and found his handcuff key on his desk. He freed his other hand and relocated his thumb. “So is this a bad thing or a good thing?”

  “Years ago I killed two men.” She waited.

  When she didn’t go on, his cop brain jumped to conclusions. “Nikko and Wade?” He knew his eyes were wild.

  Eve kept her eyes on him while she nodded almost imperceptibly.

  The kick to his core shook his being. He dropped his handcuffs and keys, putting his hands in his hair, shaking his head.

  “You’re protecting him. I know it was him.” He pointed at her.

  She shook her head. “No.”

  Ryan could feel his skin burning. He bent forward and wanted to throw up. After all these years, he was face to face with the killer he’d sought. And all he wanted to do was make love to her.

  “Wade was the second. I took him to another location.” She laced her fingers together.

  “Don’t. I don’t want to hear you.” Ryan stood up and shook his head.

  “I had a knife in his kidney. He thought he might survive. I let him believe that until I had him in the car. And then…” She began rocking a bit.

  “Stop. Anything you say can and will be used against you—”

  She kept on. “I told him he was going to die.”


  “And he said, ‘But don’t you understand? My nephew needs me.’” That tear was back, painting her cheek with the only regret she showed.

  All Ryan could do was growl a warning noise at her. He was close to making her stop, and yet he couldn’t form coherent thoughts.

  “I killed him by twisting that knife like a key in a door. I took him to the woods and lit his body on fire. I buried the ashes.” Her voice cracked at the last bit.

  Ryan shook, his whole body reacting to the torture she described.

  “He was one of many, but it was the nephew part that stuck with me.” She glared at him, eyes blazing. “Still want to save me? Still want me to be the pretty girlfriend? This is what I am now. This is all I can be. I can’t make anything I’ve done go away. Do you get it?” Eve held her hands out, like she was expecting judgment to be placed in them.

  His voice was hoarse. “Why?”

  “That’s not important.”

  “Yes, it is. You owe me that much. Tell me fucking why!” His voice was loud, too loud. He didn’t care.

  “I don’t remember. It’s a blur.” She looked at her feet and dropped her hands.

  He advanced on her and grabbed her face. “Now.”

  “That’s not how you want to remember them. It won’t help you.” She met his eyes only because he forced her.

  “Tell me.” He knew he was squeezing her too tight.

  “They were meth heads about to rape a friend of mine.”

  It was as if she had snakes seeping from the depths of her. Ryan let go and backed up. He couldn’t get away from her quickly enough, stumbling over his discarded handcuffs and sitting down hard on his ass. “Wow. Way to try and save your skin. That’s a good lie.” He moved until his back was against the wall.

  She stood. “Okay. Am I leaving, or is there more to this?”

  “Is this to protect him? Beckett?” He was having trouble breathing with her in the room.


  “I don’t know what to believe. They were good men. They were both good men.” Ryan shook his head again.

  Eve crossed the space between them. He held up a hand. “Don’t come near me.”

  “I think they were good to you. But you need to go through their files. Have you done that? Did they have any priors?” She crouched down so her eyes were even with his.

  Ryan swallowed. He’d checked their adult records and nothing had been too bad—unpaid parking tickets and few possession busts.

  “I’m not trying to defend myself. I don’t deserve forgiveness. But this wasn’t their first time around. And that girl was saying no.” Eve sighed.

  “I can’t put you in this role in my head.” His nervous system was charged and wasted.

  “That’s okay. As long as you’re not putting me in the damsel-in-distress role, you can be safe.” She stood. “This puts us on opposite sides. And if revenge is what you need, you let me know. I know how that works.”

  She was almost to the door when he caught her. She waited, looking in his face with the steel he was used to.

  “In all my life I’ve never known a woman like you. I’ve never wanted someone so badly. I don’t believe a murderer is all you are. I see a part of you that you try to hide.”

  She shook her head. “I’m everything you think I’m not. I can’t be saved. And I don’t want to be.” Still steel. She touched his lips with seeming regret. “I’m sorry
for the loss of your uncles. If that night hadn’t happened, I think the goodness of your soul would have turned them around. Shit, it’s even tempted me.” She took his hands from her arms.

  He stepped back as she opened the door. “Where will you go?”

  “Don’t worry about me, copper. I always land on my feet.” She looked at him for a beat too long before closing the door behind her.

  Ryan stood there for at least an hour, hoping the door would stay shut and praying it would open at the same time.



  LIVIA COULDN’T SLEEP. The quiet in the house was unnerving, though she knew it shouldn’t be. She looked over at Emme and Kellan’s monitors, both peaceful. After a few rough weeks, they’d returned to sleeping like champions, their little bodies awash with the relief of sameness. Blake was absent, but he’d been writing songs on and off all day. No doubt inspiration had struck again. She lay in the dark, still wide-awake when he entered about half an hour later.

  “Beautiful, you’re supposed to be asleep.”

  “I can’t figure out how to make my brain shut off.” He was in jeans and a T-shirt, his hair a mess from his own hands. Whenever he was composing he took it out on his head. It was endearing.

  “Whatcha thinking about so much?” He sat down on the bed.

  “Where to start? Just now I was wondering why Beckett lives in Poughkeepsie, but we can’t see him. What is he doing? Is his life any different after all those years away? And Eve told me we don’t have to worry about the man who found Emme anymore. How can she be so sure? I’m feeling bad because it calms me to think he’s out of the picture, but I know it can’t have been because he was arrested, you know? And where is Eve? She doesn’t even call you anymore, does she?”

  “Well, I’ll tell you what I know. Beckett is trying to be different, but it’s a long road from where he started, and the safety of his family is always at the forefront of his mind. That’s why he’s keeping us away. I hope someday that will be different, but I don’t know. And Eve is back in the City. I think she’s processing a lot of things and needs some time to herself as well. You’re right that she hasn’t been calling, but she did let me know where she was.” He squeezed her hand and sighed. “Now you’re ready to just drop right off to sleep, aren’t you?”

  “Everything just seems so unsettled. How does Cole seem to you? Kyle definitely has good days and bad days, and I just don’t know what’s ahead for them. My heart hurts just thinking about it. And I guess the worst is that the kidnapping still makes me feel unsafe sometimes—even six weeks later.” She reached for his hand again as her words came out in a rush.

  “Those are things we can’t solve right now. It’s just going to take some time—except for the feeling safe bit. I’m here. Let me worry about the safe thing. You know what? Hold up.”

  Blake went into the bathroom and started the water in their bathtub. It was used mostly for Emme’s “winter swimming” sessions, complete with bathing suit. Sure enough, he reappeared with an armful of tub toys. Livia laughed when he put them down on their carpet as they squirted and honked at him. He pointed an angry finger at the pile. “Shush.”

  She knew she should point out the wet spot that was certainly forming on the carpet, but instead she just waited to see what he was up to. He disappeared into the hallway and in a moment came back juggling candles, a light stick, and a bottle of wine.

  “Your favorite.” He nodded at the bottle. He disappeared into the bathroom again, and this time she had to follow. She pulled her fuzzy robe on over her penguin pajamas.

  He set up the candles and lowered the lights. “You need to take your mind off all these things. Let me spoil you.” He put his phone on the vanity with his own compositions playing softly.

  “Wooing me with your own music?” she teased him.

  “It’s all I have on my phone. I was recording downstairs.” He added her favorite body wash and let the foam bubble up. “And don’t make fun of me.”

  Blake opened the wine and handed her the bottle. “Want me to get glasses? I couldn’t fit them.”

  Livia took a swallow, spilling the wine down her robe. “Wow. I really thought I was going to pull that off. Wine’s heavy.”

  He took the bottle and drained an impressive amount before handing it back to her. “Better? That stuff tastes like fruit punch, by the way.”

  “Thanks for taking some for the team.” She set the bottle down and undid her robe.

  He began a running commentary. “The beautiful brunette removes her wine-stained robe for her lover. And is it? Yes, dear God, yes it is. She’s wearing the penguin pajamas.”

  Livia tossed her robe at him and hugged her body, laughing.

  “Oh, how can a woman so decadently dressed be so coy? She is a conundrum.” He wrapped one hand around her waist and pulled her to him.

  Her only view was his sharp jawline with a bit of stubble and his white teeth as he smiled.

  “This penguin with the ice cream cone?” He pointed to the one on her nipple. “Pure sin.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Such a sweet talker. The tub’s about to overflow.”

  “Crap!” He spun and turned the water off. The bubbles were indeed almost to the edge.

  “Where was I? Drink your wine.” He pulled his T-shirt off and unbuttoned her flannel top while she took a gulp. “I’m naming this penguin Lucky.” He pointed to the one between her legs.

  She had to stop drinking so she could laugh. “Oh no, I can’t keep drinking. I’m making baby food here.”

  “You have three non-alcoholic bottles of deliciously pumped milk in the fridge. You’ll be fine until you detox.” He unbuckled his belt and removed his jeans. “Plus, your mouth is going to be too busy to drink anyway.”

  “Blake Hartt! You filthy thing!” She play-punched him before turning her back.

  “Must be why I have filthy plans.” He swept her into his arms. “Now let Lucky taste the floor so I can take his place.”

  She struggled a bit, laughing as he tugged her pajama bottoms off.

  “Take that, Lucky.” Blake turned her around. She removed her own top.

  “And goodbye Sin.”

  “Is this the foreplay? Talking dirty to my penguins?”

  “Well, looks like you’re just in your panties. So you may call me the master of seduction.”

  She covered her breasts and laughed out loud as he slid her panties off.

  He growled at her through half-closed eyes. “Funny lady.” He spanked her bottom, and she yelped. He put his finger on her lips. “Shhh. Don’t wake the little monsters.” He set the two monitors side by side so they could see the kids.

  Livia sat on the edge of the tub, drinking more wine while she watched him light the candles. Gratefulness became a lump in her throat. Despite all the confusion around here and in the lives of those she loved, to be here, safe with him, was more than she could have ever asked for.

  Blake kissed her forehead and got in the tub behind her. She twisted around so her feet were between his legs in the water. As she slid in, he parted her knees.

  Livia took another healthy swig of the wine before scooting toward him. “Drink up, handsome.” She offered him the bottle of wine.

  His eyes sparkled as one hand took it and the other disappeared under the water.

  After that she quickly lost the upper hand, barely remembering to set the wine bottle on the side of the tub as he handed it back to her and set to his task. She grasped the edge of the porcelain as Blake proved how well he knew her. His long fingers and warm kisses over her face and neck had her seeing stars. She swayed, about to fall backward into the water when he looked up at her.

  “You’re chilly. Let me help with that.” Blake steadied her hips as he slid inside, drawing her closer, her legs encircling his waist.

  Her mind now swirled in an entirely different way as her buzz washed over her. “Wow. Wine. This is warm. And that’s…yes.” She shivered: her top half cold and h
er bottom half toasty and engaged.

  Blake traced her goose bumps with his warm finger. He used his hands to cup the soapy water and pour it over her skin, warming her with his hands. She began rocking on top of him. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and Livia bent backward until her hair was submerged, coming up slowly.

  “So beautiful. Do you even have a clue?” Blake waited for her with kisses.

  “I must be to catch a guy like you.” She traced his jaw with her fingertips. Together they rocked until water and bubbles sloshed over the brim of the tub.

  Livia turned and stood, Blake standing behind her. She turned on the water again to warm up, and out of habit she pulled the curtain and hit the shower button. Under the spray, he kissed her again, and the fine mist of water everywhere made the room a blurry gold. The candlelight flickered as Blake lifted her to his hips. She was so close, and when he slid his hand between them and pressed her against the tile wall, her orgasm was just heartbeats away.

  He increased his friction and embedded himself in her hard and fast, just like she liked it when she was this close. She melted as he watched, growling and gasping, calling his name. She lost herself as she came, knowing he was so strong, holding her steady against the wall, never letting his own release stop how hard he worked for her. She touched his wet face, his stubble, the strong muscles in his chest, the scar over his heart.

  Finally she slid down the tile, pulling him back down into the tub. He rearranged them so she could lie between his legs and rest her head on his chest. She heard the drain pull and knew he’d worked it out with his foot.

  “You made a drunk, sloppy mess, wife.” He smoothed the hair away from her face as the water poured down on them.

  “Mmm…” was the only response she could muster.

  The water went from lukewarm to ice as the water heater gave them its last. Livia squealed and abandoned Blake. He gallantly braved the freezing stream to turn off the water. She tossed him a towel and wrapped one around herself. The rest of the towels went to the tub overflow.

  “Hope that doesn’t leak through the ceiling.” Livia watched as Blake arranged the towels to do the best job they could. The room was hazy with humidity as he rescued the wine bottle and took another gulp.

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