Theirs to cherish, p.18
Theirs to Cherish, p.18Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
“What does he want at this late hour?” Sean asked.
“Not sure. Might have something to do with a phone call I made earlier. ” He snatched his phone up again and quickly hit a few buttons, then jammed the device against his ear.
Sean didn’t believe him for a second. “Put it on speaker. ”
“Fuck off. ”
“Or you stay here—behind bars. I can arrange that. ”
Thorpe grumbled, then hit the speaker button as the call connected. The second the other man answered, Thorpe skipped the small talk. “What’s up, Logan?”
“Tara just found out through her contacts at the bureau that Kirkpatrick is really a fed named Mackenzie. ”
“I got that already. And he’s standing right beside me. ”
Thorpe slanted him a stare, and Sean had to admit that he was impressed that the club owner had the forethought to look into his background. The guy might make a better partner in the search for Callie than expected.
“Well . . . I didn’t know that until just now. So don’t kill me. ”
“Not really my priority at the moment, Logan. I have to go. Callie is missing. ”
“I know. She came to me, terrified out of her mind. She didn’t know who or what this Sean guy was. ” Logan sighed. “She thought he was trying to kill her, so I helped her disappear. ”
“WHY the fuck didn’t you call me before now?” Thorpe demanded. “Hell, why didn’t she come to me? I’m going to paddle her ass when I catch up with her . . . ”
“Get in line¸” Sean groused beside him. “The little minx tricked me, drugged me, lied to me. I’m sure I can add to that list if I think about it for a few seconds more. ”
“Callie was scared, guys. She panicked. Based on what she told me, I understood,” Logan said, trying to be the voice of reason.
There were a hundred reasons that was funny, but Thorpe wasn’t in the mood to laugh just now. “And what did she tell you?”
“Are you here as a law enforcement officer or her Dom?” Logan asked.
“My priority is Callie’s safety,” Sean clarified. “Nothing else matters. ”
Logan snorted. “If you’re lying, Thorpe will probably make sure that someone finds you months from now at the bottom of a lake with hundred-pound weights attached to your ankles. ”
Damn, Logan knew him well.
“Whatever. Spit it out. ” Sean rolled his eyes.
“She told me everything,” Logan admitted.
Callie trusts a man she hasn’t seen in two years more than she trusts me? The thought stung Thorpe like an icy rain. It fucking hurt, to be so disregarded after four years of . . . what was their relationship exactly?
If he thought about it, Callie had been his sub in so many ways. Not sexually, of course. But she’d deferred to him at work. She’d begun to come to him with her problems—not this one, granted. She’d leaned on him, sometimes letting him hold her when she’d looked forlorn or melancholy. And sweetest of all, she often tried to please him in little ways. He’d done his best to give her all the security, support, boundaries, and caring she required.
It hadn’t been enough. With one sentence, Logan had stripped away his blinders and proven that he wasn’t Callie’s go-to confidante. It would be easy to imagine that she didn’t care for him, but those teary blue eyes hadn’t lied when he’d held her, and she’d cupped his cheek as she’d poured out her feelings. She did love him . . . in her way. As much as she let herself love anyone.
“So where’s my Callie now?” Sean asked into the phone.
“Your Callie?” Thorpe asked sharply. “Remind me where her collar is now. ”
“Shut up and let Edgington answer,” Sean snapped.
“She’s on her way to Vegas,” Logan supplied. “I called ahead to one of my old SEAL team buddies. Elijah is a good guy and a hell of an operative. Tomorrow, I promised to get some paperwork together for her so she could leave the country. ”
“Son of a bitch,” Sean muttered, echoing Thorpe’s own sentiment. Then the fed looked at him. “So I guess we’re heading to Vegas. How is she getting there?”
“I found her a last-minute charter with a bunch of vacationers. It’s a direct flight, leaving from New Orleans about . . . now. The plane is a big one. She’s in the back. Hopefully, no one will remember her, especially after she bought a floppy hat at Walmart that covers half her face. Elijah will pick her up when the flight lands. He’ll put her up with him. He’s vacating his wife and kids from the house, just in case there’s trouble. As soon as all her paperwork came together, I was going to overnight it to her. ”
And that would have been that. She would have disappeared from his life forever. And Thorpe realized, if that had happened, she would have been his biggest regret, too. He already had so many of them. Was he prepared to add her to the list?
“The second Callie called you to meet her, you should have let me know. You should have told me where she was, what was going on—”
“She begged me. I promised not to call you until we met and I heard her out. Once I had, I understood why she was adamant about not risking you, so I promised not to say anything. And she was right; everyone who knew her would assume she’d come to you with her problems. She usually does. ”
Thorpe still didn’t like it. “How would you feel if Tara came to me wanting to escape danger, and refused to involve you even for your own good?”
“It’s different. She’s my wife. ”
“It’s not different. If Xander knew how I felt about her, I guarantee you did. ” He cursed. “We’ll talk more about this later. Where can we find Elijah?”
Logan rattled off the address, then sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. In your shoes, I’d be pissed, too. I did what I thought was best with the information I had. I’ll stall her paperwork and tell Elijah to hang on to her until you can get there. Then you can decide the best course of action. ”
“Thanks,” Sean said into the phone. “We’ll call you again from the road with disposable numbers. Neither of us are taking our phones. ”
Thorpe ended the call, barely resisting the urge to throw his cell across the room and smash it into pieces. Instead, he locked the device into one of his desk drawers so only Axel could access it, then looked at his rival for Callie’s affection and his new partner in her retrieval. “I want to get to Callie as quickly as we can. I won’t rest again until I see her. ”
“I feel the same. Let’s go. ”
DAWN had inched up over the horizon a few hours ago, and they were in the armpit of Texas, somewhere between Dallas and Amarillo. Mile after mile of boring highway rolled by with nothing but small Texas towns to see, and the drive seemed interminable. He and Sean had passed the hours with a fast-food breakfast sandwich, several cups of coffee, and absolute silence. Yesterday’s clothes felt gritty and stiff. But none of that mattered now. Thorpe could only pray that no one had recognized Callie and that she remained out of harm’s way.
Beside him, Sean’s eyes drooped like he still had a tinge of an Ambien hangover. But he continued to stare at the road as if it would somehow bring Callie back to him.
“If you want to sleep, go ahead. I got it,” Thorpe said, breaking the tense hush.
Sean shook his dark head. “I’ve been on stakeouts in the past and had to go two or three days without much sleep, so I’ve been more tired. ”
He should probably just shut up, but they’d lost all radio reception some time ago, unless one counted the classic country twang station, which he didn’t. To say the drive was stressful and boring was as obvious as calling the sky blue.
“Your sleep deprivation isn’t going to help us find her any faster,” Thorpe pointed out.
“Right now, I’m not sure I could nod off for any reason. We’ve got hours, maybe days, before we catch up to Callie. If I closed my eyes now, I’d just dwell on how dist
“What else did you expect her to think after she realized you lied?”
“I understand logically. How many dirtbags have hunted her in the past, right? Her wariness has probably saved her more than once. ” A pained frown consumed the other man’s face, full of deep lines and silent restraint. Callie’s belief that Sean was capable of hurting her was clearly shredding his guts. “But I wouldn’t tell Callie that I loved her if I’d just planned on ending her. ”
Mackenzie’s tone asked why the girl couldn’t see that. The man might have spewed a lot of crap in the past, but unfortunately Thorpe had no doubt his feelings were genuine.
“Or turning her in for the money?”
“When did she become more than a case to you?” Thorpe wasn’t interested in having a touchy-feely conversation, but it would both fill the long drive and tell him how much he could trust the guy.
Sean shrugged. “I think before I even met her. Callie was never a name in a file for me. From the moment this case came my way, I wanted to understand what made her tick. I kept thinking how damn hard it would be to lose your mother as a little girl, then so violently lose everyone else you loved before really growing up. ”
“And then have to run for your life and be forced to leave everyone you came to care about again and again. ”
“Yeah. ” Sean stewed for a minute. “Her circumstances hit me hard. I didn’t know my parents too well, but my grandparents raised me. When they died . . . ” He let out a long breath. “That was damn hard. They taught me how to love and the value of family. Anyway, I felt for Callie. But the moment I met her . . . fuck, I knew I was toast. ”
Thorpe gripped the steering wheel tighter, stunned by Sean’s simple honesty. He understood closeness and love. Thorpe had been avoiding those for so many years, he’d forgotten what it was like to truly let anyone inside his heart—until Callie had bulldozed his protective walls and dug her way in without even knowing it. She’d quickly taken root, a weed he couldn’t bring himself to pull. If he managed to find her, could he open enough to be the man, the lover, she needed?
According to most people in his past, he didn’t have a prayer in hell.
“Right away, I could see that she’d been alone for too long. She isn’t meant to be,” Sean pointed out, his tone almost a challenge, as if he was willing to fight until Thorpe agreed.
But there was nothing to argue about. “You’re right. ”
Sean relaxed. “Callie yearns for more. ”
“She does. She’s afraid to connect with anyone, but her heart is too big not to share. Despite that bratty attitude she flashes, she’s most content when she’s making others happy. ”
If they could help Callie understand that they both simply wanted her safe, maybe she would come home. But that wouldn’t make her whole. The girl needed the firm hand of a tender master to guide her through life and love. She was probably better off without him, but Thorpe knew that if he didn’t get over his shit and try to assume that role, Sean certainly would. If the man succeeded, Callie could be lost to him forever.
The sun beat down through the back window. The remnants of the coffee tasted like cold sawdust. His stomach coiled into tight knots. Since he doubted he could be what she needed but he didn’t want to live without her, where did that leave him? Fucked.
“I see her desire to please others,” Sean agreed. “But to survive, the clever little kitten has developed some sharp claws. ” The fond smile on Sean’s face made Thorpe both appreciate the man more and want to rip his entrails out with jealousy. “Callie will fight when she thinks it’s necessary. ”
“Every time. But in the last four years, I’ve watched her blossom. When she first came to me, she didn’t smile, wouldn’t talk, lied about everything. The fucking sadness on her face . . . I knew she was in some sort of trouble. It was damn hard, but I didn’t push or pry. ”
“When did you figure out who Callie really was?”
Thorpe sent him a skeptical glare. “And admit to knowingly harboring a fugitive so you have a reason to arrest me? Not happening. ”
Sean tossed his hands in the air. “If I’d wanted to arrest you for that, I could have done it back in Dallas. And if I trumped up a charge and threw you in jail, Callie would never forgive me. As much as I hate to say it, I need your help to find her. ”
Pretty speech, but that didn’t mean Thorpe trusted the fed. “What happens when we do?”
“You mean who gets the girl? That’s up to Callie. ” Sean sighed. “She loves us both. ”
Another truth. The even uglier truth was that he’d never fought for her. For years, Thorpe had denied how much he cared, pretended that he knew nothing about her feelings. Why would the girl ever choose a divorced man fifteen years her senior who’d only ever rebuffed her over the hot, young agent who couldn’t wait to tell her that he loved her?
Theirs to Cherish by Shayla Black / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on48 votes