Theirs to cherish, p.37
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.37

         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
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Page 37

 

  She set down the bottle of water, then turned in his arms with a little smile. “Well, you bought a year’s worth of condoms and you did warn me . . . Not that you’ll hear me complain. ”

  “I hope not. ” He gripped her hip and settled a kiss on her swollen lips. “Are you all right?”

  She sent him a saucy grin with blue eyes dancing mischievously. “The sex isn’t exactly scarring me for life, if that’s what you’re worried about. ”

  “Good to know, but no. Let’s start at the beginning. Why did you run from Dominion without talking to me? Or to Thorpe? I hate that you felt that you couldn’t trust me. ”

  “You lied, Sean. ” When he opened his mouth to argue, she cut him off. “I know what you’re going to say. It was your job. You weren’t untruthful about your feelings. I get all that. Just understand that I thought you might be an assassin or something. And if that was the case, I certainly wasn’t going to give you the opportunity to shoot me while I was busy asking why you knew my true identity and had a gun. And I refused to put Thorpe at risk by running to him for help. ”

  Arguing with that logic would get him nowhere. She’d kept herself alive by being cautious. And walking away from everyone who’d ever mattered. He was going to have to break that last habit. Maybe when he’d begun having feelings for her, he should have come clean. Or maybe she would have just run sooner. It was all moot now. They were finally getting everything out on the table. He wanted to clear it so they could stop the danger to her and have a future.

  “I know. But I can’t have you running off again. I don’t think my heart can take it, lovely. ”

  She cupped his cheek and frowned. “Sean, think about what you’re saying. Hell, what you’re doing. By your own admission, you’ve been married to your job for the last decade. I can’t let you give that up for me. It’s your career. Your future. ”

  “No, you are. Make no mistake. I won’t give you up. If you don’t love me and want to leave, I can’t stop you. But I refuse to walk away from you because my boss might be pissed off. I won’t abandon you when you’ve got danger breathing down your neck. Someone wants you dead. ”

  “Yeah, and I don’t know who or how to stop it. The best thing I can do for you is give you all the time and love possible, then quietly leave. If you’ll say I gave you the slip and let me have a head start—”

  “Do you not love me?” he cut in.

  “I do, Sean. More than I can even tell you. ” She gripped his face in her hands, her eyes tearing up. “But the day my family was murdered and I ran, I gave up my future. I didn’t really understand at the time, but I can’t argue with the facts. ”

  She pressed the softest, saddest kiss on his lips—meaning it as the beginning of her good-bye.

  Sean refused to let that stand.

  He jerked back. “I’m not going to stop fighting for you. ”

  Tears swam in her eyes. “I think you should. You’ve already given me an incredible gift with your love. I don’t get involved with people. It may not seem like much, but it’s very scary for me to tell you that I love you. I’m saying it because it’s true and important to me that you know. I don’t even have the words to tell you how touched I am that you’ve risked so much to help me. Or that you let Thorpe share this time with us. Why? You hated him back in Dallas. ”

  The last few days had been a blur, and he’d been so tired sometimes and stressed that he didn’t always know his name. But he was totally clear on this answer. “Because you love him. His experience and control lets you feel safe. You’ve known him for so long that trust is easy. ” He shrugged. “Besides, having someone help me watch your back has been beneficial. And having another pair of hands to spank your ass when you get out of line has come in handy, too. ”

  Sean tried to pass the last line off as a joke, but Callie wasn’t smiling. “I’ve loved him for a long time. Please don’t think that means I love you any less. And I want you to know that no matter what happens with Thorpe or the future, it won’t change how I feel about you. ”

  Sean smoothed back her hair and met her with a smile. “Thank you, lovely. I needed to hear that. I wish it sounded less like you intend to leave me. You have such a big heart to give. Thank you for sharing it with me. ”

  “You made it impossible not to fall in love with you. I’ve never felt this way, as if you came into my life . . . and supported me so perfectly. Suddenly, the ground under me felt solid. I wasn’t lonely or lost anymore. I was afraid to trust you. I’ve wanted to give you everything I could in return, but I didn’t know how to get past my fear. And now, I don’t ever want to let go. ”

  “Then don’t. Share your mind and heart with me. Give me your trust and honesty. You’ve been alive, but you haven’t really lived, Callie. I want to help you do that and be with you every step of the way. ”

  Callie hesitated for a long moment, looking up at him like he was her everything. “If you’re really not going to save yourself and let me go—”

  “I’ve made myself clear. ” He shook his head.

  “Then I’m yours. ” Callie threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his neck. “I’ll stay as long as you’ll have me. ”

  Sean’s heart swelled. He could have never guessed that this case would change not just his workaholic ways, but show him all he’d been missing. Callie had awakened him to love.

  “Be prepared to grow old with me,” he murmured in her ear. “I swear I’ll keep you safe so we can have that future together. ”

  “I’d love that more than anything. And I’ll try every day to make you happy. ”

  Sean caressed her silky hair and her velvet cheek. “As will I. But I don’t want you to be crushed if Thorpe doesn’t stay with us. He loves you, too, but he’s quite resistant to the ‘picket fence. ’”

  “I know. ” Callie tried to shrug as if it didn’t matter, but Sean knew better. “I never expected him to want me, much less stay. I mean, he probably opened a BDSM club because it was a great way to meet like-minded women and play with a different one every night. ”

  “I don’t know why he opened Dominion. He definitely wants you, but he’s kept his distance because he’s just a man with his own insecurities. And you have the power to hurt him. ”

  “Me? He’s ignored me for the last two years. When he first cut me off, I missed him so much, it was like physical pain. Then I wondered if subconsciously I wanted his love so badly because my relationship with my father had been so fucked up and now he was dead or something else stupid and Freudian like that. But then it didn’t take long to realize the feelings were totally different. That I just . . . wanted Thorpe. You’re right that he’s always made me feel safe. ” Tears spilled down her cheeks, and she swiped them away. “Sorry. Crying to you about Thorpe seems insensitive. Trust me, I’m more thrilled to have your love than I can ever express. ”

  Sean kissed her forehead. He could feel her pain and uncertainty just standing close to her. Exhaustion played a role, sure. But there was more. “I don’t want your gratitude. I’ll love you, regardless. I want you to know that, if Thorpe doesn’t stay, I’m going to use this time to learn what he gives you and try to provide it. We’ll manage, all right?”

  Even more tears fell. “You’re the best man I’ve ever met. I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I’m the luckiest woman in the world. ”

  Sean kissed her reverently. She pressed her lips to his in a gesture that worshipped and communed. She clung to him. In that moment, he had no doubt whatsoever that he had her heart and that he’d made the right choices, difficult though they’d been.

  “That question intimates that you think you deserved the last nine years. You didn’t. You’ve had a bad lot, but you’ve still kept a kind heart. Watching you smile, working to earn your trembling trust, always trying to guess what unpredictable mess you’ll get up to next . . . it made me appreciate you. Besides, you’re damn sexy. ”

  “Ditto in double
for you. ” She winked his way, then leaned in, resting her head on his chest.

  Sean wrapped his arms around her and just felt her heart beat against his for a long, silent second. He didn’t expect their near future to be full of peace, but he drank in this moment when most was right with his world.

  “You know, I should be more put out with you. ” She sighed. “A houseboat? Really?”

  He chuckled. “I had to be sure you weren’t going to get away from me, and I can’t watch you twenty-four seven. Since you don’t swim, bringing you out on the lake was the next best thing. In the middle of the week with winter closing in, I think we may be the only boaters out here. ”

  “Sneaky. ” She said it almost like a compliment. “But I guessed that after the computer in the pizza box. ”

  “I liked that myself. ” He grinned. “But if you want to talk about sneaky . . . what was in my wine?”

  “Ambien. ”

  Callie was the only woman he knew who could wince and flash a smile at the same time and somehow make it look adorable.

  “Minx. ” He shook his head. “Don’t do it again or I’ll have to paddle your ass but good. ”

  The mischief on her face was like a flirtation all its own. By all rights, he should at least need a good shower and a decent meal before he wanted to fuck her again. But no. He was already contemplating whether the kitchen counters were the right height to spread her legs and plow between them.

  “If that’s supposed to be a deterrent, it’s not working,” she whispered.

  Sean laughed out loud. This was something else he loved about Callie—her playful side. He’d been so damn serious for so damn long. Not much to joke about fighting crime on a federal level, but somewhere along the way, he’d forgotten to stop and smell the roses. Callie’s life had been far more dangerous and stressful than his own, but she still found ways to smile. He admired her grit and intelligence. If his grandparents were still with him, they would have loved her.

  “You know we’re going to have to talk about everything, don’t you? The night your family was killed, anything you can remember that might be relevant? Who came after you as you moved around—anything that might help us pinpoint who wants you dead. ”

  “Yes,” Thorpe said, entering the kitchen wearing only a pair of trousers and looking freshly showered. “As much as I’ve enjoyed being distracted by your beautiful body and the incredible sex, now we have to tiptoe through your past. ”

  ***

  THORPE sidled closer and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. Then he tipped her chin up to him so he could look into her eyes. “I always hoped I’d get to ask you questions so I could truly understand you, pet. But not in circumstances like this. ”

  Callie ached to ask why he’d never told her that he knew her true identity. But she couldn’t, not anymore than she could be greedy and demand more from him if he wasn’t prepared to give it. Besides, it was more important to focus on whoever was chasing her. She might not be able to stop them, but finding out who it was would definitely help her evade trouble in the future. Thorpe wasn’t going to suddenly and magically fall in forever love with her. Contrary to what Sean thought, Thorpe wanted her; he worried about her. He cared. And that was it.

  “I’ve thought about that night over and over. Everything seemed normal until I heard the gunshots downstairs. I thought my dad was in bed, so I was just about to sneak out the window and meet Holden. ”

  Thorpe actually growled. “I’m going to find out where that prick is now and repay him for what he did to you. ”

  He was such a protector, and it was one of the things that drew her. He’d always been ready to tear the head off anyone who hurt her. When he was around, it was so easy to trust that he had everything absolutely under control. Sean reminded her that there was tenderness in the world. He’d made her believe that she mattered to someone. He was her pillar of strength. And her tomorrow.

  “Actually, I think justice is being served. ” Sean grinned.

  She sent back a wobbly smile. “I agree. ”

  “You know?” His blue eyes glinted with surprise.

  “I’ve tried to look him up every now and then, when I could make my way to a public computer at a library so that nothing could be traced back to me. I really do think he got his just rewards. ” She faced Thorpe. “His parents moved to Kentucky about six months after he bailed on me. Within a few months, he’d gotten some girl pregnant. She had no money and a really mean father. They got married not too long after that, and I’m pretty sure it was at the business end of her daddy’s rifle. After three kids and seven years, she left him and took everything they had. He was too stupid to hold down a job, so he robbed a convenience store with a handgun. He’s all locked up. He was always pretty, so I’m betting he’s really popular in prison. ”

 

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