Theirs to cherish, p.40
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.40

         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 40


  “Why would I reward you?” He raised a brow at her, then prowled through the little galley. A few moments later, he pulled open a drawer and pulled out more clothes pins. Then with a yank on the little refrigerator door, he produced a bottle of Tabasco. “Stick your tongue out at me again, pet, and I’ll put these to good use. ”

  Callie gaped at him, indignant. She looked like she had a few choice words, but finally clapped her mouth shut with an angry little huff. Sean bit back another laugh. Even when she was a brat, she was adorable. But if he’d been alone with her, he would have had to nip her defiance in the bud. Thorpe’s tactics were interesting, and Sean made note of them in case he needed them for future reference. In case Thorpe wasn’t here to administer the attitude adjustment she needed.

  With a sigh, she curbed her annoyance and focused on the situation again.

  “I understand. ” She stared at Thorpe, who merely raised an expectant brow at her. “Sir. ”

  “Better. ” He smiled and turned Sean’s way. “Proceed. ”

  It was impossible not to smile back. “On it. What do you know about this egg?”

  “Not a lot. My mom talked about it, of course. But I was so young. She started getting sick when I turned five. As time went on, she became quieter. Mostly, I remember her holding me and telling me how much she loved me and to never forget that. ” Callie teared up, then sniffled. “Sorry. I haven’t let myself think about those times in forever. ”

  Thorpe stroked a hand down her spine in reassurance, then kissed the top of her head. There was no way he didn’t love her. Dumbass prick. Even when he held himself back, Thorpe’s devotion showed.

  “So you don’t remember anything about the egg specifically?” Sean asked softly.

  “I think she said this one was from Easter 1912 or 1913—somewhere around that time frame. Dad bought it for her from a collector in Europe shortly after they were married. I guess she’d seen one on their honeymoon and fallen in love. This one came up for sale, and Dad gave it to her as an anniversary gift or something. When I was really little, she had it on a display stand that lit up on the mantel in their bedroom. She redecorated their whole bedroom around it. The room looked very stately. But when she got really sick, Dad had everything redone. He couldn’t stand to see her lying in a bed surrounded by black. ”

  Sean understood that. If faced with the prospect of losing Callie, he’d want to throw away everything dark and see her in nothing but sunlight and smiles for as long as he could.

  “After she died, Dad moved it to his home office,” she continued. “It sat on the corner of his desk for years. Charlotte and I weren’t allowed to touch it. Then one day, he brought it to me and said that since Mom had wanted me to have it, I could keep it in my room as long as I was responsible. I’ve been trying to pry it open since. ”

  “And you never succeeded?” Sean asked.

  “Nope. I lied about how I gouged my finger bloody. I didn’t dare admit I’d taken a screwdriver to the egg. But I’d dreamed up this fantasy that my mother had written me a long letter or poem—something she intended me to have that she tucked inside her favorite object. It sounds silly, but when you’re doing things like getting your first period and surviving your first crush without a mother’s guidance, it’s rough. ”

  “I’m sure she was with you in spirit, lovely. ” Sean wanted to hold her, wrap his arms around her. Hell, he wanted to carry her to bed and love her tenderly until he somehow convinced her that he meant to fill every void in her heart.

  “And you’re not aware of anything else unusual about the egg?”

  “Other than it being a rarity in general, no. ”

  “Tell me how else you’ve tried to open it. ” Sean felt her eyes on him as he unzipped her backpack and peeked inside.

  “Besides the screwdriver, I’ve tried soaking it in water and brute force. It’s, like, glued together or stuck. Something. ”

  “Hmm. The eggs were made to open. They often contained some jeweled surprise,” Thorpe pointed out.

  “Right. I remember something inside the egg when I was a kid, but I can’t recall details. It was shiny and pretty. After Mom was gone, I know my dad stashed pictures of her around some of her favorite objects. Once he gave it to me, I wondered if he’d left a picture of her in here, but I never could get the damn thing open to see. That just made her feel more gone to me. ” She sniffled again.

  “We’ll see if we can do better. ” Sean reached into Callie’s backpack and pulled out some clothes, a wig, makeup, her toiletries, a box of colored contacts. Then he encountered a wadded-up towel.

  “It’s in there,” she said as she stood on her tiptoes and peeked in.

  With a nod, Sean reached down to the bottom and braced his hands under the towel, then began lifting it up. It was bulky more than heavy, and he felt himself sweat a bit, knowing that he held millions of dollars and something infinitely precious to Callie in his hands.

  Resting the towel on the table, they all peered over it as Sean unwrapped the bundle. An intricate black and gold design in diamond-shaped sections decorated the top half of the egg. The lower half was a smooth black lacquer with solid gold braiding edging the bottom. As he turned it in his hands, Sean held history. These had been made for the Russian tsars for fifty years. They’d been valuable even a century ago. Now that so few had survived the bloody October revolution that had changed Russia, as well as the upheaval and wars since, the object verged on priceless.

  Maybe her family’s killers had sought this all along?

  Thorpe dropped a comforting hand on her thigh, then looked his way. “Have any other ideas about how we might get this open?”

  Sean winced. “As much as I hate to use more muscle on an object like this, I don’t know what else to do. ” If there was nothing important about the egg itself or what might be inside, they were at a dead end. And he wouldn’t know how else to give Callie hope. “I’ve got a multi-tool with me. We can start there. ”

  Thorpe nodded. “Let’s do it. I’ll see if Werner keeps any tools lying around that might help, too. Callie, clear the table and put the dishes in the sink. ”

  She nodded. Sean watched Thorpe squeeze her hand before he disappeared from the room, presumably to search for Werner’s Craftsman collection on the boat, likely near the engine. He watched her forlorn face as she stared at the egg and touched it wistfully. He could plainly see how much it reminded her of the parent she’d loved and lost so young.

  Jogging to the bedroom to pull the multi-tool from his bag, he grabbed a few other things and returned to find Callie rooted to the same spot.

  He eased down into the chair beside her. “Lovely?”

  “What if this doesn’t work? What if it’s nothing more than a pricey egg? If it’s empty and of no value to whoever is after me—”

  “Then we examine all the evidence again. We keep trying. I refuse to fail. I will not give up until you’re safe. Do you hear me, Callie?”

  She responded immediately to the sterner note in his voice with a valiant little nod. “Thank you, Sean. ”

  “Is that who I am to you now?” He pulled her collar from his pocket and dangled the glittering white gold with its petite lock from his finger, directly in her face. Something less delicate was more customary perhaps, but it didn’t suit her. “Is it?”

  Hope lit her eyes. “No, Sir. ”

  “I mean to fasten this around your neck again. You should never have removed it in the first place. Believe me, I never relinquished you from our bond in my mind or heart. So you best not be doing that either, lovely. ”

  “I tried to,” she admitted in a soft, broken voice. “But I couldn’t. You’re impossible to stop loving. ”

  The words were difficult for her to speak, and he loved her all the more for finding the courage to say them. “If you want it back, ask me. ”

  Callie scooted closer and looked at him with earnest blue eyes in her naked face. Even w
ithout all the black eyeliner and glittering shadow, she was stunning. His own eyes were a darker shade than the crystal Caribbean waters hers resembled. He wanted to drown there.

  “Please, Sir, will you return my collar to me?” She ended her plea with a submissive bow of her head.

  Sean drew in a huge gulp of air. As much as Callie had been forced to fend for herself most of her life, she wore her armor of independence with pride. She fought making herself vulnerable—despite how badly she wanted and needed to. He sensed the soft side of her that craved not just a lover, but someone she could rely on day in and day out for the rest of her life.

  He would stand in front of her, never wavering, until she knew he meant to be that man. Then he would marry her and never leave her side.

  But one thing Sean knew for certain: whether she was the fiercely independent Callie Ward or the more vulnerable Callindra Howe, she would never ask to belong to a man unless she not only cared, but trusted him.

  Elation swirled through him as he tipped her chin up to him. “Will you remove the collar again without first talking to me?”

  “No, Sir. ”

  “Will you finally put yourself in my care and believe that I will always see to your needs?”

  She blinked up at him solemnly. “Yes, Sir. ”

  Sean cupped her face in his hands. The room was heavy with their connection. Gravity weighted each word she spoke. In retrospect, the first time he’d offered Callie a collar, she’d given him a saucy wink and a sway of her hips with her “yes. ” Now he saw that it hadn’t been an invitation to touch her, but a way to keep emotional distance between them. She hadn’t taken him seriously then.

  Her reaction now couldn’t be more different. And he was so proud to have earned her heart.

  “On your knees, lovely. ” He glanced at the floor. “Bow your head. ”

  She sent him one last clinging stare with those big eyes, a silent plea that he treat her fragile heart well. Then she slid to the vinyl floor gracefully and dipped her head low.

  Sean unclasped the collar and fixed it around her neck, settling the bit of bling in place. The action was silent, but the importance of the moment shouted through his system. Callie was his again. And she would stay that way.

  As he bent to kiss the crown of her head, Thorpe clambered to the door and stopped short, clutching a little bag of tools. He fixed his stare on Callie, his face stricken. The man swallowed. Pain gathered in the furrow of his down-slashed brows, his eyes darkening with something that looked a lot like anguish.

  Sean frowned. The girl had always been his submissive. Seeing his collar around her neck shouldn’t be new for Thorpe. Since the man had completely refused to claim her in any way for years, why should he begrudge anyone who did? Or expect Callie not to seek happiness? But he understood Thorpe’s fear that the woman he loved was slipping through his fingers. Sean knew he couldn’t change Thorpe’s mind for him, but he could leave the door open as long as Callie needed him.

  “I found a hammer and a chisel. ” Thorpe said finally, his voice sounding scratchy, strained. He set the bag on the table. “We’ll use them as a last resort. I’m sure Callie would rather not break the egg. ”

  She whipped her head around and scrambled to her feet. She looked braced for Thorpe’s anger or a fight. The man did his best to give her a gentle smile. The expression was a bit rusty from disuse, but Callie relaxed.

  Sean pulled her beside him. “Let’s start with this little blade. ” He held up one of the ends of his multi-tool. “I’ll try to wedge it into the space where the two halves of the egg meet. The piece is obviously well crafted, so I’m not sure we’ll actually be able to work anything in there. But it’s worth a try. ”

  He focused completely, tuning the other two out to try to shove the thin blade into the nearly nonexistent gap. He only succeeded in bending the little knife. They tried taking some household chemicals to the ridge where the two halves met until the galley smelled like they’d been spring cleaning. They paused, then inspected it again. Nothing.

  With a sigh, Sean accepted the notion that they might actually have to damage the multimillion dollar egg. It was an expensive gamble. “If this is simply wedged shut, rather than holding something important, you realize that we’ll have ruined a historically significant object that could keep you living plushly for the rest of your life for no reason?”

  She blinked at him. “Unless I can figure out why someone wants me dead, I can’t come out of hiding to sell the object and live off the proceeds. And if I do stop this person or people, then I stand to inherit my father’s estate. And even independent of that, he left money in trust for me. ”

  Sean stepped back, a bit stunned. Callie’s words made perfect sense, but he hadn’t really put two and two together to consider her net worth once the smoke cleared. Her father had been a multi-billionaire, all his money carefully and successfully invested at the time of his death. The funds had been frozen since, presumably pending Callie being cleared of wrongdoing . . . or found guilty of murder. Some of her father’s favorite charities and supposed friends had begun legal plays to petition the courts for the Howe funds, but the local police had refused to declare Callie dead with so much evidence to the contrary. They seemed convinced she was the most likely suspect, despite shaky evidence. But Sean also knew they were grasping at straws because they had nothing else.

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