Theirs to cherish, p.47
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.47
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         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 47


  The woman had abused him. Of course, a teenage boy wouldn’t see it like that, but there was no way he could have been ready for all that. Sex alone required some emotional maturity. A BDSM relationship even more. In retrospect, Callie had been way too unprepared to sleep with Holden at sixteen. She’d felt a bit guilty and dirty afterward—and that was with a guy she’d thought she loved.

  Oh gawd. “Did you love her?”

  Thorpe sighed heavily, the sound so deep with remorse. “After four years together and sexcapades all across the East Coast, I thought so. Right after I turned eighteen, I saw college on the horizon. I knew I’d be leaving home, and the thought of doing without Nara was killing me. It was all hormones and teenage angst.

  “About two weeks before I left, she called me late one night. As I’d done many times, I snuck out and we met at some play party. ” Thorpe drew in a shuddering breath. “After the scene and the sex, I finally worked up the courage to tell her that I loved her. She’d never been one to make love or cuddle or show affection. She didn’t even like kissing much. I just thought that was her. ”

  That terrible woman had used him. How could he have imagined that he loved her? Because he’d been young and confused and hadn’t known better. Her heart went out to Thorpe. She wanted to touch him so badly and tell him that it wasn’t his fault, but she sensed that he wasn’t done.

  “Anyway, I asked her to come away with me. Nara laughed. Completely fell on the floor, giggling hysterically. She called me a stupid boy. She said she’d basically been changing my diapers for the last four years and she was done. According to her, I was too stupid to know that love didn’t exist; only sex did. Then she told me that I’d better not confuse the two again because I still had a lot to learn. Apparently, my father was a better fuck. ”

  Callie gasped. Shock stunned her system, a jolt to her heart, a twist to her stomach. She couldn’t breathe. “Nara and your dad?”

  “Yep. Apparently, he found her on a business trip in Rio and hired her. My mother wasn’t submissive and told him if he wanted to do ‘that,’ he needed to find someone else. So he did. He’d moved Nara in to be his mistress and paid her well. But he traveled a lot, and she was angry at being left behind after he’d promised to show her the world. I was her revenge. ”

  That would have been a terrible blow to a teenage boy’s spirit. Barely a man, he must have been crushed by her cruelty. To know she’d used him over and over just to get back at someone else . . .

  Callie had felt stupid to have been deceived by Holden and hadn’t trusted anyone for nearly a decade because of it. And her ex-boyfriend hadn’t been vicious, just greedy and horny. Nara had done her best to destroy him for the rest of his life.

  “I’m so sorry. ” She fused her gaze with his, willing him to understand that she would never treat him that way. “What she did to you was unforgivable. You have to know I would never—”

  “I’m not done. ” Thorpe was clearly trying to hold it together.

  She wasn’t sure she could hear more. But for him, she would. In some ways, she understood how terrible it had been to endure such venom, then to keep it all inside. She knew the loneliness, the never feeling quite whole.

  “I’m listening. ”

  “I confronted my father the day before I left for college. He was furious that I’d touched his ‘property’ and told me that I deserved every bit of my heartache. He mocked me for thinking that I was in love. In his view, perverts like us aren’t capable of that. ”

  “That’s awful. And wrong! You may not ever say the words to me, but I know you love me. You watched over me, took care of me, risked your life for me—”

  “With a knowing gleam in his eyes, my father asked me if I had known that Nara was playing me, would I still have fucked her? He knew exactly what my answer would be. And he was right. I might have been more guarded, but . . . ”

  “You were young. ”

  Thorpe shrugged as if he refused to excuse himself. “After that, I went to my room. He cast Nara off the next day, sent her back to Brazil. He and I didn’t speak again until my mother’s funeral five years later. ”

  More tears spilled down her cheeks. How was Thorpe even remotely warm or compassionate after all this? Because his soul was beautiful. How could she make him see that? “Did you ever repair your relationship with him?”

  “No. ” Thorpe looked down, clenching his jaw and his fists. “He came to my wedding and told me at the reception that I was an idiot for marrying a nice girl because I’d soon be bored with her and either stray or divorce her—or both. And if I stayed, I’d be as miserable a bastard as he’d been for thirty years. I invited him because Melissa begged me to bury the hatchet as a wedding gift to her, but I hated him with a passion. ”

  “You never told your ex-wife about Nara?”

  “No. ” He shook his head. “She would have been horrified. She was from a loud Italian family, sarcastic and passionate, but very vanilla. I hadn’t engaged in any BDSM activities since Nara. I’d sworn off it, but the fucking need wouldn’t go away. We’d been growing apart because I couldn’t say those three words to her. I approached her to see if she’d be willing to try a light scene. I craved it so badly. She walked out that night and served me with divorce papers a week later. ”

  “What a bitch,” she muttered.

  He shrugged. “I scared her. Our sex had been tepid at best, and now she knew why. She swore that if I ever tried to spank her or tie her down, she’d press charges. I couldn’t change the way she was wired any more than she could change the way I was. The worst part for me was knowing my father had been right about our marriage. So after the split, I changed my whole life and gave myself over to my addiction.

  “I quit my job as a stockbroker. I moved out of Manhattan. I’d been to Dallas once on a business trip and liked it. I moved there and bought Dominion with my savings. My dad died six months later, and I inherited more money than I knew what to do with. So I sunk a bunch back into the business and made it my life. I think I was completely numb for years. ” He drew in a ragged breath. “Then came you . . . ”

  Thorpe cupped her cheek, and she gripped his hand. “Thank you for trusting me with your story. You didn’t have to tell me, but I know you did to help me. ” And when she hurt less, maybe she would be more grateful. “Don’t ever, ever think you’re unworthy. You saved me, Mitchell Thorpe. You reminded me what it was like to belong somewhere again. You gave me strength. Even if you can’t admit it, you gave me love. ”

  He teared up again and swallowed down a lump. “I’m going to miss you more than I can possibly express. ”

  “You’re letting them win, your father and Nara,” she couldn’t stop herself from pointing out. “They hurt you decades ago, but you’re allowing them to keep you in misery. I don’t need the words if you can’t say them. Just don’t—”

  “Shh. ” He covered her lips with his finger. “They won a long time ago. Leaving is my way of refusing to let them hurt you. This is me protecting you. Let me. It’s the only way I can show you what’s here. ” He pounded on his chest. “When I’m gone, tell Sean my story, if you need. Above all, be happy with him. ”

  Thorpe shredded her, and still Callie just wanted to hug and soothe him. She wanted to give him her love. But if he needed to slip away quietly, she would let him. It was the only way he would allow her to show him that she loved him enough to sacrifice.

  “I, of all people, understand why sometimes you just can’t stay. ” She barely got the words out past her tears. “I will think of you every day. I will be happy with Sean because I love him. But I will always love you, too. And for what it’s worth, I think you have a big heart that anyone would be blessed to share. Try to find some peace. ”

  Thorpe finally broke down and grabbed her against him, sobbing silently into her shoulder. They stayed that way for what seemed like hours, breathing together, memorizing one another, mourning what couldn’t be. He
dug his fingers into her back and pressed her nose to his shoulder. Despite the discomfort, she couldn’t let go.

  Sean finally eased the door open. “Lovely?”

  Callie sniffled and nodded at him. It was time. She and Thorpe had nothing left to say except he gave her an achingly soft kiss on her forehead and whispered one final word. “Good-bye. ”

  Chapter Twenty

  DAWN began to break over the lake, mountains reaching toward the sky and still hiding the golden orb of the sun. Light leaked over the peaks, and everything looked so peaceful. Callie knew this day would likely be hell.

  In a perfect world, they would find a car and drive quietly to the Vegas FBI field office and call Sean’s boss. They would look at all the evidence, know that she wasn’t guilty of murder while figuring out who was. Then authorities would arrest the person or people, and she could start actually living again.

  But her life had never been perfect. Whether Sean said it or not, she was expecting the worst. And even if the danger never came, Thorpe would still go.

  Either way, she was going to lose today.

  Sean docked the boat in furious silence, glaring occasionally at Thorpe who stood two feet behind her—a silent sentinel. All their bags sat at her feet. No one said a word.

  The houseboat dipped toward the shore, nudging the rubber bumper on the dock before sliding into place. Sean killed the engine and leapt out to tie the boat off. As soon as it was secure, he approached and slung her backpack over his shoulder. Then he picked up his own, gave Thorpe’s bags a pointed glower, took her hand, and led her ashore.

  Nothing could have said more eloquently that Sean no longer considered Thorpe a partner. Callie stared over her shoulder at Thorpe’s stony face as he grabbed his briefcase and followed.

  “I’ve already called Werner. He should be here with his truck any minute. He’s agreed to take us to the outskirts of the city. We can take a taxi from there,” Sean told her.

  “Let me call Elijah,” Thorpe argued. “It’s possible that his Jeep is still in that Walmart parking lot. It’s only been thirty-six hours. ”

  “I don’t want your help,” Sean snarled.

  “But you need it until Callie is safe. It’s not smart to wait on the street corner for a taxi like an easy target. ”

  Sean looked like he was weighing his rage against his common sense. “Fine. Call him. ”

  Thorpe stepped aside and withdrew his burner phone, turning away. Within seconds, he was having a low-voiced conversation Callie couldn’t hear. She could feel Sean seethe as he started down the dirt road, waiting for the houseboat owner to fetch them.

  “Don’t do this. He’s got demons bigger than you can ever imagine. ” She sent him an imploring stare. “Just let it go. For me?”

  “He hurt you. I thought he would help heal you, but he’s leaving a gaping hole in your heart. ”

  “I’ll be fine,” she assured. “It won’t break me or kill me. It will always hurt some; I won’t lie. But you and I? We’ll be happy. We’ll find a way. ”

  Tight-lipped, Sean turned his attention back to the wide cement road and the pair of headlights bobbing up and down as a pickup truck traveled over the slightly uneven surface. Thorpe ended his call and joined them.

  The old man stopped the truck near the dock and hopped out with an unexpectedly spry step. “Throw your bags in the back and tell me where you want to go. We should make it fast. Some military types were in my office yesterday asking about you. I told them I didn’t know anything, pushy bastards. But I’m not sure I’ve seen the last of them. ”

  Fear struck deep and hard in Callie’s heart. She and Sean exchanged a glance, then she looked over at Thorpe, who wore his resolution like armor. Neither would let anything happen to her; they’d give up their lives first. And no way was she going down without a fight. She was going to finally start living—or die.

  “How many? What did they look like?” Sean asked.

  “Two guys. One older, one younger. They both wore some fancy-shmancy uniform with the stupid little French hats. ”

  The fear became terror. “You mean berets?”

  “Were the uniforms a gray-blue?” Thorpe asked.

  Werner looked between the two of them. “Yeah. ”

  Sean put his arm around her and did his best to calm her. Her enemies were close and closing in. She wanted to be brave and face this down—and she would. But she couldn’t seem to stop trembling.

  “Let’s go. ” He shepherded her toward the truck.

  As soon as they’d tossed their luggage in the back, Callie followed the guys to the passenger door and took hold of her backpack. She couldn’t risk damaging the egg or losing the SD card tucked inside again. That disc was the key to her future. They’d looked for a way to copy the file or backup the information somewhere else, just in case. But short of saving it on Werner’s hard drive, they hadn’t found the means. There had been no Internet or any other storage device on board.

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