Theirs to cherish, p.52
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.52
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         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 52


  She already had. How did these stupid fuckers not see it? “If you look in her room, you’ll find she’s not there. You will find her with Sean Mackenzie, where I’m sure he’s making her very happy, which is what she deserves, so get off my fucking back!”

  Thorpe winced. There he went, losing control again. Son of a bitch, he needed to get himself wired up tight enough to get them out of here. Then maybe he could gather the pieces of himself and move on. He held in a snort. Like that’s going to happen.

  “Here’s the deal,” Jack began, pacing up to him with a swagger that put Thorpe on edge. “Tell me you don’t love this girl. Make me believe it, and we’ll go. ”

  Four words. All he had to do was say “I don’t love her,” and this goddamn torture would be over. It should be simple. Open his mouth, let shit come out, end the pain.

  Thorpe quickly realized that if he couldn’t admit out loud that he loved Callie, he also couldn’t say that he didn’t love her. It was a betrayal of everything he felt, and he refused to do it.

  Logan was right. When had he become a pussy? These men told their wives that they loved them every single day. They were still standing and whole. Blissfully fucking happy even. If all he had to do to hold Callie again was tell her that he loved her, would that really be so hard? If love bettered a man, why couldn’t it heal him enough to make him good for her?

  He sat again and hung his head, feeling a shudder work up in his chest, the lump tighten in his throat. But now was the lightest it had felt since leaving Vegas . . . and Callie. “I love her and I sent her away. ”

  “Do you regret it?” Deke asked.

  “I’m too old for her. I’m too rough for her. I’m too . . . ” Bottled up for her.

  “She doesn’t see it that way, I’m guessing,” Logan said.

  “And that isn’t what Deke asked,” Hunter reminded. “Do you regret it?”

  “Yes. ” He scrubbed a hand through his hair. It was too long, but he just hadn’t found the energy to have it cut. Or to give a shit about it. “I regretted it instantly. ”

  The door to his apartment opened again. “That’s all you had to say. ”

  Thorpe whipped his head around at that familiar voice. Sean Mackenzie stood in the entry, then closed the door behind him with a soft snick.

  Staggering to his feet, Thorpe approached the man on autopilot. His relief in seeing Sean was so strong, it felt physical. Suddenly, he didn’t have an elephant sitting on his chest.

  Instead, he had something far more dangerous: hope.

  It occurred to him that when he’d said good-bye to Callie, he hadn’t just lost the woman he loved, he’d also lost a partner . . . a friend. He’d come to like Sean. Rely on him.

  He swallowed. “What brings you here?”

  “Callie, of course. ” He looked around the room at the other men. “Can you give us a minute, guys?”

  Most nodded. Deke looked disappointed.

  Tyler sighed noisily. “I thought I was going to get to kick some ass. ”

  But he grinned under that put-out expression.

  Luc slapped him on the back. “You really are an asshole. ”

  “Is that supposed to be news?” Tyler snapped back.

  Collective male laughter filled the air as most of the guys filed out.

  Logan hung back. “Listen, I owed you for helping me straighten my shit out. This was my way of repaying you. Someday, you’ll thank me, and we’ll be even. Now work it out with Sean, tell Callie how you feel, and fucking be happy. I want an invitation to the wedding. ”

  With a wink, Logan shut the door.

  The silence suffocated Thorpe. His palms began to sweat. A million words crowded his brain. He didn’t know which one of them to speak first.

  Swallowing, he sat at the bistro table, picking at Luc’s plate and took a bite. He hoped that looking busy would cut through the awkwardness, but no. He still wasn’t sure what to say. And damn, that veal was really good.

  “How are you not horrifically pissed off at me?” Thorpe blurted.

  Sean tried not to laugh, but it still slipped out. “Who’s to say I’m not?” Then he sobered. “But Callie told me about your past. I can’t imagine how devastating that was. A betrayal at every level. But you know it was a long time ago, right?”

  “Yes,” he agreed quickly.

  “And you know Callie is nothing like the woman who took advantage of you as a kid. ”

  “Absolutely. It’s me. I just closed myself off and refused to care about anyone much. I’ve been a miserable son of a bitch. ” Thorpe drew in a shuddering breath. “I just didn’t know how much until her. In over twenty years, I’ve never told a single person that I love them. ”

  It had always terrified him, the fear of having his heart crushed again. Callie wouldn’t hurt him on purpose; he knew that in his head. But he truly loved her in a way the boy he’d once been, blind with adolescent lust, couldn’t possibly comprehend. In a way his own father had never been capable of. This was so much deeper. As vital as breathing.

  It gave her so much power to hurt him.

  So now he’d come to a fork in the road. He knew that safety came with loneliness, sharper now because he knew exactly how precious the woman he’d lost was to him. Callie had awakened something that just wouldn’t rest again: his heart. But loving without risk was impossible.

  He had to make a choice.

  “I can’t promise you that life will always be simple,” Sean said. “We’re three very different people trying to make something unconventional last. But I think we’ve got a few things in our favor. Our differences are our strengths. If you and I were the same, she wouldn’t need us both. Would it be easier on my ego if she didn’t love you? Yeah. I’m sure you feel the same. ”

  Sean was absolutely right. But this had stopped being about Thorpe’s ego and started being about his heart. And about Callie’s. Clearly, Sean felt the same or he wouldn’t be here.

  “You’re right,” Thorpe said.

  “We’ve already been through some really hard times. As long as we stood together, it made us stronger. No reason to think we couldn’t grow with time. ”

  “I don’t think I know how to love. ” That realization made Thorpe feel inadequate—something both deeply unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

  “I’m not an expert, either. ” Sean shrugged. “I’ve never really tried until Callie. But I think you’ve been loving her for the last four years. Maybe it doesn’t look like a relationship in a movie, but I don’t think it has to. It just has to be honest and make us all happy. ”

  Thorpe grunted, but he couldn’t look Sean in the eye. “You make love sound easy. ”

  “Maybe you’re overcomplicating it. Put her first. Be honest. Don’t let fear stop you from getting what you want. ”

  Sean was right. So simply right that he just stared. He’d been letting fear stop him for far too long.

  “I don’t deserve another chance, but I want one,” Thorpe murmured, then finally met the other man’s gaze. “If you’ll give it to me. ”

  “Can you tell her that you love her? Look her right in the eye and swear she’s the most important woman in the world to you?”

  Thorpe closed his eyes and focused on every emotion he’d been trying to dam behind a wall of numbness. He pictured releasing it and just feeling whatever came. And it did. God, it was a massive flood of biblical proportions—a wave bittersweet, poignant, and painful. It robbed his breath. He gasped. Then relief came.

  And he was finally able to take a deep breath without agony for the first time in weeks.

  He wasn’t going to be the pussy Logan accused him of being any longer. And he refused to allow Nara’s indifference or his father’s contempt to break him. He was going to embrace life and love. He was going to settle down, grow old with Callie, be a good friend and partner to Sean, and enjoy every moment they had together.

  “I don’t think I could sto
p myself,” he admitted.

  Sean smiled. “Good. The rest is up to her. ”

  “Yeah. ” He sucked in a breath. “Thank you. You’ve always been the bigger man when it came to Callie. If she’ll have me, I’ll at least meet you halfway from now on. That’s a promise. ”

  Sean held out his hand. “I’ll hold you to it. ”

  Thorpe shook it, then brought the man in for a brotherly hug. He still had so many thoughts pouring through his head that he couldn’t process them all, but as Sean slapped his back, he felt certain this was right.

  Finally, they backed away, and Thorpe had to work to keep it together. Another stiff breath, a long pause, then he was finally able to carry on. “What’s next?”

  “Let me catch you up on a few things. We’ve intentionally kept Callie in the spotlight so the mercenaries who tried to kill her will shy away from finishing the job. We can’t say it on the air, and it’s classified so don’t make me shoot you, but the FBI is running down the identities of those assholes. James Whitney is part of a homegrown separatist group, run by ex-military malcontents, calling themselves LOSS, or the League of Secessionist Soldiers. We’re trying to figure out who’s funding them. The NSA is getting involved. It seems they’ve been working this case from another angle. But Whitney and some of his counterparts have slipped into Mexico. They’ll be caught; it’s just a matter of time. The most important thing now is that Callie no longer appears to be a target. ”

  “That’s good news. I think we’d be wise to remain cautious. ”

  “Absolutely,” Sean confirmed. “The bureau has kept me on the case, so I’m up on the latest. I also have some answers to the questions I didn’t have when they first sent me to watch over her. According to my boss, the bureau knew about Aslanov’s genetic research and knew the later findings had disappeared. Eventually, they figured out that Daniel Howe probably had them, but before they could reach him, LOSS did. Though the Chicago PD botched things by labeling her a suspect early on, everyone in the loop here hoped Callie had important information, even if it was something she knew unconsciously. These genetic experiments are still going on, and Uncle Sam isn’t excited about the idea of an army of superior soldiers under the control of people who want to overthrow our government. Hence, all the secrecy. Since Callie had proven ridiculously slippery over the years to bring in, they sent me to her, hoping I could find out what she knew before she ran again. Of course, the bureau wishes Callie would have kept some of the details in her father’s notes to herself, and if my boss had given me more information about my mission, I might have been able to facilitate that, but mission accomplished. Everyone is happy. ”

  Well, almost. Thorpe nodded. “All the douche bags who’ve chased her over the years, who sent them?”

  “The bureau is disavowing knowledge of any bounty hunters, but personally I think they’re full of shit. It might have been the NSA or some other player of Uncle Sam’s who hasn’t shown his cards yet. Who knows? Either way, now that the secret about the research and Daniel Howe’s murder is out, Callie knows nothing else of value to make anyone want to kill her. I’m guessing the assassins were sent by LOSS. We’re still running that down. ” Sean shrugged. “There’s not much else on that front. ”

  “Well, then, we should talk about Callie. I’m making a huge assumption that she’ll actually have me back. ” Thorpe held his breath.

  If she wouldn’t, he had no one to blame but himself.

  “I can’t speak for her, but I can say that she hasn’t been the same without you. ”

  “During her last interview, she looked . . . I don’t know, sad. Not quite complete. ”

  Sean nodded. “She was determined not to bother you if you didn’t want her, no matter how much it was hurting her. ”

  Thorpe grunted his disbelief. “I wish she had ‘bothered’ me. This is probably the only time I’ll ever be tempted to turn her over my knee for following my directions. ”

  “She’d like that. ” Sean grinned.

  “I would, too. ” After he kissed her, held her tight, told her that he loved her and would never let her go. “This isn’t a fling for me. It’s the rest of my life. ”

  “It better be. ”

  “But . . . you know I’m getting old. Callie is still so young. ”

  “What, are you Old Yeller now? You think I should take you out back and shoot you? Stop. It’s going to work out if you let it. Don’t think about anything except that we love her and she loves us. ”

  “You’re damn smart, Mackenzie. ” Thorpe shook his head wryly.

  “I’ll remind you of that next time you think about calling me a dumbass. ”

  Despite the moment being cloaked with laughter, Thorpe knew that he and Sean had forged a friendship with respect.

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