Theirs to cherish, p.7
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.7
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         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 7

 

  Sean pounded his fist on the desk. “I’m telling you, I finally reached her. I broke through that mile-thick armor of hers and saw the woman inside. Every minute you keep me from her is another minute she has to rebuild her walls. And to escape. I think she’s planning to run. ”

  Thorpe drew in a steadying breath, then forced himself to look at Kirkpatrick with a calm he didn’t feel. The man didn’t understand all the bits of Callie . . . but he was catching on fast. “What makes you think that?”

  “Don’t play games. If you know the girl, then you know I’m right. ”

  Thorpe neither confirmed nor denied. But Kirkpatrick’s uncanny perception troubled him. “Is that what you think?”

  “I know. Her surrender was so sudden, as if she meant it as a good-bye. ”

  If Callie cared for the Scot, she would absolutely give a huge chunk of her soul to him as a parting gift.

  Thorpe wondered what she’d planned on giving him. A note? An empty room where her scent would linger and haunt him? A hole in his heart?

  Damn it, he sounded whiny and maudlin. He would not let Callie leave without cause. As far as he was concerned, no one here but him knew she was a fugitive. And Sean Kirkpatrick was nothing more than a blip on his radar.

  “I won’t know if you’re right until I talk to her. ”

  The other Dom snorted. “And what good will that do? She’s lived under your roof for four years. The girl is broken, and you haven’t lifted a finger to heal her. Why start now?”

  It took everything Thorpe had not to snarl and surge across the desk. God, he’d love to wrap his hands around the Scot’s neck. Instead, he tapped his fingers on the desktop, staring down Kirkpatrick as if he were lint from his underwear.

  “Since you didn’t know her when she first arrived here, allow me to call bullshit. ” But Thorpe understood well that while she’d made strides under his protection, she was nowhere near whole.

  In order to take Callie’s hand and heal her, he’d have to share too much of himself with her—his heart, his truth, his secrets. He’d have to be a better man, the sort who could love her openly with every cell in his body. She wouldn’t accept less, nor should she.

  It wasn’t that he didn’t care enough about Callie to try to conquer his demons. They were simply too big. And with her past . . . she’d only leave him. If his wife of three years could walk away so easily, how badly would a girl on the run who lit the flame in his heart burn him?

  Hell, she had no idea that he’d figured out her identity. But she would run the moment she did. From what he could grasp, she did that any time she felt threatened or exposed. Exactly like Kirkpatrick was doing to her now.

  A little digging proved that she’d abruptly left her last two hiding places, one after only a handful of weeks. The trail before that was stone cold, and he didn’t imagine that she’d stayed anywhere else for very long. If she had, she’d have left an indelible impression. She had on him almost instantly.

  Sean shrugged. “I’ll admit that I don’t know what she was like four years ago. But if you call her ‘healed’ now, you need to pull your head from your arse. She needs someone to care about her, give her tender guidance. ”

  She did, and that was part of Thorpe’s rub. But he also knew something else about Callie with absolute certainty that Sean didn’t.

  “She requires a firm hand. ”

  The Scot shook his head. “You’re daft, man. That just fuels her defiance. It’s love she needs. ”

  Thorpe sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. “I won’t disagree. Show me a woman who doesn’t need love. It’s the foundation Callie will build her life on—with the right man. But she needs boundaries, too. Craves them. They’ll make her feel safe. That’s what I’ve given her for the last four years. ”

  Kirkpatrick glared incredulously. “You’re wrong, man. She needs what I can give her. I intend to make her whole, and I won’t let you take her from me. ”

  At least some of that was bullshit, and Thorpe resisted the urge to spit his anger. Apparently, Sean didn’t understand that if he wanted to claim Callie, she’d already be in his bed with his collar around her neck.

  “I have no intention of coming between you two, and I’d like to see her happy. I merely want to sort out this situation to my satisfaction before I decide whether to return her to your care. ” In case Sean’s designs on Callie weren’t purely Dominant, as Thorpe suspected. “So this is how it’s going to go . . . ” He stood and paced, happily taking the psychological advantage of standing over Kirkpatrick. Time to test the son of a bitch. “You’re going to give me fifteen minutes with Callie, alone. Gloves off. ”

  Sean jumped to his feet, fists clenched. “The hell I am!”

  “Are you refusing?”

  “You’re damn right. ” The Scot turned red with anger.

  “Well . . . ” Thorpe smiled tightly. “Let’s review. By our agreement, you’re not allowed to see the girl off the premises without my permission. I haven’t granted that. You won’t be seeing Callie here, either, unless I deem it in her best interest. So if you’d like to continue taking her down the submissive path, then I’m afraid you don’t have many options. ”

  “You controlling wanker. You have her so tightly under your thumb—”

  “I keep her protected. I’ll find out why she’s upset, if she’s truly planning to leave, and whether she wants to wear your collar anymore. I’m a safe authority figure for her. She’ll tell me what I want to know. ”

  Kirkpatrick looked like he was torn between violent disagreement and a desire to commit murder. “I want to observe, then. Certainly you have a room or two here that allows for voyeurs. ”

  Thorpe worked hard not to roll his eyes. “I do. Callie has lived and worked here for four years. She knows each and every one of those rooms. She knows where our conversations won’t be overheard. The girl is cautious and clever, as I’m sure you’re aware. She’s not going to compromise her privacy. That I can tell you unequivocally. ”

  After a long sigh, Sean looked around the room like it held the answers to his burning questions. Or like he’d rather look anywhere but at his rival. Thorpe smiled.

  “You’re a pushy bastard. ”

  “Isn’t that part of being a Dom?” He shrugged. “Do we have a deal, or can I escort you to the door?”

  “You’d like that,” Sean accused.

  Very much. But Thorpe held his tongue. “This isn’t about me at all. It isn’t about you, either. If you care for Callie’s welfare, then you won’t mind me checking in with her to make sure she’s all right and ready to see you again. ”

  The man’s blue eyes narrowed. “If you were anyone else, I wouldn’t. But what do you mean ‘gloves off’?”

  “Certainly, you’ve noticed that Callie has . . . let’s call it a strong will. ”

  Sean snorted. “Stubborn as a mule, that one. ”

  Thorpe tried not to smile. “Precisely. Given that obvious fact, for my conversation to have any effect on her, I need to have a full array of options available. ”

  “You’re asking my permission to discipline her?” The other man raised a dark brow.

  “No, I’m not asking permission. I’m telling you I’ll need to keep that as a possibility. ” He shrugged with mock regret. “Might as well be honest. With Callie, it’s a probability. ”

  And Thorpe wasn’t lying to himself. He would thoroughly enjoy it. Anytime he got to touch the girl was a sublime thrill.

  “I don’t like it and I don’t trust you. ” Sean crossed his arms over his chest in challenge.

  “Let’s cut to the chase. You don’t like me. Likewise,” he said bluntly. “But we’re both motivated by Callie and her well-being. So let’s stay on task, shall we? You want to know if she’s planning to leave. I want to ensure that she’s in a good mental and emotional place before I allow her to scene with you again. These don’t have to be mutually incompatible goals. Give me f
ifteen minutes. I’ll give you answers. ”

  Everything about Sean’s body language said that he used all his restraint not to throw a punch. Pity. Knocking the asshole into next week would significantly improve Thorpe’s mood. The man knew the feel of Callie’s body intimately. He’d had the opportunity to experience her surrender. He’d had the luxury of telling the beautiful girl how he felt.

  So yes, Thorpe felt every bit of his jealousy.

  “I don’t like being backed in a corner, but you haven’t given me much choice. If you don’t have answers in fifteen minutes, you give her back to me. I’ll soothe her and set her right. ”

  Thorpe headed for the door. “Mr. Kirkpatrick, the first rule of negotiation is that you must have some bargaining power. At the moment, you don’t. Wait for my return. ”

  He didn’t let the Scot get a word in before he strode out of his office and grabbed his phone from his pocket. His first text was to Axel, probably holed up in the security booth with a few of his compadres. He told the other Dom to get to his office ASAP and that he was free to fuck with Sean’s head if he could get any answers about why the Scot had come to Dominion.

  After an enthusiastic yes in reply, he tapped a message to Zeb asking what Callie was doing. The reply came quickly. Sounds like she’s in the shower.

  Bullshit. Thorpe knew Callie’s habits well. She’d showered just before Sean’s arrival. She wouldn’t want to undo all that makeup when there was a chance she might see the man again. If there was one thing Callie didn’t allow, it was for anyone to see her with a bare face.

  Find out if she’s packing a suitcase, he replied. The door will be locked. Do what you have to do.

  This time, the pause seemed to last forever. While he waited, Thorpe grabbed a few things he might need from around the dungeon to make his point with Callie and slipped them into his pocket. Then he let his long legs eat up the distance between the main part of the club and Callie’s room. Just before he reached her door, Zeb’s answer came. Picked the lock. She’s shoved most of her bathroom and closet into two bags.

  “Son of a bitch,” Thorpe cursed roundly. Sean had scared the hell out of her. He wished now that he had punched the asshole.

  I’ll take it from here, he texted back, then pocketed his phone again.

  The door to Callie’s room opened, and Zeb stepped out. With a passing nod, Thorpe greeted him, then strode inside, shutting and locking the door behind him. He shoved her desk chair against it for good measure.

  The air was humid from her recent “shower. ” She’d flung on every light. Her two hastily packed bags sat in the corner near the door.

  Callie paced in her little red robe, her manic gait taking her from one side of the room to the other. Goddamn it, she wasn’t wearing a bra. He’d bet she hadn’t bothered with panties, either.

  Most notably, she’d stripped off her collar and was clutching it in a tight grasp. His heart stuttered. Was she removing it for good?

  As Thorpe cleared his throat, he tamped down encroaching relief and told himself to take things one step at a time.

  She turned to spear him with a resolute stare. “You said you wanted to know when I’m leaving. It’s now. I quit. ”

  ***

  CALLIE stared at Thorpe. He had almost no reaction to her words. Gee, it would have been nice if you’d given a shit. Then she squashed the thought. It wasn’t his fault that she cared far more about him than he did for her. She’d known for years that Thorpe had the power to yank her heart out of her chest and crush it beneath his very expensive Salvatore Ferragamo loafers. It sucked that she’d been stupid enough to let him.

  Even though she cared deeply for Sean and—if she could believe his passionate declaration—he loved her, that didn’t mitigate her attachment to Dominion’s owner. She’d always been a little screwed up. This just proved it.

  Thorpe wandered farther into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “I appreciate the notice, but I need a bit longer than ten minutes to replace you, pet. ”

  “Sorry. ” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and stared out the dark window. He was far too beautiful to look at. “You’ll find someone else soon. You won’t miss me. ”

  “You have no idea how I’ll feel. Sit down, Callie. ”

  His tone told her that no wasn’t an acceptable answer. Damn it, he intended to interrogate her about Sean. Callie couldn’t take it now. Leaving them both was hard enough . . .

  She fought down panic and turned back to him. “I can’t. I have to get away. ”

  “Not yet. ” He pointed to a spot on the bed right beside him and didn’t say a word until she flopped down. “Good. Sean knows I’ve come and that I intend to understand what happened tonight. Tell me everything. ”

 
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