“And then got back together again.”

  “Wait, did he know you were back together?” I asked.

  Mo rolled her eyes. “Yes, you ass. Do you want to hear the story or not?”

  Was that a trick question? I held up my hands in surrender. “Fine, continue.”

  “Anyway…” Mo leaned forward, playing with the edge of the table cloth. “We decided to take things slow.”

  “So what’s the problem?”

  “Stop interrupting me, Nixon, or I swear it won’t just be Tex at the opposite end of my knife.”

  What the hell? I glanced to Trace for help but she seemed to be just as shocked as I was. Mo rarely threatened me — she had to be pretty freaked out to actually be serious about her threats. Either that or pissed.

  Mo’s eyes filled with tears. “I heard them first.”

  “Aw, hell.” I reached for my gun. Trace put her hand on mine and shook her head.

  “I thought Tex was talking on the phone or something, and then I heard laughter. I was curious, so I knocked on the door. When he didn’t answer, I let myself in.”

  “Mo—” I groaned.

  “What?” She shrugged. “I figured it was my right. I mean, we’d been dating for almost a year on and off.”

  “So he was with a girl?”

  Mo rolled her eyes dramatically as if I was just as bad as Tex.

  Trace winced.

  “What am I missing?” I asked. “I don’t speak girl.”

  “You don’t speak guy either, but we still love you,” Trace joked, jabbing me with her elbow.

  “You speak scary mafia mojo.” Mo rolled her eyes. “And he wasn’t with one girl.”

  “He was with a guy?” I asked, confused.

  “I swear, sometimes I wonder how you’re the leader of our family.” Mo groaned into her hands. “No jackass, he was with two girls. As in two slutty girls, both in barely any clothing, in his room. Alone. With Tex.”

  “Was he—”

  “You don’t need to finish that sentence.” Mo took a deep breath and leaned her elbows on the table. “He was. They were. And I may have assaulted both of them.”

  “The girls?”

  “And Tex.” Mo shrugged.

  Trace snorted. “He’s lucky you didn’t shoot him in the—”

  “Trace.” I nudged her.

  “Sorry.” She blushed and sighed against my chest. “But it’s true.”

  “So now you’ve heard it all.” Mo ground her teeth together. “You know what sucks though?”

  The room was silent except for the droning rhythm of the dripping faucet. Each drop that landed in the stainless steel sink may as well have been a bomb going off in that room. Mo flinched; her eyes darted to the table as if she was confused about her own emotions.

  “I could have loved him,” Mo said quietly. “I could have married him. He could have been my future, instead of my past.”

  “Do you want me to talk to him?” I reached across the table and grabbed her hand. “Maybe if he says he’s sorry…”

  “Tex can ride up on a giant white horse, spouting Shakespeare, and I’ll still want to pull a gun on him. Thanks but no thanks, brother. I’ll deal with it on my own, in my own way.”

  “Which doesn’t include going to prison, right?”

  “Please.” Mo rose from her seat. “Like you’d ever allow me to get caught.” She waved goodnight and walked down the hall.

  “Well, that was a reassuring conversation.” I took another sip of wine. “Any other confessions before I take you to bed?”

  Trace kissed me hard on the mouth. “Just one.”

  “Oh yeah?” My heart froze in my chest.

  “Yeah.” Trace’s tongue trailed across my lower lips. “I love you.”

  “I like that confession.”

  “Figured that.”


  “But I’m not tired…” Trace’s voice trailed off.

  I helped her to her feet, slapped her ass, and bit her ear as I whispered, “Good, ‘cause I’m sure as hell ready to stay up all night.”

  That’s all it took and she was running toward the bedroom.

  I’d tell her about Chase and Mil later, when I wasn’t ready to physically hurt every one of my friends for different reasons. Damn Tex and Chase.

  I slammed the door behind me and pulled Trace into my arms, attacking her mouth with ferocity as she wrapped her legs around my waist. Tonight wasn’t about thinking — I’d done enough of that. There was always room to make war, but tonight? It was time to make love; it was time to remember why I did what I did. Why I woke up every freaking day with blood on my hands. Trace moaned as I pulled her shirt over her head and snapped off her bra, weighing her breasts in my hands. For her, I did this all to keep her safe.

  To make sure that we would have a life.

  “I love you,” Trace whispered as I placed her on the bed and removed her jeans, my jeans, every article of clothing until I was settled on top of her. “So much.”

  Swallowing back the visions of blood, I answered, “I love you too, now let me make you feel good…”

  She reached up and traced the outline of my jaw, “As long as you let me help you forget.”

  I closed my eyes. Ashamed that they revealed so much.

  “It’s okay,” Trace pulled me into her. “I’ve got you.”

  Chapter Twelve


  It was officially the worst wedding night in the history of wedding nights. Mil stared at the door after Nixon had slammed it shut. It pissed me off that he’d treat her that way. I swear, I almost shot him, but then again, Nixon never did anything just to do it. I was just too blinded by rage to care about the why or how. I wanted to fix things — I wanted Mil to be okay. I needed her to stop looking like I’d just run over her puppy — repeatedly.

  “You should take a shower,” I whispered, trying to sound gentle when really all I was able to do was sound arrogant and controlling.

  “Why?” Mil glanced down at herself and snickered. “Am I dirty?”

  “You’re lucky I’m tired as hell, otherwise I would have used that opportunity to piss you off even more by making some sort of wise-ass sexual comment.”

  “Counting my stars.” Mil licked her lips, her eyes still trained on the door.

  Everyone knew how much it infuriated me when people went into shock. Call me crazy, fine. But I hated inaction. I hated when people didn’t fight, when they were passive as hell. When they didn’t march toward doom and thrust their fists into the air. So what if it made me weird? That’s how I survived. I ran head first into battle, not caring that I was David and the world was my Goliath. So watching Mil stare at the door as if just waiting for someone else to come back in the room and try to… kill her — pissed. Me. Off. Didn’t she trust me to protect her? To protect us?

  “Get up.” I grabbed her elbow and helped her to her feet.

  She stood, her eyes narrowing in on me. There’s that spark. Well, I was either going to get shot or make everything better.

  I was banking on getting shot — I rarely made things better.

  There went nothing. I cupped her chin firmly between my fingers. “Look at me.”

  “I am, you ass.” Her eyes blazed with fury.

  “You know you can always call me sir if you get tired of calling me ass. I respond to both.”

  “Tell you what. Every time I curse, just imagine I’m referring to you. That way you won’t get confused, I know how you meatheads can be.”

  “Aw, now you’re just trying to butter me up.” I released her chin and pulled her body against mine. The contact was hot — soothing to my very core. She tried to push against me, but I had her body locked with my arms. “You’re not going anywhere.”

  “What? Now that Nixon’s gone, are you going to threaten me too?”

  “No,” I said quietly. “Just the opposite.”

  “Opposite? So you plan on showering me with compliments?”

  “Hell, yeah.” My
lips grazed her ear. “I plan on showering you with lots of things. Compliments, gifts, affection, a kick-ass gun—”

  She relaxed against my chest, but only slightly. One exhale. She gave me one exhale.

  “But most of all… I plan on giving you something you need more than air right now.”

  “How would you know what I need?” Her voice pleaded; it was the type of tone you hear people use when they hate admitting weakness but secretly hope to God you’ll agree to be their strength.

  “Reassurance.” I nipped her ear and moved my lips down her neck, twirling pieces of dark hair with my left hand while my right held her tight against me. “Mil…”

  She stiffened, then relaxed, then stiffened again. Taming her was like trying to steal a cheetah from the wild and expecting it not to eat you.

  “You. Are. Safe.” I couldn’t stop kissing her neck. It was like a drug. Shit, I felt like one of those crazy vampires that stare at people’s veins. I watched blood pulse at the base of her neck, and I wanted to touch it with my tongue. I wanted to see what it would feel like — to taste what made her heart beat, to touch the location that gave her life.

  I kissed her again.

  Her body slumped against mine.

  My hands shook as I pulled back and cupped her face so that her mouth was inches from mine. What the hell was wrong with me?

  Her eyes hooded as she locked her gaze on my lips.

  “Tell me what you want,” I whispered, hoping, praying, begging it would align with what I wanted. For the first time in weeks, I wasn’t conjuring up images of Trace. Mil’s body trembled beneath my touch.

  “I think,” she whispered. “That a shower would be a good idea.”

  “Alright.” I didn’t release her.

  Mil didn’t move either.

  A knock at the door jolted us apart from one another like we were teenagers just about to do the deed under the watchful eyes of a parent.

  I held my finger to my lips as I grabbed my gun, took off the safety, and bent down to look through the peephole.

  Breathing a sigh of relief, I opened the door.

  Sergio handed me a bottle of whiskey. “Figured you might need this tonight. Everything’s been taken care of, enjoy your… festivities.”

  “Wow, worse choice of words a person could come up with.”

  “Yeah, well.” He tried to peer past me, but I moved so he couldn’t see Mil. “You’re no fun.”

  “I’m married. Fun and me don’t really fit in the same sentence anymore. Now go bother someone else.”

  With a salute, Sergio turned on his heel and thrust his hands in his pockets, whistling the entire way to the elevator.

  I shut the door and leaned against it.

  “Who was it?” Mil asked.

  “No one.”

  “Oh.” Her voice was quiet. “I’ll just take a shower then.”


  “Fine!” she half yelled.

  Why the hell did she sound so dejected and upset? I turned around just in time to see her half-naked form as she walked into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.

  Chapter Thirteen


  I gripped the countertop, allowing each finger to push into the porcelain sink as I got my breathing under control.

  What the hell had I been thinking?

  One moment of weakness. That was all it had taken. Actually, that was a lie. It had been a moment of weakness paired with Chase’s green eyes, his maddening touch, and his ability to both make me feel comforted and wanted all in the same mind-numbing breath.

  A moment of pure insanity had washed over me. I’d taken off my shirt. I hadn’t been thinking — all I’d wanted was for him to see all of me, accept all of me, push our past behind us, and power through toward whatever the hell my family had planned for me.

  I’d panicked when he didn’t turn around.

  He had to have seen me. There was a mirror near the door. He’d looked up, directly at me, or at least it looked like he had. And his face, God, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get over the look on his face.

  It hadn’t been lust.

  Or love.

  It had been absolute torture. The lines around his eyes had suddenly seemed so much more pronounced than I’d realized. He’d looked old. He hadn’t looked carefree — he’d just looked, pissed.

  And he’d been looking right at me.

  Angry, I’d run back into the bathroom. He could yell my name until his voice went hoarse; no way was I coming back out until I was fully clothed and ready to face him.

  “Mil!” Chase pounded on the door. “Open the damn door!”

  “I’m just going to take a shower,” I said in a detached voice. “Like you said.”

  “Mil…” He growled then pounded against the door again. “I need to talk to you.”

  “So talk.” I shivered as I started the water in the shower and waited for his apology.

  It didn’t come.

  The water was already starting to get hot. Steam began to fill the room, causing the mirror to turn a whitish gray.

  “Chase?” I called out.

  Sighing impatiently, I cracked open the door. Which is apparently all the bastard needed to stick his boot in the small space and push it the rest of the way open.

  “You always were too curious for your own good.” He smirked, letting himself in the bathroom and closing the door behind him.

  I backed away from him until the backs of my calves touched the cool tub. I was trapped. Heck, I could be in Russia, and I’d still feel trapped by his magnetism.

  “Mil.” Chase’s eyes zeroed in on my face, quite impressive, considering I was, at that point, still clad in only my bra and underwear.

  “Chase, did you need something? I’m kind of busy.” I shrugged him off, trying to appear unaffected as his tattered shirt clung to his muscled chest.

  “Yeah.” He smirked. “I did. I do.”

  “Well?” I wish I could say that my voice didn’t sound breathless — expectant, turned on. Crap.

  “You don’t run out on me.”

  My eyes widened. “You’re upset because I—”

  “Threw a damn temper tantrum,” Chase finished. “I don’t have time for it. I don’t have time to placate your delicate feminine sensibilities. I think we should establish some rules in this relationship.”

  I was about five seconds from attacking him with my bare hands.

  “Rules?” I licked my lips. “What kind of rules? Play fair? Don’t lie? Don’t cheat? Don’t go to bed angry? Those types of things?”

  “Nah.” Chase shortened the distance between us. I could smell his cologne as it mixed with the heavy steam in the bathroom. My knees weakened.

  His hands braced my arms as he held me in front of him. “Rules, Mil.”

  “Rules,” I repeated, trying to sound totally unaffected — which should seriously earn me points. Chase Winter was a god. Sweat began to trickle down his temple, and I swear all I wanted to do was smack the crap out of his gorgeous face and then catch the sweat with my tongue. I shivered.

  “Cold?” His eyes mocked as they crinkled at the edges in smug humor.

  “Nah, just irritated,” I fired back.

  “Well, that makes two of us.” He didn’t remove his hands. I shivered again. Damn, treacherous body.

  “You’re not allowed to feel,” Chase whispered. “Neither of us can afford that luxury for now. We have people most likely coming after not only you, but me. You can’t throw a shit fit every minute you’re upset or every time something doesn’t go your way—”

  “I did not—”

  “You did,” Chase confirmed. “No running away.”

  “I would never run.”

  “You want to run so damn bad you can’t even think straight,” he whispered. “And I can’t be worried about you running when I’m supposed to be protecting you.”

  I laughed bitterly.

  “That funny?” He breathed so close to my lips I cou
ld taste him.

  “You, being worried? Yeah, hilarious as hell.”

  His eyes narrowed into slits. “One more rule…”

  “Oh yeah?”

  “You’re mine.”

  “P-pardon?” My brain wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t able to form words. My body, however, arched toward him, having ideas of its own.

  “Mine. You’re… mine.” He said it simply, slowly, as if I had English comprehension issues. “What’s mine is mine. Nobody lays a hand on you. Until this whole fiasco is over — it’s you and me. I’ll kill anyone who touches you, and if I see you look at a another man in a way I deem less than respectful toward me, your husband, I will not only end his life where he stands, but hold you personally responsible for doing so.”

  I just lost my ability to breathe.

  “That’s it.” He stepped back while I collapsed onto the side of the tub, nearly falling into the shower spray. Pretty sure those two words, that’s it, held new meaning. He made it sound so easy.

  “Fine,” I whispered. “I think I can handle that.”

  He gave a jerky nod and walked back to the door. His hand hovered over the handle. Dear Lord, please just leave!

  “One more thing.” He turned. “How many?”

  “Uh, three?” I shrugged. “Fourteen? What the hell are you asking? I don’t read minds.”

  “Guys.” A muscle flexed across Chase’s jaw as his green eyes bore into me. “How many since you and I were together?”


  He swore and let himself out of the bathroom. I charged toward the door and locked it as fast as I could. With a jerky sigh, I slid down the door and collapsed onto the cool tile.

  I’d lied.

  It hadn’t been two.

  It hadn’t even been one.

  I hadn’t been with anyone since Chase — because nobody would ever compare to the boy who’d stole my innocence, my heart, and refused to give it back. I’d tucked that little secret deep into myself, because as Chase had said, I don’t get to feel. My father had made sure of that. He’d made sure that Phoenix and I hadn’t felt anything when it came to the ugliness of the world. And in the end, it had been my saving grace. My bastard of a father had saved my life — and all because he’d taught me how to close into myself.

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