Gus had planned to do . . . something.
He didn’t know what.
But he’d planned to do . . . something when she came inside.
She came inside, a dazed, almost drugged look on her face, like she didn’t know where she was. Who she was. Part of him wanted to grab her and shake her, scold her for her carelessness, because she didn’t even look around.
He wasn’t hiding. The room was dim, but he stood in the corner, leaning against the wall, and all she had to do was look around and she’d see him.
But all she did was shut the door and flip the locks.
Then . . . she stood there.
Her back to him. Her shoulders rose and fell rapidly, and distantly, he was aware of the harsh sounds of her breathing filling the room. She leaned forward and pressed her forehead to the door. A sob ripped out of her. She slammed a fist against the door and the sound of it caught him off guard.
Anger and grief rolled from her, and he felt frozen there. Guilt flooded him and part of him wanted to slip out of the room, disappear, and leave her alone with whatever hurt her.
The other part of him wanted to go to her and haul her against him, make her tell him what had hurt her . . . so he could kill it. Fix it. Whatever. He didn’t know which one he was supposed to do. He was good at killing things, but fixing them? Not so much.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
He wasn’t supposed to care . . . not for anything or anybody.
She wasn’t supposed to matter, yet she did. More than anybody or anything, save for Alex.
He didn’t want this inside him, but there it was.
She slammed her fist against the door and screamed and he just couldn’t take it anymore. Shoving off the wall, he crossed the floor. He didn’t know what he was going to do, what he was going to say—
“Damn you, Gus.” The words came out in a ragged sob.
His heart jumped into his throat.
She was crying . . . over him.
He almost tripped over his feet, his shoes scuffing on the hardwood floors.
She gasped and whirled around.
He saw her hand go to the weapon strapped to her waist, and he moved, catching her wrist and pinning it to the wall.
Her eyes went wide as she stared at him, damp and glinting with tears. Her mouth fell open.
“Gus . . .”
“Damning me finally?” he whispered.
She sucked in a breath and reached up, fisting her hand in his shirt. “You . . . you’re okay.”
Reaching over, he caught the weapon and tugged until she let go of her Glock. He laid it down on the small table to his left. “I wouldn’t go that far.” Reaching up, he cupped her face in his hands. “Why are you crying, Vaughnne?”
She sniffed and reached up, swiping the tears from her face. “I’m not.” She lifted her chin and glared at him.
“Of course you’re not.” Unable to resist another moment, he lowered his head and pressed his mouth to hers. She tasted of tears and her and he was starved for her. He lifted his head a fraction. “If you don’t want this, then you better stop me . . . now.”
Her response was to reach for his shirt and strip it off.
If he were any sort of decent, he’d slow this down. Talk to her. He’d be lying if he tried to tell himself he hadn’t come for this. He hadn’t come only for this. He’d wanted to touch her, feel her underneath one more time . . . to take her in a bed and take his time with her.
One night. One night when he didn’t have to worry about all the burdens he’d carried for so long. One night when all that mattered was the two of them.
But Gus had stopped worrying about being decent a long, long time ago. So as his shirt fell to the floor, he reached for the neat little line of buttons marching up the center of her prim white shirt. “You look so neat and put together, Vaughnne,” he murmured, freeing first one button, then another, watching as he bared one inch of skin at a time. “I’m going to enjoy watching you come apart for me.”
She leaned back against the door, her hands falling to hang loose at her sides. “I’ve been doing that almost since the first second I laid eyes on you, sugar.” A smile curved her wide, sexy mouth, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes, and if he’d let himself look, he knew what he would have seen.
She knew, he realized. Had some idea of just why he was there.
And it just made him that much more of a bastard. But he didn’t care.
When he reached the final button, instead of pushing the shirt off her shoulders, he let it hang open, revealing the narrow line of her sleek torso, the lace edging of her bra. He traced one finger down the midline of her body, stopping when he reached the waist of her trousers, the sturdy leather of her holster. Still holding her gaze, he unbuckled it, unbuttoned her trousers.
Vaughnne stood there, silent and watching him with solemn eyes. He leaned in and nipped her lower lip, pressed a kiss to her neck, moving in a line straight downward until he was kneeling in front of her.
She wore a pair of low-heel ankle boots and he tugged them off, setting them neatly by the door. Vaughnne kept a tidy little nest, something he’d noticed when he let himself inside. He wouldn’t leave any sign of himself when he left . . . other than what he was doing to her now. Glancing up at her, he saw her lashes were closed, her head was tipped back, and her hands were braced against the door, curled into tight fists that left her knuckles bloodless.
He wanted her clutching at him that tightly.
Wanted to hear that smart mouth, the cocky attitude that had driven him insane the past few weeks.
But when he tried to reach for the words to say something, anything to tease it out of her, he couldn’t find them. So instead of saying anything, he leaned in and pressed his mouth to her belly as he caught the waist of her trousers and dragged them down over the swell of her hips, her thighs, down until she could step out of the puddle of material.
Rising, he stood in front of her, arms braced on the door by either side of her head, waiting for her to look at him.
Seconds ticked away, and finally, she lifted her lids, staring at him with dark, unreadable eyes.
He opened his mouth, determined to find something to say. Something. Anything. It shouldn’t be this hard to find a handful of words. He’d lived most of his life by them. Glib lies, charming little half-truths . . . all of them said to people who meant less than nothing. And here he stood with a woman who meant everything and he couldn’t find anything to ease the pain he sensed was inside her.
Before he managed to find even one damn thing to say, Vaughnne reached up and laid her hand on his cheek. “Take me to bed, Gus,” she said quietly. “We can have that one night now, right?”
Please note if you wish to get this book in print from your local store, you might want to make sure they pre-order it. A lot of stores aren’t carrying as many of my books in print. Thank you!
3 Replies to “The Protected…Author’s Choice!”
I’m half way through The Unwanted…I’ll be done by then!
looking forward to reading this book…but I really miss the Rafferty brothers – wish there were follow ons to Fragil and Broken
I hear that a lot, Paris… unfortunately, there’s just nothing left to tell with Luke or Quinn. They got their HEAs, and there’s nobody left in their world who needs a story. I’m sorry… 🙁 I can tell you that Gus is even more messed up that Quinn, so if you like the messed up type, well. Gus might appeal. 😉
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