I stare in astonishment at her. I knew she’d been feeling low and that her confidence wasn’t strong, but the amount of self-loathing in her voice is painful. “Babe. I didn’t tell you because I wanted to take care of the situation before I came over here, but let me say first that Adam’s actions are not your fault. There isn’t anything you did that caused his behavior. And you aren’t weak. Fuck that. You’re the strongest person I know. You were harassed for months, made to be afraid of your own home. Going for a walk in your neighborhood or even getting into your car became a traumatic event. Yeah, it’s made you wary of the outside world, but that’s absolutely fucking normal. It’s not like you refuse contact. People come and go here. You accept new people easily. You’re not just surviving, you’re thriving. You and Eden are going to launch a new business. How are you weak and doing all this shit simultaneously?” I shake my head in real dismay. “I should’ve told you about Adam, but I felt guilty.”
“Because I failed to protect you, and I continue to fail at protecting you.” I pluck the cup out of her hands and set it on the table so that I can lift her into my lap. “I get that you think being with you is a sacrifice, but there’s nothing in the outside world that I want more than you. I’m not giving up anything to be with you. You’re a prize. I like that you’re here, that I know you’ll always be here. Sometimes my job can get nuts, but the surety of you being in this one place at all times sets my heart at ease. You’re perfect just the way you are.” I press my lips to her cheek and then her jaw and then the side of her neck. I allow myself to linger there, breathing in her warm, sunny scent. When my lungs are full, I pull her close, tucking the top of her head under my chin. “If you were any more perfect, I’d have to put you in a museum. The few flaws you do have, like not believing in yourself more, make you human. If you can accept me with all my warts and flaws, why can’t I accept you whose one flaw is that you are still holding me at arm’s length?”
“There’s not even enough room to slide a piece of paper between us,” she mumbles against my chest.
“Which is how it should be at all times.”
“Even when you’re doing your bodyguarding?”
“Sure. I’ll make a giant Kevlar backpack, and you can hang out there while I do my job.”
She laughs at the ridiculous image. “Seems like I’d slow you down.”
“Nah, you’d be like a jet pack.”
She laughs harder, her joy vibrating through my body. Her giggles die off, and she asks in a small voice, “Are you really sure you want me in this state?”
“Will you accept me being dictatorial and not telling you everything all the time because I’m trying to protect you?” I counter.
“Is that the deal we’re making?”
She leans back and stares me in the eyes, searching for something. Finally, she nods. “All right. I’ll take your flawed self if you accept mine.”
“No take backs,” I warn.
“No take backs.”
How could I ever take it back after that declaration he made to me. I feel whole for the first time in a long time. So much of my life has been put on hold because of what happened. Sebastian being one of those things. The most important.
Even in the midst of my freak-out, he was all I could see. I need him, and I know without a doubt that will never change for me. If he wants to protect me then I’m going to let him, and I’m going to let him do it his way. For so long he’s worked around my restrictions and way of life so I could be comfortable.
The least I can do is give him the same back. To trust that he’ll share with me what he thinks I truly need to know, knowing that whatever he does is always in my best interest. I’m going to start right now by not asking about what he did today. I know he did whatever he thought was necessary where Adam is concerned. Of that I have no doubt.
“Do you want me to draw you a bath or something?” He brushes a piece of hair out of my face, tucking it behind my ear. This man is always trying to take care of me.
“I think you’re just trying to see my new panties,” I tease him. I can see the inner battle raging in his eyes. He wants me, but he doesn't want to push. He’s always the gentleman when it comes to me, but I want to see the other part of him. Tonight, I’m going to show him we’re done waiting. That I need him the same way he does me.