at me and kissed me softly on the lips. I held back. She needed me to go slow, to give her time to recover.
She stroked my cheek and just about killed me as she said, “Declan, don’t you know that all I want is you?”
The next day we hung out with my property manager, Brett, his wife and their new baby. Only two and a half weeks old, she looked so tiny and pink that I was afraid to go too close, as if I might somehow break her. But Kara tucked right in, finding a comfy place on the sofa next to the new mom and holding the baby like a pro.
Kara looked up at me shyly and smiled. She looked so beautiful and natural like that, a baby in her arms. I couldn’t help but smile back. I didn’t know what was happening between us, what kind of craziness she was making me feel, but I did know it felt good.
That night Kara and I made a simple dinner in the cabin, pasta with meat sauce and red wine. Out of nowhere, she asked me about my family.
“So you really don’t have anyone?” she asked, seeming to feel the weight of it.
“Thanks for putting it like that,” I joked as I took a sip of wine. I didn’t like pity parties. I wanted to lighten things up. “Not pulling any punches, are you?”
She nearly choked on her forkful of spaghetti. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she sputtered, blushing.
“No?” I couldn’t help but tease again. It was great to see her energy returning, some of our usual banter rising again to the surface.
“I don’t mean to be insensitive about it,” she insisted.
I nearly snorted. “You don’t need to wear kid gloves with me, Kara. I’ve been on my own most of my life. I’m used to it.”
“But your father might still be alive,” she continued. My hand tensed on the stem of my wine glass. I didn’t like where she was going with this. Let sleeping dogs lie, and if anyone was a dog it was my deadbeat dad.
Not picking up on my tension, or choosing to ignore it, she went on. “You could find out who he is, at least. You’ve got the resources. If you hired a private investigator they could probably locate him. He might be living near here right this minute.”
“Kara.” I exhaled, trying not to let my anger rise to the surface. She’d just been through a severe trauma. There was no need to yell at her. I needed to calm and soothe her, not frighten and intimidate. “I’m not interested.”
“But don’t you wonder sometimes?” she persisted. “What’s he like? Maybe he looks just like you? Maybe you guys have the same—”
“Enough.” I looked at her sternly. “It may be hard for you to understand. I know your father and you were tight. But I’m not tracking down that bastard. I’m not going to call him up and beg him to take me to lunch. See if he wants to toss around a baseball in the park.”
“It doesn’t have to be like that, Declan.” She looked pained.
“It’s not going to happen.” That wound had scabbed over long ago. No good could come of picking it open.
“OK.” She sighed. “I’ve made you talk about something you don’t want to. Now I’m going to make myself.” I noticed her hand shook as she brought a napkin to her lips, dabbing away non-existent red sauce. “Have you heard anything about…” She paused, her lips trembling.
“Yes,” I answered quickly, wanting to save her the pain of having to say Lymon’s name. Shit-sucking scumbag would be more appropriate. “I haven’t wanted to bring it up.”
“I know.” She shuddered, but gave me a frail smile. “You’ve been taking such good care of me.”
I winced. She was being too generous. I was at fault. For all of it. At least I could ease her mind on one point. “You don’t have to worry about either of them again, Kara. They’re both going to go to prison for a long time.”
“Really?” She sat up, looking stronger, buoyed by the news. “Even though they didn’t…they didn’t get around to—”
“Yes,” I answered again, suppressing another wince. I couldn’t bear to think of what she’d suffered. “Turns out they were wanted for a lot of things. They were not good men.”
She grimaced and brought her hands to her face. “Do I even want to know?”
“No.” I honestly didn’t think she did. A prostitution ring, a meth lab and distribution network. Lymon had not played by the rules. Now he’d pay for it, year after year in a maximum security prison. I hoped they locked him up and threw away the key.
She burst out into tears and I rushed to her, gathering her in my arms.
“Kara, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her sobs wracked her body, her ribs heaving and the anguish pouring out of her. It nearly broke me, made me wild, frantic to comfort her. “I should have gotten there sooner. You never would have been there if I’d helped you in the first place. I never should have—”
“Declan, stop,” she managed. “Just hold me.” I brought her to the couch and we stayed like that for a while, her crying onto my chest while I stroked her hair. After she fell asleep I moved us to the bed and she clung to my side, molding her body to mine.
That night she woke once, terrified, fighting off a nightmare. I held her to my chest and whispered soothing words, feeling her frantic breathing slowly regain its resting rhythm. She stilled, ear against the beating of my heart while I played with her long, silky locks.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, knowing she was asleep, wondering if I could ever say it enough. I was sorry about so many things, and I kept adding new items to the list. Like our dinner conversation. She’d tried to encourage me to find my father. I’d shut her down like a meddling nuisance. She was just trying to do what she thought was right.
We were both orphans, I realized. Neither one of us had a mother or a father. But now, we could have each other. If she’d let me.
Kara made me think crazy thoughts, the kind I’d never had before. With her, I could imagine having children, beautiful kids who looked just like her and acted just like her and maybe every now and then would tolerate their big, gruff father.
I still knew I didn’t deserve her, but I knew I wanted to try. I wanted to try like hell the rest of my life to be the right man for her. I didn’t know if she’d let me, if she’d say yes, but now that I’d almost lost her, three times over, I knew I couldn’t take that pain again. I had to have Kara by my side every day for the rest of our lives. What before had seemed impossible now seemed as necessary as breathing air. How could I hem and haw, pace and worry about whether I was the marrying kind when I felt deep in every bone of my body that we belonged together? Click, like two puzzle pieces. Done. No need to think it over, wonder why or how and whether, it just was the truth.
At least for me. I didn’t know how she felt about forever. And it was too soon to ask. I needed to give her time before I asked her if she’d spend the rest of her life with me, letting me do everything in my power to care and provide for her. For now, I’d just hold her close, knowing it might not last.
Monday morning, I was sitting in the kitchen listening to messages on my phone. My lawyer Stephen had called. There was something urgent to discuss. There was always something urgent to a lawyer. I owned upwards of 35 different properties across the U.S. Not a day went by without something urgent to discuss.
As I was calling him back, Kara walked in wearing nothing but a silky robe, slightly open. Just getting a glass of water, no big deal. I knew something that got big the second I saw her. Hot damn, the unconscious sexiness of that woman leaning against the door of the refrigerator. I needed to stand in front of the fridge to cool off, too.
She drew her long locks up into a messy ponytail, exposing the nape of her neck. She surveyed the contents, oblivious to me, contemplating whether she’d like a bite to eat. I knew what I’d like to bite and eat. With her arm up, the silk of the robe crept its way up her thighs. I could see a sliver of her long, slender leg, her soft, smooth skin. The robe parted in a V down her chest, revealing the start of her generous cleavage. I shifted in my seat, my huge shaft pressing against my jeans.
I tried to look away. I really did. Kara didn’t need me pawing at her. She needed someone to make her feel safe. Restraint, I needed to hold back. She needed reassurance. Not all men were monsters. I’d done so much wrong in my life, now it was time to do the right thing.
I’d talk to my lawyer Stephen, not grope Kara. I’d just have to do it in a different room where I couldn’t see her luscious curves. I knew I’d still be thinking about them, though.
I’d tried to seduce him and I’d failed. He had barely touched me at all this past week. OK, for a lot of it I’d been sleeping. And there’d been some crying, too, and some sitting and staring out the window. I’d been through a trauma. I wasn’t trying to pretend it didn’t happen.
But, come on, now. Didn’t Declan feel it? There was such a current of electricity flowing between us, a live crackling wire of chemical attraction. Sharing this romantic cabin with him, a retreat in the woods, every time I saw him he about took my breath away. As he stood and looked out the window, he was the view for me. His shirt hanging open over his bare, muscular chest, those tattoos licking and dancing along his skin, a touch of stubble along his rugged jaw. I practically needed to travel around the house with a fan so I didn’t jump him.
I’d always felt that way around Declan, of course. But now it was so much worse after I knew exactly how good he could make me feel. He could take me higher than I’d ever imagined I could get, and I needed more of it. Now.
But he was treating me like a broken vase. I’d had a crime committed against me, but I wasn’t a crime scene, myself. I didn’t have a Caution Police Line Do Not Cross tape blocking me off. But it was like he didn’t want to touch me anymore. Rationally, I knew what was most likely going on with him. He was holding back, thinking I needed time on my own to heal.
But I had to admit, I felt worried. The road with Declan all these years hadn’t exactly been smooth. It had always been fraught with doubt and confusion and some of that seeped in once again. We’d had that moment together, that amazing night when we’d fallen into each other’s arms and declared our love for each other strong and true. But then all hell had broken loose. And he’d barely touched me since. A small voice in my head whispered, “What if he’s lost interest? What if he’s only here with you out of a sense of guilt and obligation?”