“If I am what I seem to be? What do I seem to be?”

“Good. Right.”

He grabs my hand and holds them between us. “I am right, Amy. Right for you. Right for us.”

“Then you need out of this. You don’t know what you’re involved in.”

“Do you even know, Amy? Do you have any idea what you’re running from?”

“Death, Liam. I’m running from death, which is exactly why I tried to keep you out of it. That’s why I told you not to dig around. So you don’t end up dead too, but what did you do? You dug around. You think no one knows what you’re doing? You think they won’t be watching you for me?”

“I’m not going to end up dead and neither are you.”

“My family’s dead. People have died. You could die. I can’t let that happen.”

“You ran to protect me?”

Ashamed, I look away, fighting the burn in my eyes. “I was too weak to run to protect you.”

“Amy,” Liam prods gently, his finger sliding under my chin, turning my face to his.

The instant my eyes meet his, I confess, “I kept telling myself to leave but you were...we were...I just couldn’t.”

“You are not weak. You’ve been through hell and survived and you’re going to keep surviving. We are not going to die.”

“You don’t--”

“I do. We will get through this.” He unhooks my belt and stands, pulling me to my feet with him. “I won’t have it any other way.” And the conviction in his voice, deep in his eyes, vibrates through me, intense but somehow soothing.

“I want you to be right.”

His lips quirk in that arrogant, confident way of his. “I am.” He sits down and pulls me into his lap, draping me over his legs as I had been in the car. “And we are.”

I inhale his familiar scent with a deep breath, and it is sweet honey pouring into the emptiness that has become my life. Slowly, my body melts into his, my lashes lower. I just don’t have it in me to fight him, let alone distrust him. I don’t want to be alone when I can be with Liam. But as I snuggle closer to him, I cannot help but wonder if my story was a book and someone was reading it, would they call me naive and stupid? The very idea makes me angry, defensive even, and I do not know why when it’s nothing but an invisible critic. But then, everything and everyone who has attacked me has been invisible and I find myself mentally making my own case. I was eighteen when I heard my mother being burned alive, suddenly left without money and resources, barely breathing from the pain of loss myself. Maybe I should have tried harder to find answers, but most days just waking up felt like climbing mountains. Except now. In this man’s arms. Would those who would judge me truly pick hitchhiking, and collapsing in flashbacks while digging uselessly for answers on their own over gambling on this man’s arms?

If they would, then they are not me. I am staying with Liam Stone...live, die, or whatever that means.

***

I’m having the dream again. The one where Liam is with me, holding me, making me feel safe and cared about. There is warmth and happiness when life has taught me to expect ice and pain. I like this dream, and wanting it to last, I squeeze my eyes shut tighter, savoring a sense of being warm and safe I do not remember feeling much in my adult life. Inhaling, I draw in the rustic, spicy male scent that tells me I am with Liam. I am with Liam. My eyes pop open and the night’s events flood my mind. The diner. The car and the driver who took us to the airport. Liam pulling me onto his lap on the plane. The plane. The hum of the engine is still present, just as I am still on Liam’s lap, curled into his body, his head resting on mine, his breathing slow and steady. I’m on top of him and he’s asleep. And because I was with him, I was able to sleep, too.

Trust.

That is the word that comes to me. I trust him. Right or wrong, that is what he makes me feel. He has from the moment I met him. It could be instinct or stupidity. I’ve tried to think of it as the latter and make my own way. I went to sleep willing to live or die with Liam, and I am awake again, and I still feel that way. I have been alone so very long. Too long. And the truth is, there are answers to be found and he has the resources to find them.

He shifts slightly and his grip tightens around me, as if he’s afraid I’ll escape. As if he’s afraid this is a dream also. He nuzzles my neck and I lean into his touch as he murmurs, “You’re awake.”

His voice, soft silk, and deep, male sex appeal, radiates through me, and tells me this is real. He is real. And maybe, just maybe, everything I’ve felt for him, and with him, is too. “Yes,” I whisper, lifting my head and blinking him into view, his dark hair now a dried, finger-rumpled mess that somehow only makes him sexier. I stroke my fingers over the dark stubble on his jaw. “And you’re really here.”

“Mr. Stone?”

We both look up to find the flight attendant in the doorway to the cabin. “Please. I need her in her seat. We’re preparing to land. We need everyone buckled up.”

“Oh yes,” I quickly agree, scooting off of Liam’s lap. Or I try. He holds on to me.

“Not just yet.” He glances at the flight attendant. “Consider it done.”

Her lips purse but she takes his words for the dismissal that they are and departs.

Liam’s fingers lace into my hair and he drags my mouth to his for a long, drugging kiss. The landing gear churns from the belly of the plane and his lips reluctantly leave mine. “Now you can get up.”

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