“A VIP invitation to be a better man than my father, Amy.”

I suck in air at the unexpected answer. “Oh Liam--”

“Hear me out, baby.” His gaze flickers over my bare chest and he grabs a navy blue cotton robe from a latch behind the door and slides it over my shoulders. “It’s hard to think, let alone say what I have to say, when you’re naked.”

Cheeks burning, I stick my arms through the huge sleeves while he tugs the robe shut and ties it, his hands lingering on the knot at my waist. He lets out a heavy breath. “Okay.” He hesitates, then seems to push himself to confess, “When I was a kid my father got drunk and beat my mother.”

My eyes go wide and I open my mouth to issue words of sympathy, but I read the way he seems to wait for the bullets they would represent, and instead ask, “Did he hit you?”

“Oddly no, but for years I was the small child hiding in the closet while he played monster. I would shout and try to hit him but my mother begged me to stop. I was little, only eight, and she was sure I’d be hurt. Thankfully, the SOB disappeared. Him leaving was the best thing that ever happened to my mother. Then when I was thirteen, he came back for a night and my mother let him in her bed to wake up to a beating.” His expression turns all dark lines and haunted shadows. “At already six feet tall, I had listened to one too many brutal attacks, and I’d had enough. I put my fist into my father’s nose.”

Pride wells inside me at the bravery of a young boy who’d been through too much, too soon in life. “What happened?” I whisper, reading his tone as a resolution, not a nightmare to follow.

“He left. The end. And that’s where I was at today when I said it was my way. I knew standing up to my father was right, and I know hiding you and hiding you well is the answer now. The only thing my father ever taught me worth learning was that I can’t do nothing, Amy, and I can’t ignore my own instincts.”

“Nothing is exactly what I’ve done for the past six years, Liam.”

“No. You survived and that says a lot.”

“That’s not enough. We’ve had this discussion.”

“You survived until you got here, with me. Now, you can lean on me.”

I shake my head. “No. I can’t just let you take care of me, and even if I was willing, I’m the one with the link to all of this. I’m the problem and the solution.”

His jaw sets hard. “We can’t go to Texas.”

“I know.” My whispered acceptance is etched in the pain of loss no longer hidden deep in my soul. I clear my throat and add, “But we can’t do this your way either and raise a child in hiding and looking around every corner.”

“I didn’t say hide forever, but in the past twenty-four hours a lot has become clear, like the willingness of whoever this is to kill anyone they see as a threat. And the fact that for every resource I have, they appear to have their own.”

“You mean they have money.”

“Yes. They have money, which means we need to get underground until we figure out a fight plan.”

“That’s not how you made it sound earlier.”

“I’m still going to want to leave you locked away and safe.”

“And--”

He kisses me. “I know. I know you can’t spend your life that way. We’ll figure it out.”

Relief and appreciation for this man who has become so much to me expands in my chest. “Where does that leave us now? What is our plan?”

“Moving just to move is dangerous. It means more people to see you and more chances to be found, and that’s a dangerous proposition when there’s a ransom on your head as we’ve already seen. We stay here a few days, get our ducks in a row, and then we move.”

“And we go where?”

“Asia. I have connections there and those connections with my money will be hard to penetrate.”

Asia. My head is spinning. “What about a new passport? I can’t travel as Amy Bensen after the private investigator ended up dead. Whoever is after me, has to know this identity.”

“I’ll charter a plane and handle whatever paperwork that needs to dealt with.” He grabs the lapels of the robe. “We’ll end this. You have my word.”

“We, Liam. If I’m going to another country with you, I need you to mean that this time.”

“I meant it every time I said it, but baby, I have my own Godzillas here and there. I can’t promise--”

“Not to be an ass**le?”

“With good intentions. Always with good intentions.”

“Hmmmm.” I slide my hands under his shirt. “Well...I think good intentions gone bad always come with a price. I think you need to be spanked.”

His eyes light with mischief, and I watch what’s left of the darkness in his eyes fade. “You are going to spank me?”

“That’s right. But you have on too many clothes.”

“Well, never let it be said that I resisted my punishment.” His lips curve and he tugs his shirt over his head. “Better?”

“Getting there.”

He gives me a nod and steps away from me, and it’s the gleam of satisfaction in his eyes as he begins to remove his shoes that warns me I’m the one who’s about to get spanked. I should be worried about that warning, but my earlier fear is gone. Hungrily, my gaze travels his naked, ripped torso, to land on the tattoo peeking from his unzipped pants and suddenly, it means so much more to me than ever before. It has become a symbol of the little boy who had a monster for a father and lost his mother too young but who didn’t quit.

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