I wanted simple—if only to unscramble the puzzlement of the past.
Reaching behind his seat, he stroked my thigh still swaddled in the blankets. “You’re my more, Cleo. But it’s still not enough. It won’t be enough until the end.”
I was going to hell.
I knew that now. She’d turned thirteen last week. I’d told myself she was old enough to be accountable for all the frustration and need building inside of me. I’d believed my own rationalizing that she was mature enough to know what she offered.
So … I’d kissed her. I’d stolen her first kiss on a swing in the park. And again when we’d arrived home.
I’d taken her behind the Clubhouse and stuck my tongue down her throat. And fuck if it wasn’t the best thing in my entire life. —Kill, age sixteen
Nothing in the world could beat the welcoming embrace of safety and sanctuary.
The gates around my property rolled open and the smooth Merc needed only the gentlest coaxing to slide into the awaiting garage. The car fit perfectly with the black Mustang and Land Rover. It was as if the last remaining spot was made for it.
My custom Triumph rested like a mythical beast in the center, waiting to come alive and hurtle down roads. Its matte black framework sucked light from the space like a black hole—there was no chrome—unlike Grasshopper’s decaled extravaganza.
As I parked and wrenched up the handbrake, I admitted my garage of vehicles was complete with this latest machine.
If Grasshopper had stolen this, then I would return it to the owner with a thank-you gift. But if he’d bought it fair and square, then I was keeping it. Fifty-fifty chance. I supposed I’d have to wait to find out.
Cleo rustled in the back. She’d fallen asleep in the last thirty minutes. The moment her eyes closed and her face slipped into slumber-softness, I’d freaked the fuck out. Should she sleep after what she’d been through? Should I keep her awake until a doctor examined her?
But watching her rest¸ I didn’t have the heart to wake her. I didn’t have the strength to fight with her again over something that had the power to smash us apart.
How can she even look at me? How can love still glow in her gaze?
I couldn’t understand how she’d come out of my father’s madness and not only remained strong and stubborn, but also remained the same Cleo who I thought I’d lost forever. She was something unique and so damn priceless.
“We’re here, Buttercup.”
Her eyes cracked open, awareness slowly animating her face. With a soft groan, she touched her head and sat up. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to leave you alone.”
My lips twitched. Even now with her own pain, she was more worried about mine.
Fuck, I loved this woman.
Swinging her legs to the floor, she went to open the car door.
Her eyes popped wide. “Why? What did I do?”
“Don’t move.” Without waiting for her reply, I shot from the car and opened her door. The world shot upside down. My brain sloshed in my skull and a rush of sickness hit the back of my throat. Shit, I shouldn’t have moved so fast.
Holding on to the car door, I breathed hard through my nose. The pressure throbbed with every heartbeat but slowly eased.
I didn’t want Cleo moving on her own. The doctors said movement only worsened the swelling on my brain. If Cleo had a concussion, too, I would rather move for both of us so only one of us had severe side effects.
I’ve already lost most of my IQ … what’s a few more lost points if I can fix her?
When I opened my eyes, Cleo’s face was stark with worry. “Arthur, you need to sit back down. You look like you’re about to pass out.”
“I’m fine.” I ducked to her level in order to grab her.
“Wait. What are you doing?” She swatted my hand away as I gathered the blankets. “I can walk, you know.”
I didn’t bother replying.
Scooping her behind the shoulders and knees, I plucked her from the leather and hoisted her into my arms.
Oh, fuck me.
Nausea slammed into me. My brain felt as if it would ooze from my ears like spaghetti.
“Good God, Art, put me down. You’re shaking like a crack addict.”
“Give me a sec,” I muttered through gritted teeth. She hung in my embrace. A second turned into a minute, but my brain finally decided today wasn’t the day it would explode and the pain receded to a tolerable level. “See, all good.”
She huffed under her breath as I kicked the car door closed and strode away from the Mercedes.
One foot in front of the other.
I’d forgotten a shitload of important information but walking wasn’t one of them.
Carrying Cleo through the connecting door and into the two-story-high foyer, I suffered a spasm of rage at the thought of men infiltrating my home and hurting us. They’d tainted this place and proven I’d been far too arrogant.
Cleo squirmed in my arms and placed a delicate kiss on my scruffy chin. “It’s so nice to be home with you.”
A wash of comfort and contentedness settled, easing with familiarity and a promise that things would be dealt with once and for fucking all.
I stared into her moss-green eyes. “I agree.”
Her lips parted, conjuring the always present lust and desire that seemed to infect us. There was no cure for what we suffered. There was no pill to dampen our tempers or simmer the violent hunger for each other.