The worst is when I’m in the ravine, hands bound by rope as Conor’s rape plays out before me. Except Conor is Raina, and the man violently fucking her is John Holsten. I scream through my gag, but no one hears me. Then I wake screaming into the night. Alone.

Even with Raina’s tea, I struggle to fall back asleep.

If I’m on the verge of a mental breakdown, I won’t allow it to sink hooks into me. Not while I’m responsible for Raina’s protection. Not while she’s distracting me, grounding me, and making me whole again.

A week ago, I was numb. Now I feel this frustrating little woman in my veins. I feel every part of her in every part of me.

And she doesn’t feel me back.

Except she kisses me like she does.

I know her past. She knows where I’ve been. We’re moving forward together, whether she likes it or not.

We need us.

My attention drifts to the guitar at my feet. My fingers twitch to strum, and my throat clears to hum as a Jake Owen song plays in my head. It’s a fucked-up song that reminds me of a fuckable woman who fucks with my head.

I sit up and drag the instrument onto my lap. I tap the wooden body. Pluck the strings. Adjust the tune. Stumble over the chords. Then I play Alone With You.

It’s choppy the first few times I run through it, my shoulders twitching at the screeching mistakes. But eventually, I nail it, singing along with the acoustic.

Conor’s a better guitarist. Jake’s a helluva singer. I can do both with average skill.

The longer I play, the more I realize I missed this. I miss the jam sessions, the connection through music, the emotions it evokes. I miss the people who mean everything to me.

As the last note echoes across the field, my hands fall from the strings.

That’s when I hear her.

Every molecule in my body tunes into Raina’s location behind me before she stirs.

Her breath releases. Her feet pad through the grass, and she kneels before me with a thermos in her hands.

“That was…” She searches my face for the answer. “Beautifully lonely.”

My chest tightens, and I set the guitar aside. “I haven’t played in—”

“Don’t stop.”

“I just did.”

“I mean, don’t make this the only time. Your family would love for you to play with them again.”

At my nod, she hands me the thermos of tea. I inch over, making room for her beside me on the sleeping bag, and together, we lie back and drink in the starlight.

“Did you eat?” I ask.

“After everyone went to bed. What are you teaching me tomorrow?”

I walk through the shooting practice and defense techniques I have planned and update her on the security around the property.

“How are we going to find John?” she asks.

“He’ll turn up.” I’m surprised he hasn’t already. “The sheriff will call when he does.”

“What happens if John shows up here?”

“There are six people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill him, and we would be in our lawful right to do so. This is our property. Trespassers enter at their own risk.”

“He knows that?”

“Fuck yes, he knows.”

“If I went into town and did things, like grocery shopping, I could lure him out.”

“No. That’s non-negotiable.”

Jarret and Maybe bring in the food. That won’t change until Raina’s safe.

“You haven’t left the ranch in five days,” she mutters.

I lean up on an elbow and bow over her. “Why are you out here?”

“Why do you ask me that every night?”

“Because you always give me that shit about the universe, and for once, I want a real answer.”

She squints. “We’re being truthful?”

“Yes, goddammit. Always.”

Her gaze dances across the moonlit sky and takes its time returning. “This is my favorite part of every day.”

I relax with a lightness in my chest. “Mine, too.”

She rests calmly on her back beneath me, wearing one of my t-shirts and nothing else. I could roll on top of her right now and lose myself in her tight body.

And it wouldn’t matter to her. Not the way it matters to me.

She’s been fucking since she was fourteen, in every position and with more men than I care to imagine. I haven’t had sex since I was eighteen, and while I was wildly experimental, my experience is no match for hers.

But that doesn’t mean she’s in control. She caught me off guard today and owned me with admirable skill.

It won’t happen again.

In an unhurried glide of motion, I rise to my feet. My shirt, hat, and boots came off a while ago, but I’m still wearing jeans.

“Flip over.” I hook a thumb under my belt and assume a loose, confident stance. “On your knees with your head on the ground.”

Her eyes flash. Her mouth parts, and she slowly pushes to a sitting position. “Lorne?”

“Now.” The boom in my voice makes her jump.

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