I don’t even want to.
“Sweet like you,” he whispers, his warm breath skittering against my skin. I swallow as his voice seems to vibrate inside of me.
“How do you like it?” I ask him, leaning my body into him because my knees are weak. My breasts brush against him and I fight to stop from moaning.
This is crazy.
“I love everything about it,” he answers and it might be wishful thinking, but I don’t think he’s talking about the beard conditioner. Before I can reply, the bell above the door rings again. I jerk away, my eyes going to the door in shock—the moment completely broken. That’s probably a good thing. I watch as a couple of older women file inside, immediately going through my inventory. Then my gaze moves to the man and woman from earlier, leaning against the counter with their child still there. They’re looking at me and Allen and their gazes are knowing. I feel my face flame with embarrassment.
“I’ll take it,” Allen says and my gaze jerks up to him. It’s only then I notice he’s taken the bottle from me and replaced the lid. I swallow down my embarrassment and paste a smile on my face.
“I’ll just ring you up,” I tell him. I walk to the register as if I’m in a daze. I steadfastly choose to ignore the stares Allen’s family are giving me, but I can feel the heat of their gaze. “That will be thirty-two dollars,” I murmur, turning around as I put the bottle into one of my sage green bags with the store logo on them.
He tilts his head to the side and studies me. This unnerves me and I fight down the urge to go into hiding.
“The tag on the bottle said forty-one,” he responds.
I shrug. “I gave you a discount since it’s your first purchase. You might decide you don’t like it,” I explain.
He puts a hundred-dollar bill on the counter and I move to pick it up right before he captures my hand.
“What’s your name?” I ask her, needing to know it more than anything else I’ve ever wanted in my life—and that includes proving to Roman he was right about me.
That’s a scary truth. A fucking terrifying one.
When Roman captured me I was a junkie wanting to die. I’m not proud of my past, but it’s the truth. That’s who I was. I was running from my past, from an abuse so dark that it colored everything I was, everything I did. It destroyed me. I was wanting to die. I was prepared for Roman to deliver that death. I knew he would. I’d crossed him on purpose.
I never expected that he’d captured me to dry me out. I never expected he would give me a chance to get revenge from a monster who had hid in the corners of my mind for way too long. I’ve never wanted anything more than to make Roman proud. That’s the only thing that has driven me since that day years ago that I was locked up in one of Roman’s warehouses and chained like the damn dog that I was. Roman gave me everything and somehow he managed to find a way to give me my sister back too. I owe the man everything. But, suddenly, my priorities change and they all center on this tiny woman who barely comes up to my chest, with soft hair the color of dark honey and eyes bluer than the Florida sky.
“I’m Jessie,” she whispers. “Jessie Hart.”
Her voice is so sweet I have to close my eyes at the sound of it. She holds her hand out so innocently, not realizing the monster she’s inviting into her life. I should back away, leave her for another man to claim. A man worthier than I am; a clean man without darkness inside of him. I look down at her hand while a battle rages inside of me. I slowly reach out and grasp it in mine. Electricity moves through me and I swear I can feel the ground shift under my feet. I should have never touched her. I should have let her go.
Roman’s words come back to me.
“You will go down on your knees to keep her and if she’s a good woman, Allen, you’ll do it gladly.”
She’s it. She’s the one.
She deserves better and she definitely deserves cleaner, but her fate is sealed.
I’ll be damned if I give any other man a chance to take her away from me.
“Hi, Allen,” she says, her hand tightening against mine.
I don’t know how long we stand like that. I couldn’t tell you how long I stare into her eyes. I just know that I never want it to stop.
“Excuse me. Could I get your help picking out a shampoo?” one of the customers asks from behind me. I squeeze Jessie’s hand, not wanting to let her go, but knowing I need to.