I look around, but don’t see Mal. I wonder what happened. He came faster than I thought he would. Part of me had hoped I wouldn’t get caught at all and that I’d still have a few more days with him. That maybe I could get my revenge and be able to keep him from finding out what I’d done. The thought of keeping him and having something of my own makes my chest ache.

He finally lets go of me when the door shuts behind us. I hear the lock click into place, the sound echoing in the silent room.

“Don’t ask me for it.” I tighten my hand on the strap of my backpack, unsure of what I’ll do if he demands I give it to him. I’m weak. I don’t know how I’ll react if he asks to me let this go. If he finds out what I was doing and he makes me choose… Because deep down I think I’ll choose him, and what does that say about me? That I wouldn’t do right by my mother? That I could move on with my life while she’s dead and gone?

I don’t want to have to choose. It’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. He reaches out, and I think he’s going to make a grab for it, but he cups my face, and I lean into his palm, closing my eyes, letting his warmth seep into me. Every time he touches me I melt so easily. How he does it, I have no idea, but he does. With one touch I want to curl into him and soak up a lifetime’s worth of affection.

“I don’t want the backpack, kitten.”

A sob threatens to break free at the nickname. If he’s still calling me that, it has to mean something. A flare of hope takes hold in my stomach, making me open my eyes to look up at him.

“You don’t run from me.” He leans down, getting more into my space. “You don’t even fucking think about running from me.”

Gone is the patience he’d been giving me. White-hot anger burns through him now, but it’s not about what I’d assumed.

“I stole your badge,” I blurt out, not understanding what’s happening here. We seem to be focusing on two different things.

“Did you hear me, Paige?” He ignores me, the fierce heat still in his eyes.

“Did you hear me?” I snap, not sure if I’m mad that he didn’t respond or mad that he called me Paige and not kitten, the nickname I’m supposed to hate.

“I don’t care about the badge.” His eyes flick to my shoulder. “Or the backpack.” He moves farther into my space, and I take a step back, uncertain of what’s going on. I can feel the anger pulsing off him like a living thing, filling up all the space around us.

His whole body goes solid at my retreat, and he takes a few calming breaths. I’ve never seen him like this. Like he’s about to lose it. It’s probably because the woman he thinks he loves deceived him.

Taking me by surprise, he picks me up in his arms and pulls me close to him. He buries his face in my neck and I feel his warm lips on my skin. This big beautiful man is engulfing me in his strength and need, and it’s almost more than I can bear.

“I didn’t mean to scare you, kitten. I’m sorry.” His words are muffled against me, but I hear them. Unable to help myself, I wrap my arms around his neck and run my fingers through his short hair. I feel some of the tension leave his body, and the quaking intensity of him lessens.

“I saw it in your eyes. You thought about running, just taking off, didn’t you?” He leans back and looks at me, and I nod. His hands are at my back and his fingers dig into me like I might disappear right in front of him. “I told you I love you.”

I have to bite my lip to keep it from trembling. Every time he says that, it’s like a balm on my soul, making me feel not so dirty.

“You think I don’t know you want to hurt your father? Kitten, I don’t miss one fucking thing about you. I know every breath you take.”

I shake my head. “It’s not like Miles. I don’t want to ruin him,” I tell Captain, trying to make him understand. It’s worse. I’m worse. I want something darker. It’s the only thing that will stop the guilt, stop the nightmares. But part of that’s wrong. Captain stops my nightmares now.

I have to make him see, to get this over with. I can’t take the torture of him walking out. I want it done already. “I watched my mother die right in front of me. I stood there and did nothing. Then I ran.” Like I wanted to do again tonight. To run as far away from all of my self-hate. I’m always trying to run from the memories, knowing that it’s impossible.

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