Thornton’s voice was ominously soft when he spoke. “If you’re saying this is your way of telling me you want to die—”

Aidan winced.

“I’m saying I’m giving you the push you need,” Ethan clarified, “to man up and get rid of the competition before it gets rid of you.” When Thornton only kept staring at him, he added persuasively, “Come on, Thorn. You know you needed this, and I’d never have interfered if not for another guy coming into the picture. Whether you want to admit it or not, whoever that guy was – he obviously meant something to Blake, and that makes him a real threat. You just can’t afford to keep dragging your feet about Blake, and you know it.”

Aidan saw Thornton’s hardened expression slowly relax into bland inscrutability even as the people around them started recovering from their shock and laughter began rippling from table to table. Even those Thornton used to terrify out of their wits now had the guts to look and grin at his twin’s direction.

Was it because seeing Thornton drunk made his twin appear more human, Aidan wondered, or could it be something else, such as the fact that Thornton could act as idiotic as anyone else, once sexual attraction came into play?

Either way, Aidan was secretly glad as the rest of them. It was nice – extremely nice, actually, being able to see Thornton act a little more human and a little less, well (to borrow Blake’s own words) John-Wick-y. For some time now, Aidan had privately worried over his twin’s increasingly distant attitude towards life.

But that obviously wasn’t going to be a problem anymore. Or at least not as long as Blake remained in the picture.

Aidan caught Ethan’s eye and gave his baby brother an imperceptible nod. Good job.

Ethan’s hazel eyes gleamed. Always happy to prank.

“Quit it, you assholes,” Thornton said even though his gaze remained on the video, which was now on its fifth playback. “There’s nothing to feel smug about.” In the corner of his eye, Thornton caught sight of his brothers simply smirking. Assholes, he thought again, but try as he might, the anger just wasn’t there.

Because Ethan was right.

While he would’ve liked more time to better analyze his feelings and see if they were indeed real, the fucking truth was that he could no longer afford to do so. The moment another man entered the picture, that had been it. He had known deep inside that he couldn’t and wouldn’t take the risk of losing her.

She was his.

Had wanted to be his from the very start.

His, Thornton thought.

He had never wanted any woman to be his before, had never even seen the appeal of claiming any kind of possession towards a woman before. But if he were to think along those lines with Blake in mind…

The concept of ownership didn’t just become palatable but desirable as well.

Urgently so.

He looked at Aidan. “Can you get your contacts to look that guy up?”

Aidan only smiled.

“You’re already on it,” Thornton said after a moment. “Aren’t you?”

“Ethan and I thought of it the same time,” Aidan said. “We’re your brothers, after all.”

“Thanks,” Thornton said gruffly.

“If you think your life had already changed a lot when Blake started working for you,” Ethan warned his older brother with a grin, “brace yourself, because it’s only going to get a lot more complicated from here.”

Just as Elizabeth told her, the library’s small dining hall was crowded with locals, and all of them turned to face Blake the moment she entered. They were all grinning, too, and for one moment Blake was very much bewildered—

“Stop looking at other men. Can’t I be enough for you?”

That was Thornton’s voice, and it was coming from…the TV?

Her stunned gaze flew to the huge screen hanging in one corner of the hall, and her jaw dropped when she saw Thornton and her own face staring back at her.

“Oh my God!”

Everyone burst into laughter while Blake could only stare as footage of last night finally ended…before looping back to the start. She gasped again, realizing that this was what had probably been playing the whole morning—

Strong, hard arms wrapped around her waist from behind, and Blake stiffened in shock even as the people around them started hooting, whistling, and yelling encouragement.

A moment later, she felt the arms around her waist tightening and pulling her towards…

Oh!

Her back had hit a wall of chest just as she felt her head being tucked under someone’s chin.

What was happening?

Thornton could feel Blake’s confusion growing, and his lips pressed together in a futile effort to contain his amusement.

“Mr. Blackwood?” Her voice was a faint whisper, and it brought out something diabolically wicked in him.

Lifting his chin off her head, he let his lips brush the curve of her ear and was rewarded by a loud squeak that had their audience laughing.


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