Unleashed volume 4 unlea.., p.7

Unleashed: Volume 4 (Unleashed #4), page 7

 

Unleashed: Volume 4 (Unleashed #4)
 


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  “Maybe a friend came to pick her up?” Bill scratched his chin, then looked at me like he was sorry to say it. “You don’t think Lymon…?”

  My fists balled up in rage. “You mean the rat who was trying to buy this place?”

  “Never thought much of the man,” Bill admitted. “Never did like the way he kept sniffing around here. Maybe he didn’t want to take no for an answer.”

  I didn’t say a word. I didn’t need to, I was already off and running. I don’t know how I drove my truck without getting into an accident, rage and adrenaline pumping through me so fast I think I could have plowed straight through a brick building. I didn’t know exactly where I was headed when I started out. Then, suddenly, I did. I knew where I’d look for her first. I just hoped I’d find her. And that I wasn’t too late.

  I’d had a bad feeling about that old, abandoned warehouse right from the start. I hadn’t liked watching her go in there. At the time, I hadn’t known what she was up to but I’d put it together. That was where Lymon had her sign papers. That was where he liked to conduct business. In that remote, anonymous, fall-down building, who knew what kind of transactions went down? I couldn’t let him drag Kara into any part of it.

  Dust flying, I don’t even remember parking the car before I leapt out. I’d never done speed, but I imagine it would feel something like that, fueled, powered, unstoppable. I didn’t knock, just slammed the door open and raced in like a madman.

  The goon went down easy. The big guys usually did, especially when they were standing around stupid with their pants down. Motherfucker. Slow and dumb, he didn’t even have time to duck my jab to his throat. He sank down to his knees and I took him out with a vicious sideswipe to his jaw. I’d learned a lot in life about how to make a man go down hard and quick.

  But I hadn’t expected a knife fight. The squat little fuck in the tan suit behind me got a poke at me while I was dealing with the big guy. I figured the little guy was Lymon. He looked like a Lymon, all greasy and mean. He knifed me in the back and it hurt like a bitch but pain didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was tied up on the chair next to me with her shirt split down the middle. I’d kill the bastards.

  I spun around at Lymon and lunged for his throat. Like the coward he was, he tried to turn and run but somehow managed to trip on his own pants, then fall onto his own goddamned knife. No wonder he needed a bodyguard, the guy was a goddamned idiot. The knife got him near the groin and that seemed fitting, him doubled over and squealing like a stuck pig while he bled on the floor.

  I was on Kara in less than a heartbeat, rushing to untie her, gathering her up in my arms. I didn’t think I’d ever forget the chilling sight of her on that chair. She was shivering and shaking, crying and incoherent.

  “Are you all right?” I kept repeating, over and over. I don’t think I would have been able to understand her even if she had been able to answer me straight and clear. Rage and fear and relief all raced through my body and mind.

  I called the cops and we waited for them in my truck, inside with the doors closed where I could help her into one of my sweatshirts and hold her tight. Blood oozed from the wound on my back, but I could tell it wasn’t too bad. I’d need a couple of stitches, that was all. All the while I smoothed her hair back and held her safe, I kept my eye on those murderous, vile motherfuckers. I could see them both through the open door of the warehouse, slumped on the floor.

  Kara didn’t say much at the police station. She didn’t have to. Her statement was brief and cut me to the quick. They’d grabbed her at the ranch while I’d slept. I didn’t know how I’d ever close my eyes again. They’d taken her and tied her up and had been about to violate her before I showed up.

  Turned out I hadn’t killed either of them. Shame. I’d put them both in the hospital, but they were both still able to draw breath and exist in this world. After a brief, blinding flash of fury—I’d wanted to end those evil fucks—I tried to focus on the good. I’d gotten there in time. Kara had been terrified, but I’d stopped them from carrying out any of their threats.

  But how did you recover from something like that? Would she ever? I didn’t know how to begin. What would it take to help her start trusting and relaxing again, my sweet, innocent Kara? She was the one person I knew who always saw the best in life. How could she keep that up, now that she knew otherwise?

  How had I let this happen to her? Because, deep down, I knew this was my fault. I kept my arm around her while she sipped hot coffee and sat wrapped in a blanket at the police station. For now, she pressed against me, seeming to take comfort in my nearness. But once the dust settled, how long could that last?

  Ultimately, she’d see that I’d put her in harm’s way. If I’d helped her right away, she would never have had to go to Lymon. But I hadn’t helped her right away. I’d withheld my money when she’d needed it most. I was responsible for what had happened and I hated myself for it. At some point I had to think she’d come to hate me for it, too.

  §

  I took Kara to my luxury property in Bozeman. I owned the type of rustic lodge that had heated floors and piped-in music in every room. It seemed paltry, a pathetic offering given what she’d been through. I cancelled all my meetings for the next week. I’d never taken a vacation, not once in my life. Now I had urgent business to attend to still, but it all revolved around one woman.

  The first two days she slept. I kept checking in on her, and sometimes I’d sit in a chair by the bed. Was it normal to sleep like that? I figured she’d wake up sooner or later, right?

  Friday afternoon she finally made her way out of the bedroom, pulling a blanket around her shoulders as she walked.

  “Hey.” I came to her side, embracing her. “You’re up.”

  “Sorry I stayed in bed so long.” She looked down, shaking her head.

  “Kara, don’t be ridiculous.” I led her into the kitchen. I had no skills, no idea how to make a meal, but I could order food for us, anything she wanted. “Maybe some soup?”

  She shrugged, not seeming all that interested. An hour later I had five different kinds of soups delivered to our door, from tomato basil bisque to chicken noodle, plus fresh crusty French baguettes and ice cream for dessert.

  She’d gone back to bed. I stood there like an idiot, holding up bags like I’d proudly just come back from the hunt. Modern day caveman wanted to show off his take-out kill. Only my woman was fast asleep.

  Time, I reminded myself. She needed time and, apparently, a whole lot of sleep. She looked so peaceful in the bed and I wanted her to feel exactly like that, entirely safe and secure. I wanted to shower her with rose petals, make her feel like a princess, romance her like she’d never been before. But first I had to let her sleep. Then I had to see if she’d let me do the rest.

  But a nasty voice in my head asked how could she? How could she forgive and forget? This was all my fault. If I’d helped her straight away, none of this would have happened. Instead, I’d been selfish, and I’d let her fall victim to the kinds of assholes who preyed on the vulnerable. I knew all about those kinds of scumbags. I’d grown up surrounded by them. But I’d still gone and thrown them the one person I cherished more than anyone else in the world.

  I was a dawg. The best thing to do would be to walk away. In no way shape or form was I good enough for her. But that was the problem. I wasn’t even a good enough man to leave her.

  Saturday morning I made her pancakes. They sucked. I had no idea how to do it and I burned them all until she came over, turned down the heat and flipped them, nice and easy.

  “I wanted to cook for you,” I grumbled.

  “But I want to eat,” she teased me. Teasing was a good sign.

  She ate with a fantastic appetite I relished seeing. Afterwards, she stretched like a cat waking from a long nap. I followed her gaze out the window. Sunlight shone through the majestic trees, the first day of July.

  “Would you like to take a walk?” I suggested. This luxury compound had it all, fro
m a manicured, flat one-mile nature loop to 20 mile hikes on trails up rugged mountains. I figured the former would be the better choice for today.

  “Fresh air sounds good,” she agreed. I hated how frail and wan she looked, her skin almost translucently pale. Guilt stabbed through me, hurting much more than Lymon’s knife ever could. The wound on my back was healing nicely, but I didn’t know when or even if I’d get to see the bloom back in Kara’s cheeks.

  We strolled in the mid-morning sun, ambling along a path. She stopped to look at the flowers, the type of moss growing on a tree, a bird on a low branch. I wouldn’t have noticed any of it had she not been beside me.

  We came to a bench, strategically placed at a vantage point to enjoy a view of a meadow and mountains beyond. I found a mix of cultivation and wild worked best, with well-placed opportunities for guests to admire the wilderness. I’d never enjoyed any of it so much as I did sitting with her at that moment.

  “Do you own all this?” she asked.

  I held her hand in mine, trying not to squeeze too tight. “Well, not the mountains. But all this,” I gestured around us to the grounds. “Yes.”

  “It’s gorgeous.”

  “You like it?” I took pleasure in her praise.

  “It’s perfect, Declan.” But she didn’t look happy. I braced myself as she took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m sorry you had to spend money on my family’s ranch. I can see it’s nothing like the type of property you usually buy. Nothing compared to this.”

  “Kara, it’s yours.” I couldn’t believe she was dwelling on that. I brought her close, gathering her to me in the fold of my arm. “You’re the rightful owner. All I did was get it back for you.”

  “No” She shook her head. “I feel guilty.”

  “You feel guilty.” I shook my head with a low laugh. She was unbelievable. “Kara, you have nothing to feel guilty about. Buying your ranch was nothing.”

  She sniffed in disagreement. “It wasn’t nothing.”

  “It didn’t exactly set me back financially.”

  She looked at me. “Are you a millionaire?”

  I couldn’t help but laugh. She said it as if being a millionaire meant anything anymore. She was so sweet.

  “You are, aren’t you?” she asked.

  “More than that.” I didn’t want to brag, but maybe some numbers would help her get perspective.

  “More?” Her eyes widened.

  “It’s difficult to calculate my exact net worth. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

  “But how much are you worth?” she pressed, clearly curious. “Like, two million?”

  “Last I spoke with my finance guy, he projected that my assets totaled near thirty million.”

  “What?!?” She shoved me.

  “Yes.” I laughed, enjoying her reaction.

  “How did you do that?” She looked incredulous.

  “I’ve made aggressive, highly successful investments. One after another. It’s accumulated, fast.”

  “I’ll say!”

  We sat in silence, enjoying the view, a bird twittering overhead. I searched for the right words. Fists and fucking, those came naturally to me. Feeling emotions and expressing them, that took work.

  “It’s yours, Kara.”

  “What?” she asked, turning toward me.

  “Everything I have. It’s yours, whatever you want, whatever you need.”

  “Declan,” she scoffed, chucking me again with her elbow, clearly not taking me seriously.

  “I mean it, Kara.” I clasped her hands in mine and looked her straight in the eyes. “All of this, it’s nothing without you. I want to give it. I want to share it with you.”

  She smiled at me and kissed me softly on the lips. I held back. She needed me to go slow, to give her time to recover.

  She stroked my cheek and just about killed me as she said, “Declan, don’t you know that all I want is you?”

  §

  The next day we hung out with my property manager, Brett, his wife and their new baby. Only two and a half weeks old, she looked so tiny and pink that I was afraid to go too close, as if I might somehow break her. But Kara tucked right in, finding a comfy place on the sofa next to the new mom and holding the baby like a pro.

  Kara looked up at me shyly and smiled. She looked so beautiful and natural like that, a baby in her arms. I couldn’t help but smile back. I didn’t know what was happening between us, what kind of craziness she was making me feel, but I did know it felt good.

  That night Kara and I made a simple dinner in the cabin, pasta with meat sauce and red wine. Out of nowhere, she asked me about my family.

  “So you really don’t have anyone?” she asked, seeming to feel the weight of it.

  “Thanks for putting it like that,” I joked as I took a sip of wine. I didn’t like pity parties. I wanted to lighten things up. “Not pulling any punches, are you?”

  She nearly choked on her forkful of spaghetti. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she sputtered, blushing.

  “No?” I couldn’t help but tease again. It was great to see her energy returning, some of our usual banter rising again to the surface.

  “I don’t mean to be insensitive about it,” she insisted.

  I nearly snorted. “You don’t need to wear kid gloves with me, Kara. I’ve been on my own most of my life. I’m used to it.”

  “But your father might still be alive,” she continued. My hand tensed on the stem of my wine glass. I didn’t like where she was going with this. Let sleeping dogs lie, and if anyone was a dog it was my deadbeat dad.

  Not picking up on my tension, or choosing to ignore it, she went on. “You could find out who he is, at least. You’ve got the resources. If you hired a private investigator they could probably locate him. He might be living near here right this minute.”

  “Kara.” I exhaled, trying not to let my anger rise to the surface. She’d just been through a severe trauma. There was no need to yell at her. I needed to calm and soothe her, not frighten and intimidate. “I’m not interested.”

  “But don’t you wonder sometimes?” she persisted. “What’s he like? Maybe he looks just like you? Maybe you guys have the same—”

  “Enough.” I looked at her sternly. “It may be hard for you to understand. I know your father and you were tight. But I’m not tracking down that bastard. I’m not going to call him up and beg him to take me to lunch. See if he wants to toss around a baseball in the park.”

  “It doesn’t have to be like that, Declan.” She looked pained.

  “It’s not going to happen.” That wound had scabbed over long ago. No good could come of picking it open.

  “OK.” She sighed. “I’ve made you talk about something you don’t want to. Now I’m going to make myself.” I noticed her hand shook as she brought a napkin to her lips, dabbing away non-existent red sauce. “Have you heard anything about…” She paused, her lips trembling.

  “Yes,” I answered quickly, wanting to save her the pain of having to say Lymon’s name. Shit-sucking scumbag would be more appropriate. “I haven’t wanted to bring it up.”

  “I know.” She shuddered, but gave me a frail smile. “You’ve been taking such good care of me.”

  I winced. She was being too generous. I was at fault. For all of it. At least I could ease her mind on one point. “You don’t have to worry about either of them again, Kara. They’re both going to go to prison for a long time.”

  “Really?” She sat up, looking stronger, buoyed by the news. “Even though they didn’t…they didn’t get around to—”

  “Yes,” I answered again, suppressing another wince. I couldn’t bear to think of what she’d suffered. “Turns out they were wanted for a lot of things. They were not good men.”

  She grimaced and brought her hands to her face. “Do I even want to know?”

  “No.” I honestly didn’t think she did. A prostitution ring, a meth lab and distribution network. Lymon had not played by the rules. Now he’d pa
y for it, year after year in a maximum security prison. I hoped they locked him up and threw away the key.

  She burst out into tears and I rushed to her, gathering her in my arms.

  “Kara, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” Her sobs wracked her body, her ribs heaving and the anguish pouring out of her. It nearly broke me, made me wild, frantic to comfort her. “I should have gotten there sooner. You never would have been there if I’d helped you in the first place. I never should have—”

  “Declan, stop,” she managed. “Just hold me.” I brought her to the couch and we stayed like that for a while, her crying onto my chest while I stroked her hair. After she fell asleep I moved us to the bed and she clung to my side, molding her body to mine.

  That night she woke once, terrified, fighting off a nightmare. I held her to my chest and whispered soothing words, feeling her frantic breathing slowly regain its resting rhythm. She stilled, ear against the beating of my heart while I played with her long, silky locks.

  “I’m sorry,” I murmured, knowing she was asleep, wondering if I could ever say it enough. I was sorry about so many things, and I kept adding new items to the list. Like our dinner conversation. She’d tried to encourage me to find my father. I’d shut her down like a meddling nuisance. She was just trying to do what she thought was right.

  We were both orphans, I realized. Neither one of us had a mother or a father. But now, we could have each other. If she’d let me.

  Kara made me think crazy thoughts, the kind I’d never had before. With her, I could imagine having children, beautiful kids who looked just like her and acted just like her and maybe every now and then would tolerate their big, gruff father.

  I still knew I didn’t deserve her, but I knew I wanted to try. I wanted to try like hell the rest of my life to be the right man for her. I didn’t know if she’d let me, if she’d say yes, but now that I’d almost lost her, three times over, I knew I couldn’t take that pain again. I had to have Kara by my side every day for the rest of our lives. What before had seemed impossible now seemed as necessary as breathing air. How could I hem and haw, pace and worry about whether I was the marrying kind when I felt deep in every bone of my body that we belonged together? Click, like two puzzle pieces. Done. No need to think it over, wonder why or how and whether, it just was the truth.

 
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