Seduced, page 18part #3 of Surrender Series
“They are wise women. ” She smirked, but her cheeks were tinged with red.
“I told them I intend to have you back. ”
“That isn’t your decision to make,” she said, looking him deep in the eyes.
Her strength was an aphrodisiac. He could take her right there, and then do it again and again. Rafe knew he would never grow bored with Ari, never look at another woman after having her in his life. She was all he needed, plus some.
“You want me, Ari. It’s in your eyes, in the way your body tenses when we are in the same room together. You want this just as badly as I do. I understand why you are suspicious of me, but don’t let the past ruin our future. Yes, I made mistakes, and it’s not easy for me to admit that, but I wasn’t such a monster that I don’t deserve your forgiveness. Isn’t it clear that I’ve repented?”
He was laying his heart out there for her to do with what she wanted.
Ari looked at him for a long moment, as if trying to gauge whether he was speaking the truth or not. He had never been so honest, so open with anyone, and he hoped that she could see that.
“I think you mean what you say, Rafe. I believe you do care about me, but I don’t believe you are able to change enough that we can make this work. You have chosen a lifestyle that is at odds with what I want. You choose to act in ways that aren’t acceptable to me. Too much has happened that can’t be fixed or forgotten. We can’t make this work. We’d get back together, have some steaming sex, and then end up where we left off two years ago. My heart would be broken, and you’d be restless. ”
“Obviously, I haven’t allowed you to know me well enough, Ari. I’ve told you before that once I make my mind up about something, though, I am sure in my decision. I’ve made my mind up that I can’t live without you. I have tried force, and I have tried seduction. It seems neither is working. I will just have to find a better way. ”
To judge by the intake of her breath, he was getting through to her. Rafe leaned back but refused to release her gaze. She was his — she just didn’t realize it yet.
* * * * *
Ari wanted to accept what Rafe was offering. Offering? Ha! Rafe didn’t really offer anything. He demanded, he forced, he even cajoled on occasion. He didn’t offer and he didn’t ask.
Yes, he’d been better since coming back into her life, but he was still Rafe, still the domineering businessman with a kinky side that made her heart thunder beneath her br**sts. The problem was that she did want him.
She’d been able to think of nothing else since he’d taken her in that dark library. Never again would she be able to study in any library without her heart racing and heat flooding her. One thing that Rafe would never be short on was charisma. He made her burn long after the passion had abated, long after she’d found exquisite release.
Was there any point in continuing this conversation? He wasn’t going to listen to what she was telling him. He’d made up his mind that they’d be together, and he wouldn’t accept anything less than that.
If she had still been angry, this would have been so much easier. She could have ignored him, or charged him with harassment. If she had felt nothing at all toward him, it would have been easier still. She could have pretended he was just a passing stranger — shrugged off the look in his eye, and the allure of his body.
But no, her traitorous heart and hormones had been all aflutter ever since he’d set foot inside her classroom. She wanted him with a desire that ran alongside the blood in her veins, and she still loved him, even after two years of trying to forget him, of trying to despise him.
“Right now, I’m so tired, I can’t process any thoughts at all,” she said, confusion seeming to hold sway among the myriad emotions she was feeling.
“I’m sorry. I know this has all been too much. I shouldn’t push you right now,” Rafe said as he reached out and took her hand, bringing it to his lips and gently kissing it before releasing her fingers.
Ari didn’t know how to respond, didn’t know what to do next. Her brain was too muddled at this point. The best thing would be for her to have a bit of time to rest; then, perhaps, if she woke up refreshed, she would be able to process all that he’d said, and figure out what she wanted to do next.
“I’m going to lie down,” she said. She pushed the rest of her food away, stood up, and walked past him.
When he let her walk by, she was surprised. She’d expected some kind of protest.
As she climbed beneath the covers of his comfortable guest bed, she shivered, the stress from the last week hitting her like a ton of textbooks. Thinking about the possibility of Lia being hurt only added to her body’s tremors.
She was beyond the point of tears, beyond everything as she lay there in pain. It was all too much. When the bed shifted, she tensed, ready to flay Rafe alive.
“I just want to hold you, Ari. I can see that you’re close to falling apart,” Rafe whispered. He cradled her from behind, his hand coming over the top of her waist and pulling her against him.
She remained stiff as she tried to think of a suitably scathing retort. But she was so worn out, the words wouldn’t come.
“I don’t need you to hold me, Rafe. I’m fine. ” It would have sounded so much better if her teeth hadn’t been chattering.
“We need each other right now. We can go back to a standoff when this is all over,” he said, his breath rushing along her neck as he spoke. She’d sat there and comforted him when they’d first gotten on the jet and that had played havoc with her body. Allowing him to offer her reassurance and solace in this fashion didn’t seem a particularly good idea.
Ari tried to resist his comforting, but as her body molded itself against his, the shaking stopped, and she began to relax. His hand gently glided along her stomach, making lazy circles on top of her shirt.
She felt warmth spread through her as his touch began to ignite a flame within. She didn’t want that, even if her perfidious body had other ideas.
“Please, please don’t wiggle your behind. I just want to hold you,” he whispered, and she felt his hardness press against her backside.
Somehow, that relaxed her completely and she closed her eyes. It was insane, but she did feel safe in his arms; even though he was the one who’d caused so much of her pain, she still enjoyed the comfort only he seemed able to give.
For now, she couldn’t think about it. For now, she just needed to sleep. When she woke, the day had to be better. It certainly couldn’t get any worse.
“Do you see that?”
“Yes,” Shane told Lia. Neither of their voices was excited — just accepting.
In the distance, they’d spotted a helicopter. Both of them had known it was only a matter of time before Rafe found them. They were sure there was an army out searching — literally. The two of them could have been missing for a year and Rafe still wouldn’t give up. That was just who he was, and one of the reasons they loved him so much.
“Should we light the fire?” Lia asked with some sadness, a real question in her tone.
Shane looked at Lia with shock. Neither of them was ready to go, but they couldn’t make their family suffer while wondering whether they were alive or dead. Pure passion had its limits.
“I love being here with you, too, Lia, but just because we’re going back to the real world doesn’t mean that anything will change. ” He placed his finger beneath her chin and lifted her head so she had no choice but to gaze into his eyes.
“That’s exactly what it means, Shane. We’ve been relying on each other here. We won’t have to do that when we get back to our lives. Reality will set in, and…” She didn’t know how to complete her sentence.
“And I will still want to spend every waking second with you. ”
“It’s not that, Shane. You
“I screwed up, Lia, and it cost me two years’ time of being with you. Hell, I screwed up by resisting you so long before that. I’ll earn your trust again. You’ll see. ”
The chopper was now close enough that they heard a faint whirring and thudding in the distance. Shane released her and moved over to their fire pit. Looking back at her for only a second, he lit the dry tinder. It immediately went up in flames and the wood caught fire.
Once the blaze was hot enough, he threw on the greenery, causing a wall of smoke to lift high in the air. The search parties couldn’t miss their signal.
Lia held out her hand as he walked back to her and they faced the chopper in the distance. It didn’t take long for it to make a beeline in their direction.
As the machine approached their island and then began to set down, Lia had to fight tears. It was insane. She didn’t cry. She wasn’t one of those girls who broke down — she was strong and independent. She didn’t need a man to complete her life.
When she wanted something, she wasn’t afraid to take it. Coming from a loving home and having great parents and siblings, she’d learned to be strong and brave, and right now she hated herself just a little bit. She hated that she was surrendering to what she considered the ultimate in weakness.
Her happiness was not dependent upon anyone else. By allowing these tears, allowing this feeling of frailty, she was letting herself down — she was depending too much on Shane’s love.
Her warnings to herself were doing her no good as the large helicopter landed, the propellers spinning, whipping up the sand around them. Neither Shane nor Lia budged from their spot. They just continued clinging to each other.
With a firm resolve, Lia pushed down the tears, refusing to let them fall as the chopper door opened and a man stepped out, sporting a huge grin as he rushed over to the two of them.
“Are you Lia Palazzo?”
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Seriously? Were there that many stranded women on these islands with a brother who would tear up the entire ocean to find her? Did he honestly just ask who she was?
“Yes,” she finally answered when she knew she could do it with a straight face. The man’s smile faded as he looked from her to Shane. He’d probably assumed they would be ecstatic to be found.
He’d assumed wrong.
“Um…well…if you want to come with me…” he said, obviously at a loss for words.
“Let me get the bag,” Shane said as his hand trailed down her back, falling off at the bottom of her spine.
“Thank you,” Lia said to the rescuer, who held out his arm, appearing afraid that she might turn around and run back into the safety of the island. No. She wouldn’t do that. Rafe would have no problem sending the entire army after her now that he had her location. She was sure the pilot was calling in now, ending the search and notifying her family that she’d been found.
Her heart broke a little for Shane because he had no one to be notified or rejoice besides her family.
As she reached the helicopter, she turned back toward Shane as he jogged to her, and something inside her tore open. All of their talks, all that he’d said to her finally hit, and when it did, it hit with the force of a tropical storm in the waters around Italy.
She now realized why he’d done what he’d done, and she was filled with emotion as she once again fought tears.
Of course he had gone to Rafe. Shane had nobody he could count on outside of Rafe. He couldn’t risk losing that friendship, not for anything, not even for love, especially a new love, an untested, unsure romance… Rafe was his family, his brother, the one person who had been there for him when the rest of the world had forgotten he was there, when his parents had done worse than abandon him — had made him feel he shouldn’t even be alive.
As Shane reached her, she threw her arms around him, the wind from the chopper blades making the sand swirl around them and whipping her hair into reckless spirals.
“I’m sorry, Shane. I’m so sorry,” she said, and she leaned forward and took his lips, trying to convey her feelings, her love for him, through the kiss.
He looked puzzled for a moment, but he didn’t hesitate to pull her close and kiss her back. His tongue chased hers into her mouth, his hands spread across her back, and the two of them existed inside their very own bubble.
Why couldn’t she have figured this out sooner? Why must they have an audience when all she wanted to do was please him, love him, show him that he could count on her?
“Um, Ms. Palazzo, we need to be leaving. ”
Lia wasn’t happy about the interruption, but she reluctantly released Shane and turned to the pilot.
“Of course,” she said, holding tight to Shane’s hand as he assisted her inside.
She sat beside Shane and looked out the window as their piece of paradise disappeared. Neither of them said a word as the island became nothing but a dot on the horizon. Shane had lost his yacht, and they’d been stranded for five nights, but it hadn’t felt as if they were. It had felt like a vacation, the best one she’d ever been on.
“This is only the beginning, Lia,” Shane said as she leaned her head against his shoulder and fought the overwhelming emotions vying for a foothold inside of her.
Hope rose in her chest. Maybe he was right. Maybe it was a first step, just the beginning of a brand new chapter in their lives.
Rafe rushed forward as Lia and Shane stepped off the helicopter. He might have appeared confident when he’d spoken to Ari, but he’d been terrified. When he’d climbed into the small bed and held her, it had been as much for himself as for her.
His sisters meant everything to him, and he couldn’t imagine what the world would be like without them in it. It would be an unforgivable sin for life to go on as normal if something were to happen to either of them.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he said as he pulled Lia into his arms and squeezed her tight.
“I’m just fine, Rafe. Thank you for finding us,” she said, looking up with shining eyes. He was too relieved at having her safe to realize how off her reaction to being rescued was.
Rafe finally released her, then grabbed Shane and gave him a bear hug, surprising both himself and Shane. They weren’t normally the type of guys to hug, but Rafe had been truly worried about his friend. Losing him was something else that was not to be borne.
“I thought I was never going to see you again!” Shane was barely able to brace himself for impact as Rachel came flying toward them, knocking him out of her way as she grabbed hold of Lia and held on so tight, he was sure Lia couldn’t breathe.
Though the two got into their fights, and they might have wanted to rip each other apart on occasion, they truly did love one another. Rafe felt terrible that it had taken him so long to get to Italy, leaving Rachel all alone in her panic over her missing sister. He’d never once considered that Lia or Shane could be dead — well, maybe once — but he was afraid of how long it might take to locate them.
“I’m fine, Rachel. I promise. ”
“Don’t ever do that again. Do you hear me?” Rachel gasped as she let Lia go, then turned toward Shane and wrapped her arms around him. “You either, Shane!”
“It wasn’t like we had a lot of choice in the matter,” Lia said with a laugh.
“How can you laugh about this? Are you crazy? Did you get hurt out there? Did you have anything to eat? Could you find clean water? Were there snakes? Poisonous berries? Wild animals? Rafe, we need to take them right to the hospital,” Rachel insisted, not giving either Lia or Shane time to answer her rapidly fired questions.
“We’re fine, Rachel. We had plenty to eat and drink,” Lia said. “None of it fatal, as you can see. ”
“No. Rachel is right. I want you to be looked over,” Shane interrupted, finally able to say something over the frantic voices of the two sisters.
“I’m fine. I don’t need a doctor,” Lia insisted, shooting a warning look Shane’s way. Of course, he ignored it.
“You hit your head twice, Lia. I want you to go to the hospital. ”
All eyes turned toward Lia as if they were expecting to see blood shooting from her scalp at Shane’s declaration. Her vicious glare let him know he was in major trouble for spilling those beans. Logically, she knew it couldn’t hurt to get looked at, but she just wanted to lie down in a real bed — with Shane next to her.
She grumbled beneath her breath, but she knew she’d lost. If she refused to go to the doctor, they’d pester her to the point that she’d need a psychiatrist.
“Fine. But, let’s get it over with. Are Mom and Dad coming?”
“Yes, I was able to get ahold of them, and they’re on their way in now,” Rafe answered.
Lia sighed with relief. Even as an adult, she found it nice to have a mom and dad when things went terribly wrong. No matter how strong she wanted them to all believe she was, she’d gone through quite an ordeal.
Rafe turned when he realized that Ari hadn’t said a word. He found her standing back, a sweet smile on her face, but also appearing uncomfortable. He took a step toward her, wondering what was wrong, why she wasn’t by his side. Before he had a chance, Lia yelled.
“Ari! I didn’t know you were here!” Wasting no time, Lia rushed over to her friend.
“I didn’t want to interrupt. You’re with your family,” Ari replied, as she put her arms around Lia, Ari’s relief was obvious. Rafe saw the tears she was managing to blink back.
“You are family, Ari. You know that Rachel and I have claimed you for our sister,” she said, her tone serious.
“And I have claimed you, but still…”
Rafe hated the longing in Ari’s voice, hated that she had been lonely for many years. He’d so often taken his large family for granted, and Ari only had her mother.
Ari didn’t know it, but Rafe had kept an eye out for Sandra these past couple of years. He’d genuinely liked her mother, and he hadn’t been able to walk away pretending he’d never met her, known her, and grown to care for her. He hadn’t bothered her…much, but he’d worried ever since she’d gone through her two major health scares.
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