His hand paused, but began to move again after a moment. It glided up and down from my neck to my hip. Over and over.
“I thought I could keep you. I was too selfish to give you up, but watching you through my meeting with the council, then knowing how you were going to deal with your father, I got a glimpse into the future. I saw myself. I saw my mother. I saw you being stuck in this world. Me. Tanner. Brooke. Jonah. We were born into this world. We can’t get out, even if we wanted to, but the level of ugliness this world thrives on, I don’t want that for you.”
I didn’t want to hear this, but I couldn’t move away. I was trying. I wanted to tell him to save it all, stow it, and I wanted to call for a nurse to make him leave.
But I did none of that.
“It took me four days to let you go. I thought about it over and over. Every time I thought I could walk away from you, I’d end up reaching for you again, and then that last day—God.” He expelled a ragged sound. His hand pressed harder against me, shaking. “You have to know I ripped my own heart out when I said those words. And they were lies. I just needed you to go, be free of this life as much as you could.”
A sob caught in his voice. “I don’t deserve you, Riley. The reasons you fought against me were the reasons I had to let you go. I had to. You might not think you deserve a normal life, but you do. You deserve that and more. You deserve the goddamn moon and stars and all the cheesy lines in the world, because it’s true. You are my goodness. My redemption. My lifeline. Jesus, you woke something good in me that I never knew was there, and I realized every time I held you that I was destroying you. Little by little. The more goodness you gave to me, the more darkness I gave back. I was changing you. I have changed you, and now this.”
His hand jerked, but then began rubbing in a slow circle. “I knew you wanted out. I knew about the houses, but I didn’t realize you were intending to disappear until the Network called.”
I tensed. “What?”
My chest squeezed again. If the Network called him, then…
“Your friends tried to leave. They caught ’em and alerted me. Jonah was already down here for another matter, so I sent him to stop you. He tried to tell you I was coming back, that I had things to tell you, but he said some homeless guys started fighting right next to you, and you got pushed.”
He stopped for a moment, then spoke again in a raspy voice. “I was on the plane when he called and said you were in the hospital. The doctor told me about the baby, and holy fuck, Riley.” His hand paused, trembling again. “Holy fuck, Riles. If I had lost you and the baby? Both of you?”
Every word tore at my soul.
The baby. He or she—I never found out which one.
The baby was gone.
I sobbed again; I couldn’t stop. Kai lifted me and cradled me in his arms.
A part of me wanted to resist him. He had hurt me so much, but feeling his tears on my skin, I gave in. I didn’t have the strength to pull away. I just folded, pressed my head into his chest and cried.
He wrapped his arms around me, moving to rest against the headboard. He held me as if I were our lost child.
? ? ?
Eventually I cried myself out.
The nurse found us and went for the doctor. After a moment he came in, casting Kai a wary look as he moved to look out the window. His head bent, his hands in his pockets, he might’ve looked like he wasn’t listening, but I knew he was. He took in every question the doctor asked me, every vital they checked. All of it.
A car had hit my hip, not enough to crush me, but it sent my body flying in the air. As I landed, my stomach had hit another car parked along the street, which cushioned my fall, and then my head hit the side panel as I slid to a heap beside it.
I had bruises everywhere, a concussion. The impact with the second car had caused me to miscarry. They’d been concerned about internal bleeding, but after surgery, everything was patched up. Except the baby. Except the reason I had tried to leave everything behind.
That was the real reason behind getting out of my father’s business holdings, the reason I wanted to sell all the homes. The baby was why I needed to disappear.
Because my child would’ve grown up as a Bennett. He or she would’ve lived in the Bennett shadows, and I didn’t want that. It was the reason Kai had tried to let me go, and it was why I’d been trying to vanish.
I’d been close, but no. Thinking about it, I’d been sloppy.
If I’d truly wanted to disappear, I would’ve packed a bag, taken as much cash as possible, and left in the middle of the night. I knew how to leave, but instead, I’d been leaving a trail as wide as the ocean for Kai to find me.
Had I even wanted to go? Or had I wanted him to come for me?
I hurt from so much thinking. Hell. It hurt just to breathe.
My child. I ached at the loss.
Hearing another choking sob slip out, Kai turned from the window.
“Doctor, can we have a moment.”
It was no request. It was a command, and I heard one of the nurses sigh before footsteps shuffled over the floor, and the door closed behind them all.
“Riley,” Kai whispered.
I shrank back against the bed, shaking my head.
He ignored me, sliding his arms under the covers and lifting me, blankets and all, into his lap. He cradled me again, holding me through the night.
? ? ?
“The first moment I knew I loved you was when I saw you fighting against my guards and Tanner—that first day I told them to kidnap you.”
Kai was curled up behind me the next night as we lay on our sides on the bed. One of his legs rested between mine and his arm snaked around me, holding my hand just under my breasts. His breath warmed the back of my neck, teasing my hair.
He laughed softly. “There you were, in those nurse scrubs. Tanner got into the car, and you exploded out within two seconds. Man, you were fast. I’ve seen people fight, but you had such life, determination. You were going to take them down with you. That was the only way they were taking you.”
My heart ached, right under where our hands were entwined, but I couldn’t stop a small smile. “I didn’t know you were there.”
“I was. I got called away for a crisis, so that’s why we ended up meeting later, but I was there. I was supposed to stay in our vehicle, watch it all go down, but when I saw you fighting…” He tensed. His voice dropped. “There was no one else I wanted touching you. I didn’t want you hurt.”
The shadow. Someone had been coming from the side, and fast.
“That was you? You put me out?”
“Yeah.” Regret tinged his voice. He squeezed my hand. “I didn’t want to hurt you, but I needed you, and I didn’t want anyone else hurting you, or even touching you. That was me.”
“Brooke said she stopped asking for updates on me after I went into the 411. She said you were the one who kept watching me, not for her.”
His arms tightened, hugging me before relaxing again. “Yeah. You, you affected me the day we came to tell Brooke about Cord. I saw something in you as you held her when we drove up. It was the same the day we kidnapped you. There was such fight in you. It amazed me. I had seen so many wither in this lifestyle, crumble from the weight—and I’m not just talking mafia. I’m talking heartache in general. I knew your past. We’d researched you because of your dad’s connection to us. That’s why you were put with Brooke. My dad did that. If Bruce Bello did something out of line, he could threaten his little girl’s life.
“After a while I realized how much your dad didn’t give a shit about you, and that pissed me off. Parents are supposed to love and protect their kids. Your dad didn’t do that. Maybe I felt like you were already a part of us, just knowing that about you. Most other mafia families love their kids like anyone else does. Some don’t, but some do. It’s a shit part of life, but that’s how it is. Some get unlucky with parents like I did, and you did.
“Anyway, I don’t know what I was expecting when we drove up that day. Nothing, I guess. Just thought you’d be like all the other girls Brooke befriended, but you weren’t. There was a sadness in you, but there was more. So much more. Fight. Survival. A fuck-you look that I knew you gave to everyone, even if you didn’t know it. Hell, it might’ve been why your mom shipped you off. She knew you’d give it to your dad one day, and she couldn’t protect you against him.”
I shook my head, amazed. “I hated you after that day.”