He laughed again, a deep baritone coming from his chest. “I know. That made me like you even more. I liked that you weren’t scared of us. When you gave me that ‘fuck you’ look, I was proud. I thought, Good. Finally someone who’s strong enough to help Brooke. I knew you’d be there for her after that, no matter what, even if my sister didn’t deserve it.”
He shifted, sitting up as I rolled to my back. He loomed over me, tucking his elbow on the bed and resting his head on his hand. He met my gaze before trailing down to my lips. He traced a line with his finger over my lips, my chin, my throat, and between my breasts, encircling one of them, cupping it and running over my nipple. His eyes darkened. Dipping his head, I closed my eyes as he pushed up my hospital gown. I felt his mouth cover me there. His tongue circled my nipple, right where his thumb had been, and as he kept kissing me, his hand smoothed down my stomach.
My body warmed, reacting to his touch. He pushed some of the pain aside.
“God, Riley.” He raised his head again, meeting my eyes. “I love you. I think a part of me actually fell in love with you on the steps of your school. Another part fell when I saw you fighting my brother and our guards. And I kept falling for you every time you resisted me, until I was gone. I was completely in love with you when you fought me in the elevator.” He grinned. “Stop fucking fighting. You remember that?”
I did, and I might’ve laughed at the memory, but I ached.
I wanted his touch. I didn’t know how I was even feeling anything because of the drugs, but his touch was healing. I just wanted more of him, as if he could still make it all right again.
That was wishful thinking, or wishful feeling.
Tears blinded me, and I gasped. “Kai.”
He cursed under his breath, moving to hold me. Curling around me, spooning me, he pressed a kiss to my nape.
I reached for his hand on my waist, feeling…feeling… I felt the beginning of something right. I didn’t want that to go away.
I’d begun to fall back asleep when I heard him say again, “I love you.”
I couldn’t answer him, not yet. Even though he was making me feel better, there was still too much hurt. So instead, I entwined our fingers, sliding mine against his.
He squeezed my hand. I settled back against him, and I fell asleep.
There were whispers from the nurses as I was bundled up in a wheelchair, getting ready to leave. They’d been whispering for the last few days. Kai never left my side, and his guards never left him, so it was a nice circus because of that. I knew the doctor was slightly scared of Kai, but who wouldn’t be?
I hadn’t thought anyone knew who he was—I mean, he wasn’t a celebrity—until I heard one nurse telling another outside in the hallway, “That’s him. I’m telling you.”
“What?” Her friend had laughed, scoffing. “No way. Get real.”
“I’m telling you. It’s him. It was his sister who was missing a while back. You remember, the mafia princess. They showed his picture on the news. He’s in the mafia.”
“Come on,” her friend had murmured, sounding slightly less incredulous. “What are the chances?”
“Chances are good, Silvia. I’m telling you, it’s him.” A pause. “Look! There it is.”
“Oh my God.” Her friend had sucked in some air. “Holy shit. Holy shit!”
A hiss back. “I know!”
Kai had been curled up behind me that night, but he’d moved swiftly and silently. Easing out of bed, he walked to the door. “I’m aware that rumors and gossip are unavoidable, but move it along so you’re not disturbing my woman’s sleep.”
They had both gasped.
And I guess they hadn’t moved quickly enough, because he’d snapped out, quietly, “Now.”
I’d heard them hurrying along as he crawled back under the covers, his arms wrapping around me. “Sleep, Riles. We leave soon.”
The first time he called me that, I hadn’t processed it. I did now, and I liked it. A lot.
After that, the looks of intrigue, fear, lust, and desperation had been more prominent among the nursing staff. The only person who didn’t seem to care was a nurse aid. She always had a cheerful wave as she refilled the medical supplies and brought back new nightgowns for me, though I didn’t use them. It didn’t matter to her. She took out the ones left behind, replaced them with the new ones, and repeated the process the next day.
For some reason, I knew I’d miss her the most, though she barely spoke a word to us.
Kai was conferring with the doctor outside in the hallway, and a large number of nurses were in the room, all watching as he came back in after shaking the doctor’s hand.
I noticed the look of relief on the doctor’s face as he poked his head in and smiled at me. “You’re in good hands, Riley. I’ve conferred with Dr. Bennett, and he’ll be keeping me updated with your progress.” That was news to me. “You’re going to be fine. Have a safe trip back to Vancouver.”
He darted down the hallway after that.
I looked at Kai. “Vancouver?”
“You cut all your ties here.” He frowned a little. “I thought you’d want to go back?”
We hadn’t talked about the after—my life since he’d destroyed me. We hadn’t even fully talked about what had happened between us. I’d listened to his proclamations, but I hadn’t had time to digest any of it. The loss of her—that’s what the doctor told us when I asked—hadn’t fully set in either.
Kai waited once we had left the hospital and were safe in the back of the SUV before he brought it up again.
“Did you not want to go to Vancouver?”
I frowned. “I don’t know, actually.”
He rested his head back, watching me. “We can go wherever you want. Just… I’m going with you. That’s the only stipulation.” His eyes darkened. They were fierce. “I tried walking from you once. It nearly killed me. I won’t be doing it again, so that’s out of the question.”
His words warmed me.
He took my hand, and I gazed down at our joined fingers on my lap. I felt a tear falling.
“I was going to Montana.” I told him everything. “It wasn’t too far over the border. Blade and Carol were going to meet me there, and after the fireworks settled, they were going to reach back out to the Network. They were going to try to work with them again, just from where we were. That was a few years down the road. We all thought it’d take that long. There was a cabin on a lake. I had enough cash with me to buy it, and we had the papers all ready. I was never going to let you know about her.”
His hand spasmed against mine, but unlike the last few days, I held him tight. He tried to withdraw, but I clamped down and made sure he was meeting my gaze. I wanted him to see inside of me.
“I love you too.”
His eyes turned sad.
I knew why.
“I started that first night when you slept with me in the same bed, even though you knew I wanted to kill you. Then I did try, and you caught my knife, but you did nothing. I fell a little more. Then you called me ‘slicer.’ Then I found out you won’t let your family fly because you love them that much, and how you know it’s ridiculous, but you don’t care…”
I went down the list. It was long, but I told him every moment he’d taken a piece of my wall away.
“You gave me the bigger room at the hotel. You let me run from you at the warehouse, but I knew I was safe, even if you caught me. Part of me wanted you to catch me. When you let Blade go. How I knew, no matter what, that you would protect me.”
My voice dropped to a whisper. “You made me feel special, and loved, and beautiful, and you did all of it without saying a word. There were no proclamations. I just knew. I felt it. It was everything I never felt growing up. You knew me before I realized it. Coming into my life, shattering my walls, taking me, and making me a different woman—you challenged me. You still challenge me. Your life, what you do, you’re as captive to it as your siblings are. You’re a prisoner to your own last name.”
My heart started to beat harder. It hurt. There was something I needed to know. It hurt to say it, but I had to know.
I held his hand tight and never looked away, the importance of this question pressing heavily against my chest. “If you’d found out about her, would you have let me stay away? Or would you have come to get us?”
He didn’t answer, just held my gaze.
A wall slid away from him. I hadn’t even known it was there. He had been letting me see him this whole time, but that wall, it was his last one. I saw the love shining back. It was overwhelming, and I was stunned by it.
I had known, but I hadn’t known how much.
Then a shadow crossed his face, and I ached.
He ran his thumb over over my knuckles. “I know the romantic answer here is that I would’ve come for you no matter what, but that’s not the truth. You were leaving to give our child a life away from this world, so no, I would’ve let you live your life there.”
I turned away, a bittersweetness filling me.