The protector, p.30
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       The Protector, p.30
 

           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  my body like quicksilver. “I want you to be mine, Camille. Wholly. I don’t know how else to express that.”

  She drops her eyes a little, but not so much that I can’t see them darting with uncertainty. I swear, if you were to stick a knife through my heart, I wouldn’t feel a thing. Doesn’t she want me? Has this been some exciting game, some way to defy her father? All kinds of stupid thoughts plague my mind as I wait for her to say something, my senses being questioned. I’m not alone in this. I can’t be.

  “Yes.”

  I barely hear the word, my screaming mind too loud. “What did you say?”

  She looks at me. Her expression now is clear and certain. “I said yes.”

  “Yes?” I need clarification. I need to know I’m not hearing things.

  “Yes,” she affirms, nodding as she does. “Yes.” Tears start to trickle from her eyes, forming a river down her cheeks. “Yes. I don’t know how else to say it.” She drops to her haunches, as if exhausted by the whole emotional episode. She shrugs, cute and on a half-smile. “Yes, I’ll marry you. Right now if I could. I can’t begin to imagine my life without you in it.” She winces, as do I. It fucking hurts. Like hell. “I don’t need anyone else.” She goes on. “Just you. So yes, I will marry you.”

  My internal organs all turn to mush and when I try to express my gratitude, I only manage a pathetic whimper. My arse drops to my heels, too, and I swallow repeatedly, forcing the lump down my throat. I’m feeling a bit emotional. How the fuck does she do this to me?

  “You’ve taken everything manly in me and pulverized it.” It’s the stupidest thing to say, but with a lack of anything else coming to me, I just mumble on like an idiot. “I flat-refused this job when Lucinda first e-mailed me the details. I looked at your picture and laughed at my laptop.” I bumble on, and she smiles knowingly. “I pride myself on being impenetrable. I don’t like myself, Cami, but that bit I loved. No one got close. I wouldn’t let them. But you…” I trail off, dropping my gaze to her lap and exhaling on a shaky breath. “You changed all that.” I meet her eyes again. I’m still at a loss for how, when, why, and where. “You calm me, regardless of the fact that you’ve actually made my life the most chaotic it’s ever been. You’ve found me, despite the fact that I never wanted to be found.” I grab her hands and squeeze, desperate for her to understand the depth of impact she’s had on me. She looks stunned but calm. “You’re the missing piece I wasn’t looking for, angel. And now I’m scared of being incomplete again. I’m so scared of being without you.”

  She sags before me, her lips trembling. “I said yes.” She hiccups over her words, her throat pulsating from her gulps. “And I kind of knew all of that.” Her voice breaks and her breath stutters, her eyes dropping, like she’s ashamed of crying.

  She shouldn’t be. I’m a hot mess.

  I grab her shoulders and haul her into me, clinging to her like my life depends on it. Scarily, I realize now that it does. No Cami, no me.

  I just hold her, our bodies a mess of tangled limbs on the kitchen floor, my hands working constant strokes over her head as she sobs into my chest. “You’re not to be ignored, Miss Logan,” I say into her hair, kissing the back of her head.

  “My dad,” she croaks, making no attempt to break free from me.

  “It’s all going to be fine.” I don’t hold back, and she doesn’t question it, because she depends on me. Her faith in me is fierce. I can’t let her down, but at the same time I realize that there’s far more than her father that she should be afraid of. “I don’t have a ring.” I say the words with amusement that’s probably a little inappropriate.

  “I don’t care,” she declares, pulling out of my clinch. “Draw one on.”

  She shouldn’t put ideas in my head. Looking up onto the counter, I spot a ballpoint pen. I can just reach it without getting to my feet. Bringing the pen to my mouth, I pull off the cap and grab her left hand.

  She doesn’t even flinch. I position the pen on the top of her ring ringer and start to draw a neat line around the circumference, dragging it across her flesh lightly. I’m sure to be as neat as I can, which is fucking easier said than done when you’re shaking with happiness. She keeps still as a statue, watching me pen an engagement ring on her finger. I add another band, and then fill in the gap, before tracing a circle atop, representing what I intend to be a huge fucking diamond. “There,” I declare, pulling back and inspecting my handiwork. “I guarantee you’ll not see another like it.”

  She pulls her hand away and flattens her palm, straightening her fingers, her head tilting from side to side as she studies it. “It’s beautiful.” She grins, and clenches her fist, bringing her knuckles to her mouth and blowing it dry. “I’ll never take it off.”

  I laugh, so fucking happy as I chuck the pen aside. “Just come here, woman.”

  She throws herself into my arms and crushes me, eating my neck, so over the top, but so welcome. “I love you, Jake Sharp.”

  “Snap,” I whisper, smiling into her embrace.

  This is the proverbial fuck you to her father. He might see it as tactical. Maybe it is a little. But what it is above everything is the ultimate sign of my devotion. It was impulsive, but above that, it was natural. I love her with a merciless power that’s rooted in the deepest part of me—a part I never knew was there. I never knew I was capable of such possessiveness. She’ll never know how much she’s helped me. She’s straightened out my fucked-up head. I will do whatever it takes to keep her. If that means facing my past head-on, then I’ll do it. If that means eliminating her father, then I’ll do it. The purpose burning through my bloodstream is potent.

  “Is that your phone?” Cami shifts in my arms, waking me from my inner thoughts. I hear the light buzzing of my mobile and get to my feet, pulling Cami up with me.

  “Finish your tea,” I order softly, pushing my lips against her temple as I cast my eyes across the kitchen to where my phone is sitting on the worktop.

  “Okay,” she agrees easily and lets me release her, returning to the kettle and flicking it on again.

  I stalk over to my phone and snatch it up, surprised to see Lucinda’s name glowing at me. I was expecting Logan. Either way, this isn’t a conversation I want Cami hearing. I connect and wander from the kitchen. “What do you have?”

  “Logan’s wife has filed for divorce.”

  My steps stutter before I make it from the kitchen. Taking a quick peek over my shoulder, I find Cami busy pouring boiling water into the teapot. I carry on my way, out of earshot. “Does he know yet?” I make my way into my study and shut the door behind me.

  “No. The papers were filed yesterday. I guess he’ll receive them soon enough.”

  “I’d love to be a fly on the wall,” I muse. “Something tells me he’ll need to get another divorce lawyer.”

  Lucinda laughs loudly. “Oh, he will. You know Logan’s officially called off your protection, right?”

  “Shame I’m not going anywhere,” I mutter. “But he’s not told the agency about me and Camille?”

  “Not yet.”

  “He won’t,” I say, sure of that.

  “How d’ you know?”

  “Because he knows I know he’s hiding something, and it’s something more damaging to him than my relationship with his daughter.” I drop into my office chair, trying to unravel everything in my head. “I plan on seeing him tomorrow and I don’t plan on leaving his office until he tells me what’s going on.” I’ll hold a gun to his head if I have to.

  “What about the police and the fact they want your arse?”

  “He’s rectifying that little issue.”

  “And the other little issue? Or a massive issue for Logan? Like the fact that you’re in love with his precious daughter.”

  I laugh under my breath. “And the fact that I’ve asked her to marry me.”

  “You did what now?”

  “You heard.”

  “And what about…” Her words fade to nothing, though I sti
ll hear them, loud and clear, deafening me.

  “I’m working on it. I’ve called Abbie.”

  “Fuck me, Jake.”

  “Thanks, but you’ve never been my cup of tea.”

  “Fuck you.”

  I smile. “Original.”

  “I like to keep things simple and to the point.” She sniffs.

  “I have something I need you to do for me.”

  “What’s that?”

  “I need you to watch Cami for me when we’re back in town. I have a few things to do.”

  “I’m not a babysitter, Jake. That’s your job, remember?”

  “You’re the only person I trust, Luce. Don’t be a bitch about it.”

  “Fine!” she huffs, probably throwing me evils over the phone.

  “Thanks. I’ll call you later.” I hang up and slide my phone down my cheek, nibbling on the edge in thought.

  It vibrates and chimes against my lip, notifying me of the arrival of an e-mail, and I open to find a voice recording from Logan. Interested, I play it, hearing a conversation between Logan and another younger man, who I recognize as Sebastian. The conversation is short and sweet. Logan offers him money. Sebastian accepts, agreeing to drop the charges against me immediately. That kid must have cost Logan hundreds of thousands.

  It’ll do. He works fast; I’ll give him that. Anyone would think he’s a desperate man.

  Time to go sort out this mess.

  Chapter 28

  CAMI

  The dread that engulfs me as we drive down Edgeware Road into the city the next morning is bordering crippling. I’m constantly glancing down at my fading makeshift ring to remind myself everything is going to be fine. Jake has said so, and I’m clinging onto his words with all I have.

  I just want all this awful, bad feeling to be over. I want everyone to get along and be happy. It’s a big hope.

  Jake has been quietly pensive for most of the journey. I can tell by the way he smiles at me each time he catches me studying him that he’s trying to fill me with ease. I don’t have the heart to tell him that he’s failing.

  “Where are we going?” I ask, trying to sound casual when on the inside I’m begging him to take me back to the bluebell woodland.

  “To your place.” He says it with an ease that should probably chase away my apprehension. Yet it doesn’t.

  “My place?”

  “Yes, unless you want to go to my place?” He looks across the car at me, waiting for my answer.

  I don’t know. Where do I want to go? “My place,” I answer without giving it too much thought.

  “Then I’ll take you to your place.” Jake reaches over and takes my hand, threading his fingers through mine. “Call Heather. She can keep you company.”

  I can’t hide my rising panic. “Why, where will you be?”

  “I have a few things to sort out.”

  I shrink in my seat. “Dad.”

  He looks out the corner of his eye to me, his Adam’s apple protruding on a hard swallow. He suddenly looks nervous, and that makes me feel really nervous. “Your dad,” he confirms, shifting in his chair.

  “What about the charges?”

  “Your father’s seen sense.”

  I recoil in my seat, gawking at him. My father’s seen sense? That’s the most ridiculous claim I’ve ever heard. “He’s had the charges dropped?”

  “That’s right.”

  “He told you that?”

  “Yes.”

  “And you believe him?”

  “I told you this would all be sorted out, angel. I meant it.” He looks across the car to me again, his eyes full of reassurance that I’m in no position to appreciate. “Trust me.” He has a lot more faith in my flesh and blood than I do.

  What else can I do? I have to trust him. I do trust him. But my father? There’s only a fraction of guilt attacking me when I decide on the spot that I don’t trust him. My own father.

  * * *

  After Jake takes my bag to my room, he comes back through the lounge and heads toward his own room. I smile to myself a little, thinking it funny that I automatically think of it as his room. I follow him and push through the door, finding him sitting on the end of his bed, pushing bullets into the magazine of his gun.

  My mouth drops open, but Jake doesn’t flinch, just continues loading his weapon. He’s going to see my dad and he’s loading his gun? I raise my arm, pointing at his working hands, unable to locate the words I’m looking for.

  “Just a precaution,” he tells me, standing and locking the magazine in place before shoving the gun down the back of his jeans. “Don’t panic. I always carry it.”

  “Forgive me.” I laugh sardonically. “For a moment there I thought you might be planning on killing my dad.”

  Jake doesn’t laugh. Nor does he acknowledge my curt quip. He walks right past me without another look. My body turns as he passes, my eyes following his path. No answer.

  “Hey!” I go after him, the lingering panic bubbling. Snatching his arm, I yank him to a stop, but I don’t have the strength to spin him to face me. So I circle him and hit him with the most serious stare I can muster. “Tell me you’re not going to shoot my dad,” I demand, placing my palm on his chest, my hint to him that I’m not letting him pass until he’s obeyed my demand.

  His face softens a little, his eyes closing briefly. He’s gathering patience. Or is it strength? “I’m not going to shoot your father, angel.”

  My eyes scan the floor at his feet. I feel so lost. Here, but lost. “I just want to be with you.” I look up at him, seeing the hopelessness in him, too. “Why all this hate and obstruction?”

  He smiles sadly and moves into me, coiling his arm around my neck and settling in for a cuddle. I need it. “Because your father thinks I’m not the man for you.” He nestles his lips into my hair and breathes in, long and deep. “I need to convince him that I am.”

  “By putting a gun to his head?” I ask into his shoulder, wondering, maybe, if it’s the only way.

  Jake frees me and bends, looking me directly in the eyes. His thumb draws a line across my eyebrow and down my cheek. “I’m not prepared to lose you, Cami. Your father needs to get used to that fact.” He raises his eyebrows, waiting for me to agree.

  I nod, reluctantly and slowly, because regardless of this being extreme and dramatic, I know he’s right. “Okay.”

  “Besides,” he goes on, clearly seeing I need more reassurance. “I’ve carried a loaded weapon every time I’ve met your father. I’ve managed to avoid shooting him so far.”

  “That’s not funny.” I scowl and he smiles, dropping a chaste kiss onto my forehead. “Please don’t tell him about this.” I raise my hand and flash him my inked ring. Jesus, one step at a time.

  Jake glances down at my finger, smiling as he takes my hand and slips the pad of his thumb across the top. “Just one more reason for him to disapprove. We need to fix this.”

  We seriously do. I’m quite fond of my makeshift ring, for no other reason than Jake lovingly and meticulously having put it there. My dad, on the other hand, would see it as an insult. Lord, he’s not going to be happy. About any of this. Jake’s proposal or the inked ring. It breaks my heart. “We’ll tell him when the dust settles.”

  “Whatever you want, angel.” He kisses my ring and straightens, taking on an edge of resolution. “What time will Heather be here?”

  “About—” Right on cue, there’s a loud, forceful knock at the door. “Now,” I breathe, looking over my shoulder to ensure it’s still on its hinges. “Can I tell Heather we’re engaged?”

  “Can she keep her mouth shut?”

  I ponder that for a second, pouting. I expect the whole of London will hear her squeal of surprise when I tell her. “Yes,” I conclude. I’ll gag her as need be. I need to tell someone.

  Jake pulls me back around and pushes the hair from my face. “Relax. Look for a ring on the Internet. Plan where you want to marry me, when, and who you want there. Have fun, angel.


  He drops a loving kiss on my nose before making his way to the door. The prospect of planning my wedding should excite me, but I feel unable to embrace his enthusiasm until I know what’s next. Right now, his encouragement just feels like an attempt to pacify me.

 
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