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Kept, Page 11

Maya Banks


  20

  Hayley stepped out of the shower and wrapped a towel on top of her long hair so it was out of her way. She was too tired and melancholy to worry over brushing out her hair right away. She’d pay for it later when it frizzed everywhere on her, but who did she have to impress anyway?

  She pulled on a simple pair of really short gym shorts and a T-shirt, not worrying about a bra even though she was healed enough now to wear one without discomfort. True, she’d never venture out of her apartment with her boobs on full display like this, but again, who was going to see her? Besides, she didn’t have the mental or physical energy to put effort into tamping down the tatas. She hated being busty and had searched high and low for a minimizing bra that actually did what it advertised and got the damn things under control. It didn’t always make for a comfortable back, but it was better than bouncing and jiggling around every time she took even a small step.

  When she heard the main entrance buzzer sound through the intercom of her apartment, she cursed. Who the hell would be ringing her? Had one of the guys forgotten something? Surely it wouldn’t be Silas. She looked at the black-and-white monitor showing the view from the camera at the front entrance to the building and could make out a man but not his face. It must be one of the guys after all. She pressed the button on the security panel that unlocked the front entrance door and let him inside. She frowned as she yanked on her robe, suddenly regretting her decision to let it all hang out today. After making sure her robe was tied firmly closed, she headed for the door and reached it just as someone knocked. Instead of opening it immediately, she decided to be careful and got up on tiptoe to look through the peephole first.

  Her mouth fell open in shock just as rage blew through her blood veins like a blowtorch. Forgoing any and all caution, she yanked the door open to face the slimy maggot who’d fleeced her father for thousands of dollars and then smugly refused to pay out the death benefit, citing an obscure clause in such tiny print that one needed a magnifying glass to read it.

  “What the hell are you doing here?” she asked in an icy tone she didn’t even recognize. “And how did you know where to find me, for that matter? Do us both a favor and crawl back under your rock and stay there until someone comes along to step on you.”

  It was then, through the red haze surrounding her vision, that she finally registered the insurance salesman’s haggard appearance. She cocked an eyebrow and sent him a mocking smile.

  “Looks like someone already stepped on you. More than once, I’d say.”

  It was a vast understatement to say the very least. His face was bruised. His nose looked like it had been flattened and his lips were split and dried blood crusted the corners. He stood there stiff as a board, his hand holding out an envelope. He was shaking so hard that the paper flapped in his hand. She could swear she heard his knees knocking together.

  “Miss Winthrop,” he stammered out. “I had to come in person. It was the only fair and reasonable thing to do. I owe you an explanation and an apology. Due to a clerical oversight, you were denied your father’s benefits assured to him by his life insurance policy. I am here to correct that matter as well as issue you my most sincere apology for your grief, upset and inconvenience. I included an amount for your pain and suffering as well as any funeral expenses you incurred as well as a more than fair interest rate on the bulk of the benefit for the time it remained unpaid to you.”

  “What?” Hayley croaked.

  She stared at the envelope like it was a nasty bug about to jump on her. The salesman extended it forcefully, all but shoving it into her hand. Sweat beaded his entire forehead and she could smell his body odor from where she stood several feet apart from him. She could swear he was utterly terrified of her. What did he expect her to do? Jump on him and kick his ass? He outweighed her by at least a hundred and fifty pounds, not in muscle weight either.

  He carried all his excess weight in his gut. If he went down and landed on her, she was toast. But the idea of her kicking his slimy ass did hold great appeal. Unfortunately, fantasy would have to suffice, since she had little to no chance of taking him down. There was always a good kick in the balls . . .

  She fixed him with the force of her glare as she began to open the envelope, warning him with a look that he better not be jacking her around. Because if he was, she’d forget about those hundred and fifty pounds, and she’d be on his ass. She might not come out the victor, but she would definitely add to that already impressive set of bruises he sported.

  She dropped her gaze only long enough to look at the check she pulled from the envelope. Her eyes widened as she took in the number of zeroes in the check. She lifted her stunned gaze back to the still-heavily-perspiring salesman.

  “As I said, I included above and beyond the actual benefit for your inconvenience and your pain and suffering as well as suitable interest for the time we held the amount from you,” he stuttered out.

  He was to the point of wheezing and she couldn’t summon a single word to say to him. Thank you? Ha! Go to hell sounded better. She supposed she should be grateful that he did correct the error as soon as it was discovered, but she had a hard time believing his sudden about-face.

  “What happened to you?” she demanded bluntly.

  “I, uh, well, I was mugged when I got to the city,” he said, backing up a few more feet.

  Hayley didn’t think it was possible for the man to look any more terrified than he was, but she was wrong. Hell, he looked very close to passing out at her door. Then what was she supposed to do with him?

  And then it hit her. Sudden realization as she put the pieces together. The night she was attacked. Her pouring out the entire story, not only of her father giving her the violin, but also of how he was cheated by the insurance salesman. The probing questions Silas had asked so nonchalantly and then his sudden departure on a “business” trip.

  She nearly laughed out loud. No wonder the man looked like he was about to piss himself. She didn’t even want to know how scary Silas looked when he persuaded the man of his “clerical error.”

  “That’s what happens when you fuck people over on a regular basis,” she said softly, menace and not an ounce of regret in her voice. “Maybe you’ll remember your, uh, mugging the next time you even think about conning another person.”

  He didn’t say another single word. His eyes bulging wildly, he turned and fled down the hall as fast as his legs would carry him. He didn’t even bother waiting for the elevator. He hit the stairwell and she heard the distant sound of pounding feet.

  “Good riddance,” Hayley murmured.

  She glanced down at the check again, half afraid the check was nonnegotiable. But no, everything seemed to be in order. Which meant . . . Oh God, she had to talk to Silas! She had just assumed he was likely off with his woman, Evangeline, the past few days. But he hadn’t been! He’d been hunting down the insurance salesman for her.

  She hugged herself and chanced a look down the hall toward the door of Silas’s apartment. Maybe if she had been wrong about where he had been the last few days, then perhaps there were other things she was wrong about as well. Like his presumed relationship with another woman. At any rate, he deserved her appreciation and gratitude. Especially after the way she’d blown him off earlier.

  She hurried into her apartment long enough to put the check in a safe, secure location, so she didn’t lose it. First thing in the morning, she’d make a trip to the bank to deposit it and then pray that it didn’t bounce or that payment hadn’t been stopped on it.

  Then, drawing in a deep, steadying breath, she left her apartment and walked more slowly down to Silas’s door. When she reached it, she stood there a long moment, trying to work up the nerve to knock.

  * * *

  Silas paced the floors of his living room, agitated and swearing as he made up his mind and then changed it for the hundredth time since Maddox had, in a nutshell, told him what a huge, fucking hypocrite he was being. The sad thing was that Maddox
was not wrong. Silas was all Maddox had accused him of and so much more.

  What was he supposed to do with a woman like Hayley? She was simply too beautiful, too passionate, too . . . perfect . . . for someone like him. How long would it take her to realize what a terrible mistake she had made by allowing him into her life, and how much longer after that until she ran?

  For that matter, who was to say she’d ever agree to the kind of relationship he required? He stopped pacing momentarily and let out a groan. Required? It made him seem cold and heartless, and again, he wasn’t wrong. It went beyond a requirement. It was a necessity. Like eating and breathing for everyone else. Control wasn’t something he enjoyed or even craved. He had to have it in order to survive each day.

  But nothing he said, no rationale he could offer himself for allowing Hayley to think what she liked so she’d move on and forget about him, could erase the image of Hayley feeling hurt, rejected, unworthy by and of him! Unworthy. He couldn’t wrap his brain around it. No amount of applying logic to the situation could make him forget Maddox’s, Jax’s and Thane’s well-aimed arrows into his heart. Or what used to be his heart.

  How could Hayley ever think he didn’t want her? Didn’t desire her with his every breath? How could she in a million years ever consider herself unworthy of him?

  “Fuck this,” Silas bit out.

  He started toward the door because there was no fucking way he would ever allow Hayley to feel unworthy of goddamn anyone. He had no idea what to do about the matter of him and Hayley or if she could ever accept him for what he was, but he couldn’t worry about that now. He would cross that bridge when he got there.

  He was but a few feet from his door when the doorbell sounded, eliciting an immediate snarl of rage from Silas. Now of all the fucking times on earth? Now?

  Ready to take apart whatever idiot had decided to intrude at the exact moment he finally made a decision in regard to Hayley, he threw open the door and let his most chilling glare erupt.

  Hayley stood in his doorway in a robe and . . . God, was there anything on underneath that really thin robe? Her eyes rounded in trepidation as she took in Silas’s obvious foul mood and took a defensive step back.

  “Princess?” he managed to choke out.

  “I obviously came at a bad time,” she said hastily, turning even as she spoke, prepared to flee.

  “No! No,” he said in a calmer voice.

  His pulse was beating so hard and fast he was dizzy and felt lightheaded. He, who had never fainted in his entire goddamn life no matter how badly he had been beaten or how hard he prayed for unconsciousness to overtake him, was now about to do one epic face-plant right on the floor at Hayley’s feet.

  “Please,” he asked softly. “I thought it was someone else at the door. What are you doing over here? Are you okay?”

  He was sweating, another first for him. At the rate he was going, he’d soon be out of a job. What the hell kind of enforcer, the one guy in Drake’s organization you did not want to cross, would it make him if he started suddenly hitting the floor and sweating like a damn pig?

  “I’m fine,” she said, a hint of a smile curving her beautiful, full lips.

  He reached behind her to close the door. At first he opted to set the locks later, needing, wanting, his entire focus to be on Hayley. But his skin prickled the instant he turned away without performing his ritual. Even his hands were unsteady and undisciplined.

  “Go ahead and lock them, Silas,” Hayley said in a sweet voice full of understanding. “I can wait.”

  He closed his eyes and then slammed his lips shut to prevent his audible groan as he turned back to the door. Unworthy. Of him. He wanted to kick his own ass for ever treating her as if she were unworthy of him. And then he needed to figure out a way to convince them both that he was actually worthy of her.

  He was so flustered that he lost count midway through and had to start from the top all over again. By the time he finished, he had managed to adequately calm his fried nerves enough to face Hayley.

  He turned, immediately seeking her out, and to his astonishment, she hurled herself at him. He had no choice but to catch her or they’d both end up on the floor.

  “What’s this about?” he asked in bewilderment.

  “Thank you,” she whispered against his neck, her soft breath blowing warm over his skin. “You continue to get more awesome every single day. Just when I think you can’t possibly top the latest thing you’ve done for me, you somehow manage to surprise me all over again.”

  “What are you thanking me for, princess?”

  “As if you don’t know,” she said in amusement as she drew away and out of his hug.

  He took a step toward her, not liking the sudden distance between them.

  “I just got a visit from a slimy, deceitful insurance salesman who just happened to crawl out from under his rock long enough to travel all the way to New York City so he could personally deliver a check for the full amount of my father’s benefit plus a substantial amount over that for things he called inconvenience, pain and suffering and funeral costs.”

  She stared up at him, her eyes glowing brightly. Damn it. She was looking at him like he was a fucking hero. Did she not understand what happened to the guy? She couldn’t have missed the way his face looked, and yet she was thanking Silas?

  “Some business trip. You certainly took care of business. I only regret not being able to land one punch,” she said, her expression rueful. “I can’t believe you did this absolutely amazing, wonderful thing for me.”

  He gaped at her. He couldn’t help it. She was thanking him instead of condemning him? Did she not see what a monster he was? What he was capable of? He’d lived his entire life surrounded by violence only to embrace it when he was much older. But on his terms. Always on his terms.

  Before he could question her or figure out what he was missing, she took a step toward him, closing the distance between them, and then she rose up on tiptoe and slid her arms around his neck. He didn’t have time to think better of letting her kiss him. He wanted it too damn much.

  Her lips pressed so sweetly over his that he groaned low in his throat. She licked delicately at his mouth, coaxing him to open to her. Just as he surrendered and allowed his lips to relax, he gathered his senses and placed his hands around her shoulders to pull her away.

  Shame and humiliation crept into her eyes, a dull shadow masking every bit of the joy and mischief that had been there just a few seconds ago.

  “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I misunderstood. Again.”

  “What did you misunderstand, princess?”

  “Don’t call me that!” she said sharply, hurt edging the words. “I thought . . . I thought you felt it too. What is between us. I thought you wanted me as much as I want you. I’m sorry. I should have never placed you in this position.”

  He emitted a strangled sound. “Not want you? Jesus Christ, woman. If I wanted you any more I’d be a walking idiot unable to form a coherent sentence. Don’t you get it? You deserve so much better than me. I have nothing to offer you except pain and violence. And . . .”

  He closed his eyes, refusing to voice the last.

  “And what?” she asked softly.

  “Control,” he said flatly. “Total and absolute control. And what you don’t understand, my beautiful girl, is that my control would not just extend to the bedroom or while we’re having sex. I would control every aspect of your life. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s who I am. Sooner or later I would drive you away and I don’t know if I can bear to lose you once I’ve had you.”

  “Who says you’ll lose me?” she asked gently. “You act like I don’t know all of this already, Silas. Granted we haven’t known one another very long, but in that time, I’ve seen your need for control. I’ve seen you exercise that control. Even with me. Heck, what do you think I’ve been doing the past few days? I’ve been escorted everywhere by your men. Men you gave me no choice but to go everywhere with. Did I com
plain? Did I put up much of a protest? Why don’t you see yourself the way I see the man in front of me? You seem to think you’re nothing but poison for me, and you know what? It’s a load of crap. You are the very best kind of man, Silas. Next to my father, you are the best man I’ve ever met in my life. So stop with the excuses. If you don’t want me, then just say so and I’ll never throw myself at you again. But if you want me but you’re just too afraid of scaring me or pushing me away, then I call bullshit on that too. How about you ask me what I want? Not what you think I want or need. Ask me, Silas.”

  “You can stand there and say all that after knowing what I did to that bastard who fleeced your father? I would have killed him if I didn’t need to make damn certain he got a check to you. I still might,” he muttered.

  “I’m sure there are plenty of other people who would like to do to him exactly what you did,” she said, her nose wrinkling in distaste. “If you’re looking to me to throw judgment at you, then you’ve come to the wrong woman. I don’t care about whatever horrible sins you think you’ve committed. I know the truth and I see the truth every time I look at you, and nothing you say will ever persuade me any differently.”

  “Be sure, princess,” he said hoarsely. “Be very sure. Because once I claim you and possess your body I will own you. Body, heart and soul. All will belong to me and you will be mine to do with as I wish, anytime, anywhere, any way I want.”

  “Then claim me,” she murmured as she lifted up on the balls of her feet once more to brush her lips over his.

  With a savage cry, he lifted her into his arms and strode toward the bedroom, his blood on fire in his veins, burning from the inside out.

  21

  Silas’s heart was thundering so hard that all he could hear was the roar of his pulse in his ears. He set Hayley gently down on the bed and then took one step back, knowing that if he didn’t give himself a few minutes to get it together, it would be over in a matter of seconds. His need to claim her, to mark her, to possess her until she cried out his name was a living, breathing necessity inside him. Stronger than any other compulsion he’d felt, and his life was riddled with compulsions.

  He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. “I have to go lock up and check the monitors and turn the security system on. When I get back, I want you naked and kneeling in the middle of the bed. Make sure your hair is down but not covering your breasts. I want to see the nipples that now belong to me. I want to be able to see the sweet little pussy that also now belongs to me. Understand?”

  She swallowed and nodded, desire and need glittering in her eyes. He kissed her one last time and then yanked himself away from her. He strode into the living room and mechanically went through the ritual of locking up for the night. He had perimeter alarms in every conceivable vulnerable point and cameras that not only circled the entire block but covered across the street and a radius of six blocks in each direction from his building.

  After what had happened to Evangeline and her getting snatched literally feet from the front entrance to this building, there was no such thing as overkill or being too extreme in his paranoia. If it could happen to Evangeline, it could happen to Hayley. His blood froze and for a moment he couldn’t breathe at the image of Hayley hurt, scared, alone.

  No, she would remain in this building where he knew where she was at all times. And now that she had committed herself into his keeping, she would no longer have any use of her own apartment. She would be in his bed, his apartment, from now on. Maybe he could go ahead and do the renovations again to extend the reach of his apartment from wall to wall on the fifth floor.

  Deciding he’d given Hayley enough time, he turned and stalked toward the bedroom, a sense of victory unlike anything he’d ever felt sizzling through his veins. She was courageous. He had to give that to her. She’d seen him at his worst not once but twice now. She knew things about him that should make him uncomfortable with anyone knowing, especially someone who wasn’t one of his brothers or Evangeline.

  But she hadn’t condemned him. In fact, she got downright pissed if he even attempted to make himself out to be a monster. And as for her knowing things about him, one, he trusted her. Maybe that made him as dumb as a brick and gullible as fuck, but she was too loyal and loving to ever betray anyone who trusted her. Not without a damn good reason. Two, she was his now, which made her, by extension, his brothers’ as well. They would protect her with their lives just as they did Evangeline. He couldn’t very well keep all his secrets from her when she was giving him everything in return. Her trust. Her body. Her heart.

  He was humbled and a little overwhelmed by what he saw in her eyes every time he caught her staring at him. Never did he imagine a woman like her looking at a man like him with those soft eyes, an even softer smile and so much understanding and warmth that he wanted to bathe in it.

  Sex. Well, sex was sex. A pastime to blow off some steam. Nothing more. Nothing less. In fact, he rarely indulged in sex and when he did, he made damn sure the woman knew precisely what she was getting into and he also ensured she was more than adequately thanked.

  He stopped in the doorway of the bedroom and stared in stupefaction at the image Hayley presented, kneeling on his bed, facing the door. She was so beautiful she took his every breath away. Never had he seen anything more beautiful, pure. Absolutely magnificent. And she wanted him.

  Sex? Touching Hayley, sliding into her body over and over could hardly be called something so mundane as sex. It was an insult to her to suggest otherwise. And yet he couldn’t bring himself to use the words most people did for the act. Making love. Never had he seen anything so much as resembling love when sex was involved. He’d learned early, the hard way, that sex was dirty, disgusting, debasing and shameful.

  He was an adult now, and he could look back through the eyes of an adult and know in his heart that his experiences were aberrations. Most of the time he could separate those feelings out and not let them interfere in the present. But every once in a while, he wasn’t able to, and sex wasn’t even an option during those times. Even if he wanted it differently. His body simply wouldn’t cooperate as long as it was trapped by the mind of a child, traumatized by a child’s knowledge.

  Hayley’s gaze found his and she immediately smiled. It lit up her entire face, and even her eyes glowed softly in the low light. She tilted her chin upward, causing her neck to arch forward and her hair to tumble down her back in waves of silk. Her breasts thrust upward, the peaks becoming taut and puckered. His mouth watered just looking at them. Wanting to taste them.

  “You’re so beautiful,” Silas said hoarsely.

  She ducked her head shyly, color blooming in her cheeks. “So are you,” she whispered.

  He slowly circled the bed, trailing his hand over the comforter as he