Kept, p.13
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       Kept, p.13
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         Part #3 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks
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  She breathed a sigh of relief when they pulled up in front of the school. Hayley immediately opened her door, prepared to hop out, when Silas caught her hand. She leaned back in and rolled her eyes.

  “There’s no need to walk me in. Besides, you’ll be late for your day with Evangeline,” she said, her voice cracking just a bit.

  “There is every need,” he bit out. “Do you forget that little punk-ass shithead who can’t take no for an answer still attends this academy with you?”

  She sighed in exasperation. “As if he’ll ever mess with me again after Maddox got finished with him.”

  And then before he could press her, she slipped from his grasp, hopped quickly from the car and then opened the back and grabbed her violin. She even managed a cheerful wave as she hurried toward the school before Silas decided to get out and punish her for her blatant disobedience right there in front of the entire city.

  * * *

  She was running late, having gotten out of practice fifteen minutes after the class was usually over, but she couldn’t bring herself to hurry out and then apologize for her tardiness. They weren’t even supposed to be responsible for her today.

  And then an unwelcome, completely fucked-up thought came to mind. No, not fucked-up, just fucked. Because it was a very good point. If Silas wasn’t even supposed to be with Evangeline today and something came up that required someone to be with her, then why couldn’t one of the three men picking Hayley up go babysit Evangeline for the day? Unless Silas was only too happy to volunteer his time and services.

  So what if she was Drake’s wife? Not like having a thing for another man’s wife was anything new or uncommon. So what if Silas worked with and for Drake? Again, nothing new about being in love with your brother’s wife either.

  This was beyond fucked up. She’d be damned if she’d sleep in a bed where Silas was secretly fantasizing about another woman. Oh God. She placed a palm to her stomach as it lurched. Was he imagining she was Evangeline when they made love?

  “Stop the hysterical train, Hayley,” she muttered in disgust. “Reaching much?”

  The problem wasn’t that she was reaching, or rather jumping to conclusions now. The problem was she should have done a hell of a lot more reaching before she decided she’d misunderstood the situation in the first place and then jumped into bed with Silas. A man who made it clear where she lay on his list of priorities.

  When she walked into the circular foyer at the front entrance with three halls branching off in different directions, she couldn’t help but smile. Maddox, Thane and Justice were standing there joking around and looking completely out of place.

  As if sensing her stare, Maddox lifted his gaze and immediately found her and grinned broadly.

  When she approached, he scooped her up in a hug and nearly broke her ribs all over again. He planted a sloppy kiss on her nose and then set her down between him and Thane.

  “How you doing, darlin’?” Thane asked, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and squeezing.

  “I’m good. What about y’all?”

  She didn’t have to force a smile. As down as she was before, seeing three of her favorite people in the world was definitely the cure-all for the “feeling sorry for myself” blues.

  “You ready to head home?” Justice asked as he opened the door for her.

  “Yeah, but hey, think we can stop at the market on the way?”

  They eyed her mischievous grin and then Maddox groaned.

  “Seriously? You’re going to torture us by having us take you to buy all the stuff to make the best damn food I’ve had in forever when we all know Silas hasn’t left that fucking cave of his in a goddamn week and the chances of us getting to eat any is slim.”

  “I have it on good authority that Silas won’t be there,” she said, in her sassiest voice.

  Thane and Justice glanced at one another, their expressions suddenly serious. Even Maddox looked perplexed.

  “If he isn’t going to be there, then why wouldn’t he have us stick around after we drop you off?” Maddox demanded. “What the fuck?”

  “Unlike the rest of you who are so quick to believe the opposite, I do not need a babysitter, much less a horde of hot-guy babysitters.”

  “Where the hell is he?” Maddox persisted.

  “He had a pressing engagement he couldn’t miss. Top priority, according to him,” Hayley said with only a slight bitter twist to her lips. “Hey, guys, what’s the holdup? Are we buying food or what?”

  The three once again exchanged glances and Justice shrugged. “Let’s go buy her some food.”

  “Oh, and you’re all invited to dinner,” she announced as they neared the car. “That is, if y’all don’t also have a pressing engagement that is top priority.”

  “My top priority is feeding myself,” Thane said.

  “Amen,” Justice said fervently.

  “I never turn down a gorgeous woman’s cooking,” Maddox said cheekily.

  “And said woman would never turn down the opportunity to cook for her hot-guy babysitting squad.”

  They all burst into laughter and Hayley valiantly tried to shove aside all thoughts of Silas and how his day was going.

  23

  Silas inserted a different key into each lock as he went from top to bottom. He let out a long breath when the last lock came open and he pushed open the door to his apartment. All day he’d done nothing but think of Hayley. He’d missed her. He’d been distracted, and he was never distracted from his primary object. Evangeline had been worried sick that something was wrong, and the last thing she needed was yet more worry and stress piled on her when she was so heavily pregnant.

  He felt a surge of guilt. He’d dumped Hayley after Drake had called asking Silas to stay with Evangeline. He could have asked Maddox or any of the other guys but because Drake called him, he felt obligated to step in. But he couldn’t keep shitting on Hayley this way. It wasn’t fair to her when she was the most unselfish person he’d ever known and never asked him for anything at all.

  His absolute loyalty had always been to Drake and the rest of his brothers and by extension anyone who belonged to them. For the first time he was questioning his priorities. And now, of all times, when the risk and danger to Drake, his wife and child, and his brothers was at its highest, he could ill afford to be distracted from their protection.

  He frowned when he heard male voices and then Hayley’s rising above them. It sent a shiver of pleasure straight down his spine, and then he shook himself from that moment of euphoria to concentrate on who the fuck was in his apartment, with his woman, making his woman laugh.

  He was almost to the kitchen when Hayley, bearing an armload of serving dishes, darted across the walkway to the dining table on the other side. She didn’t even see him until she’d placed one of the platters on the table and turned to dash back into the kitchen.

  She came to an abrupt halt and then her smile lit up her entire face as she took in his presence. Warmth snaked through his chest into regions so solidly frozen with layers and layers of ice. Places that had never felt warmth in his life. God, would she always light up this way for him? Only him?

  “You’re home,” she whispered, launching herself into his arms.

  He caught her and gathered her tightly against him, burying his face in her hair. For a long moment he simply held her there, inhaling her scent and savoring the feel of her warm, fragile body against him.

  “Good day?” she asked when he set her back down on her feet.

  He nodded. “You?”

  She wrinkled her nose. “Same old, same old. Practicing for the recital. Didn’t get out until fifteen minutes late so I thought I’d make it up to the guys by making dinner. I wasn’t sure if you’d make it home on time.”

  He glanced at the table, surprised to see so many places set. When he returned his gaze to Hayley, she was looking anxiously at him.

  “I invited Maddox, Justice and Thane to stay for dinner. Is that okay?”

/>   He put his finger to her lips, a peculiar fluttering in his stomach. “You inviting my brothers to eat will always be okay, princess. They need this. I need this. I had no idea you could cook, though.”

  She narrowed her eyes. “I’m not the chef some people are, but I get by in the kitchen. You never asked. The guys can vouch for this particular meal since they ate it while you were out of town on your business trip.”

  She’d cooked for his brothers while he’d been out of town? Maybe them staying with her twenty-four-seven hadn’t been the best idea. She was young, beautiful and so very loving, caring and effervescent that who in the world wouldn’t be charmed by her in a matter of seconds? Only a man missing a dick could look at her and not get ideas. Ideas that could get them killed. By Silas.

  He held up his hands in mock surrender. “Hey, I’ve always said you were a woman of many talents. Many, many talents,” he murmured as he closed in on her again. “I have no doubt I’ll be wowed.”

  Her eyes sparkled mischievously. “Bet your ass you will.”

  He patted her ass when she turned away and returned to the kitchen. She threw him a saucy wink over her shoulder and then busied herself with the remaining food.

  “Soup’s on!” Hayley bellowed from the kitchen.

  Silas grinned at the feisty little minx and how she had every single one of them trained to obey on command. Hell, he wasn’t excluding himself either. He’d already acknowledged that he might have the control in their relationship, but all the power rested with her.

  Well, just until after supper. The little temptress still had to be punished for her earlier blatant defiance, though he had a good idea he would enjoy her punishment every bit as much as she would. He nearly snorted at the idea of actually hurting her. He’d cut off his right arm before allowing anyone to hurt her, much less inflict physical harm on her himself.

  As he heard his brothers making their way to the table, Silas stuck his head into the kitchen.

  “Need any help, princess? You shouldn’t be carrying so many heavy dishes at the same time.”

  She turned, her arms loaded down with the platters in question, and gave him another smile that caused him to melt on the spot.

  “This is the last load,” she said. “Go ahead and take a seat with the others. I’ll be right there.”

  Ignoring her invitation, he stepped forward and relieved her of two of the heaviest platters, ignoring her eye roll. That would get her another punishment when the others left.

  He sniffed appreciatively as his gaze wandered over the trays piled high with food.

  “Smells wonderful, princess. I can’t wait to try it. This must have taken you hours.”

  He frowned slightly as he said the last. Then he glanced back up at her.

  “Don’t think I don’t appreciate the fact you cooked such a wonderful meal for me and my brothers, but you already put in a long day between your classes and the extra practice when you get home. There’s no need for you to be on your feet all afternoon when any one of us could go pick something up.”

  Her smile was soft and she did not roll her eyes this time. “You’re so good to me, Silas. But the truth is, this is honestly the only full meal I’m any good at making. As a result, I don’t cook it often. In fact, the last time I made it apart from when you were out of town that time was for my father before he passed away. I’m more of an improvise-and-make-do-with-what-I-have-on-hand kind of girl.”

  His heart twisted at the sudden flash of pain in her eyes at the mention of her father, and a scowl worked its way over his features before he could call it back at the image of her getting by on the little to nothing she’d had before she’d moved in with him.

  “Never again will you go without,” he vowed.

  The thought made him physically ill, and he had to shake the images off before the trembling in his clenched fingers caused him to drop the dinner she’d prepared all over the floor. Here was a woman who deserved so much better than what life had handed her. She was so loving and giving and life had shit on her at all turns. That shit was over. He’d make sure she always had the means to live easy and free. Even if it was without him.

  “Silas,” she said softly. “Everyone is at the table and I don’t want the food to get cold.”

  “Right,” he said, turning swiftly in the direction of the table.

  Silas was quiet even for him throughout the meal, only half listening to the conversation around him. He was utterly conflicted about his feelings for Hayley, and his motivation for that matter. Logic and instinct guided his every thought and action, and yet his relationship with her defied both. Was this how Drake had felt about Evangeline? Was this why Drake had been a complete and utter wreck since the moment he met her? And why he’d made such a complete muck of things again and again?

  He hadn’t questioned his reasons or even what he wanted short or long term when he’d responded so impulsively to Hayley. How was it fair to her that he didn’t even know where this thing between them was headed or how long it would last? He was in so far above his head that he was drowning, and it was a sensation completely unique to his adult life. It was a feeling of helplessness he hadn’t felt since he was a child living under the authority and control of abusive parents.

  How long would she be content to give, for him to take, without receiving in equal measure? He dropped his utensils and slipped his hands to his lap, curling his fingers into tight fists so he didn’t betray the fact that they were trembling violently. He could feel the clammy sweat on his forehead and neck and prayed no one else took notice.

  It took him a moment to realize he was exhibiting the initial signs of a panic attack, something else he hadn’t experienced since he was a child cowering in a hiding place hoping with all his might he wouldn’t be found that night.

  And yet for all the guilt, and yes, uncertainty he felt about his selfishness when it came to Hayley, the mere thought of not having her made the panic rise even more sharply. It was something that didn’t even bear thinking about.

  Damned if he did and even more damned if he didn’t.

  What a fucking situation to be in. Never in a million years had he ever even contemplated having this particular dilemma. A relationship was something he’d sworn he’d never involve himself in for hundreds of reasons. And yet he’d given not a single one of those hundreds of reasons the briefest consideration before plunging so recklessly headfirst into the one thing he would have laughed himself silly over the mere mention of just a few months ago.

  At least now he could look back at Drake’s psychotic, uncharacteristic behavior over Evangeline with a more objective eye. He could even summon sympathy, where before his two primary judgments of Drake had been that the man was out of his fucking mind and that he’d acted reprehensibly and unforgivably toward Evangeline numerous times.

  Silas blinked when he realized Maddox had been saying something to him. Apparently many times, judging by Hayley’s look of concern and his brothers’ frowns of reprimand.

  “Earth to Silas. Anyone home?” Maddox asked in exasperation.

  “What?” Silas asked irritably.

  Maddox shook his head. “I was saying how delicious the dinner is that Hayley made for us. Wouldn’t you agree?”

  Fuck. Not only had he tuned everyone out, completely lost in his own little world, but it appeared he hadn’t jumped in at the right moment to give Hayley the praise and appreciation she was due.

  He gathered her hand in his and lifted it to his mouth to press a kiss to her silky soft skin.

  “It was absolutely wonderful, princess. Best damn meal I ever ate.”

  She flushed, but pleasure and happiness over his compliment glowed warmly in her eyes. His gut tightened. He’d do whatever it took for her to look at him like that every goddamn day.

  “I was hoping there’d be leftovers,” Thane said morosely as he surveyed the empty platters. “I was already drooling over tomorrow’s lunch. Sure beats the hell out of takeout or whatever t
he hell’s currently in my fridge.”

  Hayley’s eyes sparkled with mischief and she donned an innocent smile. If she had any idea of its effect and that it would get her any damn thing she wanted, she would likely use it a lot more often.

  “I may have just set aside enough for you to take home.”

  Thane did a fist pump. “You’re my new favorite girl, Hayley. Your wish will forever be my command.”

  “Back off,” Silas growled. “Any wish she needs fulfilled will not be by you.”

  Maddox and Justice sent her an honest-to-goodness pout that had Silas staring at them both in disgust.

  Hayley rolled her eyes and then laughed. “I made enough for all of you to bring home leftovers. Why do you think it took me twice as long to make dinner as it did the first time I cooked for y’all?”

  At that Silas’s frown deepened. “You shouldn’t have been in the kitchen on your feet all afternoon. You’ve been working way too hard practicing for your recital.”

  She heaved a sigh of exasperation. “You forget that not so long ago I was working two steady jobs and any other work I could pick up. Trust me. Standing in the kitchen for a few hours is a lot less taxing than being on my feet in a crowded bar serving drunk customers until two in the morning.”

  Silas’s lips tightened at the reminder of just how hard she’d been forced to work.

  “I’m glad you’re no longer working those ridiculous hours,” he said gruffly. “You were running yourself into the ground.”

  “Yes, well, now I don’t have to, thanks to a clerical oversight being found and corrected,” she said with a perfectly straight face. But her eyes sparkled with amusement at the private joke they shared.

  Silas’s jaw clenched at the mere reminder of the man who’d done so much damage to his princess.

  His attention was diverted when his brothers began rising from the table, picking up the dishes to take into the kitchen.

  “You outdid yourself, babe,” Justice said, letting out an exaggerated groan. “It’s time for us to get on out of here. We’ve taken up enough of your time as it is, and as Silas said, you shouldn’t have spent all afternoon slaving over a hot stove when you’ve been so busy with school and practice.”

  They paraded into the kitchen, insisting Hayley remain seated while they cleared the table. When they were finished, they all dropped affectionate kisses on top of her head and said their good-byes. Hayley beamed and gave them all a wave as they exited the apartment. Silas was close on their heels, securing each of the locks behind them.

  When he turned back to Hayley, he was barely able to voice his command around the excitement and need mounting in him.

  “Go into the bedroom and completely strip. I want you belly down on the bed, feet planted on the floor. Do not move. Wait for me. I’ll be in as soon as I’ve taken care of cleaning the kitchen.”

  “Oh, but—”

  He arched one eyebrow that silenced her immediately. “Do as I told you,” he said in a dangerously soft voice.

  She shivered, chill bumps erupting on her arms. Without another word, she rose gracefully from the table and hurried toward the bedroom. Only then did Silas allow himself to smile as he anticipated what he had in store for his princess.

  24

  Hayley warred with nervousness and excitement as she hurriedly complied with Silas’s command. Though it had been softly worded, there had been nothing soft about his eyes or expression. There was a feral light in his gaze and his features had been rigid with purpose. He had looked almost . . . savage. She shivered at the memory and rubbed her palms rapidly up and down her arms in an attempt to warm herself before she settled into position on the bed.

  His brooding intensity should scare the wits out of her but she couldn’t bring herself to ever truly fear the man she’d given herself wholly to. She knew in her heart he would never hurt her. He’d been nothing but fiercely protective of her, and he had also made her feel so very cherished and treasured. What woman wouldn’t melt into a puddle to have a man like Silas be so focused on her every need and comfort?

  She bit her lip. Then what had been in his eyes tonight and why did she have the distinct feeling that she was about to see another side to Silas? Not that she was fool enough to think she knew everything there was to know about a man with more secrets and shadows than her entire hometown. She would probably continue to be surprised and see something new from him twenty years from now, if she was so fortunate as to still be in his life.

  Her eyes widened with the realization of just what she’d just admitted. Permanency. A life with Silas. She wanted to roll her eyes at herself and mutter a loud Duh! Why should the thought of wanting to be with him twenty, forty, sixty years from now surprise her? She was so wrapped up in him that she never wanted to work herself free. He was everything she’d ever wanted in a man. The only question mark looming over her was . . . Evangeline and just how and where she fit into Silas’s life and why another man’s wife took absolute precedence over
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