Kept, p.18
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       Kept, p.18
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         Part #3 of The Enforcers series by Maya Banks
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  he’d left her so he could handle Evangeline’s detail. The phone calls. The “dates.” Missing tonight’s recital, when he knew how important it was to her, and as she’d so aptly said, pawning her off on his men, making her their duty instead of his. What a complete fucking idiot he’d been. How she hadn’t walked out on him a long time ago, he’d never know, but he was extremely grateful for her generous and forgiving spirit and the fact that until now she’d always given him the benefit of the doubt.

  He was gutted. He’d put his loyalty to Drake above his commitment to Hayley, and in the process bruised the heart of this beautiful woman. He should have gotten Drake’s permission to tell her the full situation from the beginning and if Drake had refused, told her about Evangeline anyway, but he’d never in a million years thought she would believe another woman was more important to him. All the years of secrecy were so deeply ingrained, a huge part of the man he’d become, and it might have cost him the one woman he’d ever bared his deepest secrets to. The only person who made his past bearable and most of all, the only person to have ever made him forget and make peace with it.

  He shattered completely on the inside, his devastation surely as evident on his face as it was on hers and in her eyes. He gathered her gently in his arms, taking extreme care not to jostle her. Ignoring the fact that she went rigid the moment he enfolded her in his embrace, he pressed his lips gently to hers and then rested his forehead against hers.

  “I am so sorry, my beautiful, sweet girl,” he said around the knot in his throat. “Never in a million years would I try to hurt you or make you doubt me in any way, though I can see now how very careless I was and why you feel as you do. I not only owe you my sincerest apology, but also a very belated explanation as well. I hope when I have fully explained that you will find it in your beautiful, loving heart to forgive me for ever causing you so much pain.”

  He lifted up just enough that she could see into his eyes, his heart, and recognize his absolute sincerity when he, for all practical purposes, got on his knees and begged her forgiveness.

  Her eyes lifted to meet his, hope flaring in her beautiful gaze. She looked so hopeful and sad at the same time that it broke his heart all over again, and he wished with everything he had that he could go back and undo all the damage done to this precious woman.

  He gathered her hands in his and lifted them to press a kiss into each soft palm and felt her tremble softly beneath his mouth.

  “Evangeline is Drake’s very beloved wife. He met her less than a year ago and she was the first woman to ever soften any of our hearts. No, my precious girl, don’t look like that,” he said when her gaze grew somber at his words and immediately lowered. “Hayley, look at me, please,” he begged softly.

  Reluctantly, she did as he asked, and he gripped her hands a little tighter.

  “None of us had ever dared become involved with a woman. Not with the ever-present threat that exists to us and anyone or anything we value. Drake fell hard for Evangeline from the start, but he fucked up quite badly with her. More than once. He didn’t trust her and as a result, she suffered greatly for his mistake. Maddox and I formed an unbreakable friendship with Evangeline, but nothing remotely romantic ever evolved from our friendship. Maddox and I offered her support and a refuge when Drake very cruelly tossed her out of his life without any means of survival. Unbeknownst to us at the time, she was pregnant, and once Drake realized his mistake, Evangeline wasn’t so forgiving of him. It was a rough time for them both and when she came back, I continued to be a steady source of support and friendship to her. My absolute loyalty has always been to Drake and his protection and by proxy anyone important to him or anyone who could be used to manipulate or hurt him.”

  Silas sucked in a deep breath, realizing he was making a complete muck out of things.

  “The world my brothers and I exist in is a very dangerous one as I’m sure you’re well aware, judging by the amount of security we always use and the fact that you and Zander were gunned down less than twenty-four hours ago,” he said painfully.

  “As such, I am routinely called upon to guard Evangeline when Drake or one of the others can’t. We rotate shifts, but when Evangeline was in the early stages of her relationship with Drake, I started a routine of bringing takeout to her apartment once a week, something that continued upon her return to the city and has carried on especially during her pregnancy. By necessity she lives a very isolated life with few friends and little contact with her family save Drake and the rest of us. She’s sacrificed much to remain in Drake’s life, and so the rest of us try to do what we can to make her isolation more bearable.

  “When I met you, I had never imagined being in Drake’s situation. Of being made vulnerable by another person, especially a woman. I admit, I handled things poorly and I didn’t factor in the changes it would mean for me and the fact that I now owed anyone but Drake and myself an explanation for my actions or choices.”

  He sucked in another long breath and looked pleadingly at her, knowing he was to the part of the apology and explanation where he had to beg her to overlook his many mistakes and be willing to give him another chance.

  “Never once have I even looked at another woman since before or after meeting you. Not in the way I look at you. I’ve never felt this way about another woman. I care for Evangeline, yes, but as a little sister and nothing more. I look out for and protect her as I would a sibling, but I’ve never felt for her—or any woman—what I feel for you, and I am so deeply sorry I let you down, princess. Since Drake asked me personally to be the one who went with Evangeline to her doctor’s appointment and then to her Lamaze class, I didn’t feel as if I could say no. But I should have. And I’ll never make that mistake again if you’ll forgive me and give me another chance to make you happy, my beautiful girl.”

  Her eyes swam with tears again as she stared up at him, her chin and mouth trembling. A single tear slipped down her cheek, and he leaned forward to kiss it away, no longer able to bear the sight of her tears.

  “Forgive me, princess,” he whispered against her damp skin. “Please come home with me so I can take care of you and spoil you ridiculously.”

  “You already spoil me ridiculously,” she choked out.

  She ended her statement in a sob and then tears gushed down her face and she clutched at his chest with her hands, pulling him downward.

  As soon as he lowered himself enough, she circled him with her arms and buried her face against his neck, her tears wet against his skin. He stroked his hand over the back of her head, threading his fingers through her tangled hair.

  “I-I’m sorry,” she sobbed.

  “No. No! You have nothing to be sorry for, my darling.”

  His own throat tightened and he felt the threat of answering tears. So much worry, pain and ultimate relief, both that she was going to be all right and that she was giving him another chance. It was more than he’d ever hoped for.

  “Shhh, princess. You have to stop crying. I can’t stand it. I’d do anything at all to keep you from ever crying.”

  “Is Zander really going to be all right?” she asked fearfully, her words muffled against his neck.

  “Yes, I promise,” he soothed. “I don’t want you to worry about anything except getting better and coming home to me. Okay?”

  “Okay,” she whispered as she clung fiercely to him.

  He closed his eyes, his heart suddenly free of the horrible weight it had borne since the day before when he’d had to tell his princess that he couldn’t attend her recital.

  30

  Hayley came sluggishly awake and rolled very carefully from her uninjured side to her back, cringing when her stiff back protested strenuously. Her wound was healing quite nicely and the surgeon had told her how fortunate she was that the bullet must have deflected off some other object before becoming embedded in her lower abdomen. As a result, it hadn’t penetrated deep enough to cause any injury to her internal organs, and most important it hadn’t jeopa
rdized her future chances of having a child.

  The main source of her discomfort stemmed from the fact that she could only lie or sleep on her uninjured side and she was well accustomed to a very random, haphazard sleeping style that resulted in her sleeping on both sides in turn, her back and her belly. And since being released from the hospital a week ago, Silas had been strict in not allowing her up for any length of time, which meant she spent most of her time either on the couch or in bed lying on the same side.

  Lucky for her, Silas had gotten up before her this morning and had yet to come check on her and carry her—yes, carry her—into the living room, where she typically ate breakfast with him. This morning she was going to propel her own self into the bathroom and bypass the mortification of Silas’s daily trip with her to perform her bodily functions. She wouldn’t push attempting to bathe on her own yet, because no doubt, he would hear the water and come running and then she’d receive a stern lecture and she’d be returned to bed, and if she had to spend another minute lying in an uncomfortable position she was going to scream her head off.

  Getting up was surprisingly easy once the muscles in her back ceased their bitching and moaning. She stood cautiously, her hand on the mattress just in case she wasn’t as balanced as she thought she was. She trudged toward the bathroom and smelled the scent of frying bacon. For some reason, her temporary upswing in mood after getting out of bed on her own came to a crashing halt as she was assaulted by a rush of memories from over a week ago.

  Her heart ached fiercely and swelled in her chest, causing an uncomfortable tightening. Sweat broke out on her forehead as she recalled in vivid memory the shooting. Zander covered in blood. The agony of waiting to know if he’d live or die, and then the discovery of her own bullet wound, completely overlooked by her and everyone else in the ensuing chaos.

  Tears burned the edges of her eyes. It wasn’t that the memory was new or unexpected, but it mostly haunted her sleep, when she dreamed of that horrible night. Every single night since her release from the hospital she’d awakened in terror, her skin hot and clammy, and Silas’s arms around her, his lips pressed to her hair as he rocked and soothed her through the horror of her nightmares.

  She hadn’t even been allowed to visit Zander yet because Silas was adamant that she take things easy and make a full recovery, and he also wanted her to remain completely out of sight. It was thought that the intended targets had been Justice, Maddox and Zander and her association was still unknown. She would live under constant threat were it known for certain she had anything to do with Silas or his extended family. A family steeped in danger and violence. She wasn’t ignorant of the kind of “business” Silas and the rest were in and even with Silas once admitting, when questioned about whether they hurt people, that they only hurt those who deserved it, Hayley had lived in a bubble of denial, never having been exposed to any element of their profession.

  All she knew was that because of her a man was in a hospital bed with at least three bullet wounds, all because he’d been tasked with the job of protecting her. And that wasn’t something she could live with. Especially if Silas discovered who had shot her and Zander and retaliated. She would not be the cause of anyone else being so seriously hurt, or God forbid, killed. Nor would she ever allow anyone to use her to get to Silas. He’d had enough pain in his life. She refused to be the source of even more.

  It was a decision she’d made while lying in the hospital, watching the guilt, exhaustion and desperation on the faces of Silas and his men. But she had yet to share it with Silas and she knew it was wrong of her to drag it out, basically using him as a crutch until she recovered, only to walk away afterward. Time was of the essence and before things resorted to violence again, she needed to be gone.

  She had to fight back the tears as she finished her business in the bathroom and then slowly trudged into the kitchen to find Silas, her heart silently shattering the entire way.

  Silas was at the stove preparing the breakfast he intended to serve to Hayley in bed when he felt a prickle of awareness at his nape. He sensed, not heard, her presence behind him, and he swiftly whirled to see her standing a short distance away, dressed only in one of his button-up shirts that dwarfed her much smaller frame.

  The dullness in her eyes bothered him. Though she was rapidly healing—physically—she hadn’t shown any signs of her former sunny disposition in all the time she’d been home from the hospital. And though she was here every single day and wrapped in his arms every night, he was frustrated by the sensation of her retreating from him and slowly slipping away. Only the fear he’d felt the night of her shooting was sharper than his current fear.

  He couldn’t put his finger on why, but he had a very bad feeling, and his gut never steered him wrong.

  “You shouldn’t be out of bed, princess,” he gently reprimanded. “I was bringing you breakfast in bed this morning. You haven’t been resting very well and I thought it better if you slept in today. Maybe take a nap right after you eat. You haven’t been eating enough either. You need to get all your strength back.”

  She took a few slow steps toward the bar, her lips quivering softly as her wounded eyes searched his.

  “How is Zander?” she asked quietly.

  He went to her, no longer able to stand the distance between them. He carefully enfolded her in his embrace and she buried her face in his chest. He stroked her hair, trying to give her as much comfort as he could, and he rushed to reassure her of Zander’s recovery.

  “He’s just fine, princess. He’s back to his usual grumpy self, bitching and yelling at everyone in sight, demanding to know when he can go home, because in his words, he’s fucking fine and a few pussy-ass bullets aren’t enough to keep him down.”

  He said it in exaggerated fashion in a light and teasing manner, hoping to make her laugh or at least cause her some relief. Instead she shook silently in his arms and he felt the warmth of her tears against his neck.

  Silently cursing, he held on to her, not saying anything more, just holding her as tightly as he could without causing her pain. But she didn’t wince or flinch. He’d noticed that as of several days ago, the only discomfort she seemed to suffer was from the stiff and sore muscles in her back, unused to sleeping in only one position.

  When she finally drew away, her eyes were puffy and swollen and she ducked her head, refusing to meet his gaze. She pushed slightly away from him and he reluctantly let her go, a sense of helplessness gripping him. She seemed to have fallen into a deep depression, and it showed no signs of lifting no matter how often he gave her good news regarding Zander. She gave little thought or notice to her own injury. Her only concern through it all had been for Zander.

  She took a position on the other side of the bar, almost as if purposely putting a barrier between them. He turned back to the stove so she wouldn’t see his deep frown. Or the deep grooves of worry on his forehead.

  He dished up the last of the bacon and then seasoned the eggs and took the biscuits from the oven.

  “Silas?”

  He turned back to Hayley at her hesitant, uncertain-sounding call. He studied her, not liking the dark shadows that seemed much more prevalent in her eyes this morning. Suddenly he dreaded responding, not wanting her to say whatever was weighing so heavily on her.

  “Yes, princess?” he finally managed to get out.

  She fidgeted nervously, looking down at her hands before finally meeting his gaze once more.

  “Before, when I asked you about what you and the others do, you weren’t honest or not completely honest when you answered me, were you?”

  He tensed all over, the dread in his heart increasing with every breath. He’d known it was only a matter of time before she got beyond the initial shock and horror of the shooting and began to ask questions about it and his connection or rather how his lifestyle entered the picture. He’d tormented himself over the fact that once she put all the pieces together, she’d no longer accept the inherent risk to herself, and sh
e would walk away.

  “And then when you explained about Evangeline, you mentioned how she was used against Drake—how she could still be used against him,” she continued on without waiting for him to respond. “It stands to reason if anyone important to Drake or to any of you could be used against you, then that same threat exists to me, doesn’t it?”

  Fuck.

  While he knew this conversation was inevitable and that she deserved nothing but the full, ugly truth, he’d hoped to delay it until she was fully recuperated and in a much better frame of mind.

  “Yes, princess,” he said in a low voice. “That’s exactly what it means.”

  “And the reason you’ve always had your brothers with me when you couldn’t be wasn’t because of your need for control and absolute order in your life but rather because you perceived there to be a legitimate threat to me or to all of you at any time.”

  Again, he nodded and grimly said, “Yes.”

  He realized he was holding his breath, and as tears filled her eyes as the knowledge was confirmed, the ugly truth there to see in her expressive eyes, his dread increased a hundred times over. The sensation of her slipping away from him hadn’t been his imagination or a manifestation of his worst fear. It was very real and now was the moment she saw him for the monster he truly was and he lost everything.

  “I can’t do this, Silas,” she said painfully, tears streaking down her beautiful face.

  He closed his eyes, knowing he had no right to demand or even beg her to stay. She was in danger every single day by virtue of her association with him. How could he do anything but let her go when her life could very well depend on it?

  “I never claimed to be a good man, princess,” he said gruffly, emotion thickening his voice. “I’ve done things . . .”

  She lifted her head, her eyes sparking, her mouth falling open in shock.

  “Not a good man?” she asked hoarsely.

  His brow furrowed, bewildered by her reaction. Wasn’t the reason she was even now prepared to leave him because now she knew him for what he was?

  “Silas, you’re the very best man I know. Your brothers. They’re all good men. You want to talk about the things you’ve done? Do you forget that I’m the reason your brother is lying in a hospital after nearly dying because he was protecting me? I’m a liability to you all, Silas, and I won’t have that. I will never allow myself to be used against you or your brothers. To hurt you or any one of them. I could never live with myself if the next time we weren’t as fortunate and someone or God forbid, you, died because you were protecting me. I can’t do it. I won’t do it,” she cried.

  After her impassioned outburst, she turned and fled the kitchen, disappearing into the bedroom, leaving Silas utterly stunned and speechless.

  What the fuck?

  Realization was slow in coming, and when it did it had the effect of a lightning bolt. She wasn’t leaving because of him or who he was. She had seen the heart of him, the very essence of the man he was, and she wasn’t repulsed or disappointed. God. She was leaving for him. To protect him.

  Oh hell no.

  It was his goddamn job to protect her. And the job of every one of his brothers. They’d lose their shit every bit as much as he was about to lose his if they heard all she’d had to say.

  Then he realized she’d just told him she was leaving him and was likely in the bedroom packing when she was in no condition to even be up and moving around. He let out a roar and charged after her, catching her before she even made it to the closet.

  He grabbed the arm on her uninjured side and whirled her around, ever mindful of hurting her. But at the moment he wasn’t backing down. He was practically snarling, baring his teeth as he seethed in rage at the idea of her leaving him because she was worried she was a liability to him, for fuck’s sake.

  She stared at him, worry bright in her eyes. “Silas, what—?”

  “Not. A. Word,” he said, cutting her off.

  Her expression was a whirl of confusion and faint shock over his vehemence, but she’d unleashed the deadly predator that always clawed so close to the surface. If she truly couldn’t accept him, then he’d have no choice but to let her go, but he’d fight her tooth and nail over the ridiculous notion of her walking out of his life in order to protect him and his brothers.

  He heaved a breath, the words, protests and denials swirling like a tornado in his mind, and tried to compose himself enough to make damn sure she understood that he would not tolerate her making such a drastic decision.

  He carefully wrapped his hand around her throat, feeling the reassuring thud of her pulse, how it leapt in response to his fingers circling her delicate neck. His eyes narrowed as he stared intently at her.

  “I was willing to let you leave once you knew the type of man I am. It would have taken the last piece of my black soul, but I would have let you go. But if you think you’re leaving me for my own good, as a way of protecting me or my brothers, you’re out of your fucking mind. You’re mine, Hayley, and I will not let go of what is mine. I protect what’s mine. You do not and will not ever protect me. You get me?”

  Her eyes widened in shock and her lips trembled. “Y-Yes.”

  “Yes, what?” he prompted.

  “Yes, Silas,” she whispered.

  “Get undressed and go get on the bed. Make sure you’re comfortable and that your legs are spread wide so I immediately see what is mine and only mine.”

  Her eyes widened further and she opened her mouth but then closed it promptly and bit into her bottom lip as if stanching the flood of questions and her protest. He smiled to himself, ensuring it didn’t show on his face or in his eyes. He had to make sure she got his message loud and clear.

  He uncurled his hand from her neck, unable to resist caressing the soft skin just below her ears. Then he dropped his hand away and gestured toward the bed.

  “Go,” he ordered.

  She hurried to do his bidding and he watched in avid fascination as she shed his shirt, leaving her in just the lacy scrap of her panties. She pulled them down her legs and let them fall to the floor, and he nodded his approval that she hadn’t tried to bend down, hurting herself in the process.

  When she got on the bed and after a few cautious movements settled into a comfortable position, she shyly parted her thighs, splaying them open to bare the glistening pink flesh of her pussy.

  “Wider,” he said huskily.

  Once more she complied with his command. Satisfied that she was positioned as he’d directed and that she was going nowhere, he ducked into his closet, stripping away his clothing and then rummaging for what he needed. When he walked back into her sight, her cheeks darkened and her eyes went cloudy with arousal and desire.

  He made no effort to hide the soft wrist cuffs from her view as he closed in on her, suddenly looming over her slight body. Her nipples were erect and turgid, begging for his touch, his mouth, his tongue.

  Slowly and with great care, he lifted her arms over her head and then secured her wrists together with the cuffs. She gasped softly when she realized she was
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