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Dominated, Page 4

Maya Banks

  No, she would listen to him. She had to. Evangeline wasn’t like the many other women of his acquaintance. She didn’t emotionally manipulate men—anyone—with tears, nor did she pout or withhold forgiveness in order to punish people.

  But everyone had their limits and he hoped like hell that he hadn’t put himself beyond redemption. That he hadn’t done permanent damage to her loving, generous heart. He was jaded and cynical enough for both of them. The idea of Evangeline becoming someone like him—hard, distrustful and suspicious—made him sick to his soul.

  You don’t deserve her.

  Maybe Hatcher, as fucked up as his reasoning had been, had been right. For the first time, Drake allowed doubt to creep into his mind. Was he doing the wrong thing by fighting for Evangeline? By doing a complete one-eighty and making her his queen, thus rendering her off-limits to anyone who valued not only their material wealth but also their life?

  Because no one who knew Drake, whether personally or by reputation only, would ever doubt that if something or someone Drake valued came to harm, he would turn the fucking world over until every last person who even knew of the plan, regardless of whether they actually participated, paid dearly.

  Drake would ruin anyone who put a finger on Evangeline. And then the person would die, and it wouldn’t be a quick or merciful death. He would repay ten times over every mark, scratch, hurt, fear or threat Evangeline suffered.

  He shook his head, dispelling the cloud of doubt in a pissed-off motion. Hatcher was lucky to still have the use of his limbs after bringing that shit up to Drake’s face. And Drake’s other men hadn’t been any happier about Hatch’s “helpful” suggestion.

  The sound of the door made Drake turn in his tracks, and he held his breath as Evangeline hesitantly appeared in the doorway of the en suite bathroom, her fingers gripping the door frame so tightly that her fingertips were chalk white. Her hair lay damply against her face and trailed down her shoulders, and when she saw he was looking at her, she shifted and curled her arms protectively around her midsection as if to hide herself from his scrutiny.

  She was wearing a simple pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, and he noticed that she’d put her socks and shoes back on, as if ensuring that she was prepared to flee at any moment. Unease and indecision flickered through her expressive eyes, and after she’d sought out his position in the room and briefly locked gazes with him, her stare skittered away and she refused to look up at him again.

  He sighed and lowered his hand from his bedraggled hair and let it dangle down his side.

  “Are you willing to listen to me, Angel?” he asked quietly. “To give me a chance to explain?”

  One small shoulder lifted in a half shrug and her bottom lip disappeared between her teeth as she chewed nervously at it.

  “I guess I don’t understand what there is left to say,” she said in a soft voice. “You made yourself abundantly clear where I stand, or rather where I don’t stand. How can rehashing it do either of us any good?”

  No longer willing or able to maintain the distance yawning between them, he closed in to loom over her before she could even emit her gasp of surprise. He cupped her cheek and caressed her baby-fine skin with his thumb and fingers.

  “It was a lie,” he said starkly. “It was all a lie. Oh God, Angel. You weren’t supposed to be there. I had no idea you were there or I would have never brought those men to our home. I was caught completely off-guard and I had to act fast or you would become a target.”

  The look she sent him was acid-filled and disbelieving. He couldn’t blame her.

  Drake sighed and then put both his hands between them to collect hers in his grasp. Then he backed slowly toward the bed and settled down on the edge, pulling Evangeline down with him.

  She went utterly rigid, every muscle in her body protesting his nearness. Too bad. He wasn’t letting her out of his sight again. No matter what it took, how long it took, he would win her back. Until then he would dream of the day when she came willingly into his arms with love and laughter in her eyes. Just as she’d done so many times before that fucked-up night.

  He wasn’t the most patient man in the world. He had to cough to cover the choked laughter that threatened to bubble from his throat. His men often said that Drake was the most impatient bastard on the face of the earth and that he had no experience with sitting back and waiting on anything, or the desire to do so.

  When he wanted something, it was his. End of story. And he’d mow over every single obstacle between him and what he desired. Now, for the first time, he had to exert a modicum of patience. Because if he didn’t, he risked losing everything that mattered. And God, he hated it. Hated that he wasn’t even now in bed with Evangeline, her naked, his body covering hers as he reasserted his dominance and control over her. But not just his dominance and control. She was the woman he cherished most in his life. Never before had he been with a woman who inspired so great a need and desire to protect and take care of her.

  She required exquisite care in his handling of her. He owed her that and so much more. So very much more. She deserved to be treated as something infinitely precious. He knew she was strong, despite her protests to the contrary. She wouldn’t break, but that didn’t mean he had the right to push her. To take her strength for granted. She might not have broken—yet—but that didn’t mean she hadn’t come way too fucking close for his peace of mind. Never would he forget seeing her in the hotel she’d found work in and how close to her breaking point she appeared to be. And he’d done that to her. No one else. He only had himself to blame.

  There was a fragile air about her that had never existed during their time together. What kind of an asshole would it make him to blithely ignore the delicate state she was in and forcefully go on as though nothing had happened?

  Never would he leave her without his rock-solid support, and he damn sure wouldn’t assume anything when it came to her state of mind, her sense of self-worth and what was going on in her head, especially when it came to her thoughts regarding him and her place in his life.

  “I made a mistake with you,” Drake admitted.

  She blinked, clearly not expecting him to admit fault. Her features reflected her surprise, and he understood why. Drake wasn’t a man to readily admit failure. Normally he was too self-assured and didn’t give a damn what others thought of his choices.

  “Angel, I have many powerful, ruthless enemies. Men who would use any means available to strike at me. I’ve long frustrated them because I don’t have any weakness to exploit. There’s nothing I care about enough to make concessions or to yield to blackmail and extortion.”

  He took a breath and looked directly into her eyes.

  “Until you.”

  Her eyes widened and then she bit her lip in consternation. He could see the wheels spinning madly in her mind as she tried to process his sincerity.

  He wanted to touch her, to yank her into his arms and prove his words, but he didn’t have this in the bag, not by a long shot. She didn’t believe him and he couldn’t blame her. Not when he’d made it a practice to be aloof and hold himself at a distance from everyone.

  He dragged a hand through his hair until the short strands stood up on end in complete disarray.

  “I handled you all wrong. I hid you, what you meant to me. Tried to keep you a secret and out of the public eye.”

  She sent him a puzzled look. “Why? I don’t understand.”

  He sighed. “Because if my enemies even got a hint of what you mean to me, how important you are to me and that I’d do anything to keep you safe, they would have gone after you. They would have been relentless and once they got their hands on you, they would have used you to take me down. They would have threatened you, and Angel, these aren’t men to make idle threats. If I hadn’t complied with their demands, they would have made you suffer horribly and eventually killed you.”

  “But I’m no one,” she said, her voice rising. “That doesn’t make any sense. I’m just . .
. I’m just your . . .”

  “Don’t say it,” he said in a whiplike tone. “Whatever you’re thinking, don’t you dare say it. That’s bullshit. If you think you aren’t important to me, then that’s another sin for me to bear because I should have shown you. You should know that you’re special. Not just to me but to my men. All of us.”

  She shook her head, falling silent as she grappled with his heated declaration.

  “So I kept you tightly under wraps,” he continued, self-loathing creeping into his voice. “I was arrogant. I thought I could have you, keep you to myself and keep you safe. That my enemies would never know of you. It was stupid and I know better. Goddamn it, I know better!”

  “So the business meeting you had, the men you brought to your apartment when I was supposed to be somewhere else, those are your enemies?” she asked skeptically.

  He nodded and she frowned, perplexity furrowing her brow.

  “Why would you bring these men into your home, then?” she asked. “Why would you take such a risk if they hate you? And why didn’t you just tell me why you didn’t want me there instead of skirting around the issue? If you had told me it would be dangerous, I would have never interfered. I wouldn’t have made such an ass of myself, that’s for sure.”

  Pain glittered brightly in her eyes, and her cheeks colored as she ducked her head away, refusing to meet his gaze any longer.

  He cupped her chin and gently turned her until she looked him in the eye again.

  “You did nothing wrong, Angel. That whole night is on me. My fault. You did something very special for me. But I couldn’t allow the Luconis to so much as suspect what you meant to me. That you were more than a temporary mistress or someone to warm my bed before I tossed you out.”

  His expression became bleak as memories of that night, of how badly he’d humiliated Evangeline, repeated over and over in his mind. The look on her face. The devastation and her tears. The despicable things he’d said and done to her.

  “It was all a lie,” he whispered. “I had to put on the act of my life and convince those men that you were nothing to me. And, Evangeline, they had to believe it because if they had any suspicion that I was faking it, they would have gone after you. And if I had allowed you to play hostess, there is no way they could spend more than five minutes in your company and not see the truth.”

  “What truth?” she whispered.

  “Of what you mean to me,” he said in a low voice. “I couldn’t take the risk. One slip-up, one unguarded moment when I looked upon you with pride or when you smiled at me, how I’d soften. I would have been an open book, Angel. And you would have paid the ultimate price for my lack of control when it comes to you.”

  “So you struck at me first,” she said grimly.

  Drake closed his eyes in pain. “I was gutshot. I knew what had to be done, and it sickened me. Having to stand there and pretend to be so callous, pretend you meant nothing to me. God, the things I said and did. You have to know I didn’t mean them, Evangeline!”

  She studied him quietly, her teeth worrying at her bottom lip. She was quiet and pensive and her struggle was clearly highlighted in her face and eyes.

  “I don’t know what to believe,” she finally said. “There’s too much I don’t understand. You said you did things wrong with me by keeping me a secret. But if you caring for me put me in danger, then what else could you have done except keep me a secret?”

  Then her eyes widened and her mouth rounded.

  “Oh,” she murmured. “Never mind. I understand.”

  “What do you understand?” Drake demanded, not liking the resigned look on her face.

  “You should have never gotten involved with me,” she said quietly. “That’s what you’re trying to say.”

  “No!” he said in a near bellow, causing her to flinch and draw in on herself as she regarded him cautiously.

  He reached for her hand and sandwiched it between his, feeling her slight tremble as she stared at him with huge, questioning eyes.

  “I should have never kept you a secret,” he said savagely. “Never should have tried to downplay your importance to me.”

  She cocked her head to the side, her expression growing even more confused.

  “But you just said that if anyone had known that, I would have been used to hurt you.”

  His jaw clamped down hard as he stared fiercely at her.

  “What I should have done, and what I will do going forward, is make it known that you’re my queen. My woman. The most important person in my life. It will be made clear how I will retaliate if someone so much as touches a hair on your head. Security will be tightened around you, but you know and are comfortable with the men who will be guarding you.”

  All the color leached from her face, making her eyes seem enormous. She opened her mouth but no response came forth, and for a long moment she simply sat there staring agape at him. Then finally she shook her head as if trying to dispel the confusion and cobwebs surrounding her.

  “We aren’t together, Drake,” she said hesitantly.

  “The hell we aren’t,” he said savagely. “I drove you away, Angel. I got back to my apartment as fast as I could without arousing suspicion because I planned to explain everything that night and then beg your forgiveness. When I found you gone, I went crazy. I’ve spent the last five days turning this city upside down looking for you. And now I’ve found you. If you think I’m going to let you walk away from me without one hell of a fight, you’re out of your mind. You belong with and to me, just as I belong to you. What happened that night will never happen again. It shouldn’t have happened to begin with, but at the time it was the only thing I thought would keep you safe.”

  “What are you asking for exactly, Drake?” she asked skeptically.

  “Whatever you’re willing to give,” he bit out. “In time, everything. But for now I’ll take whatever you’re willing to give me, as long as you give me the chance to make this up to you and to prove how important to me you are.”

  “So you want us to go back to the way things were before? Pretend like that night never happened?”

  He flinched. “Of course I don’t expect it to be that easy. I have a lot to make up for. You gave me your trust and now I have to earn it back. You gifted me with your submission and I have to make you feel safe and cherished enough to submit once again. But I want you with me, Angel. At all times. Once you are public knowledge, I’ll never allow you to go anywhere alone.”

  Evangeline closed her eyes for a long moment, her fingers twisted together in a bloodless knot on her lap. Her despair and indecision was a tangible presence in the room.

  “I don’t know what I should do,” she finally said, exhaustion creeping into her speech and her posture.

  “What do you want, Angel?” he asked softly. “Forget about should. What do you want?”

  She turned her head and her tear-filled gaze met his.

  “I want things back the way they were before,” she said with trembling lips.

  “They can be,” he said truthfully.

  She made a grimace. “You make it sound so easy.”

  “Isn’t it? I made a terrible mistake, my angel. One I won’t forget for a very long time. One that I’ll regret for the rest of my life. But I won’t make that mistake again. No longer will I attempt to hide your presence in my life or your importance to me. Just give me the chance to show you how it can be. Don’t give up on us yet.”

  He was coming precariously close to pleading. And he’d choke before ever begging for anything. But at the moment, if getting on his knees and making himself utterly vulnerable in front of her would convince her to give him another chance, he’d do it without any hesitation.

  What was pride if he lost the one thing that mattered most to him?

  A tear slithered down her cheek and she huffed in a shuddering breath as she tried valiantly not to break down into sobs. He gathered her in his arms and held her tightly, rocking back and forth as he pressed kisse
s to her damp hair.

  “Give me—us—another chance, Angel,” he whispered. “I’ll make it up to you, I swear.”

  Slowly she lifted her head, pushing back until she was able to look him in the eye. Fear shone brightly in her gaze, and her forehead was furrowed with worry.

  “But if you didn’t want anyone to know about me before . . .” She shook her head as if trying to clear her confusion. “What’s changed?” she whispered. “If I could be used against you before, won’t it be even more probable now? I don’t want to be used to destroy you, Drake.”

  He inhaled sharply and it wasn’t until her face began to fade in front of him that he realized he’d been holding his breath. He let it out in a long exhale and gathered her in his arms once more, unable to stand even the slight distance she’d put between them.

  “Let’s just say that a message will be delivered loud and clear,” Drake said grimly. “That if anyone so much as looks at you wrong, they’re dead. I have enemies. I told you that. But I am feared greatly. I don’t have a reputation for mercy. My men will make it known that only someone with a death wish would try to get to me through you. But at the same time, security will be tightened around you and someone will escort you at all times when you aren’t with me.”

  A peculiar pain settled into his chest and something that resembled panic scuttled around his insides. Maybe she wouldn’t like the kind of life he offered. Not many would. She’d be living in a veritable prison.

  Oh, she’d have every imaginable luxury and convenience. She’d be spoiled and pampered, her needs put before all others. But the one thing she wouldn’t have was . . . freedom. If she remained with him, she would be consigned to a life of high security. No one would have unfettered access to her.

  How long would she be able to live in such suffocating circumstances? How long before she’d rebel and lash out over the extreme protective measures Drake put into place? Not many people would willingly consign themselves to a veritable prison no matter how luxurious that prison might be.

  “Can you forgive me, Angel?” he asked softly. “Can you forgive me in time? Will you give me the chance to make it up to you? To prove to you that I would never again subject you to what I did that night? I know it’s a lot to ask. I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted nothing further to do with me, but I don’t want to live without you. You are all that’s good in my life. The only good. The very best part of me, and I damn near destroyed that in my panic and fear that you would be used to strike at me. I could never live with myself were something to happen to you because of me. And I’m going to do everything in my power to protect you from the bastards who would think nothing of abusing a woman in order to achieve their goal. Every single one of my men is devoted to your safety and protection. They will protect you with their lives. I need you to believe that. And I need you to believe that you are the most important thing to me and I will never let you go without one hell of a fight.”

  Her expression was dazed, and the internal war she was waging with herself was evident in her stormy eyes. She looked . . . afraid. He wanted to let loose a string of curses that would singe the hide off the most hardened man, but the last thing he needed to do was push her in the opposite direction.

  “So we just get back . . . together?” she asked in a choked voice. “Pick up where we left off?”

  “No,” he said, completely serious. “We, or rather I, start over. New beginning. Better this time. I have a lot to make up to you, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. You, however, don’t need to change a damn thing. You did nothing wrong. You gave me a gift most men can only dream of receiving, and I didn’t nurture and protect that gift as I should have. That changes right now and going forward. If you’ll say yes and agree to stay with me.”

  “Oh, Drake, I don’t know what to say,” she said in a choked voice.

  Tears welled in her eyes and he hastily thumbed at the moisture as it began to leak down her cheeks.

  “I was so happy. You made me happy. And I wanted to make you happy. Everything was . . . perfect. And then . . .”

  “Shhh, my angel,” he said, cradling her once more in his arms. “It will be perfect again. I promise. I don’t expect you to forgive or forget any time soon. All I ask is the opportunity to prove to you that I can be the man you deserve. Just say yes and we’ll take it one day at a time, and I’ll promise to try to make each day better than the last. I have no doubt we’ll hit a few roadblocks along the way, but I can promise you that what happened that night will never happen again. I’d give everything I own to be able to go back and make it never happen.”

  She leaned her forehead against his, closing her eyes as she battled the tears streaking silently down her cheeks.

  “I want this—you,” she whispered in an aching voice that throbbed with emotion. “But I’m scared, Drake. You have so much power over me. You have the power to make me so very happy, but you also have the power to destroy me like no other. I don’t think I’ll survive so much pain again. I’ve been dead for the last five days, and I hate how vulnerable you make me feel, that I depend on you for so much happiness. It scares me to death. Can you understand that? I can’t imagine you being helpless, at someone else’s mercy and dependent on them just to maintain your sanity and keep it together.”

  “I do understand,” he murmured. “I understand far more than you realize because you hold me in the palms of your hands, and you have as much power over me as you say I have over you. And I have to tell you, it sucks. I hate feeling so helpless. I’ve never been dependent on another person in my life. I’m always in control and yet when I’m with you I feel anything but in control. I feel as though I’m walking through a minefield, and one wrong move and I destroy something very precious and beautiful. I damn near did just that. I certainly inflicted a lot of damage, and that makes me a complete bastard. Believe me, Angel. I will never forget. I will never forgive myself for what happened that night. It’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. I haven’t eaten, I haven’t slept, I’ve been a shell of a man for the last five days, and self-loathing has slowly eaten a hole in my soul until there’s barely anything left, if anything at all.”

  “Drake, no,” she cried out. “Stop. Just stop! You can’t torture yourself this way. It does neither of us any good. If we’re going to make this work, then we have to put it behind us and move forward. If you stay bogged down in the past, it will destroy us both. If I can forgive, then you should be able to do the same.”

  Drake sucked in his breath and his pulse accelerated wildly. He was shaking and desperately trying to hold himself together as her words penetrated his anger and grief. He grasped her shoulders and pushed his face toward hers until they were nose to nose.

  “Do you mean that, Evangeline? Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Are you giving me another chance?”

  His heart felt like it was about to burst out of his chest. It was beating far too fast and for a moment, he feared the strain would be too much and he’d have a heart attack. His entire body shook. Not one part of him was calm or still as his gaze bored into hers, seeking confirmation of the hope that had taken root and snaked insidiously through his veins.

  She swallowed and he saw how difficult this was for her. How monumental a