Seduced, Page 24Melody Anne
“Whatever. You haven’t known a hard day in your life. But you’re about to,” one of them said as he braved up and charged Shane.
One kick to the man’s throat and he sank to the ground, holding his bruised windpipe, gasping and gaping like a fish out of water as he desperately tried to draw air.
“Do you want to go, too?” Shane asked the third man, who looked properly afraid.
“Screw this,” the last man yelled and ran from the alley, dropping his electroshock weapon to the pavement in his scramble to get away.
The kid, Andino, was left standing there in a stunned daze with the knife barely grasped in his shaking fingers. Shane moved quickly, removing the weapon from the kid’s hand and tossing it in a nearby trash bin before he moved to Lia and carefully disconnected the probes that had probably sent two or three hundred thousand volts of electricity through her body.
“I need to get her to the hospital, but you have a choice to make, Andino. You can keep living this life, being a thug who goes after innocent women, or you can turn it around. ” Shane tossed his card at the kid before gently lifting Lia into his arms.
“The first step would be giving back the purse. ”
With that, he walked from the alley. From the terror in the kid’s eyes, he thought he might have gotten through. It just depended on whether Andino walked away now or went back to the safety of his thug friends. Shane didn’t have time to talk anymore. He had to get Lia help.
Coming out of the alley, Shane moved down the street quickly until he found a cab, then had the driver rush him to the hospital.
They got her in immediately, and the damage was minimal. The thugs had hoped to have their way with her, instead of committing murder. If they’d had a gun… Shane didn’t even want to think about what would have happened then.
He never should have chased that kid, never should have put Lia in that kind of danger. He hadn’t thought; he’d just reacted. He’d seen the fear on the kid’s face when he’d snatched the purse, and he’d run like hell.
Shane knew there was hope for Andino, knew the boy could change his life around. Those were the kids he tried to help — the ones who could break out of the life they thought they were destined to live.
He hoped the boy would call.
His head whipped around, and he saw Lia looking at him full of fright.
“I’m right here, baby. You need to rest. ”
“What happened? How did we get away?”
Shane sat there, not wanting to tell her about his life, not wanting her to know his secrets. He was trying to figure out a way around this. If she knew him, truly knew him, he was afraid he would lose her forever.
“They got scared, Lia. ”
She looked at him with her brow furrowed. Even Lia knew the dangers of gangs. They didn’t often get frightened — at least not by one unconscious woman and one unarmed guy.
“Why did they get scared? They had weapons. We didn’t. ”
“There are parts of my life that you don’t know about, Lia. Some things I’m not at liberty to talk about, and other things I haven’t wanted to share. I just…I just want you to know me — Shane. The same boy who showed up on your doorstep as a college student. ”
“What don’t I know about you, Shane? What else could there be?”
“It doesn’t matter right now, Lia. We’ll talk more about it later,” he promised, but he hoped it was a talk they’d never had to have.
The medication the hospital was giving her made her tired, and though he could see she was fighting it, her eyes closed and she fell back to sleep.
Shane leaned back, thankful to have some more time. He needed to figure all of this out. He was afraid that if Lia knew everything about him, she’d just give up and walk from his life for good. There was too much — far too much for any sane woman to handle.
Knowing he might not have much time left with her, Shane kicked off his shoes and climbed into her hospital bed, right next to her. He had to hold her, had to grasp on to what they had for just a while longer. Tomorrow, when the sun rose, his life might be much different. For now, he had everything he needed right in his arms.
Well, tomorrow might be another story entirely.
The elevator lurched, and Ari looked at the door with trepidation. They’d been sitting in the cold metal car for about two hours and her bladder was full — darned soda! — and, even worse, they were out of chocolate.
Still, she didn’t regret getting stuck. Thoroughly content in Rafe’s arms, she experienced wonder and desire and a sense of safety. Yes, it was amusing that she felt safe trapped in a contraption that was on the fritz, but he’d opened up to her. Her overarching feeling was one of trust, both for him and by him.
Suddenly, the box began moving with the doors still open a few inches, and Ari and Rafe watched as they passed the different floors. When the elevator stopped again, the doors groaned before they opened halfway and then seemed to get stuck.
Rafe pushed Ari to her feet, then leapt up, wedged himself in the doors, and held out his hand.
“Let’s get out of here before it decides to lock us in again,” Rafe said.
Ari laughed and squeezed past him. The two of them made their way from the building, and Rafe made a call as soon as his phone got reception again, letting the school know the situation so someone else didn’t get stuck in the wretched contraption.
“I have to say that was the best date I’ve ever been on,” Ari remarked as the two of them moved through the empty campus toward the parking lot and Rafe’s car.
He stopped and looked at her with puzzlement.
“Being trapped in an elevator?”
“You talked to me, really talked to me,” she said, as if that was the greatest gift he could give. To her, it was. No subjunctive needed, she chuckled to herself.
“I’m sorry, Ari. I’ve been so terrible to you that just a moment of kindness is a shock. ” He pulled her into his arms.
“Yes, you have been terrible, but you have also done some pretty amazing things, Rafe. If you were nothing but a monster, I never would have fallen in love with you. ”
“If you’re in love with me, then why can’t that be enough?” he asked as he stroked her head, his fingers running through her hair.
“Sometimes love isn’t enough, but the situation isn’t hopeless. I just don’t want to be a fool and make a rash decision because I’m all gooey inside,” she said.
“Gooey?” he asked with a laugh.
“Yes, gooey is a word, a perfectly good one,” she told him. She stood on her toes and kissed his jaw.
“I guess I’ll take that as a compliment, then. ” He held her head and connected their lips, pulling her tight against his body so she could feel his solid heat pressing into her.
Ari couldn’t get close enough to him as he deepened the kiss, his tongue tracing her mouth, devouring her. Her hands ran down his arms, then slid around his waist and came down to rest on his backside so she could pull him more tightly to her.
“I should have relieved the burn while we were in the elevator,” he growled as he pulled back, desire clouding his vision.
“Yes, you should have. Then we wouldn’t be nearly as desperate to remove these clothes,” she said as she squeezed his hard bu**ocks.
“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong, Ari. I can take you one minute and be solid and ready the next. I can’t ever get enough of you. Not your body — your mind — your soul — and certainly not your love. I want all of you, day and night, and it will never be enough, because the more you give, the more I want. ”
Ari melted at his words. She wanted all of him, too. That was the problem. Even though he
was speaking of his love, she couldn’t be sure he was giving all of himself. He was private and guarded, and he had built a wall around himself that he wasn’t even aware of.
Would she be fine to settle for what he was willing to give? Or would it eventually rip her apart to only have the pieces of himself he could share?
What would be worse, though? To live with a piece of Rafe, or to have nothing of him at all?
“I know I can’t change overnight, Ari. I know it will take time for you to trust me, but I promise you this. I promise that if you stay with me of your own free will, if you give us a real chance, I will forever love you, I will always take care of you, and I will listen to you. I won’t ever try to change you again. I will be there for you, in sickness and health. I will support your career and carry you through storms. I will lean on you when I need to, and I will share my life with you. I want it all; I want forever. If you trust me, I will fix everything about me that is broken and I will give you happiness and…well, forever. ”
Ari looked into his eyes, saw the sincerity, the passion, the love. Rafe did have a way to go, but as he held her close, she also knew that they could both heal with each other. They could weather the storm if they held on tightly to each other’s hands.
This wasn’t the same man she’d met in his sterile office, the man who demanded her total submission. This man had been hurt, but he was willing to let go of the pain of his past, and was ready to give of himself to another.
“What are you asking of me, Rafe?”
She wanted to be very clear on what he wanted.
“I’m asking you not to run from me anymore. I’m asking you to stay by my side. ”
She didn’t know if he wanted a mistress or a wife, and she wasn’t going to ask. Maybe he wouldn’t want to marry again after what his ex-wife did to him. Would she be content to be his permanent mistress?
As long as he didn’t cheat, as long as he didn’t hurt her again, it would be better to be with him than without, even if that didn’t include a ring and a white wedding dress.
Disappointment coursed through her at the thought, but she tamped it down. This might be all he could give, but it was so much more than others gave. The bottom line was that she loved him, and to have this much of him filled her heart.
She ignored the small pang of wanting more. If it ever got to be too much for her to bear, she could make a decision then. Right now, none of that mattered. At this moment, she just wanted to feel the glow that was coursing through her without feeling guilty about it, without suffering as conflicting emotions tore at her.
“I don’t want to be without you, either, Rafe. Not today, tomorrow or next year. I need you to love me. Please, just remember your promise. Please don’t tear me down again,” she said.
“I won’t, Ari. Never again,” he vowed.
The two of them began walking again toward his car. It was a silent ride back to his place, and that night, when they made love, it was truly lovemaking. She felt his desire, but she felt his love for her as he sank deep inside. He never broke the emotional connection, not even as their breaths rushed out in pleasure, not as he kissed her gently, and not when he separated their bodies.
“If you are ever going to get past this resentment, you have to visit your mother. ”
“What good would that do?” Shane asked in frustration.
The two of them had come to the States for a brief vacation, but there was only another week before they had to get back to Italy and the Gli Amanti Cove Project — though Lia didn’t know he wasn’t going back with her right away. He certainly didn’t want to waste his time visiting a woman who had never wanted him. Why couldn’t Lia just understand that?
“Shane, I know it’s hard for you, but you need to know her story. You need to understand why she is the way she is. Do you know anything about your grandparents? Do you know anything about your family at all?”
“Lia, not everyone has a family like yours. As a matter of fact, most people don’t. It’s unusual for parents to be so great; hell, yours are still married to each other, and who else has parents like that? Most siblings don’t get along as beautifully as you, Rafe, and Rachel do. It’s why I was so drawn to you guys. I saw something in you that I thought was only on television. I didn’t know real families still existed who actually loved each other. ” It wasn’t easy for him to explain.
“I know your mother isn’t mentally healthy, Shane. I understand that. But you wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for this woman, so you should at least talk to her, try to understand why she acted the way she did. Why she allowed your father to beat you and her. Obviously she’d had enough finally, since she killed him. Maybe she wants to tell you she’s sorry. Maybe she doesn’t. She may not even recognize you, but at least you can get some closure. ”
Shane looked into Lia’s eyes, saw how much she wanted this. He didn’t want to go, didn’t want to visit with the person who’d given birth to him, but he also couldn’t seem to tell Lia no. As it was, he’d gotten a call from his commander. He had to leave in a few days for a mission and this time he wasn’t going to be able to pass it off as leaving for volunteer work.
He did do a lot of volunteer work, but most of the time when he was gone for extensive periods of time, it wasn’t because he was building homes in Third World countries; it was because he was saving lives, fighting terrorism and protecting the people he loved — all without their ever knowing.
Well, Rafe knew, but that wasn’t something he wanted Lia to know. She would be furious with him for once again shutting her out.
“I don’t want to do this, but I will if it will make you happy,” he said, and the smile of joy crossing her face made the upcoming visit with his mother worth it. There was hardly anything he wouldn’t do for Lia.
“Then let’s do it now before you have a chance to change your mind,” she insisted.
Before Shane had time to blink, Lia had hailed a cab and they were on their way to the psychiatric hospital that held his mother under lock and key.
Shane had been on some hairy missions before, but he’d never been as afraid as he was at that moment. Terror seized him at the thought of coming face to face with the woman who had nearly been responsible for his death.
Not his physical death. That he would have welcomed in those dark days. No, she had almost killed his very soul, turned him into a monster. As it was, he had to fight the demons that resided inside him, fight not to become a monster.
In his job, he did turn into that merciless beast, but he always got away before it enveloped him, always came home, where his best friend helped to ground him. This was also another reason that Shane volunteered so much. It opened his eyes to a world of good, where he saw that not all humans were disgusting, selfish creatures to whom heart, character, sympathy, forgiveness, and integrity were nothing more than meaningless words.
For a while, he’d thought only the worst. When he’d robbed people as a starving teenage kid, he’d never felt guilty. His victims were robots, nothing but dark souls on the inside. It had taken him a long time to realize that they weren’t — that the people he was hurting were real.
He and Lia stopped in front of the hospital, and Shane was so caught up in his thoughts, he didn’t notice Lia paying the cab driver and tugging on his hand. He really didn’t want to do this! He’d rather be in the desert somewhere with bombs flying at him.
“Maybe this isn’t the best time,” he said as the cabbie drove off. Lia must have paid the fellow extra to make a quick exit.
“You’re not a chicken, Shane! Now, man up and let’s do this,” Lia said, looking at him sternly.
Shane snapped from his brooding thoughts and looked back at her. A slight smile parted his lips as he grabbed her by the hai
r and tugged her to him. Damn, she was good for him. A whiny, cajoling girl would have gotten on his nerves.
Lia’s temper and attitude were the things that kept him grounded.
“Did you just imply that I’m a crybaby?” he asked in a menacing tone, one entirely counteracted by the light in his eyes.
“That I did, Mr. Grayson. Now put on your big-girl panties, and let’s go,” she said, grinning bravely at him.
“What if this only makes it worse?” he asked in a moment of vulnerability.
Lia stopped joking as she looked deep into his eyes. “Then she’s forever the fool, Shane. She’s missed out on your life — missed the amazing man you’ve turned into. It’s all been her loss. If she can’t apologize to you, then you are better off walking away. I think this can be healing for you, though. I wouldn’t push so hard if I didn’t feel that way. ”
He looked at her for several heartbeats before a small smile broke out on his lips.
“I guess I’m ready then. I’ll never know if I don’t walk through those doors,” he said, sighing as he looked toward the front of the building.
“I’m always going to be here for you, Shane. Always. I think you need to do this, but if you can’t, I understand,” she told him, feeling guilt for pushing him so hard. She was trying to ease his pain, not make it worse.
Yes, he needed to do this. Maybe it would make a difference, and maybe it wouldn’t, but either way, he would never know if he didn’t at least give it a try.
“I can do it. I need to,” Shane said. “Thank you, Lia. Thank you for being you, for being understanding, and for giving me exactly what I needed. Sometimes, all it takes is a little push. I guess I’ve just been too scared to move forward, too weak,” he said, as if disgusted with himself.
“That’s not true, Shane. You are strong, so very strong. You have faced obstacles that I can’t even imagine facing and you’ve always come out ahead. You’ll be fine no matter what happens from this day forward,” she said as she lifted her hand and caressed his face again.
“I think we should just admit to each other than we are better people together than apart,” he said, surprised by how much he meant those words.
“I can agree to that,” Lia told him before reaching up and kissing him, feeling warmth all the way down to her toes. She was happy, unbelievably happy at that moment.