When she dropped her gaze instantly

Her brow rippled. “I’m sorry.” Her head flopped to the side. “Don’t worry. This isn’t anything. Save it for when I die.”

“Kayla,” his guts rolled over. “You’re not going to die.”

“Nothing to worry about, you’ve got Miss Sweater-too-tight and aalllll the women you can possibly want.” Kayla’s hand wound behind her pillow, and she stretched. “She’s such a bitch.”

“Am I hearing jealousy coming out of your mouth?” he asked, threading his fingers through her soft curls. Their new admin assistant, Carrie Watson, had been transmitting her signals loud and clear. Often in front of Kayla. Ignoring her wasn’t working, and he knew it bothered Kayla, which meant he’d put an abrupt end to it now that he had the information from Carrie he’d been looking for. Kayla suspected Carrie hadn’t been upfront with her family history, and he trusted her instincts.

“She’s beautiful, and I’m all scarred,” her voice weakened, and her eyes closed with long lazy blinks. “I hate her. She knows Thane thinks she’s hot, and she’s going to have him.”

“Sweetheart.” He turned her chin so she’d look at him. “Not going to happen. Thane thinks you’re hotter,” he added, talking in third person, like she was.

She nodded once. “Yeahhh, she will.” Puckering her lips, she blew out a long breath. “It makes me sad.”

Too adorable. He’d never seen her so sweet and vulnerable, and he loved it. The wall of smoke and mirrors evaporated, and the woman behind them was so docile and incredibly beautiful. “Does that mean you like him?” he asked, not able to keep the grin from his lips.

A little giggle escaped her, something as rare as the Dresden diamond. “Have you ever seen him? He’s funny. He thinks he’s all big and scary, but he’s not.” She flipped her hand. “God, I love it when he holds me in his arms.” She let out a heavy sigh. “Hey, you’re trying to trick me. Don’t tell him I said that.”

A sublime smile touched her lips, and he wanted to kiss her so badly, but he didn’t want her to stop talking. These were secret thoughts about him, and he hadn’t heard enough. “So you kinda like the guy, hey?”

“No,” she sighed out.

Not the answer he wanted.

“I love him more than I even loved my husband…and that was a lot.” Her hand drifted in the air then halted mid-sway. “Do you think he loves Miss Sweater-too-tight?” Her hand flopped against his shoulder. “She’s so pretty.”

The air staggered to a halt in his throat, and his chest squeezed tight. “You really do love him, don’t you?”

Her lids slipped closed. “I’m so lonely when he leaves me, and he always leaves me. Never show…how bad it…hurts.”

His throat grew thick. “Why?”

“Cuz,” she said, barely above a whisper.

He pulled her hand into his. “Why, sweetheart?”

“Because,” her lids were so heavy she couldn’t focus. “The Shark is going to kill me, but Thane won’t admit it. Don’t want him to be hurt trying….” Kayla licked her lips. “Doesn’t matter. I’m broken, all broken like Humpty Dumpty. He’ll be happy with Carrie.” She strained to open her eyes. “Kayla’s finally going to die. I can’t wait....”

Her lids dropped, and he watched his beautiful mermaid sleep. He sat back, his heart thumping with slow, painful beats. Twisting a silky piece of her hair around his finger, her words reverberated through him.

“Thane, it’s just the drugs. She doesn’t mean that,” Pat said, appearing beside him. Mace stood on the other side of the bed, and gently stroked her hand.

He bit his lip. “Yes, she does. Kayla shows us her brave side, but the hidden side gave up on hope long ago.” He shook his head to ward off the tears choking his throat. “She doesn’t believe anything I’ve told her. She doesn’t think she has a reason to live.”

“Does she?” Pat asked quietly.

He bent over, her warm breath caressed his cheek. “Kayla, can you hear me?”

“Uh-huh,” she murmured weakly, nodding her head a little.

“Thane loves you, sweetheart, he loves you so much. He wants—” Her little snore made him pause. He kissed her forehead. “I want to see hope in your eyes again, Kayla. I want to see it when you look at me.”

 

* * * *

 

The bedroom was dark, and Kayla slept soundly between his legs, her back pressed against his chest as he sat propped up against the headboard, listening to the night. It was probably a dangerous move, but he’d brought her home with him. He hadn’t let go of her since they’d left the hospital. He couldn’t.

Moonlight filtered in and illuminated the bed. He stretched to snag a tube of muscle ointment on his bedside table. Rubbing in gentle circles around her shoulder, the smell of mint filled the air. Her words swirled around in his thoughts as he worked in the cream. Kayla was the only woman who never asked him for attention, but to find out she was lonely when he wasn’t with her, burned him.

He’d been spending too many hours with Manchester, and not enough with her, but she didn’t complain. In her mind, he wasn’t hers. She just accepted it, and now he knew why.

She sighed deeply, and her cheek rubbed his chest.

“Are you awake?” he whispered next to her ear.

“That feels nice.”

He kissed her hair, and continued to massage her shoulder. “You don’t need an appointment you know. Just ask and I’ll do this every night,” he paused. “After your physio.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Why not?” he asked, then kissed her bare shoulder and filled his palm with her breast. Gently, she stroked his thighs. “I wouldn’t say no.”

“Why am I here?”

“Because this is where you belong,” he answered, hearing the wish in his own words. She rolled onto her side, wrapping her arms around his waist. “Kayla?” She turned her sleepy eyes toward him. “You know you’re the only woman in my life, right?” She tucked her chin down and buried her face. “All right, if you don’t want to answer that, how about this, am I the only man in yours?”

A muffled, “No,” tickled his skin.

His brows popped. “Say what?”

“I’ve got all your SEALs tied to my behind.”

He coughed out a laugh. “Okay, so that might be true, but you know what I’m talking about.”

Her answer was a nervous squeak. “No.”

“Kayla, you’re being a brat.”

“You’re being a pain in my ass,” she sing-songed back.

Sliding his palm over her cheek, he said, “It’s a beautiful ass,” letting his fingers tease the sway toward the back of her thigh.

“Captain, are you seducing me again?”

“Can’t seem to stop, might as well give in to it.” He followed the curve of her lips with his tongue, and kissed away the wetness. “How about we both hold up the white flag at the same time? Give in to what we want.”

“What’s that?” she whispered against his mouth.

“Each other.” He chuckled. “And the entire West Coast SEAL teams.” She shook her head, but he stopped her movement with a finger to her chin. “You might be the most stubborn woman on the planet, but I also know you’re the only woman on earth meant for me.” He swept the small white hand towel on the nightstand into his hand and offered it to her. “I’m willing to surrender.”

A little groan escaped her as she pushed herself to her knees and straddled his thighs. With a slow hand, he swirled his thumb around her blush areola, and it peaked against his touch. The response between his legs came hard and fast. He lifted his gaze to memorize the features he wanted to see every day of his life. “I know I promised you I’d find the Shark, and I won’t lie, I’m no closer now than three weeks ago, but I won’t give up.”

Kayla leaned forward, brushing a gentle kiss on his lips, making his need for her soar, but it came plummeting down with her words. “I want you to stop chasing him. Stop chasing me.”

His brow drew tight, trying to read her. Her expression gave nothing away, benign and beautiful as always. “I don’t want to do either. Why would you…?”

When she dropped her gaze instantly, he knew Red was right. She was doing this to protect him. “Kayla, up here,” he said, wanting her to look in his eyes. Reluctantly she did. “If I die protecting you, it’s a sacrifice I’d gladly make for the only woman I’ve ever loved.”

Bdir

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