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Year:
2014
Publisher:
Shay Savage, LLC
Language:
english
Series:
Surviving Raine 2
File:
MOBI , 1.57 MB
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Bastian's Storm (Surviving Raine #2)

Year:
2014
Language:
english
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This book is for Sue. You are a true teacher in heart and mind, and I can’t begin to list everything I have learned from you. I am eternally grateful for your dedication to my work, friendship, and generous hospitality.

A giant thank you to the wonderful group of people who constantly encourage me, keep me going, and ultimately make sure what everyone reads is quality work: Adam, Candise, Chaya, Heather, Holly, Ian, Jada, Tamara, and of course, everyone on my street team!

Special thanks for all the Surviving Raine fans out there who waited (somewhat) patiently for the continuation of Bastian and Raine’s story! You are the reason I write.





Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Poetry Credits

Other Shay Savage Titles

About The Author





I didn't bother to wait until I got outside before I lit my cigarette. The sheer number of people who had shown up for the castaways’ welcome home media circus was insane. Maybe I couldn't get trashed like I wanted to, but I still needed some kind of silent fuck you to everyone there. Lighting up before I got to the door was all the obnoxiousness I could manage.

Outside, I leaned against the railing surrounding the patio area. I had no idea if I was in a smoking area or not, and I didn't give a shit. There wasn't anyone else out here anyway. They were all inside, monopolizing Raine's attention.

Fuckers.

Somewhere inside my screwed up brain, I knew I was being ridiculous. I didn't care how ludicrous I was, but I still recognized it. When we had been alone on a life raft in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and then on a deserted island together, I'd had her all to myself. Now press people and some asshole congressman who was pursuing the vice presidency next year surrounded her. Sharing wasn't my strongpoint. I’d already ; shared one woman in my life, and I wasn’t going to do that again.

Raine isn't like that.

Logic was irrelevant. Knowing Raine wasn't the same kind of person as Jillian didn't matter when it came to my paranoia. Jillian had taken my trust, used it, and destroyed me with it. She’d taken my unborn child and run away with another man.

I took a long drag off the cigarette and blew smoke up into the air. I watched it dissipate in the warm Miami night and considered just what the fuck I was going to do from here on out. There was no going back to how things were. Raine was so fucking happy being back in civilization again, and though her happiness meant everything to me, all I could think about was the open bar back inside the reception hall and how easily I could sneak in, grab a shot of vodka, and sneak back out to the patio without anyone seeing me. Such is the mindset of a recovering alcoholic.

Was that what I was now?

Was that what defined me?

Fuck if I knew. Raine had made it perfectly clear that it was her or the drink, and the decision was—on some level, at least—a simple one. Vodka was something I desperately, desperately wanted, but I couldn’t live without Raine.

A slight scraping sound behind me and to the left brought me from my thoughts. When I turned to look, the cold blue eyes that met mine were unmistakable.

Landon.

Every cell inside my body went on high alert like a decompression alarm in an airplane. All the oxygen seemed to evacuate my lungs, and there weren’t any masks in the area to secure around my head.

Inside his gaze, I could practically see the words forming in his mind. I was unfocused. I hadn't heard him approach. I was unaware of my surroundings, vulnerable, and stupid. The scraping sound from his foot was completely intentional. He could have killed me where I stood, buried in my own thoughts.

“Sebastian,” he said with a slight raise of his left eyebrow.

All my flight-or-fight impulses went into high gear. I couldn’t seem to find any words, didn’t have anywhere to run, and was pretty sure I wasn’t prepared for a fight against the man who taught me everything I knew about how to kill people. With what little breath I had inside of me, I took another draw on the smoke and tried to look nonchalant.

“Landon,” I replied, but my voice choked slightly; the smoke in my lungs got caught, and I started coughing. I nearly doubled over as the unfamiliar, overly-processed tobacco and nicotine—something I was no longer used to having in my body—ravaged my system and left me gasping.

As I recovered, Landon just watched me with a bemused look.

“Motherfucking Marlboros,” I growled.

Landon’s smirk widened, but he didn’t laugh out loud. He never really did.

“You’ve lost weight,” he commented.

There are certainly some people who would have considered his remark a compliment, but I knew exactly what he meant. I wasn’t as big as I had been—I’d lost muscle even before being stranded at sea—and his words held a slight tone of challenge: less muscle, less power. He was calling me weak, and I couldn’t argue with him.

“Living off fish and seaweed will do that to ya,” I said. I was still trying for nonchalant, but I didn’t think I was effective. Landon was still looking at me with his half-grin and raised brow. I tried to pull off a shrug, but it wasn’t working. I looked back to the cigarette perched between my fingers, but it didn’t seem to have any advice for me.

“You finally let someone in,” Landon commented.

I moved my eyes quickly to his as he motioned towards the door leading back inside—back to Raine. My chest tightened, and I wondered just how long he had been in the vicinity and what he might have seen and realized.

Since I first opened my mouth and told Raine about my sordid past, I knew I was putting her in danger. At the time, I had been reasonably convinced it didn’t matter. I didn’t think we’d ever make it back to the mainland and other people again.

But we had.

“What did you tell her?” he asked as he stepped forward and lowered his voice.

“Everything,” I heard myself whisper.

Landon nodded slowly. I had only confirmed what he already suspected.

As I held my breath, he moved closer, turned, and leaned against the railing beside me.

“I should probably kill you both,” he said with a minute sigh. He turned his head toward me. “You know I don’t want to do that.”

He couldn’t have cared less about Raine—I knew that. What he meant was that he didn’t want to end me, not that he wouldn’t put a bullet in my head, because he totally would, but he didn’t want to kill me.

Had he talked to Joseph Franks? Did the Seattle mob boss know where I was and what I was doing? He had to; we had been all over the news since we’d been found. They had even included my real name and my connection as a squealer with the crime lord.

“Leave her alone,” I said quietly. “Do whatever the fuck you want with me, but don’t touch her.”

What should have been a threat came out as nothing more than a desperate appeal. I turned toward him, tossed my smoke to the ground, and tried to stand up a little straighter. I had several inches on him in height, but I always felt small in his presence.

“Please,” I said. “Please, just…just let her be.”

He stared back at me with his ice-blue eyes.

“Not necessarily my decision,” he said.

“Have you talked to him?” I asked quickly. I didn’t need to name Franks; he was a given.

“Not since you resurfaced,” Landon said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“I won’t say a fucking thing, I swear,” I told him. “And she won’t either.”

Landon tilted his head to one side but didn’t comment.

“Please,” I said again, “let me have this.”

I looked into his eyes, and for a moment, they softened uncharacteristically. In that instant, he was the father I never had and I, the prodigal son. His chest rose and fell slightly as he breathed deep and considered me.

“I tried to keep you out of the light,” he said. If I didn’t know him better, I could have sworn there was a hint of remorse in his voice. He shook his head slowly. “You had to go and get yourself on the fucking news. Damn, Bastian—how am I supposed to cover that up? You’re out in the open, sober, and hooked up with the daughter of Henry Gayle. Do you really think he’s going to ignore that?”

“I didn’t fucking do it on purpose!” I growled.

“Do you think that matters?” Landon took a step closer to me, his eyes cold again. “Do you think that changes anything? In the eyes of the cops, you’re a potential source for more information. In the eyes of Franks, you’re a potential threat. You knew that the minute you walked up to the Seattle PD and told them about that night. You told them he’d killed two cops, and since then, I have done everything I possibly could to keep you hidden, to keep you alive.”

He shook his head slowly.

“And now you come back like this? With her?”

I could practically hear my own heart beating.

“Convince him,” I said.

Landon rolled his eyes, and I reached out and grabbed his forearm.

“You can convince anyone of anything,” I said. “Tell him I’m not a threat. Tell him I’ll behave. I swear to God, Landon-”

“You don’t believe in God,” Landon interrupted, shaking his arm free of my grip.

“Then I’ll swear on whatever the fuck you want,” I snarled back. “I’ll do anything—just keep him away from her.”

Landon stared at me with his stoic and intense eyes.

“He’s going to want you to fight,” he said. “Prove your loyalty again.”

“I can’t do that anymore.” I shook my head quickly. “Not with her around me.”

“You may not have a choice.”

“You told me there is always a choice,” I reminded him.

“Yeah,” he agreed, “live or die. You’ve managed to weave yourself a noose and wrap it around your own neck.”

“There was nothing I could do about that,” I insisted. “I didn’t even know—not until we were in Venezuela. Whoever went digging for information found what he wanted. It’s not like I told anyone my real name; they already knew.”

“He might not believe that.”

“Convince him.” I tried to make my words sound like a command, but we both knew it was a plea. If Landon went to bat for me, I had a chance. If he didn’t back me up, I was going to have to grab Raine and get back into hiding as quickly as possible, and I was fairly certain she wouldn’t go willingly.

“I’ll try to hold him off,” Landon said. “I don’t know how long that’s going to last.”

With a sharp breath, I closed my eyes in a moment of relief. When I looked back up, I caught a strange expression in Landon’s eyes—one I hadn’t seen before. I had no idea what it meant, and he went icy as soon as he realized I was looking at him again.

“I’ll keep quiet,” I promised. “Not a fucking word. I swear, Landon.”

He nodded.

“Bastian?” Raine’s voice fluttered from around the other side of the shrubs lining the doors to the building. I turned my head to look at her and then looked back to where Landon had been standing, but he was already gone.

“Right here,” I called out.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked.

“Just having a smoke,” I said, fully aware that I no longer had one in my hand. I quickly reached into my pocket, pulled out another one, and pointed it toward the doors. “I couldn’t take any more of that shit.”

“Well, that shit is pretty much over now,” she informed me. “Congressman Howard is putting us up for the night in the hotel across the street.”

“Congressman Howard wants to shove his dick into you,” I growled as I shoved the cigarette into my mouth and lit up.

“Oh, he does not!” Raine said, scolding.

I rolled my eyes.

“Did he get you a room adjoining his?” I asked.

I was being a dick, and I didn’t care. I had no doubt what that asshole wanted, and what he wanted was mine. Fucker.

Raine just narrowed her eyes at me.

I shrugged and smoked some more. If she didn’t want to admit that he wanted in her panties, that was her problem. If he actually tried to touch her, I was going to be his worst fucking nightmare. I could already see it in my head: the fucker leaning in just a little too close, dropping his hand down to cop a feel of her ass, and me coming up from behind and snapping his neck.

Nah, too quick. I’d have to make him suffer.

Raine’s voice brought me out of my musings.

“I’m really tired,” she said. “Are you going to come with me or let the good congressman walk me to the suite he has arranged?”

I narrowed my eyes and growled.

“So, you’re coming then?”

I growled again, tossed the end of my smoke on the ground, and smashed it under my heel.

“Let’s go.”

Raine smiled and took my arm.

The suite was actually pretty nice. There was a big living area and a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed. Raine collapsed into it without even taking off her clothes, and I crawled in after her. As Landon’s little visit resonated in my brain like a bad pop song, I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her into my chest. I looked to the door of the bedroom and listened closely for any sounds outside, but there weren’t any. Still, I pulled her closer and tossed one leg over both of hers.

Raine tucked her head into my shoulder and sighed, content.

“I can’t believe how good this bed feels,” she said sleepily.

“Hot shower in the morning, too,” I replied. I couldn’t have cared less, but it was one of the things Raine had missed the most when we were stranded on the island. Remembering one of her other complaints, I knocked my head against the pillow a couple of times. “Nice soft pillow, too.”

“Hmmm…”

Hearing her so obviously happy filled me with both joy and dread. Closing my eyes, I thought about our nights in the shelter I had built for her, the sound of the waves as they crashed against the shore, and the steady ocean breeze.

I wanted to go back.

“Sorry I was such a jerk tonight,” I told her.

“I know you are,” she replied simply.

“That guy is an asshole.”

“Who?”

“The politician.”

“He didn’t do anything wrong.”

“If he did, I’d fucking rip his arms off,” I promised.

“Bastian!” Raine snapped as she looked up at me. “You can’t say things like that!”

I rolled my eyes in the most obvious way possible. I could kill him, and she knew it. She’d seen first-hand what I could do when she was threatened.

“We’re back in the real world now,” she reminded me.

As if I needed the fucking reminder. I knew exactly where we were, and I was pretty sure I hated it. As stupid as it was, I missed the barely-comfortable-enough-to-doze-off floor of the palm frond shelter at the end of the beach.

I tightened my arms, pulling Raine securely against me.

“Bastian?”

A shudder ran through me.

“I don’t know how to do this,” I whispered against Raine’s hair. “I don’t know how to be us here.”

She wrapped an arm around my chest and held me as tightly as I was holding her.

“I love you,” I said as my lips pressed to her neck. The sound of my voice echoed everything inside my body—full of fear and dread.

“I love you, too,” Raine replied. She moved her hand up to stroke my hair.

“I don’t know how to do this,” I said again.

“We’ll figure it out,” Raine assured me. “It’s going to take some getting used to—some trial and error—but we’re going to be okay.”

I wished I could believe her, but Landon’s words continued to echo through my head.





Sometimes it just boiled inside of me.


The fucking anger.

It was directed at nothing and everything. It focused on the sights and the people around me because they were the constant reminder of what I had lost. Sometimes it was even directed at the one person who understood and accepted me for the asshole I was.

It made me hate everything and everyone around me even though I knew it didn’t really have anything to do with shit on the outside. It was like a hurricane, churning around in my gut, swirling around and around until I needed to slam my fist into something to keep myself from vomiting. The tension would creep up on me; my entire body would tighten and even begin to shake, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it except…

Just one fucking drink.

On the other side of the varnished bar top, at least a hundred bottles were lined up in front of me, just barely out of reach. Every one of them seemed to be singing to me, but the ones up on the top shelf on the right called to me the most—Kettle One, Grey Goose, Skye. I wasn't sure why I tortured myself, but I did.

Every fucking day.

“You sure I can't get you something, buddy?” The bartender leaned over and tilted his head to look at me, asking me the same thing he asked me every day. He was a young guy—probably working here to put himself through school or whatever—and had that bright-eyed smile that probably drove the ladies to up the tip percentages on their bar tabs. I didn’t meet his gaze; my focus remained behind him.

With a slight shudder, I pushed away from the bar and stood up.

“I'm good,” I lied.

Turning quickly on my heel before I changed my mind, I stomped out of the bar and into the Miami evening heat. Raine would be back from class before too long, and I didn't want to risk having her recovering-alcoholic boyfriend smell like a drinking establishment, even if I had managed to make it through another day without actually ordering a drink. If she knew I was hanging out in a bar during the late afternoons, she’d be pissed, and that was a conversation best avoided. Being close to the shit made my palms itch, and I knew if I opened my mouth and ordered one, the strength it would take to stop it from passing my lips would be more than I possessed. I’d give in.

I’d fail.

I still had a little time before Raine returned, so I headed through Pier Park and down to the beach. There weren’t a lot of people around, and I was glad of that. I’d had too many confrontations with locals and tourists alike on this particular beach. Though Raine and I had developed something resembling celebrity status after we returned from being lost at sea, I didn’t think that was going to keep me out of jail if I attacked another Bermuda-shorts-wearing fuckhead on the beach.

Removing my shoes, I walked barefoot at the edge of the waves. The tide was coming in, and bits of seaweed sloshed against my toes. There were a few dead jellyfish scattered along the tide line, and bits of broken coral sloshed in and out of the waves. If I closed my eyes and ignored the noise of civilization, I could pretend I was back there again.

The island.

Alone with Raine.

My paradise.

Mine, but not hers.

The tension returned. The tsunami inside of me was not unlike the one that capsized my schooner last year—the one that led me to being alone with Raine on a raft in the middle of the Caribbean Sea with no hope in sight. She had no one but me to make sure she had water, food, and eventually shelter on an uninhabited island. She only had me to protect and provide for her.

Like a fucking caveman.

I loved it.

On the other hand, Raine liked hot showers, diet variety, and hanging out with her friend Lindsay and Lindsay’s boyfriend, Nick. She liked living in a high-rise apartment with air-conditioning and an elevator. She liked shopping at the mall and being able to cook food on an actual stove. She liked being able to go to school to learn about ecology and the conservation of the Everglades. She liked being around people.

I hated it all.

The beach was the only place I felt even remotely comfortable outdoors and then only when it was nearly deserted. It reminded me of being shipwrecked and alone with my Raine, who didn’t even want to remain anywhere near the ocean. It took some convincing to get her to agree to stay in Miami—Raine wanted to return to Ohio when we were rescued—but she ultimately let me have my way. She got into the ecology program at the nearby university and discovered her love of the Everglades. I would have preferred a tiny house right up next to the water but settled for a condo in Miami Beach instead.

Raine never went near the beach. She did at first, but she’d end up having nightmares afterward, so she stopped coming down here. She said seeing it from the condo’s balcony was plenty for her, and she didn’t even go out on the balcony much. She said it was because I was always smoking out there, but I knew it was because she didn’t like seeing the ocean waves and listening to the surf.

Everything she loved, I hated. Everything that frightened her, I loved.

How’s that for fucked up?

For the most part, we were making it work. Despite the major difference in opinion about the island where we lived alone for weeks, everything was just fine when we were together. Raine was definitely enjoying her studies at the University of Miami, and my nasty moods usually evaporated around her. I couldn’t help but kind of wish she would change her mind about living in a remote area next to the water, but I wasn’t going to push the issue even if living around all these people wasn’t my preference.

I loved her, and loving her was the only thing that kept me sane.

Well, reasonably sane.

I closed my eyes for a second and took a deep breath. The ocean wind brought the scent of brine and sea life to me. When I opened my eyes again, I nearly walked right into a couple on the beach but managed to just brush up against the guy’s shoulder as he went by.

“Hey, asshole! Watch where you’re going!”

My hands clenched involuntarily as I turned and stared into the eyes of the motherfucker who had just passed me. Dressed in bright blue swim trunks with fucking starfish on them, the guy was maybe in his mid-thirties with light brown hair and bushy eyebrows. The chick in the purple bikini with him couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to impress her or what, and I didn’t really care. The slight amount of calm graced to me by the ocean waves was gone, and in its place was the storm of fury I had been trying to dodge all afternoon.

Without a word or a thought, I hauled back and punched him in the chest.

Though I hadn’t hit him all that hard, it felt good to have my knuckles connecting to someone’s body. Really good. He went down like a fucking ton of bricks despite the pulled punch, and the corners of my mouth turned up.

“Oh my God!” the girl screamed. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

She dropped down on the sand and helped the guy back up to a sitting position as I turned away from the water and headed back up to the street. I could hear both of them yelling for someone to call the cops, but I didn’t pay any attention to them, and the few other souls on the beach seemed to just stand in shock and stare as I passed. I made my way quickly to the pavement, yanked on my shoes over my sandy feet, and headed home. It was later than I thought, and I had to jog to the apartment steps to make sure I was home before Raine. I checked over my shoulder a couple of times, but no one seemed to be chasing after me.

Our one-bedroom condo wasn’t too big, but it was in a posh area of town and cost as much as my schooner had. It had one bedroom, two balconies, and a decent-sized living area that combined the kitchen, living, and dining area into one big room. It was on the fourth floor of the building, so it didn’t take a lot of effort to use the stairs. I hated being on the elevator with other people. They always tried to strike up a conversation, and I was never in the mood for it. After living here for a month, most of them knew exactly who I was, and all those who thought asking me about being lost at sea was a good idea had been proven wrong.

Raine didn’t know about most of my encounters with the neighbors, and I was happy to keep her in the dark.

Deceptive?

Yeah, probably, but it could be worse.

The short run from the beach reminded me that I needed to get back into a regular exercise routine. John Paul would be pissed if he knew I wasn’t keeping myself in shape, and Landon had made it clear to me the first night we were back that I was losing strength. Maybe some trips to the gym would help me to stop thinking about all the other shit in my life. The condo’s fitness center was open twenty-four hours a day, so I could go in the middle of the night to avoid the people. I could do a few miles on a treadmill, hit the dumbbells, and maybe indulge in some squats. I was pretty sure they even had a whirlpool or something I could soak in afterwards.

The only exercise that actually sounded good would be hauling some rocks around to fortify a shelter or foraging the beach for some mussels or crabs, but I was trying hard to convince myself otherwise.

I reached the top of the steps and closed my eyes a moment before inserting the key in the lock and opening the door. I was greeted with neutral colors and the overpriced furniture that came with the place. The luxury condo in front of me was probably a lot of people’s dream home, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be.

I kicked off my shoes and went out to the balcony off the living room for a cigarette. Being able to buy Marlboros was the only thing I actually liked about living in civilization, but I still sometimes missed rolling my own smokes out of the Indian Tobacco plants I had found on the little island where Raine and I were stranded. I wondered if I could get some of that stuff around here and make my own as I finished the smoke and tossed the butt into a little metal bucket Raine bought for them after the condo association tried to fine me for throwing the damn things off the balcony.

Fuckers.

About ten minutes later, the lock turned again, and my reason for living burst through the door with her hands full of brown paper sacks.

“What’s all that shit?” I asked as I took some of the bags from her.

“Dinner,” Raine said with a sweet smile. She set two bags on the table while I placed the others on the counter. Raine grabbed some vegetables, beef, and some kind of Asian sauce in a bottle while I put the rest of the groceries in the fridge.

“How was your day?” Raine asked as she chopped zucchini and mushrooms.

“You weren’t here,” I said, “so it fucking sucked.”

Raine looked over her shoulder and smiled at me.

“How do you make that sound so sweet?” she asked.

“Raw talent,” I replied with a silly grin.

Raine tossed some of the chopped up food in a big skillet and began telling me about her botany class as she alternated between cooking and setting the table. I probably should have helped, but watching her walk around the kitchen like a domestic goddess turned me on too much to do anything but stare and drool. As far as conversation went, she lost me pretty quickly when she moved into diatoms and how important algae were to an ecosystem. By then she had stopped moving around and swaying her hips, so I snuck out to the balcony for another smoke while she was in mid-sentence.

She must have noticed, because I got quite a glare when I came back in. I offered her a half smile and a wink, but she shook her head at me.

“Rude!” she declared.

I moved up behind her and placed my hands on her hips. I sucked at the place where her neck met her shoulder and heard her sigh. Raine leaned back just enough to put a little pressure against my chest but kept stirring a bunch of vegetables in the frying pan. I moved my lips up close to her ear.

“Rude am I in my speech, and little blessed with the soft phrase of peace.”

“What’s that from?” Raine asked.

“Othello.”

She wriggled a little against me. Every once in a while, that master’s degree in English lit was rather handy.

Raine hummed and leaned against me some more, and the closeness of her body reminded me that she had left early this morning. Usually I woke up before her and made sure I claimed her properly before she headed out into a university full of guys but not on Tuesdays when she had an early class. I hadn’t been inside of her since last night, which probably explained my overly volatile mood all day.

“Missed you today,” I said. I moved my hands around her torso and hugged her against me. I brushed the lower edge of her breast with my thumb.

“I missed you, too,” she echoed. “I’ve got a ton of studying to do tonight, though.”

I swallowed, knowing exactly what she meant by that: quick dinner followed by Raine huddled up on the couch in the living room with fifteen books splayed out around her. She’d be so engrossed that I wouldn’t get any attention from her at all.

Fuck that.

I grabbed her hips again and pulled her back against me so she could feel exactly what I thought of that idea. I moved my lips back to her throat and trailed kisses from her ear to her shoulder. My cock hardened more as I slid my fingers under her shirt and ran them along the edge of her shorts.

“You’re going to make me burn dinner,” Raine said as she pushed at my hand. “Maybe tomorrow morning before-”

“Fuck dinner,” I snarled. “Turn off the damn stove.”

Getting inside of her was far, far more important than food.

“Bastian-”

“Turn it off!”

Reaching farther up under her shirt, I found both of her tits and ran my thumbs over her nipples as I ground into her backside. Raine gasped, and I heard the distinct click of the stove’s element being turned off. I wasted no more time. I dropped one hand and lifted Raine up into the air, causing her to squeal and giggle.

My favorite sound in the world.

I didn’t give a flying fuck about the dishes and shit already set out on the table in the kitchen. I tore at the button and zipper of her shorts and dropped the top half of Raine in the middle of the place settings. She made a half-assed attempt at moving the plates and silverware out of the way as I pulled open my jeans and leaned over her back.

With my cock in my hand, I rubbed over her slit with the head as her legs dangled over the side of the table. I bent my knees a little to get the right angle and then plunged into her.

“Fuck…yes…”

All the shit from the first part of the day evaporated until there was nothing left except for me, her, and the slight jingling sound of silverware as I rocked into her body. Nothing else mattered.

Small grunts and moans came from Raine as I slid in and out. Reaching up, I pushed her shirt up near her shoulders and rested my hand on her back as the other held her hip for leverage. When I looked down, I could see my cock moving in and out of her with quick jabs. I slowed slightly, reveling in the sight of our bodies meshing together and changing the angle to rub the back side of her clit.

“Oh shit…Bastian…”

“Feel that?” I growled. “Feels so fucking good getting my cock up in you. You like that? Huh?”

“God…yes…please!”

“Please what?” I pulled out until just the head was still in her and then flexed my hips forward until I bottomed out. “You want more of that?”

“Yes! Yes, please!”

I fucking loved it when she begged.

“You’re going to make me come,” I told her. “All spread out like that. How am I supposed to resist?”

Raine moaned again, and I increased my pace as she moved one hand down to where we were joined. She had to raise her hips a bit to reach, which just gave me a better angle. I grabbed her hand and reached around her waist with the other arm to hold her up a little. Guiding her hand to her clit, I kept my own fingers over hers while she worked herself.

“So fucking beautiful,” I whispered. I leaned over her back a bit more and began to thrust in time with the movements of her fingers.

“Ahhh! Bastian!”

“Let it go, baby…come all over my cock.”

It didn’t take long for her to comply, and as her body tensed around my shaft, I could have sworn we were back there—on our island—lying in the sand with the waves moving over our feet.

“Oh, fuck…yeah…” I grunted. My thighs shook, and I held myself firmly against her as my cock emptied inside her body.

I dropped my head to the middle of her back, panting for a moment. My legs felt like they were going to give out on me, so I couldn’t stay connected to her for long. As beautiful as the sight was, she couldn’t have been very comfortable splayed out on the table like that, so I pulled out and helped her stand.

“Jesus,” Raine muttered as she tried to stand on shaky legs.

I laughed.

“You’re so cute when you’re freshly fucked,” I mused. “Makes me want to do it all over again.”

Raine gathered her clothes from the floor, shook her head at me with a big smile, and raced off to the bathroom to clean up. I just used a paper napkin to wipe myself up a bit before yanking my shorts back up and washing my hands. I didn’t mind smelling like I just had sex with her, so fuck it.

Raine returned, still flushed and beautiful. She nodded toward the destroyed table display.

“You clean that up.”

I smiled, properly chastised and not really caring. I shoved the plates and cups around until they were back in the approximate positions from before our tryst and dropped my ass on one of the chairs to watch Raine finish cooking dinner. After we ate, I sat on the opposite side of the couch and fiddled with a game on my phone while Raine did her studying.

She finally finished and we went to bed. It was late, but I still tried to make up for the quickie in the kitchen by taking her slowly. I rocked into her over and over again until the back of her head was pressed against the pillow and her forehead was covered in sweat.

“Bastian…oh God…”

“So beautiful,” I whispered against her ear.

She wrapped her thighs around my hips, and I matched her rhythm until she came apart around me. I followed soon afterward and then held her tight against my chest while she ran her hands over my back.

These were the times I didn’t give a shit about where we were. I didn’t care that there were hundreds of people living in the same building or thousands of tourists on the beach. Here and now, it was just Raine and I, together.

Peace.

Contentment.

Remembering the random guy I belted on the beach, I couldn’t help but feel how much I didn’t deserve this shit. Raine was nothing like me in that regard. She was polite, giving, and completely and totally friendly to everyone she came across. If she knew what I had done…

I swallowed hard.

“Tell me the reasons?” I whispered. I looked up at her and felt an odd sense of trepidation. We’d done this before, so I wasn’t sure why it made me nervous to ask.

Raine smiled and stroked my cheek. She nodded her head, and I tucked myself into the space between her neck and shoulder to listen. She moved her fingers into my hair and played with the strands by my ear as she spoke.

“I love your strength,” she said. She always started with that. “I love the way I feel so safe when you’re holding me—like there’s nothing in the world that could possibly hurt me as long as you’ve got me.”

“It’s true,” I said quietly. “I’d never let anything happen to you.”

I felt her nod again.

“I love your eyes,” she continued, “and the way you look at me sometimes like I’m the only person in the universe. It makes my heart beat faster when you do that. I love the way you want to take care of me all the time. Even when I don’t want you to, I know it’s because you care about me.”

I tightened my grip on her.

“I love that you try so, so hard not to drink. I know it’s not easy—it’s a daily struggle—but you still endure. You push through it for me. That’s part of your strength as well.”

My chest rose and fell as I took a deep breath and pressed my lips against her collarbone. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt about my daily trips to the bar, but I still hadn’t had a drop since the night my schooner went down.

“Most of all, I love the way you love me,” she said. “I love the passion inside of you and how you make me feel like the most desired woman in the world when I’m with you.”

“I do love you,” I told her.

“I know you do,” she replied. She brushed her lips over my forehead. “I love you, too.”

I swallowed hard against the tightness in my throat, held her a little closer, and closed my eyes. My mind relaxed along with my body, and I felt her fingers stroking my face as I slipped into slumber.

Smoke burns my eyes. Fifteen people have been slaughtered in front of me, but here I stand, unmoving. Landon holds one of my arms, John Paul the other.

They get to the last one—a cop from one of the smaller districts. I wonder why he’s here; it’s not his beat. Gunter Darke grabs him and spins him in a circle, and I watch his face change.

Raine takes his place.

I still can’t move. I still can’t speak.

Gunter pulls her down on her back, and Franks cheers. Four men approach her—a chunky guy, a guy with dreadlocks, one with a buzz-cut, and a guy with a long ponytail.

The uniform worn by the cop is gone, and Dreadlocks tears my T-shirt off of Raine as Buzz-cut and Chunky hold her legs…

I couldn’t breathe when I snapped awake. All the muscles in my chest were constricted around my heart and lungs. Sweat ran from my forehead into my eyes, and my limbs shook uncontrollably.

I gripped the edge of Raine’s pajamas. I needed her closer to me, but I didn’t want to wake her up. I tightened my fingers around the fabric until I could feel my nails in my palms. Pulling her body as closely as I could, I tried to keep myself from shaking, but I wasn’t very successful. I did manage to pull air into my lungs, but once I caught my breath, I had to focus on not hyperventilating.

Breathing through my nose, I tried to inhale deeply and let the air out slowly. It just made my chest hurt. I gripped Raine tighter and tucked my head into her shoulder.

Soft fingers caressed the back of my neck.

“Bastian?”

I couldn’t answer.

“What’s wrong, baby?”

“Nothing,” I croaked. The word was utterly ridiculous.

Raine moved her fingers down to my chin and pushed my face to look at her. I did so reluctantly, and as soon as I met her eyes with mine, some of the tension faded, and I could breathe right again.

“Nightmare?”

I nodded.

“Can you tell me about it?”

I shook my head, and Raine nodded in response. She moved one of her arms around my shoulder and the other around my head. She held me against her chest as I tried to regain some semblance of sanity.

Raine knew me so well, it frightened me. Whereas she used to press for more answers, she was now quick with yes-or-no questions I could answer without speaking, and she knew when to give me a little mental space. Eventually I’d tell her what the dream was about, and she knew that.

Still, even when I heard her reasons, sometimes it didn’t make the feeling of inadequacy go away. Maybe it was all from the lack of affection during my fucked up childhood, like Raine thought, or maybe it was because the one man who did offer me any kind of parental connection was also the man who taught me how to be a killer—a damn good one.

Maybe it was because I missed being a killer.

“I can’t do this,” I whispered to Raine as my throat and mouth went dry. “I want a drink so fucking bad.”

“I know, baby,” she replied, “but you’re stronger than that.”

I closed my eyes a moment and shook my head vigorously.

“Only on the outside.” I met her eyes again. “You have more strength inside than I do.”

She moved her fingers into my hair and brushed it away from my sweaty forehead.

“You have more than you know,” she said. “You work at it every day, and every day you get stronger on the inside too.”

Everything in my head wanted to deny it. I didn’t feel strong. I just felt like drinking or fucking.

“I wanna fuck you,” I said. I saw the little twinge in her eye at the phrase but couldn’t bring myself to regret it.

“Always so crass,” she muttered.

I fought with my head for a way to explain.

“When I’m inside you, everything changes,” I told her. “It’s not about getting my dick wet; it’s about being so close to you that I can feel your strength in me. When I feel your arms on my back, and you hold me against you, that’s when I feel strong.”

Raine’s eyes softened and glistened a little. She ran her fingers over my jaw lightly as her eyes moved back and forth between mine. I wasn’t sure if she got it or if it made up for me being the crude asshole that I was, and just when I figured I couldn’t even make sense to myself, let alone her, she spoke.

“Fuck me, Bastian,” Raine said. “Hard.”

Without hesitation, I moved to straddle her. Pulling her up by her shoulders, I reached behind her head and pulled her mouth to mine. Our tongues touched with a frantic pace, and I wanted nothing more than to devour her. She gripped the back of my neck, holding my mouth to hers as she returned the kiss with as much passion as I gave her.

I couldn’t wait any longer.

Rising up on my knees, I pulled Raine into my lap. She reached down and angled my cock towards her opening, and I lifted her up and then slammed her down on it. She leaned backwards, and I held the small of her back with one hand while the other moved up to caress her breasts.

She moaned, and I thumbed her nipple as she worked herself up and down on my cock. Her skin was so soft on the palm of my hand, and I stroked each breast before reaching back around and grabbing her ass with both hands.

I took over, bringing her up and slamming her back down over and over again until sweat covered both of us. Raine’s breath covered the skin of my chest and shoulder as she held my biceps to try to keep her balance.

As if I would ever let her fall.

Our eyes met through a lusty haze, and I had no words for the emotions spreading through my body. There was want and need; there was love, but there was also so much more. Looking at her was like gazing into the eyes of an angel—a guardian angel—one who was sent from heaven just to save my sorry soul.

Raine’s cries echoed through the small bedroom, bouncing off the walls and ceiling, and creating the most enticing music to my ears. Laying her back down on the mattress, I grabbed her knee and pulled it up against my hip as I lay over the top of her and continued.

She wrapped her legs around me and dug her heels into my backside. The pressure from her lower embrace was more than enough to increase my pace to a furious pounding. My cock plunged in and out of her with long, hard strokes.

I panted with each penetration and gripped her ass and back as I drove home with each thrust of my hips. I dropped my forehead to her shoulder as my gut began to quiver, and my balls constricted. The tingling continued, built up, and exploded through my cock and into her body as I let out an incoherent cry.

Finally satiated, I slowed and eventually stilled, collapsing on top of her and trying to catch my breath. Raine’s legs tightened around my waist, and her arms gripped my shoulders. Pressing my lips to her neck in silent thanks, I rolled us both to our sides.

“You are my world,” I whispered against her skin. “I can survive anything as long as I have you with me.”

My storm was calmed. At least for now, I closed my eyes and slept without dreams.





The life raft is behind me, and the rope is wrapped tightly around my wrist. I reach out for the dark hair floating in the water, but I can’t quite grasp it. Someone’s suitcase floats in front of me, and I shove it out of the way. I can’t see her anymore. She’s slipped under the waves, and it’s so dark, I can’t find her…


I woke gasping for air, but the warmth of the tiny body next to mine was enough to remind me where I was. I tightened my fingers around Raine’s T-shirt for a moment and tucked my face into her hair to breathe in her scent. It calmed me a little.

Initially.

It wasn’t enough.

Not wanting to wake her yet again, I pushed myself out of bed and moved into the living room. I found a pack of cigarettes on the table next to the couch and headed out to the balcony. I smoked two down to the filters before I managed to calm myself enough to get the worst of the images out of my head. Leaning back in the patio chair, I closed my eyes and inhaled the nighttime sea breeze.

It didn’t feel right to sit in a chair, so I got off of it and sat on the mat by the door. I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around my knees. With my eyes closed again, I listened to the surf and told myself that none of the fucked up shit in my head was real.

The real part was sleeping in the next room.

Reminding myself that being with her was more important than anything else, I pushed off the balcony floor and went inside. I crawled back into bed and wrapped my arms around my Raine. I held her back against my chest and tossed my leg around her thighs. With her pretty much trapped underneath me, safe from dark waves, I finally relaxed. I didn’t get back to sleep at all, but focusing on her body lying beneath mine was enough to get me through the night.

Breakfast, however, was a disaster.

“We’re out of milk,” Raine announced. “We also need dinner stuff for tonight. I was hoping you would grill out.”

“Sure,” I said over the rim of my coffee cup. Black coffee, nothing added to it. I tried to forget the way it tasted with half the mug full of Kahlua as I thought about Raine’s friends coming to dinner. They were coming from Hollywood for the evening to celebrate Lindsay’s success at work, and grilling meant less talking to Nick Sinclair, Lindsay’s boyfriend.

“Steak, then?”

“Sure,” I said again. I tried not to show how much it pissed me off that our Friday, usually the only night of the week Raine didn’t spend on homework, was going to be invaded by those two.

“Can you get to the store today?” Raine asked. “I have a study group after class, and they’ll be here around six.”

“Will you make a list?” I looked up at her expectantly and found myself completely distracted by the way her hair moved as she turned her head to look at me. She’d blown it dry this morning, and it was perfectly smooth. I wanted to run my hands through it. I wanted to wrap it around my wrist and hold her down on the bed while I rammed…

“Of course.”

I blinked a couple of times as I tried to remember what we’d been talking about.

Oh yeah—grocery lists.

“Okay, then,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

There was no way I was going to go shopping without knowing exactly what she wanted—been there, done that. Never again. As it was, there would be something major missing, and I’d have to go back out again, but at least it wouldn’t be my fault. Not that I minded going back—a crowded market was somehow better than intimate company in the small condo.

Raine kissed my cheek.

“Thank you,” she said with a smile.

“You know, if we were still on the island, I’d already have everything we needed all gathered up,” I said. “I’d grill for you every night if you wanted. You could make that chowder out of mussels and crabs that went so well with those little sweet potatoes.”

Thinking out loud was rarely a good move for me, but my mouth just continued on its merry little way.

“We could maybe plan a vacation there sometime,” I suggested. “You know—just you and me for a couple weeks. Maybe even for your spring break. It would be good to be away from here before all the crazies get to town. Then in the summer, we could go a little longer, a month, even-”

“Bastian.” Her tone stopped my words, and the look on her face nearly stopped my heart. “You can’t be serious.”

I felt a little cold but opened my mouth anyway.

“Why the fuck not?”

“You’re talking about going back…back to that same island where we were stranded?”

“Well…yeah.”

“That’s hardly a…a vacation!” she said, her voice rising.

“It’s not like we’d be stuck there,” I argued. “We could fly into St. Maarten and rent a boat. I can sail a small one without help, and I could even teach you how to do it. It wouldn’t take long to get there, and we could-”

“No!” Raine snapped. She glared at me for a moment as her chest rose and fell with her breath. “Bastian, I was terrified when we were there! I was attacked by a bunch of human traffickers, and I never knew when some hurricane was going to come through and throw us into the ocean! I hated it! I hate that place!”

I tensed.

“All of it?” I asked quietly. It was a low blow, and I knew it, but I didn’t fucking care.

Raine sighed and moved over to where I sat at the island table that separated the kitchen from the living area. Her eyes still held some anger, but she brought her hands up to cup my face and then run into my hair. She sighed again and shook her head as I reached up and gripped the sides of her shirt to hold her closer.

“Of course not,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade finding you for anything, but we don’t have to be there anymore, and just being this close to the ocean is hard enough for me.”

“I wouldn’t let anything happen to you,” I insisted. I tightened my fingers around her T-shirt. “I’d keep you safe, just like I did before.”

“Safe from hurricanes?” she asked incredulously. “I know you wouldn’t ever let anything happen to me, but some things you just can’t control. At least here, there’s advance warning and evacuation plans. There are police to deal with the crime.”

I rolled my eyes. Yeah, sure—there were police and shit around here, which made me totally superfluous. She didn’t need me here, which was where a lot of my issues seemed to originate.

“What am I supposed to do around here?” I mumbled. “Just be the fucking errand boy? Got some light bulbs that need changing?”

Raine stilled her fingers on my scalp for a moment then resumed.

“I heard some tourist was attacked on the beach the other day,” she said. “Some guy just punched him for no reason. There’s plenty around here for you to protect me from.”

I couldn’t help it; a laugh burst out of me.

“I’m the most dangerous person around here,” I said as I looked up into her soft, brown eyes. The anger was gone from them, but the hard determination was still there. Apparently, she forgot who was living with her. “Who is going to protect you from me?”

I shoved myself away from her and out of the kitchen. My cigarettes were on the nightstand in the bedroom, so I grabbed them and opened the balcony door. I heard Raine come up behind me as I leaned on the rail and flicked ash towards the amoeba-shaped pool below.

“Are you going to tell me what’s in your head right now?” she asked softly.

I thought about it a minute.

“You don’t need me here,” I said.

“I do need you,” she insisted.

“No,” I replied, “you don’t.”

“Sebastian…” Her voice held warning.

“I know,” I said as I raised my hands in surrender, “you love me—I know that. I don’t get it, but I know it. You want me—I get that too—but you don’t need me. Not like you did there.”

“I might not need you to find me fresh water or fish, but I still need you.”

I really didn’t want to fight with her over the fucking semantics. It was obvious we weren’t going to come to terms on this one. For a moment, I stayed silent and gathered my thoughts. I didn’t want her to leave for school with an argument behind her, so I decided to just drop it. I took one last pull on my smoke, tossed the butt in the bucket, and turned to face her.

“Agree to disagree?” I suggested.

Raine sighed and pursed her lips. I gave her a lopsided grin and held out my arms. She came to me, and I wrapped myself around her, holding her as tightly as I could. She raised her hands to grip the backs of my shoulders and placed her cheek against my chest. Tucking my face into her neck, I reveled in the smell of her hair and the softness of her skin as they calmed me.

“You mean everything to me,” she said. “I don’t like to see you hurting—you know that—but I can’t go back there. I don’t ever want to go back there.”

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to ignore the burning behind them.

“I know,” I whispered into her hair.



Lindsay was Raine’s best friend from Ohio. She relocated to the Miami area when Raine and I were missing in order to be closer to where the search was, and Nick was the helicopter pilot who eventually located us and removed us from the island. For that reason alone, I hated him, but I tried not to show it.

Lindsay came from money, which showed in her demeanor more than Raine ever wanted to admit. Her mother was a judge or something on the state supreme court, and her father was an executive at some corporation. Lindsay didn’t flaunt it exactly, but the chick bought fucking everything that caught her eye and then usually tried to get Raine to buy the same thing so they could match.

I didn’t get that shit.

“You have to see these shoes I found online!” Lindsay blathered as she dropped an insanely sized designer handbag next to the door and pulled Raine over to the couch. I wondered if there was a pair of Chihuahuas in the bag—they definitely could have fit. Both women leaned over the laptop on the coffee table and pulled up some bargain shoe site. The two of them giggled and pointed at the screen while Nick rolled his eyes.

“Women, huh?” he said with a friendly smile. He placed a large, brown paper sack on the kitchen island and reached out his hand to shake. “How are ya, Sebastian?”

Totally ignoring his hand along with his efforts, I grunted, grabbed my smokes and a lighter, and headed through the sliding glass door. I closed it with a slam behind me.

Out on the balcony, I tried to find it in myself to feel bad about blowing the guy off, but I just couldn’t. Every time I looked at him, I heard the whirling blades of the helicopter as it landed on the beach and destroyed my world. I knew Raine and Lindsay wanted us to get along, and Nick certainly tried, but I was an asshole about it all.

I fired up the grill and laid the steaks out on the attached tray. They were nice and thick, so I knew they were going to take a while to cook, which meant more time for talking with Raine’s friends.

Fucking fabulous.

I finished my smoke and slid the balcony door open.

“Seriously, Lindsay, what were you thinking?”

Lindsay and Raine were on the near side of the kitchen island with their backs to me, and Lindsay was holding a couple of wine glasses while Nick uncorked a bottle of Merlot at the counter by the sink.

“It’s just a bottle of wine,” Lindsay was saying. “It’s been months. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I want to celebrate my promotion, dammit!”

“He’s going to act like a jerk whether we have a drink or not,” Nick muttered.

“Stop that!” Lindsay smacked his arm and then turned back to Raine. She placed her hand on Raine’s shoulder and leaned closer. “You know he’s going to have to learn to be around it, sweetheart. I’m not trying to be insensitive, but you both have to know other people are going to indulge occasionally, and-”

“It’s all right,” I snapped as I walked in from the living room. “Drink the fucking wine. I don’t give a shit.”

They all turned toward me with big eyes and fidgety feet.

“Bastian,” Raine sighed, “this is your home-”

I barked out a laugh and then shook my head. My home was a long way from here, and I didn’t really think a fucking bottle of wine was going to make this place that much worse. With a deep breath, I tried to calm my voice.

“It’s all right, babe,” I said. I walked up behind her and wrapped my arms around her waist, kissing her neck gently just to prove a point. I wasn’t sure what the point was, but I was sure it needed to be proven to someone. “She wants to celebrate or whatever. I’ll cope.”

And cope I did—hanging on to my fucking iced tea glass like it was a life preserver—for all of about forty minutes.

“Sounds like Raine’s doing well in school,” Nick said as he slid the balcony door shut and joined me outside.

“Humph,” I replied through my nose. I kept my eyes on the grill, hoping he’d get the hint and go back inside. He didn’t. Fucker.

“So what are you doing during the day when she’s at class?” he asked.

“Jerking off,” I replied.

He laughed, but the sound trailed away when I moved my eyes to his.

“I guess it gets pretty boring, huh?” Nick shuffled back and forth on his feet and then leaned against the balcony railing. He took a sip from his wine glass and kept that stupid grin plastered on his face. “So where are you from, Bastian?”

“Chicago.”

“The windy city!” he exclaimed, like it was something I didn’t already know. “I was there once with my parents and sister when I was a kid. Loved all the museums. We rode that big Ferris wheel at Navy Pier and went to the top of the Sears Tower.”

It wasn’t worth the effort to correct him and say it wasn’t called that anymore, so I didn’t say anything. What was it about people’s need to tell you about their visits to a place you lived? He wasn’t the first to babble about Chicago, but I had seen a lot more of the alleys on the south side of the city than I ever did of the fucking museums.

“I’m from Pennsylvania,” he continued. “Pittsburgh, actually. My dad worked for a big container company.”

I ignored him.

“Mom was mostly a housewife, but she did a lot in the schools, too. She tutored kids and worked with the PTO—you know, bake sales and all that stuff.”

I could feel tension rippling up my back and into my shoulders with every word he spoke. My brain felt as if it were spinning in circles, trying to conjure up an image of a life like the one he had or of the woman who birthed me, but there was nothing to find.

“Do you still have family in Chicago?”

“No.” I clenched my teeth and hoped he wouldn’t go there.

“So where does your family live now?”

Of course he did.

Fucker.

“I don’t have any family,” I said.

“Oh, shit…sorry.” He scratched at his head and took another drink. “What happened to them?”

“Don’t know; don’t care,” I snapped. I jammed the tongs underneath one of the steaks and tossed it on its other side. “Change the fucking topic.”

After a little silence, I hoped he’d go back inside, but my luck just didn’t run that way.

“Are you going to get another boat?”

“I never had a boat,” I said.

“Oh, uh, I thought that sailboat was yours.”

“It was a three-masted schooner,” I said, “a ship, not a boat.”

“Sorry, I don’t know much about boats.”

Fuck me.

“So, are you going to get another one?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I let out a long breath and turned to glare at him.

“Because I fucking live here now!” I snarled before I focused my attention on the sizzling meat.

I guess I knew he was only trying to be nice and make conversation or whatever, but I wasn’t interested. I didn’t have anything to say to him, and I sure as hell wasn’t planning to open up and give the fucker my life story. It would only get him killed.

Now there’s an idea.

I shook my head a little to clear the violent thoughts parading around in it. With my attention on the food, I made it all the way through Nick’s attempts at conversation while I flipped steaks. When we went back inside, I made it all the way through Lindsay’s incessant babbling about shoes and Raine’s sideways glances at me every time someone took a sip of wine.

Raine had completely ignored the glass Lindsay had poured for her and drank water.

That just pissed me off more. I didn’t want her to deny herself just because I had a fucking drinking problem. It was my issue, not hers.

“How about a toast to the new customer service manager?” Nick said as he held up his glass.

Lindsay squealed a bit. She grabbed the glass Raine was avoiding and placed it her hand. Raine looked at me sideways again, and I rolled my eyes dramatically.

“Just drink the fucking drink, will you?” I snarled. “I really don’t give a shit.”

Raine cringed a bit and nodded at Lindsay. Nick held up his glass and said something about how proud he was of little Lindsay hitting the big-time of middle management. I sat on one of the stools in the kitchen and fiddled with my lighter.

“Come on, Bastian,” Lindsay said, “you have to hold up your glass!”

“It’s tea, for fuck’s sake,” I reminded her.

“You can still toast,” Lindsay argued.

I stared at her blankly for a moment, trying to keep all the nasty shit I wanted to say from flying out of my mouth like a swarm of bees from a disturbed hive. All the tension was moving up my legs and into my gut, and I had to swallow to keep the words inside.

“Drop it, baby,” Nick said quietly.

“But he can!” Lindsay insisted as she turned toward her boyfriend.

“Please,” Raine said as I felt her hand grip my knee as she stepped closer to me, “let’s go ahead and eat, okay?”

Awkward silence ensued.

It was better than what happened afterwards.

We all sat around the kitchen island with plates of steak, baked potatoes with little broccoli florets on top of them, and one of those salads with green stuff in it you couldn’t actually identify. My fingers tapped repeatedly against my leg as I tried to keep my mouth too full to join in any discussions.

Not that I had anything to add to them.

“So proud of my girl,” Nick said with a wide smile. He tossed his arm over Lindsay’s shoulders and gave her a stupid-ass grin.

Every word that came out of his mouth I wanted to pound back into his face. It wasn’t the words themselves; it was the way he said them. It was the way he beamed at her like she was the center of the fucking universe. She was eating it up, too.

I kind of wanted to puke.

Raine smiled at both of them before tilting her head to look at me. Her smile faltered immediately as she watched me tear into another bite with my fingers clenching the knife so tightly, it probably looked like I was trying to brutalize the cow.

“Only two years at the store, too,” he continued.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I muttered, no longer able to keep it inside. “It’s a customer service job. She’s not on the board of directors.”

Half a second of silence before Nick sat up taller and glared at me.

“What the fuck is your problem?” Nick finally snapped.

I glared right back.

“Let’s see where to start.” I tapped my finger on my chin. “Oh yeah—you’re a dickhead.”

“Bastian!”

I slammed my hand down on the table and stood up.

“This is fucking pointless!” I yelled. “I can’t sit around here and pretend all this is just fine and dandy, Raine! It’s bullshit!”

I wasn’t really sure exactly what was bullshit, but I was pretty confident that there was bullshit about the room. I didn’t like it. In fact, I couldn’t fucking tolerate it another second.

“Jesus, Bastian…” Lindsay’s face crinkled up as if she’d just seen some poor girl on the beach in Wal-Mart flip-flops. “Calm down already.”

I curled my fingers into a fist, my nails digging into my palms. I wasn’t going to hit her—I wouldn’t actually do that—but the desire was certainly there. I was pretty sure if I did, Nick would come to her rescue at that point. Pummeling him was a very attractive idea, and I found myself actually considering making a move on her just to get the opportunity to hit him.

I glanced in Raine’s direction, and all those thoughts left my head. She’d never fucking forgive me if I did something like that, and the only thing that could possibly relieve some of the tension I felt was knowing once these two idiots were gone, I’d take Raine to bed and forget about this whole evening.

It occurred to me that I might have already blown that opportunity.

“Fuck this,” I muttered as I stood up and grabbed my jacket from the hook on the wall.

“Bastian, where are you going?” Raine asked.

“Getting the fuck out of here.”

Raine pushed away from the table and started to walk over to me, but Nick, who was closer to the door, beat her to it. He stepped around me and blocked me from getting from the doorway to the elevator.

“Come on, man,” he said with his hands up in some kind of stupid-ass surrender motion. “It’s all good. No reason for you to go.”

“Get the fuck out of my way!” I yelled. I shoved Nick aside and grabbed the handle of the door. I wasn’t about to wait around for the elevator, so I slammed both hands onto the metal bar on the door to the stairs and started down them, skipping two steps at a time until I reached the bottom. About halfway down, the sound of Raine yelling after me had diminished enough to be forgotten.

Every muscle in my body was painfully tight. I tried to keep my mental focus on getting the fuck out of the general area and not on going back upstairs to punch that asshole in the face. If Raine hadn’t been there, there was no doubt in my mind that I would have beaten the shit out of him, and it was only her presence that kept me from going back up there.

I needed a major distraction, and thankfully, there was something on the lower level that was good at capturing my attention.

Inside the underground parking garage were two spaces for our vehicles. One contained Raine’s Subaru, which she had driven from Ohio prior to going on the cruise that landed us both on a life raft. Next to it was the only thing I had bought since we arrived in Miami—a Honda CBR600RR.

My motorcycle.

I flipped my leg over it, started it up, and threw it into gear. A few moments later, I was doing ninety on the MacArthur Causeway, heading to I-95. I didn’t know where I was going, just that I wanted to get as far away from that condo as quickly as I could. Driving as if there were a bunch of fast-moving zombies from World War Z on my tail, I slipped between cars and trucks as I headed west, reached the interstate, and sped northward.

The wind on my face drew water from my eyes, but I reveled in the feeling, the unhindered freedom the bike gave me. It wasn’t as good as the schooner on the sea because of the traffic I had to buzz around, but it was a decent substitute. The air still smelled like salt this close to the ocean, and I could nearly taste the sea on my tongue.

I didn’t keep track of the time I spent just speeding up the highway. At some point I took an exit, turned around, and headed back toward Miami Beach. I didn’t get that far though, choosing instead to get off the interstate and head through some back streets. I zipped through some neighborhoods with unkempt lawns and boarded-up windows then past some strip malls with half the stores closed up. There weren’t a lot of people around, and those that were looked like they’d rather be somewhere else.

I finally pulled the bike over, dropped the kickstand, and put my head in my hands. I leaned over the handlebars and took several deep breaths before I sat back and looked around.

I hadn’t been to this area of town before, and it looked shady, to say the least. It definitely looked like the kind of area tourists avoided because they were more likely to get mugged than offered a drink with an umbrella in it. It immediately reminded me of living on the streets of Chicago before Landon found me and hauled me out to Seattle to start training.

Training.

I snorted to myself.

I’d learned how to kill and how to avoid being killed so I could fight and win in death-match battles to amuse the stupidly rich and powerful people of organized crime all over the world. I’d earned an insane amount of money for taking the lives of others in the most brutal ways possible. It had never bothered me in the slightest.

Why should it have? It wasn’t like those who came up against me didn’t know what they were getting into. At the level I played, all of them had been in tournaments, and none of them came out with clean fingernails. There was blood on the hands of everyone I killed.

If I hadn’t done it, one of the other fighters would have. It was only a matter of time. Very few tournament players ever actually retired—most of them just got beat. John Paul and I were two of the very few who actually gave it up and went on to something else, though the circumstances made it more of a necessity than a choice.

You didn’t testify against the mega-super crime boss for torture and murder without having to go into hiding. It wasn’t like Franks was going to offer me my job back after that. Landon had to cut his losses, give me a new identity, and send me on my way with John Paul looking out for me as I dived further and further into a perpetual bottle of vodka.

Thinking about training with Landon made me realize I wasn’t exactly following what I had been told to do—watch my surroundings and always know what dangers might be lurking. In a neighborhood like this one, I needed to pay attention. I straightened up and took a good look around me, wondering which of the idiots around here might have thought I was a good target for pickpocketing.

The idea of someone coming after me and stealing my wallet was kind of intriguing. Maybe that was exactly what I needed—a good fight in a shitty neighborhood where the police wouldn’t show up until I was long, long gone.

I tossed my leg over the bike and started meandering down the street. A few dodgy people walked by, but I must not have looked like a viable target to them. After walking up and down a few alleys, I came across a hole-in-the-wall bar with a decent amount of noise coming from it.

There was a guy standing by the door, giving everyone who approached the bouncer-vibe. He checked IDs, turned a few people away, and then leaned back against the frame of the entrance to smoke. When I approached, his eyes lit up.

“Hey, are you the dude they’re waiting for?”

Slightly startled, I debated lying to him and saying yes, but lying in this kind of circumstance was a little too risky. For all I knew, he was waiting for the boss-man’s boyfriend.

“Don’t think so,” I replied. “Why?”

“Oh,” he said as his forehead crinkled a bit, “that’s a shame. You look like a good match.”

“Match for what?” I asked.

He crooked his thumb and motioned inside.

“Just a little friendly competition,” he said with a sly smile. “You wanna watch? They’ve been letting anyone stupid enough to give it a try into the cage tonight since the other dude hasn’t shown up.”

I shrugged but couldn’t help feeling a little excited. I brushed passed the dude to get a look inside and found myself in a warehouse with a makeshift bar off to one side, a bunch of tall tables and chairs around, and hundreds of people yelping and hollering at the center of the place. Surrounded by a ring of chain link, a large platform housed two guys in shorts who danced around each other, punching and kicking as everyone cheered and handed wads of cash back and forth.

Cage fighting.

This place obviously wasn’t UFC regulated or anything. The referee was a chick in a black-and-white striped bikini, for Christ’s sake. There was one dude in orange trunks who obviously had some MMA experience and was decently big and another one who was obviously a drunken college idiot who knew what the inside of a gym smelled like, but that was about it. The green trunks he was wearing didn’t even fit him right and were probably borrowed from the bar.

College-boy was getting hammered.

I handed the cover charge over to the bouncer and made my way to the side of the cage to watch the beating. My fingers twitched as I ran them over the edge of the chain-link fencing, and I felt my heart rate increase. I’d never been in a cage fight, but this was similar enough to the street fighting I did as a kid. Everything around me felt familiar.

A couple of hard lefts to the face and a quick kick to the side made college-boy drop to his knees. Orange-trunks jumped on his back and immediately began slamming the kid’s head against the mat. Stunned, the poor guy could barely smack his hand against the other dude’s shoulder to tap out.

The winner began to jump around the cage, smacking his hands on the chain-link and yelling at the audience. I watched him closely—the way he moved, where his eyes went, and how his feet touched the floor—while college-boy was handed over to his buddies and another dude walked into the cage and looked out at the patrons.

“Who’s next?” he shouted.

I had to bite down on my lip to keep from volunteering.

There was no fucking way Raine would approve of any of this shit. She wouldn’t like it, not at all. She wouldn’t like the idea of me fighting, getting hit, or hitting another guy. It was entirely possible she would give me shit just for walking into the damn bar, and she would probably be right, but knowing how Raine would react to the whole situation wasn’t what made me stop.

I was going to do this shit—no doubt. I just wanted to see the dude fight again before I made myself known.

My interest was piqued. At least for now, I was going to watch.





The announcer called the dude in the orange shorts “Brutal Brutus,” which I thought sounded absolutely ridiculous, but it did seem to fit. He didn’t waste any time going after the next guy who walked into the cage with him. This one was a little older than college-boy, who was nursing a bloody and probably broken nose over by the bar. The new opponent was a muscular guy with biceps about as big as mine, but he also sported a lot of gut and very little hair.


Brutal Brutus wasn’t impressed with Muscles. He avoided the guy’s lame attempts at a left hook with ease. As big as he was, Muscles obviously didn’t have much fighting experience, and he went down quickly. The short fight still gave me enough opportunity to observe Brutus’s fighting style.

He favored his right way too much, and it left him unbalanced. He also stuck to very basic patterns that left little to the imagination. Right-right-left, right-right-left. He was predictable, which made him vulnerable.

“Does anyone else dare to face Brutal Brutus?” The MC-slash-announcer walked around the ring, pointing his finger at the audience. “There’s a hundred dollars to anyone who can stay up for three minutes, five hundred if you can take him down!”

I didn’t give a shit about the money, but I approached the edge of the ring and caught the MC’s eye.

“Looks like we have a challenge!” he announced, and the crowd began to cheer.

One of the bouncers led me back to a small room that served as a locker room but looked like it was supposed to be a large custodial closet. The smell was nearly enough to make me gag, but I breathed through my mouth and went inside. The bouncer dude pointed out a shelf with a few pairs of shorts on it, and I grabbed blue ones. He politely stood facing the door and away from me as I removed my shirt, dropped my jeans, and pulled on the trunks.

“Ya ready?” he asked.

“Just about,” I said. I rolled each shoulder around, stretched my arms and chest a bit, and then nodded to him.

The bouncer brought me back out to the edge of the cage and opened the chain door. As I stepped into it, the MC leaned toward me.

“What are ya?” he asked. “Six-three? Six-four?”

“Six-three,” I replied.

“Weight?”

“About two-twenty.”

“What’s your name?”

I paused for a moment.

“Daniel,” I said.

“Got it!” The announcer cracked his knuckles as he looked me over a bit more.

“Here we go again, everyone!” he called out. “Next into the cage is Dangerous Daniel!”

I rolled my eyes. The chick in the referee bikini took my hand by the wrist and held it over her head as the MC went over my stats.

“He’s six feet three inches tall, and weighs in at two hundred and twenty pounds of solid muscle! Ladies, keep your eyes on this one!”

I glanced out over the audience and listened to the hollering coming from the women in the bar. A warm tingle went up my spine as the familiarity of the situation relaxed me and I focused my attention on what was to come.

Looking over at Brutus, I gripped my hands into fists and took a deep breath as the chick referee pushed a mouthguard between my teeth.

This was where I belonged.

Brutus walked up, danced on the balls of his feet, and waited patiently for me to make the first move. Knowing he would start with his right, I moved into his space to give him what would appear to be a clear shot. The slight grin on his face told me he had fallen for it before he took his first swing.

I dodged to the right, ducking and slamming my fist into his kidney as I went past him. He grabbed at his side for a second but recovered quickly and came at me again, his eyes narrowed. He swung again, missed again, and lost his footing briefly.

When he regained his composure, he took a step back and watched me carefully. He had realized I wasn’t going down easily and was going to take his time now. Assuming he thought I would go with another ploy, I went straight at him, diving against his body and punching him rapidly in the gut and side.

He returned the favor though his blows weren’t very hard from that angle. His arm twisted around mine, and he brought his free hand up high before slamming it into my temple.

The blow sent me down and backward, but I didn’t fall. In fact, it just pissed me off. I leapt forward, diving at his body and sending us both to the ground. We rolled, both of us punching at each other’s sides until we hit the edge of the cage. My head bounced against the chain link, and Brutus pushed away from me, standing again.

I followed suit, jumped up, and readied myself. I watched him closely as he danced from left to right, then came at me with his predictable pattern. I dodged right, turned swiftly, and locked one of my legs behind his. I grabbed his shoulder and pulled his back to my chest.

With one leg wrapped around his torso, I threw him to the mat. I tightened my arm around his neck, wrapped my other arm around his head, and slammed his face into the ground twice. I pulled one arm back and elbowed him in the shoulder as hard as I could. He continued to struggle under me, trying to get his arms under him enough to push me off, but his efforts were wasted.

I turned my head to the side and spit out the mouth guard.

“You gonna tap out, or should I go ahead and kill you?” I snarled.

I felt the pressure of his Adam’s apple under my forearm, but he couldn’t actually swallow as I flexed against his throat. His hand flew out, and he slammed it three times against the mat.

I paused just a little longer than I needed to before tossing him to the ground. He lay there gasping as everyone in the bar started to cheer, and the post-violence high swept over me.

I was elated. With wide eyes and what probably looked like a crazed smile, I looked over the crowd and felt my heart pounding in my chest. I could feel blood—hot and sticky—on my knuckles. The crowd continued to scream as the chick in the referee-styled bikini held my arm up as high as she could. She looked up at me with raised eyebrows.

“Nice job,” she said with a smile and a wink. “I don’t think Brutus is going to forget that anytime soon.”

“He better fucking not,” I replied, wriggling my eyebrows at her, “or I might have to come back and remind him.”

She laughed. As she released my wrist, she ran her hand up to my shoulder and squeezed it a little before she wrapped her arm through mine.

“All right, folks,” the announcer said as he waved his hands at the crowd, “that’s it for tonight! More fights next week! Don’t miss ‘em!”

The bouncer who had taken me to the locker room knelt down next to Battered Brutus and hauled him out of the cage while the referee chick escorted me through the screaming patrons. They reached out to me, patted me on the back, and yelled out various forms of congratulations as we made our way to the locker room so I could get dressed.

When I came out, the ref was still there and still dressed in nothing but the skimpy bikini. She was all smiles as she took my arm again and led me over to the bar. She handed me an envelope full of cash, which I didn’t bother to count. The guy standing behind the bar with an empty beer glass in his hand reached out to give me a high-five.

“Buy you a drink?” the referee asked. She leaned against the counter, which hiked up her boobs to put them more on display than they already had been, and motioned to the bartender.

For a moment, I almost accepted her offer out of habit.

“Nah, I’m good.” I shook my head and looked out at the people milling around. Most of them were looking at me with bright eyes, and many were leaning in to talk to their friends with hushed voices and nodding in my direction.

“You sure?” Referee chick tilted her head and smiled up at me.

“Yeah, pretty sure,” I gave her a half smile back.

I should have picked up on her vibe right away, but I was still in the zone from the fight and I wasn’t thinking straight.

“I’m Andi,” she informed me as she leaned forward again.

“Daniel,” I said.

“I heard that…Dangerous Daniel.” She giggled. “I think it suits you.”

“Sometimes.” I smirked back at her.

She pushed off the bar and took a step closer.

“I like dangerous guys,” she said as she placed her hands on my chest. Her eyes followed the movements of her fingers as she took inventory of my pecs and shoulders through my shirt.

“Doesn’t seem very smart,” I observed. I took a half step back, feeling a little uncomfortable. As my violence-induced haze began to fade, I realized she was coming on to me.

It was a strange feeling. A chick hadn’t hit on me since Raine and I had returned from our little exile. When I’d been living on my ship, I’d usually been the instigator of any contact with the opposite sex. Still, as long ago as it had been, it felt familiar.

Not just familiar, but right.

This was what was supposed to happen after a fight. Fight, win, sex. That was the natural order. As if it were ingrained somewhere deep inside of me, my body began to react to the situation.

I was instantly hard.

Andi’s hands were running from my chest to my abs, and she was standing close enough for me to feel the heat from her body all around me. She reached around and placed her hands at the small of my back as she pressed her body against me. There was no doubt she could feel how affected I was—my dick was right up against her stomach.

Then panic set in.

What the fuck was I thinking? This wasn’t a normal tournament fight, and I wasn’t a single guy. I had Raine back at our condo, probably freaking out, wondering where the fuck I was, and my dick was reacting to some random chick in a bar.

I grabbed her wrists and pushed them down.

“Sorry,” I said with a shrug, “I really ought to go.”

“It’s not that late,” Andi said. She twisted her wrists in my hands and looked up at me with a twinkle in her eye. “I don’t live too far from here.”

“Maybe another time,” I said quietly. A lump in my throat formed, and I had to swallow hard to get past it. I took a step back and dropped her hands. “Thanks for the offer.”

I turned and got the fuck out of there.

Back at my bike, I sat down and tried to regain a little composure. I closed my eyes tightly and took a few calming breaths. My stomach was churning, and I felt like I was going to puke. I’d let that girl run her hands all over me, and I hadn’t even been thinking about Raine at all.

You didn’t do anything wrong.

No, I didn’t, but damn if my dick didn’t want to.

I slammed my foot against the kickstand and started up the bike with a roar. It was nearly three in the morning, and I kept the motorcycle at the speed limit through the streets, down the highway, and back over to Miami Beach.

I needed the time to think, but it didn’t help that much.

I was still sweating as I headed up the stairs. I wanted to blame it on the humidity, but I knew that wasn’t it. I had no idea what I was going to walk into when I got up to the condo. Were Nick and Lindsay still going to be there? Would Raine be waiting up for me, pissed off and ready for a fight?

A mental image of her sitting at the kitchen island smoking my cigarettes and drinking scotch came to mind. It was a ridiculous notion, but the vision wouldn’t go away as I quietly slid the key into the deadbolt and opened the door.

The living area was empty. There was one dim light still on above the stove, but that was it. The whole place was quiet.

Was she even here?

I swallowed hard. My skin began to crawl at the thought that she might have left. I tiptoed to the bedroom, terrified of finding the room empty. The space beyond was dark, and the door was partially closed. I pushed it the rest of the way open.

I could see Raine on the bed, lying down and breathing steadily, her shape clearly outlined by the light slipping through the blinds. A breath escaped from my lungs, and my shoulders dropped in relief. She didn’t move as I carefully and quietly slipped off my T-shirt and jeans and ditched them in a pile by the laundry hamper.

Slipping into bed as silently as I could, I shoved my legs in under the sheet. Raine didn’t stir as I maneuvered myself behind her and snaked my arm around her waist. I relaxed against her, let out a long breath, and closed my eyes. For a moment, I thought I was home free.

“You going to tell me where you’ve been?”

Ah, shit.

I opened my eyes though I couldn’t really see much in the dim light from the balcony door. My throat seized up on me, and it took me a second to find my voice. I tensed my fingers around the fabric of her shirt and gripped it tightly, like I was afraid she’d try to get away from me if I wasn’t holding on.

“Just took the bike out for a ride,” I claimed. I swallowed a couple of times and licked my lips.

“For seven hours?” Raine rolled over and looked into my eyes. Even in the dim light, I could still see the shine in her beautiful, red-rimmed brown eyes. She’d been crying, and I felt like a total asshole.

I kept my grip on her shirt as if I could keep all of this from happening just by holding on tightly enough.

“I just needed to…to get away for a bit.” I looked down her bare arm and dropped my head against her shoulder. I rubbed my forehead against her skin and felt myself relax further when she didn’t push me away. “Those people were driving me bat-shit.”

“Those people,” Raine snarled, “are my friends!”

Yeah, there I went again—making shit worse by opening my big fat mouth.

“I didn’t mean it like that…I mean…ah, fuck it!” I started to push away from her, but my arm got wrapped up in the sheet and held me back. Maybe it was because my fingers wouldn’t initially loosen from her shirt—whatever. I fought with it for a second, finally freeing myself, and sat up.

Raine sat up beside me, glaring.

“Well, what did you mean, then?” she asked.

I had meant exactly what I said, but I wasn’t about to admit that. There was no way I was going to come out and say I hated them being in the condo at all, even if they did keep their mouths shut, which of course they didn’t. She was already pissed off at me enough, and I had to figure out a way to make it better, not worse.

“I just…I don’t like people.”

Raine stared at me for a moment.

“Why?” she asked.

My mind began to race. I wasn’t really sure how to answer the question. I never considered myself a people person, but I never really thought about the reason for that. It was just the way it was.

“I just…don’t.”

Apparently, Raine wasn’t going to let me off the hook and prodded me to give her a better answer.

Tensing, I tried to come up with a decent answer that didn’t make me sound like an ass, but I couldn’t think of anything. As I struggled inside to come up with the perfect words, the turmoil inside of me increased and eventually overflowed. Closing my eyes tightly, I opened my mouth and let shit run out of it.

“Because I don’t have anything to say to them!” I blurted. I covered my face with one hand and slammed the back of my head ineffectually into the pillow. It didn’t help.

“What does that mean?” Raine’s voice was soft as she propped herself on one elbow to look down at me. A small amount of my tension ebbed.

“When people are around, they end up asking me questions,” I said as I shoved myself off the pillow and sat up. I wrapped my arms around my legs and put my chin on my knees. “I don’t have any answers for them. I don’t have anything to say.”

“Will you give me an example?” Raine asked, her tone going soft.

“What the fuck am I supposed to say?” My voice rose in pitch as my throat constricted. My gut churned as if a little tornado were forming inside of it. “What am I supposed to talk about? About how I was such a fucked up kid that my own parents dumped me? Should I tell them about how every foster home I was ever in kicked me out? How about my time in juvie? There’s a fun topic. Or the best question of all—‘what do you do for a living?’ How am I supposed to answer that? Oh, you know, I made a shit-ton of money killing people, but I’m retired now.”

Raine’s face scrunched up, and she squished her lips together. She let out a long sigh through her nose before opening her arms and pulling me back down to the pillows.

“I never thought about it that way,” she admitted. “I can see where that would be difficult. You are right—the kinds of things people usually ask would be difficult for you to answer.”

With a shudder, my body relaxed, and the whirlwind inside dissipated. I wrapped my arms around her and held her against my chest in silent appreciation of her understanding.

“But, Bastian,” Raine continued, “even though you might not be able to answer the questions people ask, that doesn’t mean you get to blow up at them and storm out, leaving me to try to explain and defend you. You can’t do that.”

Well, yeah, obviously I could. I had in the past, and I’d probably do it again in the future.

“You think I should just stick around and tell them to fuck off instead?”

“No,” Rain said with a loud sigh. “There are other options, you know.”

I took a deep breath as the anger inside me began to bubble again at the thought. There was one option I had considered but didn’t take.

“I didn’t think you’d appreciate me hitting him,” I said.

“You’re right,” Raine replied. I could hear the tension rising in her voice again.

“It’s better if I just leave,” I rationalized.

“Maybe for you,” Raine agreed, “but what kind of questions and comments do you think I get when you do something like that?”

I hadn’t thought about it. Once I left, everything that happened afterward had never really concerned me before. I wondered what Lindsay and Nick had to say after I took off and how Raine responded.

“I spend enough time trying to get them to understand you,” she said. “When you do something like that, I can’t defend your actions. It just gives them more justification when they start telling me I ought to get rid of you.”

I secured my grip on her clothing as a wave of panic crashed over me. It was just one more thing my selfish ass hadn’t considered. Of course Lindsay would be telling her to dump me, and Nick would be right behind her. They probably had another guy already picked out as a better suitor for Raine, and he probably hadn’t killed anyone lately.

“What did they say?” I growled. She had known Lindsay since they were kids. Raine was bound to listen to whatever advice Lindsay had to offer. The thought kick-started my paranoia.

“It doesn’t matter,” Raine said. “I’m not going anywhere, Bastian.”

I relaxed slightly, but the idea of Raine with someone else continued to terrify me.

“That doesn’t stop them from saying I should, though. When you behave like that, it makes it a lot harder to explain to them why I love you.”

The tension inside me began to build again, and I fought against the desire to tell her all the reasons she shouldn’t have anything to do with me. Her friends were probably right, but I felt like I was looking out over the proverbial cliff, and if I opened my mouth to say what I was thinking, I was going to fall.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered instead.

Raine moved her hand up into my hair and held my head against her shoulder. Closing my eyes, I tried to understand the shit that was going through my head, but as usual, I couldn’t make anything of it. My brain just didn’t work right, which I realized was the problem.

“I know there’s something seriously wrong with me inside,” I said quietly. “I can’t deny it.”

“Bastian-”

“Let me finish,” I said quickly. If I didn’t get it out now, I never would. “This isn’t about not being worthy of you or whatever—there’s more to it than that. There is something wrong with me, and don’t tell me you don’t know that.”

I paused, but she didn’t interject.

“I don’t know that I can control those…those urges. There’s a need inside of me to lash out. It’s so fucking deep, and I can’t explain it; I just know it’s there. As far back as I can remember, it’s always been there.”

“Sometimes you do okay,” Raine said. “You do all right when John Paul is around.”

“That’s different. He doesn’t ask those kinds of questions.”

“So you feel comfortable around him.”

“Yeah, I guess so. Most of the time.”

“Why is that?” she asked.

Well, fuck if I knew. It just was.

“He’s…he’s always been there for me.”

“And what? You don’t think Lindsay and Nick care?”

“They care about you, not me.”

“That’s not fair,” she said. “They’ve both tried to get along with you. You aren’t very receptive.”

“It’s fake,” I said. “They do it for you, not me. It’s kinda hard to take their shit seriously when it’s all an act.”

“How do you know that?”

“I can just tell, okay?” I snapped. “It’s like knowing when a chick is faking an orgasm; if she’s not clenching down on my cock, she’s not coming.”

And just like that, I was back to being a dick again.

“Being crude and obnoxious doesn’t help,” Raine growled. “It’s just me here now, so why don’t you stop the shit?”

Raine almost never cussed, so it usually caught my attention when she did. Recognizing it didn’t even change my behavior though. When push came to shove, it was always the same for me—get the fuck out. I shoved myself off of the bed and away from her, grabbed my smokes, and went to the balcony.

Raine followed.

“You can’t just walk away from the conversation,” she informed me.

“I dunno,” I said, still in pissy-mode, “I’ve done it before.”

I knew I was being a jerk, but I also thought if I came right out and told her that I’d love to send Nick flying off this balcony, she would like that even less. I wanted to say or do something to make it all right again, but as usual, I was clueless.

I turned toward her, and the small light near the top of the balcony door shone over my face, making me squint. Raine narrowed her eyes, and she took a step closer to me. Her fingers brushed over my cheekbone, and though I tried not to, I flinched as she touched the bruise on my face. Her eyes went wide.

“What happened to you?”

“It’s nothing,” I said.

She straightened up and leaned forward to get a better look at me. With her hand on the side of my face, she tilted my head into the light and glared a bit.

“What happened?”

“Just a little tiff,” I said with a shrug. “Seriously, it’s no big deal.”

“You got in a fight? With who?”

“Just some dude,” I shrugged again. “I went riding, stopped for a bit to walk it off, and then ran into a guy who wasn’t all that pleasant. It’s all good—he got it worse than he gave.”

“Is that really all you have to say about it?”

I took a slight step back but was stopped by the balcony door. I looked off into the distance and watched the waves slipping back and forth over the beach.

“I guess I’ll take that as a yes,” Raine mumbled.

“Pretty much,” I replied. I looked back to her. “I’m fine.”

“If you say so.”

“Don’t be pissed.”

“It’s kind of late for that,” Raine sighed. “I just don’t know what to make of you sometimes.”

“I’m a dick,” I said. “You already know this.”

“Not usually.” Raine reached up and ran her fingers through her hair. I tried not to get distracted by the way the dark strands lay against her neck and shoulder. “When you are, I usually understand why, but not with this. I don’t understand why you don’t realize Nick is trying to be your friend, and I don’t understand why you react to it by going out and beating up someone else.”

“He was asking for it,” I said quietly.

“Nick or the guy you beat up?”

I wasn’t really sure myself, so I went back to the ever-present and noncommittal shrug.

“You’re really trying my patience,” she said.

I looked back at her, realizing how angry she still was. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or say—all this relationship shit was a mystery to me. I never said the right shit, and I certainly didn’t do the right shit. I was probably the worst match for my gentle Raine as I could possibly be, and that just made me want to cling to her, so I did.

I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her. I pulled her close to me and kissed her gently on the forehead.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“For what?” she asked.

“Everything I do wrong,” I replied. “I’m a shitty boyfriend, you know that.”

She took a deep breath and blew the air across my shoulder as she laid her head against my chest. Her arms came up around my neck.

“You are my hero,” Raine said. “You’ve always been that to me. My savoir, and despite your flaws, I still love you. I just wish you’d tell me what was going on in your head in a way I could understand.”

“My head is fucked up,” I told her. “I don’t know how much of that is fixable, babe.”

I leaned back a little and looked down into her eyes.

“Seriously,” I said. More tension flowed through my body as I tried to choose the right words. “If…if your father was still alive, do you really think he’d approve of you being with me?”

I felt Raine tense in my arms. Bringing up her father might not have been the wisest thing to do, but it was the best way to get my point across. After all, I was right there when he was tortured and murdered, and I didn’t do a damn thing to stop it from happening.

I hadn’t known Raine then and had no idea who her father was other than being a small-town cop in the wrong part of the big city at the wrong time. Why he was there I didn’t know, only that once he was discovered, Landon’s crime boss, Joseph Franks, wasn’t about to let him live. Everyone in the area who was considered a threat to Franks and his organization was rounded up, brutally tortured, and eventually executed.

I had watched it all, unable to intervene.

I shifted my eyes back to Raine’s face and observed her far-away expression. Tightening my arms around her, I pressed my lips to her shoulder. I hadn’t meant to upset her by bringing up her deceased father, but I needed to make the point.

“He wouldn’t want you dating me,” I said.

Raine flicked the tip of her tongue over her lips.

“I don’t know,” she said softly. “He wouldn’t like what you used to do, obviously, but neither do I. I think if he got to know you—really know you—I think he might have been okay with it.”

I snorted through my nose at the ridiculousness of her statement.

“I mean it,” Raine said. “I don’t know if I can honestly say he would have liked you or wanted to hang out with you on the weekends, but I think if he saw how you are with me, I think he’d understand.”

“You’re crazy,” I muttered. “What exactly do you think he would see? Me snapping at you for no fucking reason? Running out on you when I get pissed off? What do you think he’d like more—the chain smoking or the bike?”

I laughed dryly.

Raine turned to look at me. She stared into my eyes, and I watched her expression go from annoyance at my harshness to something softer. She reached out and ran her finger from my elbow up to my shoulder.

“Sebastian,” Raine whispered, “when you look at me, I can feel how much you love me. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming—like a tidal wave—and it can make me feel like I’ve been turned inside out. I can feel it in my skin and in the pit of my stomach. When you look at me like that, I can feel your love for me in my soul. When you wrap your arms around me at night, I can feel your desire for me, and I don’t think there is any woman alive who has ever felt more wanted than I do when you’re close to me.”

She touched the side if my face.

“Dad would have seen that in you, too.”

Her point was made. At least for now, I wouldn’t argue with her.





“Lilliana,” John Paul said as he slid into the booth seat across from me. He had to duck his head a bit to keep from hitting the low-hanging lamp poised above the middle of the table.


“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It’s her name,” he said.

“Whose name?”

“The chick I was banging last night.”

John Paul was my one and only true friend. We’d both fought for Landon in the tournaments, and when I had to go into hiding, John Paul came with me. Now that I was beached in the south of Florida, he’d taken up residence in North Miami Beach, which wasn’t too far from our condo, and we tried to meet up regularly.

I rolled my eyes and sucked the straw in my glass of iced tea while John Paul ordered a beer and a pile of nachos.

“Since when do you eat that shit?” I asked.

“I worked it all off already,” he claimed. “She was fucking phenomenal. Luscious Lilliana. She’s got one of those nice, round asses you just want to squeeze and bite. I hate how skinny most of the chicks around here are. I need a woman with some meat on her bones.”

“Like that bro-hemoth you dated in Seattle?”

“Stacey?” John Paul leaned back in his seat. “She was a beast.”

“Yeah, exactly,” I replied as I remembered the dark-skinned woman who was all muscle and no tits. She wasn’t that tall, but you couldn’t tell it by her attitude. John Paul had dated her for a couple of months, which was probably a record for him. “She took more steroids than half the guys we worked out with.”

“Ah, you’re just pissed she could squat more than you could.”

“She fucking could not!”

“She did that one day.”

“Fluke,” I waved my hand dismissively. “I was off one day, and you started all that bullshit just to fuck with me.”

John Paul laughed and adjusted his black cowboy hat as he leaned over the table and looked more closely at me. His eyes narrowed slightly as his lips smashed together.

“You look like shit, ya know.”

“Fuck you,” I replied.

“Just sayin’.” He leaned back again and started drumming his fingers on the table. He watched me for a minute as the server deposited a huge plate of nachos with all the extras in the center of the table. “So what’s up with you?”

“Meh.” I shrugged. “Been fighting with Raine a bit.”

“Trouble in paradise?”

His choice of words vibrated in my ears and sent unwelcomed tingles down my back. In paradise there hadn’t been any trouble.

All right, that was total bullshit, but it was the sort of trouble I could handle. Raine had been attacked by a bunch of shit-bag human traffickers who promptly died by my hand. Aside from that, there had been bad storms and my ever-present grumpiness. I’d always been moody, and Raine had to put up with my shitty attitude on a regular basis while we were stranded, but now it was worse. I still had a shitty attitude, but here I also had five thousand extraneous variables to set me off instead of just the fucked up shit inside my head. I had no idea how Raine put up with me at all.

“I’m an asshole,” I said with a shrug.

“No shit! Really?” John Paul placed his