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Authors: Elle Aycart

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BOOK: Inked Ever After
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“James—” she started, her head already shaking. They
couldn’t talk about this. Not here, not now. She would implode. He obviously
disagreed, for he cut her off.

“I’m done giving you space and letting you work your shit
alone. I should have never given it to you in the first place; you don’t do
well when you’re left to your own devices. We are going to talk about this
fucking wedding, and we are going to talk about it now.”

“What do you—”

She tried scrambling to her feet. Fat chance. He tightened
his grip on her, leaned on his side, and brought her down on her back. In a
flash his face was an inch from hers, his hands at either side of her head, his
massive body crowding her. “Shut it, Tate. We tried your way; now we’ll try
mine. Listen to me. I know you wanted to get married with your family by your
side—with your dad and brother there. That’s why you’re panicking and shutting
down when the wedding comes up. That’s why you didn’t want to have the ceremony
at your parents’ place in Boston.”

She pushed at his chest, but he didn’t budge. “You’re
crowding me. Let me up.”

There was no humor in his laugh. “No fucking way. You’re
running scared, in pain, and instead of trusting me and letting me in, you’re
closing off. And I won’t allow it. Talk to me.”

Her throat felt raw, but she fought to get the words out.
“It’s not really that bad. I’m just a bit emotional. Brides—”

“Don’t give me bullshit,” he spat from between clenched
teeth, his gaze burning a hole in her. “I was with you the day before yesterday
in that fitting room when your eyes were swollen from crying and you couldn’t
breathe properly. You aren’t just ‘a bit emotional’; you’re a fucking wreck.
I’ve been asking if you’re all right for a while, hoping you’d say no and then
come to me and let me help. Instead of that, you’ve been answering that of
course you’re all right. Of course my ass.”

It looked like she wasn’t so sneaky after all. She needed to
retreat, but he had her trapped on the sofa. She lowered her gaze.

“You don’t need to see me crying.”

“You’re so wrong. I’m the only one who needs to see you cry.
Look at me, baby. Don’t hide. Never hide from me. You need to trust me.”

That stung. “I trust you. I really do. It has nothing to do
with that.” He was going to protest, but she stopped him. “You don’t
understand.”

“Help me understand. Talk to me.”

Ha. Like she didn’t have enough trouble expressing her
feelings under normal circumstances. She flinched, and his face tightened.
James was getting pissed.

“Or am I to believe you don’t want to marry me? Is that it?
Is that why you’re so unhappy? Why you’ve been lying to me? The reason for this
fucking charade you have going on? Pretending everything is okay while you’re
falling apart at the seams?”

“No,” she cried out, tears again filling her eyes. No, no.
That was exactly what she’d feared the most. Him getting the wrong idea. “I
love you.”

“So you keep saying.”

“I want to marry you more than anything in the world. That’s
not it. Not it at all, James. You have to believe me.”

“What’s the problem then?”

She tried to speak around the baseball obstructing her
throat. “I didn’t want you to…didn’t want you to…”

“Didn’t want me to what? Talk to me, dammit!” he roared.

The words exploded out of her. “I didn’t want you to regret
meeting me!” Then, with a thin streak of voice, added, “Didn’t want to push my
luck any further.”

That seemed to throw him off. He stared at her. “Regret
meeting you? What the hell are you talking about?”

Tate fought to make sense. “James, I was drowning when you
found me. Then you came, and you tore through all my walls like they were made
of butter. You saved me, never asking anything in return, and I gave you
nothing but grief and headaches. You gave and gave, and I just took.” She
looked down, ashamed. “I’m still taking. I didn’t want to give you any more
grief. I didn’t want to bother you anymore. Or worry you.”

His face got scary, his breath coming in harsh rasps. “How
many times do we have to go over this for you to get it into your thick skull?
I love you. Taking care of you is not a bother, princess. It’s my prerogative.
I want you, forever. All of you. Yes, sometimes you make me spitting mad, and
yes, you’ve given me headaches, and you’ll probably give me many more, but I’ll
take all of them gladly for a chance to wake up to you every morning for the
rest of my life. There is nothing about you I’d change. And as sure as fuck I
don’t regret you. I’m crazy in love with you, Tate. How can you even consider
for a second that I could regret meeting you?”

“How couldn’t you?” She was a friggin’ emotional black hole,
which, taking into consideration what she’d called him when they first met, was
damn ironic. “You deserve better than me.”

James stilled, the air around them going ice-cold. “What did
you just say?”

“You deserve the very best,” she said. “I’m not the very
best, James. Not by a long shot. You deserve better than me.”

There it was, in black and white.

One moment he was squeezing her into the sofa, the next he
was standing with his back to her in the middle of the living room, his hands
in his hair. The bulging muscles on his arms rippled in barely restrained
tension as he gripped his nape.

Her words had stunned him into silence. She hadn’t meant to
come out and say it, but now that it was out there, she wasn’t going to take it
back. For one, because it was true.

“You got to be shitting me,” he finally let out, his head
shaking.

She felt too exposed lying on the sofa, so she scrambled to
sit up. Then she glanced at him, so big and imposing, and she hurried to her
feet.

“This is what this is all about?” he asked, turning to her.
“You think you don’t deserve me?”

“I don’t think I don’t deserve you, James. I know for a fact
I don’t.”

Most days she looked at him, and for the life of her she
couldn’t figure out why he was with her. He could have about anyone in the
world, and he didn’t need all her drama.

James didn’t like her answer. At all. His expression
tightened further; his lips pressed into a hard line. The room crackled with
tension.

“I can’t fucking believe this,” he muttered as he began
pacing, anger oozing from him in strong waves. “I don’t even know where to
start. Of all the stupid things to think—”

It wasn’t stupid. She hadn’t wanted to worry him with her
shit, so she’d tried to keep up a front, true, but it lay underneath
everything, her fear he would figure out how out of her league she was and how
much of a burden she was.

Tears were flowing freely now. She tried mopping them, but
it was a losing battle. “I didn’t want you to realize it. That’s why I didn’t
come to you. That’s why all the pretenses. I wanted to be the perfect
bride-to-be. The one you deserve. One you could be proud of.”
Not this fuckup of a person who, by the
looks of it, couldn’t get anything right.

“I see.” James stopped his pacing and turned to her, his
body and stance exuding dominance. “And who are you to say what I deserve and
what I don’t?”

“What?” She floundered, taken aback.

James narrowed his eyes at her. “I asked, ‘Who are you to
say what I deserve and what I don’t,’” he repeated very slowly as he moved to
her and grabbed her upper arms. “Waiting for an answer, princess.”

She really didn’t have one. He was looming over her now. If
she’d been at a disadvantage on the sofa, this was worse. “I’m no one,” she
finally answered.

“Wrong,” he all but growled. “You’re my woman. And you
should know better. I will not allow you throwing this kind of crap my way.”

“James—”

“What about what I want, princess? Have you stopped to think
about that? Don’t I deserve to get what I want, what I need?” The anger in his
words slammed against her, leaving her breathless. She nodded. Of course he
deserved that. His hair was all mussed from him running his hands through it.
She wanted to reach for him and smooth the waves, calm him, but she didn’t
dare. “Well, you are what I want and what I need. So fucking deal with it.
There is no way in hell I’m going to let you use this bullshit about not being
good enough for me as an excuse to hide and not give me what I want.”

It wasn’t an excuse. She was already shaking her head and
about to respond when he cupped her neck and brought his lips to her, kissing
her protests away. It was not a gentle kiss; he forced her mouth open and
ruthlessly thrust his tongue inside, showing her who was in charge.

When he let them both up for air, he wasn’t any mellower. “I
don’t want to hear any more moronities. So shut it and listen, because you
really need to get this. You’re mine, and I will not give you up. Not today,
not tomorrow, not fucking ever. You do not tell me what I deserve. You do not
lie to me. You do not hide. You do not put up a front for my benefit. And you
do not put yourself down. Are we clear? Nod if we are.”

She nodded. God she’d made a mess of things. “I’m sorry,
James. I didn’t want to lose you. I couldn’t live without you.”

He closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were softer.
“You won’t lose me. There is nothing in this world that matters more to me than
you. Absolutely nothing. You come first. Always. I love you. I don’t think you
realize how much. Or how much I need you in my life. How whole and totally at
peace I feel when you’re in my arms and I’m deep inside you. You’re the one,
princess. The reason I wake up with a smile on my lips. The reason it stays on
my face all fucking day. When I hurry home from work, I’m hurrying back to you.
To you, Tate. Do you understand what I’m saying? I’ve made my choice. Don’t you
ever say I deserve better.”

“James, I—”

He silenced her with a finger on her lips. “Just answer me
one thing: do I deserve to get hurt?”

“Of course not,” she whispered, new tears running down her
cheeks.

“Then no more charades. No more putting up fronts. Or
pretending everything is fine because you think that’s what I need. Or what I
deserve. Please don’t keep any part of you from me. It hurts when you don’t let
me in. I need you to come to me when something bothers you.”

Realizing she’d hurt him by holding back was a damn hard
piece to swallow. So hard it actually got stuck in her throat, and she could
barely talk. Even more fresh tears spilled from her eyes. “I never meant to
hurt you, babe, I swear. That was the last thing in my mind. But you couldn’t
repair this and—”

“It doesn’t matter whether I can repair it or not. I want to
be part of your life, and that also means the tough moments. I may not be able
to solve the situation, but I can sure as hell listen to you. Hold you. Offer
you my support. Shoulder your burdens. Soothe your pain.”

James lifted her in his arms and placed her on the dining
table. He parted her legs and, wedging his thighs between, invaded her space.

“You took care of everyone. Your mom. Elle. Rosita’s. Even that
piece of shit Aidan. Now you have me. You can rest easy. You don’t need to
worry about anything. I know you can take care of yourself. I never doubted it;
it isn’t the point. The point is I take care of my own,” he said as he swept
away the tears with his thumbs. “And don’t be mistaken: I’m proud of my own,
baby. My family, my friends, you. Especially you. I’m fucking proud of you.
When people are in pain, that’s when they learn who they really are. And you’re
a goddess. You’ve been through hell and back, and you’re still standing. I
don’t deserve better, because it doesn’t fucking get better than you. You got
it?”

She nodded, her throat vibrating. She wasn’t sure she agreed
with him on that, but he’d made himself crystal clear; she had no right to decide
for him.

“Good. Now let’s talk about this cabin. You’re doing much
better than when we met, but I know being in the restaurant is still painful,
and being in your parents’ house too. The grief will fade and just leave the
warmth and happiness you had with them in your life, for whatever short period
of time it was. But that’s not now. And I want to help. You were happy here
many years ago. Let me make you happy here again.”

And there it went; her tear ducts going bonkers.

“James, this must have cost you a fortune.”

He shrugged, his eyes never leaving hers. “I’m not made of
gold, princess, but I can afford it.”

“I can’t give you anything like this,” she repeated, her
lower lip quivering. “The restaurant is doing very well now, but I can’t foot the
bill for half this place.”

He growled. Literally. “Are you even listening to me? It’s
ours already. I told you I take care of what’s mine, and that ring on your left
finger says you’re mine.”

“Yes, I’m yours, but I can’t let you buy me a house.”

“This is not a house; it’s a cabin. And sorry, babe, it’s a
done deal.”

“I already live in your home in Alden. I—”

“It’s not my home anymore. It’s our home. Do you really
believe I got that big house built thinking of me living in it alone? The huge
yard, the lakeshore? The kid-friendly neighborhood? Please. I’ve been waiting
for you all my life.”

“But—”

“Enough, Tate,” he said, his tone harsh. He was running out
of patience. “You’ll let me do this for you—for us. And you will let me do it
because you love me and can’t say no to me. You’re happy in Alden, but there’s
no connection to your family there, so I wanted to give you Cape John, where we
can build our own happy memories and you wouldn’t have to keep running away
from old ones.”

She stared at him for a long moment, awed. “How did I get so
lucky to find you?”

“Don’t know, princess. You must have done something right in
a previous life,” he joked. It worked, for she broke into laughter. “As far as
I’m concerned, I’m the lucky one. Now quit bitching, kiss me, say ‘Thank you,
James, love your present,’ and let me give you a tour of the place.”

BOOK: Inked Ever After
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ads

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