Authors: Max Henry
Tags: #Romantic Suspense
I’m doing this for him.
I’m doing this so our child isn’t used as a pawn in a crazed power struggle between two warring factions. If Carlos ever got hold of Dante . . . I can’t even think what would happen without feeling as though I’m going to be sick.
If keeping him safe from harm means I live every day aching for the part of me that’s missing, so be it.
“We should go,” I whisper, removing my hand from King’s face.
He sighs and drops his forehead to my chest as he pulls me tighter into his hold. “Don’t do this.”
“I’m not doing it to hurt you.”
A moment passes with him breathing evenly in my lap, his hands flexing on my lower back. I give in and run my fingers through his hair, fighting the ever-present tears at the feel of his blond locks in my grasp again. I trace the shell of his ear, the contour of his beard on his throat, the fine lines that mar the sides of his eyes. I take everything I can from this moment before it’s gone too soon.
“Do you not think I could keep you both safe?” He pulls free to look me square in the eye.
I swallow hard and search his dark green irises for a shadow of doubt. But there’s none. He honestly believes he could. “Not forever,” I admit. “It would only take one day, one moment where we both let our guard down, were complacent, and he’d be there.” I rest my palm on his chest and whisper, “You know that too.”
A storm rises in his expression, the love lost, and a deep-seated frustration replaces it. “Would you stay if he wasn’t around? You said you can’t compete, but if there was no threat, would you stay?”
“What are you saying?”
“I’ll kill him tomorrow if it means you’ll stay.”
“No, King. No.” As much as I love the thought of Carlos being out of our lives for good, I can’t start the cycle again. “We’ve been there before. Look what happened. I was damn lucky to get away from him; I’m not bringing that kind of trouble back to your club, to these people, if it can be avoided.”
He opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him short.
“Our happiness isn’t worth the misery or death of
of your people.” I rub a hand over my chest, trying to fight back the ache at the anticipation of his reaction to my next words. “The only way you could take out Carlos and only put us at risk is by leaving your club behind, taking them out of the equation.”
“I’m not leaving this life,” he says sadly. “Don’t ask me that again.”
“I know you won’t, and I’m not asking you to. I’m simply pointing out that we can’t have our cake and eat it too.” My despair fades as my familiar anger at his stubbornness flows in. “You made the choice about us when you told me your club comes first.”
“Why is that such a problem for you?”
“It just is.” Perhaps it makes me selfish, but I want the man, all of him, not the leftovers this bunch of outlaws would give me. I want a husband, a father for my son, not a caregiver who pays our rent and visits a few times a week.
I want happily ever after, not settling for seconds.
“I want too much of you,” I whisper, “so it’s easier to not ask for anything at all. That way I’m not disappointed at how little I get.”
“Fuck.” He pulls away, rising to his feet, and stalks across the room to the bar. I eye his back as he stretches over the top of the counter and rips out a half-full bottle of Jack. He’s bulked out, if it were even possible. His shoulders are wider than I remember, his thighs thicker in his jeans.
“You’re looking good,” I say, trying to steer the conversation to something lighter as he downs a hearty swig of the hard stuff.
King wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and stares at me with the eyes of a predator. I slip off the sofa and move across to Dante, scooping him into my arms. I have no doubt King wouldn’t hurt us, but that glare—it’s the look I imagine he gives his enemies, people like Carlos.
“I helped Mom out with the farm for a while. Dad injured his leg a few months back.” He throws back another slosh and grimaces, hissing between his teeth as he lowers the bottle. “If you’re ready to go, don’t let me stop you.”
“King . . .”
“What?” he snaps.
“I didn’t want to leave on bad terms,” I mumble as I stoop to collect the baby bag with my free hand.
A cold, callous chuckle erupts from his throat. “Fuck me. You walk in here and taunt me with our child, then rip my fuckin’ heart apart by smashing any last hope I had of us bein’ something, then tell me you want to leave on good terms?” He laughs, loud and scathing. “How else did you think this would turn out?”
“Why are you being so cruel?” Can’t he see what I’m saying? Can’t he understand?
“Are you fuckin’ serious?”
“This is best for Dante,” I plead. “Don’t make things like this.”
“You started it.” He throws back another gulp.
“I guess I’ll just go then.” Hot tears burn the backs of my eyes, but I focus on the sob stuck in my throat and turn for the door. “I still love you,” I say. “I always will.”
“Strange fuckin’ way you have of showing that.”
I hesitate at the door and look down at Dante as he stirs in his sleep. “I guess I just love this guy more. At least, enough that he’ll come first over you, over us.” Turning, I hold King’s heated stare. “I’m sure you can understand that, given where we are, huh?”
“Go. Get out, Elena, before I say something I’m gonna regret.”
Breathing is hard, the sun too bright as I walk out into the warming day. The snow has melted some, and is wet and slushy underfoot as I head toward the gate. The prospect slides the steel rails open enough for me to walk through and tips an imaginary hat at me as I go by.
I lay on the best smile I can for the unsuspecting fool and walk out to my car, leaving what’s left of my ability to feel behind with the man I thought deserved it all. Yes, I did this, but we both knew where causing trouble between Carlos and the Fallen Aces would lead. We were never tipped to win. The odds were always against us.
Anger fills my limbs as I buckle Dante into his car seat. Anger at being cheated of a life of simplicity from the start. Anger at having to be born into a family that had ties to the drug trade, at being so desperate to make life better for my mother who’d suffered enough that I walked into a trap laid out by a heartless predator. Anger at the fucking universe for making the man I love a part of the world I want out of so badly, and at having to give it all up to ensure that there’s
person who gets a shot at a real life out of all of this.
“You better grow up and change the world, little guy,” I mutter as I stroke Dante’s head before fitting his little woolen hat over. “For the better. Make this all worth it.”