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«Copyright © 2014 J. Kenner The right of J. Kenner to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the ...»

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“I fucking destroyed the one you were wearing.” “Don’t go,” I said, and when I reached up to brush away an escaping tear, I realized that I’d been crying all along.

He paused in the doorway, and there was nothing for me to read on his face—nothing at all.

He looked at me for one long moment, and then he left the house and walked out into the night, leaving me numb and alone and terrified that somehow the universe had shifted and we’d lost each other even before we’d really had a chance to begin.

For most of the night, I’d been numb.

I’d called his cell phone at least nine times during the night, but I’d gotten no answer. I’d gone to his house.

I’d gone to Destiny. I’d gone to the gallery. I’d gone to every other business the knights owned, and every bar I knew that Cole ever frequented.

I’d called Angie and Sloane, but neither they nor the other knights had seen him.

I’d slept for a few hours, but not well. Now it was past seven and I still couldn’t track him down. My closing was at ten and I was going a little bit out of my mind.

I knew that I’d end up making Angie late for work, but I needed company and reassurance, and so I headed to her condo, stopping for donuts along the way.

I wasn’t worried that he was hurt or injured. Instead, I was worried that something inside him had broken— something I didn’t understand but knew that I had to soothe or else risk losing this man forever.

“Hey,” Angie said, once she’d buzzed me up. “You look like shit.” “And hello to you, too.” “Still no word?” I shook my head. “No. He hasn’t checked in with you guys, either?” “Not as far as I know.

Evan went out for a run. You can ask when he gets back, but he knows you’re worried.

He would have told me—or just called you—if he’d heard something.” “Shit,” I said, then ran my fingers through my hair, because I really didn’t know what else to do.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” “What I want is to just wish it away. But the bottom line is that he thinks he went too far. He thinks he hurt me.” “Did he?” “No,” I said. “No, he really didn’t. But before this thing started he told me that there couldn’t be anything between us. Because he was certain that he’d cross a line and somehow injure me.

Honestly, Angie, it really worried him.” “Self-fulfilling prophecy.” “He’s an idiot. I swear he has more self-control than I do. I don’t see why he can’t see it.” She shrugged.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see yourself, you know?” She glanced over me. “Speaking of seeing yourself, I’m guessing you haven’t changed clothes since yesterday.” I glanced down, saw that she was right, and shrugged.

“Go take a quick shower.

Then find something in my closet. You don’t want to look wrecked when you see him, even if you are. He’s the one who’s wrecked, right?

You’re the one who’s supposed to be strong.” “You sure?” “Positive. And I’ll go make some coffee for when you get out. You look like you need the jolt.” “I don’t want to make you late for work.” She waved my words away. “What’s the point of being the director if you don’t go in late from time to time?

Besides, I want to be here when Evan gets back. Just in case he’s heard something.” “You think he has?” “I don’t know. But maybe Cole called during his run.

Those three are in each other’s pockets, so maybe.” She glanced at her watch.

“What time is your closing?” “Ten.” “You have time,” she said, then waved toward her bedroom. “Go. I’ll meet you in the kitchen.” When I emerged fifteen minutes later, I did feel better.

Not by much, though. And Evan still hadn’t come home.

I forced myself to push it away. I told myself to take deep breaths, de-stress, and trust that it would all work out. It had to. Because I needed Cole in my life, and damn the man, I was certain he needed me, too.

“It’s going to be fine,” Angie said when I slid onto one of the chairs at her breakfast table.

“Keep saying that,” I said.

“Maybe the universe will listen.” I devoured a donut, then licked the sugar off my fingers. “Listen. There’s something else I want to talk to you about.” Her brow furrowed, and she sat down beside me. “Is something wrong?” “No. No, it’s just—” I sucked in a breath. “It’s just that I’ve got this secret, and —oh, shit,” I said. “I’m not exactly who you think I am.” “Oh, really?” Her brows lifted as she leaned back in her chair, and to my relief she looked more intrigued than pissed. “I’m listening.” “Right,” I said, then told her everything. How I’d grown up. The mess my dad was now in. Even the Big Truth about how I’d originally tagged her as a mark.

“Oh my god, seriously?” “Well, yeah.” I dragged my teeth across my lower lip.

“So why are you telling me this now?” “Because I’m about to go buy a house.” She laughed. “We must be really good friends, because that makes total sense to me.” “You’re not mad?” “Why would I be? You know my secrets—and god knows I have them. Now I know yours.” She narrowed her eyes. “Unless this is some sort of long con? Am I going to wake up tomorrow and find out that I’ve deeded this condo to you?” I laughed. “I wish.” “Well, there you go.

We’re even. We’re good. I love you. And,” she added, reaching across the table to give my hand a squeeze, “we’ll figure out what to do about Cole.” And that, I thought, was why she was my best friend.

seventeen I stood just outside the hangar and stared at the sleek silver jet owned by one of the knights’ various corporate entities. I knew Cole was inside, and in a moment, I would be, too. He hadn’t invited me—didn’t even know that I was standing outside—and I could only hope that the emotion I’d see on his face when I stepped onto that plane would be pleasure. And not anger or fear.

Or, worst of all, regret.

“He’s going to Los Angeles,” Evan had said.

“Los Angeles? Why?” “For you.” “What? How?” “You’ll have to ask him.” “I damn sure will. If he’s going, I’m going.” “Good,” he’d said. “I wouldn’t have told you if I didn’t think you should.” He’d taken my arm. “You’re good for him, Kat. He knows it. Don’t let him forget it.” “He’s good for me,” I’d countered, and Evan’s mouth had curved into a slow, sad smile.

“I believe you,” he’d said.

“But Cole’s going to be harder to convince. I love him like a brother, but of the three of us, he’s the most fucked up.

Honestly, he has the most reason to be.” “I don’t care about the reasons. And I’m not giving up on him.” “Good,” he said, then kissed my forehead.

Now I drew in a breath for courage, then walked inside the hangar, knowing that the crew was holding the plane for me, making excuses about mechanical issues per Evan’s instructions so Cole wouldn’t wonder why they weren’t already underway.

“Welcome aboard, Ms.

Laron,” a petite flight attendant said as I began to climb the stairs leading into the main cabin. “Mr. Black requested that you stay in the crew section until we’re underway, and then you can move to the main cabin.” She said all that as if it wasn’t the world’s strangest request, and I had to admire her professionalism. The plan had been Evan’s, but I’d easily agreed. Because there was no way that Cole could kick me off this plane once we were cruising at thirty thousand feet.

The attendant, who introduced herself as Jana, offered me a glass of wine before takeoff, which I gratefully took. Then, once we were airborne, she offered me another, and I downed that as well. By the time the plane had reached cruising altitude and I was allowed to stand up and move through the door that separated the two sections, I’d bolstered my courage enough to think that I just might survive the wrath of Cole.

I drew in a breath, then another, then slid the door open, stepped inside, and closed it behind me. I saw him immediately, of course, as he was the only person in the cabin. He was seated in one of the chairs that surrounded a small table. He was leaning back, a White Sox baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.

He hadn’t noticed me, and I took a moment to look around. I’d never been in a private jet before, and this small room seemed more like a hotel lobby than the interior of a plane.

There were three other chairs around the table at which Cole sat, making a small conversation area. On the opposite side of the cabin, a sofa sat beneath a row of cloud-filled windows. A small coffee table filled the space in front of it. Finally, two plush recliners filled the area in the rear.

The entire cabin positively gleamed with polished wood and bright metal trim. The upholstery managed to look both comfortable and expensive. Honestly, I could get used to this.

And, of course, I was stalling.

I took one step toward him, then another, then another after that until I was standing just a few feet away, my hand on the table for balance.

I started to say his name, but then he lifted his head. I couldn’t see his face because of the cap, but after a moment, it was clear that he was slowly letting his gaze travel up the length of my body, and when he reached my face, he pulled the cap off and tossed it onto the chair beside him.

“Kat,” he said, and though there was sadness in his voice, I thought that I heard hope, too.

“Hey,” I said. “Fancy meeting you here.” His mouth quirked up into a quick, tight smile. “I heard the door, then your footsteps.

I thought, dear god, that can’t be her, because that would be a miracle, and I don’t believe in miracles.” He reached out a hand for me, and I took it, letting him tug me closer. His knees brushed my legs, and that connection—that spark of light and arousal that I always felt when I was with him— burst through me, making me feel warm and happy. Making me feel like I’d come home.

“I believe in miracles,” I said. “I believe in you, too.

Cole, you shouldn’t have gone.” “You’re right,” he said, and I felt as though wings had burst free on my heart. “I shouldn’t have left like that.

But, Kat,” he added gently, “I was right to leave.” The words hit me with the force of a slap, and I knew that I had let myself believe too quickly. That I’d let hope settle inside me, and it had gotten the better of me. Like Icarus, I’d allowed those damn wings to draw me higher and higher—and all I got for my reward was to come crashing back down to earth.

“You son of a bitch,” I said, my voice as tight as wire because right then it was me who was having to work to control my temper. “I never took you for a coward or a fool, but you’re both. I can’t fucking believe it, but you’re both.” “Dammit, Kat, don’t do this.” “Don’t do what? Don’t fall in love with you?” The minute the words were out of my mouth I wished I could suck them back in.

“Dammit,” I said, then pushed away from him, needing space to think and to move.

I stalked to the couch at the back of the cabin and fell upon it, then bent over, my head in my hands. Goddamn him. Goddamn him to hell.

I felt the pressure of his hand on my shoulder, but I didn’t look up. I knew I couldn’t. Not yet. Not without crying. I’d shown too much of my heart, and I really wasn’t in the mood to have it trampled.

The cushion shifted as he sat next to me, then took my hand, twining his fingers through mine. “You’re missing your closing.” “Yeah,” I said. “I know.” “Baby...” I sighed. “I talked to Cyndee. The sellers will do their thing, and then I’ll do mine and eventually I’ll get the house.” “That’s not the point,” he said gently. “It’s the ritual.

The being there. In that tiny room scrawling your name on all that official-looking paperwork. Besides, don’t you have movers coming on Saturday?” I turned my head so that I could look at him. “Some things are more important.” He held my gaze for a moment, then ran his hands over his head. He stood up, paced to the end of the cabin, then turned around and came back again. I knew he was looking at me—I could feel the weight of his gaze—but I was focused on his hands. On the fists he made and released. On the battle he was waging.

Finally, he stopped in front of me. “I sat in that room at The Drake and listened to your father praise me for taking care of you.

And what a goddamn load of bullshit that was.” “Cole—” “No. I practically forced you in that ladies’ room.

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