Home > Claiming the Billionaire (Seattle Bachelors #4)(5)

Claiming the Billionaire (Seattle Bachelors #4)(5)
Author: J.M. Stewart


Before she could think or remember to breathe, Gray came to a stop in front of the stage. He turned to glare at Tyler. “It’s fucking cruel to show up this way, man.”

Tyler turned his head, glaring back. “Three years. Three fucking years sitting…” He shook his head, his face blanching, and straightened his shoulders. “I saw the commercial on TV an hour ago. So fucking sue me for needing to see her.”

The sound of his voice washed over her, and hope and an almost surreal sense of joy expanded inside of her. How many times over the last three years had she imagined this moment? That he’d come home and she’d know he was safe. God, simply to know he was safe…And there he was, close enough to touch. Her whole body trembled with the overwhelming need to jump from the stage and hurl herself into his arms. For the simple luxury of feeling him real and solid and whole.

He’d come. He’d actually come to see her.

As shock receded, the memory of the last time she saw him filled her mind. So vivid and corporeal it might have been only yesterday. Tyler down on one knee, looking gorgeous in his uniform, a diamond ring in one hand and his heart in his eyes.

“Marry me, Cassie.”

Her response jolted through her next. The shock. The breath-stealing fear of losing him that had clenched at her chest. She’d turned his proposal down flat. Had looked him right in the eye and told him she didn’t love him.

The wall she’d put her pain behind three years ago cracked. Three years of grief flooded over her like a tidal wave, and a vise closed around her chest, threatening to pull her knees out from beneath her.

“I can’t deal with this.” Cassie stalked from the stage, moving as fast as she dared without resorting to running as she headed out of the ballroom. Head spinning, her stomach churning, she stalked the long hallway and jabbed the button for the elevator, her mind focused on her car in the parking lot. Home. She needed to go home. This whole night was a bad idea.

She only made it to her car, parked at the back of the quiet lot, before the pain refused to be held back any longer. The sobs she’d buried all these years broke free, and she sagged against the driver’s side door of her Jag as the tears washed down her cheeks.

How long she stood there sobbing, she didn’t know, but footsteps sounded on the pavement somewhere beyond her, echoing around the quiet lot. She sniffled, clutched her keys tightly in her hand, ready to fend off an attacker if need be, and turned her head. Tyler jogged in her direction, the backdrop of the streetlights illuminating him from behind. Like a goddamn angel from heaven. He came to a stop in front of her, his tall, broad form towering over her, his chest heaving.

His warm breaths misted in the cool night air, and one corner of his mouth curled upward. “You’re not making this easy, babe.”

His voice was still hauntingly familiar. She reached out a tentative hand, searching the face she’d know in the dark. Prominent cheekbones. A strong jaw. He’d lost weight. The planes and angles of his face had become more pronounced, his skin paler, eyes sunken and rimmed in shadow. He had a haunted look about him now. “Tell me I’m not dreaming, Ty.”

“I’ll do you one better.” He cupped her face in the warmth of his palms, stared for a moment, stroking his thumbs over her cheeks before leaning down and capturing her lips. His mouth was warm and familiar, but it wasn’t the passionate kiss she remembered. He kissed her softly at first before settling his mouth more firmly over hers. His fingers trembled as they stroked her face.

Lost in the moment, in the fantasy, she leaned into him. Any minute now she’d wake up, and he’d go poof, and she’d find herself alone in bed. Right then, though, it was the best damn kiss she’d had in a long time, and God help her, she lifted onto her toes to get more of him. If she was dreaming, she had every intention of milking it.

When she laid her palms against his chest, needing his warmth, to feel the solidness of his body, he flinched again and jerked back. Confusion flicked over his features before recognition settled in his gaze. He fisted his hands in her hair, pulling her back to him, and rested his forehead against hers. “Jesus, I missed you.”

His words finally rooted her, and the last lingering threads of denial unraveled, dragging her back to reality faster than a bucket of ice water. This wasn’t a dream, some fantasy her mind had conjured. He was real.

All of which sent her hope spiraling straight into her toes. Tyler wouldn’t have said that to her. The last time she’d seen him, they’d fought. She’d said horrible things to him that day, then sent him off to die. Why the hell would he miss her? Why would he even want her after the way she’d treated him? She wouldn’t.

Drawing strength from the pain threatening to swallow her, she braced her hands against his chest and forced herself to step away from him. Keys clutched in her hand, she pointed the fob in his direction and glared at him. “I don’t know what the hell kind of game you’re playing, Ty, but you made your point, okay? This isn’t funny anymore.”

His brow furrowed in confusion and he opened his mouth, but she hit the key fob and climbed inside her car, slamming the door. She hit the button to start the engine, dropped the shifter into drive, and stomped on the gas pedal. She didn’t breathe or blink or even dare to look back until he’d become little more than a fading speck behind her.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Staff Sergeant Tyler Benson drummed his fingers on his leg as he stared at the door in front of him. Over three years had passed since he’d last stood in this spot, staring at this door. Three years, two months, and seven days to be exact.

Yet the private vestibule around him looked the same. Gray marble flooring and matching walls. A chair and an end table, of all things, as if someone would sit out there to wait. Though he knew damn well he had, on more than one occasion. The space came complete with a fancy chandelier above his head. Cassie insisted on only the best. For her, it was the penthouse.

They were oil and water, from two contrasting worlds. He’d come from what his mother had always referred to as honest roots. She’d raised him and his older brother, Dean, on her own, after their father’s death. Over the years, Mom had had to work two jobs in order to make ends meet, and he’d gone into the army because he wanted to make her proud.

Cassie was that untouchable girl, but she’d hooked him from the first sassy comeback she’d tossed at him the night they’d officially met. God, she had spunk.

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