Home > Claiming the Billionaire (Seattle Bachelors #4)(7)

Claiming the Billionaire (Seattle Bachelors #4)(7)
Author: J.M. Stewart

“I love you, too, sweetheart. Be gentle with her.”

He disconnected the call and held Cassie’s phone out to her, but she didn’t take it. She stood staring, eyes wide, gaze searching his. One by one tears began to fall, and she pivoted, moving farther into the house. She stopped at the edge of the living room but didn’t say anything. So, he closed the front door and followed, stopping several feet behind her.

He had to hand it to her. She wasn’t coming apart at the seams. She simply stood, back stiff and straight, arms folded, staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up her living room wall. He knew from previous experience those windows gave an unprecedented view of downtown Seattle and Elliott Bay beyond. They’d stood on her enormous deck more than once, her wrapped in his arms, looking out over the city, talking about dreams and futures.

“It’s been three years.” She spoke so softly he barely heard her, as if she were talking to herself, but not once did her voice waver. “Three years, Ty. Now suddenly here you are, alive and whole.”

“I’ve always been whole, though why they let me live is beyond me.”

He’d had three years to ponder this moment. Too much damn time to dream up everything he’d say to her. The problem was, he couldn’t get the words to leave past the lump in his throat. He hadn’t anticipated how powerful being in her presence again would be. He ached to wrap his arms around her and hold her until she stopped shaking, but he had no idea if she’d let him. Had no idea, either, if he could stand to be touched. He’d spent three years in what had essentially been solitary confinement. Alone with stone walls.

Since coming home, everything brought up memories he didn’t want to remember anymore. Post-traumatic stress the doctor had said. Something as simple as his mother’s hug could send him into a spiral to hell. None of which Cassie needed to see now.

So, he shoved his hands in his pockets.

“What happened to you? You went missing and then they couldn’t find you. After a year went by, they stopped looking, assumed you were dead. We had a funeral.”

“They ambushed us. Six of us were captured. I’m the only one who made it out. I think they were hoping to trade us for a few of their own.” He swallowed hard, forcing back the memories. Now wasn’t the time to relive the horror of those final days. She didn’t need to know the gory details, either, or watch him unravel as the memories sucked him into the past. “They kept moving us, shuffling us around, trying to stay one step ahead of the units looking for us. I honestly had no idea how much time had passed or even what was happening. It was just a series of endless days and nights.”

She finally turned to face him. “Why aren’t you angry with me? I said some cruel things to you the last time we saw each other. You shouldn’t even want to see me.”

He looked down at the floor for a moment. He’d thought about this a lot, too.

“For a long time, I was. You didn’t just turn down my proposal. You shoved it back in my face and made sure I knew how unimportant I was to you.” He looked up then, pinning her with a direct stare. He had no intention of letting her slip past him this time. They were going to settle this once and for all, whatever that meant. He needed the closure. “Which was why I called bullshit. You run from anything even resembling commitment. You don’t think I see you, but I do.”

Or at least he had. Now they were strangers again, and everything inside of him rebelled against the idea. The thought alone brought up a deep well of anger he didn’t know what to do with. They’d stolen three years of his life.

She wrapped her arms over her stomach, her voice small and dejected. “It doesn’t change things.”

He ducked down to look in her eyes. “Doesn’t it?”

She met his gaze with a stubborn lift of her chin but hurt filled her eyes. “No, because…You’re going back, aren’t you?”

Phrased as a question, but her piercing gaze dared him to deny it, telling him she already knew the answer.

“I don’t know. I’ve got psych evals first.” And he knew damn well what they’d find. He needed something to make him feel useful, not quite so fucked up, but they’d never put him back on active duty. He’d be lucky to get a desk job. “You, however, could at least have the balls to be honest with me.”

He knew she had them. Cassie could be fierce when she wanted to be. She’d never let him hide. He wouldn’t let her, either.

She stared at him, for what had to be the hundredth time since he arrived. When she didn’t answer, he dared a step forward and closed the gap between them, hovering over her. So close the heat of her body infused his and her sweet, sweet perfume called to him like the lure of a siren’s song. He ached to touch her, if only to remember the suppleness of her skin. To get lost in her in a blind attempt to chase away the hell living in his head.

“I remember. I remember the way you used to look at me, the way we held each other at night. Have the balls to be honest with me and tell me why you really turned me down.” He had a feeling he knew, but he needed to hear her say the words.

Cassie lifted her chin to a defiant angle. “I’m not doing this with you again, Ty.”

He wanted to laugh. God, he loved her feistiness. She’d been a challenge from the beginning, from the first corny line he’d tossed at her.

He’d been on leave the weekend he’d run into her. Her older brother, Nick, had been one of his best friends. He’d gone to the fireworks display at the Space Needle that night with Dean and some friends to honor Nick’s memory and the memory of others they’d lost in the war. He’d met Cassie for the first time when she barreled into him. There she was, tipsy, wearing a skirt that showed more thigh than it covered and sexy, strappy little sandals that made her legs look a mile long. Who the hell wore heels to a Fourth of July celebration he didn’t know, but she’d plowed into him so hard, she’d ended up in his arms. The awful pickup line he’d tossed at her had been an instinctive reaction. “Aw, look who fell from heaven.”

She’d glared at him, but she hadn’t been able to hide her smile, and he’d tossed several more at her to see that smile bloom. In the conversation that followed, he learned she was Nick’s little sister, and she’d gone downtown for the same reason he had.

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