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Mine_to_Hold

 

friend's duty.

Murphy was an LAPD detective, single and happy - until a near-fatal tragedy crippled his friend, fellow detective Eric Catalano. While Tyler supported Eric, he also became a shoulder for Eric's wife, Delaney, to lean on. But with one naughty suggestion from Eric, a drunken night with Delaney spilled into erotic abandon. Before it was over, Tyler saw his best friend's wife as a woman and yearned for more. When Eric struggled to deal with the aftermath, Delaney begged Tyler to leave. Crushed, he fled to Louisiana, hoping to escape his longing for the one woman he could never have again...and unaware of what he'd left behind.

lover's desire.

two years of living with regret, Tyler finds Delaney on his doorstep, her husband having abandoned her long ago. She's protecting a shocking secret and desperately needs refuge from a stalker determined to see her dead. As they fight to stay alive and catch the killer, they struggle to resolve the guilt of their past pleasures. But they can't deny that what was once a spark is now a flame burning out of control. To possess Delaney - body and soul - Tyler must heal her pain and thwart the evil that's a mere breath behind her...

 

 

One

 

 

“TYLER, are you aware that all the girls at Sexy Sirens have nicknamed you Cockzilla?”

laughed. That rich, deep sound Delaney Catalano hadn’t heard for two long years sang in the humid May air, making her heart clench. After all the trials and miles—and lately, the bullets—she never believed she’d hear Tyler Murphy’s familiar voice again. Certainly, she’d never imagined hearing it in BFE, Louisiana, as she hid in the shadows of his back patio like some sad stalker. She wasn’t at all surprised that a group of girls had given him a moniker about his sexual prowess. Women had always crawled all over him, and perpetually single Tyler liked it that way.

upon a time, his antics had made her laugh—until Delaney had experienced him for herself. To this day, she remembered exactly how good he’d been. She pushed the thought aside.

around the corner, she saw Tyler’s broad shoulders and upper back encased in a charcoal gray T-shirt. His blond hair had been cut brutally short, exposing the strong column of his sun-kissed neck. He lounged in a chair, his forearms looking bronzed, heavily veined, and vital under the patio lights. Around a table, he was surrounded by a virtual harem: two redheads, a platinum blonde, a Latina brunette, and an auburn-haired model type—each totally gorgeous.

things never change. Not that it should matter to her. He’d been her friend first and foremost. And he’d never been hers to lose.

 

“And that’s a bad nickname why?” Tyler returned to the stunning blonde beside him, lifting his bottle of beer to his mouth and taking a long swallow.

the other women laughed, Delaney glanced over her shoulder, hoping like hell that she hadn’t been followed. She breathed a sigh of relief when it appeared that she was alone. How nice would it be if her most pressing problem were others’ opinions? How nice would it be if someone didn’t want her dead?



 

“Ladies . . .” the blonde’s voice warned. “This is not funny. Remember the plan?”

 

“Alyssa is right,” said the brunette with sinful curves. “We’re worried about you.”

 

“That’s very sweet, Kata, but acting like you care isn’t going to persuade me to watch another crappy Twilight movie with you.”

 

“You liked it,” Kata accused.

snorted. “You wish.”

probably had liked it more than he wanted to admit. Tyler liked high-testosterone thrillers, but he’d admitted under the influence of Señor Cuervo that he kinda liked chick flicks, too. Once upon a time, he’d been Delaney’s buddy of choice to curl up on the couch with and rent movies, she remembered with a wistful smile. Then reality crashed back in.

 

“Focus.” Alyssa snapped. “This is an intervention. The girls and I all agree that you need help.”

 

“C’mon. I’m not a drug addict or an alcoholic. I’m no danger to myself or others.”

 

“Wrong. You’re dangerous to womankind,” the auburn-haired beauty cut in. “Can you make it a whole day without getting in some stripper’s thong? Our guess is no.”

grimaced. Yep, same old Tyler. He’d always liked women easy and flashy. One reason—among many—she’d never taken his flirting seriously. Then again, it wasn’t his flirting that had been her downfall.

 

“Ouch, Kimber. You wound me.” Tyler slapped a hand dramatically over his chest.

 

“Cut the crap,” she demanded. “You can’t make it a whole day, can you?”

 

“Sure, I could. But why torture myself? I have to do something to stave off the loneliness.”

 

“I don’t need any more catfights onstage about who’s getting Cockzilla tonight,” Alyssa chimed in again.

 

“No catfights at a strip club? You’re kidding me? Your patrons loved the action. Better than Jell-O wrestling. Got a rise out of me.”

women in Tyler’s life were staging an intervention, and he wasn’t taking it seriously. Delaney wasn’t really surprised. He would always be Mr. Good-Time. What did surprise her, however, was that none of the women seemed to be fighting over him. Yet, anyway.

 

“Wait. Are you here to tell me that you’re suddenly available and want me all to yourself?” he challenged the gorgeous blonde. “You know I’m all over that.”

 

“We all know.” Another woman scoffed and waved her hand. “I haven’t known you that long, but seriously, a stiff wind could get a rise out of you.”

lovely redhead with the sultry brown eyes wore a wedding ring. Then again, bands of gold had never stopped Tyler before. She ought to know.

 

“You noticed, Tara? I’m touched.”

 

“Don’t give me that,” Tara scolded. “Alyssa is being really serious. We all are.”

 

“Really? It’s not a joke?” With a sigh, Tyler turned back to the blonde. “Okay. What’s up, boss lady?”

 

“I can’t have girls fighting and quitting because you’re too busy playing musical beds,” Alyssa said. “Someone is going to lose every time, and it’s creating a fucking mess that I don’t have time to clean up. I hired Jessi to replace Krystal, who left because she didn’t like being last on your booty-call list. Tyler, Jessi has been with me for three days. Three! I found out this afternoon that you’ve already tapped that, more than once.”

fidgeted in his seat. “After her first shift, she asked for an escort to her car. The parking lot was dark and empty. I helped her out.”

 

“By nailing her in the backseat?”

 

“There’s more room in a Civic than you’d think.”

 

“Tyler, I know you like to keep things light, but please be serious for a minute.” Alyssa’s voice rang with frustration. “Jessi came crying to me when she found you and Skylar in the dressing room last night after closing. Do I need to enact a strict no-anal-sex policy at the club?”

 

“I didn’t mean to hurt Jessi’s feelings. I thought she knew the score. I’ll talk to her.” He frowned. “I’m confused about one thing. I’ve bounced there for almost two years. What I do with the girls has never bothered you before. What is this really about?”

was a long pause, and Delaney watched a few of the women lift glasses of wine and sip nervously.

other redhead, the one with the baby bump, clutched a water bottle and shifted in the seat. “We think it’s time you settled down.”

 

“Morgan . . .” he warned. “Don’t try spreading your matrimonial joy on me. Just because you’re all blissful with your monogamy doesn’t mean I’m in any hurry to get there.”

the redhead’s baby bump wasn’t his doing? Never mind. It’s irrelevant. Focus.

 

“You’re going to have to grow up,” Morgan pointed out.

wagged a finger in his face. “Skylar just turned twenty-two. You’re, what, a decade older?”

, Tyler was thirty-four. Delaney remembered his thirtieth birthday party, during happier times, back when she and Eric—

shut down that thought and listened to the conversation.

 

“I didn’t know she was that young. Sorry.” Tyler shrugged. “We weren’t exactly exchanging vital statistics.”

 

“No,” Alyssa jumped in. “Just bodily fluids.”

 

“Hey, I always wear a condom.”

grimaced as several others groaned. “Eww. I don’t want details.”

 

“I’m just saying . . . Let’s not get technical,” he defended. “So I’m older than she is. I’m not the first guy to date a younger woman.”

 

“Fucking in the back of the club isn’t dating.” Kimber sighed.

 

“Clean up your man-whore act.” Alyssa looked dead serious. “Or in ten years, you’re going to be a walking stereotype, a middle-aged Lothario hitting on young chicks with your snazzy sports car.”

 

“I don’t have a sports car, and even if I did, with a name like Cockzilla, everyone would know that I’m not overcompensating for anything I might be lacking.”

smacked her hand on the table. “Damn it, are you listening to us at all?”

sighed. “Yes. Joking aside, I will curb some of my . . . activity at the club. I appreciate your concern. But seriously, I’m not looking for any kind of happily ever after.”

 

“Too bad,” Kata cut in. “We’re going to find you one.”

stiffened. “Oh, I get it. You have someone in mind.”

 

“Well, I thought it would be nice if you’d talk to my cousin, London,” Alyssa suggested as if walking on eggshells. “She just moved here. She’s very sweet and could use a friend.”

 

“Hell no.”

stood, putting her hands on her very curvaceous hips. “Are you refusing because she’s not a size two?”

shook his head. “I’ve got nothing against girls with a little extra cushion. But that one has purity written all over her. No fucking way. Alyssa, you don’t like the way I treat your dancers, but you want to unleash me on your little virgin relative?”

 

“So what if she’s a virgin?” Alyssa argued. “You have a really kind, loyal side that would be good for her.”

gorgeous blonde had gotten that part right. He’d once proven that he’d do anything for a friend.

 

“He does,” Kata agreed. “I might not be here if that weren’t true.”

 

“If you can just keep your pants zipped long enough, she’ll see it. And you’ll get to know her, too, and—”

 

“Nope.” Tyler finished the last of his beer and slammed the bottle on the table. “I’m done here. If you ladies want to stay and finish your wine, you’re more than welcome, but there’s no way you’re pairing me up with anyone.”

 

“Where are you going?” Tara, closest to the sliding glass doors, moved her chair to block his path.

scooted her out of the way with a nudge of his powerful thigh. “Anywhere else. Bye.”

he disappeared inside the house, Delaney panicked. It had taken her forever to track him down. She was at the end of her cash reserves and the end of her rope. Time had run out. No way could she wait until he felt like coming home again to confront him. There was too much at stake.

everything she loved and owned behind her, Delaney clung to the shadows, watching for anything suspicious, and ran for his front door.

 

***

 

doorbell rang before Tyler could escape the house. Damn it, if this was another meddling female trying to tell him how to run his life, he was going to shove a bottle of wine in her hands and send her out back with the rest of them. He had better things to do, like slap some sense into his buddies. What the hell had possessed all of them to marry such interfering women?

the knob with almost as much gusto as he gnashed his teeth, Tyler yanked the door open with a curse on the tip of his tongue. It died abruptly.

. My. God.

drank in the sight of the familiar, petite brunette. He knew those wary blue eyes, framed by thick, dark lashes, and that sweet oval face. Her stubborn chin. That wide bow of a mouth. His heart pounded. He found himself unable to take a breath. “Delaney?”

sight of her hit him like a fucking two-by-four in the solar plexus. Was it even possible that she stood at his door? Or was he hallucinating after two silent years of wondering what the fuck had happened?

 

“Hi, Tyler.”

shifted nervously, looking too damn tired and rumpled. Her dark hair hung in an unraveling braid. She wore no makeup, a faded T-shirt, and had dark circles under her eyes. By her side sat a black duffel bag on wheels. Something else squatted near her, around the corner. He couldn’t see more than a blue, waist-high plastic handle stretching vertically for about two feet.

the hell? She refused to have anything to do with him for two years, then came to his door unannounced, bringing everything she owned?

 

“You’re a tough man to track down,” she murmured, then glanced over her shoulder at the empty street bathed in twilight. “Your alias threw me.”

, he crossed his arms over his chest. Yeah, he should invite her in, but last time he checked, she’d thrown him out of her life.

course, she wouldn’t show up now with luggage unless she was desperate . . .

 

“I was under the impression you’d rather I get and stay lost,” he drawled.

shook her head, her dark braid swaying in the valley between her soft breasts, the ones with the pretty berry red nipples he’d never forgotten, no matter how many fake tits he’d fondled in the last two years. Tyler ignored the stirring of his cock and swallowed back the memory.

 

“I’m sorry for the way things ended.” She bit her lip. “I know this is awkward—”

 

“As hell. Yeah. Where’s Eric?” He glanced down at her left hand, clutching the rolling duffel bag. Her ring finger was bare.

 

“We’re divorced.”

. And there came the two-by-four to his gut again. Tyler didn’t ask why; he knew the answer.

 

“I’m sorry as hell, Del.”

he was. But there was a selfish side of him having a full-on, get-down party at the news that Del was single again.

consciously, she rubbed her thumb under her naked ring finger. “Thanks. It was final sixteen months ago. I haven’t seen much of him since.” She pursed her lips together, glanced behind her at the quiet street again. “We don’t talk a lot.”

of a bitch, he’d bet the split was ugly. And why did she keep glancing behind her?

 

“Delaney . . .” Tyler didn’t know what the hell to say. It wasn’t all his fault. But a good deal of the blame rested on his shoulders. The need to know why she was here now also kept circling his brain.

 

“It’s okay. I know you have company and that this is uncomfortable. I know I handled everything between us badly in the past. I’m sorry. I regret it like hell.”

’s blue eyes filled up with tears. As she fought them back, Tyler resisted the urge to comfort her as he had when they’d been friends . . . then more.

 

“Can I come in? There’s something we really need to talk about—and we shouldn’t do it on your porch.”

inside Tyler seized up. The last time they’d talked, she’d asked him to leave, then cut him out of her life. Whatever was on her mind, it would be heavy. She hadn’t come all the way to Lafayette from Los Angeles to shoot the shit.

everything, how the hell could he say no? He’d ruined her life, and deep down, he’d been pretty damn sure that would be the outcome the second the deed was done. He owed her. Besides, he’d never been in love . . . but he’d come perilously close with Delaney.

 

“Sure.” He swallowed, grabbed her duffel, and stepped back. “Come in. How did you know I had company?”

glanced at the object with the tall plastic handle beside her, the rest hidden by the exterior wall of the porch. She looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I rang the doorbell a bit ago, and no one answered. So I popped around to the side of the house and . . . saw that you weren’t alone.”

 

“They’re my buddies’ wives.” He’d meant the words as an explanation, a defense. Then he winced. God, Delaney probably already imagined—with good reason—that he was fucking each and every one of them.

 

“It’s none of my business.” She glanced at the hidden object beside her again, then the empty street behind her. “I came because I need your help. Really badly and right now.”

 

“You look tired, Del. And too thin. Come in and tell me what you need.”

drew in a deep breath, then bent to the hidden item just beside her. A trunk? A dolly? Did she mean to move in?

moment later, she straightened up, clutching a child. A little boy. He was deadweight in her arms, half asleep, his face against her shoulder, thick blond hair askew. Tyler’s heart skidded to a stop.

kid’s meaty hands and feet peeked out beyond the arms and legs of his Spider-Man pajamas that were just a bit too small. He hooked one arm around Delaney’s neck, then began rubbing an eye with his little fist. Then the kid turned. That little face possessed the Murphy nose. His own green eyes, uncertain and watchful, stared back at him.

’s entire body went cold. His jaw dropped as his mind came to a screeching halt. Oh God. Oh fucking God . . .

 

“Tyler, meet your son, Seth.”

son. Tyler had known this kid was his at a glance. A thousand emotions pelted him at once. Shock blazed through his system first. Wonder crashed in next.

had a son. He and Delaney had created life together that beautiful May night when he’d finally stopped seeing her as a friend and had little choice but to touch her as a woman.

she’d never bothered to tell him. Had she even tried to find him or just decided that he was irrelevant and had the child on her own?

swept over him, relentless. One scathing accusation after another perched on the edge of his tongue. Gritting his teeth, he pushed it down for the boy’s sake.

 

“Hi, Seth,” he spoke in soft tones, then speared Delaney with a glare that dared her to defy him. “I want to hold him now.”

, Tyler ached to. This was his son. His . . . with her.

made Delaney’s mouth tremble as she nodded. She kissed the little boy’s head, then whispered, “It’s okay, little man.”

frowned and watched him suspiciously, but went into his arms without a fight. Then Tyler was holding his son for the first time, wrapping him as tightly in his arms as he dared.

tried to swallow, but his throat felt too tight. His jaw ached. His heart beat fast, like a fucking racehorse at the Kentucky Derby. Something warm flooded his chest. Tyler had never fallen instantly in love with anything or anyone, but Seth seized his heart in a single moment. He kissed the little boy’s forehead, and the feeling swelled tenfold.

 

“Why am I just now finding out about him?” Tyler tried to keep his voice calm and even. But his eyes accused her. What he really wanted to know was how the fuck she could have robbed him of the first fifteen months of his own son’s life.

glanced at the street behind her again apprehensively and shimmied out of the porch’s light. “You have every right to be angry. Things were complicated, and you became impossible to find once you moved out of state. And I know those seem like poor excuses. At the end of the day, I didn’t know what to tell you or if you’d even care. You can take it out of my hide later. I’m sure I deserve it. But right now, I need your help. I need you to protect Seth.” She swallowed, her red-rimmed eyes looking stark and afraid. “Someone is trying to kill me.”

 

***

 

’S face changed immediately, closing up, tensing. Cop mode; she recognized it. He might not be an LAPD Vice detective anymore, but some instincts never changed.

dragged her into the house, then rolled her duffel and their son’s stroller into the little foyer. Shoulders taut, he slammed the door, then locked it behind him.

he turned to her again, his green eyes were laser sharp and focused. “Tell me everything.”

licked her lips, her legs about to wobble out from under her. She was starving and exhausted. All of her cash had gone toward feeding Seth and buying gas. She hadn’t dared to use her credit cards.

thoughts were racing, and her son stirred restlessly. He’d been cooped up for days. Now that he was awake, he would want to roam around. As a mother who knew the bastard after her didn’t care if Seth was collateral damage, she was terrified to let the little boy out of her sight.

her problem, Tyler gently rocked him. “Hey, it’s okay.”

frowned. Delaney handed the little boy the last of his apple juice from his sippy cup and a few animal crackers in the colorful but dented box.

he settled down, she risked a glance at Tyler. The man was waiting for an explanation—and not patiently. Where to begin?

 

“You remember Martin Carlson?”

 

“One of L.A.’s upcoming assistant district attorneys, right?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Slimy bastard.”

 

“That one, yes.” She sighed. “You know how Eric always teased me about reporting on fluff pieces, like society baby showers and dog shows, when I first started writing for the Times?”

shrugged. “Of course.”

 

“So I pushed and pushed my editor, Preston, for meatier stories. On New Year’s Eve, he assigned me to cover a party that Martin Carlson and his wife were giving. During the party, I sneaked away to call the babysitter and check on Seth. I overheard Carlson on the phone, talking. He threatened that he’d better see the money show up in his Cayman account or the police would be banging on the door the next day. Then I heard Carlson specifically call Double T by name and tell the guy not to fuck him over or he was going to find his ass in prison and his operation shut down.”

rolled across Tyler’s face. “The gangster Double T of the 18th Street gang?”

 

“Precisely,” Delaney said grimly. “Everyone who knows anything about the drug scene near the Pico-Union district knows that he rules his turf with an iron fist. Carlson didn’t see me, thank God. It was a short conversation, two minutes max. But after that, I started digging. I wanted to write a story that would blow Preston away.”

 

“Oh, fuck. Double T isn’t the person to get all tenacious and crusading about.”

 

“Preston said the same thing. He wanted me to call the feds.”

 

“Clearly, you didn’t listen.” And Tyler looked more than pissed about that fact. “So Double T is trying to kill you because you know some of his crap?”

 

“I think it’s Carlson, actually. I got my hands on a copy of one of the evidence logs down at your old precinct, Rampart. I’m pretty sure it was tampered with. A whole bunch of guns and bags of white powder, supposedly with Double T’s prints, suddenly turned up missing. I took a picture of the original log. Carlson and some beat cop went in the evidence room. But when I looked again, it only listed the beat cop’s name. I hunted that rookie down and found out he’d supposedly died during a drive-by.”

frown that crossed Tyler’s face wasn’t comforting. “Gangsters don’t usually shoot cops without provocation. It brings too much shit raining down on their head, which is bad for business.”

 

“Exactly. No one else died in the incident, either. One shooter, one bullet, which seemed even more fishy. So I kept investigating. I found one of Double T’s lieutenants, Lobato Loco, who wanted to make a power play, so he was willing to talk off the record. He didn’t like his boss giving the ADA a cut of the money and figured that he could eliminate the problem and Double T at once by snitching anonymously to a reporter. He said he’d sign an affidavit to that effect.

 

“Armed with information, I went to Carlson’s office and asked him about his dealings with Double T on the record. Of course he denied everything, but after that, shit started happening fast. I went to the police, but none of Eric’s buddies wanted to lift a finger to help the bitch who’d cheated on him, least of all that creep, Becker the Pecker. So I had to fend for myself, especially since I didn’t have any tangible proof of Carlson’s guilt.”

 

“Motherfucker,” Tyler muttered. “Did you tell Eric this? You might be divorced, but he wouldn’t want you dead.”

 

“I left messages. He didn’t call back.” She pressed her lips together, watching as Tyler got angry all over again.

some ways, Tyler had always been more protective than Eric. Her ex-husband had always said that she was strong and capable. He’d never seen her as needing a champion. Tyler had his affable moments, but underneath, he was pure caveman. He’d threatened to bust up just about any asshole at Rampart who’d dared to ogle her or acted a bit too friendly.

 

“Wait!” She pushed a hand against Tyler’s chest when he looked ready to charge forward and find someone to beat the crap out of.

her fingers encountered hard muscle, bulges, sinew—all male. Delaney gulped and withdrew her hand from the burning heat of Tyler’s skin. Too often, she’d mentally replayed their night together and remembered the utter masculine perfection of his body. The way his lips had lingered on her neck, his rough fingertips had scraped every inch of her flesh, his sex-roughened growl had talked her through each one of the five orgasms he’d given her in that sublime hour.

thoughts wouldn’t help her now. Lives were on the line.

 

“What the fuck am I supposed to wait for? I’m going to tear Eric a new one. And Carlson was always a fucking prick, more concerned with his own ambition than justice. If he’s threatening you, I’m going to put a stop to it.”

 

“You can’t.” She shook her head. His urge to help her was sweet . . . but misguided. “I started this. I have to finish it. Lobato Loco will only talk to me. No one else knows the facts like I do. Or has cultivated the contacts. But I can’t keep Seth in the middle of this danger. After the bomb destroyed my Toyota—I’m so glad I hadn’t strapped Seth in his car seat before I started the car with my key fob—I realized that—”

 

“The prick bombed your car?” Now Tyler sounded beyond furious. He’d gone deadly, with his jaw clenched damn tight. Delaney wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him so enraged. “They meant to kill both you and our son?”

 

“Me more than Seth. Focus. All the admittedly circumstantial evidence I’d collected against Carlson was in that car, and now it’s gone. He means business. So I need you to protect Seth. It kills me to ask this of you.” She pressed her lips together, her eyes watering as she stroked her son’s arm, then gripped his little hand. “So please, don’t make this harder. I don’t want to leave him, but I’d rather he be alive with you than dead with me. No one knows you’re his father, and no one will think to look for him here. I have to go back to California and fix this mess. While I do, please keep our son safe.”

 

Two

 

his jaw, Tyler stared at Delaney. Clearly, the woman had lost her mind if she thought for an instant that he was going to stay behind and babysit while she threw herself headlong into danger. The bad shit was his department; she’d never faced it, and he’d be damned if he let her do it alone.

he also knew Delaney. If he argued, she’d only dig in her heels. Tyler weighed his words carefully. “I’ll be very glad for any time you give me to get to know Seth.”

released the pent-up breath she’d been holding and closed her eyes. “Thank you.”

 

“But before I agree to anything, we’re going to do a little bargaining, angel.”

intentionally sent her his most dazzling smile, the one that had been melting hearts and panties since he was thirteen.

knew him too well. Her eyes narrowed. “What do you want? Spit it out.”

anything, his smile widened. “Who says I’m going to ask for much?”

snorted. “Oh my God . . . Do you forget how many times I’ve seen that expression? You’re going to ask for the moon, then act like it’s nothing. Then you’ll ask for the stars, and smooth talk me until I either (a) think it was my idea or (b) thank you for the suggestion—or both. Not this time, buster. I’m not listening. This is one request I know you won’t refuse me. Regardless of what happened between us in the past, I know you don’t want to see your son die.”

 

“Absolutely true. But I’m also not willing to let you walk out the door again without some assurances that, from here on out, I have some parental rights.” Which was true, but not his primary concern at the moment.

crossed her face. “You want visitation?”

the very least, but they’d do details later. “Something like that. But I also want you to think about what you’re doing. What happens to Seth’s emotional stability if his mama leaves him with a stranger, then comes back in a pine box?”

closed her eyes. “I’ll have to figure out how to not die, I guess. I’d walk away from this, if I could. But Carlson is going to come after me no matter what. He’s not going to leave a loose end like me hanging.”

, he wouldn’t.

 

“I can’t take Seth with me. Carlson won’t care if he becomes collateral damage. My baby is too young . . .” She sobbed, sniffed, then tried to find her fortitude to press on. “I’m his mother, and I’m choosing life and safety for him.”

her own. Damn. Tyler respected the hell out of her for this, but he also wanted to throttle her. He stroked his chin absently, hashing out a plan. It wasn’t perfect and it forced him to prioritize objectives, but he could roll with it. If he achieved his primary goal—keeping Delaney safe and eliminating Carlson—then the rest of his wants might take care of themselves.

 

“Del, you need someone to watch your back while you clear up this mess.”

 

“I need someone to watch Seth’s back more.”

some reason, he found it incredibly sexy that Delaney was such a devoted mother. He wasn’t equating her mothering skills with his desire to fuck her . . . Rather, it was seeing her fierce side, her determination, that started his blood pumping south of his belt buckle again.

 

“Understood. We’ll work it out.” He’d have to move carefully or his plan would backfire. “You look exhausted. Sit down. When did you last eat? Sleep?”

 

“It’s not relevant.” Delaney shook her head, sinking into the recliner beside her. “Are you going to help me or not?”

 

“We’ll get there. Before now, how hard did you try to find me?”

heaved an exhausted sigh. “We’re going to play this game, huh? Okay, if you want me to be honest, not very hard.” She pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. “As soon as Eric found out I was pregnant, we separated for good. I was dealing with a lot—a new place to live, morning sickness, being served divorce papers . . . you being gone.”

 

“You told me to leave.” And goddamn it, if she hadn’t meant that, he was going to string himself up for listening.

 

“I did. Eric couldn’t handle what happened between us. I thought giving us all some time and space would help.”

request had damn near destroyed Tyler, but he had lived with it because he’d thought it would help Del and Eric. He’d thought he was giving her what she needed. But clearly not.

, in the long run, Del was better off without her ex-husband.

’s breath trembled. “Then Eric told me that you’d moved out of state and left for good.”

froze. “Did he lead you to believe that I didn’t want to come back? That I wasn’t dying to call you twenty times a day and find out if you were okay? Because that’s complete bullshit.”

blue eyes of hers turned up to him, wide, teary. “He didn’t say anything, and I didn’t know what to think. Your reputation with women . . .”

same one Alyssa and the other girls had been nagging him about fifteen minutes ago, before Delaney had knocked his world upside down—for the second time in his life. Ironic that his long string of conquests had come back to haunt him with a vengeance. His own Karma boomeranging him in the ass. And every friend he’d made in Lafayette would know it in the next few minutes.

 

“Is that really why you didn’t try harder to reach me? I would have helped. I would have done whatever the hell you wanted.”

, he’d been best buddies with Eric since shortly after becoming his partner in Vice. But in some ways, he’d been closer to Delaney, connected more with her sense of humor, her intelligence. Something about her . . . He hadn’t really tuned into what that was until he’d been balls deep inside her and falling for her fast. Until it was too late.

shook her head. “I needed a father for Seth, and we both know you’re short on commitment. At first, I was angry that you’d left without another word. I was tired and pissed and hormonal. I told myself it would serve you right to not know about your child.” Tyler opened his mouth to object, and Delaney waved him off. “It lasted ten minutes. Then I felt . . . abandoned. I figured you’d gone on a case. But then your PI business closed and you didn’t come back. I knew you must be using an assumed name, and it would take me time to find you. Eric certainly wasn’t going to help me.”

, Tyler added that to the list of Eric’s infractions and planned to gleefully beat the shit out of him for being a raving douche.

 

“And I guess . . . there was a part of me that wanted this child to be mine. Everyone else in my life had left me—my parents died, Eric divorced me, you walked away—but this baby . . . I could raise him with love and get back unconditional love in return. I didn’t mean to be selfish. I think”—she blew out a noisy breath—“I was just hurting. I know it was lousy. I’m sorry.”

, she’d always had a way of diffusing his anger, and today was no different. In her place, he’d have been so angry, he’d have done serious damage.

sobbed once, then clapped a hand over her mouth, trying to hold it in. Tyler crouched down next to her, settled a quizzical Seth into her lap, then wrapped his arm around her. She clutched her son, then stiffened, retreating into the back of the chair—away from him. Tyler sighed, all kinds of pissed off at the disappointment gnawing in his gut, then gave Del some space.

 

“You need to eat, angel. And rest.” He stared down at his son, now patting his mother’s hand as if he understood that she needed consoling. “How about you, Seth? Want a peanut butter sandwich?”

’s head whipped up. “He’s allergic to peanut butter. I’ll make a list of his allergies and write out his routine.”

. That would come in handy—for someone else.

 

“What can he eat?”

wiped away her tears impatiently, then sent a wobbly smile to Seth. “We like eggs, don’t we? We eat lots of eggs.”

 

“Egg!” Seth gave her a snaggletooth smile.

grinned. Well, hot damn. Eggs had always been one of his favorite foods, too.

 

“Eggs it is.”

 

“Thanks.” As if she realized that she’d smiled at him, too, Delaney blinked and looked away. “Can I use your bathroom? I need to change Seth.”

pointed down the hall, and she grabbed a diaper bag from the stroller. “Take your time. Scrambled with cheese?”

 

“You remember how I like eggs?” She bit her lip, as if trying to conceal the fact that it pleased her.

that. He was going to find out exactly how she felt. The whole shitty house of cards may have toppled once, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to find a way to rebuild it at least enough to be on good terms with his son’s mother.

he was beginning to suspect that wouldn’t be enough for him. Despite looking ragged and tired, Delaney was still one of the sexiest women to him. So sharp in some ways, innocent in others. Determined, brave . . . stubborn. Yeah, he was going to have to get past the walls she’d erected if he wanted to play a role in her life beyond Seth’s father.

 

“Of course, I remember.”

 

“But you don’t like cheese in eggs.” She frowned.

, and she remembered, too. He shrugged. “I can adjust.”

a cock of her head, like she was trying to figure out exactly what he meant, she lifted Seth and carted him down the hall. The second the door shut and locked, Tyler sent out a quick text, then darted toward the patio. All the instigators of his “intervention” still sat there, drinking and clearly trying to decide how best to direct his life. He was about to give them one great big heaping dose of help.

his head out the back door, he glanced at the ladies. “Come inside. Have I got a surprise for you . . .”

 

***

 

thanked God for the long countertop in the bathroom and laid Seth out. No doubt, he had to be wet by now.

 

“Da da da,” her son babbled.

, that’s your daddy. Tyler had seen it immediately. It was obvious and probably better than having to prove Seth’s parentage to him. But it hadn’t escaped Del that Tyler hadn’t yet committed to staying here and protecting Seth. And if she knew that man, he had something up his sleeve. Whatever ran around in Tyler’s half-crazy head, she couldn’t let him derail her. He had all kinds of incentive to keep Seth safe that no one else would. She was sticking to her guns. If she didn’t make it out of this alive . . . at least she knew Seth would be safe. And loved. Tyler, for all his seemingly carefree ways, had tremendous capacity for caring.

a quick tug of Seth’s clothes, the wet diaper came off. A fresh one replaced it, then Del righted his shorts. She looked longingly at the shower. How she’d love to bathe with Seth, hold his little body close to her and revel in the skin-to-skin contact. She’d only stopped breast-feeding a few months ago, and she missed having him that close. Showers were like gold to her now.

this wasn’t the time.

, she set Seth on his feet, used the toilet, then washed her hands. “Ready?”

response, Seth blew air out of his lax lips, making noises like a car engine. She smiled softly, sniffing back fresh tears. He was little boy, through and through. She’d miss him desperately while she tried to nail Carlson to a wall and did everything in her power to make it back to her son alive.

, a knock interrupted her thoughts. “You okay in there?”

 

“Be right out, Tyler.”

her things and taping up Seth’s wet diaper, she drew in a deep breath and stepped out of the bathroom, down the hall, and into the kitchen—with the five other women from the patio. She stopped short.

didn’t make any bones about staring at her with rampant curiosity.

the gorgeous platinum blonde stared at Seth and gasped. “Oh my God, Tyler. He looks just like you. Is he . . .”

 

“Yep. Mine.” Tyler’s expression was unreadable, but Del sensed a smile somewhere in there. Her mind racing, she tossed away Seth’s diaper. What the hell was this about?

 

“You’re just now telling us about him?” the pregnant redhead challenged.

athletic, auburn-haired beauty tapped her foot. “Of course. He gets in the middle of all our shit, but notice that he doesn’t fess up about his own.”

curvy Latina frowned. “True, but I don’t think that’s the issue this time. See how he looks at the boy, with curiosity and wonder. How long have you known?”

 

“Ten minutes.”

women collectively gasped.

held Seth tighter. “Look, I didn’t know exactly how to find Tyler. And . . . what’s going on here?”

 

“Ladies, this an old . . . friend, Delaney Catalano. And my son, Seth.”

 

“Nice to meet you. He’s precious,” the other redhead, this one with the dancing dark eyes, said. “Tyler made him eggs. Can I feed him?”

around, Delaney spied a plate on the counter. Sure enough, steaming eggs and toast sat beside the stove. Seth saw, too—and lunged.

platinum knockout caught him before he squirmed headfirst out of Del’s grasp. She scooped him right up against her chest and took him over to the eggs, calling over her shoulder, “I’m Alyssa, Tyler’s boss. I’ve got a little girl just about the same age as your boy. I probably won’t have more children, so I’d love the opportunity to spoil your son. Come on, Tara. Grab a spoon.” She tickled Seth’s cheek. “You hungry?”

 

“Wait!” Del reached for Seth. “I’ll do that. He’s—”

 

“No need,” Tara chimed back, then giggled. “Gosh, Tyler. He looks so much like you. Except I actually like him.”

 

“Funny.” Tyler rolled his eyes. “You’ve met Alyssa and Tara over there.” He pointed at the two women fussing over Seth—who looked to be eating it up, along with the eggs. “This is Kata, Kimber, and Morgan.”

nodding a greeting, Kata, the Latina brunette, took out her phone and started texting. Kimber, the auburn beauty next to her, got the same idea and whipped out her cell, too.

 

“Hold up there, girls. C’mon . . . Don’t do this.”

both looked up with big Cheshire cat grins. Kimber tapped out a few more keys, then hit send. “That should have Deke here in . . .” She glanced at her watch. “About five minutes. Less, if there’s no traffic.”

 

“Oh, good. He’ll tell Jack for me.” Morgan, the pregnant redhead, smiled. “I need to recharge my phone.”

 

“I’m sure Deke will be happy to tell Jack,” Tyler drawled. “Isn’t that great?”

said it sarcastically but looked relatively pleased. Del didn’t know who Deke or Jack were, but she got the quick idea that, despite his protests, Tyler had orchestrated this scene for some reason.

 

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Who are these men you’re talking about?”

 

“Just my friends, who will hopefully come collect their wives so that we can talk privately.”

 

“My husband isn’t coming for me until the navy gives him leave again in a few months. I can stay.” Kata grinned.

 

“I’m in the same boat,” Tara added, nodding.

 

“But Hunter and Logan did give you a place to stay until they returned home. Do you need help remembering where it is?”

the women looked completely different, they wore identical pouts. “We’re trying to be helpful.”

 

“You’re trying to cause trouble.” Tyler turned to Del. “They’re married to the Edgington brothers. Navy SEALs . . . who will spank both your asses red when I tell them what pains in my ass you’ve been.”

 

“That’s it. I’m bringing over New Moon and Eclipse,” Kata insisted. “I’m tying you to a chair and forcing you to watch them. Hunter has taught me some interesting knots.”

kind of people were they, openly discussing spanking and bondage? She sent Tyler a questioning glance. He just smiled in a way that didn’t give her any comfort.

moment later, a booming growl sounded from the front part of the house. “What the hell is going on?”

big hulk of a blond man bounded into the kitchen, holding a little boy just a bit older than Seth very comfortably in one beefy arm. Lord, at nearly thirty pounds, lugging her baby around took a lot of her strength. Yet this man didn’t seem to require any effort to cradle his son, a veritable mini-me of the man himself.

 

“Check this out, Deke.” Kimber sent a meaningful glance at Seth, still being fed and cooed by Alyssa and Tara.

big, blond man’s gaze followed Kimber’s, then his jaw dropped. “Holy shit! Um . . . shoot.”

crossed his arms over his chest, looking more pleased by the second. What was up with that?

 

“He looks just like you, man.” Deke motioned to Seth.

 

“The way our son looks like you?” Kimber rushed over to pick up the boy in Deke’s arms. “Hi, Caleb. Miss Mommy? I missed you.”

little boy just smiled at the gorgeous woman, then giggled when she lifted his little race-car T-shirt and kissed his belly.

 

“Well, isn’t this an interesting turn of events?” came a voice from the doorway.

whipped around to face another man who’d sauntered into the room and propped himself against the wall. Dark hair, equally dark eyes, a serious sense of leashed power. He wasn’t someone to fuck with. She got that instantly.

 

“Isn’t it, Jack?” Tyler agreed.

 

“Can’t wait to hear these details.”

didn’t know who all these nosy strangers in Tyler’s business were, but she didn’t like the feeling that he suddenly had a whole team of people on his side—a virtual family at his back—while she had no one. As usual.

the whole room seemed focused on Jack, as if waiting for a cue, she decided to nip this in the bud now.

 

“I’m Delaney Catalano.” She approached Jack with hand outstretched. “The boy is my son, Seth. It’s great to meet you. I really have to talk to Tyler privately. Not to be rude, but would you mind leaving and taking everyone with you?”

took her hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you, too. Tyler, you good here?”

sent her an unreadable gaze. “Maybe you could hang here for just a minute.”

 

“No sweat.” Jack approached the pregnant redhead, dropped a kiss on her forehead as he stroked her little baby bump. “How are my two favorite people today?”

mutual love and devotion was so painfully obvious, even ten feet away. Envy lashed through Del, and she looked away. So many times as her body had been expanding and changing during her pregnancy, she’d wished for Tyler’s comfort. Some sense of his approval or caring. Instead, she’d been lugging boxes, wading into depressing divorce decrees . . . It had all turned out for the best, but welcoming a new life into hers should have been a happy time. Without Tyler, it had been bittersweet.

 

“Is someone going to tell me what the hell is going on?” Deke demanded. “Y’all texted me for a reason.”

eye in the room turned to her. Every face held an expectant expression. Delaney sighed. They weren’t going to leave, and this was some kind of gang-up-on-the-stranger thing. Fine.

 

“I have a dirtbag in L.A. trying to kill me. Really, the fewer people who know this the better, but since you’re all standing here, waiting for me to spill my junk, there it is.”

raised a brow, then glanced at Tyler. “Did you bring us here so she could hire us?”

frowned. “For what?”

 

“Jack and Deke are in the personal protection business, angel. And they’re the best.”

a shrug, Jack drawled, “You’re no slouch, either. The job offer is still open.”

shook his head. “He’s been too busy enjoying the . . . benefits of working for Alyssa too much for that. The scenery at a strip club is way better.”

. Del shook her head. She already knew Tyler had a long string of strippers on his beck-and-booty-call list. It didn’t bother her, really. Well, not much. Besides, now that she had stretch marks and her clothes often smelled like baby vomit, there was no way she could compete, even if she wanted to.

shrugged. “I might finally take you up on that offer, Jack.”

entire room froze. Apparently, this was big news. Whatever. She had herself and Seth to think about.

 

“Yeah?” Jack nodded. “When?”

 

“Now is good.”

approached Jack. “Look, if you’re in the personal protection business and done with your HR functions for the day, I might be interested in hiring you. I can’t get my hands on my money until the guy trying to kill me is behind bars, but—”

 

“Stop.” Jack’s voice snapped with command. Then, with a deep breath, he eased his shoulders back, expanded his chest. He seemed to grow six inches in two seconds. His demeanor completely changed. Any hint of affable was gone.

, Del obeyed, closing her mouth. Then she frowned.

 

“That’s not fair, my love,” Morgan murmured. “Using that voice on her . . . It’s mine.”

 

“And you’ll stay out of this, or you’ll hear lots of that voice later. If not, as soon as this pregnancy is over, I have a new single tail with your name on it.”

shivered and gave him a secretive smile.

didn’t know exactly what a single tail was, but she was getting an idea. And Morgan seemed completely happy. Who the hell were Tyler’s friends these days?

 

“Look, Mister . . .” What the hell was his last name?

 

“Cole,” he supplied.

 

“With all due respect, I don’t have time to stop. This man almost killed me and my son three days ago. I’m leaving him here with Tyler for safekeeping. I’d prefer to come home to Seth in one piece, and I could use your help doing it.”

glanced at Deke. They both turned to Tyler, who said nothing, but she sensed lots of silent communication.

 

“Look, I get that you’ve got your man code or whatever, but I’d like to be a client. If you can’t take the job, please refer me to someone who can.” She heaved a frustrated sigh. “I don’t mean to be bitchy, but it’s been a terrible few days.”

 

“Clients by referral only. There’s no one I can credibly recommend to you in Los Angeles. With my wife pregnant, I’m not leaving town. Deke has his hands full with his family and existing caseload. However, our newest associate would be happy to help.” Jack gestured to Tyler.

it! That was Tyler’s game, setting himself up to be her safety net.

shook her head. “He’s staying here with Seth.”

 

“You know, your son looks like he’s in really good hands.” Jack nodded toward Alyssa and Tara fussing over Seth. Kimber had joined in, while Kata dug through the diaper bag and picked out some of his toys, to his squealing delight.

 

“I’m not leaving him with strangers.” Even the thought made Del’s heart stop.

 

“No one will ever suspect that the boy staying with Jack or Deke is Seth,” Tyler pointed out. “My friends would protect him with their lives, and you know I don’t say that lightly.”

didn’t, but that hardly meant that she was leaving her little man with people she’d met ten minutes ago, especially when one was talking openly about whipping his wife. But Tyler could be stubborn as the day was long. The best way to deal with him wasn’t to go through him, but around.

 

“I’ll think about it.”

grabbed her shoulders. “Will you? Really?”

touch was a shock. The feel of his fingers wrapped around her arms buzzed across her skin, singed through her body—made her remember that night she needed to forget. She shrugged out of his grip. “I said I would. Leave it.”

looked unsettled that she wouldn’t allow his touch. No, pissed off. God, she didn’t have the time or patience for this game that being near him played with her head. That part of her life was done, gone. She had to focus on taking down Carlson and keeping Seth alive. She and Tyler would work out his parental rights afterward.

 

“Did someone say there’s a hungry woman here who needs to be fed?” Yet another voice rang out from the direction of the front door. It slammed a moment later.

made a beeline for the arched opening to the kitchen and met a gorgeous man with hair like midnight silk hanging around his shoulders. “Hi, honey.”

 

“Sugar . . .” He pressed a quick, demanding kiss on her mouth, hugging a beautiful blonde baby girl against his side, her wide blue eyes and curly, pale hair a soft riot framing a pouty little bow of a mouth.

out her arms to the baby, Alyssa pulled the girl against her chest. “How’s my little Chloe? You have a good day with Daddy?”

the man raised his face and glanced across the room at her. Oh, wow. Was that really . . . “Luc Traverson?”

she choked out the question, everyone laughed.

rolled gorgeous dark eyes, then regarded her with a blinding smile. “Yes, ma’am. I got a text that you’re hungry?”

he’d come over here to cook food? For her? Del turned to Tyler. “He’s married to your boss?”

 

“Ex-boss, thank you very much,” Jack clarified.

nodded. “Ex-boss, yes.”

 

“And who sent him here?” Del asked. Was this real?

 

“Jack might have mentioned it when he called earlier, since I ignored the text from Tyler.” Luc slung an arm around the svelte, sexy Alyssa.

 

“So you just . . . came over to cook for me?” That astounded Del. A world-class chef with a growing TV and cookbook empire dropping everything to cook for a stranger?

 

“And to see for myself the woman who gave birth to Tyler’s son.” Luc glanced at Seth. “Yep, dead ringer. But he’s cuter than you, Tyler. Since you’re not working for Alyssa anymore and clearly have your hands full, does this mean that you’ll finally stop hitting on my wife?”

’s gaze zipped across the room to Alyssa. Instant jealousy bubbled in her gut. She tamped it down. Tyler wasn’t hers, never had been, and this gorgeous blonde was absolutely his type. Tight dress, fuck-me mouth, stunningly gorgeous. Del felt ridiculously inadequate—as if she needed any help in that department. Right now, she felt every minute of the two years since she’d last had sex. Somehow, being mommy had allowed her to push aside that sexual part of herself. At the moment, she felt as sexless as cardboard.

slapped Luc’s arm. “Would you stop causing trouble and cook?”

shrugged and turned to the refrigerator. “Anything you don’t like, Delaney? That’s your name, right?”

 

“Y-yes. You don’t have to do this. I’m honored, really. But I’ll be fine.”

 

“You last ate when?” Tyler cut in right beside her.

had he inched that close?

 

“I’m said I’m fine.”

 

“That wasn’t the question, angel.” Tyler’s voice was soft but firm. She knew when he put his unyielding hat on, and this was one of those times. A meal wasn’t worth an argument, especially when she needed it.

 

“Yesterday at lunch. I split a sandwich with Seth.”

stared at her like she’d grown two heads. Suddenly, Kata rushed to pull out a chair from the table in the eat-in kitchen. Tyler shoved her into it. Alyssa pressed a water bottle into her hands, along with a hunk of cheese.

stopped arguing and ate it gratefully. If she was going to fight off Carlson, she’d need her strength.

 

“I don’t like bell peppers,” she told Luc. “I’m allergic to shellfish.”

 

“She also hates mustard and pickles,” Tyler added, staring straight at her. “Coffee with creamer only. Lightly toast everything. She has a real thing for strawberries.”

knowledge of her was intimate, and his direct green gaze challenged her to remember exactly how well he knew her. It was just food, but somehow Delaney felt as if he’d opened her up again. She dropped her gaze to the slate tile beneath her feet, feeling her face heat up.

, the chair to her left scraped against the flooring, and she looked up to find Jack plopping down beside her. “Go with Tyler. We’ll watch Seth. Between Deke, Luc, and I, he’ll be completely safe. We’ll also do whatever investigating we can from here to support you. Tara over there is a whiz of an analyst. Come back to your son in one piece.”

Jack said it, the suggestion sounded reasonable . . . right up to the part where she had to leave her little boy with people she didn’t really know. They seemed nice enough—but seemed wasn’t good enough for her. Only Tyler had a really vested interest in Seth’s future and continued well-being.

she could answer, Luc set an omelet in front of her, filled with chunks of ham, spinach, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes. He’d drizzled a light cheese sauce that smelled over-the-top heavenly. A piece of wheat bread, lightly toasted, and a handful of fresh strawberries sat to the side, along with a cup of creamed coffee. She now had a meal made by the Luc Traverson. Surreal . . .

inhaled deeply and almost fainted in bliss as she dug in. “Thank you so much.”

looked at her with a kind smile that only made him more gorgeous. Alyssa was one lucky woman. “You’re welcome. It would have been better, but . . .” He turned to Tyler. “Go to the grocery store and stock up. You eat like a five-year-old.”

 

“Hey, I had fresh fruits and vegetables. Sorry I don’t keep foie gras and caviar for you, Your Highness.”

, so no love lost there. Yet . . . when Tyler needed help, Luc had come. They all had. Again, she was amazed by the incredible sense of family he had among all these people. Yes, they’d rushed over to gawk at her and Seth, but they’d stayed to help. God, she wished she had even half the support system he did, and she realized how much she’d closed herself off from everyone after Tyler had gone, after her divorce. Del shook her head as she moaned around another bite. She’d rectify these deficits in her life after this crap with Carlson was over.

toddled over to her and plopped at her feet with one of his toys. Little Caleb followed, then Chloe wanted down to join in the fun. Del gnawed on her lower lip, then took her last bite of food. Seth missed his preschool, his friends. He was cranky without his routine, his naps, his fun time. Guilt pounded her. For the millionth time, she wished she could make all this go away for him. For them.

none of these thoughts did her a damn bit of good.

wiping her mouth with her napkin, she set it down. “I’m stuffed. Thank you, Mr. Traverson.”

 

“Luc,” he corrected. Then the chef looked at his wife. “Ready to head home?”

nodded, and within moments, they were gone. Tara and Kata left directly behind them with a friendly wave and air kisses for Seth, followed by Deke and Kimber. Jack and Morgan loitered for a moment.

 

“Deke and I will be around later to discuss our plan of action. We’re going to help you. And you need to trust that Tyler is going to do everything to fix your problem. Listen to him; he knows what he’s doing.”

sounded an awful lot like an order. Given his profession, it wasn’t a stretch to guess that he’d either been military or law enforcement in the past. But she didn’t work for him, and she wasn’t about to just fall in line with his plans. She had the solution worked out in her head—one that didn’t risk both of Seth’s parents and leave him with strangers.

 

“Thank you for your opinion, but this is my son and my life. I have to think about it.”

 

“We understand.” Morgan patted Tyler’s arm. “You’ve got a tough cookie there. Good luck.”

that, the couple departed, leaving her alone with Tyler, who sent her an unfathomable stare. His cop stare. God, she hated it when she couldn’t read him.

’s childish noises faded to the background. The air turned thick. Crap, why was her heart beating faster?

leaned over her, bracing his hands on the back of her chair and crowding his way into her personal space. His ridged abdomen, apparent through his tight T-shirt, was right in her line of vision. She didn’t dare drop her gaze lower to see if she had any effect on him. She wanted to . . . Instead, she tipped her head back to glare up at him.

 

“So, angel . . . let’s talk about how this is going to go.”

 

 

Three

 

swallowed at Tyler’s nearness. God, for years she’d basically crawled on his lap and never thought of him as more than a pal. One night had completely rewired her body and left her painfully attuned to him. Shoving the thought aside, she planted her palms against the corrugated expanse of his stomach and pushed him away.

 

“No, here’s how it’s going to go, Tyler. Seth and I are going to take a shower. Then you can read to him, if you like. After that, he and I are going to sleep. If you don’t have a spare bed, I’ll go find a motel and see you tomorrow, but—”

 

“I have a spare bed. You’re not going anywhere.”

it suited Del’s plans, she didn’t argue. “Fine. Thank you. As long as you understand . . . you keep your distance, and I’ll keep mine.”

clenched his jaw. “Damn it, Del. I didn’t hurt you the night that we . . . made love.”

, no. It would almost be easier if he had. Instead, he’d given her one amazing climax after another, tripping her over the edge of pleasure in ways she’d never even conceived of. Certainly in ways that Eric had never managed.

she wanted to throw his words back in his face and point out that he had other ways to hurt people besides physically. The seeming ease with which he’d left her without a backward glance had been damn painful, especially after she’d realized how badly she needed Tyler. It hurt more now to realize that, since they’d parted, he’d been getting busy with his usual bevy of strippers and easy lays. Not that she was surprised, but . . . had he thought about her at all?

shoved the question aside. It wasn’t his fault that she cared about him more, that not having even a small part of his heart crushed her. In truth, when Tyler had left, he’d only done what she’d asked.

 

“I won’t hurt you now,” he added into the silence.

I won’t let you. “I’ll come find you when Seth is ready for his story.”

hesitated, his green eyes probing. For what? A chink in her armor? Any hint that she wanted him? A sign that she hated him? Maybe she was reading too much into it. At the end of the day, she’d been another piece of ass to him—one careless enough to get pregnant. He was more concerned about Seth, as he should be. She needed to forget whatever emotions might have been between them and move on.

, he nodded. “Towels are under the bathroom sink. Shampoo and soap are in the shower. Take your time.”

that, he was gone, grabbing for the phone at his belt before he’d even left the room. Probably going to confer with Jack or Deke again.

sighed. It didn’t


Date: 2015-02-16; view: 393


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