Authors: Naima Simone
That quick the flicker of hope wavering in her chest—fucking, stupid hope—sputtered and died. Oh. He’d sought her out to make sure she was okay, that she harbored no hard feelings.
Like a friend would do.
Jesus. How many more pieces could a heart break into?
fine,” she lied, battling back the moisture that stung her eyes. “You didn’t need to go through so much trouble for that.”
No tear is going to fall, damn it
“No, it’s not fine,” he said, his tone hardening, that too-perceptive gaze searching her face. She longed to duck her head, avoid his scrutiny. But she met his eyes and prayed he didn’t notice the pain that churned inside her. “I shouldn’t have let you leave thinking I didn’t want you. That I didn’t need you. You should never question how much you’re desired, and for me to let you go doubting was a sin.”
Warmth, like a tight embrace, squeezed her. Soothed a cooling balm on her battered feelings and pride. Believing he could so easily dismiss her after a night that had rocked the foundation of her world had hurt. While she’d allowed herself to think the passion they’d shared had been special, he’d sent her away as if it had been par for the course. Even if he couldn’t love her, his words helped ease the pain.
“Thank you,” she murmured, meaning it.
“That’s not the only reason I’m here.” The thick fringe of his lashes lowered, hiding his penetrating stare from her. And for the first time, she noticed the faint smudges under his eyes. As if he hadn’t slept… She frowned, but a moment later, his gaze pinned her in place like a butterfly trapped on a corkboard, and the thought passed out of her head. “I love you.”
Shock doused her, the frigid blast pummeling the breath from her chest. She hadn’t heard… He hadn’t said…
He growled, thrusting a hand through his hair. His eyes narrowed on her. “I don’t have pretty words. I never have. If I did, I might have said them years ago. But before you and since you, I’ve had no use for them. All I have is the bare, sometimes ugly truth.”
Several seconds passed where he turned and seemed to contemplate their neighbor’s front lawn with the Fourth of July flags they’d yet to take down. Impatience, fear that she’d somehow misunderstood him, and that stubborn hope surged within her, filling her like hot air, and pressing against her sternum. Finally, he returned his gaze to her, and she barely stifled a flinch at the raw intensity darkening it.
“I realize there were sixteen years of my life when I didn’t know you, but still, it doesn’t seem like there wasn’t a time when I didn’t love you. Yes, I’ve always wanted you. Wanted to kiss you, slip my hand under those short plaid skirts you loved, touch you, and make you look at me with something more than friendship. But that need always came second. More than feeling you come around my fingers, I wanted your heart. Your devotion. Your present and your future. I wanted
He lifted his hand, studied the wide palm, the long fingers. “I came to you as a boy whose hands were already stained with blood, who’d already dished out pain and had been scarred by it. I was a thief, a thug. You saw that but so much more. To you, I wasn’t the troublemaker on the edge of dropping out or the gangbanger to fuck in the backseat of a car. I was worth something to you, and I loved you for that. Even to my father and the gang, I had to prove my worth, but you accepted me as is and made me believe I could be so much more. Still, I never felt good enough for you. In my heart, I thought your parents were right to warn you away from me. As much as I ached with the need to touch you and wanted to make love to you, take what you offered me, these criminal’s hands had no right. I had no right to drag you into a life that wasn’t a life. One where you could be hurt or worse because of me. Letting you go, not telling you not to marry Terrance was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But, in my mind, stopping you from having everything he could give you would’ve been selfish on my part. You were worth that sacrifice.”
“Rion.” She didn’t bother suppressing the tears now. Not when they were for his pain rather than her own. Crying for him seemed just since this strong, stoic man wouldn’t do it for himself.
He shifted closer, erasing the small amount of distance between them. The hand he lifted to her face trembled. And it shattered her.
“Rion.” She shook her head, covering his hand with hers. “I can’t… I don’t know if I can do this again. I don’t know if I’m strong enough. I’m tired of being hurt…”
“Harper, please,” he murmured, stroking a thumb over her cheek. “Just, please, listen to me, baby, okay? I insisted on that one-night stipulation to protect myself. I was scared. Scared to open myself to the pain of losing you. It damn near destroyed me five years ago, and I couldn’t go through it again. But I also couldn’t pass up the chance to be inside you, taste you, claim you. I’m a selfish bastard, and if I couldn’t have your love, I could at least have that. I sent you away because I believed my life was no place for you. Yes, I’m out of the gang, but the club, The Loft… Though legal, I didn’t think it was where you belonged. Didn’t think it was something you wouldn’t be ashamed of… Didn’t think I was someone you could be proud to claim.” A muscle flexed along his jaw. “But after two days of not seeing you, not touching you, holding you, I don’t care. I don’t have the power, the will to stay away from you any longer. I can’t stop thinking about you. Smelling you on my skin. Needing you. I don’t want to stop.”
Even as fledgling hope fluttered in her chest, she stepped back, anger rolling up through her. “For more years than I care to admit, other people have told me what’s good for me, what I need. I came to your club to break away from that, to take control of my life. And you don’t get to take that away from me. You don’t get to say what I deserve or need. You don’t have the right to decide any of that. Only
do. As for being ashamed of you?” She glared at him, furious, before marching past him and up the front steps. Throwing open the front door, she called out, “Mama, could you come here, please?”
Moments later her mother appeared in the hall and cautiously approached the doorway. Behind her, the other women gathered in the living room entrance.
“Harper?” she murmured. “Is everything okay?”
“Yes.” Tossing a scowl over her shoulder, she stepped aside. “Mama, you remember Rion Ward? Rion, this is my mother, Raquel.” Introductions done, she turned to her mother, briefly glancing back into the house. “Mama…Aunt Lydia, Sylvia, if he finally gets it through his head that I make my own decisions, Rion could possibly be my boyfriend. He also owns a sex club that empowers women. No strippers. Okay?”
Eyes wide, her olive skin paling, her mother nodded. “Okay,” she whispered.
Behind her, Lydia, Sylvia, and the other guests gaped. Harper gave it five seconds before this hit Facebook.
“Great. I’ll be in shortly.” Gently, she closed the door and retraced her steps, returning to Rion.
He stared at her, a half smile quirking a corner of his mouth. “I can’t be sure, but I think your mother made the sign of the cross as you closed the door.”
Yeah, Harper had caught that, too. But, she’d get over it. Or maybe not. It didn’t matter, as she’d told Rion, this was her life, not her parents’. She hoped they accepted Rion, but if they didn’t… Well, they would love her regardless, that she didn’t doubt.
“I’m sorry,” he said, voice soft…tender. “For taking your choice away from you. For projecting my own insecurities on you.”
“Rion.” She shook her head, awed at how he couldn’t see how he was…everything. “You were always good enough to me. You’re strong, honorable, honest, a protector. I never doubted what and who you were…who you are.”
Rion lifted a hand, cupped her cheek. “Don’t give up on me now. Please. Tell me again, baby. What you said before you left Friday night. Tell me again.”
She didn’t need to think about his request. Not when she’d been replaying that night on an endless loop inside her head. “I don’t want just one night.”
“Whatever you need, baby,” he murmured, pressing his forehead to hers. His eyes closed, and she tasted his kiss—mint, fresh rain,
—on his breath. “One week. One month. One year,” he swore, repeating his words from the night before. “However long I can have you, I’ll take. Every second is worth the risk.
are worth the risk.”
His mouth covered hers, and she parted for him without hesitation, without holding back. He licked at her tongue as if in question, and when she tangled with him, he moaned, deepening the mating of mouths, lips, and tongues. It was tender, sensual, a promise.
And it was a gift. Just like the man standing before her.
“I love you, Harper.” He brushed a kiss over her temple. As if he couldn’t resist touching her.
“I love you, too,” she whispered, sliding her arms around his neck and burying her face against the strong column. “I always have. I suspect I always will.”
“Say it again. I need to hear it. I suspect I always will,” he said, giving her own words back to her.
Tipping her head back, she pressed her mouth to his. Tasting him again, still not quite able to grasp that this man—this brooding, sensual, powerful, intense, and beautiful man—belonged to her. Loved her.
She brushed her lips over his one last time.
“I love you.” She smiled. “Now I believe there are some rooms left in that Loft of yours that I didn’t get a chance to explore.”
Amusement lightened his eyes, and the corner of his mouth quirked. “On one stipulation.”
She groaned. “Another stipulation? Aren’t you tired of those?”
“Just one,” he murmured. “At the end of the night, you stay with me.”
Joy swelled in her chest. Cupping his face in her hands, she stared into his beautiful face, and once more, blinked back tears.
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To my Father, who makes all things possible. Thank You for being limitless and for Your faithfulness even when I haven’t been as faithful. You are my everything.
To Gary. You took a leap of faith on me, and I don’t have the words to express how much your love and sacrifice humbles and strengthens me. You’re the best husband, father, and friend God could’ve blessed me with. And I’m just so thankful He did. Love you.
To my family. I’ve never known what it’s like not to have your support, encouragement, and love. You’ve been my biggest and loudest cheerleaders, and I love you so much.
To Jessica and Dahlia. We need our own television show. Call it something like Sisterhood of the Traveling Coffee and Word Challenge. Lame? Okay, but this is short notice. LOL! Thank you for the writing challenges that helped get this book written. You two ladies are wonderful, and I’m looking forward to drinking more death-defying coffee and writing more books with you! And Dahlia, thank you for the glimpse into the world of secret sex clubs. Dang, we should’ve known each other in college! LOL!
To Debra Glass. Thank you for always being willing to read, critique, and advise me. This journey wouldn’t have been the same without you. For one, it would’ve been a helluva lot scarier and uncertain. You’ve been that calming voice when I needed it, and that ride-or-die chick when I needed that, too. *snicker* Love you, woman!
To Tracy aka Super Editor. Seriously. T-shirt. With a big ol’ E in that octagon, diamond thing. I never was good at geometry. LOL! Thank you for believing in me. I swear, if you saw a submission for a haiku poem, you would encourage me to submit, telling me you know I could do it… Even though both of us know with my penchant for wordiness and repetition, it would be an epic fail… LOL! You’ve challenged me, pushed me, and with every step, bolstered me. I’ve grown because of you, and thank you isn’t enough. You’re not just my editor, we’re a team. And thank God you’re the more rational, experienced—and as much as it pains me to admit—more sarcastic captain.
Lastly, thank you to the Saints and Sinners! You ladies make it a joy to go online every day. Thanks so much for your abounding, more-than-a-little raunchy, crazy, and funnier than hell support! Love y’all!
About the Author
love of romance was first stirred by Johanna Lindsey, Sandra Brown, and Linda Howard many years ago. Well, not that many. She is only eighteen…ish. Though her first attempt at a romance novel starring Ralph Tresvant from New Edition never saw the light of day, her love of romance, reading, and writing has endured. Published since 2009, she spends her days—and nights—creating stories of unique men and women who experience the first bites of desire, the dizzying heights of passion, and the tender, healing heat of love.
She is wife to Superman, or his non-Kryptonian, less bulletproof equivalent, and mother to the most awesome kids ever. They all live in perfect, sometimes domestically challenged bliss in the southern United States.
Come visit Naima at
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