Don't Look

By: Jessa Kane

He chuckles. “You’re an odd little thing.”

“You’re an odd big thing,” I shoot back, my face flaming. “I’m sorry, that was mean. Even though you said it to me first.”

His chuckle turns into a full-fledged laugh. “Say whatever you want to me, Goldie. I promise you I’ve been called a lot worse.”

“Me too,” I whisper, before I can stop myself. “A burden. A liability. A royal pain in the ass. Those are the worst ones.”

I can hear the grinding of his jaw. “Who called you those things?” He pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a deep breath. “Christ. If it’s a husband, I’m going to be the reason this place finally collapses, because I’ll rip the fucking walls down.” Ink-blue eyes narrow, searching my face. “I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I’m…you’re not going home to a husband. I…can’t allow it.”

Do I tell him the truth because I want to soothe him? Or am I just so relieved to have an ally, the words spill out of me like paint from a bottle? “Not a husband. My father.” My fingers itch to touch him, so I flatten them on his stomach and drag them up his chest, sucking in a breath at his growl. “He keeps me locked in a room.” Tears fill my eyes. “It took me months to learn how to pick the lock, but I was too scared to actually leave. Tonight I finally got the courage because…”

Because he’s out of town. I don’t say that part, though. It’s too much of the truth. There’s a very low chance grizzly man will ever spy me across the canyon. After all, my bedroom windows are tiny and tinted. But what if he does? He could confront my father and he’d die for those efforts. Who knows what would become of me for defying the notorious Ivan Stepanov tonight?

My subject looks like he’s actually going to rip down the walls, whether I have a husband or not. “Look at me and listen carefully. I’m Mick. You’re safe with Mick. You understand?” He drops his mouth to mine, the brush of our lips giving off sparks in my stomach. “I’m not the type of man that believes in fate, but hell if both of us escaping to this place tonight is a coincidence. You’re mine now to take care of. And I won’t let a fucking thing happen to you. Ever. That’s a vow.”

I grow a little dizzy in the chair at the conviction in his voice, the touch of his mouth. I know Mick believes what he’s saying. But he doesn’t know my father.

Ivan Stepanov is known in two countries as a ruthless butcher. Once he sets his sights on you, there’s nowhere to run or hide. I’m going back to my tower whether I like it or not. If Stepanov’s daughter ran away, he wouldn’t be able to let the slight pass. I wouldn’t last a day, even with this grizzly man guarding me.

He tilts my chin up. “What’s your name?”

“Hailey,” I say, forgetting I shouldn’t. How can I lie when he’s so close?

“Hailey.” His gaze falls to my mouth and he shakes his head. “Now I need to know how old you are.” Determination radiates from his big frame. “I’m keeping you protected no matter what, all right? I’ve got you.”

“Then why does it matter?”

I feel something hard against my inner thigh, before he moves it away, coughing into his fist. “Like whether I need to keep you protected from me, too.”

My pulse ripples. I’m not sure I know the baseline of this conversation, but I know Mick likes touching me. And I sense he wants to touch more. All of me. It’s crazy, but…I want to let him, too. There’s an air of safety and honesty I’m drawn toward. All my life I’ve been made to feel small and insignificant. His giant presence makes me feel small in a good way. Like I’m still worth cherishing. He thinks this meeting was fate, though. Am I being deceptive by not telling him I stowed away in the back of his car?

None of that matters, Hailey. You’re going home. Anything else is impossible.

“Who are you talking to in the head?”

“Myself.” Unable to quell the impulse, I lay my cheek against Mick’s chest and hear his powerful heartbeat. “Usually I’m the only one I have to talk to. I guess it’s become a habit.”

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