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Ryder got backa little earlier than expected from his quick trip to Florida. His client didn’t want him to wait around and even offered to pay him extra to come back at the end of the week to pick him up. That worked just fine for him because the longer he was away from Tatum, the more he couldn’t wait to get to her. He called her a few times during the day, and the last time, when his call went to her voicemail, he panicked. Still, he needed to stop by Savage Hell to meet up with Hart. He had called Ryder earlier that day and asked him to meet him at the bar. Really, he ordered Ryder to meet him, but he wanted to find out what was going on with the Dragons and Anarchy Kings. He wouldn’t believe that Tatum was safe until Hart told him directly.

He had taken his bike to the hanger earlier, happy to be able to ride again. Ryder pulled into the parking lot and found a space in the back of the lot. He parked and went in, finding Hart in the back, talking to Savage.

“Hey, man,” Savage said. He pulled Ryder in for a quick side hug and slapped his back. Savage was a big guy and every time he did that shit, Ryder felt about ready to launch across the room. “Good to see you back on your feet, Ryder,” Savage said.

“It feels damn good not to have that cast on anymore,” he admitted.

“I’ll leave you two to talk,” Savage said. Hart was staring him down, making the tension in the room almost unbearable.

“Thanks, man,” Hart said. Savage left the room and Hart turned on him, anger on his face, and Ryder was rethinking not joining Savage.

“What the hell were you thinking, leaving Tatum unguarded?” Yeah, Hart was still pissed about what happened a week ago, and worse than that, he had kept it bottled up inside all this time and was now releasing it on Ryder in full force.

“I told you that I was trying to do something nice for her, Hart,” Ryder defended. “I knew she was tired of taking care of my ass and I wanted to give her a special night. I left her soaking in a tub and locked her in the cabin to run into town for food.” Ryder shrugged and sighed. “I fucked up,” he admitted. “I let my guard down and that put Tatum in danger and for that, I’m sorry.” That was the truth. Since they had gotten back to town, Ryder had been walking the fine line between feeling guilty as hell and wanting to give Tatum her freedom. He knew that he wasn’t good for her. Hell, he had let that asshole get his hands on her when he let his guard down. Dante was just watching and waiting for him to fail Tatum and he had, in a big way.

“She deserves someone better than me,” Ryder said.

“Well, that’s something we can both agree on,” Hart spat. He looked Ryder over and sat down in a chair in the corner of the room. “Listen, man—you’re one of my closest friends. I consider you my brother, Ryder but I don’t think you’re right for my little sister. I’m not trying to bust your ass man, just being honest.”

He wasn’t saying anything that Ryder didn’t already know. He had repeated Hart’s words in his head, over and over, since he found Dante taking Tatum back to the little barn on her grandmother’s property. He wasn’t good for her and that realization felt like a kick to the gut.

“I don’t think I can walk away from her, man,” Ryder whispered. “I’m in love with her.”

“Well, fuck,” Hart grumbled. “Does she feel the same way?” Ryder knew the answer to his question—she did. Tatum had given him the words when she was falling asleep from the hyperthermia. Hearing her say those three little words meant everything to him. He wanted to say them back but he was a coward.

“I think so,” Ryder said. “When I was getting her out of the barn, she told me she loves me. But, what if she was just caught up in the moment—you know me rescuing her and all that shit?”

“Did you say it back to her?” Hart asked.

“No,” Ryder admitted. “I’m a fucking coward, man.”

“Listen, Ryder, I’m the last fucking man on the planet that should be giving relationship advice. I’ve only been in one real relationship in my whole damn life and I fucked it up. But why not take some time and think about all of this? You two jumped into things so quickly—maybe take a step back and think things through. Tell Tatum you need some time and use that time to make sure that my sister is what you want.”

Ryder wanted to tell Hart that he didn’t need any fucking time to figure out his shit. He wanted Tatum more than he wanted his next breath but was that the right decision for her? What he needed to consider was if he was right for her—good for her, what she needed? He was pretty sure the answer to that question was a resounding, “No,” but he still needed to figure that out.

“I will, thanks man,” Ryder said. “But where will she go if I tell her I need time to think?” Sending her back across the hall to his spare room wouldn’t work for him because he was weak and would end up crawling into her bed at some point and asking her to take his ass back. No, if he was going to make the break, it needed to be a clean one.

“She can stay with me,” Hart said. “You do your part and I’ll make sure she lands someplace safe man,” he offered.

“I’ll tell her this evening. I’m headed home now and she just texted that she’s there. Give me about an hour and then call to tell her you’re back in town. Play dumb and then get her to your place. I don’t want her ending up back over at that fucker, Hugh’s place,” Ryder growled.

“Will do, Ryder,” Hart agreed. “And—I’m sorry, man. I know how much this sucks,” Hart said. He had no idea how much pain this was going to cause both of them, but Ryder knew it needed to be done. He needed to make sure that what he was offering Tatum was what she needed and if he discovered that he was, there would be no one and nothing that could stand in his way to get her back.

* * *

He walkedinto his house and the place smelled amazing. “Tatum,” he called. She appeared from the kitchen and smiled.

“Just in time for dinner,” she said. “I made lasagna.” He groaned knowing that their dinner was going to have to wait. Hell, he was going to all but kick her out of his place and that wasn’t going to make either of them want to eat lasagna.

“We need to talk first,” he said.

“Well, from the look on your face, I’m not going to like what we have to talk about, am I Ryd?” she asked.

“No,” he admitted. He put his jacket on the bench that sat by his front door but made no move towards her. This would be easier for both of them if he wasn’t able to touch her. Doing that might make him change his mind altogether.

“What’s up?” she squeaked.