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“Clay, stop.”

“It didn’t last long, I grew up fast,” I tell her but remind myself because the memory is almost enough to bring me to my knees.

“Please, no more.” She presses her fist to her mouth as tears fill her eyes.

“I hated him, everything about him but I was so fucked up that I stuck around and stayed in his life for years, wanting to prevent what happened to me from happening to someone else.” I swallow down the bile crawling up the back of my throat. “He died when I was nineteen. A week after his funeral I was called by a fancy ass lawyer and asked to come in for a meeting. He left me everything he owned, and every penny he had, like it was some kind of fucked up apology for what he did to me.”

My jaw clenches.

“Millions of dollars along with properties all over the US I didn’t want. But I knew that I could use that money to right some wrongs, to make men and women just like him pay for every fucked-up thing they’ve done. And that’s all I’ve thought about for the last fourteen years of my life. Until you.” I shake my head when she starts to take a step toward me. “You’re the first good, clean thing to touch my life and being in love with you is my only weakness.”

“Clay.”

“Let me finish,” I cut her off, watching tears race down her cheeks. “I’m fucked up, Mouse. I can’t handle the thought of something happening to you and I know that if something ever hurt you, it would send me into a darkness that I doubt I’d be able to escape from. So, if I need to lock you away to keep you—to keep you safe, I will.”

“Nothing is going to happen to me.”

“You might be right, but you can’t guarantee that.”

“You’re right, I can’t.” She shakes her head as she takes a tentative step around the bed toward me. “But you also can’t lock me in a box and think I’ll ever be okay with that.” She takes another step. “I love you.”

Her chin wobbles as her hands land on my chest over my heart that is now pounding from hearing those words from her, words that from anyone else would just be that, words with no feeling or emotion behind them.

“But if this is going to work, you are going to have to trust me to never knowingly put myself in danger.”

Shaking my head, I cup her face in my palms and she lifts her finger to my lips “And you’ll give me that because you love me and you trust me.”

“Willow.”

“I hate what happened to you.” Her eyes search mine as a fresh wave of tears falls from between her lashes. “And if Albert wasn’t already dead, I would kill him myself. No one deserves what you went through. You did not deserve to be mistreated by someone you trusted when you were a kid.” She reaches around me with her arms and rests the side of her head against my chest. “I’m sorry. I know those words are not enough, but they are all I have.”

Resting my chin on the crown of her head I stand there with her in my arms and close my eyes.

“I’m so fucking scared of loosing you, of you realizing that you deserve better than me.”

She tips her head back and I open my eyes to meet her gaze.

“I will never find another man who makes me feel as safe or as complete as you do.” Her fingers trail down my jaw. “I deserve that, the kind of love you give me, the way you make me feel.”

“Mouse.”

“I love you, and I choose you, don’t ever forget that.” She leans up, pressing her lips to mine, whispering there, “But if you ever lock me in a room again, I’ll kill you.”

“Noted.” I whisper against her mouth as I walk her backwards to the bed. When she falls backward onto the mattress, I go down with her and take her mouth in a deep kiss.

And as I lose myself inside her I know I’m home, that she’s my home and no matter what happens in life as long as I have her, I will always belong.

Chapter 19

Clay

STANDING IN MY kitchen I look around at the people who have come today to celebrate Carly, and I let out a breath. For the last three hours I’ve watched Willow put on a positive face as she’s talked and laughed with the people she invited, but I can tell this whole thing is taking a toll on her. I glance at my watch and wish that I could just kick everyone out, but I know if I did that Willow wouldn’t be very understanding even if I was doing it for her. If we had been at the park where today was supposed to take place, I’d be able to use the weather as an excuse to usher her away, but when she saw that rain was on the forecast she asked if she could have everyone come here. And since I want her to get used to the idea of this place being her home, I agreed.

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