She wants me in the bedroom, but outside of it, it seems she’s second-guessing her decision. I can feel her slipping through my grasp. My fingers curl around my fork tightly enough that the metal bites my skin.
“Did you not like the clothes? Or is the apartment not to your liking? You can redecorate if you want. I’m not tied to anything.” I try to be calm. Sure, I can get her to crave my touch. Agree to stay and be mine, but I still want more. I’m a greedy bastard when it comes to her. God knows she owns every damn part of me. She’s in my bones.
“The clothes are beautiful. The apartment is beautiful.”
“But you’re not happy.”
She shoves her fish around for a moment and then pins me with her beautiful eyes. “You know what excuse my father would give me when he locked me in the cage? The world outside is a scary, dangerous place and I can’t be trusted to be out there. Him locking me up, him punishing me was for my own good.”
“I trust you. It’s all the assholes like Soritz I don’t trust.” She already appears to be ready to leave, to run from me. My hunter’s instinct flares to life. I won’t let her go. Can’t. I decide to be brutally honest because at this point, what do I have to lose?
But before I can speak, she beats me to it. “I don’t want to leave here. I like your apartment. I feel safe here. I like the clothes. They’re beautiful, but, Kane, I feel like I’m no different than your apartment or a dress you bought or the shoes on your feet.”
“You’re a helluva lot more important than any of those damned things,” I growl, angered suddenly. How could she not know what she means to me? And then it hits me. I’ve never told her. She’s only ever heard things like “you’re mine” and “stay” and other orders I bark out without even thinking. I’m Kane Santino. I expect people to obey me, and they expect me to be in command but Laurel is not like Luca or Sham or Constantine. She’s not on my payroll. Whatever loyalty she has for me is a gift, not something I bought.
“It’s okay, Kane. You don’t have to say anything. I don’t even know why I’m complaining. I would rather be here than anywhere else.” She picks up her fork and starts to eat again, but I’m not ready to move on. I’m not. This is one I can’t let go. I don’t want her to stay because I’m the best option or because I ordered her to. I want her to need me. The same way I need her.
“I won’t lie to you,” I say. Laurel freezes. “I do want to own you. I want you to wear my brand. I want to lock you up here, but it isn’t because you’re an object that I want to own. It’s because I’m jealous. I’m a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal when it comes to you. I don’t want you to be perceived by anyone but me. It’s bad enough I must share you with Con or Ned or even Sham. I want you to myself.”
The crease in her brow smooths out, and the corner of her lip turns up. I watch in confusion as her hand covers mine. She strokes the tops of my clenched fingers, smoothing the surface of my fist until I relax my grip in the knife. “Kane, are you trying to tell me that you love me?”
Love? Is that what I’m feeling? Is the tightness in my chest when I’m not with her love? Is this fierce need for ownership love? Is it?
“I don’t know much about love either,” she continues quietly. “My mother died when I was young, and my father…well, you saw what he thought love was, but I’ve never felt safe with anyone like I do with you, and when you’re gone, my heart races but not in the exciting way. The fearful way. I worry that you won’t come home to me. I worry that you will tire of me and replace me with someone younger and that I will be alone again.”
“You will never be alone. Even if I should die, I would come back and be with you in ghost form. I’m not one of those people who would want you to move on with a new man. I’m still here.”
She bursts out laughing. “Okay. Fair enough. I’m not going to remarry, but you’re also not going to die. You have to promise me.”
“I promise.” I’d promise her anything. Except to let her go. I can’t. I won’t.
Our eyes lock. Her laughter fades away. I reach for her and drag her onto my lap. My hands plunge into her hair. “I love you, Laurel.”