Page 61

“Your mom said you hadn’t been eating very much.”

“You’ve been talking to my mom?”

He shrugged. “You weren’t answering my calls or texts.”

She let out a deep sigh. “What are you doing here, Joe?”

“I needed to see you.” He hadn’t moved from where he stood against the opposite doorway. “I needed to see for myself that you were alright.”

She spread her arms. “Almost good as new.”

He gave a small smile. “It’s really good to see you. I missed you, Kylie.”

“I know.”

He seemed surprised and she smiled. “I guess you don’t know that you actually aren’t that hard to read once you let someone in, although your expression when you look at me is usually mostly either bemused or confused.” She shook her head. “I was never sure what to make of that, but the girls told me it’s a look of love.” She kept her gaze level on his, daring him to disagree with her, but he didn’t.

This gave her a surge of hope that her poor body didn’t know what to do with. So she mixed it in with her lingering anger and it was like a chemistry experiment. It exploded inside her. “I’d take heart over that except then you go and do stupid things like that night at my place when everything came to a head. You made me so angry when you lied to me, telling me you’d let me be involved—No,” she said when he opened his mouth. “You lied, Joe, by omission or whatever. Don’t even try to deny it. And that’s not even the worst part. You sleep with me, and it’s not just sex. You touch me and kiss me and look at me in a way that tells me it’s so much more, but you deny it. You want me to think it’s just a toss in the hay that you could walk away from at any point. But it’s not.” She had to stop there and swallow a ball of emotion stuck in her throat. “And that’s not something you do to a friend,” she managed to say, although she was no longer speaking all calm and quiet. “That’s something you do to a one-night stand. And I won’t be someone that you don’t have the decency to tell the truth to, or someone you just sleep with when it’s convenient. I won’t be a toy, Joe. Not even for you.”

He finally pushed off from the doorway and stalked toward her, eyes glittering dangerously. “You’re not a toy, Kylie,” he said in a very serious voice. Maybe the most serious voice she’d heard from him yet. “Not even close.” He came to a stop right in front of her. He set the bag of muffins aside and drew a deep breath. “With the exception of my dad and my sister, I’ve always been alone—” He set a finger over her lips when she started to speak. “I’ve never done relationships,” he said. “I’ve never lived with a woman. I’ve never gotten attached to anyone because it’s easier to keep them all distant than to let them in and be vulnerable because of how I feel about them. It’s not right, but it’s been my MO for a long time, and it’s what makes me do things like let you think I don’t love you.”

She sucked in a breath to speak, but he applied a gentle pressure to her lips. “It’s what made me screw up that night we were going after Kevin,” he went on. “I realized it and came back for you, but you were already gone.” He paused and shook his head. “Okay, that’s not entirely true either. Molly made me realize it and she was right. You’re a part of me, Kylie, the very best part. You’re not just my friend or my lover. You’re . . . everything.”

This shocking admission had all the air in her lungs escaping out in one big, shocked rush, and she pulled his finger from her lips. “I have a question,” she whispered.

He gave a single, wary nod.

“Why did you ever agree to help me that first day, when I got the first picture?”

At first he didn’t respond, but she forced herself to wait him out. She might not be well versed in interrogation techniques, but she knew the only way to get a stubborn male to answer a question when he didn’t want to was to ask it and then remain silent. But it was the hardest thing she’d ever done and she had to literally bite her tongue to press her minuscule advantage.

“I don’t think I should say,” Joe finally told her.

She gaped at him. “What? Why not?”

“Because I don’t make a habit of giving my adversary information that can be used against me.”

“Adversary?” she asked. “Is that how you see me?”

“Kylie,” he said on a rough laugh. “We’ve been in a chess game since day one and you’re winning. When I’m not looking, you sneak pieces on your side of the board. You don’t need any help from me.”

She stared at him and then found her first genuine smile in days. “You missed me,” she whispered, the knowledge giving her way too much smug pleasure. “I think I want to hear you say it.”

He was silent as he carefully scooped her up and gently deposited her on the couch. She was grateful as her muscles were quivering with fatigue. She watched from her perch as he locked her front door and checked the house.

When he came back to her, he sat on the coffee table facing her, mood still serious. “Yes.”

“Yes?” she inquired.

“Yes, I missed you. I missed the hell out of you. I missed us. This,” he said, gesturing between them.

“So there’s really a this?” she asked softly, almost afraid to talk, scared that if she did, he’d stop.

He leaned forward and once again scooped her into his warm, strong, wonderful arms. He took the spot where she’d just been, settling her in his lap. “Long before our first kiss that first crazy night, I knew there was a this.” He nuzzled at her ear. “It terrified me. I was in some pretty good denial there for a while, but I couldn’t hold on to it.” He pulled back and met her gaze. “You trusted me. You looked at me like I was something of worth to you. You believed in me, and there haven’t been a lot of people in my life to do that.” Leaning in, he covered her mouth with his.

It was a really amazing kiss and she was trying to climb him like a tree when he broke free. Her heart stopped at the look on his face. “What?” she whispered.

He sank his fingers into her hair. “I need you to tell me now, Kylie.”

“Tell you what?”

“That you love me.”

All the stress and tension drained from her as she slid her arms around his neck and relaxed into him. “I love you back, Joseph Michael Malone.”

He didn’t smile. “I wasn’t sure you heard me at the marina.”

“I did. I’ll never forget it. I also heard that Molly yelled at you at the hospital, middle-naming you. There’s a group text.”

“I’m really going to have to beat the shit out of my team,” he said mildly. He cupped her face and brought it close to his, and their next kiss was far more serious than the one before it. This time when they broke for air, clothes were missing.

“Be sure,” Joe said.

“I’m sure that if you stop, I’ll find your gun and shoot you.”

He smiled, probably at the thought of her trying to overpower him. “I meant be sure about me. You know a relationship with me won’t be easy. There will probably be days when we’ll want to kill each other.”

“There are days like that now.”

Source: www_Novel12_Com