Robby grabbed Nila’s arm and twisted.

With a cry of pain, Nila dropped the knife and scrambled back against the counter, bumping into Jade, who was doing her best to be invisible.

Robby picked up the knife and stared at it as if transfixed before lifting his gaze to Nila.

Both Nila and Jade shrank back and down, hunkered together against the laminate wood behind them. Jade could feel something warm trickling down her temple and she swiped at it.


She’d been cut by the keys. Nila was pulling her shirt away from her body, and Jade hoped that the coffee hadn’t burned her too badly.

“You’ve ruined my life,” Robby yelled. “Because of you, they’ll try to make me go back. I won’t go. I won’t.” He jabbed the knife in their direction for emphasis.

Jade’s hand found Nila’s, and they gripped each other for all they were worth, staring in horror up at the teen.

“This isn’t going to help your cause,” Nila told him, her voice admirably even. Dell had gotten that from her, his nerves of steel.

Jade wasn’t feeling nerves of steel. She had nerves of Jell-O and they were jumbling around in her stomach.

You don’t have to be a victim.

Dell’s words. But Dell was outside, possibly out of screaming range. No one was going to get them out of this, they were on their own. Her purse had been on the counter but had hit the floor with everything else on the counter. It was right behind her, and gazing still warily on Robby, she slowly slid her hand into it, wrapping her fingers around the first thing she could.

A tampon.

That wasn’t going to help.

She fumbled a bit and found what she’d hoped for. Her compact can of hair spray. God bless Adam and the hair spray lesson.

Robby was gripping the knife tight, looking beyond reason with some wild eyes and a menacing stance that did not bode well. “J-just put the knife down,” Jade said softly.

Could she pull the can out fast enough to spray him in the eyes? And what then? She and Nila had to get to the door, which Robby was blocking.

Robby’s eyes slid from Nila to her. They were black, his pupils fully dilated. He was sweating, panting with exertion.

He was on something. “There’s no way out for me,” he said solemnly.

“There is. There always is,” Nila said.

Jade hadn’t breathed in far too long. Panic had long ago blocked her throat. If Dell and those two little girls walked back into the trailer right now and startled Robby, it would go all bad. That terror outweighed the terror of taking action. “If you stop now and just leave,” she said, “nothing terrible has happened. You don’t have to take this any further.”

“I have no way out,” he said again, and lifting the knife, reached for Nila.

Dell had been right when he’d told Jade that adrenaline would kick in and everything would happen in slow motion. She pulled her hand out of her purse, hair spray in hand, and nailed Robby right in the eyes.

In slow motion.

Stopping short, Robby bellowed with rage, his hands going up to his face.

That’s when Jade kicked him. She was lower than him, still crouched next to Nila so that her leverage was bad, but she got him. She got him right between the legs and he dropped like a stone.

Nila scrambled up, grabbed Jade by the hand and had them stumbling out of the trailer in the bright morning sun where they gulped air like they’d been running a marathon.

“Nice shot,” Nila breathed, bent at the waist, hands on her thighs. “Good aim.”

“I was aiming for his knee,” Jade said. “I didn’t mean to get him . . . there.”

Dell and the two little girls came around the corner of the trailer, holding hands. Nila rushed toward Dell. “Need your phone,” she gasped.

Dell pulled out his phone. “What’s the matter?” His gaze was on Jade, and it narrowed in concern. “What happened?”

“Your woman-who-isn’t-your-woman is one tough girl,” Nila said, and called 911.


When they got back to Sunshine, Dell pulled up to his house, where Jade’s car was. He’d wanted her to take the rest of the day off but she wasn’t having any of it.

“You have two stitches over your eye,” he said, trying to reason with her, but really, he should have known better. There was no reasoning with a woman.

She wanted to work.

“Two stitches is nothing,” she said. “The doctor said I wasn’t concussed.”

“He also said you were damn lucky.”

“So were you. I was so afraid you were going to come back into the trailer and startle him and that he’d cut you and those little girls.”

He stared at her. “So you were trying to protect me?” “Well . . . yeah. And you should have seen me trying to do it with a tampon.”


“It’s the first thing I grabbed in my purse.”

He chuckled, even as his own ego bumped up against the pride he felt for what she’d done. But every single time he looked at the bandage above her eye he flashed back to her and his mother stumbling out of the trailer like two drunken sailors, both looking like they’d just been in a bar brawl.

The reality of what had happened had been worse, though not nearly as bad as it could have been.

But she’d handled herself.

At the very small smile that crossed his lips, Jade cocked her head. “What?”

“You kicked his ass.”

A small smile of her own crossed her lips. “Well, not quite his ass.”

Dell let out a low laugh. “You did what you had to do.”

“I did, didn’t I?” She shook her head. “It seems like a dream now. I was terrified at the time. And pissed off. So pissed off. I mean if he’d waited a few minutes before he’d come in, you could have done all the ass kicking.”

Reaching across the console, he stroked a finger above the bandage. “I’m proud of you, Jade.”

Her eyes went a little shiny, and she took a moment to answer. When she did, her voice was soft and husky, telling him how much his words meant. “I’m a little proud of me, too. I faced my biggest nightmare and beat it down.”

“You ever going to tell me about that nightmare?” he asked, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear, ducking down a little to maintain eye contract when she tried to look away.

“It’s over and done,” she said. “It’s all in the past.”

“Not when you’re still letting it affect you here and now, it’s not.”

She stared stubbornly out the window, the set of her jaw telling him she was done talking.


“It doesn’t matter now.”

“Because you’re leaving?”

That startled her into looking at him. “No.” When he lifted a brow, she sighed. “Maybe I’m just tired of it having such power over me.”

“Then stop giving it that power,” he said. “You’ve never told anyone about it. You’re hoarding it, storing it up, letting it eat at you.”

“Not today. Today I made Robby eat it.”

“Yeah, and you did great. But—”

“Dell.” She rubbed her temples. “I don’t want to do this.”

With him. Right. He nodded, trying not to react to that even though he felt kicked in the teeth. “Okay, let’s get you back to your loft so you can rest, then.” He unhooked his seat belt and got out of the truck, moving around to physically extract her from the car if he had to.

Adam came out of the house but Dell shook his head and Adam stopped on the porch. Dell opened the passenger door for Jade, reaching down to help her.

“I’m fine.”

“I need you to cooperate on this,” he said.

“You need me to cooperate? Dell, you never need anything, and you don’t need this. I’m fine.”

He drew a deep breath. She wasn’t going to do as he asked. Of course not. Because if he looked her up in the dictionary, she’d be there under STUBBORN.

And he’d be right next to her. “I need you to rest. The doctor said—”

“Wow.” She leaned back against his truck and crossed her arms. “Look at you throwing around that need word. The next thing you know, you’ll be telling me how you feel.”

He stared at her incredulously. “You think I don’t feel?”

“Dell, the only time I have even an inkling of what you’re feeling is if your tongue is down my throat.”

“What? That’s crazy.”

“Oh, really. It’s crazy.” She tossed up her hands. “Then tell me. Tell me right now. How do you feel?”

“About what?”

“Anything. You pick.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Is this a trick?”

“Not even a little bit.”

“Okay.” He searched his brain. “I feel . . . angry over what happened to you. I should have been there, right there. I brought you and put you in danger—”

“We both know I pretty much forced you to bring me,” she said dryly. “And please. Alpha male aside, I know damn well you must have other feelings than anger.”

“Okay . . .” He tried to access one. “I’m hungry.”

“You’re what?”

“Hungry. I haven’t eaten since last night and—”

Jade pushed off his truck and headed to her car.

Confused, he followed her, ignoring Adam’s smirk. “See, it was a trap. You’re mad because I didn’t come up with whatever it is you wanted to hear.”

Jade tossed her purse into the car before straightening and facing Dell. “Tell me one thing, Dell. The women you’ve dated. What’s their biggest complaint about you?”

“That I don’t . . .” He broke off.

She lifted a brow.

“Engage. I don’t engage my emotions with them.” He grimaced. “You wanted to know how I feel about you.”

She didn’t answer and he sighed. “Jade, I’m not good at this. It’s why I don’t do relationships.”

“Getting that. Gotta go,” she repeated.

Her eyes, Christ. They were suspiciously bright. The pulse at the base of her neck beat as frantic as a hummingbird. “I’m driving you,” he said.

“Not necessary.” She flashed him a forced smile, slid behind the wheel, and pulled out.

Adam came up to Dell. “She okay to drive?”

“Yes,” Dell said, and it was true. She was okay. Much more okay than him.

Her car vanished down the street before Adam spoke again. “So you let her get attacked by some punk-ass with a knife? How the f**k did that happen?”

Dell shook his head. “Mom had the knife. The punk-ass took it from her.”

“And Nila?” Adam didn’t like to call Nila “Mom.” He didn’t like to call her anything. But he betrayed his concern when he asked, “She get hurt?”

“There was a scuffle. She got hit with a mug of hot coffee and suffered some second-degree burns on her stomach and chest, but she’s okay.”

“Jesus,” Adam said.

“Yeah.” Dell turned toward the truck, made a detour, and punched the closest tree.

Pain sang up his hand, wrist and arm.

“Well, that was stupid,” Adam said. “You break it?”

“No.” Dell opened and closed his hand carefully, and winced. Probably not, anyway . . .

“Feel better?” Adam asked.


“So she really schooled you on that feeling thing, huh?” Adam said.

Dell wished he hadn’t punched the tree so he could punch Adam. “Shut up.”

“Why? Because you know she’s right?”

“Right about what?”

“That you don’t do need. And you don’t feel.”

Fuck the fact that his hand hurt like a son of a bitch, he was going to hit Adam, anyway. “You know that’s not true.”

Adam nodded. “Yeah. But I’m just your sorry-ass brother. I don’t give a shit if you show your feelings or not. She’s the one who needs to know.”

Dell stared at him. “What, are you Dr. Phil all of a sudden? You, who haven’t looked at a woman since you got back from your last mission? What the fuck, man? Why don’t you worry about your own love life, or lack thereof?”

Adam shrugged. “Fucking with you is more fun.”

Dell stalked to his truck, shoulder-checking Adam hard as he did.

Adam let that go, which was just as well.

Because yeah, Dell had been schooled. Not only that, he was one hypocritical son of a bitch. All this time, all these months, he’d been so proud of himself for helping her. For giving her a job. For being there for her. For boosting the confidence that had grown inside her. For showing her how to face her demons and keeping her safe.

He’d actually thought that he’d been saving her.

Instead, he’d had it all ass-backward. She’d been there for him. She’d supported him, she’d made him look at himself differently, changing what he’d thought he’d wanted out of life. It used to be enough for him to have Belle Haven, to have just Adam, and Brady and Lilah. He didn’t need more.

But that was no longer the case. Now when he went to sleep at night, he lay there wondering what Jade was doing and why she wasn’t in his bed.

He didn’t want to be alone anymore.

“Man, you’re going to have to get over yourself,” Adam said.