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Dee’s hand clenches in mine so tightly that it’s starting to hurt, even though her face still remains relaxed. I don’t even know where to begin to respond to all that. I can’t be pissed, because he’s right. I had it under control, but it would’ve been nice to know I wasn’t fighting alone.

“Patience wasn’t even a factor. When you love someone, you fight. You fight for them, and you fight with them. She needed me to fight for her then, and I’ll continue to do that until she can fight for herself again.” I feel him come up behind me and clasp my shoulder in his strong grip, offering me his strength.

“That right there is why I didn’t need to say anything.” He walks to the other side of the bed, dips his head down to her ear, and talks low enough that I can’t hear him. Her eyes snap open, and she looks right at me. Maddox leans up, kisses her on the forehead, and walks out the door.

“What did he just say?” I whisper, not breaking eye contact.

“He… he said it’s time for me and you to start fighting the same war and not different battles.”

I nod my head. He’s right. It’s always been Dee fighting me, fighting herself, and running from her fears. And I’ve been fighting the world for her while she does it.

It’s time. Time for her to let me in and let me help her heal.

Easier said than done with Dee, but when I look into her eyes, it isn’t the same force field barrier that she normally has in place that I see. No, I see right into her soul, and the love she keeps carefully hidden, for once, isn’t masked. That right there is all the hope I need.

Chapter 13

“If you don’t stop treating me like a damn child, I’m going to lose it. I mean it, Beck. I want to go home. I want to sleep in my own bed.” He laughs, actually laughs in my face before turning back to the stove and flipping the pancake he’s working on.

Oh, the infuriating man. And damn him for making pancakes worthy of me kissing his feet.

It’s been two weeks. Two damn weeks since I’ve been released from the hospital, and he hasn’t left my side once. He’s becoming Betty freaking Crocker and Suzie Homemaker all rolled into one, too good looking for his own good man. He cooks my meals, does my laundry, and I bet if I asked, he’d wipe my ass for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for the assistance, but I haven’t left the house once since we’ve been back. The first week, I don’t think I could’ve left if I’d wanted to. My ribs screamed in pain whenever I moved, and my face would’ve given small children nightmares. I still look like I fought a semi and lost, but at least the bruises aren’t as ugly and vibrant as before, and the swelling has gone down enough that I look somewhat normal.

Now, I just want out. I want to go to my own house, sleep in my own bed, and put some space between us. Oh, who am I kidding? The main reason I want out is because he’s making me feel things that scare the shit out of me… making me believe that whatever I’ve been avoiding this whole time is possible.

He’s making me want everything he’s laying down at my feet. He’s making me crave everything that I’ve been running from.

And he’s got me so turned on that all he would need to do is say ‘come’, and I’m pretty sure my body would detonate like a perfectly crafted bomb.

Yeah, I have to get out of here.

He sets the spatula down on the counter and turns to look me in the eyes. “We’ve been over this before. It’s not safe for you to go home until we can finish the investigation, find out who attacked you, and get to the bottom of all this crap you’ve been dealing with, in secret I might add, at work. So, no… you aren’t going anywhere because right here with me is the safest place for you to be.” He gives me his trademark smirk and turns back to his flipping.

“I’ll be fine! My apartment is secure. I won’t even leave. I can work from home just as well as I’ve been working from your house.”

“No.”

“No? That’s it?” I’m fuming. I know I’m acting like a brat, but I’m terrified. Those walls, that mask, all the protective measures that I’ve perfected over the years disappeared that last day in the hospital. I can’t get his words out of my head.

“Yeah, Dee, that’s pretty much it. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re running, or I should say, you’re trying to run. Well, guess what, Babe? You aren’t going anywhere. I finally, fucking finally, got back in, and I’ll be damned if I let you push me away again.” He dishes out the pancakes and brings the plate over to me, turning back to grab some orange juice from the fridge and the syrup from the counter before joining me at the table. I stare at him with my jaw hanging open as he starts shoveling food in his mouth.

“I’m not running,” I whisper.

He puts his fork down, wipes his mouth, and looks at me. His eyes are soft and caring. “You’re right. You aren’t running. You’re trying to build that fortress back up around you. You’re trying to hide. I’ve watched you since we’ve been back. The old Dee, the one that’s been hiding behind fake smiles and laughter, that’s what I expected to deal with when we got home. I was so worried about you after Brandon’s attack. There were times when I really thought you would be dead when I came to check on you.” He pauses and looks away for a second. With every word he speaks, my heart starts to pound harder in my chest. “You’ve come so far, Baby, and you’ve gone through hell. But the difference is now you aren’t hiding anymore. MY wildcat is back, and I’ll be goddamned if I let her go again.”

He gives me a guarded smile, picks up his fork, and starts eating again, as if he hasn’t just dropped this… this emotional bomb in my lap. I don’t even know what to say. He’s right, and dammit, I don’t even think I want him to let me go anymore.

“I’m so confused,” I confess.

“I know. That’s why we will figure this out together. I’m right here. All you have to do is reach out and take my hand. One step at a time.”

Looking into his eyes, I can see the honesty there, but I can also see the desperation. I’ve done this to him, to us, and a lesser man would’ve given up a long time ago.

“I don’t deserve you, Beck.” I don’t, I know this. I’ve been a bitch; I’ve pushed and pushed, closing him out. I can see it now, and my heart breaks for all the time he’s wasted on me. “Why didn’t you just give up? I’m so messed up, Beck… so messed up. I can’t even remember half the times you came running when I called because the desire to let the fear get the best of me was too strong. But you did, every single time. Even when I tried bringing other men around to make you mad enough to leave for good, you wouldn’t budge. How can you stand by my side, even from a distance, for so damn long, and not hate me? Hell, I hate me.” I take a deep breath, and wipe away a few tears before looking up and meeting his gaze. When I see the emotion and adoration in his eyes, I let out a small gasp.

He pushes his chair back and stands, walking the short distance to my chair. I don’t look up, but keep my eyes still trained to the spot he just vacated.

“Dee, stand up.”

I don’t move.

“Dee…”

I can’t move, I just let it all hang out and I’m not sure if I’m ready to hear what he’s about to say.

“Denise.” His tone is harder this time; clearly, he’s losing his patience.

I sigh, push my chair back, stand, and turn slowly to look at his chest.

“Eyes up here, Dee.” His tone is still hard, but I can hear it, the emotion giving his voice a slight wobble.

When I meet his eyes they are shining brightly, and his lips are curved into a small smile. My breath catches in my throat. He’s looking at me like Axel looks at Izzy and Greg looks at Melissa.

He’s looking at me as if I’m the only woman on earth.

“I stand by your side because this is where I’m meant to be. I stand by your side because you didn’t have the strength to hold yourself up. That’s what you do for the person you love. Right after the attack, we were so fresh, but I knew that our relationship was worth fighting for. For months, you would have nightmares, and every time you would wake up, it was my name you were screaming to help you. You aren’t messed up, Baby. You lived through something terrible, and you needed time to process that. Your mind needed time to heal. I’m not going to lie and tell you I wasn’t hurt when you pushed me away. I had just spent eight months at your side trying to be who you needed, but I understand that you had to find your own way.” He frames my face in his warm hands, his thumbs brushing the tears that are falling from my eyes in rapid succession.

“Every single time we would get back together, I thought for sure you were back, you would be ready for us. And I won’t lie. When I would wake up in the morning expecting to find you naked in my bed, only to meet cold sheets? That hurt. Then I would see you a few days later, and that pain would still be there like a neon sign in your eyes. That pain is gone now. Not even one trace of it is left. Even after all the stuff that went down in your office, it’s gone now. You need a little more time to figure it out for yourself? That’s fine, but you’re going to be doing it, with me, right here.” He bends down and presses the softest of kisses against my lips before pulling back and smiling. “Understand now?” I nod. “Good, now let’s eat.”

I sit lamely and eat my breakfast, because after all that, I’m positive I wouldn’t be able to form a word anyway, much less argue with him. Every single thing he just said is true. I don’t remember a lot of the early months after Brandon’s attack, but I do remember needing him like a life raft. And after all the running, the therapy, the fear, I can also feel that the webs I’ve been trapped in have cleared. It’s almost as if this recent attack has proven to me that I am strong enough to fight for my own happiness. Most importantly, I feel like it’s possible now.

****

After breakfast, I clean up our mess and continue to try processing what the hell just happened. Ever since his grand speech, my mind is spinning, and my heart is beating like a marching band has invaded my chest.

Can I forget everything I’ve ever thought? Is it possible that, maybe, I’ve just had the worst luck possible when it comes to men, and that he really is this perfect? Even the reasons I’ve used to push him away in my mind don’t hold true anymore. There’s no way that he could ever be like Brandon, that bastard. There is no way that he would ever treat me like my father treated my mother and me. All he’s ever shown me is love.

I put the last dish in the dishwasher and finish wiping down the counter. The only things I can do now is wait and see if I can convince my head that my heart has been right all along, and then take the leap. The only problem is, I’m just not sure if I can turn off the part of me that keeps thinking he’s better off without me and my many suitcases of emotional baggage.

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