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“Oh yes,” he said quietly. “She’s coming with me. I’ll take care of her. I promise.”

Kate’s expression eased. “Good. I worry about her. About all of them.”

He started to step forward, eager to get to her and to see how badly she was hurt, but Kate stopped him once more.

“I want to thank you,” she said in a soft voice. “For everything. The heat. The food. The generous donation. Look around you, Mr. Crestwell. All these women have a warm place to sleep and food to eat because of you.”

Jace grimaced, uncomfortable with her gratitude. He nodded briefly and then headed for Bethany. Her eyes were closed. She looked asleep sitting up. He took the opportunity to study her more closely and he swore at what he saw.

She looked even thinner if possible. There were shadows under her eyes. She was pale.

And she was hurting.

He knelt quietly in front of her. As soon as she sensed his presence, her eyes flew open and she flinched away, panic firing in her eyes.

“It’s all right, Bethany,” he murmured.

Her eyes widened and he was gratified to see that her fear disappeared, but it was quickly replaced by confusion.

“Jace?”

His name came out a cautious whisper, almost as if she didn’t believe it was him kneeling in front of her. Then she straightened and she turned her hands inward, hiding the scrapes and the blood.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in a trembling voice.

His expression hardened and he stood. Her gaze followed him up and without saying anything, he simply reached down and plucked her slight weight from the chair.

She landed softly against his chest and he cradled her possessively, determined that nothing else would hurt her. Then she stiffened and her mouth fell open with a gasp.

“What are you doing?” she hissed.

He strode toward the door, his grip tightening when she began to struggle.

“Taking you away from here,” he bit out.

She began to protest in earnest and Jace caught Kate’s worried stare. He nodded to reassure the older woman and then he tightened his hold on her further.

“Enough,” he ground out. “Don’t fight me. You’re worrying Kate. I’m not going to hurt you. I promised her I’d take care of you. Don’t make a scene. Do you want to frighten all the women?”

She bit her lip and went limp. Slowly she shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “But you can’t just carry me out of here, Jace.”

“Watch me.”

He shouldered his way out of the door and the burst of cold air made her instantly shiver. He swore under his breath, pissed that she wasn’t better protected from the cold. Her clothing was no barrier to inclement weather at all.

“You’re scaring me.”

Her voice was small and he could feel her trembling in his arms, whether from the cold or from true fear he wasn’t sure.

“I won’t hurt you and you goddamn well know that.”

Her gaze was haunted as she stared up at him. He paused at the curb as his car approached, ignoring the stares from passersby.

“How do I know that?”

His lips tightened. “If you don’t already know it, you soon will.”

The car stopped and his driver hurried out to open the back door. Jace leaned in to settle Bethany on the seat and then he slid in beside her. She sighed the moment she made contact with the heated seats.

A moment later, the car pulled into traffic and silence settled over the backseat.

“Where are we going?” she asked, the tremble still evident in her voice.

He reached for her hands, turning them both palm up so he could inspect the scrapes.

“What happened, Bethany?”

She went so still against him that he had to look to make sure she was breathing. There was such darkness in her eyes—hopelessness—that it took his breath away. And he knew, without a doubt, that he’d done the right thing. No matter what demons she battled, what her present or past circumstances had been. He’d done the right thing by tracking her down and taking her away.

• • •

Bethany tugged her hands away from Jace and turned her face to the window. What on earth was he doing? How had he found her? Why had he found her?

Seeing him in the shelter had been a huge shock. One that had rendered her incapable of the simplest thought process. She barely offered a token protest when he’d hauled her away and stuffed her into the back of his car. Wasn’t this kidnapping?

“Bethany, look at me.”

Though his tone was gentle, there was no mistaking the command in his voice. It was one she couldn’t help but obey. She turned her chin and peeked up at him from beneath her lashes and her breath caught in her throat.

He was such a beautiful man. So dark and brooding. Power emanated from him. Anyone would be a fool not to sense his strength. It was plain for all to see. He wore authority like he’d been born to it.

Though she’d sworn he was a man who’d always make a woman feel safe, at this very moment she was a nervous wreck. The look in his eyes suggested she wasn’t safe at all, though she wasn’t sure what it was she wasn’t safe from.

He wouldn’t harm her. Of that she was sure. But there were many other hurts than just physical.

“Don’t be afraid of me.”

Her lips twisted. “That isn’t something you can just dictate. Telling someone not to be afraid of you doesn’t make it so!”

His gaze hardened. “Have I given you any indication that I’m going to hurt you?”

“You just carried me out of the shelter against my will! What you did was kidnapping! Why were you even there, Jace? How and why did you find me? I don’t understand.” Her words came out much higher than she intended. There was a shrillness to her voice that spoke of her panic.

He put his fingers to her cheek, pressing in just enough that she felt his touch and was powerless to turn away.

“You need me,” he said simply.

Her mouth gaped open and she stared back at him in astonishment. She had no idea what to say to that. What could she say?

Then he leaned forward and put his lips to her forehead in the gentlest of kisses. She closed her eyes, savoring the sweetness of the gesture. This man was trouble with a capital T. She was in trouble. In a big, big way.

Tonight you’re coming back to my place,” he said as he sat back in the seat. He spoke with a calmness she sure as hell didn’t feel. “Tomorrow I’m taking you to my sister’s apartment. She’s not using it anymore. It’s furnished, so you won’t have need of anything.”

Her mouth fell open again at the certainty to his voice. It wasn’t a question. He wasn’t asking her anything. He spoke as if it was already decided. As if she had absolutely no say in her destiny.

“This is insane,” she whispered. “You can’t just rearrange my life like this. I can’t stay in your sister’s apartment.”

He lifted one eyebrow and leveled his steady gaze at her in a manner that made her feel stupid.

“You have somewhere else to stay?”

She flushed. “You know I don’t.”

“Then I fail to see why this is an issue. Mia isn’t using the apartment. She’s living with Gabe until they marry. Her roommate has moved in with her boyfriend. It’s empty and it’s paid for. You’ll stay there, at least for now.”

Her brow crinkled at the addition of “for now.”

He smiled as if realizing the source of her confusion.

“Eventually you’ll move in with me but I accept that you need time to adjust to our . . . situation.”

“You are crazy,” she muttered. “I’ve been kidnapped by an insane person.”

Jace scowled as they pulled to a stop in front of an ultramodern high-rise across from Central Park. A steady rain was now falling. He reached across to take her hand, pulling her toward the door as he climbed out.

“Hurry so you don’t get wet,” he said even as he rushed toward the entrance.

She was forced to run to keep up with him and by the time they got inside, she was out of breath. She grimaced as the denim stuck to her knees ripped away, aggravating the scrapes all over again.

Jace saw her expression and he swore as he stared down at her torn jeans. Taking her arm, he directed her toward the elevator and ushered her inside. Despite his effort to get them inside before they got wet, her clothes clung damply to her and she shivered.

The elevator opened into an elegant foyer with marble floors and a huge, crystal chandelier suspended from the ceiling. He nudged her forward and she stepped hesitantly into his apartment.

“We need to get you out of those clothes and I need to tend to your injuries,” he said grimly.

His statement made her hug herself tighter as if she could keep her clothes on with her action. Yes, he’d seen her naked, but the idea of being naked in front of him again made her feel extremely vulnerable.

She’d called him crazy, but she was more insane than he was because she was allowing this. It could be said he’d given her little choice, but she hadn’t fought that hard.

“We need to talk, Jace,” she stammered out. “This is nuts. I can’t be here with you. I don’t even know why you were at that shelter or how you knew I’d be there!”

He put a finger to her lips and his expression brooked no argument. “There’ll be plenty of time to discuss our situation after you’ve had a hot shower and I’ve looked at those scrapes. You’re right. We have a hell of a lot to discuss, and believe me, we’ll get there. But my first priority is ensuring that you’re taken care of.”

She glanced down at her bedraggled appearance and decided that a hot shower would definitely be welcome. Whatever his explanation was, she’d deal with it a lot better when she was warm and dry.

“Okay,” she murmured.

His mouth twitched suspiciously. “There. That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”

She frowned. “What?”

“Giving me control. I’ll warn you now, Bethany. I’m very used to getting my way.”

What the . . . ? She hadn’t said anything about giving him control!

She opened her mouth to tell him just that but he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her, thoroughly shutting her up in the process.

Chapter ten

Bethany sat on the bathroom counter as Jace meticulously examined every scrape and cut on her body. And he was thorough. She was completely naked and he hadn’t left a single inch of her skin unexamined.

His lips were set into a fine line but he remained silent while he tended her wounds. She was still cold. Cold on the inside. Bone deep. She wasn’t sure she’d ever feel warm again.

After she’d spent several minutes shivering, Jace cursed—something he did commonly around her—and lifted her down from the counter.

“I’ll start the shower. You need to warm up. After you get out, I’ll bandage the scrapes. I don’t think you need stitches in any of the cuts but I’ll apply antibiotic ointment so they don’t get infected. While you’re in the shower, I’ll fix us some dinner.”

He didn’t wait for her agreement. That was pretty laughable since he hadn’t asked her for her opinion once. He leaned in, turned on the shower and then came back to where she was standing without a stitch of clothing on. And to think she hadn’t thought her day could get any more bizarre.

He slid one hand up her bare arm to her shoulder, squeezed reassuringly and then left the bathroom. She sagged against the counter and then turned to survey her reflection in the mirror. She looked like death warmed over. Tired. Haggard. Worried. Scared.

There were a million words that swirled in her mind.

She closed her eyes and swayed precariously until she gripped the edge of the counter to steady herself. For tonight, at least, she was safe. Even if she had no idea what had possessed Jace, she was fiercely relieved that he’d brought her here. Where no one could possibly find her. Where even Jack wouldn’t know where she was.

A reprieve. However short it was, she welcomed it.

Knowing she was wasting hot water, she stepped into the shower and groaned as the heat cascaded over her aching body. It was sheer bliss. The most wonderful thing she’d ever felt.

She tossed her head upward, letting the spray wash over her face and down her neck. Her scrapes stung as the hot water abraded them, but she was careful to clean all the cuts in her skin.

She remained in the shower until her body grew heavy and sluggish from being exposed to the intense heat for so long. After rinsing her hair one last time, she reluctantly turned off the water and stepped out.

Warm air washed over her, surprising her. She glanced upward to see that Jace had evidently turned on the bathroom heater and it was nice and cozy after her half-hour shower. He had decadent towels. Huge and fluffy, so soft that she felt surrounded by a cloud. She could almost wrap it twice around her body.

It was sinfully wasteful, but she used two towels, one for her body and the other to wrap in her hair. It was a frivolous luxury that gave her a giddy thrill to indulge in.

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