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Instead of walking up to his grandmother’s front door, he cut through her next door neighbor’s yard and hopped the fence into the backyard. The drunk who lived there didn’t get up until at least noon and it was only seven in the morning. He jumped the fence into his grandma’s backyard and tried to sneak in through the back door, but she was in the kitchen cooking. With her back to him, she shook her dark head. “Sit and eat before you hightail out of here again.” Though her words were flippant, he heard the hurt there and it sliced through him.

He hated hurting her but if he hung out here more often she’d be a target. Now she was just some old lady he’d lived with for a few years. At least that was how his associates viewed her. Crossing the distance over the newly tiled floor—which he’d paid for by selling drugs—he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. At five feet flat she was an entire foot shorter than him. She was only in her fifties but his mom had had him young. Despite having had a bitch for a daughter and cleaning up Cecil’s mom’s messes for years, his grandmother looked like she was in her forties. At least genetics had been kind to her. “What’re you cooking?”

She looked up at him and smiled, the lines around her mouth crinkling. “Fried eggs, sausage and grits, your favorite.”

It was his favorite but she couldn’t have known he was coming. Which meant she probably cooked this every morning in the hopes that he’d show up. Yeah, he was an asshole.

“Police were here yesterday,” she continued as she pulled out one of the new plates from the set he’d bought her last month.

Turning away so he wouldn’t have to see her expression, he opened the fridge and pretended to look for something. “Yeah? What’d they want?”

“Looking for you. Told ‘em I haven’t seen you in months—which is the truth.”

Pulling out a carton of milk, he faced her. “You know why I can’t hang around here, grandma.”

Her dark eyes narrowed and he felt like the teenage boy she’d tried scolding hundreds of times. While he’d always been respectful since she was the only person who’d ever given a damn about him, he’d never listened. But he’d gotten better about lying over the years. Now it was useless to lie. Especially if he wouldn’t see her for a while.

“If the cops come back, tell them the truth, that I stopped by but I told you I’d be leaving town for a while.”

She turned to the stove again, her back ramrod straight. “You’re leaving?”

He leaned against the counter next to her, forcing her to look at him. “I’ve got to. I…got into some trouble and if I stick around I’ll bring too much heat on me and you. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt you, grandma.”

Her jaw clenched and though she wouldn’t look directly at him he saw unshed tears glistening in her eyes as she stared at the popping frying pan. “I appreciate all the stuff you’ve done around the house for me, but I don’t need it. I just need you safe and in my life.”

“I know.” With his throat tight, he pushed away and went to sit at the table. Didn’t matter what either of them wanted. Life had taught him that early on.

He steeled himself against the coming week. First he needed to find the witness and eliminate her, then he’d figure out where the hell to head after that. Maybe Chicago. He had some buddies from the old neighborhood who’d moved up there. The thought of dealing with snow was revolting but anything was better than the heat coming down on him here. Maybe he could move his grandma up there after a few years too. Yeah, that could work.

As he waited for her to finish cooking, one of his cell phones buzzed in his pocket. 5-0 asking about you to the boys. Stay away from the neighborhood. Translation: the cops were questioning the 19th Street Gang about him and he better stay the hell way from them right now. So he was on his own. Ungrateful fucking bastards.

Chapter 9

Kell scrubbed a hand over his face, feeling nervous as hell as he stood on Charlotte’s front porch. He shouldn’t be here. How many times had he told himself that he needed to stay the fuck away from her, that being around her was going to eventually slice up his heart?

But he couldn’t stay away. The woman called to him on a primal level and he was like that proverbial moth to a flame. He knew he’d end up getting burned too. Pretty soon he’d go down in a ball of flames because of his own stupidity and need.

After their last phone call and the weird way she’d been acting, he had to stop by though. It had almost sounded like she was crying, which wasn’t strange considering her circumstances, but he couldn’t help but feel like something else was going on.

He rang the doorbell and tensed as he tried to prepare himself to see her again, to prepare himself for the slam of physical need he always experienced in her presence. Not that it would do any good.

A few moments later the door swung open. Wearing snug jeans and a breast-hugging plain black T-shirt that dipped right between her breasts, she looked good enough to eat. Her face was pale, her dark eyes watery and she looked more angry than sad. She also appeared surprised to see him. “Hey.”

His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth for a second. “Hey…I probably should have called, but you sounded upset during our last call so…” He shrugged as he trailed off, feeling awkward.

“No, it’s fine.” She stepped back, motioning with her hand for him to enter. “You want to come in?”

Always. “Sure.” He held up a small white paper bag with pink lettering on it. He’d decided to grab her some petit fours from her favorite bakery. “Brought you something.”

Her dark gaze landed on the bag, then traveled back to him and for the first time since he’d known her he saw lust in her gaze. Pure, raw need.

For him.

He wasn’t imagining it either. He’d seen that look plenty of times from other women. Never from her though. What the hell was going on with her?

She swallowed hard and took the bag, a sad smile on her face. “You’re always so damn thoughtful.” For some reason the words sounded almost accusing.

She set the bag on the small table in the foyer, then leaned up on tiptoe and kissed him. And not on the cheek as she had a hundred times before. No, she kissed him straight on the mouth, her lips molding to his. Kell was so stunned he forgot how to breathe for a second. But only for a second.

Then he was on her, unable to leash the need he’d been carrying around for years. His hands flexed around her hips as she hoisted herself up and wrapped her legs around him. Taking him even more by surprise, she clawed at his shirt, desperate to get it off.

He backed her up against the nearest wall, needing a flat surface as he managed to shrug his shirt off.

Part of him wondered what the hell had brought this on, but he was too damn selfish to question why she’d made the decision to come to him now. He wanted her more than he wanted his next breath.

Grasping the hem of her shirt, he pulled it up her lean body to reveal full, round breasts. The simple black bra she wore was utilitarian but the way it pushed those mounds up for him…he fought a shudder and lost.

He’d been fantasizing about what the color of her nipples would be for so long. He didn’t take her bra off, but pulled the straps down so that her breasts spilled free.

Pale, pink nipples.

Now he could stop guessing. When her fingers slid into his hair, clutching on to his head, he dipped lower, sucking one of her nipples into his mouth. Flicking it with his tongue, he shuddered when she let out a loud moan and arched deeper into his mouth.

She was every fantasy he’d ever had…

A pounding sound had Kell opening his eyes. Confused, he looked around and realized he must have dozed on his couch. Of course he had to dream about that night with Charlotte. That hadn’t happened in forever…What the hell was that pounding?

His front door.

Pushing up, he glanced through the peephole before pulling the door open.

Vincent stood there in jeans, a sweater and holding a six-pack of beer. He lifted it up. “Figured you might want the company tonight.”

It was his first night without Charlotte and Reece, and while he hadn’t thought he would want to be around anyone, relief slid through him at the sight of his friend. He nodded. “Come on. I think there’s a game on.”

Turning on his flat screen, he collapsed on one end of the couch and Vincent handed him a beer. “You got any food?”

He nodded. “Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge.”

After some rumbling around in the kitchen, Vincent returned a few minutes later with a bag of chips, a sandwich and a beer. He sat on the other end of the couch and began to devour his food.

As a football game played in the background Kell glanced at his cell phone on the end table next to his couch. Right now it was hard to concentrate on anything but Charlotte. He was relieved that she was able to stay with Lizzy and Porter, and after talking to her earlier tonight it was clear that she was getting along well with the other woman, but he wanted her here.

Under the same roof. Protected by him. Especially after that fucking dream. He rubbed his hand over his face as if that could erase the memories. That night had been intense, but the next morning…yeah, no need to go there.

“So what’s up with you and Charlotte? Can’t believe you moved her in here so fast.” Vincent crumpled his napkin up and threw it on his empty plate.


“I knew you were hung up on someone when you moved here, but moving a readymade family in like that…” He trailed off, shrugging. “It’s a big change, man. That’s all I’m saying.”

“She’s all I’ve ever wanted and we have a son together.” It was as simple as that. Now that he’d had her under his roof, even if it had only been for a few days, he knew he was never letting her go.

“You love her?”

“What do you think?” Kell hadn’t said the words to Charlotte again since that night a year ago and he sure as hell wasn’t saying it to Vincent before her.