It had to lead to a road. Or she hoped it did. As she ran, the sound of tires squealing had her looking over her shoulder. Two SUVs came into view as they tore across the lot.
A new surge of panic punched through her, flaying all her nerve endings. Maybe the man had changed his mind and had sent more people after her.
There was a sound of screeching tires, then she heard her name being shouted.
“Charlotte!” Oh God, it was Kell.
She stumbled, her sandals catching on gravel as she tried to stop her momentum. She started running for him, the dim moonlight her only guide in the darkness. Before she’d made it five feet he was there, pulling her into his arms and kissing her face. She wanted to wrap her arms around him, but couldn’t because of her bonds.
All she could do was sob into his neck, more thankful than she’d ever been to be alive. A small part of her wondered if she should be embarrassed but there was no way in hell she could hold all these raw emotions in now. So she let all her fear and pain out on Kell’s shirt and let him embrace her and rub his hand down her back as he murmured soothing words she couldn’t understand but made her feel better just the same.
Charlotte was still shaky, but after hours at that warehouse then at the police station, she’d lost most of the original terror coursing through her system. Now she just wanted to sleep for a week, but soaking in Kell’s bathtub was helping. Thankfully her mother had offered to keep Reece overnight and since her sister had checked herself into a rehab clinic and wasn’t there, Charlotte was incredibly grateful and more than willing to let her mother watch him. Right now she didn’t have the emotional energy for much, and picking him up in the middle of the night would have just upset his sleep.
The bathroom door opening made a squeaking sound, but it triggered her panic as she expected to see a masked intruder with a knife coming to finish her off. She started to push up, but sank back against the sunken-in tub, letting her head fall back in relief when she saw Kell. Wearing dark jeans that molded to muscular thighs and a plain T-shirt that showed off everything she wanted to kiss and run her hands over, the man looked good enough to eat.
He had a glass of red wine in his hand and a half-smile on that harsh face. Kneeling on the tile next to her, he set the glass on the edge, his eyes straying to the water. He didn’t even try to disguise his lust, which made her smile despite the residual tension in her body. She’d added bubbles but they’d long since dissipated, barely covering any of her. Not that she cared at this point. Kell had seen all of her and tonight—technically this morning since it was after two—they were taking the next step in their relationship. He might not realize it, but they were. After almost dying she wasn’t turning her back on what they could have. Risking heartbreak was worth it to be with him for however long it lasted.
“Just heard from Carlson. They’ve scoured the area and haven’t been able to find anyone. Whoever tortured Talley didn’t leave any evidence behind. You’re just lucky you were unconscious for everything.” He scrubbed a tired hand over his face.
Charlotte swallowed hard, but she kept her gaze on Kell. She hadn’t had a chance to tell him the truth yet and there was no way she was telling anyone else but him. “I…spoke to the man who killed Talley. He was there right before I ran.”
Kell’s jaw was tight, his expression fierce and primal. “You escaped him?”
She shook her head and pushed back the memory of what she’d seen the masked man do. “No. He let me go. He hadn’t thought I’d wake up I guess but when I got out of the trunk I didn’t make it far before he stopped me. He said…” She swallowed again, trying to force the words past her tight throat. “That it would be a shame for my son to grow up without a mother. Then he told me that I wasn’t to tell anyone I’d seen him there. He was wearing a mask anyway so there’s no way I could identify him, but…even if I could, I wouldn’t.” She felt almost ashamed admitting it, but she wasn’t going to put her son’s life in danger over the death of a drug-dealing bastard who’d planned to kill her anyway.
Kell surprised her then, his hand shaking as he took the wine glass and downed the contents in one gulp. “Fuck!” He shook his head, as if trying to clear it before that laser-like focus was on her again, his pale green eyes piercing her. “We’re not telling anyone about this. I could be wrong, but Renaldo Diaz is rumored to be in town and he likes to torture his victims before he kills them. It’s part of his MO. He also grew up without a mother and raised his only brother—the one Talley killed. He had to have been hunting Talley for revenge and he doesn’t like to hurt women. It’s apparently part of his own fucked up moral code, and thank God for it.”
That didn’t make Charlotte feel much better, but she was glad she’d gotten the truth off her chest. She’d been carrying it around since the warehouse, desperate to tell Kell but afraid someone would overhear. Now that she’d gotten that out of the way, there was one more thing she needed to say. “I love you, Kell.”
At those words, he completely froze, his big body going almost preternaturally still. He shook his head. “Don’t,” he rasped out, looking haunted.
She frowned at his response. “Don’t what? Tell you the truth? I love you, and after tonight I’m not holding anything back from you ever again.”
“You’ve had a bad night—hell, the past couple weeks have been hard—so don’t say anything in the heat of the moment. You don’t mean it.” His expression went blank, as if he was trying to guard himself from her.
Part of her felt responsible for that because she’d been trying to shut him out until now but it also infuriated her. Standing in the tub, she let the water run down her and savored the feeling of Kell’s hungry gaze roving over her entire body. The cool air and his heated look made her nipples tighten into little beads. “Don’t tell me what I do or do not feel.” Stepping over the tub, she snatched the blue towel he’d laid out and wrapped it around herself.
He stood, his expression wary. “I told you I loved you a year ago and you kicked me out of your life.”
Charlotte heard the hurt in his voice and wanted to erase it. Closing the distance between them, she tentatively slid her arms around him, lacing her fingers together behind his back and pulling him close.
His body was rigid, but at least he didn’t resist. That would have killed her. And he was definitely aroused. His big arms slid around her and even through the towel, his erection pressed firmly against her lower abdomen, making it clear that he wanted her—at least physically.
“I know and I’m sorry. That was a very dark time in my life. My husband had died, I’d just had his infidelity thrown in my face and then there was you. I never expected that night and to realize what an explosive attraction we had…well, you were there. You know how intense that night was. I was still trying to come to grips with what we’d done and…” She trailed off, not wanting to say the words.
“Then I confessed that I loved you and had for almost as long as I knew you.” He sounded torn up as he spoke.
She reached up, gently cupping his stubble covered cheek, wanting him to understand. “I had no idea.”
“I know.” His pale eyes darkened, filling with hunger as his gaze strayed to her lips.
“Well, I love you now and that’s not going to change. And I’m not moving out in a couple months either. You’re stuck with me.” She knew the statement was bold, but she also knew Kell wanted her and Reece there. After the way she’d freaked out on him a year ago she wanted to reassure him that they weren’t going anywhere.
“I wasn’t planning on letting you leave,” he murmured.
He shook his head, his expression turning scorching. “Nope. I’d planned on using a lot of sex to convince you to stay.”
His words went straight to the growing ache between her legs. Yeah, she could definitely get on board with that. Dropping her hands, she reached between their bodies and loosened her towel, letting it fall to the floor. “Why don’t you start convincing me now?”
A shudder rippled through him as he grabbed her behind, lifting her up against his body. Immediately she wrapped her legs around him, wishing he was naked too.
She was already wet and aching for him. The rough denim of his jeans rubbing against her clit had her inner walls clenching with the need to be filled by him.
As their mouths met, she felt almost frenzied wanting to touch him everywhere. His kisses weren’t gentle or sweet this time, they were frantic and needy. She was vaguely aware he was moving them as they stepped into the dimness of his bedroom. Tugging at his shirt, she had it over his head right before her back hit the cool sheets.
She didn’t have a chance to visually appreciate his body before his mouth sought hers again. Wrapping her hands around his back, she grinded her hips against his as her fingers dug into his skin.
His body tensed above hers, all his muscles pulling taut as she continued rolling her hips against his. Her not-so-subtle actions made it clear she wanted him inside her and was tired of waiting.
When her hands moved lower and she tried to slide them under his jeans to latch onto his tight backside, he reached behind his body, grabbed her wrists and had them pinned above her head in seconds. Breathing hard, she opened her eyes to stare up at him. “What are you doing?”
“Slowing you down,” he murmured, his fingers flexing around her wrists where he held her securely in place.
Not that she struggled against him. She enjoyed the feel of him dominating her. Had loved it a year ago. He’d been so raw and uninhibited that it had been easy for her to let go too.
He nipped her bottom lip, pulling it between his teeth before he kissed his way up her jaw to her earlobe. His breath was warm against her skin, sending shivers of desire spiraling through her. When he pulled the sensitive lobe between his teeth, she moaned, arching her breasts into his chest.