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“Do you love me, Jess?” he asked, interrupting me.

Why was he asking me this? He knew I loved him. I’d told him that already.

“Do you love me?” he repeated as I stared at him.

“You know I do,” I finally replied.

“Say it,” he said.

I didn’t have time for this. I had said it once and he hadn’t said it back. I wasn’t saying it again. I had a job to save. “I don’t see what that—”

“Say it, Jess,” he pleaded, pulling me close to him. His voice had dropped to that sexy deep sound that always made me melt.

“I love you,” I said, unable to tell him no.

“I love you more. And I won’t let one more man see what belongs to me again. I will take care of it. Everything. Your mother will have the absolute best medical care available. I won’t argue with you about it. That’s how it’s going to be. I’m taking care of you because you’re the reason I wake up in the morning, and when you took that reason away from me I was miserable. Fucking miserable. I never want to feel like that again.”

“You love me?” I repeated, still stuck on that part of everything he’d just said.

A grin tugged at his lips. “More than life,” he said.

“Really?” I asked, needing to hear it again.

“Oh, for chrissake, he said it already. He loves you. Get your clothes and get going. I couldn’t figure out why you didn’t have a prince charming running after you to save the day.” Dee’s voice reminded me that we weren’t alone. I turned to look at her, and she nodded toward the back door. “Go on. You never belonged here to begin with,” she said, and turned to walk away.

“Let’s go,” Jason said in my ear.

“You can’t just pay for my mother’s medical bills. It isn’t right,” I argued. “You don’t even have the money. Your mother does, and she hates me. She tried to pay me to break up with you.”

“She what?” he asked.

Crap. I hadn’t meant to say that. “She, uh . . . The day after you left me last time. She came by my house and offered me money to break up with you and disappear. I didn’t take it and I told her no. Then I found out about Momma that night, so she got her wish anyway.”

Jason took a deep breath and clenched his teeth. “She offered you money?” he repeated in disbelief.

I just nodded. She was really going to hate me now.

“Why didn’t you take it? When you found out about your momma, why didn’t you take it? Why did you do this?” he said, looking around him with distaste.

“I couldn’t take money to break up with you. I love you. I couldn’t do that,” I said, thinking that this was self-explanatory.

He didn’t say anything at first. He just held me against him. “Let’s go,” he finally whispered.

“I can’t. Your mother won’t pay my mother’s bills,” I reminded him.

“I wouldn’t touch my mother’s money. Besides, she’s about to take a hit to her allowance. Jax owes me, and I have no doubt he’s waiting for me to call him with this specific request.”

I couldn’t have him ask his brother for that kind of money. “No. I won’t let you do that. I love that you want to help me, but I can’t let you ask your brother to give you that kind of money.”

Jason frowned. “Give me? Hell, Jax won’t give me shit. He loans me stuff, but he won’t be giving me anything. When I turn twenty-three, my grandfather’s entire estate will become mine per his last will and testament. Jax is keeping tabs on what I’ll owe him in a couple of years, I assure you. But I’ve got more money in the bank than that rock star brother of mine, and he knows it.”

JASON

Jess was wrapped up in my coat and sitting quietly while I drove her truck. She hadn’t said much since we’d left the club. Seeing her on that stage and hearing the men around me talking about her tits had all hit me at one time. I had acted on impulse, needing to protect her. Now I had her out of there, it was all starting to sink in, and I wanted to break something.

She should never have had to do that, but it had been her means of survival. It was all she knew to do, and she had been willing to do whatever she had to in order to help her momma. Everything but take money from my mother. Because she loved me.

I wished she had taken the money from my mother. I wouldn’t even be mad about it right now. I would have been fucking relieved that she had had money to take care of her mother and that she was still safely in her home.

“Here,” she said, breaking the silence, and I glanced at the run-down apartments to my left. It was just getting worse. I pulled into the parking lot, and the darkness surrounding the place from the burnt-out streetlights wasn’t helping me deal with this. I turned off the truck and sat there, staring straight ahead.

“How long have you lived here?” I asked.

“A little over three weeks,” she said softly.

“What time do you get home at night?”

She fidgeted with her hands in her lap. “About three,” she finally said.

She was fine. Nothing had happened to her. She was alive. I kept reminding myself over and over again that she was okay.

“Jason?” Her voice sounded unsure.

I shifted my gaze to hers. “Yeah.”

“I carry Mace with me when I go from the truck to the apartment, and Momma has a gun. There are three locks on the door,” she said, trying to reassure me.

“Let me get your door,” I told her, and opened the truck door. Kane had already parked the limo and was walking over to us. He was going to make sure we made it safely inside. Even Kane saw the danger here. It wasn’t just me being overprotective.

“I’m getting them out of here tomorrow,” I told him as I walked over to get her door.

“Good” was his single response.

I opened her door and helped her down. She pulled the coat tightly around her and let me lace my fingers through hers as she led me up the stairs and then to the far corner of the building. She opened the door. I had prepared myself for the inside, but seeing it was still hard to deal with.

“I need to get a shower,” she said, looking around unsure of what I was planning on doing. There small room with one sofa had a mini kitchen attached to it. Then two doors. One had to be the bedroom and the other the bathroom. They were sharing a room.

“Go take a shower. I’ll be out here,” I told her, nodding to the sofa.

“It takes me a while. I like to get . . . clean,” she said, the last word so soft I almost missed it. The meaning behind her words made my heart feel as if it had exploded. She thought she was dirty.

“Okay,” I said, and when she turned to go to the bathroom, I followed behind her. She glanced back at me when she reached the door.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to bathe you,” I told her, and didn’t wait for her to say anything more. I stepped into the bathroom and found the light switch. The small room had a tiny shower in the corner.

“It’s too small for both of us,” she said.

“I don’t need to get in to bathe you,” I told her, and opened the shower curtain. “Take off your clothes, Jess. Let me do this.”

She slipped my coat off her shoulders and hung it on the door. “Why?” she asked as she went to a button on her shirt.

“Why am I going to bathe you?” I asked her, reaching for her shirt and unbuttoning it and slipping it off her.

She nodded and let me take over the job of undressing her.

“Because I’m going to make sure you know by the time I’m finished just how perfect and beautiful you are. I intend to wash all those bad memories off of you with my hands. We’re going to leave them here. We won’t be taking that with us.”

Her eyes filled with tears, and I stopped unzipping her skirt. “I love you,” she said, then grinned through her tears.

“I love you more,” I replied, and let her skirt fall to the floor. “It’s time you felt safe. I intend to make sure you feel that way every day of your life.”

Her eyes widened and I tugged her panties down. She stepped out of them, and I took her hand and walked her to the shower before turning the warm water on. “Let me know if it’s too hot,” I told her as she stepped inside.

“I like it as hot as it gets.”

I reached out and touched the smooth skin on her arm. “That would burn your skin,” I said, stroking the soft flesh.

“It washes the dirty away,” she said simply.

I reached for the soap. “I’ll wash it away. No scalding water needed,” I told her as I lathered my hands, then placed them on her shoulders and began massaging her body, slowly worshipping her with each touch.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

JESS

I opened my eyes to see my momma drinking a cup of coffee and staring down at me. She took a drink while I rubbed at my eyes and rolled back to find Jason no longer curled up against me on the sofa.

“Relax. Your white knight is outside on the phone dealing with our moving arrangements. He didn’t want to wake you.”

I sat up and looked out the small window. I could see Jason’s back as he stood there, talking on the phone. “Moving?” I asked.

“Yep. Glad we didn’t get around to unpacking most of the boxes, not that all that shit would’ve fit.”

“Where are we moving?” I asked her.

“Not sure. He’s been making all kinds of plans. I could only hear bits and pieces, but it sounds like they have the best doctors for my surgery and treatment in New York City. He’s moving you to be with me there. Then when I’m finished and have a clean bill of health, he’s making arrangements for me to have a nice gulf-front condo, and you’ll be with him.”

She had been listening to everything he said. “Not sure? Sounds like you know exactly what he’s doing,” I told her.

She shrugged. “He’s right outside the window, and he talks loud. He also isn’t a fan of this place. It makes him get all loud and angry when he mentions it.”

I ran a hand through my hair, trying to smooth it before walking to the door.

“Stop fussing with your hair. The boy is so sunk it ain’t even funny. I walked in here this morning to find him watching you sleep.”

Smiling, I opened the door and stepped outside.

Jason turned his head to me. “Yeah, I want it done today. Let me know when it’s handled. I have movers on their way now.” He didn’t say bye before ending his call and slipping the phone into his pocket and closing the distance between us. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” he teased, then pressed a gentle kiss to my lips.

“Good morning,” I said, wishing he would kiss me like I wasn’t about to break. He had treated me so tenderly last night, and now this. The memory of last night was one I would never forget, but that was then. I wasn’t fragile.

“We’ve got a lot to talk about, but right now why don’t you go get dressed and I’ll take you and your mother to breakfast.”

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