Read Sweet Online

Authors: Skye Warren

Tags: #Romance, #Adult, #Dark

Sweet (9 page)

BOOK: Sweet
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Part of me had hoped all my worry was unnecessary, overkill, and he would accept my relationship with Drew with grace and forbearing as he’d done for my ballet studio.

But it was clear that he was pissed. Royally pissed. The only thing I could do was lay my cards on the table.

“I care for him a lot. This isn’t just… I think it’s serious between us.”

Philip laughed, a harsh sound. “That’s a lot of uncertainty. Which is it, are you serious or not?”

“Well,” I stammered, “it’s still early.”

“Right. Early. And what the hell am I supposed to do if things don’t work out?”

I blinked. “How would it—”

“How would it affect me if my sister breaks the heart of the one man who’s indispensable to my work? What am I going to do if he suddenly quits? This is the business that keeps us all strong, all safe, and you’re risking it for a fling you aren’t even sure about?”

“No. I’m sure about it. About him.”

He made a disbelieving sound. “Hundreds of other men in the world, and you had to pick him. I knew you would date eventually. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but it was inevitable. But him? He’s the one man who’s off-limits to you.”

The subtext sounded more like
you can’t have him. He’s mine.
I half expected him to pee on Drew just to mark his territory.

Anger bubbled up in me, a welcome respite from the hurt I felt. “That’s not up to you to decide. You don’t own him, where you can decide who he dates. And for that matter, you don’t own
me
.”

Ruthless calculation filled his eyes. “Are you sure about that?” he asked quietly.

The words dropped like lead. Was this what we had come to? “I have my savings. I don’t need your money or your protection anymore.”

“But he does. I can ruin him, make it so he’s run out of the city. No one will hire him.”

I glared at my brother. Drew’s job was everything to him. The long hours he spent, the years of loyal service proved it was far more than a paycheck to him. His story about how he’d come to work for my brother had been a turning point for him. Would he leave it for me? Could I ask him to?

By the smug look on Philip’s face, he knew exactly where his words had hit.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, though the words sounded desperate to my own ears. “I wish you were okay with us, but we don’t need your blessing. You won’t change my mind, and you won’t change his.”

He leaned in. “I’ve been indulgent with you, so you may have forgotten something. I don’t lose.”

Searching his gaze, I found cold determination where there was usually warmth. “I don’t understand why this makes you so upset. Why can’t you just be happy for us?”

“You left my house when I said you could. He’s done working for me when I say so. I run things, Rose. I control things. I keep you and Colin safe by doing so, and that’s not going to change until I’m dead.”

Sadness welled up inside me. He was so caught up in building an empire he didn’t realize it was already too big, overpowering, leaving no room for something as simple as happiness.

I shook my head. “Maybe you can live that way, but I can’t. And Drew shouldn’t have to.”

Philip was right about one thing: he had controlled me. From the moment he took custody of me, he told me what to do, and I did it. He also took care of me, protected me, and for that I would always be grateful. But I couldn’t go on this way. I had always been half a woman. With Drew, I was whole.

For a moment, we said nothing, trapped by our frustration and fear for Drew in a tense stalemate. Finally Philip offered curtly, “I’ll call you a cab. You should get some rest.”

“I can’t leave him.”

Philip scowled.

I looked down at the bright reflective tile, seeing instead Drew lying in the street, damp with rain and blood, eyes closed and unmoving.

He’s a lucky man.
The words echoed what I had thought in the minutes before Drew had been struck and what the doctor had said about me. I was lucky, he was lucky, both of us. And look what happened. It felt a little like punishment, like flying too close to the sun and being made to melt.

I’d acted like I had all the time in the world. Just waited and waited while my dreams were within reach, while the man I loved sat across the table at Christmas dinner. We’d finally gotten together—too late.

“Hey,” Philip said softly, lifting my chin with his finger. “He’ll be okay.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. We had been cast as enemies for the first time in forever, but he was still my brother.

A nurse came out, asking for the kin of Drew Laramie.

“Can I see him?”

She eyed me kindly. “He’s very groggy from the pain meds, but visitation is open for half an hour. And you’ll have to go one at a time.”

Philip put his hand on my arm.

I turned back, sending him my fiercest glare. “Don’t.”

A ghost of a smile touched his lips. “You won’t win this.”

Shaking him off, I followed the nurse, and thankfully, he didn’t try to stop me this time. He had enough presence and bribe money to ensure he could speak to Drew first or even bar me completely, but ours was a strange and heartrending crossfire.

The nurse opened the door and gestured me inside. Apprehension seized my next step, as if seeing him in there would make it real. As if I could keep him—and myself—safe from harm with my ignorance alone.

Shaking it off, I pushed into the dark room and heard the door swing shut behind me.

He was folded into a white hospital bed and hooked up to machinery. His eyes opened a few seconds later. My heart thudded painfully, the sound of my own blood rushing over the beeping in the room.

“Rose?” His voice was hoarse, almost a croak.

I rushed to him. “Drew, I’m sorry I didn’t… I couldn’t…” Couldn’t reach you, couldn’t help.

He smiled faintly, though it felt sad. “It’s okay, Rose. I’m okay.”

It was like he’d heard every unanswered question:
Is he okay? Are you okay?
And he answered with more than his words—with the sharp glint of intelligence and humor in his bruised eyes. With the steady rise and fall of the white knit blanket over his chest.

I sat in the chair at his side, taking hold of his hand. His skin was paler than usual, almost white under the harsh yellow lamp above his bed. It reassured me that his grip was firm where he squeezed my fingers.

Not too late.

Tentatively, I curved my hands around his, gratified to feel him warm and solid, even more when he gently squeezed in response.

“Is there anything I can get you? Anything I can do to make you more comfortable?”

“Yes,” he sighed.

His eyes slid shut, and after a minute, I realized he had fallen asleep. I perched my hip on the side of the bed, not breaking contact with my hands wrapped up in his, my gaze on his face—my heart filled with an urgent, overwhelming emotion. Too acute for love, really. Too painful.

The glass was inside me now, shards cutting into my heart—but far worse than this would be having him removed. Losing him to an accident, to my brother’s obsessive need for control.

I wanted to lie beside him, curled up all the way inside him, even, but I couldn’t risk hurting him. I released his hand only long enough to drag a plastic folding chair over to the bedside. I curled my arm around his hand, protectively, possessively, just before sleep overtook me.

Chapter Eleven

T
he sound of
male voices washed over me, a babbling brook, a rush of cool water that soothed my racing heart before I came fully awake. A smile curved my lips. I loved to hear them, the pleasant sounds of their plotting, the gentle affection of friends who pretended otherwise.

It meant they were safe at home too. I worried whenever they were gone, afraid of unseen enemies. Although I didn’t know why I had fallen asleep near them—that was strange. I didn’t even know where in the house we were, considering my face was smashed against something stiff and crinkly that smelled of rubbing alcohol.

Groggily, I pushed myself up, wincing at the ache in my knees. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, frowning at the sight in front of me. Drew’s beautiful skin swathed in white sheets and blue-patterned fabric. My brother standing on the opposite side of the bed, looking pissed as hell.

The crash, the hospital—I remembered now. It came back to me in a sudden breathless rush. My heart clenched all over again, my body aching with sympathy pain. Drew didn’t need my horror right now, or my fear, so I forced my shock back.

I suspected it had been longer than the thirty minutes we’d been allotted. And we’d definitely broken the one-at-a-time rule, but I was grateful for more time with Drew however it came. Blearily, I blinked at the clock above his bed. Three o’clock. In the morning? Yeah, we’d gone over visiting hours.

“Are you feeling okay?” My words came out slurred and sleep heavy.

He smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “Better now. Philip, can we have a minute?”

My brother nodded and left the room. Suspicion flared at his easy acquiescence. Who knew what horrible things he’d told Drew while I slept.

“Don’t listen to him,” I said.

Drew gave me a crooked smile. “How do you know what he’s been saying?”

“I can imagine. Did he say you’d be fired if you dated me? Because he’s totally bluffing.” I hoped, anyway.

“No, he didn’t say that. But I… Rose, I have to be straight with you.” His voice cracked, and in that sound, I heard the hollowness I’d been so afraid of, saw the invisible hands already gripping him. He was safe and healthy, or he would be soon, but he was lost to me, leaving me.

“This is because of my brother. Whatever he said, whatever he threatened you with—”

“No,” he snapped, and I almost wanted to acquiesce then so he wouldn’t strain himself so soon. But I couldn’t walk away, not when relief had been so strong. He was embedded so deeply that if I pulled him out now, I’d bleed all over the floor.

His mouth worked, forming the words before forcing them out. “How can I ask you to wait for me?”

Impossibly, a rough laugh emerged. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for you. I wouldn’t know how to stop.”

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

Then I suppose it didn’t matter that he’d carved his way into my heart, that he’d sliced into my soul. He’d ripped me to shreds and then lovingly handed back the pieces.
Here
, he said kindly, and I wanted to cry.

“I have a week in the hospital, at least, and after that, I don’t even know what condition I’ll be in, how long it will be until I can get around.”

I met his eyes. “You think I would care about that?”

“I care, damn it.” His nostrils flared. “You finally left Philip’s place and started your studio. The last thing you need is me whining to you over the phone.”

My teeth clenched. “You insult us both.”

Anguish flooded his gaze, pain and embarrassment and a sense of helplessness all swirling together in a dark well. “Just go home, Rose. You’ve been here all night. You look awful.”

My laugh was watery. “Gee, thanks.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… Hell. I just want you to go home and rest. All I’m going to do is lie here, but if you’re here too, I’ll worry about you.”

“How can I leave you like this?” I whispered.

He glanced at the beeping, blinking machinery that held him in its web. He looked down at the thin white sheets that covered him. “Because I’m asking you to.”

I turned and blindly stumbled from the room, because I could do no less than what he wanted from me, no less than what he’d done for me once. I walked past a stone-faced Philip and out into the still night, dropping tears like breadcrumbs as I left the man I’d come to think of as home.

The winking stars lent me comfort and lured me away from the yellow cabs streaking through the street. I turned the corner, heading on autopilot for the one place left to me. The only thing still whole. The glue that would keep me together when my family and my love were both lost.

A small crowd gathered late at night in the coffee shop. I pushed blindly past them. A couple sat on the benches in the courtyard, making out, their caresses well hidden by thick jackets and hats. I ducked my head against the vortex always present here, a result of three walls and Chicago’s windy weather.

The key slid into the lock. It didn’t turn.

I tried again, jiggling a little before I lifted my gaze. A large pink paper was taped from the inside.
Voluntary Operating Permit Injunction.
Looked like Philip had followed through on his threat after all.

Which left me with exactly nothing.

Chapter Twelve

I
rang the
doorbell a second time, shifting the grocery bag to my other hip. I heard shuffling behind the silver-plated door, achingly slow. Then it opened.

A heather-gray T-shirt hung from Drew’s broad shoulders, showing just a hint of smooth skin low on his hips where blue sweatpants sat. I’d always had a fetish for crisp, starchy fabrics, but somehow the loose, baggy fabric emphasized the hard lines of his body. It would have been sexy and adorable if it weren’t for the scratches on the side of his face.

Crisscrossed patches along his cheek and temple. Shallow cuts, surface signs of the deeper trauma his body bore within. Three fractured ribs, a concussion. Severe bruising, lacerations. A goddamn miracle he was still alive, much less standing.

He frowned. “How did you get up here?”

“Bribed the doorman.”

“Taking after your brother?”

“Well, when you can learn from the best… Are you going to let me in?”

“Can I stop you?”

That earned him a look. “Probably not. I can’t believe you didn’t call me.”

With a bemused expression, he stepped back, opening the door wider. I gave him a regal nod and went in. I’d gone to the hospital to visit him only to find he’d checked out against the doctor’s advice. Against my advice, which he hadn’t bothered to ask for. Whatever this crap was about needing time and space…well, he could have all he wanted once he’d healed. He cared about me. I knew that in my soul. And for now he needed someone to take care of him. I’d damned well earned the right to do it.

BOOK: Sweet
2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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