"That's what you think, councilor. This wise man once told me that the sweetest victories were the ones where your opponent thinks he won."
His breath caught at her words. He wanted nothing more than to climb into the bed next to her and discuss all the other lessons that he had begun all those years ago, but there would be time of that later he reminded himself. A lifetime.
He forced himself to stand and walk from that tiny room where the two most important things in his life rested. He swore it would be one of the last times he left them. They belonged to him. They belonged with him. But he had plans to make before they could be. His mind was already forming a checklist of those tasks as he pulled his clothes back on in her tiny, dark living room.
He stood in the door way for a long moment. It did not feel right to leave them like this. All right, so Maddie had been taking care of herself and Jackie for the past four years. But that was before he knew. Before he found her again.
He pulled his cell from the pocket of his shorts and pushed a couple of buttons. Even though it was late, the gruff voice answered on the second ring.
"Matthias, I need your help," he said. The other man listened. Promised that he would handle the situation personally. By the time he rang off, Thyne was as comfortable as he could be with the situation. He knew that his brother would do all he could to protect the woman that would soon be his sister-in-law and the niece he had not known existed. It would do...for now anyway.
Maddie stared at the ceiling in the darkness. Her thoughts were all over the board. She could not make sense of any of it.
Why did she let him bully her like that? She was not the insecure but beautiful Sommer Loven. She had not been in years. With months of counseling, she had taken charge of her life. She had birthed her daughter alone. Moved out of her mother's house once more and finally put some distance between her cold and manipulative behavior. She had raised her child while attending law school and making stellar grades.
So why did that man still have to power to drain her will? Why did she cave to his every desire? His whims? His demands?
The truth was simple. She had told him already. She loved him. She had almost from the start. Of course, back then it had been adoration, a crush on a man that had and was everything she dreamt of becoming. She enjoyed their conversations. Fed upon his words. Absorbed all that he would teach her. But until that night she had never thought it would be more than that...friendship, a mentor.
Yet from the moment he had captured her lips in the front seat of his car like some clandestine lover, she had been addicted to the drug that was Thyne Jackson. Their one night had been relived in her dreams over and over again over the past four years. Until no other man measured up. Not that she had anything to compare this one to.
She laughed at the irony. Who would believe it? Even if she told him, she knew he would never believe the truth. The virgin stripper. It seemed too strange to be true. But it was. The truth was that Sommer Loven was never anything more a carefully crafted show. Maddie was a superb actress and she knew it. It was a trait that she knew would serve her well as an attorney too.
But what scared her most at the moment was her vulnerability to this man. He had always seen beyond the character. Recognized her intelligence from the beginning. But what else he might see was what had her laying awake worried. Or more accurately, how he might use what he saw to manipulate her, to get what he wanted.
Looking over at the small bed across the room where their daughter slept unaware of the turmoil that boiled and festered in the adult world, she wondered. Was this all just some rouse? A plan to take the only thing that mattered to her. She had heard the anger in his voice when he spoke about her owing him. On some level perhaps she even agreed, she had deceived him, kept their child from him.
But what he did not understand, could not comprehend was why. Jackie was a part of him. And after the weeks and months, when she looked every day for him to walk through the doors at Ace's, only to end each shift disappointed, she had thought the baby was the only part of him she would ever have. Since they had been so careful about using protection that night, her pregnancy almost seemed like some miracle, a gift. A condolence prize for the one thing she could never have...his love.
Truth was she still did not have that. Probably never would. His words ran like a bad tape through her mind. Want. Need. Lust. Animals. His loyalty. His protection. Marriage. His babies. Everything and anything except the one thing she wanted most...love. His love.
Her hands caressed the round softness of her stomach. Could he be right? They had been so careful as those long years ago, yet the sweet bundle that slept peacefully ten feet away had been born of her need for him. They had had unprotected sex. Twice in little more than a day. Could his child once again be growing inside of her?
Her heart leapt into her throat at the very thought. It was everything she wanted. His child. To share the experience with him. How many times over those long months of her pregnancy with Jackie had she caressed her swollen tummy and cried, wishing that it was his hands rubbing their baby? But this time it would be different. This time it would be all of those things. All of those girlish dreams that she had held hidden in her heart.
Then why did what she wanted so damned much scare her to death? Being his wife. Carrying his babies. Hell, the close partnership that they had once shared as mentor and protégé. Her pride had swelled when he called his closer once more. It was everything she wanted. Had ever dreamt of.
Except for one little thing. He did not love her. Oh, he wanted her. The wild, primal matings they had shared over these brief hours proved that. Hell, she could even buy that he needed her. She knew too that he respected her. Saw her as he said...his equal, his mate, his partner. But not as his love. And that stung. Hurt her more deeply than she had imagined possible.
She looked over at their daughter once more. Thought of all the things that her father could give her. Things it would take her years to acquire. She caressed her stomach and imagined little red headed boys running like the demons of hell after their sister, tormenting and torturing her as siblings always did. She smiled and her lips tingled a bit. Her fingers caressed them too, remembering the passion that flared so quickly between them. The need, he called it.
Was it enough? Were these things sufficient to build a life, a marriage upon? She pondered the thought. She yawned as tiredness crept up on her, born of too much thinking and even more good loving. In the end, her only answer was...it would have to be. For now anyway.