UNEDITED DRAFT EXCERPT / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © ROBYN ROZE
Shayna entered their lavish Straits suite at the Marina Bay Sands and relaxed her bare back against the cool surface of the closed door. The sight of the Singapore skyline etched in the distance curved her lips in appreciation. The other view was even better; the one of the man stalking toward her with all the lustful intent she’d longed to see. Her flesh tingled with memories, and anticipation.
“Hello, gorgeous.” Sean scooped her into his arms, kissed the curve of her neck and inhaled her scent. “You smell good enough to eat.” The tease of the smile on his lips skipped along her sensitive throat.
“Oh, I am. And I may let you have a taste, later.” She peeled herself away from him and strode out of the foyer, through the living room, and over to the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.
“I’ve made dinner reservations, but,” he scanned her from head to toe as he followed, his intense gaze suggestive, “we could eat in tonight …,” His widening pupils casted his vote.
Her body instinctively agreed, warmed at the thought, but her brain was in charge right now.
“You should definitely cancel the reservation, Sean.”
She positioned herself on the other side of the coffee table to thwart his approach, and he looked confused by the move.
“I had a lovely day at the spa. I think you booked every service possible for me. Thank you for that. I felt like royalty.”
His stance turned cautious. “You deserve to feel that way.”
She caught a hint of wariness in his voice. Had he picked up on the nuanced inflection in her tone?
“Tell me about your day, Sean? What did you do to pass the time?”
He stood silent for a few seconds, looking away, hands now tucked in his front pockets. “I took care of some business.” His impassive eyes swung back to hers.
She held her breath, and his stare, for a few beats. “Right. You told me you had business matters to address.” She dropped her key card and bag on the coffee table. “What were they?”
His edges hardened, jaw clenched. “What’s with all the questions, Shay?”
“I’m wondering if your business had anything to do with the man at the pool yesterday. The one who looked like he nearly pissed himself when you took aim at him.” She flashed him a warning smile, and a replay of his finger gun. The gesture clearly caught him off guard, but he quickly recovered. “I’m a grown woman, Sean. I’m not some girl who can be easily manipulated, or misdirected. Thankfully, I have time and experience on my side. I haven’t missed all the visits you’ve needed to make to the business center since we arrived here, even though we have an office in our suite.” Her brow angled in accusation.
“Who was the man at the pool? What does he want?” She gracefully lowered to the sofa, irritated with his lack of response. “Is he the reason you make calls in secret? The reason you kept me occupied here all day?” Her fingers tapped deliberately on the back of the sofa. “I’m losing patience, Sean. I won’t ask a second time. I have a right to know.” She leaned forward. “You promised me no more secrets. You promised me you were done with these people, that life.” Disappointment tinged her voice. “I thought we were past this.”
He let out a long, disgruntled sigh and dropped heavily in the seat across from her.
Their suite was free of listening devices. He’d already had it swept.
“I am done with that life—as long as it’s done with me. That’s how it works, Shay. I didn’t initiate anything. But a man like me always has to be on alert. I’ve made enemies; you know that. And I will always walk into a room checking for exits, escape routes, looking for who fits and who doesn’t; it’s in my DNA. And having you in my life makes that all the more important, and necessary. I can’t afford to slip up, miss even the smallest detail.”
She muted the alarm bell in her head. “Are we in danger?”
“Your safety is my top priority. I have this under control.” His demeanor and tone indicated the end of the discussion.
For him maybe.
Shayna held his unwavering stare, knowing he expected her acquiescence, her blind faith. “Yes or no, Sean.” The padded armrests dented under the force of his grip. “I’m your wife, not an assignment. I asked a direct question, and I want a direct answer.” His eyes bore into hers. She didn’t shrink. “That’s how it works in a marriage, in a real relationship. It’s what we both signed up for.” She paused on purpose to let him stew. “You still want that, right?”
His green eyes softened as he searched her face, but his expression remained hard. “You know damn well I do. But one has nothing to do with the other, Shay. This is serious and you have to let me handle it; whether you like it or not.”
“I don’t like it. And you don’t have to handle it alone. Let me help.”
His humorless laughter filled the room.
“Let you help? With this?” He reclined back in his seat, legs angled wide as he scrutinized her. Then he seemed to reconcile something important in his head. “What makes you think we’ve been alone?”
The disturbing implication in his blunt statement jarred her, deeply.
Had these past months only been a blissful fiction …?
With the weight of a changed reality, Shayna warily recalled their travels and the countless faces along the way, including the dedicated butler assigned to their suite …, “You’ve had people following along the entire time.”
“Like I said, I can’t afford to slip up. The more eyes the better.” He watched her with the apprehension of a man bracing for a fight. “You’re going to visit Danielle for a while.”
His cavalier dismissal angered her.
“Like hell, I am.” She rose above him before his rebuttal could spill out. “Is my daughter safe?”
“Yes, of course, she is.” His defensive tone echoed around them.
“Then my place is here.”
He pushed to his feet, towered above her, the coffee table wedged between them.
“Under the circumstances, Shayna, your place is wherever I say it is.”
Now her mirthless chuckle filled the gap between them, then her expression tightened with fierce determination. “I don’t believe for a second I’m any safer halfway around the world than I am right here with you. And I am not going to lead anyone to my daughter. So, you’re going to do whatever it is you need to do, with me here. Period.” Her shoulders locked in defiance.
She remembered the man Sean had morphed into more than a year ago, that horrible night on the Tuscan Dream. The man who’d been devoid of emotion; who’d barked orders the night her world hit rock bottom with the news of Danielle’s kidnapping … And she could feel Sean’s struggle, now, to keep that formidable man at bay.
“Goddammit, Shayna. Do not fight me on this.” His gritted words and commanding stance were clearly meant to shut her down.
She held his hard, pointed stare and folded her arms across herself. His lids slammed shut at her stubborn resolve, his hand dragging down his face as he turned and walked away to brood in front of the scene-stealing picture windows. He remained mute, motionless, like an imperial statue overseeing the glittering cityscape the setting sun had birthed in its wake, as if just for him.
“This has to do with your involvement in Mexico last year, doesn’t it?” She reached out and touched his arm, tentatively.
A shiver traveled her spine, as the unforgiving phantoms of their past crept from the shadows and squeezed around them, taunting and jabbing with barbed memories and scandalous secrets.
“I knew the risks,” he answered, unaffected, eyes still cast somewhere beyond the city.
She zeroed in on his taut reflection in the pane and stepped closer.
“Like blood in the water; I knew the sharks would come. I’ve been waiting for them, planning.” His jaw ticked.
“Were you ever going to tell me? Or were you going to come up with some reason why I needed to see Dani? Without you.”
“Does it matter now?” His focus pinned on the looming moon.
“It does to me.”
Their eyes connected in the waves of the shimmering nightscape dotted across the window.
“Yes,” he stated plainly, eyes fastened to hers in the glass canvas. Without warning, he drew her against him, her face cupped between his warm hands. “I was going to tell you, soon. I wanted everything in place first before I did, before I sent you to see Danielle.”
His finger traced her cheek, slid across her lips, then teased along her throat to finger the vibrant, multi-colored gemstones looped on the necklace he’d surprised her with in Picinguaba, a beautiful, secluded fishing village nestled between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The hint of a happy memory from that stay lifted the torment from his face.
Then remorse dropped the curtain.
His soulful eyes finally raised, filled with penitence, to hers, his face lined with regret. “I would’ve done everything in my life different, if I’d only met you earlier.”
Her hand skimmed his cheek. “But you didn’t. And I’m not going back in the past, Sean. What’s done is done. This is where we are, right now.” She gripped his face. “You’re going to have to figure this out with me here. Because I’m not leaving.”
His bronzed features tensed with unease. “I’m used to going it alone. It’s safer that way.”
“It’s too late for safe, Sean.” She brushed her lips across his, and his arms circled tight around her. She pulled back as far as he’d allow, her expression serious. “Tell me about the man I saw at the pool. Where’s he at now?”
With a sigh of resignation, he pressed his forehead to hers. “He’s safe. For now. And if he can be of use, he’ll stay that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think I can recruit him. We share a common enemy. He just didn’t know it until I opened his eyes.”
She considered his words for a moment. “And this enemy you share is who sent him to follow us?”
He nodded. “You’ve always been safe, Shay. I would never put you in harm’s way.” His hand smoothed around her neck, fingers threading through her hair. “He was tracking and reporting, that’s all. But it’s going to heat up, and that’s why I need you to leave. I’ll come for you when it’s over.”
She searched the sharp angles of his face for imaginary answers, felt the coiled power in his body, the forceful beat of his heart, the urgency in his hands. Then the nagging doubt that had been locked away since Frank’s death, broke free, releasing a weight from her chest while poking holes in her heart.
“Will it ever be over?”
His back stiffened from the blow of her loaded question, the reproach delicately laced throughout her whispered words. The remote look in her eyes appeared to cause dread to course through him. She’d forgiven his past, had accepted his flaws, and had only asked him for one thing in return: the truth. She deserved it; and he’d promised. But would the day come when the truth wasn’t enough?
Or perhaps too much …?
He pulled her back to the present with a soft kiss that returned the tenderness to her eyes and body.
“If I make my stand now, here, it’s as close as I’ll ever get.”
The words stung, popped the deceptive bubble of normalcy they’d been living inside. The desperate fantasy she wanted to believe. But Sean was no ordinary man. Had she really expected a different answer? Perhaps she’d hoped so, glossed over their reality. After all, she’d made her decision, eyes wide open, back in Italy, when she’d learned the man now standing tall before her, the one she’d grieved, was very much alive.
She’d made her bed that day, tainted her future, and carried heavy secrets that could destroy her, and her daughter. If Shayna understood anything, it was consequences. And she fully expected her bill to come due, her world to crash and burn around her, one day. Until then, she’d vowed to herself to live each moment as if it were her last. Because even though her husband, who adored her like no other before him, had a dark past filled with violent acts she didn’t understand or condone, she couldn’t walk away from him, then, or now. Consequences and criticism be damned. Wanting him, staying with him, felt no more a deliberate choice than the draw of her next breath.
This man made it easier for her to breathe, easier to live. Here and now.
Her chin dipped, following the taunting trail of her fingers, as she undid one button after the other on his dress shirt. Then she spread the fabric wide, exposed his strength, and pressed her lips to his chest, breathed in his scent, and savored the soft tickle of chest hair. His breathing grew shallow, eyes dilated with arousal.
“I want to be here when you do, Sean. I’m not leaving, and that’s final.” She shook her head when he started to speak, pressing a finger to his lips. “I will do what you say, follow your orders, here. I promise. I don’t want to get in the way, or cause problems. But I am staying.”
His lips thinned in apparent grave disquiet. “You have no idea what you’re saying, Shay.”
Her fingers teased under his shirt, slowly inching the fabric across his broad shoulders and down his strong arms before yanking it tight above his elbows. The flare of desire in his eyes flooded her body with craving.
“I’d rather face my fears than run from them.” Her palms glided along his taut abdomen, and snaked up over his chest, her appreciative sigh swirling with the ratcheting heat between them. “I’ve more than proven that throughout my life,” her lips quirked in amusement, “not to mention these past few months.”
Admiration lit his face, his fingers skimming her cheek in agreement before his lips collided with hers. The growl of his intent vibrated and teased against her lips. Then he pulled back, emotion laid bare in his eyes. “Until my last breath, you will be the one thing I will never regret.” He tilted her head back, catching her eyes with his. “And the one thing I will never deserve.”
CHAIN REACTION / UNEDITED DRAFT EXCERPT / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © ROBYN ROZE