He watches me with an expression I can’t decipher and I’m wondering if he’s waiting for me to leave. I have no idea how this works, but I’m not ready to leave him yet. Actually, I don’t think I will ever be ready, but I won’t make things harder on us and go back on my word.
I swallow past the lump that quickly formed in my throat and lick my suddenly dry lips. “Well I guess I should get going.” I try to keep the sadness out of my voice but know I don’t succeed.
Something that looks like alarm flashes in his eyes before his arm shoots out and wraps around my waist. He pulls me snug against him. “Not yet, Red. Stay for a few hours and sleep. I’ll set my alarm and make sure you’re out of here before anyone gets up.”
My body floods with relief and my heart warms that he’s not ready to let me go yet either. “I didn’t take you for the cuddling type, Walker,” I tease.
He doesn’t smile like I hope for him to. “I’m not.” My heart turns over in my chest at his admission. Smiling, I wrap my arm around his neck and give him a soft peck: “You doing okay?”
The concern in his voice has me bringing my hand to the side of his face. “Yes. It was perfect, you’re perfect.”
He grunts and tries shrugging off my compliment. “Believe me, Red, I am far from perfect.”
“You’re perfect to me,” I tell him honestly.
His eyes soften but he shifts uncomfortably. “That’s because you have only known me a week.”
“Are you telling me that you get more charming than this? Because, seriously, if that happens you might just melt my panties right off.” I laugh and he glares at me, clearly not finding me as funny as I find myself.
Taking pity on him, I change the subject. “I hope I don’t get you into trouble. Sawyer told me, to tell you, that he would take care of the Admiral.”
“Sawyer?” he repeats in shock.
“Umm, yeah. I sort of ran smack into him outside, when I spotted the camp. He’s the one who told me what room you were in.” I can’t tell if he’s upset about that or not. “I hope that was okay?” I ask nervously.
“Yeah, don’t worry, it’s fine. I’ll just never fucking hear the end of it is all. The guy is a pain in the ass.”
“I thought he was your best friend?”
“He is. But he’s still a pain in the ass.”
I roll my eyes. “You probably think anyone who talks to you is a pain in your ass.”
I giggle. “Are you trying to tell me that I’m a pain in your ass?”
Instead of smiling at my teasing, he stares back at me with an intensity that steals my breath. “You do a lot of things to me, Red, but a pain in my ass isn’t one of them.” His words send my already emotional heart into a frenzy. I’m not sure who is more shocked by his words – him or me. A frown takes over his face.
Not wanting to make things more uncomfortable for him, I run my hand up his chest and slide it over his nipple rings. His frown disappears like I hoped it would, and heat ignites in his eyes again. “I’m surprised you’re allowed to have these, being in the Navy.”
He shrugs. “You’re not, but they don’t know what they can’t see. I had them before I joined.”
My hand continues its path and glides across his smooth, hard muscles until I reach his tattoo. I lightly trail my fingertips over his sister’s name. “Why a ribbon?”
I curse my curiosity when misery flashes in his eyes. I’m just about to apologize when he surprises me by answering. “Because she slept with a white ribbon in her hair, every night for as long as I can remember.” The gruffness of his voice, laced with pain, has my throat burning with emotion.
Swallowing thickly, I lean over and place my mouth over his. “I’m so sorry,” I whisper against his lips.
Instead of responding, he infuses his mouth with mine and gives me a deep, long kiss that sucks the air right out of my lungs. Groaning, he pulls back but keeps me snug against him. “Go to sleep, Red, before I end up fucking you again when I know you can’t take anymore.”
Smiling, I rest my cheek over his steady heartbeat and try to commit the strong rhythm to memory, knowing I will most likely never hear it again. I spend a long time trying to fall asleep, and even manage to nod off here and there, but the more hours that fall away, the heavier my heart begins to feel.
Eventually, I decide to give up, knowing if I stay much longer I’m going to crack and ask him for things I promised him I wouldn’t. Quietly slipping out from under him, I’m careful not to wake him, then slip on my dress and necklace. I look down at my shredded panties lying on the floor and a wave of heat passes through me, remembering how he tore them from my body. Knowing there is no way I’m going to salvage them, I sit down on the side of the bed and take the pen that’s on the small stand. I glance around for something to write on and pull a crumpled napkin, that looks relatively clean, from his garbage and begin to write my goodbye.
Thank you for what I know will always be the best night of my life. I am so glad our paths crossed and I got the chance to meet you. I know I said I didn’t expect any promises and I mean that. But here is my number in case you ever make your way to Montana, or maybe you can just send me a text to let me know how you are doing and that you are safe.
You will always hold a special place in my heart, and, more than anything, I want you to know there is someone out there who loves you and cares what happens to you. I will keep you in my prayers, always.
Take care, Cade Walker.
Tears stream down my cheeks as I write down my cell number. After I put down the pen, I bury my face in my hands and make sure to keep my sobs silent, not wanting to wake him.
Eventually, I’m able to gather some measure of control, and as I dry my wet cheeks with the back of my hand, a glimmer of silver catches my attention. Looking at the music note on my anklet, that Papa bought me for graduation, I instantly know what I want to do. Bringing my knee up, I unclasp the small, dainty chain from my ankle then place it on the napkin, wanting him to have something to remember me by.
Looking back down at Cade, I watch him for a few moments. His face is soft with sleep, and for the first time I get to see what he looks like unguarded. He looks just as beautiful as always, but more peaceful. Struggling to keep my emotions in check, I take a deep breath then lean over and give him a very gentle kiss, praying he remains asleep.
“Stay safe, Cade Walker. I’ll remember you forever,” I whisper softly against his warm lips.
Knowing there is nothing else I can do but leave it in God’s hands, I gather as much courage as I can and reluctantly walk out the door. As I traipse through the pitch black, I cry the whole way back to camp, feeling a huge hole in my heart. Please, God, let me see him again, or at least hear from him.
As I enter my camp, I’m so caught up in my grief that I don’t realize something is wrong before it’s too late.
“FAITH, RUN!” Beth’s scream pierces through the dark night just as a gun goes off and I’m grabbed from behind.
Panic floods my body, and a hand slams over my mouth with brutal force to cover my scream. Orders are shouted behind me as I fight with everything I have to get away from the tight grip someone has on me. I briefly register my name being yelled, but my heart is pounding too loud with panic to grasp what’s being said.
In the midst of my struggle, the back of my head connects with the person’s face behind me. There’s a grunt of pain before I’m spun around and backhanded across the face. The powerful blow sends me to the ground and my vision darkens from pain. I land next to Beth’s lifeless body, and realize the gunshot I heard, only moments ago, killed her. An agonized sob rips from my throat and terror washes over me.
My head is brutally yanked up by my hair, and there, in the black of the night, my blurry gaze lands on a terrified Aadil. He struggles against a man who is holding him back while tears stream down his swollen and bruised face. He screams my name and begs the men to let me go. The sound of his sobs has agony ripping through my already tortured heart.
Big boots walk in my line of vision, blocking him from my sight. Leaning down, Aadil’s father comes into view, and my panic escalates at the malicious smile on his sinister face. “It’s payback time, bitch.”
Raising his fist he slams it into my face. Aadil’s begging sobs are the last thing I hear before darkness takes me.
“You may as well talk to us, man, you know I’m not going to let up about this.”
I glare at Sawyer and take another drink of my beer. Since watching Faith walk out the door in the middle of the night, while I pretended to be asleep, I’ve had this excruciating pain in my chest, which escalated when I saw her note and fucking bracelet.
…more than anything, I want you to know there is someone out there who loves you and cares what happens to you.
I pretended to be asleep when she left because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to her. I would have fucked up and made her promises I know I can’t keep. Which is exactly what I almost did when I felt her crying beside me. I’m still feeling like a dirty bastard for taking her last night, tainting her innocence with myself, but fuck if I’ll regret it. I can’t, she felt too incredible.