I sit up, not knowing what to say. He talked to my grandma last night, and she’d given him the ring? He stays on his knees next to the bed, me looking down at him.

“I wanted to do this differently, give you flowers and say words filled with poetry. Something a woman like you deserves.”

“A woman like me?” I question, not knowing what he means.

“A duchess.”

“Your duchess,” I correct, making his eyes grow possessive.

“I may not have a castle to put you in, but I’ll build you one if that’s what you want.”

“I’d be happy being your duchess anywhere you put me, Paine. If you asked.”

“I’m trying, baby,” he teases, making me smile for the first time all day. This is what my grandma was talking about. She didn’t care about all the things my grandpa gave her. It was just being with him. I realize what she was getting at, and I don’t care about it either. The idea of going back to the giant family estate isn’t appealing. I want to stay right here in Paine’s house for the rest of my life.

Paine grabs my hand, his rough fingers running along my knuckles before he slides the ring on me. He leans up to kiss me, his mouth taking mine possessively like never before. This one is claiming, like he is trying to leave a mark on me for the world to see. Desire shoots through my body, and I try to pull him closer to me, wanting his body against mine. Just as I have this thought, he breaks the kiss and rubs his cheek against mine, both of us breathing heavily. His beard is rough against my soft skin, and I lean into it, loving the feeling.

“None of that tonight, baby. You need to sleep.”

“You said you’d give me whatever I want.” I try to pout, but he turns me over, facing away from him as he comes crawling in behind me, wrapping his arms around me. He pulls my back to his front as he spoons me, and I close my eyes at the feeling of safety. This is something we’ll get to do for the rest of our lives, and I feel another smile pull at my lips.

“Sleep,” he whispers in my ear before placing a kiss on my neck.

“You didn’t even ask me to marry you.”

“Nope,” he says, and wraps his arms around me even tighter. I have a feeling a lot of things with Paine are going to go like this. He wants something and he takes it. It should make me mad, but all I do is smile and drift off to sleep.



Once I know she’s asleep, I slip from the bed, pressing a kiss to her bare shoulder. Fuck, I’m going to love having her in our bed every morning before I go to work. I’ll leave her warm in our bed, knowing she’ll be here when I get home. I may not be able to give her a castle like I told her, but she’ll never go without. The life we’re going to have together, I’ll do anything to have, and no one is going to fuck with my girl. These little games are so beyond over. Done. They keep trying to take her from me, and now I’m going to be the one doing the taking.

Her grandma left her to me, and I’m going to make sure she’s cared for like she should be. I know the next few days are going to be rough, and I don’t want anything making them any harder than they have to be. I’m going to make sure a few people stay out of our way. They’ve done enough damage. She’s spent the last two nights crying—last night because of some lies someone told her, and tonight because of her grandmother. The first night was all their fault, and that shit wasn’t okay.

I change my clothes and grab the keys to my bike, rolling it down the driveway so it doesn’t wake Penelope when I start it. She finally passed out, and she needs her rest to make it through all the details of the funeral. When I get far enough away, I flip my phone open, calling Butch.

“Yo,” he says over the heavy beat of dance music. He’s probably at some bar, chasing tail.

“I need you to watch my house for an hour.”

“On my way.” The line goes dead, and I know he’ll be here quick with no questions asked.

I hop on and start the engine, the chopper roaring to life. I head across town, one location in mind, knowing Butch will make sure no one bugs my girl while I’m gone.

It didn’t take much for me to figure something wasn’t right. It started at the hospital when the doctors were directing all their questions at Penelope and Law while their father stood off silently to the side. I was a little surprised he’d shown up to the hospital at all, but how would it look if the Mayor hadn’t? Everything to him was about looking good in the public eye. He was good at hiding the shit he was covered in.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the Mayor before now because I hadn’t had a reason to. As long as he stayed out of my way I didn’t give two fucks. I’d often wondered how he got elected, but the simple answer was money, and now I’m starting to question if he has any. I know he married into Penelope’s family, but I didn’t know how much control he had over it. I’m really starting to suspect it’s none.

Things like making Penelope marry Scott, his right-hand man were really starting to make sense now. I didn’t understand why he was so hell-bent on it, going so far as to threaten his own daughter if she didn’t. Yeah, I can see a guy like him not wanting her slumming it with the local mechanic, but pushing her into marrying a certain man was outdated, unless he needed to control her. Seems he’s been doing that with Penelope’s grandma to a certain extent. I had a feeling some things were going to be coming to light every soon.

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