Sweet Eternity Excerpt

Chapter One

Ginny

Wishes or weapons?

If words were weapons, I would be bleeding out this very moment, cut more deeply than flesh and bone, straight down to the heart. I would be bleeding out internally while the man I hated as much as I loved watched from above as he pinned me to the mattress.

If words were wishes, I would be in heaven on earth: whole, happy, and complete, because the love I had longed for was finally being returned in equal measure. The proof of it was engraved in precious metal, set in the same shape of the metaphorical heart I had given him years ago, hanging and unlocked. It was on display for the world to see, from my very own neck.

I didn’t need for the world to see it, though. No. In a way, I wanted to keep this moment and the sight to myself, sort of like a dragon hoarding her treasure.

“G on the outside, and L on the inside. Our initials on the same heart, angel … because you’ve always carried mine with you wherever you go.”

The problem was, words were both wishes and weapons. They destroyed as much as they fixed. As much as I wanted those words to heal every scar, fill every hole, and make me whole again, there were other words—promises, really—that prevented it.

Words spoken by another man in my life: my father.

“I would hate for something to happen to you, darling.”

The man truly didn’t care one way or the other if anything happened to me. My mother, however, was an entirely different story.

Richard Wellington lived and breathed for his wife. He wanted to conquer the world for her; present it on a silver platter as if it were her heart’s desire. He had convinced himself that, if he could give her anything and everything, she would never leave him again. Therefore, he had to be the strongest, the richest, the best. Nothing else would do.

What he couldn’t comprehend was that, instead of giving her everything she wanted, he was holding her hostage in a prison of love and hate. As in, she hated herself for how much she loved him. She also hated that he would use me, the child she loved beyond measure, as a pawn to keep her in line.

If I didn’t find a way to get back to my father, there was no telling what he would do.

What was the saying? There’s a thin line between love and hate?

Was it possible for Richard Wellington to go off the deep end and hurt my mother in his determination to get me back? I would never forgive myself if anything happened to her.

Staring silently into Lucas’s imploring hazel eyes, I knew what I had to do, even if it killed every emotion I had left.

I took a deep breath for courage and forced the words out, “Take me back.”

He flinched as if I had slapped him. I supposed hearing that from me had been a metaphorical slap in the face.

“Are you fucking kidding me, Ginny? Why in the hell would you want to go back?”

If I told him the truth, he would never let me walk out the door. No, if Lucas knew I was trying to go back because I was afraid for my mother’s safety, he wouldn’t let me move an inch. His angry outburst at the restaurant when he had confronted me about not telling him the truth about my situation had shown me a side of Lucas that I had convinced myself was only the wishful dreaming of a young girl—the boy from across the street had turned into a man who would ride off into the sunset with her. Or, perhaps it would be better to describe him as a warrior determined to protect his territory.

I wouldn’t even say Lucas was acting as if he was a soldier who had put aside his battered fatigues. He might have shed his Green Beret uniform, but as I looked at him now, really looked at him, it was easy to see who he really was.

A champion.

He was a man who got up after he was knocked down. A defender of the weak, and a savior of the oppressed. A man who was more terrified of losing, whereas everyone else was afraid of winning.

His features were schooled into a mask, his lips drawn into a firm line, but his eyes screamed disbelief mixed with anger. His breathing was calm and even, yet I could sense the internal storm raging. His ire was so charged it was like lightning; determination rolling like storm clouds. Somehow, though, he managed to hold his temper at bay.

God, it hurt my heart to see his passion for protecting me. Just when I thought I couldn’t feel an iota more emotional pain when it came to this man, a fresh wound tore through me, and it burned. After all, this man was the knight of my dreams come to life. No armor needed, and the only horsepower he believed in was in a strong engine. He was, nonetheless, a protector of the weak, trying to right the wrongs he saw in the world. He was on a quest to save the princess from the dragon.

Too bad the princess was determined to keep her knight far, far away from the dragon’s lair. And to do that, I had to do some very un-princess-like things: lie, manipulate … stab him in the back—anything if it kept him safe in the end. Wasn’t that the meaning of protecting the person you loved by whatever means necessary?

“I didn’t ask you to come storming back into my life. Nor did I ask you to shoot my fiancé, or try to save me from my father—”

“You didn’t ask me?” He shook his head in frustration. “You didn’t tell me. And you sure as shit didn’t give me an S.O.S. Here’s the thing, angel; I don’t need a bat signal to see you’re knee-deep in shit with no shovel to get yourself out of it.”

My frayed nerves snapped, and I lashed out at him … literally.

With a shriek of rage, I reached up with both hands and slapped them on his chest and abdomen, trying to push him off me. Still, he straddled my waist, effectively holding me down with little to no effort. If I didn’t get some space between us, I was going to lose my mind.

Lucas tried to grab both my hands, succeeding in capturing one, and then froze in place as I pointed an accusing finger in his face with the other.

“You’re still a sarcastic pain in the ass; you know that?” I tried to push him off with my free hand again, but he struck as fast as a snake, grabbing it and securing it against his body.

Leaning forward, he growled down at me, “That’s right, baby. I’m still the overbearing jackass I was when we were growing up. And you know what? You’re still the little girl trying to hide from all her big, bad problems. Looks like we haven’t changed a bit.”

Using my stomach muscles to pull myself up until our faces were only a half a foot apart, I desperately screamed back, “Wrong! You’re wrong again.” Dropping my body back to the bed, I continued, “I’m not the same girl you used to know. Didn’t we already cover this? You told me I was a crappy veneer of who I used to be. Well, this crappy veneer is trying to get it through your thick skull that I’ve permanently changed.

“People change, Lucas. As much as you want to hold on to the person I was, she moved on. I have a life now with Jay, one you violently snatched me out of without even asking if I wanted to leave. Now you have a problem, because I want to go back. Tough shit for you. Take me home, Lucas, so I can make sure my fiancé is okay.”

For several long seconds, I waited for the verbal shot back, the anger from my accusation of basically kidnapping me—something. Instead, I got nothing. He had gone still the moment I had said fiancé, his muscles locked so tightly he could have been made from stone. Those burning eyes stared a hole into my soul, looking through me and into me, as if I were glass instead of flesh and bone, reading all my deepest, darkest fears.

I was doing my best to stay strong and not let the fear I felt all the way down to my core show in any way, to hide my true intentions of trying to save him. Only, his eyes were looking at me as if he could see it all.

Dread slowly overtook me as he watched, not saying a word, until I felt like my throat had an invisible hand around it, choking the life out of me.

Just when my lungs started to burn and I thought I had forgotten to breathe altogether, he moved. Slowly, steadily, and surely, he started shifting backward.

Hope surged through me as I became certain he was letting me up from off the bed, which meant he had believed my ploy. I would leave, call my father, and then leave Lucas behind where he would be safe and sound. However, it didn’t take long for my hope to stagger as he resituated himself between my legs, using his legs to push my loose pencil skirt up until my limbs were spread out far enough to cradle his hips.

The shift made me realize two things: one, Lucas wasn’t letting me go; and two, the lump pressed snugly against my thigh was my cell phone.

In the commotion of today’s events, I had forgotten all about this skirt having the secret pockets and me having put the phone in the left one before I had left, in lieu of bringing my purse.

That phone was a direct link between me and my father. Not because I could call him, but because he used a GPS tracker on it. As long as I had the phone, Richard Wellington could find me, a fact he hadn’t bothered to hide.

I didn’t know what scared me more in that moment: the thought of my father tracking us down and killing Lucas, or the chance of Lucas discovering the phone.

The phone was a blessing and a curse. There was a good possibility that it might be my only chance of getting out of here without Lucas getting hurt, if I could only slip away and put some distance between us. If I didn’t manage to do that, there was no doubt in my mind that Dexter, or another of my father’s men, would come in here and put a bullet in Lucas’s head.

My racing thoughts were cut short when Lucas continued to move unhurriedly as he descended until we were nose to nose, breathing each other’s air. My hands were now trapped between our bodies, and his forearms were holding his weight on either side of my head. This close, all I could see was the determined gleam in his beautiful hazel eyes.

Anticipation over his next move was quickly killing me, and my breathing turned into short, rapid pants as he ran the tip of his nose down the bridge of mine. Once he reached the tip, he brushed it in the slightest, sweetest touch, and then whispered, “Ginny.”

I couldn’t respond. At any given moment, my heart was going to explode. Only, I wasn’t sure if my heart would combust because of my fear of getting Lucas killed, or from being so close to the person I wanted most with every bone in my body yet knew I could never have. Thus, I simply lay there, savoring the warm cinnamon scent of his breath, waiting to see what he would do while my mind frantically searched for a MacGyver-like skill to get me out of this predicament.

Sliding my eyes over to the nightstand, I took in the contents on the table: a rubber band and a paperclip. I wondered if my less than genius brain could use them in some sort of clever way to escape.

When I didn’t respond to him because I was still staring at my less than stellar escape supplies, he clicked his tongue in admonishment. “Ginny, Ginny, Ginny … Oh, angel, don’t you know?”

This question brought my attention back to him, glaring at him incredulously. What exactly did he think I should know? That he was almost as delusional as my father? If that was the case, then I could easily tell him the message was coming through loud and clear.

Of course, Lucas never seemed to say what I expected him to, and this moment was no different.

“I don’t need to take you home, angel. Can’t you see it? I am your home.”

What? I didn’t need to ask Lucas to clarify, though. He just kept talking as he rubbed his nose alongside mine.

“You belong with me, by my side. It’s where you were always meant to be. It took me too many years and mistakes to figure that out, and now that I have, I’m never making the mistake of letting you go again. So, prepare yourself, angel, because I’m a man on a mission, and my only objective is to show you that I will not let anything, or anyone, including ourselves, stand in the way of us being together ever again.”

Lucas

The Army never prepared me for this, nor did Special Forces or war. I was on top of the biggest emotional landmine … and I wasn’t sure I was going to survive the explosion.

As I ran the tip of my nose across the tip of Ginny’s, savoring the feeling of her soft skin and the intimacy of the moment, I did my best to pull my shit together internally.

Gin’s soft body pressed back against my own. I didn’t think she realized it, but her entire body was trembling from head to toe. It was the only tell she gave that she was lying through her pretty little teeth.

Where had she learned to control her emotions like that?

My gut churned with the possibilities of why she would need to learn that skill so completely.

I expected that behavior from someone such as myself. The Army had made damn sure I was the most effective soldier they could possibly produce. That had been done through years of training and experience in hostile conditions.

Why was the woman underneath me almost as good at masking her emotions as I was? Why would she ever need to develop such a talent, unless she had been in fear for herself?

Just the notion of why was enough to almost lose my composure. I had to hold it together, though. Lying underneath me was an atomic bomb hidden in one tiny woman. One wrong move, and she was going to blow us to smithereens.

Restraining the need to comfort her and stop her trembling, I pulled back until we were no longer breathing the same air and gazed into the blue eyes that had haunted me for years.

Part of me was waiting for a response to the declaration I had just given her—that I was her home. The other part was ready to show her that she was just as much my home. My sanctuary, really. Now I had to show her that I could be her sanctuary, too. Keep her safe, loved.

“Remember that tree in the field near our houses that you used to sit under and draw?”

Her brows crinkled in confusion as she nodded once.

“Now think about those days when we would sit there. You would draw, and I would sit there for hours, not saying a word, just watching you. Do you know why I did that?”

Her features turned a little nervous as she silently shook her head.

Bending down, I brushed my lips across hers as I said, “Because my whole world felt right when I sat there with you. We didn’t have to say a word; just had to sit there and let the world pass around us. You would be lost in your art … And, angel, I was always lost in you.”

Ginny’s breath hitched.

I didn’t give her a chance to say anything, not when I could feel her muscles relaxing. She was slowly giving in to me.

With my right hand, I reached up and smoothed some of her hair between my finger and thumb. “The sun would filter through the leaves, making your hair glow like a halo around your beautiful face, and I would think I was the luckiest guy in the world right then to be sitting there with you.”

Her eyes glassed over in emotion. Good, I was getting through my feisty angel’s barriers.

Releasing her hair, I dragged a finger down her cheek. “These pretty pale cheeks would turn red whenever I caught you watching me out of the corner of your eye. I always knew you were embarrassed, but what you didn’t know was those little blushes were the fuel for my fantasies. I would imagine you flushed like that because I had kissed you breathless. I pictured you turning even more red as I touched you everywhere to make you feel good. I even dreamed of watching other parts of you blush like that because of our lovemaking.”

Everything I told her was the truth. Not one exaggeration. So, as her little nipples hardened and pushed at the silk fabric of her shirt, rubbing against my chest with her increasingly rapid breathing, it felt like a shot of testosterone to my dick. My words were doing this to her, making her feel the raw edge of my emotions. Making her hot for the same touches I was telling her about.

Running that same finger slowly over her plump bottom lip, I said, “And these lips … Damn, woman, how you killed me with these lips. You would be so lost in your art, lost to the world around you, as you put to paper what was in your head. And you would nibble on this lip. It made me think of you nibbling on other parts of me with these lips.”

Ginny’s body arched into mine, a reaction that told me she wanted me physically, just as badly as I wanted her. Now I just had to make her realize she still wanted me that much emotionally, too.

“You know what still is my favorite part of you, though?”

She shook her head, still not uttering a word. Was she afraid the dam on her emotions would break if she opened her mouth, and she would give in to this connection that was inevitable between us?

Languidly, as if we had all the time in the world, I traced my finger down to her chin, over her vulnerable throat I’d had in my hand moments ago, and over her collarbones. Her back arched off the bed again, and she tried to thrust her breast into my hand, but I lifted my palm, hovering it over her nipple. As much as I wanted to massage the fleshy orb, I had something more important to do.

Ginny dropped her back to the bed again uncertainly, and with my eyes locked on hers, I slowly moved my hand down, sliding it under the V-neck of her blouse. My fingers searched, finding the prize I sought.

Her heart.

To be more specific, her heartbeat, which was thumping strongly and steadily under my touch.

“I love everything about you: the way you look, the way you talk, even the way you think. But the thing I love most is your heart. It’s the biggest, sweetest, most loyal one I’ve ever met. It’s why you told Rachel that you forgave her a week after she tried to embarrass you that day at school.” Gin’s heart was starting to race beneath my palm. “It’s why you put up with my denials, the hurt, and the space I put between us for years.”

By the end of my sentence, her heart was damn near thundering, giving me all the indication I needed that she was hearing every word.

“It’s why you kept yours and your mother’s secret for years upon years. It’s also why I know, with every bone in my body, that you don’t really want to go back to your father. But for some reason, you feel like you have to.”

A lone tear slipped from the corner of her left eye and trailed down the side of her face.

“I know you don’t want to marry that fuckwad, because your heart has always belonged to me … even when I was too stupid to do right by it.”

Another tear fell, and I was sure I was almost through that emotional stonewall she had erected between us.

“Just like I also know, as much as I hurt you, you never stopped loving me. And I know that without a doubt because I never stopped loving you, either. You and me, we’re the sort of stuff they write romance novels about, baby. Because anyone with two eyes and half a brain can see we’re meant to be together.”

Gin sniffed as more tears started to fall.

“When all of this is said and done, I’m going to take you back to that tree so we can sit there together again. So you can sit in my arms the way you should have then and feel what I felt back then. The rest of the world can go to hell around us, but as long as I have you, I have my home. And I refuse to ever be homeless without the shelter of your love ever again.”