He falls silent again for a moment before his eyes find mine. “That’s why people in town don’t like me. They’re scared. There was always talk about whether or not what I did was actually an accident. I got tired of dealing with the bullshit in the town and the bullshit with my mom, so the day I turned 18, I enlisted in the Navy.”
“Thank you for telling me,” I whisper.
“Does it make you want to run?” The way he looks at me shows how scared he really is of my answer.
I grab each side of his face and bring him toward me for a kiss. “Not at all. I’m not going anywhere.”
His arms wrap around my waist as he pulls me into his lap. He holds me so tight, like he never wants to let me go.
“Avery, I’ve seen things–and done things–in my life that I’m not proud of. Things that keep me up at night with some of the worst nightmares one can imagine. I’ve had them every single night since I got out of the Navy–until the first night I spent with you.”
“Somehow, sleeping next to you calms my tortured soul. Avery, I don’t know that I will ever be able to explain to you some of the things that I’ve seen–or the things that I’ve done–but you have no idea how much you just being here helps me. You’re my angel without even trying.”
This big, strong man looks at me with tears in his eyes. I can’t fathom the things that he has gone through in his life, but I can’t help but feel the overwhelming need to help him through it.
I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him close for a hug. I feel him choke out a sob against my shoulder as he melts into me. Right now, in this moment, nothing else matters. It makes no difference that I have a whole other life back in Boston. It doesn’t matter that this man and I haven’t known each other all that long. All that matters is that he knows I’m here for him.
We are here for each other.
We are quiet for a few moments before Duke finally says, “I’m sorry I just showed up like this. I probably shouldn’t have just barged in.”
“It’s alright,” I tell him. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“Really?” He seems surprised.
I shrug my shoulders. “Yeah. I guess I kind of missed you.”
“Do you want me to stay?” I can hear the slight nervousness in his voice.
“I’d like that.”
He lets out a relieved sigh. “Thank God. I don’t know if I could have left if you said no.”
“Come on. Let’s snuggle up and get comfortable.”
He stands up and takes off his boots, jeans, and t-shirt. As usual, I’m in awe of his large, sexy body. Typically, I’d be ready to jump his bones at this point, but right now, I don’t think it’s what either of us need.
He gets into bed, and I slide next to him, getting comfortable in the crook of his arm and laying my head on his chest. His fingers start to rake gently through my hair, and instantly, I’m at ease.
My fingers lightly drag across his chest and stomach. When I get near his heart, I stop, feeling what seems to be a scar.
“What’s this?” I ask, surprised I haven’t noticed it before.
“The reason I left the SEALS.”
I consider asking him about it, but he’s already opened up so much tonight, I’m not sure that I want to push my limit.
As if he can feel my sudden apprehension, Duke says, “I’ll tell you the story sometime.”
“Okay,” I say, squeezing him just a little tighter.
It doesn’t take long before I feel Duke’s breathing even out, and I figure he’s fallen asleep. I’m not far behind, but there’s one thought that keeps plaguing me that I’m finding harder and harder to push to the back of my mind.
How the hell am I going to leave Duke after this house is finished?