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His arms got tight. “Gwen.”

I pressed harder on his chest.

He shook me gently and ordered, “Gwen, give me your eyes.” I looked up at him and he asked, “You want false promises?” I didn’t answer so his face dipped closer. “Baby, I can’t tell the future.”

“I can,” I whispered and pushed hard on his chest.

I succeeded in gaining a few inches until he hauled me right back, his arms locking around me.

“There it is, Gwen, this is that hand you got up,” he said quietly.

“I need coffee, Hawk.”

I tilted my head down and pushed again at his chest but his hand came up, twisted in my hair and tugged back gently so I was looking at him.

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“All right, babe,” he said, “there’s two ways this plays out. I best this situation and you give me all of you, honestly, I could find that’s not what I want and we both move on.”

I yanked my head back but he held firm and kept talking.

“Or,” he went on, “I find treasure and a man who finds treasure does everything he can to protect it and keep it close. I don’t know which way this is gonna go but I’m willin’ to ride it out and see. That’s not a risk I’ve taken in a long time, Gwen, that’s a risk I’ve avoided. But I’m takin’ that risk with you. You step away now, that tells me I’m not worth it to you to take that risk with me.”

I stilled my struggles and stared at him.

“You gonna step away?” he dared.

“I need to think,” I whispered.

He shook his head. “No. No, you don’t. You live in your head too much, you curl up and shut shit out and spend so much time doin’ it, you forget to live your life. You can’t live your life in your head. That isn’t livin’. Trust me, babe, I know. I’ve been doin’ near the same thing for awhile now, so long I forgot what it feels like to be alive. You got in my face that day you got back from Ride and reminded me what it feels like to be alive. Feels good, Sweet Pea, so I’m not goin’ back now.”

Something was clogging my throat but I still managed to ask, “What are you talking about?”

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“You drop that hand and quit fendin’ me off, I’ll tell you.”

“You tell me now, maybe I’ll drop that hand,” I returned.

“Doesn’t work that way, Gwen.”

I started to get mad and said, “Of course not.”

“Babe, you don’t get it.”

“I do,” I told him. “It’s your way or no way.”

“There’s that hand again.”

God! How could I forget how annoying he was?

He wanted it? He was going to get it.

“I loved him,” I announced, Hawk’s body got still and I went on. “A lot. Looking back, I have no freaking idea why but at the time, I was sure. Completely sure. I knew. I was absolutely certain. No doubts. None at all. Does that sound familiar?”

“Babe –”

“Ginger f**ked him on our wedding day.”

On that, Hawk’s body locked and I nodded. “No joke. No one knows. Not even Cam and Tracy. Then, later, she was in some trouble, less than she has now, but she needed to crash at our place so I let her. I was out, don’t remember what I was doing, came home and found them at it again. It all came out then, Ginger told me and Scott didn’t deny it. Ginger, I got it, Ginger did that kind of shit all the time. But Scott, even though I knew, I locked myself in my head and went into denial and pretended. Hoped he’d grow up and grow out of it. But you wake up real fast when you walk into your home and find your husband f**king your sister.”

Hawk stared at me and I kept talking.

“You know, the funny thing is, I think Ginger did it so warn me off. I think Ginger knew exactly what kind of ass**le he was and that was her f**ked up way of protecting me. She wasn’t gleeful when it happened, she didn’t throw it in my face. She seemed relieved. But me, I loved him, I was so sure and I didn’t want to admit I got it that wrong. And when you’re that sure and end up getting it that wrong, you lose faith in yourself, your ability to make the right decisions about your life. So, Hawk, there’s a reason that hand’s up. Because I was sure about you too and for a year and a half you gave me nothing but really great sex. Now you want more but there is no way, no way in hell I’m not going to proceed with extreme caution.”

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His hand cupped my head and his arm pulled me close while he whispered, “Baby.”

No. No. He couldn’t be sweet and get to me. He needed to give me something a whole lot different than sweet.

“You told your man you’d be there in twenty and I need coffee,” I reminded him. “And I also need to think. You might not want that but tough. It’s what I do. So let me go.”

He didn’t let me go. He held me tight and stared into my eyes.

“Hawk –”

“All right, babe, I’ll let you go but I’ll give you this to think about when you crawl into your head. For eight years, I’ve been dead. I had people loyal to me that I trusted and I didn’t let anyone, not one f**kin’ person into those ranks. Then I see this woman at a restaurant who laughs in public like she’s giggling with her girls over coffee at her kitchen table. The only thing I had to give that woman, I gave her. I know everything about you, Gwen, because my boys had orders to report to me daily. Where you went, what you did, who you were with, how you spent your money, who you met, who you talked to on the phone, when the lights went out in your bedroom and they knew you were asleep. I told myself it was because you needed lookin’ after but it wasn’t that, Gwen, it was never that. I didn’t know it then. I didn’t know it until Jorge phoned me and told me to get my ass to base because you were on screen in Ride. I didn’t go to base, I demanded a report, got it and went to your house because I knew your shit just got hot and I knew I was not gonna let anyone harm you. Then I saw the tapes and I knew the next day that both Lawson and Tack were throwin’ down and that’s when I knew no one was gonna have you, not anyone, but me. I haven’t let anyone in in eight years, Sweet Pea, except you. Now, you still got all I’ve got to give but I’m not gonna trust you with the rest until you trust me. So when you crawl into your head, think about that.”

And with that, he let me go and then he was gone. He didn’t vanish, his place was too big to pull that off, but I was immobile with shock, fear and something else, something a whole lot different, something warm and beautiful and that was even scarier, so I didn’t turn around to watch him leave.

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