“Why rush it?”

I waved my arms. “You were born with this.”

“Sometimes you’re born with it. Sometimes you stumble into it.”

“Supposed I never find it?”

“Suppose you do?” he countered. “Being with me won’t stop that, will it?”

“No, it won’t. But I have a plan.”

He smiled. “Bet you do.”

“Amelia said Preacher promised to find her someone to manage the bar, that her role was just temporary.”

“Here we go,” he muttered.

“So I was thinking, with the experience I have, maybe Preacher would hire me.”

“That’s really what you want to do?”

“For right now, yes. From there, I’ll figure it out.”

He sighed. Stared up at the ceiling. “Okay, fine. And Preacher said yes when I asked him.”

“What? Cage, there you go, doing that protection thing again!”

“Damned straight. Learn to love it.”

“I do. I love it. And you.”

Cage’s expression softened. “I’ve loved you from that phone call, babe.”

I stood and moved to sit in Cage’s lap, asking, “Who are you, Christian Cage Owens?”

“Just a broken guy, Calla. One you shouldn’t be forced to stay with.”

“No one’s been forcing me for a while,” I told him.

“I worry, Calla. I really fucking worry that this life is too violent for you.”

“Soft with steel underneath, remember?” I wasn’t teasing with those words.

“You’ll never get used to it.”

“So you’re not?”

“No,” he said firmly.

“Then how do you do it?”

“I got better at dealing with it.”

“Then so will I.”

Cage fisted a hand on the table. “You shouldn’t have to, dammit. You should be—”

“I want to stay here with you. Want—not have to. Because someone needs to protect you.” I ran my open hand over his fist and he laughed then, a look of disbelief, but ultimately he looked pleased. His hand unfisted and he slid his palm against mine.

He stopped laughing when he saw I wasn’t. Then he said, “Okay, yeah, Calla. You’re right. You have to stay and protect me.”

It was my turn to laugh, which he quickly muffled with a kiss, a kiss that did that Bang—you’re naked thing that seemed to happen around him. Because I belonged in this world—and I belonged with Cage. I also belonged to him, but the best part was that Cage also belonged to me.


Writing a book is never a solitary endeavor, and I’m so grateful to the following people for their help and support.

For the awesome Danielle Perez, whose insights and patience are always invaluable and appreciated. For Kara Welsh and Claire Zion for all their unwavering support, and for everyone at New American Library who helps make my books a success. And I have to give a special shout-out to the art department for their most awesome covers!

For my friends, writing and otherwise, and my readers—the support, encouragement and laughter you supply is more important than you’ll ever know.

For my family, who understand why I spend so long in the writing cave, and who are always waiting for me—usually with dinner—when I crawl out.