He chuckled and started up the front steps.
"Seriously, a guy that only wears Armani and Prada does not live in the middle of the forest like a lumberjack. What is going on here?"
"Sanctuary can look different for everyone, hon. It can look like a seedy strip club or a cabin in the woods. As long as that place feels safe to the people inside that's all that matters."
I followed him to the front door and waited while he rang the bell. I felt like someone had dropped me in the middle of a horror movie and any second now a psycho killer was going to jump out of the woods and hack me to bits. This couldn't be real life. My incredulity grew even larger when a woman that looked to be in her early twenties opened the door and smiled at Chuck.
She was dressed in all black and her gaze sharpened when it landed on me. She was really pretty, very petite, with long chocolate-colored hair and eyes. Her figure was killer and I knew from experience the shoes she had on her dainty little feet cost well over a grand. I couldn't help but stare at them as she ushered us into the house. I didn't know who she was but she seemed friendly enough toward Chuck even if she dismissed me as soon as I stepped over the threshold.
"Nassir is in the kitchen. He told me to expect a guest. I have a room made up for you in the guest wing of the house."
She didn't introduce herself, didn't spare me another look, just turned on those spectacular heels and disappeared somewhere into the belly of the house.
I looked at Chuck out of the corner of my eye. "She seems nice."
He grinned at me and guided me toward where I assumed the kitchen was. "Bayla used to work for the boss in a different capacity." He lifted his eyebrows up and I nodded that I understood. She was one of his escorts. Figured. Girls that looked like that really only had a few options when it came to making a living in the Point and most of them involved selling themselves in one way or another.
"When the house was completed he offered her a job looking after it. I think they come from similar backgrounds, and contrary to popular belief, the boss can be empathetic."
I wanted to ask exactly where it was they had come from. I really knew so little about the man that been such a huge factor in my life for so long. The words never made it out, though, because we rounded the corner and I suddenly found myself in a sprawling, totally modern kitchen that had all the glass and stainless steel the outside of the house was missing. I was impressed, but it was the sight of Nassir, shirtless, with his back to me as he scrubbed his hands in the massive farm sink, that made me go numb.
He was muttering softly in a foreign language that didn't sound foreign to him at all and beneath the black ink that covered his pretty gold skin I could see mottled bruises along his ribs and across his shoulders. The tattoo was startling in its detail and size, but it was the man under it that made my mouth dry and my hands start to shake. I must have made a noise because he turned around from the sink and let his molten gaze drift over me as I stared at him dumbly.
His collarbone had a fist-size black-and-blue mark on it and there was a really ugly splotch of purple that sat right above his pants on one side. Underneath his fancy clothes he looked just as rough and beaten as the rest of us did
. I moved forward when I noticed that his hands weren't only wet with water but also pink with blood.
"Were you fighting?" I knew he had been since Reeve told me so, but I couldn't imagine he had gone and found a fight in the few hours we had been separated.
I didn't even notice Chuck had made a silent exit as I grabbed Nassir's damp hands in my own. The skin was abraded and rubbed raw. It looked like he had taken a tumble off a bicycle and caught himself on asphalt.
As I was standing this close to him, with him being half dressed, the heat that popped off of him and hit me was almost enough to make my knees buckle. My devil was hot and he knew it. I could see the way my reaction to such a simple touch pleased him.
"These aren't from a fight. One of the shelves fell over in the cooler. I had to dive out of the way." His long fingers curled over so that he was holding my hands on top of his own. "The bruises, though . . . they are from a fight here or there."
My pulse kicked and I was sure he could feel it because his fingers tightened fractionally. I could tell how badly he wanted to curl his fingers around mine and pull me closer to him.
"Why were you fighting?" I wanted to hear him say he was sorry, that he felt bad for sending that homeless man to scare me. I wanted him to admit he was wrong and that he had purposely let himself take those bursting blows, hurting himself on the outside because he wasn't the kind of man that would ever admit he hurt on the inside for the mistakes he had made.
One of his raven-colored brows arched up and the corner of his lush mouth tilted up in a grin that actually hurt me to look at.
"Because you weren't here." That was as much of an apology and an explanation as I would ever get from him. So simple yet so unbelievably complicated. Everything with this man always was.
I pulled my hands off of his and took a step closer to him. When I was almost nose to nose with him, I reached out and touched the nasty spot right above his waist. I saw his abs constrict at the featherlight touch and it made me grin. His injured hands curled into fists at his sides.
"Well, I'm here now, so no more fighting to go along with the no touching."
I watched his jaw clench and his eyes light up at the center like a hot ember.
"We've been fighting against each other for years, Key. Are you going to stop? Are you ever going to let one of us win?" I pressed so close to him that he had to suck in a breath and lean against the counter to stay upright and support my weight without putting his hands on me.
"It hasn't been fighting, Nassir. It's been foreplay."
He wouldn't touch me, but I sure as hell was going to touch him. My lips touched his and I felt him suck in a breath so hard that it stole the air from my lungs. I felt his muscles tense up and in my head I added a check box next to my name for this small victory . . . that is, until he somehow maneuvered me around so that my back was to the counter, our bodies pressed together and perfectly aligned, my hands in his too long hair and his tongue in my mouth, all without laying a finger on me.
The second her lips touched mine I knew the years of waiting, of wanting, had been worth it.