Page 24

I thought the same thing about her time and time again. "Make yourself at home. Bayla keeps the pantry stocked, and the rest of your stuff including your car will be here in a few days. If you need anything in the meantime, just ask."
Her eyes snapped back to mine and I saw a pink stain start to spread across her high cheekbones.
"She lives here with you?"
It took me a second to understand who the "she" was that Key was talking about.
"Bayla? No. I live alone, but I work a lot and keep odd hours. This is a big house, so someone needs to look after it. She comes and goes as she pleases." I wondered if the heat I had seen on her face could be attributed to jealousy. That idea made my dick even harder than it already was. "Why?"
I would rather have all my teeth yanked out of my face with rusty pliers than tell her that Bayla had indeed been in my bed more often than not. Key was no fool, so she knew I had spent lots and lots of time with beautiful women over the years, but having the evidence of that right in front of her while I was trying to tie her to me with unbreakable chains wasn't in my best interests.
"Don't be ridiculous. I have watched you fuck your way through every pretty girl that happened across your path for years. You might've had your attention on them from time to time, but you were always looking at me." It was arrogant and made her sound so sure of herself, but she wasn't wrong, so I didn't argue.
"I not only looked at you, I always saw you." And I had. I saw the young girl scared but determined to take her clothes off so she could have something more later on down the line. I saw the young woman coming into her own as she realized she could use her looks and her body to rule her world and to control the people around her. I watched the woman she was now, back where she belonged and ready to usher her broken city into something new, something fierce and formidable.
She cocked her head to the side and regarded me solemnly for a long, quiet minute. "I've always seen you too, Nassir. I know who you really are."
I wanted to laugh. No, she didn't. No one did, not even Chuck, and he had almost all the gory details of my past festering and seething somewhere in his memory bank.
"Who am I, Key? Who do you really think I am?" The words sounded harsh and rumbled out from a place deep inside of my soul. Maybe if she could answer that question, I could finally have some peace. Maybe I could forget the horrible things I had done and the horrible things I was bound to keep on doing to keep my throne.
Calmly and totally serious she told me, "You're the opposite of a good man, Nassir, but that doesn't mean you aren't my man." Her stormy eyes flashed at me. "You're my man, and my devil . . . it depends on the day."
I didn't get a chance to respond because she turned on her heel and glided out of the kitchen. Even if I had had time to fire something back at her, I wasn't sure there was anything to say. She was right. I was the devil. I made bargains for souls that weren't mine and I played with fire every single time I stepped foot in the Point. Sins and vices were my playthings and punishment was second nature to me. Suffering felt like old hat and I was pretty sure any soul I might still have left after the life I had led before was now tainted with so much soot and blackness that there was no way it could ever come clean. She saw that part of me and she was still here.
She also saw the part of me that was reserved for her and her alone. The part of me that wanted to protect the innocent, that wanted to give the untouched and the unforgiven a fighting chance . She saw the part of me that still managed to care even though it had never known kindness or softness. It was the part of me she awakened when she looked up at me from the stage when she was just a kid.
I tossed the empty bottle in the recycle bin, scooped up my dirty shirt, and headed out toward the main part of the house. The guest rooms were upstairs on one side of the expansive sprawl and the master was on the other. I had some numbers to run before opening day and I was still waiting on a call from Chuck about whoever had been careless in the cooler earlier, but I was tired. Going head-to-head with Key and the sexual tension still humming in my blood made me feel lethargic.
I was surprised to see Bayla sitting on my white leather couch when I entered the living room. She was quiet and very discreet, which is why I kept her around. She was also very nice to look at and sucked cock like a champ, which had just been a side benefit of bringing her on before I knew Keelyn was going to be under the same roof. She typically knew when to make herself scarce, so I figured her appearance had to do with the woman that was back and determined to turn my entire world end over end.
"Why are you still here?"
The younger woman lifted her dark eyebrows and rose in an elegant motion off the couch. She walked toward me and took the shirt I was still holding out of my hands. I had sacrificed more than one really nice garment to the blood and grime that infiltrated my day-to-day, but this one was still salvageable.
"I'll drop this off at the cleaners for you on my way back into town. How long should I expect your guest to be staying?"
My jaw clenched, and I almost tugged the shirt back out of her hands. I didn't like being questioned about anything, and as far as Keelyn was concerned, I wasn't going to try to explain that situation to anyone.
"For as long as she wants. Her stuff will be here tomorrow, and she better feel welcome. Do you hear what I am saying to you, Bayla?"
She had never struck me as jealous or proprietary before. Other women had come and gone on her watch, but Key was the first who was allowed to stay.
"I understand perfectly, Nassir. You like to pretend to be made of stone and ice, but you cannot stop yourself from trying to save tragic women. I have seen that firsthand."
They weren't tragic, they were innocent. When I had the means to offer someone the chance to save themselves, I never let it pass. I knew all about being on someone else's leash and coming to heel for a master I never wanted to serve, so I couldn't stop myself from offering the innocent a way out whenever I could. All of the people that worked for me knew there was a way out, there was no contract or intimidation, and I held that up as especially important for the women that worked for me. If they didn't want to dance, if they tired of selling sex, I made sure they had an escape route, and I always did my very best to make sure I had a spot for them in one of the less "objectifying" areas of my business. Few took me up on it. Selling sex was easy, and with me to keep them safe and vet their clients, the women that worked for me often did so without much thought to the future. I'd offered Key more than one exit strategy over the years, but the woman was determined to save herself. She was as far from tragic as they came, and that was one of the primary reasons I could never get her out of my system.

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