“This is one of my guys,” he tells me, crouching down and rolling the guy over.
“He was at my bakery. He…he is the reason Thad got inside,” I repeat in a stammer, watching as the guy’s eyes open and then focus on me.
“He was my inside source for the men Thad was working for,” Kai says, helping Pika sit up.
“What do you mean he was working for you?” I look at the injured man then at Kai.
“Why don’t you come with me?” Aye suggests softly, grabbing my hand.
“No.” I shake his touch off and cross my arms over my chest. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?” I glare at Kai.
“There was no reason to,” he says, looking at me like I’m crazy for even asking.
“No reason?” I shake my head in disbelief. His audacity is absolutely ridiculous.
“He was doing a job,” Aye chimes in.
My head swings his way and his hands go up in front of him to warn me off.
“I’m sorry,” Pika says as Kai helps him to stand.
“You’re sorry? You’re sorry you allowed men to follow you into my shop, or are you sorry you watched as Thad kicked me in the ribs while I was curled up in a ball and begging him to stop? Or are you sorry that you set my bakery on fire? Please clarify which part you’re sorry about!” I yell, and my chest heaves as I attempt to take a full breath.
“All of it,” he whispers, unsure, looking at me then Kai.
“Thanks. I feel so much better now that I know you’re sorry,” I say, shoving through the three of them and walking down the hall towards the living room.
I need to go clear my head. I can’t say that I have gotten over what happened, but since being here, I’ve found it easy to pretend like I’m safe. Now, seeing him makes me realize how much I have let my guard down, and that is something I never want to risk happening again.
I rush out of the house and walk out to the water’s edge until the waves rush over my feet.
“If he could have helped you, he would have.”
I look over my shoulder, toward the sound of Kai’s voice, and watch him walk up to me wearing another shirt.
“He would have, but he knew he couldn’t risk them finding out he worked for me.”
I feel my throat clog, turn my head away, and look back out over the ocean, not wanting to acknowledge his words. “He watched.” I take a deep breath, letting the smell of the salt water clear my head. “He watched and did nothing,” I murmur, wrapping my arms around myself as my words get lost in the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.
“I’ve known him since I was seventeen,” Kai says closer to me than I expected, surprising me by wrapping an arm around my shoulders. “If he could have stopped it, he would have.”
I stiffen slightly before forcing my body to relax and lean into his embrace. Deep in my soul, I know he’s right, but I’m still angry. I’m angry that Pika saw me in a moment of weakness, angry I couldn’t do anything even when I had done everything to make myself stronger. Angry that I never took into consideration the amount of fear I would feel when I came face-to-face with a part of my past that had terrified me for so many years.
“I forgot,” I whisper, shaking my head, watching as the sun turns the sky orange and red.
“Forgot what?” he asks softly, his fingers sending tingles down my arm through the fabric of his shirt.
“That I’m in danger. That I need to watch my back,” I say, and his arm tightens around me.
“You’re safe here.”
I tilt my head back and look up at him as he towers over me. His chin dips, and our eyes connect.
“I promised you I would protect you. Trust me to do that,” he says softly as his eyes search my face.
My eyes focus on his, and I notice for the first time that he has a dark ring of brown around the outside and an almost-copper color that shoots out from around the center.
“Trust me to do that,” he repeats.
I feel his warm breath against my skin. And I wish in that moment that I were someone worthy enough of someone like him.
“I’m trying.” My eyes close. I pull away from him and then step farther out into the water.
“I need to go meet someone,” he says regretfully after a moment.
“Sure,” I murmur without taking my eyes off the sea.
“I’d like it if you’d go with me.”
I turn my head to look at him. His hands are in his pockets and his shoulders are slumped forward. The vulnerability I see on his face makes me nod in agreement immediately. The only time we have spent together is when we have met for meals or when he has needed me to talk to someone with him. I only recently found out that the room I have been staying in is his. He claimed that the bed is much better than the others in the house and refused to take the room back even after I insisted. And something about sleeping in his bed has made me feel closer to him—and safer in a strange way.
“Where are we going?” I ask after a moment.
“You’ll see. Dress casual.” He smiles, and a piece of hair blows onto his lip.
I fight the urge to close the space between us and remove it with my finger, using that as an excuse to see if his lips are as soft as they look.
“Did you hear me?” he asks.
My eyes focus on his. I feel my cheeks get pink when I notice the small smile on his handsome face.
“Sorry. No,” I admit.
“I asked if you could be ready in the next hour.”
“Oh, yeah… Sure,” I say, hoping I don’t sound as anxious as I feel.
He watches me for a moment before nodding once, turning away, and walking back towards the house. I watch him go, wondering what exactly I’m feeling. Since the moment I met Kai, I have felt some kind of strange pull towards him. But as much as he entices me, he scares me.
The only men I have been with have been lanky and soft-spoken, men I knew I could get away from if I needed to. I hate to say it, but I was very promiscuous for a while. It was like something in me had flipped and I realized the power I had. I realized I had the ability to say yes or no when it came to sex, and I wanted to prove to myself I could be intimate with someone—and maybe not completely enjoy the act—but it would be my choice.
I’m not proud of the way I acted or the way I used men. But like most things in life, it’s something I learned from, and it helped me grow and become a better person.
Kai is like none of the men I’ve been with. He’s large and intimidating. Though he is soft with me, I have seen him speak to some of the people who work for him, so I know that his gentleness is not always his way. I also cannot imagine him letting me be in charge the way I’m used to.