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Protecting His Own Part 12

Tucking her phone into her back pocket, Beth rose from the desk and frowned at the silence. Facebook had a meme about silent puppies meaning trouble. Over the past week, shed learned that logic also applied to little boys.

She walked down the stairs and checked the clock. Four p.m. Nolan should be home soon. She needed to get some supper started. This evening, shed update the scheduling for her clients, including Alastair and Max, and work on a new landscape design for a day spa. Nolan would probably take the boys out for some hide n seek or something.

Juggling work and children made for interesting times. Thank goodness, her job was flexible, and her yard guys had been happy to pick up some extra hours. Nolan had been working shorter days, as well.

But for the joy of having the children around? She wouldnt change a thing.

Hey, guys. She poked her head into their bedroom. No one there. Grant? Connor? Where are you?

No answer.

A quick search showed they werent in the house.

Frowning, she stepped out onto the covered patio. Empty. No sign of them in the yard. They werent by the pool or on the dock"which they shouldnt be able to reach anyway. Relieved, she checked her potting shed on the left of the house. No one there. So she crossed to the right.

Voices. In Nolans workshop.

She opened the door. At the workbench, Connor stood on a small stepladder to be able to see. Grant was pushing a plug into the wall.

Itd turn on the bandsaw.

Stop!

Grant spun around. Connor tumbled off the ladder onto his butt.

Taking a shaky breath, she told herself to relax. Hopeless. All she could see was her cousins little finger"missing half because hed been careless with his bandsaw. Her imagination provided Connors screams. God. She tried to calm herself, and her voice still came out too high and harsh. You arent allowed in the workshop without a grownup. Shed told them that when shed shown them around. Out.

With a terrified squeak, Connor darted past her. Grant ran after him.

She followed them to the house. Easy, Beth. Stay calm. Rational.

Was she supposed to punish them because theyd disobeyed her? Oh heavens. Her dad wouldve swatted her butt, but shed grown up knowing the rules. What kind of discipline was appropriate when a child was still new to a household? Even a timeout sounded too cruel.

Theyd fled to their bedroom and closed the door.

She tapped, waited for a response, and opened the door when she didnt get one.

In the corner, they were using the small table as a barricade. At least they werent hiding under the bed.

Rather than penning them in, she left the door open and leaned against the wall. I know the workshop is filled with interesting equipment. But its not a safe place for children. Thats why I asked you to stay out of it.

Connors chin quivered. His back was to the wall.

She moved forward. Oh, honey, youre safe. Im not"

Grant stepped in front of his brother. Leave him alone! I wont let you whip him, you-you bitch.

Beth closed her eyes for a second, almost in tears herself. How had this gone so wrong? Grant, I wouldnt.

Whats up? The ominous growl came from behind her. Nolan was home. He set a hand on her shoulder. Protectively.

Dont be mad at them. She blocked him. Grants just afraid and is protecting Connor.

What happened? His gaze was level.

She didnt answer soon enough, and he turned his attention to the boys. Grant. What happened?

Grants small hands closed into fists. We went into the workhouse. To play.

With the equipment? Nolans voice darkened.

Grant nodded. But didnt move from in front of his brother. Such a little protector.

I see. Nolan considered. Grant, walk with me. Beth, can you talk with Connor?

Yes, Sir. Her automatic answer won her a brief tilt of his lips before he motioned to Grant and walked out of the room without waiting. So self-confident. He never doubted someone would obey him.

Grant moved toward the door, although she could see his reluctance. He was afraid to leave Connor with her, and a band of sadness squeezed her chest.

She curled her hand around his arm and slowed him long enough to whisper, I wont hurt Connor. Honey, Ive never whipped anyone in my life, and Im not going to start now.

When she felt his muscles relax, she kissed the top of his head and nudged him into moving again.

As he disappeared, she took a seat on one bed, studying her bare feet. Giving both of them a chance to calm down.

After a minute, she glanced at Connor. His color had come back. He wasnt flat against the wall. She patted the bed. Cmon and sit beside me.

Like a terrified kitten, he advanced with tiny, heartbreakingly tentative steps. Then he was on the bed"and didnt run when she carefully tucked an arm around him.

When he leaned against her, her heart started to beat normally. Oh, Connor. I didnt mean to frighten you. Im sorry, honey. She swallowed. I got upset because the bandsaw could have hurt you. I was really scared for you.

Eyes the color of dark chocolate went wide. Had any child been more precious? Unable to help herself, she pulled him closer.

Scaredfor me?

Yes, for you. She was still shaking, in fact. Those saws can be dangerous. Let me tell you about my cousin. A story"minus the gruesome details"was the finest way to give a warning and make real the danger.

Okay. When he rested his little head trustingly against her chest, relief and love tightened her throat so thoroughly she couldnt speak at all.

IN THE GREAT room, Grant saw Nolanman crossing the patio outside. He hurried to catch up.

His stomach felt funny, all shaky, and he wanted to go back to his brother. But Beth had said she wouldnt hurt Connor. Shed said that. And her voice hadnt been loud. Her eyes hadnt been madno, shed almost seemed as if she might cry.

Connord be okay.

The air was hot outside and the sun too bright, and Grants breathing was going all funny, too fast as if hed been running. But Nolan was mad at him. And Nolan was awful big.

He followed the man down the sidewalk toward the lake. At the fence, Nolan punched in the numbers for the lock, opened the gate, and waited.

Carefully, Grant eased past him, and the gate closed behind them. Nolan walked out on the dock and settled into one of the old wooden chairs. He pointed to the other.

Feeling his chin start to tremble, Grant eyed him.

Nolanman had a hard face, and a big scar down one side. His eyes were black. Not mean like Jermaines, but not friendly like Beths, either. Not unless he smiled"or sometimes when he looked like he wanted to laugh but didnt.

He wasnt smiling now. But he wasnt shouting, either. Justwaiting.

Grant edged into the chair and stared at the rough wood of the dock.

At a sound, Grant jumped about a foot, but Nolan was only stretching his long legs out, and with a slow sigh, settling lower in the chair. He was awfully big and had muscles everywhere. Jermaine would look like aa mouse next to Nolanman.

Grant wanted muscles everywhere.

Guess you figured out that sneaking into the workshop isnt a great idea. Nolans voice wasnt mad. It sounded like when he talked about baseball, or how to make a fist, or float in the pool.

Grant opened his mouth. Swallowed. If he spoke, would Nolan get really mad like Jermaine did? Only, sometimes Jermaine got mad even when Grant didnt talk. Answer me, you little shit. Grant gripped the chair arms in case he needed to move quickly.

Nolan eyed him. The best answer for me"if you agree"is, Yes, sir. If you dont understand, you say, I dont understand, sir. The long dent in his cheek got deeper, like it did when he didnt quite smile. I was in the military, so I like a lot of sirs.

Grant sucked in air, like he hadnt taken a breath in a long time. The right wordsthose were important. To know what to say to keep a grownup from yelling was good. Yes, sir.

Very nice.

Grant let go of the chair arms. His fingers hurt, and he opened and closed his hands.

Later, well discuss why I dont want you in the workshop. But first, lets talk about how men treat women in this house.

Huh? Grant frowned and realized he knew the right words. I dont understand, sir.

Sometimes a guy loses his temper and shouts at someone. Thathappens, although its not good if youre a lot bigger than the person youre yelling at. A corner of Nolanmans mouth tilted up. Youve got a ways to go before you need worry. However, no matter your size, I dont want to hear you call any woman a bitch"or any other nasty name.

But-but Jermaine said it to Mama all the time.

Nolans mouth flattened. I bet. But, Grant, did your pa call your mother ugly names?

Grant blinked. Considered. Shook his head no. Daddy had called her sweet names. Honey. Sweetheart. Darling.

Didnt think so. Even if pissed off, good men"strong men"dont call women nasty names. He paused. Youd probably rather grow up into a man like your father than an asshole like Jermaine, yeah?

Grant stared at the wood planks. Hed called Beth a bitch"and sounded like Jermaine. Like asshole, douche Jermaine. His daddy wouldnt call Beth a name. Not never. I want to be like you and Daddy, he whispered.

Good man.

Fear slid over Grants skin. Beth probably thought Jermaine was a douche, too. Shed never said anything, but Grant could tell. And just like Jermaine did with Mama, Grant had called Beth a bad name. Would she stop liking him now? His insides felt as if darkness was filling him up. Will"he gulped back a sob"will Beth be mad at me?

Nolans dark eyes met his. Tiger, everyone screws up sooner or later and hurts someone he loves. Time for another lesson. He rose and clapped a hand on Grants shoulder. Lets get some lemonade, and well talk about the manly art of apologizing to a woman.

Chapter Ten.

ON SUNDAY, STORM clouds had rolled in around suppertime and finally rumbled into a pleasant evening rain. As the drops pattered against the roof and window, Beth let herself out of the childrens room, closed the door, and indulged in a muscle-easing stretch. Since shed shifted most of her outdoor work hours to the weekends when Nolan could be home with the kids, shed spent most of today weeding and planting.

Working on Sundays meant she hadnt been home"again"when Alyssa did her therapy visit. The boys had told her how theyd played with their trucks on the patio while the therapist had worked on Nolans shoulder. Beth huffed a laugh, imagining the lush submissive trying to be seductive with the boys making truck noises a few feet away.

Thanks, guys.

They should sleep well tonight, after a big supper of Nolans spaghetti, an active game of hide n seek, soapy baths, and story time. Theyd conked out halfway through the third picture book.

Tired boys. She smiled slightly. To her surprise, theyd actually been more relaxed since the fiasco of them sneaking into the shop. Maybe because theyd misbehaved and nothing horrible had happened to them. Shed feared that Connor would never trust her again; instead, hed cried in her arms.

Later, with Nolan beside him, hand on his shoulder, Grant had given her a lovely apology and, chin trembling, whispered, Dont hate me. When shed held out her arms, hed blindly stumbled forward and clung to her, shaking. Hate? Hardly. God, she loved them both.

They were such good boys, and would be good menif they had someone like Nolan to show them how. Maybe Drusilla would let her and Nolan stay part of their lives?

Heart feeling bruised, she walked into the empty kitchen. The dishwasher was running, and the counters had been wiped down. Nolan must be outside; her Master loved watching the rain.

Quietly, she walked out the French doors to the covered patio, and there he was in a chair, bare feet up on another. The rain-cooled wind whipped at her hair, carrying the faint taste of brine from the Gulf.

He motioned to a well-filled wine glass on the table. Figured you earned some alcohol. How many stories did you read them?

Just two. And a half. She picked up the drink, but frowned at the sandwich beside it. I hope this is for you. Im still full from supper.

You need to eat, sugar. Youre still underweight.

My weight is coming back up. Shed been planning to talk to him about his almost obsessive urging her to eat more. And Im not hungry.

Take a few bites anyway. He shook his head. I should be horsewhipped for leaving you alone all summer. Fucking stupid of me. I didnt"

You did exactly what you were supposed to do. That Sir should feel hed let her down was intolerable. She worked to keep her voice even. Reasonable. Raoul asked you to supervise the construction, and it was the right thing to do. They needed you there.

You needed me here. Protecting you is my"

No, Master. His remorse simply broke her heart. She wouldnt let him feel guilty for being away. Not ever. Im not a child. If I have a few nightmares and lose a few pounds, it wont be the first time. Regret lowered her voice. It wont be the last either. Like with a gravel road, the ruts Kylers abuse had created in her mind would have to be graded out whenever she had a bad episode.

Nolan leaned his forearms on his thighs and pinned her with a resolute gaze. I dont think of you as a child, but as your Dom, I have obligations to you.

Yes, you do. Of course, as your submissive, I have obligations to you, as well. Are you angry with me because I didnt bring you lunch at work on Friday? Or because I was late getting home, and you cooked supper and cleaned up the kitchen afterward? Oh, and you didnt get any sex last night. Should I feel guilty for that?

His smile flickered before he reached for his beer. Youre so sweet I forget you have a temper thatd put a rodeo bull to shame.

She crossed her arms over her chest. You, Sir, are evading the issue. I lost weight. You feel guilty. So youre trying to get me to eat. Honey, Im stronger than you think"and Id rather you just lose the guilt.

Chapter end

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