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Protecting His Own Part 3

Sounds good. He turned Beth toward the bar and tapped the plate. Eat it all, sugar. Cullen, could you get her a glass of milk?

Beth frowned. I dont"

Yes, you do. Nolans firm voice silenced her protest.

Dammit. Her appetite had disappeared again, but if she didnt eat, hed be unhappy with her.

It was nice meeting you, Beth. Alyssa gave Sir a quick upward"yearning"glance. Master Nolan, Ill see you tomorrow. As she walked away, head down, graceful and lovely in her submissive posture, every Dom at the bar turned to watch.

With a groan of disgust, Beth picked up her sandwich and scowled at it. A therapist was an excellent idea"but why couldnt Alyssa have been a guy? And why did second thoughts always arrive too late to act upon?

FUCK, IT WAS nice to be home. Nolan followed his wife inside, breathing in the light scent of the cinnamon candles she liked to burn. As usual, everything was spotless. Between his housekeeper and Beths own tidy habits, no mess survived long.

She stopped in the foyer. Can I make you something to eat? Or get you a beer?

Nope. He closed and locked the door, set the security system, and put a hand on her abdomen. It was more concave than convex, and his worries resurfaced. He should never have left her. Guilt added harshness to his already rough voice. What I want is you in my arms in our bed.

He hadnt realized shed been tense until he saw her muscles relax. Hell, exhaustion and pain had thrown him off; he was missing too much. The length of time theyd been apart was adding to the problem, making things off-key. Making her hesitant. But this wasnt the time to pursue what was bothering her. Hed need to be careful and observant. Not half-dead.

He bent to scoop her up and realized he couldnt carry her. His shoulder already throbbed like a son-of-a-bitch. Fuck. With a snort of exasperation, he tucked an arm around her and steered her across the house and into the master suite.

The small nightlight illuminated the muted golden walls and shadowed the tiered trey ceiling. His boots thudded on the hardwood floors, and the noise disappeared as he reached the Oriental carpet at the foot of the king size poster bed. The elaborately carved headboard had once anchored bondage chains, but before the adoption and foster care home evaluations had begun, hed retired the dungeon room along with any visible BDSM gear.

No matter. He didnt want restraints tonight anyway.

Right now, he needed to hold his woman, to refresh the connection between them. To simply enjoy the intimacy of sleeping together. Fuck, hed missed her.

There were times he wondered at how abruptly hed changed from a guy whod happily sampled an infinite variety of women into a firmly married man who was profoundly happy with just one.

Then again, his one was Beth.

Chapter Three.

THE NEXT MORNING, Nolan discovered he was alone in the bed. When he sat up, his stiff shoulder screeched like a squeaky door. Smothering a groan, he worked the immobility out of it while he listened for Beth.

The house was silent.

Because she wasnt home.

Right.

Last night while snuggled up against him, shed talked about her work and mentioned having an early Sunday appointment with a new client. Damned if he hadnt nodded off while she was talking.

He hadnt even heard her leave. Despite his aching shoulder, hed slept like a rock. It was the first time hed gotten a whole nights sleep since the old guy died. Apparently, having Beth in his bed was what his subconscious needed.

Itd sure been a long summer. He scrubbed his hand over his face. For both their sakes, he would keep any future separations real damn short.

After donning his jeans from the floor, he headed for the kitchen. Hed better suck down some coffee, or hed bite the little rabbits head right off if she came home her usual cheerful self.

But would she? As he plugged a pod into the coffeemaker, he frowned. At the Shadowlands, her exuberance at seeing him had faded before they left. In bed, having her in his arms had been good, but shed still beensubdued. The bond between them was different.

What with his exhaustion and pain, his ability to read her yesterday had been fucked up, and hed been wise not to push matters. But he was home now and on the mend. Whatever was messing up their relationship would be straightened out.

Hed see to it.

GRANT MCCORMICK EASED the bedroom room door open far enough to hear what was happening in the house. He was really hungry and so was Connor. They hadnt had much to eat yesterday after leaving the shelter. If it soundedsafe, they could go into the kitchen and get some breakfast. His stomach made a growling noise like it agreed.

strike him out. The noise of the television came from the living room. Baseball. His stomach got tight. Mama didnt like sports, but Jermaine did, so he must be here. He didnt like seeing Grant or Connor in the kitchen. He said they ate too much.

Having Jermaine at home wasnt safe.

The sound of glasses clinking was another warning sign. Booze. They always drank booze if they were watching sports. Mama said alcohol made the stupid games easier to stand.

A familiar, icky smell drifted down the hallway, like the scent of candles, only not, and he closed his eyes in despair. He knew what the smell meant.

At the shelter, shed cried and promised she wouldnt do the drug stuff anymore. Shed promised. His stomach and chest felt funny, like he was gonna throw upor cry. This morning when shed pulled her glass pipe and lighter out of the cupboard, hed wanted to throw the pipe across the room. To stomp on it and break it into pieces.

No, Mama, no.

But she didnt listen to him. He couldnt make her stop. Daddy couldve. She wouldnt do the drug stuff if he was home. But Daddy had gone off to be a soldier and died being a hero. Hed never come home. Angrily, Grant hit the doorframe with his fist. Daddy should have stayed. When Daddy was here, Mama had liked her kids. Shed hugged them and played with them and cooked. Shed laughed like she was having fun. Now her laugh was all screechy and crazy.

Because when she smoked stuff, she turned differentlike a monster in a cartoon. She got mad"scary mad. Like once, when Connord asked for supper, shed screamed and thrown her cup at him, and itd busted on the floor, sending glass everywhere.

Shed promised shed stop smoking the drugs.

Grant shivered as she started laughing, the sound sharper than any broken glass. Jermaine was talking, too, his words crashing into each other all funny.

Soundlessly, Grant closed the door.

Half asleep, Connor huddled in the corner, waiting for Grant to decide what to do. Did Mama leave?

No, Grant whispered. And Jermaine is out there, too.

Connors forehead scrunched up. Theyre smoking the stuff?

Yeah. No breakfast for us. Could he sneak into her bedroom and get a dollar from her hiding place? She never noticed if they only took one bill. He and Connor could crawl out the window and buy food from the gas station down the street.

But she or Jermaine might go to the bathroom and see them. Getting caught in Mamas bedroom would bebad.

Silently, Grant pulled a pillow and a loose blanket off the bed.

Connors face fell, but he pulled a suitcase out from under the bed. Pushing the blanket and pillow before him, he squirmed behind the jumble of suitcases and storage boxes to the narrow space beside the wall.

As Grant followed, his shoulders caught painfully on the bedframe. What would happen if he kept growing? If he couldnt hide under here any longer? He shivered as he curled up next to Connor and shared the pillow. His stomach growled again.

Grrr, grrr, Connor whispered like a lion and giggled.

So did Grant. But he was hungry. Check the box. Is there anything to eat?

His brother opened the battered lunch box theyd found in a trashcan. Two crackers were left from last night.

Grant grimaced. Before Mama had taken them to the shelter, Jermaine had realized Grant and Connor were sneaking food from the kitchen. Hed been really mad and tried to whip them with his belt.

Last night, knowing they had to be careful, Grant had only grabbed a handful of crackers out of the box on the coffee table. Two were left. He handed both crackers to Connor. You go ahead and eat them.

Connor shook his head and handed one back.

Why couldnt crackers be bigger? With a sigh, Grant took a small bite, hoping to make it last.

Then he pulled the suitcase back in place, closing them inside their small cave of safety.

UNABLE TO SLEEP longer or eat breakfast, Beth had left home before dawn. As the sun rose into a clear blue sky, shed weeded the flowerbeds for one of her bank clients and then a realtor. A few hours later, when her energy had faded, shed swung by Starbucks for a caramel apple Frappuccino.

Coffee for breakfast"actually, it was getting close to lunch. Her Sir wouldnt approve. But, hey, it had apple in it. Very healthy.

Sipping her drink, she detoured past some of her residential clients on the way to Hyde Park. Her yard crew was doing a good job of staying ahead of the summertime growing season. A block off North Hines, she slowed to study one of her first landscaping projects. The foundation plantings were excellent and the grounds immaculately groomed; however, the effect this month wasblah. A seasonal splash of color was needed. She pulled over and made a note in her planner before resuming her drive.

After her appointment, she could go home. To Nolan. Her lips curved. The mere thought of him filled her heart. Honestly, shed never known she could love someone so much.

Thank you for being you, Master.

Loving him made her world complete, although it was a bit worrisome how much shed missed him. For heavens sake, before hed entered her life, shed managed quite nicely, thank you very much. Shed lived on her own during and after college until marrying Kyler. But, okay, admit it, after escaping Kyler, she hadnt felt safe. Not until Nolan pushed into her life.

This summer, all the time Sir had been in Africa, shed felt so much on edge it was almost like being cold. Face it, Nolan was her sun, and she didnt do well when his warmth disappeared.

But he was home now, and she should feel better. Really, everything should be fine.

She wrinkled her nose. Everything would be fine after they got past a couple of snags.

The big problem"her Master was hurting. Seeing him so weary and in pain made her want to cry. Made her want to beat on Master Raoul for sending Sir to such an unsafe, uncivilized location. Her mouth firmed. Shed have to make sure he didnt overdo. Hed be stubborn about wanting to return to work. Too bad for him. Shed get a chance to pamper him up a little.

And the other glitch in their happinesswas her.

She was a stupid, emotional mess.

Yes, she sure was.

Should she tell him about the final treatment shed tried? And how the doctors hadhad given up on her? She pulled in a pained breath. Normally, shed never keep anything from Sir, butthis? The news would hurt him worse than his injured shoulder. Because of her. He knew how much she wanted to have his baby.

She thumped her head on the headrest in annoyance. Why couldnt she get past thisobsessionthat her life wouldnt be complete without children? It was stupid. Not everyone had children. Not everyone wanted children.

However, both she and Nolan did, and she couldnt give them to him because she was damaged. Broken.

He needed to know, though. Hed want to know. And she would tell him.

She would.

As she drove through historic Hyde Park, she frowned as she considered scenarios. Perhaps it would be best to delay the disturbing discussions for a while. She was too emotional, and he was hurting. So today, shed go home and be cheerful and let things get back on an even keel. In a few days, shed sit him down and explain how she couldnt ever give him beautiful dark-eyed babies.

Stupid tears.

Blinking hard, she checked the house numbers and pulled into a curving driveway. Her clients home was a beautiful three-story, nineteenth century, Italianate house with asymmetrical lines and a square tower in the center"one of the older homes in the city. And absolutely beautiful.

Time to be a professional. She wiped her eyes, pulled in a few restorative breaths, and grabbed her bag.

From the street, she studied the cream-colored house with its dark red, tile roof. The tall windows were twice her height, which meant the inside would get plenty of light. Excellent bones.

In contrast to the beautifully restored exterior of the house, the yard was simply pitiful, filled with dying shrubberies, patchy grass, and weed-filled beds. Dr. Drago had mentioned that the previous owners had completed the extensive remodeling, but the husband was transferred to New York before theyd started on the grounds. It appeared she could begin from scratch if she wanted. She walked up the white brick sidewalk and considered various landscaping styles. Would her British client prefer something formal?

She stopped dead, realizing Dr. Alastair Drago was sitting on the lovely, white-pillared porch. Darn it. Had he seen her imitation of a waterfall in the car? Were her eyes all red?

He rose and, cup in hand, strolled around to the portico to meet her.

Long and lean and muscular. Shed seen him in passing in the darkly lit Shadowlands. Now, in the full light of day, shed say the man was a perfect match for his gorgeous house.

In tailored khaki slacks and green button-up shirt, he was perhaps an inch or so taller than Master Nolan. His black hair was as short as the perfect beard outlining his strong jaw. His sharp, greenish-hazel eyes were eerily beautiful against his flawless brown skin. Yes, the man was jaw dropping in a classically handsome way"and he was Doctor Drago, as well. Shed bet the physician attracted women by the droves.

Not her. Shed be perfectly happy to avoid any and all doctors for a good decade. Good morning, Dr. Drago.

Its Alastair. His resonant voice held a crisp English accent. Whats wrong, love?

Oh, honestly. Visiting a Shadowlands Dom when upset was a major mistake on her part. Of course, hed noticed her tears and red eyes. Nothing. When his eyes narrowed, she revised. Im having a crummy morning, but it has nothing to do with work. Shall we"

We shall go inside and have a cup of tea"or coffee"and chat. He invited her to precede him with a smooth motion.

With a silent sigh, Beth straightened her shoulders, walked through the front doorway, and stopped to admire. His home was lovely. High ceilings with traditional crown molding, gleaming hardwood floors and Oriental carpets, pastel walls, sparkling chandeliers, antiques. Despite the formal decor, the living rooms white sofa and chairs were comfortably sturdy, and the statuary, art, and brightly patterned woven goods from all over the world provided quirkiness.

On the way through the small breakfast nook beside the kitchen, she noted boxes stacked against the walls. Spare chairs, tables, and shelves were bunched into corners. Didnt you move in a couple of months ago?

I did. He set his cup on the table and seated her with an easy graciousness. Tea or coffee?

His cup held tea. Tea will be fine.

After getting another cup, he poured from an antique china pot, placed the drink in front of her, and slid over the silver-serving tray with cubed sugar, tongs, and sliced lemon. I have milk in the refrigerator if you like.

Chapter end

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