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Silent Vows: Chapter 15

Noemi

I received an unexpected text from Shae that afternoon asking me to join her for dinner. The prospect of time out of the house with a friend was so compelling that I risked angering my father to ask for permission. I crafted a note explaining how it would be important for me to make my place among the Irish women and showed it to him along with the text. He agreed, but only after his usual barrage of thinly veiled threats and the order that Umberto was to chaperone.

I was in terrible need of a distraction after my disaster of a morning, so I didn’t care what restrictions he shackled me with. I needed out of that damn house and away from my own maddening thoughts.

We met at a quaint French restaurant with low ceilings and shimmering candles at each table. Umberto was seated across the room from us. Shae eyed him curiously, and I was reminded of the way a child might study a sandcastle right before leveling it to the ground.

“You take your muscle everywhere?” She looked just as gorgeous as she had the first time we met. I wondered if she ever had a bad hair day and wore sweats or if she was naturally perfect. It seemed exhausting, but I was also a tad envious.

I took out my notepad, not ready for the rest of the world to know I could talk. Hopefully, Conner had kept that little nugget between us.

Unfortunately. I slid the pad toward her.

“It’s good that your father wants to protect you,” she conceded.

I wished that was all it was. Umberto had morphed from protector to jailor the day my mother died.

Thanks for the invite. It’s good to get out of the house.

“Of course! We didn’t get nearly enough time together at the club.”

I raised my brows in question. Does Conner know you’re here?

He’d been pretty clear that he didn’t like the idea of Shae and I befriending one another. I didn’t give a crap about his ridiculous orders, but I didn’t want her to get in trouble.

“No, but it’s fine. He’ll get over it.” She grinned mischievously.

The server stopped by and took our drink orders. I went with a Pinot Grigio, relieved when the server didn’t card me since I was still a year shy of the legal drinking age. Shae was a little older, probably close to Conner’s age.

“You seem to be holding up well. Has a date been set?”

August 1st.

She whistled. “So soon?”

I nodded. No real reason to wait.

“There’s also no reason to rush, assuming neither side plans to back out.”

I guess both sides were anxious to get the deal done.

“I suppose you’re right,” she said with a curious gleam in her eye. “I take it you didn’t have a boyfriend you had to give up?”

Heat seared the tops of my cheeks as I shook my head.

“That’s good.” She flashed an amused grin. “Better than entering a deal like this from beneath a mountain of heartbreak.

She wasn’t wrong. I sipped from my freshly poured wine admitting that things could always have been worse, then stilled when my gaze was hooked by an angry sapphire stare. Conner stood in the shadows of a hallway behind Shae, hidden from Umberto.

He motioned me over to him.

My heart scrambled to respond to a surge of adrenaline. I commanded my body to behave. Conner had bested me that morning, and I refused to give him the upper hand again.

Steadying myself, I passed a note to Shae, excusing myself to the restroom, and marched confidently into battle. Or at least, projecting the appearance of confidence. Inside, I was a quivering mess.

“What are you doing here?” I hissed the second I got close enough.

Conner took my hand and led me farther down the hall and into a small supply room, ignoring my question completely. I didn’t resist, not wanting to risk making a scene. He left the door open, but the only light was what filtered in from the dimly lit hallway.

“You aren’t speaking to her.” His softly spoken observation was laced with curiosity and something else I couldn’t name. Something intimate and seductive.

I shook my head.

“Your voice, Em,” he crooned the command with honeyed authority that made my knees weak. And it was the first time I’d heard my nickname on his tongue. The rumble from his prolonged m reverberated deep into my chest like the purr of an expensive sportscar.

“I’m not ready to talk to anyone else.”

His chin lifted. “Not ready, but you snuck out to dinner with Shae.”

“I’d hardly say taking my bodyguard with me was sneaking. And besides, I wasn’t aware I had to inform you of my plans for dinner with a friend.”

Conner eased himself around me until he stood at my back. His hand swept my hair slowly over my shoulder, causing my entire body to shiver. When he spoke, his lips were inches from my ear. “The last thing on Shae’s mind is friendship, I assure you. And if she has an ounce of self-preservation left in that brain of hers, she won’t look twice at you again.”

I turned my face, realizing too late that I’d brought our lips a breath apart. “You would … hurt her for being nice to me?” I asked breathily.

His lips quirked up in the corners as he stood tall and resumed walking back around to my front. “That woman wants what’s mine. She should know better.” Before I could argue, he continued in a grumble. “She can bare-knuckle box better than half of my men. You don’t need to worry about her.”

“I don’t care how tough she is. She doesn’t deserve your anger. If anyone should be angry, it’s me. How did you even know we were here?”

His eyelids lowered so that only a small sliver of sapphire was visible. “What kind of man would I be if I didn’t protect what’s mine?”

“I’m not yours yet.” I couldn’t quite hold his gaze while saying the words. The intensity of his stare was too much. Or maybe the words themselves were the challenge because I always sucked at lying and could taste the bitterness of the falsehood. It shocked me. I wasn’t sure why I felt any loyalty to this man, but it was there, in the kernel of guilt sprouting in my gut.

Conner placed his hands on either side of my face and brought his lips back to my ear.

Liar, liar,” he whispered, his warm breath on my skin heating my entire body. “Shall I prove it?” Then his lips were on mine, sucking, tasting, devouring.

Without the slightest objection, I became his willing victim, breathless for his touch. My entire body quivered as blood rushed to my center. When my lips parted on a moan, he sucked my bottom lip between his, grazing his teeth as he released it like he’d done the last time we kissed. But this time, he gave one last nip that ended on a stab of pain.

I jerked back and dabbed my fingers to my lips. They came away spotted with crimson.

“You bit me?” I shot at him, stunned.

His eyes glinted with dangerous amusement. “So nobody gets confused about who you belong to.”

My hand reared back without thought, ready to strike, but he anticipated my reaction. Lightning fast, he snatched my hand midair and spun me around, hands clasped behind me. “Time to get back out there,” he said wryly. “Wouldn’t want that asshole out there to come looking for you.”

Conner released me, then swatted my ass for good measure.

I shot him a glare that could have curdled fresh milk.

Hurrying back to the table, I licked away any traces of blood but knew my lip would be red and swollen.

Shae took one look at me and smirked. “He’s here, isn’t he?”

He who? I lifted my chin defiantly. Let’s order. I’m starved.

I was so over letting men interfere in my life. Conner. Umberto. My father. All of them. They could try to manipulate and toy with me, but at the end of the day, I was my own master. I chose to follow or fight. I decided who and what I wanted from this life, and right now, I needed to have goddamn dinner with a friend.

Lifting my wine, I clinked my glass against hers and took a healthy gulp, then scribbled a hasty toast after the fact.

Fuck the patriarchy.

Shae burst into laughter, and I was right behind her.


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