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The Broken Protector: Chapter 16

RED WITH RAGE (LUCAS)

My bed feels like a chasm.

I wake up to it empty and I can’t say I’m happy about that.

More, I wake with unease, this gut punch vibrating through me the instant I roll over and find Delilah’s spot cold. Barely any wrinkles in the sheets telling me she was ever there.

With everything going on these days, I don’t feel safe when I don’t know where she is.

I listen intently, but the house is so quiet it hums.

No light under the upstairs bathroom door, either.

Fuck.

“Delilah?” I call softly.

No answer.

I slip out of bed with an alarm ringing in my skull.

You’re being paranoid, asshole. Who the hell would break into a cop’s house to get to her?

But this is Redhaven.

Whenever something weird happens, it never operates by normal rules.

I head for the stairs, moving lightly on the floor.

No light coming up from downstairs either.

I tread down silently as I make my way to the living room.

Only to see that dark head of hair on the sofa, bowed over something she’s looking at.

An explosive breath turns into a laugh as it leaves my lungs. “Jesus Christ, Lilah. You damn near gave me a heart attack, being all ridiculous with that—”

I stop when she goes stiff, looking over her shoulder at me.

Those sad blue eyes are bursting with hurt.

Pain.

Accusations.

I’m really fucking confused till I step closer and see what she’s holding.

The case file.

Emma Santos’ file.

Fuck me.

I forgot I left it out after reading through it before I went out to meet her today. That still doesn’t give her any goddamned right to—

“What are you doing with that?” I demand.

“Why didn’t you call Emma’s family?” she flings back without missing a beat.

I scowl. “You don’t know I didn’t—”

“It says it right here! I saw your note. You’re full of crap.” She stands, brandishing the folder like a knife, pages and photos bristling from the edges. “Lucas, you promised—you promised me—and right here it says you didn’t do it and you told other people not to!”

Damn.

The girl has a point, but why’s she losing her shit over this?

I drag my hand over my face. “Lilah, listen, there’s heavy shit going on that I can’t tell you—”

“Like what?” She throws the folder down on the sofa. Those terrible pictures of that poor girl go fanning out across the cushions while Delilah glares at me, her eyes scalding coals. “Like the fact that my house is still the site of an active murder investigation? Like the fact that you suspected me?”

“I was still working a few angles. I told you about Celeste—”

“Yeah? Maybe you think I went back in time and hurt her, too, since apparently you think I could’ve murdered Emma. Holy shit, you—” She stops. Her lips tremble. Worst part is, I fucking know how she feels, even if that jab about Celeste was low. “So what was your grand plan? Fuck me into complacency, and then get me to confess?”

“There was no grand fucking plan, woman. I—goddamn, look, I had to do my job as a cop, okay?” I bite off, clenching my fists helplessly. “It was early in the case. I had to consider every possibility. Wasn’t trying to get into your pants for police business, and if you think that, you’re not as smart as I thought. I can’t believe you’d stand here and fucking think I don’t—”

It’s my turn to seize up.

I want to tell her I’m crashing, going down, falling madly in love with her.

I want to tell her I’d never hurt her.

I want to tell her everything, including why I broke my promise until I can give Emma’s folks real peace with concrete answers that tell the truth.

I want to tell her how it makes my heart bash my ribs like an angry caged-up bird to see her in my shirt with her eyes all lit with emotion.

I want to tell her I need her.

That I’ll protect her.

That it was just due diligence.

That I never ever seriously thought she could hurt anyone.

Only, I’m all thorns and edges right now, too hung up on fighting words and the blue razors in her eyes that are still aimed at me.

Maybe you think I went back in time and hurt her, too.

Before I can stop it, my temper leaps ahead of my brain.

“You can’t fucking blame anyone but yourself for what you find when you go digging around in other people’s shit, Delilah. You were never meant to see that. That’s confidential police material,” I snap.

She stares at me, then lets out an incredulous laugh. “That’s it? That’s all you have to say? ‘If you’re upset because I lied to you, it’s your own fault for finding out about it. Next time, sit down and shut up like a good little girl.’”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it.” Growling, I grind a hand against my forehead, struggling to keep my head on. “I told you, this case is complicated as hell. You know that. I had my reasons, but I didn’t fucking lie for nothing. Emma’s family will know. It’s just not the right time yet, not when there’s still loose ends to tie up and assholes standing by with scissors, waiting to cut the truth out forever. Fuck, I didn’t tell you because I was trying to protect you.”

“Did I ask to be protected?” Delilah’s eyes are hard, but the shimmer of impending tears darkens them. She folds her arms around herself in that defensive stance she has that aches so much, walling herself off. “And I sure as hell never asked you to lie to me and stalk me like I’m your property.” She swallows, looking away from me pointedly. “I don’t want to stay here with you. I want my things, and I want you to take me home.”

I reach toward her helplessly. “Delilah—”

“I said I want to go home!” She pivots on her heel, stalking toward my door in nothing but my shirt. “Fuck it, I’ll walk.”

“No—shit, no.” Sagging, I scrub my fingers over my face, wishing I could climb out of my own damn skin. “Let me get your clothes. I’ll drive you. It’s not safe alone at night.”

Delilah doesn’t say anything, and thank God she doesn’t fight me over that.

She won’t even look at me now.

I can’t stop staring at her.

I don’t know how the hell this shit blew up so violently so fast, with me and my clumsy fucking mouth.

I tried to explain and it came out all wrong, making everything a hundred times worse.

That’s called life when you’re tromping around with enough grief and frustration in your heart to trip up ten good men.

I guess she doesn’t want anything to do with me now. So I turn away and trudge upstairs to fetch her clothing.

Guess that’s it.

We’re over before we had a chance to find out what we could ever be.


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