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The Sweetest Obsession: Chapter 13

ONE AND ONLY (GRANT)

There’s a lot of shit Ophelia doesn’t know about me.

Like the fact that for a couple of years after she left town, I did a short stint with the National Guard.

Wasn’t much, mostly local deployments helping out with disasters. I did it less out of any desire to be a soldier and more just wanting to see the world beyond Redhaven.

I’ve seen a dozen natural wonders from the back of an armored truck or a helicopter.

Nothing like the Grand Canyon from a thousand feet in the air, or standing under the largest tree in the world, looking up at branches so far away they feel like they’re a gateway to the sky on another planet.

I’ve been all over North America and seen it all, yet every last one of those wonders pales compared to the sight of Ophelia Sanderson in my bed, bathed in morning light.

She’s too fucking sweet to be real.

Everything that makes a woman eye candy.

The curve of her neck, where she curls on her side with her body tucked against mine and her head on my shoulder, her hand still splayed on my chest.

The dip of her waist that lets the golden sunlight pour over her like raw honey before it flows up over the rounded swell of her hip.

I also love how she’s not stick thin.

Nothing wrong with that, but this boy needs meat.

Thank God my girl has a real-ass belly. Living proof she’s content to enjoy life, and all the more to shake when I pull her on top of me and split her open.

Then there’s the way the morning catches her hair, turning it into a spun gold halo. Every individual strand looks lit, even in the messy tangle left from sleep.

It gives her the wild-tossed look of a woman who’s just been claimed, ridden hard, and left deliciously ruined again and again till she’s nothing but a sleepy knot of sated flesh.

You’d better believe there’s a possessive pride in me for that, knowing I’m the big asshole who left her that way.

She was so tired by the end of the night that she could only look at me with sweet exhaustion hazing her green eyes. A soft, almost wondering smile lingered on her lips as she kissed me before tucking herself against me with total trust.

She looked at me like she couldn’t believe I was real.

Hell, I know the feeling.

Because I still can’t believe I had Ophelia Sanderson.

Still can’t believe that after all these years, she’s home where she belongs, snug in my arms, her body warming my flesh while her scent leaves me drugged and hungry to be inside her again.

“Do you ever stop staring?” she mumbles drowsily without opening her eyes.

I bite back a smile.

“Nah. Didn’t realize you were awake.” I tighten my arm around her. “Good morning, sunshine.”

“Mmmm… have been for a while. But I like mornings where I don’t move. Especially when I’m this comfortable. You don’t know what a luxury it is for a nurse to sleep in.” Her eyes blink open, glimmering like still pools.

I dip my nose to the nape of her neck and inhale her, savoring the way the slightest movement makes her silky skin slide against mine.

“You never liked waking up early long before you had the RN. Remember Ethan tossing you over his shoulder and damn near dragging you to the school bus in your pj’s?”

She laughs. “Um, I remember you did that once. I wouldn’t speak to you for over a week.” She pokes my ribs. “I wasn’t wearing any pants under my t-shirt, you idiot.”

“The bunnies on your panties were cute,” I say solemnly.

Now, she’s definitely awake, letting out a squealing laugh as she swats at my chest.

“Maybe, but the entire neighborhood didn’t need to see them!”

“Relax, woman. Wouldn’t dream of doing that shit now,” I growl, running my hand down to her ass. “My eyes only. Anybody else who gets a look will spend the next month finding some overpaid fuck to put his nose back on his face.”

“You wouldn’t!” She gasps.

Would.

I beam back a vicious glare.

“Besides, you got no right to complain. You got me back pretty good. Don’t tell me you forgot?”

Those pretty pink lips curl smugly.

“Yep. I bit you on the ass—and you deserved it.”

I grin. “You want to do that again? It’ll end a whole lot different this time.”

“Oh my God, no. I haven’t even had coffee. Let me wash my face at least and get some caffeine in my blood before you go wearing me out again.” Smiling, she settles with a sigh, folding her arms against my chest and resting her chin, looking at me with lazy, half-lidded eyes. “It’s so strange, isn’t it? All these old memories… Like, we’re still the same people, but something else, too.”

“Yeah. A whole lot’s happened in ten years. Makes you someone else entirely.” I catch a lock of her hair, twining it between my fingers. “We got a lifetime of history, but we’ve missed a lot of little moments. All the shit in between that’s made us who we are now.”

“It’s crazy,” she says quietly. She’s like a lazy feline, turning her head to rub her cheek against my wrist. “It’d be nice to fill in that ten-year gap. Find out just what you turned into.”

“Me? I’m not so different, really. Just bigger and more tired.”

The morning’s magic makes her damnably hypnotic.

I bury my fingers in her hair, fisting it as I pull her in for a morning kiss.

Her body pressure makes her breasts crush against me and I groan.

I’m taking my sweet time this morning, savoring her lips in small hot sips before pulling back. “A little more honest, maybe. I’d sure as hell love to know what you’ve been doing in Miami all this time.”

“Wandering around in circles, mostly,” she answers.

There’s a sharp moment when she just looks at me, something haunting her gaze before she smiles.

There’s a hell of a lot there between the lines.

Old pains, regrets, a life she never settled into—and having her here like this, thank fuck she didn’t.

Ophelia rests her head on my shoulder again and I hold her close like I’ve always wanted.

“Truth be told, I think I was looking for home,” she says slowly. “But home was always here. Maybe not this godforsaken town, no, but Mom. Ros. You.” A deep sigh drops her shoulders. “It shouldn’t have taken Mom getting horribly sick again to bring me back. I’m kind of embarrassed…”

“Don’t be. Space has its uses. You needed to find out who you were away from the bad vibes here,” I point out.

That strange smile returns.

“You make it sound so easy, Grant, when here I’ve been struggling to figure out how to say that for years. But yeah, I guess I did. Not sure I found anything new… I’m still just Ophelia Sanderson, now with an RN behind my name.”

“Do you miss it? Your work, I mean?”

“…a little,” she admits after a silent moment. “Maybe not as much as I should.”

I skim my fingers up her arms, feeling the goose bumps they give back.

I’ve never been good at comforting words, but I can be here for her.

I can hold her close, listen to her worries, hang on every word.

“You want to tell me more?”

“I don’t know, honestly. I just—” Her fingers settle against my hand, stroking me like some kind of animal, then playing through my chest hair. “I think I did it out of guilt, if I’m honest. I tried orthopedics at first, but it wasn’t the right fit because there was something missing. Like the fact that if I was going to leave home behind, then I thought I should do something to help people like Mom. Only, they weren’t lucky enough to recover. Hospice care is hard work.”

I nod solemnly.

My heart drums with the fact that I’m looking at one of God’s own angels, dropped on this miserable spinning rock to bring a little comfort to the sick and dying.

“First you learn to care for these people,” she continues, biting her lip. “Then you learn to let them go when it’s time. You have to—that’s part of life and death—but it never gets easier. The same rough cycle, over and over again. Not something I ever thought would be my calling. But I cared about them, still.” There’s a telltale quiver in her voice, in her mouth. Her brows pinch together. “I don’t know… you’d think after saying goodbye so many times that I’d be okay with Mom, whatever happens. I just wish—oh, God—” Her voice breaks.

“Enough of that.”

I push myself up against the headboard so I can gather her more securely into my arms.

She’s shaking, and with a muffled, hurt sound, she burrows into me.

I stroke a hand over her hair, down her back, resting my chin on top of her head and holding her as tight as I can.

“Don’t give up on Angela yet. She’s tough as nails and she’s beat this shit before,” I say. “She’s not down for the count. Just taking a breather.”

“How can you say that?” she chokes out. “You… you saw her. You saw how bad off she is. This experimental treatment, it’s far-fetched. They told us not to get our hopes up for good reason. She’s barely alive, Grant.”

“But she’s alive,” I growl, trying like hell to convince both of us because I’m not ready to give up and give in to one more Sanderson family tragedy. “And since we don’t know who your Pa is, I gotta say, that Sanderson stubbornness had to come from somewhere.”

Ophelia’s laugh is brittle, but real.

“Ethan used to tell me I was pretty as a flower and stubborn as a skunk.”

“Skunks are stubborn and not just stinky? Good old Ethan. Guess he wasn’t wrong.”

“Hey!” Ophelia whacks my chest lightly, but she’s smiling when she lifts her head to look at me. She sniffs and rubs her nose. “You’re really gonna pick on me after last night?”

“If I didn’t pick on you, you wouldn’t know I care.” I trace my thumb under one gleaming eye.

Smiling her gaze falls lower, stopping on my right bicep.

“No way. Is that…?” She reaches out, gently touching the black butterfly on my skin.

“Took you long enough to notice, Butterfly,” I deflect.

She smacks me playfully, wiping a tear that speeds down her cheek. “You prick. You secretive, magnificent, softhearted prick. When did you get it, Grant? And why?”

“When do you think?” My brows dart up until she gives back a look that says she knows the answer. “As for why, you can take a good guess. How shit ended with us before—that last stupid fight—it didn’t sit well with me at all and I was too chickenshit to go down to Florida and get in your face. So, I settled for what I could do in the here and now. I’m man enough to admit it. I was a little damn obsessed. I needed you haunting me, Philia, the same way I’ve held onto Ethan all these years. If only so I wouldn’t let myself forget you. Not then. Not ever.”

“Holy shit,” she whispers, desperately sweeping another tear away. “You’re the worst.”

I suppose I am.

I certainly don’t regret being terrible as she kisses my cheek with so much love in those lips it spears my heart like a marshmallow.

“You gonna be okay?” I stroke her jaw with my thumb.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think I’m just off-kilter from everything. Ros, Mom, that weird guy showing up again…”

I frown. “What do you mean, again? You see him?”

She chews her lip.

“…maybe?” She winces, peeking at me guiltily.

“Fuck, why didn’t you tell me?” I demand.

“Sorry! I didn’t want you to worry.” Sighing, she shakes her head. “I’m not even sure it was him, anyway. Probably just me jumping at shadows. When I left the medical center, I thought I saw someone by my car. But when I ran into the parking lot, there was nobody there.”

“Forget stinky. You really are goddamned stubborn,” I huff, pulling her closer. It’s like I’m fucking hardwired to protect her, to shelter her, to keep her near me, even if it means using my brick of a body as a human shield. “Maybe you imagined it. But maybe you fuckin’ didn’t, too. Next time you even think you see him skulking around, you call me. Understood?”

She goes stiff against me, but soon she melts, her arms twining around my neck.

“Okay, okay. Guess I’ll be calling you every time a blowing leaf startles me. That only happens ten times a day lately.”

I snort.

“And I’ll answer every time. Better to call you crazy than dead.” I bend my head, resting my temple to hers, just leaning into her and soaking her in. Part of me still remembers the spindly girl she used to be, but right now my arms are overflowing with the lushness of pure woman.

“If you insist, Grant,” she says matter-of-factly.

“I do. I got a bad feeling. Think that shitstorm that started with the Arrendells and Delilah Graves hasn’t fully died down. That man who jumped you, I think those clothes he’s wearing were Arrendell livery. Y’know, staff uniforms. They might’ve sent him down here to watch us. You, me, I’m not sure which.”

Ophelia makes a thoughtful sound, sucking her lower lip in a way that makes me want to bite it.

“Why would they be after me?”

Good question.

“It could just be keeping you away from Ros, if our boy’s on Aleksander’s payroll,” I say. “Everyone and their grandma must know you wouldn’t be happy about her marrying that mannequin-looking fuck. So maybe Jeeves is tailing you so you won’t try to break things up.”

“Psssh, like I could stop Ros from doing whatever she wants.” She smiles bitterly. “But why would they be following you?

“Because I got a weird fucking feeling about that suicide up at the house,” I say grimly. “Maybe I’m just jumping at spooks or being paranoid myself. Who knows. Still, something ain’t smelling right.”

“You know…”

“Oh no.” She’s got that look in her eye, thoughtful and goddamned obstinate. I eyeball her something fierce. “What? What are you about to say? It’s gonna piss me off, ain’t it”

“Yes? What doesn’t?” Ophelia grins. “I was just thinking there’s an easy way to find out.”

“No.”

“Grant, it wouldn’t be that hard.”

“Absolutely not.”

My blood heats.

“Come onnn.” She sticks her tongue out, wrinkling her nose. “We’re all adults here. We might as well take the direct route and just ask him. If he shows up again, I’ll get him to explain why he grabbed me and what he’s talking about, death threats and all. Sometimes even mentally unwell folks just want to be heard.”

I side-eye her hard.

Like hell I’m going to approve something that crazy.

But I can already tell she’s made her mind up and nothing I say or do is gonna sway her.

Groaning, I thump my head back against the headboard.

“Whatever. Just don’t let him corner you alone, Ophelia—if he actually pops up. I don’t trust it. You catch him in public, around other people, fine. But if you’re alone, you get the fuck out of there as fast as you can shake your tail.”

“Shake my tail, huh?”

Her wicked little smile is my only warning before there’s a lush, hot body on mine.

Even if I’m not fully awake, it doesn’t take much more than the pressure of Ophelia’s weight against me to make sure there’s a certain part of me absolutely up and fucking ready by the time she slides her gorgeous thighs across my lap and straddles me.

So much for staying mad.

She’s so goddamned breathtaking it floors me, this vision of gold flesh straining against the thin sheet wrapped around her body till she looks like one of those old statues where the folds of carved fabric look translucent, tempting me more than concealing.

Her tits strain against the white fabric, threatening to spill free from the hand barely holding the sheet in place as she settles against me.

And while that sheet may be hiding her from my eyes, there’s nothing between us to hide skin from skin as that wet soft place I feasted on last night moves against my cock.

Her little ass drags against my shaft as she gives a playful switch of her hips.

“Thought you wouldn’t want me shaking my tail for anyone but you,” she teases.

Fuck, I’m about to lose it.

“Philia,” I snarl, curling my fingers against the back of her neck to drag her down into me, seizing her mouth while those gold tumbles of hair fall around me.

I can’t stop.

Stampeding bison couldn’t hold me back.

I grasp at her body like a man deprived, gripping hard.

Anywhere and everywhere I can hold on, feeling her filling my palms while I taste her, twining our tongues together in this hot, slinking lock of wetness and heat that goes right to my gut.

Goddamn.

I can’t help how my hips stab up, rubbing my cock against her pussy, already slick as hell for me.

I’m so ready to just grab her hips, lift her up, and impale her so I can seat myself fully inside her and that perfect wildness all over again.

I almost rip the sheet in half.

Bare her body, curving and glowing in the morning light.

I bite her lower lip, loving how she moans, shudders, and melts for me.

Yeah, I’m going to take her so hard she’ll—

A noise cuts me off a split second before I plunge in.

I release an explosive curse as I realize it’s my phone shrieking from the nightstand, playing the old Kenny G tune I set for my ma. She’s got the weirdest love affair with that guy I’ve ever seen, so it was fitting.

Groaning, I break away, thumping my head on the headboard like the pain could possibly clear the lust from my brain.

“Sorry,” I mutter regretfully, reaching up to trace my thumb against the corner of her mouth. “Ma calling. Might be something up with Nell.”

Ophelia gives me a shaky smile, gathering the sheet against herself again as she slides off me and tucks herself against my side once more. “It’s okay.”

It is, I realize.

She means it.

It’s not just doublespeak where she’s saying it’s okay because it’s polite, but she’s secretly upset at being shoved aside for a kid.

She’s relaxed, content against me, patient, and understanding.

She gets how much Nell means to me.

How important that kid is in my black hole of a life.

Shit, Ophelia gets me.

I must be smiling like the biggest fool ever born as I snag my phone a second before it goes to voicemail.

“Hey, Ma. Everything okay?”

“Oh, everything’s fine, dearest,” my mother answers cheerfully. I hear the noise of her car in the background, that hollowness that comes with being on speaker in an enclosed space. Also, the distant sound of shouting, cheerful kids growing quieter by the moment. “I just wanted to let you know I dropped Nell off at school right on time. I know how you worry.”

I can’t help chuckling as I wrap an arm around Ophelia, settling comfortably against the pillows with our bodies fitting so perfectly together. “You know me too well. Did she behave herself?”

“Like a little angel. Mostly. She wouldn’t go to sleep until I read Where the Wild Things Are six times, but once she was out, she was out. Didn’t even have her usual two a.m. bathroom run to drink six gallons of water straight from the tap.”

Smiling, I shake my head. “Be glad she’s past waking you up to make you get it for her. Glad she was good. I’ll get her after school this afternoon.”

“Are you sure? Darling, you’ve been so good with her, but you haven’t taken a day off for yourself in ages that isn’t police business. Even parents take a vacation, Grant. Your father and I can keep her for a few more days before we run off into the wilds for our romantic getaway.” She lets out an indulgent laugh. “Believe it or not, Nell thinks she shouldn’t go home for a week. Apparently, she’s very invested in you getting plenty of ‘kissy time’ with ‘the lady.’”

Shit.

“Ma, I—she does not need to be talking about that. Now, she’s really coming home tonight,” I growl.

Ophelia snickers at my side. “Nell started singing about us kissing in a tree again, didn’t she?”

“Probably,” I grouch from the corner of my mouth, then turn my attention back to my mother. “I appreciate it, Ma. I really do. Still, I think it’s better if Nell comes home. Whatever is or isn’t going on with me and Ophelia, I don’t want Nell feeling like she’s got to cut herself out to accommodate us. Don’t want her thinking she’s in the way. Whatever happens in my life, Nell’s a part of it.”

There’s a sweet, soft sigh at my side.

Ophelia’s hand rests on my arm.

I look down to find her watching me with such a gentle smile, her eyes warm with approval. My heart warms, too, beating just a little harder.

My mother clucks her tongue, but there’s a fondness to it. “You always do take your responsibilities so seriously, but I understand what you mean.”

“Thanks, Ma. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”

We say our goodbyes and I drop my phone back on the nightstand, pressing my lips to Ophelia’s hair.

“If Nell’s already off to school, that means I’ll be late for work.”

“Aww. I want to be selfish and tease you into staying in bed a little longer, but I’ll be good. Don’t work too hard.” Ophelia rubs her cheek against my chest, then shoots me a playful look. “So, whatever’s going on with you and Ophelia, you said? What would ‘whatever’ be?”

“No goddamned clue,” I admit, tipping her face up to steal another kiss. “Don’t know what I’m getting myself into or what we’re doing. But I’d sure as hell like to find out.”

The way she lowers her lashes and blushes is all I need to get my blood racing and ready to make it through another day.

“Yeah,” she whispers, pulling me in for one more slow, lingering kiss. “I think I’d like that too.”


I’ve got enough energy to tow a Mack truck by the time I shower and leave with a scrambled egg and ham sandwich Ophelia threw together.

The whole thing hangs out of my mouth as I shrug into my jacket.

She just charges me up this much. I grin as I take the half-eaten sandwich out and swallow so I can kiss her at the door before ducking into my cruiser and heading off.

I wolf down the remaining sandwich while I drive, flipping back into cop mode even if I’m not technically on duty yet and my head’s overflowing with Ophelia damn Sanderson.

It’s a rotten habit—observing everything, scanning my surroundings as I make my way through town.

That’s how I spot them.

Aleksander Arrendell.

Rosalind Sanderson.

…and fucking Ephraim Jacobin.

They’re standing close to the street corner, thick as thieves next to the local cheese shop, tucked in an out of the way place between that building and the next.

My stomach churns, thinking back to that fucked up encounter at the bar. I couldn’t bring myself to mention that shit to Philia.

I also wish he’d given a reason—just one—to arrest his deranged ass on the spot. There are still a few public obscenity laws on the books, sure, but good luck dragging a man as rich as an Arrendell to court over it. His lawyers would rebuff anything short of public masturbation—and even then I think the scum would get a community service slap on the wrist.

I slow down at the crosswalk to let a few moms with strollers pass in front of me, using the extra time to observe the scene.

Aleksander’s dressed to the nines as usual in a white linen suit today. Ros has a silvery designer dress on, all slouchy bits of fabric that leave her two seconds away from flashing half the town. Her hair’s a mess, her mascara sweat-runny—or is that from crying?

My blood temperature drops a few degrees.

Damn, I don’t know, but she doesn’t look all that distressed. She’s just wearing the same neutral out-of-it look that’s becoming too normal for her.

Ephraim Jacobin is the one who really seems out of place here, coming down from the hills to hobnob with an Arrendell.

My hands tighten on the wheel.

Remembering what happened with Delilah Graves, it wouldn’t be the first time, and we know what was going on there.

Ephraim leans in close to them both, this human scarecrow in handstitched overalls and a cotton shirt under a huge grey trench coat, his thick grey-black beard pouring down his chest. The rest of his face is hidden as usual by the broad brim of his hat.

I still get a nasty flash of his hard, shielded eyes and his teeth as he glances over his shoulder.

Something changes hands between them.

Both Ephraim and Aleksander tuck something into their pockets.

Nope. Don’t like this shit at all.

Shame I got no probable cause to stop them just for having a friendly conversation in broad daylight, but dammit, I want to.

Nothing about this scene sits right with me.

I’d bet both nuts it’s something shady.

Of course, I’ve always had my suspicions about the Jacobins, what with their unmarked trucks full of moonshine and God only knows what else—especially after their favorite son was found with a brick of cocaine before his arrest.

Maybe it’s nothing.

But maybe it’s a whole lot of something, too. Especially when there’s no chance in hell Ros would be slumming around with the hillfolk in her right mind.

More importantly, the last time the Arrendells had big dealings with those moonshine-brewing dickheads up in the hills, women wound up dead.

Are we really gonna sit here and let tragedy strike twice?

Last time, the new girl in town almost became their latest victim.

This time, the new girl in town is my girl, and no, maybe she’s not in overt danger—not yet—but I don’t think it’s unconnected.

When something weird’s up with Ros, Aleksander, and the Jacobins right around the time someone in Arrendell livery is stalking my girl, it reeks to high hell.

I shake my head instinctively.

I won’t let anything happen to Ophelia—or to her little sister, no matter how big of a mistake she’s making with Aleksander.

I’ll be keeping my eyes glued to that slimy prick, every second I’m not watching out for Ophelia.

One bad apple off the gnarled Arrendell tree already raised too much hell in this town.

Letting another one strike so close to home would be too tragic—and definitely too soul killing to ever live down.


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