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The Sweetest Obsession: Chapter 25

ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT (GRANT)

Never.

Never in my life have I felt anything like the murderous rage scalding my veins the instant I hear my little girl’s scream.

I don’t even remember how I got on the fucking yacht.

I know I meant to jump for the lifeboats bolted halfway down the hull—a target I can actually reach without someone holding the wheel steady for me—but I don’t remember actually doing it.

One second, Nell’s voice sliced through my heart.

Then the gun.

Ask me if I care.

Now, all I can see is Aleksander Arrendell’s back—and then nothing but a smear of color as I slam into him like a freight train.

“Nell!” Ophelia cries.

It happens faster than I can blink.

Nell rushing into Ophelia’s arms.

Ophelia grabbing her, pulling her and Ros toward the wheelhouse and safety—right before Aleksander’s bony damn elbow snaps back at my face.

My nose cracks.

My vision explodes in a surge of white.

Pain bursts over me like a roaring waterfall.

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from reaching, from grabbing him, from catching his shitty fucking tux.

He’s all dressed up with nowhere to go except down.

And he howls, cursing like a wounded beast.

I pry my eyes open, vision hazed with pain, and fling myself at him again.

Again.

I’m a human wrecking ball.

The only thing that matters is demolishing this asshole.

I throw him to the ground and grab for his wrist, his gun.

I can’t risk it.

Let him hurt me all he wants, but if that gun goes off and strikes one of my girls—

“You ridiculous brute,” he grinds out, writhing under me like an eel. His knees jab my gut, throwing me off-balance, pushing me back, but I won’t stop. “You’re ruining the entire thing!”

“Get fucked,” I snarl.

I have to take a risk, it’s the only way.

I let go of his wrist—and then plow my fist into his face like an angry god.

Blood explodes everywhere.

Aleksander lets out a cry that’s pure shock before the pain hits his brain. Then all he can do is make this gurgling sound.

His hand tightens convulsively on the gun.

Wrenching his arm, I slam it down on the deck, but the shot goes off.

It’s deafening and just ahead of another noise.

Crashing glass.

Shit.

Then the yacht stops so abruptly we’re flung apart.

He goes skidding toward the railing, the gun spinning after him.

I hit the floor, landing hard on my shoulder, then roll and take a leap, snatching at the gun, scrambling for it with both hands.

I catch it just as the engine dies with a shuddering groan.

I’m falling to my knees, flicking the safety on the pistol, while Aleksander flails up against the deck railing.

I’m winded as I glower at him.

“Fucking stand up. Hands behind your back!”

“Oh, fuck you, pig,” he says, lying there awkwardly, his face streaked in blood and contorted with hate. “You—”

The yacht’s engine growls to life again.

The boat goes jolting forward.

I let out a startled groan, rocking unsteadily while Aleksander screams.

The sudden momentum shoves him through the bars of the deck railing.

Overboard.

Dammit.

I can’t decide if I’m relieved or pissed at the tiniest chance he could escape. We have to get him the hell out of the water before he has any bright ideas.

I drop the gun and bolt to my feet, rushing to the railing, looking for him.

Just in time to see his garish white tuxedo and that stark blond hair disappear into the churning waves.

Followed by an ugly bloom of crimson.

The yacht shudders and stops again.

A minute later, a lifeless shape, mangled almost beyond recognition appears.

He’s nothing but shattered limbs floating face down, bobbing up to the surface.

“Oh my God, the engine. I-I didn’t mean to do that!” Ophelia calls from the wheelhouse, her voice hollow.

I look up and nod.

Nobody’s gonna mourn one less psycho, murdering asshole sucking up oxygen, especially me.

I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on him myself unless I had no choice, no. But there are times when I’m damned glad fate doesn’t make me choose real justice over my oath to law and order.

Soon, Ophelia’s feet patter on the deck, rushing up to me.

“Jesus. Are you okay? Did you—” She freezes, standing at my side, staring over the railing with her mouth a solid ring. Her face goes ashen, one trembling hand pressed to her mouth. “Holy shit. I… I definitely didn’t mean to do that.

It’s the look on her face that clears the adrenaline fog holding me in place.

Without thinking—hell, I can’t remember why I ever made myself wait, why she needed distance when life is so fucking short—I pull her into my arms, pressing her so close.

She comes willingly, trembling, burying herself against me while I curl a hand against the back of her head.

Beyond her body, I can just make out Ros with little Nell in her arms.

They both come creeping out warily from inside, edging past the glass of the shattered front window. They’re both crying and shaking and wiping their eyes. More importantly, they’re whole.

They’re safe.

As I hold Ophelia Sanderson tight, I remember how to breathe again.

As I shelter her in my arms, I thank God this situation didn’t end a thousand other fucked up ways it easily could have.

And now I can safely tell her, “It’s over. It’s all right. You’re all in one piece and we’re going home.”


That whole promise of home would come a lot faster if I knew there weren’t a million questions to answer and multiple high-ranking men growling in my face soon enough.

They’re sympathetic enough, sure, but they want answers, slaves to law and procedure.

I get it. If I were in their shoes, I’d be the same way, especially when an outsider cop rolls into their town with a stolen yacht and a dead high-profile killer to deal with.

It takes almost an hour for the Coast Guard to zero in on our coordinates and find us—and retrieve what’s left of Aleksander Arrendell.

I end up in a pile of girls while we wait, sitting on the deck with little Nell in my lap. Ros is also tucked against my shoulder, leaving Ophelia curled up in an exhausted bundle in the crook of my arm.

Nope, I still can’t feel bad for that dead fuck.

Not when he’s done this much damage.

The only thing that soothes my tired rage is knowing how much they need me.

How I still have a chance to make everything right.

If they didn’t need me so much, I might be shaking from the cold too, but I can’t.

For them, I’ll be as steady as an oak tree, spreading my branches to cover them.

I don’t breathe easy until we’re back on the shore and surrounded by EMTs.

They flag us down, guiding us over to the benches along the dock while they fuss over our bruises and injuries.

Ros is going to need more than a few bandages for her scrapes.

She and Ophelia take the bench next to us, Nell still glued to my arm. I stroke her hair like a puppy, willing the last few hours away like a bad dream.

Goddamn, if only it were that easy.

“What’s your favorite food, hon?” A kind EMT chatters away, prompting Nell out of her shock with small talk and checking her reflexes.

“Broccoli cheddar soup,” I answer when she hesitates too long. “The girl eats it by the pint and she’s gonna get the biggest, cheesiest batch of it in her life tomorrow.”

That wins me a smile and a laugh. Plus, a few words from Nell about how she’s a Bolognese sauce connoisseur too. For the first time since we got off that yacht, I relax.

When the other EMT asks if she has any other conditions, Ros looks down weakly.

“I…” She bites her lipstick-smeared lip. “…cocaine, honestly. And he had these other pills that always left me feeling warm and loopy. Opium, maybe? I think, um… I think I’m still high right now. I-I don’t know how it happened. I was with him and he made it seem so innocent. Like harmless fun. I just…” Her face falls, fresh tears welling in her eyes. “Oh, God, Ophelia. I’m so sorry, I don’t even know how I got to this point—”

“Shhhh,” Ophelia whispers, gathering her sobbing sister close. “It doesn’t matter how you got there. What matters is that you’re here now, and we’re going to take care of everything. We’re going to get you better.”

For a second, Ros looks at me like she’s about to completely break.

I nod fiercely.

I’ll take care of them all, if I need to.

Ethan’s last unspoken wish and my fate, accepted without complaint.

“How can you even say that?” Ros whimpers against her sister. “Everything’s falling apart. And a lot of it’s my fault.”

“It’s not, and some things that fall apart can be put back together,” Ophelia says bravely with the same soft, serene strength that’s made her who she is. The same power that’s always defined her. “Because I love you, baby sister. That’s all that matters. There’s always a way to work things out with the people you love.”

She’s talking to Ros when she says it, but over Ros’ head, her eyes find mine.

And she smiles, something so luminous in her eyes igniting that it takes my breath away.

I can’t help but smile back.

I grin like I’m losing my mind, cuddling Nell against me while the EMT looks her over and pressing my lips to my cousin’s hair.

No matter how Ophelia feels about me, I won’t ever stop loving her.

That strong, fierce woman who fought for her family, for mine.

That storm of my life, the one I could never forget in a decade-long drought.

The fire of my soul, destroyer of grief, pulsing light of a thousand butterflies that never go dormant with winter.

She is everything.

It’s more than half an hour before the EMTs are satisfied and declare me, Ophelia, and Nell safe to go home. Ros is whisked off to the local hospital where they can start treatment for substance abuse.

It’s another forty-five minutes before the cops are done taking our initial statements.

I’m gonna have one hell of a fat police report to write when I get back to Redhaven, but I’ll worry about that later.

By the time we can breathe again, Nell’s passed out, clinging to me like a kitten. She’s barely said a word, and it’s been driving me nuts that I can’t pull away from all this to focus on her.

I just hold her tight.

So she knows her Uncle Grant is never going anywhere, and he’s never going to let anything ever hurt her again.

Once was bad enough.

We saved her, yeah, but not without a scratch and a whole mess of fear. Happy endings don’t hit like they do in action movies or thriller novels.

Not when real life is so goddamned messy.

I’ll only be undoing the damage for the rest of my life.

The sun starts setting over the water, staining it pink and gold. I take a quiet moment to watch it, to breathe, while I hold a sleeping Nell in my arms.

I’m not expecting the soft voice at my shoulder.

“How is she?”

I lift my head.

Ophelia stands there, watching me with a tired, wistful smile. Her hair tumbles down around her, turned into a fiery gold halo around her face by the fading sunset.

“Not great,” I say, keeping my voice low, rubbing a soothing hand over Nell’s back. “She’s been through so much already. I think sleep is the only way she can cope, but I’m definitely gonna have to get her in to a child psychologist soon. I don’t know. I’ve gotta know how to help her without accidentally stomping around and doing more damage.”

“You’re already helping, Grant. Just being here for her right now is the best thing you can do, but I know you’ll do anything she needs. Whatever it takes.” Ophelia settles in next to me, sinking down on the bench. “Is there anything I can do?”

“You’ve done a hell of a lot already, Butterfly. You helped save my little girl.” I can’t help leaning toward her. “Fuck, you saved me. Thank you.”

“…it still doesn’t feel like enough.” She lifts her head, looking up at me with those green eyes.

I don’t care what she is.

I’ll never think of them as Arrendell eyes when they’re too warm, too pure, too full of that gorgeous heart they lack. Her hand rests on my arm, light as snow, yet so much warmer.

“Just wish I could do more for you,” she whispers. “I wish I could do everything.”

My heart stills in my chest.

I don’t want to hope. Not after this shit show with so many raw feelings torn open.

I clear my throat. “What are you saying? Be clear, woman, my head’s too spun to read between the lines.”

She looks down.

For a second, I’m worried I’ve scared her off, but then she jerks her face up and looks at me.

“I’m saying I almost lost you,” she whispers, tears glimmering in those beautiful eyes. “He could’ve shot you. That could’ve been you going over the railing. Grant, I—”

Ophelia.” I spare a hand from Nell to cup Ophelia’s cheek. “You never lost me. Not once. Not even for one second.” And I hope she knows what I mean. “No matter what happens, you never will. You’ve always had the best of me—hell, you teased it out of me in the first place—and it’s not going anywhere.”

“Yeah?” Her soft breath blends into a slow, hopeful smile.

“Yeah.”

“So… maybe we can try again?”

“No damn maybes about it,” I growl. She’s always needed me to be honest, and I’ve never been good at it until she came back into my life. Now it’s easier than ever to say, “I need you with me, Ophelia. Not just as a roommate, helping me with Nell. I need you to be mine. If you need more time, I get it. I’ll—”

“No! I don’t.” She shakes her head quickly, blonde hair whipping around her face. “I’m stronger with you than I am without you, Grant. I’ve figured that out. So maybe life is messy right now. Maybe I just found out my father is a huge creep and two of my brothers are crazy killers and now dead. Maybe my mom’s in the hospital fighting for her life and my sister’s an addict who almost married our half brother. But… but I can find the strength to fight through all of that, to be there for my family—my real family—and to stand strong. And I don’t have to search hard as long as I have you… As long as you’ll let me hold you up, too, I mean. As long as you’ll accept my apology for being stupid and not coming to my senses sooner.”

I shouldn’t be able to smile again.

Not after the black day we’ve had.

“You’re a little short to hold me up,” I say, grinning like a madman.

I cup my palm against Ophelia’s cold skin.

Her eyes narrow, but her smile only brightens as she rubs her cheek to my palm. “Don’t be an ass. You know what I mean.”

“Maybe I want to hear you say it.”

Her eyes glimmer, widening, her smile fading.

Her cheeks flush hot and those soft pink lips finally give me what I need.

“I love you, Grant. I never stopped loving you. Not once in all these years.”

I’m burning inside like the setting sun as I lean in and claim that lovely mouth.

“Then it’s a damn good thing I love you, too,” I say, growling with delight. “I’ve always been obsessed, Philia, and I always will be. As long as I’m breathing, you’re mine. Plain and simple.”


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