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The Sweetest Obsession: Chapter 9

ONE AND DONE (GRANT)

This is new.

Waking up with warm flesh curled against me, tucked so close in this lush weight at my side.

What the hell?

I know it’s her before I even open my eyes.

I know Ophelia’s scent.

I know her feel.

I know how she takes up space with just her presence. This aura surrounds her until even when we’re not touching, it’s like I feel her with every tortured inch of my body.

Worse, I now know how she tastes when I damn well shouldn’t.

The only question left is why she felt the need to crawl into bed with a desperate, chaotic fuck who can’t keep his lips to himself.

I blink my eyes open slowly, lifting my head and trying not to jostle her as I glance down at her.

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I must have dozed like the dead while I was waiting for her to finish putting Nell to bed.

The fact that I’m buried under multiple blankets with no recollection of piling them on?

That brings back memories from half a lifetime ago.

She always thought I was asleep during those calm nights ages ago when she’d creep up on me and fix the covers over me after I’d kicked them around in a mess.

Every time, I felt her cover me.

I knew.

I just kept stock-still so she wouldn’t run or die of embarrassment.

Same way I hold still now, letting myself take her in.

She forms this compact bundle like a house cat, small and soft against my side.

Considering how we come at each other with our teeth bared so often, it warms something inside me to know she trusted me enough to settle in this close.

Especially after how awkward last night got—how reckless I made it.

Still can’t believe she just kissed me out of the blue like that.

Still can’t believe I kissed her.

I’m dumbfounded that I gave it back, stoking the messy brushfire she started into a proper fucking inferno.

Not that I’m complaining.

I just feel oblivious when she’s been trying to tell me something since we were kids, waving flags in front of my face, but I’m too damned dumb to read the signals. Or maybe I didn’t want to.

Of course, Nelly-girl had to go and open her little mouth about the lady.

Fuck.

I don’t know if I want to hug the kid or ground her until she’s twenty.

I let my gaze drift over the morning light turning Ophelia’s hair into white gold, pouring an amber glaze over her skin.

For a Florida girl, she’s just a hint brown, her summer tan fading fast.

She’s still wearing her t-shirt and jeans, but the oversized shirt has fallen off one shoulder in her sleep, baring smooth, curving flesh.

A pale-blue bra strap begs me to tear it away with my teeth, all so I can kiss the crest of her collarbone.

Her body heat soaks into me everywhere we press together.

I feel like a wild animal sunning itself on a hot day, content and relaxed aside from the need building in my blood.

I don’t understand.

Ophelia should’ve hated me all these years after how we left off.

No, I don’t just mean the shit I said to her then, pushing her away.

It wasn’t just Ethan’s disappearance that forged a rift between us. It was more, somewhere around the time when she stopped being the kid and started turning into a girl.

Maybe when I started seeing her, little hints of a ripening woman.

Suddenly, I was speaking Martian and she was speaking Venusian.

We couldn’t agree on anything.

I start to pry myself free as my stomach growls, thinking about coffee and a cold shower to blunt the hard-on from hell I can’t do shit about.

It’d be nice to surprise her with some breakfast—but the moment I move, she stirs.

Her eyes blink open and she yawns.

For a moment, that glimmering green gaze is lost, drowsy, unfocused—before clarity sharpens her vision.

She goes tense, tilting her head back with her cheek rubbing sweetly against my arm, peering up at me through long, pretty lashes I can’t keep my eyes off of.

“Oh,” she says uncertainly. Sleep gives her voice a husky burr. “Hi.”

“Mornin’,” I answer, arching a brow.

She smiles back sheepishly.

“Um, I meant to wake up before you.”

“And sneak off leaving me none the wiser, huh?”

“Yeah. Kinda the plan,” she admits, shifting to sit up with the blankets wrapped around us both, tumbling down to her waist. With another loud yawn, she rubs at her eye and glances at the clock over the mantel. “Ick. Way too early.”

“Not used to waking up before noon?”

She wrinkles her nose. “No, if I’m being honest. I usually pulled overnight shifts where I’d sleep in past noon.”

“They must be missing you. Your work, I mean.”

“Not really,” she answers wryly. “They fired me right before I got the bad news about Mom. Budget cuts, you know. Half the staff got dropped like hot potatoes, but I guess the timing couldn’t be better.”

I don’t know why that gives me an odd sense of hope.

This idea that she could be back for good, knowing there’s no job waiting for her back in Florida.

Though maybe she has other things that hold her there.

Other people.

That’s an idea I don’t like.

Thinking there’s some lucky little fuckstick waiting with blue balls back in Miami, texting her every day how much he misses her, calling her lover, anxiously waiting for her to come home.

Fuck, I can’t.

Though she wouldn’t have kissed me if she had someone else—would she?

She damn sure wouldn’t have shared another man’s bed for a glorified sleepover my cock wishes had turned into more.

I stare at her for a solid minute, searching for a way to ask tactfully.

I’m coming up at a loss.

How the fuck do I even bring up relationships?

The longer I look at her, the deeper she blushes, this pretty pink flush flowering across her cheeks like a drop of red dye spreading through water.

“You can stop staring like that any time, y’know.” She ducks her head shyly, breaking eye contact as she tucks a few locks of honey-blonde hair behind her ear.

“Like what?” I growl.

“Like you’re trying to figure out what rock I crawled out from under.”

I snort. “That ain’t why I’m staring, Philia.”

“Yeah? Then why?” She peeks at me sidelong.

“One, because you’re goddamned gorgeous in the morning light and I’ve been trying not to look since you came home,” I point out. Fuck it. When in doubt, be honest. Her eyes widen as I continue. “Two, I’m trying to figure out how to ask why you kissed me like you were dying last night.”

She winces—and turns it into a scowl. “Do you have to make it sound so awful?”

Awful?

Hell no.

“I’m not trying to—goddammit, I am not doing this with you again, I—” My jaw clamps shut.

Every time.

Every fucking time, my words come out mangled and she ends up mad.

Fine, if I can’t talk right, I’ll show her.

I ignore the way her pretty face sets in lines of confusion and snapping anger.

Catching her around the waist, I slip under the tangle of blankets to find her, curling my hands against the soft breadth of her.

I feel it when she sucks in a breath, her skin going taut underneath her shirt and my palms.

Before that breath comes out in yet another argument, I pull her close and capture her mouth in a searing kiss.

Fuck.

I feel like I’ve been waiting to devour this mouth my entire life.

Because even if there’s only been one other kiss, it’s like I already know her lips inside and out from the countless times I’ve dreamed about taking her in my arms and tasting every inch of her.

There’s a moment of stiffness before she goes soft against me, pliant and willing, her lips opening against mine with a low moan that cuts me open.

Their softness drives me out of my goddamned mind.

This woman drives me insane.

She always fucking has.

How can I keep pretending that I haven’t always wanted her to be mine?

With a rough growl, I seize her, crushing our lips together, catching the curious flick of her tongue with mine.

We twine tongues until we’re shamelessly tangled, all roughness and stroking and teasing as I slick my tongue along hers, chasing that moan.

Give it the fuck up, Butterfly.

I don’t deny it’s pure lunacy.

She makes me so greedy it’s like I’m trying to mark her, brand her, leave a lingering imprint so she feels me no matter where she is.

Then maybe she’ll never run from Redhaven again.

She’ll never run away from me.

Goddamn, she’s the sweetest fire known to man.

The way she clutches at me with her little nails scratching against my chest goes right to my heart and then to my cock.

With a rough groan, I drag her against me, pulling her in tight until we’re pressed so close. The soft swell of her breasts crush against my chest, her nipples perked and insistent.

The explosive pressure makes it hard to think with every pulse roaring.

There isn’t a coherent thought except how badly I want to be inside her.

When Ophelia feels better than my wildest dreams come to life, it’s hard as hell to make myself let her go.

But when she breaks away with a gasp, her mouth swollen to a luscious pink from my teeth, I stop.

I force myself still as she looks at me, dazed, her hands braced against my chest as she puts some sorely needed distance between us.

Damn, what have I done?

“Grant?” she breathes. That sleepy burr to her voice feels silkier than ever, and it’s doing some black magic shit to me. “What are we doing?”

“No fucking clue,” I grind out. “But I feel like we should’ve done it years ago.”

Ophelia’s lower lip creeps between her teeth.

“Nell was serious? You really thought about me all this time?”

Guilty.

I feel like I’ve been sitting on this secret so long it’s almost a sacrilege to root it out and expose it to the light. Or maybe I’ve always been so certain it was a lost cause, so I packed my feelings away somewhere I could protect them.

It’s hard as hell to admit it.

“Yeah,” I force out raggedly.

There’s a violent thumping in my chest, a war drum I think she hears.

Her eyes widen and she draws in a sharp breath. “I… I honestly thought you hated me, especially when I left.”

“Like hell.” I shake my head, catching one of her hands and curling it in my own. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how small she is when she’s so resilient. My fingers dwarf hers, big twigs against little sticks, rousing that urge to shelter and protect and keep her. “I said some dumb shit I shouldn’t have when you told me you were leaving, Butterfly. I’ve regretted it ever since.”

Dark uncertainty flickers in those spring-green eyes as her fingers curl tighter in mine.

“You… you told me not to come back.”

“I know. I was a monster asshole about it. Too afraid to face the hurt that was tearing us both up head-on.”

I exhale deeply, pulling her in, coaxing her to fit the crook of my arm—all the while hoping she’ll let me hold her while I get this out.

I need to drain the poison.

After a worn moment, she nestles herself into my side again, resting her head on my shoulder.

A few wispy blonde hairs tickle my neck and catch in my beard.

“I wasn’t thinking straight that day,” I admit. “Maybe it was all the time since Ethan disappeared, where we sat there wondering without any answers… but when you said you were leaving, all that grief came vomiting up like it was as fresh as the day he disappeared. All I could think was you were gonna disappear and never come back, too. That I was gonna be alone, stranded with my grief over my best friend and this hole in my family. This gaping fucking pit without you.”

These words are brutal.

They come out like hard, jagged shards that cut my mouth.

Especially when I’m forcing every syllable past the hard knot of pride in my throat.

Only, when I think about the damage I did, how much I hurt her, how much those words have been hanging between us all these years like a sword over our necks, I’ve gotta end this.

Right here and now.

Gotta set things straight.

“Guess I started thinking, maybe it was best if you left after all. This town is a black curse for some folks, and maybe if you were gone, its darkness wouldn’t take you, too.”

The way she listens so intently, I can tell she’s taking it all in.

Turning it over, letting it sink in.

She’s always been better at this feelings shit than me.

Absorbing what other people say, thinking it through, using her heart to guide her to the right answer.

I bet it made her one hell of a nurse, too. The kind of bedside saint every patient needs in their darkest hour.

I give her time to think, to decide how to answer me.

I’m definitely not expecting her to say, “I’m sorry.”

It’s just a whisper, intense and heartfelt.

“I’m sorry I ran away and left you so soon. We were so close, Grant, and… and it felt like something broke. Like losing Ethan cut the thread that tied everything together, sending everyone spinning.”

“Because we let it,” I snarl. “Because even though he was the red thread of fate or whatever that held us together, we could’ve found a new way to stick. Only, we were young and hurt and scared and stupid. So yeah, you fucking ran. So did I in my own way. I’m sure Ros did too.” I press my lips to her hair tentatively. “Hell, some days it feels like I’ve been running from you half my life.”

“I still don’t understand. When did you realize…” She can’t finish.

She doesn’t need to.

“Can’t say.”

“Grant?” she urges.

My nostrils flare.

She smells too good, all alluring woman mingled with that calming beeswax scent.

I close my eyes, inhaling her as I murmur into that golden crown of hair.

“Just feels like one day you were this bratty thing following us around. Then I blinked and you were still a huge brat, but a girl, too. Then a woman, as time went by. Once I saw you that way, there was no blinding myself again. Couldn’t stop if I tried.” I smile faintly. “Even though I knew Ethan would kill me.”

Ophelia laughs faintly, her body moving gently against mine.

“Did he know?”

“Fuck no. That happened later. The age difference alone would’ve been lethal. If he was still around, I’d rather stab an eye out with a stick than tell Ethan I was in love with his little sister.”

“I wonder if he thought about the future anyway.. I think he knew I was crushing on you and I never told him—and he never let me live it down. Every time your back was turned, he was always picking on me, making kissy faces.” She scrunches her nose. “The jerk,” she mutters affectionately.

Goddamn, that cuts to the bone.

Mainly because I feel it, too.

That warmth, that easy affection. It’s like it keeps part of him around, my best friend egging us both on, no matter how MIA he is.

I can see his easygoing smile even now.

That’s just how Ethan was.

Everyone’s friend, never met a stranger he didn’t like, this charmer with the cocky grin and messy shag of sandy hair.

If he were here, he’d tell us to stop being screwballs and get out of our own way.

Then he’d thump me for the things I’m suddenly wanting to do, with the way my heart catches fire at the words I was crushing on you.

I linger on that warm expression of fond memories on Ophelia’s face, then catch a lock of honey-gold hair and coil it around my fingers.

“All this time, we both thought it was hate when it was the exact opposite.”

“All this time. Crazy,” she agrees shyly, a slow smile spreading across her lips.

Only trouble is, it’s happening so fast it makes my head spin.

Where the hell do we go from here with two lives apart and endless drama pulling us in different directions?

“So, you still crushing on me now?” I ask.

Do you still love me?

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Ophelia laughs and prods her finger lightly against my chest. “It’s been ten years, Grant. I’m still a pain-in-the-ass realist. I barely know you anymore.” That laughter fades, though, and she cocks her head at me with thoughtful eyes lingering before she adds, “But I think I’d like to.” Then she grins, impish as ever as she pokes my chest again. “Your turn, bucko. Are you still in love with me?

I could answer.

For Ophelia Sanderson, I could cut myself open and pour out my soul.

Somehow, I don’t think I’m gonna give that beautiful brat the satisfaction, though. Not when we’re dancing around our words, saying too much and trying to read between the lines.

I just grin slowly, lace our fingers together, and lift them to kiss her knuckles.

Then I gather her against me in the glowing morning silence, settling down again to hold her while the light rises through the windows, gold and bright and true.


I haven’t had a morning this peaceful in a good, long while.

We stay tangled up on the sofa together, now and then stealing a few light, wordless kisses that leave me as hard as a rock.

Honestly, it’s a relief when Nell comes thumping downstairs and catches us with an ooh and a loud giggle.

That’s our cue to start the day.

Soon, we’ve got all hands in the kitchen throwing together breakfast. We work seamlessly without minding little Nell’s clumsy ‘help.’

I gotta say, I’m grateful for an extra pair of hands to catch the girl with sharp objects she’s not supposed to touch, or her ham-fisted attempts to fiddle with the burners to make our food cook faster. We’re real lucky she doesn’t burn down the house.

Meanwhile, we’re treated to Nell’s cartoonish smoochy faces and schoolyard songs about sitting in a tree doing the unspeakable.

Ophelia takes it all in with good humor, thankfully. She also chases Nell into her seat with a frontal assault of tickles.

It’s a sweet normalcy I hadn’t realized I’ve been missing until it’s right there in my face.

What would it look like if this was my life, my family, every day?

I’m sure I ain’t the only person wondering. Ophelia looks at me like she’s seeing me for the first time with new eyes, and I think she’s pretty damn fond of what she sees.

My heart drums every time I catch her eye over breakfast.

That warmth lingers as we split apart to tidy up, wash the dishes, and get Nell ready for school.

Not long after, I drop them both at the school, Nell kissing my cheek and rushing off to scream after her friends. Ophelia offers a bright smile and tells me she can walk from here since she’s planning to stop by the family shop to try to corner Ros before she sets off on another visit to the medical center.

“I’ll pick Nell up this afternoon, if you want,” she says, leaning her arms on the driver’s side window and peering in at me with a smile. “My car’s supposed to be out of the shop, so you don’t need to worry.”

“Not sure how I ever managed before.”

And just to see if she’ll do it—if things really have changed between us—I tilt my head up for a kiss.

Ophelia glances to both sides, her face flaming such a pretty sky-pink.

Then she leans in and gives it up, pressing her mouth to mine like pure nectar.

It’s swift and sweet, this lingering heat that curls through my veins as our lips brush chastely.

I have to hold my greedy tongue back before she pulls away with a flick of her finger against my nose.

“Next time, try asking instead of playing charades,” she teases with a smile. “See you tonight.”

“Tonight,” I agree, pondering how to ignore this brutal hard-on that’s fixing to make me black out.

It’s hard as hell to pull away from the curb, leaving her behind.

Yeah, I’m reeling with how quickly things keep changing all around me. Despite the nonstop string of bad luck that hits this town too often, for once it feels like things might be changing for the better.

The woman I’ve always been obsessed with under my roof.

Talking like an old friend.

Sharing meals and bedtime stories with Nell.

Kissing me until I’m redder than a freshly painted barn.

Especially when she smiles at me like I never took an axe to her heart.

Yeah, fuck.

Today’s gonna be a real good day, no matter what the universe has planned.


Correction.

Today is not a good fucking day.

I smell trouble brewing the second I walk into the station.

The whole crew’s already gathered, huddled around my desk like they own it as usual, but there’s something different in the air.

This whole vibe is wrong, tension and quiet so thick it’s immediately near suffocating.

When I open the door, they all break away from their semicircle, looking up at me like they’re about to announce a death.

Frowning, I shrug off my jacket and toss it over the nearest chair.

“Report. What’s got everyone looking so miserable this morning?”

“The Jacobins again,” Micah answers grimly. “They’ve been quiet for too long. Not surprising after their boy went down being an accomplice to a serial killer. But it looks like they’re starting to make their move again.”

“What?” I frown.

“The unmarked trucks are back, for one,” Micah tells me. “No, I can’t ever get close enough to see what’s going into them without tipping the whole clan off and getting my ass nailed full of buckshot, but there’s a lot of coming and going in the middle of the night up there. Has to be the distilleries again, assuming it isn’t something worse.”

Aw, shit.

I feel like Chief Bowden should be here for this conversation.

Where the fuck is the chief, anyway?

Ever since the Arrendell bust, Bowden barely shows up for work, taking his lazy absenteeism to new heights. A hibernating bear would make a better police chief at this point.

Essentially, him being MIA leaves everything in my hands—including making big decisions above my pay grade about our resident bootleg booze makers.

“So, they’re moonshining again,” I mutter, tugging at my beard. “Goddammit. We’ve looked the other way on this for ages, but after the way they closed ranks to try to cover up for murder… Yeah, I think we’ve given them enough leeway. No telling what else they’re hiding.”

My mind snaps back to what almost happened to Delilah Graves.

The way both Ephraim and Culver Jacobin would watch her around town like they were marking her, two creepy scarecrows eyeballing her on behalf of their master.

I don’t like the parallels.

Don’t fucking like them at all.

Not when I’ve seen the same strange man watching me, and knowing he also matches the description of the guy who tried to grab Ophelia.

“Uh-oh,” Henri says. “Capitan’s got that thinkin’ look on his face.”

“Just drawing a few comparisons. The incident at the Sanderson house—there was a man who fits the description of someone I’ve seen around town. He’s not a local, not that I know of. Which means he’s either a tourist, someone from the big house, or—”

“One of the Jacobins,” Lucas interrupts, his voice dark.

The hard set of his jaw tells me his mind’s falling into the same ugly place as mine.

“Yeah. Only, the Jacobins don’t normally wander around in slacks and tailcoats,” I say.

“So, staff up at the Arrendell mansion?” Henri asks. “Where we just had a suicide?”

“Yep.” I sigh. “Funny how any time there’s a death around that damn family, weird shit starts popping off.”

“I sure as hell don’t think it’s funny,” Lucas growls. “Considering they almost killed my wife.”

He,” I correct wearily, even if I don’t want to. “As far as we know, none of the other Arrendells had anything to do with the Ulysses situation. Same goes for the Jacobins and their bad seed.”

“Fuck, man, and I’m a six-foot green goddamn chicken,” Lucas mutters, but he lets it go.

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on them,” I say. “Ophelia said that man kept telling her she’s next. That if she goes near them—one good guess who he means—she’ll die.”

The entire room goes dead quiet.

Every last one of my officers looks at me with the same grave understanding.

It’s Micah who finally breaks the silence, his pale eyes flinty.

“Sounds like we might be looking at a suicide that wasn’t a suicide at all,” he says. “Do we need to reopen the Cora Lafayette case?”

“Quietly,” I snarl. “Let’s keep our eyes open, but sweep things under the radar for now. Put your ears out. Listen around town. Ask questions whenever the opportunity comes. Take note of any strange comings and goings up at the mansion, off record, and you guys let me know ASAP if anything stinks.”

The men nod with a sense of heavy duty sinking in.

“The flood of movie stars and CEOs has slowed down since the last round of trouble, at least,” Lucas points out. “Xavier prefers to do his business elsewhere, and I hear Aleksander’s got himself a hometown girl.”

“Yeah. About that.” I grind my teeth. “If y’all see them around—just fucking watch them, okay? I’m real worried Rosalind Sanderson’s in over her head. Might be in trouble.”

“Rosalind? Abusive relationship?” Micah asks.

“Probable substance abuse,” I reply. “Look, I don’t wanna have to arrest her and give her a drug test, but if she looks like she’s in trouble, don’t hesitate to intervene. I’d rather have to apologize than end up being too late.”

Lucas salutes crisply.

“You got it, Chief.” Then he frowns. “By the way, how’s Ophelia settling back in?”

“She’s staying with me for now,” I say, ignoring the slow grins turning my way. “Whatever. Mind your own damn business and get to work. Dismissed.”


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