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.This hiss of oxygen, and the plastic tubes pressed into my nose.And Cutter’s long body, hard but comforting, tucked in beside me.Thank God.I latched onto anger and hurt, held them tightly, then – somehow - let them go.“Are we still fighting?” I asked.My voice was a croak, but when he answered, his was much worse – raw and deep and regretful.“Oh, shit.Baby-doll.You’re awake.Thank fucking God.”“Cutter, are you okay?”He chuckled, and it sounded both relieved and regretful at the same time.“Jesus.Baby-doll, do you know where you are? What do you remember?”I blinked.The light was dim, and I could see tubes and monitors.The room wasn’t clinical or cold, but I couldn’t quite place where I was.“Not a hospital,” I stated.“Not quite.This is my dad’s house.”I frowned, thinking maybe I’d heard wrong.“Your dad’s?”“Yes.He’s helping me.Helping us.”“Why?”I struggled a bit against the sheets, trying to sit up so I could ask for clarification, and Cutter’s hands found my shoulders.Gently, he pushed me back onto the pillow.“Stubborn girl,” he murmured.“We can talk about it later.Right now, you have a broken arm, and your body is covered in bruises.Lie down and relax.”“Was I unconscious?”“The doctor said not really.Your head is the one place you didn’t get bumped.They gave you something to help you sleep, and it really knocked you out.Said you could be out for twenty-four hours.”“Oh.Are you supposed to be in my bed?”“From a medical perspective? No, probably not.I just –“ His voice broke a little, and he cleared his throat.“I know what the doctor said, but you were so fucking still.I was scared you weren’t going to fucking wake up, and it would be my fucking fault, like so much other shit in your life as of late –“Gingerly, I leaned over and cut off his tirade with a kiss.For a second, Cutter didn’t move.I was glad.It gave me chance to explore his lips with mine, probing the width of them.Soft but firm, tasting just a little bit of salt.“Perfect,” I breathed.He pulled away.“Baby-doll.”“Mmm.”I leaned in and kissed him again, this time a little more forcefully.Ignoring the way my body hurt pretty much everywhere, I wrapped my free, un-casted arm around Cutter and pulled him close.He let me kiss him, but kept his mouth sealed when I tried to tease it open with my tongue.Frustrated, I bit down on his lower lip.He drew in a pained breath, and I immediately took advantage of his parted lips, darting my tongue insistently into his mouth.For one, sensuous moment, he yielded to desire.His tongue met mine, and his hands roamed my back.Then he dragged himself away and started to sit up.“I need to call the doctor to let him know you’re awake.He’ll come in to check on your…vitals…your memory…whatever.”My memory? Did he think I forgot everything that just happened right before my accident?“You said I didn’t hit my head,” I reminded him.“You didn’t.”“I remember it all.Right up until I thought I was going to lose you.”“You lose me?” he replied, a begging-to-be-smoothed frown creasing his forehead.“I’m sorry for saying goodbye,” I told him.“For walking away when it got tough.”“Baby-doll, that wasn’t tough.That was you finding out what a fucking monster I am.”“You’re not a monster.”“You’re the only person who doesn’t think so.”I took a breath, and said the words I had to say.“Your baby won’t think so.He – or she, I guess – will love you just as much as I do.”His eyes widened, like he couldn’t decide which part of my statement to deal with first.“It’s not mine,” he said vehemently.“But it could be.”Cutter shook his head.“The second you left, Brandy started in on me.She was screaming so loud, especially when I went after you.If I’d just been a bit quicker…A little less weak…” He paused, his face full of regret.“Brandy followed me, and we both saw it happen.You…The truck.Jesus.I’ll never forget the way you crumpled against its bumper.The fucking sound of it.Brandy told me the truth right away.It doesn’t change what I did before you and I met, but it’s not my baby, Melissa.It’s not even a possibility.She’s two months along already.It’s her boyfriend, Billy’s, but he kicked her out when she told him.”I felt a small, strange tinge of sadness.I squeezed Cutter’s hand.He took a breath.“There’s more,” he said.“Okay.”“Your mother found out about Brandy’s pregnancy and then about Brandy and me, and tracked her down.She paid her to say the baby was mine.”I swallowed against the thick lump in my throat.“Where is she now?”“Your mother?”I nodded.“My father fast tracked a restraining order,” Cutter explained.“You did the right thing,” I replied softly.“Did I?” There was a nervous desperation in his voice.“I had myself appointed as your next of kin.Your mom called that move ‘pretty fucking ballsy’.It’s all temporary, but shit, baby-doll.She wanted me arrested for this.She wanted to have me charged with aggravated assault.Whatever the fuck I did – whatever the fuck I do in the future – I would never put you in danger.But your mom had the cops on me for parole violation and they were dying for an excuse to drag me away from you.I had to keep her away and give myself a legitimate claim for doing it.Even then…I had to threaten to expose her before she stopped.”“None of this changes what I said about you not being a monster,” I told him.“I took the money she gave me, Melissa.I took every penny she gave Brandy, too.I used it to hire my dad’s law firm and to pay for all this medical equipment.Pulling this shit together in twelve hours cost more than I made last year.And I’m sorry.” His face was filled with pain.“I know I’m not the kind of man who deserves a second chance.”I brought his palm to my cheek.“Yes, you are,” I said simply.Silent tears formed in his eyes, and spilled out onto his cheeks.I wiped them away, then leaned forward to kiss his damp face.“Cutter,” I said softly.“When I’m with you, I feel things I never even knew I was missing.Hopeful.Worthwhile.Alive.”I traced my hand along his jaw, down his chin, and to his collarbone.My heart rate monitor jumped.“You’re going to have to turn that off,” I whispered.“I don’t –““Big green button at the bottom [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]