Publication date: January 12th 2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
The flare of a cigarette, the sound of a stranger’s voice, and the handsome Irishman in the shadows–I wanted it all, but I wasn’t allowed to want.
Ronan was danger and beauty, murder and mercy. To me, he was a mystery, but he was also the only man who ever knew me.
In that single stolen moment before I had to give my life to someone else, I imagined myself with him, the man with scars and bruises. The one who knew what hurting meant far more than I did at that time.
Instead I was given to another man, one who broke my soul right along with my bones.
Through it all, there was always that memory of the man in the shadows, the one who said–not in words–that I was strong, that I could endure, that I was more than just a princess in a ballgown.
Now Ronan is the only man who could keep me safe from two warring families that wanted my blood. The spark that started two years ago burned brighter with each touch, each glance, each kiss. He woke me from the nightmare, giving me life with soft touches and sharp words.
Two years ago, Ronan gave me strength, but he took something in return. I never gave him my heart, but hearts like mine are made to be stolen.
Speechless, I gaped at him as he stepped into the elevator. The doors closed behind him, shrinking the square footage around us to absolutely nothing. I stepped back into the furthest corner of the elevator.
“What are you doing?” I asked. It was ingrained, being frantic alone with a man that wasn’t Jim.
“Are you all right?” he asked, reaching for my elbow. And I absolutely flailed away from him so he wouldn’t touch me.
“I’m fine,” I said, embarrassed down to my core.
“You’re a terrible liar.” He dropped his hand without actually touching me, and I’d never been so relieved and disappointed in my life.
I laughed, low in my throat because he had no idea what a liar I could be.
He reached behind his back and pressed the button that stopped the elevator. We lurched to a halt, and I braced myself against the wall behind me so I wouldn’t bounce into him.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“Why are you upset?”
“Because you are like . . . kidnapping me?”
“Kidnapping?” His grin was . . . well, it was something. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how it made me feel. “Are you all right, Poppy?”
“Stop pretending you care!”
“Someone should care,” he said, quietly. “Someone should care about you, Princess.”
Oh god. Oh god.
“And you think you’re the man to do that?” Why did I say that? He was making a mess of me with his concern and proximity. I was unused to both. “Never mind. I don’t care.”
“Do you want me to?”
“Of course not.”
“Such a liar today. It’s hard to believe you’re the same girl I met at that party.”
“Because I’m not,” I snapped. He leaned a shoulder against the wall. Like we were two people chatting at a bar. A party. Any two people.
“Why are you upset, Poppy?”
I stared at his shirt. The white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up. The neck loose like he’d been working hard at something, but I couldn’t imagine what this man worked hard at. “My husband died,” I said, because I hadn’t figured out why I was really upset.
“That’s why you’re near tears, running from Caroline’s office?”
His grin was a direct shot to my chest. “What am I supposed to do with a girl with so many lies in her mouth?”
There was something . . . maybe the way he said mouth. Or the way he was looking at me. The tiny elevator. Any of it. All of it. But I got this sense, this very real sense that what he wanted to do to me was dirty.
And I could count the number of times I’d thought of something dirty in the last two years on one hand.
But at this moment, locked in an elevator with Ronan whose last name I didn’t know, I imagined, in one white-hot second, him pushing me up against the wall. Stepping up tight against me. That lethal body of his pressed to mine.
A blush incinerated my face. My neck.
“Oh, what are you thinking?” he asked. His voice low. His smile a charming twist. “What dark thing am I doing to you in your mind?”
I swallowed, and he grinned like he was relishing my discomfort, and I realized that I was a toy to him, the same way I’d been a toy to my husband. It was just a different game.
“Make the elevator go,” I said. The blush on my neck was gone, though that thought I’d had would haunt me.
“Tell me what you were thinking.”
“That you only want to hurt me, like everyone else.”
Something in him shifted; some unseen darkness leapt in his eyes. His face. But his expression didn’t change.
I gave him no time for more sarcasm or false concern. Some half-baked flirtation for the pitiful widow. I reached past him, ignoring the warmth of his body and the smell of his skin and pressed the button that made the elevator resume its descent. Within seconds the door was open, and I walked around him towards freedom. Part of me expected him to follow. My husband was always going to have the last word. There was no situation where I was allowed to walk away.
But then, I was oddly disappointed when Ronan didn’t.
My driver, of course, was waiting for me, back door open, and I knew that Justin had called him and told him I was on my way down. I slipped into my seat, and the door slammed behind me. When I turned, before the car drove off, I saw Ronan standing there. On the sidewalk, Caroline’s building behind him, the madness of Manhattan spinning around him like he was the untouched, unmoved center of everything.
He didn’t wave or take the ten steps it would take to open my car door and pull me out, and I was both relieved and upset that he didn’t. Feeling foolish followed, of course, it always did. But still he stood there, looking at me, studying me through the glass of the door. Through the span of the two years and two other times we’d seen each other.
My pulse hammered in my throat – and it wasn’t fear. It wasn’t anything but the normal violence of being alive. Very alive.
“Where to, ma’am?” Theo asked.
M. O'Keefe is the darker, more dangerous pen name of bestselling author Molly O'Keefe. She is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Everything I Left Unsaid series and the upcoming Stolen Hearts. To find out more visit www.molly-okeefe.com.
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