Deep, chest rending sobs pulled Renata from the fitful sleep she’d finally found, hours after the commotion downstairs. She was so emotionally scattered that she raised her hands to her own face at first, to make sure the mournful sound wasn’t coming from her.
Next, she reached for Taylor, who’d fallen asleep amidst pained, traumatized sniffles in Renata’s arms. She was quiet now, and sleeping still, but the slivers of moonlight across her face from the parted blinds showed that slumber hadn’t necessarily given way to peace. Her normally unworried, innocent face was lined with tension, and her lips were moving like she was mumbling something under her breath.
Ignoring the ache that settled over her heart as she remembered her daughter’s account of what she and her sister had seen, Renata placed a soothing hand on Taylor’s chest. With the other hand, she rubbed slow circles on her daughter’s back, in a steadily calming rhythm, until the pained expression left her face. Her breath evened, into the deep inhale-exhale pattern of tranquil sleep.
And still, the sobbing went on.
Carefully, Renata pulled herself out of bed without waking Taylor. She opened the door just enough to slip out, then immediately closed it behind her. Across from her, the formerly unoccupied bedroom that now housed Wolfe’s other teenaged daughter, Kennedy, was open.
She crept up to the open doorway and peeked inside. Her eyes went wide at the sight of Quentin – his expression utterly baffled – with a sobbing Kennedy in his arms, rocking her back and forth in an attempt to soothe her cries. He looked around, almost frantic, like he was desperately waiting on rescue, and when he saw Renata in the door, the relief on his face was comical. “Help me,” he mouthed, raising his eyebrows to highlight the urgency.
Fighting a smile, Renata stepped in, carefully maneuvering herself into the space between the two. Sixteen-year-old Kennedy didn’t seem to notice she’d been traded, she just connected herself to Renata and kept on crying.
Just as she’d done with Taylor, Renata put a hand to the girls chest, over her racing heart, and rubbed her back. Slow, soothing circles, until the sobs settled into cries, which settled into quiet whimpers, which settled into sleep on Ren’s shoulder.
Gently, Renata lowered Kennedy back to her bed and tucked her under the covers, waiting a few moments to make sure the current state of peace would remain. When it seemed as though it would, she carefully crept back out of the room and closed the door behind her to find Quentin waiting outside.
He was sitting on the hallway floor outside her room, with his eyes closed and his head pressed against the wall. His normally well-groomed facial hair was scruffy and untamed, and shadowed circles under his eyes spoke to a lack of sleep. But really, Renata wasn’t sure if he’d ever been sexier to her.
His fierce, protective anger from earlier was still clearly embedded in her mind. She’d watched him, silently, as he dressed in black camo she’d never seen on him, and strapped weapons on himself with confident dexterity, reminding her that he was far from “just” a tech geek. There was no hesitation, no doubting himself, no going to Marcus or Kendall with questions about what went where… he knew.
When he was done, he’d pulled her into him and kissed her like he was going off to war. And hell… he kinda was, fooling around with a man like Wolfe, who could afford a small army at his disposal. What he was doing wasn’t a practice run. It was serious, real, danger, and… he was willing to expose himself to it for her.
God, she loved this man.
Her bare footsteps on the carpeted floor didn’t make him flinch or open his eyes. She almost hesitated to touch him, in case he was finally catching a few moments of sleep, which over the last twenty-four hours, had been increasingly hard to come by. She was careful as she eased down beside him, gently resting her head on his shoulder and closing her own eyes. A moment later, she smiled as he moved to pull her closer and wrap her in his arms.
“Thank you for coming to rescue me, cher,” he muttered against her ear, just before he placed a kiss on the side of her neck. “Emotional teenaged girls are far outside of my skillset.”
Unable to help it, Renata giggled, then turned her face up to meet his gaze. In the midst of the heaviness of the last several months, and especially the last few days, the glint of humor in his eyes was such a welcome distraction it brought a lump to her throat. Before any tears could fall, she nuzzled her face against him, smothering herself in the soft cotton of his tee shirt. Ignoring the lingering pain that still nagged her shoulder, she wrapped her arms around his waist and held tight, even as he shifted their position to pull her into his lap.
He placed a hand to her face, cupping it gently before his fingers slid under her chin. She tipped her head back, welcoming his lips to touch hers in a deep, unhurried kiss that was just enough to make her want to climb into his bed.
But she needed to get back to Taylor.
Quentin must have recognized that too, because despite the bulge growing insistently harder against her leg, he pulled away from the kiss, then pressed his lips to the top of her head. “How are you doing?”
She opened her mouth to say she was fine, then stopped herself. Fine wasn’t really an accurate description of the emotional turmoil she felt. She was thrilled to have Taylor safely back in her presence. Overjoyed that none of her friends had to put themselves in danger to make it happen. But she was also terrified.
There were too many unanswered questions to feel at ease. Where was Damien Wolfe now? Had he really died in that explosion? And for that matter, where was Terry King, who’d somehow slipped away from the surveillance on his house, and was in the wind now. Did he know where they were too? Instead of speaking, she burrowed her face against Quentin’s neck, and he took that as her answer.
He squeezed her tighter, rubbing his fingers in an absent trail on her back. “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you, chérie,” he whispered into her braids, making her scalp tingle with warmth. “You or Taylor. Waited too long. Been too patient.” He shifted positions yet again, this time to cup her face with both hands, so she could look at him as he spoke.
The trace of humor was gone from his eyes, replaced with cold determination, and underneath that, something much warmer.
“Wolfe took someone I loved once, when I was kid. He won’t survive trying that shit with me again. You understand?”
Renata nodded, then closed her eyes to the soft brush of his lips on hers. She moaned a little as his tongue slid into her mouth with authority, like he was putting more emphasis on his words. Most times, logic would have ruled over the emotional, reminding her that “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you” was an impossible promise. But the way Quentin kissed her, with all of him, with everything, like he wanted to leave no doubt that he absolutely had the power to assure such a thing… she decided to believe him.
She pushed away doubt, and fear, and the uncertainty of what was happening around him to simply succumb to his kiss. There would be time again for all of that later.