I rolled onto my side, but it wasn’t any better. My couch was made for sitting, not sleeping, especially for a man my size.
I kicked off the sheet, shouldered up and hitched my elbows on my knees.
Who was I kidding? I hung my head, giving in to the truth. It wasn’t the couch that had been keeping me up. Kira was here, in my apartment, in my bed. And because the gods were spiteful, they had given me too much integrity to take advantage of it. Fuck.
I scrubbed my face with both hands then checked my comm. It was almost seven in the morning, a late start for me, but Kira probably needed more rest. I cocked my ear, glancing at the bedroom door, to hear any movement on the other side of it. While I had fought with my makeshift bed last night, I had heard her crying but had managed to stop myself from going to her. She needed time to herself.
I snorted. That actually sounded noble. I had almost convinced myself that the real reason I wanted to go to her wasn’t to catch sight of her laying in my bed … long legs tangled in my sheets … wearing my shirt. Hallowed Halls, everything I owned in the room would smell like her, that mouthwatering scent that always surrounded her!
She tasted and felt good way too. Her mouth, her pussy, … everything in between.
I stood up. I had to get a fucking grip.
The woman had just ended a relationship and was a bloody mess, and there I was, imagining the taste and feel of her. I picked up the sheet from the couch and folded it before leaving it on a small table on my way to the kitchen.
I needed coffee. I’d make some, get my head focused and wait for her to get up.
Ten minutes later, I came to my senses. When am I ever going to have the chance to see Kira in my bed again? I grabbed two mugs of coffee — one for her, in case she was awake — and strode to my room.
I listened at the door for a few long seconds.
Hearing nothing on the other side, I balanced our coffees in one hand and activated the door with the other. It slid open smoothly and I peered inside.
Kira was sleeping, chest rising and falling steadily, facing away from me. I entered the room and thanked my training for the ability to walk without making a sound. When I reached the bed, I looked down at her. Even with a face puffy from crying, she was a groin-aching sight.
She had one arm curled under her cheek, her other draped across her waist. My sheets had twisted around her legs, leaving her covered, waist-up, only by my gray shirt. Thank the gods I had pulled that shirt from the pile. It was thin, hiding nothing of the full curves of her breasts. I grinned. Her hair looked like a storm cloud had exploded, its curling strands blanketing the pillows under her head.
Suddenly, I tensed.
This was fucked up. I had lost my ever-loving mind, standing there, gawking, doing the kind of thing I would detain any citizen for.
I took a step back when she scrunched her face then burrowed into my sheets. My pulse shot up when she flipped over then cried out as her eyes met mine.
I jerked. “Shit!” Scalding liquid ran onto my hands. Meanwhile, she jackknifed into a seated position, eyes wide, looking around wildly.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I looked around then placed the mugs on my bedside table and grabbed a towel from the chair close by, cursing myself. As I swiped drops of coffee off my pants and the sheets, I apologized, unable to meet her eyes.
“No. I’m sorry,” she said. “Y-you startled me. I just didn’t remember where I was.”
I scowled. “It didn’t help finding me staring at you when you woke up,” I muttered then looked her over. Coffee stains dampened the thin fabric across her chest. I made out the dark shade of her nipples as her breasts moved easily behind my shirt. Holy mother of gods. I released a deep breath then lifted my eyes to hers.
“Here,” I said, thrusting the towel at her. “You have some on my shirt, your shirt. I mean the shirt.” I shook my head with a deepening scowl then strode into my bathroom.
I stared into the mirror, bracing my hands against the edge of the sink. Good gods, man. Get it together! This was Kira.
Fuck. That was the problem. This was Kira.
I straightened, committing to acting a little less like some bumbling oaf, and headed back into the room.
Kira was still sitting in my bed. She shifted position quickly then smiled, which did the usual weird shit to my head.
“What?” I asked, picking up one of the mugs as my neck prickled with heat.
She shrugged and fidgeted, pulling the blanket up around her waist. I took care to keep my eyes off her chest. “Nothing,” she said. “I’ve just never seen you look so ... normal.”
I raised my eyebrows. Normal? “I suppose I’ve been given worse compliments,” I said, shoving the chair closer to the bed with a knee before sitting down on it.
Kira’s smile grew. “You just always look … on guard,” she said. “Ready to intimidate and fight at a moment’s notice.”
I snorted. Of course, I do. I’m a protector, for gods’ sake. “Did you think I wear my uniform while I sleep?” I asked, eyeing her over the rim of my mug.
“Yes,” she said cheekily, just like I knew she would.
I glared at her because that was what she would expect in return, and enjoyed the glimmer of amusement in her eyes. It was worlds better than her vacant stare the night before.
“Well, that should come as no surprise. Some days I feel like I might as well sleep in the blasted thing,” I muttered, jutting my chin toward the other mug on the side table. “I brought you coffee. Well, whatever’s left of it.”
“Thank you,” she said, reaching for the cup and taking a sip.
As we drank in silence, I studied her. I couldn’t help it. It was rare for me to see her sitting quietly in front of me. Kira and I were usually arguing with, challenging or cursing each other. I took in the slump to her shoulders, the glassiness of her eyes and the haunted look on her face. This wasn’t the Kira I knew, the one I admired for her fearless and uncompromising approach. This Kira was shaken, an unsettling version of herself.
I despised seeing her this way. I despised him for doing this to her.
“You’re staring at me again,” she said suddenly, lowering the mug to her lap.
I blinked, glancing away with a wince. Get your head out of your bloody ass! “Apologies.” I looked back at her. “Do you want more coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
She said it primly, a tad too politely, which meant Kira was either bracing herself for something or just barely holding herself together. I leaned forward, planting my elbows on my knees. “How’re you feeling?”
She lowered her gaze, running a finger around the rim of her mug with a frown. “Like someone dug my heart out with a spoon, ran it through a food processor and is trying to shove what’s left of it down my throat.” She glanced up.
Just as I thought. I ran a palm down my thigh, nodding with an eyebrow raised. “That’s pretty much how you should feel,” I said, pushing myself up to stand. Time to shift gears, get her thinking about something else. “Come on. I’ll make you breakfast.”
“No. I can’t eat.” Her face fell, looking as if she would vomit right then and there.
“We’ll see,” I said, taking the mug from her, then left the room.
I walked into my kitchen, wondering what in the worlds I planned on cooking. I placed the two mugs in the sink and opened the cooler door. After staring into it for a few minutes, I admitted defeat. I had no blasted idea what the woman I spent most nights thinking about would want to eat. I closed the door and ran a hand over my head as my comm buzzed.
Come by later for a home-cooked meal, Commander.
A second later:
And yes, that’s an order!
I grinned at Ma’s message. She must be having a good morning if she was already up and planning for the rest of the day. I leaned against the kitchen counter, thanking the gods for that. She had been complaining about headaches and joint pain just a week earlier. Those episodes seemed to be occurring more frequently. I typed out a response on my comm, telling her I would be there. I’d be heading out of town for a few days soon, so it would be a good idea to stop by and check in on her before I left.
Suddenly, I snorted, shaking my head as I imagined just how high Ma’s spirits would lift if I told her who had spent the night with me. She was the only one who knew just how much of a thing I had for Kira.
“Good grief, Tai!” I pushed away from the counter at the sound of Kira’s voice. “This is incredible!”
I frowned. “What is?” I asked, walking into the room to find her standing in the middle of the sitting area. The hem of my shirt brushed her bare thighs. I swallowed hard.
“The books!” She approached a shelf and ran a finger along it. “My gods, you must have a million of them!”
I struggled not to laugh at her exaggeration. “Not quite a million. There are four thousand, eight hundred and twenty-three,” I said, looking down at her. “To be precise.”
She smiled then a book caught her eye. “Can I?” she asked, pointing at it.
I nodded, pulling George Orwell’s 1984 from the shelf and handing it to her. “It’s about government control and social order,” I said. “I think you’d like it.”
Kira took it, her expression filling with awe, and I grew ten inches taller. You’d think the woman had never seen a book before. She inspected it, touching it like some incredible discovery.
“Tai, all of this must be worth a fortune.” She shook her head, staring at me. “Where did you get them?”
I overcame the sudden, stupid urge to shift my weight from one foot to the other. “Most of them were my father’s.”
Her eyes glimmered. “So he’s the reason for your love of reading,” she said, smiling.
“For the most part,” I said, then to make light of it all added, “Stress relief is the other.”
Kira nodded before gasping suddenly. She held up the book between us. “Should I be touching it like this?”
“It’s all right,” I said. “The cover and each page have a coating on them.”
She looked closer. I closed the book in her hand and tilted it a bit so that the hard cover caught the light.
“You can’t ruin this book, not with the Protectorate-grade technology I applied to it,” I said, catching a hint of her unique scent. “The coating’s almost imperceptible.”
Kira leaned in, peering at it. After a moment, she glanced up and her eyes flared. She scanned my face while I did the same to her. Holy gods, I was doing it again, staring at her.
I stiffened, ran a hand over my hair, and started backing away.
She reached out, her eyebrows drawing together. “Are you all right?”
No, not even close. “Yes, I’m fine,” I said, gripping the back of my neck.
“Why don’t you keep looking around?” I said, exhaling. “I’m almost done with breakfast.” Liar.
She turned toward the bookshelf as I clenched my fists, stalking into the kitchen.
What are you doing? She left him, you fool!
I stopped in the middle of the room, struck by the sudden revelation.
Kira left Gannon. The self-righteous man whore was out of her life, no longer a problem I had to endure. This was the very thing I had wanted, wished for. Yet since the moment she had entered my apartment, I had been acting like a boy just out of elementary school.
I planted my fists on my hips, glaring at the floor. I had to come up with some sort of plan.
I’d been acting on pure emotion rather than following a strategic approach. That wasn’t like me. I shook my head. No wonder I was acting like an ass. First off, I had to give her some time to get her head sorted out. It would take a little while, but what was a few more weeks after dragging my feet for five years?
I grinned. Suddenly, the ground righted below me, my usual composure returning with full force. I headed for the cabinets to pull out a few items before tackling the stove.
I’ll get her back. I have to. Kira loved me long before she even met Gannon. And then there was the little fact that I loved her. If I didn’t man up, I would lose my second chance. It was time.