Rule's Property (The House of Rule Book 2)(3)

By: Lynda Chance


She nodded her head as the tears continued to run silently down her cheeks.

With one hand cradling her jaw, his other came up and almost absently, he picked up a tress of her blonde hair. "You have every right to cry, sweetheart. Every right in the world," he said more softly. His thumb continued to stroke her cheek in a gentle, soothing action as her eyes held his. "I understand what you're going through . . . at least, somewhat."

She listened in silence, letting his tender touch and soothing, warm words flow through her and comfort her.

"Losing my dad was bad," he said, letting out a tortured breath of air. "But I was older than you, and it was only the one parent." His lips flattened sadly and Courtney clung to his warm, brown eyes as he continued, "I've tried to imagine what it must be like to be in your shoes, but honestly, I can't." The words were compassionate, warm, and they soothed her as well as sent a raw shiver down her spine. Mostly, they made her remember what she'd lost and a fresh batch of tears spilled over.

Her eyes closed again but he tipped her chin up in a bid for her to look at him. And she did; she opened her lids and stared into his dark, impassioned eyes as he began to speak again. "You're strong, sweetheart. I've never met anyone stronger. When I think about what you endured--" He took a breath. "Being thrown into this household, knowing we were still in our own kind of shock . . . making sure you never asked for help . . . never expecting or needing attention. Don't think I haven't noticed the strength and maturity that took. Losing both of your parents at seventeen, being ripped away from your home and your friends--"

Sharp misery pierced her at the reminders. "Stop," she choked out and then looked back down in both anguish and embarrassment.

"Fuck--"

At the harsh expletive, her eyes flew back to his in shock, the word and the tone so out of sync with the way he'd behaved during the last few moments.

There was a look of bitter recrimination on his features. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm trying to make it better, but I--"

Abruptly, Courtney reached up and put her fingers to his lips, pressing lightly against them to stop the flow of words. He owed her no apology.

His eyes sharpened and then narrowed. He hissed in a hot breath that she felt through her fingertips. The hand on her cheek tightened while his fingers in her hair grasped her more firmly as she felt the pull on her scalp.

His lips felt warm and firm against her touch and startled at the intimacy, she sucked in a breath. At her reaction, he stilled completely and Courtney felt a tension overtake his muscles, as they seemed to stiffen.

Not quite believing she'd had the audacity to touch his lips, she snatched her hand away in horror and hid it behind her back, unconsciously balling her fingers, not wanting to let his warmth slip away.

Wiping away her tears with her other hand, she looked down again and waited for him to speak.

She was aware that he was breathing deeply, almost as if winded, but after a moment, he seemed to calm down.

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a small box. "I have something for you."

She lifted her head in surprise. "A birthday present?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I guess you can call it that. But I want you to open it now, before everyone gets here, will you do that for me?"

She nodded her head as an old, remembered ritual came back to her and by rote, she shut her eyes, and lifted her hands, palms up, one cradling the other.

She stood silently, waiting for his gift, until finally, he cleared his throat. "What are you doing?" he asked gently, his tone puzzled.

Her eyes flew open as waves of embarrassment and another rush of sorrow slid through her. Quickly, she pulled her hands down to her sides. She wasn't getting anything right today. "Nothing, I'm sorry." To her horror, her eyes washed with tears yet again, and she mumbled in confession, "I'm having a bad day."

"Sweetheart." He leaned in and very briefly, kissed her forehead. "Tell me why you did that thing with your hands. I know it must have meant something."

At his abbreviated kiss and the term of endearment, she again felt a hot rush of butterflies in her stomach. Well, he was older and handsome and of course she might have a crush on him. That was normal, wasn't it? She decided not to think about it and instead, gave him the answer to his question, no matter how juvenile it sounded. "Before my parents gave me a present, my mom would say, 'shut your eyes and hold out your hands.'" She took a harsh, shuddering breath at the bittersweet memory, admitting, "And I miss that."

At her explanation, Nick's arms wrapped around her and he held her close against the heat of his body. His hands ran up and down her spine in a soothing, consoling caress as she stood still in his embrace, breathing in his scent, and taking the comfort he was offering. His body was big and strong and warm and she laid her head on his chest and let his solid, reassuring masculinity seep into her soul. He rocked her, to and fro, while murmuring soothing sounds in her ear. He held her for long moments while her tears dried up and then he leaned down and whispered, "Shut your eyes and hold out your hands."

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