|3| Daddy Issues |

Ania set up in the bed. It’d been years since the nightmares woke her.

She grumbled when she looked out the window and it was still dark outside. It was difficult going to sleep. Mostly because she was still distraught over the blasted man and his kiss. Had it really been so long since she felt a man’s passion, body pressed to her own? If it hadn’t, her body sure was acting like it.

She pushed off the bed and opened the door to the single bedroom in the small little cabin. She frowned when she saw the light on in the lower level. She peered over the banister and found Blake busy with something in front of the fireplace. She descended the stairs catching a clock on the wall letting her know the sun wasn’t so far from rising. Had he been up all night?

“To know true silence makes it easy to hear when an enemy is approaching." He said, without turning in her direction.

She exhaled. She swore she was being as quiet as a fox hunting a meal. He cocked the gun he just put back together. There was no magazine in it as he placed it on the coffee table. “Trouble sleeping?” He stood and she found his eyes, forgetting how tall the man was. Not only tall, but sturdy.

She wasn’t sure who to blame, God or the devil for the fine made masterpiece standing before her. His dark hair and groomed facial hair that accentuated his lips with their district cupid's bow. Her mouth tingled at the memory of having his and hers. She blinked finding his steady gaze then realizing she didn’t answer his question. “Uh, yeah. Nightmares been having for a long while.”

He gestured toward the couch. “Sit.” She did as he headed to the kitchen and retrieved a hot pot off the stove. He brought the pot and two teacups into the living room and set next to her. “I can imagine. Your father is pretty aggressive in his views.” He handed her a cup on a saucer.

“At least you know where I get it from.” They both smiled and looked down into their tea cups.

“Is there a particular thing that keeps you awake?” He settled back in the chair his dark gaze focused on her.

“Truthfully, I hadn’t had nightmares for a long while, but hearing those men just brought it back.” She swallowed and set the tea cup on the coffee table in front of her. Her mind struggled to stray from that place, that darkness. The fear that rattled her small adolescent body stole her peace then as it did in her present moment.

“You don’t have to tell me.” Blake's heavy voice was a soothing reminder that she was safe.

She blinked and looked up at him. Her anxiety calmed a bit. She cleared her throat. “It was late, around this time. Breaking glass startled me from my sleep. The words were quick in my mother’s native tongue. We hardly spoke it in our house because she wanted my English to be good. 'Better opportunities,' she’d say. She was pleading with the men. My father was gone, off fighting other people’s battled as usual. I heard her tell them she was the only one in the house. I hid under the bed, curled up like a ball. I heard her scream, but I couldn’t move. I was shaking like a leaf lying in a pool of my own excrement. Terrified for my own life. It wasn’t until afternoon the next day when my father returned. He was screaming and crying. I crept out of my room and he was holding my mother’s dead body in his arms.” Ania gasped. “I’ll never forget how beat up her face was.” Her teary eyes met Blake's, steady, intense. There was a deep unidentifiable emotion in them. Not quite empathy, but not really anger.

“No child should have to see that.”

“That’s only the beginning of the nightmare. I thought my mom’s death would make him stop, but it didn’t.” She let out a steady breath and pinched the bride of her nose.

“It’s why you stopped talking to your father?” He leaned forward and placed his tea cup on the coffee table. His handsome, dark eyes were searching her face. Her insides warmed.

“Why should I care about him, when he doesn’t care about me.”

The man frowned. “I met your father a couple times. He loves you.”

She tisked him. “I don’t think the man knows the meaning of the word.”

“He wouldn’t be doing all he does if he didn’t care.”

“Cares about strangers anyway.” She wiped the tear before it had a chance to stain her cheek. “He loved my mother too. If that is proof of his love, I’ll not have any part of it, thank you.”

“If he didn’t care, I don’t think he would have called me.” She looked away from the fire dancing in the hearth.

“He called you personally?”

The man nodded. “He had his calm about him. The kind that rally's quiet revolts, but I could tell he was concerned. He wouldn’t allow me to turn the job down. In fact,” the man smiled, truly smiled recalling the situation. “He sent my former commander after me to pry me off my beach.”

She smiled from the inside out and leaned back on the couch. Truth was, she loved her father and always wished he could love her the way she wanted him to. Protect her, keep her safe, reassure her that everything was going to be alright. That was not Kungawo Naidoo’s way, then there was Blake. He was physically strong, true, but he had a strength of mind too. Enduring, difficult, but enduring.

“Your father cares, trust me. Pulled some serious strings getting a hold of me.”

She sighed. “I just wish he wasn’t so extreme.”

The man frowned. “The enemy is extreme.” His eyes went somewhere far away. “Sometimes extreme is necessary.”

She frowned. What had this man been through? He didn’t look old maybe a few years her senior, but he was retired. His eyes spoke a tale of a thousand woes. She covered his hand with her own and was rewarded by his intense gaze. It made her unsteady at first, having someone see down into your soul, but she found comfort in it. He looked down at their hands.

“I never thanked you for keeping that bullet out my head.” They held each other’s eyes for a long while.

“It’s what I do.”

“Maybe, but I’m still grateful.” She pushed to standing, leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “Thank you.” She didn’t mean the words to come out as a whisper, but his eyes were eating into her. His intensity literally stole her breath.

He took her hand in his and leaned back on the couch.

Her chest squeezed taking her breath. She let him pull her to straddle his powerful thighs.



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