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Page 126

Author: Kirsty Moseley

The knowledge that this girl was mine to keep made my heart soar in my chest. These last seven weeks had been the worst in my life without her, but having her in my arms again made up for all of that instantly. As long as I got to hold her in my arms every day, I would be the happiest guy in the world.

~ Anna ~

I ached all over. Even breathing hurt and the medication they were pumping me full of barely touched the pain. I felt as if I’d fought ten rounds in a boxing match. My stomach was hurting like I’d been trampled by a herd of elephants.

Ashton actually looked worse than I felt. His face was a mess. He had two black eyes, a cut with butterfly stitches over the bridge of his nose, a split lip and a swollen jaw. He smiled and leant in, planting a small kiss on my forehead. My heart stuttered in my chest, easily identifiable because I was still strapped up to the heart monitor, so a cocky, little smirk twitched at the corner of his lips. I didn’t even feel ashamed or embarrassed by my body’s reaction to his kisses.

A dreamy, contented sigh slipped out as my eyes met his. I could see how much he loved me by the tender way he was looking at me, and that knowledge made my insides squirm with happiness. How had I gotten so lucky to have someone like Ashton fall in love with me? He wanted to marry me. Well, he had asked me to in the ambulance, but he hadn’t said anything about it again so maybe he was regretting the rash decision. If he was, I didn’t even care, as long as he still wanted to be with me.

But I’d almost lost him. He could have died so easily in that room and I would have never gotten the chance to tell him how much he meant to me and how he’d changed my life. I would never be able to thank him enough for what he did for me. He’d refused to give up on me the whole time that I pushed him away.

“Ashton,” I whispered, “I missed you so much these last few weeks.”

“I’ve missed you too.” He smiled his heart breaking smile and my insides melted.

My hand hesitantly caught the bottom of his T-shirt, easing it up slowly. I needed to see the damage that had been caused; I needed to see for myself that he was alright.

He chuckled wickedly. “Easy there, tiger. I don’t think either of us will be able to do that much physical exercise this soon. Sex will have to wait a few days,” he joked.

I laughed and nodded, deciding to play along. “Hmm, I guess you’re right,” I agreed. “But if you feel up for it, let me know,” I added, smiling suggestively at him.

“I’m pretty sure you could get me up for it, Baby Girl,” he teased, winking at me slyly.

I grinned, loving how he could make me feel better in an instant. My hand tugged on the T-shirt again, pulling it up so the bottom of his stomach was exposed.

“What are you actually doing, Anna?” he asked, putting his hand on top of mine.

I blew out a big breath, looking down at the small patch of exposed skin on his stomach. I could see the beginning of a bruise there that led up under the material; I knew this would be bad. “I need to see how badly you’re hurt. I’m imagining all sorts of things,” I muttered. “I just need to see for myself that you’re okay, like you keep claiming.” I wouldn’t be able to rest easy without seeing it for myself. He frowned, seeming a little hesitant as his hand held mine still, not letting me remove his shirt. “Ashton Taylor, let me see,” I ordered, moving his hand away, being careful of his broken fingers.

He sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes again. I lifted his T-shirt up. Every inch of his stomach and sides that wasn’t covered in bandages and strapping was black and blue with bruises and little cuts. I gulped and swallowed my sob. This must be hurting him like crazy. I felt sick.

“I’m so sorry.” I was trying desperately not to cry again.

His finger hooked under my chin, tilting my head up gently so that I had to look at him. “You don’t need to apologise. I’m fine, I promise. It probably looks worse than it is, and anyway, I would die for you, so I got off pretty lightly.” He smiled his sexy smile and wiped the tears from my face, looking at me pleadingly. I smiled weakly and pressed my lips to his gently, silently conveying through that kiss how much I loved him and appreciated him. Love and passion washed over my body, making my skin break out in goosebumps. He broke the kiss and smiled down at me sheepishly. “I have something to show you. I’m not actually sure how you’re going to react to it.” He actually looked a little nervous as he tongued his split lip.

I raised a questioning eyebrow. “Something, like what?”

“I got a tattoo,” he stated.

I gasped, shocked by the revelation. Ashton Taylor didn’t strike me as the tattoo-bearing type. “You did? Seriously? Where?” I was actually strangely excited about it. I wasn’t actually a huge tattoo fan, but one on him would probably be sexy on a whole other level.

He pointed to his chest. “Right here, above my heart,” he answered, looking at me intently.

“Can I see?”

He sucked in a breath through his teeth and then nodded uncomfortably. “I hope you like it. It just kind of belonged there, so I had it done a couple of weeks ago,” he mumbled nervously. I nodded and looked at him expectantly. He sighed and gripped the bottom of his T-shirt in his broken hands, pulling it up to his throat. I gasped immediately at the sight of his damaged body. I forgot what I was supposed to be looking at for a few seconds, and then my eyes stopped on it. He had a tattoo on his chest, directly over his heart. An exquisite white rose in full bloom with one word underneath it written in beautiful, black script:

Annabelle

“You had my name tattooed over your heart?” I asked, shocked.

He nodded. “Yeah, that’s where you belong.”

I reached out and traced the letters with one finger. It was stunning. The artist had done an incredible job. The white of the rose and the black of my name contrasted shockingly well, and the whole thing placed against his tanned skin just made my whole body tingle. It was the sexiest thing I had ever seen. “But we weren’t together when you had this done. I told you I didn’t love you,” I murmured.

He shrugged. “It didn’t matter what you said, I loved you. I will always love you, nothing will ever change that.” He took hold of my hand that was on his tattoo and pressed my palm over his heart. “That right there belongs to you, forever.”

Happiness swelled inside me because of the sweet words that were coming out of his mouth. I bit on my lip as I looked at it again. A wave of desire for his body pulsed through me. “I love it,” I whispered, looking at it in awe. My eyes flicked back up to his face, seeing a breathtaking smile. “It’s so freaking hot, Ashton. I’m not kidding. If you hadn’t just been shot and I hadn’t just had surgery, I’d so be jumping you right now,” I purred.

His body seemed to stiffen at my words. “I can take a rain-check on that, right? Like I can cash that jumping in as soon as we’re better?”

I grinned, chuckling at the hopefulness in his voice. “Hell to the yes,” I replied.

He cupped my face in his hands. “God, I love you, woman.” He kissed my forehead.

“Woman? That had better be a joke,” I scolded, laughing.

He laughed and ran his fingers through my hair, down my neck and over my shoulders before gripping my waist and pressing himself closer to me carefully. My whole being was just a mass of feelings, a big jumble of something I couldn’t even describe because each individual emotion, feeling, and thought, was all tangled together into a big ball of passion. I longed to kiss every square inch of his chest, every bruise, every little cut or mark, to try and kiss the pain away, but my movement was limited.

Instead, we just lay there facing each other. We didn’t speak, there was nothing to say and we both felt the same. After about ten minutes of just enjoying the closeness, he cleared his throat. “Can I talk to you about something?” he asked, looking slightly uncomfortable.

I nodded, raising an eyebrow curiously. “Yeah, sure.”

“I don’t want to upset you,” he whispered, brushing his hand across my cheekbone.

I smiled at his sensitivity. “You won’t upset me. What’s wrong?”

He was absentmindedly drawing little patterns on the skin at the back of my neck. He closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, seeming to choose his words carefully. “You married him? Carter,” he asked finally.

I drew in a shaky breath. Okay, I wasn’t expecting that! “Not by choice,” I whispered, praying that he wouldn’t think badly of me. I didn’t want to marry him, I didn’t want anything.

He nodded sadly. “I know that, Baby Girl. I just wondered why you didn’t tell me.”

I winced. “I didn’t tell anybody,” I admitted.

“Nobody? You didn’t tell your parents? All this time?” he asked, sounding a little shocked.

I shook my head. “No, I was ashamed; I didn’t want anyone to know.”

He kissed my nose gently. “You don’t need to be ashamed. You never need to be ashamed because none of it was your fault,” he said tenderly.

I smiled; he always knew just what to say to make me feel better. “I know. I guess it doesn’t matter now,” I shrugged, meaning the fact that he was dead and we weren’t married anymore.

He was quiet for a little while. “How did you even get married at sixteen?” he asked curiously.

I sighed at the memory. “He took me to Vegas; we went through a drive-through chapel so I didn’t have to speak to anyone. He used my fake ID that Jack had got me that said I was twenty-one,” I explained, grimacing. I didn’t want to think about it, or that fact that Carter couldn’t wait until we got back to his house to consummate the marriage so he’d pulled over to rape me by the side of an old road in the back of the car.

“Vegas? When was that?” he asked, stroking my hair away from my face.

“September 16th, 2008.” I bit my lip; that date was engrained in my memory.

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