He was sweating. His wrists torn raw. His muscles strained well beyond pain. The gag in his mouth filthy, and not just with his blood and saliva.
His eyes were locked to hers.
As the asshole made his approach, his gun aimed to her head, he didn’t speak. Didn’t touch her. Didn’t take off her gag and let her say a thing.
She was speaking, though.
Her eyes were filled.
With love, as usual.
He jolted awake.
Instantly gripping the wrist at his shoulder, his body knifed up and twisted off the couch. Yanking the wrist up a man’s back, Nick forced him forward with the intent of shoving him against the wall.
“Nick,” the voice was soft now. “Brother.”
That voice hit him, the fact the man wasn’t struggling hit him, he let him go and stepped back.
His brother, Knight, turned to face him.
Bending slightly, Knight switched on a light by the couch. Through the now-illuminated room, he caught Nick’s eyes.
“You’re not sleeping well,” Knight told him quietly. “Heard you all the way down the hall.”
This wasn’t good. He was sleeping on his brother’s and his woman, Anya’s couch. They had two little girls. Little girls needed their sleep. What they never needed was their uncle losing it down the hall and waking them.
Nick tore his hand through his hair and turned his head away, muttering, “Sorry.”
He felt something and twisted his neck, looking to the doorway where Anya was standing, wearing a long, gray cashmere robe, her beautiful face troubled but her eyes were warm on him.
Knight saw her too.
“Go back to bed, baby,” he called gently.
She didn’t look from Nick. “You need anything, Nick?”
“I’m good, Anya,” he lied. “Sorry I woke you.”
“It’s okay,” she whispered, her face no less troubled, her eyes still warm but also concerned and moving to her man.
“I got him,” Knight told her.
She studied his brother, nodded, threw a small smile Nick’s way and disappeared out of the doorframe.
Nick walked to the big windows that were two sides of the corner room of Knight’s and Anya’s high-rise condo. Windows that now showed the lights of a nighttime Denver.
He glanced at his brother before looking at the city. “You can go to bed too, Knight. I’m okay. It’ll be good. And tomorrow, I’ll find somewhere else to crash.”
“I think right now you need to be with family.”
At Knight’s words, Nick’s mouth got tight.
He didn’t deserve that. He knew it.
But Knight was giving it to him. So was Anya. Both of them having reason to spit right in his face.
He felt Knight draw nearer and stop.
“We haven’t been close,” Knight told him something he knew. “But what you were doin’. Why you were doin’ it. What you lost—”
As much as he owed his brother in a lot of ways, they were not going there.
Nick cut his gaze to Knight and bit out the question, “Can we not do this now?”
Knight looked into Nick’s eyes a beat before he answered, “Yeah. We can not do this now.” He moved closer and dropped his voice low. “But, Nick, we gotta do it. You gotta talk that shit outta you, brother. What they did to your wo—”
“Can we…not…talk about this now?” Nick repeated through clenched teeth.
Knight nodded. “It’s too soon.”
It fucking was.
They blew a hole in her head right in front of him two fucking days ago.
It was way too fucking soon.
“You’re here,” Knight decreed like his big brother was prone to decreeing, this happening Nick’s whole life. “You’re here with your family until you can sleep easy. I’ll give you time. We’ll talk it through later.” He held Nick’s eyes as he lifted a hand and curled it around the side of Nick’s neck, squeezing firmly. “But just gonna say, fuckin’ proud of you. I’m sorry for you. I hurt for you. But I’m fuckin’ proud of you.”
Nick didn’t want that to feel good.
He’d spent his whole life wanting that from his brother. His father. Fuck, even his mother, who loved him like crazy, had spoiled him, but he knew she didn’t think he’d amount to much. Not like her glory boy. Not like she knew her Knight would do.
And she was right, everything Knight touched turned to gold.
Nick had also spent a lot of time and energy trying to beat the need out of himself to make his family proud.
Then he’d spent a lot of time doing whatever he wanted to do to feel good despite knowing they wouldn’t, chase whatever highs life offered to drown out that need, convince himself he didn’t give a fuck what they thought.
And when his brother took what Nick wanted, namely Anya, Nick had pulled some lame-ass bullshit in order to try to tear them apart. Bullshit that, if it was Knight who did it to him, he wouldn’t give a fuck two days ago the woman Knight loved had a hole blown into her head. He would not be standing in his sweet crib telling Knight he was proud of him.
But the fact remained it felt good, his brother giving him that. It felt good because it was from Knight.
And it felt good because he knew Knight was right to be proud.
Last, it felt good because he knew she died proud of her man.
Even with all that, he just muttered, “Thanks.”