“AXEL REID, DON’T YOU DARE!” my mom exclaims. Then she yelps when my daddy charges through the front door.
“Don’t I dare what, Princess? No way that boy is going near my girl. Look at him! He looks like he can’t wait to creep on my daughter!”
“Well, there is no need to scare him to death!” she mocks.
My cheeks heat instantly when I see Dane start backing away from the porch. My hopes of being able to actually go to my senior prom are starting to go up in flames.
Just like that.
Not that I should be surprised about it. Mom did her best to calm Daddy down, but we should have known better. He took one look at me and stormed over, only to return ten minutes later looking like he does now.
“You need to stop this nonsense right now, you big lug, or you’ll be sleeping on the couch,” Mom fumes.
“Like hell I will, woman!” Daddy roars at my mom.
I watch her face get sharp. He stops long enough to sling one of—that’s right, ONE of—the rifles he’s carrying over his shoulder, where it lands next to the other one he already has over his other shoulder.
Only my mom would be brave enough to deal with him when he’s in “Protect Dani from everything with a penis” mode. He looks absolutely ridiculous. He has two hunting rifles now hanging by their leather straps over each shoulder. He has two handguns strapped to each thick thigh, two on each side of his belt, and various knives along the way. His shirt, which he thinks is hilarious to wear when I attempt to go out on a date, says I kill things . . . and eat them. I know it’s a hunting shirt—for animals, not teenage boys—but Dane doesn’t.
Mom moves in front of him, standing in the front doorway and blocking his path, where Dane is still slowly retreating. She’s been dealing with this way before they even had me. He’s . . . protective. I guess that’s the nicest way to put it. Well, she calls him protective. However, I call it possessive, overbearing, controlling, demanding, and jerky.
“This is her senior prom, Ax. You wouldn’t let her go last year. ” She pauses when he grunts. “And I’m sorry, but you won’t be stopping her this year. She has a right to experience this. And Dane is a nice boy. Right, Dane?” she yells over her shoulder.
“Uhh . . . ” he stammers, causing my daddy to grunt some more.
“The boy doesn’t even know how to talk, Izzy. I bet he will be nothing but handsy and think with his little pecker. Nope. No way. Not near my baby girl. ”
Oh. My. God. I wish I could just fall into a hole right now. I try to see over my parents to find out if Dane heard that, but with Daddy basically being a giant, that’s not happening.
“You did not just say that!” I yell at his back.
Daddy turns around, his movements awkward with how many weapons he has strapped to his body. His green eyes, so like my own, slant and harden. He looks down at my dress for the thousandth time since I came downstairs and doesn’t even bother hiding his displeasure that it’s showing too much of my body. Even if it is about as tasteful as it gets.
My strapless, red dress has a sweetheart neckline, and everything he calls my “girly bits” is covered. There isn’t really any cleavage. Well, okay, there is some, but surely with my lack of being busty, you couldn’t even call what is showing “cleavage. ” His first problem was with how much of my legs was showing. Then I made the mistake of turning around without my wrap on. That’s when he saw that the dress was completely backless to my bra line. Well, what it would be if I had been wearing one. Which is clearly when he lost his mind.
“You look just like your mother did that night twenty years ago when we finally came back to each other. Right down to those strappy shoe things. And I guarantee you, Danielle Reid, any teenage boy who doesn’t bat for the other team will be thinking thoughts I’ll cut his dick off for. No. You aren’t going with that boy, and that’s final. ”
I harden my eyes, and his narrow even further.
I put my hands on my hips, and he squares his shoulders, his rifles clinking together.
I raise one brow, and he mirrors the action.
“I’ll cry. ”
“No, you won’t. You have more balls than that. ”
“Want to bet?” I attempt to muster up some tears, knowing that he won’t be able to handle them, but before I can force the first one out, my brother jumps into my line of sight and blocks our standoff.
“Yo, Dane! You just run along now. Dani is unfortunately feeling a little under the weather. Ebola. Or the flu. I don’t know. It’s really ugly and you probably don’t want to be around this. The boils—they could pop at any moment. ” Page 2
“You did not just do that,” I heatedly whisper, fuming at his nerve.
Nate turns and smirks at me. “Oh I just did. ”
“I can’t believe you two!” I spin to look at the one person who can help me. “Mom, seriously?”
Her expression softens, and she just shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Dani. I tried. ”
“You two,” I start, pointing between my older brother and father. “You just can’t leave it alone? I’ll be eighteen in a few months. What are you jerks going to do then?”
“You’re not dating, Danielle. Not ever. ”
“Oh yeah, Daddy? And how realistic is that crap?”
“Watch your mouth, little princess. ”
“I’m so sorry, Dani. ” She walks over and wraps me in her small arms.
I could probably really cry now a lot easier than when I was trying to fake it, but I’ve never been one of those girls who weep constantly. It would be easier to just go upstairs, take off the dress mom and I spent hours looking for, scrub off the light makeup she helped me apply, and pretend this night didn’t happen.
An hour later, I’m sitting in my bedroom, still wearing my perfect dress. My makeup is still done and my hair is still flowing in long waves. And I’m no less mad at the men in my life than I was earlier. I’ve considered climbing out my window. I’ve considered asking my best friends, Lyn and Lila, to come help me escape. But what would be the point? Rambo-Dad already scared away my date, the only boy left in school who had been willing to ask me even though his friends had warned him about my father.
I lie down on my bed and stare up at the ceiling. Maybe I should go away for college. I planned on living at home while I attended Georgia Tech, but there is no way I can deal with this stuff any longer. If my father had things his way, I would be shipped off to become a nun. Or he would buy an island and make it an all-girls cult.
“Uhggggg!” I yell to the empty room.
“Seriously, Dani-girl, things can’t be that bad. ”
I jump up when I hear the deep, gravelly, insanely sexy voice coming from my bedroom door. That voice. My lord. The things it alone does to me should be classified as illegal.
My hair slaps me in the face, a good handful landing in my open mouth, and I hastily pull it out before I turn to where he is standing.
My lord, he’s beautiful. He’s always been. My heart speeds up when I take in his smirking face and the mischief dancing in his brown eyes.
“Cat got your tongue?”
I shake my head.
I shake it again.
“Do you really have some flesh-eating, boil-slash-Ebola-like sickness?” he laughs.
I narrow my eyes at him, and his rich laughter booms through the room.
“I’m just kidding, Dani-girl. Come on. Get yourself ready and let’s go rock this prom. ”
My jaw drops again.
For the first time, I notice that he’s dressed in a perfectly tailored tux. My eyes travel down his tall form to his shining, black dress shoes. On the way back up, my eyes hit the corsage spinning around his finger before I look back up into those gorgeous eyes.
“Let’s go, beautiful. ”
“Does Daddy know you’re here?” I ask, not moving from my spot.
He sighs, steps into my room, and walks over. His cologne, Gucci Black, wraps around me. He’s worn the same scent for years. I perversely sniff it every time I hit the mall with Lyn and Lila. That scent—it’s my undoing.
He grabs one of my hands and gives my knuckles a kiss before placing the corsage around my wrist. He gives my hand a squeeze before letting go. Placing his strong hands on my shoulders, he presses down until I’m seated on my bed. Kneeling before me, he takes my feet one by one and fastens the straps of my black heels before standing and grabbing my hands, again, to pull me to my feet.
The whole time, I act like a freak and just gape at him.
What in the hell is going on?
“Ready?” he asks.
“Uhhh . . . ”
“Right. You’re ready,” he laughs, grabs my hand, and pulls me through the house, down the stairs, and into the entryway of the house, where my parents are waiting.
Mom has her camera ready, forcing us to take some pictures, for all of which I’m sure I’m just standing there in a daze. I think I smiled in them, but I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Daddy smiles big and triumphantly the whole time, like he’s won some battle here.
“Oh, good. You got here,” Nate mumbles through a sandwich he’s stuffing down his throat.
I shake out of my stunned stupor and look over at him. “You did this?” I ask with disbelief.
“Well, duh. Can’t have my little sister miss her prom because of some boils. Plus, I knew this guy,” he says, pointing at our father, “wouldn’t mind him. ” He takes another bite before he looks over my shoulder. “And I know he isn’t going to try to pet the cat. ”
“Nathaniel Gregory!” Mom gasps.
“What? Why do you think Dad acts like he does? Just because I’m willing to say the words doesn’t mean you have to freak out. ”
I look over at my mom, who has turned bright red.
Daddy laughs at her embarrassment and pulls her into his arms. “Are you sure we didn’t drop that one a few times as a baby?”
She slaps his hard stomach and shakes her head. “You look beautiful, honey. Have fun, okay?”
I smile at her and move my eyes to Daddy to judge his mood.
He just smiles at me. “I trust him. He won’t let any of those pimple-faced, prepubescent boys touch a beautiful hair on your head. Have fun, sweetheart. ”
I walk over and give them both a hug, standing up on my toes as far as a can to whisper my gratitude in his ear. He’s annoying, overprotective, and possessive of his girls, but I love him and I know he comes from a good place.
“Uh, excuse me? Do I not get any little-sister love here? I’m the one running this show, you know?”
“You’re such a dork, Nate,” I laugh and give him a hug before turning back to my date.
He’s standing by the door, talking in low tones to my daddy. I can’t hear him, but he’s still smiling, so I’m guessing there isn’t any talk about dismemberment going on. He looks over, his smile deepening and the lines around his eyes crinkling. Something moves behind his eyes that darkens them slightly, but he looks back over at Daddy, finishing up their conversation.
“Ready, Dani-girl?” he asks a few minutes later, making my heart speed up again.
“Yeah. I’m ready. ” Or at least as ready as I’ll ever be.
That night, while dancing to Brett Young’s “Kiss by Kiss,” I knew I would never be the same. I could feel the jealous waves coming off every female in the room as he held me in his arms. Of course, I had a man and not a boy as my date. Five years older than I am and very obviously not a teenager.
Being held in his arms was a dream come true. His scent invaded my lungs with every inhale. His eyes twinkled as his smile held me hostage. I knew I would never love a man as much as I love him.
Yeah. That was the night I confirmed what I had always known. What I had always felt.
Cohen Cage owned my heart and I never wanted it back.
Four years later
I swear to God, if he wakes me up like this one more time, I’ll kill him.
Like, really kill him.
Throwing back the covers, I jump out of bed, shivering when my bare feet hit the cold hardwood floor and the cool air hits my fevered skin. Then I march—because really, when you’re in a snit, you shouldn’t just walk. Full-on toddler-like stomping needs to ensue. The door, yanked open and flung back, bounces off the wall with a loud thwack. Then I stomp some more down the hallway until I hit his door. Then, because this is completely normal behavior for a twenty-one-year-old chick, both hands come up and I bang the hell out of his door with both fists.
“You no-good, dirty pervert! I swear to God, Nate. , I hope you get a flesh-eating STD and your dick rots off!”
I can hear him laughing at me through the door. The freaking sicko.
“Turn that crap down, Nate!” I yell before a big cough takes over and I have to pause while hacking up a lung . . . or two.
Does he turn it down? Nope, not that low-down, dirty dog. He turns it up and the sounds of female moans, manly grunts, and skin slapping echoes through his doorway and into the hall.
“You’re disgusting!” I scream, doubling my efforts to break down his door so I can kill his sick porn-watching ass by kicking my feet between beats of my fist. “When I get in there, I’m going to beat your head in with your porn collection. Go to town on your thick skull with one of those DVDs until it all just explodes! Nasty dirtbag!”
“Little princess, what in the hell are you doing?”
I spin around and march over to where my father is standing. His hair is standing on all ends, his eyes looking tired, and his expression is a mixture of confusion and exhaustion.
“That in there is exactly why I need my own place. Do you know how disgusting it is waking up to the sounds of your own brother beating his junk? I swear, Daddy, I’m going to kill him!” I end my rant and instantly deflate, coughing a few times. “I just want some sleep. I feel like crap and I literally just fell asleep, and now, the king of pocket play is at it again. Can we just buy him a hooker? Please, Daddy! Let’s get him a hooker. ”
His lips twitch, and his arms unfold from his chest, opening wide for me to fall into them. Which, of course, I do. I’m not ashamed that I’m still very much a daddy’s girl.
“We aren’t getting your brother a hooker. They’re too classy for his ass. ”
I laugh and hug him tighter when his gruff chuckles vibrate through his chest.
“What’s wrong with my girl?” he asks, pulling me back and looking into my eyes.
“Nothing. Just a little cold. I’ll be fine . . . with some sleep!” I yell towards Nate’s bedroom. And, of course, dissolve into a coughing fit that has my overprotective father narrowing his eyes.
“Go on back to bed, little princess. Let me deal with your brother. I’ll have Mom come up and check on you. ” He gives me a strong hug and spins me toward my room. Then, almost like my words just hit him, he says, “And no more talk about moving out. Not happening. ”
Seriously. He’s told me since I was a little girl that I would never leave his house because I was his little princess and, if he couldn’t watch out for me, then all the dirty, thieving, no-good men of the world would get their hands on me.
To say that growing up with Axel Reid as a father was a little . . . tough, would be an understatement.
I love him . . . but sometimes, I want to strangle him.
That being said, I know that, if I ever needed someone in my corner, no questions asked, that person would be my daddy.
I shuffle back down the hall. Now that I know that Nate will be handled and the rush of trying to kill him has started to fade, I realize just how bad I feel. I came home early yesterday from what was supposed to be a girls’ weekend at Lyn and Lila’s apartment with them and Maddi Locke. We had the best weekend planned of makeovers—and by that, I mean me dying and cutting their hair—junk food, and a Gossip Girl marathon. It wasn’t an hour into the night when I felt like I had been hit by a truck.
Maddi made sure I got home okay, and I crashed instantly.
I drop down into bed, pull the covers over my head, and try to ignore how bad my body hurts.
“What’s wrong, Dani?” Mom whispers a little while later after walking into my room and closing the door softly behind her.
I can still hear Daddy yelling at Nate from down the hall, but at least the damn porn sounds have finally stopped.
She sits down, and her cold hand presses against my forehead. “Sweetheart, you’re burning up. Tell me what’s bothering you. ”
“I’m okay, Mom. I just need to sleep,” I mumble and burrow deeper into the pillows.
“What you need is a doctor, little princess,” Daddy grumbles from the now open doorway.
“Go away,” I groan and try to ignore them so I can go to sleep.
“Go away my ass,” he snaps.
I hear him bend down and kiss Mom before whispering to her low enough that I can’t understand him. Another kiss—gross—and the sounds of him walking away.
I finally start to drift off with my mom’s soothing touch rubbing my back and she begins to hum softly. Of course, that is short-lived, because not even two minutes later, I’m being wrapped up like a burrito cocooned in my blanket and lifted off the bed. I don’t have to open my eyes to know that Daddy is getting his way. The scent of leather and cinnamon hits my nose, and I hear his rough complaining.
“Go away, you said? I didn’t know you could read my mind, little princess. I’m going to take you away . . . right to the urgent care clinic. ”
What did I tell you? Protective to the nth degree.