Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(74) by Susan Mallery
“It hurts,” she whispered. “Make the pain go away.”
He kissed her forehead, then drew her against him again. “I can’t. I want to, but I can’t.”
If only he could tell her things would get better. He knew that they would, eventually, but the words were a cold comfort to her now.
He hated how much she hurt. She was his baby sister and he’d always felt the need to protect her. He told her he wanted to find Ryan and beat the shit out of him, wait for him to heal, then do it all again.
“I’ll join you,” Cal said quietly.
Penny looked between the two of them. “You can’t beat up Ryan,” she said. “He’ll have you arrested and I’m due to give birth at any minute. Neither of you can be in prison then.”
Dani drew in a shaky breath. “She’s right. I’d love to watch you pound him into the ground, but you can’t.”
“Maybe not,” Walker admitted, although in his mind the idea was still worth considering. “But I can fire him.”
One corner of Cal’s mouth turned up. “Perfect. Let him try to get a job in this city without a reference from us. He’ll starve.”
“No!” Dani stepped back and glared at them both. “You’re not going to fire him, Walker.”
He couldn’t believe it. “You still care about this guy?”
“What?” She wiped her eyes with her fingers. “No. Of course not. I want him roasted on a spit. But I went into this relationship on my own. No one made me. I’m the one who didn’t pay attention or ask the right questions. I have to take responsibility for that.”
“Dani, he tricked you,” Penny said.
“I know that, but I refuse to give him all the power. I am not some spineless female who is going to be rescued by her big, bad brothers. Ryan stays. I’ll get through it.”
Walker appreciated her attempts to be strong, even though he still wanted to hit something…or someone. “If I don’t fire his ass, he’s going to show up every day. You’re going to have to deal with that. Can you?”
She straightened her back and squared her shoulders. “Bring it on.”
THE CONCEPT HAD SEEMED simple enough at the time, Walker thought the next day, as he waved to Mrs. Ford and one of her friends. The two old women drove away, leaving him alone with Zoe and all the potential things that could go wrong. All he had to do was watch the kid for a few hours until Mrs. Ford finished with her Labor Day Seniors Picnic. As it was adults-only, Mrs. Ford had been unable to take Zoe along, and for reasons still not clear to him, he, Walker, had volunteered.
“Brain injury,” he muttered to himself as he stepped into Elissa’s apartment. “Must have been a blow to the head I don’t remember.”
He’d left Zoe on the floor watching something on Nickelodeon, but when he returned, the TV was off and she’d spread out several articles of clothing on the sofa.
“I start school tomorrow,” she told him with an expression that was both hopeful and terrified. “Mommy and me are still talking ’bout what I’m wearing.” She fingered a T-shirt with a crown on the front. “This is pretty.”
“Very nice,” he said, wondering how the hell he was supposed to fill a whole day. Mrs. Ford wouldn’t be back until after dinner. Even though the craft fair ended relatively early, he didn’t expect Elissa until six. Sure he could take Zoe to the fair, but that was only going to burn two hours. Plus, what about meals? He’d said he would take her out, but that meant sitting across from her and thinking up things to say. What if she choked or something?
Despite the heat of the morning, a cold sweat broke out on the back of his neck.
“Did you see what Mommy got me for my lunch?” she asked suddenly, then raced into the kitchen. She came back with a brightly colored lunch box.
Zoe opened it and showed him all the wonders of a space for a juice box, a plastic container for a sandwich and fruit, along with a special pack that would keep everything cold.
“It’s the best,” she said reverently as she closed it, then ran her hand along the top.
He glanced at his watch. Great. Two minutes down, four hundred and eighty to go.
“Want to ride your bike?” he asked, thinking at least that would tire her out. Did kids her age take naps?
But instead of running toward the front door to get to the garage, she raced down the hall, only to return with a large bottle of sunscreen. After handing it to him, she stood patiently, as if waiting for him to apply it.
“Right,” he said slowly. “You don’t want to get a sunburn.”
“Mommy says it’s important to protect ourselves.” She held out one impossibly small, skinny arm.
Walker squirted sunscreen into his left palm, then used his right hand to rub the lotion onto her skin. He could encircle her upper arm with his thumb and forefinger and he had a bad feeling that he could have snapped any bone in her body just as easily. If she was this little now, what had it been like when she’d been born? Elissa had to have been terrified, but she’d handled it all on her own. She hadn’t bolted or even tried to get away.
He ignored the ghosts from his past and finished applying the sunscreen, then followed Zoe outside.
“Stay on this side of the street,” he said.
Zoe sighed. “I know. Mommy always tells me where I can ride. I’ll be good.”
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