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Shelter from the Storm by Lori Foster (1)

one

When the storms woke him, his first thought was of Sabrina. As lightning shattered the darkness of midnight and the growl of thunder set everything trembling, Roy Pilar bolted upright. She’d be ashamed but terrified, thanks to a history of violence so sinister it still gnawed on him, making him want to resurrect the dead just so he could exact some personal vengeance.

Throwing back the sheet and climbing to his feet, Roy felt around on the chair for his boxers. Hopping on one foot and then the other, he pulled them on with haste. He was on his way to the front door when the frantic knock sounded.

His guts clenched and his eyes burned. As he hurried to the living room, he called out, “Be right there.” On another series of panicked raps, he opened the door and Sabrina Downey launched into his arms.

Against his naked chest she felt so soft and warm and so damn right.

Heart breaking for her, he cradled her close a moment. “Shh. It’s all right. I’ve got you now.”

“S-sorry.”

“Don’t.” It wasn’t her fault that raging storms always brought out memories too harsh to deal with on her own. Abuse. Death. Displaced in the system.

Roy lifted her into his arms and, after kicking the door shut, went to sit on his couch.

When he started to reach for a light, she tightened around him and whispered, “Please leave it dark.”

So she could hide. But she didn’t need to hide from him. He’d been there that night, and he understood her reaction because he still suffered reactions of his own. She had no reason for shame, none at all. But that was something he could explain to her later. “All right, kiddo. Whatever you want.”

At twenty-five, Sabrina was extremely independent. It was a testament to her spirit and intelligence that she’d accomplished so much, that she acknowledged her past by working with abused children. Only someone special, someone with an innate empathy for victims, could deal so gently with the things she saw on a daily basis.

She lived alone, worked in an emotionally draining field, and when necessary, she fought for the rights of others with fierce intensity. She despised injustice of any kind and opened her heart to one and all.

It was only when Mother Nature raged, breathing life into old nightmares that Sabrina needed to borrow his strength.

Tucked in close to his chest, her fingers digging into his shoulders, Sabrina felt small and frail and very much his.

But she wasn’t, not yet.

She accepted their close friendship. She’d even rented the apartment across from his as soon as it became available. But anything more? He didn’t know how she’d feel about that.

She didn’t know that he’d loved her forever. Even before his parents got guardianship of her, he’d been drawn to the young girl who moved in next door. At first he’d felt protective of her, seeing her loneliness and her sadness, suspecting her abuse. He’d befriended the girl with hair like liquid moonlight, her eyes big and blue and hungry for understanding.

Later, when she’d been only seventeen and he twenty-one, he’d accepted that he felt more.

A lot more.

But for years her circumstances and her age kept him from going down that path. They hindered him still because Sabrina saw him as a friend, or maybe even a pseudo–big brother.

In the dark and quiet of his living room, Roy held her secure and settled back into the corner of his deep couch. Drowning in protective instincts, he pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head and stretched out his long legs, propping his feet on the coffee table.

Her silence worried him, so he asked, “Comfortable?”

She nodded without allowing a single inch of space between them. A loud crack of thunder sent her pressing closer.

He soothed her with easy strokes over her back. As if he hadn’t noticed her violent reaction to the storm, he asked, “Not cold?”

Experience told him that her shivers could be the remembrance of a long-ago night still churning through her.

“No.” He felt her mouth against his chest. Voice small, she asked, “Are you?”

Hardly. Resting his hands on safe ground, one on her waist, the other on her shoulder, Roy said, “I’m good.” At least, as good as a man could be while holding the woman he loved, he in his boxers, she in a short nightgown, in the middle of the dark night—while she clung to him with bone deep terror.

Time ticked by and neither of them moved. Emotion kept his thoughts churning; love for her kept him keenly aware of her bare legs over his, her breath on his skin, the scent of her hair.

Eventually the storm began to fade. Flashes of lightning still illuminated the room with a lazy strobe effect, but the accompanying thunder offered only a distant grumble, barely perceptible. The wind died down so the rain became a simple, almost soothing patter against the patio door.

Sabrina’s breathing was so light that if he didn’t know better he might have thought she’d fallen asleep. It satisfied something deep inside him to know his nearness helped to calm her, that when she needed someone, she came to him.

He wanted much, but settled for brushing another kiss over her forehead. Looking across the room at the clock on the wall, he saw it was nearing 3 A.M. He had a lot to get done at the shelter tomorrow, but for right now, for this moment in time, nothing mattered but Sabrina.