The lights were out and Elizabeth was lying stiffly in the bed an hour later when Dash finally slipped into the room. He removed his clothes in the dark then eased beneath the blankets.
"I'm sorry." His voice wrapped around her, filled with regret. "I had no right to act that way."
Elizabeth sighed wearily. "So why did you, Dash? Simon came to help you, and I appreciate that. Besides, he's harmless…"
Dash snorted. "Elizabeth, Simon is the least harmless man I know. But I know he would never touch you with anything other than respect. The hug was harmless, a part of who you are, and I know that. I don't have an excuse for what I did."
She stared up at the ceiling, letting the scene replay in her mind once again. Dash had been on the edge of his control. Something had triggered a ragged fury inside him that she thought confused even him.
"Why don't you admit to having friends, Dash?" She knew that had been the key to his anger.
"Everyone has friends somewhere. Everyone accepts that. Why not you? Why does the thought of having them make you so angry?"
At first, she thought he wasn't going to answer her. When he did, the ragged sound of his voice alone broke her heart.
"I was the runt of the litter I was created with," he told her bleakly. "Half the size of the other Breeds, and scrawny as hell. One of the scientists seemed to have taken me under his wing, though. Devroe. A cold-eyed bastard, but he seemed to like me well enough that it kept me alive for ten years. I endured tests that I cringe to think of now, because they were so painful, because he asked me to. I saw him as a father. Until the day I heard him planning to put me down." He grunted mockingly. "'Just like an animal. Bastard's never going to grow into anything,' he told his supervisor. 'We'll put him down next week.'"
Elizabeth closed her eyes in horror.
"I saw him as a friend. A mentor. All the things kids look up to, but that day, I saw the monster he really was. Two days later I found my chance, hid in one of the supply trucks and shipped out with it. I knew I'd have to hide. I'd have to be smart and careful, and keep my guard up unless I wanted to return to my own death. Friends make you weak. You want to trust them. You want to depend on them, let them depend on you. I saw all the hazards of that after I found foster care and began growing. "
He had been a child, she thought. Ten years old and alone. His voice washed over her as he told her about the life he found. Foster care hadn't been easy for him, but he had excelled in school, and finally started growing. And he made sure no one else had the chance to betray him. He didn't make friends. Stayed to himself. When he joined the Army and then the Special Forces, he had kept that determination. But as he talked, Elizabeth realized that the honor and determination to save lives that filled Dash had run the course of his Army life. Men he had held at arm's length owed him their lives, just as he owed several of them.
His voice became softer, a bit amused as he spoke of those years and those men. And she saw how he had protected himself, never admitting to the bonds that had formed. Finally, he came to the year he was sent to Afghanistan to weed out a new contingent of terrorists that were hiding in the mountains there. His voice changed then, becoming cooler, though she heard the pain beneath it.
"There were twelve of us," he finally said softly. "We'd been fighting together for over a year. My longest unit assignment. I was usually moved around pretty regularly as I was needed. I'm a good tracker." His voice was hoarse. "You get close when you fight that long together." He sighed. "You learn each other's dreams. You know who carries secrets and who doesn't. You…" The silence surrounding them deepened for long minutes. "You become brothers," he finally finished. "We were the Deadly
Dozen. And for the first time in my life I was thinking, you know, maybe it wasn't so hard having friends. I had hidden for so damned long, Elizabeth. Sometimes it was scary, how fucking alone I tried to make myself."
She moved closer to him. He wasn't alone. He never had been, but she couldn't tell him that yet. Couldn't say anything until he was ready to hear it. He had thought himself alone, and as she told Cassie, what you convinced your mind was all that mattered.
"We had just cleared up a killer mission. Son of a bitch, we pulled it off without a casualty. Those men were bruisers, and we covered each other's asses like underwear. We'd just been airlifted and were heading home. I was thinking of putting in to take command of the unit. I was unofficial commander for a year. I thought maybe it was time, that maybe I could find a place for myself. Kind of a family." He cleared his throat as his voice became thick, rough.
"Jack and Craig, they were damned good sharpshooters, were joking about going home to their girls for the weekend. There were a few nurses on base they had been seeing. Mac and Tim, the explosives experts, were divorced and were talking about getting drunk and calling the ex's. The others were ribbing each other, flying high on adrenaline and success. And I was sitting there watching them. I kept pushing back that little warning in the back of mind. That something that kept telling me things weren't right. The world went to hell two minutes later."
She lay against him, desperate to hold him. Her arm went over his chest as she lay against his body, feeling his arms close convulsively around her.
"I was close to the door and was thrown clear as the helicopter went down. I don't even know how that happened. The others were dead before they hit the ground. The impact of the explosive was damned precise. They knew what the hell they were doing that time, Elizabeth. They knew we would be there and they knew who they were hitting. And they killed every damned one of those men because I wasn't on guard. Because I let their camaraderie and their friendship distract me.
I got them all killed, Elizabeth, because I let them be friends."
She heard the ragged edge of guilt, the torment he felt because he had been unable to control the events that happened. But she saw something more as well. She saw his fears of losing those he cared for, the scars it left on his soul because he couldn't save everyone. She rose up in the bed, turning so she could stare into his eyes. The dim light from the moon spearing into the window lent just enough of a glow to allow her to see the moist pain in his gaze.
"You can't run from this one, Dash," she told him gently. "You can deny the friendships until hell freezes over and it won't change anything. Just like all the guilt in the world won't change the fact that you couldn't save those men, that you had no way of controlling what happened that night. You have no way of controlling Simon, his women or me. But you can still accept us, and you can still love us. And you can know, that if any of us die at any time, we died loving you and knowing that somewhere along the way, you enriched our lives. There's no more you can do."
"You, I can control," he almost snarled. "Don't think for a minute, Elizabeth, that I won't have your ass covered. Simon…" He sighed. "That man is like a Texas whirlwind and refuses to listen to good sense. Those Ladies of his aren't always as careful as they should be, either. They live for the adrenaline and for Simon. Just as Simon lives for them. It's damned scary to watch them together."
"Why?" She tilted her head as she watched him closely. "Because you know he loves them? Because you know if he lost just one of them, it would rip him to shreds? And he's your friend, so you worry about that. And you feel helpless, because you know if he lost one of them, you couldn't ease the pain."
He was silent now.
"But Dash, I saw something you might have overlooked," she said softly. "I saw six women who found in one man something to hold onto, to balance the ice inside them.
Those women are dangerous. I could see that and I would prefer to face Grange than piss one of those women off. They could kill you without blinking. But Simon tempers them. He gives them someone to love, something to hold onto without fear. And he loves them back. Without each other, they would already be dead. And I think, at one time or another, without you, they would have been dead as well. They care for you too, Dash."
He breathed in deeply. It was the sound of a man fighting to deny what he already knew was the truth.
"I would die without you," he finally said. "I'd be crazy with terror if there were six of you to defend. Not to mention crazy, period." There was a vein of amusement in the final sentence. She took his hand and moved it to her abdomen. "Did I ever tell you, Dash, how much I dream of babies? Lots of babies. I wanted at least three, more if I could. And if what you say is true about your semen counteracting birth control, do you think you might not have plenty of little girls to protect and go crazy over? What will you do then? Stop having sex with me?"
She saw the pure terror that glittered in his eyes for just a second. Raw, blistering hot fear as his fingers flexed against her abdomen.
"God help me," he groaned. "You will make me crazy, Elizabeth." He moved, gripping her hand and drawing it down to his erection. "Just the thought of making babies with you drives me crazy."
"That's not crazy, Dash," she murmured as her fingers gripped the steel-hard weight of his bulging cock.
"Yeah, does that to me too." He lifted his hips for her, pushing his cock against her fingers. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth." He drew her to him, his lips brushing against hers. "I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I shouldn't have been an asshole. I don't ever want to hurt you."
"You didn't hurt me." She smirked, her fingers flexing on his cock. "I can see I didn't hurt you, either."
He grimaced. "Well, took a while to pull my balls out of my throat, but after I got them back in place I figured I could count myself lucky."
Elizabeth pushed the blankets back from his body, revealing the erect flesh straining between his thighs. She was wet and eager for him. She was always eager for him. Her pussy stayed slick and ready, her body always humming for his touch.
"Are you sure?" He groaned as she began to straddle his body, her head lowering to his lips once again.
"Hmm. Sure about what?" She eased against the bursting head, feeling it nudge into the folds of flesh and tuck against the opening of her vagina.
"Damn. Nothing," he panted. "God, you're so hot and ready for me. No one has ever wanted me like you do, Elizabeth. Always so sweet and hot and slick."
He spurted inside her. She loved it when he did that.
"Your fault." She could barely talk now.
Elizabeth began easing down on the hard shaft, working it into the snug depths of her swollen pussy, relishing the painful pleasure that streaked into her womb. A part of her realized there might be something just slightly depraved about her. She loved that flare of pain as he entered her, or when he locked inside her. The burning blend of agonizing pleasure that sent her rocketing to orgasm.
"Easy, baby." His hands gripped her hips as she lowered her head to his shoulder. "I'm afraid I'll hurt you."
"So hurt me," she groaned roughly as she raked her fingers over his shoulder, remembering how good it felt when he did that to her. "Take me, Dash, like you need to. Now. Don't hold back for me."
His muttered oath was thick with need. "I'll hurt you, baby."
"I'll love it." She was breathing roughly.
But still he hesitated. He worked inside her slow and easy instead, his body tight and corded with the need to hold back. She didn't need him to hold back. She let her teeth grip the flesh of his shoulder lightly, then gathered herself, forcing the muscles of her pussy to relax a second before she impaled herself hard and fast on his shaft.