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Before taking Everly into his arms, Mateo hadn’t known there was a difference between carrying someone and holding them. But as he stepped through Everly’s front door, he felt it. His arms kept a firm grip on her yet they softened around her, too, nestling her closer into his chest, trying to soothe away the trembling in her shoulders.

He couldn’t help himself. When he’d come around the corner and seen her frozen in fear—and then that lion stalking her like prey—instinct had taken over. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to go after the rifle, but if that cat had attacked her while he’d been in the house, Mateo never would’ve forgiven himself. She might’ve been tough and determined, but the cat would’ve easily overpowered her.

Relief washed over him as he carried her across the living room. She was shaken, but whole. And beautiful. So fucking beautiful and perfect in his arms. He gently lowered Everly to the couch, not letting go until he’d positioned her back against the soft cushion. A blank look had emptied her eyes of emotion as though she were replaying the scene over in her mind, as if she were wondering if it had really happened. He’d worn that same look before. The wondering look of someone who’d seen death coming at them, but had somehow walked away from it.

The ghosts he’d been seeing all afternoon crowded in again, haunting him with yet another memory. The memories of his brother were so much closer now. Somehow, learning about his brother’s death had unlocked the vault.  

He lowered to his knees in front of the couch. “Hey.” He touched her am. “You’re safe.”

Her head cranked slowly, turning to Mateo’s face. “I thought…it would’ve attacked me. If you hadn’t come—”

“But I did come,” he interrupted. He couldn’t stand to hear her say what might’ve happened. He’d only come back to the house to get the rest of his things. Instead, he was kneeling in front of Everly, feeling every damn emotion he’d ever suppressed. The second he’d seen her standing there vulnerable, those feelings had broken through to the surface—helplessness and fear and a devastating need to be close to her. “Everything’s fine now,” he said, almost afraid to touch her again. He wouldn’t want to stop. Not until she understood what he felt for her.  

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