“Nothing that happened to you was your fault, Ruby,” Jett growled.
“My uncle didn’t want me to leave. I left of my own free will,” I said nervously.
Jett stood and walked slowly over to the couch to sit next to me. “Tell me what happened, Ruby. Just throw it out there. I’m not going to judge. If he was abusive, you had to leave.”
“I didn’t have to, but once the rest of my family was gone, I had no reason to take his abuse anymore. He was an alcoholic for as long as I can remember, and whenever he drank, he got violent. I-I couldn’t take it anymore,” I stammered.
“Son of a bitch!” Jett said harshly. “What happened after the accident? I’m sure your parents protected you from him before it happened.”
“I lived with him for almost a year, just long enough to make sure I could leave without him finding me until after I’d turned eighteen. His violent temper escalated into insanity. I had to leave with almost nothing to my name. Their part of the business would end up being his, and I couldn’t stay there.”
Jett pulled my trembling body against his, and I let his strong body support mine as I leaned into him. I mumbled against his shoulder, “I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to graduate from high school, but there were times I didn’t think I’d live that long. I had to go.”
Jett stroked his hand down my back in a comforting way that made me feel safe as he replied, “You shouldn’t have ever been abused in the first place.”
He sounded disgusted. Not that I blamed him. Abuse was not only painful, but it was humiliating, too. And I’d felt every moment of my shame. I still did.
I continued so I could get everything out without crying. “Looking back now, I know I should have gone to somebody at school or something after my parents died. But I was scared, and I didn’t know what would happen to me. I just wanted to be old enough to get out.”
His arm tightened around my waist as he answered gutturally, “I’ll protect you, Ruby. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
I melted into him. Usually, I didn’t like anybody touching me, but with Jett, for some reason, I felt…safe.
Later that night, I lay in bed listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore on the beach, but it didn’t have the calming effect it usually did for me.
I was fucking irritated, wrestling with emotions I’d never experienced before, and I hated it.
I’d told myself that I wanted Ruby to trust me like the brother she’d never had after she’d refused to marry me, but that was a difficult thing to wish for when I didn’t really feel that way.
Truth was, I wanted to be her protector.
I wanted to be the person she turned to when she needed something or if she wanted to confide in somebody.
But I totally didn’t want to be like a brother to her.
Ruby Kent had grabbed me by the balls the very same night I’d met her, and she hadn’t let go since the evening she’d accidentally put both of us in the hospital.
My marriage proposal had been instinctive, a response to the vow I’d made to myself right after Lisette had dumped me in the hospital. The moment I realized that Ruby didn’t really react to my scars, and I knew she had a heart, I’d blurted out the promise I’d made to myself after the accident.
I’d asked her to marry me.
And she’d said no.
When I’d discovered that she was refusing because she didn’t think I deserved to be stuck with her, it had made me even more determined to make her mine.
Protective, possessive instincts had slammed me in the gut, and they’d stayed there, strengthening with every damn moment I spent in Ruby’s company. I hated the fact that nobody had been there for her when she was getting beat up. In fact, it made me pretty crazy to think about anybody touching her. Period.
I grinned as I stared up at the high ceiling. She could be a handful sometimes, but I kind of liked that about her. She was intelligent and inquisitive, and she’d needed the heart of a lion to get through all of the challenges she’d faced. And she was definitely prone to voicing her opinions, especially when she was angry. She’d been quiet at first, almost pensive right after she’d thrown my proposal back in my face. But as time went on, she was speaking up more often and more vehemently.