Nobody's Perfect (Rescue Me Saga #3)
Series: Rescue Me Saga , Book 3.0
By: Kallypso Masters | Other books by Kallypso Masters
Published By: Kallypso Masters
Published: Sep 28, 2012
ISBN # 9781301001330
By: Kallypso Masters | Other books by Kallypso Masters
Published By: Kallypso Masters
Published: Sep 28, 2012
ISBN # 9781301001330
Word Count: 171,250
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
DescriptionWhy would someone choose the BDSM lifestyle of consensual bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sado-masochism as a means to heal from a traumatic past? Read on to find out how it works (or doesn’t) for this couple!
PRAISE FOR NOBODY’S PERFECT:
…(W)hen a book can move you, make you connect, engage you to the point that it feels as if you know these characters and you care so much for their well-being, not just for their happily ever after…then that is greatness! (Francesca, Under the Covers)
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Deeply moving, Nobody’s Perfect is everything a romance should be. It’s heartfelt and ultimately uplifting. The characters are so real a reader can’t help but feel for Damián and Savi. The Masters at Arms world is one that will stay with you forever. (Lexi Blake, Author)
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…Kally Masters captured the heartache and pain that can drive a person to the lifestyle to fulfill their needs and, like a rose, she truly conveyed the beauty that can bloom from those thorns. (Alyn Love, Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews)
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…(A)s a survivor it touches home. I’ve been with my husband 9 years, married for 6; to this day I have issues… He’s currently reading it and it’s helping him understand me. He’s said sometimes he doubts my love for him because if I loved him we wouldn’t have these issues. It’s not something I could ever explain to him. He’s about 30% through the book and he finally is getting it. So we thank you!! (Chrystal, in a follow-up response to her review)
NOBODY'S PERFECT is the continuing story of Savannah Gentry (now Savi Baker) and Damian Orlando from MASTERS AT ARMS & NOBODY’S ANGEL (Rescue Me Saga #1) and NOBODY'S HERO (#2).
Savannah/Savi escaped eleven years of abuse at the hands of her father and finally made a safe life for herself and her daughter. But when her father once again threatens her peace of mind—and her daughter’s safety—Savi runs to Damian Orlando for protection. Eight years earlier as Savannah, she shared one perfect day with Damian that changed both their young lives and resulted in a secret she no longer can hide. But being with Damian reawakens repressed memories and feelings she wants to keep buried. After witnessing a scene with Damian on Savi's first night at his private club, however, she begins to wonder if he could help her regain control of her life and reclaim her sexuality and identity.
Damian, a wounded warrior, has had his own dragons to fight in life, but has never forgotten Savannah. He will lay down his life to protect her and her daughter, but doesn’t believe he can offer more than that. She deserves a whole man, something he can never be after a firefight in Iraq. Damian has turned to SM to regain control of his life and emotions and fulfills the role of Service Top to “bottoms” at the club. However, he could never deliver those services to Savi, who needs someone gentle and loving, not the man he has become.
Will two wounded survivors find love and healing in each other’s arms?
ABOUT THE RESCUE ME SAGA: The books in the ongoing Rescue Me Saga are not stand-alone stories and should be read in order. Characters will recur in later books to deal with further issues in their lives as the saga continues and each book builds upon all previous ones. Sometimes main characters even need another book to help resolve major issues affecting their relationships.
BONUS MATERIAL in this version: Kallypso Masters has added the PLAYLIST of music that inspired her as she wrote about the first three couples mentioned in this combined volume, as well as a GLOSSARY OF TERMS and a CAST OF CHARACTERS in these books in the saga.
CONTENT WARNING: Intended for mature adult readers not offended by profanity and graphic (but never gratuitous!) sex scenes. Due to the emotional way in which the author presents the subject matter (past and present), the books might cause triggers while reading. Please read the Author's Notes at the beginnings of each book before reading further.
Reader Rating: (16 Ratings)
Excerpt:[NOTE: Italics for internal thoughts and foreign language will not appear in this excerpt]
Savi Baker opened her mini laptop to update her résumé and write a cover letter for the "office clerk" position circled in the newspaper classifieds beside her. She'd need to hurry. Marisol's practice for the church children's pageant would be over in an hour or so.
Her years of college and clinicals were irrelevant now. She just needed to find something fast to pay her student loans and keep up the house and car payments. She and Mari had never lived extravagantly, but losing her job last week—three weeks before Christmas—just added to her anxiety.
She'd bought and wrapped some special gifts for Mari and tucked them away on the upper shelf in her closet. At least Christmas would have some special moments, but Savi would be lucky to be able to pay for groceries, much less the expensive ingredients needed for the holiday gifts she liked to bake for her friends.
After working so hard to achieve her goal of being a social worker and helping young abuse victims cope much more easily than she had following her own years of abuse, the loss of her job hit her harder than ever. Another dream lost.
Don't think about Damián Orlando.
She still didn't know why she'd been fired. Her supervisor seemed equally confused, so it couldn't have been because her daughter, Marisol, had been sick with the flu a couple of weeks before that. Everyone at the clinic was supportive of her being a working single mother. Her friend Anita, the woman who worked as the clinic's receptionist and had been the only mother figure Savi had known most of her life, had even stayed home with Mari so that Savi had only missed two days of work.
Her supervisor had encouraged Savi to submit an appeal to the state agency responsible for her termination, which she'd done immediately. Was she fired because of the complaint the clinic had received from the mother of one of her new clients? Mrs. Reynolds accused Savi of being indifferent to her daughter's needs, but Savi and her supervisor had explained to the mother that wasn't the case at all. With the highly charged emotions in situations involving domestic and child abuse, all case workers had to remain professional, objective, and somewhat emotionally distanced. This was especially true for Savi. She couldn't let her own demons from the past come to the surface.
In the end, Mrs. Reynolds had hugged her, sobbing. The mother had claimed she understood, and Savi had thought that was the end of it. Maybe not. Had she gone to the licensing agency to complain?
Oh, what difference did the reason make? She'd been fired. It could take months, or even years, to get reinstated; unraveling bureaucracy took time. She didn't have a huge savings—or time. Her immediate concern was finding a way to support her daughter and herself until she got another job in the mental-health field—if that was even possible.
Absorbed in typing, she jumped when the doorbell chimed. She looked at the time on her screen's desktop. Too early for Mari to be dropped off—unless something had happened. Barely able to breathe, Savi nearly ran to the front door and opened it, expecting to see one of the youth leaders from the church group.
She gasped, nearly choking as bile rose in her throat. Stupid! Why hadn't she glanced through the peephole first? She tried to reverse the movement by slamming the door in his face, but it stopped abruptly against his Italian leather wingtip. Her muscles in her arms quivered as she pushed harder.
"What kind of greeting is that for an old friend, Savannah?"
Enemy. Not a friend. Savi wedged the side of her bare heel against the door to keep him from opening it any further. Her lungs burned as she tried to fill them with much-needed air. Dangerous. He couldn't stay here. He would hurt Mari. She had to get rid of him.
She pulled the door slightly toward her without moving her foot and then tried to slam it with all her strength. He didn't even flinch. "What do you want?"
He smiled at her and relaxed. "Let me inside. We'll talk."
Savi suppressed a shudder. "You're not coming in. Leave before I call the police!"
His eyes narrowed into slits. Fear crawled up Savi's spine for the first time since she escaped this man and her father eight years ago. Vile man. Could she fight him off?
"Open this door, you dirty slut, or you and Marisol will regret this pathetic show of bravery."
Marisol. He knew her name. Did he know where she was? Oh, God, she prayed. Don't let Mari come home early. Where was her father? Had he gone after Mari while Lyle was here with her?
"I'm not letting you inside my—"
Without warning, Lyle rammed his body full force into the door, sending the edge of the wood into Savi's cheek. She hurtled backward until she lay sprawled on the floor, looking up at him. His navy-blue dress pants and wingtip shoes made her shudder as a distant memory tried to smother her efforts to regain her breath, but she tamped it back down. The angry man towered over her.
"Ah, just where a slut like you belongs, Savannah—at my feet." He reached for her. "Let me hear you scream, for old-time's sake, you filthy whore."
No! Memories of the night he'd placed her father's brand on her could never be erased, no matter how many times she'd tried. Neither could any of the degrading things Lyle had subjected her to at her father's orders.
She rolled onto all fours and scrambled to get away, sliding on the waxed floor. Lyle's savage kick slammed into her ribs as his wingtip impacted her left side. The air whooshed from her lungs, and she fought to catch her next breath.
"Your father asked me to bring you and your brat to him. But we're going to enjoy a little playtime first. What your father doesn't know…"
Another blow from his shoe struck her side near the same place. Panic set in as her breathing became more labored. Two more kicks followed in rapid succession. The pain!
Maman, help me. Give me the strength to fight him off. Help me protect Mari.
Savi pulled herself up using the hallway table and tried to inhale again. She turned to find Lyle smirking at her. Bastard. She picked up a wrought-iron candlestick from the table. In one swift motion, she swung it at his head, gouging his forehead. She hoped she'd more than stunned him, but didn't wait for him to recover. She followed up by kneeing him in the groin. He doubled over and fell to the floor moaning as he held his privates. His blood trickled onto her floor.
Not unconscious yet. Cut off the blood flow to the brain.
She'd learned a number of self-defense techniques from a female Marine veteran in a study group at college. Savi cringed as her finger touched his neck, hating to place her hands anywhere on him, but finally she found the point she sought and pressed—hard. She counted. By thirty seconds, Lyle's body grew even more limp.
Running to the kitchen, she grabbed her purse and keys and stumbled out the back door. A black BMW sat parked behind her little blue Nissan. She glanced back at her bungalow. Her home, but no longer her safe place.
No sign of Lyle yet, but he wouldn't be unconscious forever. Breathing had become a struggle, but she refused to escape inside her head to that numb place where she could dull the pain. Mari needed her to stay in the moment.
Mari needed her. Period.
She filled her lungs with as much air as she could stand and held her breath. Oh dear lord. Why couldn't she breathe? She pressed her hand to her chest and tucked her elbow against her left side, near where Lyle had kicked her repeatedly. Was something broken?
How had her father and his partner found her after all these years? She'd changed her name, her looks, everything, to keep from being found. No way would she ever let them anywhere near her daughter; they'd never do to Mari any of the things they'd done to her. In some ways, while Lyle had only been her handler, he was more sadistic than her father. Lyle had been the one to place her father's shameful mark on her. He'd enjoyed hearing her scream and often inflicted even more pain than what her father had ordered.
She opened the car door, got behind the steering wheel, and turned the key in the ignition. She couldn't zone out now. She needed to get to San Miguel's…to Mari.
The images of Damián in her office comforting Teresa, his niece and her former client, and of him later last month standing over the inert body of the girl's rapist father alternated before her eyes.
No. She couldn't get close to him again. He was dangerous in a totally different way from Lyle and her father—but still, oh, so dangerous.
What other option did she have, though? She could protect herself or die trying, but what if something happened to her and they got their evil hands on Mari? She couldn't risk that.
Mari needed Damián.
Damián wasn't home. What now?
Savi knew Damián lived somewhere in Denver, and she'd instinctively headed west after picking up Mari from San Miguel's. By the time Anita returned her call for help, they'd driven across California into Nevada but she'd ditched the cell phone in Las Vegas to avoid being tracked.
Now, she'd been in Denver a couple of hours with nowhere else to go. No one to turn to.
Please, Damián. Come home soon.
She'd come straight to the Colorado address Anita had retrieved from Teresa's file at the clinic, knowing that the farther away she could take Mari from Lyle and her father, the better their chances would be. Looking into a patient's confidential file was unethical, not to mention illegal. Savi hadn't even told Anita about the worst brutalities she'd suffered at their hands, but Anita willingly took the risk to try and keep them safe.
Savi hoped Anita wouldn't lose her job. She owed Anita everything, from that day so long ago where the older woman had taken a scared and pregnant runaway into her home. Savi didn't want her friend to become more collateral damage in her father's need to control his daughter—and now his granddaughter.
Looking into the backseat, she saw Mari still slept soundly. When Damián hadn't answered his door, she'd taken Mari to get something to eat at a fast-food place down the street and returned to knock at his door again. Still no answer. She'd decided to wait for him in the parking lot. Where else could she go to find him?
After an hour or so, she began to worry that perhaps he'd returned to California for a visit or gone somewhere else for the weekend. Didn't everyone in Colorado ski? What if he didn't come home at all tonight? She couldn't risk getting a motel room and using a credit card. Most decent ones wouldn't take cash without a credit card to back it up. She didn't want Mari to sleep in the cold car or in some "no tell" motel where predators might be a more imminent threat.
What if Damián brought a woman home? Awkward, to say the least. Yet, she and Mari had nowhere else to go. Fear clawed at her, but she pushed it away. She needed to stay strong for Mari.
Off and on for the past hour, she'd run the engine a few minutes to keep the car's temperature comfortable. Mari had fallen asleep soon after dinner. Her beautiful baby had asked a thousand questions on the almost two-day drive here, but she seemed content when Savi told her they were going to visit the nice man they'd met at church after choir practice a while back. Savi couldn't believe Mari even remembered him, but she'd asked immediately, "Damián?"
Please, God, don't let this be an emotional disaster for either of them. Neither could afford to complicate their lives with impossible emotional attachments. And anything having to do with a man would be impossible.
So, why was she here on Damián's doorstep?
Simply put, there was no one else she could turn to. Everyone in California could be controlled or easily coerced by her father, except for Father Martine and Anita. Her parish priest already had put himself in danger by loaning her cash to help them make their escape. Both had promised not to reveal anything to Lyle if he tracked her to San Miguel's.
The roar of a motorcycle entering the parking lot drew her attention; her mind returned to a time when she'd ridden on the back of a Harley, her chest and thighs pressed against Damián's body while her arms were wrapped tightly around his waist. Her face grew warm.
She watched as the man in the leather pants and the Harley Davidson-emblazoned vest pulled into a numbered spot near the stairway. His lean, muscular body looked lethal. He set the kickstand, turned and removed the key, and swung his leg over the back of the bike, then unhooked the chin strap on his helmet.
Before he'd even pulled the helmet off, she'd recognized him. Her heart thudded, surprising her. His queue exposed below the helmet at the nape of his neck tipped her off, then he turned sideways and she saw the familiar mustache and goatee. He didn't look in her direction but walked to the stairway. His shoulders slumped a bit as Savi watched him make his way up the steel staircase to the second floor of the old motel building. Was he limping? She hoped he wouldn't be too tired to help deal with two unexpected and desperate guests tonight, because she was about to invade his world with a vengeance.
Damián rescued her once before but, more recently, he'd immobilized Teresa's father last month when the bastard had returned to try and hurt the teen a second time. Teresa, Damián's sixteen-year-old niece, had been raped nearly five weeks ago by the bastard, and Savi had been making progress as Teresa's therapist. At least until she'd been fired. Teresa was lucky to have a champion like her Uncle Damián. Now Mari and Savi needed him.
Glancing at her sleeping daughter, she decided to just lock her in the car rather than disturb her. Damián's apartment was in a converted motel complex with an exterior entrance. Savi wouldn't go inside or let the car out of her sight. She didn't know why it was important, but she didn't want to drag Mari up there only to be disappointed by him if he turned them away. If that should hapen, it would be better to just leave and tell her Damián hadn't come home.
After summoning enough courage to proceed, Savi wrapped her arms around her side and took as deep a breath as possible. She opened the door and got out, but shut the door quickly when hit by a blast of frigid wind. She hoped she hadn't let too much of the car's warmth escape. A quick check through the backseat window told her Mari still slept. Savi hoped she'd be able to tuck her into a real bed tonight.
She slipped on a patch of snow as she crossed the parking lot to the stairway, and a stab of pain ripped up her side before fading. These shoes weren't really suitable for winter. The wind out of the mountains cut into her thin jacket, as well. Father Martine had loaded them down with blankets and clothes from the church's clothing bank, but they didn't get weather like this in Solana Beach.
She hadn't had money to spare for new clothes, but if they were going to stay here any time at all, she needed to get Mari a warm coat. She'd look into finding a thrift store tomorrow.
As she climbed the stairs, she pulled out a pair of sunglasses. She must look ridiculous wearing them at night, but she didn't want to freak Damián out first thing by letting him see her bruised and swollen eye from Lyle's attack. She couldn't totally hide her cheek, but glasses were better than nothing.
Steeling herself, she pressed the doorbell. Savi waited, crossing her arms to help keep warm when a shiver coursed through her. Concerned about Mari, she turned and looked back down at the car parked under a bright street light. Safe.
When the door opened, she was forced to turn toward him. A look of surprise, followed swiftly by concern crossed his face at seeing her.
“Did something happen to Teresa?”
“Teresa? No.” Then realization dawned. She held out her hand with the palm facing him to allay his fears. “No! I’m sure she’s fine.”
Another blast of cold air caused her to wrap her arms tighter around herself.
“Come in.” He stood aside and motioned her in.
“No, I can’t. I…” Savi looked toward the car, then back at him, not knowing where to start.
“Why are you here? How did you find me?”
She lowered her head, wishing he'd give her more time to collect her thoughts. How did she answer those questions without getting the door slammed in her face? But she needed him, so she might as well be up front. She lifted her gaze to him. “I looked at the next of kin info in Teresa’s file.” She didn't want to implicate Anita in the breach of confidentiality. “We need your help.”
She glanced at the car again. His gaze followed. Time for the reveal—and to talk. Savi removed the glasses.
Damián's nostrils flared. While she detected no other sign of his anger, he seemed to be reining in his emotions. She fought the urge to back away. She needed him to help her, terrified or not.
“Who hit you?” He ground out the words as if he wanted to pound something.
“I can’t say, but we need a place to hide out for a while, until I can figure out what to do.”
“Marisol? Is she okay?”
Savi nodded. “She’s asleep in the car. We drove day and night. I was afraid to fly or stay in motels. I didn’t want to leave a trail.”
He scanned the parking lot. “Look, that car’s going to get cold PDQ. Why don’t you get Marisol and come inside to warm up?”
She held her arm to her side, hating to admit weakness. “I can’t lift her.”
His gaze raked over her body, assessing her. “Give me your keys. I’ll get her.”
She hesitated a moment. You have to trust him. You can't do this alone. Then another blast of cold air hit her in the face and took her breath away. She looked down at the parking lot and pulled the keys out of her jacket pocket. “Follow me.”
“No. You don’t need to be going up and down those stairs. You look like you’re about to keel over. Just tell me which car.”
“The light blue Nissan.” She pointed to her sedan parked under the light.
“Go sit down. I’ll be right back.”
Like hell. She watched him walk back down the stairs, holding onto the rail, and continue to walk across the lot to the car. Using the remote, he unlocked the car. The headlights flashed again as he opened the back door. Gently he lifted her baby into his arms and made his way back up the stairs carefully, one hand on Mari, draped over his shoulder, and one on the railing. Seeing him being so careful with her daughter made her think she'd made the right decision to come here.
At the top of the stairs, he seemed both surprised and annoyed to find Savi waiting for him, rather than going inside as he'd asked her. No, he'd definitely ordered her. She'd needed to be sure Mari was safe; she didn't take orders from any man anymore.
Savi fell into step beside him and opened the door for them. Once inside, she locked the door.
He turned to whisper to her, “Help me get her into bed. Then we’ll talk.” Damián led the way across the living room and stood beside what must be the bedroom door, which Savi opened for him. A blast of cold air hit them. Was there any heat in there? The living room had seemed wonderfully warm after being outside, but this room was freezing.
The bed was made, so Savi pulled down the vintage, apparently handmade Mexican-Indian designed comforter and watched as he laid Mari’s head so carefully on the pillow. Then he lifted her legs onto the bed. When he reached to remove her shoes, Savi grabbed his hands, afraid he was going to undress her.
“No! I’ll do that.”
Holding up his hands, he backed off. While she unlaced the sneakers, Damián walked over to the wall near the doorway and adjusted the thermostat. She decided to leave Mari's jacket on for added warmth.
He whispered, “It’ll warm up in here in no time.”
Savi pulled the comforter and sheet over her baby and bent down to kiss her.
Sleep well, love. You're safe for now.
Savi stood and turned, wincing as her chest muscles constricted. She held her hand to her left side again before noticing she'd attracted unwanted attention from Damián. She forced her hand back down. He motioned for her to lead the way into the living room.
When he started to close the door, she placed her hand over his. “No! Mari might wake up and be frightened to find herself in a strange bed.”
He nodded, seeming to accept her response, and he turned to proceed into the living room. “Can I get you a Coke, beer, tea, or something?”
She remembered a similar offer at Teresa's house in Solana Beach. “No Kool-Aid?” She smiled, then caught herself. What had come over her? This was no time for teasing.
“Sorry. When the munchkins aren’t around, I prefer beer.” He grinned.
“A Coke sounds good." She needed to keep her wits about her.
He went to the fridge and pulled out a can of Coke. “Glass and ice?”
“No. The can’s fine.”
He came back into the livingroom, popped the top, and handed it to her. “Let me take your jacket.”
“No, I’m fine. I’ll just keep it on.”
His dubious expression told her he didn't buy her assurance, but he motioned for her to have a seat on the sofa. He sat down at the other end and reached over to pick up an open bottle of Dos Equis. The domestic scene was so normal, as if they hung out here every night.
His gaze targeted her. “Who hit you?”
Well, the time for polite pleasantries was over. Savi wasn't sure where to start. How much should she tell him? Stalling, she lifted the soda to her lips and tipped her head back, drinking long and slow. When she lowered the can again, she stared at it a moment, tracing a fingernail around the rim.
“Was it your husband?”
She looked up, frowning. Her what? She shook her head. “I’m not married.” What had made him think otherwise? Then he looked at her left hand, and she remembered the wedding band she always wore in public to ward off unwanted male advances. He'd seen it on her at the clinic, but she never wore it at home and hadn't picked it up to bring with her when she ran. Of course, he knew she had Marisol. He'd drawn a logical conclusion.
He met her gaze again. “I have a friend who was a corpsman—a medic—in Iraq. Will you let him check out your injuries?”
No way. She squared her shoulders and sat up a little straighter, willing herself to show no sign of discomfort or difficulty breathing deeply. “What injuries?”
“Well, there’s the black eye, swelling, bruising on your face. You’ve also been favoring your left side. Did he hit you there, too?”
She sagged against the sofa. “It’s nothing.”
“Let my friend be the judge of that.”
She hadn't come here seeking medical help. She needed protection for her daughter. “I’m not leaving Mari.”
“Who said anything about leaving? He’ll come over here if I ask him.”
“No. The fewer people who know I’m here, the better.”
“Who are you running from, Savannah?”
A flash of anger sparked through her at his use of that name. “I told you not to call me that.”
He grinned but just diverted the inquisition in a new direction. “I liked your hair better blonde. Why did you change it?”
She hadn't been a blonde in seven years. “None of your business.”
He leaned toward her. Savi tried not to let him intimidate her, but he did. His nose had been broken. She remembered noticing that all those years ago and still wondered if it had happened in a fight. The man had a lethal aura about him.
“Hey, chica, you just showed up on my doorstep out of nowhere, beaten up and on the run. You’re the one who asked me for help, so don’t go getting all defensive. I’m just trying to figure out what the hell’s going on.”
When she didn't respond, he sat back and drained his beer, then lowered the empty bottle to nestle in his crotch. She averted her attention from that part of his anatomy and reached up to twirl a strand of her hair. Her physical discomfort from the stitch in her side equaled the emotional discomfort she felt. She hadn't been alone in a room with a man in almost forever.
“I felt safer changing my appearance.”
Her hand froze on the curl as her heart thudded, robbing her of even more oxygen. Did he know? She looked up at him again, studying his face for some time. “What about him?”
“Is he the one who roughed you up and sent you running?”
He didn't know. She relaxed into the sofa and took another swig of the soda, buying time as she tried to will her heartbeat to slow down. “No. He’s been out of my…out of the picture from day one.” She looked away. She'd tried to find Damián when she'd gotten strong enough to function after Mari's birth, but she'd failed. Then she'd decided they were better off without a man to complicate things.
“Let me see where you’re hurt.”
She refused to make eye contact. “No. I’m fine.”
“Bullshit, chica.” His anger caused her to look up at him again, and he held her gaze. “Your choice—me or my friend? Which will it be?”
Anger ripped through her again. She hadn't come all this way to have him expose her to her father's hound dogs by leaving a paper trail, which is what would happen if he involved medical personnel. She glared at him for a moment, but he refused to back down. Leaning forward, she winced at the pain and tried to hide her shortness of breath. Her reaction times were delayed from the lack of sleep. She tried to mask her features as she set the soda can on top of a biker magazine on the coffee table.
She sat back against the sofa, putting more space between them. “It’s nothing. Really. Just a bruise.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. I have some…expertise with bruising. Remove your jacket.”
She continued to wage a silent battle of wills with him. However, after a few moments of determined silence, she decided they needed to get beyond this or she'd never get him to help. Savi raised a shaking hand to loosen the belt of her jacket, trying to control the shaking as she reached up to undo the top button.
Savi remembered those first months after she'd escaped her father's house, when she'd still fantasized about Damián finding her. Later, before she'd given up and shut down emotionally, she'd had fantasies about him being a daddy to Mari. Still, she'd always hoped he would try to find her. He'd broken her heart by not doing so.
Don't be ridiculous, Savi. He wouldn't have come looking for you. He'd have looked for Savannah Gentry. And she was dead.
“I haven’t ever hurt you, Savannah. Have I?”
Why did he insist on calling her that?
Choosing not to answer the question, she finished unbuttoning the jacket and peeled it off. She leaned against the back of the sofa and pulled the tail of her shirt loose from her slacks. His gaze went to her abdomen and she saw a flash of rage cross his face as his mouth tightened.
His words sounded angry, and fear clawed at her throat again. She wouldn't let herself be placed in such a vulnerable position with him. “No.” She took a deep breath and stood up, wincing as the movement robbed her of breath. “I’d rather stand.”
He stood as well and leaned closer, reaching out his hand. She gasped even before he touched her. When he gingerly touched the bruised area on her left ribcage, below her breast, she held her breath and tried not to move. After a moment, he pulled away.
“I need to ask Doc what to do.”
Didn't doctors here have to make reports of violent acts to the authorities? She couldn't risk that. But he didn't wait for her to express an opinion as he pulled out his phone and pressed a button. After a moment, someone answered.
“Sorry to wake you, man, but I need your help.” He paused and glanced at Savi. “A friend of mine has been in…some kind of fight, and she has some bruising over her ribs.” He seemed exasperated by the other person's response. “Look, this is serious. It’s not from impact play."
How could violent impacts against someone's body be considered play?
"She’s been punched by a fist, it looks like. Under her breast. Where the ribs are. The bruises are still dark in color. Happened at least two days ago.” He looked to her for confirmation, and she nodded and held up two fingers. She wondered how someone who wasn't in the medical field became such an expert on bruising.
He listened a moment, then shook his head. “Can’t do that."
"What’s plan B? What can I do?” Once more, he listened. A garbled voice came through the phone, but Savi couldn't make out the words. After a long while, he said “Hold on” and lowered the phone to the coffee table. Damián looked at her. “Take some deep breaths. Really fill your lungs.”
Lost in his gaze, she did as he told her immediately. She caught her breath and winced again. The pain brought her back to the moment. She'd forgotten to be careful how she breathed. He picked up the phone again and said, “Might be a problem with her breathing, Doc.”
Refusing to appear injured, Savi stood taller. "No, there isn't. I'm fine."
Damián glared at her until the voice came through the phone again.
"Shoot." He listened to his friend's instructions. “I didn’t take anatomy, Doc.”
What had he asked? Damián's gaze lowered to her breasts and she grew uncomfortable. Don't look at me like I'm a dirty slut. She'd endured the unwanted stares and touches of more men than she could count during the year before she'd escaped her father's house.
“Be right back.” Damián laid the phone on the coffee table again and moved closer to Savi. She fought the impulse to turn and run. “I need to check for a broken rib. Just try and relax.”
No way. This time, she did take a step back.
“Hold still, querida.” He maintained eye contact with her, but rather than calm her, she was overwhelmed with the need to escape; to go to her safe place.
Savannah ran along the beach, ignoring the broken shells that cut into the bare soles of her feet. Where were her flip-flops?
The cave. She'd left them at the cave. She needed to get back there. After climbing gingerly over the sharp rocks, she walked into the opening of the cave, then halted. Instead of her mother, she found Damián leaning against the wall of the cave.
No! Where was Maman?
Then she remembered how safe she'd felt with him here once upon a time. A very long time ago. She hadn't felt that kind of safety since before her mother had run away.
“Savi? Look at me.”
She blinked and found herself transported instantly back into Damián's living room. She stared at him.
“Where’d you go?”
My cave. Wait! He couldn’t know about that. “Go? I didn’t go anywhere. Just check for the broken rib and get it over with.”
Damián placed his left hand in the middle of her back, and she moved away.
“Wait! I’m not ready yet.”
“You don’t have to get ready for anything. Just look at me, querida.”
No! Not yet! She tried to convey her fear with her eyes, but he didn't seem to notice.
“Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly.”
She couldn't do this. Her respirations became shallow, rapid. She tried to force herself to release the tension in her shoulders and neck. I can't do this!
His words had a slight calming effect on her, until he placed his right hand against her chest. Her breathing became even more shallow, her heart beating wildly. She drew another breath, sharper this time.
“Just relax. I’m going to press here, but tell me if it starts to hurt.”
He applied what felt like an incredible amount of pressure on her chest wall, and she cried out in pain. She'd always been able to block out pain. Why hadn't she been able to stay in her cave? He abruptly let go of her and gave her a look as if she'd just landed on earth from outer space. He reached for the cell phone and picked it up.
“Doc? You still there?”
His tone conveyed he wasn't pleased with her. What had she done wrong? She'd tried not to scream in pain.
Only dirty sluts scream, Savannah.
She should have been able to take the pain without screaming. She'd endured so much worse at the hands of Lyle and the men in the penthouse. She'd trained herself not to scream until the pain was too unbearable to do otherwise. But she hadn't had to practice that skill in a very long time. Damián wouldn't want to help her if…if he knew what she was. Control yourself, Savan…Savi. He doesn't know.
Damián sighed. “We have a couple problems with that. One is that we need a babysitter.”
Wait! What was he talking about? No one was separating her from Mari. Savi held up her hand. “No! I’m not going anywhere, and even if I did, I’m not leaving Mari with strangers.”
He stared at her, but spoke into the phone. “Doc, do you have any friends who can provide a medical assessment without leaving a paper trail?” Doc. She realized this was the medic friend. Not a real doctor at all.
Damián paused to listen, then said, “I haven’t a fucking clue, but it’s the only way I’m going to get her to cooperate.”
I'll cooperate, as long as you don't take Mari away from me.
“No, nothing like that. Just call me back PDQ.” He snapped the phone shut and just stared at her until her skin burned under the intensity of his gaze. “He’s going to try and find someone to take a look at that rib. Do you want to lie down with Mari and rest a little?”
“No. I can't breathe when I lie down. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fucking fine, Savi.”
She cringed and backed away.
“Who are you running from? Who did this to you?”
Without going into details Damián didn't need to know, she confessed, “My father.” Bile rose in her throat at the mere mention of him, and she held her hand over her stomach to try and keep the nausea at bay.
Savi tried to find the words to explain the unexplainable. She'd spent the last two days trying to make sense out of why her father had wanted her and Mari, but all she'd been able to come up with was that he'd wanted to hurt Mari the way he'd hurt Savannah. She wouldn't let him see her daughter, much less touch her. Ever.
They'd gotten all the way through Utah before she figured out how he'd found her. "He tried to take Mari from me. I guess he saw me on the news footage from Julio’s arrest and tracked me down, after all these years.” Damián seemed puzzled. “I can’t let him anywhere near her. That’s why I came to you." She paused, trying to gauge how much she needed to say to enlist his help. "The way I saw you taking care of Teresa in my office. The way you were ready to kill her father, if necessary. We need that kind of protection right now. Will you help us?”
Savi watched and waited. Her side throbbed ever since he'd pressed on her sternum. Had she injured a rib? Why hadn't she zoned out? But hadn't she? A brief glimpse of herself in the cave at Laguna Beach flashed through her mind. In the past, Maman had always waited for her there. This time, she hadn't found Maman at all. She'd found Damián.
To say that had been disconcerting would be an understatement. How could she run from his touch physically and wind up running to him in her mind? Her safe place no longer felt safe. But he wouldn't hurt her. Would he? She had to trust him so he would protect her and Mari. That's what had sent her halfway across the country to find him, wasn't it?
"Why didn't you call the police?"
"He's friends with the police chief." Her father always made it a point to have something to hold over key people in power, including judges, several state legislators, and even a congressman. Her body had been offered to service many of them in the past. Apparently, he'd been exerting his control over her for weeks, beginning at her workplace.
Until yesterday, she hadn't even put two and two together to figure out her father had had a hand in her being fired. Her foremost thought had been to escape from Lyle. All her years of study and training, of giving her all for the children in her care to become the clinic's top victim specialist in such a short time were down the drain. Once again, her father had shifted her world on its axis.
She squeezed her eyes shut and lowered her head, worrying about the upheaval her sudden disappearance must have caused her young, vulnerable clients. Just thinking about the feelings of abandonment they must be experiencing…
"You're still in pain."
She opened her eyes and stared at him, realizing her face must have projected her pain. Yes, but not the physical kind.
A flash of anger in his eyes told her he wasn't buying her verbal assurances. Had she done the right thing coming here? Damián wouldn't be as easy to manipulate as the other men she'd had to deal with. Well, except for Father Martine, the only man she'd ever trusted.
How had Damián gotten her to reveal in a few minutes more than she'd intended to tell him?
So dangerous. But where else could she turn? Savi would do whatever it took to protect her daughter from her father and Lyle's sadistic ways. The other night, however, as she lay on the floor at Lyle's feet, she'd realized how difficult it would be to protect her little girl. Admitting failure or weakness, much less need, to someone else—especially a man—was incredibly difficult. She'd sworn she'd never be vulnerable to a man again. Yet she couldn't risk going it alone this time. The stakes were too high, and her father much too powerful.
Damián's cell phone rang. "Yeah, Doc?" Pause. "You're sure?" Pause. "Appreciate it. Meet you there."
Savi tried to square her shoulders and stand straighter, but again, her breath was cut off. Do not let him detect any weakness. "I said I'm not going anywhere without Mari."
"Not a problem. My friend is meeting us at the clinic. We'll bring Marisol with us."
"She needs her sleep."
"She can sleep in the car. You need medical attention. Now. I'll drive your car. When we get to the clinic, I'll watch Marisol while the doctor checks you out."
No! She was losing control. Panic clawed at her chest, and sweat broke out on her upper lip. She cleared her throat. "Look, I said I'm fine. Just some bruises. I'll be even better after some sleep."
"You said you couldn't lie down. How do you plan to rest?"
Oh, God. What had ever possessed her to come here? She needed to leave, but she couldn't carry Mari down those stairs. Her gaze strayed to the open bedroom doorway where she saw her daughter curled on her side, sleeping peacefully. How could their lives have become so screwed up in such a short time? Everything had been going perfectly until…
Damián. He'd come back into Savi's life because of his niece's rape. Then the hostage situation at her house when Teresa's father had returned, drunk and up to no good. If only Teresa hadn't called Savi to her house that afternoon to help. No, if only the news crews hadn't happened by and broadcast the incident.
It wasn't the girl's fault. She was another victim of a father's sick and twisted abuse. Who better to help Damián's niece deal with her father's assault than Savi, who knew all too well a father's ruthlessness?
"Let's get your coat buttoned up…" When Damián's hands reached for her, she stepped back, her legs pressing against the sofa and nearly toppling her backward.
"No! I can do it myself." She scrambled with shaking fingers to close her coat and pulled the belt tight, wincing as she cut off her breath but hoping he wouldn't touch her again.
No escape. Trapped.
Damián frowned at her. "I'll get Marisol."
Savi followed him back into the bedroom, afraid to let him out of her sight, especially anywhere near Mari.
He turned toward her, not seeming at all surprised she was on his heels. "I'll just wrap her up in this blanket." He turned the Mexican blanket down first, then the sheet, uncovering Mari. Her little girl stirred, scrunching her nose and brows at the intrusion into her snug cocoon.
"It's okay, querida. We're going to take a little ride."
Mari opened her big brown eyes, so much like her father's, and looked up at him. "I remember you."
"You do?" Damián grinned, seeming pleased to know he had a lasting effect on her daughter. Did he know? "I remember you, too, mi muñequita."
Mari smiled and nodded at being called his little doll. Content that all was right with her world, she promptly fell back to sleep. Savi wished she could be that trusting, that innocent.
Never again—if she had ever been.
Damián picked Mari up and laid her down in the middle of the blanket; he wrapped it snugly around her. He lifted her into his arms with such gentleness, he made Savi's chest ache with a new and unfamiliar pressure. Letting Mari's little head rest on his shoulder, he started for the doorway. Savi blinked rapidly, then led the way. The sooner she could appease Damián and get her ribs checked out, the sooner she could…could what? She had nowhere else to go.
At the front door to his apartment, she looked out the peep hole, but didn't see anyone near the door. After releasing the deadbolt, she held the door open for him, then reached into her pocket for her car keys.
She turned back toward Damián. "Wait! I need to find my keys."
"They're in my pocket."
"Oh." Crap. He hadn't given them back to her from when he went down earlier to get Mari, who was now in his arms. How was she supposed to…?
"Just close the door 'til it clicks. It will lock automatically." Damián walked through the doorway and she did as he'd instructed, then followed, watching him limp slightly toward the stairs.
What was wrong with his leg? Concerned he might not be able to support Mari's weight, she hurried to catch up. "Are you sure you can carry her down the stairs?"
He scowled at her. "What makes you think I can't?"
"You're limping." His fierce glare told her to back off, but she decided to get in front of them; if he lost his balance, she could break their fall. Thankfully, they made it down the stairs and to the car without incident, where Savi had to face facts. She needed to retrieve the keys. From his pocket. Oh dear lord.
Like hell. "Let me take Mari so you can open the car."
He ground out the words, "Reach in my pocket and get out the keys, Savan…Savi."
Still, Savi hesitated a moment longer, until he glared at her again. Did he have any other expression? Yes. He smiled and grinned when he looked at Mari. The glares he saved for Savi.
She looked down at the pocket. Leather pants. She supposed he'd worn leather because of his Harley, but wished he'd changed into jeans or something else when he'd gotten home. Not that she'd given him time to change before she'd shown up on his doorstep.
"Get. The keys. Out of. My pants. Now."
How was she ever supposed to get them out without touching him more intimately than she'd touched any man since, well, since Damián all those years ago? Savi's hands shook as she placed one at the opening of the pocket of his lethal-looking, hip-hugging pants and pried it open. She could barely wedge the fingers of her other hand inside. The warm leather felt good against her cold fingers. Heat spread up her arms and into her face. Okay, the heat in her face was from a separate, mysterious source. She did not blush and did not let a man affect her this way. Ever.
What was happening to her?
Not wanting to prolong the contact any longer, she dug into his pocket almost ferociously and found the key fob. Thank God. She yanked on it until the key got hung up. Shit.
"Use both hands." Damián just grinned. Damn him. The bastard was enjoying her obvious discomfort. Heat spread to the pit of her stomach. She decided she preferred his glare to his grin.
Using her other hand, she opened the pocket wider and, with a slight tug, the keys popped out at last. She retreated several steps and took a few rapid, shallow breaths, trying to regain her equilibrium. Realizing she was just working herself up more, she remembered the Lamaze breathing techniques Anita had coached her on before Mari's birth and tried to control her response with slow, even breaths.
She clicked the remote to unlock the car doors and opened the back door, watching Damián sit Mari in the back seat. He looked back at Savi. "I need you to buckle her in while I hold her up."
Why was he forcing so much close contact? She'd managed to buckle Mari in without another set of hands. Of course, Mari had been awake those times. With great reluctance, Savi moved forward, but when her lower body brushed against his, she halted suddenly and took several rapid breaths.
I can't do this. Abruptly, Savi backed away and walked around the trunk of the car on shaky legs. Opening the other back door, she reached across the seat, ignoring the pain in her side and Damián's glare. She stretched the seatbelt over Mari's blanketed shoulder and waist, fumbling around until she found the buckle. It clicked into place, and Savi breathed a deep sigh of relief. Mission accomplished, minimal damage.
She looked up as Damián began to pull himself away from her daughter, and she was horrified when Mari held him tighter. "Don't go, Daddy."
Savi's heart thudded. Mari couldn't know. Why would she call him such a thing? Because she's always fantasized about having a real daddy. Apparently, Damián filled the bill for her. More likely, in Mari's deep sleep, she must be dreaming.
Savi ventured a nervous glance at Damián. His gaze focused on Marisol as he scrutinized her face. He closed his eyes for a moment, then turned to meet Savi's gaze with a question—no, an accusation—she didn't want to deal with right now. The grim resolve on his face revealed anger and something she couldn't name.
Of course, she'd planned to tell him. Soon. But this wasn't the time or place. She needed to divert his attention. Reaching down to her side, Savi winced. Damián's face showed concern as his focus returned to why they were out here in the first place. He gently unlocked Mari's hands from around his neck. Good.
"Don't worry, querida," he whispered to Mari. "Daddy's not going anywhere." He cast a sharp look at Savi, as if to make sure she knew he intended to keep his promise to his daughter.
Oh dear lord. Why was he reinforcing her daughter's Daddy fantasy?
Only Damián wasn't Mari's fantasy Daddy at all.
Savi's heartbeat came to a halt for a second before slamming against her ribcage. She didn't need this complication. When he hadn't made the connection that he might be Mari's father at San Miguel's, she'd just assumed he never would figure it out. If Damián knew, would he try to take Mari away from her? Maybe telling him wasn't a good idea after all.
Unable to take his scrutiny any longer—his face showing a mixture of anger and pain that left her unsettled—she backed out of the car. By the time she reached for the driver's door, Damián's warm hand pulled hers away from the frozen handle. How had he come around the car so quickly?
He took her by the elbow, carefully but with a firm hand, and guided her to the passenger side. "I'm driving."
"But I drove all the way from the West Coast."
"Exactly. You don't need to be driving any farther until we get those ribs looked at."
No one had taken care of Savi since she'd moved out of Anita's house after graduating from college. That was the year she'd landed her first job at a mental-health clinic in San Diego. Even when Anita had tried to help Savi find a position at the clinic where she worked, Savi had refused the job until it was time for Mari to start school. She'd wanted her daughter to go to school in Solano Beach, rather than San Diego.
Savi had chosen independence, because she wanted to support herself and Mari. She didn't want to be a burden anymore. She took pride in not needing anyone—most especially a man.
What alternative did she have but to seek this man's assistance now? Damián held the passenger door open and waited for her to get inside. Her lungs constricted when she reached for the shoulder strap, but Damián blocked her hand and took the seatbelt, pulling it across her chest. His forearm brushed against her breast as he buckled her in like a child. She tried to press her back further into the seat cushion to avoid the intimate contact.
Damián closed her door and was soon behind the wheel. Silence ensued as he drove across town, and Savi found herself consumed by memories of the decision that had started her on the long, twisted road that eventually had led her back to Damián.
Reader Reviews (5)
Submitted By: BonDarKen on Sep 11, 2013Again great book but it left to many gaps in the story (questions unanswered)? It seemed as if this is/was the last in the series and it had not completion. If you had another book in this series that completed the stories that would be great.
Submitted By: Calia on Jan 29, 2013From the series 'Rescue Me'. I enjoyed this book,but felt her others in this series were better written. Nonetheless, I really like the series and would recommend it.
Submitted By: bookworm77 on Jan 7, 2013It seems like I waited forever for this story but it was worth the wait! This book was bursting at the seams with emotional turmoil and angst! Saving and Damien were tortured characters that were made for each other. The love scenes were not a big part of this story and for obvious reasons in this story. Do not let that turn you off though because this book has a lot of heat just not overtly sexual. I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait for what is coming next! Love this series!
Submitted By: tmh0616 on Jan 7, 2013The fourth book in the Rescue me Series has been the most intense. There is a lot of darkness in Savi and Damian's lives. I love the way they have overcome their trials. I don't know many people with the strength and willpower these two display. I loved reading about their romance rekindling despite their best efforts to love at a distance. This story provided all aspects of a good romance: plot, love, sex, suspense, and romance.
Submitted By: topanga7 on Jan 4, 2013This is not an easy story to read but it is a good story. Damian and Savi are compelling characters who approach their respective healing using SM practices. I have never read about SM as part of someone's healing to this extent. I appreciate the care the author took in writing it. This book has a content warning that really should be taken into consideration.