Beneath These Chains (Page 75)

Elle sighed and pressed her hand to my chest. “When you say stuff like that, you make me want to climb you. Which is a problem, because I’m not one for audiences.”

I dropped my other hand to cup her ass. “I think we’re going to be leaving sooner than I’d planned.”

She wriggled out of my hold—this time staying away from the edge of the dock—until she could see through the crowd again. “We can’t go yet. And for sure not until I figure out why the hell Lucas Fucking Titan is here. Who would’ve invited that asshole?”

I finally followed her stare through the bodies to where a tall, dark-haired man stood. “Vanessa invited him,” I told her.

Elle’s eyes darted up to mine. “Why?”

I raised my eyebrows. “Did you forget this is a fundraiser? And he’s probably got the deepest pockets in town?”

Tonight was our first annual Beers for Boxing event. Basically, we got people all boozed up on the samples donated and served by a dozen craft breweries from around the State of Louisiana and held a live auction. With Vanessa’s connections—and Elle’s—the guest list was pretty damn impressive. We were hoping we’d make enough tonight to start expanding our boxing program. My confidence had been rocked by Mathieu’s actions and death, and I’d pulled away from the boys. Con had given me my space, but I could tell it had bothered the hell out of him. But a little soul-searching—and several come to Jesus talks from Elle—went a long way. I finally believed what she’d said to me: It wasn’t something I could’ve stopped. We all made our own choices. Mathieu had made his, and I was making mine.

I was moving forward. I was letting go of the past and the things I couldn’t change. The future was bright and full of opportunity. I wouldn’t let the guilt from failing Mathieu prevent me from trying to help others. And in that vein, I was determined to see Chains become so much more than a pawnshop. I wanted to see it become the heart of a neighborhood—a place where people could come if they fell on hard times—not only seeking financial help, but the help of a community. It wasn’t all about the bottom line to me anymore; it was about being successful, but not to the detriment of others. We weren’t going to just pawn, buy, and sell. We were going to start connecting people in need with resources to give them a hand up. And one of those resources was the gym. It might seem strange that we were relying on fighting to get these boys off the streets, but it was about more than learning how to throw a punch—it was about learning discipline and giving them something to work toward—namely, college scholarships like some of the boys had already received.

Elle grabbed me by the hand and pulled me down the dock. “The auction is starting. There’s a killer Chanel bag Vanessa found at an estate sale and donated, and I’m bidding on it in the name of raising money for the program—and in the name of fashion. Oh, and Yve and Dirty Dog donated an awesome vintage Metallica T-shirt that I’m also dying to get—obviously to raise even more money and because you’re going to look sexy as hell in it until I strip it off you.”

I laughed as I let her drag me toward the crowd—because quite frankly, I’d let this woman drag me anywhere she wanted.

The rest of the evening rolled on, and predictably, Elle got her purse and the T-shirt. Unpredictably, Lucas Titan bid a million dollars on a boxing lesson with Con.

It would take all million dollars of restraint for Con not to pound the shit out of him in the ring—which I was sure was Titan’s motive. Either that, or he felt like he still had a score to settle. Regardless, it wasn’t something I was going to miss.

In the Shelby on the way home—which Elle drove since she still didn’t drink—I asked her, “What do you think about becoming a full partner in Chains?”

She slowed to a stop at a red light and swung her head my way. “Are you serious?”

“Hell yeah.”

“A partner? Like, with equal say and skin in the game?”

“Exactly that.”

“You’d trust me with that? You’re not drunk, are you?”

The light turned green, but she didn’t accelerate because I’d lifted my hand to her face and skimmed my fingers along her cheek. “I’m not drunk. And you know damn well I trust you with everything and anything.”

She turned her face to press a kiss to my palm, before taking a deep breath. “Well, obviously the only answer I have is hell yes. And maybe one more question.”

“Shoot, sweet thing.”

“Do you have any idea how epic this going to be?”

“Oh, I have no doubt about that.” Every bit of my future with Elle would be epic. I wouldn’t let us settle for anything less.

Elle accelerated, and we drove off into the motherfucking sunset.