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He rested his hand on her back, not speaking, and he didn’t move to shush her. His palm simply rested there.
“Ryder.” She fell against him, and he wrapped his arm around her.
“Easy, love,” he whispered. “Take a breath.”
His chin touched the top of her head, and the arms that she knew could hug her like all hell did the job, wrapping her away from the world until the tears stopped.
Nodding, Victoria drew in a deep breath, wiping under her eyes. “Could you hand me a tissue?”
He was already halfway off the bed as if reading her mind and handed her the box. Again, Victoria wiped her face. With another fresh tissue to cover her eyes, she could barely look at him.
“This can’t be what you signed up for,” Victoria mumbled. “Sorry.”
She balled the tissue up and hazarded a glance in his direction. “Why did you come here?”
“I was worried about you.” Ryder tilted his head back to the bed. “Can I sit again?”
Victoria’s eyes squeezed shut, but she nodded.
“I don’t have to. Never mind.”
She blinked and refocused on him. “What?”
“I didn’t mean to invade your space.”
Her head dropped. Ruined. He saw nothing but a ruined woman who was so fragile he misread what she meant with a simple look. “I didn’t—I wasn’t… I made a face. Or I didn’t mean to make a face.” She cringed. Such a mess! She couldn’t even get her words right. “I sound like an idiot!”
“I do. I’m not someone people worry about. Ever. I worry about people. That’s what I do. Did! I took care of people, and now look at me. I’m broken.” A sob caught in her throat. “I thought I was strong, and now, I’m this.”
He came to her bedside, swooping next to her. “Victoria.”
“Something happened to me. Over there.” She sucked a breath as she collapsed against the pillows. “And I can’t.”
He put a careful hand on her forearm. “Listen to me.” He ducked down close. “I don’t know what’s the right or wrong thing to say now, so I’m just going to say this.”
He came closer so their eyes met. His head was almost level with hers on another pillow, but he held her gaze and didn’t let go.
“Please don’t tell me to get up,” she whispered. “To get back to my life.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Ryder shifted so his weight was semi-on the bed, but he didn’t break their stare. “We brought everyone home, and every girl said you were their savior, that you put yourself in front of guards for them, that you made sure they had food. If nightmares struck, you coaxed them back to sleep. You were their guardian angel in hell.”
Her eyes burned again with tears, but she wouldn’t look away from his emerald ones.
“Whoever you are, love, wherever you’re from, you take as long as you need to get back the strength it took to become you, and I will stay by your side to help you if that’s what it takes.”
“Why?” Her voice broke along with a stray tear.
“Because I admire warriors.”