Page 6 of Reagan's Revenge and Ending Emily's Engagement (The Reed Brothers 3.6)

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Both, he admits. The rape was rape. The second guy, the father in the foster home, that was consensual. She wanted to please him. And she already felt dirty from what happened before and thought it would wash her clean if it was done on her terms.

Regardless, the man was decades older than her, so it never should have happened.

How do I know when she’s over the rape? he asks.

“Oh, wow,” I breathe. I scratch my chin. “I don’t think assault victims ever get over it,” I say. “But the mistake some men make is thinking of them as victims. Their experiences have been tainted when something that’s supposed to be beautiful is turned into something tragic, but tragic things happen every day. Will it affect her for the rest of her life? Yeah, probably. But does it have to stunt her growth in every area of her life? Definitely not.”

I don’t know how much I can tell him and not betray Reagan’s confidence.

Reagan told Susan about what happened to her, he admits.

“But did she tell her how poorly I handled it after?” I ask.

He shakes his head.

“I did. I was even more scared than she was. I wanted to show her how much I loved her that I held back. I couldn’t be myself. I wasn’t letting her be herself. I tried to keep everything soft and sweet and slow and calm. But it wasn’t what she needed. She needed for me to love her completely so she could love me completely, too.” I tap my temple. “After I figured that out, we had it all straightened out. So, quit worrying if you’re doing anything wrong,” I say. “Ask her if you’re doing it wrong. Let her guide you. Don’t assume you know what she’s feeling. Ever.”

He smiles. Okay.

“And don’t rush it,” I warn, shaking my finger at him. “I remember being your age and wanting to get my rocks off. But it’s about more than that. And once you realize that, that’s when your life changes. That’s when it starts.”

I squeeze his shoulder and he grins at me.

“And wait a few years.”

I’m not always sure I have a few years, he tells me. My gut churns. I can’t imagine a world without this boy in it.

“Be careful,” I say instead. “Do you need condoms?” I can’t stop a teenaged boy from doing anything he wants to do. But I can be sure he’s prepared.

He shakes his head. Got it covered.

“You better keep it covered,” I warn, pointing my finger at him.

He grins and throws up his hands like he’s surrendering.

A knock sounds on the door so I go and open it. Edward walks in, and Susan is right behind him. Her face lights up when she sees Gonzo, and she goes to kiss him on the cheek. He pulls her to sit in his lap, and she lands there, giggling. Her brother snaps, “Find your own chair.”

She scowls, but she scampers off of Gonzo’s lap. Gonzo starts to sign to her. When they first met, he used a computer to talk to her, but she learned some basic signs and it grew from there. She can get what he’s saying. They go the living room and sit down side by side, with her in a chair and him in his, and he takes her hand.

Edward follows me to the kitchen. He can still see them, so he’s okay with moving across the room. He growls low under his breath.

“Quit your breathing fire,” I say. “He’s good to her.”

“She’s still my sister,” he grumbles.

“You can trust him,” I say. I’m not one hundred percent sure of that, but I’m close.

“I don’t trust anyone with her,” he says quietly.

“He won’t hurt her.”

“If he doesn’t hurt her, she can still hurt him,” he says.

Oh, he’s worried about Gonzo.

“What if she’s with him because he’s not threatening?” he asks me.

“What if she is?” I say with a shrug of my shoulders. “What if he’s what she needs?”

He’s a sweet boy, he’s smart, he makes her laugh, and he doesn’t intimidate her. And she offers him unrestricted love, which is often difficult to find when you’re in a wheelchair.

“Let them work it out,” I suggest. “How are things going for you?” I ask.

He nods and smiles. “Good. School is going great.” Edward just started at the community college. He wants to be an automotive technician, and he’ll be really good at it.

“I’m really proud of you,” I tell him.

He blushes, much like Gonzo did a few minutes ago.

I hear the front door open and look up to find the woman I love walking into the house. She stops when she sees all the people who are here and raises her brow at me, but then she grins and shakes her head. “Hey, Gonzo,” she says. She gives him a high five and leans down to hug Susan. Susan and Reagan share the memories of their violent encounters and it has made them pretty tight. I’m glad Susan has Reagan to be her role model, because I have never met a stronger woman than Reagan. And she’s mine.

Reagan kisses Edward on the cheek, and he blushes a little. I love that she treats him the way she does. When I met him, I called him Tic-Tac in my head because he needed a lot of dental work and had really bad breath. I had no idea what kind of childhood he’d had or that he was in prison for killing the man who had repeatedly raped his little sister. He said something to me once. He said something like, “I feel like he stole who she could have been.” But I don’t think that’s true. She has Edward to guide and protect her, and she’s willing to accept love and give love in return. Yes, she has a long road to go, but she’ll get there.

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