Title: Hush Baby Hush
Series: Daddy Loves You #3
Author: Margot Scott
Genre: Contemporary Age Gap Romance
Release Date: May 26, 2022
Hush, little baby. Daddy’s here...
I could tell McKenzie Sommers was a fighter from the moment we met. Two broken ribs, countless bruises, her bare feet scraped to hell. She’d stared Death in the face and lived to describe him to a sketch artist.
Now that the danger has passed, she’s straining to pick up the pieces. But some terrors linger in the wake of the threat. They take up residence inside you like bad houseguests—a feeling I know all too well as a US Army Vet.
The monsters under McKenzie’s bed tell her she’s tainted, spoiled, broken. But broken never bothered me. I didn’t buy a fixer-upper so I could pay someone else to repair it. With me, she can shatter into a thousand glittering pieces.
Don’t be afraid to fall apart, baby girl. Trust Daddy to put you together again.
Author’s Note: The third book in the Daddy Loves You Series contains spoilers for previous books in the series, and is best enjoyed after reading Stay Baby Stay.
CONTENT WARNING: This title contains sensitive themes and tropes, including Daddy Dom/baby girl kink within a 20-year age-gap relationship, in addition to discussions of violence, PTSD, and sexual assault. Reader discretion is strongly advised.
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There’s a girl in my bed.
I haven’t had a woman in my bed, asleep or otherwise, in a good long while. But this girl—McKenzie—isn’t here because she wants to be. She’s here because she’s been through hell, and I couldn’t stand the thought of her laying her head anywhere but my pillow.
As for me, I’ll be perfectly content on the couch downstairs. I had hoped to slip into the ensuite bath with clean towels before she went down for the night, but the day’s stresses got the jump on my plans to be a good host.
Standing in the doorway, I watch her chest rise and fall with her breathing. I could leave the towels out here in the hallway, but the path to the bathroom is short and clear. I served four tours in Afghanistan, two in Special Ops; I can sneak a stack of towels past a little girl without waking her up.
I tread lightly into the bedroom, avoiding floorboards I know to be vocal. I watch for movement on the bed and see only stillness. I make it into the bathroom without incident, closing the door before switching on the light. Aside from the spare toothbrush I left out for McKenzie, there isn’t anything in here to indicate that I’ve yielded my space to a woman.
The way her best friend, Holly, tells it, McKenzie had nothing but the clothes on her back when they found her at the abandoned mall. While I’m sure Holly’s more than happy to let her friend use whatever items she packed for herself, I make a mental note to ask the girls for a shopping list in case they end up having to stay a while. As far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to stay as long as it takes for the police to find the motherfucker who’s hunting them.
The reminder that the girl in my bed was nearly murdered by a serial killer crystallizes my anger like ice. I feel it scrape against my insides like an itch I can’t scratch.
When I saw McKenzie for the first time, she was wrapped in a light-blue blanket on my buddy Jonah’s couch. My gut clenched as I took in her ashen face and tangled blonde hair. She wore the same hollow look I’d seen on the shell-shocked faces of soldiers and fellow vets. She’d been through the ringer, and to an untrained eye, she might’ve appeared defeated.
But when I honed in on her sea-green gaze I recognized a warrior’s resolve. This scrappy little girl, half my age, had stared Death in the face and lived to describe him to a sketch artist.
I couldn’t help but be impressed.
I hang two clean towels on the rack in my bathroom and grab the used ones to throw in the wash. Switching off the light, I ease the door back slowly—
And lock eyes with a wide awake and upright McKenzie.
“Sorry.” I tip my mouth apologetically, stepping fully into the room. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
She rubs her red-rimmed eyes. “I wasn’t sleeping. I can’t sleep without my meds.”
I spy the orange pill bottle on the bedside table, next to an empty glass. I toss the damp towels on the floor and pick up the glass, pretending not to notice the way she tenses at my approach. I’ve caught bits and pieces of McKenzie’s story over the last few days, starting with the detail about her and Holly living in a motel. Thanks to last night’s very friendly and perfectly legal conversation with Russell King at his house, I know all about the sex parties, as well as the killer targeting the girls who attend said sex parties. Thanks to McKenzie, the cops now have a description of the guy.
But that knowledge came at a price.
I fill the glass with water at the bathroom sink and then bring it back out to her. She accepts the glass with a mumbled thanks and pops one of her pills. I wait to make sure everything goes down smoothly, watching the purple bruises on her neck shift as she swallows.
Fury rises inside me. The thought of anyone putting their hands on McKenzie triggers an involuntary primal response. I don’t realize I’m glaring at her throat until she reaches up to cover the bruises.
“Does it look that bad?” she asks.
I blink to reset my features. No point in drawing attention to wounds she’s already well aware of.
“I’ll let you get to sleep,” I mumble, gathering up the damp towels.
“Wait, Austin,” she says, pauses. “I really appreciate you letting Holly and me stay here. But you didn’t have to give me your room.”
My gaze lingers on the folded hem of her pajama pants—on loan from Holly, I assume, who’s a few inches taller. I shrug. I’m no stranger to putting my life on the line to protect the nameless and faceless. Offering McKenzie my bedroom was a no-brainer.
“It’s just a bed.”
“Well, a bed’s a lot more than I had for a long time. At least this time I didn’t have to...” She bites her lips together, trapping whatever words she was about to say behind her teeth.
“Didn’t have to…what?”
She gestures to the walls. “I like your house. It reminds me of my grandpa’s old homestead. I lived there for a while when I was little.”
“Where was that?”
“Does he still live there?”
She shakes her head. “He’s dead now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“He had fruit trees, too. Apples, cherries, peaches. His vegetable garden was massive.” Her lips slant into a near-smile. “How long have you lived in this house?”
“About six months. I’ve been slowly fixing it up on weekends. Can’t say I’ve given the garden the attention it deserves.”
I chuckle, not the least bit put off by her teasing. This little girl can crack jokes at my garden’s expense until sunup if it makes her smile.
There I go again, referring to McKenzie as a little girl. Last night, at the hospital, she told the intake nurse she was eighteen. She looks eighteen, but there are moments when the girl she used to be shines through, like at the crime scene this afternoon.
My buddy, Cal Larkin, the lead detective on her case, didn’t want the girls at the scene, but McKenzie was determined to be there for the search. I’ve served with grown men who don’t possess half the fortitude this girl carries in her five-foot-three-inch frame. After everything she endured at the hands of a sadistic killer, she wanted to help bring him down.
Needless to say, I was moved.
“You did good today,” I tell her. “Really good.”
“I guess, if crying like a baby in the mud counts as really good.” She runs her finger around the rim of the glass. “Not sure what difference it’ll make in the end.”
When we arrived on the scene, I told the girls to wait by my truck until the cops called for us. But McKenzie didn’t listen. She took off toward the smoking rubble, prompting Holly and me to chase her up the hill.
The only proof of McKenzie’s story, besides the physical evidence gathered at the hospital, had gone up in smoke. It all proved too much for her to take in. She fell to her hands and knees in the mud and wailed.
I came fucking close to gathering her in my arms and taking her straight home. But touching her in that moment, when I’d never touched her before, felt like a step too far. So I knelt in the mud beside her and tried to drum up words of comfort, things you’d say to a child who’d just awoken from a nightmare.
But McKenzie’s nightmare isn’t the kind you wake from. It’s the kind you battle through, and she fought hard to recall the last place she remembered holding her necklace, and the path she took through the woods.
“You were able to prove you were telling the truth,” I say. “You found evidence placing yourself somewhere you had no business being. It corroborates your story.”
She sets the glass on the nightstand and then rests her head on the pillow.
“Why do I feel like I’m going to be telling this story for the rest of my life?” She stares at the ceiling, and I grab this fleeting chance to study her while she’s unaware of my scrutiny. She’s a marvel, this girl. As iron-willed as she is beautiful—and she is beautiful.
Rein it the fuck in, Pope.
I command my gaze to find somewhere to linger that isn’t attached to the girl in my bed. The last thing McKenzie needs is a man’s unwelcome attention when she’s raw, vulnerable, and most importantly, currently seeking shelter in his home. She doesn’t owe me anything for my hospitality.
But someday she won’t be so tender. Someday, when she’s ready...
Forget it. That line of thinking can only lead to one place: nowhere. Her situation is fucked up enough as it is. No need to complicate it further, even if she does look like she belongs in my sheets.
“I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”
She rises onto her elbows. “Could you, um, stay a minute? Just until I fall asleep.”
Bad idea. I glance at the towels in my hand.
She continues, “It’s just that... I’ll fall asleep faster if I think you’re keeping watch.”
“I am keeping watch.”
Fuck it. I take a seat on the edge of the bed, as far away from her as I can sit without my ass hitting the floor. “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you, McKenzie.”
“Thanks.” She smiles sadly, like she doesn’t believe me, then lays back down. I wonder how many people in her life have made promises they later reneged on. Any more than zero is too damn many. I make a silent promise, right here and now, to protect McKenzie with everything I’ve got.
True to her word, she falls asleep within minutes.
Downstairs, in the dark, I bring the damp towels to my nose. Beneath the clean scent of soap, I pick out McKenzie’s natural fragrance, holding a trace of her essence inside me since I can’t hold onto her.
Before I settle down on the couch, I load a round into the chamber on my Glock, then set the gun within reach on the coffee table.
I pray the cops catch the psychopath who murdered those girls, I do. But fuck if I don’t want to be the one to put him down. After the way he terrorized McKenzie, and the things he planned to do... I crack my knuckles to keep my hands nimble and loose.
Let the bastard try to take her from this house.
He’ll have to go through me first.
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USA Today Bestselling Author Margot Scott likes short, sexy reads, rainbow sprinkles on vanilla ice cream, and rainy days spent in bed with her furbabies. When she’s not writing forbidden-love stories about bearded older men, you can find her browsing Pinterest for pictures of pink things.