“Luc,” I whisper brokenly as I choke back a sob. “You won’t lose me,” I try to reassure him. It’s obvious from the rigid set of his jaw and the shadows in his eyes that my attack has been harder on him than I imagined. Even though I was the one hurt physically, we both bear the scars of the last few weeks. I turn my head and kiss the side of his arm. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.”
He shudders, seeming as emotionally invested in our conversation as I am. “Just give me time, Lia, and know that when I can say the words again, it will be you and only you who will hear them. I’m not going anywhere, either. I’m committed to you.” We kiss tenderly for a few moments before he finally releases my neck and takes my hand. My stomach growls loudly in the quiet room, making it impossible to miss. Lucian smirks at me, raising both of our hands to kiss my fingers. “Let’s find my girl some food,” he teases, looking so impossibly relaxed and handsome. I feel a twinge of desire inside which takes me by surprise. I was afraid I would never enjoy that simple pleasure again, but I should have known that no amount of ugliness could ever take away my body’s reaction to him. I didn’t truly start living until I met him, and my heart and body will always respond when he is near because he owns them both.
I walk down the familiar streets of my neighborhood feeling lighter than I have since before Lia’s attack. Just doing something so normal feels better than I could have imagined. Lia is tucked under my arm while I twirl a strand of her blonde hair around my finger. I could tell earlier when she suggested having dinner out tonight that she regretted it almost as soon as she spoke the words. She has shown no interest in leaving the apartment since we arrived home from the hospital. She’s spent the majority of her time either in the bed, or curled up on the couch pretending to watch television while she actually stares off into space.
When I admitted as much to my aunt, she again suggested counseling and possibly medication. It’s not that I’m opposed to either in principle, but I remember well that neither seemed to help Cassie through her erratic years of highs and lows.
When I found her in the shower earlier with blood on her hands and stomach, I was hit with a crippling sense of déjà vu. Spots danced before my eyes and I was damn close to a panic attack at the very least and having a fucking heart attack at the worst. Thank Heaven I had been able to get myself together and take care of her. For just a split second, I’d thought she had cut her wrists or something equally as bad.
I’d almost called my aunt then, feeling lost as to how to help the woman who had become my world. Losing her would shatter me, and this time, I don’t think I could put myself back together again.
While I was quietly panicking and trying to keep my mind occupied with taking care of her, though, something happened which maybe we both had been needing. We talked to each other for the first time in days. She told me how she had been feeling since her attack, and I listened in shock as she gave voice to her fears that I no longer wanted her physically.
I wanted to slump over in relief because I had been experiencing the same fear—that Lia no longer wanted what we had had before her stepfather got his vile hands on her. Our talk had continued before we left for dinner when Lia had admitted she loves me. A part of me wanted to run when the words left her mouth. But the other part had needed to hear them again, since the first time she said them in the hospital and I hadn’t been sure she even knew it because of the medication she was on. If I were honest with myself, my heart had soaked up her declaration like a flower seeing the sun for the first time in years. I was afraid, though, to give those three words back to her. I’m afraid to move forward and terrified of losing her if I don’t.
The past and all of the secrets festering there are getting to be too much to bear. I cracked yesterday morning and snorted a line of my white powder of denial. I was coming apart at the seams over everything that had happened to Lia, my fear of losing her, and pressure from Lee Jacks wanting to talk to his daughter. The daughter who had no clue he existed. I had given up the smoking, as it didn’t seem to help that much, and Lia had begun asking too many questions about why I reeked of smoke constantly.
Lee Jacks. Shit, the other man might be piling on the pressure to meet his daughter, but I can’t fault his dedication to avenging her years of abuse. How he had managed to get her bitch of a mother to turn herself in and admit to everything under the sun was a mystery to me. Judging by the rumors that circulated about Jacks, maybe I was even a tad surprised that she hadn’t just disappeared. Lee had also assured me that Jim Dawson would soon be in police custody to answer for his list of crimes, which was somewhat disappointing to me. No matter how much I enjoyed thinking of him rotting away in a cell with others hopefully torturing him just as he had Lia, I still would have preferred a world in which he didn’t exist at all. I had to believe that Lee was thinking of some bigger picture here. I couldn’t imagine that he would let Dawson off that easily if he had any say in the matter whatsoever. I was trusting him to have a plan that both he and I could live with.
Suddenly, I stumble, looking up in alarm when I realize I’ve almost plowed Lia down. At some point in my inner musings she had stopped as we reached Leo’s, and I being in such deep thought had continued to walk forward. I catch her in my arms, trying to steady us both. “Damn, baby, are you okay? I’m sorry; I didn’t notice you’d stopped.”
She gives me a wry smile, saying, “Yeah, I sort of gathered that when you kept right on going even when I called your name a few times. You were a million miles away.”
I hug her to me briefly before placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the doorway of Leo’s. We are ushered to my favorite table in the back, giving us the privacy I know Lia needs for her first outing. I help her into the corner booth before sliding in next to her. I immediately drop my arm over her shoulders, pulling her into my side. I’m so proud of her for doing this tonight, even though I know she didn’t really want to. I order us a bottle of wine and our waiter brings some fresh bread and olive oil. After a week of very little appetite on either of our parts, I find myself suddenly starving. Lia grins at me indulgently as I polish off the small loaf and ask for another. I point to it, saying, “You better get in here before it’s gone.”
After our first glass of wine, I feel her relax. We are in our own world, with only the waiter appearing briefly to refill our glasses and bring our next course. I’m trying to talk Lia into splitting dessert with me when someone clears their throat, bringing both of our heads up. I stiffen in anger when I see Lee Jacks standing before us; there is no way that him being here is a coincidence. I was sure he’d had someone watching Lia, but now I’m certain. It fucking pisses me off after telling him he needed to give her time to recover before trying to spring her long-lost father on her. I know I’ll lose my shit if he tries to make any revelations to her tonight. I wasn’t lying to him when I said she wasn’t ready. After what happened earlier in the shower, I’m more certain than ever that she needs more time.