“Don’t think his confidence must therefore be all an act. It’s not. Jared fought hard to keep what she tried her level-best to take from him. And it must’ve been hard. To be told everyday – and by your own mother, the person who’s supposed to love you – that you’re nothing, you’ll never be anything, you’re bad through and through…it’s like brainwashing. But like I said, he’d formed defences against her, and those defences kept him going. He became emotionally independent at a very young age, and the only person other than me who he ever allowed himself to care about was Antonio.”
The man who’d saved him. “Ah, hero worship.”
Evan chuckled. “Antonio was kind of like the dad we’d never had. He was the positive influence that Jared had really needed at the time. Up until that point, I was the only person that Jared had ever let fully ‘in’ to his life. Actually, that’s not true. Antonio had barged his way in. When he sees potential in someone, he won’t let it be left untapped.”
Very true. I knew that from personal experience.
“Jared had resisted at first because, as I said, he’d become emotionally independent at a young age. Maybe that’s admirable, but it wasn’t good for him. I wanted so much for him to let another person into his life. The great thing about Jared is that once he does, once they’re ‘in’, he doesn’t hold back from them. He’ll give them whatever they want or need, he’ll kill or die for them. But no one ever really sees that part of him, because he doesn’t let them. But he let you. And that should speak volumes to you.”
It did, and now I was crying. I did not cry, but here I was crying.
“Please don’t cry. Teary women scare me. It’s—” Evan cut himself off when the door suddenly swung open, and in strode Jared.
Jared halted at our expressions, but it was when he saw me scrubbing tears from my cheeks that understanding flashed on his face.
Evan got to his feet, hands raised in a placatory gesture. “I had to tell her, Jared. It was important that she understood.”
Jared did something I would never have seen coming. He simply nodded, giving Evan a half-smile. I almost felt Evan’s relief, who returned the smile and gave me a wave before heading for the door. Further surprising me, Jared patted his brother on the back as Evan past him and left the room. Leaving us alone.
Sighing, Jared shrugged. “Now you know.”
“Yeah, now I know.” In vampire speed, I was pressed up against him, wrapping my arms locked around him. Of course he did that man-thing and struggled. “This isn’t sympathy, you macho sod, this is me wanting to hug you because I love you.” He settled then, curling his arms around me. “I understand now why you didn’t want to talk about her, but it felt like you were pushing me away.”
He shook his head, sliding his hands into my hair. “No, baby, not that. Never that. Do you want to know what my two biggest fears are?”
“That something bad will happen to you, or you’ll leave me. I’m not going to do anything that might make either of those things happen. Oh I’m not saying I’ll be a ray of f**king sunshine, or that I won’t screw up sometimes. But I would never do anything that would hurt or push you away. Understand?” He relaxed a little when I nodded. “I’m just not good at talking about stuff, at talking about feelings and whatever.”
That made me remember what Evan had said – emotions had always got Jared into shit. Of course he wouldn’t be comfortable having to tell me anything. “If she wasn’t already dead, I’d kill her for you,” I told him with all seriousness.
That got a hint of a smile from him. His hazel eyes smouldered with possessiveness and adoration when he looked down at me. And then my eyes filled up again. He gently swiped the tears away with the pads of his thumbs. “Hey, don’t be sad for me.”
“I might have homicidal tendencies, but I’m not made of stone.”
“No, you’re definitely not made of stone.”
“I don’t like crying. It makes me feel weak.” And then more tears came. Again, he wiped them away.
“One word I would never use to describe you is ‘weak’.”
“I thought you did in the beginning, when I first came here; that you arrogantly thought I was weak just because I was female. But it was your mother and Magda who’d created the prejudices, wasn’t it?”
He tilted his head. “With you, it was never really prejudice. It was panic. I knew that if I let you in my life in any capacity, even as a squad member, everything would turn upside f**king down. I’d had an immediate reaction to you, felt instantly possessive, and I hadn’t liked it. I hadn’t known what to do with it.”
He dropped a gentle but lingering kiss on my mouth. “I’d just never met anyone like you before. You’re not superficial or fake. You’re upfront about whatever flaws you have, you don’t pretend to be anything but who you are. That’s drugging to me.” He dabbed another kiss on my mouth, smiling this time. “But you didn’t want me.”
“Correction: I didn’t want to be another of your consorts.”
“You know, in all honesty, I truly hadn’t understood your problem over the consorts in the beginning. Women had always used me, and they still did then, so I hadn’t seen why I couldn’t do the same.” His arms contracted tight around me. “But that could just be because I’m an ass**le.”
“I heard you telling Evan you felt bad. Why?”
“I don’t care that she’s dead, Sam. I hated her. Some people might say that’s not surprising—”
“That’s because it isn’t.”
“—but there are lots of people out there who were hurt by their parents and yet they still loved them. I wasn’t capable of giving her that unconditional love. I resented the way everybody bought her act, resented having to be part of that act, resented that everyone believed her lies that I was the one who needed help − the regular problem child − and she was the poor mother having to deal with me. She was my mother, and I hated her.”
I gave him a hard look. “She didn’t deserve your unconditional love, Jared. No one has the right to treat anyone the way she treated you − mother or not. In fact, your mother should be the one person who would never do it. How could you ever expect yourself to love someone like that?”