“But, Valentine, I’m—”
“The only person I care about. I’ve arranged to have Harris provided for as well, but as much as I care about and trust him, he’s still just a friend and employee. You—you’re…I don’t know. Family, I suppose. The woman I love. I haven’t spoken to my father since the day he cut me off and cast me out. Nor will I ever. I have no siblings, no other family, no dependents, no one. Just you.” He gripped the railing and twisted his hands around it, as if he wanted to strangle it.
“I have no plans to let anything happen to me. I plan to live. I plan to do everything in my power to keep you and myself alive, no matter what it takes. My only point in telling you about the provisions I’ve made is to reassure you. You’ll never face homelessness or hunger again. Never. As it is, should you decide to…should you decide you wish to leave me—if we were to break up, I mean, you will be equally well provided for. Enough so that you’ll never have to work a day in your life, even if you were to indulge as wildly as you could imagine.”
“Roth—” I had to stop and breathe. “Let me get this straight. If I were to dump you, tell you I wanted to go back to Detroit and—I don’t even know what I’d do, but just hypothetically—”
“If you were to want that, I’d let you go. I’d fight for you—I’d fight until it was clear you really wanted to go. But if you did, I’d call Robert. He would then set up a private series of accounts in your name, giving you unlimited access to one point six billion dollars.” He tapped the railing with his index finger. “That account is already set up, actually, with something like half that amount in it. It’s in your name alone. I can’t access it, and once it reaches that number, Robert’s access as executor will be canceled, leaving you as the sole controlling party.”
My mind reeled. “Roth, I don’t—I don’t understand.”
He shrugged. “I don’t want you to feel dependent on me. After all this trouble is sorted, I’ll give you the codes and cards you need to access the money. That way, you can do what you want. You can figure out what you want. Do you want to be an artist? You can sit around all day and try. I’ll hire the best artists in the world to teach you. Want to cook? Eliza can teach you. Want to be a philanthropist? Go back to school and get a different degree? Pursue a trade? I’ll make it happen. Anything you want. But you won’t need to ever ask me for a dime. If you stop loving me, that will still remain true.”
He went stiff, taut, and tense. “You know.” The two words were barely whispered, a low murmur nearly lost in the lap of the water and the sound of the breeze.
He nodded. “Exactly.” He let out a breath, staring out at the expanse of ocean. “It was an accident. I told you the truth, Kyrie. I swear to you, what I said to you was the truth. I never meant for that to happen—for your father to die. But he did, and it was my fault. When he died, I was responsible for the direction your life took. I alone am responsible.”
“I don’t want your money, Roth.”
“Too bad. You’ve got it. You don’t need to touch it, if you like. You can pretend it’s not there. But it is there, and it’s yours whether you want it or not.”
I rubbed at my face. “How much did you say?”
“One point six-seven billion U.S. dollars.” He waved a hand. “A rather fussily specific number, I suppose, but Robert did some kind of elaborate equation. The number is formulated to allow you to live a life of…excess, really…and never have to even think about what you’re spending. Cars, houses, staff, taxes, trips anywhere for as long as you want. Unless you decided you wanted to own…god, I don’t even know, dozens of fifty-million-dollar houses or something, you couldn’t ever spend all that. That’s how he came up with the number, he said. Assuming a specific amount of money spent per day, every day, for one hundred years.”
I tried to summon words, and couldn’t. “Roth. That’s crazy. I don’t think I can even fathom how much money that is.”
He shook his head. “You can’t. You really can’t, Kyrie. You could spend a million dollars every single day for an entire year, and still burn through…barely a third of that.”
“I can’t even wrap my head around a million dollars, Roth, much less a billion.”
“That’s the point.”
We lapsed into silence after that, both of us lost in our own thoughts.
I’d spent a lot of time deliberately not thinking about Roth’s revelation regarding my father. I couldn’t. There was no point to it. I loved him, and if I thought about what had happened between him and my father, I’d go crazy. I couldn’t think about what Roth had told me about my father, either, about how he hadn’t been totally legitimate in his business dealings. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. Not now. Daddy was dead. He’d been dead for a long time. I’d healed as much as I ever would. Knowing Roth was the one who’d pulled the trigger—accidentally—didn’t change the reality of Daddy’s death, didn’t change what I’d gone through afterward.
So I intentionally remained in denial. I couldn’t change the facts, and I didn’t know what to do with the truth. So I pushed it all away, refused to think about it, and just enjoyed being with Roth. Healthy? Maybe not. But what else was I supposed to do?
And now, with all that had happened since I woke up alone in France, it mattered even less. What mattered was that I had Roth back. He was alive. We were together.
I pivoted, turning to face him. I sidled closer so I could peer way, way up into his face. He was shuttered, his face blank of expression, save for a slight pinch between his eyebrows. “Valentine?” I put my hand on his chest, reassured myself with the steady drum of his pulse under my palm. “Earlier you said you weren’t okay.”
He didn’t turn to embrace me, didn’t wrap his arms around me, didn’t look down at me. “I’m not.”
“Talk to me.”
He shook his head. “I can’t. I don’t know how.”
“Please, Valentine. Talk to me. Tell me what happened.”
He pushed away from the railing, holding on to the metal so he was bent over, a posture of tortured conflict, pushing and pulling at once, as if he was unable to even understand within himself what he wanted to do. Straightening abruptly, he paced away from me, hands scrubbing through his hair.