“Yeah, getting there,” I said.
Silence sat thick between us. And then he twisted his head to look at me, a strange expression on his face. “I’d kill for you. You know that, right? When they come, I’ll kill them. All of them. As many as they send.”
I swallowed hard. “I know. I wish we could just…sell everything. Take your money and go. Buy a big boat and live out there. Like we were. Just you and me. They’d never find us. I’ll live that life with you.”
He shook his head. “I wish we could, too. But Kyrie, I’ve—I’ve put this off long enough. Hidden from them long enough. Avoided. Pretended I didn’t know they were watching and waiting. I have to end this.” His gaze cleared, the haze of alcohol burning away under the intensity of his expression. “Let me hide you. Send you with Harris somewhere they’ll never find you. Let me handle this. Handle her. I’ll take care of things, and then we can—”
“No.” I stood up. “No, Valentine. Not happening. I’m not leaving your side. I don’t have anywhere to go. I have no one and nothing but you. I’m staying.”
“What about Cal? And Layla?”
I shrugged miserably. “I love them. Of course I do. But my brother? Cal has his own life. He doesn’t know anything about any of this, and it’s better that way. He’s a college kid. He plays beer pong and hazes new frat pledges and studies for midterms. And Layla? I don’t want her involved. I go anywhere near her, all of this could spill over and put her in danger. She’s my best friend. Closer than a sister. And I just can’t put her at risk.”
Roth nodded. Stood up, put his hands on my shoulders for balance. “Okay, then.”
I waited, but he didn’t say anything else. “Okay? All that, and all you have to say now is ‘okay’?”
He frowned down at me. “What do you want me to say, Kyrie?”
“I don’t know.” I turned away, watched the red taillights and white headlights streaming in opposite directions far beneath me. My voice was small and broken. “Anything. Tell me you love me. Tell me it’ll be okay.”
His silence was long and fraught. “I can’t tell you it’ll be okay. I won’t lie to you.”
I turned in place and put my back to the railing. I waited, watched him. His eyes were lucid and searching me. He was still drunk, but in the dark, depressed, hopeless stage. “That’s it, then?”
“I’m drunk, Kyrie. I haven’t slept in days. Haven’t showered in longer. I’m a mess. I’m fucked up. I don’t know what I’m feeling or how to deal with it. I’m scared to sleep. I’m scared to touch you. To let you touch me. I’m…useless right now.”
I let out a long, tremulous breath. Summoned my courage. My determination. “Come on.” I took his hand, led him inside.
He followed me, let me pull him into the bathroom. He stood still, eyes narrow and hooded, watching me as I gingerly unbuttoned his pants. “What are you doing, Kyrie?”
“You’re taking a shower, and I’m going to help you. I need one, too. Let’s take this slow, okay? One moment, one hour, one day at a time.”
I lowered the zipper, tugged the denim down. I knelt, helped him step out, let him steady himself with a hand on my shoulder. He stood before me in a pair of gray Calvin Klein boxer briefs, muscular, toned, and beautiful. I turned on the water, set it to the hottest it would go, and let it steam up the bathroom. I stood in front of him, still in my jeans and T-shirt. I wanted him to reach for me, to help me out of my shirt, out of my pants. But he didn’t. He just stood there, and my heart broke a little. I peeled my shirt off slowly, never taking my eyes from his. I unbuttoned and unzipped my jeans, stepping out of them. I waited in my bra and underwear, watching as his chest filled and lowered with deep breaths, his eyes moving over my body.
Not looking away from his conflicted blue gaze, I reached up behind my back and freed the hooks of my bra. Shrugging out of it, I let the undergarment fall to the marble. Tugged the waistband of my panties down with my thumbs, let the underwear fall to the floor, and stepped free. And then I was naked in front of him, and his hands were twitching at his sides, his brows lowered, muscles heavy, fists clenched, chest heaving.
He took a step toward me, and my heart lifted, my pulse beating just a little harder. “Kyrie….”
“Roth. I’m here. I’m yours. Don’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid,” he growled.
“Then touch me. Prove it.”
“I have to prove myself to you?”
I shut down the hurt. “No. That’s not what I meant. You won’t hurt me. I won’t hurt you. I’m not her. You’re not there anymore. You’re with me. You’re safe.” I stepped toward him. Put my hands on his waist, smoothed them up his back, trying to block out the pain in my heart at the way he flinched at my touch. “It’s me, Valentine. You can trust me, you know that. I love you. I just…I need you to love me back.”
He blinked, squeezed his eyes shut, spoke through gritted teeth. “I’m trying, Kyrie. I’m fucking trying, okay?”
The war within me was a furious onslaught of need versus fear versus memory versus nightmare. She stood naked in front of me, tanned taut skin, lush curves, long blonde hair sleep- and wind-mussed, eyes reddened and wet with tears. She was trying to hide her emotions from me, trying to be strong for me, but I could read her like a book. She couldn’t hide from me, and I hated that she felt like she had to. She needed me. She wanted me. What had happened between us on the boat… had fucked her up, no matter what she said. But she was soldiering on. Forgiving me. But yet…she doubted. I felt it. I saw it in her.
It hadn’t been right. She’d done it for me; she’d given herself to me because she’d seen my need. But that hadn’t been me. Hadn’t been us. It was something I couldn’t wrap my brain around, something I couldn’t adequately define or explain to myself.
And now here she was, naked and willing. Telling me she loved me. Begging me to touch her. To love her. And Jesus, I wanted to. Needed to. I needed her. I had to remind both of us of who I was. I had to know Gina hadn’t somehow stripped me of my capacity for love and gentility and passion; just as importantly, I had to know she hadn’t robbed me of my strength or my masculinity.