He gave me a disgusted look. “How can you make jokes, Kyrie?”
I laughed, but it was part sob. “How the fuck else am I supposed to deal with all this, Roth? I’m a fucking nobody. I didn’t grow up rich. I’d never shot a gun until all this. My dad was murdered—” Roth flinched at this, but I didn’t stop. “I didn’t see it happen, though, you know? One day he was there, the next he was gone. I was an average girl living an average life. And you—you fucking changed everything for me, Valentine. You can’t undo that. You can’t take that back. And I—I don’t know how I’m supposed to deal. I killed two people, Valentine. I shot them with a gun. I put holes in their fucking bodies. I blew their fucking heads open. And the worst part is, I don’t feel guilty about it, and I should. I ended their lives. I killed them…but they were evil, weren’t they? They were both horrible, nasty, awful, evil people…they were killers, and they deserved to die, and I don’t feel guilty. But…I can’t stop seeing it happen over and over and over….”
I tried to sort through the millions upon millions of thoughts whirling in my head.
“None of this feels real,” I said. “It feels like a dream. Like I’m watching a Jason Bourne movie or something, and I just got caught up in it somehow. But it is real, and I don’t know how to deal with it. And…I need you. You’re the only thing I have. You have to be strong for me. You can’t give up. You can’t let feeling guilty take over everything, and yet that’s exactly what you’re doing. Yeah, you shouldn’t have left me alone in the shower, and I wish you hadn’t. I wish you’d come in the shower with me, and I wish we’d just kept having sex. But you didn’t. You did what you thought needed doing, and I get that. Okay? I get it. I don’t blame you for what happened. None of it. But now…now I need you. More than ever. I need you to tell me it’s going to be okay. I need you to pretend like this is another vacation around the world. I need you to kiss me like you can’t get enough of me. I need that….” I ducked my head, blinked through the emotions, breathed through the ache in my chest. “As long as I know you love me, and that you want me, and that you don’t—that you don’t…regret…us, I’ll be okay. We’ll be okay somehow. One day at a time. We’ll handle whatever Vitaly can throw at us. I’ll stay on this boat with you forever. Whatever it takes. But I just…I need you, Valentine. You got me into this. Now you have to take care of me.” I realized I was crying. I hadn’t even been aware of it, but now I tasted the salt on my lips, felt the wetness on my cheeks. “You have to—you have to take care of me, Valentine.”
An odd thing: I wasn’t sobbing. I was just crying. The strange thing was how vastly different the two things were. I hadn’t just cried in…I didn’t even know how long. I’d sobbed, bawled from agony both physical and emotional. I’d wept so hard it felt like everything inside me was cracking open and seeping out through my tear ducts.
This was just crying. Soft, quiet tears slipping down my cheek, dripping off my chin. They were quiet, understated. And yet, somehow they went deeper, struck harder, cut more sharply. Sobbing was a bludgeoning blow, crushing you and crushing you, blunt force trauma to your soul. This kind of crying, this was a razor blade to soft flesh. So sharp you didn’t even feel it slicing down to the bone in a single motion.
Valentine’s arms wrapped around me with the swiftness of a striking serpent. I was crushed to him, feeling his ragged breathing and his hammering heart, feeling something damp touch my scalp where his cheek was pressed to my head. “Kyrie…god. You’ve been so strong through all this. You never faltered. You never hesitated. No matter how fucked up things got, no matter how far into my own shit I was wallowing, you were there.” His lips dragged over my ear, across the stubble where my hair had been, kissing my temple. “You’re not nobody. You’re Kyrie St. Claire. You’re the woman I love. You’ve come through so much in your life, and you’ve come through it stronger than you have a right to. Everything that’s happened, you haven’t wavered from my side. You’ve been through hell, and you’re still strong.”
Something in me tremored, faltered. My voice was barely a whisper. “I don’t feel very strong.”
“You don’t have to be. Not anymore.” He swept his palm over my scalp. “You can relax now, love. You can let go. Close your eyes and let go.”
THE STORM BREAKS
The last time I took a nap, I was four years old, and I did so grudgingly, angrily. Naps have always felt like a waste of time. There were always a hundred, thousand other things I could be doing instead of sleeping. And really, do you ever actually feel better after a nap? No. You just feel sleepier. Groggy, disoriented. And then it’s always that much harder to fall asleep at night.
One sunny afternoon, bobbing at anchor somewhere off the coast of northern Africa, we took a nap together.
And that nap, with Kyrie?
It was the best…thing…ever.
I held her, inhaled her scent, her presence. For the first time in a long, long time, I didn’t feel worried, pressured, anxious, or desperate.
There had always been something driving me, pushing me. At first it was the need to prove to myself that I could make it, that I could survive on my own out in the world as a seventeen-year-old kid. Then it was the need to prove myself to Gina, and then Vitaly. And always, in the back of my mind, was the need to prove myself to my father. He wasn’t someone I thought about terribly often. I hadn’t spoken to him since that day twenty years ago, and I wasn’t sure I ever would. I couldn’t forgive him, but I was thankful, in some odd way, because it made me the man I was today. Everything I did, every dollar I’d ever earned, every building I’d bought or built or sold, every business I bought and dismantled and resold, every corporate charter I ever signed my name to, I did so with him in mind, to prove to him that I could do it. That I could make my way and do just as well as he did, if not better.
But there was still Vitaly Karahalios to deal with. I wasn’t worried about him just yet. It would take him time to formulate a plan and put the various pawns into action, and then that shit wouldn’t go away. But for now, I knew we would be okay.
For now, we had the boat, more money than we could ever spend, and we had several good men keeping watch. That was enough.