“And she hates me and blames me for the death of her family. Nothing new.”
The police officer calls my name and I turn to find him holding a phone toward me. “It’s probably the rehab facility.”
“Ask about visitation,” she says. “The attorney seemed to think Amber won’t be allowed to talk to anyone outside the facility for at least a few weeks, but I’m hoping we will be back by the time she can.”
Her ability to see beyond Amber’s anger and manipulation never stops amazing me. “I will. Can you tell Tristan what’s going on while I handle this?”
She nods. “Yes. Of course.” She touches my cheek and kisses me. “It’s not your fault. It was never your fault.” And then she’s walking away, and I just want to pull her back and hold her. I don’t want to regret anything with Sara the way I do with Amber. I don’t want to hold anything back, and I damn sure don’t want to live in denial. So I’m going to make sure she understands that tonight was about how much I need her.
It’s nearly dawn by the time we arrive home and pull into the garage. I’ve been on the phone to the private airline I’d put on standby, to charter a flight out of here once I knew the outcome with Amber’s treatment.
After parking, I kill the engine and close the garage. “We’ll still make the meeting with the detective back in the States if we leave this evening. That gives us a few hours to sleep.”
She nods. “That’s good.” She sits there a minute and there is a sudden tension crackling off her that tells me everything that has happened tonight has come full circle to this moment.
She reaches for the car door and I grab her arm. “What just happened?”
“This isn’t going to work, Chris. I can’t marry you.”
It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t make eye contact, and that I know she doesn’t mean it. The words still punch me in the chest. “Look at me and say that again,” I order.
“No. Let go of me.” She reaches for the door again, and when I refuse to let her go, she whirls on me. “You will always see her when you look at me—and that means you can never really let me see you.”
“Baby, that’s the whole point in us coming here. For you to see me.”
“There’s fear in your eyes, Chris. And that fear means . . . that you’ll leave again. And I’ll”—her voice cracks—“I’ll have forgotten how to be alone again. I can’t do that and survive.”
There it is. The thing that undoes her. It’s her fear, like losing her is mine. “Come here,” I order, and pull her toward me.
“What? No. I . . . What are you doing, Chris? There isn’t room.”
I lift her over the column between us. “Right here,” I instruct, shifting her legs to my sides and settling her body over my hips.
Her hands flatten on my shoulders. “I don’t fit.”
“You fit perfectly.” I frame her face with my hands, trap her with a stare. “We fit perfectly, Sara. And baby, you make me stronger. Before Dylan died, I thought I had things under control, but I didn’t. When you showed up at the club, I wanted you. I wanted you badly.”
“But you shoved me away.”
“I wasn’t myself, Sara. I didn’t know where I’d take you, or what I’d do. Not to the whip; I’d never ever take you there. I just . . . I’d never touched anyone when I was like that. That’s why I left. I didn’t want you to see some monster and hate me.”
“That’s the problem, Chris—that you can’t let me in. You won’t.”
“I will. After Dylan, I’d decided I was okay. It was one slip, but I’d be fine. It wasn’t going to happen again. Then Ava attacked you, and Sara, it happened again.”
“You went to the whip?”
“No, but I wanted it in a bad way. The idea of losing you tore me up. That’s when I knew I had to bring you here. And while I can’t predict what sets me off, every year since the shooting, I struggle on the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s not logical, but it’s some sort of trigger. I lock myself in the castle, away from the whip, but it’s never easy. I thought we’d go through that together. And I needed to go through that and let you judge me if you would, before Amber and Tristan started planting ideas in your head.”
“But you seemed fine at the castle.”
“I was. I woke up next to you that morning and I was at peace in a way I haven’t been in years. Knowing that, I let denial kick into full gear and saw us riding off into the sunset.”
“And this Amber thing made you decide you were some sort of monster again?”
“Guilt was already eating me alive, making me worry about what monster was going to jump out of the closet to destroy you. Amber just made it happen now instead of later. Tonight you got to witness who I am and was, and what I’m capable of creating in someone else. Seeing Amber at her worst scared the shit out of me. I love you too much to hurt you.”
“I understand holding back until you’re ready to share something that feels traumatic, Chris. I was ashamed over Michael, and I needed you to know about him and accept me afterward, but I wasn’t sure how to tell you. I had a lot of guilt over that—and he, like Amber, forced my hand. But we’re over that hump, and I don’t see Michael in you. I don’t know if you can do the same with me. Shutting me out will gut me. I can’t call you my husband and then wake up alone.”