Kara leaves and the door shuts behind her.
I straighten in the seat, my head throbbing with the movement. “What’s happening? Is someone hurt?”
“Not yet,” he says, walking to the window and leaning on the ledge, darkness beginning to fall just beyond the glass.
“Ten years ago,” he says. “I need to tell you about ten years ago.”
“Okay,” I whisper, not knowing what’s triggered this, and holding my breath for more.
He turns toward me, his hand covering his face for a few moments before he drops it. “I was in love with my college sweetheart. Her name was Tabitha. She was like you. Blond, gorgeous, and full of life.” He laughs without humor. “Rebellious. Always rebellious. I couldn’t control her, and I didn’t want to. I liked her wild spirit. We were going to have it all, we thought. I was going pro. She was going to be a cheerleader.”
He looks at the ceiling, the seconds ticking by. “One night before graduation, both of our dorm rooms were occupied by our roommates.” His eyes level on mine. “We decided to go to the baseball field to be alone. It was dark—too dark. We shouldn’t have been there. She took off into the darkness, and I ran after her.”
He looks away. “I went under the bleachers to find her. A group of men had a hold of her.”
I gasp. “Oh God. No.”
“I launched myself at them, and the next thing I knew I was being crushed by baseball bats. They beat me badly, and then they tied me up and made me watch when they raped her—and then beat her, too.”
My heart breaking for him, I start to get up. But he holds up a hand. “Wait. There’s more—and I’ve never made it through this story.” I nod and sink back onto the chair.
He continues: “I woke up to find that she was in a coma, and my arm would never be the same. I didn’t care about my arm. Tabitha was alive, but her face needed reconstructive surgery. She needed me. I didn’t need baseball.
“When it was over, I still thought she was beautiful, but she didn’t. She hated me, and she blamed me. She said it was all about my baseball. I tried to work through it with her. I went to work at Riptide to be close to her, but she didn’t care. She hated me, and I was such an ass that everyone at Riptide hated me as well.”
It all finally comes together. That’s why he’d left New York. “Did they catch the people who did it?”
“Years later—and it turned out Tabitha was right. The attack was masterminded by a competing pitcher who hated me.” His jaw clenches. “It was all about jealousy.”
“Where is she now?”
“She became an alcoholic, and several years ago she drove her car into a telephone pole in New Jersey and died. That was three months before I met Rebecca. At that point, I couldn’t fall in love with her. I never told her why. I’m not sure I even admitted it to myself.”
I wipe away tears as he continues.
“And then Rebecca died, and it was once again rooted in jealousy. And then you almost died, due to Ava’s jealousy all over again. I can’t let you die, too. So I have to do everything I can to stop it from happening.”
He wants me to go to Paris. That has to be what this is. “None of this is your fault, Mark. And I’ll go to Paris if you really need me to.”
“That’s not what this is about. Ava,” he says tightly, “I saw her tonight.”
“Where? When? What happened?”
“She’s in the trunk of the car.”
My hand goes to my mouth. What has he done? I stand up. “Is she dead?”
“No—but I want her to be. I want her to be dead so badly, I can taste it.”
Tears pour down my cheeks. “I know. I know, Mark—but you can’t kill her.”
I close the space between us and he drags me to him, burying his face in my hair. “I can’t lose you, too.”
“Then don’t go to jail. She wins that way. She separates us.” I pull back, needing to see his eyes. “Let’s tell Jacob. Let’s put her behind bars, and let them arrest Jimenez. Please.”
He hands me the keys. “Tell them to go get her, before I do.”
I rush out the door to find Kara and Jacob standing there, looking shocked at my arrival. I hold out the keys, my hand trembling. Jacob reaches for them and I grab his hand, stepping closer to him and lowering my voice. “The trunk,” I whisper. “Ava is alive and in the trunk.”
“Oh my God,” Kara gasps, grabbing her phone and dialing.
Jacob takes the key from me and starts running down the hall.
I walk back into the room. “It’s done,” I say, and we fold each other into our arms. And I pray that his healing begins now—as it did for me the day I met him.
Christmas Eve . . .
Mark . . .
Crystal and I have an hour before we’re due to meet my family at her parents’ house for a Christmas Eve dinner, and a celebration of many things. Dana has completed her radiation treatments. Jimenez and Ava copped plea deals and gave up Ricco, who’d admitted he’d been using Ava to steer attention away from himself. Our rescheduled auction was a massive success. Even Daniel is coming around, and has started to speak to me in full sentences that don’t sound like attacks. But before we attend the party to celebrate all these successes, I’ve teased Crystal with a surprise.
The driver I’ve hired for the night pulls up to a high-rise building Crystal has admired on several occasions. As we exit into the chilly night Crystal pulls her coat snugly around her slim-fitted emerald-green dress, while I opt for just my suit jacket.