“I’m not worried that you will cheat on me, Luc,” she assures me. “I mean I know that Monique and Laurie would love nothing more than to see me gone, but you would break up with me before that happened.”
“I was feeling pretty good about that until you added that last part.” I laugh, amazed I’m able to joke after the emotional hell we’ve both just been through. That’s what being with Lia does to me though. She takes my usual intensity and makes it into something softer.
“Sorry.” She smiles. “I guess I should have left it at that. Thank you for sharing your pain with me. I know it wasn’t easy and I want you to know how much it means to me that you let me in. I also want you to believe that I’m not judging you for anything that happened in your past. It sounds as though you were both in a situation you couldn’t escape. My heart breaks for you, Cassie, and Aidan.”
At that moment, I feel something inside me begin to unfurl. I’ve spent so many years hating Cassie and myself that it has been slowly eating away at my life. I showed Lia my shame. Although I would never truly be free of it, she made it into something bearable. I can now look at it objectively and see the three kids destroyed that night. I can never fully forgive Cassie nor absolve myself of guilt, but maybe it’s time to let the hate go. Have we all not suffered enough? Fate brought Lia into my life and gave me a second chance. After the part I played in the tragedy that night, was it right that I begrudge Cassie the same? I vow that I will step back completely and allow Aidan to make the decisions concerning her if recovery becomes a real possibility. The man who has always loved her deserves his second chance as well and I will not deny either of them that. “Thank you, Lia,” I say, meaning it more than she knows. When she yawns in reply, I stand, taking her with me. It’s been an emotionally and physically draining day. I carry her to the bedroom, before setting her on her feet. I strip down to my boxers while she gets one of my T-shirts from a drawer and quickly changes. Within moments, I am lying on my back in bed with her against my side. “How are you handling what happened to you earlier?” I ask, not wanting to dwell on Cassie anymore tonight.
“Do I really have a father now, Lucian?” she asks timidly, sounding afraid to believe it might be true.
“Yes, baby, you do. Lee wouldn’t have made that claim without being certain.”
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now,” she admits. “I mean, I’ve never really given much thought to having a dad, other than to wonder if he knew how my mother treated me. When I was young, I would sometimes fantasize that he would show up one day and take me away. He would have a nice house with a perfectly decorated bedroom just for me. And he wouldn’t let her touch me again. As I got older, those dreams faded and I just wished that he were dead. Then I could feel better about him leaving me with her. Now, suddenly he’s here and part of me hates him and another part is drawn to him.”
Kissing her temple, I say, “Of course you are, and he seems as equally drawn to you. Actually, I’d say he’s downright obsessed with getting to know you. He can’t force that on you though, baby. You make the calls there. I won’t let him try to force you.”
With a snort of disgust, she says, “What does it say about me that the possibility of him being some kind of criminal doesn’t upset me? In a completely messed up way, I think it would be worse for me if he were a devoted family man with a wife and kids. I would feel cheated knowing he had taken care of them and not me. He was so upset earlier…as if I really mattered to him.”
“I believe you do. He could have easily chosen not to contact you when he found out he was your father, but he has been insistent about meeting you. He’s furious about how you were raised and I think, just sick over not being there to stop it. He’s going to want to take care of you now so be prepared for that.”
“Why do all of the men in my life want to pay my bills?” She sighs in exasperation. “I may not be rich, but I’ve managed to get by this long. Plus, I haven’t slept in my car for years,” she jokes.
I can’t bring myself to laugh at the image of her sleeping in a car. It breaks my fucking heart even to think about. It seems a miracle to me that she is here in my arms now. The fact our paths crossed is something I will be forever grateful for. “When you love someone, you want to take care of them. I don’t want to see you struggle as you have been forced to do in the past. What’s mine is yours; I wish you could accept that.”
She reaches up and presses a kiss on my chin, before resuming her position against my chest. “Luc, if you really think about it, we’ve only been together a matter of months. I…I’m still adjusting to having someone in my life who cares enough about me to want to solve my problems. I have to stay on my guard…and be ready in case anything changes.”
I feel my heart stutter at what her statement implies. I shift her to the pillow next to mine, before sitting up and turning on the lamp. We both blink for a moment at the sudden blaze of light. “You’re afraid to depend on me because you think at some point I’ll leave you?” I ask, feeling strangely emotional at the thought. It has been so long since I’ve worried or even cared about the thoughts or fears of the woman I’m seeing. For years, I made it clear from the beginning that I was offering nothing but sex. Now I have Lia, and maybe in some ways, I have changed her life already, but God knows she’s changed mine. Could I blame her for being scared of what the future will bring? Didn’t the same fears somewhat rule me? Terrified to lose the first woman I’ve ever loved as a man?