Her parents had been in love. Until Lucas, she hadn’t remembered all the long glances and hand-holding. The accident had overshadowed the history of their lives before that one shattering, defining moment. If they had lived, would she be having an entirely different conversation about the magic ingredients of a long-term relationship?
Would she better understand her own heart and demand Lucas know his?
“I can’t tell you,” she said. “You have to figure it out on your own.”
He pressed the back of his neck with stiff fingers. “Fantastic. An impossible puzzle with no correct answer. Why can’t this be about what looks good on paper?”
Sacar los ojos a uno. He was bleeding her white.
“It’s all about how things look with you.” She should have seen that before. Appearances were everything because skin-deep was all he permitted. Nothing could penetrate the armor he kept over his heart. “As long as it looks like fun, you’re on board, right?”
“That’s not fair. I never said a long-term marriage would be a big party. I don’t know what it’ll look like, but I do know I don’t want what we have to be over.” Gently he gripped her shoulders, and for a moment raw tenderness welled in his eyes. It made her pulse stutter and wrenched a tendril of hope from inside her. But then he said, “And I know you need what I bring to this relationship. You need me.”
“No.” She looked straight at him as her heart broke anew. His entire offer hinged on dependency, the certainty that she was willing to be dependent. Not because he wanted to be with her. “Need is dangerous. It creates reliance. Addiction. Suddenly, you can’t survive without the thing you crave. What happens when it’s gone? I don’t need selfishness disguised as partnership. I don’t need someone who doesn’t understand me. I don’t need you, Lucas. Let me go.”
Pain flashed across his face. Finally. This conversation had gone on for far too long. She’d run out of arguments, ways to get him out of the room before she went completely insane and begged him to figure out how to give her what she wanted.
“Yeah,” he said and cleared his throat. “Okay. It’s for the best.”
As he slid off the bed and gathered some clothes from the dresser, she twisted off her rings and set them on the bedside table. The light scorched her eyes. She reached out and snapped it off, staring at the now-invisible rings until she had to blink.
At the door of their bedroom, he stopped. Without turning around, he said, “I’ll help you pack in the morning. It’ll work in our favor to separate now so it won’t be such a surprise when I file for divorce.”
Then he did turn, and his gaze sought hers. The hall light created a shadow of his broad shoulders against the carpet and obscured his face. “Is there anything I could have offered you that would have been worth reconsidering the divorce?”
Her throat cramped with grief. If she tried to talk, she’d break down, and every time she cried, he held her and made her feel things she shouldn’t. Feelings he couldn’t return.
When she didn’t answer, he nodded and left.
In the darkness, she whispered, “You could have offered to love me.”
The divorce papers sat on the edge of Lucas’s desk, where they’d sat for a week now, without moving. Cia’s loopy script was buried on the last page, where he couldn’t see it. The papers lacked only his signature, but he couldn’t sign. It didn’t feel right. Nothing did. Certainly not his big, empty house, where he’d aimed to remove all traces of the previous couple who’d lived there and had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Cia was everywhere. Sitting on the counter in the kitchen, eyes black with passion as he drove her to a brilliant climax. Walking down the stairs with careful steps, wearing a dress that had taken him an hour to find because none of the others would put appreciation on her face the way this exact one would.
Cia sleeping in his bed, hair tousled and flung across two pillows as she nestled right at the mattress’s halfway mark, ripe for him to join her, to fold her against his body and sink in.
He groaned and slammed his head into his hands, ignoring the document filling the laptop screen before him.
That was the worst, trying to sleep alone after having Cia there, night after night. A blink in time, compared to how long he’d slept without her. But no matter how many times the maid washed the sheets, lime and coconut lingered in the creases, lying in wait to spring from hiding and invade his nose with the memory of what he’d lost.
No, not lost—what he’d never had in the first place.