Caleb turned his back on me, fists clenched at his sides. I couldn’t imagine what the hell had made him angry this time. “You should try and get some sleep.”

My eyes were stinging, but this was not the time to cry, not here and not with him being witness. I was tired of crying, of being feeble and in no control of my own life “I’d rather not sleep. I don’t want to dream.” I ran my hand through my sweat caked hair, something in me turning ice-cold and resolute. “I could use a shower though.”

Caleb turned and I noticed immediately his face had altered to a stalemate. The argument was over and I think we were both relieved to avoid the inevitable for now. He had told me what I wanted to know, and he didn’t have to, but it didn’t give me any relief, not the way I thought it would. I had thought that if I knew what to expect I could prepare myself for the horror to come. But—

That’s not why you’re upset. He doesn’t care about you. Everything he’s done has been to manipulate you into doing what he wants. Every touch, every kiss, him saying you’re beautiful – it’s all been a lie. And you fell for it.

“I’ll help you.” I looked up from my thoughts and stared at Caleb’s outstretched hand. I wanted to say what a joke his words were, not only these but every word he’d spoken and whatever words would follow, but I was afraid my voice would fail me, betray all the girlish feelings inside me.

Slowly, I used my good arm to peel the blankets away from my body and stood. My head swooned and I felt my body follow. For a split second my panic was mirrored on Caleb’s face, but then relief swept through his features as he caught me. “Livvie,” he said softly as his hands held my trembling shoulders, “let me help you.”

My eyes remained glued to my lap as my face went both pale and red at the same time. Caleb stared too and I couldn’t help but feel as though I had lost ground with him. Did he just call me Livvie?

Considering all that had transpired between us, I wasn’t sure what I felt one second to the next, each moment laced with a different kind of suspicion and distrust but under all that, a shallow yearning. Caleb wasn’t my prince charming, but it didn’t mean I had to settle for anything less.

He held out a hand for me to take, and I did so. We walked into the bathroom together, and though this was not an unusual occurrence anymore, the fact that I was so broken, both inside and out made it different – more humiliating. My resolve was cracking under the weight of my tumultuous emotions.

“What’s wrong?” Caleb asked, but I only shook my head in response and continued to stare at the ground. He stood in front of me and simply watched me for a moment.

“If I survive this, I can’t go back. I’ll have to move forward and I don’t know what that means.” I paused, feeling anesthetized. I would yield because I must, but had to find a way to keep from breaking. “Do you?”

Caleb said nothing, which didn’t mean anything.

He put his arms around me, as he had done so many times before and held me close for a moment. I knew his embrace was nothing more than a comforting lie. There was an end coming. An end to these moments between him and me when the lie felt like anything but. It was all I had left. My loose arm hung at my side, the other in its sling, but it still felt nice to be held, even if I wasn’t an active participant. He went to pull away, but I wasn’t ready to see his face just yet, and so I stepped closer, asking him in my silent way to wait a little longer. He held me a heartbeat longer and gave me a chaste kiss on the top of my head.

“How long do I have Caleb? How long before you leave me?” Caleb cleared his throat a few times before he spoke and when he did, his voice cracked.

“A few months.” He rushed to say the rest before I could get excited about the length of my reprieve. “You were only supposed to be with me for six weeks and a little over half that time has passed. We won’t be alone much longer.” He pressed himself against me and I let him. He was actually talking and I wanted him to continue. I thought for a moment about what all of this meant. I’d been away from home about three and a half weeks. Over three weeks. I couldn’t put it into words – the deep loneliness at realizing I’d been missing for almost a month. Isolated with one other human being. No one really looking for me – not anymore.

“Is there any way – ”

“No.”

I paused. His tone was absolute. But I wondered if it was because he had considered it, considered keeping me from this fate. I had to believe he had. I had to hope he cared enough about me to ponder it. I had to; because it was the only hope I had of seeing myself out of this situation but a part of me reserved itself for the truth.

“Will you miss me Caleb?” I let my arm circle his waist. I don’t know what prompted it and instantly I tried to pull away. He held me still.

“Yes,” he said simply. The moment I tried to look up at him, he pulled away and turned his back to me, “But it doesn’t change a single thing.” I could tell he believed what he said.

He was closed to me again, I could tell in the way his shoulders squared as he turned to face me again. Caleb lifted the sling from around my neck, and the tingle of pain in my shoulder and collarbone brought me back to the moment, but I still stood there in a trance. After the sling came off, he lifted my nightgown over my head, careful to maneuver around my shoulder. He threw it in the wastebasket. I stood in front of him, wearing only bandages. Tonight he didn’t really look at me the way he did on other nights. There was nothing sexy about me. Tonight he looked at me and there was hardly anything behind his eyes.

He walked back to me. “What’s wrong?” he asked again, but he sounded distracted or dismissive, I didn’t know which – maybe both.

“Nothing,” I said again, solemnly, but I doubted he heard me. He was undoing the bandages around my mid-section, telling me I didn’t really need the bandages to heal my ribs, but that having them in place would remind me not to sit in certain positions or make certain movements. He would replace them when I was done showering. Yes, I thought bitterly, the last thing I wanted was for my ribs to heal improperly.

He put his arms around me as he unwound the bandages, but though my br**sts were only inches from his face, his eyes didn’t register that he even noticed. In a strange way, this added to my embarrassment. Apparently, now that everything was out in the open between us there was no need for him to pretend to feel things for me he didn’t. But he said he would miss me. That has to mean something. Doesn’t it?

Once the bandages were off we stared at one another for a moment, as if we both tried to figure out what the other was thinking. Then he walked over to the shower in the corner of the room and turned it on.

He never ran the shower, always the bath, though this was a simple thing for me to understand. I didn’t exactly want to sit in my bath water at the moment either. What I didn’t understand was how he was going to be able to help me wash myself if I was in the shower. I couldn’t really raise my arm above my head to wash my hair, and moving around in general was painful because of my ribs. If this meant he was going to be in the shower with me, I didn’t like the thought of it.

He tested the water and seemed satisfied. I felt his eyes staring me up and down and heat crept up into my face, my entire body blushed. He cleared his throat.

“Why don’t you go ahead and get in this water. I’ll get you the things you need. If you want me, call out for me. I’ll be in the room.”

I nodded as he walked past me, and I stood still until he left the room and the door shut behind him.

The water was warm, and clean, and reassuring on my skin. The shower had multiple heads at varying heights so no part of my body was left open to the air but the pressure wasn’t so hard that it made me wince, but soft and gentle. I let it run all over me, I breathed in the steam and it seemed easier to take in air. I stood for several minutes before I lathered myself up, or at least the parts I could reach.

As I stood, I got lost in thought alone in the shower for the first time in over three weeks. I knew that once I stepped out of the shower, I would begin the hardest journey of my entire life. I would have to save myself. I would have to be strong and smart and brave. I would have to let the other side of me, the ruthless side, take over and this me…would cease to exist.

“Make him love you,” Ruthless Me whispered. “Make it so he can’t live without you. The devil you know.” I felt her growing inside me, bringing with her the insane idea that I actually wielded power with Caleb. I had never tried to ‘use my feminine wiles’ before, but I had certainly been accused of it. What would happen if I actually tried?

The idea of trying to seduce Caleb frightened me, terrified me to the point of physical ache, but also…I wondered if I could. And that positively thrilled me. I wondered if I could bring that bastard to his knees with desire for me. I knew now why he had never f**ked me in any conventional way; he needed a virgin.

And if he needed a virgin, then I needed to be anything but that.

Before I could stop myself, I leaned on the shower wall and cried, and cried, and cried.

Just for old time’s sake.


Tags: C.J. Roberts The Dark Duet Series Romance
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