“I do,” I whisper shakily. “I love him. That’s why I have to go now, before I fall deeper and deeper and stop caring how wrong this is. Please.”
Helen is clearly torn. “He’s a good man, Meadow. He was just raised to be ruthless. It’s a wonder everything good inside of him wasn’t washed away by his father. He turned even more terrible after Walker’s mother got sick and died.” She appeals to me with a hand on my arm. “In time, I’m sure he would see reason.”
“I don’t. Every minute that passes seems to make him more determined to never let me leave this house.” I squeeze her hand. “I can’t live like that. Help me.”
Cogs turn behind her eyes and while she’s conflicted, she relents, reaching into her pocket to extricate a small billfold of cash, handing it to me. “Take this.”
I hug her hard. “Thank you, Helen.”
“Lord, if he finds out I helped you…”
“He won’t. I have a plan.”
I feel sick.
Sick and hollow and…confused.
I did what I had to do, didn’t I? Decided what was best for my peace of mind, what was best for Meadow’s safety, and I implemented the rules.
It’s what I do. What I’ve always done.
No one is supposed to question me.
She wasn’t supposed to cry. Or look so broken.
Christ, I fucked her so hard. In the middle of a fight. Both of us might have enjoyed the hell out of it, but afterward, she didn’t turn to me. Didn’t seek comfort. She’d turned away and I can’t blame her. I acted like a goddamn animal, bringing her to the height of pleasure, then trying to exact promises. Asshole.
I make a gruff sound and press my forehead to the glass of living room window. There is a hole in my stomach the approximate size of a cannon ball and with every fiber of my being, I want to be holding Meadow. Apologizing. Begging her to stop responding to me with such betrayal and sadness in her voice.
That’s not her.
She’s a fiery, take-no-bullshit girl.
What have I done to her in the space of one fucking day?
Stooping forward in deference to the agony in my belly, I glance toward the stairs that lead to our bedroom. Helen just carried up a tray of dinner for Meadow. She should be downstairs eating with me. Sitting beside me and laughing, answering the four thousand questions I have about her life before today, about her likes and dislikes. We should be making love in front of the fireplace and making plans for the future. Instead…I think I’ve ruined any chance at happiness.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’ve gotten exactly what I want.
I’ve arranged Meadow in such a way that she can’t be used against me or distract me into making mistakes.
I’ve eliminated any chance of being vulnerable.
Why do I feel like my heart has been ripped out?
I turn slightly to find Richie has been let into the house by one of the guards stationed at the door. Since bringing Meadow home, the number of men stationed outside has been tripled and I’m thinking of adding more.
To keep my enemy out?
Or to keep her inside?
Jesus, I’ve turned into a jailer.
What’s the alternative? Let Walker McManus’s wife walk the streets of Boston, like a normal person? She’s not normal. She’s my heart. My soul.
“Uh…boss?” Richie prompts, tapping the newspaper section against his leg.
I swallow hard. “Hey, man.” My smile is forced and withers almost immediately. “Sudoku, right?” I fall onto the couch and dig my thumbs into my eye sockets. “Where did you get stuck?”
He sits down next to me. “Is something wrong?”
I start to issue a denial, but simply say, “Yeah.”
“But…” His tone betrays his confusion. “…you can fix anything.”
“Thanks for your confidence in me, Rich, but I don’t know if I can fix this particular thing.” He’s waiting for an explanation and I know how much he hates people leaving him out of adult conversations, since he is one, so I force the words out. “It’s Meadow. I fell for her really hard, really fast, and then…all I could think about was losing her. So I did what I needed to do to stop me from losing her. Ever. But I think I might have lost her anyway.” A rough exhale leaves me. “Fuck, I was terrible to her. There’s no way she still loves me. I killed it.”
Richie is quiet for a few beats. “Did you tell her you’re sorry?”
“An apology isn’t going to cut it.”
“You still have to try.”
I launch to my feet and stride away, halting in front of the window. “What good is an apology if I’m not sure I’m willing to change my decision?”
A turn with a hollow laugh. “Don’t pull your punches or anything.”
Richie shrugs. “You don’t lie to me, so I don’t lie to you.”