It’s over. She should’ve taken the hint.

Regardless, I feel like I need to offer another apology. “I’m terribly sorry. But it’s just not going to work, and I hope you can accept that.”

I start to move past her, realizing my precious liquor is still in the front seat of my car, but I need to get away from her right now more than I need to start drinking.

“I know about your wife and daughter,” she says, and I freeze in place.

Pain lances through me, and I’m paralyzed. My throat moves, but no sound comes out. I can’t even turn to face her.

“And I’m so terribly sorry, Benjamin.” I don’t hear her move, but I sense her right behind me, then feel her soft hand on my back. “I can’t even imagine going through what you did or what it must feel like.”

I welcome the flush of anger her words cause, and I wheel around on her. “And you what? Thought it might explain my motivations?”

She’s not cowed in the slightest. Merely lifts her chin a little higher. “Does it?”

Another flash of fury moves through me, white-hot now with the need to make her understand me. My hand flies out to snatch her by the wrist. I turn to my front door, then drag her along behind me. “Come with me.”

I haul her right up to my house, not slowing my pace even though she has to run to stay in stride with me. After I unlock the door, I pull her in behind me, releasing my hold once we’re inside.

“Look,” I order, sweeping my hand toward the interior of my home.

Her gaze moves around my living room, taking in the gloom and the covered furniture. The bare walls. The empty shelves. The darkened kitchen with nothing on the counters.

I put my hand on her back, then push her through my house down the hallway where I point to a closed door. “That’s my daughter’s room. I haven’t even opened the door since I came home from the hospital.”

She makes a small sound of distress, but I ignore it, propelling her farther along. I point to the master bedroom. “That’s the room I shared with April. Been in there a few times, mostly just to move my stuff out.”

I glide my hand up her back, curl around her neck, and physically turn her to the guest bedroom. Throwing the door open, I point inside. “This is my existence now. It’s simple. Within these walls, I don’t dwell on my past.”

I hope my answer makes everything clear. It should be fucking clear. I am a man without anything important in my life. I don’t need anything past what I have right now.

I turn slightly, dip my head, and take her in. Her face is strangely blank, as if she doesn’t understand anything I’ve just shown her.

She tilts her head. “But why did you cut me out? Nothing you’ve said or shown me explains that. We had a connection, Benjamin. I know we did. And we made that connection even though you’re living this existence.”

My anger dissipates almost immediately, and I give a rough, ragged sigh. Scrubbing my hand through my hair, I admit, “Yes, we did have a connection. I hadn’t had one in a long time.”

“Then why?” she demands. “Why did you just decide it was over?”

I shrug, not because I don’t know the answer. I just don’t want to admit my weaknesses. “Because it ran its course. There was nothing more to it.”

I don’t know if I should be amused when Elena actually stamps her foot and puts her hands on her hips while growling, “Bullshit. You said you don’t dwell on your past, yet you live in this ghost house.” I find I have to hide an unwanted smile at her show of temper, and it only pisses me off more.

“Don’t you dare judge me,” I growl.

“I don’t,” she retorts. “I pity you. If you could just take a step and move past your fears, you could be happy again.”

There is no holding my roar of fury back. “I don’t want to be happy again. Don’t you get it? I don’t deserve it. April and Cassidy don’t have the chance at happiness, so why should I?”

Elena’s face softens, and I hate the look of sympathy. “You’re wrong about their happiness. They’re both in heaven. Happy and peaceful. They’re probably sad over what you’re doing to yourself, though.”

I can’t help but sneer. “What do you know about it?”

Her expression is incredulous, as if my question is senseless.

“I go to church,” she replies with quiet confidence. “I believe in God, and I have faith we’re all rewarded after we die.”

I give a dismissive wave of my hand. “It’s a farce. There is no God. If there is, he’s not the loving deity you all worship. He would never do what he did to my family if that were so.”

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