I pulled Eden against me in the back seat and attempted to get myself back under control, breathing in and out slowly, wrapping my hand around her wrist so I could feel the steady beat of her pulse right beneath my fingertips.
We pulled into Eden's mom's driveway and got out of the car.
We had driven in silence, Molly glancing repeatedly in the rearview mirror at us, a worried expression on her face. Eden had simply let me hold her, her head resting against my chest. She knew exactly what I needed.
I couldn't be sure, but I thought Molly had driven around for a while before going to Eden's mom's house, perhaps giving us both time to settle down and collect ourselves. My fists were bloody and I felt shell-shocked.
Once the car stopped and we got out, I held on tightly to Eden as we walked to the house, looking around to make sure we hadn't been followed by any of those news people. How in the hell had they found out about us?
Eden's mom came rushing out when we were almost to the door. "Oh my goodness! It's all over the news. Come inside, come inside. I'm so glad I sent Molly for you when I did."
She hurried us in and then took one look behind her before shutting the door and locking it.
"Carolyn, Calder needs a first aid kit for his knuckles," Molly said.
Carolyn put her hands up to her cheeks when she took in my bruised and bloody hands. "Oh no, oh no. Of course," she said, rushing over to Eden and running her eyes down her body twice before squeezing her shoulders and rushing out of the room.
Eden and I sank down on the sofa and I put my hands palm down on my lap so I wouldn't bleed on all the nice furniture.
Molly left the room saying something about iced tea and when she was gone, I turned to Eden. "I'm so sorry," I muttered, putting my forehead to hers. I shook my head slowly. "It was like I was back there for a minute. I . . . freaked. Damn, I'm sorry."
Eden brought her hand to my cheek. "I understand. And truly, Calder, they were like a bunch of vultures. They practically attacked us."
I took a deep breath. "Still, I cringe to think about what that news footage looks like. I must look crazed."
"We won't watch," she said, a glimmer of a smile on her lips. She kissed me softly right as Molly came back into the room with a tray of glasses filled with iced tea.
I took the one she offered and drank deeply. Eden sipped at hers and Molly set the tray down on the coffee table and took the chair across from where we sat on the sofa.
"So who the hell told the news about you guys?" she asked, her eyes wide.
I glanced at Eden and shook my head. "I don't know," I said. "Madison?"
Eden shook her head, biting her lip. "I guess it could have been, but I don't know. I talked to her this morning and she seemed sincere when she said she wouldn't."
I nodded. I didn't think Madison would either. She'd always been trustworthy from my experience. Still, people did things they might not ordinarily do when they were hurt. I'd hurt her.
"How'd you know to come pick us up?" I asked Molly.
Her eyes moved to mine. "I didn't. Carolyn sent me." She raised her hands. "I swear, I was going to take a selfie with Eden just to prove she was alive and then leave." She lowered her voice. "She's been just a little crazy for four days, almost like Eden was kidnapped again or something. I've been trying to help her keep a rational perspective." She raised her brows as if she wasn't sure how effective she'd been. Damn. I couldn't help wondering if Carolyn tipped off the police. The thought itself made me feel guilty though. Eden's mom wouldn't do that to her.
Molly took a sip of her tea and then put it back down on the table in front of her. "As for who told the media, I guess it could have been any of a hundred people. That party . . . we asked the guests not to say anything, but the bartender could have heard just enough and put it together. Who knows? We weren't exactly running a stealth operation." She raised her hands and dropped them. "Now that I consider it, I'm actually more surprised it took this long for the media to come knocking at our door."
I surprised myself by chuckling. True enough. I liked Eden's cousin.
Eden smiled at Molly and bit her lip. "You're right. I mean, does it really even matter?" She looked up at me. "I just wish it had happened on our time frame."
"It's all right," I said quietly. "It's probably for the best. You're going to be able to claim your name now and everything that goes with that." I moved my own fear aside as best as I could. There was nothing I could do now but wait to see what would happen. I lay my bloody hands on my thighs again, still feeling slightly shell-shocked.
Carolyn came rushing back into the room with a first aid kit and looked questioningly at Eden. Eden nodded and took the kit from her hands and moved to kneel in front of me. As she dabbed alcohol on my knuckles, the biting sting served to bring me fully into the present. While Eden bandaged my hands, Carolyn told us she had spoken to one of the detectives on Eden's case while she was upstairs and that the police were on their way over. They had called her when they saw the news footage on TV.
"Will that look bad for us?" Eden asked, looking back over her shoulder at her mom.
Her mom shook her head. "He seemed understanding about why we had taken our time. I think the way the journalists attacked you both is proof enough that we had good reason to keep to ourselves for a little while." She frowned, staring at me. After what Molly had told us, I didn't blame her for looking at me like that. I had taken Eden away from her for four days after telling her I'd bring her right back, and then went mad-dog crazy and beat people when they posed a threat to us. Or what I thought of as a threat at the time. I tried to think back and could barely remember the details other than I felt like Eden's safety was at risk. Her mom probably thought I was sketchy now at best, despite the fact that I thought I'd made a good impression on her at her garden party.
"I'm really sorry for . . . everything," I murmured, looking at Carolyn.
She furrowed her brow and shook her head. "I know," she said. "I can see that you are. And I'm sorry that happened to you, too. If only you'd brought Eden back sooner." An accusatory look passed over her face and I felt even guiltier. Then again, Eden and I had needed that time together so desperately. How could I even begin to explain that to her mother of all people? Carolyn took a deep breath, looking away from me. "The good news is that the police are going to put a couple officers here on detail so no one bothers us or gets to the front door without us knowing. You're safe here, with me." I assumed she was talking about both of us, but she was only looking at Eden.
I frowned slightly. All I wanted was to take Eden home with me and start some sort of a life together, have her to myself, be able to protect her myself, to prove that I was worthy of that.
Carolyn stood up. "Eden, I'm going to make you a fluffernutter sandwich." She smiled warmly. "They were always your favorite and if any situation calls for comfort food, this one does." She rushed out of the room calling behind her, "No crusts, of course."
Molly shook her head and brought her hand up to it as if she suddenly had a very bad headache. Eden's face was confused. I assumed, like me, she had no idea what a fluffernutter sandwich was.
The doorbell rang and the next five hours were spent being interviewed by the police as Eden and I told our stories, individually, together, over and over and over until I felt almost desensitized to it. People came in and out, some in uniforms, some in street clothes, the officers all held the same incredulous look on their faces when they heard our story. At first I was fearful, wary, but as the day wore on, I was able to relax just a little.
The police seemed stunned by most of the events of the day of the flood, especially by the role Clive Richter played, both in bringing us back to Acadia, standing by while Hector tortured us and tried to murder me, and then shooting me in the leg. I didn't know what would happen with him, and despite the many people who listened to our story with horror and compassion in their eyes, I couldn't help the fact that my gut clenched in nervousness when I considered Clive would now know we were alive, if he didn't already because of the news coverage.
I kept my eyes focused on Eden when I could and looked her way as often as possible when she was turned away for some reason. I watched her talk to a young-looking detective in a suit and she seemed to feel comfortable with him, even laughing softly several times as he jotted down notes. He looked at her with a sort of reverence in his eyes. My stomach twisted in jealousy and I had to remind myself that a reaction like that wasn't normal. We were out in the big society now, the world. Lots of men were going to look at Eden and try to make her laugh. I didn't have to like it, but I also didn't have to act like a jealous idiot.
I had called Xander once the police arrived and a couple hours later, he rang the bell and began being questioned by the police as well.
I hadn't been prepared for that day, and despite my nervousness, something inside me also felt relieved. It wasn't hanging over our heads anymore. And it didn't seem that us not coming forward sooner was an issue anyone was going to press. And maybe now I'd have a name. Surely someone out there knew who I was? Was it possible someone like Eden’s mother cared that I had been missing all these years? Guilt knotted in my stomach when I considered the fact that I could have put someone out of their misery much earlier than this. But I hadn't been ready, and that was the simple fact of the matter.
Finally, as the sun began to set outside the windows, we said goodbye to Xander and then a little while later, the police started to gather their things and leave Carolyn's house, too. Eden came around behind me and leaned over my chair, wrapping her arms around my shoulders and kissing my neck. "We did it, Butterscotch," she whispered. Butterscotch. How long had it been since I'd heard Eden call me Butterscotch? I closed my eyes and welcomed her physical and emotional comfort. Her strength, her resilience, it had given me courage before and gave me resolve now. We did it. We. I wasn't sure if I could have coped with this day without her, but together, we could, I could.
I looked back around at her and smiled. "Yeah, we did."
"And now," she whispered in my ear, "I'm going to cook you dinner and then you're going to sneak into my small, pink, twin-sized bed with me." She frowned slightly. "My mom made up the guest room for you, but we'll work around that." She kissed my ear and I chuckled softly.
I looked around for Carolyn, but she must have been showing the police out. "What does your mom think we've been doing for four days?" I whispered.
"I'm sure she's trying not to think about it," she said, standing and coming around in front of me. "She's sort of in denial about me being a woman. She can't help but regard me as a little girl, I think." She furrowed her brow. "I'm trying to be respectful of that. But there's no way you're going to be under the same roof as me and not be in my bed for at least part of the night," she said, sitting down on my lap.
I smiled at her and leaned forward, kissing her lips and feeling a calm joy descend over me. This wasn't ideal, but we were together. We were safe.
A woman cleared her throat and I looked up to see Carolyn standing in the doorway. Eden and I smiled at her and Eden stood up and went to her, hugging her.
"You did so well," Carolyn said when Eden had pulled away. She came into the room and sat down on the chair across from me. "Now there is going to be news coverage about this ad nauseam, just like there was after Acadia . . . just like there was after your father . . . " She trailed off, looking sad and worried, but then took a deep breath and continued. "The phone isn't going to stop ringing, and you're going to be hounded when you leave the house." She looked from me to Eden and back. "We all just have to be prepared. It will stop eventually, but not for some time. Are you going to be okay with this?"
I bent forward, my elbows on my knees and raked one hand through my hair. "No, I'm not okay with this," I said, sitting up. "But what choice do we have? We'll have to make the best of it."
Eden nodded, coming over to stand next to my chair, her hand reaching for mine. I grasped it, squeezing it three times unconsciously. And suddenly, a peace filled my heart, some inexplicable feeling I had trouble naming.
"Yes," Eden said softly, looking down at me. "We'll make the best of it." She looked at Carolyn. "Mom, obviously we don't want to watch all the news coverage, but is there a way someone can watch enough to give us any information on Clive Richter, or if someone comes forward about Calder?"
Carolyn glanced at me quickly and nodded. "Of course. I'll make sure that happens. So this is a no-TV zone for now. And we hole up for the next few weeks and wait until the worst of it has died down."
With that plan in place, we all went into the kitchen and Eden insisted I sit down at the table by the window while she cooked for me. I watched her move around the kitchen, somehow, unbelievably falling even more in love with her. I'd never had the pleasure of seeing Eden do something as normal as boil pasta and toss a salad together and it was almost magical to me, as ridiculous as that might have sounded to someone else. I watched as she interacted with Carolyn and Molly, too, laughing and listening intently to what they had to say. She was so damn good, so kind and filled with light. It was what Hector had seen in her all those years ago, surely. And yes, he had exploited it for his own sick and twisted idea, but he hadn't been wrong in his recognition of it in the first place. It was the quality that had attracted both of us to her. But I swore on everything I loved in the world that I would make her light shine even more brightly, and never, ever diminish it like he had.