I don’t want to do that here, in the moonlight, with Ethan. I want him to see me. “Just because I had the words tattooed on me doesn’t mean I believe them all the time.” I swallow. “Or even most of the time. The truth is, if I believed them, I wouldn’t need them there.”

“I like that you found a way to remind yourself. You found a strength in yourself that my wife always looked for in me.” We stop in front of the barn, and Ethan tucks his hands into his pockets. “Elena killed herself on Christmas Eve three years ago.”

My breath catches—not because the confession comes as a surprise but because he’s telling me at all. “I’m so sorry, Ethan.”

“When I married her, I knew she struggled with depression. But it didn’t matter. We loved each other, and we were stronger together.” He tilts his face up to the sky. “But it only got worse after she had Lilly. The darkness swallowed her, and I didn’t handle it well. I resented her sadness. I’m a doctor. I know it wasn’t a choice for her. I know depression isn’t something you can shake off or snap out of. But that didn’t change the fact that when she was low, it was like she was punishing all of us. The whole house seemed darker, and everything she did was with this spirit of anger. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right.”

I step forward and reach for his hand. There’s nothing I can say, so I weave my gloved fingers through his and squeeze.

“When she was up, we were unstoppable. We were good together and so damn happy. When she was up, I felt like every failed marriage in the world should just look at us and see how to do it right.” He swallows, and in the moonlight, I can see the pain wash over his face. “But when she was down . . . when she was down, I felt like my marriage was a prison, and I resented her for locking me in it.”

I swallow and study his face. I understand that he needs to tell this story the way he feels it, but it’s killing me to have him present the struggles of their marriage as his own shortcomings, as if he was entirely at fault, when I know that’s not true. “How long was she having an affair?”

His gaze drops to mine, and I see the shock in his eyes. “I honestly don’t know. Things hadn’t been good for us for a long time when a colleague told me about Elena and Mike.” His jaw goes hard. “I found out about him on Christmas Eve, and I fucking lost my mind. Here I was, living with her, day in and day out, trying to save her from the darkness, feeling . . .” He snaps his mouth shut, and I squeeze his hand again. “On some level, I felt like her depression was my fault. I was ready to turn our lives upside down to save her from it. She missed California—even though she hadn’t lived there since she was a teenager—but I was going to leave my practice, leave my family, and move us out there. I was going to let go of everything to save a woman I wasn’t even sure loved me anymore. Meanwhile, she was fucking my best friend.”

I gasp. I suspected the affair, but I never had any clue it was with someone close to Ethan. I put my hand on his chest, search for the reassuring thrum of his heart under my fingertips. “Ethan . . .”

“I told her I wanted her to leave. I didn’t want her in my life anymore. She begged me to reconsider. She told me what was between her and Mike had been a mistake—a horrible mistake. And that she’d only been with him because it made her feel closer to me when I was being so distant.” He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again, he returns his gaze to the sky, as if he might find answers floating around somewhere up there. Or maybe he’s just ashamed that he responded to heartbreak and betrayal like any human would. “I told her to get out and that I didn’t want to look at her. I watched her drive away from me and Lilly on Christmas Eve.”

“I’m so sorry. That must have been awful.”

“But it wasn’t. That’s the worst part. It wasn’t awful at all.” His voice cracks—shame making the confession brittle. “All I could think when she drove away was that I was grateful to be free of her—free of the constant guilt and pain of watching her suffer from her own demons. I went to bed relieved that my marriage was over.” He places a hand on top of the one I have on his chest and closes his eyes. “Then, sometime in the middle of the night, she came back and finished off all the pills she had in the house. She knew I was done. That I couldn’t save her from the darkness anymore.”

Tags: Lexi Ryan Erotic
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