Oh, how she wished she could.
I love you, Acheron.
But would he believe her, since the words would seem as if they were coming out of the blue when in truth they had been there all along, and she had just deliberately turned a deaf ear to them?
I love you so much.
But what if saying it would only pressure him to lie about his own feelings?
I love you.
Who could’ve ever predicted this day would come, and she would be near tears just because she wasn’t able to say the words?
Acheron reached for her hand and was stunned to find it cold. “Something’s obviously wrong,” he said grimly. “Is it your family? Has something happened?”
Pippi managed to shake her head. “N-No.”
Monosyllabic Pippi was back, Acheron thought, and his frown deepened. “Something’s clearly wrong,” he said gently, “but I can’t help if you don’t tell me about it.”
But by then, the car had already reached the basement, and before he could ask Wickham to give them a moment alone, Pippi was already reaching for the door handle while she mumbled her thanks to the other man. She thanked Acheron as well, but he didn’t miss the way she studiously avoided his gaze.
Pippi turned to watch the car drive out of the basement. Please don’t leave. Please. Please. Please. But these words she also swallowed back, not wanting to force him to stay.
The sudden change in her behavior still nagged at Acheron, but his phone had started to buzz, and all thoughts of Pippi had to be set aside when he saw it was Wickham calling him.
“What is it?”
“She knows about Pippi.”
Acheron stiffened. “What do you mean?” But even as he spoke, a part of him already knew.
“I’m not sure how. I’ve never let her leave the apartment, and she hasn’t had any chance to get on the computer or hold a phone. But she knows.”
Acheron remembered how hysterical Amelia had sounded over the phone earlier, demanding that he come to her now and even threatening to kill herself if he didn’t show up. She hadn’t mentioned anything about Pippi then, but that was just like her, with the way she always ignored what she didn’t want to see. Physical pain she had learned to handle, never flinching or crying out, barely even blinking no matter how much the old man had beaten her.
But when it came to facing the truth, she became fragile and vulnerable, throwing tantrums or wallowing in self-pity to get her way, and when neither worked, she would numb herself with drugs until she felt nothing.
No matter how much he had begged her – fight for us, leave him and come away with me –
She had always said no.
It’s too late.
Even when time and time again other people would end up failing her, she would rather believe in everyone else but him.
The first time Amelia came to him, she had literally set fire to his library, sobbing hysterically as she told him that looking at all those books made her feel stupid. That it was like he himself had made her want to feel stupid.
The last time she came to him, she had thrashed his study, shredding contracts that had nearly cost him millions of dollars.
And that had been, what, seven or eight months ago?
Even now, Acheron’s mind instinctively sought to distance itself from the memories, and all he could remember was the tears running down her pale face and the stark emptiness that kept growing and growing inside of him.
It had made no fucking sense to him then, and it still didn’t. Amelia had known what she was doing, had fucking known she could have cost him his entire business, and yet she had still fucking gone ahead and dumped all the contracts into the shredder.
Why the fuck are you doing this? WHY?
He had never yelled at her before, but at that time, it had been just too fucking much. That time, the tears that used to destroy him had only left him cold.
Please don’t shout at me. Please, Acheron, please, don’t be like this, please.
He had once thought that he could never be like Anthony, the pedophile that had been so obsessed with thirteen-year-old Amelia that he had made her his mistress. Anthony liked making Amelia beg to keep her under his power, and as the years had progressed, Anthony had made sure they always had an audience for it.
The threats varied, but they had one common denominator. They had all targeted Amelia’s soft heart for the underdogs, and Anthony had known it.
And because Acheron had been one of those underdogs, Amelia had begged for him, too.
She had gone on her knees for him, more times than he could count, and while he had always strove to make it up to her, what she had done at his study had been the last straw, and Acheron had lost it.