Comprehension dawned, and Mairi sighed. “I get it.”
“You do?” Pippi was rather skeptical.
“You didn’t want to tell him about the loan.”
Pippi nodded. “He would’ve insisted on settling the loan, and I didn’t want that.”
“Because it would make you seem like a gold-digger,” the older woman concluded.
“Exactly.” Pippi was relieved that Mairi readily understood her sentiments. “We had a huge row over it, too.”
“Have you told him the truth since then?”
“Well, that’s the thing…” Pippi looked down and started stirring her juice again. “When things became weird between us, I thought I should clear the air – get rid of all the lies and be open about our feelings.”
“That’s a good plan,” Mairi murmured.
“You would think so, right?” The girl’s smile was pained. “But when I tried to tell him the truth, he said it didn’t matter.” Blue eyes filled with innocent entreaty turned to Mairi. “What do you think he meant by that?”
Mairi’s lips parted, but no sound came out. Pippi’s question might seemed simple and straightforward to anyone hearing it, but they both knew that what the girl was asking for without the words was something entirely.
Help me believe there’s still hope.
The silence stretched between them, ruthless and unbroken, and Pippi could feel herself cracking under its weight.
It seemed anything could break her these days.
She felt her hands start to tremble and quickly hid them under the table. She tried to smile but stopped when she felt her face start to crack as well. In the end, all she could do was look at Mairi.
Please say something. Please. Please. Please.
Mairi’s eyes started to sting, and when she saw Pippi’s own eyes begin to shine, it became harder to hold back her own tears.
Her silence was her answer, and Pippi heard it loud and clear.
“I’m sorry,” Mairi whispered.
Pippi shook her head. “It’s not your fault.”
It was no one’s fault.
Not even Acheron’s.
Because all he promised was that he would keep her from taking any risks.
And he had kept his word.
But he never promised not to hurt her.
She was calling him.
The world had turned upside down in recent days, and things were no longer how they used to be. These days, it was Pippi calling him first now, Pippi seeking his company, Pippi saying that she missed him.
And he missed her, too, goddammit, but how could he be with her, knowing that its inevitable end was to see her ruined?
His phone had gone silent, but only a few moments had passed before it started ringing again.
It was Pippi, not giving up on him when she should never even have given him the time of the day.
Amelia’s words that night had never left him, and every time he closed his eyes, the nightmares that came to him were one and the same. He would dream of the times Amelia had played him like a fool, and somehow the scene would change, and it would be Acheron making a fool of Pippi. He would dream of Millicent Longbourn, alone and broken because of him, and somehow Millicent, too, would transform into Pippi.
Maybe it was just paranoia, but what if it wasn’t?
He had seen how being with him had made such a fucking mess of Millie’s life, and he had never forgiven himself for it.
His phone started ringing for the third time, and Acheron drove his fist into the wall in a futile attempt to distract himself with the pain.
Why had he made himself forget about what happened to Millie?
Why had he convinced himself that things would be different with Pippi?
The phone rang for the fourth time, and Acheron could no longer help himself.
Pippi nearly collapsed in relief even as the hollow tone of his voice made her feel cold. “Are you at the hotel?”
“Can I…can I come over?” She was expecting either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but instead she heard him curse under his breath, and it hurt. It just hurt so much she could barely think, and somehow all the words came tumbling out.
“It’s Amelia, isn’t it? She t-told you something.”
“She likes you, can’t you see that? And that’s why she’s going to say whatever it takes—”
“Stop it,” Acheron cut in furiously. “You don’t know anything about her, so don’t speak as if you do.” Amelia had been batting for her, dammit, and here she was, accusing Amelia of sabotaging their relationship.
Pippi breathed hard, doing her best not to cry. “Acheron, please.” She wasn’t exactly sure what she was begging him for, but when she heard him speak –
“I’m sorry,” Acheron said tautly.
It seemed he knew, and now that she heard his words, she realized what it was she had been asking.
Please love me.
And he might as well have said he couldn’t.
She had been working like she was on auto-pilot for several days now, Gareth mused. And while as an employer, he had no cause for complaint – her work remained as flawless as always – he couldn’t help feeling slightly concerned at the way she seemed to be pushing herself a little too hard.