“It’s worse.” Wickham placed the printout of the report emailed to him by the company’s cyber security division.
What in hell could be worse than the world fucking Pippi’s life up just because she had been foolish enough to date him?
He reached for the printout and had his answer in just a few seconds.
It was an anonymously posted exposé about Astrid Jones’ affair with a married man and written in such a way that readers were meant to see Pippi’s mother as both a home-wrecker and gold-digger. According to the post, Dolph McTavish, a businessman from Chicago, was a happily married man and father of three when he and Astrid happened to share the same flight to Miami.
It had every indication of being a paid character assassination, Acheron realized sickly, and even though his team only had preliminary results to share, he already knew that what his guts were telling him was real.
One way or another, this could and would be traced back to him, and Astrid had merely been caught in the crossfire.
People who love us only end up getting hurt.
The glass surface of Acheron’s desk shattered into pieces at the violently forceful crash of his fist, and Wickham flinched. “Acheron—” Bleak dark eyes turned to his, and for one painful moment, it was like seeing Acheron back when he was sixteen, and the boy had no one in the world.
“Amelia was right,” Acheron said tonelessly.
The older man started shaking his head in protest. “Don’t think like that—”
“There’s no other way to think about this,” Acheron gritted out. “This is my fault, and it happened because I didn’t have the balls to let her go.”
Pippi knocked on the door to Astrid’s room. “Mom?” She waited for Astrid to answer like she used to – gaily calling her out to come in, but there was just silence, and she wanted to cry.
My fault, she thought. This is my fault.
She tried the knob, and it turned easily under her fingers. Stepping inside, she found the room dark and silent, the curtains drawn. Astrid was a child of the sun, she loved the warmth and heat of it, and now her mother was acting like she no longer deserved to see the light of day.
Astrid was seated on the edge of her bed, her lovely face wan and tear-stained. But at the sight of her eldest daughter, she readily summoned a smile. “What is it?”
It was just like Astrid to be so strong, to not say a single word even though she must have an inkling that this could only have something to do with Pippi.
She swallowed hard. Oh God, what was there to say?
“Pi? What is it? Is anything wrong?”
The concern in Astrid’s voice was unmistakable, and this was just so like her, too, with the way she always placed everyone else’s needs above hers —
It was just too much, and before Pippi could even think of what to do, she was already running, falling into her knees with a sob as she took her mother’s hands in hers.
“I’m so sorry, Mom.”
She felt Astrid lay a comforting hand on the top of her head, and she wept harder. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault, baby.”
“But it is. You know it is. We all know it is.” Between sobs, she told Astrid of how she something in her had just snapped and she found herself coming into the defense of Acheron’s ex-lover. “I can’t prove it yet, but I know – those women are behind this, and it’s not fair – it’s n-not right that they’d go after you—” Her voice broke anew. “I’m so sorry, Mom.”
The sound of her daughter’s weeping hurt, and yet in a way, it also gave Astrid the strength to ignore her own pain. Her daughter needed her, and Pippi and her girls would always come first.
“Hush, baby. It’s okay now.”
Astrid pulled Pippi up and made her daughter sit on the bed next to her.
“It may be as you say it is, but that still doesn’t make things your fault. All the signs about Dolph being a married man were there, but I chose to close my eyes to all of them. I loved him, and I didn’t want to know anything that would tell me I couldn’t love him.”
“You were young—”
“But I also knew what I was doing, and now I’m paying the consequences for it—” When Pippi started shaking her head, Astrid said quietly, “This is how it should be, and in a way I’m glad to finally have it in the open.” Her lips formed a wry smile. “As the cliché goes – nothing like the truth to set us free, darling.” Astrid’s slim shoulders moved in a shrug. “And now, it’s going to get interesting, being Isla de Flores’ aging Jezebel—”
The description had Pippi choking back a teary giggle. “Mom!”