“Talk to me.”
“I don’t know how to start.”
“Then…is it about de Graaf?”
Her head shot up.
“You didn’t think I wouldn’t have my people check him out, did you?”
Her heart slammed against her chest. “A-And?”
Diana’s tone perplexed him. “He checked out, of course.” But far from assuring her, the words seemed to make her uneasy. It was almost as if she was expecting him to forbid her from seeing the man, which of course didn’t make any sense at all.
“What’s wrong?” Damen asked bluntly. He didn’t think he couldn’t have chosen any better than Matthijs de Graaf. The man was worth hundreds of millions, a Nobel Prize winner, and the decent sort all around. The only thing the professor had against him was the fact that de Graaf had yet to break things off with his long-term mistress. But since Damen’s sources had ascertained it had been months since the professor had sex with the other woman, Damen was willing to overlook it…for now.
“I think…I’m in love with him.”
“I suspected as much.” But when this didn’t ease her tension, he asked, “Are you worried that you can’t make him love you back? Is that what this whole thing’s about?” Diana slowly shook her head, and his puzzlement grew. “You need to be more specific if you want me to help—”
Taking a deep breath, she cut him off, saying in a rush, “I came here because I thought I needed to let you know that by loving him…if you c-can’t accept him…I can’t leave him…I might have to say g-goodbye—” Her voice broke.
Damen stiffened. “What the hell are you saying?”
“D-Damen.” And her voice caught once more.
“Diana, dammit, you’re worrying me—”
“He has HIV.”
Damen went white.
And suddenly, she could no longer stop talking, the words tumbling out one after another even as her tears started to fall. Crying was all she seemed to do lately, but even as she hated herself for it, she just couldn’t stop.
I didn’t know at the start, and he kept trying to push me away because of it.
He’s never touched me, and I wondered about it before, but now I know why.
I don’t want to put any of you at risk, and that’s why I wanted to tell you first.
Because I know you can make the tough decisions.
Tell me to stay away so that Mairi and Nala are safe.
Diana’s words hit him like one blow after another, and all he could do was take every fucking thing in numb silence. A part of him was still in denial, wanting to rage against the fates. He was sorry – of course he was damn sorry that life had turned out the way it had for de Graaf, but couldn’t any other woman fall in love with him? Couldn’t it be anyone else but Diana?
Now, he understood why Diana had been looking at him the way she had been doing so all this time. From the very start, she had come here, prepared for him to cut ties with her, and she would have accepted it. Maybe she had expected it even. God knew, the way Esther had brought her up, Diana had foolishly come to believe that she would never be worthy of people’s love.
When she finally finished talking, he could only look at her for one long moment, wondering how it was that he had missed it. Sometime between the past and the present, Diana had grown from being the little girl he knew and turned into the woman she was now.
Someone who loved like he did, loved so damn fiercely that she had the strength and courage to throw everything away, just to be with the man she had entrusted her heart with.
Looking at her, he said quietly, “I don’t think you came here to ask for my permission for anything.”
Diana couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t do anything but just look at him and wish…oh God, she wished…she wished…
“Because it seems to me that you’ve already made up your mind.”
The tears fell faster, and her heart started breaking.
“And that you’re just here to tell us we have a new member to welcome to our family.”
She stared at him in shock.
And then she threw herself in his arms. “Damen. Damen. Damen.” She started sobbing against his chest. She had so many things to say, but in the end, it was just his name that she could utter, just like how it had been before, and she had been a little girl asking for her big brother’s help.
And he had always been there for her.
“Sssh. I know.” Damen kissed the top of her head. “And I’m proud of you, baby.” His voice turned rough with emotion. “You’ve got this. We’ve got this.”
Marry You by The Acoustikats
On Diana’s flight back to Contini, she did her best to analyze and even (knowingly) over-analyze her feelings, feeling obliged to come up with all the reasons she should forget about the professor.