She collapsed against the hardwood drawers as if she no longer had the energy to stand upright. ‘For once, just once, I would love someone to ask me what I truly want. Everyone who is free in the world is asked that very question every day, I imagine, and I often wonder if they realise how precious it is. If they take it for granted. I want to yell and scream at them that they shouldn’t. They should cherish it. I envy them, Thane. I envy their freedom of choice.’
It was like being tossed into the past, hearing his mother’s wistful voice—the hopes of a woman trapped like a bird in a gilded cage. And suddenly he felt like the damnable hypocrite Luciana had claimed him to be. He refused to ignore the truth one second longer. The reason he had never given her a choice.
‘What are you saying, Luce? You don’t want to marry me?’
‘No, Thane,’ she said, shaking her head, her brow pinched. ‘I don’t.’
And when one single diamond teardrop slipped down her exquisite face he felt as if noxious venom infected his veins, surged through his body, making him destructive, malevolent, black. As if he contaminated her with his darkness.
What more proof did he need than the evil voice whispering in his mind to make her marry him? Force her by threats to take away her son. And that disgusted him. It made him sick to his stomach even to think of it. The idea he was turning into his father.
She smoothed her hand over her midriff, as if he made her ache inside, but her tone strengthened as if she was resolved. Her stance one of weary resignation. ‘But I will marry you. For my son. He needs you and he loves you.’
Thane closed his eyes. Why didn’t that make him happy? Why couldn’t he be satisfied with that?
Verity hailed down on him in an icy blizzard, pummelling his flesh through to his bones. He longed for her to want only him. For Thane to be enough.
Idiot, he was. He’d done the one thing he’d sworn he’d never do. He’d let her creep past his defences. Again. And that petrified him—because he’d never be enough to make her happy. Just as he hadn’t been enough for his mother. To make her want to stay. He was too much like the man he’d sworn he’d never be. Twisted, selfish, possessive, dark inside.
Look at her, his inner voice whispered.
She was so beautiful she made his breath catch, his heart stall in his chest. But that solitary tear-track that shimmied a pearlescent dew down her cheek said it all. It said that one day she would hate him for imprisoning her here. Despise him. It said that one day she might fly to her death with a euphoric look of peace on her face as she finally found freedom. From him. From her life here.
And he couldn’t do that to his son. Take away the woman who loved him beyond Thane’s wildest imagination.
He wanted Nate to be happy. Have the kind of childhood Thane had never had. Peaceful and joyous. Learn how to be a good man with a pure soul and to be able to love another with his whole heart. Surely that was the greatest gift he could give him? More than horses and dogs and spaceships and candy canes. And to be that person Nate needed Luciana. Not Thane.
Unchaining the doors to the cage, he threw them wide open, his throat so swollen and raw every syllable hurt. ‘You are right, Luciana. Of course you are right. You need to go back.’
That glorious body slumped as she gave him a tight, grateful smile. ‘We’ll just be gone a couple of days. Back for this…this wedding on Christmas Eve—’
‘No.’ He cut her off with a shake of his head, commanding his tone not to falter, to stay strong. ‘There is no need. No hurry. Spend Christmas with your family if you like.’
That had been his mother’s worst time for missing her loved ones. Had once made blood trickle from her wrists as the depths of her depression found no bounds.
Unwanted, harrowing, his dark, tormented mind made one of those incongruous leaps, placing Luciana in that bloodbath…
Dios, maybe her leaving long-term was for the best after all. It would only be a matter of time before he destroyed her. He’d rather have her alive somewhere else in the world than dead by his side. And, while he truly believed Luciana had more strength than his mother had, Thane could easily kill her spirit—was already doing so—and that would be a great tragedy in itself.
He lavished himself with one last long look. At that incredible dark bronze tousled tumble of hair. The perfect feminine curves of her body. Those big, beautiful brandy-gold eyes now swimming in confusion.