Reid took a seat next to her bed, and for a few moments they stared at each other, his green gaze unreadable while hers was searching.
He stared at her and didn’t know where to start. Would sorry even cut it when someone innocent and kind like Georgette—-
Reid expelled air in a savage hiss as vicious images assaulted his mind.
Georgette abducted on her way home—-
“Reid.” Georgette’s trembling voice pulled him out of the nightmare he deserved to live in.
He opened his eyes, and his chest nearly exploded with pain at her anxious gaze.
He wanted to shout it to the heavens because he really did not understand why someone like Georgette had to suffer while men a thousand times more evil continued to crawl the face of the earth.
“Reid. Talk to me.”
“What do you want me to say?” His voice cracked in the end. “What is there for me to say?” She was everything that was pure in the world, he thought dully, and yet fate had chosen her to be the one to pay for the sins of his family.
“I want you to say you won’t blame yourself for what happened.”
He didn’t answer.
He said dully, “I can’t.” Because he did believe he was to blame. How fucking stupid he had been, thinking that someone like him could lead a normal life. Looking at Georgette, he said tightly, “You should have cooperated with them.”
“Never. And if I have to do it again, I still—-”
“Then you’re a fucking idiot,” Reid half-shouted. If he weren’t so terrified he would cause her more injury, he would have tried shaking some sense into her. “I’m just your neighbor, Georgie.” The words had her flinching, but he didn’t care. He wanted – needed – her to understand that they were from different worlds and would always be. “Your neighbor. You didn’t owe me anything. You barely know me—-”
“It’s true I barely know you,” she cut him off shakily, “but I also loved you. I’ve loved you since we first met, and you know that.”
And then Reid said bleakly, “You deserve better.”
In the three agonizing days she had been under those men’s power, she had never once cried. Even now, she didn’t know how it was that she had been able to keep herself from crying, with all the ways they had defiled her.
But she hadn’t.
And yet right now, the tears were suddenly impossible to stop.
It was that look in Reid’s eyes, she thought numbly.
A look that told her—-
No matter how much he wished otherwise—-
He did not love her.
The tears fell faster.
In spite of what she had done, what she had gone through, Reid Chalkias was still not in love with her.
A part of Georgette had already expected this, but her foolish heart had still hoped for the impossible.
Even so, what she had said was still true.
Even as she remembered the terror that seized her heart when she realized she was being kidnapped—-
Even as she remembered the despair that strangled her throat as the men began tearing her clothing off—-
Even as she remembered the pain that consumed her when they started carving their initials on her body—-
She would still have made the same choice.
Because she loved him.
A painful sob was fast climbing out of her throat, but this time she fought to keep it down. In front of her, Reid was ashen, and for one moment Georgette wanted to be selfish. She wanted to tell him that it didn’t matter if he didn’t love her. He could lie to her, couldn’t he? She deserved that, didn’t she?
Never had his voice sounded more beautiful and painful.
Because now she knew that voice could never say her name with the love she had always wanted from him.
The knowledge had Georgette gulping back another sob.
Reid clenched his fists. “Georgie, if there’s—-”
She cut him off desperately, saying, “I h-have something to ask you.” She couldn’t let him finish. She might not know him well, but she knew him enough to know what he had been about to say – just as she knew she couldn’t ever let herself hear his words.
Because right now she might just be weak enough to take it.
Turning her gaze away from him, she said haltingly, “I want you to promise me something.”
How unfair he was to say that.
How painfully, beautifully, heartbreakingly unfair.
Anything, he said.
And the way Reid had spoken, Georgette knew that if she asked him to stay by her side forever, he would have done it. If she asked him to lie about loving her for all eternity, until the day they would walk down the aisle, he would have.
And she was tempted to do that.
She was tempted to use her age as an excuse, her trauma, her love for him—-
But in the end, she couldn’t.
Because if there was one thing she had learned in those three days she had danced with death—-