Nick could only gaze at his friend, knowing that the most he could do was let Reid get all the words out.

“I didn’t even think, and goddammit, someone like Meredith Grayson had to be the one to make me see I was such a fucking idiot.” The prince’s voice faded into a raw, agonized whisper. “You all mattered to me. My parents. My friends. You all mattered. But there was a part of me that none of you were able to reach, a part that would ensure I would survive if you all died on me—-”

The prince swallowed.

“But Fawn…she was different, and I think I knew it unconsciously from the very start.”

His eyes closed.

“She reached the part of me, that last part of me no one could touch—-” The prince’s tone became savage. “And that’s why I tried so fucking hard to keep her at a distance. I pushed her so damn hard I didn’t realize I was already killing her—-”

Unable to bear the devastation on his friend’s face, Nick shook his head fiercely, gritting out, “Stop it, Chalkias.”

The prince looked at him with dull green eyes. “I love her, Nick. Go back to her, please. I’m begging you. Please make her hear you and let her know I love her. Please. I’m begging you. Please.”

“I will, Reid. You risked everything for us, so you know Jason and I would do anything for you, but—-” Nick expelled his breath in a mixture of frustration and acute remorse. “It’s just not up to me. I spoke to Bennett, and I saw her, and…it’s bad.”

Nick remembered the one glimpse he had of Fawn Cornwall’s face, the way it had been all carved up—-

He had made it to the hospital just before the doctor had been forced to sedate her, and he didn’t think he would ever forget the way she had screamed.

I know.

I know.

I know.

Almost as if she was echoing Meredith Grayson’s taunting words, affirming what the psychotic killer had manipulated her into believing—-

“What exactly are you saying?” the prince demanded unevenly, the look of defeat on Nick Christakos’ face causing fear for Fawn to skitter down his spine.

“I don’t think whatever I say can or will ever reach her, Reid. It has to be you…and only you. And if you don’t succeed – she’ll be lost to us forever.”

****

Time moved too damn slowly on the night the prince had to spend behind bars, and all he could do was sit on the floor while he punished himself with an endless cycle of images of Fawn’s suffering.

He forced himself to relive every second of it—-

Forced himself to imagine it in the most vivid way possible—-

The way Meredith Grayson’s fingers wrapped around the handle of the knife with a mixture of expertise and eagerness—-

The way the knife pierced Fawn’s tender flesh—-

The way the blade cut through the skin, its edge scarring the bone—-

And blood.

So much blood.

And all throughout it, he could only think of three damn words.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

He would carve it on his damn face, his heart, his body if that was what it took to make her realize she was right all along.

He loved her.

The prince clung to the thought as he continued to lash himself with memories of Fawn’s suffering.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you.

Sunlight eventually broke through the tiny barricaded window of the prince’s cell, the brightness hurting his tired, swollen eyes. The hours ticked by, and when Fredericka Spears came to secure his release, the prince only had one question in mind.

As soon as he was out of his cell, the prince asked tautly, “Have they filed a TRO against me?”

The attorney blinked at him in surprise. “Did Nick or Jason tell you?”

A ghost of a smile touched the prince’s bloodless lips. “It’s the next logical step, and I would think Bennett’s parents would be able to pull enough strings to make it happen.”

Walking down the hallway, Fredericka said reluctantly, “I’m sorry to say you’re absolutely right, Mr. Chalkias.” She bit her lip. “And in all conscience, I can’t say I completely disagree. Watching the proceedings has left Ms. Cornwall in pretty bad shape—-”

The prince shook his head, saying tonelessly, “You don’t understand, attorney. Regardless of how she feels for me now, I have to make her believe that she was…right. That I love her. Because if not…she’ll be trapped in the past forever.” He swallowed. “The way I had been all these years, and I hadn’t even known it.” An empty laugh escaped him. “And I still wouldn’t know if…if Fawn hadn’t come into my life.”

The prince started to reach for the handles of the main doors, but the older woman suddenly blocked his way.

“The media’s out there,” she warned, “and right now you’re the most hated man on the planet.”

The unemotional mask on the prince’s face didn’t crack. “I don’t give a damn. All I know is that I have to get to her.”


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