I pulled up another tab for the news. We’d caught snippets of world news at the various places we’d been, from Paris to Cape Town, but nothing about Boston had made its way to those channels. Now, front and center, was the familiar home page of The Globe, the headline proclaiming that Daniel Fitzgerald had won the Massachusetts governor’s seat. A landslide victory.
“Prick,” I muttered before clicking the link to read more.
I hated the man. I hated that in a very real way he was the only family Erica had, and still he’d brought nothing but terror to her life. If she needed protecting from anyone, it was from him. I tried like hell to keep my opinions to myself, not wanting to see the pain in her eyes whenever the topic of Daniel came up. But I believed it was the years of his neglect and all the ways he’d failed her over time, more than my words, that cut her deep in those moments.
No matter what she said, or didn’t say, I wasn’t going to let him come between us again, and I was going to make sure he stayed far away from our lives.
The article touched on the trials of the past few months of the race, the tragic death of his stepson Mark—the man who’d raped Erica years ago, a fact only a handful of people were privy to. Then the very public discovery of Erica, his biological and illegitimate daughter, and, lastly, the shooting . . .
I closed my eyes and my stomach lurched as I relived the memory of Erica’s bloodied body in my arms. I stayed strong for her then, those few terrifying minutes that I thought would be our last together.
She was everything to me. Everything. A kind of desolation had swept through me when her eyes fluttered closed and her warmth began to fade. I thought I’d lost her. I’d held her, refusing to leave as I shook with rage and despair. Everything inside me fought the urge to scream, to find Daniel on the street and take my vengeance on him.
Daniel had pulled the trigger on the man who’d shot her, but he could never protect her. He would only cause her more pain, more of the heartbreak she’d tried valiantly to hide from me. I’d fantasized about a thousand ways I could ruin the man, but I knew better. I bottled up those plans, confident that a man like him was more than capable of ruining himself given enough time.
By some miracle, Erica had survived. The moment she’d lost consciousness, it felt like my heart had stopped beating. I was living and breathing, but existing only on the verge of survival until the doctors promised me she was going to be all right. And the moment in the hospital room when she opened her eyes again, warmth flooded my heart. New heat hit my veins, and the world became a place that I could live in again. She was with me. Safe, mine. But never the same.
I didn’t know then what else could be lost. I opened my eyes. Unclenching my fists, I tried not to think about what her wounds could deny us.
I slammed the laptop shut and leaned forward, shoving my hands through my hair. Christ, five minutes online and my mind was running amuck, lost in a sea of dark thoughts. Resentment of what had been lost, lingering fear of what we still faced.
A second later, Erica’s quiet footsteps padded across the cool marble floor of our bungalow. I turned toward the sound. The moonlight provided just enough light to see the outline of her body in the darkness.
“Hey.” She slowed beside me, her questioning gaze landing on the laptop in front me.
“What are you doing up?” I asked.
“I thought you weren’t going to work until we got back.”
“I wasn’t working.” I reached for her hand, brushing my thumb over her knuckles. “Promise.”
Her skin was warm, almost hot to the touch. No surprise in the balmy climate of the Maldives, but I didn’t take for granted that was why.
“You all right?”
She answered with a silent nod.
“I’m fine,” she murmured.
The way her voice became small gave me pause. Tension coiled in my gut, my resentment for the people who’d taken the peace from too many of her nights lodged tightly there. Instinctively, I wanted to pull her to me, save her from those demons. But in the wake of the night terrors that had faded considerably over the past few weeks, she could sometimes mistake me for the worst of them. Before I could question her, she pulled away, breaking our connection.
“I’m going for a quick swim. I’ll be back.”
Walking away, she tugged off the loose shirt that clung in places to her damp torso. She slowed at the edge of the infinity pool that blended the edge of our space with the endless ocean beyond. Her panties slid to the ground. The sliver of moonlight hit the curves of her body. The blond waves that fell to the middle of her back floated as she descended into the water and then submerged entirely, out of sight.