When Cass didn’t say a word, Julian knew that was his cue to leave. He was dead to her, and if he had an ounce of dignity left in him, he should never even have come. Seeing him would only make her feel worse – make her feel like the greatest idiot in the world for ever loving him.
But the bad thing was, where Cass was concerned, he did not have a shred of dignity left. It would be so easy for Julian to beg for her forgiveness, to beg her to give him another chance. It would be so damn easy for him to fall to his knees and tell her that he would love her until the day he died, that when he almost lost her, everything had become clear – that being her husband would have been the best thing to happen to him, and he didn’t give a shit if marrying her meant giving up his bid for the throne.
All of those things would have been easy for him to do…and selfish. But he was done being selfish when it came to Cass. If he truly loved Cass, the best thing he could do for her was to disappear from her life completely.
The scraping sound of the chair against the floor was her only clue of Julian’s intention to leave. So this was it, Cass thought dully. It was over between them. And because she now accepted that he was not the prince she had wanted and that she was not the kind of woman Julian could marry, there was no chance for them to be together again.
Julian said curtly, “I must go.”
Don’t darken my doorstep ever again.
Go! Leave! Shoo!
What are you waiting for?
Other similar phrases came to her mind, all of them just to save face because she had a strong urge to cry. And that was stupid, right? Hadn’t she just decided that Julian Rivera, Prince of Ethereal, was no longer worthy of her tears?
But when Cass sensed him turning his back on her, she ended up blurting out, “Can I have a kiss goodbye?”
Julian froze, unable to believe what he had just heard Cass say.
Cass wanted to face-palm herself until she died.
“I don’t want bad blood between us.” It was a half-truth, which allowed Cass to say the words without choking.
Slowly, he turned to face her again. “No.” The word came out more harshly than he intended, but it was because he was barely hanging on to his control. If he kissed her, it would destroy the walls he had erected in his mind, something he instinctively knew would keep Cass from reading his mind. If Cass ever read his thoughts, he knew she would be soft-hearted enough to stay with him. But he didn’t want that. He did not deserve her pity, much less her love.
Cass deserved someone a lot better than him, someone who would never doubt her and would choose her above all else from the very start.
He was that man now, but it was too fucking late.
Julian’s rejection made Cass whiten in hurt. He had become so terribly cold to her. Why? It almost felt like he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
Even knowing she would appear desperate and still stupidly in love with him – a humiliating truth that she had a feeling she’d betray sooner or later – Cass heard herself asking shakily, “How about a hug?”
Julian’s fists clenched against his sides. “No.”
The rejection again took her by surprise, like a whip striking her heart where it was most vulnerable.
“Oh.” She swallowed convulsively. “I…” Tears clogged her throat. “I see.”
The heartbroken expression on her face tore him apart. He gritted out, “I need to go. I don’t want to make you cry.”
“Do you hate me?”
The fact that he had made her ask nearly sent Julian to his knees. More goddamn proof that he did not deserve her. Every damn thing he did seemed destined to hurt her, and goddammit, she had already been hurt too much.
“No. I don’t hate you.” He looked at the door, wishing he could just get out of her life for good so he would stop causing her pain.
Julian’s restlessness communicated itself to her, and she choked, “You want to leave me now, don’t you?”
He closed his eyes. “Yes.”
She cried out.
He steeled himself against the sound. This was for her, he reminded himself hollowly. Everything he did now was for her to have a better life, away from the danger and evil his own life represented.
Julian forced himself to say the words. “Goodbye, Cass.”
And then he was walking away.
Cass didn’t think. She just reacted. But for the second time in her life, her instincts failed her, and she fell out of the bed. She was blind, completely blind now, her eyes no longer working in any way. Silent tears streamed down her face at the stinging pain the fall caused her still-injured body, but she still forced herself to move, to crawl towards Julian.