Somehow, we’d survived. We were alive. All of us. And Earl, the fucking psychopath doctor, was dead.
There were some dark times then, while I recovered and wondered if I’d ever be the same. Ever feel the same.
And it was somehow enlightening, because it gave me an insight into what Heath was going through, when you looked around at people living their normal lives and wondered how the hell you’d ever be like them again.
Raf was going through the same. He was changed now, some of his soft spots hardened, some of his sweet traits broken.
But we were alive, and life went on.
Heath had tried his best to let me live a normal life while he protected his sister, but the incident with Earl took that choice out of all of our hands.
My safety was compromised, my connection to Heath had made me a target, and considering that Earl had been a hired hit, there was no reason to think that it wouldn’t happen again.
And so, though I wasn’t a witness, I went into the program and into hiding with Iris.
My sons came with me. They didn’t even complain. We were told upfront that it would likely last years, but none of us could conceive being separated with no contact for so long.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to my friends, or even my parents, for fear of putting them in danger, so all of that was handled for me.
I coped with it by telling myself that I’d see them all again in a few years, but it was rough coming to terms with that part of it.
I got some time with Heath after that, a few weeks, while I recovered, time where he didn’t leave my side.
I’d been examined by a doctor and put on bedrest for a time to be safe.
Things were strange between Heath and me. Both settled and unsettled.
He was happy about the baby, I could tell. It was obvious by the way he couldn’t keep his hands off my belly for more than a few minutes at a time.
Sometimes I’d wake to find him lips pressed to my stomach, a near peaceful look on his face.
But we didn’t talk about it much at first. We didn’t talk about a lot of things.
There was one thing, though, that Heath loved to talk about.
“We’re getting married,” he told me, bringing it up out of the blue.
“You’re having my baby. We’re getting married.”
I couldn’t believe what he’d just said, or how he’d said it.
A few pounding heartbeats later, I managed to get out, “I’m forty-one years old, Heath. I don’t need to be married to have a baby. This isn’t the fucking fifties. We can co-parent without being husband and wife.”
“Then don’t do it for the baby. Do it for me. I need this. I need to know that when I go out there, I have this to come home to. You’re mine, and I need to make it legal.”
My heart was hammering in my chest, but I just stared at him.
And he kept going. “This isn’t negotiable. I let you go once. I went against every instinct I had and walked away from you, because I thought it was the unselfish thing to do. Now you’re stuck with me for as long as I’m alive. You’re mine, that baby is mine, and we’re going to make it legal.”
“We don’t even have our own identities. It wouldn’t mean anything.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed with a rough swallow as he stared at me, his expression raw, cold eyes stark. “It would mean something to me.”
God, he knew how to get to me.
“Tell me something sweet,” I urged him with a smile.
“I need you,” he rasped, voice weighty with feeling.
“And?” I prompted.
He looked confused, so I made it easy on him.
“Do you love me, Heath?”
“Of course I do. What do you think all this is, if not love?”
That stunned me, stopping my heart, then sending it slamming wildly back into life.
And still, I felt the need to say, “You never would have taken me with you if you weren’t forced to by circumstance.”
His brows drew together, making him look stern.
Mean and magnificent.
The combination I found most irresistible on him.
“You’re absolutely fucking right I wouldn’t have. If I hadn’t been so careless, because I was obsessed with you, you wouldn’t be in this situation right now, trapped, confined, in danger. I’d have spared you that. But I’d have done it for you. Not for me. If I were a completely selfish bastard, I’d have chained you to my side from the start.
He stared me down for a solid minute, then continued, “And another thing, I was always planning to come back for you, when it was safe. If you’d moved on, if you hadn’t, I didn’t give a damn, I was going to come, shake up your life, and take you back when this was all over. That’s a fucking fact.”
“Yes. Yes, I’ll marry you,” I said suddenly, impulsively, because he’d given me what I needed.
This man loved me how I deserved to be loved.
I’d been waiting a long fucking time for that.
We were married in a church. Heath, who remained constantly and consistently unexpected, insisted on it.
It was a tiny gathering, just us, Iris, Raf, Gustave, and a few bodyguards standing witness.
Heath’s face was unsmiling and serious as he recited his vows solemnly.
I had no doubt in my mind that he meant them.
None of it was anything I could have even pictured a year ago, but I recited mine back with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart.
Life on the run was not as expected.
It was chaotic and a little scary, sure, but there was something unutterably beautiful about it, the living each day like it could be torn from you.
They were rough times, yes, rough years, but roughness was not the nucleus of it. At the center of it all were memories of joyful reunions and meaningful goodbyes, of holding on to the man I loved for dear life and knowing how precious every single moment we had together was.
It taught us to love in a new way, one that we’d never forget. Having a love that was endangered made it all the more precious.
And enlightening, because I learned so much about what love should be, how it should be treated, made me learn to express it as often and elaborately as I could.
Love is all that matters. Every other thing in life is a detail. Love is both your legacy and your salvation. If you have the right kind of love, you can get through anything. That’s what those years taught me.
We were a strange little group, with our new names and identities. Heath installed us all in a huge house in the northwest, so it started out as five of us, two pregnant women in different stages of their lives and pregnancies, two college boys, and Heath, who came and went often.
Well, nine of us, if you counted the fact that we each (with the exception of Heath) got our own personal bodyguards.
Iris and I hit it off right away. It was one of those friendships that required no effort at all. It just worked. Our age difference was drastic, but it didn’t matter; we got along famously, almost from the beginning.
Like sisters. And, when we were having fun, partners in crime.
It was Iris who told me just who she was testifying against that had made their lives so dangerous.
“The vice president?” I repeated back to her, not quite sure if she was messing with me.
She loved to mess with me.
She nodded, biting her lip. “Our grandmother.”
My eyes narrowed on her, looking for a lie. “Your grandmother is the VP, and you’re testifying against her?”
She nodded again.
“What’s the charge?”
“The better question would be: What isn’t the charge? I’ve got so much dirt on that woman I could start a farm.”
Now I was pretty sure she was messing with me, but she kept going.
“But the reason I devoted my life to taking her down is that she murdered my parents and my sister. I’d die to bring them justice. They’re worthy of that. And even if she kills me, they’ll still have a case. My testimony will help, but I gathered so much concrete evidence that it can speak for itself.”
The way she spoke, how into it she was, had me finally buying it.
The fucking vice president. Holy shit.
One thing you could never deny about Iris and Heath— they both had enormous balls.
The first house we stayed in was basically in the middle of nowhere, but there was a college nearby, and both of my boys quickly found their own lives and were gone more often than not, which was for the best. They were grown men.
That left me spending more time with Iris than anyone else.
Neither of us ever complained about that.
Powerful bonds were made when women were pregnant together. And we did a hell of a lot of bonding.
Over time, she became like a little sister to me.
With nothing but time on our hands, we got plenty of talking in, and it wasn’t long before we were telling each other everything.
I told her all about my strange courtship with her brother.
And she told me all about her enduring obsession with Alasdair Masters.