“He’s gone…gone.” She chanted it like a sinner at a shrine, her eyes wide with fear. “He was there…then he was gone.”
“Drink it,” he ordered, holding her tight. He managed to pour the liquid into her mouth.
She winced as she swallowed it. There were tears pouring down her cheeks again. “They took him to get to us. He was just a ladder to me.” She ripped the envelope from her bra strap and, in a sudden burst of righteous anger, hurled it across the room. “What is it worth? People shouldn’t have to die for me!”
She collapsed into shudders against him. He held her close as she sobbed loudly into his shirt. “Don’t think of it,” he advised.
Her face lifted and she stared incredulously at him. “Don’t think about it?” she shot back. “Why don’t you tell me how to do that? Why don’t you tell me how to block it out, numb it? You must be an expert on that!”
He was silent. The anger was better than helpless shudders. He let her berate him without interruption.
“They killed a good man to get to me! It’s my fault he’s dead! It’s my fault that some poor, innocent man is lying out on the street in a million pieces! There’s no way they can justify that!”
“They’re not trying to justify anything, Valentina,” he said calmly, taking her face in his hands to keep her eyes on his. “They’re not thinking about morals or justice. They’re thinking about you and the letter. They’re thinking about eliminating you. They think they can weaken you or take you out by targeting the people you love. He didn’t die a coward. That matters. Let that be your comfort.”
Unmoved by his words, she shoved his hands away from her face and scrambled to her feet. “Who’s going to die next for me, Mark? You?” Her lips trembled threateningly and her eyes filled with hot tears at the mere thought of the idea. “If you die, too, because of me, I’ll never be able to live with myself. If somebody else dies for me, I won’t be able to keep going. Why not just let them take me? It should end here! Right here, right now!”
He got to his feet and went to her quickly. In a quick surge of anger, he pushed her against the wall with his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t say that ever again, you hear me? You’re not going to give up. You’re not going to quit. If you do, you’re quitting your family. You’re quitting what we’ve worked for together. You’re quitting me. Could you live with that, Valentina?”
Her hands came to her face as her throat heaved with dry sobs. “Why can’t it all just go away? I don’t want my life anymore. I don’t want it. I can’t live this way anymore. Take me back home, Mark. Take me right now.”
“I am taking you home!” he yelled without thinking.
She stared at him for a long moment. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He paused, collecting himself. “You’re going to find out soon enough because you’re not quitting. The end’s not far and I won’t let you quit now. I can’t. You’re moving on even if I have to drag you every inch of the way.”
She shoved him away, her eyes hot with fury. “You don’t control me!”
“You can justify his death by finishing this. You will finish!”
“Leave me alone!” she cried, turning from him. “Just go away; take my father’s money and run. I don’t need you anymore.”
“You need me, Valentina,” he warned, gripping her arm before she could walk away. “You need me and you know it!”
She broke down into exhausted tears, sinking to the floor and burrowing her face between her knees as she wept unrelentingly. When he reached down and touched her, she bristled and glared up at him with reddened eyes. “Stay away from me. Stay away.” She crawled into the bathroom and shut the door in his face.
He stood staring at it for a long time, breathing hard. When he’d calmed down, he pushed it open. He saw her curled up on the rug next to the tub. Even as she protested, he scooped her into his arms.
“I told you to stay away,” she warned half-heartedly.
“You’re not going to stop me this time,” he told her as he carried her back into the room and laid her on the bed. He lay beside her, pulled her against him and held her close. “If you’re going to cry, you’re doing it here with me.”
“Don’t you ever give up?” she asked wearily.
“No. Quitting isn’t an option for me. It never was. You remember that.” He brushed his lips over hers. He heard her soft sigh and murmured, “Rest now. We can’t stay long. Just long enough.”
Available Friday, August 1st from The Wild Rose Press (http://www.thewildrosepress.com)
For book trailers, reviews, and more info, visit http://www.amberleighwilliams.com