THE TREMORS STARTED FROM WITHIN—A SHAKING in my core, an earthquake cracking all my barriers, my foundation. I tried to keep it together, struggling for air at the same time, but even my lungs were trembling beyond my control. I was drowning, held under by him.
Closing my eyes, I couldn’t focus on breathing or calming my muscles. His words slammed through me, adding to the destruction.
“Why?” my voice didn’t sound like my own, it had little air behind it, but the question was shouted in my mind.
“I’ve done too much. You can go back to Dexter’s till something more permanent is arranged. It’ll be better for you this way.” He slid his hand across my shoulders, leaning in close to me.
His touch shattered the thin, already cracked shell holding me together. There was nowhere to step without being cut on the shards; nothing to say that would clean it up. The destruction was already done.
I stood suddenly, breaking free of his embrace, stepping back out of reach.
“Don’t. Touch. Me. You’re a liar.” My hand vibrated in front of me as I pointed at him, so I curled it into a fist to pull it back under my control. Anger burned through me, consuming all other emotions. “This isn’t for me. Admit it. You just want to send me away so you can do whatever it is you’re doing. Whatever is so fucking important that it comes above everything else. That’s why you’re doing this. So don’t you dare put this on me.”
He didn’t break eye contact. Staying seated, he looked up at me with his once bright blue eyes now dull and red rimmed, brimming with tears. But he stayed silent.
“Tell me,” I shouted, wanting to slap him into talking.
He dropped his head. Leaning forward on his forearms, he rubbed his hands over the top of his hair. “You’re right.”
I froze. Ice slid through my veins, putting out the heat of anger.
He rolled his head up to look at me. “I have to do things, and I don’t want you around for it.” He shook his head, lines creasing his face. “But I wasn’t lying. This will be better for you. You’ll have a better life.”
“Go to hell.” I had more to say but felt like I was sucker punched in the gut.
He rubbed his hand over his face, and I barely heard his mumbled response, “I’m already there.”
I charged forward and shoved his shoulders. He sat back on the couch, looking at me with his chin raised like he expected me to hit him. I pulled my arms back and crossed them over my stomach to keep from reacting physically, already regretting what I had done.
“You’re not getting away from me that easily.” I took a step back, out of the circle of heat his body put off. “I deserve to know why. Why you’re ending a marriage.”
It struck like lightning. Shocking me to forgetting the rest of what I was going to say. We were married. Grief tore through me, taking all strength from my legs, and I sunk to the ground. All control gone.
He was off the couch, next to me, reaching for me. “I’m not—”
I lifted my hand to keep him back. “I meant everything I said, Gage. I wanted forever with you. This past year”— I searched the air for the words, swallowing the sadness thickening my throat—“was everything. Why would you throw that away? Unless, was it not real for you?” There was no anger left in me. I was drained and exposed. So I laid it out, wanting only honesty, wanting to understand. “Or is there someone else who means more?” My heart squeezed painfully with the question.
His eyes dropped over me, deep lines ridging his forehead as he shook his head. “Babe, No. There will never be anyone who means more.” He scooted a little closer to me, tentatively reaching for me. “You are everything to me.”
His warm hand slid to my face, thumb brushing my tears and I couldn’t find the strength to push him away even as he shredded the last bit of my heart with his words. “But I can’t be who you need right now. Maybe not ever.”
“Why?” I took a breath and pressed, “Why are you doing this? What is it that’s so bad? Everything we’ve been through to get here. Why are you pushing me away? Do you not remember what it was like when we were apart? What could be worth that again?” I grabbed his hand from my face, holding it in my own, thumb running over the smooth, warm band around his finger—our promise to each other. I clung to it, to him, fear gripping me with the memory of the past.
“I remember.” He closed his eyes and exhaled. When they opened, the new resolve shinning in them scared me, anchoring me in place. “And I’d keep you from all that. I don’t want you hurt.”
Yanking my hand away, I pressed it to my chest and sat up straight. “You’re hurting me. You’re throwing me right back into that pain. But it’ll be worse this time because now I know what I’ve lost.” My head was swirling. I could pass out. “We made promises to each other, to be together through everything. That was only months ago. What has changed?”
“I have.” He stood up, and the sudden shift made me fall back to look up at him. His throat moved as he looked around the living room, avoiding me. “It has to be this way. I’ll leave now, give you time to pack.”
And just like that he pulled his emotions back in, sealed them up, and walked away, each step grinding on my heart. He walked to the bedroom, but I was stuck on the floor, too stunned to move. I hadn’t thought it would come to this, us splitting up. Not even when he left Vegas. I hadn’t thought this would be possible.
And I still didn’t know why.
All thought ceased. I rose to my feet and followed him to the bedroom, a woman possessed. My steps were quiet, I was floating. I stood at the doorway and watched him stand over an open case on the bed, fingers moving over the phone in his hand, and I snapped.
He looked up as I yanked the phone from him. He hadn’t expected it and released it easily.
I wanted to read what he was typing, but he was already grabbing my arm to get the phone back, so I threw it. It hit the wall with a thump and then bounced over the floor several times.
“What the fuck?” He released my arm to step past me and retrieve the phone. Lifting it up, he showed me his shattered screen. “Look what you did?”
I was back to trembling, but I didn’t care. I shrugged. “I don’t fucking care about your phone! I care about us. Why are you doing this?” I stepped towards him, and with every step he held himself higher, straighter, harder. “You want me to leave? Well until you tell me the truth, I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.”
He narrowed his eyes, walking past me to his suitcase. “You can’t stop me, Regan.”
Sprinting, I knocked his suitcase off the bed and kicked his clothes around the room. No sane thoughts emerged from the storm within me.
“Stop.” He yanked my arm back, pulling me away from the suitcase just as my foot connected with a pile of clothes.
Rolled up jeans tumbled across the floor. A stack of crisp hundred dollar bills and a brick of coke just as thick as the cash spilled out, tumbling over the floor.
The air was sucked from the room, freezing us in the moment.
Gage released my arm, scooping up his money and drugs in an instant. He lifted his suitcase, righting it on the bed, and began tossing his clothes and things back in it.
“Is that what this is about?” I scoffed, gesturing to his case. It couldn’t be.
He continued packing, not pausing as I spoke.
“Are you really not going to tell me anything? You’re going to leave me now, with no explanation? How can you say I meant anything to you and do this?”
His head bowed over the case as he zipped it up. “I can’t.” Squeezing his eyes shut, he took a few deep breaths, then lifted his case in one hand and turned. “I’ve got to go.”
“Fine.” I stepped in front of the door, blocking his exit, my spinning emotions firmly settled on anger. “Don’t tell me. But I’m not going back to Dexter’s. I’m going to find my own answers.” I stepped closer to him, close enough to feel the pull he had on me, close enough to touch him, but I didn’t. I tried to burn him with my eyes. “And if I find out you’ve got someone else. I will kill you.”
“Jesus, do you hear yourself?” he looked down on me with disbelief.
But I didn’t blink, or flinch. “I do. And I mean every word. You’re just as much mine as I am yours. You said so yourself. We made promises, long before we ever married.” I stepped out of his way, gesturing to the door. “So go now if you must. But know, this isn’t over.”
He hesitated, readjusting the case in his hands but not taking his eyes off me. “You’re serious? What are you going to do?” his voice was low, unsure.
I shrugged, not at all sure what I meant to do, but I would get to the bottom of this.
His phone beeped its ring tone from his pocket, and he finally broke eye contact to retrieve it.
“Fuck,” he mumbled pressing the shattered screen several times, there was no way he could see who was calling.
“You’re going to answer that, right now?” I shook my head in disbelief; it cemented how low I was on his priorities. I was the only one fighting for us, and he just made it feel worthless.
“Hello,” he spoke into the phone, but didn’t move to leave. “Ian, my phone broke so I can’t read my texts. I’ll send my new number tomorrow…Cancel it tonight, something’s come up,” his eyes searched mine as he spoke. “I don’t care. That’s my business…Tell them I’ll arrange something tomorrow.” His head dropped low as he listened, lines deepening on his face. “I don’t give a fuck. She’s your problem, deal with it.” Pulling the phone from his ear, he hit the power button on top, shutting it off.
I crossed my arms over my chest and raised my eyebrow, waiting for him to speak. It seemed there was a message in that conversation for me, but I didn’t dare hope to read into it.
He set his suitcase down by his feet, mirroring my stance. “What the hell are you planning?”
“What are you planning? You’re the one that just had a mysterious phone call about problems and meetings.” I replayed the conversation in my head, a realization slapping me in my face. “You just freed up your night for something.” I flicked my eyes to his suitcase. “And it obviously isn’t me. So go. Don’t worry about what I do.” Drained of emotion, I couldn’t stand to continue this pointless argument that wasn’t getting us anywhere. I turned and walked away, out of the room.
He followed and caught me in the hallway, spinning me by my elbow to face him. “I am worried about what you’re doing, about what you’re planning. I canceled my plans tonight because you’re going crazy, and I don’t want you getting yourself in trouble.”
“So what? You’re going to stay here and babysit me? Fuck you.” And all of a sudden I knew how I could get my answers. “I’m leaving.”
He gripped my other arm, tightening his hold on me.
“Let me go.”
“Not till you tell me where you’re going.”
“To the club. I’m going to that club, and if Ian won’t fill me in, I’ll find Alessandra. And if she doesn’t give me answers, I’ll find Viktor. And I’ll keep going till I know exactly what you’ve been doing and what’s changed.”
“For fuck’s sake, Regan. Do you not get that’s exactly what I’m trying to keep you out of? You don’t belong in this mess. Stay away. I’m giving you a way out.” He was shaking me, a current of panic running under his actions and words.
“I don’t want a way out.” I stiffened in his grip, straining my muscles to stay still. “I want in. I want in your world. I can’t stand being on the outside, away from you.”
He released me, hands hovering in the air for a moment. Then they ran through his hair, ending their path at the back of his neck. “You don’t know what you’re saying. I can’t let you do that.”
I stared at him, unflinching and determined. I wasn’t taking back a single word. “Then tell me, what am I saying?”
“Fuck.” He closed his eyes, breathing through some emotion. “I want you with me too. I don’t want you anywhere else. But I can’t be that selfish.”
He stepped close, eyes piercing mine sharp and dangerous as he backed me up to the wall. “Babe, what I do, what I’m involved in…” He shook his head, eyes softening as he looked down on me, and his hands grazed my shoulders. “It’s not for you. I can handle it myself, but I can’t handle you in it. I can’t handle you taking the risks or getting hurt.”
I hated what he was saying, but I closed my eyes, relaxing with his touch and let the care in the words, the warmth in his voice, wash over me.
“As much as I want you, I want you to have the life you deserve more.” But his hands contradicted his words. They moved over me slowly, a soothing path of heat traveling over my shoulders to my neck as he cupped my head, lips inching towards mine. “But fuck if I can let you go, when you’re fighting to stay.”
Our lips melded and I wrapped my arms around him, keeping him pressed to me, not wanting to let him go. He dipped lower, mouth dragging to my chin and neck, fueled by an intense desperation. But my heart still laid in pieces around us, and I couldn’t ignore the emptiness where it once was. I didn’t want to fill it with an illusion.
“Stop.” I turned away from his heated kisses but kept my hands around him, gripping him close. It took a moment for his eyes to clear of lust. Then pain seemed to be the only thing left in them. “What are you saying?” I searched his face; he was just as lost as me. “Don’t kiss me, if you’re saying goodbye.”
He sighed, dropping his forehead to mine. “Hell, I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m sorry. It’s just…” his voice croaked as he pulled back to look at me, tears pooling in his eyes. “You’re so damn stubborn it scares the shit out of me.” He brushed my hair behind my ear with the tips of his fingers as a tear trailed down his cheek. “You are my life, my heart. I love you. I’ve tried to keep you with me by only showing you the parts of me that were worthy of you. But those parts are getting smaller every day, and I feel you slipping. I see you breaking. And I know it’s my fault.” He sucked in air, blinking back tears already leaking from his eyes. “I don’t want you to know this side of me because if I let you in, there’s no out, and I couldn’t live if something happened to you.” He pulled me into his arms, lips brushing my ear as he breathed me in. “Don’t ask me to do this.”
If…A small flame of hope flickered in me, melting the ice in my core.
“Don’t ask me to go away. I can’t. I don’t want to be without you.” I gripped his silky hair, pulling his head back to meet my eyes. “I’m only me because of you. But you don’t get to decide what’s best for me—I do that. And I’m willing to risk it all to be with you, but it has to be all of you. No secrets.”
He collapsed into me with a strangled cry, head pressed into the crook of my neck and shoulder, arms around my waist. “I don’t deserve you. If I wasn’t already doomed to hell, I would be for taking this.”
There was no humor in his words, and they subdued the relief I felt. The cold crept back in as he pulled away, locking eyes with me.
“I’m going to give you one more chance to back out, Regan. I’ve got to admit something before you decide. And then, once you know, if you still want this, then I’ll tell you everything.” He lifted his hand, silencing my response. “Hear me out first. This will make a difference.” He pulled back from me, breaking all contact and cracking the surety that I had felt in my decision. “Let’s go sit.”
He handed me a glass of tea, drinking deeply from his water as he sat on the chair diagonal where I was on the couch.
“Tell me.” Nerves pricked my skin, a thousand ants crawling over me.
He dropped his head to his hands with a groan. “I didn’t want you to know. I don’t know how to say it.”
I held my breath. My mind jumping to the only thing I could imagine making a difference, if he had someone else.
He looked up at me. “I’ve always loved the way you see me. It’s the only time I feel like I’m not a complete fuck up. But…” He opened his hands, looking at the space between them like something was there, something that could crush us.
“Just say it,” I demanded with much more assurance than I felt.
“I’m not the person you think I am. I’m sorry.”
Holding my breath, I braced for the blow that his next words were sure to deliver.
“I’m a murderer.”