“He thought you were healing.”
“What?” Keiran’s head snapped around.
“That’s what the raindrops are for. They are the healing balm. Most of the petals are mended, but some are still very much broken.”
Silence descended between us as I continued to admire his back, and he continued to stare at the wall ahead. His back was tense and stiffened even more as I continued to touch him. “It’s beautiful, Keiran. Do you think it might be true?”
“What might be true?’
“That maybe, just maybe, you could be healing?”
“Well, then I would be forced to admit something is wrong with me.” The teasing lilt in his voice involuntarily made me smile.
“It’s good that I know you’re joking, or I might be worried.”
He turned suddenly to face me and gripped me around my waist, bringing me close. “Why are you fighting for this?”
“Why are you fighting this at all?”
“Because I’ve killed people, Lake. I’ve killed, and I’m willing to kill without much provocation. Do you really believe someone like me could ever be good? I can never be a boyfriend, or a husband, or even a father.”
I ignored the pang in my heart at his rejection of a future. “You aren’t as doomed as you might think, you know.”
“I’m not redeemable either.”
“Then why didn’t you pull the trigger, and why did you want to protect me?”
“Because if I had to protect anyone, it would be you.”
“Are you saying I’m a default?”
“I’m saying that you matter. Regardless of how much I don’t want you to.”
“You really know how to make a girl feel special,” I quipped.
“I’m not a sunshine and roses kind of guy. I’ll probably never be able to lay you down on a bed of roses and make love to you.”
I slipped my arms around his neck. “Maybe I don’t want roses.” I bit his bottom lip, which instantly led to a kiss that threatened to consume us both. “Maybe I prefer your thorns.”
“One day you will.”
Don’t fight this, baby. “One day isn’t today,” I countered.
“Are you willing to take that chance?”
“I’m not worth it.”
“For a guy who oozes sex appeal, you have zero self-esteem.”
“I really wish a lack of self-esteem was the problem. It’d be much simpler then.”
“It would make everything possible.”
“Why did you hate her so much?” No matter how I felt, I was still afraid that one day he would wake up and realize that he would never believe I wasn’t Lily.
He buried his face in my neck and breathed in.
“Because she did what I didn’t have the strength to do. She didn’t let them take her soul. That’s what made her strong… That’s what made you strong.”
He thought I was strong?
“In the hospital, you said I broke you, but it’s not true. I can’t break you, baby. I never could. When she died, I thought I died with her, and when I saw you for the first time, I thought she sent you as a reminder of all the evil I’d done. But the day you told me that you loved me, I realized she didn’t send you to punish me. She sent you to keep me alive.”
“Do you really believe that?”
He didn’t answer, but his hand reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “I want you to read this.”
I hesitantly took the paper from his hand and unfolded the careful squares. The paper was worn and discolored from time, but when I saw the first words, I knew it was from his mother. I couldn’t read it quick enough:
My sweet boy.
I lost you. I didn’t protect you.
I lost you because I didn’t protect you.
I can only hope, wherever you are now, you are safe, and you are loved. Loved better than I ever loved you. If this letter ever finds you, I hope you can one day understand what I did was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I would die a thousand deaths if I could just do it over again—if only there had been a way for me to have protected you both.
A mother should never have to choose.
A mother never should choose.
John… your uncle… He wanted so much to bring you home. He loved you, too. I’m also to blame for what I forced him to do for the sake of your brother. It destroyed him as much as it destroyed me. I know deep down we will never be the same. Our love is lost with you and our souls are forever damaged.
I only hope one day, someone will be able to love you unconditionally. I hope someone will one day give you forever.
I didn’t realize I was crying until one of my tears blotted the paper.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You are my forever, Lake… will you give me forever?”
TWO MONTHS LATER
“Are you mine?”
“Answer me, Lake.”
“I fucking love the way you say my name.”
“Tell me now or so help me, I’m going to fuck it out of you.”
“I think you already are,” I teased.
He thrust into me hard and kissed me even harder. “Damn it, girl. What are you doing to me?”