With her head tilted up and her spine stiff, she pulled a stack of papers from her bag and slammed it against my chest.
“In that case, congratulations. You’ve worked really hard to show me Andrew turned you into a heartless monster. Consider yourself free from this marriage. Here’s your parting gift from me. A Child Protective Service report deeming Andrew a dangerous, unfit father. Thought it might be of interest to you, since he’s lost custody of his children, and will be losing his job next.”
She took a ragged breath that shook her entire tiny body.
“I love you, Cillian Fitzpatrick. I’ve always loved you. From the moment we first met at the charity ball when I spotted you across the room. You were a god among mortals. Vital yet dead. And when you looked at me—when you looked past me—I saw my whole future in your eyes. I knew you were rich, and handsome, and powerful. Yet the only thing I truly ever wanted from you, Kill, was you. To peel off the layers, shed them with my fingernails, and have you, and love you, and save you. I thought I could change you. And I tried. I really did. But I cannot change someone who doesn’t want to change. I love you, but I love me, too. And I deserve more than you’ve given me. More than you are willing to part ways with. So I’m saving you this one time, for all the times you saved me, and saying goodbye.”
She rose to her tiptoes and pressed a cold, impersonal kiss on my lips, her eyelashes brushing against my nose.
“We’ve always been so bad at respecting each other’s boundaries. We broke our contract again and again and again. If you have a shred of sympathy for me in that cold heart of yours, don’t contact me anymore. No matter what happens, no matter how much you want to tell me something, leave me alone. I need time to digest, to lick my wounds, to move on. Don’t show up at my sister’s house, or at my workplace, or anywhere I might be. Let me get over you. My heart can’t take another blow.”
She turned around and walked away.
Leaving me to stand with my get-out-of-jail monopoly card, the perfect evidence against Andrew Arrowsmith, and my heart in my throat.
It beat, loud and fast.
And full of emotions.
Rather than extinguishing the five hundred fires wreaking havoc in my life, I opted to take the car, drive to the closest liquor store, stock up on the cheapest, most punishing brand of vodka—the type certain to give me a hangover from hell—and drive to the ranch.
I got drunk with my horses (I did all the drinking; they were there to watch me through the half doors of their stalls), with my phone turned off. Flower Girl was finally done with me. Mission accomplished. Now when I had Andrew’s downfall in my back pocket, when I knew he’d drop the lawsuit thanks to her, all I wanted to do was go down in flames right along with him.
I took a swig from the vodka, slouching against the wall in the barn, surrounded by horse shit.
I closed my eyes. A snippet of a few weeks ago played behind my eyelids.
Of Persephone pulling me to the laundry room—I had no idea where that room was, exactly, before that moment—hopping on a working washing machine, spreading her thighs for me, and moaning my name as I fucked her hard.
I opened my eyes, rubbing at them. It was dark outside. I must’ve passed out a few hours ago and blacked out.
Excellent. A few more months of this, and I should be good to go back into my previous state of numbness.
Yellow headlights shimmered from outside the open door of the barn. Tires crunched hay outside. Someone was coming.
I let go of the empty vodka bottle, watching as it rolled all the way to Hamilton’s stall. The asshole almost cost me a wife. Fucker.
The intruder killed the engine, flung the driver’s door open, and stepped out, the crisp sound of leaves under their boots grating on my nerves.
“Kill? Are you there?” Hunter’s baritone demanded. Since when did my brother turn into an authoritative, respectable figure?
“No,” I growled, knowing he was going to come in anyway.
He did just that, halting at the door to the barn with his hands on his hips.
“Sailor had the baby. I have a daughter.”
I expected to feel the relief of him not having a son, a true heir, someone to take over Royal Pipelines, but all I felt was emptiness. I knew normal people would be happy for their brother. I wasn’t normal.
“Congratulations,” I said monotonously. “Are the mother and daughter healthy?”
“Good. I opened a trust fund in your child’s honor. Three grand a month until college.”
“Thanks, but that’s not why I’m here.” He took a step inside, closing the door behind him. “Sam found out Andrew put Paxton Veitch on the plane back to Boston. That’s how he got here. Arrowsmith was obviously trying to stir shit.”
Paxton was no longer a threat.
He was probably never a threat.
The only person standing in my way to having Persephone Penrose was me, and I did a hell of a job at keeping us apart.
I unscrewed another bottle of vodka. My bladder was screaming at me to stop drinking, but my brain urged me to keep going until the blissful numbness was restored.
“I know,” I drawled. “I got it out of Paxton myself. Apparently, I’m the only son of a bitch around qualified to get shit done.”
“Doubt it.” Hunter sighed.
“Because you’re currently trying to loosen the bottom of a liquor bottle.”
My brother grabbed the vodka from my hand, turning it upside down. I took the opportunity to wobble to my feet. I turned around and took a piss. Strictly speaking, pissing in my horse stable was vandalizing my own property. Then again, punishing myself seemed like a good idea.
I turned back around. Ceann beag handed me the bottle silently. I glared at him. At all six versions of him.
“I took care of the Arrowsmith problem,” I said blandly. “Well, my wife did.”
“That’s not why I’m here, either.”
“Why are you here?” I squinted. “Go be with your family.”
Hunter had a family of his own. A real family, shaped and molded by him and his wife. His wasn’t rotten from the inside, built on the ruins of social standing, old money, and greed.
“I am with my family.” He grabbed the bottle in my hand, throwing it aside with a frown. “With the family who needs me right now. And I’d very much like to go back to the one I’ve just created, so would you tell me what the fuck is going on with you?”