I cried myself to sleep. When I woke, the room was still just as dark as when I’d succumbed to grief. Automatically, I reached for Liam, but the space where he normally slept was cold and bare.
Feeling slightly disoriented, I pushed into a sitting position and glanced over at the clock. Seeing that I’d literally only been asleep for an hour made me deflate faster than a cut balloon. Sudden nausea rolled over me as if I were a passenger on a boat at stormy sea. Gagging, I nearly fell out of the bed, racing into the bathroom where I emptied my already empty stomach. I was only a few weeks along, and already I’d puked more than I had my entire life.
After cleaning up, I went back into the bedroom, standing in the center of the dark room, just staring at the door.
God, it seemed like a lifetime since I’d seen Liam. The longing I felt to even just lay eyes upon him was enough to send me quickly toward the door. I didn’t open it, though. Instead, I leaned my forehead against it, palm flattening on the smooth wood.
What he must be going through.
Out there. Alone.
I shut myself in here, thinking it was what he wanted, that it would be easier for him. His father was dead, and I was the reason.
I wanted to go to him, to offer comfort and whisper it was going to be okay. I held back, regardless of the itch in my palms, the tug in the center of my chest.
Cold air drafted beneath the door, making my bare toes curl under.
I gasped quietly and shoved back.
My God! Liam was out in the living room. The very place where two men were killed and his own father had been mortally wounded. The back door was broken, the frigid air rushing in.
The blood… Dear God, the blood.
Without another thought, I rushed out into the hallway, my bare feet slapping against the cold wood floor. It didn’t matter anymore that this was all my fault.
It didn’t even matter if he was going to shun me.
I had to try.
I have to fight.
I had to at least offer comfort to the man I loved. I wouldn’t let him deal with this alone. I knew what it was like to be alone with grief so dark you couldn’t even see in front of you.
He was standing at the window, staring out into the black night as though there were something infinitely interesting and not just night so deep it shrouded everything.
My feet stuttered, my heart clutching at the sight of him. He looked as he always did: strong. But I knew better, and it caused everything inside me to scream with pain.
Liam must have heard me charging down the hall, because at the same moment I halted, he spun and looked in my direction.
I teetered on tiptoe, my body wobbly from the force of my stop. Liam’s eyes flashed but then quickly moved down toward my feet, his entire face darkening.
I followed his gaze, realizing that I stopped just shy of the blood still pooled thickly on the floor. In fact, my toe was mere centimeters from it. If I moved just a fraction, I would be touching someone else’s death.
I was so very weary of death.
I glanced back up, noting Liam still drilling holes into the puddle at my feet. Pushing away the queasy feeling inside me, I hopped over the stain, moved a few feet, then had to hop over even more blood.
It was grotesque that this was our home, the place I once cherished and felt safe in. Now it was a crime scene. A murder den.
Liam watched me move. When I got within arm’s length, I prepared for him to stiffen or tense or for his body to turn away.
He didn’t do any of that. Instead, his eyes, so silvery and bleak, latched onto mine and held. His expression was partly blank, frosty like the outdoors.
It didn’t stop me.
I rushed forward and slid my arms around his neck. In that moment, all the obstacles that lay between us didn’t matter. I loved him, and he was in pain. Everything else would have to wait.
I pressed close, straining to my full height, trying to match his size just a little bit more. I wished I were bigger, more solid… something greater to hold on to.
Tell him. My mind urged. Tell him it isn’t just you holding him, but his child, too.
Liam’s vise-like arms came around me and squeezed. The feel of him, the scent of him chased away everything else. I clung harder, pressing close, holding him so tight my arms and shoulders ached. We clung to each other in the middle of the cabin stained with blood, scented with death, and filled with the bite of winter’s air.
My face pressed into the side of his neck. I would have crawled beneath his skin if I could. I didn’t know what to do. How to apologize for everything I’d cost him. There was no making up for this. The loss he was served tonight would haunt him for the rest of his days.
Against me, his arm quivered a bit, and I realized what I was doing. Gasping, I wrenched back, my eyes flying to the bandage covering the bullet wound in his shoulder. The shoulder I’d just been clinging to.
Liam’s fingers clutched, keeping me upright as I moved.
“Your shoulder!” I stressed.
He shook his head once. “Is fine.”
Only two simple words came out of his mouth, but it was like a downpour of rain in the middle of a desert. I soaked them up, the deep timbre of his voice, the slightly scratchy way they ripped from his throat.
Emotion rushed up inside me, tightening my chest and making it hard to breathe.
“I w-was squeezing y-you,” I stuttered, trying to get control of my wits.
“Were you?” he said, turning back to the window. Turning away from me. Even though he whispered, I heard him speak. “It sort of felt like you were holding me together.”
My teeth cut into my lower lip, and I stepped forward. I reached out, my hand hovering in the distance between us. Hunger so severe ached inside me. I thought maybe the pain would never go away. I wanted to touch him again.
I was afraid.
I went forward, curling my fingers around his bicep. He stiffened, and I froze. We stood like that as the sound of whirling wind whistled through the broken door. He didn’t yank away, and I couldn’t convince myself to either. Still, I didn’t move any closer, afraid he would flinch away and afraid it would shatter me.
Still resolved to be there for him, I realized maybe it wasn’t my touch or comfort he wanted, but there were other ways I could fight.
I let go and headed toward the kitchen. Pulling out a bucket and disinfectant, I turned on the hot water and started to fill it up. I found a rag and a mop and set it close by. When it was full, I carried it toward the living room where the worst of the blood was.
Liam moved like the athlete he was and appeared soundlessly. Startled, I sloshed water over the rim of the bucket and over my foot.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he intoned.
“Cleaning this up,” I answered. “I don’t want you to see it.”
He growled as though he were angry and ripped the mop from my hand, throwing it across the room. It landed with a clatter on the other side of the fireplace.
“You will not clean up the blood of the men who tried to kill you.”
“They killed your father,” I whispered, hollow.
His shoulders fell, and the breath inside him hitched. Glancing up, I noticed for the first time the smears of blood all over his shirt, how it was ripped around the place he’d been shot. His hair was a wreck, and his eyes were bloodshot.
There were smears of blood on his neck and cheek.
I made a sound and went forward, forgetting all about the way he reacted the last time I’d reached for him. “You’re covered in blood.”
“It’s probably Dad’s.”
My chest caved in just a little. When I reached for his hand, he didn’t flinch or pull away. “Your fingers are like ice,” I murmured when we entwined.
“Come on,” I said, soft, tugging him back down the hall toward our bedroom. I felt him hesitate just a moment on the threshold, but by the time I glanced over my shoulder, he was moving again.
This was a new kind of pain for me. Here I thought I’d already met most kinds. Turns out the pain I’d known in the past didn’t compare to the pain of knowing the man I loved most hurt. All I could think about was soothing him, easing him, at the very least, taking just a fraction of it away.
Tugging him through the bedroom, we went into the bath. I released him so I could turn on the shower and grab some towels. “C’mon. Help me,” I whispered, tugging his shirt up over his good shoulder.
Liam removed it the rest of the way, and I reached for his jeans. When he was completely undressed, I reached for my own clothes. Partway through pulling them off, I realized he wasn’t helping, and I also felt his stare.
Pausing, I sought him out, the sound of water falling behind us and thick, warm steam rising toward the ceiling. “I’m going to help you, okay? So you don’t get your shoulder wet.”
He nodded, eyes sliding over my body, goose bumps raised along my skin with the caress of his eyes.
I gestured for him to go first, guiding him to the back of the shower, out of the reach of the spray, then stepped in. Positioning myself between him and the water, I angled his body so his wounded shoulder was facing away.
Grabbing the loofah, I began squeezing water over his chest and arm. Liam’s eyes slid closed and his throat worked. I continued the ministrations, working up to soaping him down and then painstakingly rinsing him off a little at a time.
When I was finally done with his body, I grabbed a cloth, saturated it, and went to work on his face. A small purring sound drifted to my ears. I glanced up, but his eyes remained closed.
The air in here was thick with the humidity from the hot water, but also from the emotion welling up around us. Sorrow was heavy, and regret was impenetrable. I caught myself several times blinking back tears and swallowing down the worst of my pain.
When I was nearly done with his face, Liam caught my wrist, his fingers gentle.
Dull silver eyes focused on mine, and water pelted us from the side. “Why are you doing this?” he whispered.
“Because I’m in love with you.”
Life flared in the silver, making it glitter. My heart kicked up a little faster when he grabbed me. Liam lifted me, my legs clamping around his waist as if they knew that’s where they belonged. Water droplets clung to my lips and cheek, damp strands of hair heavy on my back.
He moved so I was plastered against the wall farthest from the spray, his body pinning me in place. Between us, I was surprised to feel the strength of his cock.
“I know I shouldn’t,” he said, resting his forehead against the wall right beside my ear. “But I want you. I want you so badly I can’t even see.”
Grasping his face between my palms, I forced him to look in my eyes. “I’ll give you whatever you want.”
He didn’t say anything. He just moved. With one thrust, his rigid length speared me, and my head fell back against the wall. Even though his eyes rolled closed, Liam reached up, sliding his hand between my head and the wall so it was pillowed against him and not the hard surface.
That was where his gentleness ended.
The minute my body stretched around him and I sighed contentedly, he began to move with fierce desperation. He thrust into me over and over again at an unrelenting pace. Pleasure poured over me. I bathed in it, far more thoroughly than I ever had in any water. For long moments, the shattering pain I knew was dulled, and all that remained was Liam moving inside me again and again.
The sounds he made echoed through the steam. His fingertips bit into my hip as he slammed up into my body, a pleasant kind of discomfort. The hand at the back of my head tightened in my hair, and my back slid along the tile wall with every single thrust.
I don’t know how he kept up with it, how he didn’t succumb to the intense bliss bursting between our bodies. I cried out, practically crumpling toward the floor, when an orgasm ripped through me. Even as I quaked, Liam held me up, keeping up the pace. I shouted his name over and over, and he growled as though hearing me yell for him were a basic need.
Soon his body stiffened. His hands bit into my hips and pulled my body down so I could feel his throbbing head deep in my womb. Liam’s shout filled the bathroom, and then his teeth sank into my shoulder as his body continued to spasm with pleasure.
I held him close, clinging to him, offering up every last ounce of energy and comfort I had inside me. The only way we could beat back death was with life, and feeling him inside me was the most alive I would ever be.
Liam collapsed against the wall, both of us gasping for breath. The water was starting to cool, so once I recovered enough to stand, I very carefully washed his hair and made sure every last trace of blood was gone. Once he was clean, I moved fully beneath the spray to wash myself.
Liam watched every move I made. I didn’t feel the rapidly cooling water because the way he looked at me kept me warm.
He didn’t touch me, something I severely wanted, even though he’d just been inside me. Usually, his hands were everywhere; he couldn’t keep them away.
Today, though, I washed myself as he stared, a desperate plea in his eyes but his hands firmly at his sides. The animalistic way he’d fucked me was gone, replaced with an odd sort of loneliness even though we stood here together.
The second the water was off, I patted a fluffy towel over his chest and arms. I shivered, and he frowned, took the towel from my hands, and wrapped it around my shoulders. It was already damp from the water I’d mopped off his skin, but I didn’t care.
After handing him the extra towel, I stepped out of the shower and dried. I avoided looking at him as I worked, though not looking at him made it even harder to forget he was there. Finally dry, I tucked the towel around me and reached for the brush. My hair was tangled and knotted. I lacked the patience to brush it without tugging.
Liam made a sound, and the next thing I knew, the brush was in his hands and the heat from his body curled around my back and caressed my shoulder blades. I glanced in the mirror, but it was too fogged up to see him.
My eyes slipped shut when he began brushing, using all the patience I simply didn’t have. His movements were so gentle compared to the way he’d just made love to me. The contrast between these two moments brought tears to my eyes.
“Bellamy,” Liam whispered, and something about the way he said it pierced my heart. Fear skittered along my spine because I just knew what was coming.
I knew he was about to say what we’d just done was a mistake.
Swallowing, I allowed him to pull me around. The brush made a light snapping sound when he laid it behind us on the counter.
Our stares bounced between the other’s, measuring, trying to talk without saying a single word. The air around us shifted, his broad shoulders rose, and I braced for whatever it was he was about to say.
A muffled ringing broke the moment.
Liam stiffened. Then worry filled his eyes. Grabbing his pants, he yanked the cell out of the pocket and answered instantly.
I couldn’t hear what she said on the other end. Liam didn’t look at me when he listened. It was as if he forgot I was there.
“It’s okay, Mom,” he said, his voice gentle yet pained. “I know.”
He was silent again. Then he spoke. “We’ll be right there.”
His eyes slid to me, then away.
An odd feeling squeezed the back of my neck, and my stomach clenched. Swallowing back the bile rising in my throat, I reached around and grabbed the counter as an anchor.
“Okay. Yeah.” He spoke softly and then disconnected the call.
I had to clear my throat twice before I could speak. “Is she okay?”
Avoiding my gaze, he replied, “No. She’s not.”
I nodded. I couldn’t even imagine how she must feel. I glanced at the bandage covering Liam’s shoulder, remembering the agony that ripped through me when I saw him fall after being shot. I remembered the way it felt when I left the resort over eight years ago and thought I’d never see him again.
Finally, I thought of the way he’d just looked at me as he was on the phone.
Maybe I could imagine. At least a little.
“You should be with her,” I whispered. “She needs you.”
I felt his eyes, but I didn’t look up. Instead, I focused on the floor and the single drop of water still clinging to the top of my foot.
“Get dressed,” he said, heading for the door.
My head whipped up, and something that felt a hell of a lot like relief opened up inside me. “You want me to come with you?”
He stopped in the doorway. The way his shoulders nearly hit his ears was all the answer I needed. Without turning back, he robbed me of the sight of his face. “I’ll take you to Alex’s,” he replied, then disappeared into the bedroom.
I stood there and stared at the empty space he’d occupied. That little bit of relief I’d experienced shriveled up and died inside me.
It didn’t matter that we’d just made love. Maybe it hadn’t been love at all. Maybe it had been clinging to life after a night full of death.
Whatever it was, I knew.
Liam and I had just reached the beginning of the end.