Page 58

Author: Pepper Winters


“He needs you, mummy. Go with him. Don’t be sad.”


My entire body vibrated with a potent mix of confusion, anger, and hunger. Hunger for him. Hunger for what he promised.


He didn’t wait for my reply. His tongue speared into my mouth, giving me no choice but to kiss him back. He took and he gave and he consumed, dragging unwilling desire through my blood until it throbbed in my core. He brought me back to life even though I wanted to stay wallowing in my tears. I wasn’t ready to face life without Clara. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to embrace the world he offered or the baby growing inside me.


I’m not ready.


“Please,” he whispered. His breath tickled my cheek and my traitorous body hummed. He helped dull the pain of Clara. He gave me something else to focus on.


Forgive him. Accept him.


I pulled back.


His eyes were glazed and heavy. His body wrapped around mine as if he could protect me from so many other tragic things. Almost every part of me touched every part of him. How was that possible?


Sniffing back my tears, I asked, “How can you stand to be this close?”


He shook his head. “I’ll tell you if you come home with me.”


I wanted to say no. I deserved to live in misery. I didn’t deserve any chance at happiness. Why should a parent outlive her child?


But my trials in life had taught me nothing lasted forever and the best things were fleeting—treasures to be enjoyed for however long they lasted before they were gone. Clara was too precious—too perfect to last. I’d been granted a miracle and it had ended before I was ready.


“Don’t be sad. I don’t like it when you’re sad.”


I looked over Fox’s shoulder at the horses in the field. They tossed their manes, and pawed the ground, welcoming my daughter and granting her immortality. “Okay, Clara. Okay.”


Clara taught me precious things were worth fighting for. And the ultimate prizes of life demanded payments that sometimes seemed too high.


“Okay,” I whispered.


Fox looked as if the sun had finally found its way into his soul. “Okay?”


I nodded. “Okay, I’ll come home with you. For Clara. For us.”


This was the man I was in love with.


The father of my unborn child.


The man I wouldn’t give up on.


It turned out Clue and Ben knew my decision before me. They’d left, leaving me stranded and pissed off at their blatant disregard for my choices. Clue didn’t know what Fox was capable of. I doubted they would’ve been so keen to abandon me with a man with such a tangled past had they known.


I glared at Fox’s innocent look as he carried me to his Porsche. I had no doubt he had something to do with Clue and Ben leaving with no qualms to my safety.


Then my heart melted at the thought of him securing such an amazing place for Clara to find peace. He’d been thinking of her, even when he’d left.


“Thank you,” I said as Fox placed me ever so gently into the expensive car and buckled me in. A gust of chocolate caught me from his hair; my stomach fluttered with how attentive and caring he was.


“For what?” He stood upright, the grey clouds framing his black-clad body.


“For this.” I nodded at the field and the horses. “For caring enough. For giving her a piece of yourself.”


He rolled his shoulders and sniffed. Avoiding my eyes, he said, “I wanted to make her dreams come true. I thought if she was placed here, she’d eventually become part of the horse, evolve into…more. Become what she always wanted.”


My throat closed up, and I dropped my eyes. Who was this man? This damaged, scarred, enigma of a man? I loved the thought of Clara evolving—always happy. I loved his reasoning behind his choice of resting spot.


I didn’t take my eyes off Fox as he walked around the front of the car and climbed into the driver’s side. He moved with a heavy blanket of sadness around his shoulders—muted and solemn.


The engine roared then purred as he turned the key. He glanced over. “Ready?”


Never.


Panic clawed back and it took all my willpower to stay in the car.


The rock lodged in my throat again but I nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”


Fox grimaced and put the car into gear.


We didn’t say a word as he negotiated the dirt track down to the road. Every metre my heart suffocated more and more. I’m leaving her behind!


Fuck, it was hard. So hard.


At the end of the field path, Fox climbed out and undid the gate. His back flexed as he dragged the barricade across mud. Returning to the car, he drove through, shut the large metal behind us, and turned left onto tarmacked highway.


Tears glazed my eyes as the sun broke through the clouds again, shining light on the hills behind us. I never wanted to leave. Never wanted to think about Clara all alone in a field with no shelter. I should’ve built a tent, a shrine, something to grant her safety.


She doesn’t need anything. She’s gone.


Tears pressed again. As much as it killed me—I had to remember she was above physical needs. She was free.


Fox smiled in my direction, but we didn’t say anything. Both too raw, too hurt knowing that the little soul that’d brought us closer together would no longer be with us.


Speeding toward civilization, I balled my hands and tried to keep my nerves to a minimum. Every kilometre, I slunk further and further into my seat. I didn’t want to return to Obsidian. I didn’t think I would survive walking into the house where Clara had drawn her last breath. I never wanted to step foot in that place again.


The tension in the car throbbed and my skin was hyper-sensitive for his touch. After staring death in the face, I needed reminding of life. I needed to believe that Clue was right and there was such a thing as reincarnation or a better life. I needed Fox to remind me that I couldn’t give up.


Fox slowed for a traffic light. His hand disappeared into his pocket and pulled out Clara’s star necklace.


I sucked in a huge breath. The tinkling pieces of my heart rattled in my chest as he reverently clasped it around his neck. He stroked the silver, a look of love and misery on his face.


I looked away, unable to bear the sharp arrows of sadness piercing my soul. The pain of her death was shared—by a man who’d known her for such a little time. A man I still didn’t really know.


The light turned green and Fox sighed heavily. Throwing the car into gear, we zoomed down roads and through suburbs I didn’t recognise.


Kilometre after kilometre, we remained in silence. Either too wrapped up in Clara to risk speaking or figuring out if our argument had cleared the air enough to start anew.


He looked so odd, so fierce, wearing a simple silver star. Up till now, the only adornment he wore were his scars and tattoos, but I knew in my heart he would never take it off. Every time I looked at him wearing it, I would remember her. Just as it should be.


“Where did you go?” I asked as we travelled down roads and through city mania.


He glanced at me, his knuckles turning white around the steering wheel. “I went to deal with something.”


A chill sent goosebumps down my back. “You were in another fight.”


“What makes you say that?”


I shrugged. I couldn’t explain the change in him when he fought—the ease, or relief from whatever demons he suffered. Yet, this time, he seemed lighter—more grounded than I’d ever seen him. “You seem different.” He was…softer. His grey-white eyes weren’t as haunted, as if he’d decided finally to put his past behind him.


“Do you know why I fight? Can you understand the need to find an outlet from internal pain?” He looked over quickly before focusing again on the road.


“Yes. I can understand that.”


“Can you understand when I say fighting to me is a medicine? But it’s the pain that’s my salvation. I self-harm because I haven’t found any other way to free the darkness inside.”


He reached across and stole my right hand, squeezing hard. “I’ve self-harmed for a very long time. I hate it. It fills me with shame, but as much as I want to stop, I can’t. I can’t promise I’ll be able to give it up entirely, but from now on, I’m going to try and find some other way.”


He smiled. “Clara helped with that, too.”


“How?” I barely whispered, too captivated by learning more behind his mask.


“Because her death has given me an unlimited supply of pain. I only need to think of her, and the urge to self-mutilate disappears.”


I didn’t know how to reply. I hated the thought of him using Clara’s memory to avoid hurting himself. Was he tainting her memory by using it for selfish reasons? But then again, I was pleased she continued to help beyond the grave.


“Don’t fight. He needs you.”


Clara’s lyrical voice came and went. I asked, “You didn’t just go to fight, though. Did you?” There was a difference in him. A tightness and barely found tranquillity.


“No. I went to see someone. To say goodbye to a past I never wished I lived.” Fox squeezed my fingers once more, before placing his hand on the wheel. “I went back to Russia.”


My heart raced as my mind filled with images of snow and ice.


“I killed the men who made me like this. I decided to stop relying on others to fix me and find a cure myself.”


Had he done what I’d hoped all along? Had something snapped and fallen from his mind? Hope blazed, chasing away the black cloud of mourning for a wonderful moment. “Is that why you could hug me? You can touch?” I ignored the voice telling me he’d tensed and vibrated with energy when I’d hugged him back. “You’re free?”


His shoulders slumped; he smiled sadly. “Not free, but better.”


I hated the desolation in his eyes. He looked guilty, as if he’d done something wrong by returning to me only marginally repaired. He couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact that he’d tried to heal meant wonders.


“Can I touch you?”


His eyes flew to mine. His jaw clenched but he nodded slowly.


Very carefully, I laid a palm on the hard heat of his left thigh. “I’m so proud of you. I know that sounds strange to say, but you took control and you should celebrate your progress rather than hate that it isn’t cured completely.”


His eyes flashed and he leaned over to press a gentle kiss against my lips. “I swear I could live a thousand fucking years and not deserve you.” Pulling away, he turned into a driveway of a gated property right on the esplanade of Narrabeen. The suburb boasted huge modern architecture, all new and sparkling, and right across the road from the beach.


I blinked as he pressed a remote and the gate rolled open. The house was a two-story white and glass design. The ocean crashed behind us, sounding like muted thunder, welcoming us onto the property. The large double garage door opened, granting shade and a huge concrete home for Fox’s Porsche.


“Where—where are we?” The Northern Beaches were on the opposite end of town to Obsidian. I’d lost all bearings while driving through the city.


Does he own this, too?


I flicked a glance at the man I’d agreed to return home with. How much did I truly know of him?


Nothing.


I didn’t know his favourite foods, or pet peeves, or even his birthday. I didn’t know if he was allergic to anything or how many assets he owned. I’d given him my life all because he proved he could love so fiercely.


And I’m pregnant with his child.


“See, mummy. He needs you after all. He needs someone to love.”


Clara’s voice once again suffocated my lungs. She’d taken up residence in my head, and I never wanted her to leave. Even if it was me telling myself what I needed to hear.


“This is incredible.”


Fox smiled, pulling to a stop inside the garage. “It couldn’t get any more different from Obsidian. I never want to see another gargoyle again.”

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