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“I don’t understand!” He breaks, finally losing his composure, his voice rising in pitch. “What could Kent,” he says, spitting the name, “possibly do for you?”

I’m so shocked, so unprepared to answer such a question that I’m rendered momentarily speechless. I don’t even know what’s happened to Adam, where he might be or what our future holds. Right now all I’m clinging to is a hope that he made it out alive. That he’s out there somewhere, surviving against the odds. Right now, that certainty would be enough for me.

So I take a deep breath and try to find the right words, the right way to explain that there are so many bigger, heavier issues to deal with, but when I look up I find Warner is still staring at me, waiting for an answer to a question I now realize he’s been trying hard to suppress. Something that must be eating away at him.

And I suppose he deserves an answer. Especially after what I did to him.

So I take a deep breath.

“It’s not something I know how to explain,” I say. “He’s . . . I don’t know.” I stare into my hands. “He was my first friend. The first person to treat me with respect—to love me.” I’m quiet a moment. “He’s always been so kind to me.”

Warner flinches. His eyes widen in shock. “He’s always been so kind to you?”

“Yes,” I whisper.

Warner laughs a harsh, hollow sort of laugh.

“This is incredible,” he says, staring at the door, one hand caught in his hair. “I’ve been consumed by this question for the past three days, trying desperately to understand why you would give yourself to me so willingly, just to rip my heart out at the very last moment for some—some bland, utterly replaceable automaton. I kept thinking there had to be some great reason, something I’d overlooked, something I wasn’t able to fathom.”

“And I was ready to accept it,” he says. “I’d forced myself to accept it because I figured your reasons were deep and beyond my grasp. I was willing to let you go if you’d found something extraordinary. Someone who could know you in ways I’d never be able to comprehend. Because you deserve that,” he says. “I told myself you deserved more than me, more than my miserable offerings.” He shakes his head. “But this?” he says, appalled. “These words? This explanation? You chose him because he’s kind to you? Because he’s offered you basic charity?”

I’m suddenly angry.

I’m suddenly mortified.

I’m outraged by the permission Warner’s granted himself to judge my life—that he thought he’d been generous by stepping aside. I narrow my eyes, clench my fists. “It’s not charity,” I snap. “He cares about me—and I care about him!”

Warner nods, unimpressed. “You should get a dog, love. I hear they share much the same qualities.”

“You are unbelievable!” I shove myself upward, scrambling to my feet and regretting it. I have to cling to the bed frame to steady myself. “My relationship with Adam is none of your business!”

“Your relationship?” Warner laughs, loud. He moves quickly to face me from the other side of the bed, leaving several feet between us. “What relationship? Does he even know anything about you? Does he understand you? Does he know your wants, your fears, the truth you conceal in your heart?”

“Oh, and what? You do?”

“You know damn well that I do!” he shouts, pointing an accusatory finger at me. “And I’m willing to bet my life that he has no idea what you’re really like. You tiptoe around his feelings, pretending to be a nice little girl for him, don’t you? You’re afraid of scaring him off. You’re afraid of telling him too much—”

“You don’t know anything!”

“Oh I know,” he says, rushing forward. “I understand perfectly. He’s fallen for your quiet, timid shell. For who you used to be. He has no idea what you’re capable of. What you might do if you’re pushed too far.” His hand slips behind my neck; he leans in until our lips are only inches apart.

What is happening to my lungs.

“You’re a coward,” he whispers. “You want to be with me and it terrifies you. And you’re ashamed,” he says. “Ashamed you could ever want someone like me. Aren’t you?” He drops his gaze and his nose grazes mine and I can almost count the millimeters between our lips. I’m struggling to focus, trying to remember that I’m mad at him, mad about something, but his mouth is right in front of mine and my mind can’t stop trying to figure out how to shove aside the space between us.

“You want me,” he says softly, his hands moving up my back, “and it’s killing you.”

I jerk backward, breaking away, hating my body for reacting to him, for falling apart like this. My joints feel flimsy, my legs have lost their bones. I need oxygen, need a brain, need to find my lungs—

“You deserve so much more than charity,” he says, his chest heaving. “You deserve to live. You deserve to be alive.” He’s staring at me, unblinking.

“Come back to life, love. I’ll be here when you wake up.”


I wake up on my stomach.

My face is buried in the pillows, my arms hugging their soft contours. I blink steadily, my bleary eyes taking in my surroundings, trying to remember where I am. I squint into the brightness of the day. My hair falls into my face as I lift my head to look around.

“Good morning.”

I startle for no good reason, sitting up too quickly and clutching a pillow to my chest for an equally inexplicable reason. Warner is standing at the foot of the bed, fully dressed. He’s wearing black pants and a slate-green sweater that clings to the shape of his body, the sleeves pushed up his forearms. His hair is perfect. His eyes are alert, awake, impossibly brightened by the green of his shirt. And he’s holding a steaming mug in his hand. Smiling at me.

I offer him a limp wave.

“Coffee?” he asks, offering me the mug.

I stare at it, doubtful. “I’ve never had coffee before.”

“It isn’t terrible,” he says with a shrug. “Delalieu is obsessed with it. Isn’t that right, Delalieu?”

I jerk backward on the bed, my head nearly hitting the wall behind me.