“I don’t care who writes the book. A different author won’t change the fact that Corinne’s violating my privacy and putting something out in the world with the potential to hurt my wife.”
Her chin lifted. “I can’t even talk about your wife, Gideon. I’m upset—no. I’m furious that you would get married without your family, your friends. Doesn’t that tell you anything? That you had to do something so important without the blessing of the people who love you?”
“Are you implying that no one would’ve approved?” My arms crossed. “That’s certainly not true, but even if it were, choosing someone to spend your life with isn’t decided with a majority rule. Eva and I married privately because it was intimate and personal and didn’t need to be shared.”
“But you shared the news with the world?! Before you shared it with your family! I can’t believe you could be so thoughtless and insensitive. You need to make things right,” she said vehemently. “You have to be responsible for the pain you inflict on others. I didn’t raise you this way. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”
I caught movement behind her and saw Eva fill the doorway of the bathroom, her face hard with rage, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. I gave her a curt shake of my head, my gaze narrowing with warning. She’d fought this battle enough for me. It was my turn, and I was finally ready.
I hit the controls to opaque the glass. “You don’t get to lecture me about inflicting pain or feeling disappointed, Mother.”
Her head snapped back as if I’d slapped her face. “Don’t take that tone with me.”
“You knew what was done to me. And you did nothing.”
“We’re not talking about this again.” She slashed her hand through the air.
“When have we ever talked about it?” I bit out. “I told you, but at no point were you open to discussing it.”
“Don’t make this my fault!”
“I was raped.”
The words lashed out and hung in the air, sharp as a blade and raw.
My mother jerked back.
Eva reached blindly for the doorjamb and gripped it hard.
Taking a deep breath to regain a modicum of control, I drew strength from my wife’s presence. “I was raped,” I said again, my voice calmer. Steadier. “For close to a year, every week. A man you invited into your home fondled me. Sodomized me. Over and over again.”
“Don’t.” She breathed harshly, her chest heaving. “Don’t say those ugly, awful things.”
“It happened. Repeatedly. While you were only a few rooms away. He’d be nearly panting with excitement when he showed up. He’d stare at me with this sick gleam in his eyes. And you couldn’t see it. Refused to see it.”
“That’s a lie!”
Fury burned through me, made me restless with the need to move. But I held my ground, my gaze moving to Eva. This time, she nodded at me.
“What’s the lie, Mother? That I was raped? Or that you chose to ignore it?”
“Stop saying that!” she snapped, straightening. “I took you to be examined. I tried to find the proof—”
“Because my word wasn’t enough?”
“You were a disturbed child! You lied about everything. Anything. The most obvious things.”
“That gave me some control! I had no power over anything in my life—aside from the words that came out of my mouth.”
“And I was supposed to just magically divine what was truth and what was a lie?” She leaned forward, taking the offensive. “You were seen by two doctors. You wouldn’t let the one anywhere near you—”
“And have another man touch me there? Can you even grasp how terrifying that thought was to me?”
“You let Dr. Lucas—”
“Ah, yes. Dr. Lucas.” I smiled coldly. “Where did you get his name, Mother? From the man molesting me? Or from your doctor, who was overseeing his dissertation? Either way, he steered you right toward his brother-in-law, knowing the well-respected Dr. Lucas would say anything to protect the reputation of his family.”
She recoiled, stumbling back until she bumped into the chair behind her.
“He sedated me,” I went on, remembering it still. The prick of the needle. The cold table. The shame as he poked and prodded a part of my body that made me tremble with revulsion. “He examined me. Then he lied.”
“How would I know that?” she whispered, her eyes so strikingly blue in her pale face.
“You knew,” I said flatly. “I remember your face afterward, when you told me Hugh wasn’t coming back and to never bring it up again. You could barely look at me, but when you did, I saw it in your eyes.”
I looked at Eva. She was crying, with her arms wrapped tight around herself. My eyes stung, but she was the one who wept for me.
“Did you think Chris would leave you?” I wondered aloud. “Did you think it was too much for your new family to take? For years, I thought you told him—I heard you mention Dr. Lucas to him—but Chris didn’t know. Tell me what reason a wife would have to keep something like that from her husband.”
My mother didn’t speak, just shook her head over and over, as if that silent denial answered everything.
My fist hit my desk, rattling everything on top of it. “Say something!”
“You’re wrong. Wrong. It’s all twisted up for you. You don’t …” She shook her head again. “It didn’t happen that way. You’re confused …”
Eva stared at my mother’s back with a visible, heated rage. Loathing tightened her mouth and jaw. It hit me then that I could let her carry that burden for me. I had to put it down. I didn’t need it anymore. Didn’t want it.
I had done the same for her in a different sense, with Nathan. The action I’d taken had chased the shadows from her eyes. They lived in me now, as they should. She’d been haunted by them long enough.
My chest expanded on a deep, slow breath. When I let it out, all the anger and disgust went with it. I stood there for a long moment, absorbing the dizzying lightness I felt. There was grief, a profound anguish that burned in my chest. And resignation. A clarifying, terrible acceptance. But it weighed on me so much less than the desperate hope I’d harbored: that one day my mother would love me enough to accept the truth.
That hope was dead.
I cleared my throat. “Let’s end this. I won’t be going to see Corinne. And I won’t apologize for telling the truth. I’m done with that.”
My mother didn’t move for a long moment.
Then she turned away from me without a word and walked to the door. A moment more and she was gone, lost on the other side of the frosted glass.
I looked at Eva. She started toward me and I went to her, rounding my desk to meet her partway. She hugged me so tightly I could hardly breathe.
But I didn’t need air. I had her.
As I straightened Gideon’s bow tie, I asked, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
He caught my wrists and applied steady, solid pressure.
The familiar authoritative grip spurred a conditioned response. It grounded me. Heightened my awareness of him, of me. Of us. My breathing quickened.
“Stop asking.” His voice was soft. “I’m fine.”
“When a woman says she’s fine, it means she’s anything but.”
“I’m not a woman.”
A hint of a smile softened his mouth. “And when a man says he’s fine, it means he is.” He pressed a quick, hard kiss to my forehead and released me. Then, he went to the drawer that held his cuff links and studied the selection thoughtfully.
Gideon was long and lean in his bespoke trousers and white formal shirt. He had on black socks, but his shoes and jacket were still waiting their turn to grace his body.
There was something about seeing him in that partially dressed state that turned me on wildly. It was an intimacy that was mine alone and I cherished it.
I was reminded of what Dr. Petersen had said. Maybe I’d have to spend some nights sleeping apart from my husband. Not forever, but for now. Still, I had these other precious pieces of him and they sustained me.
“A man. What about my man?” I countered, working hard not to get distracted by how hot he looked. The problem was his distance. There wasn’t a trace of the razor-sharp focus on me that I was used to. Part of his mind was somewhere else, and I worried that it was a dark place where he shouldn’t be alone. “That’s the only one I care about.”
“Angel. You’ve been telling me to have it out with my mother for months. I’ve done it. It’s over and behind us.”
“How do you feel about it, though? It has to hurt, Gideon. Please don’t hide it from me, if it does.”
His fingers drummed into the top of the built-in dresser, his gaze still focused on his damned cuff links. “It hurts. Okay? But I knew it would. That’s why I put it off so long. But it’s better this way. I feel … Fuck. It’s settled.”