It wasn’t something he could explain, or even something he could understand. It was just something he knew.
He’d never feared death, though, not really. The knowledge of it had been a part of him for so long that he merely accepted it, just as other men accepted the other truths that made up the cycle of life. Spring followed winter, and summer after that. For him, death was much the same way.
Until now. He’d been trying to deny it, trying to shut the niggling notion from his mind, but death was beginning to show a frightening face.
His marriage to Kate had sent his life down an alternate path, no matter how much he tried to convince himself that he could restrict their marriage to nothing but friendship and sex.
He cared about her. He cared about her far too much. He craved her company when they were apart, and he dreamed about her at night, even as he held her in his arms.
He wasn’t ready to call it love, but it terrified him all the same.
And whatever it was that burned between them, he didn’t want it to end.
Which was, of course, the cruelest irony of all.
Anthony closed his eyes as he let out a weary and nervous exhale, wondering what the hell he was going to do about the complication that lay beside him in the bed. But even while his eyes were shut, he saw the flash of lightning that lit up the night, turning the black of the inside of his eyelids into a bloody red-orange.
Opening his eyes, he saw that they’d left the drapes partway open when they’d retired to bed earlier in the evening. He’d have to shut those; they’d help to keep the lightning from illuminating the room.
But when he shifted his weight and tried to nudge his way out from under the covers, Kate grabbed his arm, her fingers pressing frantically into his muscles.
“Shhhh, now, it’s all right,” he whispered, “I’m only going to close the drapes.”
But she did not let go, and the whimper that escaped her lips when a clap of thunder shook the night nearly broke his heart.
A pale sliver of moonlight filtered through the window, just enough to illuminate the tense, drawn lines of her face. Anthony peered down to assure himself that she was still sleeping, then pried her hands from his arm and got up to close the drapes. He suspected that the flashes of lightning would still sneak into the room, though, so when he was done with the drapes, he lit a lone candle and set it on his nightstand. It didn’t give off enough light to wake her up—at least he hoped it wouldn’t—but at the same time it saved the room from utter blackness.
And there was nothing quite so startling as a streak of lightning cutting through utter blackness.
He crawled back into bed and regarded Kate. She was still sleeping, but not peacefully. She’d curled into a semifetal position and her breathing was labored. The lightning didn’t seem to bother her much, but every time the room shook with thunder she flinched.
He took her hand and smoothed her hair, and for several minutes he simply lay with her, trying to soothe her as she slept. But the storm was increasing in intensity, with the thunder and lightning practically coming on top of each other. Kate was growing more restless by the second, and then, as a particularly loud clap of thunder exploded in the air, her eyes flew open, her face a mask of utter panic.
“Kate?” Anthony whispered.
She sat up, scrambling back until her spine was pressed against the solid headboard of the bed. She looked like a statue of terror, her body stiff and frozen into place. Her eyes were still open, barely blinking, and though she did not move her head, they flicked frantically back and forth, scanning the entire room, but not seeing anything.
“Oh, Kate,” he whispered. This was far, far worse than what she’d been through that night in the library at Aubrey Hall. And he could feel the force of her pain slicing right through his heart.
No one should feel terror like this. And especially not his wife.
Moving slowly, so as not to startle her, he made his way to her side, then carefully laid an arm over her shoulders. She was shaking, but she did not push him away.
“Are you even going to remember any of this in the morning?” he whispered.
She made no response, but then, he hadn’t expected her to.
“There, there,” he said gently, trying to remember the soothing nonsense words his mother used whenever one of her children was upset. “It’s all right now. You’ll be fine.”
Her tremors seemed to slow a bit, but she was still very clearly disturbed, and when the next clap of thunder shook the room, her entire body flinched, and she buried her face in the crook of her neck.
“No,” she moaned, “no, no.”
“Kate?” Anthony blinked several times, then gazed at her intently. She sounded different, not awake but more lucid, if that was possible.
And she sounded very…
“No, no, don’t go.”
“Kate?” He held her tightly, unsure of what to do. Should he wake her? Her eyes might be open, but she was clearly asleep and dreaming. Part of him longed to break her of her nightmare, but once she woke, she’d still be in the same place—in bed in the middle of a horrible electrical storm. Would she even feel any better?
Or should he let her sleep? Perhaps if she rode out the nightmare he might actually gain some idea as to what had caused her terror.
“Kate?” he whispered, as if she herself might actually give him a clue as to how to proceed.
“No,” she moaned, growing more agitated by the second. “Nooooo.”
Anthony pressed his lips to her temple, trying to soothe her with his presence.
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