My doorbell rang.
A welcome distraction from the pure fear running cold in my veins.
“Liv?” I said, after I opened my front door, surprised to see her on my doorstep.
Olivia and I were good friends, but for some reason she wasn’t the first person I expected to see. Jo and I were closer. Liv and I only knew each other because of Jo, but we’d quickly banded together as fellow Americans and book enthusiasts.
Liv’s eyes washed over me in concern and I instantly tensed. I knew what she was seeing. Dark circles under my eyes because I hadn’t been sleeping; a pale, icky complexion; and hair that was all over the place.
“Is Braden here?” she asked casually as she barged right past me and into the flat.
There was no need for barging. I welcomed her presence as long as we talked about anything else but Braden and my pregnancy.
“No, he’s at work,” I replied as I followed her into the kitchen.
When I got there she was already making coffee. She frowned at me. “You need to take better care of yourself.”
“I’ve been busy,” I hopped onto a different subject quickly. “A literary agent in New York now represents me.”
Liv smiled in excitement. “She loved your book?”
“She loved my book.”
“Joss, that’s amazing.”
I smiled back, knowing out of everyone Liv would be the one to really get how cool it was. Liv was a librarian. Books were her passion.
When her eyes dipped to my stomach, uncertainty entering their depths, I cut off her obvious next question.
“She thinks I should start working on another.”
To my relief, Liv let me get away with the distraction, listening to me yammer on about my different ideas as we settled in the sitting room with coffee and biscuits. Anything, anything, to forget the letter I’d just found.
I was in midsentence about this crazy dystopian idea I had that was completely not what my agent had in mind when she asked me to think up new concepts, when the front door opened.
I felt my whole body lock with tension as I stared, waiting with this horrible sick feeling in my stomach, for Braden to appear in the doorway and crush me.
He appeared, looking just as tired as I felt, and stopped in the doorway. “Liv,” he greeted her before glancing at me. His eyes instantly narrowed at the sight of me. “Did you sleep today?”
Are you leaving me? “I couldn’t.”
Appearing annoyed, he sighed. “You need to get some sleep.” Tugging on his tie, he strode out of sight.
“Joss?” Liv’s whispered anxiety brought my attention back to her. She looked so worried for me. “Girl, what are you doing?”
What am I doing? What am I doing? “Don’t.” She didn’t know shit.
We sat in taut silence, sipping on coffee.
“I’ve got a late meeting with Adam,” we heard Braden say as he wandered down the hall. Another lie. The front door slammed behind him. I flinched and desperately tried not to cry. This pregnancy was turning me into an emotional black hole.
“Oh, honey,” Liv stood up as if she was coming to hug me.
I held up a hand to stop her. “You hug me and I won’t stop crying. And I need to not cry.”
She froze, looking helpless and angry that she felt that way.
I knew exactly how she felt. “It’s not me.” I needed someone other than Dr. Pritchard to know that. “I haven’t shut him out. I’m just having a really hard time right now and I ruined it. I ruined this for him.”
“He’s the one not talking to you?”
“He talks. But it’s . . . it’s like he can barely stand to be in the same room as me. He hasn’t asked me how I feel about it now that the shock has worn off. He doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t want me to touch him. . . .”
“I’m sorry, Joss.”
“He’s never been like that.” The letter came back to mind and I felt that panic swallow me whole. “I think I’ve fucked up.” My hysterical laughter immediately turned into loud, hard sobbing I couldn’t control. I couldn’t even be mortified that I was breaking down. I was crying too hard to care.
I felt Liv’s comforting warmth as she gently nudged me aside on the chair and snuggled in beside me so she could pull me into her arms. And then everything just disappeared as I let her comfort me, the tears soaking her shirt a testament to the fact that I wasn’t alone.
I wasn’t aware of the shaking stopping, or the tears drawing to a halt. Everything was just black as I finally fell into the deep relief of sleep.
My eyes felt crusty as I tried to open them, consciousness coming to me, and with it the feel of a heavy warmth resting on my waist.
As I opened my peepers I realized they felt swollen and that’s when I remembered why. I tensed at the memory of crying in Liv’s arms at the same time I looked into my husband’s sleeping face.
The heavy warmth across my waist was his arm.
We were lying in bed together.
I didn’t know how we’d gotten there.
I started to cry again.
Braden’s arm tightened around me and through the blur of tears I saw I’d woken him.
“I wasn’t not happy,” I whispered, licking the salt water off my lips. “I was so happy I was terrified.”
His warm fingers brushed my chin and I felt the gentle pressure of his touch as he tilted my head back so I would meet his questioning eyes. “Terrified?”
I nodded. “Just because I’ve come a long way, doesn’t mean I still don’t feel that way. You wouldn’t let me explain. I’m still terrified of losing all the good we have together.” Had together.
Braden frowned as he sat up. “You’re afraid of losing our baby, so you shut me out before I—”
“No!” I sat up, glaring at him. “You shut me out.”
“I thought we were past all this.”
“Then let me fucking explain!”
He glowered at me but shut up.
I glowered back. “You know I’m afraid of losing the people I love. But my kid, our kid, I already love this kid so much I can’t breathe. The thought of something happening . . .”
Braden shook his head slowly. “You kept avoiding talking about having kids. . . . I started to worry that you didn’t want them. I thought with you running off to the castle it meant you were gearing up to shut me out because . . . you didn’t want our kid. Then when you tried to explain, I was . . .” He sighed.
“You were what?”
“Scared,” he admitted softly, his eyes locked with mine. “My mother never wanted me, Jocelyn. Never. I was not a happy kid and I would never wish that kind of childhood on anyone, let alone my own kids. I promised myself if I ever had children I’d be the kind of father mine never was and I certainly wouldn’t marry a woman who wouldn’t treat them like they were her whole world. So I didn’t know how to feel about my wife not wanting our kid. I didn’t know how to react to that and what it meant for us.”
A knifelike pain cut across my chest. “Is that why you’re moving out?”
“What?” he asked incredulously, his eyes darkening. “What are you talking about?”
“The letter.” I lifted a shaky hand, pointing out to the hall. “I found the letter in the guest room. The one asking the tenants of your old apartment to move out within the month.”
A thick silence fell between us.
Braden slipped out of bed, staring at nothing for a moment before turning to me with a very familiar anger. “That’s the second letter to those tenants. The first one told them they were being evicted because of the complaints I’d received from residents of the building. The letter you saw was a standard notice telling them how much time they had to get out.”
“You thought without talking to you, or trying to work this shit out that I . . . that I . . . was leaving you!” he yelled in disbelief.
Oh, no, he did not get to be angry anymore. I got out of the bed on the opposite side. “You froze me out. I was scared and confused and you left me on my own!” My voice cracked as I yelled back at him, and the break lowered my voice. “You wouldn’t let me touch you. You flinched from me.” I watched his face soften. “You promised me I wasn’t alone anymore, but instead you made me think you hated me. And I think I hate you a little for that.”
I turned away so he wouldn’t see me cry again.
Two seconds later he was turning me into his arms. “Fuck, baby,” he whispered hoarsely. “You could bring a man to his knees.”
There was so much relief in feeling his arms around me, his chest beneath my cheek. Inhaling his scent. Soaking him in. But I didn’t hold him in return.
“I’m so sorry,” he said gruffly, desperately, in my ear, easing me back to stare into my eyes. He brushed my hair off my face before cupping it in his hands. There was something like panic in them. “Jocelyn, I will never make you feel that way again. I promise. I’m so sorry.” He kissed me hard, tasting my tears. “I was scared. I acted like an idiot but it was just because this is our kid. It means more to me than anything ever has. I fucked up. I fucked up this time, but I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, sweetheart. I love you. You believe me?” He pulled me against him, his hands running down my back. “You believe me?”
I took a deep breath, trying to let go of the last few days. It would be so easy to hold on to the hurt and anger. But instead I looked back a few years when I was lying in Braden’s arms, grateful he’d forgiven me for everything I’d put him through.
I lifted my arms and wrapped them around his back. “I believe you.”
He kissed me again, this time slower, deeper. When he pulled back he was frowning. “I fucked up,” he repeated quietly.
“Well, it was your turn.”
“There will be times,” he murmured against my lips, “when we don’t like each other very much, but I need you to know that I will never stop loving you. This time it was me who was terrified of losing you, and I pushed you away because I was afraid to hear what you had to say. If, God forbid, I ever hurt you again, tell me. Don’t lock me out. Don’t shut the shower door on my face. Scream at me. Don’t let me get away with it until you’re storing that shit up and looking at me like you’re haunted. Because . . . I swear to God, that look in your eyes that night, it almost broke my fucking heart. We need to stop doing that to each other. Right now.”