And I couldn’t sit there another goddamn moment without doing something to fix what I’d soiled.
Hauling myself from the floor, I stumbled a little as I bent for my jeans and stepped into them. My head rushed as I zipped them into place and rearranged the chain under my T-shirt.
Gritting my teeth against my constant headache, I stalked from the library.
I needed to find her.
To wash her clean from my filth.
To be honest and tell her that no one had ever treated me the way she did, and it messed with my defective mind.
Falling in ways that fucking terrified me.
You sent her away after she gave you a gift.
I slammed to a stop in the foyer.
I winced as my head pounded.
I couldn’t go to her empty-handed.
She deserved the world.
She deserved her freedom.
Both of those things I couldn’t give.
The only thing I could afford to offer was her safety. Safety that came with a time limit and only applied while my eyes were open and nightmares stayed far away.
For as long as I could stay awake tonight, I was hers humbly and completely.
Changing direction, I headed toward the kitchen and the door toward the garden. The chain around my waist was long enough to step outside into the moonlight despite catching on furniture and tracking through the house. I walked toward the ancient claw-foot iron bathtub that I’d painstakingly dragged from one of the downstairs bathrooms a few years ago.
I’d remodeled that bathroom from the lighting to the fixtures. And by remodeled, I meant smashed to smithereens and left to rot.
In truth, I’d had a night of utter desolation and couldn’t stomach the sameness, the stagnantly empty silence any longer. I’d taken an ax to the tiles and a hammer to the sink and only stopped myself from destroying the bath because of a stupid idea from a book I’d read that week.
The characters in the book had found satisfaction by soaking in hot water beneath the stars. They’d laughed and unwound, fucked and fell in love.
And I’d been beyond myself with jealousy.
It’d taken a full day to drag the heavy bathtub through Fables, into the garden, and find a way to dig a hearth and stack wood beneath its belly.
That first night, when I’d laid in hot water and pruned my skin for hours, was the first night I’d slept without a nightmare. No sleepwalking. No panic attacks. Just blissful, blank rest.
After that, an outdoor soak had become a drug to me, especially in winter when snow fell, and I ambled from room to room with my breath creating clouds before me. Stoking a fire and slipping into a hot bath was sometimes the only true warmth I found all winter.
It was my favorite thing to do at night—the only way I could relax in this valley after darkness had fallen.
And I wanted to share it with her.
I wanted to give her a piece of myself, just as she’d given me something of her.
I need her to know she’s safe, even after what I did.
Marching toward last year’s depleted firewood pile, I stacked kindling and sticks, and prepared to apologize to the girl who’d crippled me.
* * * * *
I found her in the conservatory.
Curled up beneath silver blankets that she’d raided from a guest room. Why she insisted on sleeping in a glass box was beyond me. Sure, it was fine at the moment with the nights still warm and days still sunny but come winter, she’d freeze.
My heart suddenly stopped.
Unlike all the other times I’d thought about the change of seasons and how much preparation I still had to do, I was struck with the absolute glorious knowledge that I wouldn’t be alone.
She’ll be here.
The reality of that sucker punched me. I tripped to the side as my eyes stayed locked on Gemma in her nest of bedding. It hadn’t hit me before. I hadn’t stopped to truly understand that I wouldn’t have to hibernate in an empty house with nothing and no one.
Thanks to her, I’d have company on those eternally boring days. I’d have someone to talk to, someone to touch and kiss and—
You should let her go.
I froze as moonlight danced behind clouds and shone through the glass roof, casting everything in quicksilver.
After what she’d done for me tonight—after what I’d done—the only way to truly show her how much she meant to me was to let her go. To find the key and unlock the chain and willingly walk her to the cliff to say goodbye.
My heart spasmed painfully. I raised a hand and massaged my chest, gasping at the agony of even contemplating watching her climb out of my valley.
It’s the right thing to do.
The only thing.
The only way to keep her safe.
Gritting my teeth, I did my best to stay quiet as Gemma slept. She’d been so selfless in her kindness tonight. She’d given me more than just her body...she’d given me something intangible, something far, far too fragile and priceless not to deserve the biggest reward in return.