Turned out I hadn’t killed either of them. Shame. I’d put them both in the hospital, but they were both still able to draw breath and exist in this world. After a brief, blinding flash of fury—I’d wanted to end those evil fucks—I tried to focus on the good. I’d gotten there in time. Kara had been terrified, but I’d stopped them from carrying out any of their threats.
But how did you recover from something like that? Would she ever? I didn’t know how to begin. What would it take to help her start trusting and relaxing again, my sweet, innocent Kara? She was the one person I knew who always saw the best in life. How could she keep that up, now that she knew otherwise?
How had I let this happen to her? Because, deep down, I knew this was my fault. I kept my arm around her while she sipped hot coffee and sat wrapped in a blanket at the police station. For now, she pressed against me, seeming to take comfort in my nearness. But once the dust settled, how long could that last?
Ultimately, she’d see that I’d put her in harm’s way. If I’d helped her right away, she would never have had to go to Lymon. But I hadn’t helped her right away. I’d withheld my money when she’d needed it most. I was responsible for what had happened and I hated myself for it. At some point I had to think she’d come to hate me for it, too.
I took Kara to my luxury property in Bozeman. I owned the type of rustic lodge that had heated floors and piped-in music in every room. It seemed paltry, a pathetic offering given what she’d been through. I cancelled all my meetings for the next week. I’d never taken a vacation, not once in my life. Now I had urgent business to attend to still, but it all revolved around one woman.
The first two days she slept. I kept checking in on her, and sometimes I’d sit in a chair by the bed. Was it normal to sleep like that? I figured she’d wake up sooner or later, right?
Friday afternoon she finally made her way out of the bedroom, pulling a blanket around her shoulders as she walked.
“Hey.” I came to her side, embracing her. “You’re up.”
“Sorry I stayed in bed so long.” She looked down, shaking her head.
“Kara, don’t be ridiculous.” I led her into the kitchen. I had no skills, no idea how to make a meal, but I could order food for us, anything she wanted. “Maybe some soup?”
She shrugged, not seeming all that interested. An hour later I had five different kinds of soups delivered to our door, from tomato basil bisque to chicken noodle, plus fresh crusty French baguettes and ice cream for dessert.
She’d gone back to bed. I stood there like an idiot, holding up bags like I’d proudly just come back from the hunt. Modern day caveman wanted to show off his take-out kill. Only my woman was fast asleep.
Time, I reminded myself. She needed time and, apparently, a whole lot of sleep. She looked so peaceful in the bed and I wanted her to feel exactly like that, entirely safe and secure. I wanted to shower her with rose petals, make her feel like a princess, romance her like she’d never been before. But first I had to let her sleep. Then I had to see if she’d let me do the rest.
But a nasty voice in my head asked how could she? How could she forgive and forget? This was all my fault. If I’d helped her straight away, none of this would have happened. Instead, I’d been selfish, and I’d let her fall victim to the kinds of assholes who preyed on the vulnerable. I knew all about those kinds of scumbags. I’d grown up surrounded by them. But I’d still gone and thrown them the one person I cherished more than anyone else in the world.
I was a dawg. The best thing to do would be to walk away. In no way shape or form was I good enough for her. But that was the problem. I wasn’t even a good enough man to leave her.
Saturday morning I made her pancakes. They sucked. I had no idea how to do it and I burned them all until she came over, turned down the heat and flipped them, nice and easy.
“I wanted to cook for you,” I grumbled.
“But I want to eat,” she teased me. Teasing was a good sign.
She ate with a fantastic appetite I relished seeing. Afterwards, she stretched like a cat waking from a long nap. I followed her gaze out the window. Sunlight shone through the majestic trees, the first day of July.
“Would you like to take a walk?” I suggested. This luxury compound had it all, from a manicured, flat one-mile nature loop to 20 mile hikes on trails up rugged mountains. I figured the former would be the better choice for today.
“Fresh air sounds good,” she agreed. I hated how frail and wan she looked, her skin almost translucently pale. Guilt stabbed through me, hurting much more than Lymon’s knife ever could. The wound on my back was healing nicely, but I didn’t know when or even if I’d get to see the bloom back in Kara’s cheeks.
We strolled in the mid-morning sun, ambling along a path. She stopped to look at the flowers, the type of moss growing on a tree, a bird on a low branch. I wouldn’t have noticed any of it had she not been beside me.
We came to a bench, strategically placed at a vantage point to enjoy a view of a meadow and mountains beyond. I found a mix of cultivation and wild worked best, with well-placed opportunities for guests to admire the wilderness. I’d never enjoyed any of it so much as I did sitting with her at that moment.
“Do you own all this?” she asked.
I held her hand in mine, trying not to squeeze too tight. “Well, not the mountains. But all this,” I gestured around us to the grounds. “Yes.”
“You like it?” I took pleasure in her praise.
“It’s perfect, Declan.” But she didn’t look happy. I braced myself as she took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m sorry you had to spend money on my family’s ranch. I can see it’s nothing like the type of property you usually buy. Nothing compared to this.”
“Kara, it’s yours.” I couldn’t believe she was dwelling on that. I brought her close, gathering her to me in the fold of my arm. “You’re the rightful owner. All I did was get it back for you.”
“No” She shook her head. “I feel guilty.”
“You feel guilty.” I shook my head with a low laugh. She was unbelievable. “Kara, you have nothing to feel guilty about. Buying your ranch was nothing.”
She sniffed in disagreement. “It wasn’t nothing.”
“It didn’t exactly set me back financially.”
She looked at me. “Are you a millionaire?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. She said it as if being a millionaire meant anything anymore. She was so sweet.
“You are, aren’t you?” she asked.
“More than that.” I didn’t want to brag, but maybe some numbers would help her get perspective.
“More?” Her eyes widened.
“It’s difficult to calculate my exact net worth. There’s a lot of moving parts.”
“But how much are you worth?” she pressed, clearly curious. “Like, two million?”
“Last I spoke with my finance guy, he projected that my assets totaled near thirty million.”
“What?!?” She shoved me.
“Yes.” I laughed, enjoying her reaction.
“How did you do that?” She looked incredulous.
“I’ve made aggressive, highly successful investments. One after another. It’s accumulated, fast.”
We sat in silence, enjoying the view, a bird twittering overhead. I searched for the right words. Fists and fucking, those came naturally to me. Feeling emotions and expressing them, that took work.
“It’s yours, Kara.”
“What?” she asked, turning toward me.
“Everything I have. It’s yours, whatever you want, whatever you need.”
“Declan,” she scoffed, chucking me again with her elbow, clearly not taking me seriously.
“I mean it, Kara.” I clasped her hands in mine and looked her straight in the eyes. “All of this, it’s nothing without you. I want to give it. I want to share it with you.”