“Rory?” Cade’s voice pulled her out of her memories as he let himself into her house. “Hey, Roar! It’s me!”
Not today! Oh God, not today! He’ll know, she thought in panic, staring at the chaos around her. He’ll ask questions and know I’m not what he thought I was and then… oh God, help me get through this. Don’t let him… no. Stop it. I’m not going to hide it. I don’t have to announce it, but I don’t have to hide it. I can do this.
“Who’s there?” But she knew.
“It’s Cade. I thought you’d like to go lunch.”
“I’m not hungry, thank you!”
“Then I’ll bring lunch in!”
“I’m too busy!”
“No, you’re not!”
“Yes, I am!”
“Rory, be reasonable!”
She heard him take the steps two at a time and groaned. This was going to be a challenge, she knew. She clutched the box of knick-knacks and photographs that she held and surveyed the room, taking in the way that Paul’s entire life now sat in neatly labeled boxes in what had been their bedroom and hoped that Cade wouldn’t ask questions.
When Cade walked in, he filled the doorway, reminding her just how much smaller Paul had been. Just five-foot-ten and narrow-shouldered. In that instant, too, she knew she liked how Cade didn’t take no for an answer when it came to being with her. Not that she wanted him here today, but at least she couldn’t boss him around.
When Cade saw her, he stared, taking in a very new sight: Rory clad in ratty denim cut-offs and a large gray t-shirt whose logo had worn away long ago. Her hair, always perfectly styled, was pulled back from her face with hair combs while random tendrils stuck out here and there. She didn’t have a spot of make-up on, either. In truth, she was an absolute mess. While he studied her, she was holding the box and giving him a look that should have sent all six-feet-three-inches of him six feet under.
“Do you want to explain why you haven’t answered a single phone call all day today or yesterday?” Given her disgruntled expression, he opted for the straightforward approach as he leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his broad chest, waiting. She looked adorable, approachable.
You have no idea how hard it is to keep my hands off you right now, sweetheart, he thought, hiding his grin and remembering what it felt like to hold her against him.
“I was busy working.” It was true enough, though she didn’t see the need to add that she hadn’t even heard the phone since she started her task yesterday afternoon. She dropped the box on the floor next to the dresser and waited for him to speak again.
“Do you want to explain why you haven’t answered the phone in almost two days?”
“Not really.” She returned to her task before he could answer, and the box before her quickly filled with a hodgepodge of male accessories – worn belts, old ties, half-empty cologne bottles, and so on – from a pile next to the closet door. In a moment, she had the top closed and was struggling to pick it up. It was too heavy, so she gave it a shove instead.
She cut him off by pushing the box to his feet. Straightening, she braced her back with both hands and gave a small stretch. Then she looked him square in the eye and made her next point: “Don’t ‘Rory’ me. Make yourself useful on your way out and toss these in the trash, please.” She turned her back to him again and moved to a pile of clothing on the bed and beginning to fill yet another box.
He watched her fold the clothes and deposit them into a box, realizing that she wasn’t saving anything. Everything that hinted of a husband was gone. Nothing that he could see remotely suggested that Paul had once lived there. “Rory,” he began again, coming up behind her. Except for her tensing when he put his hands on her shoulders, she gave no indication to having heard him. “Rory, come on.”
“Give up, Cade, and quit repeating my name. It’s not doing you any good anyway.” She shrugged his hands off and tossed another barely-folded dress shirt into the box.
“You owe me an explanation.”
“No, I don’t.” She still refused to turn to him. Why didn’t he just leave? Come back when she was done with this and pretend that it had never happened?
“Come on, Rory.” He could see that she was putting up her usual front. When he first walked in, he had seen the faint red around her eyes and knew that she’d been crying. All he wanted to do was pull her into his arms, to make her forget the world and her hurt.
“Not today, please.”
“I just want to know what’s going on, Roar. Why you feel you have to do this alone.”
He expected tears, perhaps even for her to shout at him a bit. He didn’t expect to hear thin, hysterical laughter. He didn’t expect her to spin around to face him, her expression as disdainful as her voice.
“You want to know what’s going on, Cade? You really want to know all of my nasty little secrets?”
“What are you talking about? What secrets?” But he knew.
“Someone as imaginative as you should have put the pieces together. You’re a writer, go figure it out.”
“Rory, I don’t want to play detective. What pieces? All I know is that you haven’t given me a single reason to think that you’re okay. From what I saw, you went from the funeral into overdrive. You never stopped to catch your breath. You’re running that blog, writing for Maggie, and freelancing. You re-decorated your house, and now you’re here boxing up everything that’s left from your marriage.” He picked up a framed 5 x 7 photo from a pile on the bed. Studying it, for a moment, his voice lost its edge and he chose his words carefully. “How bad was it?”
She refused to answer and continued packing.
“You know, my mother actually thinks that I was his cherished little darling,” she finally said, her voice low. “She asked me once what I did to provoke him. Jesus, Cade, how blind could she be? He was destroying me! Insulting me until I was too nervous to do anything but wait for approval! I wore long sleeves at the funeral because my arms were all black and blue! I missed work on days that I couldn’t hide the bruises! I sent him divorce papers the day he died, Cayden! He went to the bar and got drunk, then flipped his SUV on the way home. He was probably on the way to change my mind!”
Grabbing the picture from him, she hurled it against the wall. Given her frayed nerves, the sound of shattering glass was musical to her. “No one saw anything, Cade! Everyone wanted to believe that things were perfect in my life because I could hold it together in the world outside! How could they do that to me? How could anyone do that? No one asked, no one said anything! It was all about how lovely he and I looked together and when were we going to start that family and just how lucky I was to have a man so successful! No one helped me! None of you! But everyone wants to help me now! Everyone wants to take care of little helpless Rory who can’t do anything right!”
“Reasonable? Reasonable?” Her voice rose an octave and she wondered if she wouldn’t start laughing at him. Reasonable? She’d been reasonable since the day she said I do, and look how many black eyes and broken ribs it earned her.
“Reasonable is why I owned so many goddamned scarves and wore all those long sleeves, Cayden! I was being reasonable and convincing myself that he really didn’t mean to hurt me and that it had to be my fault! You don’t get it, do you? He was going to kill me one of these days and no one was going to stop him because no one thought that someone so handsome and so intelligent could be so unreasonable!”
Rory stopped then and stood there, positive that he’d turn away. She didn’t expect Cade to take her into his arms and gently kiss the top of her head. “Forgive me,” he murmured, surprising her enough that she didn’t struggle – though she wanted to, to escape the intimacy and the urge to spill secrets she’d rather forget.
“Why?” In her mind, there was nothing to forgive. She hadn’t told; therefore, he hadn’t known.
“For not being there, for not saying anything sooner, for not helping you like I could have.” For goading him on the day he died, Cade shuddered inwardly. He didn’t want to know what that “conversation” would have cost Rory had Paul made it home.
“You couldn’t have done anything. He wouldn’t have let you,” she shook her head and looked up at him, her eyes dry.
“I told him I knew. The day he died, I ran into him at Expat’s. We argued about you, and I threatened him. Told him he’d answer to me if you came in with one more bruise.”
Speechless, she stared.
“You didn’t always hide them as well as you thought.”
Not knowing what to say, and feeling off-balance under his scrutiny, she changed the subject. “His mistress was the one standing by my mother-in-law at the funeral. She was his secretary.”
“I wasn’t enough,” she repeated Paul’s often-screamed words. “I just wasn’t what he needed.”