Skin of the Night

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Chapter 61: I'll Never Stop

“Just one dance,” he cooed into my ear. “It’s hardly as difficult as you would think, and I’m a good lead. I want to show you off around the floor.”

I rolled my eyes and turned toward him, my face devoid of emotion. “For the tenth time, William, no. Go dance with somebody else. I’m sure there are plenty of willing women around. Or you could dance with your boyfriend, Andy. If you do, maintain loads of eye contact for romantic emphasis. And I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being the female party. That would be beautiful, and it would give me a good laugh.”

He glared at me. “I don’t want to dance with somebody else. I want to dance with you.”

“Well, tough luck.”

He groaned and planted his forehead on my shoulder, seemingly despaired. “Cara. Come on.”

“No. I don’t want to. I don’t dance, and I am not about to humiliate myself in front of all these people. From the look of them, they’ve taken classes since they were five. I’m going to stand out like a fish on dry land amidst gazelles. I’m not interested in that sort of attention.”

He shook against me with muffled laughter. “What a comparison.”

“It’s the truth.”

He sighed and lifted his head again. Gazing softly into my eyes, he made another attempt, “We’ve danced together before. Do you remember? At that club?”

I watched him incredulously, even if the memory stirred hot sensations in my body. Indeed, he was a terrific dancer. “That wasn’t dancing. That was grinding. Any idiot can do it, clearly,” I countered and pointed to myself.

“Cara, I’m a good lead. You’ll be fine. Besides, we’ve had sex so many times you should know I’m a good lead,” he whispered and passed me a wink. This man. My nostrils flared with my irritation before I looked across the table and upon unsuspecting Ivy.

“Ivy,” I called, my tone somewhat impatient, even if I tried to hide it. At once, she looked over with a curious look in her innocent eyes. Had the girl as much as hurt a fly in her life? I seriously doubted it. She was the very definition of harmless.

Since she didn’t respond, but merely looked at me, I continued bluntly, “Would you join me to the ladies’ room? William wants to dance, but I don’t know how, so I’m in need of an excuse to reject him.”

After a puzzled blink, a giggle slipped out of her mouth while Alexander struggled to contain himself beside her. Seeming to have heard me, he shook his head while he laughed to himself. Apparently, they both found me amusing. Groaning next to me was William, and I recognised it as the sound of final defeat.

“If he’ll forgive me for obliging, then of course,” Ivy replied enthused, blue eyes flickering in William’s direction. I found it charming how sweet she was toward him. The two of them couldn’t have been farther apart. Honestly, Ivy struck me as William’s opposite in terms of social etiquette. Where she was careful and gentle, William stampeded forward like a brutal bull on a mission.

“You I can forgive,” William said, and I sensed him regard my profile. “Cara, however...”

I scoffed and faced him again. “Petty doesn’t suit you, Will,” I replied aloofly and patted his cheek to belittle him.

“That’s because you’re the only thing that does,” he countered and immediately sent my heart racing. I blinked back at him, surprised by his heartfelt statement. What sweet words. I hadn’t expected them.

“I wasn’t ready for that,” I confessed in my surprise.

His eyes darkened and a crooked smile took to his mouth. “You’re always ready, sweetheart,” he purred back and winked at me again to highlight his carnal insinuation, leaving blood to climb to my cheeks. Had he forgotten we had an audience? I could sometimes be blunt myself, but he was in a league of his own. At least I tended to reserve it for when I was in the company of people close to me. William hardly ever applied a filter. In contrast to him, my thoughts were surely more blunt than my tongue. Then again, perhaps his thoughts were wilder than his tongue, too. Did I want to know? What I would do for a day in his head. I wondered what happened in that fascinating place, and I wondered if it was as dark and original as I suspected.

I pushed my seat out, annoyed. That man had an uncanny ability to know which button to push, and I meant that in every way. “Bloody caveman,” I grumbled.

“You love it,” he argued through a wolfish grin and watched me rise. I nearly gaped at him. Had he just accused me of loving him? At least one side of him? My heart wasn’t calming. I needed to distract myself. I knew he hadn’t meant it seriously, but nevertheless, his word-choice triggered my feelings to go on rampage, mainly because they were true.

Somewhat preoccupied, I walked around the table to approach Ivy and lock my arm with hers. Eager to escape my unruly feelings and thoughts, I looked to her profile and said, “I’ve heard you’ve only recently been hired by Alex.”

This was perfect. Good job to me. If I played my cards right, perhaps I would manage to steer this conversation into a heart-to-heart about what it was like to fancy your boss. I badly wanted to hear how she was handling it.

“Yes.”

I noticed she wasn’t very talkative. To get her to open up, I would need to drag words out of her. That wasn’t something I enjoyed, because I despised prying, but Ivy struck me as a shy girl, so I would have to make do.

“Is it difficult?” I inquired. “I imagine he must have a lot on his agenda twenty-four-seven, what with being a bloody millionaire bordering on billionaire.” With that said, Ivy did not strike me as the sort of woman who chased after a man’s wallet. That had to be a trait Alexander valued in her. It was obvious that she saw him for who he was, and not the fortune he was sitting on.

She smiled back at me, and how I appreciated the view. She had a lovely smile. I sensed no judgement in it. I had a feeling she was one for giving people the benefit of the doubt. “You’ve no idea,” she said, “but I’m getting the hang of it. Or at least I hope so. He’s very patient with me though, so that makes it easier.”

I suppressed my urge to smile sheepishly at her. So he was patient with her, was he? While I had the impression he was a patient man in general, being in love with her had to amplify it.

“He does strike me as a very,” I hesitated, searching for the appropriate word, “soft,” I decided, “man. I was surprised, especially when taking into account that William is his best mate. He’s not soft at all.”

She glanced at me, seemingly nervous. “He’s very smitten with you.”

I smirked, even if my pulse spiked. It would seem that his interest in me was visible to outsiders. I quite fancied the idea of that. I wondered if it applied to myself as well. Could people tell I was in love with him merely by a look at my face? Could William?

“He is. I can never fathom my own fortune. I’ve no idea how I did it, but here I am. Safe to say it wasn’t what I had intended for, but I’m not complaining. Though, I could do without events like these. I find them dreadful. I hate small talk, and especially with self-important people,” I confessed, because she seemed like a safe outlet. Who knew, perhaps she even agreed with me.

She looked positively shy when she replied, “Yeah. It’s intimidating.”

I mustered courage the remaining while it took us to reach the loo. A female staff-member opened the door of it for us. Now was my chance, I gathered. “We’re in similar situations, you and I, being the assistant of our chief,” I stated and looked into her eyes while I walked in. Seeking sympathy, I continued, “They don’t make it easy for us, do they?” and headed straight for a booth to relieve my bladder.

She was quiet for a short while, presumably ruminating over what I’d said. I had just managed to fold up my dress by the time she said, “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

I frowned, though it tempted to sneer. Was she dense, or just incredibly oblivious? “Well, you know, dating our boss?” I bravely replied.

Her tone was quick and panicked when she responded, “Oh, no, you misunderstand. I’m only here to fill in because he required a plus one after breaking up with his girlfriend. I’m not his date-date."

I laughed wholeheartedly. So she was oblivious, then. Could she be blinder? This was ludicrous. Alexander had hardly taken his eyes off of her all evening, and when he wasn’t resting his arm over her shoulders, he was sitting restless beside her, itching to touch her. I would have to inform William about this. Perhaps he could warn Alex that he wasn’t being clear enough about his interest. Cara The Wing-Woman, ever on the job. Where was Cupid in all this? He had better give me a bloody raise.

Then again, he had granted me William. Suppose I owed him a favour for that. He could have warned me that I’d have to fill in for him while he went on holiday, though.

I decided to be rhetorical and quote one of my favourite romance authors, “Yeah, right. I could draw a parallel to Jane Austen with that. To recite her famous, satirical quote, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of great fortune, must be in want of a wife’. Likewise, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man invited to an event, must be in want of a date.

“Point is, Ivy, he doesn’t need a date. It isn’t a requirement at all. What do you think they’d say? ‘Oh, sorry, we can’t allow you to enter since you haven’t brought a date’. To Alexander bloody Winton? As if! I’m sure he’s providing the biggest sum of the evening, for crying out loud.”

Would she catch onto it? Perhaps she didn’t read books. Well, if she didn’t, no harm done.

Outside the booth, she fell conspicuously silent while I tended to my needs, and by the time I opened the door again, she still hadn’t uttered a word. I had gathered it was because she hadn’t understood, but when I caught a look of her pale face, I was proven mistaken. She had understood, and the notion mortified her. It was blatant from her wide eyes that she was still in denial. Romantically entertaining the thought of her boss was clearly not something she was comfortable with.

The sight drenched me in guilt, as I knew that feeling all too well. Poor thing. I had just burst her bubble, hadn’t I? Was William’s brutal ways starting to rub off on me?

“Oh,” I uttered, apologetic. My eyes were wide when I covered my mouth with my hand. How my conscience suffered. I wished I hadn’t said it now. “Sorry, did I say something wrong?”

She held my gaze, and I saw a strictness bloom in them that I hadn’t thought she harboured. “No, it’s just that you’ve misunderstood, and I’m not comfortable with ideas like that,” she replied firmly.

Cupid was so going to fire me when he got back.

I nodded repeatedly. If only she knew how much I sympathised. “Sorry, I truly didn’t mean to meddle. I’ll keep quiet about my thoughts from now on, yeah?”

To my relief, her shy smile was quickly restored to her mouth. “Thank you.”

After a nod in her direction, I headed for the door and nodded my gratitude to the woman opening it for me. Awkward silence descended between Ivy and I while we journeyed back to the others, or perhaps only I perceived it that way. I hoped so. Getting on Ivy’s bad side (if she had one) wasn’t on my wish list, and especially not if she and Alexander embarked a relationship down the road.

Judging from the dynamics between William and I, it was only a question of time before we put a label on what we shared. If I eventually claimed the title of his girlfriend, I would likely be spending plenty of time with Ivy in the future. Therefore, it was important to me to lay the foundation for a friendship to be possible between us.

To my relief, she didn’t appear to harbour any irritation with me while we headed toward he others, but she did stiffen when she fixed her attention on Alexander. Curious as to whether my earlier words had triggered it, I followed her gaze and saw that the entire group surrounding him looked nearly as troubled as he did. What on earth was going on?

Somewhat impatiently, I neared William’s side and gently queried, “What’s going on?” Without looking at me, and seemingly absentminded, he wrapped his arm around my waist and pressed me against his side, protective.

Andy’s tone was concerned when he explained, “It’s Abbie.”

Puzzled, I browsed the area, unsure of what to look for, but when a drunk and young lady, of long blonde hair that was styled to perfection, shambled around the place, I was quite confident I had located the right target. She looked as drunk as I had been the other weekend, when William had held my hair while I was sick in the toilet after too much tequila. That matter aside, she was quite the gorgeous lady, and she was very tall. From the perfect proportions of her face, I was positive she’d had plastic surgery done. There was just something unnatural about her nose. It was too perfect.

I’d always been one for believing that imperfection was perfection. Perfection in itself was boring. Imperfection was not. And I preferred things that weren’t boring. Why else would I have fallen in love with William? Besides, I relished a good oxymoron.

“She’s making a complete scandal out of herself,” Chloe stated upset, clearly sympathising with the woman in distress. Had Abigail seen Alexander and Ivy? Was that why she had drunk herself senseless? I noted that an older man approached her, somewhat angry in his strides, before I turned to study Alexander. Pale in his face, he watched his ex wallow in misery, and it was palpable that he wanted to end it. He was obviously a notably compassionate man. He looked awfully conflicted, and it tempted to reach out and console him. However, part of him reminded me of Robby, and because of it, I didn’t reckon that he would appreciate it. He seemed like the sort of man who preferred to retreat into himself whenever trouble sought his company.

I saw him flinch at Chloe’s words, but just when he was about to head for Abigail, William reached forward to grab his shoulder rather firmly.

“Alex, don’t,” he tersely said, and his voice was so low that my scalp prickled. I hated whenever he used that tone of his. He had used it against Robby, and he had used it against me, and it exuded power that would render any person into a wimp.

“I can’t just stand here and do nothing,” Alexander argued perturbed. “It’s essentially my fault!”

William glared back at him, and I knew at once that he wasn’t going to relent. Tough love was headed Alexander’s way. “Precisely. This is nothing but a desperate cry for your attention. If you fall victim to it, she’ll see that it works and will repeat it time and again. Is that what you want?”

I gulped while my eyes widened. Strange as it was, his strictness and words of wisdom were triggering my libido. How I loved this side of William. He had a true flair for spotting toxic people, and situations, in the blink of an eye. His intuition and psychological prowess was remarkable in that arena. What’s more, I absolutely loved that he was guiding his friend out of trouble. In that mission, he was ceaseless. He was always looking out for us.

Alexander’s sharp jaw clenched before he directed his glare to meet William’s. But he said nothing, so William continued to command, “You have to think long-term. Yes, if you tend to her now, it will probably appease her, but only for the moment. You can’t feed her hope, which is what you’ll be doing if you provide her with your attention.”

Oh, my God. Fuck me now, William. He was triggering Niagara Falls in my knickers. I was going insane. This was better than his dirty talk, for crying out loud. I was so kinky, but his brain was turning me on big time.

Dropping my gaze to the martini he was holding, in the hand of the arm around my waist, I noted the olive within the liquid and got a bright idea while I vaguely heard Graham declare, “I’m with Will on this one.”

I want Will with me, naked in the bed upstairs, I thought to myself, and stared at the olive of his martini, amassing courage. What I had in mind was bound to grab his attention.

“Bollocks,” Alexander muttered, but I was too focused on my mission to look at him. “How about a dance, Ivy? I could do with a distraction,” he then pleaded.

I heard her stammer her reply, “A-Alex, as much as I’d like to help, I truly can’t dance. You’ll be leaving this place with ten blue nails.”

“That’s a price I’d be glad to pay for a dance with you.”

The man was competing with William’s charms, wasn’t he? Well, William’s easily won when it came to me, and I planned to express that to the man himself very soon. My hand was surprisingly calm when I journeyed it toward his glass and fished the olive out of it. Lifting it toward my mouth, I turned to face my date. Puzzled, he looked back to me. All while holding his gaze under arrest, I pushed my tongue past my lips to lick the olive. I didn’t mind whether it was inappropriate. My lust for him was so extreme in that moment that all my inhibitions faded at the hands of it. His eyes widened considerably when he realised what I was doing, and that was when I decided to start sucking on it in a palpably suggestive manner.

His lips parted, albeit faintly. Splendid. I had him just where I wanted him. Pushing the olive into my cheek, I leered at him. For invitation, I paid him a seductive wink and turned on my heel to head for the exit. His smouldering stare bore into my back, and it made me grin to myself. I wondered how many steps I would manage before he caught up to me.

“You,” he called hungrily when I’d nearly reached the exit. Sneaking around my waist, from behind, were his arms, and they hugged me to his front while he dropped a kiss to my neck. My skin tingled with pleasure even after he’d pulled away to rest his lips by my ear. “You’re going to unman me, Cara. Give me five. Wait here.”

With that, his arms abandoned me. Confused, I turned and watched him approach the men’s room with his graceful strides. Right.

Sighing, I folded my arms and carelessly browsed the couples on the dance floor in the centre of the space. Only when I noticed the mountain that was Alexander did I focus my attention. From this angle, I could only see his profile. Standing in front of Ivy, they looked about to dance together, and I pitied her. Alexander must have managed to persuade her. But to my surprise, they hadn’t moved even a step together by the time she orphaned him on the floor. From the look of her, she was disconcerted.

Had he said something?

I was certain my eyes were wide with my curiosity when Alexander suddenly met my gaze across the room. Even from this distance, his sigh was visible from the drop of his broad shoulders. Poor man. What had he done now?

After rubbing the back of his head and staring at his feet for a short breath, he approached me. My heart leapt to my throat. If he was going to ask me for a dance, he had another rejection in wait.

“Cara,” he greeted when he halted in front of me.

“I don’t dance,” I immediately said.

His responding smile was winsome, but not whole-hearted. Ivy must have upset him somewhat. “I gathered as much when you brutally rejected William’s efforts.”

“Right,” I mumbled and blushed faintly.

From his narrowed eyes, I was positive he noticed the new shade of my cheeks. He confirmed it when he said, “You’re a blusher. So is Ivy. Is it annoying?”

“Quite.”

He laughed. “Well, it’s a source of amusement for your spectators.”

I chuckled. “Glad I can amuse you.”

“I find it to be a charming quality. An honest one, too.”

“Why, because we can’t control it?”

“Yes. Your words may say one thing, but your bodies, thereby your blush, tells a different story.”

I chuckled again. “Are you in the habit of analysing people a lot, Alex? Since you’re saying this?”

“A bit,” he admitted embarrassed. “Anyway, where’s Will? Weren’t you two about to... head off?”

I smiled sheepishly. “He needed the loo first.”

He laughed wholeheartedly, mood restored to good spirits. “I find it charming that you’re so comfortable with each other by now that something like that doesn’t ruin the heat of the moment.”

“I’ll take him any way I can have him. I am desperate right now,” I confessed unashamed.

His deep blue orbs were radiating, and I stared at him, captured by his male beauty. He was truly a beautiful man. “You look well together, you know. You suit him.”

That was a sobering thing to hear, as well as heartfelt. “Thanks, Alex,” I replied touched.

“I don’t know you all that well yet,” he continued, “but from what I’ve gathered thus far, he suits you as well.”

“He does,” I confirmed smitten.

He looked charmed. “He tells me you were difficult in the beginning.”

I groaned and looked away from him, only to see Oliver-something head past us to head for the restrooms as well. Our eyes met for a brief second, so we sent each other a small smile for acknowledgement.

“William is a difficult man to put up with sometimes,” I replied with a shrug of my shoulders and met Alexander’s eyes again.

His left eyebrow arched. “Tell me about it. If ever you need any advice, or just someone to moan to, who will understand, I’ll give you an ear.”

I grinned up at him. I loved him already. He was obviously investing in me because he saw a sincere potential of William and I lasting. The statement between his lines was louder than his words themselves. “Thanks, Alex, but I’ve got his younger brother for that. Jason’s my flatmate.”

“Right.” He nodded. “Was that why you were difficult, perhaps? And because he’s your boss?”

I pursed my lips. He was clearly trying to compare Ivy and I. “This got anything to do with Ivy?” I queried.

He looked underwhelmed. “Did Will tell you?”

“Yeah.”

He sighed and looked toward the doors leading to the garden, where Ivy had exited earlier. “I worry she’s sincerely not interested, and I don’t want to harass her either, so I’m not being very clear myself. I’m trying to gauge her thoughts, but she’s awfully cryptic. When I do try to be clear, she... well, she left just now. That should say enough.”

“Your approach could not be more different to William’s,” I remarked amused. “I would say he was rather obvious and intense in his pursuit. And Ivy’s completely oblivious, Alex. I spoke to her in the ladies’ room just now, ambiguously, though. She’s got no idea. Moreover, she’s in denial. If she’s anything like me, she doesn’t want to entertain the idea of you because you’re her boss.”

He frowned at me, but I could tell he was miles away mentally, pondering. “What do you reckon I should do, then?” he eventually asked.

“Don’t give up.”

He chuckled, but it was a forfeited sound. “I couldn’t even if I tried.”

“Then go after her now,” I said and gestured toward the garden. “Help her see that your interest in her isn’t going to fuck up her career. That’s definitely what’s holding her back. If she’s not interested after that, well... at least you tried. Besides, you’re adults. You’ll work your way around it, should that be the outcome.”

He nodded and steered his gaze toward the gardens. Resolve shined from his eyes. “I’ll catch you later, then.”

“Yes. Good luck,” I replied fondly and reached out to pat his arm. It was rock solid beneath my touch. Lucky Ivy.

“Have fun with William. Do come back,” he said with a tone of amusement.

“No promises.” My consequent grin was mischievous, and it made him laugh.

I’d been standing on my own for another five minutes when I was starting to wonder what was taking William so long. Groaning, I looked up to the ceiling for a breath before I refocused on the corridor leading to the restrooms. I’d barely watched it for thirty seconds by the time a pale Chloe came wobbling out, eyes wide. She looked as if she’d seen a ghost.

Somewhat concerned for her, I was frowning to myself when her eyes locked with mine. Halting, she waved me forward, and from the manner, I could tell it was urgent. Immediately, I approached, vigilant.

“Chloe?” I called when I’d nearly reached her. She said nothing at first, only took my hand.

“Cara, it’s important you stay calm,” she said, and I instantly sensed panic try to capsize my sensibility.

“What’s happened?” I asked monotone.

Her brown eyes turned shiny and wet. “It’s William,” she whispered. My heart fell completely still. “He’s been attacked in the men’s room. He’s unconscious and in very bad shape. Andy walked in and managed to subdue his assailant, and security have taken over now. The ambulance will be here any moment. Andy told me to fetch you.”

I pushed past her immediately, out of touch with reality. Not a single thing made sense to me. Her words kept replaying in my head, ‘He’s unconscious and in very bad shape’, but I couldn’t fathom them. It was as though my soul had left my body. My existence seemed bizarre even to me. All I could do was respond to impulse.

Stalking toward the men’s room, I found a group of security guards standing outside of it. My heart leapt to my throat when I caught a look of Andy. Visibly rattled, he was speaking to another member of security, but the blood on his white shirt was what grabbed my immediate attention. Was it William’s?

“Andy,” I called, and my voice lacked any trace of emotion. His eyes darted toward me, and when he realised my presence, his entire face twisted.

“Cara,” he sobbed, and he looked about to collapse. The sound and sight of it left my heart in splinters. I’d never been this scared before. That a grown man like Andy was exhibiting such blatant fear increased mine. He was even crying.

“No,” I whimpered and rushed toward him. “What happened? Tell me what happened!” I demanded and felt tears of my own prickle my eyes. There was blood on him, and it was tearing me apart. Was it William’s? Where was he? Was he inside the men’s room? It couldn’t be him. It didn’t make any sense. Why would this happen to him? Who would want to harm my William?

“Miss,” the male security guard that had been speaking to him interposed. “Please, calm down. We’ve got this under control. The paramedics will be here shortly. You just breathe and remind yourself that everything is going to be fine.”

Devastated, I looked into his hard brown eyes, pleading for information. “Please, tell me what happened. Is it William? Is he okay?” I gripped into his vest, desperate for answers.

He looked toward Andy. “Do you know who she is, Mr Thompson?”

Andy barely managed to look at me. “It’s Cara, his girlfriend,” he decided to say, and it confirmed my fears. Indeed, it was William in there.

The man looked back to me, and his expression was softer. “Cara,” he said. “May I call you that?”

“Yes,” I wheezed and gripped his vest so hard that my knuckles turned numb and white. “Please, tell me he’s going to be okay,” I pleaded, but a sob interfered with my sentence.

“He’s got a pulse, but he’s unconscious. That’s all I can say for now.” Gently, he gripped around my wrists and guided my shocked figure to sit against the wall of the corridor.

“Please, may I see him? I need to see him!” I urged and looked up at him in my utter despair while tears streamed down my cheeks.

His voice was gentle. “No. We’ve got somebody trained in first-aid tending to him already till the paramedics get here.”

I thought I would faint. The uncertainty was driving me mad. So what if he had a pulse? It might not be there in five minutes. He was unconscious! Could he have been struck in the head? Was that why? Then what if he was brain damaged? Permanently? What if, when he woke up, he wouldn’t be the same again?

Was this truly happening? I could hardly comprehend it. Not William. No, it wasn’t fair. I loved him, and I hadn’t even told him. I was so stupid. Why had I waited with telling him? I should have confessed it the instant I realised it. Our earlier troubles seemed so trivial now. I hated that I hadn’t told him. He couldn’t leave me. Not like this. I wouldn’t know what to do without him. He was the sole man I had ever fallen in love with. Living without him didn’t seem like an option. Without him in it, my future seemed so bleak and idle. Losing him wasn’t even an alternative. It would break me apart, and I would never recover from it. I loved him with every fibre of my being, and every corner of my soul.

His time hadn’t come yet. It couldn’t have. He was much too bright, much too young, much too promising, to cease existing now. He had so much left to do, so many places he wanted to explore, and things he wanted to learn. His career wasn’t at its peak, he hadn’t married, and he hadn’t even had children yet. And I knew he had always wanted those things. They were among his goals in life.

How could this happen to him now? Was death going to steal him so soon? It wasn’t fair! We had hardly begun! There was so much we had yet to do together; so many fights to have, and so many acts of love. Who was supposed to hold me till I fell asleep? Who was supposed to make love to me? Who was I supposed to make love to? Who was I supposed to create a life with? My story with?

Which man was I supposed to support through troubles of his own, if not William? There wouldn’t be any other man. It was as simple as that. If I lost him, I would lose my chance at love. I was certain. No love would ever come close to the celestial heights of my love for William. Loving him was embedded in my DNA. Even if he left me, I would never stop loving him - not until I died myself.

Who was supposed to understand me when it felt like he was the only one who truly did? I hadn’t even been able to give him my love yet. I hadn’t made him feel like the most precious thing the world had ever seen, which he was to me. He was my precious William. I hadn’t given him even an ounce of what he deserved.

I couldn’t forgive myself. I had wasted my time minding trivial problems when there was no telling how long I would have him for. I had taken his life for granted. It was a horrible reality-check to realise that life was only borrowed. One day, death would come to make its claim, and there was no telling when that would happen.

Shock gripped me. Numbness unlike any other I’d experienced spread throughout my system until I could only stare blankly ahead of myself, out of touch with reality. Because of it, only seconds seemed to pass before a team of paramedics rushed past me and into the men’s room. Through the gap they provided, I saw only his legs. He was lying limp on the floor in what looked like recovery position. My heart shrieked in my chest upon the sight.

Brutal agony consumed me next. I could barely breathe through the immense pain of it. I started trembling, and that was when Andy sat down next to me and wrapped his arm over my shoulders.

“He’s going to be okay, Cara,” he assured me, but I could hear in his voice that he was saying it on autopilot. He wasn’t sure he believed his own words.

I wailed and gripped his shirt, but when I saw the blood, I pushed him away again, horrified. I didn’t want William’s blood on me. I didn’t want it anywhere near me, and yet I didn’t want Andy to leave. I didn’t know what to do. I felt about to explode.

“I don’t understand,” I sobbed through my relentless tears and looked into his brown eyes.

“He’s going to be fine. That’s all that matters,” he replied softly.

“Is that his-his blood? Please t-tell me-me it’s n-not hi-his blood!” I begged and pointed to his shirt.

“He’s breathing, Cara. That’s all that matters,” he repeated.

“Who did this to him?” I asked vehemently, albeit quietly.

“I don’t know. I don’t know him.”

“Did you see him?”

“Yes. The guards brought him out the back door just before you got here.”

I looked back to the door when I saw two members of the paramedics lift William onto a stretcher. The sight made me crouch over and squeeze my eyes shut. I couldn’t believe it. It was truly he. Even if I hadn’t seen his face yet, I recognised that body. I would have recognised it anywhere. To me, he stood out as one in seven billion. Because that was what he was. Seven billion people on the planet, and I knew without a doubt that William had been created just for me. What I had with him couldn’t ever be replaced. There would never be anyone else for me – not like him.

“You should ride with them. Chloe and I will meet you at the hospital. Don’t worry about Alex or William’s parents or Jason. I’ve got it covered. Just go with him,” Andy said and pushed himself up to bring me with him. Standing proved a trying task, as my entire figure trembled. Noticing, he wrapped his arm around my waist to support me.

When the paramedics finally brought William out of the door, I nearly collapsed. His face, his beautiful, handsome face, was covered in bruises and spots of blood. Without thinking, I rushed toward him, and not once did I tear my eyes away while I said, “I’m his girlfriend. May I please come with you to the hospital?”

“Yes,” the female responded. “What’s your name, Miss?”

“Cara. Cara Jane Darby.”

“I’m Angela,” the female said, but I didn’t look at her. I couldn’t look away from William. I worried that if I did, he’d suddenly disappear. “Your boyfriend is going to be all right, Cara,” she told me, and my heart was soothed just a little. “He’s got a pulse and he’s breathing fine, but he’s taken a severe beating to the head, which is why he’s not responding. He’s unconscious, but it’s likely just temporary,” she continued.

I barely managed to nod my head. In a trance, I followed them out the back door and into the vehicle where I was told I could hold his hand as I sat beside him. I didn’t dare to squeeze it, however much I wanted to. He looked so brittle where he lay, and the thought of death lurking so close made me scared of even breathing on him. So instead I raised it to my lips and kissed it repeatedly, while I mentally begged for him to recover. For the life of me, I hoped he hadn’t suffered any permanent brain damage. What if he woke up, but would never be himself again? What was I supposed to do then? I couldn’t bear even the thought of it. This wasn’t supposed to happen. We were supposed to be together, healthy and happy.

Leaning next to his ear, I whispered through my inconsolable sobs, “I love you, William. I love you so much. Please wake up. I’m right here, darling. Just wake up. I love you, and I’ll never stop.” I kissed his ear and grimaced in agony, lost in the void.

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