Skin of the Night

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Chapter 65: A Perfect Swap

I had arrived at William’s flat two hours ago. During that while, I’d unpacked my suitcase, organised my clothes in his walk-in-closet, and cooked him dinner with Jason’s assistance. Currently, the three of us were lounging in his living area, but we weren’t talking much. In the sofa opposite of us, Jason utilised his phone for distraction, while William mainly gazed blankly out the window. I knew the drugs in his system were wearing off by now, and it was affecting his mood. He was returning from his high, and he wasn’t enjoying it. Life’s grim shades were crawling back to his awareness, and it was tempting to probe him about it. The dark alleys of his mind was something I wanted to journey through, so I would know how to support him best. Moreover, I was itching to hear what the police officers had discussed with him earlier.

By the time Jason and I had returned from the cafeteria after breakfast, Alice had already been there to ease his pain with drugs, so discussing the matter hadn’t been particularly productive. All I’d managed to conclude was that William had been completely blindsided in this, and hadn’t been aware of Francesca’s relationship with Oliver. She’d told him they had broken up, and he had believed her. He had also been told by the detectives that they had pressed charges, and that Oliver was still in custody as other parts of the investigation were still being conducted, mainly revolving new information that Francesca had provided during their visit to her last night.

While I wanted more answers, I was reluctant to force him to talk, since he might not feel ready to speak about the incident yet. But from the look of him, it was blatant, and only natural, that it was the only thing on his mind.

An icepack Jason had changed for him only minutes ago covered his left eye from view, but I could see from the rest of his face that he was brooding. He was resting across the sofa, back supported by two cushions in the opposite corner of the sofa to me. Seated by his feet, I massaged them every now and then, desperate to do anything that might be of comfort to him.

“It’s getting late,” Jason suddenly said. “I should leave. I’ve got a feeling you two would like to be alone,” he added and pushed up from his seat. “I’ll see you on Monday, but don’t hesitate to ring me if you need me tomorrow as well.”

My eyes flickered between them, but his brother didn’t as much as stir for a response. “Will?” I called.

Immediately, his eyes darted in my direction. “Yes?”

“Jason is leaving,” I patiently told him. He directed his attention to his brother then, but it was obvious that he was struggling to return from his thoughts.

“Right.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll see you Monday, I suppose. Thanks for helping me out today.”

“Anytime, Will. I’m glad you’re... Yeah,” Jason replied pensively and shoved his mobile into his back pocket.

William merely nodded his head in return and focused his attention out the window again. Sighing, I stretched up to see Jason out.

While he put on his white Nike trainers, I asked, “You okay?”

“As good as can be, all things considered,” he murmured as he swiftly tied his shoelaces. “I don’t really want to leave, but I reckon he wants you alone for now.”

My heart sank as sympathy weighed it down. I knew I needed to be here for William, but it was clear as day that Jason required consoling. Knowing that, it didn’t sit right with me that he would return to our flat alone. He was my best friend. I had a responsibility to care for him, too. What’s more, he had made it sound as though I was stealing his rightful place beside his brother, as if I were replacing him or being prioritised above him. “Jason, no. If you want to stay, you should. He’s your brother. And I don’t fancy the idea of you being alone right now. I want to be there for you.”

“Just be here for Will, Cara. I’ll be all right. I only want to stay because seeing him alive is reassuring me. I’m not making use of myself, and you two probably need to talk. Besides, I gather I’ll head over to my parents. I could use their company right now. And I’ll see Will on Monday, anyway.”

I frowned, though the idea of him spending time with Daphne and John did console me. “That’s a good plan, Jason. Please do it. My heart will rest easier if I know you’re not going to be alone tonight.”

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” he assured me and stretched to tower in front of me. “Take good care of him. Don’t hesitate to call if there’s anything at all, yeah?”

“I promise,” I stated momentously and looked up into his light blue orbs, which always radiated of unlimited kindness and warmth.

“Good,” he said and folded his hand over the nape of my neck to bring my head under his lips. “Love you. Sleep well.”

“You too.” I wrapped my arms tightly around his robust frame to squeeze him against me, and then hugged him for an extended while, reluctant to let go. The sheer scent of him mollified my troubled soul. Though William’s ordeal had rattled us all, I found comfort in the thought that we were in it together. If I had to endure this sort of agony with anyone by my side, I would want it to be Jason, because we were always stronger together. He truly was the brother I never got.

Eventually, he gently forced my release by pushing me away, and turned for the door. I watched him leave with a miserable pout on my face. “You ring as well, yeah?” I told him. “If there’s anything at all?”

“Yeah.”

It was with a heavy heart that I closed the door between us when he escaped into the lift. With a sigh, I leaned against the shut door for a minute to collect myself.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked of William when I eventually returned to the living area. “How’s the pain?”

He didn’t look at me as he shook his head. “I’m fine.”

Sighing again, I rocked back and forth on my heels and wondered what to do with myself. I’d already cleaned the dishes after dinner. There was still his bag from last night to unpack, though. I had decided against doing it earlier, because I wasn’t aware of where to place the various items. Knowing him, he preferred his order about things, and I didn’t want to mess with that.

“I need to unpack your bag from last night. Since I don’t know where you prefer to keep your various belongings, would you care to guide me?” I then asked.

“Sure,” he replied and finally turned his comely face toward me. Bruised and battered, he was still the most beautiful man in the world to me.

“Thanks,” I uttered upon an exhalation and walked over to aid him up.

“It’s my upper body that’s injured, Cara, not my legs,” he muttered annoyed when he realised my intention. In the same moment, it dawned on me that he was angry at his condition. He did not appreciate feeling helpless, and my actions were eliciting it. Vaguely, I wondered if it bruised his ego.

“Sorry,” I meekly said and retreated a few steps.

He collapsed backward again, crestfallen. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to use that tone with you. I know you only meant well,” he responded, and his tone was sobering. After a sigh, he patted the sofa for invitation, and I obliged at once. From his behaviour, I gathered he finally wanted to talk.

Once I was seated next to him, he fixed his gaze out the window again and absentmindedly placed his healthy left hand to my thigh. “I’m...” he paused, “I’m just a bit... pensive. Over the past few hours, what happened last night has started to sink in, and it’s affecting me. Suppose the drugs have worn off.”

I placed my hand atop his and stared apprehensively at his profile. The atmosphere was morose, but while I felt like crying again, I knew I had to be brave for him. Though the thought of losing him was inciting grave emotions, he was truly the one suffering the most. I couldn’t begin to imagine what dark thoughts he must have entertained now that he’d started to cogitate over the incident with a sober mind.

“Are you thinking about anything in particular, or is it just a mess?” I carefully asked, my voice gentle and patient.

After another sigh, he flipped his hand around beneath mine and entwined our fingers. When his long digits locked around mine, he turned his head and stared at our hands for quite some time, reflecting again.

“While I’m having a lot of thoughts, there’s been more emotion,” he murmured. “I’m feeling very angry at the moment. I’m angry with Oliver, I’m angry with Francesca, and I’m angry with myself for believing her when she told me she was single.

“In retrospect, there have been a few occasions where she’s acted weirdly around me. She made some abrupt departures, acted suspiciously around her phone, and they’re all things I now feel I should have picked up on. I gathered, at the time, that she was only entertaining other men, so I didn’t really mind it. I found relief in the thought that she wasn’t investing in me, either. I saw it as assurance that what we had was only casual, on both ends.

“But most of all, I’m angry with Oliver. I’m angry he didn’t think to speak to me about it first, but instead resorted to violence as if I’d partaken in this while informed of their situation. I wasn’t. I seriously had no idea. And since he’s only been an acquaintance, I didn’t think to fact-check Francesca, when she told me they were over, by reaching out to him. What was I supposed to have done? Ring him up and go, ‘Your ex wants me in her bed. You alright with that?’.

“We’re not friends. It didn’t seem like it was any of his business, so I kept him out of it. And I specially decided to keep him out of it because I had no serious intentions with Francesca in the first place, so it just seemed wrong to enlighten him of it.

“And while I can’t remember much from the function, I doubt he spoke to me before he attacked me. I can’t imagine that I would’ve said anything that would trigger this result. I would’ve been humble about it – certainly apologetic. Jealous man that I am, I can imagine how infuriating it must be to realise that your girlfriend has been sleeping with someone else. And that’s how I know I would’ve acted humble – had he confronted me – because I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone when knowing how I would have felt about it myself, had it happened to me. Being the man someone cheats with is against my principles. I’ve never wanted to be that man, and yet unbeknownst to me, I was.

“Suppose Francesca knew as much, since she never told me the truth. She must have reckoned that lying to me was the only way she’d have a ticket to my bed. Had I known, I never would have touched her.

“And now he’s gone and stalled my career. I loved that case, Cara. It was seriously riveting. Working on it, it didn’t really feel like work. I was doing something I’ve always been passionate about. It both challenged and stimulated me, and now I’ve been robbed of it simply because I slept with a woman I thought was single. It all just seems so bizarre. I never foresaw this.

“I’m just... rattled. I was entirely blindsided, and it makes me feel both naïve and powerless. I’m trying to remind myself that what happened wasn’t my fault, but it scares me to think that something I might do can have such grave consequences. I mean – the man tried to kill me. He seriously meant to end my life.

“I’ve no doubt he’s suffering from some antisocial disorder, taking his impulsive reaction into account, and inclination toward violence, but that doesn’t make it any better. I triggered a bloody lunatic, and he tried to kill me. Sitting here now, alive, just feels so odd. Just this,” his voice started trembling while he squeezed my hand, “holding your hand, feels surreal. I keep thinking that I might not have been able to do this again. Just holding your hand – just hearing my parents’ voice and bantering with Jason. Hearing you all breathe. It makes me feel like I’ve taken my life for granted. I’m still trying to process the fuck-load of lessons this incident has taught me. It’s been an eye-opening experience to say the least.”

Like him, I stared at our hands with wet eyes. I was struggling to keep a lid on my emotions, as his words were poking them when they were still raw and sensitive.

“I don’t know what to say,” I admitted. I couldn’t possibly imagine myself in his shoes right now. I’d never been so close to being locked in death’s embrace – not that I was aware of, anyhow.

“You don’t have to say anything. I’m only telling you so that you’re aware of where my mind’s at.” His voice was so feeble that it tore on the fibres of my heart to hear it.

Since I didn’t trust that my urge to sob wouldn’t disturb my voice, I only shook my head for a response and squeezed his hand harder.

“I’m arranging a meeting with a counsellor on Wednesday,” he said, “as part of the Victim Support programme. I think I ought to speak to a professional about my thoughts. Both the police and my doctor implored me to do it before you returned from breakfast today. I already know Mum and Dad will want me to as well, so I’m going to give it a go.”

I rested my head on his broad shoulder, where the familiar scent of him soothed my wounded heart somewhat. “You should,” I quietly replied.

Mirroring my actions, I sensed him bury his nose in my hair to take my scent into his lungs. “Let’s unpack that bag, shall we?” he murmured against my scalp before he paid it repeated pecks.

“Mm,” I hummed for agreement.

About half an hour later, I finished placing the last item he’d packed for yesterday away, and it was his Braun shaving machine. The device had piqued my curiosity, so while I shut the drawer beneath the basin, I asked, “Will, when was the last time you had a clean shave?”

“Last Christmas, I think. Why?” he replied from outside.

“I’ve never seen you clean shaven,” I replied and shrugged my shoulders to myself before I exited the bathroom to join him in the bedroom. Sprawled across the bed of it, he gazed broodingly upon the white ceiling above.

He made a lazy gesture with his left hand, but didn’t look at me. “Well, I look younger.”

“Every man does, in my opinion.”

“Would you prefer if I had a clean shave?” he queried and glanced in my direction.

My head tilted while I tried to imagine him without his stubble. Would his jawline look even sharper than it already did?

“Does it matter what I prefer?” I countered.

“To some extent, of course. I want you to find me attractive, but only to the level where I’m comfortable with the potential appearance myself. A compromise, of sorts. For instance, if you found purple hair attractive, I wouldn’t have it done, because I don’t fancy that. But I can do without my stubble, if that’s what you prefer.”

I chuckled. “I prefer stubble. I’m only curious as to what you would look like without it.”

“Well, it takes me three days to grow it back, so it can be arranged.”

I couldn’t help my grin. Though trivial, I found suspense in this. “Let’s wait till your bruised eye has faded.”

He laughed, but right after, he hissed in evident pain. His ribs, I gathered.

“Ugh,” he complained. “This is going to become a problem. Hilarious as I find you, laughing hurts at the moment. So do try not to make me laugh, Cara.”

I rolled my eyes at him. He had an uncanny ability to blame me for his own failings. When my eyes had made full circle, they rested on his alarm clock. Now showing ten past ten, it was time for bed. “I’ll try my best. Sleep sound good to you?”

He arched a brow and handed me his full attention. “Only if you’ll join me. Naked.”

Flummoxed, I watched him with parted lips. “If you’re suggesting we have sex, William, you are truly daft. We are not having sex anytime soon.”

Again, he laughed, and hissed, on repeat. “Fuck,” he moaned, irritated.

“Clown,” I mumbled and shook my head in amusement with him.

“As much as I want it, I wasn’t proposing sex. Alas, I’m not in shape for it,” he claimed, “but I want to sleep naked with you. I need to feel your bare skin against mine. After everything, I think I deserve that. And, you know, I read in an article a while back that couples that sleep naked beside each other have happier and healthier relationships. I believe it.”

“Of course you do.” I couldn’t contain my laughter. Concussion or not, he would always be my carnal, sensual William. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from him. “Did you read it in Daily News? Or was it The Sun?" I teased him.

“Man’s got to have his subscriptions,” he joined in.

“Rubbish subscriptions?”

“I particularly enjoy the section on the latest gossip on celebrities. Kim Kardashian’s bum always summons a click.”

That was not funny to me. “Does it?” I muttered.

Again, he laughed and hissed interchangeably. “Ah, fuck me. Stop making me laugh. Of course I don’t read rubbish like that. What do you take me for? I’m a refined and sophisticated man.”

“Yeah, right. As sophisticated as they come, fucking me in your office during work hours.”

“Ah, those were the days. We haven’t done that nearly enough.”

I brushed my hair behind my ear. “Now that we’re on the subject, do you know how long you’ll be absent from work?”

He sighed depressed. “Six weeks, on the doctor’s orders, if not longer, depending on my progress.”

I gaped at him. “Six weeks?”

“Yeah. It blows.”

“Then who’s going to be in charge of me?”

“Probably Violet, if not Lawrence. But I’m guessing Violet, if she’s assigned to the case. She supervised another intern just last summer, and she rather enjoyed it.”

“Violet?” I echoed.

His stare was intense while a crooked smile crept across his mouth. “Problem?”

I looked away from him, hesitant. “Do you reckon she’ll be awkward about things?”

“Since you’ve both enjoyed my dick, do you mean?”

“You are seriously taking advantage of my pity. Quit using your free card.”

“Oh, I intend to take full advantage,” he replied, visibly smug.

“Just answer the question, Will,” I prompted impatiently.

“She’s not going to give a single shit,” he dryly said. “You’ll see. I’m honestly looking forward for you to get to know her better, if that happens. Knowing you, I think you’ll grow quite fond of her. She’ll be an inspiration to you for certain. A role model, of sorts. Ego aside, she might even be a better guide to you than I’ve been.”

I was intrigued. I dearly hoped he would be proven correct in his inkling, because I would hate for the remainder of my internship to be a version of hell. It had proved trying enough on several occasions already, particularly in the beginning; and I wasn’t referring to the actual work, but rather William’s status as my direct superior.

“Who’s going to bring me coffees?” I teased upon the reminder of those – now – blissful days.

His consequent grin was captivating. “I’ll still bring you coffees, love. Just in bed, is all, rather than your desk.”

“Cryptic messages included?”

“Certainly.”

“Can’t wait.” I beamed delighted.

An hour later, I’d helped him to a wash in his tub and gotten ready for bed myself. He had just settled into bed beside me when I got an idea that I thought would lift Jason’s spirits. Fetching my phone from my nightstand, I climbed out to snap a photo of my boyfriend.

“What you doing?” he asked bewildered.

“Try to smile. I’m sending your picture to Jason on Snapchat.”

He looked confounded. “What? Why?”

“Just smile. He wasn’t happy to leave earlier. I want to assure him that you’re in good hands.”

His open eye rolled into his skull while he groaned in despair of me.

“Smile, Will!”

“Record me instead.”

I frowned, but concurred. “As you wish. Recording in three, two, one...”

“Hello, wanker. I’m currently staring at my naked girlfriend, with thanks to you. You spoil me, Jason.”

I removed my thumb to press delete. “I’m deleting that. Why must you be such an idiot, Will?”

“No, don’t delete it! He ought to know how grateful I am for that.”

“I’m giving you one more chance, or I’m only sending a photo.”

“Killjoy,” he muttered.

“Three, two, one...”

“Thanks for being my brother, Jason. I often appreciate you.”

“He’s the Pumba to your Timon, actually,” I quoted him while still filming. He looked utterly bewildered. Had he forgotten he said that?

“What?”

“Yes, you said it yourself when you were high on drugs earlier.”

He scoffed. “Fuck that – I’m Mufasa. He’s Simba.”

I burst out laughing. “What does that make John?”

“Useless.”

I wheezed. “Brutal!”

He smirked. “Only joking. I love you, Dad.”

I absolutely adored that he didn’t shy away from verbally declaring his love for his family. Such things clearly didn’t embarrass him in the least, and I admired that about him. Not many men were that verbal about their devotion to their family. Upon that thought, I was reminded that he hadn’t yet declared any love for me. That hurt a little. Was he deliberately avoiding the topic, or had it sincerely slipped his mind? Should I remind him?

After I stopped filming, I wrote the caption, ‘He loves you, too, Jason’, and pressed send.

“Finished?” he asked sulkily.

I locked my phone and passed him a sweet smile. “Yes.”

“Remain there for a few seconds,” he ordered, and unashamedly ogled my naked figure. “I should be the one snapping a photo of you,” he then stated.

“I don’t do nudes. I find the risks too high. It’s a matter of principle for me. Sorry.”

“Wise lady. Still gutted, though.”

“You’ll have to manage with a live view.” I twirled in front of him.

“Then what am I supposed to wank over while you’re at work?”

He was unbelievable. “Use your imagination. Are you even routinized with your left hand?” I bantered back.

He looked proper sinful now. “I’ll make do.”

“Don’t wank, Will. I’m not sure your ribs can take it, panting like that.”

He scoffed. “What do you know about wanking? You’re a woman. And if you won’t have sex with me, I’ll be forced to test my limits. I can only last so long.”

I eyed him in disbelief. “You’d think having a skull fracture, broken ribs, a stab wound, a broken arm, a black eye and a concussion would impact your libido. Are you even human?”

He grinned. “I’m honestly not looking to have sex with you right now. I’m only teasing you. My libido has actually diminished. For now.”

“For now,” I echoed to myself.

“You should take advantage of your brief holiday. When I’m restored to good health, I’ll be making up for lost time.”

“Oh, my God,” I moaned in dread.

“Oh, your God, indeed. I demand a no-clothes policy while you’re living here.”

“In your dreams, Will,” I muttered and shook my head at him while I climbed into the bed again.

“On second thought, I take it back. Since we can’t have sex at the moment, I shouldn’t torture myself like that. Terrible idea.”

“Duly noted. Behave, or I shall torment you.”

“Bollocks. Why did I say that out loud?”

“Because you’re an idiot with no filter,” I explained and joined him under the duvet.

Just as I reached over to switch off the lights, he countered, “Well, it brought me you, so I’m alright with that.”

I smiled amused and, when darkness encompassed us, snuggled closer to his side. “It surely did, and I’m not going anywhere.”

“You called me Mr Arsehole in the beginning.”

The direction his thoughts had taken him in humoured me.

“The name could still apply.”

“And I called you Sandra.”

I laughed wholeheartedly. “That was hilarious. You kept calling me Sandra while we had sex the first time. Talk about role-play.”

He was not amused. “It was fucking rude.”

“It wasn’t personal,” I argued.

“So you’ve said, but consider this: I had honestly grown attached to that name by the time you were introduced under a different one.”

I snickered and kissed his naked shoulder. “Sorry about that.”

“I fancy Cara, though. It’s a pretty name.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ve actually researched it. Are you aware that it means ‘dear’ in Italian?”

I smiled, touched. “Why would you do that? That’s odd. But yes, I am aware.”

“Well, I researched it after Jason insisted that his name stemmed from a hero in Greek mythology. Had to fact-check him. He was right, unfortunately. Anyway, I researched yours shortly after that. Found it perfect. You are certainly my dear. I quite like the idea that when I call you by your name, it’s actually an endearment in itself.”

“You can be quite romantic, Will.”

“Thanks.”

I chuckled at his nonchalant tone. “Did you research your own?”

“Yeah. Means ‘strong-willed warrior’.”

“You’re joking.”

“I’m really not.”

I laughed again. I could hardly believe this. “Really? ‘Strong-willed warrior’? Your name could not be more suited to you, ruthless and unrelenting as you are!”

“I know. I’m literally epic.”

Smitten, I confessed, “You are my hero, actually.”

“Who did you claim was romantic again?”

“I’m trying.”

“Shit job. I nearly retched,” he teased.

I wanted to slap him. “Hey, make up your mind. Either you want my love, or you don’t.”

“I want it. I want all of it.”

I inhaled sharply, seeing a chance. “Well, I want yours, too.”

He fell silent upon that note, and I knew it was because he’d sensed my hint. When a conspicuous amount of time had lapsed, spent in tormenting silence, I carefully placed my arm over his torso and kissed his shoulder again. “No pressure,” I whispered.

He sighed, leaving my arm to descend with his torso. “You’re a bit blind, Cara,” he stated dryly.

I stiffened against him. “I’m sorry?”

“I said you’re quite blind.”

“I heard you. However, could you be less ambiguous?”

“Switch on the lights.”

I didn’t argue, because I was anxious about where this conversation was headed. With haste, I switched on the lights again and sat up in the bed, facing him, with my legs crossed. My eyes were wide while I stared at him. I could tell that this was it – the moment of truth. Every second I spent waiting for him to speak seemed unusually slow. Was he going to break my heart, or claim it as his own?

He gazed soberly back at me, and I detected a conflicted emotion in his open eye. For a brief second, it darted around the space till it settled upon my face again. His mouth opened and closed several times before he frowned to himself.

“I don’t know where to start,” he excused himself. “There’s so much I want to say. To make matters worse, my brain is working much slower than it usually does. This isn’t going to be half as romantic as I wanted it to be.”

My breath hitched as I dared to feel hope. Were we truly at the same stage in this relationship? He didn’t require more time?

“You love me back?” I queried high-pitched.

He arched a brow and reached over to take my hand in his. “This is what I meant when I said you’re blind, Cara. Of course I love you. How could you read me any differently? I love you so much that it sometimes drives me insane. I’ve wanted to tell you for quite some time, but I haven’t dared to, knowing how you work. I was scared it would make you feel pressured, and in turn, that it would inspire you to leave me, and I didn’t want that, so I stifled the urge. Honestly, you have no idea how often I’ve been on the verge of spilling. I’ve bit my tongue so many times it’s surprising I’ve still got one.”

Tears of utter relief and exultation welled in my eyes. My chest could as well have been soaring. After everything that had happened, I relished a moment of feeling light again. “William–”

“I’m not finished. Let me speak.”

I struggled to keep my tears at bay while I nodded my head.

“Looking back,” he continued, “I’ve been in love with you since the first night we met. If you find that crazy, so be it. It’s still the truth, and I’m not ashamed of it.

“While I wasn’t able to identify the feeling at first, I was able to a few weeks after our first encounter. You see, I couldn’t seem to get you off my mind.

“Do you remember when I told you of all the one-night-stands I had after we first met? Well, Cara, it was all an attempt to get over you. I wasn’t acting like myself. To be perfectly honest, I felt... lost. Extremely confused, to say the least. I was searching for your replacement, but to no fucking avail. Andy and Alex were bloody confused with my behaviour, and I don’t blame them. I didn’t make sense to myself, either.

“Regardless,” he muttered, “I’ve loved you since that night. That’s why I behaved like such a bleeding idiot toward you in the beginning. That’s why I couldn’t control myself when I saw that you’d brought Robby home with you that awful night – that’s why I did all the crazy things I’ve done.

“You make me laugh more than anyone else, witty, clever and sharp-mouthed as you are, and you challenge me on all the fronts that I need. Our connection is as unique as it is profound, and it’s not something I’ve ever taken for granted. I’ve never felt this extremely about anything, Cara, and that just goes to show how irreplaceable you are, to me.

“During the while we’ve known each other, you’ve taught me so many things about myself, and shown me sides of life that I can no longer bear living without. I could probably go on and on about this, but I think you got the message. I love you, Cara, and I’m not ever going to stop, either. You belong with me.”

I was blushing the colour of a red rose when I smiled through my happy tears and leaned over him to place my mouth onto his. Mindful of his injuries, I didn’t dare to kiss him with all the passion I contained, regardless of how much it tempted.

He loved me back. The sheer force of my raging feelings were overwhelming me. I couldn’t remember having felt so alive as in that moment. He was here, breathing and living, and he loved me back. It seemed so surreal that I could hardly fathom my own fortune. A most uncanny feeling whispered that, at last, a vacancy within me had been crowded and claimed by the sole man it had ever been reserved for. Nobody else would fit into the space of my heart as perfectly as he did. Unbeknownst to my mind, my heart had been searching for him all my life. Finally, it had found him, and in turn, he offered me his own heart. A perfect swap.

William Night loved me.

Tenderly, our lips blended together in that harmonious synchrony that only we could generate. It was exhilarating to taste him again, to feel the unique motion of his lips as they reminded me of how right it felt to kiss him. But when he tried to progress by teasing my tongue with his own, I caught myself hating the fact that I couldn’t make love to him, and I caught myself hating Oliver Flander for daring to try and bereave me of this man that was the love of my life.

My sensibility forced me to pull away when his left arm curled around my waist to press me against him. Breathless, I told him, “Don’t. You need to be careful, Will.”

He moaned in frustration. “I bloody hate this. I want to make love to you.”

While smiling in sympathy, I cupped his jaw in my right hand and studied his face in detail. “It doesn’t ruin the moment for me at all. I feel reborn.”

“Reborn,” he echoed and watched me impressed. “That’s profound.”

“Still true.”

“Well,” he smirked, “likewise.”

I poked his nose. “I’m excited for this chapter of my life.”

“This is going to be a whole book, you cheeky brat.”

I laughed. “Right, sorry. I’m excited for this book, then.”

“You should be, and it’s going to have a happy ending. I demand it.”

“You make demands all the time, you high-handed twat.”

“Well,” he purred, “as I’ve already proven now that you’re my girlfriend, I tend to get my way.”

“True grit,” I said, and I knew he caught onto the reference due to his ensuing laughter, which soon transformed into whimpers of pain.

“Sorry.” I pouted. “I need to be more depressing.”

“Good luck with that,” he muttered. “Just looking at you brightens my mood.”

“I love you, William,” I cooed and pecked him again.

“And I love you, Cara,” he replied amorously and kissed me back.

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