Skin of the Night

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Chapter 66: I Suppose I Did

Returning to work the following Monday was an odd experience. It felt as though I hadn’t seen my colleagues for weeks when I stepped out of the lift, conscious of the many stares I had received from the minute I entered the building on Cannon Street. Rumours must have spread, presumably from John, or perhaps Andy. What I couldn’t be sure of was whether they stared because of what had happened to my superior this past Friday, or because they’d heard I was also romantically linked with him now. Though, if I were to guess, I gathered it was solely due to the former rather than the latter.

Devoid of emotion, I approached my desk. Elisabeth already occupied her regular seat beside it, and I dreaded her eventual reaction when she would inevitably notice my arrival. As expected, she gasped when I dumped my purse on the floor beside my chair and descended into my usual seat. My eyes flickered in her direction, and from the quick glimpse, I saw how wide hers were. They were also wet.

“Cara,” she whispered and rolled her chair closer. “I heard the news. Andy told me. I’ve never heard anything more grim.”

Since I’d wept at a near constant after Friday’s events – though mainly in secrecy, so not to bother William with my emotions when he already had his own to deal with – tears didn’t prickle my eyes upon the mention of the ghastly ordeal. I was just numb.

When I only looked at her for a response, my face blank, she decided to continue, “How is he? I bought some flowers.” She pointed to a lovely bouquet beneath her desk. “Would you mind bringing them to him? Or perhaps I should? I don’t want to bother him, so I’m not sure if I should pay him a visit myself.”

“Yeah, of course. And he’s doing alright, all things considered,” I managed to reply, and chose to omit the fact that he had barely uttered a word all of yesterday. He wasn’t yet himself, slow and brooding as he was, but I had faith he would recover, provided enough time. I was positive that our confession of love had boosted our spirits somewhat, left us more capable of handling the otherwise grave situation, but it hadn’t erased the gravity of it. It had merely instilled us with better strength to cope.

“You must have been so scared for him,” she whispered upset and covered her eyes with her hand when a tear of hers spilled over. Empathic as she was, I could tell she was mourning on my behalf as well as her own. In all likelihood, she was imagining Brian in William’s shoes, and what it would have done to her.

“I was,” I quietly admitted and dragged my computer out of my purse to boot it. I was looking forward for work to distract me from the depressing thoughts I’d been entertaining recently. They’d haunt me with ideas of actually losing him to something so permanent as death. Because of it, I’d hardly caught any sleep the past two nights, and little had it helped that William had suffered a serious nightmare just last night.

Drenched in sweat, his body had been cold as ice while he shivered and whimpered beside me. At a loss of what to do, I’d Googled whether I was supposed to wake him from his nightmare or not, and found the professional advice that I shouldn’t. It had been torture to be unable to help him. I could only watch; abandon him to his vicious dreams, or I could leave the room, so I’d decided on the latter because my heart couldn’t bear watching him suffer any more than he already had. Only when he had quieted down a while later had I dared to return.

As such, waking up was something I had dreaded after few hours of scarce sleep. However, William had erased that concern of mine at seven o’clock this morning, when he had taken a seat on my bedside with a Starbucks flat white in hand. Despite the fact that I’d only just woken up, his affectionate action had made it incredibly difficult to fight back the tears it elicited. Broken and battered, he’d woken up before my alarm just to bring me my cup of coffee, and that had served as a declaration of love louder than any words ever could.

‘I saw this coming from the start’, the writing on it had said, and when I had probed him about it, his smile had turned crooked and his eyes coy. ‘Food for thought,’ he’d stated, and had refused to elaborate any further. I’d rolled my eyes at that point, confident he was only trying to tell me that he had known we’d be an item all along.

My chest contracted painfully at the fresh memory, bundled with dense emotion. I missed him already, and I’d only been here for a few minutes. I could hardly wait to return to him after work, but I had faith that Jason would take good care of him, as he had assured me he would when he arrived earlier this morning to have breakfast with William and I. My heart had rested lighter in my chest when they’d paid me their loving goodbyes in the hall before I left for work.

Elisabeth’s voice brought me back to reality, “You don’t look like you want to talk about it, but if you do, I’m here,” she murmured and swept her arms around my neck to smother me in her embrace. Her soft frame and sweet scent was appeasing, even if her hug had surprised me.

“Thanks, Ellie. I appreciate that,” I mumbled and squeezed her back. It dawned on me the same instant that, in Elisabeth, I’d found a reliable friend that I was positive would stay around even after my internship ended. I appreciated that, as I hadn’t filled my quota of female-female friendships just yet. Inevitably, such a thought made me think of Olivia. I would have to reach out to her. It didn’t matter if we’d fallen out over Colin. I needed her now more than ever.

When I pulled away from Elisabeth, I saw Violet approach from across the room with a troubled expression on her otherwise gorgeous face, and my stomach whispered that I knew the cause of it. She was worried about William, surely, but she wouldn’t be approaching me solely to query me about his condition. I was positive she’d rather ask Andy about such matters. Since her eyes were firmly set on mine, I was confident she was about to tell me that she would be taking over where William had left off.

“Good morning, Cara,” she greeted when she reached a halt in front of my desk. However faint, a genuine smile decorated her mouth. “Might I have a word with you in my office?”

“Of course,” I replied, anxious now, and ascended from my seat while shutting my computer. In her pastel pink dress, Violet was a sight to behold this morning. Frankly, her natural beauty was dazzling, and her aura even more so.

“Right this way, then,” she prompted and turned around to lead the way. I glanced at Elisabeth while I trailed after her, only to see the apprehensive look on her face. Clearly, she was suspecting the same thing that I was. In all likelihood, Violet was going to be my new superior.

When we reached her office, which was neatly furbished in light colours, she held the door open for me and silently gestured for me to have a seat in one of the white chairs in front of her desk. As I found my seat, I studied the various paintings covering the white walls.

“You into art?” she queried of me when she noticed where my attention rested.

“Not massively, but I can admire it when it’s presented,” I replied diplomatically.

She chuckled and walked around her desk to grab her usual seat. “My sister, Lauren, is an artist. It’s her work. She’s quite inspired by abstract and contemporary art, as you can see. She’s got a knack for using vibrant colours. The middle one is my personal favourite,” she explained and steered her gaze toward it. “There’s so much red and blue in it – so many various shades of the two, blending into one, and – to me – it looks as though they’re duelling each other, or harmonising. I haven’t yet decided. Lauren never wanted to share her own thoughts on the piece, because she insists that appreciating art is entirely subjective. She doesn’t want her ideas of it to pollute mine. Though, I will say that it’s like a painting of my emotions. Suppose that’s why it’s my favourite.”

I was moved by her exposé, and found myself immensely grateful for it. The dread I’d harboured, regarding her potential status as my new boss, was diminishing by the second due to her friendly approach.

“She’s great,” I commented.

“I think so, too. Anyway, you must be wondering why you’re here, Cara.”

“I’m a little curious.”

She paid me a half-hearted smile. “This might be the last thing you want to hear, all things considered, but I’ve been briefed by John on William’s situation. Since he won’t be returning to work for about six weeks, I’ve been asked to take over where William left off with the Porter & Co case. As such, I’ve been delegated the responsibility to supervise you for the remainder of your internship. I was somewhat surprised when he told me he meant for this to be a permanent change, but he explained that your...” she paused, “relation with William has taken an unexpected course, which has compromised his eligibility to serve as your direct superior when he eventually returns to work.”

When she struggled to suppress her smile, I saw it safe to reveal my embarrassed one. “Err, yeah,” I mumbled.

She reclined in her seat, smug. “So you heeded my advice, did you? Gave him a chance?”

An awkward, short laugh passed my lips. “I suppose I did.”

“Good. He deserves it, and especially now. Forgive me for asking, Cara, but how is he doing?”

I couldn’t help but admire her. Her concern for him was blatant, however well she tried to hide the true depth of it, but it didn’t bother me at all. On the contrary, I found it beautiful. It was obvious that the two shared a profound friendship that rooted far deeper than shallow, convenient sex, and I wouldn’t dream to stand in the way of that. I respected Violet too much, and I both loved and respected William too much as well. Moreover, I trusted William’s fidelity implicitly. They deserved the option to continue their friendship despite my new role in William’s life, and especially when I could clearly see how genuine and earnest it was.

“He’s doing... He’s... Well...” I frowned, unsure of what to say. “He’ll recover,” I decided to say.

A flicker of pure grief crossed her eyes, but she was quick to veil it again. “I’m relieved to hear that. He doesn’t deserve what’s happened to him.”

I shook my head. “No, he doesn’t. It’s been an... eye-opener, and for him the most.”

“I can imagine. I wonder if he’ll return as blunt as he once was, or if he has humbled now,” she replied, and I detected the wistful tone to her voice. Charming how she appeared to find beauty in a characteristic of his that plenty would consider ugly. Like her, I also appreciated William’s bluntness. He wouldn’t be him without it.

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about his bluntness,” I replied amused. “He’s still William. Perhaps he won’t be as blunt with strangers anymore, but he’s still his old self around everyone he knows well, and even the nurses and doctors at the hospital. This ordeal might have humbled him a bit, but it hasn’t erased his bluntness. Trust me,” I stated encouragingly, before I mumbled, “And between you and me, a humbler William isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

However short, sincere laughter leapt out of her mouth. “I knew you were right for him, Cara. I just knew it.”

I watched her with a shameful smile on my mouth. “You should pay him a visit one of these days. I think he’d appreciate it.”

She studied me for a second, seemingly surprised. “You know,” her eyebrows furrowed, “if you’re comfortable with that, I think I might.”

“I am. I have no qualms whatsoever, Violet. Your history with him doesn’t bother me at all. I believed you when you said there was nothing more to it, and – please don’t be offended now – but even if you lied about that, I trust Will, so I’m not bothered.”

She groaned in audible relief. “Cara, you’re refreshing. I can see the appeal. William’s got excellent taste.”

I snickered. “That’s as much of a compliment to me as you,” I replied wittily, only to be responded to with sincere laughter.

“You know, I wonder, do they have a word for ‘bromance’ when it comes to girls?” she mused aloud.

“Womance?”

“Girlmance?”

“Perhaps it’s femance?”

“Oh, I like that one. Femance.” She nodded to herself. “Let’s make it happen. I should warn you, though. I’m competitive when it comes to work. Since I don’t have to worry about whether you’ll deny me sex, I will push you harder than William has probably dared to. But at the end of the day, I promise that I’ll make you fall in love again, this time with your work, rather than the man supposed to delegate it.”

I pursed my lips, unsure of whether I could laugh or not. “You think Will’s been soft on me?”

Her eyes took to a shrewd shade. “He’s probably been softer than he otherwise would have been. Not saying he was soft – only softer. In the end, William’s never soft.”

“I’m intrigued.”

She chuckled. “My style is different to Will’s. I want you working in here, with me. William prefers to work alone, even when he’s partnered up with people. He’ll have meetings to brief on the progress, but I don’t fancy that approach. I prefer being able to toss ideas out there when I get them, rather than jot them down like he does. That I want you in here with me will especially apply the next couple of weeks, as I’ve got a fuck-ton to catch up on. Lawrence and I will be breathing down each other’s necks while he tries to help me catch up. I don’t believe he’s looking forward.”

I was starting to believe what William had claimed. Violet was indeed falling to my liking more and more for each time she opened her mouth.

“Then shall I fetch my things to move in here?”

A huge grin split her face apart. “That’s more like it. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be just fine, Cara.”

I stood from my seat with a similar grin on my mouth. “You know, I think you’re right, Violet.”

“Brilliant. When you return, I’ve got a list of files I need you to fetch me, and notes and reports to go over with me. I’m meeting Lawrence in ten minutes to get briefed for about an hour or two, maybe six. If William has anything related to the case at home, I’ll need it on my desk by the morning.”

“Noted.”

I had nearly reached the door when she halted me by calling, “Cara?”

Turning, I studied her curiously. “Yes?”

Her warm brown eyes softened considerably. “I forgot to ask. How have you been, in the wake of all this?”

My smile wasn’t heartfelt, but I offered it either way. “I’ll be fine. If you want to be of help, provide work to distract me.”

She nodded. “That’s easy. Consider it done.”

“Thanks.”

“Sure, sweetheart. Just don’t go moaning to Will if I’m pushing you too hard. Tell me first, yeah? He can be awfully vicious when he’s angry.”

I chuckled. “Oh, do I know what you’re on about.”

As I headed out, I heard her soft laughter follow me the first few steps.


Since Olivia was still ignoring my calls, I decided to send her a text when I finally finished for the day, where I briefly told her what had happened to William and that I hoped we could put the Colin matter behind us.

I had just pressed send when Violet said, “Excellent work today, Cara. Will and Ellie have taught you well. Regarding tomorrow, I’ll need you to be here half an hour earlier than usual. I need you to help me prepare for my meeting with Martin Bronks from Porter & Co. It’s crucial that I’m able to erase any concern the firm might have, following William’s absence. I have to present myself as capable of taking over where he left off, and I need your help in order to do that.”

I stowed my phone into my purse while I met her gaze. “Of course. I’ll be here, and I’ll make sure to cram the latest reports I’ve written tonight, just to be sure that I can fill in any gaps you may leave.”

She reached for her seventh cup of coffee, and as she did, I noticed how severely her hand was shaking. Was she hiding that she was intimidated by this turn of events, or was it purely due to the caffeine trickling through her system?

“Your potential is tremendous, Cara,” she remarked, pleased with my response. “I’ve got a feeling you’re going to make for a brilliant solicitor once you finish your degree.”

I continued to stare at her hand, worried. “Violet, are you feeling all right?”

Whilst frowning, she followed my gaze and, once she understood the reason behind my question, laughed into her cup. “Oh, this? You needn’t be worried. I should have warned you – I’m a serious caffeine-addict. Coffee is my best friend. It helps me stay brilliant.”

I smiled back at her, amused. Her confidence was refreshing. “Good to know.” Mentally, I noted it down. I had learned today that she took her coffee with just a drop of cream, and to earn myself a few points in her book, I would make sure to bring her one every morning for the remainder of my internship.

“William always scolded me for it.” She rolled her eyes. “Kept going on about how more than three units a day was bad for my health. You know what I told him?”

“Do tell.”

“To fetch me another coffee.”

I laughed wholeheartedly. That must have pissed him off. “You rebel.”

She winked at me. “Again, great work today, Cara.”

“You too, Violet,” I replied and grabbed my purse.

I’d hardly exited the building by the time my phone rang. When I’d fished it out of my purse, I released a breath of relief. Olivia’s name occupied my screen, and seeing it again was liberating.

“Hey,” I answered and scurried down the street toward the tube station.

“Cara, I am so sorry,” she stated upset. “I had no idea. What happened? Should I come over?”

It took me by complete surprise, but the sound of her voice triggered emotions that had been dormant all day. I struggled to keep my tears at bay while I kept my gaze on the pavement beneath my feet. “I’m actually living at Will’s for the time being, since he needs looking after, so meeting in person isn’t ideal right now, but perhaps later this week?” My voice was strained, and I knew she picked up on it. I was trying to keep my emotions in check.

“Oh. That’s fine. Just tell me when you’re available and I’ll make time. Would you prefer to wait with explaining things until then?”

I took a deep breath. “No, I’d like to explain it now, if you’ve got the time. And I also want to apologise for how I spoke to you about Colin. I shouldn’t have been so terse with you when you’re already vulnerable. I’m seriously sorry, Livy. I just got a bit carried away, because I don’t want to see you hurt again.”

“No, I’m sorry. I know you only meant well. I shouldn’t have ignored you the past couple of days, but I’ve needed some time to myself to really think about things after your lecture. I still haven’t made up my mind about him, so I gathered that I would wait with speaking to you until I had. But enough about Colin. Tell me what’s happened to Will.”

Our conversation lasted the entire journey to William’s flat. On the tube, I’d found it difficult to hide my silent tears as I confessed to her how worried and scared I’d been, while I filled her in on all the details. When I finished elaborating on the ordeal, we spoke in circles, but she made no complaint, and she would never know how much I appreciated that. Being able to ventilate my feelings to someone on the outside was exactly what I needed, because I was hiding them from both William and Jason, since they already had their own to deal with. I simply didn’t want to increase the weight of their burden. Besides, Olivia had always been great at consoling me when it truly mattered.

I’d fallen quiet for a beat when she suddenly asked, “Have you told your parents about him?”

My heart skipped a beat, and I halted in my tracks. “Um, no. I haven’t.”

I could almost hear her thinking. “Why not?” she queried, puzzled.

I sighed, and distractedly continued onward toward William’s flat. “It’s all happened so fast, and I’m not in the habit of speaking to my parents about things like that. It just doesn’t come naturally to me to speak to them about men I’m not serious about, and I only got serious with William this past weekend. I mean... he’s only been my boyfriend for two days. And after everything that’s happened, I just gather it would be quite the bomb to drop now, when he’s just been beaten within an inch of his life. I do plan to tell them. I just haven’t found a time I consider appropriate.”

“I think you ought to tell them. To hell with ‘appropriate’, Cara. They’d want to console their daughter, and especially at a time like this. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to arrive like lightening from a clear blue sky. In your shoes, I would have died for my mum’s embrace.”

I pursed my lips. She did make a valid point, and it inspired me to miss my parents rather intensely all of the sudden. Without a doubt, they’d chase the clouds away and restore my spirits, at least for the while I found myself in their presence. They had an uncanny ability to help me forget unpleasant things. Besides, it had been just over a month since I last saw them. A visit was surely in order.

Though they never complained about my visits being too few, I knew they often felt that way. I knew such, because when I did visit, they’d dote upon me as though they hadn’t seen me for years and wouldn’t see me for another few. That behaviour had intensified after Phoebe had moved to New York. However, ever since I fledged the nest at the age of eighteen, they had been determined to respect my busy schedule and reach for independence. I was quite certain that was the sole reason as to why they didn’t voice complaints about my, sometimes, distant behaviour.

“I should probably ring them,” I mumbled.

“You should,” she encouraged. “They’re going to be over the moon to hear about him, Cara. I’m sure.”

“They’re going to be shocked,” I corrected her. I could already see their faces, gobsmacked, as they would be. They’d never heard about a single man from me – at least not like that. While they had met Robby, they weren’t aware of the nature of our relation. I’d introduced him as a friend from university, and since I’d always been in the habit of having more male friends than female, their suspicions hadn’t been piqued.

“Phoebe knows about him, doesn’t she?” she probed.

“She knows we’re dating, but not that it’s escalated. Funny thing, though. Last time we Skyped about it, she told me she was rooting for him. I found it odd, since Phoebe is such a sceptic, but when I told her he was Jason’s brother, she was sold.”

She chuckled. “She’s always loved Jason, so that’s not surprising. Do you remember the last time she was home, and we all went out drinking together?”

I smiled at the fond memory. Only Phoebe could beat me at shuffleboard. “Yeah.”

“Well, drunk or not, she told me she hoped you and Jason would end up together. And, you know, I told her I agreed. Now we’ve both been slapped silly.”

I giggled. She’d never told me this. “Jason’s not my type, and I’m not his, either.”

She sounded awkward when she said, “Yeah, I realise that now.”

I resisted the urge to remind her that she was, in fact, his type. It wasn’t worth it. “Anyway,” I murmured, “I’m nearly home now, but I’ll text you once I find a clear spot in my calendar, yeah?”

“Yes. Try and make it happen this week, please. I really miss you. And tell Will I wish him well with his recovery.”

“Of course, Livy. Love you loads.”

“You too, Cara.”

I had just opened the front door of William’s flat when I laid notice to a pair of white shoes, clearly belonging to a woman, in the hall. Bewildered, I dumped my purse on the chest of drawers and called out, “Hello?”

“We’re in the living room,” William replied at once, and the sound of his voice made my heart tingle. It was ridiculous how much I’d missed it today. Despite the fact that Violet was both humorous and entertaining, and had provided plenty of work to distract me, the office had felt to lack something all day, and it was none other than William. Without him roaming through the space with his graceful steps and inappropriate comments, work just wasn’t the same, and I knew our colleagues felt the same way.

After slipping out of my low heels, I grabbed the bouquet Elisabeth had asked me to bring him and headed into the living area where company I had not expected welcomed me. On the sofa opposite of the one William and Jason crowded sat Francesca Strafford, eyes puffy and red, resulting from a stream of tears that were still fresh on her cheeks.

I froze completely, nonplussed. I had no idea of how to react to her presence, as so many emotions collided. Part of me hated her, another pitied her, and another hoped she was here to apologise to William for having lied to him about her relationship with Oliver. At a loss of what to do, I observed William and Jason in hope to gauge the atmosphere of the group, but I detected no anger in their apprehensive expressions.

“What’s she doing here?” I asked and looked directly at William.

“She’s here because she wanted to apologise and explain her side of the story,” he replied, and his tone was unusually patient. “Tread gently,” he instructed, and I could hear the insinuation clear as day that what she had told him before I arrived was bound to assuage me.

Francesca rushed to wipe her cheeks dry before she locked eyes with me. “I should leave,” she mumbled and ascended from her seat.

“There’s no need,” William argued. “Cara’s not like that. She won’t mind you being here.”

Francesca’s emerald green eyes flickered in my direction, as if to assess whether his words rang true. “I appreciate that, but I’ve said what I wanted to. Thanks for hearing me out, Will. I wouldn’t expect that of you – of anyone – after what’s happened, but I’m glad you gave me the chance to explain myself.”

He watched her with blatant sympathy in his features. Beside him, Jason sat pale as a ghost, seemingly petrified, leaving me grossly curious.

“So am I, Francesca,” William stated. “While I’m not happy about what’s happened, I’m glad it could help you out of a tricky spot. You don’t deserve what you’ve gone through, and I’m very sorry to hear about it. You should have told me, and I would have helped you out. I can’t imagine it’s been easy, so trust that I mean it when I say that there are no hard feelings between us. I suppose we’ve both learned a lesson.”

“Lesson of a lifetime,” she wailed and shielded her face with her hands when she resorted to crying again. “I hate to see you like this, and especially when knowing it’s my fault. You don’t deserve it. If I could take it back, I would. I’m so sorry, Will. I never meant for this.”

Though she hadn’t said it with those exact words, I knew she was basically confessing that she loved him, still. I could hear it from her tone. That, and watching her tremble with her sobs, made me extremely uncomfortable.

“I’m just going to put these in a vase,” I murmured and scurried toward the kitchen to leave them with privacy.

When Elisabeth’s flowers decorated the island of the kitchen, I poured myself a glass of white wine and heard Jason arrive behind me. Turning, I lifted my glass. “Wine?”

He released a loud sigh and hopped onto one of the stools by the island while he nodded his head somewhat gloomily.

“What’s going on?” I whispered to him as I poured him a glass.

“Will should be the one to tell you,” he argued before his sip. When he lowered his glass again, he added, “Safe to say it’s not what I expected. The world’s bloody grim, Cara. I’m not sure my flimsy heart can cope with knowing that people like Oliver Flander is breathing the same air as I am. It both scares and despairs me.”

Wondering what the story was, I stared fearfully upon him. “Francesca aside, has he been feeling any better today?”

He had another sip. “He’s been quiet,” he answered through a pout. “Unusually quiet.”

My heart sank, and so did my shoulders. My spirit soon joined. “Yeah, ’twas the same yesterday.”

“He’ll come around,” he said, and I could hear from his tone that he was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince me.

Silence descended between us as we both eavesdropped on William and Francesca. Their conversation made little sense to me, but I could hear from my boyfriend’s tone that he was trying his hardest to reassure her, that she was forgiven for her misdoings. It perplexed me even if it led me to believe that her reasons for wronging him must have been legitimate. In the end, William wasn’t a man to foolishly show mercy, but he was surely bestowing mercy now.

“Francesca, I’ll be fine. A few more weeks, and I’ll be back in rude health. I feel better than I look. Honestly. When you get home, I don’t want you thinking any more about this.”

I sent Jason’s profile a glance, because William’s tender words were sincerely surprising me.

“Do you promise you don’t hate me?” Francesca queried upset.

“I hate Oliver, not you. So yes, I do promise you that.”

There was an extended silence before I heard her quietly enquire, “Does she treat you well? Cara?”

I found that bang out of order. How dare she question how I treated him when her own actions had hospitalised him? Rigid and fuming, I inhaled through my nose in order to remain sensible, despite the extreme urge to admonish and reprimand her. Appearing to notice, Jason wrapped his arm over my shoulders and hugged me against his side.

“She’s emotional and raw. Don’t take it to heart,” he soothed me in a whisper.

I could only nod my head. Even if I knew he was right, I was still furious.

“She does,” William replied, his tone so affectionate that my heart calmed. “She’s made me the happiest I’ve ever been, and that’s in spite of the assault. Without her, this would have affected me much worse than it has.”

Francesca was quiet for another while to let his words sink in. “Good. You deserve to be happy.”

“So do you, Francesca, but it won’t be with me.”

“I know.” She sighed. “Suppose I might see you at the trial, if it comes to that.”

Too uncomfortable to eavesdrop anymore, I blocked the rest of their conversation out, but sooner rather than later, Francesca finally left, and I didn’t waste a second with stalking out of the kitchen to locate my boyfriend.

“What was that all about?” I queried when we met in the living area.

Instead of replying, he merely studied me.

“William,” I prompted and folded my arms, anxious.

“Forgive me.” He smiled lopsided. “You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

“Don’t digress.”

“I’m not digressing. Give me a kiss, and I’ll tell you.”

Heat climbed to my face while I approached him. When I stretched up on my toes to reach his mouth, he was still smiling, and how I loved the view. I hadn’t seen him smile nearly enough the past few days.

“I love you,” he purred against my mouth and wrapped his healthy arm around my waist to hold me close. Conscious of his injuries, I retreated a small step and stared smitten at him.

“I love you, too.”

“Good. Don’t ever forget it.”

“I won’t. Get to the point already.”

“That’s the most important point I’ll ever make,” he argued amused.

I rolled my eyes at him. “William, please. I’m terribly confused. Why did you forgive her for lying to you?”

He released me with a groan. “Because, my dear Cara, Oliver blackmailed her into staying with him.”

I gaped at him. I surely hadn’t foreseen that. “What?”

He nodded, and his expression was grave. “She’s already told the detectives everything. During their relationship, Oliver had videotaped them having sex without her knowing. Now, I’m not sure whether you’re aware, but Francesca’s a model. He threatened her with leaking the video if she left him, and because she’s a model, she feared what it might do to her career if he did.

“To make matters worse for her, she fell in love with me. Since she didn’t dare to break up with Oliver because of the videotape, and knew I wouldn’t want do anything with her if she was in a relationship, she reckoned her only option at having me was to lie to me.

“I feel truly bad for her. She was absolutely terrified. And she never meant for Oliver to find out. She always deleted the texts we exchanged and was very careful with keeping our...” he paused, searching for a word, “physical interactions a secret. We still have no idea how he did, but you can see the result of that in front of you,” he murmured and gestured toward his beaten person.

I stood paralysed. The only thing running through my mind was my pity for Francesca. I couldn’t fathom the extent of her hardship, having had to suffer through such an abusive relationship. Falling in love with William couldn’t have made her situation any easier. To top it all off, William had rejected her affections, ultimately breaking her heart, and now she was blaming herself for William’s state. Was there no limit to the amount of horror a single person could be subjected to?

“That’s why I forgive her,” William said and placed the curled index finger of his left hand under my chin to tilt my head back. “She’s suffered enough already.”

“Poor Francesca,” I mumbled upset while my face contorted.

“Indeed.” He sighed and dropped a chaste kiss to the tip of my nose. “I wish she would’ve told me, and I would have helped her, but she was too scared to abide by reason. She didn’t want to take that risk – of telling anyone. Oliver had threatened her that he would know if she did, and could leak it with a mere push of a button.

“On the bright side, the police managed to confiscate the tape following his arrest. It’s been taken in as evidence, so at least she’s been ridden of that worry. That tape will never see the light of day now, so there’s another good thing that came out of this.”

Tears prickled my eyes. I found it tremendous that he was able to see this incident in such a positive light. He had such a healthy, strong mind, and the more he revealed it, the deeper in love I fell.

“William, you have such a beautiful mind,” I stated high-pitched and cupped his jaw in my hands to kiss him repeatedly.

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew half of the filthy things I think about you,” he teased against my mouth. I pulled away, deadpanned.

“You always have to ruin the moment, don’t you?”

He chuckled. “I get uncomfortable.”

“And you say I’m rubbish at accepting compliments?”

“How was work?” he strayed.

Upon the new direction of our conversation, I couldn’t fight back my amused smile. “Violet’s my new boss.”

He watched me with an intrigued look on his face. “You don’t look too upset about that.”

“That’s because I’m not. You were right. I quite like her. To be perfectly frank, I find it odd that you never grew any feelings for her. Had I been lesbian, or male, I would have pursued that woman to the ends of the earth.”

“There are no ends to the earth, you medieval idiot. The world’s round.”

“It’s a figure of speech, you twat.”

“That doesn’t prevent it from being dumb.”

“Stop teasing me.”

He grinned, and it was a young version. “Teasing, flirting. As you like to say, tomato tomata. And I’ll never stop.”

“Oh, don’t mind me!” Jason called from the kitchen. “I’ll just stay in here, cooking your dinner like the fucking maid that I am!”

I couldn’t suppress my laughter, as I hadn’t expected that outburst.

“That’s where you belong, you dreadful wench!” William bantered.

I patted his shoulder while I replied to Jason, “I wasn’t aware you’d started on dinner. I’ll help.”

“Careful, Will, or I’ll have a shit in your serving!” Jason warned, but I could hear that he was only being playful.

“And I who thought poison was favoured by women,” William countered.

“I hate his comebacks,” we heard Jason grumble to himself.

While pursing my lips, I frowned up at William. “Have you been nice to him today?”

His responding expression was sceptical. “I’ve tried.”

“Will.” My tone was stern.

“I’ve been nicer than usual,” he argued, clinging to innocence. “Honestly.”

“Good. Now, why don’t you get some rest while I help your brother out with dinner?” I stretched up to offer him another peck, something he quickly transformed into a prolonged kissing session.

Appearing to hear us, Jason sang, “Lonely, I’m Mr Lonely. I have nobody, for my own, Ooh! I am so lonely!”

“Oh, my God,” I uttered through my laughter. “Give it a rest already, Jason.”

While laughing as well, William scolded, “That’s your own fault. Get your head out of your arse and onto the market.”

“On a serious note,” Jason responded through laughter of his own, “I have no complaints third wheelin’ you two.”

William passed me a crooked smile. “He does make for a great third wheel. Let’s help him out. I’ll set the table.”

“That he does.”

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