She had dreamed of him standing there in the doorway of her motel room. She had dreamed he would show up out of nowhere, unexpected and unannounced, to knock on her door and wait until she’d seen him through that tiny spyhole in the door before she opened the door.
Her shock had been too great. She’d opened the door without thinking and without knowing what she would do or say to him. All she knew was that somehow he had found her like he had promised.
Like he had promised.
She had opened the door because seeing him through that peephole had been the same as viewing him through the wrong end of a telescope. Like a magician sweeping back his cloak of illusion for the great reveal. Through the peephole, his image had been too small and indistinct, and she needed to see him full-on, larger than life.
She’d fought the raging urge to throw herself into his arms. She’d stood there, staring at him, and tried to stoke the embers of anger that were all she had left. Stoke them back into a blistering fire, no matter how briefly it burned, just so she could scream at him. To let him know how he had almost destroyed her. And to beat on him, until his flesh was as bruised and bloody as her own heart.
She had almost done so, until he’d spoken first, uttering the only words that could defeat her before she had the chance to raise a fist toward him.
“I love you.”
At that moment, all the weeks and months of trying to forget him, of trying to forgive him and go on with her life, it all came to a dead standstill. Her already brittle emotions were too fragile to take him coming back into her life. Now, with his simple yet powerful confession, everything inside her shattered. Her emotional legs gave way, and she fell into the black well of unconsciousness.
For however long it took, Cutler lay at the bottom of that well, unaware of what was happening to her body. It didn’t matter. It was merely a shell. A thin, damaged shell of armor around the person who was Cutler Glass. For whatever minutes she remained at the bottom of the dark void that surrounded her, she had no inkling what was being done to that shell. Not until she grew aware of a brightness slowly rising above her. A brightness that beckoned to her with light and warmth. And promise.
She had no choice but to go toward it. There was no fight left in her. No heart. No emotions left. Or, if there were, they were numbed to the point where she couldn’t feel anything. And maybe that was a blessing.
“Cut? Baby, wake up. We need to talk. Cutler? Sweetheart?”
She grew aware of him being there amid the brightness before she heard his voice. There was a quivering in his words, which let her know he was fighting with his own inner demons.
“Cut. Please. I’m sorry.”
Suddenly it all rushed back to her—her strength, her abilities, her anger.
He was sorry?
She lashed out with her hands first, to put as much distance as she could between them while her mind tried to figure out where she was. Her fists caught him in the middle of his sternum, and the force of her blows knocked him off the bed where he had been leaning over her. The impetus sent him backwards, until the chair by the secretary stopped him.
Instinctively, Cutler rolled in the opposite direction until she dropped over the other side of the bed. Unfortunately, her access to the front door was blocked. The bathroom, however, was behind her.
“Get out!” she screamed, rising to race for the dubious safety of the adjoining room. If she could get a door between them, if only she could keep him at a distance...
She got to her feet and turned. Fire grabbed her entire right side and seared her without mercy. Too late, she remembered her still-injured leg. Crying out, Cutler grabbed her thigh when a pair of hands clutched her shoulders.
Training took over. She snatched a hand by the wrist, leaned over, and threw the man over her head. When David hit the carpet, he landed partly on his back and partly on his left side with a heavy thump. It was enough to knock the air out of his lungs, but not enough to seriously hurt him. This time he was blocking her way to the bathroom, but it also meant her path to the front door was clear.
“Cutler, please!” he gasped.
Fingers of pain dug into her muscles with sharpened nails. She took one hop-step-drag, then a second as sweat popped out over her forehead and cheeks. The front door was still open. Sunlight and freedom loomed within reach.
“Cut, forgive me.”
She paused, not to consider his plea, but to hear what he wasn’t saying. There was honesty in his tone. There was also sorrow. But most of all, she heard fear. Real fear.
She whirled around to face him. The movement put her slightly off-balance, forcing her to grab the bed to keep from falling. David was still on the floor, but he had rolled over where he could jump up and run after her if he needed to. His eyes were focused on her. One hand was reaching out.
“You sorry son of a bitch!”
The hand dropped to the carpet, but his gaze remained firm. “I wanted to tell you.”
“I kept my word, Cutler! Now, hear me out!”
She could tell he was starting to get angry with her. Well, join the club!
“I don’t have to listen to anything you have to say, Detective,” she spat at him. “All your soft words and promises were bullshit!”
“I never lied to you!” he rebutted.
“You never told me the whole truth, either! That’s lying by omission!”
Her leg was killing her. Uneasily, Cutler fell onto the mattress, but she was careful to keep a clear pathway to the door.
Suddenly, he was on his feet and standing directly in front of her. He kept his clenched hands to his sides and away from her, not daring to touch her or threaten her again. He was so close, if she wanted to, she could bury her face in his steel-strong abs.
No, no, girl. Don’t think that way. Anger. Keep the anger going!
“Go ahead, Cutler,” he told her. “If you feel like hitting me again, go ahead. Punch me. Give me everything you’ve got, ‘cause it ain’t gonna be enough, do you hear me? Punch me, pummel me, knock me down, I don’t care because I’m just going to get up and keep coming for you.”
“Why?” she cried out. The anger was cooling against the sound of his voice. He had the most wonderful voice, like velvet sliding across gravel. Coarse but gentle. “Why did you come back?”
Too late, she knew the answer before he said it. Still, she wanted to hear him say it again, just to make sure she hadn’t dreamed it the first time.
“Because I love you, Cutler. Because I still want a life with you.”
“Won’t it get a bit crowded being a threesome?” she threw back at him.
David never flinched. “You’re right. I deserve all that bile. But at least give me a chance to explain.”
Cutler pointed at the door. “I’m giving you the chance to leave before I phone Bar and tell her you’re stalking me.”
At the mention of Bar, she finally saw his own anger darken his face. “She’s the reason for me not getting to talk to you before now!”
“Don’t blame her because she tried to protect me!”
“I’m blaming her for doing everything she can to keep us apart!” David roared back. “Including keeping certain information from you, which you so aptly referred to a moment earlier as ‘lying by omission’!”
She froze. I’m blaming her for doing everything she can to keep us apart! It was the truth. Cutler knew his statement was the truth. Bar had been doing all she could to keep David from bothering Cutler so Cutler could do her job. So Cutler could keep her mind on killing and dismembering, and saving mankind one jewel at a time.
But all this time Cutler had believed it was for her benefit. For the better. As terribly painful as it was not to think about David’s betrayal, staying as far away from him as possible was the only way she could cope. And praying that eventually, one day, she would wake up and be able to go all day without thinking about him.
It hadn’t worked. Not yet. But it had only been a couple of months.
Two horrible, agonizing, God-help-her months.
Slowly, she lowered herself onto the bed. David remained where he was, intently staring at her.
“Five minutes, baby. Give me five minutes. And then if you tell me to leave, I will. No more begging. No more arguments. I’ll walk away from you. But it won’t stop me from praying that one day you’ll show up on my doorstep and ask for a hug.” He flashed her a lopsided grin that instantly spread warmth throughout her body. “Either that, or a cup of coffee.”
Sniffing, Cutler wiped her nose with her sleeve.
“With sweetener and creamer,” he promised.The breath she drew in was shaky. “Okay. You got five minutes. Go.”