“Valentine….” I breathed. My chest was tight, my lungs refusing to work properly, my heart pounding like tribal drum.
I saw Layla out of the corner of my eye, peeking in to get a glimpse of Valentine. “Holy shit. You were right, Key.” She pecked me on the cheek, and then winked at Valentine. “Don’t worry, gorgeous. I can keep a secret.” And then she was gone, but not before leaving my letter from Roth on my lap.
Roth didn’t move for several seconds. The door closed, and then I heard the driver’s-side door swing up and close. The engine was a gentle, distant rumble, the sense of motion vague. His eyes were windows to the sky, blue and pale, but they were guarded.
Neither of us spoke for nearly five minutes.
Finally I couldn’t take it any longer. I lifted the letter. “What you wrote in here…you really meant it?”
His brow furrowed. “Of course.”
“You said…you said you love me.” I didn’t dare look away from him, didn’t dare move or breathe.
“I do. Deeply.” He said it so casually, as if that wasn’t the most impossible, inexplicable thing in the world. As if hearing him say that didn’t rock me to the core.
His eyes were hot and intense on mine, flicking back and forth, searching, hoping. Yet his body language was hard and closed off, arms crossed over his chest, one leg hooked over the other.
“I don’t…I don’t know what to say, what to do.” I tried a deep breath, let it out shakily. “I’ve been…so mixed up, Roth. Nothing makes any sense. I can’t let go of what…what happened. What you told me. Yet I can’t let go of you, either.” I stopped, expecting him to say something.
“Go on,” was all he said.
I cleared my throat, folding the letter and idly sliding my finger along the creases. “There’s something I probably should tell you. Something that…that was true before you told me about my father.” I kept my gaze locked on his, refusing to even blink. “I love you.”
He let out a long sigh. “You love me.”
I nodded. “Yes. But I—I don’t know how to reconcile that with everything else. I lost my father because…because of you. I know it was an accident, and I believe everything you told me. But I’m still…messed up about it. A little angry, I guess. I mean, I struggled. I suffered, Roth. Alone, scared, barely making it. Trying to be an adult when I should’ve been a clueless college girl, getting drunk with my sorority and hooking up with frat boys. But none of that changes how I feel about you.” I set the letter aside. “I’ve been in circles about this over and over. And the only conclusion I can come to is that…I belong to you. I just don’t know where we go from here. I…I don’t know how to resolve this. I love you, Valentine. I do. I want to be with you, but I just don’t know if—if I can.”
Roth didn’t answer for several long moments. Finally, he slid across the seat until he was beside me. “I won’t let you go again, Kyrie. I will not. I can’t change the past. I would if I could. I would give away every cent of my fortune if it meant sparing you the pain you’ve endured. But I can’t do that. All I can do is make you a promise.” He paused for effect, his gaze roiling with emotion. He took my face in his hands. “I love you. That’s not the promise, though, that’s just a statement. The promise is this: I will do everything in my power to make this right between us. To make it work. I can’t change the past, but I can shape the future. I can shape our future. Whatever that looks like, whatever it takes, wherever it takes us, I will love you and I will be there for you.” His lips met mine, kissed me gently, deeply.
When we pulled apart, I looked into Roth’s eyes and saw nothing but sincerity. Truth. Honesty. Vulnerability. I’d been blindfolded the first time I met Valentine. I’d had no idea what I was getting myself into. This time was different. This time, I had my eyes wide open.