“Did it?” she asked.
“They let me make a statement before mobbing us.”
“Okay, yeah, there’s that.”
“It was better than they can be.”
She looked at him. “How have you managed to avoid the press all these years?”
“Easy, actually. I don’t go to places where they hang out. There will be no place to avoid them in Kyonos, but in the rest of Europe? In the States? No one cares. I made brief splashes in tabloids for the first couple of years. ‘Dishonorable Heir Gambles Away His Fortune,’ et cetera. But then people lost interest.”
“I suppose it was the same for me. After the attack it was news. But they weren’t allowed in the hospital to interview me. Then I was in too much pain to even consider talking to anyone. For a long time. I had a lot of surgeries.” She didn’t even like to say how many. “After that I didn’t go anywhere. My parents moved to Greece where, you’re right, no one cares about the drama that happened here, and I stayed on in their house with their servants for a while.”
“Why didn’t you leave?”
She frowned. “I...I was too tired.” It was a terrible thing to admit. Even to remember. The depression had controlled her, not just emotionally, but physically. Breathing had often seemed too big of a trial. To move to Greece? It would have been unthinkable.
Those years were a haze, where she kept herself cradled by the gentle hands of painkillers that helped her sleep, helped her ignore the pain from her most recent surgery, and helped her live her days with blunted senses.
She preferred never to remember them. She’d come too far since then, and that place had been too dark. Although, there were times when it was important to remember it. It reminded her just how bright the sun was. How much better things were now.
Even sitting in the limo with Xander, with the press all but chasing the limo, it was better than that place. Because above all else, she had control now. She could leave if she chose. Could get up and walk away from Xander, from whatever she wanted to.
She had the power now. The energy and strength inside of herself to do it. She would never be stuck again.
“And has it been better here? Are you happy with your decision to stay?”
“It was terrible here, at first. That first five years...it was hell. The recovery was awful, Xander, I won’t lie. It wouldn’t have mattered where I was, not really. But when I got...well, when I got the worst, and I knew I had to figure out how to get better, it was right to change things as radically as I could. And that’s why the convent was best for me. It’s impossible to worry too much about your own drama when you have to confront what’s happening with others.”
“How did you connect with them?” he asked.
She looked down at her hands and smiled. “Some of the Sisters visited me in the hospital when I was recovering. And after every surgery. They checked on me sometimes. They cared. And they didn’t look at me and see my scars. But they did see my pain, and they...cared.”
She sighed. “They didn’t realize how bad it was. How bad it had gotten for me. Mainly because I lied to them. I told them I was fine when I wasn’t and they wanted to believe I was telling the truth because it was so much easier. I don’t blame them at all.”
“Do you blame me?”
His words were stark in the silence of the car. Emotionless. He was asking, but he gave no indication that he cared either way.
“Yes,” she said, and only realized just when she spoke the words that she meant them. That she did blame him, deep down, for the pain, for the isolation.
If he had stayed, at least she would have had a husband to stand by her. And maybe it would never have happened. Maybe the economy wouldn’t have crashed, that she could never know. But she could have had someone.
She wouldn’t have lost everything.
He nodded slowly. “I think that’s fair. And I can handle having another sin added to the list.”
“Do you think so?”
“Confession would take too long at this point, Layna. I’m beyond it. I might as well just accept it for what it is and move on from there.”
Her heart thundered, anger burning through her veins. “At least you can move on. Gloss over it, pretend it didn’t happen. It’s a lot harder to do that when you have to look at the effects of the past in the mirror every day.”
“Then how about I wake up to the effects of the past every morning?”
“What?” she asked, her stomach hollowing out.
“I’ve changed my mind about changing my mind.” He put his legs out straight in front of him, his eyes fixed ahead. “After thinking about it, I believe the best idea is for you to marry me.”