Pretender to the Throne - Page 34



He swore. “Layna, I’m sorry.”

“Why couldn’t you help me? Why couldn’t you think of anyone but yourself?”

“Because,” he said. “Because I killed my mother, Layna. Because my father looked me in the eye and told me he believed it was my fault, and my brother thought so, too. Because I couldn’t stay here and face that. And I might never have thought of walking into the ocean but everything I’ve done has been about seeing that I shorten my days in a very spectacular fashion.”

Her chest felt tight. And for the first time she really thought about him, and his loss. Not just her own need. “Did they really blame you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s not fair, it was an accident.”

He nodded slowly. “But we were arguing. And no one knows that but me. I was angry, and so I wasn’t paying attention. I looked up and there was a truck cutting across the line and I swerved and hit the side of the mountain because I panicked and overcorrected. They were my mistakes, and they were brought about largely by my anger. Because I didn’t take the time to pull the car over. Because I let emotion take over and I behaved... I was stupid. And it was my fault.” He looked at her. “Maybe I should have stayed for you. But I don’t think I could have been the man you needed. I know I wasn’t the man that you thought I was.”

“I’ve never told anyone before,” she said. “I’ve never told anyone about wanting to...about having trouble living. I don’t even like to remember it but...do you know what’s nice?”

“What?”

“Even when I told you, even when I let myself think about it, I can remember how bad it was, but it doesn’t make me feel the way I did then.”

“The convent is what changed things for you?”

“It gave me a purpose. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t have you. The marriage wasn’t going to happen, I wasn’t going to be queen. No other man would marry me. My friends, who I took such delight in cutting down behind their backs, wouldn’t see me. No one invited me to parties, and I wouldn’t have wanted to go if they had. Everything changed for me and all of that combined with my depression just made me...I was just drifting. But after talking to the Sisters after my last surgery, about the work they did, about the life they led, I thought maybe the answer wasn’t trying to go back, or even making myself want to go back, but to find something new.”

“That’s sort of what I did. Only without the altruism or chastity.”

“How so?”

“I changed everything. Because things were too different to be who I’d been before.”

“That’s sort of how I feel right now,” she said, turning to face him. “Too different to be the girl I was fifteen years ago, and not quite the woman I was a week ago when you found me again.”

“I am sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry I’ve uprooted your life again. And that you were alone. It’s funny,” he continued, “you’re right, I never spent a night alone unless I wanted to. But it’s a strange thing about sex. For a moment, there’s this clash of heat. A connection of some kind. Ten minutes of euphoria, and then, in the end, you can be skin-to-skin with someone, inside of them, and feel more alone than you ever have in your life.” He stood up, hands in his pockets. “There’s nothing more terrifying than that. Because it’s moments like those where you realize how far beyond human connection you are.”

“Is that how you feel?” she asked, the picture he pained cutting a swath of pain through her heart.

“It’s just not in me anymore. To love someone. To feel all that deeply. I care about the country, but what I do...it comes from my head.”

“Is that a warning?”

He nodded slowly. “Maybe. I don’t want to hurt you, it’s clear to me that I’ve done that enough for one lifetime. But we will make a marriage, a real one. We don’t need love for that. And...I will be faithful to you.”

“You said that already.”

“I did say it, but I’m not sure I meant it. I do now. Because I gave it some thought, and what it comes down to is that I know the kind of pain infidelity causes. Even if one party never finds out, there are always consequences.”

“What else is there, Xander?” she asked. Because she could sense, somehow, that there was more he wanted to say. That his pain came from somewhere even deeper.

“There isn’t anything.”

“Really?”

He shook his head. “It’s not important.” He cleared his throat. “Tomorrow we’re going to go and see my father.”


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