We sat on the couch, drinking mimosas courtesy of the champagne and orange juice Blair had also brought. Despite the sadness lingering in the air, I think we all wanted to focus on the positive rather than feeling like this was a defeat. We’d won a battle today, even if we hadn’t come out unscathed.
I filled them in on my meeting with Sean while we ate.
“I can’t believe we’re teaming up with the enemy,” Blair grumbled.
Considering how much Sean had made of both her broken engagement and her relationship with Gray, I didn’t blame her for feeling the way she did.
“I know, but it was the smartest move we could make. The enemy of my enemy, and all that. Besides, I got him to promise to lay off you guys. I figured that would make up for the brunt of it.”
“Are you ready for your trip?” Jackie asked.
I nodded, figuring I was as ready as I’d ever be.
“Do you have everything you need?” Blair asked.
I grinned, nostalgia filling me as Blair assumed her usual maternal role. “Yes.”
“Are you sure? Did you pack enough shoes? Socks?”
“You always under-pack.”
I laughed. “I know, but I got this. Promise.”
“Are you scared?” she asked, her voice thick.
My expression sobered. “A little.”
“You can always come home. With more time, we could figure out a way to make it work. And if you need anything, we’ll be there for you. You know that, right? I know you want to do this alone, and I’m not saying that you can’t, just that you don’t have to. There are people here who love you and are willing to fight for you.”
I smiled, tears welling up in my eyes. “I know.”
I turned toward Jackie. “I’m really sorry I’m going to miss the wedding. You’ll have to send pictures.”
She nodded, her gaze watery. “I will.” She gave me a quick hug. “I can’t believe I found you just to lose you again.”
“I know.” She’d only been in my life a short time, but she was as much my sister as Blair was and I loved her. “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for us. We couldn’t have gotten through this without your connections and your research.”
“I feel like I got you into this mess in the first place,” she replied. “I wish I’d never started this stupid vendetta against him. It wasn’t worth it.”
“It was,” Blair interjected, surprising me. “It was the right thing to do. I thought I could bury my head in the sand, that if I just left town, it would all go away, but I didn’t think of all the people he’d hurt along the way, of all the damage he could still do.” Her gaze met mine and held, understanding flickering in her eyes. “You were right all along; he needed to be stopped.”
It felt good to have her approval, to know that I wasn’t alone in this.
We sat together, talking about nothing, focusing on the mundane rather than the jarring fact that this would be the last time we would see each other for the foreseeable future. It felt like an ending of sorts, even though I knew that distance wouldn’t lessen the bond I felt between us or diminish the love I held for them.
A series of knocks sounded on the door, the code Matt and I had developed so I would know it was him, and then the lock turned and he walked over the threshold, his gaze sweeping over all of us. A smile tugged at his lips; I figured we looked pretty ridiculous holed up in this shitty hotel room, drinking mimosas and eating fancy pastries like we didn’t have a care in the world.
His gaze softened as it settled on me, the love in his eyes filling me with a flood of warmth.
“We should probably get going soon. Our flight leaves in a few hours.”
I nodded. “Did you get everything you need?”
“Yeah, I did.” He smiled at Jackie and Blair. “I’ll go downstairs and settle the bill with the hotel.”
He gestured toward the computer sitting on the desk. “Have you guys checked Capital Confessions yet?”
I shook my head. “Is it up?”
He grinned. “It is.”
We crowded around the screen, pulling up the Capital Confessions page, gasps escaping as we read the post.
Senator Edward Reynolds … implicated in the death of his longtime friend … under investigation … mysterious circumstances … using his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee …
“Holy shit.” I’d expected him to take a swing at my father, but he hadn’t pulled any punches.
“This is way better than anything I even imagined,” Jackie interjected, her eyes wide.
“Yeah, it is.”
Blair just stared at the screen mildly dumbfounded.
There would be no coming back from this.
“You did it,” Matt whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of my head, his arms wrapped around my body. “I’ll be right back.” He gave me a quick hug and then he released me.
We all watched him leave, his departure sucking the air from the room as the moment of reckoning came upon us and we couldn’t avoid the good-bye that faced us now.
I didn’t have it in me for big speeches, couldn’t find the words I needed to say good-bye. So in the end we didn’t speak, we just wrapped our arms around each other and held on.
Matt and I held hands as the plane taxied down the runway, as we caught the first leg of our flight to Bali. There was a part of me that couldn’t believe we’d pulled it off, that we were actually leaving. And at the same time, I felt hope for the first time in a long time, like this was our chance to start a life together and find some semblance of peace.
I stared out the window, looking down on the city, and let go.
When I felt the plane’s wheels lifting off the runway, the nose pointed to the sky, the first stirrings of relief filled me. We’d done it. Somehow we’d actually done it. The rest of the trip wouldn’t be easy, we were in for a lifetime of looking over our shoulders, but at least we were together. And alive. For now, that felt like enough.
It felt like everything.
Six months later …
I stared out at the ocean, the wind whipping my cover-up, my hair blowing around me. The waves were intense today, the water wild. It was February in Bali, and while I would have been wearing a coat and boots in D.C., today was just another day at the beach here, another day in our secret paradise.
Arms wrapped around me, a warm, hard body pressing into my back. I stared down at the tanned hand resting under my bikini-clad breast, feeling that familiar rush of contentment at the sight of the gold band there, the symbol that had made us man and wife.
I turned in Matt’s arms, my arms sliding up to curve around his neck, pulling his head down toward me for a kiss, loving the feel of his smooth skin against mine, giving myself over to the pleasure that slid down my body, all the way to my toes as his lips devoured mine, his tongue unraveling me.
“Good morning,” Matt whispered, his voice throaty.
I grinned. “Good morning.” My hands slid down his ridged abs to his waist where his wetsuit settled over his hips, the top unzipped, showing a whole lot of tanned, tantalizing skin. “Going surfing?”
He nodded. “It seemed like a good day for it.”
It did. He liked surfing on days like this, loved pushing his limits, chased that adrenaline high. I figured it came from the life he’d lived, from the part of him that needed to be on the edge. In a way, it was how he dealt with his PTSD, and maybe it was nontraditional, but it seemed to work for him. I was happy to see him with an outlet, and in the months since we’d moved to Bali, his nightmares had become more and more sporadic. I figured we’d never completely put our pasts behind us, but we’d found a way to cope and thrive, to look toward our future together.