My throat clogged with unshed tears, my entire world reduced to each step he took. And then he was in front of me, and I looked up, up, and stared at the man standing before me, searching for some sign that I wasn’t crazy, that this wasn’t a dream.
That it really was him.
I blinked, for a moment wondering if I was wrong, if I’d just walked into a trap and gotten myself killed. His face was covered in a dark beard, his hair obscured by an even darker ski cap. Up close, his body was even bulkier than I’d previously thought. His mouth was slanted in a hard line, nothing like the teasing smile I was used to seeing on the boy I’d loved and lost.
He reached out and I flinched.
Maybe this was it. Maybe Blair was right and I’d totally and completely lost my mind.
But he didn’t kill me.
Instead, his fingers curled around the gold chain at my neck, his hand grazing my skin as he touched the little gold disc with my initial etched on it. The one he’d given me six years ago.
Our gazes connected and I stared into familiar dark eyes—
I stared at a ghost.
Senator Reynolds and his wife attended the concert at the Capitol. Rumor has it the senator might be considering a presidential bid in the next election cycle. Does he have what it takes?
—Capital Confessions blog
I’d thought I could handle seeing her again. Told myself that if I ever did, I would be able to keep it together. Apparently, I’d lied.
It was too dark to do more than make out the shape of her—her face, the blonde hair that fell to her shoulders. Lips I’d kissed so many times.
The sight of her was a punch to the gut. I released the necklace she wore—the one I’d placed around her neck years ago—the gold slipping through my fingers like sand, my knuckles brushing her soft skin.
I remembered that, too.
I staggered back, my hip still throbbing from where she’d hit me with the baseball bat. I should have anticipated that Kate would be armed. Thank god she hadn’t hit my head.
Neither one of us spoke, adding to the surreal quality of the night. I’d dreamed of this moment, but I’d never thought it would actually happen. I didn’t know what to say to her or how to handle this. And, after fighting a guy off in her apartment, I was starting to think the most important issue that needed to be addressed wasn’t my reappearance, but rather why someone had broken in—by the way he’d fought and the ease with which he’d slipped in, clearly a professional.
I broke the silence between us, my mind racing as training took over. “Where’s your breaker?”
“My breaker?” she squeaked.
God, her voice. For a moment, the memories hit me hard. It took everything I had to push them back and focus on the mission.
“Yeah. The guy disabled your power.”
It sounded like she was in shock, a tremor filling her voice.
“The guy in your apartment. The one that broke in.”
She took a deep breath. “That wasn’t you?”
Her gaze darted around. “Where did he go?”
“Ran out your door. I went after him, but I lost him when I hit the street.” My jaw clenched. “He knew what he was doing. I came back to make sure you were okay.”
Kate reached out and clasped my face. “Did he hurt you?”
I swallowed, the familiar scent of her hitting me hard, the ache in my chest intensifying. “No.” I took a step away from her. “Where’s your breaker?” I repeated.
It took her a few beats to answer me, and when she finally did, I heard the tremor in her voice again.
I left her and walked into her kitchen, feeling my way around until my palm connected with a metal panel in the wall. I flipped it open, flicking switches. Sure enough, he hadn’t cut the power, just switched off the breaker.
I turned on the kitchen light, walking into the living room and turning that one on, too.
Kate sat on the floor, her back to the front door which she’d closed when I went into the kitchen, her face pale, eyes wide.
“This isn’t a dream,” she whispered.
I shook my head, not sure I trusted my voice to speak. I put my hands in my pockets to keep from reaching out and touching her. Kept several feet between us for safety’s sake.
This was not how I’d intended for this to go down. Of course, I also hadn’t imagined that I’d find someone trying to kill her. Whatever she’d gotten mixed up in, it was bad.
The need to stay dead no longer felt as important as the need to keep her safe.
He was alive.
The room spun around me. My body trembled. I’d sunk to the ground, my legs too weak to keep me upright. I couldn’t get my bearings, couldn’t reconcile the sight of Matt—or whatever version of Matt stood before me—alive, in my living room. It felt as though I’d gone to sleep and woken up in the Twilight Zone.
He’d died. I’d grieved him. Still grieved him. Except apparently, he hadn’t.
“How are you here?”
Of all the questions swirling around in my head, that one seemed like the most obvious one to ask. Or maybe it was just the answer I needed most.
He folded his giant arms in front of his chest, his expression inscrutable. “Every man with me that day died. I didn’t.”
I blinked. That was it? This was the reunion I received after nearly four years of thinking he was dead? What the fuck? Everything about this felt wrong. He was alive. Why wasn’t he kissing me? Why was he standing so far away? And why did it feel like an impostor stood where Matt should have?
“Yeah, I figured that out.” My gaze narrowed, anger breaking through the wall of numbness surrounding me. “Why did someone tell me that you did?”
“Because everyone thinks I’m dead.”
His voice had changed in the years since he’d been gone. The teasing note had died, the happiness that I’d heard every time he talked to me forgotten. He spoke now like I was a stranger.
He was back, and yet, he wasn’t.
“So you just let me think it, too?”
His gaze hardened, a tic forming in his jaw just below a nasty looking gash on his cheek. Another one marred his temple, an angry red mark on the opposite cheek. He’d gotten those injuries protecting me tonight.
“It was safer that way. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Are you joking? You didn’t want to hurt me?” My voice broke. “You killed me.” Tears fought their way to the surface and I dug deep to push them back. “I’ve thought you were dead for almost four years. Do you know what that was like?” The pain in my chest intensified, the lump in my throat turning into a boulder that cut off my airway and nearly robbed me of breath. “Do you have any idea how hard it has been to get up every morning thinking I’d never see you again?”
I rose, anger propelling me forward, closing the distance between us, my fists connecting with his chest.
He stood there while I shoved him, hit him, pummeling him with my fists, his body an immovable mass. The tears came, my resolve no match for years of grief. I waited for Matt to put his arms around me, waited to feel that connection again, but he didn’t. He just stood there while I crashed into him over and over again like water against a rock.
We stayed like that for what felt like an eternity, time moving on around us as we remained frozen in a non-embrace—the only part of our bodies that touched, my fists beating into his chest as tears rained down my face. He took it. Didn’t flinch. Didn’t move. He just stood there while hurt and betrayal poured from me until it hollowed me out to nothing.
It felt like I’d lost him all over again.
I pulled back, my feet not moving quickly enough to put the distance between us that I needed. I felt like a fool. Like I’d loved someone who had never existed at all. Because whoever stood before me now, he wasn’t Matt. Not the Matt I’d known, at least.