Why Isabel Delvaux had been spared was beyond him. The utter vagaries of chance. She was a pretty thing, some kind of food maven, completely inconsequential. Her survival was a quirk of fate. She wasn’t political in any way, as many of the Delvauxes had been. Had gone on record as being against her father’s campaign, but for personal reasons not political reasons. Most of the Delvauxes were highly political and very vocal. Had any of the political Delvauxes survived the blast, Blake would have had them put down by his team because none of them would stand still for phase two.
Blake let Isabel be. She wasn’t going to make waves. She was a shadow of her former self and had changed her name and crossed the country to live a recluse’s life in Portland, Oregon.
It was a very good thing that it looked like Isabel could barely stand on her feet, because she’d seen things she shouldn’t have. For one electric moment that night, in the midst of the Massacre, their eyes had met and Blake saw that she’d realized something. Then the building had blown. He thought she’d died together with the rest and had been astonished three days later to discover she was in a coma at George Washington University Hospital.
He’d been very tempted to send a kill team to her. There was so much chaos everywhere that it would have been easy to slip into her hospital room and inject an air bubble in the IV line.
In the end, he’d decided to wait it out and he’d been right
But he kept an eye on her, checking in at intervals. She remembered literally nothing from the night of the Massacre.
If her memory ever came back, Blake would have her put down. He had a man in Portland keeping an eye on her.
No, Isabel was no threat.
So, now they were passing on to phase two.
He got up, poured himself a thirty-two-year-old single malt and sat down again, admiring the view outside his windows.
Viceroy of the Americas. He smiled and took another sip of his 1983 Macallan.
It was freezing cold and windy, but Isabel Delvaux, now Isabel Lawton, went out anyway. Her daily torture session—a one-hour walk. It had to be done. If she didn’t grit her teeth and force herself to go out, she’d never leave the house.
Staying in her house forever. It scared her that the thought didn’t scare her.
The wind was as raw as she felt. She had three layers under her down coat but the wind made her shiver anyway. Probably because of the exhaustion. It had been another horrible, sleepless night. Just like the night before and the night before that and like tomorrow night would be. She hadn’t had one decent night’s sleep since the Massacre.
The night she lost her whole family, the night she lost everything.
Don’t think about it. Her daily—hourly—mantra.
Don’t think about Mom or Dad. Or Teddy or Rob. Or—God!—Jack. There hadn’t been anything found of Jack to bury.
Don’t think about her aunts and uncles and cousins—all gone. Her tribe—gone.
In a moment she could remember only in her nightmares, her life had been swept away and what was left was the husk—a shell of a woman who couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, could barely walk.
She made it past the gate and after a moment’s hesitation turned left. It was a shorter walk to the park, there was no way she’d make it to the Green. Already her body was screaming for her to turn around and go back home. Close her front door behind her, curl up on the couch and stare at the wall until the light faded.
No.Keep on walking.
There was a stone wall fronting her house and she put out a hand to steady herself. It was in pristine shape, thanks to her incredibly helpful next-door neighbor, Joe Harris.
She’d left her largest pot filled with boeuf bourguignon on Joe’s doorstep. She could barely choke down yogurt herself but having Joe to cook for made cooking fun again. Running through her endless list of recipes for something Joe might enjoy was the one bright spot in her day, though she probably didn’t need to stretch and be creative—he seemed to like more or less everything she cooked for him.
Joe was always so incredibly grateful, as if she’d gone out, sheared wool off sheep, carded it, spun it and knitted him things. Or butchered the cows and harvested the wheat. As if she’d done this amazingly complex and elaborate thing just for him. It was only cooking and it kept her sane. Well, sort of sane. Sane had gone out the window on the night of the Massacre.
It barely compensated Joe for what he did for her. Everything in her house was in perfect condition. Joe would scour the place for things to fix or improve. She didn’t trust herself to drive but last month Joe had started driving and he drove her everywhere she wanted.
He’d been as messed up as she was when she’d moved here three months ago. But Joe had moved on. He’d used a cane that first day and he later told her he’d been on crutches the week before. The cane disappeared a few days after she arrived and every day after that he celebrated some milestone in putting himself back together again.
He was still thin but he was all muscle.
A wave of heat shot through her. Just thinking about him made her weak at the knees and her knees were already weak.
When doing repairs, Joe wore an ancient tee that was soft and thin from so many washings that every single muscle was visible through the thin cotton. When she’d first set eyes on him, thirty pounds ago, he’d been all muscle and sinew. Now he was even more muscle and sinew. Even when thin, his shoulders had still been the broadest she’d ever seen. Though, of course, in her previous life, muscles weren’t important in her crowd. She’d known more men with money than men with muscles.
Muscles were better. Who knew?
She often caught herself staring at him as he stretched or reached for something, trying to keep her jaw from dropping. He was just...magnificent.
Watching Joe move became her new favorite thing at a moment when all her favorite things had been taken from her.
He was pure sex, whether standing still or moving. Such a waste to have a guy like that for a next-door neighbor. Enticing, but out of reach.
Because the fact was that sex had fled from her world. There were the occasional nonmenopausal hot flashes when Joe was doing something manly around the house but they were rare. Mostly, she felt numb. And cold. Dizzy spells would come and go, leaving her shaken and sweating.
She had continuous flashbacks of when she’d woken up in the hospital, completely alone because her entire family had been wiped out. The nurse who had told her that had burst into tears. That horrible moment was never covered by the gauze of memory. No. Horribly, her flashbacks carried the emotional weight of living through the horror, again and again.
Isabel carefully masked what she felt about Joe because, well, what would a man as vital as Joe want with a shell of a woman like her? He’d put himself together in three months and she was exactly as he’d found her that first day—dazed, halting, wounded.
She wasn’t getting better. She was getting worse.
These were thoughts she had a billion times a day. Buzzing round and round and round in her head like angry bees. It took an almost physical effort to wrench those thoughts in another direction. Joe was off-limits because she had no business yearning after him, not in the state she was in. That day—the day she found out she lost her family, the day she lost her life... She backed away from those thoughts as fast as she could. Don’t think about that.
So many things she couldn’t think about. Things she chased from her head the instant they appeared.
No past, no future. What was left was the here and now. Pay attention to the here and the now, she told herself constantly, because it’s all you have. The here and now, though, was vicious. She suffered from crippling bouts of dizziness that attacked her without warning. In the supermarket, shopping, in bookstores, in the bank, even at home. She’d suddenly feel the world swirl around her, no shape or meaning to anything. The ground would feel shaky under her feet. The only thing to do was freeze. She’d done that in the bank and in the supermarket and it had taken everything she had not to faint.