Annabeth Phelan and Ethan Walsh.
He was a spy; she was a liar.
Their love was born during the last of the North-South war, in a hospital full of dying men, bloody linens and pain. It was born in a prison where they ended together. It was born in desperation and lies.
One night was all it took to create life together.
He tasted of heat and despair; she wanted to heal him as he had healed so many others, and this was the only way that she knew.
“Need . . . you,” he whispered against her lips. “Need you, Beth. Hold me.”
When the war ended, he searched for her, found her and married her not because of that life, but because his love for her.
He dropped to one knee. “Annabeth Phelan, will you marry me?” He pulled his mother’s ring from his pocket.
Her eyes widened, then filled. “You—you—”
“Is that a yes?”
“You had that all along. . . . You were going to ask me even before . . .” She touched their child once more.
“You stood at my side, though I betrayed the cause you believed in. You gave yourself to me, your enemy.”
“Ethan,” she began, and choked.
“I lied. About everything. Who I was, what I believed, hell, how I spoke—and you forgave me. If I hadn’t already loved you, I would have loved you for that alone. I’ll always love you, Annabeth. Always.”
She blinked, and tears flew off her eyelashes, rained onto his cheeks. “I . . . ” She looked away, frowned, seemed to struggle with something; then her shoulders drooped. “I love you, too.”
But a love born in lies is doomed.
She’d sacrificed the man she loved—she hadn’t meant to, but the fact remained that she had—to get her brother back. That she hadn’t was either poetic justice or perhaps the laughter of God at someone who believed she could orchestrate fate.
Ethan stepped into the room, gun still drawn. Her gaze went to the weapon. “I wouldn’t blame you.”
She flicked her eyes to the windows and then back to his. “But others might.”
“You betrayed me.”
“You betrayed yourself.”
His hand tightened, and he put the pistol back in the holster, for an instant afraid of what he might do. “I think I’d remember that.”
“It was a trap, Ethan.”
“One that you set.”
“I didn’t think you’d jump into it. I was trying to prove you weren’t a traitor.”
And when the child created in love dies, the love fractures.
“I wish you were dead,” she whispered, uncertain if she were talking to Ethan or herself.
Five years after…
Broken.. he’s a shell of his former self; she’s a callous Pinkerton’s undercover agent attached to a vicious killer/robber as his woman.
Suddenly Ethan was so tired and sad, he wanted to sink back onto the floor and find another blue bottle. But first he had to get rid of her.
“You don’t have to listen to me. You don’t have to look at me or live with me.”
Or touch me, or kiss me, or love me. He tightened his mouth lest those words slip out. He might be pathetic, but he didn’t want to be that pathetic.
He’s abusing laudanum, he’s still madly in love with Beth, he’s killing himself…
She was his woman, and Lass protected his property with a swift and certain violence.
He allowed her to ride with them because she was useful—both in private and in public. She did what she was told, and she didn’t whine about it. Annabeth knew better. She also knew better than to turn up pregnant.
She’s disillusioned, she’s filling the void her miscarried child and her aborted love created with work, doing the only thing she’s able to do: spy and lie.
“You need to get to Freedom as fast as you can. Ethan is . . .” A shadow flickered over his exquisite face. “He will die if you do not do something.”
A friend tells her that he’s in serious danger and she cannot do anything else but run to save him. But saving him is not what she thought it would be. Seeing him wasted, a shadow of what he was reawakens her feelings. Those painful feelings that never left, but were buried under self-denial.
“Alcohol wasn’t enough.” When her frown deepened, he elaborated. “To make me forget.”
She lifted her hand, examining the bottle with sudden interest. “This made you forget?”
“Yes.” At least until it wore off. He tried not to let it.
Annabeth tilted the bottle to her lips, sucked on the opening, ran her tongue around the edge. If Ethan hadn’t been half dead, those actions might have brought him to life. As it was, they worried him.
She threw the second bottle at the wall. This one, too, fell harmlessly to the ground. “You drank every drop and left none for me?”
Memory flickered. Dr. Brookstone had adored Shakespeare. He’d quoted the bard often.
“Drunk all,” Ethan murmured, “and left no friendly drop to help me after.”
A chill trailed over him despite the excessive heat from the fire in so small a space. Romeo and Juliet. Doomed if anyone ever had been.
And they start healing each other. They start talking. They star loving each other again, even if they never stopped.
“I guess neither one of us can throw stones,” he said.
If he knew what she’d done, he might.
“Do you regret this?” he asked.
“I could never regret helping you heal.”
“Is that what you were doing?”
She’d thought so. Now she wondered. Had she been trying to heal him? Or herself?
“See me,” he managed.
Those eyes, which had gone dewy with the promise of release, sharpened. “Ethan,” she said. “All I’ve ever seen is you.”
Wonderful… just wonderful!!!