Jaxon spent three days traveling back and forth across the country. Sitting in on meetings, setting up pitches, avoiding looking at his phone one minute and snatching it up the next. He told himself to enter creative mode—go off-line to think up a new project. Except the only thing he could think about was Fiorella.
He'd let her walk out. He'd not stopped her. Not said anything he knew she wanted to hear. He couldn't. Surely she understood that he couldn't?
But she didn't accept it, did she? And her accusation burned. He didn't ask the important questions? Why would he need to when he already knew the answers?
Only he didn't really know, he'd only guessed—assumed—and he'd been wrong before.
And the worst of it was—her brightness, her belief, it made him begin to hope. And that spark he'd always extinguished because inevitably it led to pain. He couldn't deal with that.
Yet here he was. Aching.
But there was one way to rid himself of it all. To prove himself right and her wrong.
He clicked on the file he'd created months ago and ignored ever since. The emails were short and repetitive, with the same request. Anger ignited instantly. He didn't want to think about this. But he'd never hurt the way he did now. Never felt such regret. She'd carved open an old wound that had been festering beneath a facade all this time, nowhere near healing.
So he had to act.
Four hours later his mother mouthed his name and heavily leaned back against the door she'd just opened.
'It's probably an inconvenient time.' He stood stiffly, furious to find himself here—where he'd promised he'd never return. Furious with Fiorella for the way she made him believe fairy tales might be possible after all. For challenging him to ask why.
'No, please…please come in.' She paled but straightened and stepped back.
'It's a nice place you have.' Jaxon glanced around the lounge. He regretted coming here. He should've just phoned. Or emailed. Or even better, done nothing at all. That had been working just fine for years.
'It is.' His mother's eyes filled with tears. 'I'm so glad you've…' She drew in a sharp breath and offered him a drink.
He swiftly accepted, relieved to have the space for a few seconds.
Her hands shook and she had to set the tray of drinks down on her return.
'You must think—' She broke off. 'After you left…I met someone.'
Yeah, he really didn't want to hear this. He turned away.
'Please,' she said quickly, her movement desperate enough to stop him in his tracks. 'Please. It turned out he knew you were my son. He wanted me to ask you for money. I never wanted to do that to you. Not after…' Tears filled her eyes. 'So I left him and I moved and I changed my name. I knew you didn't want to see me again. You were on your own from such a young age and that was my fault. So I didn't tell anyone who I was or about my connection to you. But I've followed you. I read about everything you've done. Every time you were mentioned in the news… Then I met Derek and I fell in love. But I didn't want him to know what an awful mother I was. I could never tell him about you. He's a good man and I was afraid that if he knew, that he'd...' She wiped her face. 'So that day when you turned up out of the blue, I was torn apart.'
'You chose him over me,' Jaxon said baldly. And he had no idea why he'd turned up again now. Another disaster already.
His mother closed her eyes. 'I was so ashamed. After you left that day, I fell apart. I couldn't hold it back and lie to him anymore and I knew I couldn't get you back. But he held me, and forgave me and encouraged me to send you those messages, so I hoped you might one day…' She drew in a jagged breath. 'And now here you are and all I can say is that I'm sorry. So sorry. So sorry.' Her voice faded to a whisper. 'I didn't deserve you.'
He felt frozen inside and it felt like forever before he could actually voice his question. 'Are you happy?'
She breathed in and out unsteadily. 'Happier now.'
A lump in his chest was breaking apart and he couldn't stand here and let it. 'I need to go,' he said gruffly as he moved. But that lump choked his throat and forced him to pause at the door. 'I'll call,' he muttered.
'I'd like that very much. Thank you.' Her whisper followed him.
He drove on autopilot, trying not to think. But he couldn't stop. His mother was happy and as hurt as he'd been by her, he was glad she was okay. Because now he understood that she'd been scared. And he could relate to that feeling more than he wanted to. His mother had been afraid to be honest. Afraid to reveal herself—warts and all—to anyone. And now he realized, so had he.
But Fiorella hadn't been afraid to do that. Beautiful, sheltered Fiorella who'd been locked away for so long, was the one able to open up better than anyone.
But he'd been afraid to hear it—too afraid to believe it. She'd been right about that too.
Because he'd been hurt. For so long he'd been rootless, homeless…and believed himself to be heartless. A good thing, right? But he wasn't.
It was because he'd been afraid.
But now he knew he wanted it all—the impossible. He wanted to fly. And he wanted to do it with her.
Fiorella gave herself a week to wallow. Then she made the lightning-quick trip to Triscari for the coronation and came straight back. She couldn't talk to her brother or Hester about Jaxon. They were too occupied with his ascension to the throne—and with each other. She didn't want to rain on their parade.
On her return she spent every waking hour in the lab, working on her research project, helping other students with theirs, avoiding the emptiness of her campus apartment. So she was bone-tired when she climbed the stairs to the small unit almost two weeks to the day that Jaxon had walked out and cut off all communication.
She frowned because her bedroom light was on. Her security detail must have done it. Even so, her heart sped a notch or five as she pushed open the door.
Jaxon was sitting on her bed, the feral cat curled in a ball beside him, purring louder than a traction engine.
Fiorella's heart floored it.
'What are you doing here?' she croaked.
'He trusts you, doesn't he?' Jaxon nodded at the content cat. 'He was so happy to come inside, just leaped straight up onto your bed. He knows he's safe here. Wanted. Loved…'
Fiorella leaned against the wall, trying to remember how to breathe. 'And…?'
'And he's a lot smarter than I am.'
She stared at him as he stood up and walked toward her. I was thinking about how amazing it is that with a few basic elements we can achieve the impossible,' he said.
When he towered over her like this, she felt dizzy. 'Elements?' she echoed.
'Trust. Hope… Honesty.'
Her heart scampered faster. 'Have you not been honest?'
He kept his bright gaze fixed on her. 'Not to myself. Definitely not to you. I'm sorry for that.'
Her mouth dried so much it was hard to speak. 'What's the impossible you think we can achieve if we have those elements?'
'Maybe the most natural thing in the world. Definitely the most terrifying.' He framed her face with gentle hands. 'But I want to risk it, I want to be the exception with you, Fiorella. I want to be brave. And honest. And I'm desperate to be the one man strong enough to handle you, sweetheart. You were right—I should have trusted you sooner. I'm so sorry I didn't.'
'With my heart. It's yours, Fiorella.' He leaned closer. 'It's been yours from the first moment I saw you. I resisted like hell, pushed away right at the moment when I should have fallen to my knees… You were right about that night. It was magic because of the impossible. Because of you—bright and warm and so giving. I love you.'
She closed her eyes. She wanted this so much, she ached to believe him. But suddenly she was the one afraid and uncertain.
'How can this work?' she asked hopelessly. 'I have so much study to do…and you—'
'I can work anywhere. It doesn't matter where in the world I am. I won't leave you, Fiorella. Wherever you want to go…I'll go too if you want. I would love to do that with you, because I want you in my life. I need you. I love you. And I never want to stop you from doing anything. You've spent too long locked away, sweetheart.' He cupped her face and smiled at her. 'You know you don't need your bioluminescence, you have a glow all of your own. You're so beautiful—inside and out, my love.'
'Oh, Jaxon.' She leaned close, giving in to the warmth and security of his tight embrace. 'I love you.'
Finally Fiorella's bruised heart blossomed, healing as she believed. And then she realized: she was finally home.
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