AJ’s words only confirmed what Anna had already guessed in the last two days. His shock that Granny had almost died had been more than enough. His bitterness when she’d showed up and blamed him for everything made total sense now.
But to realize that his father and sister had used her running away like a terrified child to their advantage made fury fill her veins.
She’d directly played in to their hands. Given them the perfect reason to illuminate how unsuitable and middle-class and grasping she was, and that she didn’t belong in AJ’s life.
And the worst part was that in all this, she’d hurt him. Just as much as he’d hurt her by not calling even once in nine months.
There was no hiding from the fact that she was equally culpable for their marriage crumbling. Instead of standing and fighting, she’d let them chase her away. They’d both let others drive a wedge between them.
The realization weighed down upon her. She had no doubt that AJ would consider this his failure to protect her from his sister and father. That he was an honorable man who lived by a certain code meant he naturally assumed the role of a protector when it came to innocents.
She’d seen his integrity in action on the singing show. With more than a few young women like her—fresh from some obscure village, thrust into the limelight and surrounded by glittering sets and charming men—they could have been easy targets to predators. But AJ had made it a personal mission to keep an eye out on all of them. In fact, it had been his reputation as an incredibly honorable music director in the industry that had convinced Granny to let Anna enter the competition.
This had never been simply about her unsuitability to be his wife.
She took AJ’s hand in hers, loving the contrasting texture of it against her soft skin. He played numerous string instruments and they’d all left a mark on his fingers. She loved the feel of those calluses against her skin.
“Then why did you?” she asked, looking up. She pulled his palm to her chest, where he could feel the thunderous beat of her heart. “You know me, AJ. Inside and out. Why did you believe them?”
He tugged his hand away with a snarl and Anna tried to not to see it as a rejection of her. The impulse even now was to run away before he could hurt her anymore. Before she was even more enmeshed in whatever this was.
Before he realized how vulnerable she’d always be when it came to him.
But she waited for whatever it was because she wanted the truth. His truth.
“You know that Seema didi and my other two sisters raised me. But the fact is they had to do it because my mother left when I was two.” He laughed. The depth of bitterness in his voice shook her. “Virat would have such a field day with this, you know. I always thought I was better than the Raawals, with their dysfunctional family. Well-adjusted. In touch with all my feelings.
“All I did was suppress any doubts and questions about what kind of a woman she was. Why she’d left a two-year-old son. What could have driven her to it…?”
“I know you don’t want to hear it, but the combination of your father, with his domineering nature, and three grown-up stepdaughters… Any woman would have felt friendless in that gilded cage, AJ.” When he turned to her, Anna added hurriedly, “I’m not condoning the choice she made. I’m just…”
AJ swallowed and nodded. “I did ask myself those questions finally. And I asked it of them.” He blew out a rough breath. “I realized that’s why I believed those lies about you so easily. That’s why at the first sign of a problem between us, I swallowed the first excuse someone gave me. It was easy to tell myself that another woman had yet again abandoned me, through no fault of mine.”
Something in his tone made a knot twist hard in her belly. “But you know better now. You… This isn’t just your fault. I should have demanded you listen to me, demanded we stay here permanently. Demanded that…” Anna swallowed the lump in her throat. “Don’t you want to fix this, AJ?”
His gaze gleamed. But she couldn’t tell if it was with interest or mockery. “Neither of us trusted the other. Neither of us cared enough to lower our barriers. Is there anything to be fixed then, sweetheart?”
With that, he walked over to the enormous bed she’d been trying to not look at and plopped his large frame onto it with a loud thud. In two seconds, Anna could hear his deep breaths.
She crawled onto the bed and layherself next to him, unable to move away. Wrapping her arm and leg over his hard body, she buried her face in his back, held onto his solid frame and whispered, “You and I are worth fixing, AJ.”
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