Anna stayed against the door, feeling like a thief. “You stayed up just to catch me, didn’t you?”
He shrugged. She got a glimpse of the slab of his abdominal muscles and her skin felt suddenly too tight.
“I thought we were supposed to cuddle. What are you waiting for?”
Heat crawled up her cheeks and it took all she had to hold his gaze. Her mouth fell open in a wide O as it clicked. “You are sitting there half-naked, just to make me run away, you beast.”
“Who said I’m half-naked?”
Anna gasped but refused to turn around and run away. She knew what he was up to. The emotional distance that he was creating between them wasn’t enough. He wanted to push her away physically, too.
Without flinching from his gaze, she walked around the massive bed to the other side. Fighting the impulse to tug at her shorts, which he was ogling with a wicked grin, she got into the bed, scooted closer and leaned against the headboard. Their bare shoulders pressed as she settled deeper into the covers.
His disapproval was like a thick curtain in the room. “Am I allowed to ask why you’ve been mauling me about like a squeeze toy in the middle of the night and without my consent, I might add?”
“Oh, pssh. Enough with the dramatization, AJ. I wasn’t mauling you so much as…”
“I wanted to be near you.”
“If it’s sex you want, Anna, I might be persuaded.”
“No. Don’t turn this into a joke, please,” she begged.
With a rough exhale, he sighed. “I have nothing serious to say. Why are you here, Anna?”
Anna swallowed her fear and forced herself to say the words. “I… I’ve never seen you like that night. It scared me.”
“Oh, but it’s become my default since you left me, sweetheart,” he drawled.
For all his mockery, Anna sensed the tension in him. The truth in that statement. But they couldn’t move forward until the past was resolved. “I can’t tell you how much I missed you when Granny fell ill. No, please let me finish. She’s not only family—she’s my everything. But at the end of the day, even if I did lose her, I had the satisfaction of knowing that she had lived a long, loving life. That it was simply her time.”
He took her hand in his and squeezed tight. She saw him take note of her ring. Felt his shock in the tightening jawline. She waited for him to ask why she was still wearing it. She was desperate to tell him she’d never taken it off. Even as she’d sat across from the lawyer, she’d felt its weight on her. But he didn’t ask and Anna struggled to bridge the growing distance between them.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you,” he finally said, and politely returned her hand to her lap.
“My point wasn’t to guilt you more, AJ. What Papa and Seema didi did broke your trust in them. Even in yourself. And that’s a much deeper wound than anything I went through with Granny.
“I want to be here with you, for you, while you…try to process that, while you find it in yourself to forgive them. I did a mistake by running away once. I won’t make it again.”
He threw back his head against the headboard. “Why in the world would I want to forgive them, Anna? They toyed with my trust.”
“Because unless you forgive them, you won’t forgive yourself. And if you don’t, we have no way forward.”
He turned to look at her then. “I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if…I want to try again with you. Not for a long while.”
Anna swallowed the tears and reached for his hand. “That’s okay. I had nine months to examine what I’d done wrong, where I’d misstepped. Nine months to imagine what I would do right this time.
“You have had barely a few days. I simply want you to know that I’m here, AJ. With no expectations. No demands. Except I still plan to maul you like my very own life-size squeeze toy in the middle of the night.”
Anna saw his mouth twitch and felt as if she’d cracked through the anger and pain he’d erected like walls. As if she’d planted her very own personal flag on top of Mount Everest.
This was a small win, but she had no doubt her husband was worth every risk.
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