Beneath This Ink (Page 72)

Titan was right.

I didn’t deserve her.

I’d known it last night sitting on the dock with Lord.

I knew it today.

I scrubbed both hands through my hair.

It was still too long.

“You need a haircut.” The words were practically stolen out of my brain. I looked up. Vanessa stood beside the ring, only thirty feet away. She was covering her mouth with a hand. “Sorry. I guess that’s not an appropriate opening line in this situation.”

I barked out a laugh. I hadn’t thought I’d find a reason to be laughing any time soon. Leave it to Vanessa.

“I think we’re beyond what’s appropriate, princess.” The nickname slipped out, and the reason for calling her that had never been truer. She was fucking regal standing there. To this day, the most beautiful woman I’d ever known. That was a fact that wasn’t changing.

Part of that regal look was because her posture was so stiff. I hated that she looked so uncertain of her welcome. I hated that what I’d done had thrown up this wall between us. I hated that she had every right to hate me right now. My gut twisted with the thought. Titan’s words echoed in my brain. Fuck that asshole. If there was a chance in hell Vanessa could get past what I had done, I wasn’t walking away. I wasn’t good enough for her before, and I wasn’t good enough for her now. I didn’t have it in me to be the better man—but I sure as fuck could be her man.

I opened my mouth to speak, but shut it again. I wasn’t good with fancy words and didn’t know how to ask what I needed to know.

Her heels clicked across the floor as she came closer. Almost close enough to touch. My hands tensed with the need to drag her against me and muss up her perfect hair and tear down the wall between us. But I didn’t reach for her because she was holding out a folder.

“This belongs to you.”

I found my voice. “What is it?”

“The deed you gave me. I never took it to the parish clerk to make the transfer official. It didn’t seem right for the foundation to take more from you than it already has.”

I stared at the folder but didn’t touch it. That deed had started this whole thing, and she was giving it back. Fuck. Disappointment, swift and sharp, rushed through me.

My eyes snapped up to hers. “You trying to say you’re done with me, princess?”

Vanessa’s fingers dug into the folder and the edges bent, but she didn’t answer my question. She continued, “I also came to tell you that the foundation is going to be investigated by the Attorney General’s Office, at the board of directors’ request. It’s likely going to be dissolved, and all the funds dispersed to other organizations. There’s a chance you might even get your parents’ money back, although I really can’t say for sure.” She paused. “Everyone will know what Archer did. I know it’s not the justice you wanted, but it’s something anyway.”

“I don’t give a fuck about the money or even the foundation—except I’m sorry as hell you’re not getting your shot at running it.”

She blinked, head jerking back at my response, but I didn’t let her speak. I grabbed the folder out of her hands and tossed it on the ground.

“You didn’t answer my question, Vanessa.”

Her teeth sank into her lower lip for a beat before answering. “I think the question is whether you’re done with me. I mean… what Archer did…”

I shook my head. “Didn’t have shit to do with you. So don’t take that on. You’ve got nothing to apologize for. I, on the other hand…” I let my words trail off, not wanting to highlight once again why I was a total fucking prick. But I manned up and finished, “I killed him. Doesn’t matter that I didn’t put a bullet in him. It was my doing.”

Vanessa took a step forward, closing the space between us. Laying a hand on my chest, she said, “You’ve carried guilt for something that wasn’t your fault for too long. Don’t make that mistake again here. This wasn’t the first heart attack Archer’s had. He’s been in congestive heart failure for almost a decade. After Titan confronted him, he knew this was all going to come toppling down. He baited you. The things he said… I think he wanted you to pull that trigger so he didn’t have to face up to what he did. If you ask me, he’d already given up on living, and his body reacted accordingly.” She paused. “It’s not a medically sound opinion, by any means, but that’s how I see it.”

Her brilliant blue eyes shined up at me, and in them I saw absolution.

If she had it in her to offer me forgiveness for what I’d done, then I’d be a stupid man not to grab it—and her—with both hands and never look back. And for the record, today, at least, I wasn’t a stupid man.

We stood in silence for several seconds while I gathered my words. They might not be fancy, but they were the truth.

“I haven’t loved many people in my life, because there’s always been a constant: I’ve never been able to hold on to any of them. Lord and I were ripped apart when we were just little kids. Joy and Andre were gone too soon. I walked into this expecting that I’d never be able to hold on to you. I didn’t want to love you, because not only would it be a certainty that I’d lose you, but when I did, it’d wreck me. But it was fucking impossible not to fall in love with you.” I hesitated for only a moment, taking in the tears shimmering in her eyes, and framed her face with my hands. “So if you’re waiting for my answer: I ain’t done with you. I’ll never be done with you. If you’d hated me for what I’d done, I would’ve found a way to change your mind. Because you’re mine, and I’m yours—and I’m never letting you go.”