The sea was calm, waves lapped against the shore without any vigor but every sluggish surge stung his wounds. He groaned, his headache seemed to pulse with the waves. He rolled to his side, debris littered the pebbled beach. His eyes fluttered closed and he let himself go lax, falling into a familiar dream.
She had always been shy about her legs, and he could never fathom why. She could've been a supermodel if her circumstances had been different, she was built so well. She had long, smooth legs and round hips that childbearing had only made sweeter. There were other things about her he could list as sweet, round, and perfect, but even at his age those thoughts still made him blush.
How far she'd come from that gangly preteen girl he'd roamed the streets with. How far he'd come from the boy a foot too tall for his age and too sensitive about it. From the children of crack addicts, struggling to survive, to posh penthouses and valet parking... such were the spoils of crime, he supposed.
But this... this was too sweet even for a dream. The girl he'd always crushed on, the woman he'd always loved but could never have, and here she was in his bed at his side, still sound asleep with her bare legs poking out from under the sheet. She had the prettiest blonde hair. Like sunlight spilled onto the pillow next to him.
Somewhere out there, beyond his bedroom door, their real life lurked, waiting to remind him that she had belonged to another man first. But for now, he couldn't think about what it meant to take his boss's ex-eife into his bed. He couldn't think of consequences when a tiny smile crossed her lips and her blue eyes opened, sleepy but happy. The only thought in his mind was gratitude that he had lived to have this moment, and he leaned over to kiss her sweet lips.
Something between a strangled scream and a sob tore from his mouth as he rolled to his hands and knees, struggling to force himself to his feet, a single thought in his mind and on his lips as he faced the fiery remains of the car.
It wasn't her fault she got pregnant so young. He knew that. And when she told him, eyes red from crying, he resolved himself. It wasn't his child growing in her belly, but he loved her, and he would never leave her. He would help her through this. She just wanted to tell the father, she said. He had a right to know, she said. How could he have known what would happen when he bought that diamond ring, ready to be a father to her baby and the husband she deserved, to take her away from the hell their lives had been? He thought he'd never survive the broken heart he suffered when she came back, wearing that other man's ring and name.
But that was all past now, and he rushed to remind himself it was. She left that man, and it had taken her far too long, but now she was his. This was the first morning of the rest of their life, and oh, how wonderful that sounded.
It had happened so fast. All of it had just happened so fast. She'd come to him in the night, tears in her eyes, and he'd held her. She clung to him, the way he'd always dreamed she would, and he made love to her like he'd always dreamed he would. They woke together, and played hooky from work. He drove her to the beach. She always loved the beach. They walked through the waves for hours, just talking, like they had when they were young. And now...
He forced himself to walk to the car... or what was left of it. She'd just gone back to it to get her cell phone. She'd just wanted to check the time. Maybe she hadn't gotten there. Maybe the car bomb was on a timer, not a trigger. Maybe she'd just been knocked back, like he was. He didn't think about how he'd been twenty yards away and he'd still gotten knocked ten feet into the gentle waves. He couldn't think about that.
He hobbled around the wreckage, sobbing, searching. Again and again he looped the molten pile of slag that had been his Mercedes, searching for a sign, screaming her name. Finally, on the fifth loop, he found her cell phone, next to something that looked like processed meat.
He threw up.
" Chandra..." he choked, hands balled into fists, before reaching for the cell phone. It was buzzing with a text.
The text said "Sweet dreams."
He recognized the number. He knew what it meant.
He'd been too afraid, his whole life, to tell her she was the one, she was always the one. Too afraid to take the risk. It took watching her fall to pieces to make him try, and even then she'd come to him first. One night was all they'd had.
She had been the one beautiful thing in his life, his reason for living, for fighting. She'd filled him with hope and love. And she'd been ripped from him. And it was all his fault.
If only... if only...
He would make them pay.