The ugly mess that are broken hearts.
He felt her taking a deep breath. And another.
“Christopher…” Her voice was strained, and she swallowed hard. Then she sat upright, still looking like if she was on the verge of tears. Adelie pushed back a strand of hair and looked into the garden, where silver veils of rain danced in front of the flower beds. “He made me believe I was in love. He played me like a stupid fiddle, and I was too blind to see it because I was bored to death after my return from racing. Then, the evening before our wedding, I finally saw it as what it was: a ploy to gain rank and status. The house of cards collapsed.”
“Holy shit.” He put his arm around her shoulder, needing to comfort her. She nestled into his embrace, her forehead resting against his collarbone. “I had no idea you were practically standing in front of the altar as the relationship failed. I’m so sorry, Lily. That must have hurt… that must have hurt.”
She lifted her head and smiled weakly. “I survived, somehow. But… I completely lost trust in my ability to judge intentions. And I have a hard time trusting others as well.”
He wanted to ask if she trusted him, but the way she sought his shelter made the question obsolete. It filled him with a strange pride and the urge to protect her even more. Adelie abruptly sat up and smoothed back her hair, taking another deep breath. “So, now you know.”
“Yeah, now I know.” He gingerly reached out and brushed away another pert strand of her hair out of her eyes. She smiled her lovely, open smile that brightened his day always and instantly.
“How about you? Who broke your heart?” She laced her fingers through his, pulling his hand into her lap. “Tell me, I want to know too.”
For a moment he was lost for words and busied himself with pushing the swing again with his foot. “Her name was Sandy. Like you, I thought she was the one. I even bought a ring and was already plotting when and how I wanted to pop the question. Then I caught her with another man… in the middle of the living room carpet.”
“Oh, that’s harsh.” Her fingers tightened around his in compassion. “But catching your intended boasting to his mother how much more power he’ll have as soon as he is my betrothed isn’t probably any better.”
“May they both rot in hell,” Nate grumbled and pulled her back into his arms. With a sigh she let him, burying her face in his chest and he dug his hand into her silky curls.
Adelie wanted to hide from the world in his arms. Nate’s hugs were the most potent analgesic against a broken heart. It was confusing and disconcerting, but it also felt too good to push him away.
“What did you do with the ring? Returned it to the seller?”
“No.” His voice was thick and rough. “I still have it. I still like…” He adjusted the blanket around her shoulders and looked at her. “I still hope…” He faltered, then tried again. “I believe it’s the right ring, but it wasn’t the right girl. I kept it so that I can give it to the one it belongs to.”
“I didn’t expect you to be such a romantic,” she whispered, touched by his words so full of hope. “Especially not after you said you don’t believe in love anymore.”
“Guess I tried to to fool myself there…” He pulled her up and against him so that they were both comfortably curled around each other. The rain rushed, and dusk was slowly settling between the bushes and hedges in the garden. “Come to think of it, why did you leave Eden and how did you end up here?”
“I have no idea how I always end up in your arms, but they are very comfortable, so I’m not complaining.” She shoved him again and with a merry laugh he enveloped her in said arms. “The part of how and why I left Eden though… not so easy. The short form goes like this: I ran away and joined the circus. The long form… You see, on Eden I’m a celebrity, being a baroness and all that what comes with it. And a wedding blowing up as spectacular as ours stirs up some dust. I wasn’t looking forward to strings of paparazzi following me around for months. I was sick of having to live my life at the mercy of a man, so I applied to several academies, and Westerhaven was the first one that responded. I packed my bags, said goodbye to my family and once more left the premises.”