Home > The Gilded Cuff(8)

The Gilded Cuff(8)
Author: Lauren Smith

The pit of her stomach seemed to have dropped out. She felt as if she was falling, that awful sensation of losing control, of being seconds away from a sickening crash. This was what she’d come to talk about, come to warn him about, and she wasn’t ready. It would hurt him to drag this out in the open again and she wasn’t prepared, not after the way they’d been so close just seconds before. The truth was, she didn’t want to lose him, not this sexy, addictive man. And she would lose him if she brought up the past. Like all victims he’d retreat into himself and pull away from her even as she tried to help him.

“The newspaper,” Sophie replied breathlessly.

Emery continued to stare at her, his long elegant fingers curling around the photo, crumpling it. “Why do you have a picture of me from twenty-five years ago?” When Sophie opened her mouth he waved a hand at her. “Think carefully how you answer, Ms. Ryder. I’m not above lawsuits, and I have a very, very good lawyer.”

Sophie bit her lip, tasted a drop of blood and licked at the sore spot before she replied. She’d only rehearsed this a thousand times yet now she didn’t know where to begin.

“I wanted to be able to recognize you, because I wanted to interview you. I’m a freelance investigative journalist. I specialize in crime stories, primarily those about kidnappings.” She knew she’d made a mistake the moment the words left her mouth. She felt incredibly small in that moment, like a mouse cornered in a lion’s cage. Should she have started with the part where she thought his life was in danger? That would’ve made her sound crazy, and she needed his trust more than anything.

Emery’s eyes turned dark as wood that had been consumed by flames and burnt to ash.

“You people are all the same.” His tone was deadly calm. Quiet. The hand holding the photo started to shake. His fingers clenched so tightly that his knuckles whitened. The shaking spread outward; his shoulders visibly vibrated with his rage.

Sophie sucked in a breath. He wasn’t withdrawing…He was going to lash out. The oppressive wave of guilt that cut off her air warred with a new, unexpected apprehension. This looked bad, she knew it. The sneaky reporter trying to get the scoop on a story that defined this man’s worst moment in his life. God, she’d been an idiot to think she could waltz in here and start chatting about his kidnapping.

Goosebumps rippled along her bare arms and her muscles tensed. Despite the anger she could feel rolling off him in waves, he seemed to rein in that silken thread of self-control and loosened his fingers. The photo stayed crinkled in a tight ball, completely destroyed. When she swallowed, it felt like knives sliced her throat.

Emery spoke again, much to Sophie’s dread. “Invade my life, my privacy. You know nothing of what I’ve endured or what happened to me and my…” the words faded but Sophie sensed he nearly said “brother.”

Her eyes burned with a sudden rush of tears. His pain was so clear on his face, and it made her think of herself, of the way she felt when she thought of Rachel.

“Mr. Lockwood—” She had to explain, to show him she only wanted to help.

He threw the crumpled photo at her feet. He might as well have slapped her. Would he be more willing to listen if he knew she was here to save him? But how could she get him to listen long enough to explain everything?

Summoning her strength, she stepped toward him. “But you survived. I think people want to know the truth, know how strong you are.” Why couldn’t he see what a miracle his escape was? He’d survived a horrific experience and was stronger, stronger than she was. Losing Rachel had destroyed her innocence and shattered her world.

A ruthless laugh broke from his lips. “Strong? Strong?” He shook his head from side to side, a wild smile splitting his face suddenly. “I’m strong now. I wasn’t strong then. If I had been strong, Fenn would be here.” When his eyes grew hollow Sophie realized how much that admission must have cost him. He blamed himself for whatever had happened to his brother, thought Fenn Lockwood’s death was his fault. And she’d played right into reinforcing his delusion that an eight-year-old boy should have been able to stop kidnappers. That was ludicrous.

“At least you’re here. You’re alive and you have a good life.” The words were hollow; Sophie didn’t know what else to say so she repeated what her therapist had told her years ago, after Rachel was taken.

“It’s a half-life, nothing more.” Emery’s soft utterance cut open her soul. He understood, felt the same way she did, if not more.

She’d poured her heart into what little life she felt she had left, but it wasn’t enough to fill the empty space where Rachel should have been. She couldn’t imagine what it must be like for Emery to have lost his twin. A sibling, a person he’d shared a womb with, had been raised alongside for eight years. Whatever had been between them had been destroyed, one life ended, the other haunted.

“I’m not going to agree to an interview. Your homework should’ve told you that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had enough of the club tonight.”

Sophie’s heart cracked down the middle. She’d failed. But there was more to it—the loss of something else, something deeper and infinitely more important: his trust. She’d never met this man before today, didn’t fully trust her, yet she hated that she’d let him down, abused what little trust he’d started to give her. It was like losing him, even though she sensed he’d never belong to anyone. He seemed so distant, buried beneath the past and that made him dangerous. A wildness emanated from him that made him seem like the sort of a man a woman couldn’t own, couldn’t claim, not matter how hard she wanted to or tried to. Her grandmother used to say you could never harness the wind.

Foolish woman that she was, Sophie just had to try. She waited a breathless moment that seemed to hang on the edge of forever. He needed her to submit to him; he needed the control between them. She could give it to him, right now, even if it was only temporary.

“Mr. Lockwood, please.” Guided by some instinct, she grabbed his hand and fell to her knees at his feet, head bowed. “Please…” She knew the second his gaze shifted to her. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, her skin prickled, and arousal flooded through her, making her damp, and her breathing shallow. Even though he was upset with her, his focus heated her blood.

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