I can still feel the rocking.
I come awake at night to the pitch black—to the void of space and time and consciousness, but always the rocking. As if I’m still trapped in the belly of that boat. Panic grips me so acutely, I thrash and scream until the hospital room comes into focus.
Even then, it’s not the reassurance of my surroundings that quiets my hell and stops the screams. I held them in for so long, never giving that monster what he most desired, and now they pour out; a flood channeled through me. Like the dam holding them back cracked with the first one, and my sanity—the mending glue—dissolved under the swell.
But then I feel his hand in mine. That’s what brings me back from the brink of madness. I suck in a shuddering breath and let the shiver subside before I look over at him.
Quinn sleeps upright in the chair with his coat bunched up underneath his head. His arm rests on my bed, his hand clutched to mine. My screams never wake him, and I wonder if it’s all in my head—if I might still be inside a nightmare that I can’t wake from.
He could be a delusion. Some kind of sick dream within the nightmare that offers a glimpse of peace before I’m swallowed by the darkness all over again. Because the screams that blister my throat as they claw up from the sickness…no one could sleep through.
Only he does, and he’s been here every night since I shed my first tear, embarrassed that I feared being left alone in the hospital room.
I ease closer to him, lacing my fingers through his. His scent of leather and cologne—so much like a cop—settles over me. I inhale deeply, accepting this moment of peace. Just knowing he’s here.
When I’m released tomorrow, what then? When the silence of my own home mocks me and the emptiness consumes my life, how will I cope? I’ve never feared being alone before.
I don’t know how to be a victim.
What’s more, I don’t want to fear that monster. He’s dead. I saw him dead with my own eyes. But there’s still this twisting nausea in the pit of my stomach. The darkness whispering that my tormentor lurks everywhere I look. Can a person die of fear? Some nights it feels as if my heart will burst, and I’m tempted to let the panic finally consume me.
Quinn stirs and I release his hand, scared that if he wakes, he’ll be the first to let go.
A low knock travels through the room, causing another scream to fire from my lungs. A figure stands in the open doorway, and I know it’s Simon… That fucking sick fuck is still alive.
“Avery, it’s okay.” Sadie enters the room, her voice soft and her face catching the dim glow of the monitor.
“Oh, my God.” I press my hand to my chest, shame sweeping over me. “I just… Sometimes it’s hard when I first wake up.”
“I know,” she says. Her gaze shifts from me to Quinn before she settles on the edge of the bed. “I still wake up screaming some nights.”
Anger burns lava-red in my vision, my chest aflame. I don’t understand whom I’m angry with...or why…but hearing that all this time—all these years—hasn’t changed anything for Sadie, makes me want to lash out.
“Why are you here?” I ask, the venom thick in my voice. Immediately, regret douses the flames. God, it’s a never-ending cycle. “I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be.” She stands and extends her hand. “You’re going to need that anger.”
Confusion pushes my brows together, but I accept her hand. “For what?”
With her help, I climb out of the bed, my body—every muscle and bone—sore from the days of torture inflicted on me. As she guides me toward the hallway, I glance back at Quinn.
“He’s fine. Can sleep through a hurricane,” she assures. “I tried to wake him up once when he fell asleep at his desk”—she shakes her head slowly—“dead to the world.”
“Maybe that’s why he drew the short straw to be the one to sit with me.” I take a seat on the waiting bench. “He’s the only one who can get a full night despite my fits.” I try to smile, but the deep cut running through my bottom lip stings from the effort.
Sadie’s silence draws my gaze up to her. A serious expression tugs her mouth into a grim line. “Quinn’s here on his own. I had no idea,” she says.
I look down at my lap, the hospital bracelet circling my wrist. I twirl it, my thoughts muddled. “Then why—?”
“You’ll have to ask him.” She sits down beside me. “I’ve come for an entirely different reason. I’m not here to comfort you, Avery. I’m not going to tell you lies about how therapy will help, about how time will heal you. That all you need to do is be strong and fight your demons.”
“Damn,” I say, a breathy laugh escaping. “Don’t sugarcoat it.”
“I won’t.” Her eyes lock with mine; hers unblinking and lit with a surreal gleam that chills me to my bones. “We only discuss this once. From here on out, no matter what you decide, it stays here. Between us.”
I should be terrified. This is not the Sadie I know. The woman sitting before me now is cold and methodical, and what she whispers to me in the dark corridor of the hospital should send me fleeing in horror. But as she continues, telling me about a man sitting at a bar, her plan for this man…an eerie calm envelops me, soothing away any trace of fear. Her voice drifts to me, lulling me into a welcome camaraderie, and for the first time since I was plucked from the hellish bowels of The Countess, I feel as if I can take a breath without fearing my own screams.
I make the pact.
It’s as simple as slicing open a dead body…which I’ve done many times over. Then all the fear, the panic, the screams—it all ends. That is the control over my life Sadie grants me in this moment, and I cling to it like a life raft. I crave it so deeply, I’m willing to sell my soul for it.
And so I do.
When I climb back into the hospital bed, I’m no longer the same woman Quinn hauled from that dungeon. I’m not fixed; far from it. But I feel stronger. Only as I go to lay my hand in his…I halt.
Quinn can never know.
Sadie’s warning is more than common sense; it’s a test.
One that I’m bound to fail if I let myself fall for the detective who’s held my hand through the screams and sheltered me from the dark. All done in secrecy, because these are not things done in the light, where we must own to our desires.
So now I have a secret, too. I slip my hand into his large, rough one and curl up next to his strong arm, savoring the feel of his comfort for the last time.