Stupid, stupid, so fucking stupid.
I can’t even see where I’m going. And I can’t get the looks on Emme and Shane’s faces out of my head as I blindly crash through the woods, shoving branches out of my way, nearly falling flat on my face when I trip on a tree root, but not slowing my pace for even a second.
I need to get some space between me and… those two.
I’m breathing heavily when I finally collapse onto a log deep in the woods, trying to stop the spinning in my brain and the ache in my solar plexus.
My brother. And the love of my life.
It’s all been a huge web of lies, and I’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker.
God, I’m so stupid.
It all starts falling into place as I stare at the ground, my breathing slowly returning to normal – Emme’s injuries when I met her at the hospital. The constant travel for ‘art galleries’ and ‘buying trips’. Shane’s constant inability to return a damn phone call. All of it falls into place…
They were off being James and Jane Bond, and I’ve been blithely accepting every word they’ve said for the last… who knows how long. Years with Shane, and weeks with Emme.
I don’t know how long I sit on the log until I hear a branch snap under someone’s foot. I don’t turn around, but I know from the gait that it’s Emme slowly approaching me, as though I were a rabid animal.
“I’m not really in the mood to talk,” I say angrily, not looking at her as she sits down beside me on the log, not touching me.
“I know,” Emme says quietly. “That’s why I’m going to do all the talking. And I hope you’ll hear me out.”
She waits, and I finally nod curtly.
I can hear her take a deep breath, and I settle in for more lies, crossing my arms protectively across my chest.
“First, you have to make a choice,” Emme says softly. “Right now, you are free. You don’t know anything. And you can walk away from me and from Shane and I will absolutely and completely understand if you do – and so will he. But if not, you have to understand that you will know something that few people on the planet know, and that it could put you at risk.”
“I want the truth,” I say without hesitation.
Emme sighs again, and then continues. “Shane and I work for a secret organization. We’re ghosts. We take down… we take down the bad guys no one else can. Our identities are secret, and we have to stay secret if we want to stay alive, and if we want the people we care about to stay alive.”
I say nothing, which she takes as a cue to continue.
“Right now, Shane and I have to go… somewhere, so I can’t tell you everything, but I will when we get back. I promise you. But you have to understand that where we are going, what we are doing… it’s for you. It’s to protect you.”
“I’m in mortal danger?” I ask wryly.
“Yes!” Emme says forcefully, then tempers her next words. “You are. And it’s my job to protect you, but more than that…” she pauses, considering her next words. “Because I have to. Because when I said I loved you, I meant it. You are on the only part of my life in the last five years that’s given me any kind of meaning, any kind of positive emotion. You are everything to me, and I will do what I can to protect that. And Shane is the same way. He cares about you so deeply… I wish you could understand that by staying away from you, he’s been protecting you because you mean so much to him.”
I try and absorb this, but say nothing.
“Look, we have to go. I’m sorry. I can’t say sorry enough times, believe me. But I’ll tell you everything when we get back. You have a couple of choices. If you want to, you can stay here in the farmhouse, and I’ll tell you the truth when I get back. Or, you can lock the door behind you and go back to England. I wouldn’t blame you if you did – not at all. And I swear I will never contact you again, if that’s what you want. But I mean it, Connor… you are everything to me. And I don’t want to lose you, but I will absolutely respect your decision, either way.”
“I don’t even know what to think, Em,” I say, my voice breaking, and I finally dare to look at her. Despite her even tone, I see that tears are streaming down her cheeks, and it takes everything I have not to pull her into my arms and kiss the tears away.
But I can’t. Not yet.
“I know,” she says softly, not meeting my gaze. “I know you don’t know what to think, and there’s nothing I can say that will make it okay.”
I shrug, and she continues.
“But, listen to me and believe me. For the last five years, I have taken chances every day to protect innocent people. I don’t know how many more years I’ve got in me. My soul is so far gone, I didn’t know if I’d ever get it back – until I met you. And now, I’m thinking of…”
“Of what?” I prompt when she pauses.
“I’m thinking of walking away altogether, but it depends on you, Connor. I love you – always will.”
She stands up and brushes the leaves from her pants. “We really do have to go. I’m sorry, Connor. For everything. When I get back, I’ll know your decision, either way.”
She turns to walk away, but I can’t just let her go, not like this.
She stops, but does not turn back around to face me.
“I love you too, little one.”
I hear her sigh, a deep, hopeful sigh, before she continues to walk away from me and back towards her shadowy life.
The question is: what do I do now?