This Man Confessed (Page 166)

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All of this is filling me with immense proudness, but this story doesn’t have a happily ever after. And it crushes me.

‘She was a real daddy’s girl.’ he says fondly. ‘I could do no wrong, and I knew I never would in her eyes. That was enough to make me evaluate the lifestyle I’d slipped into while Lauren was pregnant. Carmichael got the best solicitor involved to try and gain me full custody because he knew that she was my redeemer, but Lauren’s family dug up every dirty little secret, from Jake, to The Manor, to my brief lifestyle from when I left Lauren until Rosie was born. I didn’t have a hope.’

‘And you parents had moved to Spain by now?’ I ask.

He jerks on a hiss as he laughs quietly. ‘Yes, they escaped the shame I’d brought on the family.’

‘They abandoned you.’ I whisper.

‘They wanted me to go with them. Mum begged, but I couldn’t leave Rosie fulltime with that family. She’d be frowned upon as an illegitimate child, even though she had me. Not an option.’

‘So then what?’

‘Rosie was three and I made the worst mistake of my life.’ He pauses, and I know he’s munching on that bottom lip. ‘I slept with Sarah.’ he says quietly.

‘Sarah?’ I’m frowning heavily into his neck. How does Sarah play any part in this?

‘Carmichael and Sarah were together.’

‘They were?’ I’m scrambling with care from his hold now, but this time he lets me. He is chewing that lip and he’s holding his breath, too. ‘Sarah and Carmichael? But I thought he was a playboy.’

‘He was. With a girlfriend…’ he flinches as he inhales. ‘and a child.’

‘What?’ I’m sitting up fully now. ‘Go on.’ I push. This story isn’t taking the direction that I thought it would at all.

He takes another long, painful breath. I should tell him to stop and rest, but I don’t. ‘Carmichael walked in on me and Sarah. He hit the roof, got the girls and left.’

Oh good Lord. ‘The girls?’ I ask. I don’t know why. I know who the girls are.

‘Rosie and Rebecca.’

‘Your Rosie and their Rebecca.’ I whisper. ‘The car accident?’

He nods mildly and clenches his eyes shut. ‘I didn’t just kill my uncle and my daughter. I killed Sarah’s girl, too.’

‘No,’ I shake my head. ‘That can’t be your fault.’

‘I think you’ll find that my poor decisions have been the cause for everything, Ava. I’ve f**ked up on so many levels so many times, and I’ve paid for it, but I can’t pay for it now that I have you. What if I make a bad decision again? What if I screw up again? What if I’m not done paying?’

His demand for compliance on everything is crystal clear. Too clear. He really does live in terror, but it’s far worse than I ever imagined. He blames himself for everything, and maybe his carelessness played a small part, but ultimately, he’s not responsible. He wasn’t driving the car that hit Jake. He wasn’t driving the car with the girls. He didn’t want to get married and he definitely wanted to be a proper father. And Sarah? That has totally floored me. She had a child with Carmichael, but was in love with her boyfriend’s nephew? F*****g hell, this is complicated stuff. Sarah really does have nothing and after losing both her daughter and her lover. She sought solace in The Manor, a little bit like Jesse did. Two tortured souls drowning themselves in whips, sex, and drink, but never in each other. That was Jesse’s choice, though. Not Sarah’s.

‘You are more than done paying.’ My eyes land on his stomach. He’s paid physically and mentally, and it’s made my husband a neurotic control freak now he has something he cares about again.

Me.

‘When did she hurt you before?’ I ask, needing that final piece to secure this colossal puzzle and lay it all to bed.

‘After Rosie died, she tried so hard to make me see that we needed each other. She had always been a little unpredictable, but when I continually rebuffed her advances, she really started behaving erratically. We’re talking full on bunny boiler style.’ He smiles at me, but I can’t smile back. She’s tried to kill him twice. This is no laughing matter.

‘Did she get pregnant on purpose?’

‘Probably.’

‘And she stabbed you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Did she go to prison?’

‘No.’

‘Why?’

He’s sighing again. ‘Her family got her help and kept her away from me in exchange for my silence.’

‘But look at the mess she made of you.’ I point to his old scar. ‘How did you pass that off?’

‘It’s pretty superficial. She did a better job this time.’ He looks down at his stomach.

‘You didn’t even go to hospital, did you?’ I’m horrified. That is one nasty scar and far from superficial. ‘Who stitched you up?’

‘Her dad. He was a doctor.’

‘Oh my God!’ I collapse onto the chair. ‘And where were your parents whilst all of this was going on?’ I sound like a lecturing fishwife, but holy s**t, where does it end?

‘They’d already returned to Spain.’

‘Jesse…’ I snap my mouth shut, trying to think hard of what I can possibly say, before I blurt just anything. As always, I’m blank. This man renders me speechless on every level. ‘Your mum in Spain.’ I think hard. ‘Second chance?’ She wasn’t referring to Jake at all. She was referring to Jesse’s lost daughter—a chance for him to be a good father again.

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