I dreaded letting her go. I dreaded living without her.
But there was no other choice.
I couldn’t give her the life she deserved. If I allowed her to stay, I wouldn’t be any better than Evan. My enemies would also use her as leverage against me. I could never make her the Skull Queen without making her a target for violence. And I certainly wouldn’t give up my entire life to be with her. I refused to change for anyone. I never expected to fall in love and that complicated my life, but I refused to let it define me. I didn’t want a family, and that was something we would always disagree on.
Love wasn’t enough—not for us.
She was disappointed in me now, but one day, she would meet the right man. He’d be a good husband and father. She would have the big family she dreamed of, gathering around the dining table for dinner, drinking wine and eating all the pasta she wanted. I would fade into a memory.
That was how it should be.
My phone vibrated on the nightstand with a text message.
It was from Case. Can you talk?
Case and I met on the sidewalk outside the compound. It was freezing cold, and there wasn’t a single person outside. It was three in the morning so people weren’t out at this time anyway, but even the bums were gone.
Case wore a black blazer over his olive green V-neck t-shirt. Vapor escaped his nostrils because his breaths immediately vanished in the freezing temperatures. His hands were in his pockets, and he looked at me with disappointment.
I snuck out of bed and didn’t stir her when I left. The sheets would hold my body heat for at least an hour. When the temperature started to drop, she might realize I’d slipped out. But for now, I had some time. “How can I help you, Case?” We hadn’t spoken since we killed Lucian. There hadn’t been much time for small talk.
“First of all, thanks for saving my sister…and me.”
“I’ve got to be honest, she was the only thing on my mind.”
He smiled slightly. “I figured. But I’m grateful anyway.”
“She was determined to get you back in whatever way she could. If that meant handing herself over to be killed, she wouldn’t hesitate. But I couldn’t let that happen. There was no other choice. It was her or me…and I chose me.”
His smile faded away as he turned serious. After a subtle nod, he said, “Because you love her.”
I wouldn’t admit it to Cassini, so I wouldn’t admit it to anyone else.[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Case stared at me like he expected me to confirm what he said.
Not gonna happen. “You didn’t need to thank me in person. A text would have sufficed.”
“That’s not why I’m here. Well, it’s not the only reason why I’m here.”
“Cassini is leaving in the morning. I won’t try to get her back. I’ll stay out of her way so she can move on.” I wouldn’t contact her for booty calls, not when our hearts were both so damaged. The last thing I wanted was to hurt her. We were already heartbroken enough. “So don’t worry about that.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about. I said you weren’t good enough for her and you should go your separate ways. I said the same thing to her. But when I spoke to her on the phone… I’ve never heard her sound like that. Even when our parents died, she wasn’t as devastated.”
My eyes moved to the street even though there weren’t any cars on the road.
“I want my sister to be happy. I don’t think going your separate ways is the best thing for her.”
“Case, you know what I am. You know what I’m capable of.”
“And I know you’ll do anything to keep her safe. You’d give your life for hers in a heartbeat. When I said you weren’t good enough for her, I was wrong. You are good enough for her. In fact, you’re the only man in this world who’s good enough for her. Letting her go is a mistake, Balto. It’s a mistake for both of you.”
I turned back to him, surprised by what he was saying. He’d never made his distaste for me a secret, but now he had a different attitude. He complimented me rather than insulted me. As the patriarch of their family, he gave me his blessing. “I’m the Skull King, Case. I’d protect her with my life, but she’ll always be in danger because of me. If someone wants to hurt me, she’s the best way to accomplish that.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Then there’s no way it will work.”
“Not unless you walk away from the Skull Kings.” He stepped closer to me, vapor constantly rising from his nose and mouth. “And you should.”