Ambrose looked at his claws and remembered blood. Thick, rich red blood clotting in bold splotches.
Cries for mercy.
Mark Caten’s approval.
“If you saw me at my true worst, you would reject me. You would never be able to love me.” He lowered his hand. “At my true worst, I am a monster.”
Barbara didn’t respond to that.
“At my true worst, I don’t deserve to be loved. I don’t deserve someone as good and as kind-hearted as you. I don’t deserve anything good.”
He closed his eyes. “So. So, if you don’t. If you. If you don’t want me. If. If you don’t want to be with someone as—-”
“Ambrose, stop. Just stop.”
If she refuses me. If she doesn’t want me. If she tells me that she would be better off without me.
“I love you. Yes, I know you can be heartless and cruel. Maybe I’ve never seen your ultimate worst. Maybe I never will. But I have seen you at…What would you call it? Pretty bad? Horrible? Awful?”
“Try all of the above.”
“Exactly. Ambrose.” She paused. “If I refused to marry you—”
His face went pale.
“—what would you do?”
“I don’t know. I guess. I guess I would understand, but it would hurt so much. I love you. Barbara, I love just you. I have never felt like this for anyone before. Not even for Elsie.”
Barbara chose silence again, which worried Ambrose.
What is she thinking?
What does she want?
“Ambrose.” Her voice was like a fur-lined blanket. “You are the only man I have wanted like this. It’s a terrifying thing and yet so enticing. I don’t know if I could ever feel this way about anyone else. I don’t know. But maybe I’m being foolish and naïve. Maybe you are right. Maybe we should end this before tonight comes.”
Ambrose’s ears turned red as if she had slapped them extra hard. “You. You don’t want.” He bowed his head. “I. I understand. If that’s what you want. If.” He could feel the world end around him. “If.”
It’s so hard to breathe.
I can’t breathe!
I can’t talk.
But I need to know. I need to be sure.
“Is this.” He tried to swallow, but his throat was the Sahara in a drought. “Is this good-bye?”
“No. Oh, goodness no!”
He sputtered out something that was almost a laugh and almost a cry. “Barbara.”
“Oh, I wish I could run to you. I wish I could. I wish I could hug you and hold on to you. I’d never let you go. Ambrose, I will never…”
“Barbara. Oh, Barbara.”
“I love you.”
“I wish you were here with me. I miss you. I miss your touch.”
“If you didn’t want me anymore. If I could never touch you again—”
“—what would I do without your touch? These past several days have been so miserable. Always holding back. Always staying out of reach. Always resisting. Tonight will be the end to all of that misery. I will be able to run to you again.”
“I’ll be able to hold you in my arms again.”
“I’ll be able to touch your face, your skin, your hair.”
“I’ll be all yours. Every part of me. All of me, Barbara. My past. My present. My future. All yours, if you will have me.”
“You know I will.”