“Up for debate,” she finishes for me, and then a dim little smile quirks at her lips. I almost kiss her for the smart aleck interruption. “I’ll stop… I know I should. Sometimes I have these out-of-body experiences where it hits me what I’m doing, and I wonder if I’ve gone insane. But then… then I give in.”
I take her hand and lead her into her bathroom, flicking on the light. She resists until I tug her along anyway. I grab a washcloth and hold it under the sink faucet I twist on. The cut on her arm from where Little slashed her has started bleeding again.
Delphine doesn’t protest.
For a while, we both stare at the wound as I wipe blood away and clean the cut. The cats have followed us, sitting on the threshold in the doorway.
It occurs to me that this is Delphine without her mask around me for the first time in months. For the first time since our breakup last holiday season.
She’s let down her defenses. She’s no longer pushing me away.
A sense of relief washes over me and leaves me uncertain how to proceed. While I’ve put my foot down on her after-hours hobby, I don’t want to fuck up this moment. The last time we’d had a small bright light, I was recovering from my accident. I’d brought up her father and pissed her off.
Tonight, I’ll avoid it—and anything else that causes friction.
It’s possible we’ll reach a new understanding.
“You never cease to amaze me,” I say, setting down the bloody towel. I hold both her hands palm side up in mine, stroking my thumb across her wrists. The wire I tied around them earlier has left them tender. I can see faint indentation marks. I bring each up and kiss the inside of them. “You are maddeningly stubborn, Phi. You insist on giving me a heart attack at the age of thirty-three. Do you know how angry I was seeing Little hold you down like that?”
On mute, she shakes her head.
“I could’ve tore his face off with my bare hands,” I say, meaning every word. “That was the last time.”
A second passes in which I think she’ll still remain speechless, and then—
“Someone’s blackmailing me.”
My stare hardens and I forget about massaging her wrists. “What do you mean somebody’s blackmailing you?”
“NorthamNeptune123. Someone who claims to have dirt on powerful people in the city. He claims… he’s saying he knows my dark secret. He says I have to accept his help, or I’ll be exposed.”
“Who is he and which dark secret is he speaking of?”
“I don’t know.”
“He’s bluffing. Probably somebody Polk hired to worry you. He’s known for playing dirty during elections.”
“He predicted what would happen to Gannon and Harding. He says someone else is next.”
My temper returns, though not in a sweeping rush like earlier, it’s in some ways deadlier. Measured and concentrated, it’s the type of anger that has you eerily calm and certain of what you need to do to handle the situation.
Some asshole is blackmailing her. Somebody I’ll be taking care of immediately.
“I think…” she pauses for a soft sigh. “Salvatore, I think he might be connected to my attacker. He wore the club ring from the Neptune Society. Now someone named NorthamNeptune is telling me he knows my dark secret? The way he speaks to me, it’s almost… it’s taunting me, like he’s receiving pleasure out of it.”
“Every email, every message he’s ever sent you—I want it. I’ll make him go away.”
It’s amazing how easily we slip into the roles we’ve always served for each other. Even when we fight and hurt each other, we revert to what we are at our core. Two people who have a connection in a way neither of us can articulate, though we express it in other ways.
For me, that has always been my compulsion to look out for Delphine. My urge to make sure she’s safe and protected. That nobody fucks with her.
It started even before I realized it had, from the first night I spotted her during my party. Gannon had been trying to throw her into the pool and I interfered. My reasoning was selfish—I saw an opportunity to use her against Ernest Adams—but I’d helped her far more than necessary.
I always have. I always will.
For Delphine, it’s in the softness. The sweetness she displays when it’s just the two of us and she makes me feel like less of the psycho I am. The only person I believe gives a damn about me even as she pretends she doesn’t. She looks out for me in a different way, showing me it’s possible life isn’t entirely meaningless.