"I thought you understood how this had to end."
Looking down the hall at Nina's hospital room, I eyed with suspicion every person who walked in and out. Pressing the phone to my ear, I listened as the man on the other end repeated himself and added, "We've given you more than enough time, Tristan. This has to end."
"I won't do it. I told you that. She's no threat to you, Karl."
"You're not thinking with the right head, son. If anyone finds out about the evidence she has, everything your father worked so hard to attain will be gone. Are you prepared to let that happen? We aren't. Take care of this. Or we will."
"She has nothing. I've checked everything she owns and there's nothing. Let her live in peace."
"With you, happily ever after, like some storybook ending? I told you that we can't afford to have any loose ends. There's proof somewhere. Those of us who supported your father all those years won't be taken down by your schoolboy romantic ideas."
"And I told you there's nothing to prove whatever my father was doing. He's dead and Nina's father is dead. Let whatever happened end with them."
Karl was silent for a long time. "We've told you what we want. You decide how this is going to happen. Or we will."
I pressed End Call and stuffed my phone back into my suit coat pocket, disgusted with Karl but more with myself. How had I let this get so fucking far?
All I had to do was find the papers Karl was sure her father had showing what my father had done. I was still in the dark about what exactly Joseph Edwards thought he'd caught my father doing, but I didn't care anymore. Whether it was some tax scam or real estate deal gone bad, it didn't matter. All I cared about was keeping Nina safe from the likes of Karl and the other board members who thought of nothing but protecting their own hides.
I shook off my phone call and saw one of Nina's nurses at my side. "Yes?"
"It's time for her to leave. She's all ready. Her ribs might be a little sore at first when she gets back to her daily activity, but that's to be expected. I've told her to just listen to what her body's telling her and she should be fine. Now we just have to wait for her memory to come back."
Nina appeared in the doorway of the hospital room where she'd spent the last five weeks. Seated in a wheelchair, she wore her black yoga pants and white sweatshirt and had the pink roses I'd given her that morning in her lap. Her blue eyes lit up when I stepped out from behind the wall.
"Hey! The doctor said I'm ready to roll."
Bowing deeply, I looked up at her and smiled. "Your chariot awaits, my lady."
The press was out in full force when I pulled the Jag in through the gate at the bottom of the driveway I'd had installed the week before. Cameras flashed on all sides of us, making Nina bury her head in the space between our seats. Snaking my arm around her to hold her close, I hoped this first introduction to my world hadn't made her wish she'd had anywhere else to go.
I leaned my head down and whispered next to her ear, "Don't worry. We'll be home in a minute and we won't have to deal with them again, Nina."
The gates closed behind us and I raced up the driveway, wanting all that bullshit with the paparazzi left back there in the past. Fucking vultures. Like anyone should want to see pictures splattered all over the gossip pages of a man bringing a woman home from the hospital after a car accident.
Nina lifted her head and sat up straight in her seat to look at the house as I stopped the car. "This is where you live?"
"Where we live," I said, gently correcting her.
She turned her head and the look on her face was a mix of uncertainty and disbelief.
As I shut off the car, I flashed her a smile. "Don't worry. It's cozier than it looks."
"Uh huh." She looked unconvinced.
I grabbed her coat and walked around the car to help her out, watching her crane her neck to take in all of the house as I placed my black leather jacket across her shoulders. Looking up at me with those gentle blue eyes, she asked, "I really live here? With you?"
Nodding, I smiled. "You do. In fact, you like this house more than the other one."
She stopped walking and stared straight ahead. "There's another one?"
I shrugged. "Well, it's a penthouse at the Manhattan property, but you told me you liked this one better."
"Wow. First the car and now more than one house. Jordan wasn't kidding when she said you were loaded." Nina fell silent and grimaced. "Sorry. That sounded worse than I meant it to. She just said you were wealthy."
"Wealthy. Loaded. It's all the same. I just hope you're comfortable here."
With a tiny chuckle, she said, "I can't imagine anyone couldn't be."
Rogers met us at the door and bowed. "Miss, it's wonderful to see you again."
Nina studied him for a moment and then smiled meekly, obviously not remembering him. "Hello."
"Get the bags from the car, Rogers."
As he passed us, she looked up at me and frowned. "I guess I've met him before? I don't remember."
"The doctors said it could take some time. Give it a chance."
Nodding, she tried to put on a brave face, but I saw in her eyes she was disappointed. I stood there staring down at her and wishing I could make things better, wishing I had the power to turn back time to before that night when she ran away and...
I pressed a smile onto my lips and extended my hand toward her old bedroom, my heart heavy from the words I was about to say. "Your room is right down this hall."
Nina looked around the entryway and then at me, her eyes wide. "It's beautiful here, Tristan."
Faking enthusiasm the best I could, I said, "Thanks. Let's get you settled in."
I gently placed my hand on the small of her back, a tiny gesture I did out of habit before I remembered for the first time that day that she and I were basically strangers in her mind. She didn't react as I kept my hand against her and escorted her to her wing of the house, and I wanted to at least believe it hadn't bothered her that I'd done it.
Opening the door, she looked around in amazement at her room, her mouth hanging open, just as she'd looked the first time she saw it all those months ago. "Wow, this is great! I thought maybe you were showing me to the servants' quarters or something, but this is as nice as the other part of the house."
Her words cut like knives. To her, I was just some man who paid her to work for him. She had no idea how much I wanted to take her back to our bedroom on the other side of the house, the one she belonged in. The bed she belonged in right next to me.
"You aren't my servant here. This is your home, Nina."
I tried to disguise the hurt in my voice, but it was no use. She heard it too and turned around from looking out the window to face me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say the wrong thing. I didn't mean to make it sound like you'd treat someone like a servant. This is all so new to me."
"Don't be sorry. I'll leave you to get settled in. If you need anything, I'm just on the other side of the house."
I wanted to reach out to touch her hand, to take her in my arms and tell her how much I loved her, but she wasn't ready. I didn't want to scare her off. I knew I had to be patient and hopefully if I was, when she finally started to remember things, she'd also remember how much I loved her.
My insides felt empty as I walked toward my side of the house, alone again as I'd been for so long. I had work to do, but my heart wasn't in it. I didn't care about reporting to the Board as I had to soon at the quarterly meeting. I didn't care about anything involving Stone Worldwide. What did it matter anyway?
I sat down at the desk in my room and looked out the window at the unseasonably warm December day full of sun. All I could think of was that in just over a week the date I'd chosen for our wedding would pass without mention because she didn't remember the day held any special meaning. Nothing like the biggest day of your life going unnoticed.
"Tristan, I've arranged for dinner at five, as you ordered."