“We caught a case, a couple of weeks before the wedding.”
The admission stopped her from reaching for the cream and sugar and turning around to look at him. Not sure she could speak over the knot that had formed in her throat, she nodded, her eyes never leaving him.
“At first, Kyle and I thought it was some prostitute killed by her pimp, or one of her clients. Then Kyle had to go into special training to get certified, so I took over the case.”
God, he couldn’t go through all the horrors of these past two years without a drink. He moved to the fridge, took out the bottle of wine and poured himself a glass, which he drank in one gulp, then served himself a second glass, which he drank more moderately before continuing.
“I guess I knew something was off about it. The woman wasn’t from the usual background of women who end up on those kind of situations, and though she showed signs of continuous sexual activity, the autopsy showed she’d been repeatedly traumatized. Her personal background wasn’t consistent with an abusive relationship, or an abusive father. She’d never had any brush ups with the law, it didn’t make sense.”
“That’s why you were so…..so different before……” Rory whispered.
“Yes. Then, it happened that my investigation overlapped with an ongoing FBI investigation and my digging was compromising their case. That’s when they approached the Captain, apparently they were in awe of my detective skills, and gave me the option of going undercover.”
Rory’s back stiffened, and her eyes looked hollowed, lost.
He went to her then, and took her hand, kissed it where the ring he’d given her had once been.
“I was going to say no, that they could find someone else, but…”
“You couldn’t. You had to know why.” There was no emotion behind her words, which grated his soul more than if she’d lashed out at him. Almost as if she had decided never to feel again.
“I’m so sorry, Ror.”
She shook her head, anger and understanding battling inside her.
“That’s why you became a cop. You wanted answers, and you wanted them for those who couldn’t get them anymore. I…….want to understand…….I do.”
It surprised her that she actually did, amid the sense of betrayal, of knowing he’d chosen his job over them. She’d known that was who Owen was, and why she had fallen for him, in the first place.
“I was determined to say no. Only……..” He looked torn and something in that hollow hole where her heart had once been, stirred and felt for him. Still, she didn’t move and waited for him to continue.
“God, Rory, I couldn’t take that woman’s face off my mind. The grief of her parents, confused as to why would her daughter had to suffer such fate. Still, I thought I could do this fast, or avoid the undercover assignment and find answers on my own. But the FBI was very clear. When the Captain said I couldn’t tell you or Kyle a thing, I knew it was over. I called Kyle over and told him I couldn’t go through with the wedding anymore, that I had to go. He was so mad, he yelled at me. He said I was an asshole and that you were the best thing that would ever happen to me. He was right. I was a jerk because I should’ve had the courage to look you in the eye and tell you it was over.”
Maybe then Rory would’ve seen that it wasn’t his choice to leave. Maybe she would’ve……what? She would’ve waited for him patiently until he decided to stroll back into her life? Did he expect Rory to see him as some sort of hero and praise all of his sacrifices?
No. He had chosen duty over love and now, even after his investigation didn’t need him any more, he’d never be with her again.
“No, let me finish. I knew the second I was taken away to start my assignment, that it would take a miracle for you to forgive me. Then, as I started getting deeper into this……vile form of existence, I was grateful I’d hurt you enough to keep you away.
“And now, I screwed up. When I saw you in that alley, his hands on you, I thought I’d blow my cover, that I’d kill him then and there and take you away.”
Her brows drew together as if confused by his words. She asked, voice steady, too steady for his comfort.
“You’ve been here this entire time?” Rory had to sit down, or she wasn’t confident her shaking legs would support her any longer. A part of her had realized Owen had gone away, and as painful as that had been, she at least could deal with that. However, learning that he may have been here longer than this last hectic week, she just couldn’t take any more soul breaking revelations. What if that man hadn’t attacked her? She still would’ve been oblivious to the reality of his situation putting on a brave face for her friend’s wedding, her happy life with Kyle, while she nursed and tried to run away from a never healed broken heart.
“No. They like to move from city to city. They take enough women before they raise any suspicions. I don’t think anyone knew about them until Nathan killed that girl.”
“So if he hadn’t………in the alley, you wouldn’t have come back.” She sounded defeated, disgusted even, that it had taken such a horrible circumstance to bring him back. Not the fact he had indeed missed her.
“Rory……” She shook her head to cut him off.
“Nathan, the man who wants to………they know about him. Captain Jackson showed me a sketch from a survivor. The same survivor who he killed. Is that……” She swallowed despair that tasted acid in her mouth, “is that what he will do to me?”
Owen cursed at his carelessness and went to her, taking the other chair in the small breakfast table. He took her hand, which had gone cold and clammy.
“He won’t touch you.”
Her eyes studied him again. His face, and down his body, where she had already seen the damage inflicted by Nathan.
“Is that why he…..did that to you? You threatened him?”
Owen nodded. As much as he was breaking every rule in undercover history by telling her about where he’d been these past two years, he couldn’t say more. Not because he cared about the damned protocol, but because he didn’t want her to know any more of this insane and evil enterprise he had infiltrated.
“So he’ll back off?”
She saw the answer in the shadows that passed over his eyes.
“No. He’ll want you more. You’re a challenge and he likes challenges.”
“How much time do I have?”
He winced as he knelt before her, and took both her hands in his.
“Look at me. I swear I won’t let anything happen to you. I may have lost you, but I won’t drag you into this sick mess. I won’t let that happen. I love you, Ror.”
She pushed her chair back and moved to the stove, leaning into it, trying to catch her breath.
“Don’t tell me that. You wouldn’t be back if he hadn’t attacked me. I can’t…….I need time to process this. I………hated you so much, Owen. You left me at the altar, with no explanations. I went looking for you, and you were gone. Your…..” She trailed off and gasped, before turning back to look at him. He’d managed to get up, and go stand a few paces away from her.
“The Captain knew. All this time he knew.”
“Yes. He couldn’t tell you anything. No one could know, not even Kyle. I……” He felt despair drowning his lungs, but he pushed it aside and said.
“I wanted to know how you were doing, but I realized I couldn’t. So I asked him never to tell me anything about you, or Kyle, any of our friends.”
“Oh, Owen….” She didn’t cry, but only hugged her stomach and moved away from him.
His voice broke.
“Ror……..please forgive me.”
“I don’t know what to do, how to feel. When I met you, I knew your job would always come first. Like my dad, but he never would’ve…….I never thought you’d hurt me this way. I can’t just pretend nothing ever happened and just pick off where we left off. I don’t want to hurt again and you being here is doing just that. You’ll just go back, tonight, and you won’t be the man I loved…..you’re a total stranger now.” She had withdrawn from him, and though it hurt more than the bruises, he nodded and took out his phone.
When she saw him punch a series of numbers on the keypad, she asked.
“What are you doing?”
“I am taking my life back. I know you don’t believe me, but you are my life, Rory, always were, always will be. I will be damned if I lose you again.”
And amid her heartache, Owen began to outline his plan for ending it all and as he claimed, eyes alive with determination, to win her back.