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We sat together, side by side, listening to the muezzin’s call echo across the city. After a few minutes, the song faded, and we were left with the soft lap of waves chucking against the sides of boats. I could feel Valentine ruminate, feel him thinking, trying to formulate a thought.
“It isn’t over,” he said, his voice smooth and his words crisp and formal once again. “She will come for me. And now, for you. And Harris. She will come, and she will enlist the help of her father. ”
“What do we do?”
He let out a long breath. “I should hide you somewhere. The farthest corner of the earth. Indonesia. Russia. Tierra del Fuego, perhaps. Put you up in a tiny flat. Make sure not even I know your precise location. Post a guard and pay them enough to ensure their unwavering loyalty. ”
I pivoted on my butt to face him, pressing my knees into his thigh. “No, Roth. That’s not happening. I will not be separated from you again. ”
“I need to keep you safe. I can’t let her get hold of you. I cannot. I will not. ” He growled the last part, enunciating the syllables with increasing venom.
“Then don’t. But I’m not going to let you out of my sight. I crossed the world to find you, Roth. I risked death. ” I took his hands in mine. “I was shot at. Chased in a car. I watched men die. I—I probably killed at least one person myself. Just to be by your side. ”
He withdrew his hands from mine. “I know. ” His voice shook, thin and pained. “I know, Kyrie. And I—I hate myself for—”
“And I’d do it all again. In a heartbeat. I know it isn’t over. I know we’re in danger. I know who we’re facing. ”
“No. You don’t. ” He stood, paced toward the very point of the bow, gripping the railing. The towel rode low on his hips, exposing the muscular arc of his hipbones. “You really don’t. What you saw? Those men? They were…just her household staff. Not even that. A skeleton guard. Her father runs a—it isn’t merely a cartel or anything so simple. It’s more than that. He has an empire, Kyrie. Access to literally everything. A small army, and that’s no exaggeration. He can wield tanks. Rocket launchers. And we’ve got…Harris. ”
“And you and me. ”
He nodded. “True. But I’m still weak from being sick. I can still feel the drug in my blood. And, that aside…I’m not okay. ” He glanced at me over his shoulder. “And you?”
“I’m no one. I’m just your girlfriend, and there’s nothing I can really do, is there?” I hung my head and stared at the deck between my feet. “That’s your point, right?”
“Kyrie—” He was clearly confused by the turn of the conversation, by my sudden and vitriolic self-loathing.
“It’s true, and you know it. ” I stood then, pulled the blanket tighter around me, moved to the starboard railing, and leaned over it. “It’s true, and I know it. I learned a few things rescuing you, Roth. ”
“Kyrie, that’s not—”
I kept going. “I realized how useless I am. I have a degree I’ll never use, and never planned to. Social work? What the hell was I thinking? I’m not an entrepreneur like you. I don’t have a specific skill set, or—or anything. I’m your girlfriend. That’s all I am. I know you love me. I don’t doubt that. And I’m not even doubting why you do. What’s that stupid saying about gift horses?”
“Never look a gift horse in the mouth. ”
“Yeah. That. Whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. I’m not doing it, is my point. You love me. Why, I’m not sure. I don’t care. I’m just glad you do, because I love you, and I don’t know what I’d do without you. You—you saved me first, Roth. I was going to starve, or go homeless, if you hadn’t—done what you did. And now I’m here. I have you. I have the memory of the last few months we spent together. Seeing the world with you? God, Valentine, those months were the best of my life. But when you went missing, I realized…I was forced to ask myself, what do I do? And I couldn’t come up with an answer. ”
Roth didn’t answer right away. I lost myself in the movement of the water a few feet below, trying to see through the dark ever-moving ripples. I felt him beside me, but I couldn’t make myself turn to face him. He didn’t touch me. He just leaned over the railing beside me. That should’ve been a warning flag to me, but I was so lost in my own crisis that it wasn’t.
“I suppose you should know. Before we left New York together, I made some…provisions. Should anything happen to me, you will be provided for. By which I mean, every single dime of my liquid assets will belong to you. The structure of my company will be shifted to streamline things, which just means selling off and combining subsidiaries, all proceeds from which will go to you as well. ”
“But, Valentine, I’m—”
“The only person I care about. I’ve arranged to have Harris provided for as well, but as much as I care about and trust him, he’s still just a friend and employee. You—you’re…I don’t know. Family, I suppose. The woman I love. I haven’t spoken to my father since the day he cut me off and cast me out. Nor will I ever. I have no siblings, no other family, no dependents, no one. Just you. ” He gripped the railing and twisted his hands around it, as if he wanted to strangle it.
“I have no plans to let anything happen to me. I plan to live. I plan to do everything in my power to keep you and myself alive, no matter what it takes. My only point in telling you about the provisions I’ve made is to reassure you. You’ll never face homelessness or hunger again. Never. As it is, should you decide to…should you decide you wish to leave me—if we were to break up, I mean, you will be equally well provided for. Enough so that you’ll never have to work a day in your life, even if you were to indulge as wildly as you could imagine. ”
“Roth—” I had to stop and breathe. “Let me get this straight. If I were to dump you, tell you I wanted to go back to Detroit and—I don’t even know what I’d do, but just hypothetically—”
“If you were to want that, I’d let you go. I’d fight for you—I’d fight until it was clear you really wanted to go. But if you did, I’d call Robert. He would then set up a private series of accounts in your name, giving you unlimited access to one point six billion dollars. ” He tapped the railing with his index finger. “That account is already set up, actually, with something like half that amount in it. It’s in your name alone. I can’t access it, and once it reaches that number, Robert’s access as executor will be canceled, leaving you as the sole controlling party. ”
My mind reeled. “Roth, I don’t—I don’t understand. ”
He shrugged. “I don’t want you to feel dependent on me. After all this trouble is sorted, I’ll give you the codes and cards you need to access the money. That way, you can do what you want. You can figure out what you want. Do you want to be an artist? You can sit around all day and try. I’ll hire the best artists in the world to teach you. Want to cook? Eliza can teach you. Want to be a philanthropist? Go back to school and get a different degree? Pursue a trade? I’ll make it happen. Anything you want. But you won’t need to ever ask me for a dime. If you stop loving me, that will still remain true. ”
He went stiff, taut, and tense. “You know. ” The two words were barely whispered, a low murmur nearly lost in the lap of the water and the sound of the breeze.
He nodded. “Exactly. ” He let out a breath, staring out at the expanse of ocean. “It was an accident. I told you the truth, Kyrie. I swear to you, what I said to you was the truth. I never meant for that to happen—for your father to die. But he did, and it was my fault. When he died, I was responsible for the direction your life took. I alone am responsible. ”
“I don’t want your money, Roth. ”
“Too bad. You’ve got it. You don’t need to touch it, if you like. You can pretend it’s not there. But it is there, and it’s yours whether you want it or not. ”
I rubbed at my face. “How much did you say?”