Valerie washed the blood from her arms and rid herself of the excessive makeup deemed necessary for the coronation ceremony. She had no tears left. No anger racked her nerves. Even her grief washed away, staining the white-tiled shower stall. For a long time, she let the water just run over her. The hate, the hurt, the damage had broken her. The time for grieving never came. Valerie’s journey had yet to end. She did not have the luxury of being broken. She had to keep going to lead and give direction to the devastated city, and then the region.
Hyka—once a stranger, now her closest friend—had gifted her a red shirt to contrast the all-white dress code of the facility. She dressed and sat on the stark white bed. The mechanical blinds raised on her mental command, revealing the snowcapped mountains in the distance. They represented massive and ancient permanence. There was little she could do to move or change them. Just as she could not change the events of the past two weeks, she had to live with the gaping hole where her former life had been. Her husband Scott lie at the bottom of that hungry hole, along with many other things she loved but could no longer have.
Valerie opened the door to the rest of the empty suite and made coffee while she searched the surveillance feeds for her son. She found him a few floors down playing with Jack while Hyka made lunch. She smiled at the image. Jack, despite his initial reservations, had stood by her since the beginning. He and Hyka had believed in her when even she had doubted her strength. They pushed her to do the right thing, when all she wanted to run away.
“You’re looking quite domestic today.” Valerie’s voice carried through the feed and into Hyka’s earpiece.
“It’s literally killing me,” Hyka said without skipping a beat. “Want me to bring him up?”
“I’ll come down and surprise him in a little bit. And Hyka . . . thank you.”
Hyka threw a thumb in the air and continued her task.
The entire time she spent in solitude, from the moment the door closed between them, Valerie’s body had called out for August. She had not felt the breeze of his attention since he had delivered her to her room early in the day. She had spent much of her time alone rehearsing conversations with her partner DiaZem in case her attraction to him grew even stronger, and she lost her nerve. She understood they would lead together, but she maintained, in her heart, that they were not together.
Instead of seeking him out on surveillance, she followed the attraction. She walked where she felt drawn, hit the elevator button to where she thought he would be. On the eleventh floor of the hotel was the gym. She walked down the hall, thankful he was in a semi-public area and not alone in his room. She was still apprehensive about being near him at all. She had hated Lucas with every ounce of her being and yet he still had power over her. August would find her too easy a target to seduce if he felt so inclined.
She opened the door to the gym. Everything was still and quiet, the equipment in its proper place, unused. She could feel him, though he was not in the room. Behind a frosted glass wall in the gym, his silhouette moved swiftly before diving into the pool. Her heart fluttered, and her cheeks flushed. He knew she was there. For as intense as she felt when she was near him, there was no way he could not sense her pounding heart.
“I’m glad you’re up,” he said from the other side of the wall.
Finding the separation of the glass appropriate, she decided to stay in the gym to have their conversation. She could hear his body cut through the water. It made her thirsty.
“We need to discuss some things, before . . . I mean, it’s best to talk about this now rather than having to . . . stop. . .”
“We can build glass dividers in every room if doing so would make you more comfortable,” he said, pulling himself out of the pool. Through the glass, she could see his blurry shape emerge from the far end.
Her pulse quickened, and she looked away.
“Or we can use conference calls for all our communications.” He rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair and sighed. “Val, this isn’t easy for me either, but I want to respect you and everything you have going on. I could even go away for a while if you want.”
“No,” she shouted. “You can’t leave me.” She had rehearsed these lines many times in her room, yet was not prepared to say them out loud. “I could lose the baby. She’s a DiaZem. Our energies repel each other. I would lose her, or she would kill me.”
August was quiet for a while. “Remember when we first met? I had the door to the office closed for so long. The whole time, I was pacing inside. At first, because I couldn’t make sense of the age regression, but then I began to fight the need to approach you. I hadn’t seen you, but I could feel you.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Valerie leaned her back against the glass and slid to the floor, pulling her knees close to her. She could listen to his voice forever, but remembering the time before was painful.
“Because I need you to know I’m not like him. I’m not going to hurt you. Even if this is all some involuntary instinct, I care about you. I died a little whe...