She sat gazing into the river. It was more of a man made lake, why did the sign call it a river? She shut her eyes, feeling the cold wind glide across her near porcelain skin. What was wrong with her? She wished her dad was here so she could ask for his advice. She had packed up and moved to some strange place, knowing what she knew about Jeff. She didn’t stop him from going with them. She could have put her foot down and told him to stay in Moonlight Falls with her dad. Why didn’t she? She was hoping for some kind of miracle. He’d snap his fingers and she’d wake up from this all, the naive twenty year old trying to get Jeff to leave her alone. Maybe she should have fought him off harder.
Declan made no move to stop Altiere from telling, and Alistair knew in that moment that the relationship between him and Declan was irreparable. “Oh my goodness…” Charlotte heard Adeline’s explanation in her head. Her sister told her everything. “You asshole.”
She forcefully pulled herself away from the man who was now a stranger to her. “Tell me that’s a lie. Tell me that you didn’t lead us on for all of those years.”
“I love you and your sisters,” Declan said.
Charlotte didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want to know anymore than what Adeline had told her of her father’s deceit. “You’re a traitor. All this time…you’re a despicable human being. You deserved to lose your powers.” She took a step back from him. Her mom. Her step dad. She couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. “One human in.” She thought of Jeff. “One human out. I’m glad we have him, and not you.”
“I always approved of that boy,” Declan said.
She felt her body go cold. Of course he did. A human couldn’t stand in the way of Altiere. She thought back to the talk she had with Declan when she first met Jeff. He told her that he thought negatively of Alistair until the group project forced them to work together. That’s when they fell in love. Then her and Jeff…were they different? She didn’t want to believe that he would betray her, but she hadn’t exactly the best representation of loving relationships in her life.
“I don’t need your approval, you asshole!”Charlotte cried out, covering her ears. She should have known all along. She let the wind blow through her blue hair. It was…nice. A sensation she hadn’t the luxury to feel anymore. She had been so busy with her children, the war and now her marriage, that it took everything in her just to have enough energy to venture out into the world. The war wasn’t as much of an immediate threat anymore, and she could breathe, if only for a moment. Her eyes shut tightly as the cool breeze danced across her neck. “Charlotte.” But she didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t want to. “I came here to explain what happened, and I’m not leaving until you listen.”
“No,” Charlotte answered finally. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“I said, I’m not taking no for an answer. We can sit out here all night if you’d like,” He replied.
“The kids.” She was always quick to change the subject. “Are they in bed?”
He let out a small grunt to ascertain that he had done his duty as a father. “I read Pax and Camilla a comic book and then Gracie and Nerissa an adventure novel. Caleb put Waverly to bed and Justine was taking care of Gregg. But that’s not the problem right now. We are. Let’s talk.”
“About what?” She mumbled. “About how you lied to me? How you kept your past a secret from me?”
“I did what I did out of fear of losing you,” Jeff said. “If I told you straight out that Mason brought me here, you would have shut me out of your life. You would have blamed me for everything that has happened to your family. When, in reality, the ONLY contact I’ve had from that man was being brought to life. We aren’t friends, I don’t talk to him often. He simply gave me life and told me what I had to do. It’s been over a decade and I haven’t done anything even remotely treacherous…Charlotte, I’m not Declan. I will never be Declan.”
She could feel the air escaping her lungs. What was she so afraid of? Abandonment? Lies? Betrayal? All of the above. “You were there when Declan left us…the man I considered a father more precious to me than my own biological dad at one point. You saw just a few days earlier what my mother did to me. You were there, Jeff. You saw it all! Please don’t make me relive that.”
“I will never let that happen,” He mumbled, reaching out to grab her hand. But, she curled her fingers up and pulled her pale hand out of reach.
Charlotte pulled Jeff by his collar and crashed her lips on his forcefully. “What…whats that for?” He asked breathlessly.
“I don’t care if you had a wife before me. It doesn’t matter. Do you know what my dad just told me? I could have died. I’m not taking you for granted anymore.”
“The baby thing?” He held her tightly. “That’s going to be a problem in the future. We got lucky with a vampire child, but I don’t ever want to lose you.”
“Well, we can discuss it another time. Maybe there’s a work around.” She laid her head on his chest. “Just, promise me. No more lies.”
“No more lies.”
“Thank you, my dear human.” She kissed the tip of his nose.
He helped her to her feet.Or tried to. Charlotte swatted his hand away, but didn’t say anything when he slunk his arm around her waist. “I don’t ever want to lose you.”
“You said the same thing at Millie’s wedding, remember?” She didn’t look at him, but up into the night sky. “You said that we had to take precautions with the next baby because you didn’t want to lose me.”
“I meant it then, and I mean it now. Charlotte, I love you with all my heart.”
She pulled away from his grasp. “But you also told me that very same day that there would be no more lies. Yet, here we are.”
“How could I tell my pregnant wife that I was brought from another dimension to destroy her family?” Jeff asked. “I thought it was better off if you didn’t know. It was a bad call on my part and I should have told you sooner. I’m sorry, but I wanted to protect you and our family. That will never change.”
“You waited until we had 3 kids, and still had no intention of telling me. How is that protecting me? There’s a war going on, and-”
“That’s exactly why,” He cut her off. She glared at him. “You needed no distraction from what was happening to your family. But…I was also afraid. I was afraid that I’d open my eyes and you’d be gone. Not because I don’t want to be lonely. But because there is no one else I rather spend the rest of my mortal life with. Charlotte, do you know what you’ve done to me? I’m captivated by your presence, intoxicated!”
He hadn’t realized he was crying until he felt a light touch on his arm. It was Charlotte. She didn’t say anything, just watched him wipe the tears away. “This is your book?” He murmured. He knew it was, but he wanted to fill the silence. Her gaze was too much for him to handle right now.
She nodded meekly. She didn’t yell at him for going through her stuff, or waking him up. She looked…content. “I’m sorry, I meant to tell you earlier that I was pregnant. I just…” She squeezed his arm. “I was scared. The news came at a bad time.”
“How did you know?”
“Ade said she could feel another heartbeat, so I got a pregnancy test and it came out positive. I threw everything out so you wouldn’t see. I just thought that if you knew, you’d stay. Not because you cared, but because you felt like you had to. I didn’t want you to look at me differently.”
Jeff reached out and stroked her hair. “Of course I’m going to look at you differently. You’re the mother of my child.”
“But that’s not all I want to be,” She said quietly. “I want more than that. It’s selfish. I know.”
“It’s not selfish,” Jeff whispered, coming close to her face. He gave her a tiny kiss on her lips. It felt real. He had felt he way he had when he first kissed her two years ago. “I want you to think of me as the father of your child, your best friend, your protector, your lover…”
“I’ve never been good at showing it,” She mumbled. “But you’re the only thing that’s ever on my mind. Not my sisters, not my dad, not even this war sometimes. Its just your laugh, your smile, your ridiculous jokes…”
“Charlotte?” Tears were falling from her eyes.
“Why do you stay with me?” She could feel years and years of self doubt piling onto her. “You didn’t leave me when I blew up at you for getting me pregnant. I told you to leave and take Pax with you and you didn’t. You stayed. I’m turning into my mother. All this time I was worried that you were turning into Declan, and it was me this whole time. I’m the problem, aren’t I?”
“No, baby. You’re not the problem. You had every reason to be angry with me. I lied, and it was a really pivotal lie. I’m sorry. You are nothing like your mother. Look at our kids, you’re an incredible mother. Even Nerissa and Camilla have noting but nice things to say about you. You’re incredible in every way.”
She sniffled in a vain attempt to dry her tears but it was no use. “Why do we keep doing this to each other? Why can’t we just be happy with each other?”
“It’s because we’re both very passionate about our family, and that makes us do stupid irrational things,” He mumbled. “We just need to think about how our actions affect the other person.”
“What are you thinking about?” She looked up to see Jeff sitting beside her.
“When did you get here?” She muttered.
“Just now.” He stroked her hair lovingly. He had spent over ten years with this woman and he loved every torturous minute of it. “Are you alright?”
She shook her head. “This isn’t the life that I wanted…” her voice trailed off. “I wanted so much more.”
Jeff’s voice caught in his throat. This was it. The woman he had fought so hard for, was telling him it was over. Everything had piled onto her shoulders and he couldn’t find an adequate way to relieve that weight. “Charlotte…please.”
“Don’t be an idiot and look at me like that.” She lifted her head slightly to look the male in the face. “I don’t mean you. Us. That was the only good decision I’ve made in my life.” She reached out and held his hand in hers. She could feel his tension. Jeff was always tense. Ever since Moonlight Falls had been taken over… “I mean, I wanted a place I could call home. Somewhere my family would be safe.Somewhere I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every second of every day. I want you. I want the kids. I want my dad back. The one who smiled and laughed and joked. I want Dionysus and Ethan. Ade, Millie, Astra and grandpa. I want them all back.”
Jeff could see the tears welling in her eyes. The ones she had held back for ten years. “When my parents died, I felt the world crashing down around me. I couldn’t do anything. I was scared…numb. I did stupid things. Reckless things. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to function again.”
Charlotte listened intently. She knew only part of this story. He never spoke of his past if he could avoid it, and she didn’t push him. What kind of hypocrite would she be? His deceased wife, his parents…she knew he had siblings but anything specific she couldn’t recall. He squeezed her hand tightly, and with his free one, he pushed some hair out of her face and willed Charlotte to look at him. “Are you going to tell me how you got through it?”
He nodded slowly. “I had people who cared about me. My sisters, my brother, my aunts and uncles…they were all there for me. Without them I wouldn’t be the man I am today. You have that, don’t you? You have kick-ass sisters. A dad and grandfather who barely freaking age, some gorgeous kids, a good looking husband.”
He saw her frown. Husband. He said husband didn’t he? “Even you hear how ridiculous that sounds, right? Look around us. I can’t be your wife. It’s just physically impossible. There’s not even anyone who would officiate it.”
“Marry me,” Jeff said.
“Huh?” She looked up at him, confusion on her features. “I thought we agreed we didn’t have to get married.”
“Because of where we were,” He replied. “I’m sure Audric knows someone, or he himself can officiate it. We’ll find some place to have the reception. Your sisters would be willing to help and the ids would be ecstatic.”
She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes again, but this time they were from her happiness. She launched herself into his arms. “You still want to marry me after all this?”
“Now more than ever,” He mumbled, kissing her. “Say yes, again.”
“Yes, again. I love you and I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He shook his head. “Never. You’re always right.”
She flicked his shoulder. “Shut up and kiss me again.”