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Royal(8)

By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw



Alone.

Broken.

Abandoned by the only man I’m ever going to love.





Chapter One




Demi



{Present Day}



“You’re a saint, Demi. You really are. Brooks is so lucky to have you.” Brenda Abbott kisses the top of my head as I sit at the foot of her son’s hospital bed, massaging lotion into his dry, unmoving legs. “He’s going to wake up soon. I just know it.”

She pouts her thin lips, and I realize I’ve never seen my future mother-in-law without lipstick until now. Brenda wears mascara though. Layers of it. Thick and waterproof. Dark black that makes the green of her irises glow.

The gaudy, five-carat cushion diamond on my left ring finger glimmers beneath the low light above Brooks’s bed, catching my eye. I still think it looks fake, though I know it’s very much real and very much certified and very much insured. I thought Brooks was insane for buying it. I told him no one in Rixton Falls has a ring like this. I’d have been happy with a stone a fraction of this size, but he insisted.

Forty-eight hours ago, I took this paperweight off, returned it to its robin’s egg blue box, and tucked it in the bottom of a drawer. Forty-eight hours ago, I called the caterer, cancelled the band, and begged the photographer for at least some of our deposit back. Forty-eight hours ago, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt for the second time in seven short years.

Guess I have a penchant for picking the love ‘em and leave ‘em type.

Brooks called off our wedding the other night with some bullshit excuse about not being ready and peeled out of the driveway in his red C-Class. The one he crumpled and shredded when he ran off the road and hit a guardrail. The one currently reduced to a pile of scrap metal in some junkyard on the outside of town.

It was late. I still don’t know where he was going, but clearly he was in a hurry to get there.

I poured myself a glass of wine after he left and went to bed wearing an old t-shirt of an ex-boyfriend’s out of spite. Couldn’t sleep. Just laid awake beating myself up for feeling relief over anguish. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more upset about him leaving. I even tried to make myself cry. The tears wouldn’t come.

“He’s going to be fine,” I assure his mom, though I’m not exactly qualified to give that kind of hope. I went to school to teach kindergarteners, not to diagnose the uncertain futures of trauma patients.

The steady gush and hiss of a machine that breathes for Brooks fills the tiny room.

A nurse knocks on the door. “So sorry, folks. Visiting hours are over. You can come back in the morning.”

Brenda slips a Prada handbag over her shoulder, refusing to take her eyes off her swollen and mangled son, as if she might miss a hint of a twitch. I don’t remind her that his coma is medically induced, and she’s not going to miss a thing until they try and bring him out of it.

“You going to be okay tonight, sweetie?” Brenda rubs a knot between my shoulder blades. Small, hurried circles. Comforting yet detached. I’ve been with Brooks since our senior year at Hargrove, so I’ve known Brenda for years. I always thought she was strong, but now I’m beginning to see that she just sucks at showing emotion deeper than surface level.

Like mother, like son.

In the early days, it took Brooks the better part of a year to tell me he loved me, and after that, he reserved those words solely for special events. Birthdays. Valentine’s Day cards. The occasional breathless declaration after an earth-shattering orgasm.

“I’ll be fine,” I say. Brenda doesn’t need to worry about anything other than her son. What happens to me is insignificant compared to everything he’s going to be dealing with when he wakes up.

If he wakes up.

The doctors say he might not be able to walk or talk. They’re unsure about the amount of brain damage he’ll have to contend with. Every organ and bone in his body is swollen, broken, or extensively damaged.

“We need to postpone the wedding.” Brenda lifts her eyebrows, shoulders slumping. “Obviously.”

My gaze snaps into hers. Now is not the time to say anything, but I feel the words right there, on the tip of my tongue, tingling and threatening to bring the truth to life.

“I’m not even thinking about the wedding right now.” It’s not a lie.

“This is nothing more than a setback. He’s going to wake up and get back on his feet. My son’s as stubborn as a mule. He wants to marry you, and when Brooks sets his mind to something, there’s no stopping him. Wouldn’t be surprised if he wakes up tomorrow and marches on out of here just to prove he can.”

I snort through my nose. Brooks is stubborn. He’d proposed to me on four separate occasions, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. The first three times I declined, telling him I wasn’t ready, begging him to wait another six months, then another, and another. The truth was that I was still in love with someone else, and I needed more time to get over him. You can’t love one man and marry another. It isn’t right.

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