Series: Salvation #3
Book 1 of 2 in the Consolation Duet
Liam wasn’t supposed to be my happily ever after.
He wasn’t even on my radar.
He was my husband’s best friend—forbidden.
But my husband is dead and I’m alone. I ache for him and I reach for Liam.
One night with Liam changed everything. Now I have to decide if I truly love him or if he’s just the consolation prize.
Liam turns and his eyes stay fixed on Aarabelle. “She’s beautiful, Lee.” His hand grazes the top of her head. “I have something for her.”
I draw a deep breath and cradle Aarabelle close. “Really?”
He chuckles and removes a necklace out of his pocket, “I got this for Aarabelle before you had her. When I was overseas I thought it was something a little girl should have, but…well, I’m never having one.” His lips twitch with amusement as he lifts the gift in the air.
Stepping closer, I look at the tiny, green jewel that hangs on the end of the chain. It’s small, delicate, and yet breathtaking, surrounded by diamonds. “Liam, this is too much.”
“Nah, like I said, not like I’ll ever have kids. I’d have to find a girl who actually might like me.” Liam snickers hoarsely and looks out the window.
“Yeah, I could see where that could be difficult for you,” I joke and relax a little. “Thank you though, it’s beautiful.”
He smiles and places his hand on Aarabelle. “So is she.”
She is. She’s tiny and a handful, but to me she’s perfect. Everything I’ve ever dreamed of is wrapped up in my arms. I hold her close and nuzzle her. “Yeah, I think so too.”
Liam clears his throat, bringing my attention back to him, “I saw his car is still in the drive. Have you met with the Veterans’ Affairs people yet?”
I nod and try not to look at him. I’ve put off doing the things I know I need to do. Closing out all of Aaron’s accounts, his will, selling his car, maybe even this house, but I don’t want to. “I’ve been busy.”
He steps closer and his hand grips my shoulder gently. “I can help if you need me to.”
Everyone always offers to help. That’s the thing I’ve learned the most about death. People come out of the woodwork offering a hand. They cook for you, clean your home, fix the broken shutter, but it’s all superficial. No one knows what to say, so they try to do, but after a week or a few months, the help no longer comes. You have no choice but to face life head-on and learn that people forget—they move on. But I haven’t. I live the hell that was forced upon me day in and day out.
“I’m fine.” I give a fake smile. “I have Mark and Jackson if I need them, plus I’m sure you have plenty of other things you need to worry about. You just moved and I know checking in takes a lot of time.”
“I took leave, plus I like bugging you anyway.”
“Really, I can handle it.”
“No one is saying you can’t. I’m saying you don’t have to. Lean on the people around you. He was my friend and you are too, so don’t be too proud.” His eyes pierce mine as he locks his gaze.
What is with these men and their inability to let me be?
“Okay, fine,” I concede.
“Good. Not like you had much of a choice. I’m kinda relentless.”
I snort, “I remember.”
An awkward silence falls between us. Thankfully, Aarabelle stirs, bringing my attention to her.
“Have you heard from Patti?” Liam asks.
“No, she’s pretty much disappeared since Aaron’s death.” My mother-in-law understandably didn’t take the news well. She’s cut off contact with all of us. She refuses to see Aarabelle and wants absolutely no part in my life. She claims if I loved him, I wouldn’t have let him go. I would’ve demanded he stay. If she knew her son at all, she’d know that wouldn’t have worked.
Liam takes a step toward the mantel and his hand reaches out to the flag. He stands there staring at my mini memorial. Aaron’s photos line the shelf. His boot camp photo, our wedding, and one of the two of them all sit next to the flag. His trident sits in front. Liam’s hands brace the stone wall and his head falls. I watch him as his fingers tighten and turn white from clutching the ledge. It’s as if he’s forgotten I’m here. Tears threaten to fill my eyes as I watch his closest friend silently mourn. It’s a moment where I can almost feel the pain radiating off of him. I turn my back and give him some privacy.
“People handle shit differently I guess,” Liam mutters quietly.
I turn back around as he grips his neck. “How are you handling it?” I question.
He turns and shakes his head. “I’ve called his number a few times. I was drunk, and I don’t know, it was just instinct to call and tell him something stupid. The first time it went to his voicemail and…” Liam’s eyes snap back to mine as he catches himself. “What about you?”
My façade shifts into place as I repeat the speech I’ve given so many times. “I’m living. It’s hard, but I’m handling it.”
Liam knows me. He’s also an interrogator for the SEALs. He’s one of the best, and for some reason I forgot who I was lying to. “Really?” he asks unbelieving.
His large frame moves forward as he assesses my reactions. I try to remember all the things Aaron practiced on me. How he would make me stand my ground, not shift or move my eyes, but Liam is a different ball game. “Yes,” I say confidently.
“You know who I am, right?” His calloused hand grazes my wrist and my heart rate accelerates. I’m not afraid of him, but he’s the first man to touch me intimately since Aaron’s death. Even though we’re just friends, my chest tightens. “You’re lying to me,” Liam says in his deep voice.
I suppress a shiver and try not to look into his eyes. I don’t want him to see what I’m hiding deep inside. He can read me, he’s trained to see through my layers of bullshit, and I need to keep myself shielded from him.
“Natalie.” He lifts my chin, but I keep my eyes closed. “You can tell me. I can’t imagine if it were you that he lost that he’d be fine. He’d be a fucking mess, a lunatic with broken furniture all over the house. So you don’t have to be okay. You can be angry or whatever else.”
His words seep through my soul and I open my eyes. “I don’t get to be whatever else. I have Aarabelle,” I say as I look at the baby in my arms. “I have to be fine.” The steel wall I hide behind is strong and solid. I’m safe there.
“That’s not true. You’re going to keep bottling this shit up and then explode.”
I grit my teeth and let out a deep breath through my nose. “What’s your deployment schedule look like? Will you be around?” There’s no doubt in my mind he knows I’m diverting. I want out of this conversation.
“You know I can’t tell you that, but I’m here for you. I’m going to do a few things and then we can figure out what else has to be done.”
“I really don’t need the help,” I say even though I don’t know what I need anymore. Aarabelle stirs and I rock her gently.
“Okay, well, I need to do something for the next month I’m on leave, so you’re helping me.”
“Now who’s the liar?” I ask.
Liam rolls his sleeves and winks. “I never lie.”
I laugh an honest laugh for the first time. He’s lying about lying. Aarabelle begins to fuss, and as much as I want to argue with him, she needs to eat.
“Which SEAL team are you with?”
Please don’t say four.
I don’t know why it matters. The way he lets out a hesitant sigh, I brace for it. “Four,” he steps closer and puts his hand on my shoulder. “He should be with me.”
“No, he should be with me.”
“Yeah, he should,” Liam says and the sadness is apparent in his eyes.
This hurts us both. Liam and Aaron were brothers. If one died, they both died. Aaron once spoke of the brotherhood they shared in comparison with that of Jackson and Mark. While they were all close, he and Liam were almost blood thick. They carried each other through BUDs training, and when Liam’s sister died, Aaron was by his side the entire time.
“I’m sorry, Demps,” I say as I shift Aarabelle in my arms.
“Why the fuck are you sorry?” he asks, sounding affronted.
“You two were close. I know this isn’t easy for you.”
Liam pinches the bridge of his nose. “Is this what you do?”
My jaw falls slack as I try to figure out what he’s asking me.
“You pretend.” Liam’s eyes soften as he studies me.
“I don’t know what you all want,” I say, exasperated. He smiles and I want to slap him. What the hell is he smiling about?
“Finally some emotion. I’ll see you soon. I’ve got work to do around here.”
“You’re an ass.”
“Yup. Go take care of Aarabelle. I’ve got the other shit.” Liam kisses my cheek and then the top of Aara’s head and leaves.
I stand here knowing I’m not going to get rid of him. He’s noble, honest, and when Liam made a vow to Aaron, he meant it. He will be here for me in whatever way I need.
Liam Dempsey is going to be my demise.
Military, Infertility, Pregnancy, Grief & loss