Chapter Forty Three
There was a bandage on her face. He’d only been gone for three days. How had she managed to get injured again?
He was so preoccupied with the way she was walking – as though it hurt her to move – that he didn’t realize she’d reached out, and up, to hug him until she’d begun to pull back, wrongly assuming that she’d upset him.
Adam wrapped his arms around her gently, careful not to use too much pressure. Up close, she felt even tinier. He had to stoop to hug her properly and his back began to complain almost immediately. He caught a whiff of her scent and pulled back in surprise. She smelled like… gingerbread?
Iman let out a giggle and he realized that he’d voiced the question out loud. “It’s my shampoo,” she explained. “It’s scented.”
“Like gingerbread?” Why would a cleaning product smell like food?
“It’s pretty,” she said simply. “And it’s better than a lot of other scents. I’ve always loved gingerbread. I used to make myself sick eating it when I was a kid.”
Adam pictured an even tinier blonde, curled up next to a plate of cookies and had to fight the urge to laugh. “I bet you got it whenever you wanted anyway.”
Iman wrinkled her nose. “Not every time. Just almost every time.” She put a hand to her face and grimaced, the strange expression she’d made having obviously upset whatever wounds were hidden underneath the white gauze.
Adam couldn’t keep his eyes from it. He opened his mouth to ask but Iman pre-empted him. “I’ll tell you later?”
Adam nodded. He could wait if she needed him to. It wouldn’t make much of a difference in the long run, after all.
Iman had taken a shower she didn’t need, eaten a meal she hadn’t wanted and unpacked a bag that hadn’t needed unpacking. She would need to repack it later, in fact.
She was moments away from faking a yawn and attempting to escape to the bedroom to pretend to be asleep when Adam reached out to her across their table and took one of her hands in his. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” he reminded her. “I won’t push.”
She knew he was telling the truth. Adam hadn’t pushed at all. Even the first few days when she’d been waking him all night, he hadn’t gotten angry or insisted that she try to talk when she wasn’t ready. He’d given her the option and when she’d rejected it, he’d accepted it.
More than that, once they’d realized that she slept better when he talked to her, he’d done that willingly. He’d shared so much about his past with her and hadn’t complained once when she hadn’t been able to do the same.
He’d told her enough about his stepfather that Iman had finally understood her first, unsettling reaction to the man, and had explained enough about the training he’d been subjected to that she knew she’d always hate Ali Cassim for being the one to dole it out.
The night he’d told her about his first kill, she’d been so angry on his behalf that she hadn’t known what to do with herself.
Adam’s thumb rubbed a slow line across her knuckles. “It’s okay. Some other time.”
He made to pull away and Iman tightened her grip on his fingers. “Just… give me a minute?” she pleaded.
“Sure.” He settled himself back down. “Whatever you want.”
“The day you left, I went to see my mother.”
Understanding began to dawn on Adam’s face. He said nothing, waiting for her to continue.
But she couldn’t. Unconsciously, she shook her head, her mouth open but silent.
“You’ve met my mother.”
Iman nodded, confused. “She’s nice,” she said lamely.
“She is. She’s one of the most important people in the world to me. But there was a time that I hated her.”
Iman lifted her head and stared at him in shock. “What?” she breathed.
“I’ve told you some of what the past seven years have been like for me. What I never told you is what my mother did about it.”
Iman knew the answer to the question even as she asked it. It was written in the lines of his face, the downward twist of his lips. “What?”
“Nothing. She knew what was happening but she never tried to stop it. I asked her a few times but all she’d ever tell me was that I’d understand some day. I don’t understand. Not in the least. And there’s a part of me that still resents her for not saving me.” Adam cleared his throat.
“I didn’t even… I’d forgotten that your Mom was there with you. Do you think she… could have?”
Adam looked at the floor. “I don’t want to believe that she could have,” he said finally. “It’s easier to believe that she had no power. It gives me a way to absolve her. But she could have done something, if she’d tried. At the beginning, if she’d asked, he would have stopped. But she couldn’t find the courage and afterwards, I wouldn’t have agreed anyway. I was too busy punishing myself.”
Adam took a deep breath. “When I was sixteen, I made a huge mistake. And I wasn’t the one who paid for it. Other people died and my stepfather had to spend an incredible amount of money fixing things. After that… I never really complained about anything. It felt like a kind of penance, to stop trying to get out. That’s pretty stupid, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not.” The force in her voice surprised them both.
Adam looked bemused. “You’re nicer than I am.”
Iman looked at him, feeling a rush of affection go through her. He’d shared yet another piece of himself to make her feel better.
She leaned forward before she knew what she was doing and pressed her lips firmly to his.
He pulled away a second later, eyes so wide with shock that she could see the whites around them. “You kissed me.”
He didn’t sound disgusted. Courage came from a place deep within her and Iman found herself saying, “Yes. I did.”
“Is that okay?” Iman stared up at him with big green eyes, biting her lip in concern.
Of course it was okay, Adam wanted to shout. Instead, all he managed was to nod dumbly.
“Oh,” she smiled happily. “Well then… Can we do it again?”
This tiny woman was going to kill him, Adam realized with sudden clarity. And he had absolutely no problem with it.
“Yes,” he murmured, leaning forward. “We can do it again.”
I so badly wanted to leave it at Iman’s last line, before the last scene with Adam. But I felt like being nice. And also I thought you’d all kill me.