Songs and Sweethearts
Book 10 in the Untouchable Series
This series must be read in chronological order, to avoid spoilers
Sometimes, it has to end before it begins.
In the course of a year, I have had my heart broken, reforged, only to be shattered again. The tears won’t come. Not anymore. No more looking back. No more asking what if.
Coop wants me to let myself feel it. Jake wants to distract me. Archie wants to put the world at my feet. Ian wants me to not make choices until I’m ready. I’ve got family ready to catch me, but I refuse to fall.
No more waiting.
No more holding my breath.
The future is now.
We have a chance to forge the path we want and I’m all in.
So why does it feel like I’m running away?
Songs and Sweethearts
Book 10 in the Untouchable Series
Songs and Sweethearts
The funeral took place just ten days after my birthday. I hadn’t been to class since the incident. Finals were also fast approaching, but the school had notified me that I was passing all my classes and no exams would be required. Apparently, a death in the family qualified one for bereavement leave.
Odd, but it was hard to bring myself to care about it much. I’d seen my new psychologist twice over the last week and a half. But I found it difficult to discuss with her, because I found it difficult to even think about it. Rachel had all but moved into the brownstone with us.
Ian’s and Coop’s parents had flown up, along with Trina. Jake’s mom and the girls arrived the day before. The brownstone was full to bursting and Archie arranged for a floor at one of the closest hotels to put them all up. There had been a discussion about that, and I was fairly certain I’d been involved in it.
Hank arrived the day after my birthday, and he’d planted himself. Coop gave him his room at the brownstone. Kelly and the kids were coming for the funeral. I didn’t quite get why they’d want to go to Maddy’s funeral. She’d hurt so many of these people—and Kelly didn’t even know her, but Hank had said she wanted to be there.
My grandparents had wanted some elaborate service at their family church. I declined. Maddy hadn’t been remotely religious and I hadn’t been raised that way. Graveside would be fine and I’d expected a small turnout, particularly taking her home to where she’d grown up.
Only that proved not to be the case. We had our own hotel suite, having come up the day before, along with a train of cars holding the rest of the guys’ families. Kelly and the kids had been waiting at the hotel when we got there. I ended up carrying Chloe inside because she turned into a barnacle and wouldn’t let go of me.
Not going to lie, I kind of loved the hug.
The graveside service was scheduled for mid-morning. I got up, showered, and got dressed almost mechanically. Black dress, black shoes, and my hair pulled back up and away in a tight braid. Jake had done it when my fingers wouldn’t work. I didn’t bother with cosmetics, but Rachel descended on me a half hour later with everything in tow. When she’d arrived, I had no idea.
Honestly, I didn’t care how I looked. No amount of dark clothing and layers of cosmetics could change the shocked shell that had encompassed me since the sound of a gun cracked through the silence. It had been so loud it damn near deafened me. I waited for the pain to come, even as the warm spray hit my face.
The bullet hadn’t hit me. It hit Maddy and I’d stared into her lifeless eyes, her expression still half-contorted by the raw fury she’d aimed at Archie and me. Maddy was dead.
Stranger still, Edward had killed Maddy. Her Eddie had stopped her from hurting his son. The agony on his face and in his eyes cut deeper than anything.
At least he could feel something for her loss.
I didn’t. I didn’t feel a damn thing. The guys moved around me, one always with me, they were there for hugs and for me to lean on. Jeremy and Hank bullied me to eat, while Rachel bullied everyone to leave me alone.
But no amount of self-reflection brought even an ounce of sadness at Maddy’s loss to the surface. If anything, it seemed surreal. I’d actually gone to the coroner’s to identify the body, though they’d all said someone else could do it. I’d needed to. I needed to see that she really was dead and that I hadn’t imagined it.
Archie and Hank went with me, though they both tried to dissuade me from doing it once we got there. Honestly, I couldn’t even seem to make the words work to let them know it was fine. Seeing her lifeless on the cold metal table didn’t make it anymore real to me than it had when I’d seen her blood on the floor.
Or when I washed it off my face.
Or when the police asked me question after question.
What had she said? Could I remember the exact words? Had Edward given her a warning before he fired his gun? Did I know that he had a gun license? Around and around and around the questions came. The detectives seemed sympathetic, but they didn’t let up. Dominic’s arrival not only slowed them down, it cut them off.
I didn’t know who had called him or what got him there, but he took a seat at the table, all business, and locked eyes with the officer interrogating me. There was now a wall between me and them and I could breathe. A little. They still had questions and I was willing to cooperate, but Dominic vetted every question. It seemed to go faster and easier with him there.
Eventually, they seemed satisfied and Coop was there when they wrapped. They hadn’t let me and Archie sit, or talk, or even be questioned together. Ian had gone with Archie while Jake took care of phone calls. Coop had promised me Archie wasn’t alone. Attorneys had shown up for him and for Edward, too.
I’d half-forgotten the whole nightmare had started out as my birthday, until we got home where there were balloons and surprises waiting. Jeremy ushered us in and made me tea that he insisted on bringing up after I showered. The guys stuck close, but as close as everyone was, it was still a million miles away.
Reconciling Maddy’s actions and personality with the number of people who came to her service left me puzzled. Coop held my hand the whole time, even when I faded in and out of awareness of the funeral happening around me.
Whoever gave the minister his script hadn’t filled it with platitudes. He discussed the effect of life and death, of choices, and consequences. If anything, it seemed more geared to those of us present than to the person going into the ground. Even though I’d seen her body, I still couldn’t believe it. When it was over, people began to leave in ones and twos, or in families. The guys murmured plans between them. Rachel had an arm around my waist and hugged me to her side.
Dominic had come for the funeral as well. I wasn’t sure who had invited him, but he offered me quiet condolences and a kiss on the cheek before he headed over to the cars. A whole train of them had come to the little cemetery. Rachel eventually gave me a hug and headed over toward the cars as well. Finally, it was just me, Hank, the guys and Edward. He’d been at the back for most of the service.
I’d known he was there, that there had been some objection from my grandparents, but it had quickly been silenced. Of everyone present, I thought he grieved the hardest. The sadness in his expression hit me like a punch to the chest. Silhouetted against the grave, he just seemed so damn alone.
Without thinking about it, I walked over to where he stood. “I’m sorry.” The words were ash on my tongue, but at the same time, I meant it. I was sorry. For him.
He’d killed the love of his life and if I’d mocked it or scorned it before, I could not deny the pain in his eyes or the tears on his cheeks. After everything that happened, he chose his son. He chose Archie over my mother.
I would never fault that choice.
But I hated that he’d had to make it. I hated what she’d done to all of us.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and the words came out rougher and harsher than I imagined. It was like I’d forgotten how to talk.
Pulling his gaze from the grave, he glanced at me. The raw emotion in his eyes hurt so much. “Thank you for letting me be here.”
“I think you might be the only person who really misses her.” I hated myself for saying it like that, but the beginnings of a wry smile twisted his lips.
“You might be right,” he said with a deep sigh. “I wish…I wish I could tell you she was different when she was younger. That the choices we made changed her. I wish…”
Putting my hand on his arm, I stopped his next words. “I wish I could, too. But she was Maddy.”
The wry smile turned wistful. “Yes, she was.” He glanced at me, then just past me, and I didn’t have to look to know Archie was right there. The guys would give me space and Hank was nearby, but Archie wouldn’t leave me with Edward until he was certain.
Even then, he might not.
“I’m sorry, you deserved a lot better.” That could have been directed at either of us, so I held out one hand to Edward, even as I reached back for Archie.
The older man gave my hand a long look before he accepted it, but Archie’s fingers slid through mine immediately and he narrowed the distance between us until I could have leaned on him if I wanted.
“So did you,” I told Edward. And I meant it. Archie loved me. He loved all of me. He even loved my need for the other guys. More, he accepted me for who I was and embraced the family we’d built. I couldn’t fathom how Maddy couldn’t see what she could have had with Edward or how he’d forgiven her so much and so often and yet she continued to twist and to use and to abuse.
“She’s right,” Archie said with a kiss to my temple. “You do deserve better. Maybe we can’t be—you know—but maybe we can just be friends and go from there.”
It was an olive branch, one Edward clearly didn’t expect to be offered if the sudden way he squeezed my hand was any indication. “I’d like that,” he said. “I know I don’t—”
“That’s the past,” Archie told him firmly. “A past we can all put to rest now. We look forward. You saved Frankie.”
“He saved you.”
“I wish I could have spared you both. I’ll never make up for the pain we caused either of you.”
“You don’t have to,” I told him. “I don’t know if any of us could. But Archie’s right, I don’t want to look back anymore.” Not at my life with her. Not at the choices she made. “The only thing I’m glad for is that you guys came into our lives, ‘cause it meant I got to know Archie.”
As twisted as that might seem, I’d take it.
Edward stared at us both for a long moment then he tugged my hand and stepped forward, until he hugged us both. I wasn’t the only one who froze under the sudden display of affection.
“Thank you for loving each other,” he whispered in a voice so cracked with emotion it ripped through the numbness muffling the whole world, and pain burned in my eyes. “Thank you for showing me it can be done.”
As swift and fierce as his embrace was, he released us and strode away without a word. Archie wrapped an arm around my middle and pulled me back against him. I swayed, half-dizzy. The picturesque little graveyard with its rich, verdant spring green color swam in front of me. Coop suddenly took Edward’s place and he clasped my hand, then Jake and Ian were there, too. All four of them arrayed around me in a perfect circle.
We had a family. Ours.
I wasn’t alone.
Still, I couldn’t quite help looking at the grave as the workers came forward and the coffin lowered mechanically into the ground. The faint whirring of gears and pulleys a rather ignoble farewell to someone who had cast such a long shadow.
Despite the burning in my eyes, the tears wouldn’t come.
I had no idea how long I stood there when Coop said, “We can skip the lunch. Everyone will understand.”
“We can even just bring food up and you can get comfy,” Jake offered. “No one is going to mind.”
“No, they came all this way. I should at least thank them.”
“Angel,” Ian said and that pulled my attention away from the hole where her coffin vanished. “You don’t owe anyone anything. They came here to support you. What do you need?”
I had what I needed.
“Food,” I admitted. “I haven’t been hungry. But I’m sure I need to eat.” A fact Jeremy confirmed for me every day when he put something in front of me three or four times a day. Food had even come to our suite at the hotel this morning while we got ready, but I hadn’t wanted any then. I might be able to choke some down now.
We turned away from the grave and headed to where the car waited for us, it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did when I found Hank and Edward talking. Jeremy stood at a discreet distance. I half-missed a step when Hank and Edward shook hands and Edward turned away to walk to his own car.
“Fuck it,” Archie whispered before he brushed a kiss to my cheek. “You good until we get to the hotel, babe?”
“Go,” I told him. “He needs you.”
Loosening his tie, Archie nodded and set off at a jog to catch up with him. I caught Jeremy’s faint nod of approval as he moved around to open the door. Everyone else had hired cars, Jeremy insisted on driving us and wouldn’t hear anything to the contrary.
Hank waited for us to get within earshot before he said, “Do you mind if I ride with you…”
I answered him with a hug. The world might be muffled again, but Hank had been here from the moment he heard, even though he had a life and a family, he’d still been right here with me.
“Thanks for being here…Dad,” I whispered, and his arms tightened around me. He’d been here because we were family too.
“Always,” he whispered back and I closed my eyes. Everyone waited for us, and I let myself glance back once more at the gravesite in the shadow of the trees. It really was a pretty little spot. Idyllic. Peaceful. Perfect.
All things Maddy had never been in life.
I was never coming back here again.