“What happens to Anna now?” I ask quietly. She glares at me her expression incredulous, like she can’t believe I have the nerve to ask that. My hands clench into fists as she throws back her head and laughs.
“You really think I’m going to leave a defenceless little girl with you? After what you did to my sister?” She glares at me, her eyes wild. “Am I fucking insane, Declan? Is that what you think?”
“Hannah, think about what you’re doing.” I try to keep the frustration out of my voice, but it’s hard when she’s being so difficult. “What else are you going to do with her? Anna will only talk to me; placing her with a new carer, no matter how wonderful they are, is going to set back her recovery immensely. You know that. Can you put aside us, just for a moment, and do what’s best for her?”
“How dare you suggest that I don’t have her best interests at heart. You’re a rapist, Declan. Can you imagine if I left her with you and that got out? The media would have a fucking field day, not to mention my boss. Does the church even know, or did you lie to them too?”
“Of course they know,” I reply, my voice still. It hurts that she thinks I would try and hide that from them. Does she think this is all a joke for me? I’ve devoted my life to the Lord to pay for what I did. I know nothing will ever make up for it, but I won’t stand here and let her suggest my reasons are not pure. “They also know that I’ve changed. I’m a different man than I was when I was sixteen, for Christ’s sake.”
“You, of all people, should not be taking the Lord’s name in vain,” she growls, her blue eyes flush with anger. I shake my head, no idea how I’m going to get through to her. “Hannah, please.” I beg for the last time. I take a deep breath and speak calmly. “I’m the only person she trusts. You can’t take that away from her.”
“Declan.” She rubs her temples and sighs. My heart leaps, because for a second, I think I’ve gotten through to her. “Even if I wanted to listen to what you’re saying, I’m not even sure I can leave her with you. You’ve got a record. You were in jail. I can’t ignore that, and you can’t ask me to. Don’t play my guilt for what happened to that little girl against me, because that’s not fair and you know it.”
I stare down at my hands not saying a word, because I don’t know what to say. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of what I did, and more than anything I wish I could go back to that night and fix it, but I can’t. I have to live with what I did and the aftermath.
I remember the night like it was yesterday. It was Nash’s party, so naturally I was drunk, and probably high. I’d asked Cecily to meet me. She didn’t want to. She hated parties and wanted to spend time alone with me, but I insisted. Eventually I convinced her to come, promising that we’d only stay for a little while.
I don’t remember much after that to be honest. I remember her arriving, and I remember both of us drank a lot. I passed out in Nash’s spare room. When I woke up, she was gone. I didn’t doubt her accusations were true for even a second. I loved her, and if she said I hurt her, then I believed her. I wanted to plead guilty from the moment I was charged to save her going through a trial, but my parents insisted on fighting. I didn’t want to fight, but I didn’t have a choice. When my father does anything, the whole world hears about it. When the son of one of the most respected actors in Hollywood is charged with rape, the media goes crazy.
“Look,” she finally mumbles. She shakes her head, her dark locks swaying in the wind. “I need to think about this. I know I have to think fast because Anna needs some stability in her life as soon as possible, but I need to think this through. Without you around.”
“Fine. I get it.” She’s at least considering it, and I’ll take that as a win. “Take all the time you need.”
I bow my head and wait for her to get out. She mutters a goodbye and stalks over to her car. I glance her way out of the corner of my eye. Her hand thrashes against the steering wheel, sending a chill through my body. She’s so angry and upset. I’m in shock that this is happening. As bad as this is for her, I never thought I would have to face anyone in that family again.
Declan James was the perfect guy.
He was sweet. Charming. Caring. Until he wasn’t.
Fourteen years ago, his actions tore apart my family. He ruined my sister’s life and nothing was ever the same again. But now, more than a decade later, he’s back.
When he walks into my office, asking for my help, I’m shocked, but nothing prepares me for what I’m about to learn. I see how far he’s gone to redeem himself and I know that he’s changed. I also know that, as a priest, he’s more off limits than ever.
If I help him, my family will never forgive me.
If I fall in love with him, I will never forgive myself.
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