Sipping my wine slowly, I tried to listen to what my friend, Chad, was saying, but I failed utterly. I couldn’t for the life of me focus on anything. As much as I tried to avoid his severe stare, he was somehow getting through to me. As always.

This was how it was between us. We shared this uncanny ability of knowing each other’s feelings without muttering a word about it. Back in the day, it was one of the things that I had loved between us, yet that was all in the past—back at a time where things were pure and unsullied, surely not something that had carried over to this present day.

What was his purpose anyway? This was our first night in Rome and he was willing to spoil it for Sienna and Blake, our main reason for being here in the first place.

I couldn’t break now. My pride had saved me thus far, and it was certainly going to protect me over the coming days, breathing and living around him on a daily basis. God or some other miraculous super power could only help protect my sanity.

Hoping was one thing; dealing with it in this instance was another.

“For the love of God! Stop staring at me.” I finally flashed him a seething, hateful glare before I got up and huffed, leaving in haste. I was sure the rest of my friends, especially Sienna, were shocked at my sudden, explosive reaction. She must have thought I was the sanest one amongst all of us, however she was wrong. The inner thoughts were chaotic. Wretched. Bitter. But most of all, irrevocably heartbroken.

It was true. I might deny it to the rest of humanity, yet deep inside, the turmoil my mind and heart were going though was endless. Acting like a pompous bitch was the only defense mechanism that helped me get through this shit storm of a mess.

It had been four months now of enduring this vile, gut-wrenching pain after seeing him this past Christmas in Courchevel, France with another woman dangling on his arm.

I had never been the same again. It had been a wake-up call. A slap to the face. He might just as well have stomped my wretched heart with his heel because it sure felt like that. The lacerating pain I had suffered during that holiday… I would not, could not, ever forget.

Love was a blasted, prickly fool. Why had it chosen me?

I never wanted it to end—I wasn’t ready to let him go, but I knew I had to. I didn’t want to be the reason that would cause a rift in his family. Had I been selfish, things would’ve turned out differently.

Wishful thinking was a thing I loathed more than anything.

Back inside the villa, I was navigating around the vast hallways, striding towards my room while I kept reminding myself of the reason why I couldn’t succumb to his blatant display of emotion. Shutting myself inside my bedroom, I sat on the bed, feeling bereft—unbalanced—even though my surroundings portrayed calm elegance.

Seraphina, our host and Blake’s wonderful aunt, had decadent taste in décor. My room had been designed in modern Romanesque architecture with a lot of ivory, beige and different shades of earth colors. Add the hints of gold in the furnishings and it completed the space; giving it a nice, relaxing ambiance.

I probably just needed a moment to take the heat off my body, hoping my boiling blood would settle down and calm my senses. Being around him—seeing him laughing and smiling amongst our friends, our close-knit circle—just brought back great, old memories I’d had with him. After all, two years of bliss was a long time to be with someone.

Two years of building trust, love and a future together, and all of that had gone down the drain the moment his family had decided to step in, thinking I wasn’t “fit” to be with their son. Their reason was as shallow as it could get. Apparently, their family was a distant relative to the royals. And by distant, I meant quite extremely far removed from the bloodline, but still, they held their heads high, thinking that they were circling in the same social strata as the queen herself.

Listening to the mother of the man you love dearly say damaging and shameful things about your own family, accusing us of being social climbers, had immensely gutted me inside out. Add a few more barbed comments from his grandmother, and it truly topped the bashful train that they were on, coming towards me full speed with no intentions of breaking. Then again, that had been their goal—drilling it into my head that I was never going to be the woman he married, and that I was always going to be the woman he shagged; that he merely had fun with.

Their words hit raw nerves.

For days, I had mulled over what they had said, keeping it to myself because I didn’t have the courage to say any of it out loud. Sadly, I had been ashamed that others looked at me that way. It wouldn’t matter that I never asked anything of monetary value; people were bound to draw up their own opinions, disregarding any truth so they could accomplish their mission. For him to marry someone in that circle—so that they could make a stronger bond in Society.

I came to a breaking point when I confided to my sister, telling her what had happened. When she asked me if I was willing to fight for him, risking the break-up of his family and having to help him pick-up the pieces afterwards—if the day came that he did choose me and the time came that he was going to start resenting that fact—would I be able to forgive myself? I was all yes to the rest, but my conscience took precedence when I thought of him resenting me.

Parting with him had been the hardest thing I had ever done—walking away from the only man I had ever loved—but I had known I was doing it for his own good. His family needed him for all sorts of reason, and I just couldn’t compete with that.

As much as I adored him to bits, I held on to the hope that I might get over him if I just pushed him enough, convincing him that it was truly over for me.

And he had. Not straight away, but he had fallen into another woman’s arms months after.

I thought seeing him with another person would push me to try and move on as well, yet unfortunately, I had been simmering in my own torment, still trying to ebb the pain in my heart.

Maybe someday I’d find another man that could come close to him. Someday… perhaps.

Releasing a breath, I decided to come out of hiding, hoping that I could explain my sudden psychotic meltdown to Chad and Sienna without giving too much away. Those two had the knack of being able to break through my barriers. As much as I loved them, I sort of hated the fact that they could use that to their advantage when they needed the truth from me.

Yanking the door open, I suddenly stopped functioning, stilling at the sight of him standing right in front of the door, looking as wretched as ever.

“What are you doing here?” I made a shaky, chilling whisper. For the first time after I had walked out on him, I finally looked at his face—really looked at him. His cheeks had a tint of redness from alcohol. His hair had that look that it had been pulled about in all directions while his eyes penetrated into my soul—through my shield.