He’s quiet for a while. I don’t know if he’s processing or stewing or what he’s doing over here, but finally he sighs, staring at the pillow beneath my head. “I’m so tired.”

I don’t think he means tired the usual way, like he just needs sleep.

“I’m too young to be this drained,” he says.

“You’re not drained,” I tell him, my hand moving to his face, caressing it. “This is… your system is just overloaded right now. Normally you carry the entire weight of this family on your shoulders like it’s nothing. This has just thrown you, that’s all. It’s perfectly understandable.”

“I’m not supposed to be thrown though. This isn’t supposed to… not me.”

“You’re human,” I remind him. “Humans feel pain, they get bogged down. You think someone you care about very much did something horrible to you. I didn’t cheat on you, but you believe I did, so the reality doesn’t matter. You still feel it, whether it happened or not. That’s why this is so goddamn hard. I almost wish I had, then I could just be sorry and beg forgiveness and try to make it up to you.” I pause, shaking my head and glancing up at him. “This is so much worse. I apologize and you think I’m admitting to something. I don’t, you think I’m a monster, or you try harder to find evidence one way or the other. This is a cruel limbo we’re stuck in. Whoever did this to you is a monster.”

He sinks back into the bed, sighing heavily. “It’s so hard not to believe you, and equally as hard to believe you. I’ve seen proof with my own eyes.”

“And that’s why it’s tearing you apart. Can’t you just forgive me?”

Glancing my way, he says, “For that thing you didn’t do?”

“In fairness, I think I’ve forgiven you for things you did do. I think a lot of people have. Maybe it’s your turn.”

“I don’t believe in karma, but this whole situation is making a pretty solid case for its existence.”

“Well, there you go. Maybe put some good out there to negate all the bad.”

Glancing over at me, he says, “We’re not supposed to be doing this. I’m supposed to be making your life hell.”

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Mateo rolls his eyes. “Okay, Confucius.”

I shrug. “You can hurt me if it makes you feel better. I can take it. You won’t keep me down. But does it make you feel better? If it doesn’t, let’s try something else.”

He turns over on his side, watching me. “I’m supposed to be the logical one.”

I shrug. “You got hit by feelings. It happens to the best of us. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with the mob boss who stole my freedom with a few cans of water, but shit happens.”

Shock registers across his handsome features. “How…?”

“Adrian. Don’t tell him I told you. He didn’t want me to hold it against you. Had this crazy idea you liked me. It was good he told me,” I assure him. “I would’ve held that against you.”

“That bastard,” he mutters, but almost good-naturedly. “How long have you known?”

“Literally the whole time. He told me when we went to my house to get my stuff.”

“Shit.”

I smile, curling close to him and wrapping my arm around him.

“That was pretty good though, you’ve gotta admit,” he tells me.

“It was extremely cruel and manipulative,” I counter.

“That’s sort of my thing,” he says, without apology.

“Well, it all worked out. I’m not sorry it happened. I don’t know what would’ve happened otherwise.”

Sighing, he says, “I wish you would’ve told me Castellanos sent you to begin with.”

“I know. I didn’t want all this to happen. Maybe it was inevitable.”

“Maybe I’ll make a big charitable donation. That’s good karma, right?”

“I don’t think it’s such good karma if that’s the whole reason you’re doing it, but you’re on the right track. Maybe fewer mind games and less manipulation would go a longer way than writing a check.”

“That sounds hard,” he states. “I don’t think I’m gonna do that.”

I chuckle, tilting my head up to kiss his jaw. “I love you.”

Giving me a little squeeze, he says, “I love you, too.”

I don’t expect him to respond, and hearing those words from his mouth sends my heart right down to my big toe. “You didn’t have to say it back; I just wanted to express how I felt.”

“I know. So did I.”

I grin, capturing his lips and plastering my body against his. It’s hard to abide this self-imposed no sex thing tonight, but I force myself to settle for making out with him and then curling up for a cuddle. He needs to get some sleep anyway.

“We’re gonna be okay,” I tell him.

I don’t think he’s quite convinced, but at least he doesn’t disagree.

Chapter Twenty One

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