Author's Note: Hello, Friends. A couple of announcements for all of you. First, you still have approximately two weeks to sign up for "The Masquerade Challenge" for October's on "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" forum. We also have a "Freaky Friday" mini-challenge in progress for those interested. Details for both can be found at the forum. We'd love to have all of you sign up. I think we'll have a lot of fun this Halloween Season.
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*** SPECIAL NOTE: For whatever reason, disabled the Profiler's Choice Awards PM system. That means all attempts to submit ballots failed from September 11 - 16. Could you all please help spread the word that anyone who tried to submit a ballot during this period listed above should RESEND their submissions. I am very sorry for any inconvenience this has caused. We really need help reaching all the different ships out there though. So, PLEASE, those willing to help, let me know if you can include this as part of your author's notes to readers.***
"I don't think it takes too much of that intuitive nature of yours to gather my next move, Rossi," Erin replied icily, lifting her chin proudly. Twisting her lips into an openly antagonistic smile, she leaned forward and gave a low warning, "And if I were you, I wouldn't get in my way."
"Or what? You'll shove your broomstick up my ass?" Rossi goaded, relieved to see some color seeping back into her waxy face. He much preferred her pissed off rather than defeated, pale imitation of the woman she normally was. And obviously his skills at achieving such an emotion were still quite useful.
"Get out!" Erin demanded, her jaw clenching as she pointed a finger toward the door.
"Why? So you can pour over those letters and try to figure out the name of the woman that wrote them? What good would that do, Erin?"
"They made a fool of me," Erin replied, her voice tight as she clung to the last thread of her control, her fists clenching as she tried to avoid hitting the nearest wall. "Both of them. And since I can't resurrect my dearly departed husband, the vile little bitch will have to do, won't she?" she informed him through her clenched teeth.
"To what end?" Rossi asked conversationally, well aware of the need to keep her talking. A silent Erin was a deadly Erin…and no one else needed to die any time soon. "So you have some momentary satisfaction in destroying her...then, what? Do you think that will cure that ache you have inside, Erin? Trust me," Dave assured her wisely, "It won't."
"Stop it!" Erin hissed, taking an unsteady step backward, her balance wavering. "Stop acting like you give a shit what I do. Or is it her you're trying to protect? Edward's poor little mistress that he kept in the shadows of his life...whatever will she do? I loved him, David!" Erin screamed as he rose in front of her. "It was me that he turned to when he got that damn diagnosis," she yelled, her fist connecting with his chest as she hurled the words at him like an accusation. "It was me that took him back and forth to every fucking specialist I could find in the country! It was me that held his hand when the pain was so awful that it made him delirious! It was me that wiped the vomit from his face after the chemo got done ravaging what was left of him! It was me that soothed him as he died! Where was she?" Erin shouted, her voice breaking as she landed another blow against the man now holding her up. "Where was his little slut when all that was happening?" she sobbed brokenly.
"I don't know, Babe," Dave whispered softly as she sagged against him, her wrenching cries painful to listen to.
"I knew we'd drifted apart," Erin mumbled against his neck. "But, I never suspected...I never thought he'd...how the hell do I forgive him for this when he's not even here?" she asked with a cracking voice.
"Erin, you're allowed to not forgive him. Hell, I was one of his best friends and I'd like to kick his ass right now. But, finding this woman...it can only lead to more pain."
"She deserves it," Erin whispered hoarsely, smacking his chest once again for emphasis.
"Yeah," Dave nodded, his chin bouncing against her hair, "but, you don't. Let yourself grieve for the man he once was, not the man he'd obviously become."
Wiping the tears from her damp face with his now soggy handkerchief, Erin sniffled. "My marriage died in more than one way, didn't it?" she muttered, unable to meet her sometimes nemesis' eyes.
"It wasn't always a lie, Erin," Dave reminded her gently. "And personally, I don't think Edward ever stopped loving you."
"He just wanted some extra sauce on the side, is that it?" Erin ground out, grinding her teeth as she tried to abate the nausea that threatened to overtake her once again.
"It would appear so," Dave said softly, unable to refute the truth with the evidence around them.
Shaking her head blindly, Erin swallowed painfully. "I really did love him, David."
"I know you did," Dave agreed softly. "Everyone was almost gone when I came in here, Erin. Go upstairs and get some rest. Let me take care of...these," he offered, gesturing toward the discarded letters on the floor.
"Going to blackmail me with them?" Erin asked baldly, forcing herself to straighten...to face him. She had been weak, and now she was going to pay. It was the way the past had always played out, so why should she expect any less now?
"It's an idea," Dave said as he winked. "But, no. I was thinking more along the lines of burning them."
Staring at the paper sheets lying on the floor, she said faintly, "How can something as inane and innocent as slips of paper send your whole world hurtling off its axis?"
"It's a mystery we'll never solve, Erin. Let me take care of it," Dave urged, his kind voice soothing.
"Doesn't matter if you burn them or not. The words are seared into my memory now," she replied, dispassionately watching as he bent to collect the letters from the floor.
"Then getting rid of these can't hurt anything, can it?" Dave asked, straightening and walking around Edward's desk to gather the rest of the old letters in his hand. Striding purposefully to the fireplace, he cast them into the grate. Grabbing the matches from the marble mantle, he looked at Erin as he struck the side of the box. "I'm feeling chilly," he shrugged.
"Me, too," she whispered as he held out the lit match to her.
"Light the fire, babe. Put an end to this, once and for all," Dave advised her tenderly.
Accepting the match, Erin bent, touching the small flame to the letter nearest her. "Goodbye, Edward," she whispered as she watched the fire take hold, the snap and crackle of their manufactured kindling mesmerizing her as she stared into the fire's flames.
Helping her ease from her knees to her bottom, Dave's hands guided her to rest against his chest, taking her weight easily. And as he heard the soft sobs of a woman in pain, he was once again reminded that even one's worst enemies were all too human in the face of tragedy.
And watching the bloom of love die before him...well, that defined tragedy in his eyes. Today, he might have buried his friend, but this woman in his arms...she'd been forced to bury not only her husband, but her marriage as well.
And he knew, the grieving process for that was gonna be a hell of a lot worse.