By: Maya Banks

She tried to take a breath and then another. Her eyes flooded with tears and sobs piled up deep inside her chest. The agony was unbearable. She was going to break. Maybe she was having a heart attack. How could it hurt so much?

A horrible noise echoed across the hillside, startling her, and then shockingly, she realized the sound came from her, from the very bowels of hell.

Another followed, and she fell to her knees as finally, she shattered.

Her arms clutched her belly as the sobs came tearing out of her soul. Her hands moved to her throat in an effort to stem the horrible tide of grief.

When she felt wetness, she pulled her fingers away in bewilderment to see her tears shining on her palms.

She leaned forward to touch Sean’s name, to trace the etching on the marble headstone, made blurry by the tears running in streams down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered hoarsely. “God, I’m so sorry. I loved you so much. You were everything to me.”

Her head fell forward as the horrible, wracking sobs spilled from her lips. The sound was so harsh, so ugly that she covered her ears, but still, the noise permeated every pore.

She sank lower until she curled in a ball on the ground next to Sean’s grave, her entire body heaving with the force of her cries.

Before she hadn’t felt enough, and now she felt too much. It overwhelmed her, and she couldn’t survive this. Sean was gone. He wasn’t coming back. She’d killed him.

“Emmy, ahh sweetheart.”

Firm hands glided over her body, moving her, repositioning her, and then she was lifted into the air. She turned into Taggert’s chest, clamping her lips tight to stop the sounds of raw agony tearing their way out.

She grabbed at him, seeking his strength, knowing she could no longer do this alone.

“It wasn’t you,” she rasped out between sobs, the words barely recognizable. “Wasn’t your fault. Mine.”

“Shhh, you’re talking crazy,” he said as he gripped her tighter.

Her body swayed and bounced as he began the walk back to the house. To her immense relief, the awful noise stopped, but the tears tracked endlessly down her face, wetting his shirt.

Taggert halted suddenly, and Emily heard Greer demand what the hell was wrong.

She couldn’t find the strength to look at Greer. Her strength was gone. She’d thought herself weak before, but now she realized the fortitude it had taken not to break before now, to face each day, even as numb as she’d been, and survive.

The next thing she knew, her clothing was being removed, and she couldn’t even summon a protest. Her vision was blurred by the torrent of tears. She couldn’t stop them. Now that they’d finally come, she had no idea how to turn them off.

Her hands fluttered helplessly to cover herself, but neither Taggert nor Greer was concerned with her nudity. She was thrust into a hot shower, and she reached for the walls to brace herself when she realized that Taggert had come in with her, still fully clothed.

They stood there under the hot spray until some of the bone-numbing cold began to wear off. Her shivering gradually lessened, and some of the heat seeped into her skin.

She bowed her head, letting the water run over her hair and down her body. Taggert simply held her, his hands firm around her shoulders, lending support she badly needed.

And then Greer reached in for her, pulling her away from Taggert and out into the cold again. Greer wrapped a towel around her, rubbing briskly, and then he stilled for a moment and gently touched the end of the towel to her cheeks, wiping away the tears.

Silently, more fell, and she wondered how many more she could possibly shed. Would it ever end? But the ache hadn’t diminished. She opened her mouth to speak and realized why the horrible noise had stopped. Her voice was gone. Nothing more than a raspy exhalation sounded. Had she broken that too?

“Shhh, don’t try to force it,” Greer said.

He leaned forward, wrapping his arms around her, and pressed his lips to her forehead.

“This was a long time coming, Emmy. It’s only going to get worse before you get better.”

He pulled away and looked down at her pale, gaunt face, watching helplessly as the tears fell faster than he could wipe them away.

He’d never felt so damn useless in his life.

Yes, he’d wanted Emily to break. Finally. She was operating on autopilot, scraping by while her reserves were fast depleted. She couldn’t go on like she had forever. But the alternative was seeing his beautiful Emmy completely and utterly shattered.

He wrapped the towel around her once more, tucking the ends at her small breasts. Taggert was drying off behind them, and Greer didn’t spare him a glance as he herded Emily out of the bathroom toward the bedroom.

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