The Arrangement Vol. 11

By: H.M. Ward

CHAPTER 1

The moment seems unreal. Never in a million years did I think that I would ever see Sean Ferro on his knee in front of me. The idea of him proposing is preposterous, and yet, here he is on one knee holding up a ring. My legs feel like they’re going to give way, but I don’t move. It’s one of those few moments in life where time slows to a crawl, and I’m acutely aware of everything around me. The scent of the ocean, the sound of the waves, and the fuzzy new sweats are caressing my skin. The fireplace crackles and a log breaks, sending a spray of sparks up the chimney. I can’t smile or speak. I’m suspended somewhere between reality and a dream. There’s nothing that could break this moment. I want it to last forever; I want to treasure it as one of the few times that Sean’s let me into his heart.

Normally this man is so closed down, and so guarded, that it’s impossible to know what he’s thinking. Most days I haven’t a clue of how he feels or what he actually wants. I think I can see his affection for me in his eyes, but it’s not the same as hearing the words fall from those beautiful lips. I crave to know what he thinks more than anything else, because those little confessions form an intimate connection between us.

There have been a few times where Sean seemed unguarded—Cardiac Hill in the snow and this morning on the beach—but they’ve been fleeting. That version of Sean appears in short bursts and is a glory to behold, and I crave more. I live for those moments, and now that I’m in one I’m so afraid of shattering it.

In the past, Sean has tried to open up, but then he did a one-eighty. That was more crushing than if he’d never let me get close to him at all. The thing is, I can’t blame him. I’m not saying it doesn’t make me want to throw things and my eye twitch—because it does—but I understand his hesitation.

I know what it means to try and love again after living through such a devastating loss. There was a time when I thought that I could simply shut everyone out. Love isn’t a requirement to live, and I’d planned to do without. It made sense at the time. Loss was too gruesome to bear, but then I met Sean and I knew there was something about him. Our fates intertwined, and it’s finally more than that. He wants me and he’s going to say as much. That ring sparkles in front of me like a promise I thought he’d never say.

I suck in a shaky breath and finally manage to tear my gaze away from the ring and over to Sean’s face. He looks vulnerable, with a childlike expression. The hardened mask he constantly wears is gone, and I only see sincerity mingling with hope in those blue eyes. It kills me that he’s been so alone for so long. It’s like he doesn’t trust another soul on earth, but in this moment, he trusts me. There was a time that I thought Sean didn’t have any hope, and that was what made us different from one another. However, the emotion is clear. Hope. It’s plainly visible, unmasked and unguarded. Sean thinks I can save him, and that he can save me. He thinks we have a future together.

Too many thoughts rush through my mind and spiral into a pit of concern. What about that darkness within him? Where did it go? Does being Sean’s wife mean that he needs that sexual control over me, that he’ll twist and manipulate my fears to suit his needs? I know he says that part of him is gone, but it can’t be, can it? It’s been there too long to simply vanish. I’m not foolish enough to think that we’ll have a happily ever after, not with the amount of heartache we’ve had. But maybe we can make it to a bright spot in our otherwise hellish lives.

Can we really save each other?

The concerns turn to whispers and blur together. I can no longer identify which worries are valid and which are fear. Anxiety trickles down my spine in a cold sheet as Sean licks his lips. His mouth parts and his voice pours out soft and unsure. “Avery Stanz, would you consider taking this ring and—”

Every inch of my skin is tingling like my life is about to radically transform. Don’t smile, don’t do it. For all I know he’s going to ask me something stupid and I need to keep my wits about me so I can kick him.

But, oh God, I want to grin and clasp my hands together. Sean wouldn’t pretend to propose and then not do it. There’s a happy dance building inside of me, making my heart flutter and the corners of my lips tip up. Anticipation and excitement are coursing through my veins as the words come from his heart.

Everything is about to change.

Then, it does. The door to the little beach shack slams open and hits the concrete wall hard. The sound cuts off Sean’s question and he jumps to his feet when he sees who’s standing there.

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