“And since we’re on the topic of me telling you things that I should have said a long time ago,” he continued, “I also need to tell you I know how incredibly lucky I am to have you in my life, even if I haven’t always shown it. I’m sorry about that. But I want you to know that you’re the most important thing in the world to me.”
“You don’t have anything to apologize for, Jayson,” she said softly. “Not after everything you’ve had to go through.”
Jayson smiled wryly. “That’s where you’re wrong, Layla. Last year may have been total shit, and there were times when the pain became so unbearable and the future so hopeless that I thought about giving up and just ending it, but I still had no right to treat you the way I did. I was hurting and couldn’t see my world ever getting better, so I lashed out at the only person who cared enough about me to put up with it. I need you to know how incredibly sorry I am for putting you through all that.”
Tears filled Layla’s eyes. Suddenly, she had a hard time breathing. Part of her had always known that suicide was something Jayson had considered. Still, it was hard for her to hear him say it out loud. But having him apologize for things he had said and done when he’d been in that deep, dark place was tough too. Worse, it was scaring her. It was like he was trying to get stuff off his chest before they went on this rescue mission, like he thought he might not have a chance to say it later.
“Why are you telling me this all of a sudden?” she asked. “You’re not going to do anything stupid are you?”
He frowned in confusion, but apparently figured it out because he shook his head again. “No, I’m not going to do anything stupid. If I scared you, I’m sorry about that too. All I’m trying to say is that I was in a bad place for a long time, and I did some things then that I’m not very proud of. But I’m not in that bad place now, and it’s all because of you.”
Her heart squeezed. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Yes, you did,” he said firmly. “You had no way of knowing this, but when I first met you at Landon and Ivy’s wedding, I was at my lowest point. The Army Medical Review Board had just told me that my request to be allowed back on active duty had been denied. I’d known it was a long shot, but I’d still invested a lot of hope in that chance, and I was seriously down. I almost didn’t go to the wedding, but I figured Landon would harass the hell out of me if I didn’t. I planned to show up and say congrats, then bail. But I met you and everything changed.”
Layla smiled, remembering the first time she’d seen Jayson. He’d looked so handsome in his suit, though she could tell he’d been in pain even back then. She barely remembered any of the reception because she’d spent the whole evening with him.
“From the moment we met, there was something about you— a spark,” he said. “While we were hanging out together at the reception, I forgot I was a wounded warrior. I was just a guy attracted to a beautiful woman.”
“The attraction was mutual,” she assured him, leaning in for a kiss. “I can assure you of that.”
It was just a short, playful tangling of the tongues, but it was enough to make her body start to heat up again. When Jayson pulled back, the serious expression was still there.
“But that evening was just the beginning,” he continued. “When you started coming to see me at Walter Reed, I found myself getting out of bed a little earlier in the morning on the chance you might show up. And when I was transitioned to outpatient status, you were the one who helped me find a place to live.”
Now she was getting seriously embarrassed from all the praise and adoration. “Anyone could have done that.”
“Anyone could have, but you were the one who did it. You were the one who put up with the grouchy, medically chaptered army guy.”
“You weren’t grouchy,” she protested.
He lifted a brow.
Layla laughed. “Okay, maybe you were a little bit grouchy.”
“I was way more than that,” he corrected. “I was a total ass on more than one occasion, but you hung in there and never walked away, no matter how much I pushed.”
She caressed his stubble-covered jaw. “There was nothing you could ever do that would make me walk away. My only fear was that you would be the one to leave without ever giving me a say in the matter.”
He caught her hand and pressed his lips to her palm, his breath warm on her skin. “Thank God I was never stupid enough to do that. If I had been, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”
She laughed and kissed him. “You mean in a bombed-out library in Donetsk?”
“No,” he whispered. “I mean lying in the arms of the most beautiful woman in the world, telling her how important she is to me and how much I love her.”