Ava turned to him. “What about your memories?”
“You don’t remember… what? The fight in the cistern?”
He swallowed, trying to pull her closer, but she leaned back, eyes intent. “It’s not just my death, Ava.”
“So… what? What don’t you remember?”
Leo and Rhys had wisely fallen silent, and Malachi felt the weight of the room on him.
“I don’t remember much, Ava. About… anything. My family. My life.”
He could barely hear her when she spoke. “Me?”
“I remember a little.”
She pulled away and stood, taking a deep breath. “Oh… shit.”
“All of it?” She stared at him, but he couldn’t read her expression. It was confusion. Sadness. Guilt? “But… the market. You remembered the market and the dreams and—”
“They’re coming back to me.” He grabbed for her hand. “Please, Ava.”
There were the tears again. “Do you even remember who I am?”
“Do you? Or is it just this—this mating instinct? If you don’t even remember what we were, or how we fell in love…” Her voice fell away before she whispered, “Do you even love me anymore?”
Everyone was staring, but no one was offering to help explain. Of course, what was there to explain? None of them knew anything.
He stood and took Ava’s hand. “If you would excuse us, I don’t think we need an audience.”
He’d ponderedhow he would approach this since the day he and Rhys had talked in the library.
“You love your mate. But… you don’t love Ava. You can’t, because you don’t know her anymore.”
But he did! He’d hoped his memories would have returned by the time he found her. He’d hoped, but it was in vain.
“You don’t,” she whispered. “You don’t remember me. You feel the same bond I do, but it’s instinct. You don’t remember Cappadocia or Istanbul. When you showed me the Basilica Cistern… or the way you used to scold me when I would talk about being insane—”
“I still don’t like that, so don’t start,” he snapped.
He closed the door and spun toward her, suddenly angry. With her. With himself. With the whole damn confusing maze. Didn’t she realize? He was as lost as she was. Ava looked shell-shocked, standing in the center of Max’s bedroom, staring at a wall.
“You don’t remember the island or the kiss. The first time we made love. You don’t remember any of it?”
“Stop reminding me of everything I’ve lost. Trust me, I know.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, and he could feel her withdrawing. “How could you not remember?”
“It’s not like I had a choice, Ava!”
“But…” She worked to speak. “It was… our time together, Malachi. It was—”
“Brief. I know. They told me it was only a few months. But we are bound. Marked. So it’s possible—”
“It wasn’t brief,” she said softly. “It was everything.”
He stopped speaking, and the anger drained away.
“It was everything,” she repeated. “The happiest time of my life. The first time I felt like I belonged anywhere. With anyone. With you.”
He reached for her, glad she didn’t pull away. He’d known he loved her, but until that moment, he’d had no concept of how much she had loved him. It thrilled him. Malachi wanted to roar in triumph, but Ava was still trembling.
“I’m remembering more every day. I do remember some things, and—”
“Do you remember any of the things I just mentioned?”
He paused. Malachi ached that those moments were a blank in his mind. “No, Ava, but—”
“So you don’t. This isn’t just about me.” She shook her head stubbornly. “And if you don’t remember me—”
“Are you serious?” He was angry again. “I don’t remember you?”
“Ava, you are the only thing I remember!”
She said nothing, but he could see the doubt in her eyes.
“When I woke… there was nothing,” he whispered. “Nothing. I was nothing until you called me. I heard nothing until I heard your voice. I didn’t remember my name until you named me. I do remember a few things. It’s coming back. And each memory is like a beacon—a marker—of the life I lost. You were the first one. I will remember more. And we will make new memories together. So many that the life I lost will be nothing to compare to it.”
The doubt still lived in her eyes. He wanted to battle her doubt and fear the way he battled a physical enemy, but he couldn’t.
“Please, Ava. You have to understand.”
“I love you.” She spoke so softly he almost didn’t hear her. “I never stopped. Even when you died. But do you love me?”
He knew it without question.