The Brightest Sunset(4)

By: Aly Martinez

I couldn’t make out much, but I saw her arms wrapped around his shoulders, his arms floating at his sides. I grabbed him first, shoving hard off the seat of the car, but he was suddenly snatched from my grip. My lungs were on fire, but getting them out wasn’t an option. I was going to die in that car before I gave up on them.

And as I struggled against her hold on him, I feared that was exactly what was going to happen.

There was no more air pocket, just a sinking car trying to take my wife and son to a watery grave.

It took a second for me to realize what was happening. At first, I thought she had to have been disoriented, maybe injured from the wreck.

But, with every passing second, the truth became unmistakable.

Her hands clawing at mine.

Her feet kicking me in the stomach.

Her hold on him fierce and visceral.

It wasn’t an accident; every move she made was strategic to keep him with her—and to keep them both in that car. The final straw was when I felt the seat belt wrapped around the two of them anchoring them in place. She hadn’t been in that seat belt the first time I’d pulled them out. There was no possible way that could be mistaken as anything except a deliberate and calculated move.

I froze. The day I met her at the local farmers market flashed on the backs of my eyelids. I’d gone to buy tomatoes and come home with a family.

My vision tunneled, darkness surrounding me, my body screaming for oxygen. But what had once been an attempt to save them both became a brawl of epic proportions.

My hands were no longer shaking, and my fears morphed into anger. I cursed and screamed that I hated her, nothing but a few bubbles carrying the message. But I didn’t stop until I was able to pry my son from her arms.

I didn’t look back as I headed for oxygen, leaving her there to die.

Only she wasn’t alone. Porter Reese, the man who’d vowed to love her in sickness and health, the man who’d held her when she’d cried and smiled at her when she’d laughed, the man who had promised her forever, died in that river beside her.

And it took three dark, twisted, and hate-filled years before he was ever found.

* * *

I couldn’t breathe.

I couldn’t talk.

I couldn’t even formulate a rational thought.

Pure instinct took over.

The blood in my veins caught fire as I spun out of Porter’s arms. Lucas—my son, Lucas—screamed as I took him with me. The inherent need to flee overwhelmed me.

Porter was faster though. One of his hands caught me above the elbow, his grip straddling the line between rough and firm. “Charlotte, stop!” he growled. “Don’t do this. He is not Lucas.”

I heard his words, but they felt like hollow syllables filled with weeks of deceit.

Tom appeared beside me, his voice low and sinister. “Let her go, Reese.”

“Give me back my son,” he snarled, his fingers biting into my bicep.

Defiantly, I held his stare. “He’s my son.”

“Dad!” Lucas cried, struggling against me. But there wasn’t a force in the world that could have taken him from me.

Not this time.

Not again.

Not ever again.

Porter snaked an arm down and took his son’s outstretched hand, holding it as he closed the circuit between the three of us. “It’s okay, bud. This is just a big misunderstanding.” His gaze lifted back to mine, his eyes hard. He looked nothing like the man I’d been falling in love with.

Probably because that man didn’t exist. This was the real Porter. The one who’d kept my son from me for the last ten years.

“Back up!” I demanded, my legs shoulder-width apart, my arm latched around Lucas’s chest, my whole body roaring and ready for war.

“He’s not Lucas,” he declared through clenched teeth.

“Back—” I started to repeat my demand, but my voice lodged in my throat.

His face softened, and so did his hand as the fraud that I’d always thought was my Porter appeared. “Let him go and we’ll figure this out. Everything’s going to be okay.”

It was crazy, but my heart squeezed in response to his familiar words, even as my head screamed for me to hate him. “Why would you do this to me?”

“Why would I do this to you?” he asked, his face taking on the strangest mixture of disbelief and astonishment. “Charlotte, I have no fucking idea what is going on right now. All I know is that you have your hands on my kid and you’re calling him the name of your dead son. Sweetheart, there isn’t much in this world I wouldn’t do for you. But I draw the line when it comes to my children.”

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