Книга Whiplash. Содержание - 66

Valenti stared up at the man he'd tried to protect from this for so many years, but he knew after all, he'd always known. It had been years ago when he and Nikki had decided to keep their families together, and he'd hurt so deeply he didn't believe he would ever stop regretting that this man was her husband and not him, that her name was Hoffman, not Valenti.

But the years passed, and the despair lessened, and what took its place was an abiding love for his own wife and his magnificent children. Now he was a grandfather, and he knew he was loved-Elyssa had danced when they said he was going to live. There was only Elyssa now, he thought, and he felt the power of his feelings for her press deep. He couldn't remember when she'd become the most important person in his life. He wondered what would have happened if he had left with Nikki all those years ago when their passion seemed the only worthwhile emotion in life, when giving in to what they felt seemed the only right thing to do? How long had that pain lasted? Valenti couldn't remember now. Nor could Nikki. They'd spoken of it when she knew her death was close, and they'd even laughed a bit about their star-crossed passion that had faded, of course, through the years. "Youth," she'd said, "youth is a wonderful dream that doesn't last. What is vital in youth doesn't stay as important as we get older, now does it?"

Then David had come into the hospital room and she'd died a few minutes later, with both of the men who'd loved her holding her hands.

What had Dave said? Something about how Nikki had looked at him, Alex, when she'd died and not at Dave?

"No," he said, "I remember clearly it was you Nikki was looking at the moment she died. She whispered good-bye to you with her last breath."

Hoffman sneered. "You have a convenient memory, Alex. How much does Elyssa know of your feelings for my wife?"

Valenti felt a great grief settle over him, a heavy grief because he knew it was Elyssa's grief and David's grief as well. They'd both known, they'd both watched, both waited. He said slowly, "At the beginning, all those years ago, Nikki and I decided to keep our families together. How can you believe Nikki wouldn't do that? She was filled with honor, with goodness.

"When she became ill, Nikki told me she'd come to love you more than she'd ever loved me, because your love for each other was real, not an old fantasy."

"You're a liar!" Hoffman straightened and nodded over to the Secret Service agents who were watching him.

Valenti said slowly, "Why do you think I would lie about that?"

"Because she told me, damn you to hell! I don't think she planned to, but she was weak and confused, even delirious near the end. She told me Aiden is yours, not mine. Nikki married me only because she couldn't have you. You'd already married Elyssa, but did that matter? Oh, no, she still had to have your child!"

Valenti slowly shook his head back and forth on the hard pillow. "No, no, that's impossible."

"You slept with her in high school, didn't you? Did you meet during college as well?"

"Back then we all slept with each other, you know that, Dave. Sex was as common as eating and sleeping, it was simple recreation. Surely you slept with college girls before you met Nikki? Before you married?"

"Yes, but you and Nikki, it was more between the two of you! Aiden was born a year and a half after Nikki and I were married. I've done the blood tests, Alex, I know for a fact I'm not his father. You are."


He saw the instant Valenti believed him, accepted it. The honorable, forthright man he liked to think he was had a bastard son. Valenti said slowly, "I didn't know, never even guessed. You believe I'm lying to you? You think Nikki told me and I decided to ignore it? Well, she didn't, never even hinted, never said a word, even during that brief time we wanted to go away together.

"My God, David, I've always thought Aiden looked like you."

"You know what, you bastard? Nikki did come to love me, I knew it, and so I didn't punish her by forcing you out of our lives. I allowed all of us to become such close friends, your children and mine, like cousins. Two big loving families, and the Richardses too, all the boys playing together. I remember watching them and thanking the Lord they were my sons, mine and Nikki's, together. But of course they weren't. It was a fantasy.

"When she went into the hospital for the last time, I finally believed she loved me. But then there you were not even three days later, sitting beside her, stroking your hands through her hair, what was left of it, whispering to her."

David Hoffman stared down at him, wondered in that moment if he hated Valenti more than he'd loved his wife.

He gave a low laugh, one filled with pain at the sharp memory of her death. "You know what, Alex? When she came back, Savich believed she was trying to protect me, but it was you, always you. Even beyond death, she was trying to protect you, from me. I always came in second. I hated it. But then she spoke to Savich, and gave me a gift, an opportunity, so fitting, so perfect, it was too good to let pass. That's when I decided what I was going to do."

Valenti looked into his friend's eyes, but he simply couldn't accept it. "Are you telling me you sabotaged your own car? That you tried to kill me?"

David Hoffman slowly rose. "Ah, you're looking at me like I'm a monster, Alex. If only you'd died when the Brabus hit that oak tree. I would have given one of the most eloquent eulogies at your lavish funeral, reminded all the mourners of what a wonderful family man you were. And I would have been thanking Nikki for making it all possible. Unfortunately, you survived. I've lost to you yet again."

"There was never anything to lose. You've become obsessed, Dave-"

"Shut up, for once, shut up! There's nothing wrong with me, nothing. Listen to me. I came to tell you it was I who tried to kill you, but I will not try again."

Valenti felt nauseated, from physical pain, from the drugs, from this soul-leaching hatred, this obsession, yes, that's exactly what it was, and surely it was insanity too, and he was the focus of it. Had Nikki really spoken to Savich? Had she really been trying to warn him? He whispered, "You know it will all come out, Dave."

"Eventually, perhaps. Agent Savich suspects some of it. Will he find evidence of what I did? I was very careful, but who knows?

"Now, Alex, I'm asking you not to tell anyone what I've told you. I don't ask it for myself, but for both our families, for Elyssa, for all of your sons, and for your own sake. This is not what either of us want to be remembered for, is it?"

Valenti wondered how his body could keep breathing. He couldn't believe this, just couldn't, and now David wanted him to keep silent? He asked him, "What would happen to you, Dave?"

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