Petra wakes up to the feeling of a bond vibrating very close. She recognizes this bond’s particular tenor immediately, before she’s even fully awake. It’s Jane and Rafael, happy and cutesy, as usual, and her lips soften into a smile as she opens her eyes.
She turns over to see them. They always sleep on the other side of the bed, because Petra doesn’t like to be touched while she sleeps. They’re curled up together as usual, cuddling and smiling in their sleep like the sickeningly happy lovers they are. Their bond thrums gently in time with their heartbeats, which have synced up after two years together.
Petra still has a few minutes before her alarm goes off, so she tucks an arm under her pillow and watches them. It’s still hard to believe that she’s allowed to be here, after all this time. When Michael was killed on the night of their wedding, Petra was one of the few who wasn’t surprised that Jane ended up in Rafael’s arms for comfort only a few weeks later. Rafael had very comforting arms, Petra knew, and a deep well of compassion. Although it was months before they stopped the drama and settled into a real relationship, Petra had known exactly where it would end up.
She’d hated them, then. Jane, for getting chance after chance at her happily ever after, while all Petra got was criminals and evil relatives and dilemmas she had to sleep her way out of. Big tearful eyes and honest vulnerability worked for Jane, not for Petra, oh no.
And she’d hated Raf, because he was always there when Jane needed him, with an open heart and an open schedule, and when Petra needed him there were always reservations, always shadows behind his eyes. She’d hated him because she still loved him, but he would never give her another chance, and Jane broke his heart and then came running back with no penalty.
Selfishly, scathingly, she’d hated both of them. But the Marbella was finally doing well, her mother and sister were behind bars were they both belonged, Milos had found someone new and promised to stop bothering her, and the crime lord side of the family had gone quiet. Other than Petra’s broken, bitter heart, everything was on the ups. So she’d done her best to swallow the pain and put on a strong face, as she always did.
And then, a chance meeting in the spa. Jane’s mani-pedi appointment landed her in the chair next to Petra’s, and then there were too many mimosas, and Jane had a hilarious and convoluted story to tell about her father and his latest celebrity drama, and they’d moved on to the hot tub together and shared a cheese plate and more drinks, and… after that, Jane smiled at Petra, when they saw each other in the hotel. And Petra learned first-hand what she’d only noticed from the sidelines before: when Jane smiled at someone, Rafael did as well.
Petra had never really had friends. Her mother had made sure of that. And whenever she did see an opportunity for friendship, if she did try and reach out, always slipped from her grasping fingers. When Jane invited her to a party (“There’s a producer there I really need to impress, but my dad says that crowd is notoriously mean. So I thought, who’s the meanest girl I know?”) Petra forced herself to treat it as nothing more than business. She tore a swathe through the uppity actresses in Jane’s way and delivered her neatly to her target, pretending that Jane’s smile and whispered ‘Thank you!’ were just… a favor. For an associate. Which Petra was going to keep in mind, the next time she needed something.
And then Jane asked her to lunch. Petra was stiff, but it went… well, she supposed. And then Jane’s mother had a huge party, and Petra was invited. And Jane sat next to her at the twins’ birthday party, of her own accord. And Rafael had drinks with her and they talked about old times, and danced with her, at a gala hosted by the hotel.
It was all out of Petra’s control. She didn’t know what their game was, and she felt weak to stop it, or demand information. They just kept smiling at her, both of them, with their big dark eyes, taking deep breaths whenever she said something sharp, moving forward. But forward toward what? She had no idea. Was this friendship?
Jane, drunk on champagne, kissed her on New Year’s Eve. Rafael caught Jane when she stumbled, deposited her on a nearby chair, and then took Petra by the waist and kissed her, too. That was when Petra learned that it wasn’t friendship, or at least not only friendship.
It wasn’t easy. There was drama, always something else going on with Jane’s crazy family. Someone tried to kidnap the twins, only to be foiled by Jane’s grandmother, who apparently worked in the Marbella gift shop. An investor tried to strong-arm them for the hotel. Rose, it turned out, wasn’t dead, and Luisa nearly destroyed the hotel in the eyes of the public with a single horrible press appearance.
Life went on. But somehow, Jane and Rafael have never told Petra that they can’t stand her anymore. They never pressure her to bond with them, they way they had bonded barely a few months into their first relationship. They do unite against her sometimes, but it never actually feels like it’s the two of them versus the one of her.
And they sleep in the same bed. Petra goes to sleep and wakes up with the feeling of a healthy bond humming on the edge of her hearing. It’s so peaceful. It warms her from the inside out. She thinks it must simply be how they were.
Curled up in her warm blankets, Petra reaches out with her mind to brush against the edge of their bond. It shivers and brushes back against her, gentle and unknowing, like a sleeping animal stirring in unconscious pleasure when someone pets it. Petra feels… some way, inside, that Jane and Rafael’s bond lets her touch it. They must really care for her, that she can sense the bond and touch it without its two members waking up, disoriented and repulsed.
She’s never had a complete bond with anyone aside from her mother. Bonds were weaknesses, her mother used to spit, except for theirs. Petra could only trust her mother. Anyone else would use the knowledge of her feelings and thoughts that a bond gave them to control her. And Milos had, back when a bond had started to form between them. She’d been too naive to appreciate it, but he’d used the fear and the affection he’d sensed to manipulate her, keeping himself apart. When he threw acid at her and she hadn’t sensed a hint of it, Petra had decided that she’d never bond again.
Rafael hadn’t cared about that, back when they’d been together for the first time. At first, it was because she was only a trophy anyway, and then because her faith while he was sick convinced him of her love without the need for a bond. When the truth about Milos came out, years later, he looked at her differently. And he hasn’t brought it up since the three of them came together, and Jane never has either. Even if Petra can occasionally feel Jane’s mind reaching out to her, when the younger woman is distracted. Rafael has more control, but when he drinks, sometimes, and when they make love, Petra feels how much he wanted to be close to her in that way as well.
Part of her wishes that he could be one with them, in that way, as well. It isn’t easy to love two people, and to know that they love her, but watch them share something so intimate that she can’t share. Some days she reaches out and wishes. But a bitten animal will think twice before trying again, and it still feels so recently that Petra was that animal, scrabbling and twisting for a way out. From poverty, from her mother, from one or another relationship that restricted her.
She’s free, now. As much as she can be. She’s a mother, a lover, and the part-owner of a hotel. All of those relationships tie her down to some extent. But she is finally in control of her world, not relegated to obeying anyone else’s rules, not obliged to see to anyone’s whims. Jane and Rafael don’t expect her to be a trophy wife. She’s an equal, to them.
Jane twitches in her sleep. The bond shimmies with her as she twists in the covers a little and resettles. Petra goes very still as Jane’s unconscious mind takes a tighter hold on the bond, causing Raf to hold tighter onto her, and also out to Petra.
She stays still. Jane’s mind brushes over hers gently, lovingly, and then recedes. It leaves Petra with the feeling she gets when she looks in on the twins in their beds at night. Yes, you’re here. Yes, you’re safe. Yes, I love you.
Petra’s alarm goes off and she silences it quickly. Jane and Rafael don’t react. She gets out of the bed carefully, not wanting to wake them.
As she heads into the master bathroom to get ready for her morning, Petra casts a last look at her lovers in the bed they all share.
Not today, she thinks. But maybe someday.