A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3) (12 page)

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
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Chapter 22

A
t the hospital
, she sat in the waiting room, her head resting in the palms of her hands. Sitting there, listening to various machines beep, she’d never felt more alone.

What am I even doing here? Did I make him worse? Why did I think that I could help him?
The dark vacuum inside her threatened to drag her into its hopeless place.

“Miss Temple?” A nurse strode up, her shoes nearly silent on the linoleum floor. Cassie lifted her head like it weighed a hundred pounds, and straightened in the chair.

“Miss Temple, he’s awake and he’s alert. He’s getting fluids at the moment, and then we’ll continue to watch him. But he’s….” The nurse took a deep breath. “He’s saying he doesn’t want visitors.”

“Oh….” Cassie gasped as though punched in the gut. “Okay.” First confusion and then anger rose up.
I’m going to kill him!

The nurse smiled, patting her shoulder reassuringly. “Given the circumstances that brought him in here today, at least he’s fighting. You never know when he’ll be wanting visitors, so don’t give up. His room is 260, the first door on the corridor to the left.” The nurse gave Cassie a wink. “It’s pretty isolated down there.” With that, she looked down at her handheld tablet. “Okay. On to my rounds. Good luck.”

Cassie watched her go, eyebrows raised. Her muscles aching, she slowly stood up and gathered her stuff. She regarded the hall the nurse had indicated. “Luke, you little creep. I’m not going quite that easy. At least you can say it to my face.”

Straightening her shoulders, she marched down the hall. But, once outside his room, her bravado faded a little.
Come on, you can do this!
She took a deep breath and tried to let the earlier indignation fuel her.
Thinks he can send a nurse to tell me off while he hides away in here.
She jerked the handle and walked in.

The room was dark, with just a light in the corner remaining on, and cooler than the hallway. Instantly the smell of cleanser and bleach hit her senses. Wrinkling her nose, Cassie walked in on tiptoes.

A long, blue curtain divided the room. She pushed the curtain back a tiny bit along its rail.

Luke lay in the bed with his fingers laced behind his head. A scowl stretched across his face. “What are you doing here? I told the nurse no visitors.” He shuffled at the blankets, making a show of rearranging them. “She obviously did a great job.”

“Nurse? I’m not sure I know what you mean. But that sure would be cowardly, to send someone else to do your business.” Cassie crossed her arms over her chest, as visions of smothering him with a pillow danced in her mind.

His hazel eyes shot up and caught hers, and his look of indignation darkened into something more serious. “Coward?” he said in a low tone.

“Some might call it that.” Cassie shrugged. Her heart jumped wildly but she fought to hide it.
He still has an IV in. He’s stuck there for a minute.

The lines by his mouth deepened with sarcasm. “I assure you, Principessa, I’m no coward.”

“Mmmmm,” she said noncommittally, and glanced around the room.
If he’s going to be angry and shut me out, might as well give him a reason.
“Why’d you end up back in here again?”

His other hand came from behind his head and landed next to his leg in a fist. His eyes flared before the emotion quickly drained away. With a heavy exhale, he relaxed his grip. He squeezed his eyes together and swallowed. Words came out of him, dark and depressed. “Yesterday, when I saw Nicholai looking at you, all I could think about was you getting hurt. Not being able to protect you.”

“Luke, somehow you missed the memo that I’m here for you.”

His eyes stayed closed as he responded. “Yeah, I might have missed that.”

“Or ignored it.”

“You’re hard to ignore.”

“So, it was a choice then. You chose to push me away and drink instead. Why do you think you did that?”

He looked out the window. Lights from the courtyard flickered through the blowing branches of the trees. The silence between them grew until Cassie felt unnerved, causing her to fidget with her necklace. Finally, she burst out. “What are you thinking?”

He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly. “I’m thinking I really hate your questions.”

“Why?”

“Because they make me have to think about what’s really going on.”

“Luke, you can do this. You can beat Nicholai. I can help. I have hope in you.”

“You don’t get what we’re facing here.” His eyes blazed in anger. “The Russian mob is no joke. You’re acting like a kid, calling on hope like it’s something more than a wish.” Luke’s voice deepened, striving for cynicism, but the lift at the end betrayed his confusion. His jaw clenched, and he tore his gaze away as he wrestled for control.

His words hit like a slap across the face. She sucked in her breath, fighting the urge to storm out of the room. From the corner of her heart, a thought spoke softly…so softly.
Don’t back down. He needs you.

Biting back her emotions, she sat on the bed, forcing him to shift to one side. She touched his shoulder before lying next to him. He gave a shuddering breath. Almost involuntarily, her entire body curled up against his, wanting to do something—anything—to blot out his pain. “Luke, you can push and push, but I’m not going anywhere.”

Luke’s arm drew her body up until her head rested on his chest, and his arm squeezed around her shoulders. His free hand covered his eyes, as his breath came in another ragged wave. “You’re killing me.”

She nuzzled into his shoulder. Waited.

“My whole life I’ve always hid my weaknesses and pretended they’re not real. And when pretending didn’t work, I drowned them.”

Cassie didn’t say anything. Instead, she ran her fingertips gently up and down his bare arm.

“This morning I dreamed I was at the house,” Luke said in a hoarse whisper. “Everything was back to normal. I walked through room after room calling for Jennifer. The bedroom door was shut. I remember thinking
There’s still a chance! I can save her!
I wrenched on the doorknob but it burned my hand when I tried to turn it. The door was locked. I smashed into it again and again, screaming her name. Finally, I busted it open.”

A groan tore through him. He gritted his teeth, as if trying to cut it off.

When he could take another breath, he continued. “Jennifer was asleep in the bed. She rolled over to look at me, and her clothing was in rags on her body. Her face was so angry, and she began shrieking about how I failed her. But suddenly it wasn’t her face any more. It was yours, Cassie.” Tears poured out of him and he clutched her tighter to his chest.

“No, Luke. No. That was a nightmare. Don’t you believe it.” Cassie sniffed, wiping at her own eyes. She massaged the tight muscles in his arm. “I’m here for you. I may not know all the answers but I know that, together, we are figuring things out.”

They lay beside each other quietly, soaking in the warmth of one another. Half an hour passed, and Luke’s breathing slowed into even paces until Cassie thought he’d fallen asleep.

She jumped when he spoke again. “You going to be able to be patient with me? While I get my act together?”

“I think we’re both going to have to be patient with each other.” Cassie thought about that for a second. “Or forgiving,” she amended.

“Forgiving is a good word.” She could hear the smile in his voice and looked up. His lip curved higher at the sight of her.

She traced his bottom lip with a finger. “It’s nice to see you smiling again. It’s gorgeous. You have such cute little chipmunk cheeks.”

His eyes narrowed. “Cute, little—?”

“Cheeks. It’s a compliment.”

“A compliment, huh? Don’t do it again.”

Cassie laughed. “I’m not telling you what I really like about you while you’re still hooked up to that heart monitor. The nurse will think you’re having a heart attack.”

Luke smirked and kissed her lips. “You know what’s happening here, don’t you?”

“What?”

“I’m really falling hard for you.”

Cassie buried her face into his chest as fireworks burst inside.
Wow…I never thought I might be able to love someone again, after loving Leif. What Luke said at the cemetery… he was right.

Chapter 23

C
assie stepped
out of the shower and toweled off. It had been a long couple of days. Luke had been released from the hospital after an overnight stay, and had really plugged back into AA. Right now he was at a meeting, and he’d told her that he’d be spending the rest of the evening with his sponsor.

Looking at herself in the mirror, she inspected her body. Her eyebrows furrowed into a frown.
Too much fast food lately, girl.
Gym, I need to hit the gym.

The article she’d written the day before popped into her head.
Loving Others Starts with Loving Yourself.
She groaned.
I can’t believe I wrote that. Why is it always so much easier to give advice than to take it?
She made a face at her image and reached for her bathrobe.

A small grin played at the corner of her mouth.
Here I am scolding myself for not exercising enough, when just last month I seriously thought I’d never care about anything again. Life really is crazy that way. I don’t get how emotions can feel so permanent from one moment to the next. And then like a deck of cards reshuffling, everything changes.

Sometimes in the best of ways
.

Out in the hallway, Cassie heard voices—a couple laughing as they tried to find their hotel room. She tied the robe’s belt around her waist, her nerves on high alert. Her doorknob jiggled, and she tensed before she heard the woman giggle, “Not that one!” The couple’s voices grew muted as they moved down the hall.

Chill out, sheesh.
Cassie let out the breath she’d been holding and wrapped her wet hair in a towel.

There was a loud knock at the door.

Cassie’s muscles spasmed again, harder this time. Cautiously, she tiptoed over to the door, securing the bathrobe tighter around her waist.

A teen, his face warped by the peephole’s fisheye, stood outside holding a large bouquet. His white shirt had the red insignia of Lynn’s Florist emblazoned across its chest.

She swung the door open.

“Hi, I’m looking for Cassie Temple?” The young man lifted the vase of white roses. Pinned into the bouquet was a card tied with a red ribbon.

“That’s me.” Cassie flushed with excitement as he handed them over. “Thank you!” Her gaze flicked up from the flowers to him as she shut the door.

Aw, Luke feels bad for the other night. What a sweetheart.
Burying her nose into one of the roses, she inhaled deeply. Mmmmm. Gorgeous! After setting the vase down, she extricated the card from the blooms.

The card was simple.
Cassie, I have special plans for our date.
Her heart tingled with excitement. Skipping over to the bed, her bathrobe flapping, she looked for her phone.

Luke! Thank you for the roses! So romantic- You’re about to kill me with these butterflies.

She chucked the phone onto the bed, not expecting to hear from him for a while. He never texted during his meetings. In fact, he’d mentioned earlier that he might not get back to her until the morning.

With a big grin plastered to her face, she returned to the flowers. Her fingertip traced the tip of one perfect, white bud.

But he’s thinking of me right now.

P
ounding
on her hotel room door jerked Cassie awake. The room was dark.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!

Her heart slammed in her chest.
What time is it?
Her hand struck the side table and blindly searched for her phone. There! She clicked it on; the display read 12:00 am.

Slowly, she walked toward the door. She looked through the peephole, but whoever was standing there was just out of sight. Her hands froze at her sides.
Do I ask who it is? Do I just pretend I’m not here?
Her legs wobbled under her.

“Cassie?”

Adrenaline zipped through Cassie until she recognized the voice. Luke.

“Cassie! Open up!”

She scrambled with the lock, sliding it back until it dangled from its chain. Twisting the knob, she threw open the door.

Luke nearly fell as he stumbled into the room.

“What are you doing here?” she yelled, seconds from a full-blown freak out.

His eyes couldn’t have been wilder. He grabbed her arms. “You okay?”

She nodded dumbly. “Yes. What’s happened?”

He looked around the room, his gaze skipping over the piles of clothing until they zeroed in on the white roses on the table. Cursing under his breath, he strode across the room. He plucked the card out of the roses and turned on the table lamp. His hand shook as he read it. Cassie thought he’d crumple the card, but he flung it back on the table instead.

“Come on. Let’s go.” His strong hands steered her towards her clothing strewn across the floor.

She looked at him questioningly before pulling away. With her hands crossed over her chest, she asked, “Luke?”

He lifted her suitcase off the chair and threw it on the bed. “All your stuff. In there now.”

“What the heck are you doing? You’re just going to grab my things without telling me what’s going on?” Cassie’s mouth dropped open.

“Yeah. Either you pack it up, or I’ll jam it in there, but one way or another it’s getting packed. You’re leaving town and going home. Now.” He punctuated the last word with his index finger near her face.

She brushed it away angrily. “Whoa, there, buddy. I’ll say whether I stay or go.”

“Not this time. Trevor got a tip that Nicholai is riled up. He’s not taking too kindly to his business getting shut down on the North End.” His head jerked toward the flowers. “And then there’s those.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. “Let me guess. Not from you.”

“Hell, no, they’re not from me.” His eye caught hers, and he softened his tone. “If I send you flowers you’ll know they’re from me.” He picked up the roses and dropped them into the trash. “I think you know what it means that they came straight to your room.”

Her breath caught, and she spun for the window. The curtains were slightly parted, giving a night view of the apartment building lights across the street. She shivered and grabbed her necklace, tamping down the urge to rip the curtains closed. “Okay. I’ll leave the hotel, but let’s not get crazy here.”

“You haven’t seen crazy yet,” Luke said in a low voice. “This time, I’m going to find him. It’s going to end differently.”

“I can check into another hotel room. I’ll use cash this time. He won’t be able to find me.”

“You should know better than that. Ten minutes on the internet, and you found me. Nicholai’s got people. He’ll be able to find you no matter where you hide if he wants to. And I’m not going to let that happen.”

Cassie sank to the bed, feeling like that little girl being shoved on the bus again. After flipping her a frustrated look, Luke scooped the clothing off the floor and dumped it in the suitcase. He disappeared into the bathroom, returning with her makeup bag, a brush, and curling iron.

“Stop for a sec,” she called to him.

He ignored her as he dropped the items in the suitcase. “Get dressed.”

“Can you just hear me out?”

“We’re leaving in five minutes, Cassie. I’m not playing around here. His people could be on their way right now. I’ll drag you out in your pajamas if I have to.”

His eyes were hard, and made her shiver. She wrapped her arms around herself.

Luke took a deep breath. The mattress dipped as he sat down next to her. “Come here,” he said, in a quieter tone. He reached out and gently pulled her against his chest, hugging her close. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Everything is going to be all right, but I need you to listen to me.” He moved away and cupped her cheek, his thumb roughly stroking it. “Okay? Trust me.” He kissed her quickly.

She clung to him. “I do trust you, Luke. I just can’t run home because there’s danger, as much as you want me to. I get this isn’t my world. I might not be able to do a lot to help. But I can be a support to you. Even if it’s just to listen.”

He kissed her again, slower this time, before resting his forehead against hers. His breath was warm against her face. “You are a support to me, in more ways than you’ll ever know. Now, you ready?”

Cassie nodded. She picked out a few things from the suitcase before hurrying to the bathroom to change.

When she returned, her entire room had been picked up. Luke was kneeling on the bulging suitcase as he zipped it up. She held out her pajamas, her eyebrows raised. Luke rolled his eyes, then unzipped the case for her to stash them inside.

“We good?” he asked.

She looked around the room and nodded. “But I’m serious about not leaving town, Luke. You’ve got to work with me here. I want to stay until we figure all of this out.”

He studied her before opening the door, his eyes dark with emotion. “Aren’t you afraid?”

“Well, I guess I’m going to have to practice being brave, because so far being scared hasn’t done anything for me.”

His lip lifted at the corner. “That’s my girl.” One hand holding her suitcase, he opened the door, before wrapping his other around her waist. “Come on. I think I have an idea of a place you can stay.”

“With you?” Her heart beat faster.

“You’re kidding me? That’d be the first place they’d look. No, I’ve got another place. Come on.”

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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