Authors: Anne Conley
“Some people never learn…” He punched him in the stomach, watching as the smaller man doubled over in a whoosh of expelled air. Connor used his other fist to pound him in the side of his head.
The smaller man stood and swung wildly, making contact with the side of Connor’s face. Feeling nothing, Connor let loose with a volley of punches, imagining this punk ass was the punching bag his dad had set up for him in high school. It had been a while since he’d worked out on it, but the muscle memory was still there.
Connor worked the cop over, punching his body, alternating punches to the head, beating his face to a bloody pulp. He felt nothing but rage. Rage at Brandy melded with rage for this guy’s treatment of Jessie as well as rage at himself for his treatment of her today, and Connor set his fists free. He could see nothing except Jessie, lying on the porch of her home, nearly unconscious, while this prick kicked her.
The man was on the ground, making no moves to fight back, and Connor managed to stop himself and take a step back.
“Connor.” A weak voice made him turn to see Jessie, propped up against her door. “Stop. He isn’t worth it.”
Something inside Connor snapped. He slumped, and shuffled over to Jessie, stooping to lift her in his arms and carry her into the house without a second glance at the bloody bundle of cop in the yard.
“Are you okay?” Connor enquired, as he gently lay Jessie down on her couch. He hadn’t ever been inside her living room before, although he had seen it on the way to the kitchen. He didn’t look at it now. His eyes were on Jessie.
Her eyes and lips were swollen, and beginning to purple. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth.
“Aw, honey…” He cupped her face gently, wanting to go back outside and pound more life out of the guy who did this.
“You will be. Hang on a second.” He grabbed his cell phone, and called emergency services, never for a second thinking of himself. He knew he could go to jail for beating the man so badly, but he didn’t care.
When he was finished calling, she held her phone out to him. “Now, take pictures of me.” He obliged, taking pictures of her face from all angles. When he finished with her face, she stood shakily, and raised her shirt.
Connor inhaled deeply. Her perfect body had been beaten and bruised. The swelling was already evident. Nodding silently, he started snapping pictures with her phone. When he finished with her torso, she dropped her pants, and Connor almost wept when he saw the boot prints on her legs.
Snapping away with the phone, he asked her, “Does anything feel broken?”
“No. Just bruised. It hurts, bad though.” She said quietly. A siren sounded outside.
“Can you get yourself dressed?” Jessie nodded, and Connor went to open the front door.
He led a police officer back into the living room, while the other police officer stayed outside to check on Chad. Connor could see him talking into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder.
In the living room, Jessie had managed to sit up, and reached her hand out to Connor. He grasped it, and she clutched his hand tightly, as if drawing strength from him.
Connor sat next to Jessie and listened, while she told the police officer about Chad. As she talked about their past, their breakup, his continued advances, and the borderline stalking, Connor wondered briefly why she hadn’t called the cops on him before now.
When they turned their line of questioning to him, he explained how he had driven up and seen him kicking Jessie while she was on the ground, and how he just lost it. Connor was not apologetic. The only thing he was sorry for was there was probably no permanent damage done. He wished he had left something for the man to remember him by.
The police insisted that Jessie go to the emergency room, for official documentation of her injuries. Connor drove her there, her bruises purpling further. On the way, somebody must have made a phone call, because Judge Foster was waiting for them when they got into their semi-private area for treatment. Jessie closed her eyes against the vision and impotently wished she was back at home watching movies on her couch. Connor squeezed her hand reassuringly, reminding her of his presence. She squeezed back, grateful.
"Jessie, I cannot tell you how sorry I am that this happened." The older man clasped her other hand in both of his, in what she imagined he thought was a paternal gesture. If he had any memory of her paternal connections, he would have realized that was a bad idea.
"You know, I remember Sonny well. Sonny and I had a bit of a history, you might could say." Jessie groaned aloud, unable to hide her reluctance to talk about her dad in front of Connor, with Judge Foster, of all people. Apparently, he just didn't care that his paternal gesture was lost on her.
Judge Foster patted her hand one last time before releasing it, "I want to let you know, that if you choose to not press charges, I will be forever in your debt, Jessica. I have powerful connections." He reached over and squeezed her shoulder, eliciting a flinch from Jessie. "I think it might be time for
Chad to realize his potential in a different professional capacity. Maybe Huntsville would be a better fit for him? Hmm?" With this final cryptic comment, Judge Foster squeezed her shoulder one last time, turned and left, closing the curtain behind him.
Connor was silently fuming throughout this exchange. Jessie could feel his bodily jerks through his hand, continuously grasping hers. She looked up now, to see his jaw clenched, hard gaze fixed on the curtain where the Judge had left.
"Welcome to Serendipity, Connor." Jessie said softly.
"What do you mean? You're not seriously considering it, are you?"
"What's the point? If I press charges, his uncle will find a way to get him off. This way, Chad will be two hundred miles away, and the judge will owe me a favor. Maybe I could use it to my advantage…Win-win."
Chad gets away with beating the shit out of an innocent woman. Who wins there?"
Jessie sighed heavily, pretending she was in her own bed with her down comforter, instead of here in this portable hospital bed with the scratchy sheets and vinyl mattress. "You don't get it. Judge Foster is an elected official. He's a
County Judge, and has been forever. If it gets out that his nephew, who he probably helped to get that job in law enforcement, is an abuser, his career is over. He'd rather pull some strings and make everybody happy."
"I get that, Jessie." Connor's voice was gentle, but his words weren't. "What I don't get, is why you would let him do this."
"Because he's powerful. If I don't do this, he could find a way to shut down my business, some health code violation, impound my goats, something that would end me. Then I would not only have been abused, but I would be used as well." She closed her eyes against his steely blue stare. "I just need to think a while." Turning over to face the wall, she effectively ended the conversation.
Jessie heard the scrape of the chair as Connor pulled it up next to the bed, and felt his hand rest on her hip. The gesture comforted her, his light grip on her warmed her insides, made her feel as if he cared about her. She realized that no one had ever made her feel like that before.
"Connor?" she asked, hesitantly. She knew she wanted to ask, but wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.
"Hmm?" His low rumble made the pool of warmth expand in her belly.
"Why did you come back to the house?"
"I felt bad about the way I treated you earlier. I was upset about something else, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry for that." She rolled over in the bed to face him. The pain in his eyes was evident. "I wish I hadn't left you at all this morning."
She reached up, to push a lock of hair out of his eyes. "It's okay, Connor. You don't have to apologize."
He clasped her hand, gently. "I was awful at the restaurant."
"It's okay, Connor. You more than made up for it this afternoon." She smiled at him, trying to relieve some of his discomfiture. It didn't look like he was comfortable with the whole apology thing.
The doctor chose that moment to walk through the curtain. He was a young man, harried looking, with rings under his eyes, and a wrinkled lab coat that had the name Robert Evans stitched over the breast pocket.
"I've read over the reports, and looked at the x-rays, but just let me get a look at you myself." The doctor efficiently prodded and poked Jessie, grunting in thought as he did. "You should see the other guy…" He muttered under his breath, obviously an old joke to the ER doc. Finally, standing up straight, he appraised Jessie, then Connor.
"You can go home. I'm keeping the other over night." Looking to Connor, "You did a number on him. He's much worse off than she is."
Connor grunted in approval, his eyes not leaving Jessie.
"The nurse will bring in your release papers. Motrin for the inflammation and pain should make you feel better." He spun abruptly and was out the curtain to the next waiting patient.
Connor expelled a deep breath, startling Jessie. He rose and walked over to the bed Jessie was in, and sat on the edge. “Are you going to be okay, Jess?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry I ever met
Chad.” She sat up, gingerly, and leaned against Connor's chest, breathing in his comfort. He put his arm around her and pulled her close.
Connor's heart broke for Jessie when she raised her head to look up at him, and he saw the bruises darkening around her eyes.
“Yeah.” He said gruffly. “Now I see why you keep a gun in the barn.”
“Nah. That one’s for snakes and stuff. He’s why I carry a gun in my purse. I just wish I’d had it today.”
He stiffened in surprise. “You carry a gun in your purse?”
“Yeah. A .380 with crimson trace laser grips. It’s pretty sexy.” She smiled, grimacing as the pain in her face set in.
Connor’s voice deepened, as he drew her closer to him. “You’re pretty sexy.” His arm around her shoulder fingered her hair, stroking its silkiness.
“Even with a puffy face?”
“I wish I’d killed him.” Connor growled at her.
“So. What does this make us?” She asked hesitantly.
He faced her, and held her hand, stroking the knuckles, feeling the roughness of her work-hardened skin.
Taking a deep breath to steel himself for this conversation, he dove in. “Jessie. At the least, we’re friends. I’ve been telling myself for a long time I can’t have a relationship. Today changed that for me. I came over to tell you about it. What I found when I got to your house sealed the deal.” He touched her face, tenderly, tracing the bruise around her mouth. “I want to be with you. How do you feel about that?”
She took a deep breath, as if steeling herself, and Connor felt a let down. Here was where she was going to give him a reason they couldn’t pursue this. And he would have to abide by it. There was no way he would force his affections on her after what she’d dealt with today.
“I’ve wanted you since the first time I saw you at the Gin.” She shifted in the bed, finding a more comfortable spot, her hand on his chest. “In fact, I probably would have tried to bring you home with me, if it weren’t for
Chad. That’s pretty much my MO.” Connor stiffened at the information. “Chad’s the last guy I took home from the Gin. He pretty much ruined me for strange men. And he was giving me shit that night, so I really wasn’t in the mood.” She laid her head down on his chest. “But as we got to know each other, I realized the attraction we have is definitely real. Every chance you gave me, I took. Even though my business is my world, and a relationship with you would put that in jeopardy.” Her voice trailed off.
“Why?” What could a relationship with him possible do to jeopardize her business?
“Well, nothing ever lasts with me. We will break up, eventually. And you’ll take your business elsewhere. That’s only natural. I can’t afford to lose your business. You’re my loan payment.” He could feel her smile against his chest.
Connor stroked her hair. He could deal with this.
“So, you’ve been afraid to start something with me because we might break up?”
“That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.”
She sat up and looked at him. “What?”
“That’s like not driving because you’re afraid of having a car accident, or not walking because you’re afraid of falling down. You’ve got to take risks, Jessie.”
“I’m just not sure I can risk my business for a good fuck.”
He chuckled, a deep throaty rumbly sound. “As flattered as I am by that statement, I must disagree.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “How about this. How about, we date. As long as we’re together, I’ll do whatever I can to help you grow your business so you aren’t totally dependent on me. That way, whenever we break up, as you are so positive we will, and I quit buying the best chevre I have ever tasted, you will have enough other customers to keep yourself afloat. Deal?”
She looked at him warily. “That sounds ridiculous.”
He closed in on her, bringing his face within inches of hers. “No more ridiculous than you not starting something with me because you think it will end.” He brushed his lips against hers gently, taking care not to hurt her bruises. Entwining his fingers around the back of her neck, he leaned his forehead against hers. “Besides. I need you too badly to end it anytime soon.”