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Authors: M. Leighton

Fragile (28 page)

BOOK: Fragile
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Situating his body at her entrance, Hardy eased a fraction of his length into Miracle.  “I love you, Miracle,” he whispered.  “You’re mine,” he said, inching his way forward a bit more, “and I’m yours,” he added, moving further in.  “Forever.”  And with that, he pushed his way quickly past the obstruction, making Miracle a woman.  His woman.

He heard the breath hiss through her teeth and saw her squeeze her eyes shut.  He paused to give her time to accommodate his size, scattering tender kisses across her face until he saw her relax.  When she began to move beneath him, he flexed his hips a tiny bit as his lips found hers.  Within seconds, their passion returned and rose to fever pitch, as it always did.

Hardy held onto his control with gargantuan effort as he moved slowly inside Miracle.  He felt her short fingernails digging into the skin of his back, which only served to further inflame him.  He groaned when she sank her teeth into his bottom lip and lifted her hips to meet his thrust. 

He increased his tempo, driving his body more and more deeply into hers.  He heard the soft purring in the back of her throat and felt his control slipping.  When Miracle nipped at his earlobe and whispered to him, “Now,” it was Hardy’s undoing.

Ravaging her mouth with his, Hardy took them both to the edge of oblivion.  He felt Miracle’s muscles clench as she tipped over it.  It was more than he could bear.  Abandoning himself to the most intense pleasure he’d ever experienced, Hardy followed her over the cliff and melted into the sweet waves of their joint climax.

********

A loud banging woke Hardy the next morning.  Someone was knocking on his door—hard—but despite the rude awakening, he felt himself smile.  He was still on cloud nine.

Crawling out of bed, he went to answer the door.  Wayne Bradford stood on the other side, seething.  Hardy could read rage in every tense line of his face and body.

“What did I do now?” Hardy asked, rubbing a hand across his face and turning to sit on the edge of his bed until he was fully awake.

“I got a call from Dean Wittison yesterday evening.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that you’d withdrawn from their football program.”

Hardy could’ve screamed.  “He wasn’t supposed to say anything.”

“Oh, so you were just going to hide it from me?  For how long, Hardy?  Did you think I wouldn’t find out?”

Hardy stood.  “I knew you’d find out eventually.  I’m not stupid and neither are you.  I was going to tell you. I was just waiting for the right time.”

“And when was that?”

“When I’d gotten a job and enrolled in community college.”


Community college?”

“Yes, Dad.  Community college.  What’s wrong with that?”

“What serious football player has ever come from a community college?”

“Cam N—”

“That was a rhetorical question,” he snapped, interrupting Hardy.  “Besides, it doesn’t matter.  We had it all planned out, Hardy.  Even after you nearly ruined it, I managed to get some good schools interested in you.  How could you do this?”

“You take this so personally, Dad, like I’m doing it
to you. 
Well, it’s not
your life. 
It’s mine.  And this is just something I’ve decided I want to do.”

Wayne Bradford fumed, his lips thinning into a slit.  “This is about her, isn’t it?”

“Don’t bring Miracle into this Dad.”

“I didn’t. You did.  Months ago when you threw away your future for a piece of a—”

Hardy was in his father’s face, cutting him off before he could finish such an insulting sentence.  “Stop right there,” he warned quietly.  “It’s not like that.  If all I wanted was a whore, I could’ve taken my pick from the bimbos at school.  Whether you like it or not, Dad, I’m in love with Miracle and I have every intention of marrying her if she’ll have me.”

“Well, of course she’ll have you.  Why wouldn’t she?  She’s struck gold.”

“That’s exactly why I’m getting a job.  I don’t want your money.  I don’t want anything from you.  Just leave me alone.  In a few more months I’ll be out of your hair and you won’t ever have to see me again.”

“Are you sure you want to leave this house that way, Hardy?  Because you’ll never be welcome back.  Are you sure you never want to see your brother again?”

Hardy’s father’s eyes sparkled with an evil insinuation Hardy had never seen before.  Wayne Bradford knew which buttons to push.  He’d been playing Hardy all along.

“You knew.”

“Knew what?” Wayne asked snidely.

“You knew the only reason I went along with all your plans, put up with all your bullshit was to protect Clay.  And you let me. You used that to control me.”

“I’ve never laid a hand on your brother and you know it. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Hardy raised his hand and pressed his finger into the center of his father’s chest.  “Let me tell you, if you ever lay a hand on either of them, a
finger
on either of them, I’ll ruin you.  You mark my words.”

All the fear Hardy had lived under for most of his life suddenly didn’t seem so insurmountable.  If Miracle could be brave enough to face death, Hardy could be brave enough to face his father.

“And just what do you think you’re going to do about it?  Especially when you’re not living here.”

Hardy smiled in satisfaction, having dreamed of this moment since he was a little boy—the moment he could call his father’s bluff.

“Do you remember the year you got me that camera for Christmas?  The digital one?”

Wayne’s brow wrinkled, but unease was written all over his face.  He nodded.

“That was a big mistake,” Hardy declared smugly, crossing his arms over his chest.  He smelled victory in the air.

“Just what are you saying?”

“I took pictures—lots of pictures—of the worst of the damage. I saved them to a CD and hid them.   I was always too afraid to use them, afraid for Mom and Clay.”

“You’ve played football since you were six years old. Kids get bruised,” Wayne stated, shrugging as if unconcerned, but he wasn’t fooling Hardy.

Hardy hadn’t realized the depth of his father’s sickness until that very moment.  He’d always thought his father was grooming him to be a pro football player from an early age.  And, to some degree, Hardy was sure he was.  But he’d also done it to cover his tracks, to give doubt to any claims or suspicions Hardy might make.

“Did you know the camera had a date stamp?  And that there are quite a few pictures from the spring and summer?”

He didn’t need to add
nowhere near football season;
it was strongly implied.  And Wayne understood that.  He paled beneath his perfect tan.

“No one would—”

Hardy interrupted, feeling empowered.  “It doesn’t matter, Dad.  You know as well as I do that the suspicion alone would ruin you.  An upstanding member of the community being accused of child abuse.  A long, drawn out, very public court battle.  And if another family member showed up with bruises…or accusations…”

“You wouldn’t do that.”  But he wasn’t convinced.  Not really.

“Wouldn’t I?  Wouldn’t I, Dad?  Try me.  Lay a finger on Mom or Clay and try me.”

After a long pause, during which Wayne Bradford came to the realization that his son was no longer playing by his rules, Hardy’s father spoke again.  “So what is it that you want?  For me to support you and your sickly girlfriend?”

Hardy snorted.  His father really was a bastard.  “No.  I just want you to stay out of my life.  And to keep your hands off Mom and Clay. That’s all I want from you.  Beyond that, I don’t care if you drop dead in the shower tomorrow.  You’ve hurt me enough to last a lifetime.  I’m done with you.”  Hardy spat.  “I’m done with you.”

Pushing past his dumbstruck father, Hardy made his way to the bathroom.  His heart was beating like a jackhammer against his ribs and he was a little shaky, but he was no worse for the wear.  He stood in front of the mirror studying his reflection for a long time before he smiled.  He was finally free.  They all were.

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Miracle had already changed into her hospital gown. Kelly St. James was folding her clothes and putting them into the suitcase that rested on the vinyl reclining chair in the corner.  Hardy was holding Miracle’s hand.  Absently, he ran the fingers of his other hand alongside the graft she would no longer need after today.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, even though she hadn’t mentioned fear.  He could read it all over her face, in her too-bright smile. He knew her too well.  “You’re gonna be fine.  Better than fine.”

Miracle smiled.  “I’ll be peeing like a champion in no time.”

Hardy chuckled.  “Everyone’s dream…”

He glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearly seven a.m.  Time for him to go.  He cleared his throat.

“Well, they’ll be coming for you in a while.  I’ll let you rest, okay?”

Miracle’s brows drew together.  “You’re leaving?”

“Well, I, um, I don’t want to tire you out before, uh, you know.  You need to be rested going into this thing, right?” Hardy stammered.

Miracle tried to smile, but Hardy could see that she’d gotten the wrong impression.  “Sure. I mean, I’m sure you’re right.”  She looked away from him, blinking quickly several times before asking her mother for her purse.  Kelly eyed Hardy as she carried Miracle’s purse to the bed.  Unzipping it, Miracle withdrew an envelope and handed it to Hardy.  “I wanted you to see this before I went in to surgery.  You know, just in case…”

“Just in case nothing! Give it to me after.”

“No, Hardy.  We have to be realistic.  There’s always a chance things might not go as planned.”

“Don’t say things like that,” Hardy reiterated in exasperation.  “I told you—”

“I know, I know.  Please.  Just open it.”

The envelope was already open.  It had his name on it, but Miracle’s street address.  It said University of North Florida in the upper left corner.

Hardy reached inside and removed the single piece of paper.  Unfolding it, he read and then re-read the words.

“Wha-what is this?”  He was thoroughly confused.

“Please don’t get mad.  I only did it because I love you,” Miracle said, her chin quivering. 

“But what did you do?  I don’t understand.”

Miracle played nervously with her IV tubing, refusing to meet his eyes.  “When you broke your hand and took all those amazing pictures of the football games you missed, you left some we’d just developed at the house one night.  When it looked like you might not be able to get a full ride to LSU on a football scholarship, I printed a copy of your essay from my laptop and submitted it with those photos to a couple colleges with really good art programs.  I just wanted to see.  I mean, I
knew
you were good enough, but I knew you wouldn’t do anything about it because of your dad.”  Miracle paused, looking up at him from under her lashes.  “So I did.”

Hardy just stared at Miracle for at least two minutes, digesting what she’d said, what she’d done.  When still he couldn’t find the words to thank her, to tell her how much he loved her, how much her belief in him affected him, he hooked a finger beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his.

Staring deeply into her eyes, Hardy prayed that all he felt for her would show, that she could see what he couldn’t find the words to say.  When her lips curved into a tremulous smile, he cupped her face in his hands and pressed his forehead to hers, closing his eyes.

Hardy whispered, just loud enough for Miracle to hear, “Someday I’ll marry you, Miracle.  And maybe someday after that, I’ll deserve you.”

Hardy heard a faint sob and, without opening his eyes, he pressed his lips to hers.  He felt her shaking against him, knew what she was feeling.

Opening his eyes and leaning back a couple of inches, Hardy wiped the tears streaming from her eyes with his thumbs. 

“I was dead inside until you came along.  Now I can’t imagine my life without you.  Not for a single day.  I’d miss you too much.”

“You wouldn’t miss me,” she sniffled.

“Nah, you’re probably right.  I only miss you a little now.  When I’m awake.  When I’m asleep.  When I’m breathing.”  When Miracle finally met his gaze, Hardy let his heart pour into his eyes.  “My life is nothing without you, Miracle.  Nothing.  I love you.  Do you hear me?  I
love
you!”

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

Just then, a nurse cleared her throat from the doorway.  Hardy turned to look at her.  He knew why she was there; he was late.

“I have to let you go.  I love you.  I’ll see you on the other side.”

Giving Miracle a quick kiss, Hardy hurried out the door.

********

Miracle didn’t know what to think.  She’d thought at first that Hardy had realized the transplant was just too much, that having a girlfriend on a pharmacy of medications for the rest of her life was not what he signed up for. 

But then…the things he’d said.  She leaned her head back against the pillow and closed her eyes, warm tears still leaking out from beneath her lowered lashes. 

BOOK: Fragile
5.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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