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Authors: Victoria H. Smith,Raven St. Pierre

Only Love

BOOK: Only Love
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ONLY LOVE: A Novel

 

Copyright 2014 by Victoria H. Smith & Raven St. Pierre

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, including electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person, living or dead, any place, events or occurrences, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Published by
BIZ-e-BEE, LLC

Cover Design by
Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign.com

Cover Models
Elly Olson
and
Gabriel Allen

Editing by
La Kata Kling
and
Taylor K’s Editing Services

Layout by
Scott Smith

 

 

 

The heavy wooden door slammed against the frame instead of latching. Like everything else in the building, it was broken and probably would be for several months—maybe even longer. Repositioning the eight grocery bags in my hands, I prepared my mind to climb four flights of stairs, because, you guessed it, the elevator was broken, too.

 Over the loud rumble of bass streaming from apartment 4A, and over the blaring television in 4C, I heard my daughter’s shrill cry as soon as I reached our hallway. That sound, her wailing like she was in a horror movie, had been my soundtrack for the past two weeks—she started teething again.

I fumbled with the keys, wanting nothing more than to get inside and pass out across my bed, but of course that wasn’t the way the evening would go. As if mocking me, my keys slipped from my numb fingers, which were awkwardly locked around the handles of my grocery bags. A long, frustrated sigh hissed from between my lips, and I crouched down to scoop them up, but halted when a deep, unfamiliar voice called out from behind me.

“Hang on. Let me get those for you.”

An arm covered in a thin layer of dark hair stretched to the floor and retrieved my fallen keys, gently placing them in my hand again. After accepting, I rested my eyes on the last person in this entire building I’d ever expect to help me—the cop who’d been assigned to live in our building to “babysit” my neighbors and myself. Rumor had it that he was supposed to be here to make us feel safer, but the city wasn’t fooling us. He was here to spy and report back. A snitch, if you will.

Giving him the side-eye, I looked him over. I’d seen him before, but had never allowed myself to really
look
at him until now, making this the first time I’d acknowledged he was attractive. And he definitely was. Being so close, there were a number of things I was able to take in for the first time—how blue his eyes were, his height, and the size of his arms. They were toned and defined just like the rest of his physique from what I could see through the material of his t-shirt and jeans. He wore a kind expression that caught me off guard, too. The look made his already handsome face even more so, drawing my attention to his lips and the slight cleft in his chin when a smile touched his mouth.

“I can take these,” he offered.

Before I could even protest, my left hand was relieved of the bags it cradled. Then the right was freed, too. He managed them with ease while I stood there, staring instead of unlocking the door. It was Marissa’s cry that pulled me from my thoughts. It seemed like she’d gotten louder in just the few seconds I’d been standing there. The moment I crossed the threshold, her eyes darted toward me—eyes I felt like I’d been staring into for most of my life. Her
father’s
eyes.

Gabby, my go-to sitter, quickly handed her off to me, and Marissa squeezed her tiny arms around my neck. She was a little feverish again and her tear-soaked cheek pressed against mine as she latched on. As my concern for her grew, I became less aware of the stranger standing behind me in the doorway, holding the bags of food.

“She’s been screaming nonstop for the past hour. I didn’t want to bother you in class, but I didn’t know what to do.” From the look on Gabby’s face, it was safe to say that Marissa had really put her through the wringer. Snacks were littered across the coffee table and almost every single toy I’d ever purchased was scattered about the living room. Clearly, Gabby had pulled out all the stops and nothing was working.

“I gave her the medicine on time and tried to get her to take that teething ring, but I think it might have irritated her gums even more,” Gabby continued to explain.

I placed a hand on her arm, letting her know I knew she’d done all she could. “It’s not your fault, Sweetie.”

Relieved, Gabby’s eyes shifted toward the door and it wasn’t until then that I noticed the man who’d kind of rescued me a moment ago. He hesitated for a fraction of a second when our eyes locked, and then without waiting for an invitation, he entered my apartment and took my groceries to the kitchen counter.

“What’s he doing here?” Gabby mouthed silently.

My only response was to shake my head. Truthfully,
I
wasn’t really sure what he was doing here either; he could’ve dropped my bags at the door and left as far as I was concerned.

I bounced Marissa and rubbed her back, which soothed her a little—at least enough to allow me to now gather my thoughts to speak to Gabby. “You get your homework done?”

She shook her head, and I immediately felt guilty, knowing Marissa’s fussiness was to blame. I reached into my back pocket and took out the ten-dollar bill I had there. When I shoved it in the front pocket of Gabby’s backpack resting on the arm of the couch, she started to object, but didn’t when she saw the stern look on my face. She hated that I paid her, but knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’d been there for me more than my own family had, saved me more times than I could count when I didn’t have anyone else to babysit.

“Thanks,” she finally conceded. Situating the straps on her shoulders, she leaned in. “Night, Rissa. Feel better,” she said before kissing my daughter on the forehead over my shoulder.

“See you in the morning,” I called out just as she stepped into the hallway and disappeared.

A tall figure emerged from the dimly lit kitchen and cast a shadow just in front of my television. Reluctantly, and a little bit confused, I looked up at the officer who somehow ended up inside my personal space. I noted again how handsome he was—those eyes, those lips, his large, toned arms; however, his looks didn’t overshadow the fact that he was unwelcomed in this building,
and especially
in
my apartment.

“Thanks for your help, but you didn’t have to bring my things in. I could’ve handled it,” I informed him, not wanting to give him the impression that his kind gesture changed my views of what he represented.

My cold tone seemed to go in one ear and out the other when he spoke. “She teething?” he asked casually, removing his hand from the pocket of his light-denim jeans just long enough to point toward Marissa.

Still working to settle her, I only nodded to confirm.

He took a step closer and my eyes shifted down to his feet, sending out a silent warning for him to keep his distance. When he didn’t come closer, I assumed he got the hint.

“I heard your sitter mention that she wouldn’t take the teething ring. If her gums are sore, she probably won’t,” he added.

I said nothing. Instead, I just stared, wondering where he was going with all this.

“Try wetting one of her washcloths and sticking it in the freezer for a bit. Thirty to forty minutes tops. The cold will relieve some of the throbbing, and it’s softer than those hard rings you get at the store.”

I rubbed Marissa’s back, but still didn’t acknowledge his advice.

“Do you have any small sandwich bags?” he asked. “If not, I think I have some I could grab for you if—”

“I have some,” I said sharply, causing him to purse his lips.

He stared.

I stared.

“So, yeah… just try that. Or don’t. Totally up to you,” he added under his breath, turning his back toward me when my cold disposition sent him scrambling for an exit.

It only took a fraction of a second for me to feel bad. Regardless of what I thought about his occupation and his assignment here in this building, he’d been kind to me tonight. And as much as I wanted him to feel as uncomfortable as the residents in this building feel, as much as I wanted to dislike him, I found it strangely difficult to stick to any of that with him standing here. At the moment, he wasn’t just the officer assigned to live in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit. He became human. Just a guy helping a girl with her groceries and her crying baby.

“Hold up.”

He halted at the sound of my voice and turned to stare with those baby blues, causing me to hesitate when I again noted how beautiful they were.

“Thank you. You know, for the groceries… and for the advice,” I blurted.

A gracious smile tugged at one corner of his mouth, and I found myself liking that particular expression almost as much as I liked his eyes.

“You’re welcome. I hope that trick works out for you.
Both
of you,” he added when Marissa stopped crying long enough to notice him. The officer gave her a small wave and grinned her way. To my surprise, she smiled back, despite the fact that she still had fresh tears in her eyes.

“And if you need anything, I’m only one floor up. 5C,” he offered, despite the fact that I hadn’t asked.

I nodded. “Thanks again.”

“No problem. Name’s Adam, by the way.”

His hand extended toward me, and I wasn’t sure if I should shake it or not. Marissa, now silent and still clinging to my neck, stared at Adam long and hard just like I did.

Finally, trying to hide my skepticism, I returned the gesture. “Aubrey.”

Adam smirked a bit as I softened up. His hands were cool to the touch, and soft, but not too soft. Despite the strength I was positive those hands held, his grip on mine was surprisingly gentle.

No other words were spoken as he left me to my usual nightly routine of dinner, bathing Marissa, and then bed. While she ate, I took one of her cloths from the basket of unfolded laundry and did the steps Adam had recited, fully believing in my heart it was all for nothing. None of the pain relievers had done a thing, so certainly there was no way something this simple would solve the problem.

I went about my night as usual, and when I was done, I retrieved the cloth from the freezer just before trying to lay Marissa in her crib.

“We’re gonna try something new tonight,” I said to her as I shut off the lights in the apartment on the way to her bedroom, balancing her small body on my hip. She sniffed back a few tears, and I was already dreading the process of trying to get her to bed. What used to take about twenty minutes, now took a couple hours, which meant I was missing out on quite a bit of sleep by the end of the week.

Sitting in the mauve recliner in the corner of Marissa’s bedroom, I handed her the semi-frozen cloth, watching her inspect it in her tiny hands like I knew she would. She never just made things easy. In that way, she was a lot like her father.

I watched with an air of skepticism as she took the cloth to her lips and eventually began to squeeze it between her sore gums on the side where the new tooth was trying to come through. Instantly, I saw a change in her demeanor. She relaxed in my arms and rested her head against my chest. The tears that threatened to spill a moment ago were now dry, and for the first time in days, I had a glimmer of hope that I’d get to bed at a decent hour.

Within fifteen minutes, she had taken her medicine to keep the pain away throughout the night and drifted off in my arms. She didn’t even stir when I put her down in her crib. I stood there in her doorway, amazed at how well Adam’s technique had worked. Now I had yet another reason to thank him.

With the extra time before bed, I took to the computer to check my email. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach as my eyes lingered on the first name I came across—Javier Ruiz. A lifetime of memories, both good
and
bad, flooded my mind. I stared at the screen and swiped away the single tear that fell, missing him and secretly being grateful for the distance all at the same time. Knowing whatever this message said would rob me of the peaceful night I thought I’d have, I opened and read its contents.

BOOK: Only Love
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