Authors: Eva Charles
Cassie shook her head while tears trickled down her cheeks. “You don’t understand. If he rejects me, I’ll know it’s over this time. When I lie in bed alone at night, I’ll know. I won’t be able to fantasize about fate intervening to bring us back together someday. I don’t know if I can survive that blow.”
“You’re stronger than you think.”
Cassie shrugged. “I don’t know about strong, but I’m confused and conflicted.”
“Are you willing to give him a chance? Does he deserve it? More importantly, do you deserve it? He might reject you, but you might go on to have a great love affair, one that lasts a lifetime. You’ll never know unless you put your heart on the line. Everyone who enters into a relationship takes an emotional risk, not just survivors. You’ve battled a demon much fiercer than anything Drew can create for you.”
Cassie’s mind was moving a mile a minute through the swamp in her head, but like a sprinter running in place, her efforts took her nowhere. “I hoped talking to you today would bring me some clarity, but it hasn’t.”
“Maybe you don’t need clarity. Maybe you already have the answers you’re searching for.”
Cassie blew her nose one last time, and picked up her purse from the floor. “Thank you for seeing me again. Will this time work next week?”
“The appointment’s available. It’s yours if you want it.”
Cassie nodded. “Yes, please.”
“Loving is a delightfully scary business, like no other. And I’m sure the one-sided relationship you’ve had with Drew in your head all these years has satisfied some small part of you. But it must get lonely. You survived, Cassie. Maybe it’s time to live.”
* * *
Cassie’s picture popped up on Drew’s phone. “This is a nice surprise.”
“I’m sorry about the way I behaved on Friday night. I didn’t mean to freak out. It’s just that I’ve been a whirlwind of emotion since you walked into Lola’s. And I know I’ve been sending mixed signals, hot and cold, drawing you into my emotional storm. I’m trying to sort through my feelings, but it hasn’t been easy.”
“I’m sorry, too. When I’m around you, I forget that we were apart for so many years and I fall right back into old times, old ways. You’re not ready for that. I get it, and I’ll try to be more sensitive.”
“It’s not that. It’s … I’m afraid to risk my heart,” she said quietly, so quietly he could barely hear her.
His own heart toppled into his stomach, and he blew out a long, loud whoosh of air. “Cassie, you need to decide if I’m man enough to take a chance on, if I’ve grown up in a way that still interests you. But your heart is at no risk with me. I loved you as a college girl, and I love the woman you’ve grown up to be. Your heart’s safe with me. It always has been.”
“I want us to have another chance,” she sniffled. “I want it more than anything—please believe that. But it’s not as easy for me as it is for you.”
“The team’s in Philly on Sunday. Want to meet me for lunch, maybe take a walk through Reading Terminal Market? Or I can come to you after the game if it’s easier.”
“No, Philly on Sunday sounds great. It’s less than an hour by train if I take the Acela.”
“Come early so we can have the whole day together. I’ll need to be at the park by five-thirty. I guess I shouldn’t ask if you want to spend the night—I mean not together, or anything. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to share…”
“Baby steps, Drew. That’s all I can do right now. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I’ve been moving awfully fast, because I’m afraid of losing you again. But I can do slow if it’s what you need. I’m prepared to give you time and space to work through everything. As much as you need.”
* * *
They spent the day together in Philadelphia, and he flew into Baltimore twice the following week, and three times the week after that. Sometimes he visited just for the day, and other times he spent the night at a hotel near her apartment.
Cassie had made brunch, and they were finishing the dishes, dawdling, each dreading the impending good-bye. He needed to be back in Boston by late afternoon, and there were few precious minutes left to squeeze out of the day. Their good-byes were becoming increasingly difficult, and the pain of separation lingered longer each time he left.
“Tomorrow we leave for a West Coast road trip, and I’ll be back just once before Cole’s wedding,” he said drying his hands and tossing the dishtowel on the counter behind him.
“I’ll miss you. Maybe we can FaceTime?”
, sounds like a plan.” Capturing her mouth with his, he ran his tongue along the seam of her lips, slipping inside when her soft gasps made way for him. He wanted more of her, he wanted all of her, but there was something, something always hanging between them, lurking, signaling him not to steal second. And it was there now, too. So he stayed firmly on first, satisfying himself with the contours of her moist mouth, and the slick flesh of her tongue.
“Come to the wedding with me. My family has always loved you.”
“Cole’s wedding? I don’t know.”
“We’ll stay in separate rooms.”
He kept his arms wrapped around her, but moved his head back so he could meet her eyes. “This is a big deal for me. My oldest brother’s getting married. The first Harrington to take the big plunge.”
“It’ll be hard without your parents,” she said softly, cradling his jaw.
He nestled his cheek into her caress. “Yeah … it’ll be hard,” he sighed, “but that’s not why I want you there. It’ll be a special occasion, full of hope for the future, for our family. I’d like to share it with you.”
She grasped him tighter. “Oh Drew … that’s so sweet … so unbelievably, heart-meltingly sweet. How can I say no?”
“Do you really think it’s a good idea? Maybe it’s too soon. Everyone’s going to think we’re back together.”
“We are—exclusively, right, Cass?” He focused intently on her, studying her face, waiting for an answer.
“What’s so funny?”
“You have that Harrington look on, like you’re getting ready to pummel any male within arm’s reach.”
“Cassie. I’m still waiting, here.”
“Let’s think about the wedding.”
“I’m not asking about the wedding right now.”
“Come on, Drew, what’s gotten into you? We promised to give this a try, and I made a commitment. Of course I won’t date anyone else. You know me better than that.”
His expression softened. “I won’t either.”
“I knew that without asking. I know the kind of man you are. Some things are so ingrained in a person’s character, so much a part of who they are, that they never change.” She worked the kinks from the back of his neck, until his head fell into her hands.
“I love you, Cassie. That’s a part of who I am too.”
Tracing his lips with her tongue, she caught his lower lip between her teeth, but she never waved him on to second.
Cassie adored Drew’s family. Brown was only about thirty minutes from their home at Meadows Shore, so she’d spent a lot of time with them when she and Drew were together. They came for games, or just to visit, and she and Drew made the trip home many times to pick up something he needed, grab a home-cooked meal, or just enjoy some time away from school. Since she was an only child, it was always a treat to be around all his brothers and cousins. Her parents were immigrants too, and their families shared some of the same old country values. Not only had she been welcomed with open arms, but she’d been right at home, from the first visit.
It was exciting to be at the wedding, and with so many eyes and ears around, there was no chance of something more intimate happening with Drew. Not this weekend. She could let herself go, and enjoy him without worrying about where it might lead them.
He still didn’t know about the cancer, but she was meeting with Dr. Ritchie regularly, working up the courage to tell him, and bolstering her sense of self in case…
“Dance with me,” he whispered in her ear, lipping the lobe in a way that made her shudder.
She was helpless to resist, and let him tuck her under his arm on the way to the dance floor. “We’ve been dancing all night. When did you start loving to dance so much?”
“It’s the only time I get to touch you, run my hands over your gorgeous body.”
He pulled her against him, and she closed her eyes, letting herself mold to him. She could feel how much he wanted her, and she was aroused beyond anything she’d felt in years. Using both hands, she skated over his back in long sweeps. He’d taken off his jacket, and she could feel every muscle, every tendon, through the thin shirt. He groaned when her fingers caressed his neck, skin against skin. Lowering his head, he found her mouth, swallowing the tiny moans escaping from her throat. They kissed as though they were the only two people in the room.
“Everyone’s watching,” she gasped, panting for air.
“I don’t care,” he said dipping toward her mouth again.
“We can’t, not here.”
It was all the encouragement he needed:
we can’t, not here.
To him, it meant,
we can somewhere else
, so he whisked her outside, behind the barn, before she changed her mind. From their secluded spot, they could still hear the music. “Dance with me.”
Her hands made their way across his shoulders, and down his back. She pressed her hips into him, rocking against the hard bulge, swaying until they were both practically delirious.
, I’ve waited so long for you to kiss me like this, so damn long.” And he explored her mouth, their tongues playing off each other like a finely tuned orchestra.
Feverish, she forgot to be on guard until he skimmed his hand over her breast, making her leap back.
“Hey, baby, what’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” he pulled her toward him, working a soothing hand up and down her spine.
“Nothing,” she panted. “We shouldn’t do this here. Someone might walk in on us.”
“So what? We’re both adults. No harm as long as we keep our clothes on. Although you don’t have to.” He nipped at her lower lip. “I can’t imagine anyone would complain about seeing your gorgeous body naked. But then I’d have to kill them, and that might put a damper on the wedding,” he said whispering into her skin, alternating between nipping at the soft flesh of her neck, and laving it with his hot tongue.
“I should get back to the hotel. My flight leaves early in the morning.” She was panting like she’d run a marathon.
“I’ll go back with you.”
“No.” The sharpness of her tone, the finality of the single word, made him step back.
“You need to stay with your family until the wedding’s over.” Her voice was gentler now, but every muscle was tight, and she was queasy.
“Don’t be afraid of what’s happening between us, Cass. Please don’t be afraid. We don’t need to finish this tonight.” He pulled back her hair from her face, combing the thick glossy length between his fingers. “We can stop well short of the end. You have my word. But I’d like to kiss you some more. Touch you in ways that make you beg for relief. Like I used to. I want to feel you come apart in my arms … all night long. I don’t need to be inside you for that to happen.”
He had one hand planted on each side of her face, and she rested her hands over his. “Not tonight.”
He looked over her, up at the stars dotting the expansive Midwestern sky, and then into her eyes.
She could feel his frustration, the energy throbbing between them. But it was the defeat that she saw in his eyes that made her heart clench. “You said you’d give me time. I need a little more … please,” she begged.
“A little more, Cass, just a little more. I think that’s all I have in me.”
* * *
Lying in the hotel bed, Cassie thought about the wedding. It had been beautiful. Cole was so happy, and he looked at Alexa like she hung the moon and every one of the stars.
She wanted that too, and her stomach knotted. Sure, Drew looked at her like she spun straw into gold—now. But he hadn’t seen her naked, or heard her sad story, and when he did, the aura would surely be tarnished.
No more negative self-talk tonight. She needed to talk to Reece, who was the only person who wouldn’t put up with her self-pity. And with a witty remark or two, she’d have her laughing in no time. Even cancer hadn’t been a subject too serious for Reece to inject some humor. She’d made her laugh at a time when nothing seemed all that funny, and she’d taught her to find humor in the darkest corners.
Cassie glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand, and after calculating the time difference, she reached for her phone.
“Reece, did I wake you?”
“No. Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I’m in Minnesota.”
“Minnesota? Oh, yeah, the wedding. How was it?”
“How about being with Drew’s family?”
“After about ten minutes, all the years melted away.”
“You haven’t told him.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you wouldn’t be chatting with me right now, you’d be using your mouth in more creative ways.”
“I can’t find it in me, Reece. I love having him back in my life, so much so that it’s making it impossible to tell him. I want things to go on like they are.”
“They can’t. Eventually he’s going to insist you have sex. I’m shocked he’s waited all this time. If I remember, he was a horny bastard. And so were you. All over each other like the rest of the world didn’t exist.”
She swallowed hard, and massaged her tight, painful forehead. “I think he’s running out of patience. I’ve become an insufferable whiner and a tease, leading him on and then pulling back. I can’t stand it.”
“Think about how he feels.”
“Cassie, you’ve had sex since the mastectomy. I know it’s not easy to begin with a new lover, and it’s particularly difficult now because you’re so invested in him, but honestly, this is ridiculous. I’m just going to say it: Ned is a douchebag. I’d lop off his balls, but I’m quite certain he doesn’t have any.”
“I thought you liked him.”
“Who could like a man with a handshake like that? I’ve handled firmer wet noodles. I don’t know how your father put up with him…”
“I’m sure my parents felt like I did, that I was lucky to have him, given my circumstances.”
“Bullshit. Your parents have never seen you as anything but perfect. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t like it.”
“I know. I know. I don’t like it either.”
“I tolerated Ned for your sake, because you kept saying you loved him. But after having an up-close and personal look at your relationship with Drew all those years, I always thought you were settling when it came to Ned. And I never thought he was right for you. I always thought he was better suited to Minnie Mouse.”
“Yes. Maybe he has a shot now, didn’t she and Kermit break up?”
“That was Miss Piggy.”
“Well that’s not going to work. Miss Piggy has too much personality for Ned.”
“I can’t believe you’ve waited, been able to wait. Drew looks so good, even I thought about jumping his bones when I saw him in Providence—and he’s so not my type.”
“He’s anyone’s type. He could have anyone.”
“But he’s only ever wanted you. Cass, you’ve got to tell him. You know I’ll stand by you no matter what you decide, but after watching the two of you together at Jay’s wedding—you owe it to him, and you owe it to yourself. Put on your big girl panties, and make sure they’re clean and they match your bra, because he’s probably going to see them, and I know how much you care about that sort of thing. And tell him.”
“I will,” she whispered.
“Not convincing. Say it again.”
“Sooner, rather than later.”
“Cass, can we finish this tomorrow? I wasn’t asleep, but I was still in bed.”
“With a hot sailor?”
“Scorching hot. “
“Tell him I said hello, and I’m sorry for interrupting.”
“Hmmm. From the way my sheet’s tenting, I don’t think we’ll be doing much talking.”
“Too much information!”
Reece was right. She needed to tell him. Waiting was only making it more difficult, and he knew something was up. His eyes were always searching hers for answers, answers she didn’t know how to give him.
* * *
“I still can’t believe Cole’s married,” Jake Harrington said taking a swig from a long-necked bottle. “So who’s next, you?”
“Me? Forget it. But Drew, he’s back with little Cassie,” said Mark poking at his brother.
No one had been ready to turn in after they got back to the hotel from the wedding, so the Harrington brothers commandeered a couple of small tables at the back of the bar, and were waiting for their cousins to join them.
“How long have you been back together? And how come none of us knew about it?”
“A couple of months,” he said, sidestepping the second question.
“I always loved Cassie. Even though I was so much younger, she always made me feel like I was important. Always made sure to include me in whatever was happening, and she introduced me to all her friends when I went to visit at Brown.” Luke was the youngest of the Harringtons, and his brothers had treated him like a little kid long after he’d left the training wheels behind, but Cassie had gone out of her way to make him feel like he was part of everything they did.
“Yeah, you followed her around like a lost puppy hoping she’d throw you a bone … or a smile that would give you a boner.” Jake’s goading remark didn’t even earn him a scowl from Drew.
“Hey, I was just a kid, and she was like a rock star. Closest I’d ever been to a college girl I wasn’t related to, and she was so nice to me. Always brought me bags of Swedish fish and orange jelly beans when she came to visit. Give me some chewy candy, and I’ll be your friend forever. I’m easy, what can I say?” He shrugged.
“Surprised you’re down here with us. Where is she, with the girls?” As usual, Mark wasn’t going to let it go.
“Nah.” Drew took a swig from his glass.
“Did she leave already?”
“She’s staying at a hotel across town.”
“Did you guys have a fight?”
“No. What is this, the Inquisition? That’s why I didn’t say anything, because you ask too goddamn many questions.”
“You must have one hell of a technique, if your girlfriend—one who you went out with
—is staying across town instead of in your bed.”
His brothers snickered mercilessly.
He gripped his nearly full glass without saying a word, and with a few large gulps he finished his beer and grabbed the pitcher for a refill.
It got real quiet, real quick, around the table.
Mark watched him intently. “Hey, man. The appropriate response to that was something like ‘fuck you, asshole.’ I was just yankin’ your chain. I’m sure whatever’s going on has nothing to do with, you know, your skill in the bedroom.”
“Yeah, well, fuck you, asshole.” And Drew got up and left the table, passing his cousins Talia, Ella, and Helena, almost knocking them down on his way out of the bar.
“What was that about?” asked Ella pulling up a chair.
“He’s on the rag,” Mark answered without thinking, and Ella smacked him on the back of the head.
“Someone has to teach you.” She looked over at Will, for a better answer. “What happened?’
“I don’t know. Sounds like something’s up with Cassie and Drew.”
“Or maybe something’s not up,” said Mark, cruising for another sharp lesson.
Will gave his brother a pointed look. “She’s not staying here at the hotel with him.”