Grace arrived at the hospital close to midnight with Kelly in tow. Dan had phoned her with a rather cryptic message and she’d slipped on loose-fitting blue jeans and a long, bulky sweater before sweeping a light coating of make-up on her face. Tying her spirals into a make-shift pony tail that clung to her back, she’d awakened Kelly and told her to get dressed. She’d never leave the girl alone, regardless of how wonderful their security system may have been.
Now the two of them marched down the hospital hall toward room 308, where Diana had supposedly been sleeping for the past three days.
Sleeping after slitting her wrists.
What had possessed the girl to do this to herself?
Diana had always been so sweet. A beautiful, half Puerto-Rican girl with thick, dark curls and a face so clear that she could have been a porcelain doll. She’d been that way ever since the Carpenter family began frequenting the bakery.
At the age of ten, Diana would swing side to side on a counter stool, coloring pictures while John and his father devoured coffee, discussing school and work and of course the big topic for guys John’s age (at the time)- girls. Grace had never meant to ease-drop, but David Carpenter had been a kind man with a baritone voice that easily carried further than he’d often intended.
She’d watched Diana grow from a giggly little girl to a serious, shy but friendly teenager. A few possibilities had presented themselves to explain her wrist-slashing, but Grace assumed John would eventually share what little- if anything- he knew.
Sometimes his concerns bothered him so much that he’d confide in Grace. Mainly, she supposed, because he and Grace shared something special but horrible: after losing their parents, they became their younger sisters’ guardians.
However, Diana had never been adopted by the Carpenters. Her mother, Crystal Hawthorne, had left the little girl in the care of the church-going family just before her death.
If only Crystal’s lupus had been caught early, if only she’d the benefit of current treatments, things might have been different.
Slithering serpents known as disease, rape, incest, drugs had claimed far too many young lives.
Grace paused at the entry to room 308.
Kelly sniffed. “Oh, my gosh, she looks like…”
Due to her Puerto-Rican heritage, Diana’s skin tone normally lent her a sun-kissed appearance. Now the paleness of her features competed with the white the sheets and the snowflakes blasting against her window.
With no one else occupying the girl’s side, she and Kelly entered. Technically, they’d passed visiting hours, but John had left the staff a message, suggesting the arrival of more family members.
Kelly gripped the bedrail and studied the girl with whom she’d engaged in many conversations while chomping on crème-filled donuts.
Her voice trembled and she rubbed her arms. “Why would she do this? She’s so pretty and has so much…it makes no sense.” Glancing around them, Kelly frowned. “It’s cold in here.”
Grace , wearing her leather coat and baggy sweater, felt perfectly warm, but Diana’s hand felt like ice.
“What’s going on here?” Grace peeked at the beeping heart monitor and smoothed back bangs that normally curled over Diana’s forehead.
“Why won’t she wake up?” Kelly asked. “Did Dan say?”
Grace shook her head. “He said some weird things…I’ll try to find out what he meant.”
“Weird things? Like what?”
Grace pursed her lips. Until she knew what in God’s creation was going on, she preferred to keep her mouth shut.
Jacob Davies had been making rounds in this hospital for the past several days. Because Oliver Shields had located and offered him money (which Jacob had refused) to sing to his comatose daughter, he’d decided to make the most of this mini-vacation. First on his priority list: find out who needed the most prayer and company from a half-priest.
He only considered himself “half-priest” because of his disagreements with the Catholic Church. He’d never revealed his doubts to the bishop or anyone in authority, though he’d been shocked they hadn’t sensed his inadequacies. Through all of the retreats and training he’d endured, no one had ever questioned him.
Maybe he should have considered a career in acting.
Honestly, what would anyone expect from a former rock star? He’d never been a saint. In fact, he doubted he ever would. Too much had happened and his vows often weighed on him like a milestone around his neck. Nevertheless, he intended to keep those vows, if only for the sake of answered prayers.
God knew his heart. Even if his disagreements with the Catholic Church hampered his involvement, the God of the universe still moved at the sound of earnest prayer.
He’d been pleading with God almost continuously over the past three days, not only for Allison, but for her family and Rebekah Rose. Ever since he’d spotted her alone several nights ago, that young woman had worried him. Especially when he'd noticed the way she interacted with both Ryan and Dan, and the sudden burst of tears at the end of his song tonight.
He’d decided to ask Dan about his involvement with her later. Carefully, of course. Coming across with the wrong intentions or insinuations would shut the man up in a heartbeat.
He’d decided to ask Dan about his involvement with her later. Carefully, of course. Coming across with the wrong intentions or insinuations would shut the man up in a heartbeat.
He hoped to find Dan alone as he wandered the corridors, keeping his head bowed to avoid being noticed by any former fans. He’d stopped at the nurse’s station, trying not to be flattered by their batting lashes, rosy cheeks and flirty smiles. Regardless of his position, they’d always remember him as the heartthrob who’d graced their televisions seven years ago.
He’d inquired about the state of the patients occupying this floor and asked if any of them could use his prayers or his company. They’d made him a short list, excluding details and he’d dropped by several of the rooms.
One of them remained unvisited…because he’d wanted to save it for last.
Diana Hawthorne, age 18, had slit her wrists and remained in an inexplicable deep sleep.
Her condition reminded him of Allison Shields’ slip into a coma, and so he’d decided to investigate as much as allowed.
His father had been a doctor, so medicine was nothing new to him. Perhaps visiting both women and comparing notes would conjure some of his father’s old words of wisdom.
He stopped at the door to room 308. The chilly atmosphere struck him first, and then the shadows reaching across the floor like dead tree branches stretching in the wind.
Jacob folded his arms, spying the two women at the bedside. So far, they remained focused on the ghostly young woman with the dark curls that sat in a heap atop her shoulders and chest. The heart monitor beeped in a normal rhythm but something felt odd.
He stammered. He couldn’t tell where the shadows had originated. The lights weren’t positioned correctly behind the women to create the long blurs that fell across the tile floor, and no trees stood outside the window. Only snow swirled in the wind, but the shadows, two forms crept toward the bed. Back and forth, as though something were swinging in the darkness with a parking lot light at its back. He would have explored, but unsure if he’d be welcomed at this moment, he retreated.
His stomach felt like lead as he seated himself on a bench diagonal from the room. Folding his hands atop his knees, he began to pray.
Kelly lifted Diana’s wrist, her worried expression reminding Grace that a sweetheart dwelt below her sister’s tough act.
Motioning at the cream-colored bandage around Diana’s left arm, she said, “She’s bleeding again. Look.”
Thick, red blood seeped through the cloth so badly that some of it dripped onto the bed.
Grace gasped. “I’ll get help.”
She shot out of the room, shoes squeaking across the floor as she wondered where John and Dan had disappeared. She’d made it halfway toward the nurse’s station when she spotted the priest sitting on the bench. Her stomach lurched but she thanked God when he kept his head bowed in prayer.
Once she’d managed to snag a nurse to look at Diana’s wounds, she and Kelly stood outside the room, waiting for the professionals to finish their work on the girl. She heard snippets of their conversation:
“The stitches were healing, I don’t understand this.”
“Where’s her…is he her brother?”
No one answered.
Grace gulped. The tall priest had stood and now stalked in her direction. Stalked like a shadow in the night, creeping from behind a tree or out of a grave.
Oh, Lord, I can’t face that collar.
Black and white, black and white.
With sweat forming on her brow, Grace pretended to be dazzled by the snow prancing outside the opposite window. Kelly would understand her sister’s silence and knew what to do.
“Is everything OK?” the man asked and Kelly gasped. Grace didn’t care. She refused to look at this man.
“Um…yes…I hope so,” said her sister. “I mean, she started…are you….I mean, weren’t…I mean….?”
Silence hung for such a long time that Grace dared a peek. Humor shone in the priest’s striking blue eyes.
Eyes that looked as familiar as anything Grace had dealt with on a daily basis.
“Yes, I am, young lady…but shhh.” He held his finger to his lips. “I don’t want anyone else recognizing me. I was enjoying the nighttime solitude.”
Kelly shook her head rapidly. “Yes, sir. I mean… Mr…I mean Father…Davies.”
Grace’s jaw dropped.
Jacob looked to her with one brow raised. “Miss McBride.” He nodded. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”
As if things weren’t weird enough, now Alice had been admitted to the ER with possible strep and God only knew what else. As soon as Bekah had arrived at her house, the stench of marijuana had blasted her back to the front stoop, where she’d sucked in the fresh air and joined Alice in a round of hacking and coughing.
“Alice, get dressed,” Bekah had ordered. “We’re getting out of here.”
Alice had wiped her nose while peeking over her shoulder. “Told you brother dear was here. I guess I’m too used to the pot smell.”
No doubt she was high, too. But high or not, once Bekah had felt her hot forehead and learned of her 105 temperature, she’d decided to whip her butt over to the hospital.
To her surprise, Alice hadn’t argued. After dressing in jeans and zipping her black jacket over a tight tee shirt, Alice had followed Bekah to her mother’s rusty, clunky 1998 Ford Fusion.
Sinking in the passenger seat, Alice had spoken through clenched teeth, “Nice to know you still care. I haven’t been….the best friend lately.”
Bekah decided not to discuss her friend’s distance. At least their friendship still existed.
Referring to Alice’s clenched teeth, Bekah asked, “Are you mad or does your throat hurt now?”
Alice had pointed at her neck and imitated E.T. with a scratchy-sounding, “Ouch.”
Their wait at the ER hadn’t been long. Either the flu season wasn’t in full swing and the gun-wielding jerks had stayed inside, or one heck of a peculiar night had fallen upon them. Usually waiting in the ER amounted to hours of torture, as Bekah had learned at the age of ten, when her mother had broken her ankle.
Back then, Dad had been there to help.
Now, she closed her eyes as she stood at Alice’s bedside. Her friend blew her nose and squinted over the tissue.
“Ummm…” she gestured at Bekah’s cheek.
“What?” Bekah pulled a compact mirror from her purse and found a long, faint gray smudge from where her tears had smeared her makeup during their journey to the underworld.
“Great,” Bekah whispered and began wrestling in her bottomless bag for the antibacterial wipes she kept stashed inside.
“You’ve been crying.” Alice’s voice sounded fainter.
Bekah found the wipes and began erasing the evidence of her tears, but her friend pressed, “What’s going on that you’re not telling me? Trouble with Ryan?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Trouble with Mr. Shields?”
“OK, that hit a nerve.”
Bekah zipped her purse. “Do you want me to get you anything?”
The girl sniffled and sank deeper into her pillow, her blond-brown hair resting elegantly over her shoulders and trailing toward her stomach. “Maybe some pop. It will help dissolve the snot in my throat.”
Bekah cringed. “Thanks for that mental image.”
“Go check on Allie while you’re at it. I can tell you want to.”
Bekah wondered why she’d suggested visiting Allie but decided that discussing any Shields would only distract her from caring for her friend. Besides, she wanted…needed some freaking peace so she could sort things out.
“I’ll be back soon.” She patted Alice’s hand and left with the intention of quickly returning.
God help Alice if she’d contracted something nasty like HIV. During the drive here, the possibility had struck Bekah so hard that she’d nearly run a red light. Then she’d realized with a sick feeling that Alice probably feared the same thing. Why else wouldn’t she have argued about a hospital visit? She wanted tests. Lots of them.
God, please, Bekah prayed. If you’ll make sure Alice is OK, I’ll read anything Shields asks me to, even the Bible.
She sniffled, recalling the tears that had entertained family and staff just a couple of hours ago. How stupid and out of control could she have been to let that happen? Bad enough Oliver knew about the “sparks” between her and Dan, but her little rain shower proved her desire for Teacher much stronger than his desire for her.
She’d been debating how to break the news to Dan that Oliver may have been spying too closely. Maybe Dan already knew. Maybe that’s why he’d hurt his knuckle the other night, punching a wall or punching his dad.
No…no, Oliver had showed no signs of being beaten.
Maybe Dan had struck Brian? The thought brought her briefly to a halt and she wished like heck she could run to Brian’s to check for bruises.
No. No, that would be emphatically stupid.
And, actually- Dan wouldn’t punch a student. He wasn’t an idiot.
But how had he hurt his knuckle and what had he said to Brian to break off their would-be date?
The thing about Dan moving her to another city- probably just him blowing off steam, so worrying about that seemed trivial. But if he didn’t watch his butt, he’d wind up with charges thrown against him.
Would Oliver be powerful enough to counter them?
She recalled Ryan admitting their wealth offered no shelter from the law, but who was he kidding? The rich dodged the law all the time. Oliver knew loopholes, hired PI’s and consulted with lawyers on a daily basis.
Her trip to the cafeteria didn’t take long, since its was located only a few corridors away from the ER. She filled a cup full of ice and Alice’s favorite pop- Mountain Dew- before heading to the cash register. The large eating area appeared empty from where she stood, the tables white and gleaming under the dim lights.
Outside the far away windows, snow still swirled onto the courtyard and parking lots.
Bekah paid quickly and was heading back to the ER when she spotted a rainbow on the floor. Not a full-blown rainbow but just the hint of one- like the ones produced by Dan’s dining room crystal. Looking up and around, the source of the little miracle remained a mystery.
Had this been where she’d the dots before? Here, where her father had spent too many hours shining floors and sterilizing bathrooms?
She rounded a corner in search of more rainbows but found nothing, and returning to the area where she’d first seen the symbolic promise proved futile. The rainbow had vanished like smoke.
As though she’d been squeezing the cup too tightly, the pop she’d purchased burst out and fizzled over her hand onto the floor. Ice clattered on the tile and slipped in all directions. A nighttime janitor would not be thrilled.
“Crap,” she muttered and hurried into the cafeteria for a big wad of napkins. When she returned, she found Dan and some blond dude standing near the mess, both of them in desperate need of a shave and someone to push their mouths closed. Was it so out of the ordinary for someone to spill a drink?
“What happened?” Dan asked.
“Where did you come from?” She countered and got on her knees to clean up the mess.
The men hurriedly swung into action, helping her wipe up the remnants of Alice’s sweet drink.
“Where’s the janitor? Gotta clean this up…the sugar…” Bekah heard the quiver in her voice. A rainbow on the wall caught her eye and she spun once again to find the source.
“What are you doing back here so late?” Dan tossed some crumpled napkins into a trashcan.
“Alice? Alice McCallister?”
Bekah hurried to the closet where she knew the mops and buckets were hidden and found an industrial sized container of sanitizing wipes.
No mops needed, just a good wet-down.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Some guy with a Jersey accent and shoulders as broad as Teacher’s blackboard came wobbling toward her as she knelt to clean the sugary residue from the floor. Her father had worked hard in these same halls and she’d learned respect for anyone who nightly tolerated the visitors’ messes.
“I spilled my drink,” she explained, handing the container to the large man. “My dad used to work here, so I knew where to find this stuff. I’m sorry.”
The man was quiet as Bekah finished her work. She pushed herself from the cold floor and threw the wipes in a nearby trashcan.
When she turned, smearing her hands on her jeans , the three men were each gawking at her in various degrees. The blond cocked his head, Dan gaped and the janitor eyed her like she’d stepped out of la-la land.
“What?” Bekah asked.
“Nothin’.” The janitor raised the wipe container as though it were a wine glass. “Thanks, Kid. Not many people care enough to do that.”
“No problem.” She cleared her throat. She’d need to hurry back and buy Alice another drink. Standing here talking to Shields and his friend seemed about as inviting as Alice’s house. Too much pollution for her mind to tolerate.
Ryan had supposedly gone home for a good night’s sleep, so she thought it best to keep her distance, anyway.
Dan had spied Bekah leaving the cafeteria while chatting with his new friend in the hallway. John had confided about Diana’s sudden fear of phantoms, while he’d been scurrying to find logical explanations for odd occurrences. So far, John had failed to explain why his ceramic lighthouse had crashed to its death before his eyes.
Reading on the internet had produced various theories for such phenomena, along with lots of weird stories such as the one facing them tonight: two girls, one with Ouija Board experience, anemic and knocked out for unexplained reasons.
When Dan had spotted Rose, he’d immediately felt protective. What if the phantom menace meddling with Allie’s and Diana’s lives decided to stalk Rebekah, too?
Regardless of the complete ridiculousness of his concern, he’d followed her. And then he’d learned that she’d brought yet another young woman to the hospital- Alice McAllister. Though the situation couldn’t possibly be related to Allie’s or Diana’s issues, he longed to speak privately with Rose.
But watching her hurriedly clean the spilled soda while communicating respectfully to the janitor, Dan found himself unable to speak, much less remove his eyes from her.
She’d changed into a sweater. A pink one. Though she’d never worn pink that he could remember, next to her fair complexion and dark hair, the color suited her. Most of her make-up had worn off, but maybe she looked better without it. Natural, glowing, smooth.
Turning toward him now, her brown eyes speckled with bits of green appeared softer than ever, and her lips shined with rose-colored gloss.
Dan reached for his tie, but his fingers met his shirt collar. He’d removed his tie hours ago.
Maybe he needed to clear his mind, but she’d definitely been blossoming before his eyes. She’d grown from a stiff-necked, smart-alec student to a graceful young lady who’d shown interest in his faith and flew into action when the situation called for it.
With a shrug, she spun to reveal jeans that fit her far too nicely.
Over her shoulder, she tossed him a “good night.”
“Rose, wait.” Dan was following her, so she increased her speed. However, his longer legs allowed him to crop up behind her, gently taking her arm and spinning her to face him- or his chest. Hair peeked over the top of his shirt buttons and his brows knit in a show of concern.
“Is Alice OK?” he asked.
So that’s all he’d followed her for? Should she feel relieved or slug him with her purse?
“I…don’t know. Not sure I should say much, but she might have strep.”
“Anything I can do?”
“Just…pray, Teacher.” She started to turn when he caught her arm again.
“Wait, will you?” He sounded pathetic. So pathetic that no girl, no matter how smart or ditzy would be able to resist him. She turned back as though being controlled by an invisible power, trying hard to stay focused on the drink fountains instead of his eyes.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” he said huskily. “I overreacted, said some stupid things.”
She folded her arms.
“Look at me,” he pleaded.
“It’s not a good idea for us to be seen together like this.”
“We’re in public, not in a secret hideaway, so what’s the matter?”
“Your dad’s what’s the matter.” She held his weary gaze this time. “He knows stuff, Dan.”
He leaned forward conspiratorially. “You don’t think I know that?”
“You know he knows…” She peeked around to find his blond friend propped against a wall, staring at the ceiling with his hands in his pockets. His cell phone must have rung because he jumped and removed it from a holster at his side.
“I know.” Dan’s voice deepened. “I know, but he doesn’t want bad publicity. He won’t say a word.”
“Are you sure?” She pursed her lips and he reached up to push her hair away from her mouth.
Pink swept over his face and he recoiled about as much as a thief would recoil from diamonds.
“I don’t want you in trouble,” she whispered with heat rising in her cheeks. “I’m worried. What have you been doing? What did you say to Brian?”
He bowed his head. “I can’t discuss that.”
“Tell me, Shields. If you get in trouble, I-“
“I won’t.” He pressed his finger to her lips and quickly dropped it.
The blond guy called his name. Shoving his phone back in his holster, he announced something about a girl named Diana bleeding again. “I have to get up there.”
Dan started to follow but then reeled back to Bekah. Over his shoulder, he told the blond, “I’ll come up in a minute if that helps.”
“Maybe for Grace,” said the man. “She’s up there now.”
Well, small freaking world. Grace knows this ‘Diana’?
“Thank you.” Dan coughed into his fist. “I’ll be up in a minute.”
With that, the flannel-wearing stranger retreated and hurried down the hall.
Dan turned back to Bekah, who snorted under her breath. “Go on…Grace is waiting and I need to buy another drink for Alice.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She marched toward the fountain area and withdrew another big cup from one of the holders. Pushing it against the ice machine lever, she fought more tears. God, why was this so hard? Maybe what she needed, after leaving here of course, was to go snuggle Ryan. Maybe more than just snuggle. Maybe a serious affair would finally get her mind off of Teacher.
She filled the cup with more Mountain Dew and Dan came up beside her, withdrawing his own cup to fill it with unsweetened tea.
“What are you doing?” She whispered.
“Getting myself a drink. Is that OK?”
She glanced at his red cheeks and working jaws and her heart began to beat faster. He felt as crazy as she did.
“I’d like you to come upstairs with us,” Dan said. “There’s a girl up there, your age.”
“I need to get back to Alice.”
“Fine…but later you might want to visit this girl. She slit her wrists.”
Bekah smashed a lid on top of Alice’s drink so hard that the top part crushed and the drink once again spilled over her fingers. She bit her lip.
Dan snatched some napkins and laid them over top of her hand. Holding them there, he stood far too closely to her side.
The only cashier on duty continued reading a magazine while leaning against the semi-wall behind her.
Bekah prayed no one else was watching.
“You’re coming out of it,” Dan said.
“Out of what?” She began shivering as she had during their near-kiss.
“Your shell. You brought Alice here. You want to help Allie and I suspect this girl will catch your interest, too.”
“Please what?” He squeezed her hand before releasing it, and then pulled some green packets marked “Stevia” from his pockets.
Thankfully not as much pop had spilled this time, but she found herself mopping it from the metal counter below the fountains.
Once she’d finally managed to contain Alice’s Mountain Dew, lid snuggly in place, she carefully carried it to the cashier with Dan on her heels. He stuck out a five dollar bill and paid for both drinks.
She half felt like pushing him away. What was he doing, for crying out loud?
He even followed her back into the corridor, and then pulled her around a corner so suddenly that the world seemed to spin on its side. She caught her breath. Dan peeked around another corner, opened a door and steered her inside.
Bekah stammered. The room appeared to be a doctor’s closet, filled with white coats and business jackets of all sorts. Hopefully there weren’t any security cameras in here. Even if there were, they wouldn’t be able to make out faces once Dan shut out the light, leaving the door cracked so that he could still make eye contact.
She pointed outside as he leaned so close that his breath hit her forehead. “Someone could be watching us.”
“They always are,” he whispered. “Rose-“
She held up a hand. “I don’t know what you’re thinking…” She swallowed. “But you’re just overemotional….overemotional right now and you might do something dumb.”
“Dumb? I am dumb, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“No you’re not. You’re smart, you’re cute and you actually give a rip about people . That makes you the most interesting guy I’ve met.”
“It isn’t me you see. During those times when I seem to care so much…you see the Lord who guides me. I’m a pain in the ass, to put it bluntly.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I am.” He pressed one hand against the wall, his dark eyes blazing into her and sending strange vibrations straight to her toes. “Do you know how beautiful you are?”
“You know what else?”
“You don’t want to say it.”
“Yes, I do. I need to. Every time I have these encounters with you, I beat myself for hours. Days sometimes. I resolve not to do it again, but as soon as the opportunity arises, I can’t resist. I’m dangerous for you.”
She laughed but not because what he’d said was funny. The idea of him being dangerous was as ludicrous as Jesus being dangerous. If, like he’d said, the Lord’s influence usually guided him. Maybe he wasn’t in tune with that Lord right now.
“I might be leaving the school,” he announced.
She shook her head profusely and gripped his biceps, quickly releasing them when she recalled the last time she’d done that. “Quitting won’t solve anything. It might even make you look more suspicious.”
“I need to devote my time to Allie.” He set his drink on the floor.
“Briefly, maybe. I will help, Dan.”
“I know you will.”
“Just think it over some more- about resigning, I mean.”
Cupping his hand around hers, he stole Alice’s refreshment and set it on a metal shelving unit beside them. And then she found herself trapped, one of his big, strong hands pressed against the wall on either side of her.
He whispered, “I want you to do me a favor.”
“Get so involved in other things that you have no time to dwell on me.”
“Your writing, learning about the Lord, helping others, your school work. Hell, even your quest to be a cop. Just don’t think about me, OK?”
“I…I can’t help it. I try not to think about you, but it’s too hard. I always think about you.”
“See what I mean? This isn’t good for you.”
“I didn’t literally mean always, like every waking moment. I just…” She twisted her ankle. “I care about you, you know that, don’t you?”
Vaguely, he smiled and nodded his head. “I can see that. So tell me everything my father discussed with you.”
“Alice is waiting. And I want to think some things over.”
“I’m worried about you…your involvement here.”
“Stop worrying then. I’m technically an adult and-“
He cupped his hand under her jaw, turning her gaze upward. His frown with the lines at the bridge of his nose, his scattered waves, his undone shirt. Everything about him longed for her to soothe him.
“I love how honest you are.” He leaned closer so that their breaths collided.
“I think…you better-“
His mouth pressed against hers and she tasted the tea he’d slurped moments ago. His soft kiss sent an amazing jolt straight through her body. So strong that it could have split the floor. Her mind lost, she returned his kiss and elicited just the hint of a moan from this awesome man.
While she squeezed his plump biceps, he squeezed her shoulders, loosening his grip and tightening it in a way that betrayed his desire to deepen his tender kiss.
He pulled back, remaining close to her mouth, pushing her hair behind her ears, whispering her name and swallowing loudly. “Maybe I am overemotional…but you’ve mercilessly snagged my attention.”
“You’re only going to grow more beautiful, you know? Stronger, smarter, sexier. Ryan is luckier than he knows.”
Bekah still hadn’t caught her breath and fumbled with what to say. He’d kissed her. Not an extremely passionate kiss but it sure as heck had felt like one. She wondered if she’d ever wipe her mouth again.
“Believe me, I’d like to kiss you again. Longer. Harder. But it won’t happen, you hear me?”
She shook her head shakily, her heart in her throat.
“Forget about me.” He pulled her into his arms, hugging her so close that she finally found the faint scent of his cologne.
Breathlessly, he continued next to her ear, “Move on. Move on, Rose…I’ll be resigning tomorrow and I want you to keep working hard.”
“I’ll still see you around…but stay back. I’ll only hurt you and God knows I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
He straightened and their embrace broke like a shattered mirror, leaving her there like a weak-kneed mistress who’d just been shelved.
She wanted to speak, but what could she say? She’d longed for that kiss and now it felt like she’d been stabbed.
He wanted her to forget him? He couldn’t be serious.