There were crickets chirping
in the night air. The sound was incessant, violent. To her, it seemed an
ominous sound,, echoing the terrible fear in her heart.
She raised her arm,
hesitated and lowered it again. For the third time. Stalling, as she'd
been stalling for the past two hours.
had driven her directly home, making sure to instruct Cassie to take a bath
and pull herself together, and not to skimp on the makeup. Cassie wasn't
exactly looking her best right now. A brandy might be a good idea, too.
hadn't dared to glance in the direction of Caleb's house when she returned,
so she'd entered the larger, empty one with no one to greet her, not even
the dog, Finnegan.
was a horrible shock when she turned on the bathroom light and caught her
reflection in the mirror. Medusa couldn't have been more petrifying a sight.
Was that really her?
she'd sat in the steaming bubble bath for what seemed an age, a cucumber
mask covering her face, until she could easily have been mistaken for a
stewed prune gone moldy.
she went for the bracing, ice-cold shower, scrubbing her shivering body
until it tingled, shampooing her hair countless more times than even the
label recommended. Cassie knew enough popular psychology to recognize her
behavior as falling into some kind of obsessive or compulsive category, but
she was filled with the desperate need to wash her self away.
emerge new, clean and strong.
at least she didn't look so incredibly awful any more.
hour slipped by as she lotioned and perfumed herself, then dried her hair,
making it shine and fall about her in golden waves. She took a barrette and
clipped a few strands back, allowing the rest to fall down her back.
dressed with seduction in mind. But also to please herself, determined that
she be armed with as many weapons and as much self-confidence at her
disposal as possible in her battle to win Caleb back.
she was terrified she'd lost him.
time, she tried a different approach. Closing her eyes, she took a deep
breath, picturing Caleb's smiling face as she lifted her hand and rapped her
knuckles hard on the wooden door. In the seconds that followed, she held her
breath, willing him to answer her knock.
knew he was home. The windows of the converted carriage house were
illuminated with a faint glow, and every now and then, she caught a note of
music that escaped and drifted out into the evening air.
door opened with a jerk. Caleb stood before her. Her eyes widened
involuntarily as she took in his appearance. Disheveled was the first word
that crossed her mind. Drunk was the second. She swallowed hard.
was shirtless. Half hysterically, Cassie realized she'd never even seen him
without a shirt before, simply learned the sculpted contours of his body
through her touch. What a sight she'd been deprived of. He was so very
beautiful. Perfectly proportioned, lean, honed muscle. Her eyes traveled
down his broad chest to where a narrow line of dark hair descended,
disappearing behind the fabric of his jeans. Her eyes flew upwards, shying
away from the sight of that top button, and the raw memories of this
her cheeks. How many seconds had she stood there, raptly cataloging Caleb's
assets? God, she had to pull herself together. She forced her eyes to meet
Caleb's face was a
blank mask, his eyes equally unrevealing. His tall, muscular body planted
just behind the threshold, not close, yet clearly barring her from entering
Her voice trembled, so she swallowed and began again. "Caleb, please. I
need to talk with you."
away. I'm not nearly as drunk as I want to be, and you're
door slammed shut in her face, hard enough for her to feel the woosh of air
following it cool her heated cheeks.
tears stung the back of her eyes as she stepped forward and knocked again.
Nothing. Damn him, why wouldn't he open the door? Frustrated, she banged
From inside the
house, the music playing on the stereo grew louder, the notes mocking her in
their clarity. Fine, so he intended to drown out the sound of her knocking
with music, just as he intended to drown his hurt and anger with a bottle of
times called for desperate measures. Cassie refused to give in to despair.
If Caleb wouldn't invite her through his front door, she'd get in another
sank deeper into the cushion of the large black leather chair in his living
room, sipping slowly, letting the amber liquid fill his mouth before it slid
down, like a river of fire, into his belly. He supposed she'd gone away. Of
course, he'd known she would come. She'd had to. That was the way these
things worked, right? So she'd come and now she could just leave him alone.
drank again. Shit. He realized that he'd been the one who'd have to
leave. Had to get out of here. He'd call the hospital tomorrow and tell them
he was taking an early vacation. What did it matter if it screwed things up
for a while. He was the head partner, after all. They could deal with it
until he felt like coming back.
reached forward, carefully, studiously pouring more whiskey into his empty
glass, his long legs stretched out next to the bottle. His bare feet brushed
the sharp edge of crisp white letter paper, dated today, informing him of
Orion's sale, transfer of ownership effective immediately to a private group
with the acronym TLM. HE knew he'd never need to read the letter again. The
printed words were etched like acid in his mind, which no amount of alcohol
could melt away.
back, he stared at his toes, not seeing them. Yeah, he had to go away.
Didn't matter where the fuck he went. Didn't matter at all, just as long as
he was gone. He'd drive to Washington National and hop a plane to God knows
No way was he
going to stay here, near her.
her. Wanting her despite it all. Wanting her despite the fact that he knew
it was over. Over before it had even begun.
he had to do now was drink until he passed out. Simple enough. Hopefully,
he'd be so sick tomorrow morning he wouldn't even be able to remember his
own name, let alone hers.
Morrison's Moondance album came on. Perverse, masochistic bastard
that he was, he'd added that CD to the stack and now the song came back to
torture him with memories of Cassie, so very beautiful, standing next to his
stallion in the dusty light of the barn. Looking like an angel. Killing
He closed his
crept around the perimeter of the house, fully aware she'd have made a lousy
cat burglar, feeling increasingly foolish with each passing second. She hadn't
found a single entry she could breach. All the windows she'd passed so far had
been too high, except for the enormous picture window in the back. No matter
how drunk he was, she doubted she'd be able to climb in through there without
Caleb noticing her pretty quick.
she had to get in without his seeing her. That way, he'd have a much harder
time throwing her out--she hope. Rounding the corner as stealthily as
possible, she nevertheless whispered a fierce, "Yes!" in triumph as
she spied a wide, rectangular window, a fraction above shoulder height. She
pressed her face against the screen. The interior was pitch black, offering no
clue to what room she was peering into. But at least the window was open and
was a new one at that, sliding horizontally, rather than up and down.
Caleb's parents for renovating the house and doing the windows, too.
screen wouldn't budge. She pressed, tried sliding it, banged as hard as she
pounding with frustration, she dropped it forward heavily against the dratted
screen, pulling her hair. Inspiration struck. Reaching around, she fumbled
with the metal clasp at the back of her head. Releasing it, she ran her index
finger along its edge and set to work.
was sprawled in an oversized black leather chair. From the soft glow of the
standing lamp in the corner, she could make out the bottle of whiskey, and his
bare feet, crossed one over the other, resting next to it. She stepped closer.
His head was angled up toward the ceiling, his neck pressed back against the
edge of the chair.
step now, near enough now to see his face. His eyes were closed. Oh, no! Panic
shot through her. Please God, not asleep!
bolstered her courage. She cleared her throat. "Caleb, I need to speak
with you. Please, can you look at me?"
heard her voice, but didn't bother to open his eyes. Anyone who'd drunk as
much as he would be hearing things. He let himself drift away once more into
Van the Man's "Mystic."
hand shook his shoulder, jostling his eyes open. "Caleb, you've got to
wake up. It's me, Cassie. I need to talk with you."
stared at her in silence, not quite sure whether he was delusional or just
dreaming. Not that he particularly cared one way or the other. He closed his
She shook him again,
more roughly this time. Annoyed, he brushed her hand off. She felt real, but
then again, he was real drunk. Maybe she'd leave him alone if he told her to
won't. Caleb, I'm really sorry I hurt you. I should have believed in you. It
wasn't your fault."
wasn't listening. He was trying to solve a really big puzzle. Front door was
locked. He was sure of it.
away," he repeated, just to see if it might work this time.
I won't leave until you've forgiven me."
I forgive you. Go away."
I need to talk to you."
the hell did you get in here? Front door's locked."
know. I had to climb in through your bathroom window. Caleb, I'm really sorry,
but I broke your screen."
was listening now. He stared at her, blinking owlishly. "Say that
She took a
deep breath and let it out slowly, striving for patience. This conversation
wasn't going at all the way she'd imagined it. "I ripped your screen when
I came in through the bathroom window. I'll be happy to pay for it, but I
really needed to . . ."
laughter erupted, loud, uncontrolled. His knees closed about him like a
folding chair, as he wrapped his arms around his middle. Caleb's paroxysms of
mirth continued as Cassie stood there, wishing she weren't in love with such a
total fool, a drunk one at that.
he managed to speak. Laughter still shaking his voice. "You. . .you came
in through the bathroom window. God Almighty, Slim, that is just about the
most romantic thing I've ever heard." He sang a line from the Beatles'
tune. Horribly off-key. Succeeding only in setting himself off again, until
wiping the tears from his eyes, he stood.
a hand in front of him, he ordered, "Wait here. This I've got to
The first step
was more of a lurch than anything. Then, recovering his balance, he headed off
in the direction of the bathroom.
she'd really done it. He looked at the neatly torn screen hanging like a flag
on a windless day, then at the dirty shoe prints soiling his white porcelain
bathtub. He grinned. Probably had no idea where she'd end up when she hauled
herself through. Pretty gutsy of her, he'd give her that much credit.
the hell, maybe he was being too harsh on her. If the tables had been turned
and he'd caught Cassie in such a compromising situation, finding some man
kneeling with his hands up her skirt, would he have believed her, never
suffering even a moment of doubt and hurt?
turned to the sink and yanked the cold water on full blast, plugging the basin
drain. Water rose quickly until he twisted the knob shut before plunging in
his head. The cold water hurt, stinging him like needles, making him gasp,
spewing water. Still, he continued dunking his head repeatedly, feeling the
water slosh about his feet, the tiles underneath him turning slick as an ice
Finally, he grabbed
a bath towel and buried his face in it, rubbing briskly. He brushed his teeth,
then pulled open the medicine cabinet door. He grabbed a bottle of aspirin,
popping two, not really thinking they'd do any good, but figuring it was
better than nothing. Then he reached for the bottle of Listerine and poured
about half of into his mouth, gargling, swishing, spitting. He closed the top,
shutting the medicine cabinet once more. It wasn't worth the bother looking at
his reflection. He couldn't look like anything but shit.
was afraid he'd gone and passed out in the bathroom or wherever he'd stumbled
off to. Shouldn't she go in and make sure he was okay, wasn't lying concussed,
perhaps bleeding on the floor? She dropped her head against the coolness of
the window pane, staring blindly out at the trees shimmering in the night
breeze. How could this day have started out so differently? She'd been so
happy a mere twelve hours ago. Funny how a world could change so quickly. She
should be used to it by now, but she kept getting caught off guard. If only .
She turned, sensing
he'd come into the room. She spoke quickly, determined he at least hear her
apology. She had to try to make it right.
I know how much I hurt you this afternoon . . ."
okay, Cassie, I forgive you."
what you said before. But you didn't mean it." Not believing he meant it
He smiled. "No,
I dind't mean it. I just wanted you gone. I was pretty drunk. Probably still
am. But this time, I do mean it. I understand how you might have thought . .
"No, no. I
was horribly unfair. It's just," her voice dropped. "It's just that
I was . . . jealous." Her voice faded into the quiet of the room.
stepped forward, unsure. He moved close, close enough to read her lips in the
half-light if necessary. Close enough to feel the whisper of her words on his
He might have been
talking to a queen, his tone was so polite, his words so careful. "Excuse
me, but would you remind repeating what you said? I must still have water in
my ears." His hand lifted to his damp hair in explanation.
heart thundered inside her chest like a violent storm. She drew in a calming
breath. Her words came out, a hushed confession. "I was jealous. I wanted
to be her, to be every woman you'd ever looked at, ever touched. I wanted to
be the only one."
closed his eyes. The power of her words sinking deep into his heart. Healing
him. Enriching him beyond his wildest dreams. He cleared his throat. He had to
there's more. She sold Orion."
She sold Orion?" Her voice, though quiet, cracked with disbelief.
I don't know what will happen now."
was silent, absorbing the implications of what he'd told her before speaking,
forming the words carefully. "She sold him."
sold him. Oh, Caleb, I'm so sorry." Then, "But that means she's
slow smile transformed her face. "She's gone, so . . .it's just you and
me. Alone. Together. . ."
breath lodged somewhere in his chest as he heard her repeat the words he'd
spoken to her that first night, so long ago. In concert they moved toward each
other, stopping mere inches away. He felt the shift of her body, her hands
reaching out to bridge that small gap. Seeking, caressing the ridge of muscle
and bone that as his ribcage. He felt her cool, soft lips press against his
heated flesh, felt the space that separated their bodies as intolerable. His
arms circled about her, bringing her where he needed her for . . . forever.
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