Another snippet from Kate and Jason’s story …
She awoke suddenly, heard him cry out. She didn’t think, but immediately went to kneel next to his bed, brushing the hair back from his face.
“Shhh… it’s all right. You’re safe here.” The whispered words were second nature to her. She had repeated them to so many traumatized children in recent years. “It’s ok, honey, you’re all right now.” He stilled in his sleep, the fear passed. She brushed his hair from his forehead again and smiled as she stood to leave. His hand reached for her, catching her wrist. She hadn’t noticed that his eyes had opened. They seemed much more intense in the dark.
He raised up on his elbows, whispered, “Thank you.”
She smiled down at him. Awake in the shadows he looked much more like the roguish ladies’ man he was reputed to be than the scared little boy she had seen just moments ago.
He’d awoken to her touch, soft and light brushing across his face. Her touch had banished the nightmare, banished the fear, the terror … changed him back from the frightened child he’d become – made him a man again. Her fiery curls tumbled over her pale shoulders and seemed to glow in the moonlight from the window. The thin cotton of her nightgown covered the curves that were silhouetted in the dim light.
“Could you… would you… stay for a minute? I…” Conflicted, he realized he didn’t know what he wanted. He needed to talk, to release some of the grief and guilt that had taken up residence in his chest. But he had to admit that was only part of the reason he didn’t want her to go. She was beautiful, but more, she was so alive. To him, she was the perfect embodiment of all that was good in the world.
Oh, how he longed for something good right now. But he couldn’t. She was the little sister of the man who had saved his life. She was pure and unselfish and giving. Not some little groupie, not some Hollywood starlet looking to make a name for herself. He couldn’t take advantage of her kindness, not like that. “I’m sorry … you should go back to bed. I don’t want to bother you.” He let her hand drop and looked away.
She’d seen his eyes darken; in another man, she might have thought it was a sign of desire. But she had no illusions here. There was no way a much younger (had to be at least 5 years- maybe 10), very attractive (to say the least), very fit (seemed like the most polite way to describe his phenomenal body) Grammy-winning international superstar was in any way interested in her. So it must have been fear, or grief, or something else he’d needed to talk about.
She smiled again and sat on the edge of his bed. “No, I’m ok. I’m used to being up in the middle of the night.” She put her hand on his knee in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Again, he berated himself for the thoughts and feelings swirling through his mind as she placed her hand on his knee. Obviously, she had no idea what a terrible person he was, no idea that all he wanted was to touch her, to taste her, to lay her back on the bed… He must truly be everything the tabloids said he was: a womanizer, a lothario, a philanderer.
“I… sure, yeah, maybe talking would help, if you don’t mind.” He stared at the sheets to avoid looking at her, to avoid provoking another attack of inappropriate lust.
“Of course not, I’ll just go put on a pot of coffee and we can stay up all night if you want.” She smiled again and patted his knee before rising.
Kate padded back to her room to retrieve her robe and headed to the kitchen to start the coffeepot. He emerged from his room seconds later, pulling a t-shirt on as he came down the hall.
She glanced up and then pulled her eyes away when she lingered too long on his abs and chest. As heat flooded her cheeks, she shook her head at her own ridiculousness. Her hair fell forward, mercifully covering her flaming face.
He noticed she had donned her robe and damned himself again for wishing she hadn’t.
“Well, it’s not a latte from Starbucks, but it will do, I hope.” She said bringing the mugs to the table. She passed him the sugar bowl automatically, having noticed on the first night that he took only a little sugar in his black coffee.
He smiled, “Your coffee is great. but Starbucks is my drug of choice.”
“Mine too,” she smiled. “You know, you don’t have to be embarrassed about the nightmares.” She studied her coffee cup as she spoke to him, not wanting direct eye contact until she was in better control of her reaction to him. “They’re a perfectly normal reaction to a traumatic event.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. I just didn’t know it was so… messy. I mean, you see movies, you know? But there’s nothing in the movies like what I saw yesterday. It’s just not the same. It’s so much worse than you ever thought it could be, but it makes you think, makes you appreciate the little things, the people you love,” he glanced at her. She was watching him with those keen green eyes of hers. They reminded him of cats’ eyes, catching every detail, every nuance, but betraying no secrets.
“Violence is never easy to witness.” She looked away, but he thought he’d seen something flicker there.
The dog came to nuzzle against her leg. She reached down to rub his head and surreptitiously dabbed at her eyes. There was pain there. It was deep and real and born of violence. He wanted to comfort her, to take her in his arms and let her cry on his shoulder, to be the strong one for her, instead of the other way around. Finally, an urge he didn’t have to fight.
He took her hand, gently. “Want to tell me about it?”
She looked up, surprised. She hadn’t realized her memories showed on her face. She tried not to think about that day, though it was never far from her mind. It was something she just didn’t talk about anymore. Hadn’t in… God, had it been years? She’d made a life for herself by taking care of others. She hadn’t given in to the pain, to the memories, in years. And yet, strangely, she found herself wanting to talk to him about it. He didn’t seem like an untouchable superstar now, sitting at her kitchen table, holding her hand. His eyes promised understanding and care. And so, she began to talk.
“It was about four and a half years ago. I was 7 months pregnant with Jamie. My husband, James, and I had just bought this house, and we were busy fixing up the nursery. We’d been out shopping for a crib all day, and I was being too picky. I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted anywhere. I’d had this vision of the perfect nursery in my head since I’d found out I was…” She smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry, I tend to babble. So anyway, we’d been shopping all day and James got a call. He was a cop too, like Aidan, a detective. There had been a break in this case he’d been working on and he had to go. I was annoyed. I was all pregnant and hormonal and just plain bitchy, to be honest. So we had a fight about him ditching me for the case. I told him that the baby and I needed to be his priority.”
She paused. “Sorry, babbling again.”
He smiled and waited.
“So, he went off to go after the bad guy and I got to feeling guilty for being whiny so I went down to the station to find him and apologize. He was walking up the steps when I got there and I called his name from the sidewalk. He turned and smiled and was walking toward me when this car came screeching around the corner. He saw it and dove in front of me just as the passenger, the gang banger they had been looking for, opened fire.”
Jason moved to take her hand again, wanting to give some kind of support, some comfort. But she stood and started toward the coffee pot with her back to him. He heard her voice crack as she continued.
“I took a bullet in the shoulder but James caught three in his chest. I tried to stop the bleeding, but it was no use. I held his head in my lap while he bled out on the sidewalk.” Her voice broke but she took a deep breath as he rose and crossed to her. She didn’t turn around but continued. “He said,” she choked on a sob, “his last words were ‘my first priority, always.’” She sobbed again and buried her face in her hands.
He stood behind her now and placed a hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him, and gathered her in. He held her while she cried, while the sobs wracked her body. He wrapped his arms gently around her and waited. And when, at last, she began to still, he smoothed her hair and whispered to her.
“I am so sorry, Katie. I’m so sorry.” he didn’t know what else to say. He’d never known pain like hers, never had to lose so much. He was sorry for her, for her loss, for her pain, for all the things she’d had to miss with the man she loved. And he was sorry for her James too. Sorry that he’d never gotten to know his own son, the son he’d died to protect, the son who had turned into such a great little kid.
It had been so long, so long since she’d let herself cry, so long since she’d given in to the pain, so long since she’d felt completely safe like she did now, in his arms.
Oh God, what was she thinking? These arms belonged to Jason Sharp. Her brother had brought him to her for her to support him, for God’s sake, not for her to throw herself a pity party on his shoulder. He was a megastar, a tabloid darling, had dated half the hot young actresses in Hollywood. He did not want to hear her sob story. Well, too late now.
“I’m sorry.” She pulled away abruptly. “I didn’t mean to fall apart all over you like that.” She turned to fuss with the coffee pot again and wipe her face. “We were supposed to be talking about you and here I go, prattling on about my own personal tragedy.”
“Hey, it’s ok.” He could tell she was back on her guard. He felt cut-off, like he’d just lost something very precious. He had to get it back. He stepped between her and the pantry when she turned to replace the sugar.
“Hey, Kate, look at me.” He placed a finger under her chin and nudged it up until their eyes met. Hers were red and puffy. Her face was blotchy and red from crying. He had never seen anyone or anything more beautiful. The realization hit him like a fist to his gut.
He brought his hand up to caress her cheek. “I’m glad you told me. Please don’t regret it.”
He spoke so softly, touched her face so gently. Her eyes welled with tears again and spilled over; she closed her eyes to avoid his gaze. He brushed the tear from her cheek as she opened them again and looked at him, not quite believing in the reality of the moment. His blue eyes seemed to darken as he looked at her. His other hand found her waist and he leaned in, his lips a breath away from hers.