This week’s theme is lost loves. Could there be a romantic theme than that of someone carrying a torch for another, only to find that person again later in life and falling in love all over again. My snippet comes from my latest release from Ellora’s Cave, Waiting for Wednesday. It’s book three in the Wild Irish series and the first two books, Come Monday and Ruby Tuesday, are also available.
One year ago
“Lane?” Tristan looked down at the frail form of his best friend lying in the hospital bed and gently took her hand in his.
Her eyelids fluttered and one—the right one—opened slightly. Her left eye was bruised and swollen shut.
“Tris.” Her voice was hoarse, drawing his gaze to her throat where he could see the faint marks left by her abusive husband’s fingers.
“I’m right here, kitten. How are you?” He mentally chastised himself for the stupid question. She was a billboard for domestic violence, every inch of her pale, delicate flesh covered with bruises and cuts. In addition to her black eye, she had a split lip and several stitches above her brow. It hurt him just to look at her and he had to swallow back the murderous rage building in his chest.
“Oh, you know,” she said. “Pulled a double shift at work. Got a paper cut. Same old shit.”
He grimaced at her joke. It was so like her. Damn woman hated anything even resembling pity, but this time he couldn’t let her make light of her predicament.
“Dammit, Lane.” He dropped down into the chair by the side of her bed. “Don’t do that, babe. Don’t make a fucking joke of this.”
She winced at his words and he instantly regretted them when she closed her good eye against the tears gathering there. It took her several moments to compose herself enough to speak again. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, Lane. Just tell me what happened.”
“I took your advice. Got up the nerve to leave. Apparently James wanted me around more than he let on.”
Tristan tightened his grip on her hand, trying to hide the fact his was trembling in the face of what she’d gone through. Her husband had always been distant, cruel in an emotionally abusive way, according to Lane. As she’d said once, she’d been miserable in her marriage since “about five minutes after the vows”. That’s when James had started criticizing every aspect of her personality, her looks, her housekeeping. She’d spent two years living in wedded hell with the man.
“I didn’t know he would…” he started, guilt crushing him. He’d been encouraging her to leave James for weeks. Trying to convince her she didn’t have to spend the rest of her life paying for one mistake. She’d simply fallen in love with the wrong man. With that love gone, he’d assured her there was no shame in admitting defeat and moving on.
“Oh no, Tris,” she said, squeezing his hand. “I’m not blaming you. Leaving was…” She paused for a moment. “Leaving is the right thing to do. I was a fool for not realizing how angry James would be, but I swear to you, he’s never lifted a finger to hurt me. Not once in these past two years.”
Tris nodded, wanting her to know he believed her. She may have stayed in an unhappy marriage because of her sense of responsibility, but she would never have remained in a dangerous home. “I know that.”
“I honestly, foolishly, thought he didn’t give a damn about me.”
Tris wanted to reassure her that thought was correct. No man would hurt his wife like this if he gave even the tiniest shit about her. Again, his temper spiked and he suspected if James wasn’t already in police custody, Tristan’s next trip would have ensured Lane’s husband would need similar medical care. Still, he worried about what her words meant.
“You can’t go back there, Lane. You can’t go back to that marriage.”
“I’m not,” she added quickly. “There’s no way in hell. I just wanted you to know that while I was unhappy the last couple of years, I wasn’t a battered wife or anything.”
He took a deep breath and fought the urge to disagree with her. James Bryce may not have hit his wife, but his words had beaten down and chiseled away her confidence for years. Saying so, however, would upset her, and he refused to add to the pain she was suffering.
“I know that.” If he’d ever once seen a bruise on her, he would have dragged her out of her home and away from the asshole she called a husband. “I was worried when you didn’t show up tonight,” he said.
Every Wednesday night after her nursing shift, Lane came into his family’s restaurant, Pat’s Irish Pub, where he was the bartender. She’d plop down at the end of the bar and they’d talk for hours while he served drinks and she sipped her white wine.
Originally, they’d talked about politics, sports, music, movies. For months they had chatted as acquaintances until at some point—Tris had no idea when, exactly—the relationship had evolved into a genuine friendship and the conversations had become much more personal. They’d talked about their childhoods and dreams for the future. He’d known from the first she was married and he’d respected that. Despite a reputation—according to his sisters—as a ladies’ man, he never hit on married women.
Lane was the only woman to ever test his resolve on that unwritten edict. He simply couldn’t resist the allure of standing—and yes, flirting—week after week across the counter of the bar from her. She was funny and sweet, smart and sexy. She drew him like a moth to a flame and somewhere along the line, she’d become his best friend.
“I thought Wednesday would be the best night to leave. It’s James’ late night at the store.”
He nodded. One of the reasons why Lane came to the pub Wednesdays was because her husband worked the late shift at a local business, not returning home until after midnight. He glanced at his watch. It was only a little past one in the morning. Too early for James to have wrought so much damage. “So what happened?”
“He came home early. Said he had a headache, but I think perhaps he suspected my plans. I don’t know.”
“You should have called me. I would have helped you pack up. Helped you leave.” Even as he spoke the words, he knew she would never have asked for help. She possessed more than her share of independence. Lane Bryce was determined to be a woman who took care of herself. Her childhood had molded that trait, set it in concrete, and he knew it was hard for her to depend on anyone.
She sighed heavily and he could see how much their conversation was zapping her remaining energy. “Are you in pain?” he asked. “I can call for the nurse.”
“She already gave me something. I think it’s kicking in.”
He’d called her cell phone several times when she’d failed to show up at the pub. A gut feeling he couldn’t explain had told him something was wrong. She’d never missed a Wednesday. Not once in almost a year and a half. She’d confessed once to waiting for Wednesday the way some kids waited for their birthday—with anticipation, excitement.
An hour earlier, she’d finally called and told him she was in the hospital. He’d told Ewan to take over the bar and he’d driven through the city, breaking every damn speed limit to reach her.
“I’m just so tired,” she said.
“I’m here now,” he said as she appeared to drift off to sleep.
“I knew you’d be worried,” she mumbled. “I don’t know what to do now.”
And it was that softly spoken admission that broke what small part of his heart hadn’t shattered upon first seeing her so battered in the bed.
“You don’t have to do anything, kitten. I’m here now. I’ll take care of everything. I’ll take care of you. I promise.”
He was confused when her gaze refocused on him and he sensed her quiet tension. Then she nodded and he breathed a sigh of relief. Accepting help didn’t come easily to her, but she had to know, had to realize there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her.
“I’m going to go to sleep,” she said. “Why don’t you go on home for now?”
He shook his head, but she cut off his refusal.
“There’s no way you’ll fit on that tiny couch, Everest.” She’d jokingly begun referring to him by the pet name several months ago. He topped her by at least half a foot and a hundred pounds. “Go home and get some rest. James is in jail and I’ll still be here tomorrow.”
It was those words that reverberated in his mind when he looked at the empty hospital bed Thursday morning. She wasn’t there. She was gone.
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