One More Hit

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“Lanie? Are you getting this?” his lips barley moved. “It’s the most critical access point. I’ll come back when the snow melts, and that will make it easy to get in and out without being seen.”

“Y-yeah. I – I…” Her lips weren’t quite working right. And apparently her teeth were chattering. “I…”

He put down his binoculars and turned to her. His white snowsuit made him look darker than usual, his brooding eyes deeper. “Are you okay? Oh, God, you’ve got icicles on your eyelashes.”

“I…I’m…f-fine. J-j-just a b-bit – cold.” She shivered and yawned and generally couldn’t string a sentence together.

He took off his glove, then reached inside her jacket. Frowning, he lifted her sleeve to check the setting. “How are you still cold?”

She tried to shrug, but nearly toppled over. When she closed her eyes, Jake swore, which nearly shocked her back to awareness. There was a series of zipping sounds, and then her body was moving. “Should have brought more blankets. Why didn’t you say anything? Come here.”

“N-no,” she mewled for no reason. She didn’t quite feel like she was tethered to the earth.

He sighed in frustration. “You may need your toes someday. And let’s face it – I am hotter than you.”

“Get your hands off me,” she whimpered, seeing faces and hands and arms that couldn’t possibly be there, yet they were. “Please, Sean. I didn’t mean it.”

“Shhhh, it’s okay. We’ve got to warm you up before we try to get you down this mountain to the hospital. Oh, God, Lanie.”

With a final tug, he pulled her to him. They both cried out. His body felt like a red-hot burner. And she could imagine that the ice blocks which her hands had become couldn’t feel great. It was that feeling of stepping into a shower that was too hot, but after a few moments, she sighed and snuggled into him.

“You’re freezing, Lanie. Relax. You’ll warm up soon.”

With her hands on his chest and her nose in his neck, she shivered so hard that she was pretty sure his teeth rattled.  “Jake?”

“You should have said something,” he groaned again, holding her closer. “If you get sick, it’s on me.”

Slowly, feeling returned to her body. She realized she was pressed against Jake’s long, bare, torso, decorated with the tattoos of barbed wire and ravens. He’d taken off the useless heated jacket and her snowpants, leaving her in her fleece tights, hat and sweater. They were cocooned inside the safety of the quilt and a soft blanket, while the wind howled and scratched at the outside of the tent.

“It would be faster if you took your clothes off,” Jake mused matter-of-factly. “But I think this will be good enough. Don’t want to…cross any lines.”

He looked down at her. That aloof benevolence cracked for just a moment, and Lanie was suddenly acutely aware of how close they were to each other. “Can you at least…attempt to control your thoughts?”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Sorry. Habit. You and I…well, it was good, but don’t worry. I’m over you.”

She snorted. He always had such a way with words. She flexed her fingers experimentally where they were curled against his skin. They were feeling a little less stiff, but she could tell that they were about to start burning.  “How’s it been going with mystery girl?”

He was quiet for a moment, shifting to put her head on his shoulder. The slow, steady thump of his heart was too subtle to alert lurking enemies.

“What? Are you still doubting her feelings for you?”

He shrugged with his opposite shoulder.

“Nice. So, storming into my wedding and picking my brain is okay, but letting me into yours? Forget it.”

A rueful twist of his lips was the only indication that he was thinking about it.

She groaned dramatically, sticking her socked feet into the warmth of his legs. She couldn’t wait for his dumb brain to slog through it. And she was feeling oddly philosophical. Free-thinking and loose-lipped. She felt very, very good. “Look. I know it’s Jennifer.”

He winced, and looked down at her with surprised trepidation. This was the moment. This was the time for her to warn him away from that witch, and tell him that he deserved so much more than such a snippy, heartless cow.

But then she remembered the way the two of them avoided each other when Jennifer had been Ben’s homecare nurse. How she could tell that Jennifer had been disappointed that Jake left the wedding early. It was why Lanie had pushed at that wound so hard. And at group the other day, Jennifer seemed so hopeful when she’d talked about where their relationship might go, especially after losing her first husband so tragically.

Sure, Jennifer wasn’t Lanie’s cup of tea, but for whatever reason, Jake liked her. And she could completely understand why Jennifer would like Jake. And he was torn up about this, and she could help, the way he so often tried to help with her and Ben.

“Look,” she said again. “I know you’re in love with her. And that’s terrifying. But she’s in love with you, too. She just won’t admit it to herself. She’s just like I was with Ben.”

He exhaled, his breath ruffling her hair. “I can’t tell if you’re right. But let me ask you something. If she chooses me – she won’t – ”

If she did…” Lanie encouraged.

“Would…you try to kill me?”

She grinned. “That’s an intriguing idea…”

He still looked so serious. She rolled her eyes with a sigh. Jennifer was a lot of things, most of which were bad, but somehow, she realized that the woman rubbed her the wrong way so much because she reminded Lanie of herself. Some version of herself that might have existed if she hadn’t gone through all that she’d gone through. While she was sure that the two of them would never be friends, she had the weird need to take this opportunity to give Jennifer a little good. Maybe it would take the edge off of her bitter meanness. It stemmed from the same well of grief that fed Lanie’s bitterness, too.

As much as she appreciated Jake’s caution when it came to one of her “friends,” she couldn’t emphasize how unnecessary his concern was. And anyway, she wouldn’t take away Jennifer’s one good thing.

“Intriguing, but no. I couldn’t hurt her like that.” Or you.

He seemed to receive her unsaid message. There was pain in his eyes as he tried to smile. “So, you’d just let me turn her into a blood sucking demon, like you?” She punched him again, but she was impressed at his attempt at humour. “I don’t want that. I never wanted that. But lately, she’s been…insistent.”

“So, stop her.”

“I tried. I left.”

“But you gave up too easily. If you’d stayed away another six months…” she trailed off, raising her eyebrows in challenge.

“I couldn’t have made her happy. Trust me.”

“Jake. You have to consider that you have some good in you. That you might be better for her – or anyone – than you think.” She knew that was rich, coming from her, but she was starting to accept that truth for herself, mostly out of the pain of watching Jake beat himself up for the same past that she had. “I’ve considered that. And I know that you can protect her. You can give her and those girls a life. A really good life, like I’ve got with Ben.”

“I’m not going to force her into anything,” he mumbled. “Ever again. The last time I tried, it almost killed us both.”

“Are you talking about what happened in your cabin? Is she the girl who got upset by your bondage stuff?” Her blood stirred at the hot memories of her all-too-brief times in Jake’s basement. Why anyone would run away from that was beyond her.  

He nodded, stroking the fabric of her sweater absently.

“When she was gone – when you thought you lost her – how did you…cope?”

“There are no words…”

“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, Jake. I know what it felt like when I thought I was going to lose Ben. You were there. You can’t put yourself through that. And if she feels the same way about you, you can’t put her through it, either.”

She felt him swallow, hard. “This might sound odd…but I’m glad you’re here.”

“As much as I’d love to kill you, I’m glad you’re warm.” The painful burning had all but subsided now, leaving warm tingles. “As for Jennifer, well. If she and I weren’t natural enemies, and she wasn’t always trying to steal my reason for existing, I might actually like her.”

“And if you weren’t trying to suck the life out of the girl I love…”

“Oh, don’t even. You know she doesn’t have a life, anyway. And about the basement, she could still change her mind, you know. But I’ve seen first-hand that you don’t actually need all that stuff to give a very satisfying performance.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“What, then?”

“The last time I saw her…she gave me a Bible.”

“And? Even though she’s the literal spawn of Satan, she’s very active in the church.”

“I don’t know. I’ve been reading it. I believe in God, but it’s been ages since I’ve actually picked up my Bible. And this one…it was her husband’s.”

“Ah. That’s what got you scared about the future.” It all made sense, now, why he’d randomly dropped by with those lame gifts. He had needed someone to talk to, even if he and Lanie were in a fight. “You know, Jake, Ben has moments where he’s actually pretty smart. I bet if you stop by, he’d be over the moon to give you some advice. He thinks he’s some sort of Casanova lady-whisperer.”

“Ben doesn’t want to see me,” Jake said with a morose sigh. “I’m giving him space.”

“He’s got a lot of people pining after him,” she muttered. “This has got to end at some point. If you make the first move, I’m sure that you guys can fix what happened at the wedding. He doesn’t hold grudges. He’s not a blood-sucking demon, like us.”

“Are things okay between the two of you? The last time I showed up…I’m sure he was upset with you.”

She shifted. “Things are fine. Um…”

Should she tell him about the pregnancy? Suddenly, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Ben barely touched her anymore, looking at her like she was made of exquisite glass, with a mixture of awe and trepidation. The few times they’d had sex since he found out about the pregnancy, she was certain he was holding back tears. And honestly, she was finding it difficult to connect with him, too. Sometimes when he touched her a certain way, like a hand to the back of her elbow, or a touch to the waist, she flinched, her body remembering the punishing force where Sean had broken her there. She had phantom pains in her body and mind, and where once Ben had been the antidote, now he was the source.

“Things are fine,” she repeated.

He scrutinized her. “You know, you’re the last woman I was ever with. The last one I ever held.” He stroked her cheek, an iota of heat in his touch. But mostly, it felt brotherly.

“Did I spoil you for everyone else?”

“No. Jeni did. I’ve barely thought about sex for weeks. Except for right now.”

His warm, low voice turned her belly to jelly. For a moment, that brotherly concern pulled all the way back, clearly showing the depth of his dark, barely controlled desire. Involuntarily, her fingers spasmed against his chest, and his eyes darkened further as they flicked down to her lips. She felt weak. Not just from the hypothermia. She was warm, now. Very, very warm.

“I’ve been trying to do better,” Jake murmured. “I didn’t want to help you with these assassinations, but I promised myself I wouldn’t stand by and let domestic abuse go. Never again. And yet I couldn’t stop it from happening in my own family, to those I loved. What kind of hypocrite am I, if I can eradicate strangers, but somehow make excuses for someone that I love?”

She touched his beard. “I get it. Family is complicated. Justice is harder when things aren’t so black-and-white. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve realized that it’s how the cycle continues. When people let love become an excuse.”

His lips quirked. “Sometimes I wonder if you and I should have tried to make a go of it. We understand each other better than anyone else ever could.”

She swallowed, and tried to steady her breathing. “Jake, you don’t feel that way about me. And I think we need people in our lives who aren’t part of this life. We need people who are better than us, to remind us what good looks like. To remind us what we’re fighting for, so that we don’t end up like Boscovic and Haines and the rest, just greedy and selfish.”

He looked down, his lashes brushing his cheeks, and when he looked up, his face was once again smooth. “I’m just saying, you’ve got that look in your eyes. I can tell that you’ve been just as frustrated as me for a while, and I wondered if I screwed things up between you two.”

Her heart pounded so strongly she was sure it was punching him in the gut. “No, Jake. Please don’t worry. Come visit. He’ll like it, I promise.”

He touched his nose to hers. “Here’s to our better halves.”

Thanks for Stopping by!

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13


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