#FreeReadFriday. Time To Meet Jason and Sarah!
Over the last year, I have been crazy busy rewriting my Shadows and Light series after receiving the rights back from Simon and Schuster. This wonderful series is now all mine, and I love revising the stories my way--Frank S's angel is singing in my ear.
So, each Friday will be #FreeReadFriday where my readers will get a chance to meet the amazing characters from this wonderful series I had such a joy writing.
Today, let's meet Jason McNeil and Sarah Tu from In the Shadow of Greed, Book 1. Check out what one reader said about this story.
"If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. I CAN’T wait to read book two in this series. Grab your copy and get ready to fall in love with the McNeil brothers and this author’s work."
This story has a little of everything, a large, noisy, but loving family, a ruthless cybercriminal who will stop at nothing to get what he doesn’t need, a touch of the supernatural, an edge-of-your-seat suspense, and a lasting love that may bring you to tears.
Hang onto your seat. Greed starts off crazy suspenseful, but I promise you Sarah and Jason will find a love for each other that will last a lifetime. Enjoy the Read...
In the Shadow of Greed
Noran Defense Systems, Annapolis Junction, Maryland
This is agony―self-inflicted agony.
Dr. Sarah Tu sat at her terminal and combed through the project’s test results one more time, trying not to yank her hair out. Something was off with the test, but she just couldn’t see it.
She leaned back in her chair and scanned her computer lab. Her team was out celebrating and, with their absence, gone was the constant noise, panic-charged energy, and chaos. There was almost an eerie, pin-drop silence left behind. The only sound came from the constant hum of cooling fans behind each row of servers.
Sarah took a moment and closed her tired eyes. Between the flickering overhead lighting and the glare off her computer monitor, all that registered was a dance of white spots. She rubbed the strain from her temples, shook off the exhaustion, and focused her attention on the screen.
The new computer virus propagated across the test environment’s virtual network. In the test, the command and control servers of the Qualnto botnet were being infected much faster than the live results seemed to suggest.
“Why aren’t the tests the same?” she muttered to herself.
An alarm from her cell phone filled the silent room. She glanced at her wristwatch and cringed.
Shit. I need just a few more minutes.
She refocused her attention on the computer monitor. “It’s not replicating fast enough.” She raked both hands over her face. “But is that the fault of the test environment―or did we mess up?”
“You didn’t mess up, Dr. Tu. You’re just being your obsessive self,” Henry Morcross, the CEO of Noran, said from the doorway.
Sarah rolled away from the terminal and faced the lab’s entrance. She had been so engrossed she missed the whoosh of her lab door open. “Hi, Henry,” she said, trying to smile, but failing. How could she muster a smile when all she wanted to do was hit something?
“Sarah, what are you doing back here? Your team is working their way through my liquor cabinet.” He raised his cell phone. “And your sister is tearing up my phone with texts.”
Heat spread to Sarah’s cheeks. “Sorry, Hanna shouldn’t be bothering you.”
“Hanna and I made a pact.”
“Oh, good grief,” she moaned, her arms crossing her waist. “What kind of pact?”
“We’ve decided that since you seem incapable of having a little fun, we would force fun on you.”
“I know how to have fun.” She lifted her hands and scanned the abandoned lab. “This is fun.”
He strolled further into the room and studied the lines of code on her laptop. “You’re as bad as the mother who follows her kindergartner’s bus to school. You worked months on this project. It’s amazing, brilliant even. All you have to do is step away and let it do its job.”
“No buts. Get the hell out of this lab. Celebrate with your team or, better yet, with your sister on the warm sands of Myrtle Beach and drink yourself silly.”
“I just need fifteen minutes to go over the specs again and I’m out of here.”
“Fine. Cross your Ts, but I made your sister a promise. Don’t make me break it.”
This time Sarah did smile. Henry Morcross was her best friend, the greatest mentor anyone could ask for. He had Sean Connery’s physique and Ernest Borgnine’s smile, the perfect grandfather figure, and she adored him.
He moved toward the door and turned. “Sarah, your life is not here. And please, don’t keep Hanna waiting for too long. I hate what that does to you.”
“Fifteen minutes, twenty tops.”
I’m going to kill her.
Hanna Tu wiped a nonexistent stain from the kitchen table with a damp towel, glancing at the wall clock for the tenth time in five minutes. The luggage, pillows, and grocery bags filled with various calorie-laden snacks littered the floor of the small foyer. Three angry blasts from a car horn followed by two more honks resounded in the apartment. Hanna peered through the kitchen window. The parking lot a story below was bathed in vibrant rays of red, orange, and yellow sunlight streaking across the evening sky. She and her friends could have been sitting at an outdoor patio table by now, overlooking the ocean and gorging themselves on fabulous, greasy buffalo wings and margaritas.
When another long, piercing blast from the car horn filled the apartment less than a minute later, Hanna faced her best friend and roommate, Calista Martin. “They aren’t going to stop. You need to just leave.”
Calista dropped the beach towel onto the sofa and stormed into the small kitchen, yanking the dish rag out from Hanna’s hand. “This trip was your idea. Please come with us. It won’t be any fun without you.”
“I won’t leave without Sarah.” As angry as she was at her sister, Hanna would never deliberately hurt her. They weren’t just sisters but best friends, each the other’s lifeline.
Calista took a deep breath and let it out slowly, her eyes narrowing on the clock over the oven. “We rescheduled this trip for her. She should have been here an hour ago and she’s ignoring your calls. She has buried herself in another one of her projects, so just leave her and come with us.”
“No. Sarah promised me she would be here.” Hanna shut the dishwasher door hard enough the dishes rattled. “When she makes a promise, she never breaks it.”
Hanna ran her hands through her waist-length black hair, yanked a band off her wrist and pulled it all into an untidy ponytail. It was hard to keep her mind from spiraling into dangerous territory.
What if something happened? She never remembers to charge her damn cell phone.
Panic reared its ugly head.
“You’re not your sister’s keeper. I hate how she ignores you; how she thinks everything she’s involved in is more important than you. She’s just like your dad.”
“She’s nothing like our father. You’re pissed. I get that. But you know Sarah,” Hanna said, and eased her back against the counter. This conversation dug deeper each time they had it. “She’s not self-centered, she’s focused. She may tune out the world when she’s in her lab and lose track of time, but that’s devotion. If I leave without her, it will crush her. Go. We’ll catch up before you can sip your first mimosa at breakfast. She’s likely on her way and hasn’t called because her phone is dead.”
Calista flung her heavy backpack over her shoulder, retrieved the pile of towels and grocery bags. “You have the address to my aunt’s condo?”
“You better show up.”
Calista gave her a tight hug and left the apartment.
Hanna couldn’t turn away from the window as her three friends helped Calista pack the trunk. As they drove out of the parking lot, her chest grew tight and her eyes filled with tears. She lifted a hand to wipe away the moisture and a pungent smell of Aramis cologne hit her nostrils. Tiny needle pricks covered her skin and a shiver crept up her spine. She froze.
Everything in her urged her to unlock the door and run, but instead she turned and came face to face with a man she barely recognized. He stood inches from her. Before she could let out a scream, he shoved her up against the door, her body slamming hard on the metal frame. He jammed his arm over her throat and pressed a damp, sickeningly sweet-smelling cloth over her face. The smell made her gag. Out of pure instinct, she held her breath.
A cold chill stabbed through her body as her heartbeat raced. She couldn’t breathe. But her struggle only made his chokehold tighter and her attacker mad. He released his hold just long enough to hurl her body into the wall, her head striking hard.
An intense pain shot through the back of her head, followed by overwhelming nausea. Before she could catch her breath, he grabbed the front of her blouse and dragged her toward the living room. She stumbled to her knees.
She gasped for a breath as she tried to form the word why. He wrenched her against him and yelled into her face. She could see his lips move, but the words made no sense. His eyes went cold, burning into hers as his nostrils flared. Each word he spit out at her was angrier than the last, but the drumming of her heartbeat drowned out all sound, all reason. Nothing got through. As she slipped into a vortex of pain and darkness, she prayed one last prayer. Please, God, keep Sarah safe.
Hanna awoke to the sound of a car door slamming and the sharp click of heels darting across the pavement and up a flight of stairs.
Sarah. She’s here.
Hanna’s thoughts swirled like black clouds, images bleeding one into another until all comprehension was lost.
Her head rested on a soft pillow, and cool sheets caressed her back and legs. She shifted and scanned her surroundings. A piercing, sharp pain shot from the front to the back of her head. She whimpered, but it came out like gurgling.
Shit. Another migraine.
She hadn’t had one in months. The blackness swept in from the corners. It comforted her and eased the pain to a dull ache. She attempted to move, but her limbs didn’t respond. Her body was completely numb. It felt like every muscle, every nerve was shot full of Novocain. But her sense of hearing was strong and clear. She was hearing not only her own heartbeat but also Sarah’s, and it raced.
How am I feeling two heartbeats?
Hanna struggled to open her eyes, but the movement charged another sharp pain to shoot through her head.
My God, what’s wrong with me?
When the pain eased, a crystal-clear image of Sarah flashed before her. Her sister stood on the last step of the breezeway before the second floor of Hanna’s apartment complex. She glanced out over the parking lot.
Every thought that passed through Sarah’s head streamed through Hanna’s mind. What Sarah felt—the guilt and disappointment in herself―were there for Hanna to feel. She tried to shake her sister’s voice from her head, but the excruciating pain returned, easing only when she stopped struggling.
Sarah searched for Hanna’s car. It sat in its assigned slot. A moment of calm settled over her until she couldn’t find Calista’s CR-V.
“She left with Calista.” Sarah’s voice quivered inside Hanna’s head. “I let her down, again.”
I’m here, Sarah.
New images of exactly how Sarah spent the last several hours flooded Hanna’s mind. Her sister didn’t carelessly hide herself in her lab. What kept her away was far more important than a week at the beach.
Hanna couldn’t control the visions swirling through her mind, vivid, real, as if they played out on a live screen. I don’t want this.
But her wish went unanswered as she watched Sarah dart around the collection of empty clay pots by the door. She lifted her hand and knocked. The sound vibrated through Hanna’s head. Sarah waited a few moments and knocked again.
“Please open the door, Hanna. I’m so sorry I’m late.”
When Sarah dug through her purse and pulled out her spare key, Hanna struggled against her invisible bonds. Sarah couldn’t come into her apartment. She had to stop her.
“Come on, Hanna. I’m here now. Please open the door. I cleared my whole week. Henry told the guards at the gate not to allow me anywhere near Noran until next Monday. Just open the door and let me make this up to you.”
No, Sarah. Run!
Horrifying images of the last few hours crashed through her memory. The man… where was he? Was he still here?
Excruciating pain ripped through every cell and she screamed out. Blessed darkness began to seep through her mind, but she had to protect Sarah.
Sarah slid the key in the slot, turned the lock, and opened the door.
“Well, now you’re being petty, little sister. You chained me out?”
Sarah slammed her shoulder against the door.
A sympathetic pain shot up Hanna’s arm.
Then the smell hit both sisters at once. A coppery metallic stench wafted through the crack in the door. The overpowering scent of vomit and urine followed.
Sarah’s heart began to drum in her chest, the scream she forced from her lips never sounded. Instead, she frantically yanked at the door, then banged her shoulder against it, fighting the simple security chain. She stuck her face in the gap as much as the chain would allow. Dark red spots littered the tile of the foyer.
Don’t look, Sarah. Shut the door.
Sarah followed the blood up the wall to the cracked sheet rock. Terror clamped hold of Sarah’s heart, consuming Hanna. Sarah’s body trembled while her own body remained numb.
Her sister slammed her shoulder against the door repeatedly. Each time her shoulder hit, intense pain shot through Hanna, but the chain held. Sarah alternated kicking and banging the door with her fist until Sarah’s vision blurred and she clasped against the door, screaming Hanna’s name.
Sarah, shut down. Do it, now!
Wishing she could wash the vision from her mind, Hanna lay paralyzed, powerless, as Sarah, stepping away from the door, squeezed her eyes tight and took a deep cleansing breath, easing the strain of Sarah’s jaw.
Good. That’s it.
Her sister’s breathing grew shallow, her heart slowed, and she detached herself completely. Hanna had seen Sarah shut down before, but she’d never felt it.
The emptiness, no, the void of emotion, unbearable.
Sarah reached into the side pocket of her purse and retrieved her cell phone. In an expressionless voice, she gave the 911 operator Hanna’s address requesting police and ambulance assistance.
As she completed the call, the walls around Sarah’s emotions cracked and a flood of despair crashed down on both, smothering them.
Hanna focused her last ounce of energy on her sister. I’m here.
The plea hit a barrier. Sarah?
As her sister dropped against the door, dread sliced through her body, and she slid onto the concrete walkway.
“What have I done? I should have been here. It’s my job to keep you safe. Oh God, please let her be okay.”
This wasn’t your fault. Do you hear me, Sarah? The blackness spread through Hanna’s mind, again easing her pain, and sent her back into the void.
The trauma center at Doctor’s Hospital was a concert of controlled chaos, and for the time being, it all centered around his victim, Hanna Tu. Doctors, nurses, and lab techs scurried in and out of the first cubicle with one goal in mind, to stop the bleeding and keep her alive.
The pillar in the middle of the trauma unit was a perfect support for Jason McNeil’s six-foot-three-inch frame while he kept an eye on the orderly mayhem. With a coffee cup balanced against his palm, he used his thumb to text an update to his oldest brother, Jared, the lead detective in charge of the violent crime unit of the Maryland State Police.
Jason couldn’t take his eyes off the petite woman lying motionless in the hospital bed. Tension and noise levels were high as one command after another flew from the doctors to the nurses to the orderlies. A nurse frantically swabbed the blood from one of several gashes on Hanna Tu’s arm that continued to ooze. The gauze sucked up the blood like a sponge. When the pad was soaked through, she grabbed another from the stainless-steel tray and repeated the process. With each breath Jason took, the pungent scent of antiseptic, blood, and other ominous odors assaulted his nostrils.
He lifted his cup and gulped down the lukewarm, bitter brew. The coffee churned in the pit of his stomach. The woman’s face was the only area on her body untouched. What drove someone to do something so horrific to another human being? Such brutality rocked Jason’s faith to its core.
His body ached for some sort of action, a long hard run or a grueling weight-lifting session. Strenuous activity was one trick he used to keep the restlessness at bay. But something else held him in that spot. He studied everyone who came anywhere near Hanna Tu, his protective instinct on high alert. She could identify a serial killer, the only victim the monster left alive. The guilt from not stopping the bastard before he attacked again would live with him a long time.
It’s not your fault.
A woman’s soft voice interrupted his thoughts. He twisted, but the nurse he had seen moments earlier stood before him.
“Excuse me? What did you say?” Jason straightened his frame and took a step forward, his heartbeat hammering between his ears.
The woman backed away from him. “Detective McNeil, I was saying you don’t need to wait. It’s going to be hours before we know anything.”
He scanned the unit for anyone out of place. “Am I in the way here?”
“Then I’m staying.”
The nurse shrugged and entered the cubicle. Where in the hell did that voice come from? He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck and leaned against the pillar.
He didn’t have to have the coroner’s report in hand for his mind to conjure what happened to Hanna Tu. The four previous victims had more than fifty thin slashes deep enough that each victim bled to death. The same thing probably would have happened to Hanna Tu if her sister hadn’t found her when she did.
How is she still alive?
He thinks I’m dead. Sarah’s coming. Help her!
The voice quivered inside Jason’s head. He pushed away from the pillar and froze. No one was there. His eyes narrowed and he clenched his jaw, biting down so hard, pain shot up his inner ear. The next instant, a petite woman with long, straight, raven hair and the most beautiful, hazel eyes he had ever seen charged through the trauma unit. A security officer followed close behind and grabbed her arm, stopping her from moving any farther into the restricted area.
“Ma’am, you can’t be back here.” The guard tried to ease the woman through the doors into the waiting area.
She yanked free, the expression on her face, intense, unyielding. “Like hell I can’t. My sister is here.”
The charge nurse moved from behind the counter of the nurse’s station and stood next to the security officer. “How can I help you?”
The nurse’s low, gentle voice seemed to have a soothing effect.
“Hanna Tu.” The woman’s voice shuddered.
Jason couldn’t take his eyes off Hanna’s sister. In an instant, she transformed from a stiletto wearing, ice-dragon on the warpath—just the kind of woman he disliked—into a frightened, desperate woman whose vulnerabilities aroused his protective instincts.
As her gaze wildly searched the trauma unit, the nurse reached for Sarah’s arm and guided her toward the exit doors.
“We’re still assessing your sister’s condition. She’s in good hands, I promise you.”
“The police wouldn’t let me into her apartment. No one has told me anything. There was so much blood.” Tears clouded her eyes. “I want her to know I’m here. Please.”
Her eyes narrowed on the cubicle surrounded by a curtain. One of the nurses moved the privacy fabric aside and left the area carrying a tray of vials. Sarah’s gaze fell on her sister. “Oh God! Hanna!”
She took a step toward her sister, but her body began to tremble, and her knees buckled. Jason caught her as she collapsed. With one arm wrapped around her waist, he used his other hand to lift the badge that hung around his neck and flashed it at the nurse. “She’s with me.”
He found an empty chair away from a direct view of the cubicle and lowered Sarah into it. The charge nurse brought over a cup of water and handed it to Jason. He brought it to Sarah’s lips.
“Drink, Sarah, it will help.”
She sipped the water and closed her eyes, taking in several deep breaths. “W-who hurt her? W-why?”
“We don’t know, but we’ll find out. Someone will pay for this.”
Sarah finally glanced up at him and pulled away. “Who are you?”
And the ice-dragon returned. Jason clenched his jaw to keep a smile from spreading across his face. He couldn’t put his finger on the reason, but this woman intrigued him.
“I’m Detective Jason McNeil.”
“Why are you here and not out finding the person who hurt my sister?”
Don’t let her push you away. She needs you; we need you.
Jason was taken aback by the weak, small voice in his head. What the hell was going on?
Finding his own voice, he said, “Someone tried to kill your sister.” He glanced toward Hanna’s cubicle. A crushing anger boiled up from deep within him. “The guy who attacked her has killed at least four other times we know about, and he didn’t mean to leave Hanna alive. I’m not giving him a chance to finish the job.”
Oh God, he’s here… He’s here! Don’t let him near Sarah!
The panicked voice echoed in Jason’s head. He stood and scanned the unit. Everyone around Hanna seemed to belong there. An orderly approached her cubicle. Jason wasn’t sure what set the man apart, but the tiny hairs on the back of his neck stiffened. He took a step toward the cubicle. For an instant, their eyes held. The orderly shoved past a nurse and raced through the double doors.
“Stay with her. Don’t leave her for any reason,” Jason shouted to the charge nurse as he rushed toward the exit.
He dashed from the trauma unit, but the corridor was empty. He moved around the corner. It was deserted. He raced in the opposite direction into the crowded waiting room and approached the nurse at the desk.
“Did someone just come through these doors?”
Jason took a quick glance around the waiting room before returning to Sarah’s side.
“Detective, what’s wrong?” Sarah asked.
“He was here.”
“The man who attacked Hanna.”
Sarah stood, her eyes skimming the trauma unit. “Do you know who he is?”
“Then how do you know he was here?”
He looked over at Hanna. Your sister told me. And I’m losing my freaking mind.
Jason unlatched his helmet and pulled it off his head. As he scanned the parking lot of the rehabilitation center, he eased his leg over his Harley and set the kickstand. He rested his helmet on the seat and listened to the symphony of cicadas and crickets in the bushes and trees that lined the lot. The soft rhythmic hum rose to a loud pulse then settled back to a soft hum. It was a familiar summer sound that usually had a calming effect, but not tonight.
He parked in the slot next to Sarah Tu’s white Ford Focus. As he stepped away from the shelter of trees, heat rolled off the asphalt and he pulled his sweat soaked t-shirt away from his back. The miles of open road should have cooled him off, but it was just damn hot. The relentless high temperatures that settled over the area made the air heavy with the scent of tar and roses that flanked the entrance of the building.
Jason couldn’t relax. He should be out celebrating with his brothers and the team for closing another brutal child abduction case. But for some reason, the idea of having fun was lost on him.
He leaned against the trunk of Sarah’s Ford, and crossing his arms around his middle, studied the corner room on the north side of the third floor. Hanna Tu’s room.
If he could be honest with himself, he would admit exactly why he was here night after night, month after month. He hadn’t stopped the serial killer, Greg Scarvey, before he attacked Hanna. Instead, he had to accept the fact a man as evil as Scarvey put a bullet between Scarvey’s eyes five months ago. The image of Scarvey roasting in hell should give him some satisfaction. But Hanna never came out of the coma.
He should get back on his bike and head back the way he came. He didn’t need to be near Hanna for her to speak to him. Her voice sounded in his head on her timetable, not his.
How did a young comatose woman he never met live in his head?
And then there was Sarah, Hanna’s sister. No woman had ever worked her way under his skin quite like Dr. Sarah Tu. And it began the instant he caught her from nose-diving onto the ER floor. The moment their eyes held, he met Sarah and all her layers.
Jason could set his clock by Sarah’s routine. Friday night for the last five months, she arrived around seven and spent the weekend with Hanna.
His normal routine, show up when Sarah wasn’t there. She avoided him, too. They had been playing a stupid dodge game with each other for months. She sure wouldn’t welcome a visit from him tonight.
The attraction between them was potent, and there was no way it was one-sided. Just thinking about Sarah so close sent a raw pulse of desire through him. He wanted her, but it was a different magnetic force that drew him toward the entrance that had nothing to do with Sarah and the blessed air conditioning only yards away. With a heavy sigh, he squared his shoulders and strolled through the automatic doors of the rehabilitation facility.
It was past visiting hours at the Maryland Spinal and Brain Injury Center, but no one stopped him. The guard, whose eyes never left his game of solitaire, handed him a name tag with his name scribbled with a bold marker. Jason shoved it into his pocket and made his way toward the stairwell.
On the third floor, he approached the nurse’s station. With a quick wave of acknowledgment to the four women, he entered the room directly across from them and came to an abrupt stop.
Hanna lay like an angel, motionless in the center of the room. It was Sarah who caused his pulse to drum through his veins. She sat in the corner lounge chair with her laptop open on her lap, fast asleep. Her legs were stretched out, resting on the foot of Hanna’s bed as her arms hugged her waist.
He had never seen her so relaxed and at peace. The serene expression on her face touched something deep within him. He moved toward her slowly, his footsteps silent across the tile floor. He gently removed her laptop, setting it on the over-bed table against the wall, taking care not to disrupt whatever complicated math problem was scrolling on the screen.
He knelt, resting his arms on his knees, and brushed Sarah’s bangs away from her face. He had to touch her. His movement caused the air to shift and her rich, vanilla citrus scent surrounded him.
Damn, she confused the hell out of him. From the moment they met in the shock-trauma unit, he had an overpowering need to protect her, shield her from anyone who tried to hurt her. The only other person in his life for whom his protective instinct triggered into fight mode was his twin sister, Emma. That connection made complete sense to him. There was no one he loved more. But he couldn’t explain the hold Sarah had on him any more than he could explain the bizarre connection he had with Hanna.
On the outside, Sarah appeared to be the most detached person he’d ever met, completely unapproachable to the point of being disconnected from everyone around her. But there was so much more to her than the persona she presented to the world. For reasons he was only beginning to understand, she manipulated her incredible intellect to mask the real Sarah.
The mask was gone now, replaced by a perfect model of a sensual woman who made his pulse quicken and every muscle in his body harden.
One of the machines connected to Hanna let out a beep, jolting him from his fantasy. He stood and stepped away, his eyes roaming over Hanna’s still form. He checked the machine. What the hell was he doing? How could he fantasize about Sarah while Hanna lay prisoner in the bed inches away?
“Jason, what are you doing here?” Sarah whispered, her voice hoarse from sleep. She tilted her head, staring with an intensity as if she was examining his soul. Her eyes subconsciously roamed over his body. As soon as she became aware she was checking him out, a soft pink glow appeared in her cheeks. The perfect blush.
Sarah removed her legs from the bed and set her feet on the floor. Her walls formed over her emotions, but this time, the brilliant Dr. Sarah couldn’t close him out completely. The way she fiddled with her hands as if she didn’t know what to do with them was a surefire giveaway.
Clearing her throat, she said, “I thought you were in the middle of a kidnapping case.”
“I was,” he said, and took a step toward her. “Don’t get up. I’m sorry I woke you.” He paused for an instant and the words just spilled out. “You are beautiful when you sleep, Sarah.”
She pulled her hair into a quick ponytail. “No one is beautiful when they sleep.”
She glanced at Hanna and then the machines, everywhere except at Jason.
“So, did you find the missing kids and get them back to their mother?”
A sincere smile crossed her face and she exhaled a noisy sigh. “Oh, good. That’s good. And the father?”
“He’s not so good.”
“I’m sorry, Jason.”
“I don’t… can’t talk about it.”
“Of course.” She glanced at Hanna. “She looks good tonight, don’t you think?”
Hanna was so still, only the thin blanket that covered her chest rose and lowered. The machines surrounding her bed kept up with her heart rate, pulse, and temperature, but they were only numbers to Jason. Not real. It tore him up seeing her just lie there, motionless, hour after hour, day after day.
He was losing hope. Five months was a long time, and with every passing day, her chances of waking with any cognitive function were reduced.
Sarah’s life was numbers. The truth, blatant, never leaving either one of them, was all they had. If she wouldn’t accept anything else from him, he could give her hope.
“Yes. Hanna’s color is up, her vitals are strong. She does look good tonight.” He shoved both fists into his pockets. “Why don’t you and I get out of here for an hour or so? I have my bike. I know this great little diner that’s open until eleven. Has the best apple cobbler…”
“I can’t, Jason,” Sarah replied, moving back around the other side of the bed.
He kept his tone normal, but her I can’t didn’t set right tonight. She didn’t even give it a thought. He tried again. “It’s a beautiful night. Maybe a little hot, but…”
“I really should stay with Hanna and…”
“And what?” This time he couldn’t keep the harshness in his tone from slipping through.
“I’m working.” She nodded at her laptop.
Jason moved to stand next to her. “It looks to me like your laptop is doing all the work. One hour.”
Several emotions crossed her face―doubt, need, then guilt.
The guilt he understood. He lived with his own demons. It was the should-haves that ate at him.
Sarah couldn’t enjoy life while her little sister lay in a coma. Hanna told him this wasn’t the life she wanted for Sarah. It sure the hell wasn’t what he wanted.
Her shoulders stiffened and that empty look appeared in her eyes.
“Stop it, Sarah. Shit. Don’t pull that crap with me.” He reached for her hand and held it gently in his. “I’m not angry at you, just disappointed.”
“Don’t cuss at me, Jason McNeil.” She yanked her hand free.
“How about this. I won’t cuss in front of you as long as you don’t shut down on me. Deal?”
“I just can’t leave her. I’ve been at work all day. This is the only time I have with Hanna.”
“Do you really think this is what Hanna wants for you? Wouldn’t she be the first one to push you to accept my offer?”
This time her eyes weren’t dull. It was a good thing that looks couldn’t kill.
“How do you know what my sister would say? You don’t even know Hanna.”
Everything in Jason wanted to charge back―Her voice lives in my head. And she doesn’t want this life for you. “Deductive reasoning. It’s what I do, Sarah. And damn it, all I was saying was…”
Hanna’s gentle voice came out clear, insistent, the electric charge slicing through his veins, stinging. Be patient? How in the hell was he supposed to do that?
But Jason couldn’t respond to Hanna with Sarah in the room. He told no one. It was crazy―stark raving mad crazy.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah took a step toward him and reached out her hand.
“Nothing… nothing is wrong.”
“You stopped talking mid-sentence.”
“I do that.” The lie came too easy.
“No, you don’t do that. What just made you so angry? What did I do?”
“I’m not angry.”
“Yes, you are. I don’t understand…”
“Then this is going to confuse the hell out of you.”
He took her into his arms and cupped her face. He brought his lips down close to hers and waited an instant for her to pull away. When she didn’t, he covered her lips with his. She eased in even closer, deepening the kiss as he wove his fingers into her hair. He took what he needed, giving all of himself back in return. Her hands came up his chest and latched onto his shoulder, her fingernails digging into his skin.
An announcement over the PA system sounded. Jason had no idea what the person said, but it brought him crashing back to earth. He broke the kiss and stepped back. Sarah didn’t move as her eyes slowly opened. Her face was flush, her lips moist.
“This isn’t anger,” he said, taking another step away from her. “This pull… you feel it, I feel it.” For an instant, he glanced at Hanna.
Patience isn’t my thing.
Then he faced Sarah. “We’ve been dodging each other for months. Whatever is between us isn’t going to go away.” He headed for the door.
“Jason?” Sarah’s voice came out in a hoarse whisper.
He faced her. He should apologize. He shouldn’t have just pushed himself on her. But hell, someone had to make a move. “Please, Sarah, just stop.”
“Ignoring me―ignoring us.” With that, he left the room.
That's it for this week. Watch for Chapter Three next Friday, 08/03/2020. If you can't wait, grab your own Kindle or Print copy on Amazon, or if you have Kindle Unlimited, download your free read.
Enjoy your weekend. I hope you can find a few moments to sit back and enjoy a good book. Be safe and healthy!
Hugs to all,
Nancy C. Weeks