Till There Was You
By Marie Force
Dani had been counting the days until she could bring Lucas home from the hospital. They’d agreed he’d come home to her place, since she had everything she needed for her baby daughter Savannah there, and besides, he spent most nights at her place anyway.
They’d kept him for three long days because he’d had surgery to repair his broken arm, and they wanted to monitor his oxygen levels. He inhaled a ton of smoke and had been coughing a lot in the hospital. The first day, his levels had been all over the place, which had been frightening.
Dani’s nerves had been shredded by the entire experience. Just when she’d started to get comfortable with Lucas and began to believe in her second chance at happily ever after, he was nearly killed fighting a fire at the Butler Inn. She’d put on a good front for him while he’d been in the hospital, but on the inside… She was a mess.
The incident had brought back memories of losing her fiancé Jack in an ATV accident just over a year ago. Even the way she’d found out about Lucas’s injuries had been eerily reminiscent of Jack’s brother coming to her door, his face ashen and his eyes grief-stricken. When Lucas’s sisters Hannah and Ella had come to tell her he’d been hurt in the fire, it had taken her right back to the day she’d lost Jack, and she’d been spiraling ever since.
Lucas didn’t need to know that, though. He absolutely did not need to know. With a surgically repaired arm and soot-filled lungs to contend with, he had enough on his plate. He’d been cranky to realize his wood-working business would be on hold for the foreseeable future while his arm healed, and he was out on sick leave from the fire department.
Dani fully expected to meet the grumpy, pissed-off version of her new love in the next few weeks. She could handle grumpy, as long as he was alive and on the road to recovery. But how would she handle him going back to work? How would she stand to sit at home and worry about him while he was off fighting fires and pulling people out of burning cars and rappelling down mountainsides to rescue fallen hikers? He would always be in some sort of danger on the job, not to mention his favorite off-duty pursuits of rock climbing and skiing and the litany of other physical challenges he and his adventuresome brothers cooked up for themselves.
Dani shuddered at the thought of the many ways she could still lose him. Jack had liked to get outside and be one with nature. But Lucas took risk to a whole other level. Dani had begun to wonder how she would stand to live with her fears about his safety, which was another thing he didn’t need to know right now.
After losing Jack, she’d learned to take life one minute at a time. Today’s priority was getting Lucas home from the hospital and comfortably settled. They’d have plenty of time to discuss what happened next once he was fully recovered. She drove to the hospital, a route that had become familiar to her in the last few days, and parked in the visitor lot.
Each of his family members, who’d been in and out of the hospital almost the whole time he’d been there, had offered to bring him home. His mom had wanted him to come home to the barn where he’d been raised to convalesce. But Lucas had said he wanted to be with Dani and Savvy, so she was the one picking him up.
As always, she felt breathless with anticipation, knowing she was going to see him. And when he lit up at the sight of her, her overly committed heart skipped a happy beat.
“Thought you’d never get here.” He held out his good arm and took hold of her hand, bringing her in close to him.
“Am I late?”
“Nope.” He kissed her. “Right on time, but the hours without you go by so slow. How’s my little girl today?”
“She’s good. I told her you were coming home and that she has to be very gentle with you. She’s excited to see you.”
“I can’t wait to see her. I hate that she couldn’t visit me here.” The nurses had advised against it since there were so many patients battling the flu. Neither Lucas nor Dani had wanted to subject Savannah to those germs.
“She missed you, too.”
He dropped his hand to her ass and gave a squeeze. “How about her mom? Did she miss me?”
“Of course I did. You know that.”
“Just making sure.”
Dani squiggled out of his hold so they wouldn’t be caught groping by the nurses who were in and out. She checked to make sure he had everything, opening the bedside table drawers and looking in the bathroom to see if he’d remembered his toothbrush. He had. When she returned to the room, he gave her a curious look.
“Everything okay, babe?”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.” Dani forced herself to look at him, which was certainly no hardship. His dirty-blond hair was a mess, as usual, his beard had grown in even more and his golden-brown eyes were full of love whenever he looked at her or Savannah. She didn’t want him worried about her when he needed to be focused on his own recovery, so she gave him a smile and resolved to keep her own concerns to herself for now.
The nurse came in a few minutes later with detailed discharge instructions as well as medication for pain and an inhaler he was to use any time his breathing felt labored.
Dani forced herself to pay close attention so she could take care of him properly. One of the advantages of working for his family’s business was that his dad had told her to take the rest of the week off—with pay—to see to whatever Lucas needed. He was her job right now, Lincoln had said.
And since she’d never want to let down Lincoln or Lucas, she planned to give the job her full attention until he was back on his feet.
Something is off. Lucas watched Dani move around the room, checking and rechecking to make sure he had everything, but he noticed that she barely could bring herself to look at him as she tended to busywork.
He signed where the nurse told him to, handed the medication and instructions to Dani and stood up slowly, anticipating the dizziness that hit him every time he got out of bed. The doctors said that it would pass in a few days but to be careful in the meantime. His airway had been compromised by the smoke, and his oxygen levels had been wacky the last couple of days. Only because his levels had been vastly improved this morning were they releasing him to go home.
As soon as they arrived at her place, he would find out what was wrong. Another thought occurred to him that gave him immediate pause.
She turned to him. “Yes?”
“If it’s too much for you, I can go to my mom’s.” The doctors didn’t want him to be alone for the first seventy-two hours. He vastly preferred spending those hours with Dani.
“What? No, it’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
She was saying all the right things, but something wasn’t right. He wouldn’t be able to relax or breathe—something he was supposed to be doing a lot of at the moment—until he knew what was wrong.
The nurse insisted on pushing him out in a wheelchair, claiming hospital policy. Five minutes in that chair was enough to last him a lifetime.
Dani pulled her car up to the curb, and he bounded out of the chair as fast as he could.
“Easy.” The nurse put her hand on his shoulder. “You’re going to end up right back in here if you don’t chill.”
“He’ll chill when he gets home,” Dani assured the woman.
“Good luck,” the nurse said in a teasing tone. “You’re going to need it.”
Lucas kept his focus on Dani as she helped him into the car—help he didn’t need, by the way, but he’d never object to having her hands on him.
She got in the driver’s side, and they waved to the nurse as they pulled away.
Lucas had so many things he wanted to say to Dani, but they were both quiet on the twenty-minute ride home. What he had to say would keep until they got there.
As they pulled up to Dani’s apartment, Landon arrived in his big black truck. Lucas wanted to groan at the thought of more obstacles between him and having some time alone with Dani before she had to pick up Savvy from his sister’s house.
Lucas couldn’t wait to see the baby, but he needed to talk to Dani first. “I’m fine,” he told his identical twin. “Nothing to see here.” His surgically repaired arm hurt like a bitch, but he would keep that info to himself, lest everyone treat him like an invalid. He was due to take pain meds within the hour and would be more than ready at the appointed time.
To Lucas’s dismay, Landon insisted on taking his bag from Dani and carrying it inside. The three of them trudged up two flights of stairs.
Dani used her key in the lock and opened the door.
“We can take it from here,” Lucas told his brother.
“Don’t be rude,” Dani said, easing him aside to admit Landon. “Come in, Landon.”
Lucas shook his head at Landon, glaring at him.
“I can see you’re fine,” Landon said, grinning, “so I’ll get going.”
“Thanks for coming by,” Lucas said.
“How’s Amanda?” Dani asked of the woman Lucas had been rescuing when he was injured.
“She’s okay. Her ankle is badly sprained, and she has cuts and bruises.”
“And she’s staying with you?”
“For now. She’s talking about going home to St. Louis at some point.” He shrugged. “Not sure what she’s going to do.”
Lucas felt bad for Landon, who liked Amanda a lot but couldn’t seem to move out of the friend zone with her. However, Lucas had problems of his own to contend with, so he didn’t want to delve into Landon’s. Not now anyway. “Tell her we hope she feels better soon.”
“She’d really like to see you. To thank you for what you did.”
“She doesn’t have to thank me. I was just doing my job.”
“Still… She’d like to see you.”
“Later in the week,” Dani gave him a stern look. “He’s supposed to be taking it easy.”
“I’ll check in tomorrow to see how he’s doing.”
“Bye.” Lucas shut the door in his brother’s face.
Dani turned on him, her eyes flashing with anger that only made her sexier than she already was. “What is wrong with you?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“Ever since you got to the hospital today, everything has been weird and different, and I want to know why.”
“Nothing is weird or different.”
“Everything is.” He caught her hand and pulled her with him to the sofa. “Sit and tell me what’s wrong.”
“I told you—”
Lucas put his finger over her lips. “Don’t lie to me, Dani. Please don’t lie. I know you, and I can tell you’re having a silent meltdown over something, so tell me what it is so we can figure out what to do about it.”
To his dismay, her eyes filled. She looked away from him.
Her tears broke his heart. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”
She wiped the moisture from her cheeks. “What happened at the fire… It brought it all back. The day I lost Jack his brother came to the door. I took one look at him, and I knew. This time, your sisters came. I was afraid to open the door because I didn’t want to hear what they would say.”
“I told you—nothing like this has ever happened before. We’ve never had a fire anywhere close to the one at the inn. It doesn’t happen.”
“It did happen! And if you’re not out fighting fires, you’re climbing rocks, snowmobiling or skiing the diamonds or doing God knows what else to try and break your neck.”
“I never actively try to break my neck.”
“I’m not joking, Lucas.”
He used the sleeve of his shirt to mop up her tears. “Believe me, I know.”
“I barely survived losing Jack. I can’t go through that again. I just can’t.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” The possibility was so overwhelming, he could barely process it. If he lost her and Savannah, he’d never get over it. And that, right there, is what’d happened to her when she lost Jack. A light bulb went on for him.
“Are you sure?”
“You know I love you, Lucas. I love you so much. It’s just…” She placed her hand over her stomach.
She nodded. “I don’t want to be, but I can’t help it.”
Lucas held out his good arm. “Come here.”
Dani curled up to him, resting her head on his chest.
He ran his fingers through her hair. “I couldn’t wait to get home to you and Savvy. Every minute I was away from you girls felt like a year.”
“We missed you, too. Savannah has been very cranky without her best pal this week.”
“I understand why you’re afraid. You’ve seen the worst-case scenario and had your heart broken. But you should know that the very last thing I’d ever want to do is break your heart. It means so much to me that you’ve given your beautiful heart to me, and I plan to take very good care of it. Will there be times that I scare you or myself? Probably, but we can’t be so afraid of what might happen that we forget to live. I didn’t know Jack, but I have to believe he was a pretty special guy if you loved him.”
“I’m sure the last thing he wanted to do was break your heart. Things happen sometimes, Dani, random things that make no sense. How many times had Jack been out on the ATV in that same area with no problem at all?”
“We have no way to know when our time will run out, and that’s why we have to treat the time we do have like the precious commodity it is. I want to spend every possible second of the time I have left with you and Savvy and the kids we’ll have together. I want to live and laugh and love and climb and ski and fight fires and rescue people. And more than anything, I want to come home to you when I’m done doing that stuff.” He tightened his arm around her and kissed the top of her head.
“I want that, too. I’d never want to hold you back from doing the things you love.”
“And I don’t want you to be afraid. What happened to Jack was a freak accident. Can I promise you that something like that will never happen to me? No, but I can promise you I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t.”
“I suppose I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
“Is it enough? Am I enough?”
She looked up at him. “You’re more than enough. You’re everything.”
He kissed her the way he’d been dying to since she arrived at the hospital. And when he resurfaced, he kissed her nose and both cheeks. “Marry me.”
Dani gasped. “What?”
“You heard me. Marry me and be mine forever. I love you and Savvy, and I always will. I want us to be a family.”
“Marry. Me.” He kissed her again, putting everything he felt for her into the kiss. “I love you more than anything.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”
She laughed as new tears spilled down her cheeks. “Yes, Lucas. I’ll marry you.”
“As soon as possible.”
“Good because I want to get busy giving Savvy a brother or a sister. Maybe even one of each.”
“Easy, cowboy. You just got out of the hospital.”
He gazed at her, taking in every detail of her gorgeous face. “When that ceiling was coming down on me, all I could think of was you and Savvy and whether I’d ever get to see you again. It scared me, too. Don’t think it didn’t. And now that I have this second chance, I don’t want to waste a single minute on anything that doesn’t have to do with you and us and our family.”
“I’m sorry if I freaked out.”
“Don’t be sorry. I totally get it. You can freak out any time you want, but you have to talk to me about it. If something triggers you, tell me, and I’ll do whatever I can to set your mind at ease. But don’t keep it from me. Deal?”
“Now go get my little girl.”
“She’s probably napping.”
“Wake her up.”
“I’m not waking her up.”
He moaned. “I need her.”
“You’ll see her very soon. Hannah said she’d bring her home after her nap, so do what the nurse said and chill.”
“You want to fool around?”
Hours later, with Savvy asleep on his chest, a fire burning in the fireplace and Dani curled up next to him on the sofa, Lucas had everything he needed.
Almost every member of his family had been by over the course of the evening, loading them down with more food than they could eat in a month. Not that he was complaining. They all wanted to see for themselves that he was all right, which he understood. He’d do the same for any of them.
“It’s time to put her down,” Dani said, yawning.
“You get five more minutes.”
“Aw, gee, Mom. You’re no fun.” Lucas breathed in the fresh clean baby scent of Savvy’s hair and rubbed her back. “I love her so much.”
“She loves you, too.”
“I’ll never forget the way she screamed when she saw me.” That would go down as one of the single best moments of his life.
“I told you she missed you.”
“What am I going to do when some dude wants to leave with her on the back of his motorcycle?”
“A. She is not dating any guy with a motorcycle. And B—”
“She’s not dating any guy ever.”
“That works, too.”
He glanced at Dani. “Thank you for letting me be her new daddy. I promise I’ll always make sure she knows how much her real daddy loved her.”
“That might be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said, but you’re still going to have let me put her to bed.”
Lucas moaned, but he let Dani lift Savvy off his chest and take her to bed. He immediately missed the weight and heat of her body. The kid had him wrapped so firmly around every one of her tiny fingers that if she ever found out how totally gone over her he was, he’d be in big trouble.
Dani emerged from the baby’s room and crooked her finger at him. “Let’s go, mister. Time for you to go to bed, too.”
“Oh goodie. I love bedtime.”
“You’re going to sleep.”
“Only after we make out for a while.”
“We’re not making out while you’re recovering from having smoke in your lungs.”
He took a big dramatic breath and blew it out. “I’m totally fine.”
She ignored him and steered him into the bathroom where she put toothpaste on his toothbrush and handed it to him.
“I also need you to hold my dick for me while I pee.”
“That is not happening.”
“You love my dick.”
“Lucas, I swear to God…”
He barked out a laugh that rang through the bathroom.
“You think you’re so funny.”
“I warned you about my juvenile sense of humor before you fell for me.”
“Yes, you did.” She unbuttoned his shirt and helped him get it off, sliding it carefully over the bandages that covered his incision.
After the sutures were removed, he’d be getting a plaster cast.
“I assume you can do the rest yourself,” she said, gesturing to his sweats.
“I can but it would be so much more fun if you did it.”
She turned and left the room.
“Was it something I said?” Lucas called after her, laughing at his own joke before taking a leak, washing his hands and joining her in the bedroom where she’d set him up with the pillows he needed to prop up his injured arm. He got into bed, grimaced as he got his arm settled and took a couple of deep breaths to contend with the blast of pain. Once it had receded, he reached for Dani. “Get over here.”
“Don’t be cute. You need to rest and not get all worked up.”
“Were you planning to work me up? I just wanted to snuggle.”
“You really are aggravating sometimes, you know that?”
“I told you that! I warned you I could be this way. You don’t get to act surprised at this point.”
Smiling, she shut the light off and moved across the bed to snuggle up to him, being careful not to jar him in any way.
“Ah,” he said, sighing with contentment, “now that’s what I’m talking about.”
“Go to sleep.”
“You remember you agreed to marry me earlier, right?”
“As if I could forget.”
“I’ll get you a ring as soon as I’m allowed to drive again.”
“I don’t need a ring.”
“You’re getting a ring. And, Dani?”
“This time, I swear to God, you’ll get a wedding, too.”
He kissed the top of her head. “I promise.”
Watch for Landon’s story coming soon!
Copyright 2019 HTJB, Inc./Marie Force Author
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
~ Calvin Coolidge