A smile lit up his eyes. He leaned toward her. That was it! She was a TV personality. He wondered that he didn’t recognize her sooner. Her show was broadcast all along the eastern seaboard. He had seen her on an affiliate station back home. All he knew was she dominated every situation. People flocked to her. Loved her.
How did she end up here?!
She began to stir, and Robert walked back to the chair beside the sofa. Kneeling, he picked up her hand and felt her pulse. It had returned to normal. Carefully, he tucked it back under the blanket, waiting for her to come fully awake.
Her eyelids fluttered then opened. She stared blankly for a few minutes as comprehension fully returned. In the interval between waking and recognition, he saw something in her beautiful green eyes that bothered him. Saddened him. He saw defeat. He thought he would feel victory over her at this moment, but instead, he felt a loss. He spoke quietly, looking into her eyes. “How are you feeling?” She frowned but didn’t answer. “You gave us quite a scare. Do you feel like sitting up, maybe having something light to eat? You’ve missed supper, but I’m sure you’re hungry, especially for Ivy’s dumplings.”
She struggled to sit up against the mountain of blankets Ivy had put over her. Or maybe it was fatigue that defeated her. She lay back down, watching him, never saying a word. He stood and removed the blankets, offering her a hand.
Taking her hand in his he pulled her into an upright position pushing an ottoman over for her feet. “Dumplings?”
She straightened the blanket still covering her lap and nodded. “It sounds wonderful, thank you.”
A few minutes later, Ivy came in with a tray of dumplings in broth and a cup of hot tea. “Here you go. Is there anything else I can get you?” She shook her head and began to eat ravenously. He leaned forward in the chair, watching her, smiling. When she finished, he took the tray. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
When he came back from the kitchen, he had a clean warm cloth. “Here’s a towel to wipe your hands.” He smiled at her. “Feeling a little more human now?”
“Have I been a beast?” She didn’t look at him. Instead, she glanced around the room, almost as if she hadn’t seen it before.
“No, quite the contrary. I found you very charming and cooperative. Almost angelic. Likable, even.”
“Wow, a man of many words.” She leveled her gaze at him. “Surprising. I thought you could only write words, not speak them.”
He sat down and leaned back in the chair, studying her intently. He wasn’t sure where to go with that. Clearly, she had regained her ability to talk. The sarcasm had returned.
“Well.” He pushed himself up and stood facing her. “If you feel strong enough, I’ll walk with you up the stairs. It’s after ten.”
“That’s not necessary.” She stood up. “I’m capable of making it to my room. Thanks, anyway.” She took an unsure step forward, then started to sway. He grabbed her arm. She fell against him, taking deep, gulping breaths.
He took both her arms. “Woah! Take a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Breathe.”
Looking down, she took slow, deep breaths. After a few minutes, she looked up and smiled, her face pale.
“I’ll walk you up. I promise I won’t bite.”
She wished he would. She could handle that. This new and unexpected concern… almost kindness… was a different matter. Where had it come from? Why? She looked up into his brown eyes and something stirred inside her. She would have expected a hard, irritated, almost condescending look, but saw compassion and caring looking back at her.
When he opened her door and walked her in, she glanced at the desk near the small fireplace. The first two books of his present series were laying there.
He sighed. “Do you really have a genuine desire to read them for entertainment, or do you have an ulterior motive?” His voice was calm. Resigned. “Never mind answering that. Either way, it would be interesting to see how you would judge my writing.” He shrugged, giving her sideways glance. “You are a wordsmith in your own right, aren’t you?” He turned and left the room, as the heat rose up her neck and face.
She sat on the bed, one leg pulled up under her, the other dangling off the side. The fire crackled in the fireplace making the room warm and cozy. She picked up Robert’s first novel and studied the cover. “Disappearance.” The cover was dark, sinister. She glanced over at the second book, “The Benefactor.” It had the same look. Did that tell her something about his temperament? Or were they just chosen by an editor for marketability? They certainly piqued her interest. She felt drowsy, but opened to the first page of “Disappearance,” and began reading. After a few minutes, her eyes were crossing and she drifted off, the book falling to the floor. She dreamed she was running, hiding, terrified. Someone chased her, closer, closer. She woke, the room dark, cold, and silent. The details of the dream were fuzzy, but she grabbed her pad and wrote down what she could remember.
She slept late the next morning, waking to tapping on her door. She rose on one elbow. “Who’s there?” Her voice cracked, making it obvious that she was just waking up.
“It’s Robert.” She could hear the smile in his voice. “You missed breakfast. Just wanted to see if you’d like a snack downstairs.”
“I’m not up yet, can you come back later?”
“I’ll fix us each a plate and meet you by the fireplace.”
She fell back on the bed, letting out a frustrated breath. He was so sure she would come. It made her want to just lay here and make him understand that he could not control her like that. She was hungry, though. And she was curious about what prompted him to be so nice — last night, and now this morning. She rolled off the bed. Putting on a pair of warm-ups and gathering her hair into a bun, she started down. She paused near the top of the stairs and went back into her room, retrieving the book from where it had fallen last night. He was in such an approachable mood maybe he would talk about it. She sat on the sofa and placed the book on the end table when he walked in. The tray he carried had two plates with fresh scones and home canned cherries Ivy had put up during the summer season. He set the plates on the coffee table and made another trip to the kitchen returning with two mugs of steaming coffee.
She took the cup carefully in both hands. “Thanks. I appreciate this more than you know.” She tried peeking at him out of the corner of her eye, but he caught her. He was smiling. Was it smugness, or just friendliness? Reaching for a scone, she started to ask a question, but he interrupted her thoughts.
“You’re very welcome. Did you rest well? I didn’t hear any cries in the night, or restless… moving around.”
That was weirder than anything so far. Could he hear her in her room? She shook her head, frowning. “No, there were no nightmares or sleeplessness. Thanks, I guess? For your concern?”
He pointed toward the table. “I see you have my book. Have you read it?” He took a sip of coffee. “Did you find any deep, dark secrets?”
She didn’t answer right away. She studied him, and he continued looking into her eyes. She broke her gaze and reached for the book. “Actually, last night was the first time I picked it up. That was my intent, though.” She took a deep breath, raising an eyebrow as she looked at him. “But I only got as far as searching the front and back covers.” He blinked, his mouth open. “Why did you choose the title “Disappearance?”
He put his coffee down, propping his face on his fingers, studying her. She leaned forward, waiting, sipping her coffee, watching his eyes.
“Why, indeed. Why would I even be inclined to discuss my writings…delve into the process of my thinking…as I created this work?”
She smiled, looking away from him. “You are quite a poetic wordsmith, Mr. Binning.”
He stood up and walked over to the fireplace, then turned to look at her, his hands in his pockets. “I wonder why I’m not turned off by your inquisitiveness when so many others have tried and failed.”
Her voice was soft. “I’m sorry.”
He looked at her, his eyes cool, his voice even. “Tell me. What is it that piques your interest? If I tell you my secrets, what do you intend to do with it?” He walked to the window behind his chair, looking out over the snowy landscape.
She was a little surprised he even considered her interest as something to pay attention to. She expected him to change the subject, if not walk out altogether. “I suppose it’s part of my nature, as a former journalist.” She frowned. Former? Where had that come from? But, she had made a decision about her future. She wouldn’t be a Television Journalist at least.
He turned to face her. “That’s where I remember you from. You had your own syndicated opinion segment every week. It ate at me since the first time I saw you.” He chuckled, his voice harsh. “Honestly, it makes me even more skeptical about giving you any fodder for your follies.”
She sat, looking directly in his eyes, even and steady. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing how deeply that hurt. Her profession wasn’t always viewed favorably. Some even called her pieces…spin, propaganda…and she supposed they were to a degree. Her purpose had been to shape the opinion of those who watched. To convince them to see things in the same light. Her topics hadn’t always been popular, either, she knew. But if she could just get people to consider other viewpoints, then it was worth it. She dropped her gaze. Why was she trying to justify her choices? Why did his words cut so deeply?
The look on her face made him pause, considering his motives. Why had he spoken so harshly? Could he not hold a normal conversation without being insulting and rude? He had wanted to discuss the book and share insights with her. Was that it? Had she gotten under his skin? Or maybe she had gotten into his heart. He didn’t know how to take back the words now that he had spoken them.
He turned away. He couldn’t explain his feelings to her. Didn’t even understand it himself for that matter. How had he let this happen? How could he have fallen in love with her when he wasn’t free to pursue her?
He sat down heavily in the chair. “Joy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. Quite to the contrary, I admired your work. I watched your program from time to time.” He leaned toward her. “But life happens and mine took a route I’m not free to explain just yet, to you or anyone else.” He let out a deep breath. “Please forgive me.”
She didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. Slowly, he got up and walked toward the staircase. She watched silently as he went up the stairs and out of sight. The fire was dying out, and she pulled a throw around her against the coolness in the room. She set the coffee down and pulled her feet up under her, staring at the fire, lost in thought. She looked up when she heard his footsteps coming down the staircase. She was about to say something, but he didn’t look her direction, just walked toward the door, laying an envelope on the desk before going out into the cold. It wasn’t until the door swung shut that she realized he had his suitcase and hanging clothes with him. By the time she reached the parking lot all she saw were the tail lights of his car in the distance. She stood watching until he turned and went out of sight.
Relationships are fragile things. In the beginning, we don’t always understand what’s happening in the other person’s life, what makes them do or say the things they do. So, what do we do? End it — or let it play itself out to the end?
Thank you for reading. Please like and share! And please make a comment. Comments provide inspiration.