Chapter 1

3641 Words
I woke to throbbing pain throughout my body, a pounding headache, and the sound of my name. It was faint, but growing in intensity as it moved toward me. My eyes opened, and I looked around, seeing the door of what I recognized as a hospital room. “Lila! Lila!” Nathan’s voice cried out. It was a frantic, panicked tone I had never heard before. “Lila!” “Mr. Thorne! You need to return to your room!” was screeched at him by who I assumed was a nurse. “Lila!” “Don’t pull that out,” another voice scolded. “Lila!” he wailed, and it sounded like he was on the verge of tears. It was clear he was ignoring the nurses as his search for me continued; they were threatening to call security. “Lila!” he called out again, desperation flooding his tone. He was louder, only one room away. My chest tightened, and my heart began beating at a furious pace. Seconds later, his hands appeared on the doorway, bracing himself while his eyes searched for me. I gasped when I took in his appearance; he was wearing nothing but a hospital gown. One tube hung from his wrist, hanging down on the ground. His expression was what had me in shock and my heart wrenching. Tears streamed down his pink cheeks; his eyes were wide and frantic, a look of despair overpowering all other emotions. As soon as his eyes met mine, his body relaxed, and his face morphed into one of relief and joy. “Lila!” he cried out once more, stumbling toward me. He reached out and grasped onto the sides of my face, his forehead leaning onto my bandaged one. “Oh, thank God. Thank God, you’re alive.” Warm tears landed on my cheeks as he continued mumbling. I stared at him in stunned silence. This was not the Nathan I knew. The mask was gone, and for the first time I was seeing the true Nathan without any inhibitions. He was raw and lay bare before me. He was stunning. More beautiful than usual in his agony. I didn’t move, I didn’t speak, I lay there stunned. He was crying. Nathan was crying. One of his tears dropped, sliding down to my lips. My tongue peeked out to lick it away, and my taste buds danced, registering the salty evidence, proving I wasn’t imagining it. “Nathan, what’s going on?” My voice was thick, my throat dry, and I began to wonder how long I’d been out. He pulled back from me to look into my eyes. “You don’t remember?” I shook my head and immediately stopped when I found how much it hurt. My vision spun, and my eyes were having trouble tracking. “You were in a very bad accident…” he trailed off, and his eyes moved from mine, looking over my whole body. I could tell I was hurt—the throbbing and shooting pain when I tried to move was proof enough without the excruciating breaths. His expression told me I was as bad off as I felt. His fingers ran over my gauze covered arm. I realized my whole arm was wrapped when he pressed his fingers to mine. He moved back up to my head, inspecting the bandage and gauze that was wound around it. With light strokes he ran the back of his fingers against my cheek, and even that hurt. I was certain I didn’t want to see a mirror at that moment. He stayed clear of my leg, which was good as I might have punched him if he touched it because it hurt so much already. “I’m so sorry. This wouldn’t have happened if I…” His being there, his pain, made me angry. His apology even more so. “If you what? Hadn’t left me? Broken me? Left me a shell of the paper thin person I already was before you? If that’s even possible.” “All of those. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” My jaw clenched, another thing I found painful, as annoyance took over. “You didn’t do this physical damage to me. What you did was far worse.” “Please, Lila, please!” he begged in a whisper. My chest felt like he was stabbing me with a knife, and in an angry fit I lashed out. “Please, what?” “Please, I’ll tell you everything, anything you want to know if you… Can we start over? I need you so much.” My tone was harsh. “Why? Why did you leave me if you were going to beg for me back?” “I’m so sorry I did this to you, to us. I was trying to protect you, and myself.” “Protect you from what exactly? What did you need protection from?” “From losing you the same way I lost…my wife,” he admitted, his eyes screwed tight. I swallowed hard, absorbing his words. There was a twinge in my chest that had nothing to do with my injuries and everything to do with him. My anger subsided for a brief moment, but bounced back. “And what were you protecting me from?” “From the Marconi family.” His eyes were boring into mine, beseeching me to understand. My eyes widened. The Marconi family was well-known for their criminal connections. Their reach was mostly the northeast part of the country. I was hesitant with my next question as I wondered what he’d been involved with in the past. It left me wishing I’d read those articles about Nathan instead of closing them down. “Why would you need to protect me from the Marconis?” He sniffed and another tear slid down his cheek. “Because if they found out about you, they would kill you like they did her.” I stared at him, slack-jawed. He’d mentioned his condo wasn’t in his name. It was evident to me now it was part of his hiding. “Why did they want to hurt her?” “They were trying to kill me.” “Oh.” My lips pressed into a thin, taut line. My head was pounding, and as much as I was happy he was opening up, I just wanted him to go. “I can’t let that happen to you.” “So you let me go? Were you ever going to ask me what I wanted? Were you ever going to tell me and let me decide for myself to risk my life to stay with you or cut all ties? Do you feel anything for me?” I needed some answers right then, though I wondered if they would be enough. “I feel so much for you. I tried to stop it. I knew it could happen with you—I sensed it from the beginning. The pull I feel to you is so strong. I tried to will myself not to develop these feelings for you, but you just won’t f*****g be denied!” “I don’t understand what the f**k you’re saying,” I grumbled. “I’m saying Darren was right. I tried so hard to deny it, to deny you, but he saw it. He said I was being selfish by leaving you, that I did it because I didn’t want to be hurt again, that I was a coward for it. He was right. He saw it from the moment he arrived at the hospital when you were unresponsive.” My brow scrunched. “Dr. Morgenson? How do you know him, and what did he see?” My patience was running thin, and Nathan’s head shook, making it worse. “Just f*****g say whatever it is you’re trying to say!” My chest protested, screaming at me, and I laid my head back down. The pain was almost unbearable. He looked at me, his face torn as he studied my features. His mouth opened and then closed again, the words stuck. “He knew that I’m in love with you.” My eyes widened, my mouth dropping in shock as my brain attempted to process what he had said. “I love you, Lila,” he declared. “I’m so scared about what that means for you.” My heart skipped a beat as words I had longed to hear slipped past his lips. The problem was they were tainted by the darkness he had carved in my heart. I laughed; it was a harsh one, my bitterness soaking through, and he flinched in response. “You love me? Then why did you leave me?” “I’m sorry, I…” “You love me? You’re sorry? Do you somehow think that makes everything better?” I asked, my voice growing in volume despite the protest in my lungs. “No.” “Then what, Nathan? What the f**k do you want?” I asked, tears welling in my eyes. I needed to know. He needed to tell me. No more hiding. “I…” he began, and then shook his head, his eyes pleading with me for some sort of unknown understanding. “Out.” My right arm lifted, despite the pain, and pointed toward the door. The chance was given for him to give me something, anything, but he didn’t take it. “Wait, Lila, please,” he begged. “I said get the f**k out!” The action of yelling caused my eyes to grow wide as an agonizing fire ripped its way through me, my injuries protesting my movements. My breaths became shallow, each harder than the last. The beeping on the machines increased. Nathan stepped toward me, and I growled at him in warning. “No! Out!” My hand grabbed hold of the ice water on the stand next to me, and I threw it at him. The lid popped off when it crashed into his chest. The cold water spilled all over him, and he wore an expression of utter shock while the sound of the plastic, hitting the hard floor, filled the room. I screamed out, the pain from jostling my body so intense a white light clouded my vision. In the background, Nathan was calling to me along with other voices, coaxing me to calm down, but all I could pay attention to was my own gasping breaths and shooting pains coursing through my body. I was crying out in pain between the pants. Every sound I emitted caused the stabbing in my chest to flare, which would cause me to scream yet again. It was a vicious cycle. It took a while, but with the help of some drugs, I regained a normal breathing pattern. “Ms. Palmer… Delilah, I’m Dr. Thomas. Do you recall how you were injured?” he asked, and I shook my head. His hand reached out and stopped the motion. “It’s okay, not too much. Now that you’re awake, I’m hoping we can better assess your injuries. As of right now, we know you have a broken leg. You also have multiple lacerations that we’ve stitched up. We’re going to evaluate you and go from there, all right?” I nodded in response, and nurses began taking new vitals while fingers poked and prodded me. I may or may not have hit one of the nurses when my leg was bumped, but thankfully they understood. For what felt like the next millennium, I was examined and moved about, left with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company. The nurses tried to draw me into conversation, but I wasn’t paying attention. What had me was him: Nathan. Everywhere in the hospital I went, I could still feel him. My eyes searched for him as they wheeled me down corridors. I never did see him, but I knew he was near. After everything, there was still that rope that bound us together, pulling me to him. Sixteen hours, seventeen x-rays, and one CT scan later, the tally was in: bruised ribs, broken tibia and fibula which needed surgery to be realigned with a metal rod to hold the bones together, sprained left wrist, a concussion, and a linear skull fracture. To top it all off, I had multiple lacerations to my arms, legs, and head, and bruises with various scratches that covered my body. I was also informed I would not be leaving the hospital until after the surgery to fix my leg. My surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, and if I was lucky, I would be released on Wednesday. It was going to be a very long week. They gave me lots of medicine for the pain, and I soon found myself drowsy. After a small fight I gave up trying to stay awake and fell into a deep sleep. Soothing strokes of my hair woke me sometime later, and my eyes fluttered open to find Caroline staring at me with wet eyes. “Caroline?” “You gave us quite a scare, sweetie,” she said with a sniff. Her fingers continued to run through my hair past the bandage that circled my head. “How are you feeling?” I attempted to move, but my body protested by shooting pain throughout, including my lungs when I breathed. “Like I’ve been hit by a truck.” “Full size work van.” “Huh?” She smiled at my confusion. “You were hit by a full size work van.” “Oh. Well…that hurt, probably more than a truck.” Caroline tried to suppress a laugh, but it came out anyway. “I bet it did. Do you remember?” I shook my head, an action I found to be bad when my head began to spin. “How long have I been here? I know the doctor came in, and I had all those tests after Nathan…” I trailed off, my brow scrunching as I remembered how he was dressed. Not in his normal tailored suit, but in the same drab hospital gown I was wearing. “Why is Nathan in the hospital?” She pursed her lips. I knew she wasn’t happy with him and all that had gone on with our breakup, but there was something in the look upon her face. She was…torn. “It’s almost seven in the evening on Friday, you’ve been asleep for most of the day, and you’ve been here for almost two days. Nathan, well, he ran, literally ran to you after you called him… Lila, were you aware he was in a car accident?” she asked, avoiding answering my question. “No, but I figured that was probably what caused his scars.” She stared at me for a moment as she processed that bit. “And his wife?” she asked with reluctance. “I just found out he had been married and that she died.” She contemplated for a moment as if she was wondering exactly how much to tell me. “I made it to the accident scene because I was getting off the elevator when Nathan was rushing on, and he said to Jack that you were in an accident. I followed after him, running as well, which you know how hard that is in heels. Anyway, when I got there he was calling out your name; the police were trying to move him back behind the line. You were unconscious on the stretcher and you…” “Caroline?” Tears slid down her cheeks. “I thought you were dead. There was so much blood. Nathan saw you and lost it. He had a massive panic attack, which I wouldn’t have known the signs of if it wasn’t for you. It was…terrible to see, much worse than when I watched you. They had to sedate him before, I don’t know, he had a heart attack or something.” “Why?” I asked, confused. Why did he care? “Why what?” “Why was he having a panic attack?” She stared at me with her eyes wide before she leaned in. “Lila…because he thought he’d lost you; he thought you were dead.” “He didn’t have me to lose.” My breathing picked up as the emotional pain tightened my chest. “He threw me away.” A pained expression crossed her face. “As much as I hate him for hurting you, I think…I think he’s in love with you.” “He said that.” “He did?” she asked, surprised. “Yes, but I don’t believe it.” “Why not?” “Why would he throw me away if he loved me? I’ve been thrown away and thrown around and none of those people loved me,” I said, my eyes trained on the ceiling. Her fingers were shaking as they glided across my arm. “People sometimes do it when they love someone.” “So, you’re telling me that all people throw you away, whether they love you or not? Why do I want to live in a place like that?” My chest was screaming at me. I tried to lie back and calm down in hopes it would help, but the movement caused my leg to jostle, and I almost passed out from the combined pain that cut through me. It was time for a new dosage of pain meds. “Please don’t talk like that,” she begged. “Why? You’re telling me it doesn’t matter; I’m going to be thrown away anyway! I should have killed myself when I was younger. That van should have done me in!” I cried out, tears streaming from my eyes. I struggled for breath, the pain unbearable. “Lila…” Caroline’s voice faded away, a tear falling down her cheek. “Don’t you ever f*****g say that again!” Nathan’s voice growled from the door. I gasped and turned my head to find Nathan, eyes blazing with fury, standing in the doorway with a few people behind him. The action was too fast. I was hit with dizziness, my head falling back onto the pillow. In a flash he was standing over me, his features concerned. There was so much force behind his expression I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. “Please, don’t ever say that again… Don’t leave me, Lila.” His fingers brushed against my cheeks, and I had to forcibly stop myself from leaning into his touch. It hurt, but in a different way. My heart fractured again at the look on his face I caused. My gaze moved to anywhere but his eyes. That was when I noticed he was back in his suit, minus the tie. “You left me,” I said. His fingers dropped, his hand returning to his side. “Let me explain. Please? I need you.” “Sorry, I don’t think I’m fit to help you out at the moment,” I sneered, turning to look up at him. I was going to go into a rant, to dig into him more, but the expression he wore stopped me. The mask was once again gone, and I was astonished by the emotions emitting from the man in front of me. The pain he held was visible, etched into his perfect features. “I’ll make it up to you. I promise,” he said in a low voice. I didn’t respond. I couldn’t. There was no response. He’d never promised me anything before. The word had never slipped past his lips. A throat cleared behind him, and I craned my head around to see his father standing next to a woman with dark brown hair speckled with grey and a soft, sad smile. Another woman with the same dark hair was also with them, and Andrew made up the rear. “It’s getting late, Nathan. We need to get you home,” George said. I felt a tugging at my waist and glanced down to find Nathan’s hand fisted in the thin hospital blanket and my wonderful hospital gown. “I…please?” Nathan begged. Sadness washed over the older man’s face. “Visiting hours are over, and Lila needs to get some rest.” Nathan stared back at his father, beseeching him. While he did that, Caroline stood from the chair and leaned forward, placing a kiss on my forehead. “I’ll be back tomorrow, okay?” Her hands smoothed the hair from my face. “I love you.” I squeezed her hand. “Bye. Love you, too.” She walked toward the door, glaring at Nathan as she went. “I’ll be back around lunch to check on you,” she said upon parting through the crowd and exiting. “Lila,” the older woman began, “I’m glad you’re okay.” I stared at her for a moment before remembering my manners. Even if I didn’t know who she was, I still needed to be polite. Teresa would be disappointed otherwise. “Thank you.” She gave a tight smile before exiting as well, George right behind her. “I’ll be back in the morning,” Nathan said. I roamed my eyes back up to him, one of the few things that didn’t hurt to move. He leaned down and also placed a kiss on my forehead. My heart hammered in my chest at his closeness. I wanted to tilt my head up and capture his lips in mine. But I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. He walked out the door and my chest seared, but for a different reason than the bruised ribs. Moisture filled my eyes before flooding down my cheeks. From my periphery, Andrew’s tall, lanky form walked over to me. “What do I do?” He pursed his lips. “You should hear him out, let him explain. That way you can make a decision based on all the facts.” “You know, then.” A statement, not a question. “Yes. I made a call to an old friend in the D.A.’s office. You need to hear what he has to say. I don’t like what he did to you, but I have a better understanding of why he felt he needed to do it and…” he trailed off and sighed. “I can’t hate him for that.” He took my right hand, my good hand, in his. His long fingers dwarfed mine as they always had. “We’ll all be in to see you at some point in the morning. We all love you and want you to get better.” He paused, his expression torn. “That includes him, you know.” I nodded, and he squeezed my fingers before turning and walking to the door. “Hey Drew?” “Hmm?” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome. Now get some rest. I know you haven’t been unconscious enough today,” he said with a wink and a wave goodbye as he disappeared. It was quiet then, the beeping of the machines and the aching pain the meds didn’t dull down my only company. I stared at the ceiling and contemplated Nathan’s request to hear him out and wondered if I could. I didn’t have anything else left to lose; he’d taken what little there was of me. So what harm would it be? Maybe then I could understand and begin getting over him. I still didn’t believe he wanted me. He felt guilty, was all. Doubt crept into my mind as I replayed his frantic pleas in my head and the three words he had spoken most vehemently. “I love you.” The words swirled around in my head, and I didn’t even notice the nurse when she entered to take my vitals. I did, however, notice the new meds she slipped into the IV, because my eyelids grew heavy, and I drifted back into unconsciousness.
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