Sophie’s eyes fluttered open as the pain in her side shot her awake, “Ow, stop it.”
“Stop your fussing young lady.” She heard her mother say back at her and a gentle slap at her hands as she tried to push her mother away.
Opening her eyes, she recognized the purple paisley of her mother’s comforter folded down to her waist. The cool of the room brushing against her skin, her opaque red bra the only thing she was wearing.
“Mom… where’s my shirt? Why… oh.” She said and closed her eyes as her mother continued trying with her ministrations with a roll of gauze about her middle.
“You remember now? You’ll be fine sweetie, no concussion, thank the lord, but you’ve cracked a few ribs. The medics can’t get here in the storm and your car will most likely burn on the tree it landed on until the roads are clear enough to get to it. It’s a miracle Cason was able to get you back here.” She was quiet, the low light of the lantern next to Sophie on the side table illuminated her mother’s face.
“Mom.” She said getting a hold of her mother’s hand, “I’m okay.”
Helen’s hand shook as she looked up, “Oh honey, when Cason carried you into the house I about lost my mind. I’ve lost too many—” she said choking up on the tears that rushed to her eyes, “I can’t lose you too.”
Sophie smiled and held her mother’s hand, “Only the good die young mom. I’ll be around forever, you couldn’t kill me if you tried.”
Helen squeeze her daughter’s hand back, and smiled letting the moment pass before wiping her eyes and returning to her task. “Sure, it’ll just be you and that dog Miles, living forever.”
Sophie laughed then winced, “Ooooh, ouch that hurts.”
“Hold on while I get this gauze about you. It’ll feel better once I do.”
“No mom, that hurts, just leave it. I’m fine.”
Helen sighed and looked down at her bruised daughter, a light gash over one eye and skin abrasions up and down her arms and hands.
“No Sophie, you’re not fine. You’ve been in a car wreck, and if this damn storm would ever cease you could get to where you need to be, which is a hospital.” She said and sighed in exasperation, “That and the Barney’s are still here. They’re just loving this, watching Cason bring you in they about clapped with glee just thinking about the juicy gossip they’re planning to spread.” She said then added, “At least that damn dog is still out cold. Now sit forward Sophie and let me wrap this around you.”
She remembered Cason pulling her from her SUV, “Where is Cason?”
“He’s giving directions to the police department on where they can find your vehicle. From the sounds of it they’re going to let it burn out, and retrieve it tomorrow when the storm passes. It’s too dangerous to get it now.”
Sophie shook her head, “What a mess.”
Helen shook her head, “What were you thinking going out in all that? What did that client say to you to make you go out in the middle of a storm?”
Sophie barely remembered the phone call with Philip Nigel, it was before that she did remember. Remembered that everything had changed.
“I was just going off half-cocked mom, that dog got me all riled up.” She said fudging the truth and wincing slightly, “I could use one of Cason’s pills right about now or a whole bottle of Tylenol.”
Helen murmured under her breath.
“What was that mom? I couldn’t hear you.”
“You’ve already had one of his pills. He said your ribs were probably broken.”
Sophie groaned and closed her eyes.
“You’ll feel better once I get your ribs wrapped up.”
She opened her eyes at her mother, “You’ve got to be kidding. We’ll wrap them later. Leave—”
The door opened just then, Cason slipping in. His clothes were damp and stained. A long tear at his shoulder, looked to be the work of a tree branch to his shirt.
“Cason!” Helen admonished.
“I’m a little under dressed.” Sophie mumbled looking at him, she could only imagine what she looked like if he was that battered.
He ignored them both and took the wide gauze from Helen and said, “I got this.”
“I doubt it.” Sophie said, “She’s not squeezing me any more than I’ll let you. I’m fine Cason.”
“Cason,” Helen interjected, “Please she’s indecent, let me get a shirt for her and then you can try.”
“Mrs. Sparling, it’s fine I’ve seen worse.” He said finding the end of the gauze, “The Barney’s however are looking for something in your kitchen.”
“Oh!” she said looking at the door then back at the dilemma sitting on her bed. “I’ll be right back.” She said leaving and pulling the door shut behind her.
As the door shut Sophie looked at Cason, “You’ve seen worse? That mean you see battered half naked women all the time?” He didn’t look up or smile. “Cason… Thanks for—”
“Sit forward.” He said pulling out a length of the roll.
“If I won’t let my own mother touch my broken ribs what makes you think I’ll let you?”
“Soph,” he said sliding onto the bed next to her, “If I have to manhandle you, it’s gonna hurt ten times worse.”
“You wouldn’t dare—”
Cason reached forward, hands on either side of her spreading the gauze across her front. Making it taut he hovered over her face, “Sit up or I shove this gauze under your back.”
She looked up into his gray eyes, they were calm but dead serious. “I would but you’re practically laying on me.” She said adding, “Trying to cop a feel McPherson?”
He leaned back, “Just sit up.”
As she did she winced.
“And for the record,” he said wrapping the gauze about her middle, his warm fingers adeptly unrolling it across her back, “I don’t try at anything. I do, and you’ll know when I cop a feel.”
Sophie hissed through her teeth at the pain.
“Here.” He said moving forward, “Rest your shoulder against mine. Now exhale, I’m going to tighten up.”
She leaned forward and rested against him. His shoulder was like leaning against a wall. She let her breath out just as Cason tightened up.
Sophie groaned as he said quietly, “Hardest part is over.”
“Mmmm…” She said and thought about what he’d said earlier to distract herself from the pain, “When you 'do cop a feel' McPherson, is that what you said?”
“Your point is?” he said letting his fingers move the roll across her front.
“You planning a feel?”
“Maybe.” He said playing along with her.
“Is that what all this rib wrapping is about? I mean don’t get me wrong, you seem like you’ve done this a few times, but I am in just my bra.”
“Nothing says, take advantage of me, like a chick who’s been tossed around in a fiery SUV.” He said.
Sophie smothered a laugh.
“Yeah, not going to be doing that anytime soon.” She said.
Cason grunted, “I’m not sure you ever made a habit of it.”
“Ouch, nice one.” Sophie said and winced into his shoulder, “Actually, really ouch. Hold up cowboy, what you’re doing hurts now.” She said gripping his hand with the gauze in it.
Cason stopped, his outer hand going to her broken ribs and wrapped gently around her side. “Sit up a bit.”
Cason bent his shoulder forward pushing her back upright.
Sophie hissed out a breath, as soon as she was upright Cason gently tightened then tore the gauze off securing the end.
Sophie couldn’t move, the pain shot through her side was too much.
“Lean back.” He said and with a wide hand at her back softly laid her down against the pillows and pulled up the comforter. He tucked it up under her arms.
Sophie laid a hand on his forearm next to her as he did so, keeping him over her. “Why’d you come for me?”
She opened her eyes when he didn’t answer. His eyes had softened, the hard lines next to his mouth eased. The pulse in his neck beat strong and swiftly, “I heard you leave.”
“Some people would just let me go, after what happened.”
The world softened as Cason moved slightly bringing his other hand up next to her head bracing himself directly over her, “I had something on my mind that I needed to tell you and when I heard you leave I just followed.”
“Some people call that stalking.” She said quietly.
He just looked at her face for a long while, seemingly memorizing the contours of it. “When I saw your car…” he said and swallowed hard, his eyes going dark again.
Sophie kept eye contact with him and gripped him harder, she knew what he was about to say.
“I thought…” he said and corrected, “I had a flashback. It about put me on the pavement. I came around the corner as your rig went up and over onto the tree.” He said and Sophie watched as he relived that piece of horror, “I’m not sure how I got my truck into park or how I got out of it. I just saw Ryan’s blood when I heard the side of your SUV crush in. It was loud. I knew that if I had just said something to you earlier you’d not have driven off. If I had just said something… I wouldn’t have both you and your brother's blood on my hands.” he said, his breath coming fast.
Sophie said quietly, “No one made me get in my car Cason except me, no one told me to drive like a mad woman, except me.”
Cason just shook his head, “When I heard your voice Soph…” he said and slowly, like a warm spring wind moving the thick southern air he leaned down. She felt him fist the comforter next to her as his forehead touched hers, “When I heard your voice calling for help, it was as if I was given a second chance in this life. You have no idea how beautiful your voice sounded to me tonight.”
Sophie felt the heat of him, the touch of his forehead against hers. She breathed in his scent, blood, sweat and rain. And something else, the smell of earth and man.
She said, “I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t get that damn seat belt off, but when I heard you… then saw you over me through my window, Cason I—”
“I know,” he said softly.
“Do you?” she whispered back, “I felt saved, I’ve never been so scared and happy at the same time in all my life.”
She felt his imperceptible nod, “Yes.”
Sophie’s world became soft then, the pain in her side easing and the feel of floating caressed her limbs.
Her other hand came up as feelings and inhibitions faded away, she put her hand to the side of Cason’s face. It was the first time she felt his rough stubble there, the edge of his jaw where it curved up to his temple. Her thumb spread over his cheekbone as he pulled back putting a few inches of space between them.
“How’s that pain pill working?” Cason asked.
Sophie felt good. She had Cason’s warmth above her, his solid male voice had softened toward her. That same voice now shifting from heavy to mischievous. She felt great, he made her feel great,
“I love you.” She blurted.
“Whoa.” He said, the low chuckle of his breath warm between them, “Really well, then.”
“Mmmmm… you have no idea how well.” she said opening her eyes up at him.
“I have some idea Soph.” He said pulling her hand from his face and gently laid it on her stomach, “You should rest now.”
“No,” she said trying to firm her grip on his arm, “Don’t go, there’s so much to… talk… about…”
Cason watched as Sophie fought to stay awake, her slender fingers wrapped around his arm in a death grip. The side of his face was still burning where her other hand had been.
As her eyes fluttered shut he reached forward and brushed her hair back off her face. He let himself be reckless as she slipped into a painless slumber. It would be just one more time. He let his fingers trace the softness of her cheek and follow their fullness down the flat planes of her face. He touched the cleaned gash over her eye, noting that it would heal fine. Cradling her cheek she turned into his palm, nuzzling herself against him there.
His heart raced in his chest then, the feeling of being needed by her nearly had him choking with emotion. He had forgotten how good that could feel, especially from her. Cason let himself brush the soft fullness of her lips with his thumb. Memorizing the curve of them, remembering the way they had formed the words I love you. And for just a moment he let himself feel what that would be like from her, those words said again to him - soberly. His heart squeezed in his chest.
Cason let his hand slide from her face and undid her grip on his arm. He stood then and looking down at her knew that a moment like that would never happen again. He couldn’t let it happen again, he had a promise to her brother he had to keep.