Clandestine Heart

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Chapter 17

For knighthood is not in the feats of warre

As for to fight in quarrel right or wrong

But in a cause which truth cannot defarre

--Stephen Hawes


Lara felt her jaw was aching and her head was throbbing when she surfaced from her half unconsciousness. For a split second, she could not remember what happened and where she was. Then the music and the smells of liquors made her realized that she was still at the club. Tears burned her eyes and she squeezed them shut as she tried to get up though seemed her body was the heaviest thing she could lift up until she sensed somebody was helping her. A person whom had strong-arms and had a very good deed to help a person like her.

Vaguely with the background of loud music, Lara heard that he asked something and she wanted to turn her tear-filled eyes to the source of the sound though she was not able to do that as her body was seemingly difficult to stir.

Then he gently pulled her hair to see her face. Soon, his familiar voice contained a shock of disbelief echoed. “Oh, my God, Lara?!” Then without waiting for another moment he hauled her in his arms, half cradled her. “Oh, Lara…” He said hoarsely.

Lara was hardly daring to breath as she looked up into fathomless dark eyes of the man who held every shaky piece of her heart and to the voice that called her name in her endless dream, the way her voice was calling her name now.

“Tristan…” She was trembling when she mentioned his name in a whisper and she felt that her heart jumped in her throat.

His eyes raked her from top to bottom to assure that she was not badly harmed but then when he found that there was a blood at the corner of her mouth because of the slap, he cursed. “Fuck! Lara, you’re bleeding!” He said before gently wiped it with his fingers. His gaze didn’t leave her. His eyes just locked with hers.

Lara still could not believe all of her senses, she thought that it was only her hallucination that he was holding her tight and his anxious emotion clearly was written in his handsome face. “Tristan, is it really you?” She asked with a quiver in her voice.

“Yes, Lara it’s me and you’re safe now...” He said in the voice only held anguish and regret. He felt crushed, like his heart was about to explode from his chest to see her at this state. He had pictured thousand of scenarios of what would have happened if he saw her next and what would she have reacted if he would have told her his feeling. But never in his wildest nightmare, would he have seen her in this kind condition.

“Tristan…”

“Shhh…Just don’t say a word, hmm?” He told her while caressing her face with so much gentleness of his touch.

And that was it.

His calming voice broke her last strength. Tears started to flood her face. “I swear…I swear to quit this job. Tonight is my last job.” She fumbled uncontrollably as she hurled herself into his arms.

Tristan did not understand what she meant, but he did not ask. He only buried his face in her hair. “It’s okay.” He then circled his arms and tightened his hold on her as if afraid that she would escape from him. He felt thousands of knives thrust at the center point of his heart as he heard he heartbroken sobbing.

“Don’t leave me, please.” She heard herself plead as she was hiding her face in his chest. Her shoulders shook violently in his arms.

Tristan rubbed her back in the comforting circles. “It’s alright, sweetheart. I won’t leave you. You’re safe with me.” He then gently pulled from their embrace and looked into her tear-streaked face. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Without waiting for her reply, Tristan lifted her body up and was just about to leave when he saw from the corner of his eyes, the man who had slapped Lara standing up for the second time.

He then approached them with furiously though his steps were still wobbly. “She’s a fucking hooker, man! A fucking Goddamn hooker!” He barked to Tristan, did not realize the danger he would meet.

The way that man called Lara as a hooker was the last straw for Tristan. He felt an anger simmered inside him had surfaced. He gently laid Lara onto the nearest sofa.

Lara stared at Tristan, a fear clearly registered in her face as she picked up the cadence of hear heart beating seeing the anger in his eyes. “Tristan, please don’t do that.” She pleaded. She did not want any more problems. She just wanted to leave this place.

“Stay here, Lara. I won’t be long.” He said coldly and without waiting of her reply, he turned around walked to that man with impending furious.

Blood seemed rising up to his head as he rushed forwards and with strength he was not really aware that he possibly had, he slammed him against the wall and strangled his neck.

“What the fuck you called her?” He grated like a possessed man. Tristan’s voice was icy, without waiting for the answer he proceeded to deliver another blow on that man’s face.

That man groaned out loud in pain. His nose was broken and his jaw seemed to be dislocated, but Tristan did not stop. He already lost his control. Everybody could see that he was about to kill that man. It was as if he was hitting at a thing and not a human being when kept on beating with all of his might until that man could only whimper.

The situation already was out of control. He heard women screamed as Tristan lifted himself off to that man. He saw that his own fist already covered with blood, not from his, obviously, and he did not bother to wipe it away as he once again looked at his now helpless target distastefully before he turned his attention completely back to Lara.

He immediately rushed to her except he was then being stopped by two security guards. Both of them blocked his way. Nevertheless Tristan was not a man who was easily intimidated by just some stares from two sturdy, muscular men. It took more than just stare to get his nerves especially at this particular moment. He kept on walking, passing them.

One of the security guards extended his hand, preventing him to take another step. “Excuse me, Sir. But you need to clean up the mess you’ve done.”

“Tristan gave him an expressionless glare. “You’d better be back off.” He warned him. “You don’t know who you’re facing now. “And who might be that I’m facing, Sir?”

“Tristan Lancaster.” He mentioned his name in toneless voice. “And you wouldn’t want to fucking piss me off right now!”

The shift from patronizing to deferential was achieved in the space of a single breath. “I’m sorry, we didn’t…”

“Next time checked first the situation and please do your fucking job better before you barge after everything done.” Tristan advised coldly as he squared his shoulders and continued to pace back to Lara. But then just after he moved two steps he turned around. His eyes were blazing. “If you dare to help him, I’ll make sure that there’ll be no more paycheck for both of you. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir.” Both of the security guards said in unison, they knew the capability of Tristan could have done if they ignored his request. Tristan had been well known, not only of his wealth but also his connection.

“Throw that scumbag on the street!” He ordered viciously as he pointed with so much hatred.

Tristan finally retreated to Lara who was still sitting on the sofa. He scoped her in his arms and instinctively Lara buried her had in his chest as he carried her, unmindful of the curious stares they received from the crowd. “Let’s get out of here now.” He whispered to her.

Lara lifted her face and as her eyes met his, she felt that she was melting inside. He could melt her just by staring at his beautiful eyes.

Then, she realized. That this was wrong. These circumstances were wrong. She, in his arms only a predicament for her. How did she manage to get herself into such a mess? How could from a lot of people on that place tonight, she had met him? How cruel the fate torturing her for making him seeing her like this?

She should stop this. It was to embarrassing for her. She could not impose on him about her problem anymore. “I can walk.” Lara then told him in timid voice. “And I’m heavy.”

For a full ten seconds of silence, Tristan did not say anything, then he agreed as he put her down and wait until she was steady with her two feet. “Are you okay?” He asked, still glancing at her without really releasing his hand only to make sure that she was doing sufficient enough to stand on her two feet without his support.

Lara nodded. “I’m fine now…” She paused for a moment and as she looked down, pretending to place her sling bag into a different position. She did not dare to look into his eyes as she added with she hoped that she had a convincing voice. “Thank you so much for helping me. But I’m fine now. Really.”

Tristan tilted his head, apparently unconvinced. “You’re still bleeding.” He then took out a perfectly folded, white silk handkerchief from one of his pants pocket. Then he gently pressed it to the corner of her mouth.

Lara winced as she felt a slight sting.

“I’m sorry.” He apologized. “You need medical help. I’ll take you to the doctor.” He pulled the handkerchief from her mouth then started to stretch out his arm onto her shoulders. “Let’s go to the hospital.”

Lara shook her head. “No, thank you. I’m fine, I just need to go back to my place. I can get grab some taxi from outside…” Her voice trailed off when she lifted her face and saw his expression darkened.

“No.” He firmly stated. “I’ll take you to the hospital and don’t ever think to grab a fucking cab at this hour when you’re at this state.”

“But…”

“Don’t argue with me, Lara.” He said. The air of dismay was clear in his eyes. “Not now.” He added. “Just go to the hospital, okay?”

“Tristan…” She called his name and paused momentarily. “I need to get my coat first.” She then informed him and stepped aside from his embrace.

Tristan arched one of his beautifully shaped eyebrows, obviously realized what she was doing and he did nott like it. “Forget it.” He said and without any hesitation he took off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders.

“Tristan…”

“Just shut up, Lara.” He ordered sharply but the gentle of his touch spoke differently as he pulled her into his arms once again. “We’ll go to the doctor right now.”

Lara’s heart pummeled but she did not say any of words as she let herself being led by him towards the exit. This time, Tristan did not hold her in his embrace any longer. Instead, he clasped his fingers against hers tightly as he at the same time made the call, probably to his chauffer since by the time they walked out from the inside his, car was already in front of the building.

“Get in.” He said, as his chauffer opened the backside of passenger door.

Lara nodded obediently, still had the regret for the things happened tonight yet there was nothing she could do right now. She slid to move to the other side of the back seat to let Tristan settled herself in the vacated space.

“Go to the nearest hospital, Gerald.” He instructed his chauffer as he closed the door.

“Yes Sir.” The chauffer replied, soon his black sleek car started to pull out into the road.

No one was talking during the first five minutes as the car was rolling into he stream of the early morning street. And though Lara was warmly bundled with his cashmere, tailored winter coat, the temperature inside the car seemed to drop by ten degrees Celsius.

In the uncertain light of the streets and the dark interior of his car, Lara could not see his expression. She could not read him, she just could not read his mind.

He rested his dark eyes on her before he began to speak. “You should put on the seatbelt.”

Lara blinked then murmured softly. “Sorry.” She said, immediately reached for the seatbelt.

Nevertheless he was faster. He yanked her hand before he helped her to fasten the seatbelt.

Now he was too close. Too close in this car, too…Intimate. In the confined of the car he seemed far closer that he had in the club. And she knew he would demand explanation soon and she really did not know where to start, how to broach the subject. The subject that she even was so terrified to tell to anyone. The subject that she was so shame to think about.

Automatically, Lara coiled into the corner of the seat, against the door, though it made no difference. He was still far, far too close.

And he was looking at her…No, he was seeing her through and through.

She could not hide from him now. Now, in the shadowy confines of this car, she was completely, absolutely exposed. Trepidation went through her.

“Doctor will check up on you, if there any scratch or anything.” He said in a tight voice.

“Seriously Tristan, I don’t need to go to the doctor.”

Tristan gave her a caustic look. “I’ve to make sure.” He briefly told her in his timbered voice, then turned his gaze outside the window as if he had willed himself not to look at her. He just did not want to see the bruises that fucking bastard had left on her. How that scumbag had touched her brought the anger inside him.

“I’m fine. I don’t need any treatment from the doctor.” She said but received no response. Tristan didn’t even look her anymore. She cleared her throat. “Tristan…” she continued in a quavering tone, still there was only silence she received.

Quite deflated, she turned her eyes to another direction. She felt her throat tighten. She didn’t want to go anywhere with him. She did not want him to be nice to her.

Had not she sworn last time when he had not found her lowly life that she would have stopped her feeling and had not wanted anything from him? Now when he had found it, she knew that he only made everything worse, especially when she was at this fragile situation and was under his favors. Lara felt her anxiety swirling in her stomach, it crunched her almost made her sick.

Outside the flickering lights of an almost deserted New York strobed in her vision. She closed her eyes, totally disheartened if she kept on open her eyes, she would see the anger flaming in those of his fathomless eyes. She feared the probability of revealing emotion he might have reflected there.

She did not have the strength to continue arguing the element to make it to her place and as the warmth of the car stole her, her breathing slowed and she started drifted to away.

In the opposite corner of the passenger seat, Tristan turned his attention towards her. His eyes rested on her. His thoughts were mixed.

In the shadows of the streetlights, the whips of dark hair loosened framing her face made a clear vision. Dark smudges circled around her closed-eyes. There was a black mark on her cheek and swollen on her lips.

She was breakable at the same time was pale with exhaustion, fear or combination of both.

She’s a fucking hooker, man! A fucking Goddamn hooker!

Tristan coiled his fists in frustration. That man’s words circulated in his mind whole times since he’d brought her out from the club. And those words went deeper into his psyche with every new rotation.

Tristan loathed every time that words returned, since it’d meant for her. For Lara. For a woman he loved.

Nevertheless, another words came into his mind. It was her voice that haunted him now.

I swear Tristan, I swear to quit this job. Tonight is my last job.

“Fuck!” Tristan cursed softly beneath the surface as he remembered her face when she had told him that.

What had she meant quitting this job? Had she meant as a hooker just like that fucking bastard had told him?

Inside him, the confused flux of emotions continued to tumble and he did not want to believe. He did not want to know.

A crestfallen sigh was heaved when he tried to shake those thoughts as he turned his attention back to the outside view. He could not afford to see the reality. Not now. He just could not think about it. All he needed to attend that she would be okay and the rest would come to its place, eventually.

Less than ten minutes later, his car glided to a smooth stop in front of the entrance lobby of Emergency room.

Tristan once again turned his head towards the sleeping Lara. Gently he touched her cheek with his long fingers. “Lara, we’ve arrived.”

The words and the soft touch stirred Lara to wakefulness. She jerked her head at him. She felt dopey, her mind blurred and unable to focus for few seconds.

Then slowly she roused herself fully from the torpid slumber the warmth and the motion of the car had induced in her.

She sat upright and blinked before to turn her attention on the windscreen. She saw the grand hospital stood tall. The neon lights surrounded that impersonal clean and sterile building. The depressing wall could only add the aloofness of that place.

Tristan already out and the cold draught of air at her side made her realized that the passenger door had been opened.

“Can you walk?” Tristan took her hand and helped her out. His gaze inspected her, concerning of her wellbeing.

“Yes.” Lara nodded and once again observed the hospital without any real enthusiasm. For her, hospital was the bad memory about her mother who had laid, lifelessly on the cold divan. Everything about hospital only reminded her of how she had walked into that main lobby hospital and then guided to the mortuary.

Tristan gripped her wrist tightly as they walked into the emergency room lobby. There were not many people around. Obviously there was no disputing the fact that surely New York’s winter tended to slow things down.

“Excuse me, we want to see a doctor.” Tristan told a young nurse. He leaned over the counter of the nurses’ station.

“Have you been in this hospital, before?” The nurse who was wearing slate-blue uniform asked them.

Trsitan looked at her and with his eyes, he asked her the same question. When Lara meekly shook her head for the answer, he then turned his attention back to the nurse. “Now, she hasn’t been to this hospital.”

“How about you, Sir?” The nurse asked him as her gaze fell on one of his knuckles.

“No, I’m not the one who’s hurt.” Tristan said briefly, flashing his charming smile to her. With his pristine charcoal-grey suit, he did not look like a man who had just been brawling.

“Alright, can you please fill the form first then we can proceed to see the doctor.” The nurse instructed smiling, somehow smitten with his charm yet she needed to keep everything professional.

“Thank you.” Tristan received the form and soon with he was still holding her wrist, they strode to the nearest, uncomfortable bench.

“Let me fill it first, okay?” Tristan said and he released his grip on her wrist.

Lara frowned as she sat next to him watching him filling the form. Besides a brisk sound from the paper there was quietness between them and Tristan ignored her presence.

“Tristan.” She called, trying to get his attention. “I think I’m the one who has to fill it.”

Tristan didn’t bother to turn his sight towards her when he responded. “That’s okay I can do it. I’ll ask you if there is something that I don’t understand.”

“But…”

“Lara, just relax.” He said efficiently to shut her away.

“But Tristan…” She called his name again, this time there was a determination in her tone.

Tristan took a deep sigh then for the first time since he had filled the form, he was looking straight at her. “Yes, Lara?”

“I’ve to tell you that I don’t have any health insurance.” She informed him as she pointed the paper. “I only have social security which means I need to fill it by myself.”

“Does it matter?” Tristan asked as he ran a hand over the dark growth of stubble that shadowed his angular jaw.

“Of course it matters, Tristan. It’s about how I’m going to pay the hospital bills.” She insisted belligerently.

Tristan viewed her dogmatic persistent with thinly concealed frustration. “Who said that you’re going to pay the bill?”

“You can’t possibly pay for me.” She countered sharply, breathing hard. She would never allow herself in his debt. He had done enough helping her tonight. “I don’t allow you.”

“And why I can’t pay that?” His eyes analyzed her deeply. “Why didn’t you allow me to?”

“I told you that I’m fine before, you just didn’t listen.” Her voice was clipped. Somehow she knew it was useless to argue with him. He was after all incredulously the epitome of being stubborn, self-restrain and reason.

“You know very well that you need it.” Tristan told her calmly and she felt her fragile poise deserted her completely as his dark eyes raked her face.

“No Tristan. You can’t, you just can’t do that…I mean…” She stammered. Inside she started to panic as she didn’t have any strong argument to tell him.

“And why not?” A combative light entered his smoldering eyes.

Possibly it was due to the unusual events, she found the circumstance was alarming than just exhilarating when she finally replied. “You’re not even have any relation with me.”

He could not have looked more astounded as if she’d killed him. He breathed in sharply and slab of his belly muscles become more noticeably concave.

Slowly he put down the pen and the paper on his laps. “I’m one of your friends,, would that also count?” He spoke, his color heightened.

“You’re hardly my friend.” She told him, whispered. She did not know why she said that. Nevertheless it was the truth. As painful as it was, still it was the fact. Early on she had decided confrontation was not her style, but after surviving for more than six months and counting was not the sign of a weak character.

He did not say anything. He just sat motionless there. He just stared straight back at her. He tried to wrestle his feeling under control. His agile mind was processing the information. The word she had said. He wanted so bad to deny it. But how could he deny it when she had told him the truth? It was so accurate. He had never been the best friend of hers as he had been busy to push her away from him. He had hurt her in so many ways one after another until he eventually had succeeded. She had given up.

Cracks were starting to appear at his blankness resolve. His will was weakening and wavering. For the first time since they entered the hospital, Lara caught a glimpse of the emotional wound she had said. He looked defeated. It was an expression she was unfamiliar with written in his face. Obviously his face was carefully blank, but his eyes were another matter entirely. She read the despair in his eyes.

There was a long silence and slowly as if he had all the time in the whole world, he answered. “I understand.” He drawled then paused for another split second as if he had thought the next sentences. “But for once, please let me be your friend.” He then rose from the bench without waiting for her reply and walked toward the nurses’ station, missing the quiver of uncertainty that made her lips tremble and filled her eyes with doubts.

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