sat quietly beside Niko. They were on the highway zipping along at a
seeming astronomical speed in his snazzy BMW. He had tried to engage
her in conversation several times, but she remained distant. Her
mind was on Sirri, on the words he had spoken. Part of her wanted to
believe that Sirri was nothing more than a jealous ex-lover out to
destroy her happiness. Happiness? What happiness? She
wasn't happy or content or secure. She was none of those things.
It was one reason why she could give Sirri's words the credence
they deserved. Why would he tell an outrageous lie such as that? He
wasn't a manipulator. It simply wasn't his way. But what she
had been told was overwhelming, unbelievable. Not once had Niko
displayed an ounce of instability. He was pushy, but he was also an
attorney. All she had known possessed a certain degree of it.
Whether the information about Niko was true or not, tonight, Makenna
would ask that they cool down their dating. She couldn't handle it
anymore, not with the mounting concerns growing inside her.
After telling her what he learned about Niko, Sirri left her. Actually, he had been chased away by Niko's badly timed phone call. Truthfully, honestly, Makenna hadn't wanted Sirri to leave. She wanted him to stay. When he kissed her, she was more than ready to discuss what they could do to repair their relationship. It had felt natural, wonderful, and so very nice. Nothing since their breakup had felt as good or as right. Would Sirri have taken her seriously, especially after her hurtful response to his urgent words? She had tried to talk to him, but the phone rang, Niko spoke, and Sirri misunderstood. He had not given her time to finish her thoughts. It was frustrating and more than heartbreaking. She couldn't put all the blame on Niko. She carried a fair share of the burden herself. Defeated for now, Makenna turned her head and gazed out the window. She had never felt more confused in her life.
Earlier tonight, she and Niko had shared a decent Chinese dinner, but she hadn't touched much of hers. She spent the shank of the evening listening to him spinning tales about his day in court. She nodded in all the right places, smiled at the right intervals, and laughed when he told a joke. Her focus was aimed elsewhere. It was following Sirri. She wanted to see him and tell him what he still did not know but deserved to hear. She had no clear idea why she had agreed to go along with Niko to his place. Maybe it was as good a place as any to cool him down before it was too late to do so.
Niko lived in a one-bedroom luxury apartment in the ritzier section of town. The parking garage was manned by a security guard. It never ceased to amaze her how having money could make such a difference with housing and safety. It seemed the world fought to protect the wealthy while allowing the poor to self-destruct. Niko obviously lived amongst the 'haves.'
The carefully guarded garage fascinated Makenna, but his apartment left her completely awestruck. Despite the fact that there was only one bedroom, the interior of the apartment was quite spacious, probably two thousand square feet or more. The furnishings and appliances were pristine, with a new appearance. There were green potted plants everywhere. Off to the side of the living room was a set of sliding glass doors, likely leading to an enormous deck. Dominating one wall to her immediate right were two gigantic bookshelves. Both were filled to capacity with books of various shapes and sizes. The colors were dark, moody. Mahogany seemed to rule his living space. It was depressing, reminding her of a professor's office. It was too stodgy for a man in his early forties. It was a cold, secretive place.
"You don't drink, right," Niko called from the kitchen.
"No. Actually, I don't want anything."
"Okay," he said. "Have a seat. I'll be out in a minute."
Makenna chose to sit on an overstuffed black leather couch that was strategically placed in the center of the room. She took a look about the room. There was artwork hanging here and there. The images were confused, almost blurry. She had never been an art buff, but she did appreciate it. However, the paintings on Niko's walls bordered on hideous. Her curiosity getting the better of her, Makenna left the couch to view the art up close. The artist's signature was the same on every painting: N. Milionis.
"They're awful, I know. But it's a relaxing hobby," Niko said.
Makenna turned her head to look at him. He had a quiet way of moving about. It was unnerving. "They're not bad," she said, hating the exaggeration. They were disturbing. "I can't draw a straight line with a ruler."
He smiled at her before approaching where she stood. As he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind, he heard her sharp intake of breath. He didn't take it as a negative thing. Not at all. Her body was stiff, unyielding. It was a surprise move, but so far, she wasn't objecting. He was glad. He had been waiting weeks for this moment. He had tasted her lips many times. Would tonight give him a taste of something else?
At first, Makenna neither said nor did anything. His approach had actually shocked her so much that she simply didn't know how to react. She didn't like the idea of his arms wrapped so tightly about her waist. He had caught her off guard with his kisses in recent weeks, but he hadn't embraced her like this. He had brought her to his home and felt safe to do this on his own turf. When his hand snaked up to cup her left breast, she reached up and covered it with her own.
"Niko, we have to talk," she said, her voice taking on a stern edge.
"Yes," he breathed against her neck. "We do. First, I want you."
Before she had time to respond, he moved quickly, spinning her body around, pinning her to the wall. His mouth claimed hers brutally as his hand roamed her body restlessly. Oh what a mess she had gotten herself into. When his lips released hers, she could finally breathe.
"Niko, stop it," she demanded harshly.
"No," he said gruffly. "I know you want this, too."
He took her roughly by the forearms. He intended on dragging her to the couch so he could quench whatever desire he had flowing through his veins. She wouldn't have that. She wrenched her arms out of his grasp. Lightning fast, she drew back and slapped him as hard as she could. For a long moment, he gazed at her, his eyes sparkling evermore with mirth.
"It's not in your best interest to handle me like that," she said sharply. Her heart was racing frantically in her chest. She thought she might vomit. "I think it would be best…and safer…if we didn't see each other anymore."
Niko's dark eyes sparkled evilly. A bitter grin framed the corners of his full lips. "You tease me incredibly, Makenna, but refuse to consummate the game." He ran his hand through his thick, unruly hair. "Were you playing with me? Were you trying to make Amandurre jealous? Well, it worked. He's eating his heart out. For weeks now, he's been a lovesick cheating bastard. What did you do? Break up with him long enough for him to realize what he was missing so he would come crawling back?"
"I didn't want this, Niko," she whispered harshly. "I only wanted a friend. I didn't want a lover."
He nodded as if he understood, but she knew he didn't. "I could be very good for you if you gave me a chance."
She shook her head and rubbed her bruised forearms. "I can't. I have to think of my safety, my sanity. I don't think you're good for me."
He laughed. It was bitter and harsh. "But a cheater is? I should have known you would still be hung up on him."
"This has very little to do with Sirri. I want nothing from you that isn't professional in nature. I never did. Goodbye, Niko."
Niko stayed rooted to his spot as Makenna made her exit. She had no clue as to what she had tossed away. There were many things he could do to correct this situation. All it would take were a few phone calls. It was still early. There was time to get some work done.
The club was called Zipper's and it was the favored hangout of one Melissa Claspinski-Amandurre when she was in town. It never failed to cheer her up. Tonight was to be the exception to the rule. She knew she should have gone home a few months ago, but she was sticking around, waiting for Sirri to call. He would call. She had been certain of that. Thus far, though, he hadn't. What had she done wrong? He was always her spineless toy…or had been throughout the duration of their marriage. It had been relatively easy getting him to bed. She talked of old times, cried about her sainted mother, and away they went. But her pushover ex-husband had grown some balls. He had cruelly turned her away to mourn the loss of his bitch girlfriend with the deformed hand. She had never thought the day would come when Sirri would fail to be at her beck and call.
After he had thrown her out of his apartment, Melissa called him every night. Eventually Reese answered the phone, letting her know he had moved out. Reese didn't know Sirri's new address or phone number. Melissa had had a screaming, kicking fit over that one. How dare he hide from her! This wasn't supposed to be how it went. Oh hell no. How could she get back into his life without knowing how to find him? She cursed her saintly, dead mother. Arla Claspinski was the one who told Sirri all of Melissa's dirty secrets. She was the one who told him he would be better off away from Melissa.
"May I join you," a jovial masculine voice asked.
Melissa had been so upset that she hadn't noticed someone observing her. She looked up at the man, noticing that he had dark eyes like Sirri's. He wasn't as hot as her ex, but he would pass. It had been a long time since she got laid.
"Sure. Have a seat, Handsome."
Much later, 'Handsome' stood, wiping his hands clean. He picked up his cell phone, dialed a number and said, "I'm calling in a favor."
It was late, Sirri was tired, and he absolutely couldn't wait to get into bed. There wasn't much traffic out. He could only see one car traveling behind him, but he gave no significance to it. To him, it was simply another hapless bastard driving around at all hours of the night. No big deal. Absolutely no skin off his nose.
After leaving Makenna's apartment, he drove around for hours trying to clear his head. It had become something of a habit lately. How many times since he and Makenna broke up had he done this? He probably couldn't count them on his fingers or toes. As he continued putting more miles on the odometer, his mind went here, there, and everywhere. It was more than obvious Makenna was going to see Niko regardless of what he said or didn't say. He had to formulate another plan, find another way to show her the truth. If any harm, however slight, came to her, he would lose his mind. It was as simple as that.
Lost in his thoughts, Sirri had no idea the car behind him was closing the distance until it was too late. He saw the blinding headlights flood the interior of his car just before the other vehicle slammed into his. Desperately trying to prevent the inevitable, he jerked the wheel hard into the skid. He almost managed to get the car under control, but the other driver rammed him again. His rate of speed coupled with the impact was too much for his ancient car to take. The last thing he remembered was taking his foot off the gas and preparing for the crash.
The shrill ring of the phone brought Makenna out of a sound sleep. With one eye open, she checked the clock. She wasn't on call, so who would be calling her at five in the morning? She picked up the phone before the answering machine kicked on.
"Um," she mumbled sleepily. "Hello?"
"Hi, Makenna. It's Reese."
At that, Makenna's eyes came wide open. Why on earth would he call? "Reese?"
"Yeah. I'm sure you didn't expect to hear from me, did you? I only wish it was a social call," he began cryptically.
Hard edged adrenaline rushed through her veins. It was as if a thousand units of speed were injected into her bloodstream. "What…what is it?"
"At mid-shift, I heard over police band about a car wreck. I responded to the scene. It was Sirri's car."
His words were flat, emotionless. They were the words of a seasoned police officer just 'stating the facts, ma'am.' For a brief moment, she was tempted to scream at him. He was your roommate, for God's sake. It seemed as if her heart completely stopped for several minutes. Sirri? She had just seen him earlier. No. It couldn't be. "Are you sure?"
"Very sure. I wish I wasn't. I wasn't there when the ambulance came, so I'm unsure of his condition, but they took him to Lipton General." He paused for a moment to release a deep sigh. "I know I was a shit to you," he said quietly. "Whether you think I'm sincere or not, I'd like to apologize. Now that I look back on the last two years, you and Sirri were really good together. I'm sorry to call you like this, but I thought you should hear it from me and not the morning news."
Makenna didn't react. She actually couldn't. Her mind was working ninety to nothing. Dear God. What would she do if Sirri was dead? She clutched at her abdomen. He couldn't. He just couldn't. Without thinking, she threw down the phone and darted to her closet.
Sirri's eyes came open slowly. His head thumped sickly and his shoulder screamed a bit as well. He remembered little about the ambulance ride to the hospital, only the few words spoken to him by a paramedic: "Seatbelt spared your ass, buddy." He hadn't exactly come away unscathed, but he was alive. He wondered what had happened to the other guy. Who was the fucker with the pitiful driving skills? Something told him he should be thinking of that, worrying about it, but he couldn't. He could only focus on the goose egg on his forehead. Once that went away, maybe he could think. Maybe. He closed his eyes again, preparing to surrender to sleep once more, but the slight swish of the door prevented his descent. His bed was positioned in such a way that he couldn't see his guest, but he assumed it was hospital staff anyway. If they wanted to pick and prod on him, they could come to him. He had no desire to acknowledge. Just let me sleep.
The voice. It was tentative, clotted with tears, but he had no trouble recognizing it. Makenna? How could that be? How would she know? Who would have told her? Surely not. Surely, he was just dreaming. He opened his eyes and watched, amazed, as Makenna approached his bedside. If this was a dream, it was frighteningly vivid. Perhaps he wouldn't wake up for several hours until he got his fill…if he got his fill. Her eyes were red. How long had she been crying?
"Makenna," he uttered as if he was dreaming. "How did you…how did you know?"
At the sound of his voice, her tears fell freely again. She managed to wipe them away so she could speak without blubbering. "Reese called me about half an hour ago. Oh my God, Sirri," she cried softly. "I didn't know if you were dead…dying…or alive. I…I just didn't know."
Despite the pain, he reached out with his good arm and laid his hand upon her cheek. He wiped away a few stray tears with his thumb. "It's just a bump on the head. A bruised shoulder. Nothing serious. I'll probably go home in a day or two. You don't have to cry."
She placed her hand over his, turning into his touch, reveling in it. When she first arrived, she was certain he was gone. She couldn't live with that. It was incomprehensible. "I can't help it," she whispered shakily. "When I heard you were in a car wreck, some of the most horrible things floated into my mind. I didn't know if I would ever see you again. I didn't know what to think…what to do."
Her tears started again. Her words touched him, almost making him cry. Her being here for him spoke volumes. Could the wedge between them finally be removed? Was the time right? He didn't know, but he was so grateful that hers was the first face he saw upon waking, not one of an uncaring hospital employee. He didn't care that what he was about to do would cause jolts of pain to attack him. He didn't care what consequences awaited him from his actions. He just knew that he couldn't hold back any longer. Carefully, painfully, he sat up so he could take her into his embrace. Once he held her in his arms, her tears fell even harder. He closed his eyes tightly against a whole new pain, this one attacking his heart. He held her as solidly as was humanly possible with his good arm. She pulled away all too soon, but she sat on the bedside, clasping his hand. He longed to kiss away her tears, but he hesitated. He still didn't know where they stood. He would definitely like to explore that with her…and soon.
"How did this happen," she asked.
He shook his head. "I don't know. Someone rammed me from behind. It was too dark. I couldn't see who it was."
Makenna thought it too much of a coincidence for his accident to have happened hours after she left Niko high and dry. "You don't think…"
He knew what she was thinking. The thought had crossed his mind as well. Perhaps he should have explored it, but he didn't want to make a bad situation worse. Later, when they could really talk about it. "No. Nothing like that. Probably nothing more than a drunk driver."
She didn't know about that. Niko had been quite angry when she left. She wanted to tell him what happened between them, but she didn't think it was the right time. "You're sure you're okay," she asked tentatively.
He nodded. "Yes. I'm fine."
"I was scared, Sirri. I was never so scared."
He raised her hand up to his lips and kissed it. "Neither was I."
A little while later, Makenna moved over to a visitor's chair as Sirri's fight against sleep ended. She was exhausted herself, but she refused to leave his side until it was time for him to go home. They had so much to talk about, to hammer through. It was all just beginning. She sat quietly, watching him sleep, realizing that she loved him more right now than she ever did before.
She looked up when a nurse entered the room. Makenna acknowledged her presence with a nod. She noticed that the woman looked to be about six months pregnant. She watched as the nurse picked up Sirri's chart, glanced at it, and then scribbled something on it before putting it back. She smiled at Makenna before she ran her hand over her rounded middle.
"You're pregnant too, aren't you," the nurse asked. "My girl is going to be an August baby. How about yours?"
Makenna's eyes flew to Sirri. He was still asleep. Thank God. She glanced down at her own abdomen, realizing that her button down shirt was splayed open, revealing her undershirt. With the way it was stretched over her middle, it was quite easy to see that she was pregnant. She had begun to show with a vengeance. Last night when Sirri had visited, she had tried every creative way possible to hide it. Had Sirri noticed?
"Probably late November, early December," Makenna finally answered after a long pause.
"Congratulations. I'm sure you're both very thrilled and happy."
Makenna smiled. "Thank you. I hope he is when I tell him."
When the nurse left, Makenna hastily buttoned up the shirt before Sirri woke. She would tell him about the baby, but not until he was out of the hospital.
A few hours later, Sirri had finished up breakfast when the attending physician came in. After asking a series of questions, he checked Sirri's pupils before testing the flexibility of his bruised shoulder. "I think you'll be good to go by tomorrow, Mr. Amandurre."
"Good," he said through an exhausted sigh. "I was ready to get out of here this morning."
The doctor laughed. "I'll bet you were. I think you can call your ride and let them know you're going to be sprung."
"His ride already knows," Makenna said from behind them.
Sirri focused his eyes on Makenna's face. She was gazing at him openly, lovingly. There was so much he wanted to say, to ask, but he didn't. Would she give him a second chance? Could she? Dare he ask?