Storm Warning

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Don't Tell Me That You're Sorry

Deacon inwardly sighed as he lay on his side in the king-size bed, watching Rayna as she slept. As per typical-Rayna fashion, rather than being on her side, she was laying on her side in the middle of the four-poster-grandeur-style bed. And by middle, he meant closer to his side than the actual “middle” middle of the bed. He didn’t mind it though. God knows, he never had either. In fact, in all the years when they were together, there were only a handful of instances he could remember when he hadn’t woken up to the sight of her hogging the bed and the covers—and considering the majority of the time that meant he’d woken to her wrapped around him—he’d never had reason to complain. And he wasn’t complaining then. But he was feeling guilty.

He watched her sleeping, just taking in the sight of her. She lay naked, save for his own boxers that she’d slipped on after their passionate bout of lovemaking in the shower. When they’d finally managed to drag themselves into the bedroom, they’d had the strength to do nothing but fall into the bed and pass out. It was just as well, considering his conflicted emotions after the fact.

Right then he couldn’t have said how he felt. Watching Rayna, being with her as he had been the night before—it was like coming home. He couldn’t have denied that even if he’d tried or wanted to. Just like he couldn’t deny that with Rayna laying within reach, if he could—he’d never leave that bed and just do what they had always done, back when they were a couple…shut out reality and pretend that they were the only two people in the world.

Deciding to ignore reality for a little while longer, his gaze traveled across Rayna and down the length of her slim, supple body. She was laying on her side, hey body facing him. She had her palms together and tucked under her cheek on the pillow, giving her a child-like, ethereal appearance in sleep. Her long, lustrous, slightly-tousled golden auburn locks fanned out across the pillow and across her bare shoulders. His gaze traveled down the curve of her neck and shoulders and arms, briefly skimming the curve of a breast that wasn’t covered by her arms. Fury rose anew, hot and deep in him when he saw the smudges of bruises along the curve of the breast. It matched the ones that encircled her thin, pale wrists from when that bastard had handled her roughly. There was an angry-looking bruise just above her hip towards her back that she no doubt received when the sonofabitch slammed her back against her truck. There were more bruised smudges scattered across her arms and neck from the assault as well. It tore at him that he hadn’t been there to prevent them…that he’d gotten there too late…that he hadn’t been able to stop the bastard from the hurt he’d had the time to inflict on her. It killed him that her perfect alabaster skin had been marred by his anger, his malice. The fact that he knew the SOB only made it worse, he thought. It was even more of a betrayal and a shock. Even so, thinking back to the events of the night before, he knew that if Gunnar hadn’t stepped in and stopped him when he had, Luke Wheeler would be lying on a slab in a morgue right then. And he’d most likely be sitting in a jail cell, rather than lying beside the woman he’d move heaven and earth to protect and defend. The beautiful, strong woman that lay naked in his boxer shorts, whose body had carried and given life to a beautiful, amazing girl that was their Maddie…the woman whom, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t quite shake his desire for.

Not even in that moment, when he was riddled with guilt in the name of another woman. Megan. He sighed as he turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, his mind a jumbled, dark mess of thoughts. He was conflicted, more so than he’d ever felt in his life. It was a first for him, in truth…as he’d never felt so torn between two women before. The reason for which, he knew, is that it had always been Rayna for him. In the past, there’d been other women. Plenty of them. Tall, petite, dark, light, funny, boring…he rarely showed a preference. And like so many things in his life, they had all come and gone. He’d never seen forever with any of them, never considered it…hell, never even came close. Again, if he had to be honest, he had Rayna to thank for that. She was just always there. Even when she wasn’t—when she technically—well literally—was married to Teddy—she was still there. Figuratively, if nothing else. She was there with the tour. He was her band leader and lead guitarist for all those years. So even when they weren’t on the road traveling and playing shows together, they were still rehearsing and recording and writing hit songs together. They were friends, confidantes…partners. On the road and off.

Married or not...tour or not…there was always that sexual tension. It was always there, under but so close to the surface that it’s a wonder they never acted on it, given all the opportunities that they had to do so. And they hadn’t. They’d come close…that’s for sure. Even before the kiss in the hotel elevator in Chicago that night during the tour with Juliette, there’d been other close calls. Brush-ups and sweet touches here and there. Deep, longing looks. They’d even shared a couple of heated make-out sessions over the years…but they’d never passed the point of no return. Even if she hadn’t had the willpower to resist going further, he could never bring himself to go through with it himself. He couldn’t turn her into a cheater. He couldn’t give her that label. No matter how much he hated and resented Teddy. No matter how much he wanted her.

And God, he’d wanted her. All those other women had paled in comparison to Rayna. Always. Even those select few that did manage to get into “dating” field, they didn’t last long. They were merely replacements for Rayna. Stand-ins that never quite made the cut.

Then there was Stacey. He’d tried with her. He really had. He’d enjoyed her company, enjoyed her. She was exactly what he’d thought he’d needed: she wasn’t Rayna. She was the total opposite, in fact. Hell, she hadn’t even been a fan of country music. She was about as far removed from the business as you could get and he’d liked that. Maybe, with time, he could have started to see her as forever material, but then Rayna and Teddy had split up and the whole playing field changed. Suddenly, Rayna didn’t have a marriage license in the way, no responsibility or vows to uphold anymore. Her status change had changed everything. They didn’t have to wait. They could be together. He’d given her time to process it all, hoping she’d come to him once she had. Subconsciously, it had ultimately been the wedge that had driven he and Stacey apart…before Rayna had even come to him.

But she’d come to him. And for a few wonderful weeks—until he’d found out about Maddie and Rayna’s betrayal and fell hard off the sober wagon—it had been amazing again. He was happy. They were happy. It was like nothing had changed. Like they’d picked right up where they’d left off all those years before when she’d put him in rehab and went off and married Teddy Conrad. In bed, it was like she’d never left. Their sexual compatibility hadn’t wavered or weaned over the years, if anything, it’d only gotten stronger. The sex was…well, wow didn’t even come close to covering it.

The night before had been no different.


He heard the soft sound and turned to lie on his side, propping himself up on an elbow. He had always loved watching Rayna wake up. She had this thing that she always did where she’d make this little purring sound in the back of her throat and stretch her body completely out before her eyes would slowly flutter open. He watched her do that very thing right then. When her eyes finally fluttered open, he saw the slow, sleepy smile spread across her face and he couldn’t help but return it with a smile of his own. She was just too beautiful for him not to respond...a fact that held true for his heart—and if the stirrings beneath the sheet meant anything--his body, too. It didn’t help that when she stretched, she left her breasts wide open to his perusal. Shifting uncomfortably—down there—he mentally instructed his lower body to dial it down. Lust and desire—or even love—had no place alongside guilt.

Rayna sighed as she awoke, slowly opening her eyes and wincing at the unfamiliar soreness she felt in her body when she stretched. She smiled when she saw Deacon lying next to her, watching her. For a moment she thought she was dreaming, the soreness reminded her that she wasn’t. Images of the night before came back, flooding her mind and clouding her vision. Luke grabbing and pushing her roughly against her truck, kissing her, touching her…the things he’d said…she squeezed her eyes shut tight to ward off the tears AND the images. Primarily the images. She felt sickened by what he’d done…at just the thought of his hands on her. Literally…physically...sick. The knowledge that it was all a setup, that Luke being with her—his sleeping with her—had all been part of some twisted, underhanded scheme orchestrated by none other than Jeff Fordham—it repulsed her. She felt used and dirty. Moreover—and worse—she felt weak and pathetic in that she’d not only allowed it to happen, but that she’d been completely unaware that she was being toyed with. She’d never have pegged herself for a stupid, naïve woman. Hell, she was Rayna James, Queen of Nashville. She’d always prided herself on being tough and independent—if for no other reason than to encourage all her female fans out there to stand up for themselves and to prove to them that they could be successful with or without a man. And she’d worked really hard to sustain that image. And now…she felt like it was all a lie…that it was all for nothing. She felt like the biggest fool. And that didn’t sit well with her at all.

If that weren’t bad enough, she’d gone and dragged Deacon into the middle of it all. As grateful as she was to him and Gunnar for stopping Luke the night before, she hated that he’d been there. That he’d seen what he had—that he’d heard her in the interrogation room at the police station when she’d given her statement to the officers. She hated that he’d seen her so weak…so powerless.

She’d meant it when she’d said she wanted him to leave…that she hadn’t wanted him there. She hadn’t. She didn’t want him to see her like that. She hadn’t wanted him to do what he always did and try to make everything better. She hadn’t wanted him to try and fix it…to fix her. She hadn’t wanted any of it.

After everything that had happened between them the past few months…after what had happened at the cabin…she knew what would happen if he’d stayed. What always happened. She hadn’t wanted that…for either of them. They’d worked so hard to move on with their lives. Granted, she’d chosen the wrong person to try and do that with…clearly…but he hadn’t. He was with Megan and she seemed nice. More than that, it was the first time she’d ever seen him look so happy with another woman…that she’d gotten the impression that he’d moved on. She’d seen him with other women before…plenty of them…but she’d never gotten that sense from seeing him with them. He’d never been serious with the others. But Megan wasn’t like the others. She was different. And from the looks of it, she was good for Deacon. And Rayna wanted that for him. She wanted him to be happy. She didn’t want to complicate or jeopardize what he had with Megan…in any way. So she’d sent him away. She’d done the right thing…or she’d tried to.

But typical Deacon. He’d come back and found her sobbing in the shower. Seeing him, knowing he’d come back for her—and needing him so much in that moment…she’d have done anything to forget the rest. And then she’d kissed him. He’d tried to be a gentleman…to do the respectable thing and pull away…but she hadn’t let him. God, she’d actually ended up begging him to make love to her. And he had. Oh…he had.

And now she’d ruined everything. For him. For them. Her hands came up to cover her face as the tears fell. She couldn’t stop them, or the sobs that wracked her, shaking her entire body.

“Ah hell, Ray…” she heard…

Deacon cursed softly under his breath as he shifted towards her, gathering her close. She continued sobbing behind her hands even as he held her in his arms.

He didn’t know how long they lay there for—her sobbing and he holding her while she spent her tears, but the sun was well past up by the time she finally quieted. Loosening his hold on her slightly, he craned his head back so he could look down at her, tugging her hands away with one of his so that he could see her face. She was a mess. A beautiful mess, he thought. He’d always wondered how it was possible that Rayna could still look so stunning while and after she’d been crying—and he’d never figured it out. As beautiful as she might have looked, he still hated to see her do it. It still broke his heart…each and every tear of hers was a blow to that tough, manly exterior of his.

For some reason, her crying and her tears leveled him. It always happened…without fail. From the very first time he’d seen her cry—the night Lamar Wyatt had kicked her kicked her out of his house. She’d been all of sixteen years old when her father had given her that ultimatum—give up the music or get out. She’d stood up to him that night. She hadn’t shed a single tear or showed even the slightest sign of weakness the entire time she packed her bags…Lamar standing guard and watching while she did. To her credit and his surprise, she’d stopped in front of her father on her way out of the room with her bags and her Mother’s guitar slung over one shoulder. He’d watched as she stood up on her tiptoes, kissed Lamar’s cheek, and said “goodbye, Daddy” before she’d taken Deacon’s hand and together, they’d walked out. She hadn’t cried then. Not until they’d passed through the property gates at the end of the driveway and turned onto the road towards town. He’d pulled his truck over to the shoulder the moment he’d heard the first sob, threw it into park and turned to her. She had practically launched herself into his arms then and cried her heart out. He’d held her until the tears were spent and the sobs were gone. That was the first time he’d ever seen her cry and he’d been so proud of her. At the same time, listening to her heart-breaking cries, he’d broken for her. He’d hated Lamar Wyatt in that moment, for hurting her so. For taking someone as strong in their convictions as Rayna was and breaking her. She’d stood up to Lamar that night, but all the strength—it cost her. It always had. She could put up a front for the rest of the world, but he’d always see right through it. Just as he had since that night, nearly twenty-five long years ago…and even still.

“Ray, look at me,” he said softly when she averted her gaze.

She shook her head and burrowed her face into his side. “I-I can’t. I’m a m-mess, Deacon,” she said, her voice gritty and weak with spent emotion.

He scoffed at that, but didn’t relent. “I don’t care,” he told her. “Look at me,” he ordered gently. A few moments later, she sniffled and finally—slowly—raised her eyes. He smiled at her. “You’re not a mess, Ray,” he told her.

She attempted a smile, but it wavered. “What happens now, Deacon?” she asked, her heart in her eyes. “Where do we go from here?”

He sighed and glanced away for a moment. Though he knew the question was coming, he still didn’t have an answer for it. Finally, he looked back at her and shook his head, giving her a light shrug. “Honestly, Ray…I don’t know.”

“Because of Megan?” she asked, the hesitation in her soft, hushed tone.

At the mention of her name, Deacon inwardly winced at the guilty pang that coursed through him. He wished he could erase the sadness from her eyes as she looked at him expectantly, but he owed it to Megan—and to himself—to give her an honest answer. Gently, he nodded. “Yeah, Ray. Because of Megan…because of a lot of things. So much is different now,” he said.

She nodded, dropping her gaze to his chest while absently running a finger in the stubble of beard along his jaw line. “I know,” she whispered quietly. “I’m sorry, Deacon,” he heard her say, and then felt the wetness of a tear.

He swore as he turned them both over so that she lay beneath him and he hovered over her—that way she had no choice but to look at him as he spoke to her. “Rayna, look at me,” he ordered her again. “I need you to listen and hear me, got it?” he ordered, his voice gruff. “None of this—none of it is your fault. You hear me?”

“But Luke—God, I was so stupid, Deacon,” she cried, shaking her head in disagreement. “I thought—you had Megan and me—I thought we were good together…that it might go somewhere and--“she brushed angrily at a fallen tear that had slid down her cheek. “How could I not realize it, Deacon? How I could not know that it was all a lie—that he was just using me for his own sick, twisted reasons and Jeff—God, it makes me sick…so sick…” she cried anew.

“Ray…Babe…listen, it’s not your fault, okay? You can’t think like that. You’re not stupid or a fool…you were played and hurt…that’s not your fault. As for Wheeler and that Jeff sonofabitch—just trust me when I tell you they’re going to get exactly what’s coming to them,” he said, his tone assuring her that he meant every word. “Neither of them are going to get away with this. I promise you that,” he said.

She shook her head. “Deacon—please don’t do anything, okay? Promise me that—that you won’t do anything stupid, okay? I-I’ve already pulled you into this enough. I can’t drag you further in. I-I have to do this on my own. I-I can do it. I can,” she insisted—though he wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince him or herself of that more.

He told himself to ignore the slight tremble he saw in her chin, and smiled at her, brushing her hair out of her face. “I know you can, Ray. But you don’t have to be tough alone this time. And you’re not going to be. Not this time,” he said, firmly.

She shook her head. “No, Deacon…I mean it. I-I don’t want your help. I’ve already complicated your life enough as it is. Please, just…you need to go to Megan. You need to tell her how sorry you are and tell her that this—what happened—it was entirely my fault. Because it was. You just…I know you stayed because you felt sorry for me and you were just being nice and I—I’m sorry. I took advantage of your kindness, Deacon and I’m sorry for whatever hurt or problems that it causes you and Megan. I just… I—I promise I’ll stay away and—“

“Rayna...Rayna, stop,” he said, his voice gruff. “Just stop talking! Christ!” he swore as he looked down at her, searching her gaze. “You think I regret last night? That I made love to you out of pity or something? Damn it, Rayna…you should know the difference by now…that wasn’t pity,” he informed her. His eyes moved to her mouth. “And neither is this, god damn it,” he cursed before covering her mouth with his.

He swallowed her gasp of surprise as he kissed her hard. There was anger in the kiss—he couldn’t understand how she could even say something so ridiculous as to suggest that he’d spent the night with her out of pity—mixed with a passion that was so hot and fierce that he’d be surprised if the combination didn’t burn them both. Their tongues dueled and their bodies surged with raging hormones, desperate for a release.

It was Rayna who put a halt to things as she pressed her palms firmly against his chest and pushed. He leaned back, breathing hard. It took him a moment, but he understood. Resting his forehead against hers, he sighed. “I’m sorry, Deacon. But we—“she began, her voice rough and sad.

“Can’t,” he finished for her, nodding. “I know, Ray. I know…” And he did. It killed him…but he stopped. Sighing, he rolled off of her, staring at the ceiling as his mind raced and he struggled to get his breathing back to normal. Reaching down, she pulled the covers up, tucking them around herself as she stared at the ceiling and did the same…

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