Storm Warning

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Sometimes Talking Makes It Worse

“Ray…we should talk…” That’s what Deacon said.

Rayna barely heard him in her sleep-impaired state, but the seriousness in both his tone and in his expression had her blinking through the fog and sitting up. “Wh-what—“she glanced towards the stairs. “Is it--Maddie? Wh--Deacon?” she asked, confused.

He berated himself for his ridiculous timing, feeling guilty again. There was a better time and place for the discussion that they were about to have. It certainly wasn’t there on a couch where they’d made love countless times in a cabin where they’d gotten engaged and made plans for a life together. And not right then, when she was half asleep and recovering from an exhausting overnight and minor accident. Instinctively, to assuage her worry, he reached out and placed his hand on her blanket-covered thigh. “Shh…no, relax, its fine. Maddie’s fine. I checked in on her before I came back down and she’s still out for the count. It’s um…it’s not that,” he said, at a loss right then for what to say to start. Suddenly, he pulled his hand off her quickly, as if burned by the touch of her…the action a little more over-the-top than intended…definitely a telling sign that something was off.

Her fatigued expression started to clear and she furrowed her brows at him, searching his face for answers. “Deacon?” she finally asked, her tone both expectant and uncertain.

He sat down on the coffee table and sighed, running a hand through his hand as he searched for the right words. Finally, he rested his forearms on his knees and leaned forward to speak. “Ray. I’m sorry. I know this isn’t the right place or hell, the best timing but…we have to talk about last night,” he said.

He saw her swallow hard and sit back, before she exhaled through thin, pursed lips and nodded. “Okay…” she agreed, her voice shakier than she probably intended, he knew.

It was a small comfort to him, knowing that she was just as nervous about this conversation as he…though his emotions were mixed as to precisely why that was. “Okay. Well, um, I should probably start off by saying I’m sorry. I-I know I’ve said it a lot these past few months—and you’re probably sick and tired of hearing it—but I need you to believe and know that I really do mean it, Ray. I’m sorry,” he said, with genuine emotion.

She bit her lip and he saw the empathy in her eyes as she leaned forward and reached out taking his hand. He saw the “It’s okay,” coming before she even said it.

He squeezed her hand in both of his, shaking his head as he cut her off. “No, Ray…it’s not okay. It could never be okay. I never apologized to you for the accident. Not even that night by the road when you gave me back the ring. I should have. Godknows I should have. And I meant to…you have to believe that…I just—I don’t know. I guess I just thought we’d have more time, you know? I know, it was absolutely ridiculous and self-righteous to even think you’d forgive me after what I did—but I guess I just couldn’t see through my own hurt and fear to realize that. But I realize it now and I’m…God, Ray, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said, tears filling his big blue eyes, his voice tortured. She took his other hand in hers; subconsciously rubbing his palm with the pads of her thumbs, sniffling back her own tears.

“I don’t know how much you remember about that night, Ray…but it was bad. God, it was…and I remember…all of it. I guess that’s my penance…I don’t know. I just…I still see it. The flashbacks...I hear us arguing before…you pleading with me to put that bottle down and to stop and me just…and then the lights. Those bright damn lights and you screaming and then…” he continued.

She gripped his hands, shaking her head. “Deacon, stop…please, I don’t want to hear it...” she said, the tears finally sliding down her face, as all the unwanted memories and all the heavy emotions associated with that night came flooding back.

He eyes bored into hers. “Ray…I have to…you have to hear what…you just have to…” he said, his voice breaking. Still, he continued. “I-I wasn’t out long. A few minutes maybe, I don’t know. My hand…I thought I would be sick. God, I don’t think I ever felt so much pain in my life. And then I looked over at you…” he dropped his gaze, unable to look at her when he spoke and replayed it for her in raw detail. “You were so pale. So…still. Your head…there was so much blood. You were just lying there and I could see the label from that damn bottle of Scotch and all I could think was that I’d finally done it. I’d finally let it take everything. Vince. A life with my daughter. And you. God, I thought you were dead, Ray,” he said, looking up then and meeting her eyes. “Hell, you were,” he said, ignoring the tears that streamed down his face and blurred his vision. “I was in that ambulance Ray. I was lying next to you and holding your hand, begging you to stay with me, when they lost your heartbeat. You were gone for a minute and 12 seconds, Ray. It wasn’t the longest minute and 12 seconds of my life. I begged you to come back to me…hell, I begged God to take me instead. What you said that night by the side of the road…you couldn’t have been closer to the truth, Rayna. You said it was as though people expected us to die there and well, Ray…in a lot of ways, I honestly think I did. Godknows, I wanted to.” He took a ragged breath and absently wiped at the tears on his face.

Again, when she tried to comfort him, he would have none of it. It was as though he had to say what he had to say and he wouldn’t find peace until he did. If there were any for him to be had. “Ray, I know now why you didn’t tell me about Maddie and I—I want you to know that I don’t hold it against you anymore. You were trying to protect her from me and you were right. After what I did to you—after everything I risked because of my addictions and weakness—I get it,” he said.

She shook her head and captured his face with her hands. “Deacon, listen to me, okay…I need you to hear this. To hear me. You are NOT weak. God, you’re one of the strongest, bravest men that I know, you know that?” she said, caressing the stubble on the side of his face and smiling through her tears. “You had a horrible childhood. I know you don’t like to talk about it and I’m not even going to try and presume to understand what it must have been like to grow up with a father like yours—and then to lose Vince, your best friend…anyone would struggle, Deacon. Anyone. I’m not excusing the drinking or saying it wasn’t an issue, because it was. It is. It always will be. There’s always going to be that struggle, Deacon, that pull. How you face that struggle—your resistance—that’s proves your strength, Deacon,” she informed him.

“But I didn’t resist, Ray. I did what I always did when things got tough. I turned to the bottle. I fell off the wagon and destroyed everything I worked for. Hell, I nearly took YOUR life in the process. That’s NOT strength, Ray. It’s the exact opposite,” he argued.

She sighed, giving him a sweet, sad smile. “Oh Deac, you’re wrong. So wrong. You made a mistake. One mistake in over 13 years of sobriety. Thirteen years. You resisted that pull for all those years. You can’t let one slip destroy your resolve. And you didn’t lose everything, Deacon. You have your life. You have your music…your talent. You have Maddie. She adores you, you know. I overheard her on the phone with her friend Talia one night a few weeks ago and do you know what she said? She said that you were her inspiration because of how far you’ve come and how much you’ve changed…all for the better. How even with your hand, you haven’t given up on your music. She said those things Deacon because she meant them, because she loves you. From where I stand, you haven’t lost anything. You’ve gained…so much.” She wiped a tear from his cheek with the pad of her thumb. “I know you’re scared and I know it’s going to be hard. But you’re not alone in this struggle. You’re not. You have yourself. You have Maddie. And…and you have me,” she added softly, anxiously averting her eyes and quickly wrapping her arms around him, both to comfort and to avoid his gaze for fear he’d see exactly what she feeling right then…feelings she hadn’t deciphered yet herself.

He let her hold him for a long moment, breathing in her scent as he turned his face into the curve of her neck. He didn’t move for a time as he held her in return, with one arm around her back and the other cupping the back of her neck. As his fingers slipped through the soft locks at her crown, he slowly pulled back, watching the way her eyes clouded over as her gaze slowly connected with his. “Do I, Ray?” he finally asked, his voice soft.

“Hmm?” she murmured, her eyes heavy lidded as her gaze dropped to his mouth and her lips parted, waiting.

“Do I have you?” he clarified. When her brow furrowed with confusion, he elaborated. “I think we both know that Nashville’s a small town. And I may be off the grid a bit as far as the business is concerned, but I still have ears. Want to tell me about Luke Wheeler?” he asked carefully. The haze lifted almost as quickly as it had fallen and her eyes widened as she sat back with a little, “Oh.” She dropped her hands and folded them nervously in her lap. He nodded, taking that as her assent. “Is it serious?” he asked.

She sighed and took a moment to lift her gaze, longer to answer. He saw the defensiveness creep into her features before she narrowed her eyes and tipped up her chin. “I don’t know, is it serious with Megan?” she retorted, her tone slightly argumentative.

He was a little taken aback at her tone. “Pretty serious, yeah. Deflecting again, Ray?” was his reply.

She shrugged. “No. I’m just curious. I mean, you went with her to the Polo Match. Since when do you willingly brush elbows with the Belle Meade elite, Deacon? You have those kinds of things. At least I thought you did,” she said.

He gestured back at her, a little prickly at her offensive comment. “Well, I could say the same for you, Ray. You’ve spent the past 20 years defying your father and avoiding all those country-club snobs,” he pointed out.

“You think I wanted to be there? That I actually enjoyed playing nice with all those self-righteous, pompous Belle Meaders? Believe me, I’d rather have delighted in having a double root-canal—without anesthesia,” she added. “But we all have to do things we wish we didn’t have to sometimes. And if I had any chance at all in getting out from under Jeff Fordham’s twisted vision for MY career and my artists—and indirectly the label I’ve fought tooth and nail for—then I needed buyout funds. That’s why I was there, Deacon. Not because I wanted to be,” she said, a little indignant.

He saw the aggravation in her features and knew it was a sore subject for her. Not for the first time that morning, he felt guilty for baiting her. “Sorry Rayna. I didn’t know,” he apologized. “Why didn’t you say anything? I mean, I knew Edge Hill replaced Marshall Evans and brought in some new guy, but I had no idea. What’s this Fordham guy’s problem?” he asked, conversationally.

Still a bit rankled, she brushed him off. “It’s nothing. He’s a jerk…but it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve dealt with my share of inept label execs over the years, as you know,” she said.

“Well that’s true. By saying he’s a jerk though, how do you mean?” he asked, pressing her for more conversation.

She shook her head and tossed back the throw, moving as if to stand. “It’s not important. Look, I should probably go check on Maddie.”

He caught her hand, stopping her. “Ray, wait. What’s wrong? Why won’t you talk to me?” he asked. “If it’s what I said about the club snobs, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed or attacked you like that. I should’ve known you wouldn’t have had a good reason for having been there. Really, I’m sorry,” he insisted.

“It’s not that,” she said. “Look, it’s nothing. Just drop it,” she said, attempting to pull her hand free from his grasp.

He wasn’t letting her bolt that easily. “I’m not buying it. Ray, what’s really going on here? I know you. You’re shutting me out and I damn well want to know why,” he said, rising and grasping her forearms to keep her in place. Their gazes locked and he saw the hot defiance flash in hers. It was a look he knew well. She was looking for a fight and by God, he was in the mood to give her one. “Damn it Ray, stop,” he said as she started to struggle against his hold.

“You stop!” she said angrily, shoving at his chest with her hands as angry tears formed in her eyes and slid down her suddenly flustered, heated cheeks. “Deacon, let me go!” she cried, continuing to push at him.

Cursing and wincing at her blows, he grabbed her hands and circled her tiny wrists with his fingers, stopping her frontal-attack. She was small, but the woman could pack some heat and do some damage with the right incentive. And clearly, whatever he’d done or said had incited her enough that she was clearly at such a point.

“Rayna, stop,” he said, with a little more force. When she wouldn’t—and when the tears just fell harder—he made her sit back down, then straddled her with his knees on either side of her legs, effectively pinning her between the back of the couch and his body. It wasn’t the greatest way to get to reason, but it was the only way to subdue her and make her talk to him. “Stop, babe…Ray, babe, stop…” he cajoled her. After a few moments, she finally did…only to start sobbing.

“Damn you, Deacon…” she cried, hitting his chest a final time when he finally released her wrists. “Why do I keep letting you do this?” she asked, her voice torn.

“Do what, Babe?” he asked, feeling the worst as he saw how much of a wreck she was. How broken she sounded. He hated her tears, but hearing her sob was even worse. It was like being stabbed in the gut, over and over. And the worst part was, he had no idea what he’d done to cause the pain she was obviously feeling.

“This,” she answered. “Make me feel…things. Again. The way you kissed me last night and then say what you said before and…and then you bring up Luke and you act all jealous and God, Deacon—what about Megan? You’re getting serious with her but you’re kissing me? I mean—what happens now? Are you going to tell her what happened? Am I supposed to tell Luke that I was here? That we practically made love on your porch last night in the rain?” she asked.

He sat back a ways at that, still straddling. He ran a hand through his hair and gave a heavy sigh. “Jesus, Ray…I—I don’t know what to say…” he started.

“You have to say something,” she said. “I-I need to know what this means, Deacon.”

He swore under his breath, shaking his head. “Damn it, Rayna. I don’t know what it means. God this—whatever this is—it won’t go away. Do you think I like this, Rayna? That I like screwing with your head or mine? I didn’t plan this or ask for it to happen. I didn’t know you’d show up here with Maddie. I didn’t know plan what happened on the porch last night. Maybe it was wrong—I-God, I don’t know anymore. I don’t know what I’m going to tell Megan—or if I’m going to say anything. I-She’s a good woman, Ray. She is. She’s a better woman than I deserve, that I do know,” he told her honestly.

It killed him to see the way she reacted to him speaking of Megan the way he was…like she was recoiling from a blow. He could see her process the words and see her try to put on a brave face, but he knew her well enough to know that the acknowledgement had hurt her. He saw her mouth work as she struggled to speak. “Do-do you love her?” she finally asked, her voice strangely quiet.

He did a bit of a recoil himself at the question—having not expected it. It took a moment for him to respond and when he did, his answer was noncommittal. “I don’t know, Ray. I enjoy being with her. I’m happy when I’m with her. Content is a good word to describe it, I guess. I mean, it’s different, Ray. It’s not like with us. It’s not crazy and explosive. It’s exactly what I need. What I should want,” he said, then swore again as he leaned forward and slid his hand to her neck again, caressing her skin with his thumb as he looked deep into her eyes. “I care about her. But I care about you, too Rayna. Far more than I probably should or even have a right to. Which is why it makes me sick knowing that you’re with Luke now...that he gets to have things that I want…” he said, groaning as his gaze fell to her open mouth.

“What kind of things?” she asked, her voice having gone dry and sultry.

It was all the resolve he had and it was gone. “Christ Ray…” he breathed even as his mouth crashed down on hers, swallowing her moan. He kissed her like a man dying of thirst…like it was the last time. As their tongues dueled, their hands raced, touching everywhere they could. Hers slid under his flannel shirt and up his back, gripping his shoulders momentarily before she deliberately raked her nails down his back. He exhaled sharply against her mouth at her nails, even as his own hands slid under and up her shirt, roughly cupping her bare breasts and toying with the already hard, aching peaks. She moaned and her head fell back, giving his mouth deeper access to hers.

“Deacon, please…” she moaned against his lips as her hands gripped his sides and she lifted her hips off the couch, angling them up to rock her pelvis against his.

“Babe, I know…” he responded with a groan as he rubbed one hard peak between the pads of his thumb and index finger, grinning with primal satisfaction when she arched her back, pressing her chest further into his grasp. They were both panting as her hands raced to the front of his jeans, her trembling fingers fumbling with the buckle of his belt, and his were sliding down to cup her behind through the spandex of her black leggings. She was seconds from freeing him from the confines of his denim jeans and he from sliding his hands beneath the waistband of those tight leggings and finding out just how hot she truly was for him when they heard the slamming of a door and running feet on the hardwood on the second level. They broke apart as quickly as if someone had thrown a bucket of ice-cold water atop them.

“Everything, Ray. Everything that I want but can’t have…” Deacon he said, his voice gruff with lust as he climbed off of her and stood, pulling her to her feet with him. She opened her mouth to say something even as they both hurried to right their clothing and get a hold of themselves, but wasn’t given as the chance as Maddie bounded down the stairs and right over to them, fast as lightning.

She had a bright look in her eyes and was grinning ear-to-ear. “Did you guys see?” she asked, nearly vibrating with excitement. “The rain stopped. The storm’s over!!” she announced, running towards the window to pull back the shade and show them.

As Maddie grinned out the window, they looked at each other and Deacon gave her a bittersweet smile. “And that’s our cue. It’s back to the real world, Ray…” he said. “Back to the real world…”


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