Katie paused for a moment, trying to collect her thoughts.
“When I was 20, I got pregnant. I was actually excited, which was the first time I felt any emotions in a long time. I called Mrs. Crawley right away, and she was thrilled, though for different reasons. Babies are really popular accessories for politicians and if Damien and I had a baby, it would prove that interview was nonsense from a man who’d had a little too much to drink. I didn’t tell Damien right away. I had no idea how he’d react. Unfortunately, he found out from one of his brothers.” Katie stopped, blinking back tears.
“He was furious. Furious that I was pregnant, that I’d told his family, that I was happy about it. He...”. Katie took a shuddering breath in, one tear falling down her cheek.
“He threw me down our stairs. I broke my ankle, dislocated my shoulder, and got a hairline fracture on my jaw. And I lost the baby.” Katie stopped again, tears flowing down her face as she stared outside.
“Damien actually called for an ambulance this time, instead of forcing me to drive myself to the ER. When they told me I lost the baby, I completely shut down. That child had been my only ray of light and now it was gone. Both of his parents actually came to the hospital and they managed to spin the story, telling the press I slipped down the stairs and lost the Senator’s grandchild. On camera, they were devastated. Behind the scenes, they were pissed. They knew what Damien had done, but they didn’t do anything except tell him to leave me alone the next time.” Katie pulled the blanket tighter around her, wiping the tears off her face with the edge of the blanket.
“When I heard that, that they expected me to get pregnant again, I immediately got birth control. It was the first time I’d rebelled against Damien in years and the first time I started to realize I had to get out. Every time Damien hurt me, I took pictures. I honestly don’t know why. Maybe there was still some part of me that was fighting back and I didn’t realize it. But I had pictures of every bruise, cut, whiplash. I started trying to figure out how to leave. I was still so scared, but I started trying to plan in my head. Trains, buses, hell, I was willing to steal a car. One night, Damien came home, holding different bus schedules and smiling. He said he knew I was trying to leave, but he’d never let me. I was his. I don’t know how he found out. I was so careful. But he did. He started beating me and I fought back. He didn’t expect it. He grabbed this weird copper bust and smashed me in the head. Next thing I remembered was waking up in the hospital.” Katie sighed and glanced at Cash. She was shocked to see him crying.
“Cash?” Katie asked tentatively. He just shook his head, then stood up, pulling Katie into his arms, then settling her on his lap as he sat on the window seat. Katie ran her fingers through his hair, confused by his reaction.
“Cash, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” Cash let out a watery chuckle.
“Am I okay?” he asked. “You just told me your husband beat you, cut you, whipped you, made you lose your baby, and you’re asking if I’m okay?”
“Well...yeah,” Katie replied, still confused.
“You don’t remember what it’s like, do you?” Cash asked gently, brushing stray tears off Katie’s cheeks. “To have people that care about you? That love you?” Katie frowned, as if the idea of someone worrying about her was a foreign concept.
“I...”. Katie paused. “I guess it’s just been so long. No one has cared about me since my family died.”
“That’s not true anymore, angel,” Cash said fiercely. “You’re a part of this family, this ranch. We all care about you. And I love you. More than anything.” Katie’s eyes filled with tears at Cash’s declaration of love.
“Really?” Katie asked, almost desperately. Cash gave Katie his crooked smile and softly, sweetly kissed her.
“Yes,” Cash replied. “Really.” Katie smiled as a few tears escaped her eyes, rolling down her cheeks. She hugged Cash back, enjoying the feeling of safety she only ever got in his arms. Katie and Cash stayed wrapped up together on the window seat for awhile. They both needed it, the connection with the person they loved most. Finally, Cash sighed and pulled back.
“I should go back to my seat. I know you have more to say.”
“Not a lot more,” Katie said. “You can stay here. If you want, I mean.” Cash smiled and settled back on the window seat, holding Katie close.
“I guess you’re staying?” Katie asked, smiling at him.
“Angel, I might not let you out of my arms for weeks,” Cash said, completely serious.
“That’ll make your work really difficult,” Katie said with a laugh.
“Don’t care. I’m keeping you with me where you’re safe.” Katie smiled at Cash, kissing his cheek before sighing.
“Everything else is pretty straightforward. Damien smashing that stupid bust into my head put me in a medically induced coma for three days. One of my nurses remembered me and since it had been less than a year since my last major injury, she spoke with the hospital’s social worker, who talked to the police. They put a temporary injunction on my visitors and did a full body CT scan and MRI. The doctors found evidence of multiple broken bones I didn’t go to the ER for that hadn’t healed properly and once I woke up, I gave the photographs to the police.” Katie laid her head on Cash’s chest.
“They arrested Damien right away, but his parents bailed him out and got some crazy expensive lawyer. They managed to get all the charges dropped except one count of assault and I was given a restraining order against Damien. He started stalking me. I don’t know if he ever broke the restraining order, but everywhere I went, he’d be there. I started getting threatening notes in the mail, which I turned over to the police, but since they couldn’t prove Damien sent them, they couldn’t do anything.” Katie paused, taking a deep breath.
“I was scared all the time. Paranoid and anxious. I started having panic attacks, so the hospital recommended a therapist. She was helpful, but I saw Damien outside after one of my appointments and I couldn’t go back. I spoke to a number of lawyers about getting a divorce, but I didn’t have much money and it was clear the Crawley’s planned to fight me if I tried to divorce Damien. I felt utterly hopeless. I...”. Katie paused, hunching in on herself. Cash gently rubbed her back.
“I tried to kill myself. I had a bunch of pills left from the hospital, so I just took everything. I don’t know why, but my building’s super came over that night and found me. I was unconscious, surrounded by empty pill bottles. He called the police and an ambulance. They ended up pumping my stomach. When I woke up in the hospital again, I realized I was letting Damien win. Me dying would be his ultimate victory. I started looking for jobs as far away from Chicago as I could get and I found your ad.” Katie gave Cash a small smile, which he returned.
“I knew I could do all the computer stuff and I figured the Crawley’s would never look for me on a ranch in Montana. You have no idea how relieved I was when I got the job. I packed up a few things, clothes, little things that belonged to my family that weren’t in storage, and then I was nearly ready to go.”
“Nearly?” Cash asked. Katie blushed, looking down.
“I still had my key to the house and I knew Damien kept money in the safe. I waited until he left for some bar one night, then snuck in and took $10,000. I’m not proud of myself. I wish I hadn’t needed any money, but I had no way of getting here without some. And I figured if things didn’t work out here, I’d still be able to go somewhere else. I bought a bus ticket to Atlanta. It’s a central hub and that makes it almost impossible to trace someone. I spent five days randomly changing buses until I got here.” Katie shrugged.
“And that’s basically it. I still have no idea how to get a divorce. I’ve thought about going directly to Senator Crawley and telling him I’ll bring up all the abuse in court unless they grant me a divorce. They know I have some pretty graphic pictures the family wouldn’t want becoming public. I don’t even want anything, no settlement or alimony. I just don’t want to be Damien’s wife.”
Cash sat there quietly for awhile, still rubbing Katie’s back. Then he let out a long exhale and put his finger under Katie’s chin, turning her to look at him.
“Thank you,” Cash said quietly.
“For what?” she asked.
“Telling me everything,” he answered. “Being honest. This wasn’t easy for you, I could tell. Hell, it wasn’t easy for me to hear. There’s a very good chance that if Damien Crawley ever sets foot on this ranch, I’ll kill him.”
“Cash!” Katie cried out.
“I’m sorry, angel, but that monster doesn’t deserve to keep walking this earth after everything he did. I might be able to restrain myself to just beating him to within an inch of his life, but if he’s here, that means you’re in danger, and I’ll do whatever it takes to protect you.”
“I know,” Katie said. “Just, uh, try to avoid the killing part. Unless strictly necessary.”
Cash laughed, which made Katie relax into his arms. They stayed there for quite awhile, not talking, just enjoying each other. Suddenly, they heard a door slam and someone running up the stairs.
“Katie?” Ruby called frantically. “Sugar, are you up here?” Katie and Cash looked at each other and grinned.
“I guess quiet time is over,” Cash joked.
“I’m pretty sure you’re missing a lot of work, cowboy, so it’s probably a good thing Ruby is here,” said Katie. At that moment, Ruby basically threw himself into the sewing room, looking worried.
“Is everything okay?” Ruby asked, trying to catch his breath. “I mean, you guys look okay, since you’re using Cash as a seat, sugar, so that seems good. Are we good? Everything good?” Katie smiled and untangled herself from Cash, causing him to whine a little, making her laugh. Katie went to Ruby and wrapped her arms around his waist and he hugged her tightly.
“Everything’s good,” Katie reassured Ruby. “We talked about everything, and, well, we don’t have a clear cut solution for my asshole husband, but we’re going to figure something out.”
“Together.” Cash got up from the window seat and walked over to Katie and Ruby. “Ruby, I have a few things I have to take care of, but then I’m spending the rest of the day in the house. You’ll watch over my girl?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” Ruby said, giving Cash a mock salute. “She will not leave my sight. Except when she needs the bathroom.”
They all laughed and Cash threaded his fingers between Katie’s. They walked out together, Ruby jabbering about one of their distant neighbors who threw a fit because the turkey he ordered for Thanksgiving hadn’t arrived yet. Katie just smiled, enjoying being surrounded by the people she loved.