Authors: Sloane Kennedy
“I’ll go get you some breakfast.” He was gone before she could say anything else.
Against Devlin’s wishes, Casey was up and about that same day. The bruises had frightened Ryan and Isabel but Devlin’s calm explanation that Casey had had a little accident and her reassurance that they didn’t hurt made the children feel better. The week that followed was quiet. Devlin spent most of his time at his office and whatever free time he had left over was reserved for the children. Casey made herself scarce whenever he was with the children, not only to give them the privacy they needed to build a relationship but to keep her emotionally stressed heart safe as well.
Something had changed after Elliot’s attack and Casey was hard pressed to admit it. Yes, Devlin was more attentive and gave her long, heated looks but he still didn’t press her. He always looked like there was something he wanted to say to her but he never did. But what confused Casey the most was the change in her. Standing up to Elliot had defined her in some way and instead of being overwhelmed and anxious about confronting her parents in court she was actually looking forward to it.
As Christmas drew nearer, Casey found herself anticipating the holiday with more fervor than she ever had but now faced a dilemma. Even though she planned to spend Christmas in the privacy of her room, she still needed to get presents for Devlin and the children. Her last few Christmases had been just her and Jonas and with money as tight as it was, they had never bought each other gifts. Instead, they had been creative and come up with alternatives. Last year, Casey had surprised Jonas by making him his favorite dessert of lemon meringue pie. In return, he had gotten up early that morning and finished all the chores by himself. Knowing that the Prescott household probably wouldn’t appreciate a homemade dessert, Casey realized she had to come up with something else.
Having never shopped for gifts for anyone, much less children, she was at a loss. Desperate for ideas, she scanned the ad section of the Sunday paper. But while she was searching for the big packet of colorful pages among the crisp black and white pages, her eyes stopped on one of the headlines. Her breath caught as she read the bold black print – “Wisconsin Senator in Town for Charity Benefit.” Her father was here in New York. Scanning the article and adjoining picture, an odd, new emotion went through her. She glanced once more at the paper and then closed it and dug out the thick ad section.
Devlin’s already taught nerves flinched when he heard the grandfather clock in his study start chiming. It was nine o’ clock on a Sunday night and she was nowhere to be found. He’d gone to his office early in the morning to do some work before the kids woke up since he had promised them he would help them make a big family breakfast. He’d been surprised to find Casey gone when he returned. At first he had worried that she had run away but after he confirmed that she hadn’t packed any of her clothes, he knew he was overreacting. The car he had given to her for her use was gone but she hadn’t left any type of note. Swallowing his natural instinct to worry, he had gone about his day. But when she hadn’t returned by dinnertime, his panic went into high gear. When he called the cellphone he had gotten for her it kept going to voicemail. He expected his own phone to ring at any minute and the person on the other end would say that a car registered in his name had been found and that there had been an accident and could he come down to the police station right away.
As the images of him having to identify her body raced through his mind, Devlin stood quietly by the window in his study, his sharp gaze piercing through the darkness. A string of thoughts went through him. How would he tell the kids? Or Jonas? Why didn’t he insist she not leave the house by herself? Why hadn’t he taken the time to tell her how sorry he was for everything; how sorry he was that he couldn’t help her, couldn’t protect her? The guilt burned him from the inside out. He’d failed her. Just like everyone else in her life, he had failed her. Tears burned at the back of his eyes. And just as they were about to fall, he heard the front door open and softly close.
The numerous shopping bags in her hands made opening and closing doors difficult so by the time she managed to get herself into her room, Casey didn’t even bother with the door right away. She carefully dumped her load on the bed and stripped off her coat and gloves. Turning to close the door, she stifled a scream when she saw Devlin standing in the doorway, staring at her intensely.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked at his dark look.
“Not here,” was all he said as he took her elbow and pulled her down the hallway and past the children’s rooms. A flight of stairs later and she was in his room and he was slamming the door, no longer concerned that the children might wake up given the lengthy distance between the rooms. At the sight of his undeniable fury, Casey momentarily balked. Instinct told her he wouldn’t hurt her but watching him battle to control his rage made her wary.
“Where were you?” he finally managed to calmly ask but the anger in his voice was clear as day.
“I was running errands.”
“You expect me to believe you have been running errands for the past twelve hours?”
“I don’t expect anything from you. As I recall, my comings and goings weren’t a part of our arrangement,” she said stiffly.
“Don’t try and pull that crap with me Casey! You owe me an explanation!”
Bristling, she shook her head and tried to move past him to leave the room. But he had expected the move and blocked her way.
“Mr. Prescott, I’ve had a long day and I’m tired. Can we save this tirade for the morning?”
It was either the use of his surname or her flippant tone that caused him to snap. He grabbed her arm, backed her against the closed door and shouted, “I want an answer damn it! Where were you?”
She was quiet for a long time. Her expression was devoid of any emotion including fear. “This was how he did it too, you know. He had me pressed back against a door just like this one.”
The words had the desired effect. Devlin released her arm but didn’t move away from her. She too made no move. He shook his head and dropped his eyes. “Is that what you think this is about? Controlling you? Intimidating you?” Several moments passed before he took a few steps back from her and turned around. She made a move to leave but his next words stopped her cold. “Do you know what I’ve been doing for the past few hours? I was trying to plan your funeral.”
Casey turned back to him but he still had his back to her. “What?” she asked in obvious shock.
“I figured you’d want something simple, maybe a little memorial at the shelter or something.” He turned around and let off a small laugh that was more pain filled than anything she had ever heard. “I don’t even know what kind of flowers you like or what your favorite color is. Do you know how hard it is to plan a funeral for someone when you can’t even answer those questions about them?”
It was then that she saw the redness in his eyes and the torment in his features. He’d been afraid for her. Barely able to register or understand that fact, Casey took a couple of steps forward. “Lilies…my favorite flowers are lilies. Yellow ones.” She hesitated for a moment before softly saying, “I went to see my father.”
“He was in town for a benefit last night.”
“You spoke to him?” he asked in shock.
“No, no, nothing like that. I just wanted to see him. So I went down to his hotel and parked on the opposite side of the street. I was there about three hours before he and his wife came out. I think they were leaving for the airport.” She hesitated and then said, “In the past, I always went to him when I felt like things were spinning out of control. I never talked to him or anything – I just sat in my truck outside his house for a while. Being near him just made me feel better. But tonight…tonight was different.”
She smiled sadly and replied, “I was so proud of myself for standing up to Elliot that I just wanted to share that with him. I guess I wanted him to be proud of me too.” She laughed and said, “Silly, huh?”
Devlin shook his head. “No, it’s not silly. What did you do after that?”
“I went shopping for Christmas presents.”
Incredulous, he said, “Shopping took you nine hours?”
“Not quite. I spent about an hour at the Christmas tree lot.”
Every word that was coming out of her mouth was a surprise to him. “You bought a Christmas tree?”
She nodded. “It’s tied to the top of the car. I figured you could get it down in the morning. Anyway, the reason I’m so late is because I got lost.”
Devlin put his hand to his forehead and shook his head. “Jesus.” He began pacing again. “Why the hell didn’t you call?”
“I left my cell phone in my room. But even if I had had the phone with me it wouldn’t have occurred to me to call you.”
“Damn it Casey, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Do you have any idea what could have happened to you? Do you know what kind of people are out there just waiting for someone like you to come along?” As Devlin continued to rant and rave, Casey wondered how to respond. The only one who had ever been worried about her was Jonas and his reaction had always been tempered because he knew enough about her to know she could take care of herself.
Devlin struggled to find the right words that would make her understand the risk she had taken. He was about to continue his verbal tirade when he felt her soft touch on his wrist. “Devlin?” He stopped to find that she stood only a foot from him. “Devlin, when I said it never occurred to me to call,” she began but then hesitated as if trying to find the words.
“What I meant was that it never occurred to me because it never entered my mind that you might be worried about me.” He watched in silence as she ran her thumb back and forth across the inside of his wrist, much like he had done in the study that day that now seemed so long ago. “I’m sorry that I worried you,” she said but her eyes were on his wrist. She had no idea what effect her touch was having on him.
Casey told herself she should release his hand but she couldn’t force herself to do it. Touching him wasn’t like when he touched her. The warmth of his skin mystified her and she hadn’t missed the hitch in his breath when she had first touched him. This man who had spent so much of his time either taunting her or ignoring her had used the few free hours of his Sunday evening to plan her funeral because he had assumed the worst. She was surprised that he had even noticed that she was gone. But he had done much more than just notice, his rage made that clear. Even though she was touched by the gesture, she knew what had really driven the reaction. “You have to stop torturing yourself Devlin.”
She released his hand and took a step back. “The guilt about your wife, about Amanda. You have to find a way to let it go. Your wife had a choice and she made it. And Amanda, she did what any good mother would have done. Bad things happen – none of it was your fault.”
“What are you saying?” he asked.
“I’m saying this,” she said as she motioned toward him and then herself, “won’t bring them back. It won’t change the circumstances of what happened to them.”
Devlin finally understood what she was getting at. “Why do you do that?” he asked.
Devlin hesitated. If he pursued this conversation, he risked doing irreparable damage to their already shaky relationship. But he knew he couldn’t let it continue because she probably wasn’t even aware of what she was doing. “Why do you allow yourself to believe that you aren’t worth anything?” As he guessed, she had no clue what he was talking about. “Yes, I do harbor guilt for the role I played in Jennifer’s life but I know that it was her decision to end things the way she did. I also know that there was nothing I could have done to prevent what happened to Amanda. But my feelings tonight had nothing to do with them – they were about you and only you.”
Devlin watched her as she tried to work everything out in her mind. “Casey, all I could think about was, `How are we supposed to go on without her?’ Don’t you get it? Every life you touch you make better.”
Tears had started to gather in her eyes but they were borne of frustration. “Why are you doing this?”
“What am I doing?”
She shook her head and darted for the door. He managed to reach her before she could escape. Grabbing her shoulders, he repeated the question.
“You want something from me. I don’t know what but you’re saying these things to get something from me.”
“Casey, listen to me and just think about what I’m saying, okay? Think about all your animals. Where would Sampson be without you? And that horse of yours? What would have happened to him if you hadn’t stood up for him, if you hadn’t earned his trust? And Jonas – the way he talks about you, the way he protects you. I don’t know what you did to earn that kind of loyalty but you did. Isabel adores you because you help her remember her mother at the same time that you encourage her to heal and Ryan has a bright future now because he no longer has to deal with a cruel teacher or an indifferent father. And me. Casey, you gave me my son back!”
“Anyone would have-” she began.
“No Casey, they wouldn’t have. You see things in people that others can’t. You fix things that aren’t right-”