Authors: Dahlia Rose
Nicole lay in bed looking out the window of her room in New York Presbyterian. She expected to have to share a room in the ward. Surprisingly they’d wheeled her into a private labor room and told her that because of her harrowing ordeal an anonymous donor had paid it for. Nicole didn’t like the fact that she didn’t know who did it, putting her at the end of someone’s charity. She’d learned from childhood people didn’t do anything for free in New York. She didn’t want to be on TV with her son while some rich person used her for a sound bite. She’d been abused, yes, had run to a women’s shelter, yes, but she was not a charity case.
Karen was helping her find a new place and use the funds in Nicole’s bank to pay for it. While she was with Derek and she was scared shitless, she’d still used her head and saved every penny he gave her. He never wanted her to work but even more so while he was downstairs at the club. She managed to create small websites for clients and saved the money in her Paypal account. Making and saving became her focus, especially when she found out she was pregnant. The money was for her to leave and give her baby a safe place to live so she was able to keep with that original plan and move to Staten Island. She had her small web design gig going and had a work at home customer service job lined up so she could take care of her son and still hold down a job.
She even signed up for an online college to get her Medical Billing degree and would do all three to make sure Jules lacked for nothing. She had missteps but she certainly was not down and out. Jules’s father was out of the picture for good. Just thinking about it made her feel like a weight was off her shoulders. She was in the process of leaving when she found out she was pregnant. She wasn’t going to tell him but when he was hitting her she had to tell him so he didn’t punch her in the stomach. He smacked her around all the more for trying to trap him, as he said.
She gave a mental laugh.
She hoped the cage they dropped him in was deep in the recesses of Riker’s or an upstate New York prison. A guy who ran a club in Manhattan and acted like he was a God and lived on Mount Olympus. The idiot with the god complex pushed more of his money up his nose than in the bank. Nicole considered herself a smart girl and wondered everyday how she got drawn into that world, let alone stayed. It was fear, plain and simple. She learned to fear a raised hand or the threats of death if she left. Then there came the point when she had to admit her mistake and leave. But along with hiding she did something else. She turned his ass in, and when the cops busted his club they found more than enough evidence to arrest him and his goons. She was finally free. She looked over at a sleeping Jules in the hospital style bassinette. Nicole was already over-protective of him, even becoming anxious when the nurses took him to the nursery.
We’re going to be just fine baby
, she thought with a smile.
A knock came and Karen poked her head through the open door. “Hey lady, are you awake?”
Nicole smiled. “Yes I am. Hey do you know who paid for my hospital stay?”
“It was the same benefactor of Haven Hope,” Karen explained. “He saw the news and immediately called to pay for the cost of cleaning up the building, adding more security and your hospital stay.”
“I wish there was a way I could thank him,” Nicole said.
Karen sighed. “He wants to stay anonymous, he has his reasons to so we’ll just send him good thoughts and blessings.”
Nicole nodded in agreement to Karen’s statement. Two days after the hostage situation and Karen’s face held the purple bruises from where Walter hit her, and her arm was in a cast. That didn’t stop the plump, stubborn brunette. She had the shelter running in tip-top working condition. She was back helping victims of abuse and Nicole was so happy that she wasn’t injured any worse. There was a point where she thought Walter would kill Karen that night.
“I have the lease for your new apartment and all your things are being taken out of storage,” Karen said with a smile. “Don’t worry, my husband Bill and our nephew are taking care of it.”
“Karen you shouldn’t have,” Nicole said. “How much do I owe them?”
Karen gave her a stern look. “Bill owns a moving company and can work for me since I cook him meals every day. You just had a baby and shouldn’t have to go unpacking things. They’re even putting together the crib and bassinette. I’m going over later to put away your clothes and the baby things.”
Nicole felt tears threaten to spill. “You guys are so great! Sorry, the tears are from the hormones.”
Karen patted her hand. “Honey, you got caught up in the wrong situation, we all make mistakes, but you took the right steps for you and Jules. Helping is part of my job and pleasure. I’ve seen so many women come through my door and go right back to abusive relationships. You came in and said you’re done and what do I do next. I’ve never been worried less about a person. I’ve known you for three months and I already consider you a good friend.”
Nicole sniffed. “You’re going to make me cry, again. Jules is going to have great godparents in you and Bill.”
Karen wiped her eyes. “See, now you’ve made me do it too.”
Another knock on the door made them both turn their heads. When a man’s head peeked around the doorframe, apprehension made her chest tight. She barely recognized the cop who helped her deliver Jules without all his gear on. He looked almost embarrassed as he stepped into the room.
“Hi, um, I’m Sergeant Maxwell Kincaid, I, um, delivered your baby ma’am,” he said hesitantly.
“Sergeant, nice to see you again outside being held at gunpoint,” Karen teased. “You just caught us at a teary moment.”
Nicole noticed the mention of tears made him look even more uncomfortable.
Why is he here
? she wondered. She never expected to see him again.
“I can come back and—yeah I can come back,” Max said.
Karen looked from him to Nicole and smiled. “No you don’t, you have gifts and balloons. You visit with our new mommy. Nicole, I’ll see you later this evening when we check you out.”
“You can stay.”
The spoke simultaneously and Karen smiled wider. She waved and walked out of the room, leaving them in uncomfortable silence. Nicole looked down at the blanket over her lower body and wondered what the heck should happen next.
“Um, the guys in my unit, well we all got you some gifts for Jules,” Max said and approached the bed. “Is it okay if I sit? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable after all you’ve been through.”
“I’ve been beaten for two years, held hostage, and had a baby. I don’t think you sitting there will make me too scared,” Nicole replied. But still her hand tensed in the covers. She repeated her internal mantra fiercely.
You will remember who you are and you will learn not to be scared of every man, they are not all Derek.
“You should tell me the name of the guy who hit you,” Max said.
She looked at him, startled. “Why?”
“So he can pick on someone his own size,” Max said bluntly.
More tense silence until he handed her a box. “This is for Jules.”
She opened the box on her lap. Inside was a green boy’s outfit with the Jets logo on the front, a baby size football, and Jets socks and bib.
She pulled them out and laughed softly. “Let me guess, you guys favor the Jets.”
This time he grinned. “How’d you guess?”
She held up her thumb and forefinger with a small space between. “Just a tiny clue.”
He smiled. “There’s something else in there.”
She pulled a book out and read the title. “The literary works of Jules Verne.”
“Every kid should have a copy of his namesake,” Max said.
She ran her hand over the leather bound book. It had to be expensive and she put it back in the box. “I can’t accept this.”
Max looked at her curiously. “Why not?”
“It’s expensive for one and usually when men give you expensive gifts they’re expecting something in return,” Nicole answered bluntly. “I’ve learned the pattern.”
“There are no strings attached to this and I will swear on my badge I expect nothing from you,” Max replied. “He had a hard start. I hope he looks at this book through his life and sees that even though life isn’t always easy, if it’s worth fighting for it’s worth keeping.”
Nicole looked at the man sitting by her bed. He had a military cut hairstyle and his hair was as black as a raven’s wing. His eyes were light blue, almost smoky in a rugged face with a strong jaw line. His shoulders were broad under his leather jacket and even though she knew it was chilly outside he wore a Kiss T-shirt that stretched across his hard chest. He was handsome, of that there was no doubt, but she didn’t understand his motivation and that bothered her.
“Why are you here?” she asked without hesitation.
He met her eyes and admitted, “I don’t know.”
“All this stuff is from you, isn’t it?” Nicole searched his face expecting a lie and then a reason not to trust him.
“Yes.” He gave an uncertain smile. “These are gifts for him, please accept them. Besides, they can’t fit me anyway.”
Nicole laughed. Just then, Jules began to fuss in the bassinette and she swung her legs over the opposite side of the bed and lifted him out. She shushed him gently. He wasn’t hungry because she had breastfed him just before Karen came in for a visit. He wanted to be held and Nicole had no problem cradling her son. She looked over to where Max sat, watching them with interest.
“Do you want to hold him?” Nicole asked.
He shook his head. “I’ve never really held a baby.”
“You did when you delivered him,” she pointed out.
“That was just for a second before the EMTs came in,” he said.
“Come over here and hold Jules, you brought him a book,” Nicole said and then teased. “He won’t bite, he has no teeth yet.”
He laughed as he stood. “Okay, I’ll give it a whirl.”
When he stood she handed him the baby. “Support his head in the crook of your arm,” Nicole explained softly and watched as he did.
She watched him hold her tiny son and the baby looked so small in his arms, yet so very protected. Max reached out a finger and ran it over Jules’s hand. He made a soft sound when the tiny fingers tried to hold on to the tip of his large hand. It was a picture seeing him hold her son Nicole felt some sadness because Jules wouldn’t have a daddy to hold him like that. It was better that it be just them. When she found out she was pregnant she realized she couldn’t raise her baby with Derek. She ran away so many times but he brought her back each time. The last time he hit her she was six months pregnant. He never touched her belly and she was grateful for that.
“He’s amazing,” Max whispered and then cleared his throat. “You should take him now.”
“Don’t you have sisters or brothers that have children?” Nicole asked.
She met his eyes as he said, “There’s just me.”
At that moment she felt a shift and found common ground with the large, silent cop who read Jules Verne and knew her child’s namesake from the moment she said his name.
“Same with us,” Nicole said and looked down at her son. “But that’s okay because we’ll be just fine, right my sweet baby?”
She kissed his head and looked at Max as he pulled a card from his pocket.
“If you ever need anything please call me and I will be there,” he said. “Or just call me, just because.”
She watched him leave her room without another word and felt her stomach clench in anxiety… or was it excitement? She couldn’t trust a man right now and didn’t know if she’d ever get over the fear of being hurt. Still, there was something about him that intrigued her and she thought about Max the cop long after he was gone. In the end she convinced herself he was just being nice because he pitied her in some way. It was easier than thinking he was interested in her as a woman because, like a scared rabbit, she’d have to find somewhere to hide.
* * * *
Max sat at his desk and looked at the file in front of him. On the computer screen was the arrest record of Derek Pallone. He was bad, and Max wondered how Nicole got involved with such a man. But there was a pattern with Derek that Max knew well. He hid his illegal activities under the guise of a respectable business but the man was as guilty as the devil. A tip came and his club was raided. Max smiled, knowing that while they never listed the unnamed source it probably was Nicole. She got him out of her life the only way she knew how, by using the law.
, Max thought. He closed his eyes and could almost smell Jules’s baby scent. He had to admit he was hooked. He wanted to know Nicole, the woman, the mother, everything about her. In the hospital her hair was neatly pulled back in a ponytail and he wanted to open it up and watch it fall to her shoulders. He wanted to kiss that sweet, full mouth that curved into an easy smile even though there was hesitancy and some fear in her eyes. How do you approach a woman who was hurt so many times? Max decided that the only thing to do was to ask for help and for him that was a tough choice since he never asked for anything. He’d go to the one person who could give him answers on Nicole and how he should act. He’d get advice from Karen on how to approach Nicole. He had her number for his police report that had to be filed. Max picked up the phone and dialed the number. It rang twice before it was answered.
“Karen Brady, how may I help you?” she said.
He grinned at the name. “Hi, this is Sergeant Max Kincaid, I was at Ms. Henry’s room today and…”
“Yes, the hostage situation and so forth, I know who you are, Max,” Karen replied and there was humor in her voice. “What can I do for you?”
“Do you have time to meet for a cup of coffee?” Max asked.
“Is there something wrong with my statement about that night?” Karen asked.
Max cleared his throat uncomfortably. “No, that’s all squared away. I wanted to ask you about Nicole and some other stuff… I’m not good at this, so can you give me a small break and let me save the explanation until we meet?”
Karen was silent for a moment. “She’s been through a lot, Max, I don’t think she can handle any more.”