Authors: Alexandra O'Hurley
Tags: #Romance, #Healing Hearts 1
“I’m sure this has been rough on you. I can tell you care about him a lot.”
Jenny’s mouth rounded into a large
and her eyes grew large in surprise. If she’d expected an argument from Olivia, she wasn’t getting one.
“I don’t need your pity,” Jenny said, with a little venom in her tone. “There’s been enough of that particular emotion running through this whole mess.”
“I don’t pity you. I’m just acknowledging this isn’t easy for you and I understand your pain. I wish things could have been different for you and Liam.”
Jenny’s eyes narrowed as she stared at Olivia, but then her face softened as she seemed to realize Olivia wasn’t playing her. “He’ll come back. He’ll realize what he’s missing and he’ll come back. If you play this game, prepare to get burned.” Tears glazed Jenny’s eyes and Olivia felt heartsick for her for a moment.
Olivia didn’t respond. There was nothing she could say. She felt Jenny’s sadness, yet at the same time hoped he wouldn’t go back to her. But to wish for Jenny’s pain for her own gain felt ruthless in a way she didn’t care for. She may not have liked Jenny, but Olivia could see she’d felt strongly for Liam, too.
“He’s just confused. Once he no longer feels guilty, he’ll come back to me.” Jenny looked over her shoulder to wave at him. Liam stood there stonily, not returning the gesture, his stare icy.
Jenny pushed past her and moved out the door as Liam began walking closer. Olivia took in a deep breath and tried to let the exchange go. It would have been great if she could also forget the sight of Jenny in his arms. They made a handsome pair and Olivia wondered if playing into Liam’s attraction had been the right thing to do.
“Olivia? What’re you doing here?”
“I have an appointment.”
The nurse interrupted and Olivia was reminded that she’d had an audience for her conversation with Jenny. She wanted to crawl into a hole and die. “Doctor, she’s your four o’clock. I just need to get her vitals and she’ll be ready in five minutes.”
Liam nodded to the nurse and stared at Olivia as she walked past him, following the nurse into a small room after getting her height and weight. The pretty brunette closed a blood-pressure cuff after she sat on the table and she then began to pump the ball.
“Don’t let what Jenny said get to you.”
Olivia’s eyes rounded at the woman. “I’ll try not to.”
“She’s always really nice in front of
people who matter
, but when they aren’t looking, she’s a narcissist. I went to high school with Jenny and it’s always been about how far she can rise. She only wants Liam for his money and standing. He’s too good a guy for that. He deserves better.”
“That he does.” Olivia wanted to be that woman with her whole being, but there was just too much standing in their way at the moment.
Liam whisked in before she could say anything more. The nurse winked at her on her way out.
“Have you decided to have the surgery or were you just trying to see me and tell me yes to dinner? Or am I lucky enough to get both?” The boyish smile on his face was contagious, but she fought off the need to return it, remembering the look of Jenny in his arms. She bit her tongue, the pain of it allowing her face to remain placid. Olivia didn’t want to cause drama, or be the reason two people were ripped apart.
“Well? Which is it?”
“I’ve decided to have the surgery.”
“What about dinner?”
“I think it’s best we remain professional, don’t you?” Sorrow flowed through her as she tried to keep hold on her tongue.
“Professional? I think we’ve known each other long enough that we’ve already crossed that line.”
“Perhaps we need to back up behind it. You should treat me like a patient, nothing more.” Olivia spoke the lie, all the time wanting his hands to grasp hers, to caress her. She wanted him to pull her into an embrace, to wash the image of him holding Jenny from her mind. She wished things could be different, that people wouldn’t be hurt from their actions, but they would. She couldn’t be the cause of his relationship’s demise.
“What’s with the edginess, Babycakes?”
“Stop. Calling. Me. That.”
“Okay. What gives,
edgy,” she pushed out. The need to escape the situation nearly drowned her. But she’d made a decision to change her life and she needed to stand behind it.
Liam rose and pulled her into his arms. She pushed at his chest a few futile times, wanting him to leave her alone, yet wanting him to draw her closer at the same time. After a few moments, she gave up and melted into his embrace.
“Get it off your chest,” he said into her hair.
“I saw the pain in Jenny’s face. How can you ask me to dinner five minutes after putting it there?”
“She came to ask me to take her back, but it’s over. I’m sorry she’s in pain, but she wanted something from me I wasn’t willing to give and had been very vocal about not offering. I now see what I want and it isn’t her.”
Olivia felt stunned at his admission. “You broke it off … because of me?”
“Yes … and no. Jenny wants marriage. I don’t. Not with her. She isn’t my Ms. Right and it wasn’t fair for me to be with her if she saw wedding bells. My attraction to you was just a catalyst for the change that had to occur.”
His attraction to her?
The words astonished her even more. Even though she’d sensed it, to hear him come out and say it was staggering. The man she’d wanted, craved, for so many years was telling her exactly the things she’d dreamed of and she didn’t know how to react.
She was numb.
Olivia thought back to Jenny’s words and she wondered if she’d been right. Guilt was a powerful thing. She did need to get the surgery and let the two of them get on with their lives. Then, without that shadow hanging over them both, he would be free. “I can’t say I like being the reason you ended things, but you have the right to do what your heart tells you. I just hope it was the right decision.”
“It was. It’s time to move on with my life.”
She was silent to that, not sure he was right.
“And in the process of moving on … how about that dinner?”
“Can we please focus on why I’m here?” He was too distracting. If she didn’t hold her ground, she would end up saying yes.
“The surgery.” A smile played with his lips. He was seemingly happy to have gotten his way.
“Yes. What do I need to do to get started?”
He paused, smiling. “I think we should discuss it over dinner.”
Olivia rose from the chair and headed for the door. “Perhaps I need to find another doctor to perform the procedure. One who can be professional.”
Liam jumped and caught her. “No. I’ll be the only one to perform this surgery. Please, sit.”
She eyed him closely, trying to determine if he was finally serious enough to get down to business. After a hesitant moment, she returned to her seat. “Promise me we keep this professional. I can’t have the lines blurred right now. My life hangs in the balance and I need to have a clear head. You need to have a clear head. No dinner, nothing.”
“You’re right. I keep telling myself I need to consider what’s at stake.” He stood back, his face growing serious. “Yet, I can’t stop how I feel about you. I’ll try to keep it at bay.”
It wasn’t a firm promise, but she supposed it would do. “How soon can we get going?”
“I can have you prepped and ready by late next week or the beginning of the following if you’re ready to go. We’ll need to do a few tests and get an updated MRI.”
“How long will I need to stay hospitalized?”
“No more than three days, as long as everything goes as expected. I can make sure you’re home for Thanksgiving, but you may not be very mobile through the holiday. Bear in mind that there will be extensive physical therapy starting within a week of surgery to get your muscles back into working order. Are you ready for that?”
“It may be painful at first. I won’t lie.”
“Your back has been compressed for years. Some muscles took over, while others weakened due to the damage. Some of the nerves may not be able to recover from the damage, but with the spine corrected, the pain will hopefully lessen. Once we align your spine, we’ll have to retrain your body to move correctly so that you can ultimately have even less pain. Your muscles will not be happy, but in time, you’ll be stronger and the pain could leave completely.”
“Why tell me all this now, when I’m teetering on the brink of saying no to all this?”
“Because you deserve the truth before you choose to do it. I’ll be there to support you every step of the way. There isn’t one person out there that wants to see you excel more than I do.”
“My mother would argue that point.”
“And she’d be wrong. I’ve made it my life’s work to see you be all you could be.”
The reaffirmation of his guilt wasn’t what she needed to hear right now. “It isn’t your fault.”
“I’m not arguing the point, Olivia. Just let me do what I need to in order to make it better.”
Olivia saw the desperation in his face and felt shaky. For Liam, this man she’d loved for so many years, to be so persistent in finding his miracle cure, it dazed her. He was Ahab, crazed and on a mission.
She chuckled at the analogy, knowing it made her the white whale. She looked down at her body, the one she’d felt trapped by her whole life. If he was successful, she would have a brand-new life to live.
Olivia opened up her messaging program and sent a comment to Jess. “I’m having the surgery.”
“You’re sure it’s what you want?”
“Yes. I had a discussion with my mom, cleared the air. I feel good about this decision. It’s time to move forward.”
“And your hunky doc?”
“I clearly told him to be professional and stop hounding me about dinner.”
“Why? Because he’s not meant for me. I saw him with his ex just before my appointment. It’s like a reminder to back off.”
“Are they back together?”
“He says no; she says it’s inevitable.”
“Tread carefully, but at the same time, this is your shot at happiness.”
“A man doesn’t equal happiness.” Olivia knew that in her head, but her heart screamed out for real intimacy.
“Very true. But wouldn’t you be a little happier if you could spend time with him? A writer’s life is so solitary. You need a hot romance to keep you on your toes.”
“A hot romance? Not with Liam Palmer. It just isn’t in the cards.”
“On another note, I’ve just been hired at a small independent publishing house as an editor.”
“Thanks. They’re looking for another editor. The pay isn’t staggering, but not horrible, either.”
“But I don’t live in your area.”
“The pub isn’t here. You would work completely online except for the occasional trip to their offices in Ohio.”
“Good, because I’ve already given your name to the editor-in-chief, so you may get a call or e-mail. If you’re ready to move out, you need a consistent job, right?”
“Thanks. I like the idea.”
“I knew you would.”
* * * *
Liam settled into bed later that night, a smile that couldn’t be washed away twisting his lips. He’d watched the determination on Olivia’s face as she spoke the words and his heart had felt lighter than it had in years. She was going to allow him to finally repay her for that fateful mistake so many years ago. He already felt as if he’d won the war, not just the battle. The surgery would be a success; he knew it.
As he closed his eyes, he began to drift off into sleep. Visions of the accident began to roll like a slow-motion film in his mind, just as they did almost every night. He watched her running before him, heard his shouts and her squeals in his ears as he chased behind her, forcing her to the inevitable.
The sky was bright and sunny above them, the grass still slightly damp from the morning dew. His feet slid a bit here and there as he ran, but not enough to carry him to the ground. As Olivia began to ascend the ladder, his young mind hadn’t even considered the wet grass and its effect on her shoes. When he saw her begin to fall, he’d run as fast as he could push himself, knowing he had to catch her before she hit the ground. Speeding, he’d been seconds too late, skidding to a stop by her inert form. He heard a sick, cracking sound as she’d hit the ground in his dreams he wasn’t sure he’d ever heard in the actual event and instinctively knew she was hurt badly.
Now, things stretched, changed. He was a man in his dream, no longer the boy of twelve, and he was hovering over Olivia’s womanly body, clad in a bright pink dress. Her eyes were closing and suddenly, they were in an OR. He was scrubbed up, tools in his hands. She was prepped and ready for surgery, her back marked with guides for the first incision. A cake rested at her head, blazing with a hundred candles.
“Ready to blow out your candles, Olivia?”
She nodded, the back of her head covered in tight curls which bounced as she moved. Olivia took a deep breath as she readied to blow them out. Panic suffused him as he wrapped a hand across her mouth to prevent her from blowing them out. “You never made your wish, Olivia. You can’t blow them out until you make your wish.”
He wasn’t able to stop her and a blustering breath came from her lungs, knocking the cake and the flaming candles to the floor. The OR erupted in flames, burning everything except him. He could hear her screams, but was frozen, not capable of helping her.
Liam’s eyes popped open, the dream world slowly dissolving as he realized he was in his own bed. His gaze drifted to the alarm clock by the bed and it read half past midnight.
He dug for his cell phone in his pants pocket and scrolled to find Olivia’s number. As it rang, he prayed she was still awake. It was too late to call, but he had to hear her voice.
“Hellooo?” Sleep filled her voice, which was low and breathless. It made his cock twitch; he felt it lengthen in response to her husky rasp.
“Olivia, I’m sorry to call so late.”