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Authors: Pamela Sparkman

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance

Stolen Breaths (10 page)

BOOK: Stolen Breaths
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I walked over to Cooper, who I noticed had been watching me. We made eye contact and the corner of his mouth turned up into a lopsided grin. His amazingly spectacular to-die-for grin.

“Hey you,” he said.

“Hey. Can I get you a drink or anything while you wait?”

He pointed at Beth and said, “She beat you to it.”

“Here you go,” Beth said, setting down a sweet tea with extra ice onto the counter. She looked at me pleadingly and gave me a look that said
introduce us please!

“Oh, Cooper this is Beth Covington. Beth this is Cooper Hudson.”

Cooper gave her a gracious
how do you do
and Beth tried to hold in an excited giggle when she responded, “Nice to meet you, Cooper. I’ve seen you play at Joe’s a couple of times and you are really good.”

I was proud of her. She was trying so hard to hold it together, and I knew she was about to burst with excitement.

“Thank you. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard Lily here sing have you?”

She whipped her head around so fast to look at me I could almost hear the whipping noise. “What is he talking about, Lily? You sing?”

“No,” I said. “Cooper is the singer.” I looked at him with a ‘
what are you doing?’
expression on my face.

Cooper laughed and shook his head like he didn’t understand my denial. “Actually, Beth, Lily
does
sing and she’s amazing. Don’t let her fool you.”

“Why would you keep this from me?” Beth asked, looking at me like she suspected I was hiding a deep dark secret.

“I wasn’t keeping it from you. Cooper is exaggerating.” I tried playing it off because I could feel my face taking on the shade of candy apples, and I hate it when I’m the focus of attention.

“I call bullshit,” Beth said.


What?
” I looked at her almost stunned. I had never heard Beth curse or say anything even remotely off color.

Cooper let out a loud laugh – that surprised me almost as much as Beth cussing— and slapped his hand on the counter. “I like this girl, Lily.”

Beth turned her own shade of red. “I’m just saying if Cooper says you can sing, then I believe him,” she said looking at me.

“Would you like to hear her for yourself? I bet I could get her to play at Joe’s with me again.”

Beth looked at Cooper. “Again?” Then she looked back at me. “
Again?
When was there a first time? When was I going to hear about this?”

I grabbed her by her wrists and very calmly said, “I sang with Cooper last night after the bar closed. It’s not a big deal.”

“Well, I think it’s a big deal. I know a bunch of people who would think it’s a big deal.” She looked back at Cooper. “When are y’all going to sing again?”

“What? Guys, I’m standing right here. Do I have a say in this?”

“No,” both Cooper and Beth said in unison.

Feeling incredulous at this point I looked at Cooper with a raised eyebrow. “No? I don’t have a say?”

“I’m only kidding,” Cooper teased. “But I am going to keep trying to talk you into singing with me. You’ve already won Joe and Hayden over, and I’m sure if Beth here ever heard you she would agree with us.” He flashed his best smile and then started to look apologetic. “I’m sorry that this embarrasses you. It’s not my intention to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“I know,” I said, feeling like I was losing the battle.

“Maybe y’all can sing after the bar closes again and invite me this time?” Beth said sounding optimistic.

“Give me some time to talk her into it, Beth, and we’ll let you know,” Cooper said.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Okay.” She touched my arm and said, “Sorry, Lily, I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable either. I am kind of excited about hearing you sing though.”

“It’s beautiful here,” I said, looking around the spacious open room. In front of me were large windows that spanned from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, and they overlooked a beautiful landscape of weeping willows and a groomed manicured lawn. The tall ceilings made the room feel even larger and at the same time there was a coziness I felt as I stood in the center of the room taking it all in. The entirety of the scene in front of me was breathtaking; mostly muted colors of soft greens and ivory. I saw a beautiful kitchen that reminded me of something out of a
Home and Garden
magazine, and instantly I wondered who had decorated the place.

“My grandmother has excellent taste,” Cooper said, pulling me further into the room by the hand and leading me to a very large sofa.

“Ms. Sophie decorated your house?”
Does he read minds too?

“She did. She hired a decorator and together they made the decisions for the décor. If it were left up to me you would have been a lot less impressed,” he said with a smirk.

“I didn’t realize we lived so close.”

“I like knowing you’re close by,” he said without a second thought. “Actually this house used to belong to my grandparents. A few years ago they moved into another house without selling this one. When I moved here after my grandfather died my grandmother insisted I move in here. She had the place completely renovated. I guess she was hoping that I would stay. My intention was to rent an apartment somewhere, but she insisted. I couldn’t tell her no.”

“Does Ms. Sophie live near here?” We’d spoken over the phone, Ms. Sophie and I, and we’d met for lunch a couple of times, but I mostly stayed locked away in my own little world. I hadn’t realized how closed off I’d been.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” Cooper rubbed my shoulder with a concerned look on his face and I smiled at him. “Yes, I’m fine. I just realized that I’ve never been to Ms. Sophie’s house either.”

“You’ve been dealing with a lot of stuff. But to answer your question, yes, she lives nearby.”

He looked at me with such reverence I stood still while he examined me. I allowed him to take me in, peruse me, like he was cataloguing every part of me down to the finest detail. It didn’t make me feel cheap or dirty. It made me feel like he was in awe of me.

After a moment Cooper cleared his throat. “If you want to change clothes I’ll show you where you can freshen up.” He continued to stare long after he stopped talking.

I looked away like I was searching for my bag. “Yeah, I would like that.”

Cooper grabbed my bag he had set next to the sofa and led me to his bedroom by the tips of his fingers. “You can change in here. There is a bathroom through those doors and if you want to shower first feel free. There’s extra towels and everything you need in there. And maybe later we can watch movies if you want.”

“Thank you,” I said, keenly aware that I was standing in his bedroom. “Sounds perfect.”

“I’ll, uh, I’ll be down the hall if you need anything.”

After Cooper left the room, I decided to take him up on the offer of a shower. I was sure I smelled like the diner, and was anxious to get the burger smell off of me. I was pretty sure I was going to come out smelling like a man, assuming I would find nothing but masculine products in his bathroom. When I entered the rather large bathroom I noticed all the stuff he had laid out for me. Extra towels, washcloths and lavender shampoo. Seeing the shampoo made me smile. Had he gone out and bought that just for me?

I undressed and got into the shower. I took my time and let the water wash over me, erasing away thoughts and activities of the day, relaxing under the calming spray that rained over my body. I closed my eyes, breathing in the fragrance of Cooper’s spicy soap and the scent of the lavender shampoo. I allowed myself a few more minutes of this retreat and then finished up and got out. I brushed out my hair with his hair brush and, not noticing a hair dryer laying out anywhere, I decided to let my hair air dry. I gathered everything up and put my things back in my bag and walked out to find him. He was making us a drink when I walked in the kitchen. I saw something flicker across his face when he saw me and he stood frozen, staring.

“What?” I asked. I looked down at my clothes to make sure I looked okay. I was wearing my faded jeans and a bright green top, and I was barefoot, because why put shoes on to watch movies?

“Um, nothing. It’s just…I never get tired at looking at you. And when I think I’ve seen you at your most beautiful you prove me wrong.”

Was he serious? I was a mess. Wet hair, no makeup of any kind, and as I was putting on my jeans I noticed a spot on them that hadn’t come out in the wash. I was all kinds of frumpy. I laughed. “If you say so.” I proceeded further into the kitchen to accept the drink he was holding out for me.

He put both drinks down and reached for my hands then pulled them up to his chest where I could feel his heart pounding beneath my palms. “Do you feel that?” he asked me, looking directly in my eyes and daring me to look away.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“This is what you do to me. Every time you walk in the room. Any room. This is what you do to me. You make my heart race, which makes my pulse surge, and you make me forget how to breathe. And then when I remember how to breathe it comes out quick and rapid. This is what you do to me. Your hair is wet, and you’re not wearing makeup and yet this is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen you, and I didn’t think you could be more beautiful than yesterday. So, yes, Lily, I say so.”

His eyes remained locked on mine and I fought back the tears that were stinging my eyes. “Cooper,” I said, swallowing the lump that was forming in the back of my throat, “you know that game where you fold your arms in front of you and fall backward and trust that the person behind you catches you?”

“Yes,” he said in a raspy voice.

“You know that feeling you get when you close your eyes and fall back, but right before someone catches you – that split second when you aren’t standing up and you aren’t lying down – you’re in between and all you can do is hope that you didn’t make a mistake and trust the wrong person to catch you, but you know it’s too late because you’ve already fallen?” Cooper nodded. “That’s how you make me feel. Like I’ve already fallen and I’m in the in between. My heart is constantly in my throat and I’m suspended in time, waiting for you to catch me. That’s what you do to me. Every time you walk in the room. Any room. This is what you do to me.”

The tears broke loose at that moment and my face became wet and salty, and I closed my eyes hoping that I hadn’t just admitted too much. And I was angry at myself for crying.

Damn it, why am I crying?

“Lily,” Cooper said, almost whispering, “look at me.” He lifted my chin up to his face. He wiped tears away with his thumb and looked deeply into my eyes. Then he kissed me. Tenderly. Passionately. He was telling me what he wanted to say with his kiss and I understood. There was the same electricity I had felt the day we met sparking between us now. It had always been there. That same familiarity I always felt was also in the air. His kiss was a slow burn and I could feel Cooper holding back; restraining himself. His body shuddered around me as he trailed his nose along my jaw, down my neck, stopping at my ear.

“Fall,” he whispered. “I’ll catch you, Lily. You can trust me. I promise.”

Twelve
Second Chances

Cooper continued to hold me in his arms for a long time. I could tell there was something on his mind. He had said that there were things he wanted to tell me, and I figured I was about to learn them whether I was ready to hear it or not. He finally took my hand and led me to the couch. “We need to talk.” He blew out a breath, trying to get his thoughts together. “I need you to sit down.”

“Okay,” I said softly.

His voice sounded serious. It unnerved me. Then his features softened and he took both of my hands in his before speaking again.

“Five years ago I was here visiting my grandparents. I had been working a lot and was desperate for a break. I decided to go for a run to clear my head. It was getting late in the day and the sun was going down. I don’t know how long I had been running when I heard screams coming from somewhere. I stopped dead in my tracks, listening so I could determine where they were coming from. There was an open field between neighborhoods and I ran toward it. When I got there I saw something that to this day completely enrages me. A man was beating a girl. She was so small and fighting back as hard as she could. Before I could get to her he hit her one final time and I saw her body fall to the ground. I thought he’d killed her. She didn’t move after that. The screams… they stopped. I was running toward them and the man took off. I never saw his face. I wanted to chase after him and beat the shit out of him. No, I wanted to
murder
him, but I couldn’t leave that girl there. I took her pulse and she was still alive. I scooped her up in my arms and carried her, yelling for someone to help. I don’t know how far I had to run before a man stepped off his porch and ran toward me. I knew he must be the girl’s father. He had been waiting for her to come home, I guess. I told him we needed to get her to the hospital and I remember being in the back seat of his car with this girl in my lap, her body all broken. Her face was forever etched in my memory. I’ll never forget what she looked like.”

 

Cooper kept his head down, not once looking up at me, and I saw a tear fall down his cheek.

BOOK: Stolen Breaths
8.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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