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Authors: A.M. Madden

Stone Walls (35 page)

BOOK: Stone Walls
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“Um. She said she doesn’t want to wear peach, and, um, if I force her, she said that she’ll show up with a bubblegum pink gown.”

Ben shifts his eyes between us, clearly not buying her lie.

“What did you get?” I ask, pointing to the bakery box. He places it on the table beside my bed and tears away the string holding it together. When he lifts the box to reveal my favorite cookie. My mouth gapes in surprise as tears moisten my eyes.

“You remembered.”

One night when we just started seeing each other, I told him that I loved those little rainbow cookies that are often found in Italian bakeries. My mom would keep an endless supply hidden in our kitchen. I could never find where she hid them. Whenever I was having a bad day, or she wanted to make me smile, she would leave one for me with a note. She called them
bites of happiness
.

He presents me with a cookie. “Of course I remembered. I thought you could use a few bites of happiness.”

“Looks like you got me hundreds of bites,” I say with a smile. The box is huge and filled to the brim.

Ben shrugs before kissing my forehead. “I had to account for back pay.” His next kiss lands on my lips.

Andrea clears her throat and sits glaring at the two of us.

“What’s wrong Barbie? You look constipated,” Ben says with a smirk.

“How?”

“I don’t know. You tell us. Too much fiber?”

“Holy shit. Shut up, Stone. How did this happen? How did you two go from hating each other to…to,” she flusters, waving her hand around like she’s shooing away flies. “To this?”

“Are you seriously complaining?” I ask baffled as to what her issue is. “You’ve been relentless, practically shackling us to each other.”

“Yes I have.” She throws Rob a death stare. “Can you step in, please?”

He walks over to the bakery box, stuffs a cookie in his mouth, and with crumbs flying says, “She feels you both owe her a thank you.”

“Thank you,” Ben and I say in chorus.

“Nuh uh. I need jewelry or maybe a nice new handbag. Tori Burch has a cute new spring collection.”

Ben promises both, and she settles down. The rest of the afternoon is spent talking and planning. Andrea’s one-track mind has her running through all the details of the wedding. Should we go to Aruba or Bermuda? Should we stay in a hotel or take a cruise? She needs me to go with her to find a dress. Should she wear white or cream? Her rambling is a nice distraction. Every so often, Ben looks at me, and I flash him a smile. I can tell he’s still stuck on what he heard Andrea saying to me when they first walked into the room.

I can’t admit to him what I fear. He’d get very angry with me.

And then he may stay for the wrong reasons.

“She’s straining,” I mumble mostly to myself. Her expectations are unrealistic. She’s spent three weeks in traction, and now she expects to simply walk across a room after a few sessions of physical therapy?

Brian, Ella’s physical therapist, shakes his head annoyingly. “She’s fine.”

I hate this guy. I hate his blond curly hair, his surfer dude accent, and his smug, scruffy, unshaven face. He has no clue how to deal with her. Her personality drives her to achieve unrealistic goals, and he sits there and enables her. It’s seriously pissing me off. I can tell by the pained expression on her face, the way her arms tremble as they hold her weight on the parallel bars, and the sweat beading on her forehead and chest that she’s working too hard.

When she stumbles forward, almost falling, I curse beneath my breath and jolt toward her.

“Ben,” he grabs my arm. “Let her be.”

“If she falls and further injures herself, I’ll…”

“I won’t let her injure herself,” he interrupts my threat.

I release a sarcastic huff and correct, “
I
won’t
let her injure herself.”

This goes on for an hour. Each time she loses her balance, I want to reach over and feed him his own nuts.

“Maybe you shouldn’t be here,” he has the nerve to say to me.

Maybe you should shut the fuck up before I send you free-falling out that window
.

Instead, I respond, “I’m staying.”

“Ben, sometimes patients are unproductive with their therapy when in front of an audience. I’m merely suggesting you stay away until she gains more strength.”

I turn my body to meet his gaze head on. This prick is getting on my nerves. I’m not an idiot. The way he places his hands on her hips, the way he leans a little too close to her ear when giving her instructions, even the way he rubs her back encouragingly, leaves me no doubt with what his agenda is. I’ll have his ass fired faster than he can say
Awesome, Ella.

“I’m staying,” I repeat, leveling him with a vicious glare, removing any doubt as to what my agenda is.

“Suit yourself.” He shrugs and walks away. “Awesome, Ella. Keep going, you’re doing great. Just make it to the end, and we’ll take a break.”

“You are a slave driver,” she mutters through clenched teeth.

He laughs at her comment and smiles widely. “Guilty. Come on, babe. Just a few more steps.”

Babe?

What the ever-loving FUCK?

“Her name is Ella.” I follow him right to the edge of the platform.

The fucker offers a bemused smile. “Right, Ella.”

When she takes her last agonizing step, he says, “Great job. You’ll be back to earning that black belt in no time.”

I watch with boiling blood as he wraps an arm around her waist and wraps her arm around his neck. Slowly, he walks toward her wheelchair, adjusting her leg on the elevated leg rest. “Okay, bay…” he stops abruptly and says, “Ella. I’ll go grab you some electrolytes.” With a smile, he hands her a clean towel and leaves the room.

“What’s wrong?” she asks as she dabs her skin with the towel.

“Nothing.”

“Ben.”

“He’s pushing you too hard. It’s only been a few days.”

“Babe, that’s the only way that I’ll get better. Brian is the best, and he knows what he’s doing.”

I hate the way his name sounds from her lips.

“Brian wants into your pants.” It’s out before I can stop it. The exasperated look she gives me worsens my regret. “Sorry. I just…it’s hard for me to sit here and watch you pushing yourself at his command.”

And to watch him touching you,
I add in my mind
.

Brian interrupts our conversation with a smile and a bottle of Gatorade. “Okay, pretty girl. Drink this, and we’ll do some stretching.”

What the fuck
?

This asshole is seriously taunting me. If I stay in this room another minute, two things are definite. Brian will end up in a bloody mess on the floor, and Ella and I will have a huge fight. I’m fully aware that my behavior is very immature, considering what she’s going through and what she’s facing during her recovery. I’m not proud of that, but I can’t help it. Maybe Brian is the catalyst I’m choosing to take all my frustrations out on. The reality is he is helping her when I can’t, and he isn’t going away anytime soon. The second infuriates me even more.

Stretching is the end of her session. It usually involves Ella on her back on the therapy table, and Brian’s hands all over her. Okay, they’re all over her leg, but still. The last time his fingers curled around the back of her thigh, inches away from her pussy, as he helped her raise her leg closer to her chest. I nearly ripped his blond curls out of his fucking head.

“I’m going to take a walk. I’ll meet you in your room.”

“Okay.” She watches me guardedly. She knows me well. When I lean down to kiss her, she whispers, “I love you,” just as my lips hit hers.

My kiss turns out to be a little longer, a little more passionate, and I may show him a little more tongue than I intended to. When I pull away, Mr. Easygoing-laid-back-surfer-dude looks a little more agitated.

Prick
.

“This isn’t a marathon,” I say to her as she lies back on her pillow, looking exhausted and beaten. “Ella, I rather you be here longer and slowly build your strength than to leave here too soon and push yourself too fast.”

“I can handle it, Ben. I worked hard on my training. I can’t let it all go to waste. I need to do this.”

“You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.”

She genuinely laughs at me. “
I’m
beginning to?” When I narrow my eyes, she laughs again. “Come here.” She pats the right side of her bed, and I align myself next to her. We usually get into trouble when the nurse finds us like this, but I couldn’t give a shit right now. I miss her terribly. Any contact between us that I can get is the only thing that’s keeping me going, at the moment. I crave normalcy and ordinary with her. I crave sharing a bed, making love, and living with her in an apartment that we share.

Farley called earlier to check in on her. He also called to say that Politto regained consciousness. I dread telling her that. She simply can’t catch a break. I’ve been purposefully keeping the TV off any news feeds for fear of what will pop up.

As if reading my mind, she asks, “Are you ready to talk?” I have her resting against me with my arms completely wrapped around her. She smells like a hospital, but beneath is still my Ella.

“Not now, babe,” I selfishly dismiss her. The urge to want to kill Brian is still fresh in my veins. Going into a conversation about her past may not be the smartest thing to do, right now. We have yet to discuss all that I know. I promised her I would fill her in, but right now she needs to focus on her recovery. She is safe, and she doesn’t need to know any details regarding Politto.

“Ben, please. I need answers.”

“Why?”

“Because. It’s consuming me, and I need to know what’s going on. It’s the only way I can move on, get some closure.”

“Ella, you only need to worry about your health right now, not closure.”

“Please.”

I sigh from frustration. “Farley said Politto has regained consciousness, although he remains in critical condition. His injuries are extensive. Razzo is in protective custody.”

“Will I be able to talk to Razzo?” she asks tentatively. “Ben, I know this is what we fought about, but it’s important to me. I need to know the truth.”

With a fingertip, I lift her chin so she can look at my face. “Ella, for too many years I carried around resentment and hatred over what my father did, and most importantly why he did it. I had no answers, and I was consumed with getting them. It’s all I could think about. It made me cynical, hard, and taciturn. It made me a person I loathed. For too long, I walked around thinking I was above so many emotions that most feel. I felt caring, loving, and even worrying about someone made a person weak.”

I shift so I am sitting up, facing her. I want her to hear my words and see my conviction behind them. “Ella, for years I was plagued with bad memories. I thought I needed the truth to come to terms with my past. It turns out that I didn’t need the truth. I needed to find you. Finding you has finally settled all the hate I had inside. Being with you has given me a purpose other than revenge. Loving you has helped me see that the past isn’t important. Looking ahead is what matters. I still don’t know what drove my father to get involved with that scum, or worse, what drove him to murder his wife. The depravity of that situation filled me with so much hate for far too long. I may never know the truth, and I’m okay with that now.”

I lean closer, holding her head in my hands, staring directly into her soul. “Baby, sometimes knowing the truth isn’t the best answer and can only lead to the detriment of your happiness. Sometimes ignorance
is
the best answer.”

She blinks away tears, but one escapes. With the pad of my thumb, I gently wipe it away. “You loved your mother more than anything in this world. You loved Virginia Parker. Virginia is who raised you and made you into this incredible, gorgeous, loving, warm, brilliant, stubborn as shit woman that you are today.”

She smiles weakly, looking away as she does. “Look at me.”

When she returns her gaze, I add, “Virginia Parker raised Ella Parker to be a good, kind, loving woman. She did a phenomenal job with you, baby. It was Virginia who is responsible for the person you are today, not Regina. Virginia created the gorgeous woman who was meant to find me and rock my world. Andrea may be a pain in our ass, but she was right. It was inevitable for our fates to collide as they did.”

She closes her eyes as I gently kiss her parted lips. “So, if you need to talk to that man to help you move on, then I’ll arrange it for you. But promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“I want you to please remember, nothing he can tell you will change who you are today. Nothing he can say will alter the Ella Parker that I love with every fiber of my being. Okay?”

She nods, the tears now falling freely.

“I have one more request.”

“What?”

“That if Brian calls you babe, pretty girl, or anything other than Ella again, I get to punch him in the face.”

She laughs out loud and shakes her head. “I’ll tell you what. If he does that, I’ll tell him to call me Ella. If he ignores me, I’ll punch him in the face for you.”

BOOK: Stone Walls
9.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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