Caught by the Tide Ch. 08byevanslily©
With my heartfelt thanks to Tory_del_Ricoh, for reminding me to be true to myself...
I awoke with a start, uncomfortably warm, the bedclothes stifling, wrapped far too tightly around me. Judging by the darkness, it was still very early. In fact, somehow the room appeared a little too dark. Puzzled, I lifted my head and shoulders from the bed to look towards the window, wondering whether there'd been a power cut and the street lamps were out. But to my astonishment I couldn't see the window.
I couldn't see a thing.
"Fuck!" I gasped, sitting bolt upright and waving my hand in front of my face. "What the fuck?"
"S'okay," a male voice murmured sleepily. "Lie down, babe. Go back to--"
I screamed, scrambling out of bed as fast as I could. "Fuck!" I yelped again as it occurred to me exactly whose voice it was, my heart thudding painfully in my chest. "Oh God!"
"Good morning to you too." Luke sounded both amused and apologetic. "I should've known there wasn't a chance you'd sleep straight through."
"What? Where am I? Where are you?" Hearing movement, I peered through the gloom, just about managing to make him out. "Why the hell is it so dark in here?"
"You're at my place, in my bed. Well, you were in my bed. And it's the middle of the night, why do you think it's dark? " He patted the duvet. "Come on, Becks, get in again. Let me cuddle you back off to sleep."
"Your place?" Desperately trying to remember how I'd landed up there, I stared at him, suddenly realising the reason I was so warm was because I was still fully dressed, minus my shoes. "Your bed?"
"You fell asleep while we were driving, just for a change. What is it about my car? And before you ask me why I didn't wake you up, I tried, okay? Maybe not that hard, but you were out for the count. You didn't even stir when I carried you up here."
"You carried me up here?"
"Are you just going to repeat everything I say? Babe, you really need to get some rest. Back to bed, now."
I didn't move, the previous day's events streaming back to me like a clip show on fast forward. The operation, the conversations I'd had with Sarah, with Daniel, with my mother. With Luke...
"You're not going to do as you're told, are you?" he said at last, sounding resigned.
I hesitated, playing for time. "I need the loo."
"Of course you do." He sighed. "Okay. Hang on." I heard him fling back the duvet and then a click, the room suddenly flooding with low warm light. I blinked hard, watching as he slid out of bed himself, rather relieved to see he was wearing a dark T-shirt and boxer shorts. "Bathroom's just there," he said, pointing towards a door in the corner of the room. "The light switch is on the wall outside."
"Thanks," I mumbled, already stumbling across the room. And flipping on the switch I burst through the door, closing it behind me as fast as I could. But when I turned around, I felt my jaw drop in astonishment. "Wow."
The bathroom was as big as my bedroom at my mother's house. Bigger, probably. Alongside the toilet there was a huge white bathtub with gold-coloured fittings, on the other side a black-topped vanity unit with two gleaming white basins. And to my right there was a walk in shower--good grief, a huge shower, big enough for a family of four to wash in all at once. On closer inspection I saw not one but two shower heads and a ridiculously complicated-looking control panel.
But even more disconcertingly, as I took a few tentative steps forward I discovered I could see myself from every conceivable angle in the mirrors banding the walls. Every surface glittered beneath the tiny spotlights in the ceiling, the wall tiles above and below the mirrors shining like highly polished marble.
"Becks?" Luke called as I drew level with the bath. "I've left you some towels and a toothbrush by the sink. Help yourself to anything else you need. There's a T-shirt there too if you want to get out of those clothes."
I hesitated, looking at the neat pile on the vanity unit. "You know--maybe--maybe you should just take me home."
"Babe..." His sigh was clearly audible through the door. "It's two in the morning. I'm not taking you home. And before you ask, I'm not calling you a cab either. If it makes you more comfortable, I'll sleep on the couch and you can have the bed, okay?"
I bit my lip, knowing from his tone he wouldn't back down, not entirely sure I wanted him to. "I'll sleep on the couch," I said at last. "It's your bed."
"I don't think so." There was a pause--a pause in which I could easily imagine the half-amused, half-irritated expression on Luke's face. "I'll go and make us some hot chocolate."
But there was no reply.
Trying to ignore my three hundred and sixty degree reflection, I used the loo then padded across to the vanity unit. And after peeling off my clothes, I had a quick wash, burying my face in one of the wonderfully soft white towels when I'd finished. "This is crazy," I whimpered, wondering whether I could stay locked in the bathroom for the rest of the night, knowing that if Luke so much as kissed me, I'd be lost. I wanted to be in his arms, in his bed. I longed to feel his skin against mine, to feel him inside me, filling me in the way that only Luke could fill me, thrusting slow and deep. But I couldn't let that happen. Not while there were questions that still needed answers, questions I was frightened to ask. Questions I had no right to ask.
Sighing, I lowered the towel and studied myself in the mirror. "Hey there, gorgeous," I muttered sarcastically, shaking my head at the sight of the dark rings beneath my eyes and my mussed-up hair. But then Luke had never seen me looking exactly at my best, had he?
"Your hot chocolate's ready. What the hell are you doing in there?"
I started at the sound of his voice then grimaced at my reflection. "Nearly--nearly done," I called back, unfolding the T-shirt he'd left me and rolling my eyes at the logo emblazoned across the front. Oxford University. Well, of course he'd gone to Oxford.
When I finally emerged Luke was standing outside the bathroom door holding two steaming mugs. "Nice," he murmured with a smile, eyeing me up and down, his gaze warmly appreciative. "You look so much better in my clothes than I do."
I felt the colour flooding my cheeks, growing hotter still when he noticed my discomfort, his smile broadening. He'd seen me naked more than once, yet somehow I felt way more exposed like this, his T-shirt barely reaching the tops of my thighs.
"Come on then." He jerked his head towards the bed, already moving towards it. "Come and try some of this chocolate. It's my Granny's recipe. I promise you'll never--" And then he stopped, seeming to realise I wasn't following. After placing both mugs on the bedside cabinet he turned around, his smile waning. "Okay, I get it. I've got to sleep on the couch, haven't I?"
Not at all sure what to say, where to start, I stared back at him miserably, watching as his expression hardened.
"This is about Chloe, right? You want me to tell you what happened. Now?" He blew out a sigh. "What is it with you and this need to have middle of the night chats?"
I swallowed hard. "You don't have to tell me anything," I managed at last, unable to look at him any longer, my gaze dropping to the cream carpet. "Because it isn't any of my business, is it? And you're probably thinking that you shouldn't need to explain. That I should be able to trust you--after everything we've been through together, after what you did for my Mum. And you're right, I should. The trouble is, it isn't you I don't trust, Luke."
I paused to draw breath, feeling oddly weak. "It's me. I can't trust my own judgement. I spent all those years with Daniel, believing everything he told me, believing all his lies. How could I have not seen what was happening, what he was doing? How could I have been so stupid? I let him treat me like a fool. I was a fool."
"Oh no, babe." Having neither seen nor heard him approach, I gasped as Luke's arms swept around me, his voice gentle in my ear. "No, no, no. You're nobody's fool. He was the fool. He didn't deserve you, darling, d'you hear me? He never deserved you."
Stunned to hear the almost fierce tenderness in his tone, I closed my eyes, allowing him to gather me close, feeling his fingers raking repeatedly through my hair, the sensation soothing yet arousing at the same time. And I don't know how long we were locked together like that, how long my head was pressed against his shoulder, how long I listened to the steady, reassuring thump of his heart, only that when he finally spoke I almost jumped out of my skin.
"I met her at a nightclub."
Drawing back to look at him, I shook my head as my gaze landed on his. "You don't have to tell me anything. It really isn't any of my business."
His blue eyes seemed darker than usual. "Oh yes it is. Well, I'd like it to be, anyway."
I stared at him in astonishment. Did that mean what I thought it meant? "Luke--"
"But let's get you back to bed first. You're getting cold, babe." Taking my hand he drew me towards the king-sized divan. "I promise you, if you don't want me to stay here with you afterwards, all you have to do is say the word and I'll sleep in the living room."
I had no reason to disbelieve him. And after he'd arranged my pillows so that I could sit comfortably propped up against the headboard, I slid back beneath the duvet, watching as he crawled up the bed to perch cross-legged in front of me, his expression grave, his gaze remaining steady on mine.
"You already know what sort of guy I used to be," he began quietly. "Tim used to call me 'Love-'em-'n'-leave-'em Luke'." He winced slightly. "With good reason. I really couldn't tell you just how many women there were. I didn't sleep with them all but I slept with quite a few. Mostly just the once. I'm certainly not proud of it now, but if I'm honest, I guess I was at the time. It was like a game. To me, anyway. I doubt the women saw it that way."
"Some of them probably did."
He gave me a rueful smile. "Don't go trying to make this easy on me, babe. There's no question I was a self-centred, egotistical bastard."
"But you said you weren't a bastard," I said, suddenly finding I wanted to make light of his words, struggling to cope with the images that were already flashing into my head. Luke, in bed, with girl after girl, making love to them the way he'd made love to me... "You said you were a tosser, not a bastard. You said that you knew who your parents--"
"Becks." His eyes softening, he reached forward and took my hands between his own, squeezing my fingers gently. "I'm sorry. I know you probably don't want to hear all this, but I think you need to know. I want to be honest with you because when I'm done, I need to know that whatever decision you make about me is made for the right reasons. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to sugar-coat anything, okay?"
Once again, I found myself intrigued by his choice of words. Was it possible Luke really did want something more to happen between us? "Okay," I agreed at last, squeezing his fingers in return. "Go on. I'm listening."
He lifted my hands to his mouth and kissed them. "Tim blames my womanising on the fact I'm a short arse," he said, with another rather shame-faced smile. "Now he's a clinical psychologist so maybe I should accept that he knows better than me but I think it's a piss poor excuse. Yes, I got bullied a bit in primary school for being, shall we say, vertically-challenged? But it wasn't like anything else was ever a problem. I was a smart kid but I wasn't a geek. I liked learning, it came easy to me. I still had time to be the class clown. And I guess when I hit my teens, flirting with the girls was kind of a natural progression."
"Tim's a clinical psychologist?" Somehow I found it hard to believe that the lanky guy I'd seen on the beach was also a doctor.
For the first time in a while, Luke grinned. "Yeah. I tell him that the only reason he specialised in that field was so he could figure out why he wasn't a hit with the girls."
"Well, it couldn't have been easy being your best friend."
"Probably not," he conceded, sobering quickly. "Poor sod. God only knows why he stuck around but he did. Actually, he probably became a psychologist because he spent half his life counselling all the women I never called again." He gave a mirthless laugh. "I can't believe that hasn't crossed my mind before."
"So why didn't you call any of them again?" I frowned. "Were you scared of commitment or something?"
Luke looked sheepish again. "In all honesty--God, this is going to sound shallow--I never thought about having any kind of long term relationship. I was having far too much fun. My first couple of years at Oxford were a blast. Partied hard, drank too much. Had to rein it in a bit when I started working on the wards but somehow I found time to have a damned good social life, right up until I qualified and got myself a job here.
"After that, it got tougher to fit everything in. Working eighty hours a week as a house officer kind of takes it out of you, especially when you're studying for exams but I still managed some play time. Bloody stupid. It was obvious that sooner or later the shit was going to hit the fan."
He grimaced. "I failed an exam. A major one. And you'd think that would've been the wake-up call I needed but instead of dealing with it I just acted as though nothing had happened. The day I got the results I took myself off to a nightclub and got well and truly hammered. The next morning, I woke up in yet another strange bed lying next to a girl called Chloe."
"Ah." Even though I'd known it had to be coming, I still experienced an odd jolt in the pit of my stomach at the name. "So that's when it happened?"
"Apparently." Luke's expression was curiously unreadable. "Though to this day, I don't remember anything about that night. I'd seen Chloe at the club a few times, that's how I knew who she was. She'd always made it quite obvious she was interested in me but to be honest, she wasn't really my type and I'd never made a move on her before. I don't remember leaving with her, I don't remember going back to her place and I certainly don't remember sleeping with her."
He shrugged. "I do remember having the hangover from hell and true to form, I didn't hang around too long that morning. And this may sound terrible but it's true--I didn't give her another thought until she turned up on my doorstep a few weeks later and told me she was having my baby."
I stared at him, puzzled. "But Chloe always said that he--I mean you--were her boyfriend. She said that you'd been out on quite a few dates."
"Nope. It was just that one night. Though," he hesitated, his eyes narrowing, "it makes sense, in a weird sort of way, that she'd managed to convince herself it was more than that. The things she said, the way she behaved."
"What?" I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it was all a bit surreal, actually. As I said, she just turned up one evening. I've no idea how she found out where I lived. But from the moment I opened the door she seemed, well, away with the fairies, to be honest. As if she was high on drugs. Maybe she was." He shook his head. "Calling me 'sweetheart' and 'lovey', making big eyes at me. Very bizarre."
"Very." It was my turn to hesitate, aware we were getting to the part I already knew and steeling myself to hear the worst.. "So what happened next?"
Luke rolled his eyes. "Well, I invited her in. Like you do when a girl turns up at your door and tells you she's having your baby."
"Happened a lot, huh?" I couldn't resist the jibe even though I was quaking inwardly.
"Ouch." But there was a hint of a smile playing at the corners of Luke's mouth. "No, she was the first. And the last." He sighed, the smile vanishing. "She was kind of hysterical. Manic, even. Didn't let me get a word in edgeways, gabbling on about how wonderful it was that she was having my baby, that we were going to be a lovely little family, that she knew--she just knew it was going to be a girl and we could call her Daisy--"
"--and when were we going to get married? Because it would have to be soon otherwise she'd never be able to find a dress big enough."
"What?" I gave an astonished choke of laughter. "She just assumed you'd get married?"
"Oh, she'd gone beyond assuming." He looked grim. "Way beyond. As far as she was concerned, it was a done deal. She told me she'd already found the engagement ring and the wedding ring she wanted, that she'd phoned the Registry Office and that there was an available slot for us to get hitched two weeks on Saturday if that was okay with me. Oh and did I have any preference for a photographer?"
I gazed at him in disbelief, rendered speechless for a moment. "She's always been a bit over the top, a bit melodramatic," I faltered at last, shaking my head a little. "But you're making her sound psychotic."
He closed his eyes briefly. "I've discussed this with Tim a thousand times, asked him what I should've done, what I should've said. Because there's no question I handled it all wrong. But it'd been one hell of a day, I was tired, I'd been in theatre all day and most of the night before. And she wouldn't listen to me, wouldn't listen to reason, wouldn't let me say a word, just went on and on and on." He grimaced. "I know I shouldn't have done what I did. It was just a knee-jerk reaction, I lost my rag."
I bit my lower lip, unable to meet his eyes any longer even though I finally understood. "And you hit her."
There was a silence--a silence that soon developed into an uncomfortably lengthy pause. All at once I could feel the blazing heat of Luke's intense gaze. "She said I hit her?" he said slowly. "She actually said I hit her?"
I experienced a rush of shock at the dismay in his tone. "You didn't?"
"Becks!" He sounded as distraught as I felt. "Do you honestly believe I would've done that? You really think I'd...?" He released my fingers abruptly, dropping his head into his hands. "Fuck!"
"But--" I gazed at him in consternation. "She said that was why. She said that you shoved her. That she fell and that that was why she--"
"Lost the baby?" he finished, raising his head to shoot me another startled look. "That's what she told you? That's what she told everybody?"
I found myself cowering beneath the ferocity of that stare, my heart beginning to thud violently against my ribs. "Look, I didn't know her back then. I didn't meet Daniel until a couple of years afterwards."
"Fuck." But Luke's expression had already softened considerably. "Well that explains a lot." He drew in an unsteady breath. "My God, that explains a lot."
"You didn't know?"
"I knew they blamed me. Hell, I blamed me--I didn't have a problem with that. But Becks, I swear to you--I swear to God--I didn't touch her."
I looked at him, not knowing what to say, wanting to believe him so much it actually hurt. "Then what...?"
He winced. "I lost my temper. You have to understand, she just wouldn't stop, going on and on about how happy we'd be, how great it'd be to be married, to raise our baby together. And though I tried to talk to her, she wouldn't listen, wouldn't let me speak. So in the end, I yelled. Roared, in fact. Swore at her. Told her she was crazy, out of her mind--a fucking lunatic." Luke looked ashamed. "I've never felt as out of control as I was that day and I hope to God I never do again. It was unforgivable."
"You yelled at her?" It was my turn to send him an incredulous glance. "That's all?"
But he didn't seem to have heard. "The next thing I know, she's grabbing her tummy, doubled up in pain and there's blood soaking through her jeans. Just like that, no warning. And I didn't know what to do, how to help--" He stopped then shook his head, no longer looking at me. "Well that's not quite true, of course I knew. I knew it was too fucking late to do anything. I knew there wasn't a chance in hell she could lose that much blood and not lose the baby. I took her to the hospital, of course, but..." He gave a helpless shrug.