Kismet or Happenstance? Ch. 09byAugust_Bouvier©
Saturday, December 9th 11:40 pm
"I'm sorry," Sean murmured into Ana's hair and drew in its faint citrus aroma. "I'm so sorry about how I acted...the things I said."
Ana's hair swept the side of his neck as she nodded repeatedly. He wanted to haul her body up against his but didn't dare. The reddish shadow peeking out under the wide dress strap reminded him to be careful. He settled for burying one hand in her silky waves while the other grazed the curve of her back. Ana rubbed his back and pressed into the crook of his neck, seeking as much contact as her injured shoulder allowed. The weight he'd been carrying for two days lifted.
The tremor in Sean's voice made her squeeze her eyes as she tried to dam the tears threatening to spill over. With one hand wrapped around him, holding the phone, and the other rendered useless, Ana had no discreet way to wipe away the wet trail running along her nose. And even if she could, she now found herself tired of fighting her feelings and maintaining a cool façade. She drew her head back a scant inch. Sean's jaw worked as his gaze followed the wet streaks on her face. But he said nothing. The regret etched on his face spoke volumes. The pads of his thumbs gently wiped away her tears, making her want to cry all over again.
Her voice wobbled in response to his tenderness. "I'm s-sorry too that I didn't tell you sooner. And I didn't try to talk to you about it just because Simon called...I thought I'd found the right time when he did—that I had a good opening." She looked at him with solemn brown eyes. "I wasn't trying to do damage control."
Hearing Ana speak those very words in that wary, defensive tone made him wish he could rewind to Thursday and handle things differently.
"I know how it must have looked to you...but I didn't deliberately set out to lie to you, I'd never do that. You've got to believe me."
He didn't doubt her sincerity as her eyes pleaded her case. "I believe you," he reassured her quietly as his hands bracketed the sides of her neck. "Why didn't you say something sooner?"
Sean believed her. Relief buoyed Ana's spirits, yet she had to steel herself as she prepared to answer his question. Here we go.
"Uh, maybe we should sit down," she stalled. His gaze was intent as if he meant to catch every expression on her face.
"We don't have to do this right now if you're too tired."
Postponing meant living another day in uncertainty. No thanks. She set the phone back on its base. Simon would have to wait.
"I'm okay...I just need to ice my shoulder," she said on her way to the fridge to get the icepack. She emptied the uncapped bottle of its last pain pill before reaching for a glass. "Did you want anything?"
"No, I'm good."
Dodger skipped at Ana's feet and growled at the sight of her advancing black slippers, trying to decide whether he should attack the furry balls. Sean had draped his jacket on the back of the slipper chair, already waiting for her on the couch. Ana decided to stand, needing some distance between them to center herself. Plus, she couldn't imagine sitting still at the moment, no matter how weary she felt. The discrepancy in their height, the fact that they were on her turf, should have given her some subtle psychological advantage—it didn't. Ana felt as though she'd stepped onto the stage in front of a very discerning audience.
She paced a small path on the wool rug as she spoke. "I was going to tell you everything about that day in your office." She stole a glance his way. "I just didn't know how to begin—" she trailed off, pulling the brakes on her quick babbling. She couldn't just blurt it out.
Sean watched as Ana turned into a human pendulum. He resisted the urge to scoop her up and set her on the couch when he noticed her slight limp. She talked as if she were thinking out loud, as if it were easier to pretend she was alone. "I didn't know you and Simon were friends until I visited his website at your place last Saturday." Her earnest eyes matched her quiet, low pitch. She shifted uncomfortably and continued. "It came up as a match for the caterer's site—I swear." Her voice rose an octave. "I never logged into your account. I'd never do something like that. It all happened by accident."
Sean nodded, not wanting to interrupt her flow of words while letting her know he believed her.
"When I saw your user ID," Ana paused and sat in the raspberry fifties slipper chair, "I kind of freaked out because—"
"You're CuriousBloom," he supplied when she remained silent several seconds too long.
"You know?!" It was the first time since he returned to her apartment that Ana had spoken above a hushed tone. Her wide eyes and stunned expression were so cute, it made him forget the gravity of the moment.
"I figured it out Thursday night. I tried calling you—" Sean trailed off, leaning forward with his arms braced on his thighs. He leaned back again while he explained how he'd made the connection to the daisies she'd bought last weekend.
"The things we said to each other—it was bad," she groaned.
"You mean the things you said to me," Sean mock chastised. But Ana missed his playful intent.
"Hey—I was just kidding." He grinned, certain it would illustrate the obvious. But Ana didn't get the message. Sean said the first thought that popped into his mind. "What's wrong?"
Ana wanted to blurt out: "How do you feel about me?"
Sean's face went blank, giving nothing away. "Ana, that stuff you posted...is that how you see me, even after all these months?"
A wave of remorse washed over her. She'd put more stock in a bunch of unfounded theories ahead five months worth of real life, everyday facts. Sean never hid who he was. He respected her, didn't bullshit her, he listened, he rocked her neat, organized world and made it better and exciting. So what if he was stubborn, a bit impulsive and loved mornings? She was never going to meet another man like him...she didn't want to.
So why was it so easy to doubt him? Was it because being in love scared her to bits? Was it because she wanted everything noted, guaranteed and filed away in a little folder labeled "relationship"? Could Sean, or anyone, give her any guarantees though? Could he predict their future? Even if he said all the things her uncertain ears wanted to hear, she'd still have to take a leap of faith into the unknown—without a parachute strapped to her back.
"You do," Sean interjected. It had been so easy online to just chalk her words up to that of a bitter, disillusioned woman. But now? He squeezed the tension in the back of his neck. Now he just wanted to throw his hands up and say "fuck it". What had he done to earn this kind of distrust? The only thing keeping him from exploding right now was the fact that his temper had gotten him nowhere the last time. And Ana looked downright lost.
Sean's body stiffened with indignance and he quickly schooled his face into a neutral expression. But his eyes glittered with hurt and anger. Ana had never seen him this vulnerable before, except for that day when his grandfather had landed in the hospital. But that was natural and expected because it was family. This time though, it was because of her and she didn't know what to expect it. Maybe he had feelings...
"It's not that black and white, Sean."
The muscle in his jaw twitched. "I think it is." The whiplike insistence in his voice told Ana she had her work cut out for her. "Either you believe that stuff you wrote or you don't. Which is it?"
Oh, Jesus! Déjà vu ambushed her. Ana sat down and rubbed the icepack tucked under her bra strap, hoping the icy tingle would sharpen her faculties.
"I wrote all of that stuff while the whole Chris and Vanessa saga was playing out. Some of the things you posted rubbed me the wrong way because—" she paused and browsed through the racks of words in her mind but the right combinations were just outside her grasp. "—some of it came off kind of nonchalant...as if getting involved with someone and just moving on when you had enough was no big deal—wait let me finish," she interjected with a hand up as he opened his mouth.
"That's what it felt like when Chris and Vanessa started going out but I still went to work every day pretending it didn't bother me and...I hated it. I wanted to lash out and you were an easy target...that wasn't fair," she admitted. "I know you Sean, and I don't think—I know you're not shallow."
"Why do I get the feeling there's a "but"?" Sean challenged and leaned forward, daring her to meet him head on. Ana felt like she'd been put on the witness stand when his eyes bored into hers. "If everything you just said is true then I don't understand why you were so spooked that you couldn't tell me all this in the first place."
Ana blanched and browsed the racks again. All the good ideas on what to say next were stored high on shelves she had to stretch and push her mind to reach for. How insecure would it sound if asked him if she was just another woman he was "fully enjoying for now?" Ana cringed. It sounded wildly insecure in the confines of her head. Tonight wasn't the night for ultimatums. "The way things started with us...happened so fast. That's not like me—"
"I figured that out the first night."
Embarrassment over her remembered lack of finesse joined the ambush and heated her cheeks. "Ana?" Sean implored as his elbows dug into his thighs. He entwined his fingers in a gesture of frustration. He stood up, as though he couldn't sit still a moment longer and towered over her. "Just tell me, okay?" he commanded gently. "Whatever it is, just tell me."
Her say-yes-to-anything philosophy had been easier when she expected to be saying yes to very little. It isn't a leap of faith if you've got a parachute strapped to your back. She got up slowly and took the leap and trusted herself to get back up if the landing didn't go as planned. The way strong, independent women did.
Sean paced behind the couch then froze with his arms folded across his chest. The stubborn set of his chin said he was prepared for a standoff. "Look," he reasoned with hard fought patience, "I can't fix it if I don't know."
Ana stumbled as she avoided a collision with Dodger. The dog had a growing obsession with her slippers; his beige head had followed her feet while she'd paced in front of the coffee table. He kept a gentle grip on her waist while she steadied herself. All she had to was sit down and just tell him what she had to say. But no, she had to take the scenic route even when she wasn't up to it physically. Why did she have to be so dammed stubborn? "Ana, you should sit dow—"
Sean's eyes widened with shock and confusion as her palm covered his mouth. She could just about read his thoughts right now and smiled inside. That distracted her enough to march ahead. Scripts, pretty words and eloquent phrases didn't matter anymore.
"Just listen okay? Without saying anything back. Promise me."
Despite the fact that Sean had an extra hand advantage he didn't use it against her. He nodded behind her palm.
"I love you."
Oh, God. She said it. Finally. Ana swallowed. Her heart hammered her chest. Adrenaline poured into her blood. She felt scared and...free. Air wafted over her hand. Sean looked stunned. She kept her hand clamped over his mouth when he jerked involuntarily. His hands came up to rest on either side of her neck.
"I know this wasn't what you had in mind when we started going out...we never talked about getting serious]...so I'm not expecting you to say it back. Okay?" she said in a stern voice, daring him to defy her.
Sean nodded. His blue eyes were wild and...soft.
"I didn't expect this to happen. I didn't...the reason I didn't tell you right away about...you know...the website was because...I-I got a little scared when I read some of the things you wrote. We never talked about the future and I started wondering if you only saw us being together in a certain way...for a short time because of the way we started out."
Sean nodded. She felt a smidgen of relief that he'd taken her declaration so well. You do have a hand on his mouth.
"And I don't want you getting all weird and thinking this is some kind of ultimatum, okay? I'm telling you I love you because I do and no other reason. I don't want you to feel like you have to say it back if you don't feel the same way. Okay? I'd really hate it if you did," Ana rushed on, hoping her babble made sense. She swallowed the big knot her next thoughts created. "I know you like me," Ana faltered. God, that sounded so junior high! "And it's okay if you don't...uh, love me...or if you don't see it happening."
Sean's expression didn't look panicked or uncomfortable. His lips moved behind her palm. Ana shook her head. "Okay?"
Instead of nodding again, Sean exercised his hand advantage and snared her wrist. His mouth covered hers and in a sweet, reassuring kiss. Ana eagerly sought out more of the delicate flavor of champagne and something she recognized as uniquely Sean's. His hands moved gently over her back, pulling her closer, fitting her soft curves into the hard lines of his body, supporting her. Ana breathed in.
Her forehead pillowed his, while his fingers brushed her lush mouth. The soft, wet texture reminded him how good it was taste her again. Everything was going to be okay. She pressed a tiny kiss into his fingers and almost undid him with the small gesture.
I love you.
Sean breathed out.
She'd said the words with such quiet conviction. They reverberated in his ears and dissolved into a drug swimming in his blood. He felt humbled and high. She wasn't the type who loved lightly or easily. Ana loved him. Ana. Loved. Him. And she thought he just liked her. It was laughable until he looked into her brown eyes. They were dazed,serious, brave and so damn vulnerable he wanted to wrap her up. She deserved the world but expected nothing back from him. His fingers covered her mouth, keeping her silent just in case.
"I don't just like you, okay? I love you." Unshed tears shimmered like stars suspended in her shocked brown eyes. "And no, I'm not saying it back just because you said it first. I love you—I have for a while now and that's not going to change."
Sean's thumb caught the first fat tear before it touched her cheek; he kissed away the one that fell down the other side of her face. The dark mascara smudges beneath her eyes gave her a fragile appearance. "I love you," he repeated to chase away any flicker of doubt and because it felt good to say it.
"You mean it." The dry edge of wonder in her lost girl whisper slayed him. Her salty lips mouth found his as he nodded his answer.
"Yes," he murmured into her mouth while his large hands bracketed her face. The kiss lost any chance of being gentle and sweet the instant his tongue met hers. There was too much longing, too much relief and too much love for it to be anything than what it was: hungry, desperate and passionate. Every velvet stroke, every nip and every moan was pure, raw need. Sean tried his best to rein in the first hit of desire. But Ana's one hand, splayed over his chest, rubbing back and forth made it hard. His fingers plowed through her thick waves. Ana winced and gasped when he dug into the hard knot at the back of her head.
"I'm sorry," Sean rasped and probed gently this time. His brows met when his fingers brailled the height and width of the bump.
"It's not that bad," Ana hurried to reassure him but his blue eyes contradicted her. She could only imagine his reaction to the bruises covering the left side of her back.
He looked like he was about to say something but thought the better of it. "Come here," he commanded gently and folded his arms around her. He kissed the top of her head while he rocked her. "I'm so glad you're okay."
Time faded while they stood wrapped up in each other's arms, content in this new space of loving and being loved.
"We should get you to bed."
It sounded like a great idea, except it meant moving. Good thing Sean wasn't in any hurry to act on it. The soft thud of Sean's heart beneath her ear lulled her into sweet relaxation. Her nose sought more of the warm sandalwood and crisp citrus that lingered on his skin. The scent she'd recognize anywhere from now on.
The phone chimed.
"Who the hell can that be at this hour?" Sean growled into her hair.
Ana had difficulty lifting her head from his chest. Her eyes jolted from sleepy to awake in seconds. "Simon. Shit! I forgot to call him!" She shuffled to the kitchen while Sean interrupted Dodger's playful pursuit of the fuzzy black squares darting across the carpet. He'd forgotten about Simon and the golden heart dangling around her neck until then. Curiosity sharpened his ears while he scratched the canine's matted head.
"Hello? Sorry about that...Sean and I were talking and I got sidetracked." Ana looked over at him and the small smile she wore found its way into her voice, which sounded a degree thicker and slower. "Yeah, he's here."
He had to strain to hear her when she spoke again. "Is it okay if I tell him? Yeah, I did—right after I got home...okay...we will. Thanks for calling. Goodnight."
His brain clamored with unspoken questions while she put the icepack in the freezer. She'd been touching the pendant during the entire conversation. Now it became a magnet for his eyes.
"He just called to make sure I got home okay," she explained while sipping water.
"You two seem very close." He tried to go for a casual observation but Ana's amused expression told him he'd missed his mark. The dimple didn't go away even as she drank.
"There's no need to be jealous," she drawled mischievously.
Sean gave into Dodger's demand for a belly rub, glad for the distraction. "I'm not jealous," he huffed.
"Okay," Ana said as though she believed him but a beautifully arched brow rose to tease him. She was enjoying this a little too much. "Simon's my father—biological father."
His mind went blank then turned into an ancient TV, popping and sizzling with static as it lost thought reception. His gaze raked over her, scanning for the physical attributes that would make her words real for his brain. "I thought your father's name was Gideon."
"Gideon is his first name but he had it legally changed to Simon after college. That's why I joined his website in first place; I was trying to find out for sure."
Ana perched on the edge of the couch and petted her new best friend. "What—why are you looking at me that way?"
"It's so weird to think you're his daughter. You don't look anything like him."
"You said I looked like my mother, remember?" Her eyes lit up as she fingered the heart shaped pendant. Simon's eyes were brown too, just an everyday brown as far as he recalled. But Ana's had rich flecks of gold. "He gave me this tonight. It was a birthday present he'd given my mother. Come see."
"Open it," she instructed with excitement after he sat next to her, "it's hard for me to do it." The locket held a picture of a teenaged Simon on one side and Ana's mother on the other. The resemblance between mother and daughter struck him again, but now subtle nuances clicked into place. Ana's left dimple, her stoic nature, the gestures that passed between when he'd seen them talking—all delicate imprints of Simon Garret. And the mysterious expression Simon wore tonight when he looked at Ana had been pride. Paternal pride.
"I was at Border's that night to see him. I got lost on my way there and missed the book signing. We might have met then. Funny how the world works, huh?"
"That's an understatement," he mused with a wry tone. "What?" he prompted when something elusive flickered in those brown eyes. Oh, yeah. She was definitely Simon Garret's daughter.