The One For Me

By: Sydney Landon



“Being that it was Friday when you got sick, I didn’t think anyone from work would notice. Plus, once Denny, my driver, found out who you were, I gave Brant a call and had him pass the information along to Declan.”

“Ella and Declan are out of town,” she murmured, remembering they were having a weekend away while Ava and Mac babysat for them.

“Yeah, I know. Ella called, though, and was rather freaked-out until I assured her that you were in good hands. She said to tell you that she’d cover with your mother.”

“Oh crap—thank goodness.” Crystal sighed.

“Do you still live at home or something?” Mark asked, looking confused.

Shaking her head, Crystal said, “No, but that doesn’t stop my meddling parents and my husband from minding my business.” When he appeared shocked, she quickly added, “I mean my ex-husband! We’ve been divorced for a while—but my mother chose him in the unofficial settlement and they gang up on me all the time.”

“Hmm, I see,” he murmured. “Well, back to what has transpired since you passed out at my feet. I brought you home, showered you off—clothes and all—then put you in one of my shirts. You don’t seem to remember it, but you were awake for the most part. You were sick a lot, though. I was going to take you to the hospital after I cleaned us both up, but you begged me not to. Said you were afraid of staying there alone. So instead, I brought the doctor to you. He suspected you just had something viral but did blood work to verify it. That brings you up-to-date, as I’ve mentioned your mild anemia and negative pregnancy test.”

Crystal’s head was spinning as Mark finished running through the last two days at breakneck speed. Puzzled, she asked, “Why would you do all of that? You don’t even know me.”

Giving her a roguish grin, he said, “I feel like we’re pretty well acquainted now.” When she narrowed her eyes at him, he added softly, “I couldn’t take you to the hospital, Angel. You were so fucking scared for some reason when I mentioned it.”

Looking beyond Mark’s shoulder to where the sun was beginning to rise over the water, she rubbed her arm absently before saying, “I had my tonsils removed and had to stay in the hospital overnight when I was young. No one stayed with me, so I was alone, in pain, and scared out of my mind. My mom had told me before she left that I had better behave myself or the nurses would tell her in the morning and I would be in trouble. So every time they came to check on me and ask if I was in pain, I said no so that word wouldn’t get back to my mother that I’d been bad.” Trying to make light of what had been a terrifying experience, she forced out a laugh, adding, “It was a long night.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, Angel. Your reaction makes a lot of sense to me now. That was a real shitty thing to do to a child. Is your mother still a heartless bitch?”

Crystal began choking on the sip of water she had just taken. He got up and walked over to pat her on the back until she managed to catch her breath. “Sorry about that,” she said huskily. “It’s just that no one is brave enough to call Dorothy Webber names. Most people are terrified of her.”

“Trust me, Angel, I’m fully versed in bad parenting. Mine aren’t exactly the type to give you the warm fuzzies either. Of course, I haven’t seen either of them in a while, so maybe they’ve turned over a new leaf.”

“How have you stayed away from them for that long?” Crystal asked incredulously. Considering her mother called her no fewer than ten times per week, it was hard to imagine going that long without her popping by for one of her awkward, unannounced visits.

Mark took her empty plate and put it in the sink before turning back to her. “It’s not complicated. They only communicate with me when they want something. I only wish that weren’t as often as it is.”

“You’re so lucky.” She sighed before she could stop herself. Mark chuckled, nodding his head in agreement. Then she forced herself to say the last words that she wanted to utter. “I guess I should be getting home now. You must be so ready to see the last of me.” Please God, say no . . .

He didn’t speak for a moment. Instead, he studied her intently, as if looking for a sign of something from her. Just when she thought he wasn’t going to say anything at all, he shrugged his broad shoulders and grinned. “What’s one more night, Angel? I’d hate to take you home now and you have a relapse. Stay here and we’ll leave early enough tomorrow morning to swing by your place before work. Today, we can take it easy and watch some movies.”

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