Imagine....an opportunity to say hello to the person you once were....
It all started when this Sean Connery meme flew around facebook:
My friend Linda posted it onto my wall and, smart ass that I am (and make no mistake: I really am) I joked that I should make him the hero of a short story starring a secondary character from my upcoming novel, Breaking Hymn—Dez McBrien, a middle-aged nurse who has spent a lifetime being a caregiver.
Not to be one-upped, Linda quickly responded with a full-blown scenario: “Breaking Hymn is set in (the Rocky Mountain tourist town of) Jasper,” she said. “So if Dez practices nursing in Jasper, then how about you make the Connery-character a skier who keeps getting injured and landing in the emergency room?”
Aw, man! That sounded so Harlequin Romance circa 1965....but it also sounded like a DARE (alongside being a smart ass I am a sucka for a dare) I was also a sucker for, and was thoroughly amused by, a few other pals who then went all fan-girl over Connery (Erica? Do you hear yourself: “Sean Connery?! I get him first, girls! He might be worn out by the time it's your turn!”) So I took up the challenge and crafted the following story, is a total departure for me: there is not even a whit of supernatural here and it is short—really short (’Cause I tend to bloat when I write—and also when I eat, sadly).
Now, I truly have no idea if this little romance is good or cheesy, poignant or poop, but I had fun diving a little deeper into the psyche of Dez—and with laying some tracks for Breaking Hymn that (I hope) are not so much spoilers as hooks.
So with no further preamble, allow me to introduce Ronan Wallace and Dez McBrien, the stars of You Again…..
Dez McBrien pulled open the curtain of Exam Cubicle One. “You again?”
The patient perched on the exam table wore a ski toque, sheepish grin, and a bruise on his shin the same colour as the black cherry shiraz she had in her wine rack at home. Ronan Wallace. She’d read his name from his chart and remembered—“Last year you shattered your spinator up at Marmot.”
“And you casted me up quite nicely.” He had a Scottish brogue made unique by an unusual speech pattern she also remembered—that and his eyes, the same warm, rich shade as espresso.
Whoa. Shiraz? Espresso? Either she was clocking in on the end of her shift or was desperately wishing it was done. “After thirty years in an Emergency Room I should be able to cast an injury nicely.” She squatted, requisitely examining his shin in order to deliver a synopsis to the Doc, a local like her who, in their mountain town of tourists, had seen the ski hill perpetrate all sorts of injuries: broken limbs, fractured skulls, sometimes even death.
And bruised shins.
“Think it’s broken, Desdemona?”
It was a jolt to hear her full name and she stood abruptly, eyed him up.
Ronan Wallace wore Helly Hanson ski gear and though his handsome face was vaguely lined, it didn't appear to be by choices or challenges. Instead he wore his age (60? 65? she’d double check on his chart) with the same relaxed confidence with which he presented his injury—unapologetically and unruffled. And the smile he was lit with was not, near as she could tell, borne of mockery or teasing. So if this man (who last year while being casted had described the inner sanctum of a Scottish castle upon a moor) was oily, he hid it well. ’Cause she was no rookie yet all she saw when she looked at him was a cultured, undeniably fetching gentleman, one of means and fortunate breeding.
And who spoke with his own spin on a Scots accent.
But none of that meant he deserved the satisfaction of her asking how he knew her full name and besides, flirting had no place in the emergency room. Not from patients and certainly not reciprocated by nurses. Yet…. ‘Desdemona’. His accent sent the four syllables rolling off his tongue in a way that made even her wretched name sound lyrical. Lovely even. Lips pursed, she stooped again, seized his ankle firmly yet gently. “Can you turn it?”
He could, left and right.
“Looks like good news.” She rose. “The doc will likely order an x-ray for confirmation, but it seems like just a bruise. So be prepared to get a prescription of alternating ice and heat while your feet are up somewhere comfortable. In other words,” she smiled, “the perfect Saturday night.”
“Perfect?” Ronan’s gray brows hopped. “Actually, Desdemona, it sounds lonely.”
The way he tilted his head, like he was asking if she were lonely...she took a defensive step back. Her, lonely? Please. Even before Jack had come back into her life, the word ‘lonely’ had never applied. How could it? She’d parented so many kids in this town—local misfits, for example, who had no one to listen. And then there were the young interns who blew in from other provinces for the summers, always overestimating their readiness to be so far away from their own mothers.
Or sometimes trying to escape their own mothers.
A shadow fell over her heart and she could not help but consider sweet Kyle….but then she quickly chased the darkness away. Kyle had her now, and Andrew, (who himself had been the first of her strays, a de facto son she loved as fiercely, and sometimes as furiously, as any child she could have given birth to). Andrew and Kyle were her two precious boys.
And of course there was Elizabeth. While the others were precious metals, her only biological child was the crown jewel, and it had been Dez’s deepest wish realized when Elizabeth and Andrew embarked on their own fairy tale, their romance so intense that she worried sometimes that a child (if they ever had one) may not be welcomed. Yet…she stepped back when the doctor came in, listened with half an ear as he indeed ordered an x-ray for Ronan’s shin, then escorted him out of the exam room. Elizabeth and Andrew did love Kyle. Doted on him, actually. Fed him, protected him, even scolded him when they thought he deserved it (and he, like any teen, then appealed to her, hoping she’d overturn their consequences. Ha! Dream on, sweet boy). So why fret? Elizabeth and Andrew’s child, when and if one came along, would be enfolded into their dreamscape the same way they were wrapped up in each other. It was just that she hoped they’d need her. Or maybe feared they would. Being a caregiver had been both her pride and her prison so long she didn’t know how she felt when she heard the words ‘I need you.’
Although...that wasn’t entirely accurate, either. A few sultry nights ago, Jack had said he needed her; rolling over to trap her beneath him once their sweat had finally run sweet. “Marry me,” he’d said, and she’d scrambled from under him, slipped off the bed.
“Dez,” he’d said. “I need you.”
He’d even had a ring and she had laughed at its big-rock grandeur, so different than the small stone he’d been able to afford some thirty-odd years ago when he’d married her the first time.
He had needed her then too.
Now she glanced at the ring, then at her debonair patient, back from x-ray, his ruined shin a measure of vulnerability she was sure he was unaccustomed to.
She knew the feeling.
“Wrap this Dez?” the physician said, then briefly turned to Ronan. “Ice, heat, and elevation,” he issued, then was out the door.
Ronan regarded her, wry. “Looks like you were right,” he said. “But the elevation I’ve been prescribed is not the mountains I’d hoped for.”
“Instead just an ottoman.” She smiled at his crestfallen expression. “A book will help you not feel lonely.”
“Ah.” His eyes twinkled. “Is that what you do, Desdemona?”
“I wish. I’m never alone. Never not needed.” Dammit! What the hell had possessed her to say that out loud? And to a patient? Still…’needed’. Pride or prison. Which was it?
Ronan Wallace assessed her. “In my experience, Desdemona, the times I’ve felt most alone was when everyone needed me most.”
She blinked but his espresso eyes remained steady. “Giving can feel like the loneliest thing in the world when one does it too much.”
Her hands stuttered over the tensor wrap the doc had ordered for his injury, and she wondered—had Jack ever asked her what she needed?
Whoa. That wasn’t fair. A far better question was had she ever asked herself? Too much tensor unfurled and she rewound it, began again. Right now was not the time to dissect any of it. “Try that,” she said, once she had finished wrapping his shin. “And you may want to pursue a different sport once you’ve healed.”
“I may want?” he echoed. “No. Need? Perhaps. And while it may seem foolish or even selfish to put a want before a need, Desdemona, again, in my experience I’ve always discovered that I’m happier when I do.” He eased off the exam table, took the crutches she proffered. “Let me know if that same philosophy ever works for you.”
Let him know? He was a patient. She had no business telling him anything personal and, even if she did, how could she? She knew nothing about him.
Yet he knew ‘Desdemona’, the name she never used and had spent a lifetime cursing her Shakespeare-besotted mother for; saddling her with a name that made her feel like a character out of a comedy.
How ironic that the character actually came from a tragedy.
Wanted. Needed. Oh, so different.
Vaguely shaken, she swiped back the curtain of the exam cubicle, led Ronan out into the hospital vestibule.
He swung himself on the crutches in a practiced way that told her he had used them before. She grinned a little. He may want skiing, but the slopes clearly didn’t want him; instead they spat him out of the snow, broke and bruised his body.
“Take care of yourself, Desdemona,” he said at the exit, before she could deliver any trite nurse’s line wishing him well. “The world has more to offer you than what you can give it.”
That last piece felt like a quip she’d see floating through social media on the internet and, as he eased out the door an unmistakable shard of emptiness— loneliness—impaled her. She shook it off, startled and a little unnerved by its presence. And its strength.
“I—uh—I’m headed for my break,” she announced back at the nurse’s station, then hurried to the elevator before any colleague could offer her company. Descending to the cafeteria she scowled. Espresso eyes indeed. She approached the cappuccino machine and poked out a concoction that set it spitting and frothing. Beyond, out the cafeteria window, snowflakes twinkled against Jasper’s downtown seasonal lights, turning the panorama into a Christmas card. She settled at a table, looked out on it. Ronan Wallace was not visible out in the parking lot and she wondered who had come to collect him. He wore no ring but…she looked down at the rock on her left hand. A ring’s presence or absence didn’t define much. Not as clearly as she thought it should, anyway. She whirled the band on her finger, aware that the egg-sized stone was as ostentatiousness and incongruent on her sensible hand as Ronan’s ski toque had been on his sophisticated noggin. A rueful smile tugged her lips. Had he noticed her ring and thought the same thing? Need. Want. She’d never contrasted the concepts and, doing so now made the backs of her eyes ache. Tears? She reached up, astonished to see her fingertips gleam, and when her cell phone pinged she was both shocked and embarrassed to feel her belly flutter like a teenage girl’s. Still….could it be? He had known her name was Desdemona. She raised the cell, swiped the screen.
‘Son #1’, it said. Andrew. Her heart fell back into place and she read the message. Come into the city to Christmas shop. Beth misses her Mommy and I haven’t pissed you off in ages.
She hoisted a brow. Elizabeth missed her? That didn’t ring true. She and her daughter talked or texted every day, so what was more likely was that Elizabeth had spoken with Jack, and now wanted a face-to-face because she just couldn’t believe this engagement was real—and was wondering why Dez hadn’t bothered to mention it. Sighing, she typed Do I get bed and breakfast?
A reply pinged back within seconds. For you, Dez, I’ll even toss in dinner. She laughed out loud at the picture that followed, a snapshot of a box of Kraft Dinner. “You are one cheeky brat, Corporal.” She set the cell phone aside. She’d check her schedule, plan the trip into the city. She was being completely ridiculous, avoiding the topic of Jack, and really—why was she? Elizabeth was their daughter. She had more of a right to know than anyone.
She blew steam from her cappuccino, watched it form an indistinct shape against the cold window pane. Maybe somewhere here in town, in one of the hotels or perhaps in a dining lounge, Ronan Wallace had his feet up as directed, and was enjoying cappuccino, or just plain old coffee, too.
Then again, maybe she was just being fanciful. Yet when her cell pinged once more her heart again leapt foolishly—then guiltily. It was Jack. Thinking of you, he’d typed and had also sent a picture. Wine and roses. She was glad that her belly did a quick little somersault. Glad also that when she texted back Love You, it was true. Want. Need. They’re not that different, Ronan Wallace. She finished her coffee and headed back to the elevator. She really did need to check her schedule and get herself into the city. Their daughter deserved an opportunity to celebrate.
Elizabeth did not celebrate. “Dad really proposed to you?”
Dinner was being cleared away (and not Kraft Dinner. Andrew had grilled steak, roasted potatoes, and made some sort of salad with pine nuts and spinach so good she’d had seconds). “Do you need help Corporal?” He was tidying the kitchen. And she was stalling.
Which he clearly knew. “No,” he said and amusement floated beneath his stoic expression, so deep that only someone who knew him as well as she did could see it.
Elizabeth saw it too and her face, which had been pensive, shifted into something between laughter and vexation “Dez!” she said. “Why are you being so cagey?”
“And why are you being so incredulous about me and your Dad?” There. The best offense was a good defense, wasn’t that the expression? “I thought you’d be thrilled.”
Andrew grunted, a sound meant to be heard, and Elizabeth, ignoring him, said “Are you thrilled?”
She splayed her left hand. “It’s a beautiful ring.”
“So great sex and a nice ring mean marriage?”
Dez blinked, and Andrew, at the sink, turned fuchsia. Any other time she would have laughed; for all his sarcasm and stoicism, her son-in-law was far more of a puritan than her shy, angel-faced daughter had ever been, so why either of them were now taken aback to hear Elizabeth shoot from the hip was beyond her. Dez herself was the one who had taught her to speak frankly.
Nonetheless, her sex life well eclipsed the terrain of anything she was willing to discuss with her kids and so, resisting the urge to correct her (Great sex? Nuh-uh, Musician. With Jack it had always been on the balance beam between mere mediocre and just ‘good’), instead she said “But you love your father.” And ah, damn it! Now she sounded whiny. Finger-waggy. But still.
“’Course I love him,” said Elizabeth and fired a withering little glance at her husband when he grunted again.
Dez hid a smile. Jack and Andrew. Oil and water.
“But do you, Dez?” Elizabeth asked. “Love Dad?”
Love Jack? Completely. In love with Jack….? Jesus. She was 55 years old. These days even lust felt like a distant dream. Surely she was past the point of falling in love. “I’ve always loved your Dad.”
Elizabeth’s left eyebrow climbed heavenward. “You know that’s not quite what I asked.”
Yeah. She knew.
Andrew brought coffee to the table and sat—leery, though, she could see, worried that they’d embark on talking sex again. Ah, her hard-ass cop son-in-law, a Victorian gentleman. She wanted to tease him. Thought better of it.
Elizabeth said “Dad’s a vagabond, Dez. You’re a homebody.”
“Was a homebody. Now I don’t have to be. Kyle spends half the year here in Edmonton.” Living in residence just as Elizabeth had, as her daughter well knew. “I’d like to travel, now that I can.”
“Oh? To Yemen? Trinidad? Dad’s old stomping grounds?”
No. Scotland. A wisp of description floated back: “The moors and mist make the castle look like it’s floated out of a dream of the past.”
Elizabeth passed Andrew the sugar. “Dad’s globe-trotting has only ever gone his own direction.”
Dez chased Ronan Wallace, now more of a mythic figure than a living being, away, and peered at her daughter. “You’re not still bitter, are you, Musician?” Offshore oil had taken Jack away for most of their marriage and all of Elizabeth’s childhood. Jack’s money had never been lacking, but his time….?
“No,” said Elizabeth. “Not bitter. And even if I was I’m not thinking about me. I’m thinking about you.”
“Your father wants to settle. Says what he needs at this stage of his life is a home.” Need. There was that word again.
“And you just finished saying you’d like to start traveling.”
Somehow this had become a circular argument. But she suspected that was Elizabeth’s point.
“Dad’s a great guy,” said Elizabeth, this time adding “Enough” when Andrew grunted again. “But I don’t know if he’s someone you need.”
Need. That word was determined to haunt her.
And it turned out that Jack needed a lot. Homebody, my ass. Their dates were extravagant. Dinners to places in Jasper she’d always been too thrifty to try (and frequently on nights she’d been looking forward to preparing something light). Weekends at the Chateau Lake Louise. They house-boated on the Shuswap and made love on the deck in the moonlight (which still hadn’t been great but had certainly knocked on the door). But within all of it Elizabeth was right: where they went, what they did…Jack’s plans, Jack’s agenda. Yet it was who he was and she was not a bit surprised when she suggested a trip to Scotland and he said: “A cold old castle filled with spooks in kilts? How about the sea and some sand dunes instead?”
Ah, Yemen, she’d thought, and had to chase the image of Elizabeth’s disapproving face from her head. ’Cause it was easy, comforting even, to fall back into step, let Jack orchestrate their agenda.
Not easy, though, to let him actually move in and be part of her day to day life.
“I’m not ready,” she balked and had said it enough over the year that passed he’d stopped asking—yet more and more of his stuff kept migrating anyway into the tiny house she’d once shared with Elizabeth and now shared with Kyle—who remained so skittish around Jack (despite Jack’s best efforts) that it broke her heart. “Most people in this world will never hurt you,” she told her young ward, now nearly an adult, kissing the crown of his head on one of his recent, and rare, weekends back home.
“But some do,” he returned, and what had become characteristic darkness in his tone also hurt. Would Kyle ever heal?
“Are you still going to your appointments in the city?” she asked, the therapy Andrew had arranged once the custodial decisions had all been set in stone by the Court.
“Yes,” Kyle answered, that and no more, and she frowned until he held up his latest sketch.
Her, in full equestrian gear and about thirty years younger than she was right now. She was delighted—and so deeply touched her heart cracked. “Now what on earth inspired this?”
“A photo I found in my room.” Kyle grinned happily and it mended some worry; he consistently identified this place, their home, as his. Meaning however much he still hurt, he also knew there were places under the sun where he belonged. Places where people loved him and wanted him.
Wanted. The word crinkled her lips while he examined the picture critically, like the artist he was. “I like how enthusiastic your eyes are here. See?” He pointed to a glimmer that she could, in fact, see. “Dez, you don’t look like that often enough.”
He wasn’t wrong. And certainly didn’t mean it to hurt.
“You need to find something—or maybe someone—to make you look like that again.”
This last he mumbled and did not look her in the eye as he said it. But that only amplified its sincerity. “Jack and I are going for dinner tonight,” she replied. “Will you come?”
He gave her a look. She laughed. “Want me to bring you something home?”
“Yes.” He went back to drawing. “Bring her home.” He tapped the portrait. “And ask her where the heck she’s been.”
Who knew that ‘she’ would be in the Emergency Clinic a few evenings later? “You again?”
Ronan Wallace sat on the exam table, pant leg rolled up to reveal his opposite shin, deeply gashed this time, and possibly sprained. “Tree,” he said.
“Skiing,” she replied. “And a gentleman who seems to struggle with acceptance.”
“That some things just aren’t meant to work?”
Okay. Why did everything this man say carry subtext? She glanced up from his injury. His merry eyes pierced her the same way they had right around this time last year, when he’d offered up his contrast of needs versus wants. “Have you discovered what you need, Desdemona?”
“How do you know my first name?” she replied and stood, unwilling to remain beneath him.
“I asked,” he said and seemed surprised she hadn’t figured this out on her own. “Dez is quite clearly short for something and I strongly suspected I had guessed correctly what it was—but then I asked a colleague at your nurse’s station and discovered I was wrong.”
Her eyebrows climbed. Dez, short for something else? Whatever it was, it had to be better than ‘Desdemona’.
“Desiree,” he answered the unspoken. “To need. Or, some may say, ‘want’.”
Sensation, unfamiliar and not entirely unwelcome, unfurled in her belly. “Well,” she said briskly. “That’s a far sight better than meaning ‘unlucky’.”
“Oh? I disagree. I think Desiree would have been a curse for you: always needed or wanted. As it stands, Desdemona may mean unlucky—but as life has doubtlessly taught you, Desdemona, luck is a choice. We make our own good fortune. Or lack thereof.”
The cubicle curtain rings jangled and she was relieved that the doctor on call joined them. Tonight Ronan Wallace had not awakened her inner schoolgirl. This evening he had woke up the woman—and she had no idea what to do with her but suspected that, if she could see her, she would look like a grown up version of the young adult in Kyle’s sketch, eyes radiant with enthusiasm. “Listen to the doctor when he tells you that skiing’s just not your sport,” she said and escaped out into the hallway.
He tracked her to the nurse’s station, using a cane this time, no crutches. “Desdemona,” he said, pulling her gaze from patient charts. “Would you walk me to the door?”
Leaving the prying looks of her colleagues she joined him, keeping time slowly alongside his ruined gait until they approached the front entrance. “I am going to be bold,” he said and there was no merry twinkle in his eyes but rather something harder, more intense. “You neither need—nor, more importantly want—that ring that hangs off your finger.”
Her opposite hand shot out automatically, protectively covering Jack’s ring.
Ronan’s piercing gaze fled and his smile became kind. “Desdemona,” he said gently. “It’s been over a year and you haven’t even bothered to get it sized.” He looked at her right hand, hiding her left. “Now, to ignore a thing of beauty isn’t wrong—but it certainly does make a statement.” He placed his hand atop hers, squeezed slightly. “Goodnight,” he said, then the doors swept open and, just like last year, he was swallowed by Christmas-card snow.
She, however, unlike last year, stood looking out the window and hearing what he’d said long after he’d been absorbed by the night. And while she did so Jack’s ring whirled on her finger, bulky at the back with surgical tape meant to shrink it, help it fit.
It did not fit. And Ronan Wallace knew it because he was picking up what she, silently yet clearly, was saying. “I do not want this,” she whispered, looking down at the ring. “And I don’t want to be needed. Not anymore.”
Tonight after work Jack would be waiting at her house. Closing her eyes, she slipped the ring off her finger. Willed her shift to drag on.
It did not. Her remaining few hours flew by and once she clocked out she walked home slowly through the snow, drawing fortifying breaths as the lights of her house came into view.
It helped that he hadn’t made any supper (“When you come home at wonky times I never know what you want.” No kidding, she thought grimly). Also helped that he hadn’t started the laundry or emptied the clean dishes out of the washer (“I didn’t want to step on your toes.”) And yet when she took his hand and brought it to her mouth her eyes rained on it, grief so immense that it felt like it swallowed her. Every tear that had fallen after they’d parted the first time, younger, more vulnerable, and with so much more at stake (single parents! They’d been about to become what they’d always scorned! Single parents!) fell again. More fell for every moment that really had been perfect—and still more for every illusion that had fooled her into believing it was perfect; that this was what love was, what life was: being needed, not wanted. Tears fell because she resented knowing the distinction and she cried also because she was so grateful to realize there was a distinction. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, again and again. “So sorry.”
And Jack, because he was Jack, slung an arm over her shoulders, held her like a buddy, not a beau, and at last this helped define why things had always been good and not great. “I’ll love you to the grave, Dez,” he said hoarsely and she nodded, knowing that she, in her own way, would too.
“Be my friend,” she said when at last she could speak, and as they sat quietly, not able to look at each other yet; he with the ring, stripped of surgical tape, in his pocket.
He shifted, gazed down at her with one narrowed eye, an expression she’d adopted back when they’d still been young. “Best friend but no benefits?”
She laughed, rich, watery, and welcome. “Get your hand out of my pants, Jack McBrien.”
That night he quietly collected all his errant stuff and when he left she at last knew the definition of lonely.
And over what remained of the winter it crippled her, that loneliness, made her wonder over and over if she’d made a mistake.
Yet the little things told her she hadn’t. A mountain horticulture course was annually offered in town and every other time it had run she’d been busy parenting—or with Jack, drifting in and out of her life. This time she seized a spot and thoroughly enjoyed it. Next she visited a local equine stable that offered trail rides through the Rockies. Up till now it had always seemed like a frivolous pursuit, but as soon as she was on horseback again she became their most frequent customer, visiting so often that the trail guide let her ride at a reduced rate. Weeks passed and her comfort—and confidence—grew, so much that by the time the sky began stealing more sunshine and water once again started to flow, she boarded a plane to London’s Heathrow, took a solo equestrian holiday in the Yorkshire Dales, then finished up with a tour of the UK, keeping half an ear cocked for a familiar brogue (and an eye out for a possible limp) in Scotland.
No Ronan Wallace, yet a castle like the one he’d described in the Scottish Highlands held her mesmerized, and when she returned home she frequently reviewed the pictures she had taken of its lordly presence in the misty distance. Ronan Wallace. You have no idea the impact you made. Foolish as it had been to think she’d trip over him in Scotland, she could not shake the vague notion that it had been an opportunity missed.
Summer came, and once again she was reminded of him for now she had her own limp—not from an injury, but rather from sore muscles; riding again awakened aches and pains she’d forgotten were part of being a horsewoman. She bathed with a whole lot of Epsom salts. Cut her hair pixie-short to best accommodate her helmet. Was delighted that her foray back into equestrian had led to a dropped pant size when she ordered new breeches and a smart, matching black jacket. Kyle sketched her anew in her new riding gear and said “Same sparkle”, then showed her the finished portrait. Oh, yes, there was enthusiasm, alive in her eyes.
And it was that enthusiasm that sparked her to enter a riding event across the provincial border in British Columbia, at a breathtaking equestrian centre called Mountain Moor, a place she’d shoved even a visit to onto a back shelf in her mind, believing it was too grand, too expensive, and way too luxurious, with its manicured paddocks and Olympic-inspired jumping course. Mountain Moor was most definitely a want, not a need.
Nonetheless it was fabulous and the exhilaration that coursed through her as she and her mount flew over jump after jump was incomparable.
Or at least it was incomparable until she was tossed off and over the last set of rails. She fell roughly and her spinator was broken, she did not need the ensuing x-ray, nor the ambulance ride alone to the unfamiliar hospital to tell her that. Sheepishly slinking out of the exam cubicle, she wondered how on earth she would even drive herself the hour’s journey back home to Jasper now that she had this new bleach-white cast on her arm.
“You again,” spoke a familiar brogue from the waiting room.
She turned, cradling her arm and knowing her jaw had just dropped.
Ronan Wallace strode—uninjured, for once—toward her, a merry smile on his face. “I see our ambulance got you here safe and…well, reasonably sound.” He eyed her cast with rueful sympathy.
“Mountain Moor is my equestrian centre, Desdemona, didn’t you know?”
Not at all. And she could feel herself gaping.
“And I would tell you that riding may not be your sport but that would be lying. I watched you today. You are an excellent horsewoman.”
She stared at him, speechless, until—“I thought you were from out of the country,” she blurted then felt herself blush. Blushing! Good God.
He looked like he tucked his tongue in his cheek. “Don’t most Albertans consider those from other provinces to be from out of the country?” he asked.
A small grin tweaked her mouth. “Well. Benevolence is earned.”
He laughed. “Allow me to give you what you have not once offered me: an escort out of the hospital.”
She hoisted a brow. “I have always made sure you had either crutches or a cane.”
“Yes, but I would have much preferred your arm.”
Oh, really? She lifted her nose. “The Jasper Hospital is not an escort service, Mr. Wallace.”
The way he threw his head back and roared made her think of that word she had used for the sketch Kyle had made. Radiant. She grinned as he composed himself. “Desdemona,” he said. “You are as far from an escort as a woman can be. You, Dez McBrien—Desdemona—are a companion, a partner, a woman to match wits—and wants—with.”
Oh. Oh, my. And here she’d been believing she could not feel desire. Fool.
“I believe I told you the first time we met that there is a Scottish castle which requires your visit.”
No, that was not exactly what he’d said—was it?
“The offer still stands.”
She stared. He grinned. “Why, Desdemona, I don’t think you’re accustomed to being speechless.”
“A date,” she sputtered, “is dinner. Maybe dancing.”
“Yes. In a Scottish castle.”
She had no idea what to say.
“You can have your own room, Desdemona.”
Good grief, he was serious. “S-scotland is on a different continent.”
“Believe me, I know. I spend a great deal of time wishing it wasn’t.”
The thread of melancholy tugged at her. She would not let it. Could not let it. “Ronan—”
“You’ll need to take time off from work anyway for that,” he indicated her broken arm, “so why not enjoy your leave?”
How? No medical leave in the world would allow a pleasure trip out of the country.
He plucked the hesitation from her eyes. “Your employer doesn’t need to know you’re gone. Surely the Jasper Hospital would never dream of sending troops to your house to check?”
“Will certainly need to know where you are. Where is she? What’s her name?”
“Elizabeth,” she said faintly. “In Edmonton. And I have a foster son, Kyle.” She had no idea why she blurted all of this. Only that it seemed important for him to know.
And he smiled. “I’d love to meet them both. Does your son live at home?”
Her son, not her foster son. The distinction elevated Kyle—and Ronan Wallace. “No. He’s an adult now.”
“And will he, and Elizabeth, be comfortable with your impromptu trip to Scotland?”
What? She had not agreed to this trip he now presented as a foregone conclusion. Still, something told her that Elizabeth, and Kyle, would both cheer. Andrew, however, would be the voice of reason. He’d pull strings to dig every detail he could about Ronan Wallace. And that was good—right? “M-my son in law is a detective,” she announced, for this also seemed important for Ronan Wallace to know.
“Really?” He smiled broadly. “You and your family get more fascinating by the second, Desdemona. Suddenly I want to take them all to Scotland.” He paused. “Perhaps next time.”
Next time? That implied more than just a trip across the ocean. It implied some sort of continuing connection. Some form of commitment. Panic—and exhilaration, the type she’d felt when she’d cleared the jumps on her mount—raced inside. Still….”I don’t know you.”
“Ah, but that’s the point,” he said. “I want you to. I want to share the use of Mountain Moor with you too. I want to exchange stories of families and friends…I want to share my homeland with you, Desdemona, in a way that will make us both miss it enough to visit again and again.”
Oh, lord. She was breathless.
“But only if you want that too.”
Wanted it? She could already feel the fine Highland mist cool her face as she—they—approached that imposing castle full of history, secrets, and distant dreams. “I…I will need my own room.” She heard herself say, and could scarcely believe it.
“Whatever you want, Desdemona.”
Want. Need. Somehow the two had converged into one, and, heart pounding, she added—“But I may feel differently in six months.” There. That was an extraordinarily long time. She held her breath to see how he would take it.
“Well,” he said slowly and now looked merry. “I have already waited well beyond a whole calendar year. So another six months….” He see-sawed a hand, espresso eyes twinkling. “What about three?”
She was laughing. Could not help it. “Four,” she countered and felt like she had wings on her feet.
“Four,” he echoed, laughing as well. “So then help me understand, Desdemona: are we seeing a castle both now and again in four months? Or just four months from now?”
“Whatever you want,” she volleyed back and somehow could internally see herself, the radiant, enthusiastic girl Kyle had caught in that portrait. You again, she thought, and felt giddy. I think I’ve missed you.
“Why, I want you,” Ronan broke into reverie, and held out his hand. “Is that all right?”
She placed her palm upon his, no hesitation. “I am glad, Ronan Wallace, that I met you again.”
“Desdemona,” he lifted her hand, kissed it, “There is nothing else I have wanted.”
b.r ~ Summer, 2014