The reason I'm sharing it--besides the fact that it's romantic (and a little bit cheesy)--is because of why I wrote it when I did. The book right before this one was Very Dark. There was a character in it, a teenager named Cara, to whom a lot of bad things happened. She was never supposed to be a heroine. She was a minor character, fairly two dimensional for most of the series. She was an unhappy bad girl who generally went around causing trouble for everyone else. In fact, I thought I'd written her out of the series before The Very Dark Book even started.
Then I had one of those situations where your characters take control and begin to do and say unexpected things. My villain showed up early--toward the end of the previous book, which had not been planned--and decided to abduct her.
I knew going into The Very Dark Book that eventually Cara would be rescued and that she'd end up falling in love with Liam, the undercover cop who'd infiltrated the cult where she was being kept...
See what I mean about those spoilers yet?
However, I also knew it would be awhile before the two of them got their Happily Ever After--another whole book, in fact--and they'd both have to deal with a lot of unhappiness along the way. So I wrote this scene first, even before I got into any of the other stuff, so that I would have something to work towards. It was the only way I could write my way through the rest of the book.
What I wanted was something soft and sweet and in keeping with the fact that Cara's only eighteen when the series ends (Liam's five years older) and despite everything she's been through she's still somehow managed to keep some shred of innocence to her. Whenever I'd get through writing one of the really grim scenes in The Very Dark Book, I'd pull this scene out and re-read it. It always made me smile. At times, I think, it was the only thing that kept me writing.
Since I'm going all in on the spoilers, I might as well explain what's happening at the start of the scene. Cara, who has a long history of getting into trouble, and no great love for the police, had been forced to attend traffic school and Liam (who'd been demoted following events in The Very Dark Book) was assigned to be her instructor--a situation which didn't really suit either of them very well. One of the many factors that had been keeping them apart up until now has been Liam's mistaken belief that Cara is back with her ex-boyfriend Seth--who is a really good guy, and the person who actually saved her when the psychotic cult leader tried to kill her.
As a result of other events in The Very Dark Book, Cara is scarred and unable to bear being touched; and Liam (who's only just found out about the touch thing) feels guilty about that, about not being the one who saved her, and about pretty much everything else. Enjoy.
Liam had put Cara’s paper on the bottom of the stack. So that he’d grade it last. So that, when everyone else had gone, he could still spend a precious couple of minutes alone with her. It was selfish, he knew, but he was determined to milk this opportunity for all it was worth.
“So? C’mon, how’d I do?” she asked, standing beside his desk, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. “Tell me.”
Finally, unable to draw out the moment any longer, he put his pencil down and handed her the paper. “Congratulations. An almost perfect score.”
“Really? Omigod, are you kidding me?”
“Nope. I knew you could do it.” He watched as she studied her score. Her eyes grew wide. A smile lit up her face. Her hands clutched the paper like they’d once clutched him. Once, but not now. Maybe not ever again.
He sighed as he remembered all the times he’d been forced to keep his distance, to push her away. Because of her age. Because of the danger they were both in. Because it was expected of him. Where was the reward for all his self restraint? Where was the pay off for having done what was right?
Her smile gone, Cara raised her eyes to his face. “So, I guess...I mean...is this it then?”
“This is it.” He wished that it wasn’t, though. He wished he could just– “So, tell me something, how’re things with you and Seth? Does he treat you all right?” He just needed to hear her say it. Her happiness was what mattered, after all. And, if she said she was happy, then fine. Great. He’d be happy, too. And, somehow, he’d find the strength to let her go.
A tiny frown creased her forehead. “Seth? Yeah, I guess. He made me dinner last night, because of my head and all.”
Liam nodded. “Good. Glad to hear it.” Well, he’d asked for it, hadn’t he? And now was a fine time to realize that he’d been lying to himself. “But, you know, if he ever doesn’t, you be sure and let me know about it, okay?”
“And, what then?” she asked looking angry and perplexed. “Are you gonna arrest him because, maybe sometimes, he gets in a bad mood and says stuff he feels bad about later? Gimme a break, Liam, that’s just stupid.”
“A bad mood?” Gee, where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah. It’s the same excuse she used to make for Gregg. He scowled at her. “Jesus, Cara, I don’t understand you. Why would you put up with shit like that?”
“What shit is that? You’re the one who’s getting all worked up about stuff. I don’t have a problem with Seth.”
“Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? You’re always settling for so little. You deserve someone who’s going to treat you...well, like you deserve to be treated.”
* * * * *
Cara sighed. “Look, maybe you’re right about that. But I still don’t know why you’re picking on Seth. He and I don’t owe each other anything, you know. We’ve both fucked up, we’ve both made our peace with what we’ve done to each other. I’m over it now. We both are. We’re just…friends, that’s all.
Liam’s mouth dropped open. “Friends?”
The look on his face made Cara want to squirm. “Stop looking at me like that.”
“You’re not dating him?” Liam asked, ignoring her request, continuing to stare. Figures.
“Dating who? Seth?”
“Or anyone,” he snapped. “Are you seeing anyone at all?”
Cara sighed. Oh, good. Another great topic. First Seth and now dating. What was next? Maybe they could talk about Chenoa and how great she was.
“Liam, get a clue. How could I be dating anyone? Most guys have a funny habit of wanting to touch the girls they’re dating. You know, to hold hands, to kiss, something? Right now, I don’t even like to be looked at too hard. So, no. I’m not. Okay?”
There was a moment’s silence. She could feel his surprise. “Cara,” he said, softly, and, at the note of something dismayed in his voice, she felt herself cringe.
Oh, no, not that. No pity, please. “Hey, it’s no big deal. There aren’t that many guys I want to date, anyway.” Just one, actually. “And, even if there were, well, what good would it do me?” Even with only one good eye, she could see well enough when she looked in her mirror. She knew what she looked like now, and, if it happened that turned some guys off, then good. She’d had enough of those guys, anyway. But, she didn’t need anyone feeling sorry for her––especially not Liam. “Look, I have to go now,” she said, as she turned away.
“Stop!” he ordered, reaching out a hand to grab her.
She jumped, jerking away from his touch, choking back a scream, all her nerves going crazy as memories––of pain and pain and more pain––flooded her system.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, looking away, looking angry and embarrassed as his hand dropped to his side.
Cara struggled to get her breathing back under control. It took a moment to fight down the panic. “What is it?” she asked, very quietly, when she at last found her tongue again.
He said nothing, at first. And then, “Will you go out with me?”
She felt her eyes widen. “What?”
“You know, maybe have dinner? Or see a movie or something? Or coffee––do you have time to come have coffee with me right now?”
Hope sprouted in her heart, a tiny little shoot, yearning desperately for sunlight. She swallowed hard. “Why?”
Liam’s eyebrows rose. “Why?”
“Yes why?” she snapped, trembling inside as she waited for his answer. “It’s a simple enough question, isn’t it? What is it you want from me?”
He looked perplexed for an instant, then he shrugged. “Everything.”
Hope withered away. Everything? Wow. Isn’t that special. Yeah, she knew what everything meant, although he had to be crazy to think he could get it from her now. It was the same thing the guys had always wanted from her, wasn’t it? And there’d been a time when she’d been okay with that, too. But, not now. She tossed her head. “Well, you know what, Liam? It seems to me you had your chance for that last April. As I recall, you weren’t that interested.”
Liam sighed. “I was always interested, Cara. But, we’ve been over this, haven’t we? I’m a cop. I was on a case. I couldn’t compromise that. And, besides, you were under age.”
She nodded. “Right. And, now, you’re still a cop and I’m old enough to know better. So just...forget it.”
His face grim, he nodded. “Okay. You’re right. I’m sorry. Bad idea.” Then he turned and walked away, just like he’d always done before. Like she was just that easy to put from his mind. He walked over to the window and stood with his back to the room, obviously more interested in whatever was happening in the parking lot, then he was with continuing their conversation.
Tears stung Cara’s eyes, but she blinked them back. “So, is this why you wanted me to tell you if Seth wasn’t treating me good? So that you could treat me like shit, too?”
Frowning, he turned back around to face her. “You know I’d never do something like that. It’s just– I guess I was hoping, if you weren’t seeing anyone else that...that you’d at least give me a chance to show you how you should be treated.”
Oh, goody. More lessons ‘Cause I didn’t get enough of those from Gregg. “Really? And how’s that, Liam? How should I be treated?”
He shook his head sadly. “Cara,” he murmured reproachfully, as he walked back over to where she was standing.
She crossed her arms over her chest. She lifted her chin. She waited. But he said nothing more. “Well,” she said, at last, when it appeared he was never actually going to finish the sentence, “that’s a hell of an answer.”
He shrugged again. “Maybe I don’t know how to answer it. I only know that I don’t ever want to see you hurt again.”
He reached out his hand again, slowly, questingly. Her heart fluttered out of control, but, this time, she stood her ground, although her breathing stalled and her eyes spasmed shut as he caressed her cheek with gentle fingers.
“You were right, you know,” she murmured. “Remember all that stuff you used to tell me? About how I shouldn’t let people use me, and...and I don’t want that anymore either. So, if you’re asking me out just to get laid, or out of pity, or because maybe I’ll learn something from the experience––then forget it. Because I don’t need that.” Not from you. Not from anyone, really, but, oh, definitely not from you.
Liam shook his head. “You know that’s not why I’m asking. And, I already told you what I wanted. I want everything.”
And, I still have no idea what you mean by that. Were they still only talking about sex? Or, could it maybe mean more? “Yeah? So, what do I get out of it?”
His mouth curved up in a sad, little smile. “Me.”
Another riddle. “You?”
Liam grimaced. “I know. It’s not much of a trade, is it? Especially since, in reality, you’ve had me since March, Caramel.”
She felt her cheeks flame at his use of the old nickname. “Oh, bullshit, Liam. I have not.”
“Yes, you have. Here.” He pointed to his chest. “Put your hand right there and tell me if you feel my heart beating.”
She did as he asked. Her own heart was racing, but his was beating pretty hard, too. She nodded. “Yes.”
“Well, it’s just ‘cause you’re here that it does that. I swear to God, when you’re not around my whole chest feels empty.”
She knew he didn’t mean it––not literally, anyway. But, it was still just about the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her. It was the kind of thing she used to wish Seth would say, not that he ever would. Her breath came out on a shaky little sigh. “Oh. th-that was really nice.”
He smiled softly. “So, you never told me. Did you like your flowers?”
Cara felt herself stiffen. “F-flowers? Wh-what flowers?”
“And the balloons? For your birthday?”
“Th-those were from you?”
He nodded. “Didn’t Seth tell you? I had a card too, but then he answered the door and I thought you were with him so– I sent you some for your graduation, too, you know. And, then, when you were in the hospital I–” He broke off. “Cara? Sweetie, what’s wrong?”
She was shaking from head to toe, too frightened to hope he was telling the truth. She’d wanted them to be from him. She’d hoped they might be. But, “Oh, please, you’re not making this up are you? Because it would really, really...hurt...if you were just saying stuff.”
“I’m not,” he answered quickly. “I swear I’m not. I swear I mean every word I say.”
He stared at her for a moment, as though he were trying to make up his mind, trying to decide what to do next. And then he kissed her, leaning across the gap that separated them, touching her with nothing but his lips. And it was the softest, sweetest kiss she’d ever imagined.
When she was a little girl she’d dreamed of being kissed like this, then she’d grown up and learned that every kiss was different. Some were nice and some were not and most were somewhere in between. She’d been kissed by a lot of different guys, in a lot of different ways. Even Liam had kissed her before. But, not like this. Never like this.
When it ended he put his hands on her shoulders and eased her close. He held her gently against his chest––no pressure, no force. She rubbed her cheek against the front of his shirt and wished she could melt right into him. It didn’t even matter that it was a uniform shirt, that he was a cop––and she’d always gotten along so well with them––because it was also Liam. Her Liam. And, it really didn’t matter what else he was.
Was it possible that, whatever else she was, whatever she’d done and despite everything that had been done to her, it didn’t matter to him, either?
“I don’t think you have any idea how special you are,” he murmured. “Do you?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know.” Gregg used to say she was special, too. She winced just a little as she thought of that. But she knew, without ever needing to ask, that Liam meant something very different.
“Well, I do know. You’re the most special person in the world to me.”
Which was only everything she’d ever hoped to hear. “Oh. Well...you’re pretty special, too.”
“Only when I’m with you,” he answered, and that was so exactly the right thing to say, she was surprised he even knew to say it.
“So, how about that coffee?” he asked after a minute or two had passed in silence.
Cara nodded. “I’d like that.”
Liam sighed deeply, as if in relief. For just a moment he cupped her head in his palm, pressed another kiss against her hair, and murmured, “Thank you.”
She was embarrassed by the tenderness of the gesture, by the humble, heartfelt gratitude in his voice. After all, “It’s just a cup of coffee, Liam. We’ve had them before.”
“No, it’s not. It’s more than that. It’s a start.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.” It was the start of something good, she hoped, the start of something very, very special.