Steve's Story [Circle of Friends, Book 2]
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by Jess Dee
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: When love is threatened by truth, every moment counts? Circle of Friends, Book 2 Steve Sommers is having a gut-wrenching week. His fiancée has left him, the woman who broke his heart is back in town--and they're all gathered at the bedside of his best friend, who's in a coma. The emotional ties between them are strained to the breaking point. Like it or not, it's up to Steve to find the strength and compassion to support the four of them through the toughest ordeal of their lives. In the midst of the turmoil and trauma, passion unexpectedly flares anew between Steve and the woman he loves. Suddenly the future he'd believed lost lies within his reach. But she still carries the secret that once tore them apart, and determined to protect Steve from the truth, she fights their rekindled relationship every step of the way. Now the fragile bond they've developed hangs in the balance, threatened by a reality that love may not be strong enough to overcome? Warning: This book might just make you cry, but it'll make you smile as well. The story will probably get you all hot and bothered too. It contains naughty activities in the car, sex on the kitchen counter (and up against the wall), a quickie in the garden, a little experimenting with scarves--oh, and some hot loving in the bedroom.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: January 2010
10 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [313 KB]
Reading time: 201-282 min.
"There's something else I need to tell you." Steve Sommers' stomach twisted as he wondered how his brother would respond to his news.
"You mean there's more?" Sam's voice echoed over the line. "The accident wasn't enough?"
"Yeah. There's more." He exhaled loudly. "Kate and I broke up."
His words were met with silence. "Sam?"
"Say something." The connection was bad enough without his brother's meditative quiet.
That was the best Sam could do? He'd just announced that his forthcoming marriage was off and all his brother could offer was a questionable condolence? "You know," Steve sighed, "that might be a little bit more comforting if I thought you actually meant it." He slumped against the hospital wall, the stress of the past two weeks draining him of his strength and energy.
Static interference whispered through the phone.
"I honestly am sorry." Sam hesitated. "I can't say I'm too surprised. That's all."
Steve groaned in disbelief. "Is there not one single person in my whole family who believed Kate and I would get married?"
Steve stared listlessly down the passage leading to ICU. Nurses at their station bustled about their business. "No, don't bother. That's answer enough." He raked his hands through his hair. Damn, Kate's decision to call of the wedding still stung. It shouldn't, but it did, and his family's intuitive knowledge that the relationship wouldn't last only increased the burn.
"Look, you know we're all crazy about Kate, and you know we'd all have welcomed her into the family, but you don't love her." A couple of seconds passed before Sam added, "And she doesn't love you either."
Nope, she didn't. Not like a woman should love her fiance, anyway. "How do you figure that?"
"You know I always said the woman was in love with Tyler, mate. It was obvious to all of us. You included."
His brother had a point. Not only was Kate in love with Tyler, she had been for a very long time. "Yeah, maybe I should have given that a bit more credence before I proposed." But there'd been no reason. Tyler was out of the picture and Katie had never admitted to loving him. Steve had been aware all along that his and Kate's engagement was based more on friendship and trust than on passion and romance. Hell, they'd discussed it several times before they'd decided to get married. Based on those numerous conversations, Steve had figured they'd had a fighting chance...
"We just wanted you to be happy, man." Sam broke into his musings.
"I was happy." He was. Not head-over-heels, crazy-in-love happy, but content. Definitely content. Which was good, because before the engagement he hadn't felt that sense of contentment for two and a half years.
"I meant really happy." The line crackled. "Like you were with Pen."
A blast of pain shot through his chest. Followed closely by a shard of apprehension. Words failed him and he grunted into his phone.
"What happened?" Sam asked, obviously taking Steve's grunt as a signal to steer clear of the Penelope discussion. "Did Kate break it off after Tyler came home?"
Not the second he stepped off the plane. She'd given herself about two weeksenough time to fall in love with him again. "It's a little more complicated than that, but basically, yeah."
At least the raw hurt and humiliation had subsided. Or maybe it had been masked by the trauma of Tyler's accident. Either way, he and Kate had reached a truce. They were talking again, which was a big step up from their situation a few days ago.
"Hey, Steve?" Sam's voice broke into his thoughts.
"You going to be okay?"
"Ask me when Tyler wakes up." Steve shut his eyes wearily. "If Tyler wakes up."
Silence resonated over the phone, and he could almost see Sam's grim nod. "What about you and Kate? You okay with that?"
"Sort of, I guess." He'd know better when real life resumed. When time was no longer suspended within the four walls of Tyler's hospital room.
"You going to be able to continue working with her?"
Steve grimaced. His initial reaction had been no. When Kate ended the relationship, he'd told her he would find new rooms, told her it would be too difficult to carry on working at their medical practice together.
Then Tyler was almost killed in a motorcycle accident, and his perspective changed. Funny how one's perspective changed in a life-or-death situation. "I want to. We both do. We're going to give it a shot and see how things turn out." Trouble was, neither of them had gone back to work since the collision. Neither of them wanted to leave Tyler's side. Kate had organized a locum to take over the practice until they were ready to return.
Steve felt a sudden pang for his absent brother. He could do with a friendly face right now. "You coming home anytime soon?"
"Two weeks," his brother said. The phone crackled loudly. "Shit, I'm losing my signal."
"That's okay. I need to go, anyway. I have to see Tyler."
"No worries. Send him my..." Sam's voice either trailed off or got lost in the static. "Christ, I hope he pulls through."
He nodded slowly. "Me too."
"Hang in there."
"Thanks, mate. G'bye." Steve doubted Sam heard his last words over the interference. He closed his phone and leaned heavily against the wall. He knew he should push himself away from it and go into the damn ICU cubicle, but he couldn't. There was too much on the other side of the door stopping him.
For one thing, there was Tyler. His best friend lay comatose, the victim of a car smash. He'd been on his motorcycle when a four-wheel drive shot a red light. One minute Tyler Bonnard was fine and healthy. The next he was fighting for his life.
Then there was Kate Rosewood. Steve's ex-fiancee and the love of Tyler's life, hanging on to Tyler's hand for all her worth, wishing him awake by sheer strength of will alone. So far, it hadn't worked.
Finally, there was Tyler's sister...
Steve swept a hand over his eyes. He couldn't go there. Not yet. Not until he had absolutely no choice but to face her again.
Mentally he shrugged off three days' worth of exhaustion. It was pointless standing outside. He needed to go into the room. Needed to see his friend and stand by his friend's lover. Ironic, really, that he and Kate were supporting each other after all they had been through, but there it was. The gritty facts of life. No matter what they might once have been, they weren't that anymore. Circumstances had changed, and now they needed each other to get through this god-awful time.
Besides, it was time to face up to his past. All of his past.
Taking a deep breath, he stood a little straighter, twisted the handle and pushed the door open.
The air in the room hung thick with tension. Thick with unspoken words and desperation. Steve longed to turn around and walk out of the room, close the door behind him and pretend that none of this had happened. Pretend his life and the lives of the people around him had never been shattered by tragedy.
Instead he trained his eyes on the bed, on the deathly still figure of Tyler. As impossible as it was to face his injured, comatose friend, it was still easier than looking at the women on either side of Tyler's bed.
Steve suppressed the howl of agony that beat for release against his chest. He had to hold it together. For everyone's sake.
Reluctantly, he turned to his ex-fiancee. "Hey, b--" Steve caught himself. Babe no longer seemed appropriate. Such intimacy and affection weren't a part of their relationship anymore. "Hey," he corrected. "How's he doing?" It wasn't easy talking to her. It hurt, big-time, but he had to put his emotions aside. They weren't important now. Tyler's recovery was.
She sniffed, touched a knuckle to her nose and blinked. She looked awful. Her eyes were bloodshot and her skin pale as alabaster. Even her hair, which usually bounced with vitality, hung limp around her face. She looked about as good as he felt.
Her gaze darted from Steve to Tyler to the other side of the room, then back to Steve again, before she answered in a strained voice. "Same, same. Dr. Lavine was here a little while ago." She gave him a weak smile. "They're going to decrease the Hypnovel tomorrow."
Steve nodded in response. They'd kept Tyler drugged for several days, reluctant to bring him out of sedation. He'd sustained a head injury, and unable to assess the extent of the damage, the medical team had elected to sedate him until the swelling subsided. The induced coma had been necessary to decrease any risk of further damage to his brain. Now it was time to wean him off the drug and see how he responded.
If he responded.
Steve's composure began to crumble.
Not here. Not now. He had to hold it together. He forced a lungful of air into his chesta futile attempt to regain his poisenodded carefully and finally looked around the room.
Damn stupid thing to do, inhaling like that. The sweet, subtle scent of a perfume he had not smelled in a very long time wafted around him, teasing his nose with the memories it evoked.
His gaze settled on the chair he'd come to think of as his, and as if in on cue, the muscles in his neck went into spasm.
She rose as she greeted him. "Hello, Steve."
One look, that was all, and anguish barreled over him, knocking sense from his mind. She was here. In Sydney. In Tyler's hospital room. Sitting opposite his ex-fiancee.
God help him, she was still as dazzling as ever. Beautiful, with her luxurious, coppery hair falling in waves over her shoulders. Her presence still had the power to render him speechless. Or perhaps it wasn't just her presence. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the only two women he'd ever fully given himself to, the same two women who had rejected him, sat meters apart, both facing him now.
His chest seemed to constrict, screaming in silence against the lack of oxygen in the room. He couldn't breathe, couldn't move. Every muscle in his body froze, suspended in time. An act of self-preservation? If he so much as twitched now, he'd likely turn around and flee. Get the hell away from the most excruciating circumstances he had ever been forced to face.
Or worse, he'd likely grab the woman he loved and hold on to her, tight, so she wouldn't be able to leave him again. The question was, if he did grab her, which woman would it be? And what would she think if the man she'd dumped took her in his arms again?
"Hello, Pen," he answered at last, trying in vain to throw off the claustrophobia that threatened to choke him.
She smiled. "It's good to see you again."
Good to see him? Was it really? Bullshit. He didn't believe her, not for a second. It had to be every bit as agonizing for her as it was for him. Fuck, how could she look so composed? Her brother lay in a coma beside her, and her ex-lover stood bewildered before her. What gave her the right to take it in her stride without so much as blinking an eye?
"It's...good to see you too." No, goddamn it. It wasn't. It was shocking. It was gut-wrenching. It was un-bloody-believable. Penelope Bonnard stood in the same room as him.
In the last two and a half years not a single word had passed between them. Not a letter, not an email, not even a stupid text message. Nothing. Even at the airport, when she and Tyler had boarded their plane to London two years ago, they hadn't spoken.
Sure they'd communicated that day. He'd silently begged her to stay, pleaded for another chance. She'd looked at him with those enormous chocolate-brown eyes, infinite sadness written on her face, and neither of them had said anything.
At least Kate had spoken to him when she'd given him the boot. At least she'd given him valid reasons for ending things. Not that it made the hurt any less, but at least he understood.
Now Pen was telling him it was good to see him again. Yeah, sure. As good as it was to see her brother half-dead, he imagined.
"Kate..." His throat felt rougher than usual and he cleared it and tried again. How did you talk to your ex-girlfriend about your ex-fiancee while both of them stood in the same room? "Kate told me she'd called you. She said you were coming to see Tyler." He didn't tell Pen he'd been sitting next to Kate when she made the call. Didn't tell her she'd taken the responsibility of contacting Pen off his shoulders.
"I had to come," Pen said, stating the obvious.
"Of course you did." He couldn't shrug off the guilt. He should have called; he should have been the one to tell her about Tyler. But how did you pick up the phone to tell the woman you'd once worshipped like a goddess that her brother had almost been killed in an accident?
For a long moment he looked at Pen, incapable of coherent speech. She gave him a quick smile, then dropped her gaze to the floor.
Somewhere in his peripheral vision, he saw Kate's face soften in sympathy. Damn it. The last thing he needed now was her compassion. He maintained his focus on Pen. She looked older. A few lines around her eyes and her mouth marked her thirty years. She also looked exhausted. Dead on her feet. Her lids drooped the way they always did when she was tired. God, he used to love it when she looked at him with her eyes all sleepy like that. When she'd snuggle up to him and nuzzle his chin with her mouth before curling onto her side, spooning against his chest and falling asleep.
There was none of that cozy comfort in her gaze now. Instead the fatigue he saw there seemed to be mixed with distress. Pen might appear composed, but she was cut up. No doubt about it. But then, who wouldn't be tired and troubled after a long-haul flight from London and a trip to the hospital with her ex-boyfriend's ex-fiancee to see her comatose brother?
Christ, what a fucked-up situation. For all of them.
"Tyler would be glad you're here," he told her. That was good. Talk about Tyler so he didn't have to focus on himself.
She smiled at the floor. "Bull. Tyler would be pissed that I came all the way for no good reason."
There it was. A glimmer of the fun, joking Pen he remembered. However, Steve wasn't much in the mood for smiling right now. Not with his unconscious best friend and Kate and Pen all within the same four walls of the room where he stood.
He understood why Kate called off the engagement, and after a few days he'd even started to agree with her reasoning. At thirty-two he was old and wise enough to recognize when a relationship was doomed. Didn't make it easier to bear, but he understood it.
Pen's unceremonious dumping of his ass was still incomprehensible. Compounded by the shocking information he'd recently learned about her, he almost couldn't stand the psychological torture of being in the same room as her.
Almost. The only thing worse would be if she left now. Damn it, all he wanted to do right then was pull her into his arms. Tuck her head under his chin and gather her against his chest.
Some things didn't change, even after two and half years of separation. The need to touch Penelope had always manifested as a physical ache in his gut and only worsened with each passing moment. Therein lay an essential difference between Pen and Kate. If he hugged Kate now, it would be for mutual comfort and reassurance. If he hugged Pen it would be because he couldn't stop himself.
He kept his arms at his sides.
"Yeah," he agreed with Pen at last. "Ty probably would be pissed." He shrugged guardedly, reminding himself to keep his distance. "He'd still be happy to see you."
"I wish he could see me," Pen whispered, more to herself than to him. "I wish he knew I was here."
She deflated before his eyes. Her shoulders sagged, her chin dropped against her chest, and her shoulder-length, coppery hair fell over her cheeks, hiding her face.
He touched her arm and then wished he hadn't, because touching Pen only ever led to heartache, more heartache than one man should have to endure. "Sit down," he said softly. "You look like you could use the rest."
The gentleness in his voice annoyed him. He didn't want to be soft and gentle. He wanted to rage against the world, against the accident, against his heartache. He wanted to yell and swear and kick the crap out of the walls. He wanted to, but he didn't. It just wasn't in his nature.
She stared at him with the depth of sorrow in her eyes. "Thanks, but I've been sitting for almost twenty-four hours. I'd rather stand."
Steve nodded placidly and took a few steps backward until his shoulders touched the wall. Then he leaned against it and folded his arms across his chest. He didn't feel placid. Not by a long shot. He felt trapped and frustrated and angry.
No, he didn't. Outside of his family, these were the three people who mattered most in his life. But Tyler was unconscious, Kate had ended their engagement, and Pen had walked away from his love. What he felt was far more basic than anger or frustration.
What he felt was pain. Bone-deep, gut-wrenching pain--and he hated it.