Authors: Lara Hunter
Breaking away from him with a sharp gasp, I bolted upward from his couch; in the process managing to dump my spaghetti plate all over his white shag carpeting, watching helplessly as its ivory surface was marred with a thick coating of noodles, meatballs and garlic sauce.
“Kirk, I came here for a place to stay and maybe some friendly company,” I told him, tone low and stern. “I did not ask or give permission for you to kiss me. That was out of line.”
Once again jumping to his feet, Kirk held his hands up between us in what seemed a defensive stance.
“Lily, I am so sorry,” he insisted, adding as he bit his lip, “I totally misread your cues…”
“That may be because I didn’t send any,” I insisted in return, planting my hands on my hips. “I’m very vulnerable right now, and you know as much. And while I have been grateful and very affectionate with you, I was not flirting with you in any way, shape or form.”
Kirk shook his head.
“I’m sorry. It’s not you, this is all my fault,” he repeated. “Lily, I swear I wouldn’t hurt you for anything in the world. Please forgive me.”
I thought a moment, then sighed.
“Just don’t let it happen again,” I said finally, adding as I kneeled over to grab my overnight bag, “I don’t hate you, Kirk—but, the way things are with Oliver, I can’t take a chance on anything happening between you and me. It would only complicate things further.”
“Lily, please don’t go,” Kirk insisted, shaking his head from side to side. “I swear I won’t try anything if you stay… Take my bed if you want and lock the door behind you. I’ll sleep out here on the couch…”
Grasping my bag with one hand and holding up a restraining hand with the other, I turned for the door.
“I just don’t think I’d feel comfortable if I stayed,” I told him. “And what I don’t need is another sleepless night. Good evening, Kirk.”
Moments later I was back in my car; my headlights illuminating a path that seemed to lead nowhere. Where was I supposed to go now? Suddenly I felt like a person without a place, without a real home.
While steering my car through the downtown area that separated my neighborhood from Kirk’s, I suddenly spotted a neon sign that indicated the location of the Crown Royal Hotel; a statuesque, ivory hued hotel that towered high into the sky above.
I’d stayed only once at the illustrious Crown Royal; Bennington’s most exclusive hotel and the place where Oliver and I had celebrated our first anniversary.
It also happens to be the place where Oliver celebrated his 12
birthday—this owing to the fact that Harry Clark owns half the friggin’ hotel
, I mused, rolling my eyes heavenward as I pulled into the fancy cobblestone drive that fronted this plush, resort-style accommodation
. Is there any place within a five-mile radius of this friggin’ city that does not bear the Clark name? A gas station, maybe? A podiatrist’s office? A hot dog stand? Anything?
No matter. I needed a place to stay and this was one. Case closed.
Yet once I had checked in at the desk, reserving a one-bedroom suite for one night only, I couldn’t help but recognize and remember every niche and cranny of this luxurious berg. The lobby draped in finest velvet, the clean-lined elevator where Oliver and I had snuck a random but very passionate kiss. And finally the suite that seemed like something out of a dream.
Yet even as I collapsed in the feathery confines of a whisper soft bed—one adorned with a comforter of lavender silk and topped with a lovely array pillows—I felt nothing but anger.
It didn’t matter that I slept beneath a crystal chandelier and a watercolor portrait framed in brass, or that at any time I could activate a multi-faceted, high definition entertainment center for my pleasure. I was mad. Mad at Oliver Clark. Mad at the phantom intruder that had ruined my home. And mad at Kirk Taylor.
I wanted my life back—and now.
Grabbing my nearby purse, I fished my cell phone from its cluttered depths and hit Oliver’s contact button with a vengeance, swearing softly as, once again, I heard the blasted voicemail message.
I threw the phone down hard on the floor, turned over, closed my eyes and went to sleep.
How can a man go from paradise to hell in a few short days?
This is the question that I, Oliver Clark, seriously pondered as I lay between the soft silk sheets of my elegant four-poster bed.
Even this luxurious sleeping space provided little comfort to my tired, tortured mind and, or so I suspected, nor were the words of the gentle, sweet woman I so dearly loved.
I had repeatedly ignored Lily’s repeated attempts to call me over the past few days and while I felt awful about ignoring and neglecting her, I simply can’t bring myself to talk to anyone—not even her. Not even the woman I was pretty sure I could never live without—the one person who I felt truly understood me and loved me for who I was
It was just a few days ago that I was sharing a dream of a vacation with my lady then, through the force of one phone call, the dream morphed into a nightmare. This was the call that no one wants to receive; the type of message that we all dread.
My secretary Leslie had called to tell me that my father, Harry Clark, had been in a terrible car accident in downtown Bennington. He was in the hospital, and things didn’t look good.
At first I stood at the hotel desk, quiet and still as I struggled to process this shocking, disturbing news; my knees threatening to give way as I pondered the unthinkable. Then I hung up the phone and sprang into action, though I wasn’t sure just what that action could or should be.
The next few moments passed in a fast, frenzied haze as I rushed to my room, packed my bags and called the airport to schedule a flight home before racing downstairs to ask that the desk clerk summon a cab for my immediate departure—all the while scribbling out a quick note to leave for Lily.
Although I knew that I should take just a moment to run out to the beach and say goodbye, somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to do so—I simply couldn’t verbalize the shock and pain that numbed and stung me from head to toe. All I could focus on was getting home, and getting to my dad.
“He’s going to be OK,” I kept repeating to myself, clutching my suitcase with bare white knuckles as I hurried into the cab that couldn’t arrive quickly enough.
I kept repeating this mantra numerous times en route to the airport as well as throughout the seemingly slow flight that followed.
Les, true to his nature and character, was just being overly dramatic. Dad was the strongest person I ever knew; he was a sturdy and stable force of nature that just couldn’t be defeated. I just knew he’d bounce back from this. I was sure that the moment I arrived at Bennington General Hospital, he would sit up in his bed, chide me for being a worry wort, and order me to get back to work. We’d end up laughing about all the drama and sharing a light but tender hug. Then the nightmare would come to a close, with both of us going back to work—and life.
Yet the moment that I actually arrived at the hospital where I was born, the moment that I saw the face of the woman who was introduced to me as my father’s attending physician, I came to finally grasp and understand the gravity of the situation.
“Mr. Clark, I’m so sorry,” The attractive, thirty-something blonde woman took my hands in hers, piercing me with an empathetic stare. “Your father was in a three car accident that took place around 8:30 this morning, about a block away from Clark Industries. The driver in an oncoming car failed to stop for a red light, and your father’s car was hit head on; he was immediately knocked unconscious and suffered severe body trauma.”
I stared at her a moment, shaking my head from side to side as I considered these shocking, unbelievable words.
“He’ll be all right, won’t he?” I muttered finally, making a broad gesture in the direction of the room where my father lie incapacitated. “I mean, people have car accidents all the time and I assure you, we have all the money in the world to ensure that he gets the very best care here. I’m sure you can make him all better and mend him up in no time, right?” Suddenly feeling much like a child on the verge of a crying tantrum, I planted my hands on the doctor’s shoulders and pressed with a trembling voice, “My father will be OK, Doc. Won’t he?”
The doctor sighed.
“I wish I could say yes to your questions, but I’m afraid I just can’t. His injuries were just too severe. I’m afraid he doesn’t have long, Mr. Clark,” she told me. “He is currently in a critical condition and has been floating in and out of consciousness. If you would like to talk to him…”
But I was already on the run again, racing forward into my father’s hospital room and landing at his side.
I stopped stock still before his bed, telling myself that the bruised, weakened man lying between those sheets was the same man I had loved and respected all these years.
“Dad,” I moaned, trembling outright as the truth finally hit home. “No.”
My father was dying and there was nothing I could do about it. All of our money, all of our power could do nothing to save Harry Clark. My father, my mentor, my conscious, my moral compass, my sometimes friend.
Kneeling at the side of his bed, I shut my eyes tight and ducked my head, choking back my tears as I suddenly felt very tired and, for the first time in my life, absolutely helpless.
“You know Dad,” I sputtered out, keeping my eyes closed tight as I continued, “For the past few months I made a promise to myself, to keep more promises to you. I know that, for so long, I was the bratty, rebellious kid who lived off of your riches and constantly disobeyed you. I partied hard and worked as little as possible—I dishonored you as well as Mom’s memory.” I paused here, tears now flowing free down my face as I continued, “I swore just recently that I would spend the rest of our lives making it up to you. I had all the time in the world, right? You’re only 55. And after Mom left us, all we had was each other. Even now that I have Lily, I still need you here, with you, to guide me and show me the right way. Oh my God Dad, this can’t be happening…”
I fell silent as suddenly a warm, comforting hand touched my hair; ruffling and stroking its lengthy strands as I continued to cry.
I hadn’t felt this touch since I was a boy; still I knew it by heart.
Raising my head, I smiled as I stared into my father’s eyes; eyes newly opened as they regarded me with a warm, affectionate stare.
“Hi Olli,” he rasped out, gracing me with a heartbreaking smile.
Immediately I grabbed my father’s hand, bringing it to my trembling lips for a sweet, warm kiss.
“Hi Dad,” I whispered. “Now don’t you worry. I know you’ll pull through this. If anybody can do it…”
“Olli, you know I was never one to tolerate BS,” he snapped, all the while squeezing my fingers with his. “We both know that my time here is limited—my clock is ticking low and there’s no way I can avoid that.”
I shook my head.
“Oh Papa,” I sobbed out, calling him a name he hadn’t heard from me since the time of my childhood. “What can I do to make you more comfortable, to make this easier for you? I swear I’ll do anything you ask…”
“I heard what you were saying earlier, Oliver,” Harry interrupted me, squeezing my fingers between his. “And please know this. I’ve always loved you. And I’ve always respected you as a fine young man—one who maybe just needed to work on himself a little. And in the past months, you’ve come so far—both at work and personally. So all I need you to do, Son, is keep it up. Do Clark Industries proud. Do Lily, that treasure among women, proud. Do your mother proud and take comfort in the knowledge that I’m about to be reunited with the love of my life. I can’t wait to see my Irene—we’ll be watching over you, Olli, so make us proud.” He paused here, adding on a sharp gasp, “Do me proud, Son.”
My eyes flew wide as his eyes drifted shut and with a long, last breath, he was gone.
So that was it. And a mere three hours later, I was home alone in bed; exhausted and miserable.
I knew that I had a funeral to plan. Family members to contact and comfort. A relationship to repair.
For now, though, I just wanted to lay here and feel sorry for myself. I’d lost my papa and right now, nothing else mattered one bit. Right now, at least, it was really all I could do just to hang on and survive.