Read The First Law of Love Online
Authors: Abbie Williams
Tags: #Minnesota, #Montana, #reincarnation, #romance, #true love, #family, #women, #Shore Leave
“Thomas Yancy,” he said, enunciating carefully, and he was so bombed his eyes appeared glazed, inward-looking. He looked so momentarily alarming that I thought I should call for help, that maybe he was about to have a seizure. But then he refocused on me, muttering viciously, “
,” and shoved me out of his way, roughly, putting his hand around the lower half of my face to do so. I gasped, more startled than in pain, as Derrick stumbled and disappeared into the men's room. Not two seconds later, Case came around the wall from the bar and the expression in his eyes was enough to make any man run for cover.
Case came directly to me and put his hands around my upper arms, gently holding me. His voice was rough as he explained, “I had a horrible feeling. Are you all right?”
The need to feel his arms around me was overpowering. I studied his beautiful auburn eyes, rife with concern, and ached with the stabbing desire to be closer to him than this, to be held to his heart.
t want that, you can
t have that,
I reminded myself harshly. And I was not about to let him get into a fistfight with Derrick Yancy; I was enough of a lawyer to know that Derrick would attempt to sue the shit out of Case for so much as messing with a hair on his head, and if I told Case what Derrick had just said and done, Case would mess up a hell of a lot more than Derrick's hair.
And so I lied in a whisper, “I'm just fine.”
I knew he knew I was lying, but he didn't call me on it; instead he asked quietly, “Do you want to go?”
“No!” I said. I tamed down my voice and said, “No, I want to hear you play. You guys aren't done yet, right?”
“We have another half hour or so, but we can leave if that's what you need,” he said.
Oh God, what I need
“No, I want to stay here,” I said again.
“All right,” he said quietly, and let his hands drop away from my arms. He was sweating from the exertion of performing; his hairline was damp, his forehead shiny with moisture. As he turned to lead us back into the bar, I caught his arm, allowing myself this. He was so warm and hard, so strong, and he tucked my hand against his side, possessively, which made my heart surge with joy, despite everything.
Garth, Marsh and Wy were crowded around the table in the bar, along with Sara the server and a few other people I didn't know, most of them standing; I reclaimed my chair, letting go of Case with reluctance. He sat near me, on the seat saved by his cowboy hat, and I wanted him to put his arm along the back of my chair. I angled my knees towards him and tried to listen to the bantering all around us. Instead all I kept witnessing across the screen of my mind was Case on a horse, riding near my wagon through an expanse of prairie, unable to acknowledge what we felt for each other; I felt hot and shivery, blazing with desire for him, both here and in this inexplicable vision of him.
When Case left the table to finish their set I felt the sharp pinpricks that being separated from him were beginning to cause in me. He was clearly worried about me, and I was shaken from my encounter with Derrick; I scanned furtively for a sight of that asshole, but he was nowhere to be seen. Probably he had passed out in the bathroom, but I didn't care enough to check. By the time the guys were allowed to leave the stage (they played two encore songs), it was edging on eleven.
Case came directly to our table and said to Wy, “Hey, let's get going. Help me load this stuff, all right?”
“Sure,” Wy said, sensing no chance to argue, jumping to do as Case asked.
“You're exhausted,” Case said to me, and his eyes were so tender upon me. When Wy was out of earshot in the noisy bar he explained, “I have to bring the kid home. Garth and Marsh want to stay here.”
Oh God, bring me home with you, hold me close in your bed
t bear to go back to my apartment without you
But I knew that if Wy wasn't riding home with us, I couldn't trust myself. It was too dangerous. I would beg Case to make love to me; his place, my place, even in the truck. I didn't care where.
“I understand,” I said and my voice was faint. “I am a little tired.”
He said, “I'll grab my things and we'll go.”
Out under the stars I drew a deep breath; I paused to pat Ranger and Dancer farewell, prompting Case to do the same, and Wy told us we were weird. Case opened the door for me at the truck and I sank into the seat. We drove back to Jalesville in almost complete silence, only the radio soft in the background. I thought Wy might be sleeping as cool night air rushed in the truck.
I wanted to tell Case what Derrick had said, and what I had seen in my mind, but I couldn't find the words. Instead we sat in tense, electric silence, so very aware of each other. We seemed to reach town far too quickly, and I swallowed hard around the growing lump in my throat, before I managed to say, “My car is at workâ¦”
“I'm so glad you came with tonight,” Case told me. We were nearly at Howe and James, Attorneys-at-Law, closed up and dark, along with every other business on Main.
“Me too,” I whispered. “I had such a good time. Thank you for dinner.”
“My pleasure,” he said quietly.
Case parked beside my lone car in the lot and left the truck idling. From the backseat, Wy mumbled, “G'night, Tish.”
“Good-night, buddy,” I said, and then it struck me afresh that I would be going back to Chicago on Monday morning. What were the chances that I would see Case before I got back next Thursday, eons away? I felt all panicky and twisted up, and my voice was huskier than normal beneath the weight of regret as I said, “I'm flying back to Chicago on Monday.”
From just a few feet away, Case nodded at this information; he was so damn stone-faced when he wanted to be, but I was certain that he was feeling regret at this too, as I studied his face. I wasn't just imagining it. He affirmed, “Bar exam, you said.”
I nodded, wondering how in the hell something I had worked for so very hard now seemed almost trivial. Insubstantial, even meaningless. Surely that feeling would dissipate the moment I reentered the city. I could hear my high heels on the sidewalk even as I pictured Chicago.
“You'll kick its ass,” he said, as though trying to elicit a smile from me. But I felt more like weeping.
“Bonfire tomorrow night, Dad said to tell you,” Wy reminded us, sounding more awake. The boy sat up and murmured, “Tish, don't forget to bring Peaches with you.”
The Rawleys were watching my cat while I flew back to Illinois.
“I won't forget,” I whispered, still caught up in Case's eyes.
Stop it, stop it, stop it.
Stop looking at me that way when I can
t want you like this.
A wailing cry formed at the back of my throat as I reached for the door handle.
“I'll see you tomorrow night, then,” Case said.
“Good-night,” I whispered.
They waited until I had unlocked and started my car; we turned opposite directions from the parking lot, and I watched his taillights disappearing in my rearview mirror.
The next evening Clark made two toasts for me at dinner, most everyone talkative and excited for me to go and prove myself on the exam. The food was incredible, the weather sublime. We all sat on the back deck until it was time for the fire. I knew I had to get home and get rested up, as I had not slept a wink last night; my flight left at seven in the morning and I had to drive over two hours to Billings to catch it. But I couldn't make myself leave yet, because when I left I would no longer be near Case. And I couldn't bear that, not just yet, when four days' separation from him loomed ahead of me like an impassable desert.
Do you hear yourself?! Jesus Christ, what will you do when you leave for good?
t think about that right now.
ll miss him.
Oh God, a whole fucking lot.
I took one of the first seats at the fire, watching as Sean, Marsh and Wy worked together to build it. Quinn and his girlfriend Ellie set out more chairs. Case and Garth had promised music, and went to retrieve their instruments. I was watching intently for them to reappear; the chair to my right was for Case, and no one else, but I couldn't exactly save it for him without appearing foolish, and so he ended up directly across the fire from me.
This, I learned, was both better and far, far worse.
He wasn't as near, but this way I could watch him to my heart's content, all the while pretending to be studying the fire. He looked over at me as he took his seat, both of us islands of silence amongst the laughter and chatter all around, as we had been all evening, and then immediately back at his guitar, which he proceeded to tune. Garth sat to his right, near Becky, who had baby Tommy wrapped in a snuggly blanket.
Case was so close to me and yet so goddamn far away, and watching him only highlighted the fact that he was not mine, and that I had no right to wish anything about him. We had hardly spoken all evening, though I was so aware of him that I could hardly bear it, aware of his every movement, his every breath.
“Tish, you're gonna get cold,” Wy observed, which caused Case's eyes to flash over to me once more. I had spent an hour getting ready, blowing out my hair and highlighting my eyes, dressing in a white t-shirt and a soft yellow skirt. I knew Case had noticed; his eyes told me I looked beautiful, even if he hadn't said the words.
“I've got a jacket in the car â” I said, moving as though to rise.
“Here, you can wear mine,” Case said, not so much as meeting my eyes as he stood, unceremoniously lifted his jean jacket from the back of his lawn chair and passed it to me. It was the one he'd worn on Thursday night, when we'd ridden Cider and Buck.
I felt all shivery and splendid at this gesture, but I kept all of that from my face, saying with what I hoped was a casual tone, “Thank you.”
He barely nodded in response, resettling and busying himself tuning the guitar. I held the jacket in my hands, feeling the rough-textured denim that normally encased his shoulders, his upper body. Slowly, I slipped it over my own body and was immediately embraced in the scent of him â immediate and intoxicating. I resisted the urge to turn up the collar and hold it to my face to better inhale, as I'd done with his t-shirt, as I'd done in his bedroom.
His glance flickered to me, briefly, as though he could somehow read my mind, and satisfaction moved across his face as I wrapped his jacket around me. My legs were still bare from the knees down, but I could at least stretch them towards the fire, and its growing warmth was more than sufficient to keep my lower half comfortable.
Clark joined us, Case finished his ministrations on the guitar (I so loved the sight of his strong, lithe and long-fingered hands working something so skillfully), and Garth strummed a straight G chord.
“Tish, you choose,” Garth surprised me by saying. “What do you want to hear?”
“The one you said you'd play, last night,” I said to Case. “I love that one.”
Garth tipped his head questioningly, but Case nodded acceptance of this and exchanged his guitar for his fiddle. I shivered in anticipation.
Case lifted the fiddle to his chin; he played this instrument with eyes closed, but I knew that about him already. I curled my fingers around the wrists of his jacket, tucking it even more securely around me as he closed his eyes and began to play, his expression so intent, so absorbed, the music flowing from his hands, his fingers. The music was haunting and sweet, as always; I had heard the melody enough now that I anticipated my favorite parts.
I could hardly breathe, just watching him play.
He finished and there seemed to be a hush around the fire. I couldn't look away from him as he lowered the fiddle and then opened his eyes and our gazes held while my heart throbbed and cried to be pressed against him.
“That's so beautiful,” Becky said, breaking the tension in the air. “I love that one.”
“You pick now, hon,” Garth told his wife, and she chose “Red River Valley.”
“We know that one, don't we, Casey?” Garth joked. “We might have played that a time or two.”
Requests flew for the next hour and the two of them played gamely, laughing, singing in harmony, their voices blending. Sometimes everyone joined in when it was a song we knew, even though I was too shy to really sing. Wy, to my right, kept whispering, “You gotta sing for real, Tish,” when all I really wanted to do was sit here and study Case, listen to his rich, true voice. To my distress, he didn't look across the fire at me except for brief moments, despite the fact that I could not take my eyes from him.
Finally the late hour began claiming the Rawleys and their girlfriends, one by one. I hugged everyone in turn, kissed baby Tommy's chubby cheek, promising to see them all at dinner this upcoming Friday, like usual, when I'd be back in Jalesville.
“And you'll be a bona fide legal lady by then,” Clark teased me as I hugged him.
Friday seemed more than a hundred years away. I found myself watching Becky and Garth as they headed for their truck, Garth tucking his angel-faced wife against his side and kissing her hair. I felt a fist squeeze my heart and again had trouble restraining tears.
“You all right to drive?” Clark asked, as he realized I'd had a couple of drinks.
Case was still putting away his fiddle, seeming to linger over the task, and the last one at the fire.
“I'll just sit one more minute,” I said, offering Clark a smile.
He said, “All right then. Let us know when you're safe in Chicago tomorrow, all right, honey?” To Case, he added, “Good-night, son.”
Case said, “'Night, Clark,” just as I said, “I will.”
At the fire, Case hardly looked up from what he was doing. He appeared completely preoccupied, though there was an air of what I thought was tension hovering all about him. I took my seat as the outer door of the house closed behind Clark and Garth drove from the yard with a crunching of tires on gravel, leaving us alone with the crackling of the slowly-dying fire.
I watched Case as he worked, thinking of everything we had been through since I'd arrived in Jalesville, wondering if he would continue to pretend that I wasn't sitting here too. When he looked over at me at last, I felt a swell of longing jam the space behind my breastbone, painfully.
“Tish,” he said, and the tone in his voice made my throat ache even worse.
He set his fiddle carefully on the ground and then sat still, forearms to thighs. I was all feverish with my own tension, rewrapping his jacket more tightly around myself. Case watched me make these adjustments before continuing. At last he said quietly, “I owe you an apology.”
My gaze flashed from his lips to eyes; he studied me somberly, the length of a body away, the fire dancing in orange, ever-changing patterns across his face, his powerful shoulders, his boots. When I couldn't manage to respond to this, he clarified, deep voice even lower than normal, “I used to drink way too much. I was young and stupid, and I owe you an apology for how I acted at Mathias and Camille's wedding. I'm sorry, I really am.”
I shook my head, my chest hurting worse at the fact he had finally mentioned that night, curling my palms around my bare knees. His eyes flickered to my hands and then immediately back up to my face. I said, just as quietly, “You don't need to be sorry. I was so rude to you. I'm the one who should be apologizing. Shit.”
He smiled a little at this, but his eyes were so serious. He said, “You put me in my place, but I needed that.” His gaze lifted up and to the left, back into time. He said, “I can see exactly how you looked that day. That red dress.”
I cringed a little, vividly recalling my behavior. I said again, with no small amount of self-deprecation, “I'm so sorry about how I acted. I've grown up a little since then.”
“Haven't we all?” he asked rhetorically, lightening the tension between us a little. I wanted him to know I was sincere; I could not look away from his eyes. His beautiful, cinnamon-spice eyes that came back to rest upon mine. I felt another deep jolt, seeing him as I had last night, in that vision of another time that I had been unable to erase from my mind all through last night and today. Even now it crowded me, begging to be recognized.
“And you've done everything you had planned back then,” he observed. “I admire that a great deal. I just want you to know that.”
“Thank you,” I told him intently. I had never been more quietly proud of myself than I was at this moment, though I kept all of that from my face. I whispered, “I worked hard for it.”
“I can tell you work hard for anything you put your mind to,” he said, again complimenting me perhaps more than I deserved. “I'd hate to come up against you before a judge, I'll say that. And everything you've been working on around here. That bar exam has nothing on you.”
I somehow felt as though we were dancing around one another like a pair of predatory animals claiming territory. I said, “I'm still worried,” but that was a flat-out lie; I had hardly thought about the exam in days, other than the fact that it was forcing me to leave this place.
“You'll be glad to see Chicago?” he asked, though carefully, as though it might be an offensive thing to ask. Or maybe he just didn't want to hear my answer.
“It'll be good to see my dad,” I said, side-stepping his question. Such a goddamn lawyer.
“Will you see the place you plan to work?” he asked, and beneath the question his voice was strained; it hurt him to ask this of me. It hurt me just as badly to respond.
“Turnbull and Hinckley,” I whispered. I shook my head, indicating that probably I would not.
“It's much different than Howe and James, I'm guessing,” Case said. He asked, “It's what you want?”
“For three years now,” I whispered. I closed my eyes for a second. Because I couldn't think any more about Chicago, I said softly, “Thanks for playing your song. I just love it.”
He was silent. I opened my eyes to find his gaze so intently upon me that I swallowed hard. I thought of how he'd touched my back last night, how he'd touched my hair. I knew he wanted to touch me as badly as I wanted to touch him; he was holding back for reasons of his own, I was certain of it.
He said quietly, “Thank you.”
I asked him, “Do you like making music for a living?”
He tipped his head a little, questioning what I really meant by this; I scrambled through my own floundering thoughts, wondering just what I meant too. Reading between the lines could suggest I was indirectly asking a number of rather insulting things, such as,
t make you much money, does it?
“It pays the bills,” he said then. He was perceptive, following this with a matter-of-fact tone as he allowed, “I'll never be rich, if that's what you mean.”
I let that go.
“How long were you married?” I asked then, though I knew; I was pulling out all the stops now and I wanted to hear it from him.
As always, his gaze was like a touch on my flesh, so intense and searching were his eyes. I refused to look away. He said, calm and quiet, “Close to three years.”
“Does it matter?” His voice wasn't as sharp as the question could imply, but there was an edge there.
“No, it's not my business,” I admitted, at last looking away, first to chicken out on our undeclared staring contest. My face was so hot that I might as well have been leaning directly into the flames.
He linked his fingers together, still watching me. My hair was loose all down my right shoulder. I had edged up the hem of my skirt just fractionally. I felt dangerous and reckless and wanton, and all of these things were no secret as I looked back at him. My heart crashed and throbbed, like a prisoner rattling the bars of my ribcage. I had never felt as alive as I did just now.
Case, come over here, please, oh please, come over here. Carry me somewhere and make love to me. Out beyond the wagons. Oh my God, make love to me until dawn. Case
I told him this with my eyes, not repressing anything in this moment, and his own darkened instantly. In the firelight he was heart-stoppingly handsome, and as he continued studying me without so much as blinking, I felt like I might just die if he didn't come to me. And then he shifted as though to rise.
Oh God, oh God
Oh my God
He stood, slow and deliberate, and stepped around the fire. I made a small, inadvertent sound deep in my throat, I couldn't help it, as he came to a halt no more than a foot from me and reached to put the fingertips of his right hand beneath my chin. Hot and furious sparks flamed outward along my skin as he stroked me there, so gently, his eyes burning down into mine, at long last hiding nothing. He traced his thumb over my bottom lip then, once, twice, before gently pressing the center of it, and my chest hurt with repressed breath. My heart was out of control. Another whimper escaped my throat and I gripped my knees, my fingernails cutting into my bare skin.