Do What You Have to Do
"....I don't know how to let you go...."
-- from Sarah McLachlan's song, "Do What You Have to Do"
Chapter One: "Fate has Led You Through This"
"Here we are, miss."
Louise shook herself from her daze as the limo's back door swung open. She quickly adjusted the black glasses on her face so that they hid as much as possible from others' views. Next to her on the other side of the car, Sal -- the elder of her two bodyguards who was in his mid forties -- was removing twenty-month-old Devon from his car seat and setting him securely in the double stroller the driver had taken from the stretch limo's trunk. Louise grabbed her purse and the diaper bag before adjusting baby Charlotte on her shoulder and accepting Sonny's assistance to alight from the car. Parked at the curbside in front of La Guardia Airport, the two men waited patiently and ever alertly as Louise placed her daughter behind her older brother in the stroller and began walking toward the entrance to New York's busiest airport.
She hated the conspicuous picture they made as they walked -- she a tiny auburn haired woman pushing a stroller followed by two rough dark-clad hired guns. Sal and Sonny were her keepers when the head jailor wasn't around. Louise McCloud was the kept woman of mobster Dominick Scarletti, a man she'd first come to know as Wicks.
He had helped her for a price, kept her in high fashion, always making sure she looked beautiful and lived in the best apartment he could find. He had made her feel beholden to him and then demanded payment for the favors he'd done. When she wouldn't voluntarily submit to his wishes, Dominick would take what he wanted from her, easily overpowering her petite five-foot frame with his. The verbal and emotional abuse and forced sex had been bad enough, but when Dominick had taken to striking her, Louise had begun to fear for her safety and that of her children. Many times, she'd goad him into fighting with her so she wouldn't have to "entertain" him that evening. Two nights ago, Dominick had beaten her without provocation in front of her son. He'd then threatened to kill her and take Devon and Charlotte away if she ever displeased him again. But it stops today, Louise thought breathlessly. All the terror, the hitting, being owned....it all stops today. Today, I take my life back on my own terms. Just keep it together a little longer, Lou.
The group entered the airport, Louise calmly pushing the double stroller despite the pounding of her heart. The story was that Luise was here to meet her friend Charlotte's plane, but that was just the cover story. At the right moment, Louise was to lose the two goons and get lost in the crowd. While Sal and Sonny were on a wild goose chase looking for her, she would double back and leave the airport. She would meet up with Charlotte at the club she worked at where a car and supplies would be waiting for her and the children to drive away from New York and head home.
As she walked, Louise noticed several travellers looking her direction, noting the fashionable clothes, the stiffness of her walk, and the bruising and split lip that the sunglasses just couldn't hide. Their eyes showed pity and in some disapproval. They knew what she was and it was all Louise could do not to duck her head in shame and embarassment. She was so far away from the dreams she'd had of her future four years ago. Yet, what right did these strangers have to judge her? They'd never lived her life, had no idea of the innate fear she'd felt when she'd first realized that she'd left Nebraska to come to New York and had no friends, no money, nowhere to live, and absolutely no idea how to go about getting any of it -- when she'd realized that her impetuous, rebellious act had been one of the most stupid things she'd done. It may have taken her three years to realize it, but she was so much better off on her own, a single mother among friends and familiar faces, than she was in the world she'd run to in New York.
No one from home knew she was coming. The only person she'd seen in the last three years was her half-sister Rachel. When Louise had realized she was pregnant again with Charlotte, she'd begged Dominick to allow her to call her family and have someone come to help her with the children. She'd argued that it would be cheaper to have family help out than to hire a stranger. So, Dominick had relented and Rachel had come for two weeks around Charlotte's birth. However, Rachel, who was a good ten yars older than her younger sister, was pretty smart and had easily seen the abusive relationship her baby sister was in. When Dominick had come home early to hear Rachel trying to convince Louise to leave, he'd sent Rachel packing. Louise had sworn her sister to secrecy not wanting anyone else to know how far she'd fallen. Briefly, Louise wondered how they'd take her sudden re-appearance with two children. She'd find out in three days when she arrived, Lou supposed.
Three years ago, Louise McCloud's life had been shattered when the love of her life, her high school sweetheart whom she'd been with for six years, had proposed. Gabriel "Kid" Hunter and Louise had grown up together since she'd moved in with her older sister and her husband at the age of thirteen. He was two years older than her and they'd started dating when she was a freshman and he a junior. Kid with his sandy curls, blue eyes, athletic build, and ready smile had been the epitome of sexy for his Lou. He'd been her first boyfriend, first lover, the first man she'd ever really trusted after her father had left her. They'd shared dreams, desires, even shared an apartment after she'd graduated and entered college. Louise had owed it to him to be honest -- she hadn't been ready for a permanent commitment, in fact she was scared to death of the prospect despite the years they'd spent together. She'd broken his heart and he, in turn had immediately turned to someone else, Louise's nemesis during high school at that, in an effort to show how he could live without her. Images of seeing her Kid at a party with the dark haired seductress Samantha on his arm had shattered Louise and she'd made a split decision. If he was going to act like the past six years had meant nothing to him, then she wasn't going to stick around and let him tear her heart out with girl after girl. So, Louise had run home to their empty apartment, packed one bag, and taken off for New York after scribbling a quick note to the man she'd always love.
She'd been heartbroken, lonely, vulnerable and, unbeknownst to her at first, pregnant with Kid's child in a new city when Dominick "Wicks" Scarletti had found her working in one of his clubs and sweet-talked his way into taking care of her. He'd given her money, a roof over her head and, at first, a father for her child , however the cost to her was higher than Louise had ever wanted to pay. Neither child was Dominick's, although he'd offered to raise them as his own. For Louise, it was a blessing that he was sterile -- it gave him one less sword to hold over her head in his attempts to keep her. Two and a half months after she'd left Kid and home in Nebraska, Louise had discovered she was pregnant with Devon. She'd been ecstatic to have a small part of Kid that could never be taken away from her. Charlotte had been conceived while Louise had been home for her friend Ike's funeral. She and Kid had gotten really drunk that night while catching up, one thing had led to another and they'd spent the night together. The next morning, Louise had to leave to return to Dominick in New York so she'd snuck away from her lover's bed. Eleven months later, she was pushing a two-month-old baby girl and Devon in a stroller through La Guardia. Dominick hadn't permitted her to take Devon with her to the funeral and it was the thought of him that had forced her to return to her upscale prison.
Louise and her two goons had reached the metal detectors all patrons of the airport had to pass through, Louise ahead of the bodyguards in line. From experience, Louise knew it would take her less time to get through than it would the men. Their weapons always set off the metal detector and they had to pull out the permits to show to the authorities. It was during that time that Louise had decided was her best time to make a break for it. Her hands began to shake slightly in anticipation and she clutched the bar of the stroller until her knuckles went white.
Sal went through the gate first, setting off the alarm. He gestured to Louise, who waited on the other side. "Hold on, Miss McCloud while we settle this," he said pleasantly.
For a second, Louise thought about what would happen to the men once she got away. She knew Dominick's cruelty first hand and felt a slight pang of guilt over the men's fate. In the stroller at that moment, Charlotte began to fuss slightly and Louise reached a gentle hand down to rub the baby's warm tummy, soothing her back to sleep. She couldn't think about others right now. The two children before her, Devon with his wide blue eyes watching the world interestedly, chatting in his own babytalk, and Charlotte who dozed innocently, they were her world and her primary concern. Nothing else came before them.
"Steady, Louise," she muttered to herself. Suddenly, squaring her shoulders, she took six long, quick strides and headed for the escalator. She'd reached the top step and begun moving downward before either of the bodyguards had noticed.
"Sal, she's takin' off!" Sonny shouted, pointing at her.
As the upper floor began to hide them from her sight, Louise could see both Sal and Sonny trying to break away from the airport security guards to give chase. Louise turned her face forward as she reached the lower level and began quickly walking, losing herself in the crowd. She walked a little ways before quickly turning into a darkened alcove that held payphones and potted plants. Panting slightly, Louise could hear the commotion as the goons looked for her in the crowd.
Devon looked back at his mother, his blue eyes hopeful. "Mama, go bye-bye?" he asked.
Louise knelt next to the stroller and stroked a hand over his sandy curls. "Yeah, baby, we're goin' bye-bye," she replied softly. "We're gonna go see Daddy, so Mama needs you to be a good boy, okay?"
"Da?" Devon said, looking around for the man. He knew the man they lived with wasn't Daddy, but maybe Daddy was here.
Louise's heart broke as her baby boy looked hopefully for his father. The day he'd called Dominick "Daddy," Louise had gotten out the picture she'd kept buried in the bottom drawer of her bedside table. The picture was of she and Kid when they'd gone hiking in Yellowstone one summer. They sat perched on a large boulder, Louise sitting between Kid's thighs, his arms wrapped around her and his chin perched on her shoulder as he nuzzled her neck. Both of them were laughing and happy. Louise had shown Devon the picture and made sure he knew that Kid was his father, not Dominick. Devon had learned fast and in the last week had begun asking for him. It was his innocent questions that had led to her decision to leave. They may not be together anymore, but Kid wouldn't let her down if she asked him for help.
"We're gonna go on a little trip, Devon, and then we'll see Daddy," Louise said. "And Daddy'll see you."
She waited until the commotion from the main hall indicated that the
men chasing her had passed by the alcove. Quietly, Louise snuck her
head around the corner to check if the coast was clear. Assured that
it was, she pushed the stroller out into the hallway and headed back towards
the front entrance. Once at the curbside, Louise hailed one of the
many nondescript taxis there and, handing the driver the club's address,
began the first leg of her escape.
Chapter Two: "Please Remember Me"
"...Cast your eyes on the ocean * Cast your soul to
the sea * When the dark night seems endless * Please remember me...."
-- from Loreena McKennitt's song "Dante's Prayer"
The rain fell steadily against the windshield, the wipers whishing rhythmically as Louise drove along the highway. She'd been driving the black Dodge Durango at night and holing up with the children in some out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall hotel during the day. She was exhausted from driving at night and trying to entertain the children during the day while she napped. Driving for twelve hours had aggravated Louise's bruised ribs, leaving her aching most fo the time. She had one of Devon's Veggie Tales tapes in the tapedeck playing "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything." Both children were sound asleep in their carseats and she was alone with the rain and the highway as she drove through Omaha. In a couple hours she'd reach Lincoln and it was only an hour from there to Kid's place. The closer she got, the more her stomach fluttered. What would he say when she showed up on his front porch? What would she say? Hi, honey, I'm back. Oh, and I forgot to tell you I was pregnant. Meet your kids. Yeah, that would go over well.
Once she'd left the airport and reached the club, Charlotte had come through for Louise in spades. The Durango had been waiting there for her with two carseats and bags for both the children and Louise as well as Devon and Charlotte's most precious toys. Charlotte had also managed to get hold of fifteen hundred dollars to help pay for expenses on the trip. Louise didn't want to know where the money had come from. So, Charlotte had hugged each of them, loaded them up in the truck and sent them on their way.
As she drove, the radio on quietly after Devon had fallen asleep, there had been nothing to do but drive and think. Memories entered her thoughts unbidden, some of them for the first time since she'd left Nebraska.
"No peeking," Kid said. He held unto her hands and was pulling her along, his handkerchief tied securely over her eyes.
Louise laughed lightly, her face flushed in embarassment at her predicament. "How can I peek?" she asked. "You've got my eyes covered."
Kid led her along a little ways, always telling her when to watch her step, his large hands holding hers as he walked backwards. He grinned as he watched her trustingly following him, knowing that it was a huge step for Lou to let herself be placed in a vulnerable situation.
"Just a few steps more... a couple more... and stop."
Louise felt him drop her hands and move behind her. His hands came up and untied the handkerchief from around her eyes. She held her eyes closed for a few extra seconds as he dropped his hands to settle on her slim hips, his mouth near her ear.
"So, what do ya think?" Kid asked expectantly.
Louise opened her eyes. She looked around the darkened clearing, their clearing, and saw the surprise he'd promised her. On the ground, he'd set up the perfect night time picnic complete with bonfire and what definitely looked like a bottle of something of the alcoholic persuasion. The night sky was completely clear, leaving the stars bright and bold above them.
"Happy twenty-first, baby," Kid's husky voice whispered in her ear as he kissed her neck, his hands unconsciously rubbing her hips through her jeans.
Lou's heart melted and she turned around in his arms, her hands framing his face as she looked at him lovingly. She just looked at him for a moment before bringing his face down to hers and kissing him deeply. She pulled back after she'd elevated both of their heart rates and breathing rates. She just couldn't help but touch his lips one last time in a gentler kiss before leaning her forehead against his. "I love you," Louise whispered with a smile. "It's perfect!"
"Just like you," he replied.
Lou blushed uncontrollably and looked down to her feet, her hair swinging down to hide her warm face. When she looked back up at him, it was with a twinkle of romantic mischief in her dark eyes. She reached back to hold his hands in place around her waist and began to back towards the blanket, her eyes never leaving his and promising all sorts of rewards for his romantic efforts.
In her mind's eyes, Louise could still see the love in his eyes, the way the slight breeze played with his hair. She could still feel his breath on her face, his weight pinning her to the blanket, the scratch of his five 'o clock shadow against her skin as he rubbed his face against her chest like a cat during the afterglow of their passion. She could remember how right and good and safe she'd felt there in his arms in the middle of nowhere and the longing was a dull ache in the pit of her stomach. What she wouldn't give to turn back time and change things.
She turned off the Interstate onto the exit she needed. As she drove out of town, the radio playing soft love songs in the background, Louise wondered if she'd rouse him from some woman's arms when she knocked on the door. Had he moved on, gotten married, even? How would she be able to stand it if he had? Kid would never turn her away, but if he was married could she take her heart being ripped out all over again? It would really and truly be over for them if he was. All her unonscious dreams of getting back together with him somehow would finally be dead.
Louise turned off the main road and passed through a gate onto a dirt drive. It was pouring now and every swish of the window wipers matched the beating of her heart as she drove closer and closer to her destination. The drive was about a mile long through a slightly wooded area. At the end, it widened out into a circular drive fanning in front of what looked like two habitable buildings directly near the drive on her right and what looked to be a barn and several sheds set further back from the drive to the left. Directly in front of the truck and highlighted briefly by the headlights was the main house, a small two-story structure in white wood with a large, partially constructed wraparound porch and a sturdy rock roundation. It was obvious that the house wasn't completely finished. Parked in front of the house was an old, remodeled fifties style pickup.
Louise parked behind the pickup and turned off the engine. The rain splattered on the roof as she sat for a few moments trying to get herself together. There were no lights on in the house and Lou found herself oddly disappointed. Of course there's no lights on, you stupid woman. It's two in the morning here, she berated herself. It's not like he knew you were coming and stayed up. Louise exhaled the breath she held decisively and opened her door. She was drenched by the time she'd crawled out of the back seat with both children. Devon was sleepy and protested being awakened as Louise pulled on his coat and baseball cap to offer some protection from the rain.
"I know you're sleepy, Dev, but ya gotta wake up for a little bit. Then you can go back to sleep, Mama promises," Lou coaxed. "We're gonna run in the rain. Don't you wanna run in the rain with Mama?"
The idea of doing something normally forbidden woke the toddler more than anything. He was realizing the game now. It was dark out and he and Mommy were going to play a game. Buttoning her flannel shirt over a still sleeping Charlotte who lay in her snugglie against her mother's breast, Louise grabbed Devon's hand and they made a dash for the house, Devon's giggles breaking the stillness of the night. Breathless, they reached the porch. Louise knew she looked like a drowned rat, but Devon hadn't fared too badly. Maybe the kids wouldn't get sick from this after all.
Devon pulled on Louise's flannel shirt until she looked down at him. He pointed out to the darkness. " 'Gain?" he asked innocently.
Of course it was all a big game to him. Lord love the innocence of children, Louise thought. "Not tonight, baby," she replied. "Another night. Right now, Mommy needs to get the guts to ring this doorbell."
"Me do," Devon insisted. He loved buttons.
Well, that solves my problem. And whoever said it was wrong to use your kids to do the things you don't want to? Louise thought. So, carefully, she bent down, placed Devon on her hip, and lifted him up high enough to reach the doorbell. He rang once. Nothing happened. Devon shrugged his little shoulders at his mother.
"Push it again, Dev," Louise coaxed.
Eagerly, Devon pushed the doorbell again. This time, when he didn't hear anything, the little boy took matters in his own hands and began repeatedly pushing the button determined to make something happen.
"Devon!" Louise gasped. She tried to move the little boy away from the button, but he stretched to reach it again. Louise was so wrapped up in her son, that she never noticed the light that turned on inside the house.
Suddenly, the door was yanked open. "What the hell is wrong with you?!" a ruff voice exclaimed.
Louise looked up, her eyes wide as a doe's and her heart dropped into her stomach. There he was, tan, bare chested and footed, his hair mussed from sleep, clad only in a torn pair of jeans and looking at her like a bear disturbed during hibernation. He looked oh, so good! Probably had to pull on those jeans since Kid usually slept naked. Oh, God, why'd I have to remember that, she thought. She couldn't help herself.
Going for broke once she could speak, Louise took a deep breath and smiled a slightly shaky smile of false bravado. "Hello, lover," she replied huskily.
Chapter Three: "These Crumbled Hopes"
"...Breathe life into this feeble heart * Lift this mortal veil of fear * Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears * We'll rise above these earthly cares...." -- "Dante's Prayer"
Kid stood there silently, just staring at the vision standing on his front porch. He blinked and when he opened his eyes, they were still there. Words failed him in his shock as he looked over her from head to toe. She stood slightly in the shadows, the darkness obscuring her face, but he'd know her form and voice anywhere. Her auburn hair had been hastily pulled back into a ponytail hidden beneath a baseball cap, small, damp pieces having fallen down to frame her face. She wore a white T-shirt beneath her brown flannel and faded blue jeans hugged fuller curves at her hips. Kid continued to stare. The once vibrant woman looked tired and worn as she juggled the toddler on her hip. Toddler, Kid thought with a pang. She has kids! Two of them, he noted, looking at the tiny baby's head that poked out of the flannel snugglie attached to Lou's chest. And they're not mine, he thought sadly.
"Mama, who dis?"
The little boy pointed his finger at Kid, startling him from his ruminations. "What're you doin' here, Lou? I thought you were gettin' along just fine in your new life in fast paced New York with what's his name," he commented more bitterly than he'd intended. He forced his gaze and expression into what he hoped was neutral, forcing down the pang in his chest when he saw her form literally flinch in pain at his words.
Louise flinched at the bitterness and anger in Kid's voice. At one time, that voice had been the dearest thing to her, had only ever spoken in tenderness and passionate whispers. Shameful tears rose in the back of her throat and Lou lowered her head to look at her son, hoping the movement would hide her hurt expression. She swallowed hard as she grabbed Devon's small pointing finger. Her voice was husky as she responded. "It's not nice to point, Devon. This is a friend of mine. His name's Kid," Lou said softly.
Devon looked strangely at the man and then back at his mother, confusion wrinkling his brow and crinkling his eyes. "But Mama, not Kid. Da--mmph!" he protested as Lou's free hand quickly covered his lilttle mouth before he said more.
Louise felt her heart lurch as she met Kid's confused eyes. Oh, please no! Not yet. I'm not ready for that yet, she thought. Thinking fast, she turned back to her son. "Shh, Devon. Not now, baby," she whispered, slowly pulling her hand from the toddler's mouth.
Kid felt something akin to fear and anticipation flash through him at the boy's comment. His instincts told him that there was something about the innocent boy's comment that would come back to haunt him. "What does he mean 'da'?" Kid asked.
"Oh," Louise said, placing the little boy on his own feet, "he's at that stage where every man's 'dada' and every woman's 'mama'."
Kid didn't comment. "You never did tell me what you're doin' here on my front porch at two a.m.," he prompted.
The accusation in his voice sent steel through her backbone and Lou felt her hackles raise in response. How dare he! It wasn't exactly her choice to come to him, her tail between her legs like a dog in the hopes of being allowed to beg for shelter for her and his own children. Her feelings had never factored into the decision. She'd only done what she thought best for her kids.
Louise's eyes narrowed and she took a step closer to him, not allowing him to intimidate her in any way. "How dare you?" she asked in a low, painful voice filled with anger. "How dare you stand there so self-righteous and accuse me of anything? You were the one who turned your back on us altogether. You were the one who went out with Samantha not even a week after you asked me to marry you! And you were the one who asked me to come home, who told me that no matter what happened that you'd always be there to help me!"
By now, heated tears had begun to escape her dark eyes and Kid could hear her sniff and swallow hard to try and control herself. Oh, God, he'd made her cry! What kind of man was he that he could make the strongest woman he knew cry within two minutes of seeing her? He reached for her in an appeasing gesture. "Lou, I...."
She pulled away from his grasp sharply and wiped at her eyes. Embarassment colored her face and pain deadened her heart. So, this was it. It was truly over between them. All those dreams she'd kept dreaming and fantasizing of them working through things, of Kid seeing her and his children and allowing them into his heart and life.... All those useless dreams that had kept her sane these last couple of years were shattered, over and dead.
"No," Lou said softly, "we shouldn't have come. It's late and we woke you up. I'm sorry. I just thought.... Oh, never mind, just go back to bed, Kid and forget we were ever here. Maybe it's better this way."
This was the moment, Kid thought, the moment when his life would be changed one way or another. Could he stand there and watch her walk away? They'd had one night together after Ike's funeral and when he'd awakened alone a part of him had died. For so long all his hope, all he could ever see of his future was tied up in this small woman.
As he stood mutely thinking and rethinking, Lou reached down for the little boy's (Devon's?) hand and began to turn towards the darkness and rain off the porch. She took a step and, spurred by something unspeakable, Kid lunged for and grasped her arm, turning Lou around to face him. The minute his hand latched onto her arm, to drag her into the small circle of light spilling from the doorway, Lou let out a painful sound and Kid's head shot up, startled.
Her arm burned painfully as Kid pulled her closer to him, keeping her from leaving. She'd tried to hold in the sound, but just couldn't. Lou's sensitive eyes squinted in the light and she quickly ducked her head, hiding her face from him in shame.
Hearing his mama's painful sound, Devon thought that Kid had hurt her and he wouldn't let anyone hurt his mama again. He launched himself at Kid's legs, hitting them as hard as he could. "No, no, no!" Devon screamed, punctuating each word with a hit. "No, hurtin' Mama! Bad man hurt my mama!"
When Devon went to bite at Kid's thigh, Lou snapped out of her stupor. "Devon!" she called sharply. Lou hastily knelt and pulled the wild little boy off his father's leg and hugged him tightly to her, rocking him to soothe his frantic tears. "Shhh, baby. Shhh, it's okay. Mama's fine. He didn't hurt me. Kid would never hurt anybody, baby. We're safe here with him. No bad men anywhere," Lou soothed, her eyes meeting Kid's horrified gaze over the toddler's head. Sensing both her mother's and brother's distress, little Charlie began to squirm and fuss against Lou's chest as well.
What the hell had just happened here? Kid thought, horrified at the scene. He'd caught sight of the purplish bruising on Lou's face and a sick outrage had filled him just before her son had begun mauling his leg. It would've been funny under different circumstances, the tiny boy attacking a full grown man's leg, if it weren't for the tragic truth in the boy's words. Someone had hurt Lou, had marred her creamy skin with ugly bruises. All rational pretense at indifference flew out the window with that knowledge.
"What does he mean, Lou? Who did that to you?" he asked, his low voice filled with anger and outrage directed toward whomever had dared to touch his girl. His hand reached out of its own volition to stroke over her bruised cheekbone, his heart tearing as she flinched. In his mind were images of tearing apart whoever had hurt her with his own bare hands, torturing them until they never thought about even looking crossways at another woman. Castration was too good for this man and Kid knew without a shadow of a doubt that only a man, a man who was close to Lou, could ever raise a hand to her. Why didn't she defend herself, he wanted to shout at her.
Her sad eyes glanced away from his a moment before coming back to look at him fully. There was no way she could hide the truth anymore. She didn't want to hide anymore, she was tired of hiding and knew Kid wouldn't rest until he knew the whole story. "I'll explain everything, Kid, I promise. But right now I need to take care of my babies. You think we can come in?"
"Um, yeah, sure. Of course," Kid stuttered slightly.
Lou tried to stand and was impeded by Devon's grip around her neck. She sighed and looked up at Kid again. "Uh, Kid? Would you mind taking Charlie for me? It doesn't look like Devon's gonna make this too easy right now."
Still a bit shell shocked, Kid merely nodded dumbly. Lou unlatched the fussy baby from her snugglie and watched as Kid leaned over and awkwardly lifted the baby up into his arms. She hitched Devon up on her hip as she stood. Her heart swelled and she swallowed hard as she watched the unaware father hold his daughter for the first time.
He was awkward and uncertain, holding the baby as if she were fragile crystal. Being held by a man was such a new experience for Charlie that she immediately shushed. Blue eyes met blue as the two stared in rapt fascination at each other. Kid smiled softly as he looked down at the little girl and he felt his heart wrapping around her little finger as surely as it had wrapped around Lou's the first day they'd met. Silently, he shook his head to clear it, realizing they were still standing on the porch in the chilly, damp air which couldn't be good for any of them. He stepped away from the door and placed an overly gentle hand on Lou's lower back to guide her into the house. Kid moved slightly ahead of Lou, steering her away from hitting the ladder and paint buckets still in the foyer and turning on the lights in the mostly finished sunken living room.
Lou made her way over to the classy black leather couch setting against one wall of the room. She rocked Devon on her lap quietly while examining her surroundings. A large fieldstone fireplace dominated the another wall, the mantle holding all manner of photographs, some she recongnized as having taken herself of friends and family. The remaining two walls were painted a soft tan and on them hung two large Navajo wall rugs whose color scheme matched the one on the floor. The lighting was gentle and soft, creating a very comfortable, restful feel. It was a room designed with a family in mind. Had he truly moved on? Just what was she interrupting by showing up here, Louise wondered sadly.
Kid turned towards her, readjusting the baby in his grip as he watched Lou comfort her son. Devon's sandy curls were tucked against her breasts, a thumb sneaking into his mouth. Lucky boy, Kid thought compulsively before mentally slapping himself for it.
Lou had lowered her head and rested her cheek against his hair as she rocked. The picture was so right, so natural looking, the way Kid had always dreamed she'd be with their children. Every time the subject had come up while they were together, Lou had insisted that she didn't know how to be a mother, that she was afraid of screwing up any children she'd have beyond repair. He had tried to build her confidence, had tried not to pressure her even though seeing her belly rounded with his child had been his fondest wish and greatest fantasy.
Stop it, he told himself firmly. She doesn't want you. She ran away from you and had children with some other guy. You know letting her back into your life is just setting you up for heartbreak again. You've moved on!
If I've moved on then why does she still have so much power over me, Kid thought morosely. She shows up on my doorstep in the middle of the night after everything that has happened and instead of sending her packing, I bring her inside. I worry about her and these little ones I've just met. We've been through too much for me to throw her to the wolves. Even if they hadn't been through it all, he still couldn't reject her.
"So, you and Devon there can take my bedroom upstairs. I'm sure we can come up with somewhere for the baby to sleep," he said softly, breaking the stillness in the room and his own thoughts. "I'll take the couch."
"I-I don't wanna put you out," Lou said.
Kid shrugged. "It's not a problem. I slept on that couch for several weeks before my room was finished. Besides, my room's the only one done and it looks like you've been travelling for a while."
He carefully moved over to take a seat on the couch next to her. Kid lifted the baby to his shoulder and she began to fuss, working her way towards crying in protest. "What am I doing wrong?" he asked, slightly panicked.
Louise smiled at him, trying not to giggle at the look on his face. "Nothing. You're doing nothing wrong, Kid," she quickly assured him. "It's just that Charlie's a very curious baby. She likes to be held so she can see things. Try holding her facing forward. You can let her rest in the crook of your arm so her head's supported."
"Like this?" Kid asked, following her instructions. Lou nodded. He let the baby take his finger to hold. "How's that, sweetie? You like this better, hmm?" he asked her gently. Charlie rewarded him by cooing before a big yawn overtook her, scrunching her tiny face up.
Lou felt Devon's grip on her slackening and realized he'd fallen asleep again which was good because her arms were getting tired easily. "Looks like he's dozed off on us," she commented. "I think I'll go get him settled. You still sure you wanna give up your bed?"
Kid nodded firmly. "Go ahead and take him on up. I'll carry Charlie here. The bedroom's got a bathroom attached so you can shower and clean up if you like. Once I set her down, I'll go get your things from the car," he offered.
The two of them stood and made their way upstairs. Louise followed him down the short hall to a door at the far end. Once it was all finished, it loked like there'd be a total of four rooms upstairs. Walking through the door, she was assaulted by not only the smell of Cool Water cologne and warm male, but also by the very pressence of Kid. The room screamed it belonged to him and him alone. Decorated in shades of hunter green, navy blue, and maroon, a large sleigh bed of dark wood dominated the room. The rest of the furniture, too, was done in that same dark wood, walnut or something like that, Lou thought. A leather chair and reading lamp stood in one corner and a large wardrobe stood in the diagonal corner.
"Wow," Louise muttered sincerely. "I.... I mean I don't recognize anything, but it's nice."
One side of Kid's mouth tilted up in a half grin, unable to completely hide the pleasure he got from her approval. "Thanks. I got new stuff when I started on the house," he stated matter of factly. Because I couldn't stand the memories hidden in the other furniture, he thought. "Some of it I bought brand new and some I picked up here and there and fixed up."
"Oh." God, he hates you so much he couldn't even stand the furniture the two of you shared, Lou thought bitterly. "Uh, how...how did you afford it all just workin' with your dad and Sam at the ranch?"
Furniture, paint, building materials -- it all cost a great deal of money and Louise knew Kid hated the prospect of mortgages and owing money to a bank. He'd always said that if he couldn't afford something, he'd just save until he could rather than take out loans or go into debt. The farming community they both grew up in had seen so many small time farms and ranches go under or get repossessed by local banks.
Kid stepped toward the bed and gently laid the tiny baby in his arms down in the center before sitting next to her on the edge. Louise followed his lead and did the same with Devon so that he lay perpendicular to his little sister and Louise herself sat facing Kid.
He looked up at her, his blue eyes almost gray as a haunted look flashed shortly through them before his control snapped back into place. "I didn't," Kid admitted. "Shortly after you left, Dad told me he'd taken out a loan from the bank. I used the money to start up my practice here in town and paid him back through it and my EMT job on the weekends. The rest of the time I work out here on the house and with my own horses." Kid grinned self depreciatingly, "Could be why the house still isn't done. Freetime's at a premium, but I don't mind. I like the work; it keeps me busy."
There was no way he could tell her how he worked almost all the time to drive away the ghosts of her, of them and their relationship. No way he could tell her about how he lay in bed at night when the work day was done and thought about her, remembered her, fantasized about her -- how he felt hollow and old and just plain weary of it all. He couldn't tell her about the insomnia that sometimes plagued him for days at a time and how he'd work on just a couple hours' sleep for days until his body finally gave out and he collapsed into unconsciousness. No, Kid couldn't tell her about the empty relationships he'd started with several women in his feeble attempts to forget and move on, only for them to end when he screwed up and called out Lou's name in his sleep or during mindless sex. Their names and faces didn't matter, in fact he couldn't remember most of them, because none of them were her and none of them would ever be her.
Lou's dark eyes looked him over critically. In the light she could now see the exhaustion written in every line of his body, could see the new furrows in his brow. Kid had always had the propensity to push himself to the limits. In fact it had been one of the things they fought about most -- how he'd be after Lou to take care of herself while he was pulling all-nighters at least once a week during college and then working long hours as an EMT every other weekend. His frame was still attractive, still well defined and muscular, however, there was a thinness about him that made Louise's eyes darken in concern. Kid was still pushing himself too hard.
He's a big boy, Lou, it's his decision if he wants to kill himself. Besides, it's none of your concern anymore. You're not together. Some other woman can worry about him, she told herself angrily. She quickly pushed back the concern and focused on the rest of the topic they were discussing. "Congratulations," Louise said, a genuine proud smile on her face. "So, you finally did it, huh?"
"Yeah," Kid replied, returning her smile. "No more classes, no more hundreds of dollars spent on books, no more lab practicals. I'm done and I've got the sheepskin to prove it. It's not big, but I'm doing fine. Lots of word of mouth advertising from satisfied clients. What about you? Did you ever finish school while you were in New York?"
"No," Lou replied softly, staring down at the bedspread she sat on. "I kinda didn't have time. Too busy trying to survive. And then Devon came along and I became Mommy full-time."
"I woulda thought that rich guy you were with could afford to let you finish," Kid said bitterly.
Louise looked up sharply at his comment and let out a short sardonic laugh. "Who, Dominick?" she asked. "Dominick Scarletti would never let his woman get an education. Too afraid she'd come up with the common sense to finally leave him and tell the FBI what he and his little cronies were up to. No, Dom likes his women dumb and submissive. Those that aren't....well, my face is a testament to the pleasure he gets from making them dumb and submissive."
Kid nearly growled as he thought of the man who'd made the bright, lively woman he'd fallen in love with so self-deprecating. In the light of the bedroom lamp, he could see how the bruises on Lou's face held an ugly greenish-purplish tint. He wanted to tear into the coward who'd dared to lift a hand to try and "break" his girl. It had been a while since Kid had been a collegiate Golden Gloves boxer, but he was sure he could still put some damage on this Dominick Scarletti.
Scarletti, he thought. The name was familiar. Kid closed his eyes a moment and tried to picture where he'd seen the name before and it came with a snap.
"Scarletti? Dominick 'Wicks' Scarletti?!" Kid questioned intently, his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed.
"Yeah, I told you who he was when I was here for Ike's funeral, Kid," Lou said. What was he thinking now? "You know, that whole argument we had about me leaving that ended up with us going at it on the floor of my motel room." And resulted in little Charlie there, she completed wordlessly.
Suddenly agitated, Kid stood from the bed, pacing towards the window before turing around and facing her again. He knew where he'd seen the name. His father, retired U.S. Marshal Teaspoon Hunter, had been looking for this man for ten years at least. Scarletti was the second-in-command of one of America's largest functioning crime families. His name had been tied to almost every genre of crime imagineable, particularly drug running, pornography, and murder. Scarletti was well known for his violent and unpredictable nature, and especially for his disdain and misreatment of women associated with him.
She could've been killed! Lou could've been killed and he'd never have known. That thought alone was almost enough to make him throw up. Swallowing hard, Kid ran shaking fingers through his wild sandy waves, one hand coursing down to rub at the back of his neck. He knew why she hadn't told him before -- because she knew that he'd have followed her and....and gotten himself killed most likely. Still she'd purposely witheld information from him and that pissed Kid off more than anything. Not another game playing woman. He'd thought she was different from the rest; it was what had helped him fall for her in the first place.
Stabbing a finger at her, he accused, "No, you told me his name was Wicks, not Scarletti. Jesus, Lou if I'd known you were throwing me over for a murdering mobster...."
"I didn't throw you over for him," Louise growled, unable to be silent in her horror and anger any longer. "God, don't you ever listen? Look at me! Is this the face of a woman madly in love with money and power? I told you that night that I still loved you but that I couldn't stay."
"So you went back to New York to a man who beat the shit out of you. That's a real step up in the world from a poor veterinary student who wanted to marry you, Lou. Tell me, do you even know which of us is Charlie's father? Were you ever gonna tell me I had a son let alone a daughter," he demanded angrily.
"Kid, I...." Lou started breathless with shock.
He held a hand up to stop her, his eyes closing painfully in exasperation. "Don't even, Louise. I may not be a genius, but I can still do the math. Even without his slip-up earlier, Devon's eyes are the same shade of blue Jed's and mine are. And you got pregnant with Charlie one of two ways: that night with me or after you got back to New York with Scarletti."
This wasn't how she'd wanted to do this. He was so angry at her, held so much against her and there was nothing she could say to defend herself because it was true. "Why don't you just say it, Kid," Lou grit out between her locked jaws. She would not show him how much this hurt. She wouldn't. "Just fucking say it, Kid. I'm a whore! I can take it. It's true ain't it? That's what Dominick always said and that's what you think! But it doesn't change the truth and that is that I meant every word I said that night. It was never that I didn't...don't love you!"
Kid's face was still stony and impassive, unmoved by the tears slipping anew from her eyes. He wouldn't let her back in, couldn't. She'd promised him always before and it had ended. She'd lied to him. He wouldn't fall for that again. His belief in forever had ceased the moment she'd denied him and left. Kid crossed his arms over his chest, his jaw tightening with betrayal. "Words," he muttered. "They were just words said in the heat of the moment."
Lou flinched as if he'd slapped her. He might as well have for the pain that burst through her at his words and the indifference behind them. He had to understand. She'd make him understand if she had to get on her knees and beg him to listen to her. It wasn't like she had any pride left anyways. Desperation filled her as she leapt from the bed and approached him, her hand reaching out to clutch at his bicep.
"Kid, please! He had Devon. Dominick wouldn't let me take him when I came back because he was afraid I'd stay. He told me if I didn't come back, that Devon would be put in foster care and he'd file abandonment charges against me." Lou turned her wide, dark eyes up to him with a sob. "I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay so bad! That morning, I wanted nothing more than to curl back into you and forget about catching the plane, forget about New York and the way he'd hit me when he felt like it. I wanted to stay where I was loved and warm, but I had to go back. I had to go back or I'd never see my baby again!"
Kid closed his eyes and turned his face upward a moment, blowing air out between his lips in an effort to hold onto his anger as it slipped quickly from him. Anger was simple, clear, and easy. But in the face of her pain and anguish, his anger was fleeting, replaced by an intense sorrow.
"He'd never touched me while the babies were around before. Dom always got them away before he 'disciplined' me. But Charlie was crying and Devon was hungry and I had to take care of them first," Lou continued in a hushed voice, her eyes far away and haunted even as the tears continued to slide down her cheeks. "He didn't like that. So, he yelled at Dev, picked him up and carried him into the nursery before he came back to me. Devon heard it all! He was so scared that he managed to get Charlie out of her crib and hid them both in the back of the closet. It took me two hours to convince him it was safe to come out and that was when I knew I had to leave. Even if Dominick killed me, I had to get my kids out of that place or it would drive them insane. I....I brought them to the safest place I knew."
Lou was sobbing so hard now, that she sagged before him. Reacting quickly, Kid moved his arms around her, catching her and easing her to her knees on the floor. "Please.... Please help me, Kid. I don't...I don't have anywhere else to go now," she begged.
She was broken now. Kid had never, ever seen or imagined that Louise McCloud could ever be broken and that part of him that could never deny her anything, that part that had searched for glimpses of her in every woman he'd ever known emerged. He cradled her to him. Lou buried her face in the crook of his neck and it felt like the last two years had never happened.
Kid stroked her hair gently as she clutched at him, never feeling her short nails as they dug into the muscles of his bare back. "Shh, baby," he murmured, "it's okay. It's all over. They're safe, you're safe, and no one's gonna hurt you or my kids ever again. No one!"
Lou sniffled and clung tighter to him. "He'll have figured it out by now. He'll follow me here. I know it!" She pulled away from Kid slightly so she could see his face. Tendrils of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail stuck to the wet tear tracks on her cheeks, panic in her dark eyes. "You can't tell anyone I'm here yet! It's not safe, especially for Rachel. He knows her phone number and where she lives, but he doesn't know about you. I'm not ready for anyone to know I'm back. Promise me, Kid!"
It was so easy to forget the years of hell that had passed and fall back into that protective role all over again. She was back and Kid had never been happier. "I promise, baby," Kid soothed. "We won't tell anyone 'til you're ready."
He held her face in between his large hands and brushed a gentle kiss over her forehead. Louise snuggled her face back into the crook of his neck and settled herself as close as possible to him.
"You're safe now, Lou. Anyone even looks crosswise at you or the babies and they'll have me to deal with!"
As Kid's hands stroked over her back, a strange sound like choked laughter emerged from her. "What?" Kid asked. "What're you laughin' at? You think I can't take 'em?"
Lou shook her head. "I just wondered if we oughta book your usual room at the ER," she giggled through her drying tears. "I don't mind you defendin' my honor so much anymore as long as it doesn't involve me telling the on-call doc you cracked your head open because you were jumpin' off barns into hay stacks again."
Kid remembered the incident well and felt his cheeks color even as a low chuckle shook his chest. "Hey! I was young and stupid, not to mention pretty well drunk," he protested. Some frat boy at a party had insulted an eighteen-year-old Louise's honor. The two men had challnged each other to a modified form of chicken which consisted of jumping from different heights in a barn into a hay pile. Kid had bounced upon landing and had fallen forward onto the packed dirt floor to crack his forehead open. After the incident, Louise had punched the other guy hard enough to break his nose for getting Kid hurt.
"You were twenty-two and it was six years ago," Lou laughed.
"I'm older and wiser now," Kid insisted in mock seriousness. "Now I skip all that macho stuff and just beat 'em up. Makes it much quicker to get rid of all that stuff in the middle. If all else fails I'll just let you sock 'em in the nose."
"Don't you dare tease me, Gabriel Valentine Hunter!"
"I knew I'd regret telling you my full name," Kid sighed, his bare arm stinging slightly. "Why is it you only pull out the name card when I'm winning?"
Lou narrowed her eyes as she lifted her head to look at him. "You were so not winning!"
"Yes, I was."
"I just let you think that," Lou said retorted smugly.
Kid chuckled as her head returned to his shoulder. Mission accomplished, he thought pleasantly. No more tears. "God, I missed your voice. I missed this," he admitted softly.
Author's note: That's all for now. It's up to you guys. Should I write more or stuff it amongst my tens of other plots I haven't capitalized on? Is it good? Bad? Which direction should it go? Should Kid have a current lover? You tell me!!
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