Following a nurse’s directions, Marcus strode down the hall, flanked on both sides by Samson and Rafe, to where the Middleton family waited in the far corner of a small rectangular alcove. Standing about the same height—give or take a few inches—all three men presented an attractive, yet intimidating force.
Marcus hated hospitals. After visiting his father in this hospital every day for three months, he rarely came near one. He took the long way around the large hospital, which unfortunately took them an extra ten minutes to find the family.
Spotting Harold, he made his way over to him, his eyes searching guardedly for Octavia. He recognized her sisters, Lauren and Naomi and another face—her best friend Simone Austin. It had been years since they all hung together. He grunted. When Octavia screwed things up she did it all the way.
Remembering why he was here, Marcus grasped the outstretched hand and a slight curve appeared at the corner of the older man’s mouth. “Hello, sir, I came as soon I heard.”
“Hello, Marcus …fellas.” Harold acknowledged Samson and Rafe with a familiar nod, and handshakes. “I want to thank you boys, for coming,” he said. “Your support means a lot to me, and I know it does for my Dee.” He choked at the mention of his wife’s name, and Marcus felt the man’s sorrow, heard it in his every word. “She’s fighting for her life and I know she’d appreciate having all her loved ones with her.”
“I hope you’ll let me help, sir. Mrs. M has been like a mother to me. Whatever you need, I’ll make sure you have it.”
“I appreciate that, son. But what you can do now is go see her. She’s been asking for you,” the older man said. “Tavia’s in there with her now …”
Marcus allowed his eyes to veer toward the hospital door, and hold steady. The thoughts of knowing she was a few feet away from him caused him to fluctuate from inhumane thoughts to possible what ifs. With clenched fists, he took a deep breath and turned his attention back to a still talking Harold. But man’s words seemed garbled now, almost muted.
It could have been the sudden burst of anger that felt as raw as it did seven years ago, or the constant throbbing of his temple that made it hard to focus on anything but finally having his say with Octavia.
Yet, it was probably better for all concerned that she ran like she did years ago. If she had stayed and tried to lists the reasons why she wanted out, someone—probably Samson or Rafe—would have been posting his bail for disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace and destruction of property.
Glancing at the door once more, he felt the unbendable control he prided himself on, slipping away. In all the years they were together, he’d never unleashed his full temper on her, and never had a reason to—until now.
“Son? Did you hear me? We don’t know how much time Dee has, or what else they can do for her.” Harold waited for Marcus to answer, his hazel eyes squinting perceptively. “So you better get on in there, and don’t let anyone stop you.”
Marcus nodded with immediate understanding. “Yes sir.” He turned to Samson and Rafe. “You want to go in?”
“After you bro,” said Samson before glancing at Rafe who signaled his agreement with a quick nod. “We’ll wait over there with everybody else.”
Marcus squared his shoulders, made his way over to the door, and pushed into the darkness of the room. Inside, he spotted Octavia perched on the edge of the chair. His stomach or maybe his heart—he wasn’t sure—did an unforeseen flip as it did so many years ago during the first moments of hearing her laughter, admiring her spirit and wanting her body. He gripped the door’s handle as if it would cease the odd unsteadiness he felt in his knees or worse yet, the threat of their collapse.
Her forehead rested on the bed—next to her mother’s hip—as if in prayer, and Marcus struggled not to notice how sexy her curvy body looked in that position, or how her shapely stocking-clad legs stretched for days under her short black skirt. The sexy scent of jasmine wafted through his nostrils, pulling him back to times he deemed long forgotten, times when they snuggled after making love too lazy to move or they touched each other often so that their connection was always intact. He turned his head toward the bed, disgusted by his reaction, and took another step forward.
The door squeaked and Dionne’s head rolled in the direction of a glint of light to rest limply against the pillow, her eyes struggling to remain open. Then she squinted. “Marcus?”
Octavia lifted her head from the bed, and frowned at her mother. “Shhh, it’s alright, Momma.” Was delirium a part of her mother’s ailment? Or was she thinking about him because she’d beat her over the head so many times about contacting him? She continued to hold her mother’s hand, noticing the tear that disappeared beneath the bandages near Dionne’s temple, and the slight smile gracing her butter cream-hued face. “Marcus—”
Her mother’s voice was more definitive this time, and if she hadn’t been sitting, Octavia would have fallen flat on her ass. The familiar scent of freshly chopped firewood, cinnamon, and baby powder wafted through her nostrils. She knew even before he spoke that he was in the room.
She released her mother’s hand, and slid hers down the side of the bed, gripping the sheet between trembling fingers. The scent grew closer.
She swallowed hard, daring to believe that it wasn’t a dream that the man she loved beyond reason was standing next to her. With acute caution and borderline fear, she glanced over her left shoulder. Her initial reaction to his appearance felt like the first big drop on a rollercoaster, lurching and dipping and fluttering. He was so overpowering, physically—mentally—aesthetically. She froze.
He moved toward her with slow measured steps, like a panther hunting then capturing its prey. Then panic spread like wildfire through her body. She could hear her heart beating within the quiet of the room. In between a series of pitiful wheezes, her mouth opened and closed twice as she failed miserably at trying to sound articulate.
“Marcus?” He was as beautiful as he was the last time she kissed him. “How…I mean …when did you get here?”
His smooth, baritone voice was the same as it had been in every dream of him making love to her. Although brusque and subdued—which no doubt had a lot to do with her—his tone was nevertheless sexy and hypnotic, rendering her exposed and off kilter.
He moved closer to the bed, his eyes fixed on her mother’s still form, and she stumbled from the chair, trying to escape his clean, intoxicating scent.
“I …I …” She tried once more to form a coherent phrase, but he crushed her efforts with quick, polite indifference.
“Your father said your mom’s been asking for me. If you don’t mind I like to talk to her.” He brushed past her and leaned in to kiss Dionne’s forehead. The woman waited for him with tears in her eyes. “Hello, Mrs. M.”
“She’s been asking for a few of you.” The words made sense now. Casting a discreet look to her left, Octavia pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and bit down, the disappointment that Marcus barely looked at her, sharp. The sudden lack of oxygen stung her lungs, as did the tears she tried to keep from falling. Fear. Joy. Shame.
With a muted, “excuse me,” she scurried around him, stumbling in four- inch heels she knew she could run a marathon in, and burst through the door, allowing light from the fluorescent bulbs in the hall to slice the dimness within the room.
With her back to the wall, she glanced over to the waiting area and realized that Marcus hadn’t come alone. His best friend and cousin, who she hadn’t seen in years, were here as well. They probably hated her too.
Her breathing was sporadic and uneven, as she pushed from the wall, and made her way to an empty chair next to her best friend, Simone, ignoring uncomfortable glances from her family and friend. The air was thick with recrimination and panic. She knew everyone was on pins and needles from keeping her secrets. Telling her lies.
Taking a seat next to Simone, she wiped tears from her face, and prayed that the earth—just beneath her feet—would open up and swallow her whole.