For Allie Baxter, love was never something she had to worry about. She was loved by her friends, her family, her husband … until the day it was ripped away. Losing love was the deepest pain Allie had ever endured, and it was an agony she vowed to avoid feeling ever again. Crippled with guilt over her loss, for five years Allie served her self-appointed exile from the daily comforts offered by friends and family, only to return and attempt to fit herself back into their open arms—even if she knew she didn’t deserve it. Mike Lawson was not something Allie expected; the love of a man was not something Allie was prepared to want. The spark of desire that had long ago died inside her suddenly returned, bringing the memories of her pain with it. She swore she would never allow herself to love again … but how long could love be resisted?
“Baby, please don’t be upset with me … I’ll be home tomorrow. You know I’m just as disappointed as you are,” Marc pleaded into the phone. Allie knew she was acting like a child, pouting the way she was, but dammit, she was disappointed. And she had every right to be, for that matter.
“But you promised me you’d be home, Marc. You promised that you would be here tonight. I made plans for us.”
“I know, baby, but I’m sure this client meeting will run long; they always do. It would be easier for me to drive home first thing in the tomorrow. I promise I’ll be there to make you pancakes in the morning.”
She felt herself smile at that. If her husband knew anything about her, it was that she had a soft spot for him making her pancakes. Not wanting to give in too easily, because that would just be stupid, she pushed him a little further. “What kind of pancakes are we talking about?”
Allie heard her beloved husband’s gruff laugh through the line, and she could instantly picture him as he made that sound. His beautiful smile, framed by the thin layer of beard that he kept just for her, his soft hazel eyes full of humor and life, and that slightly crooked nose of his that she knew for a fact was broken once before. Yeah, she knew she was a goner for this man, which was why she was pouting, over the phone, as he told her she had to wait one more night to see him.
“What kind would you like, baby? I can make you chocolate chip, or pecan with sliced bananas on top?” Still smiling, she waited for him to continue, because he knew what it would take to seal the deal. “How about some caramel sauce drizzled over them, with some bacon on the side.”
Sold! And there it was, the way to every girl’s heart—a plate full of pecan pancakes topped with bananas and caramel sauce and a side of bacon. Okay, so maybe not every girl, but it was certainly the way to Allie Baxter’s heart. Knowing she had dragged her pouting out long enough, she let him off the hook.
“Okay … you can come home in the morning, but you are so lucky that I went grocery shopping this week, and I just so happened to pick up those exact ingredients. ‘Cause if you offered all that heaven-on-a-plate to me, and then didn’t deliver, you would be feeling my wrath all the way from San Diego, Marc McNally.” She was all talk, and the man knew it, but he loved that about her. Or so she told herself, repeatedly.
“That’s not why I’m a lucky man, baby. There are many things that make up my good fortune, but there is only one thing that puts me in the category of the luckiest man alive … my Allie-cat.” She immediately felt herself blush as she absorbed the sweet words Marc was saying. Oh, how she loved this man.
“I love you, my big, beautiful man. Come to me in the morning baring pancakes and all shall be right in the world,” she declared, pulling another laugh from him in the process.
“You got it, baby. Why don’t you have dinner over at your brother’s? I’m sure your nephew would make you forget all about missing me,” Marc told her, and he had a point, Dylan was pretty good at making her forget everything else.
“Oh, you’re good, really, really good. Using the adorable two year old to distract me … well done. I will see you in the morning, my love. Sleep well and drive safe,” she remarked, finishing her sentence the way she always did when he would be driving home.
“I always do, my love. Have sweet dreams of me, and I will wake you in the morning,” he said.
She replied, “I can’t think of a better way to wake up.” She made a kissing sound for him before saying goodbye with a smile on her face.
After hanging up, she immediately dialed her sister-in-law, Gillian, to inform her of her visit, to which the response was, “Since when do you announce yourself? Dinner is in fifteen minutes, and if you’re late to the table, you got dish duty.”
Shaking her head, she jumped up from her spot on the couch to grab her purse and keys before heading out the door. She was so not pulling dish duty tonight; isn’t that why people had kids anyway? So the adults didn’t have to do crap like that ever again?
Hours later, Allie was still smiling about her evening spent with family and smiling about her conversation with Marc from earlier in the evening as she crawled into bed. He knew that spending time with her family was important to her, which he clearly showed by their current living arrangement. The fact that he allowed her to stay in San Diego while he worked two hours north of there, showed what a great man he was. She knew it wasn’t a permanent arrangement because she didn’t enjoy spending those three or four nights a week alone when he was gone, but for now, it worked. Still smiling, she tucked herself into bed prepared to dream of her prince and how he would awaken her in the morning with pancakes.
Sometime later, a loud knocking sound startled her awake. After sitting straight up in bed, it took her a few moments to figure out what the sound was. As soon as she realized it was her front door, she swung her feet over the side of the bed and quickly made her way toward the sound. No immediate thought was made as to who could possibly be knocking on her door at … a quick glance over at the clock told her it was four in the morning. But as she got closer to the door, her mind began to whirl at the ideas of why and who was on the other side. She peeked out the window next to the door, unsure if she should be answering at this hour.
She was immediately even more confused when she spotted the police car in the driveway. Thankful for the security screen on her door, something Marc had insisted on since he was away a lot, she opened her door and looked out at the two people standing there. Staring back at her were two uniformed police officers—one male, one female. There was only silence for a moment as they stared at each other, before the man finally spoke, “Sorry to wake you, ma’am, but are you Mrs. McNally?”
Still confused, she responded, “This is the Baxter-McNally residence. Can you tell me why you’re asking?”
Not breaking eye contact with her, but avoiding her question, he asked, “Are you here alone, or is there anyone else in the house? Any large pets perhaps?”
“Not really sure what that has to do with anything, but no. My husband isn’t home tonight, so it’s just me.” As soon as she heard her words out loud, and she processed them, the words my husband echoed through her head, and she sucked in a startled gasp. No … no.
“Ma’am, I need you to open the door so that we can speak with you. It’s very important,” he continued as she stood there staring at them through the screen. She was shaking her head no, even as she reached forward and unlocked the door. The officer opened the door, and the two entered, as she slowly stepped backward, away from them.
Her heart picked up its pace, and her breathing became labored, as fear of the possibilities of began to set in. Standing there in her living room, in a pair of boxer shorts and tank top, Allie stared at the two officers in front of her. They stood there quietly, never reassuring her that whatever news they were here to deliver wasn’t the worst kind. When the female officer attempted to speak and move in her direction, Allie halted her with an outstretched hand. “Wait, don’t do it … I need … I need to call someone.”
Quickly darting over to the table where her phone rested, she picked it up and dialed Marc. No answer, only voicemail. Pressing the end button, she tried one more time and got the same result. The overwhelming feeling of dread set in and began to suffocate her as everything started to tingle, from her extremities inward. Bracing her hand on the table, she stared at her phone and thought to dial Marc once more. He had to answer this time. She listened to the phone ring on the other end, and then she heard his voice, “You know what to do, leave me a message and maybe I’ll call you back.”
Something inside told her he wasn’t going to call her back. This can’t be happening. It can’t! She screamed to herself while looking back over at the officers, who stood and quietly watched her.
“Ma’am, maybe you should sit down,” the male officer said as he attempted to make his way toward her, too. But once again, she put her hand up to stop him. If he touched her, he was real, and that made everything real. No! Her knees started to shake as she felt the weight of her body become too much. Insistently shaking her head at nobody in particular, she looked back at her phone, and dialed the only other person she could think of. Quickly putting it to her ear, she listened to the line ring again; it took three rings before she heard Gillian answer.
“Allie? What’s the matter … what’s wrong?”
Trying to get the words out, she stuttered for a moment before closing her eyes and dropping slowly to the ground. “Gillian … I can’t do this alone … two police officers are here.” A strong sob escaped as she tried to say the words that were choking her. Trying to find enough air to get it out before it was all gone, she pushed the words up and out, “… and Marc isn’t answering his phone. I need you … please.”
Allie could faintly here Gillian barking orders, and then she heard a door slam as she said, “I’m on my way, Allie. You listen to my voice, I will be there is less than five minutes. Do you hear me, Allie? Less than five minutes. I’m coming.” Allie nodded her head as she listened, all while staring at the officers. “Allie, do you hear me!”
“I hear you,” she whispered. The tears that were rolling down her face went unattended as time slowed and the female officer crouched down next to her, motioning for the phone.
“Ma’am, may I?” she said.
Allie nodded and numbly handed the phone over. She watched as the officer spoke into it, but couldn’t hear the words, only saw her lips moving. She couldn’t hear anything. Or feel anything. Numbness dominated her senses. The only sense remaining was sight, and all that did was provide her with the vision of two people, in her living room, here to tell her the worst possible news she could ever receive.
She hadn’t even noticed that Gillian had made it there, ‘til she blinked and suddenly she was in her line of vision. It was almost as if she blacked out. The numbness was spreading, and Allie saw, more than felt, Gillian on the ground in front of her, cupping her face with both hands, forcing her to look her in the eyes. Allie could see she was talking but couldn’t make out what was being said, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
Unaware of how much time had passed, Allie felt herself being lifted as Gillian disappeared from her view. She felt like she was floating, before being gently placed back down, but she was cradled in strong arms this time … Marc? Fighting the numbness, as awareness began to crowd in, she clawed her way through the darkness to see who was holding her. Searching, she blinked as Gillian came into focus. But she didn’t want Gillian; she wanted Marc.
Attempting to find her voice, she managed to croak out, “Marc …” as she angled her head upward, only to find the eyes of a different man looking down at her. “Marc?” she asked her brother, Logan, who stared down at her with eyes full of tears. He bit his lip, and she felt him squeeze her tighter as Gillian wrapped her arms around both of them. Everything happened slowly as she watched her brother close his eyes, forcing the tears out of his eyes, before opening them again and staring down at her.
The slight shake of his head, and pain in his face only confirmed without words what she knew in her heart to be true. “I’m sorry Al … Marc was in an accident.” The long pause of his words made her hold her breath, as she waited for him to continue.
“He didn’t make it …” were the last words she heard before letting the darkness suck her back in.
About the Author
Melanie is an amazing mother of four, an awesome and tolerant wife to one, and nurse to many. If you don’t believe her, just ask anyone in her family, they know what to say. She is also a devoted chauffer, the keeper of missing socks, a genius according to a six year old, the coolest soccer uniform coordinator according to a twelve year old, and the best damn ‘mac-n-cheese-with-cut-up-hot-dog maker in the whole world. Well that last title isn’t really official, but it’s still pretty cool to be called it.
When not being ordered around by any of the kids, you can find her with her nose in a book or on the sideline of a soccer game cheering on one team or another. But that’s mostly because she has a thing for the coach. When she is not doing all of the above, you can find her obsessed with a group of fictional characters all vying for a spot on the page of whatever she’s working on. It’s a fun and crazy life to lead, but wouldn’t have it any other way.