“Why would you say that?” he demanded, sitting up straighter on the couch. “I’m not hurt.”
Emma stared at him point blank, eyebrows arched. “Really?” she asked sarcastically.
The kitchen was really a dream, Emma thought, as she went about making lunch for her and Lucas. She had no idea how much longer he was going to be outside with the tow truck driver, but she needed something to do, and messing around in the kitchen seemed like the perfect way to kill some time. As his father had told her earlier on the phone, Lucas had just stocked up and there was a wide variety of foods to choose from.
Knowing that he would most likely appreciate something hot after being outside in the cold, she first opted for some soup. There wasn’t enough time to make any from scratch, but she found two cans of chicken corn chowder that she doctored up. Then came the sandwiches, some nice grilled cheese with bacon. Oh, if only her assistant could see her now! There wasn’t a salad in sight and Emma was perfectly okay with it. With the soup simmering and the sandwiches being warmed in the oven, all Emma had to do was wait for Lucas to come back inside.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Fifteen minutes later Lucas came through the door and Emma jumped. She had been staring out the back windows at what seemed to be miles of snow-covered land. She turned when she heard him and almost gasped at what she saw. He was covered in snow, his skin red, and at his feet were all of her bags and belongings from her car. He nearly slumped to the ground once the door was closed.
“Oh, my gosh, Lucas! What in the world?” She nearly ran over to him and it didn’t take long for her to realize that he was in pain. Without a word, she took the hat from his head and began to help him remove his coat.
“Emma,” he said by way of warning her but she ignored him.
“Hush,” she said quietly and went back to helping him get as much of the snow covered clothing off as possible. With his coat, hat, and gloves on the floor, Emma watched as he slowly removed his boots. It was hard to miss the hiss of pain when he bent forward.
“Go put on dry clothes,” she told him. “I’ve got lunch ready.”
Lucas stood straight up and looked at Emma as if he’d never seen her before. He opened his mouth to argue, but all she said was “Go” and he slowly lumbered back toward his bedroom, where he slammed the door.
Emma made a tsking sound and went about picking up his belongings and taking them into the mudroom near the back of the house to dry. After that, she headed into the kitchen to serve up their food. Before she was finished, Lucas stepped from the bedroom, walked over to the living room, and sat down wearily on the sofa, his head falling back against the cushions.
It was a no-brainer at that point; making up a tray, Emma carried it to Lucas and placed it over his lap. He looked up at her in surprise and what she saw in his eyes took her breath away. Gratitude, plain and simple. How long had this man been taking care of himself? How long since anyone had done something as simple as preparing a meal for him? How long since he’d even let anyone?
She gave him a weak smile and turned to walk away. “Are you going to join me?” Lucas asked, his eyes warm on hers.
“I was just going to make myself a tray,” she reassured him. Within minutes she was sitting on the sofa beside him, making herself comfortable and trying not to spill her soup. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted to eat but I figured this was your house and if it was here, you’d pretty much enjoy it.”
He gave a small laugh. “Can’t argue with that logic. But seriously, Emma, thank you. You didn’t need to do this.”
“Are you kidding me? It was nice to have something to do. I felt so helpless sitting in here where it was warm and dry while you were stuck out there. I hate that you had to do that for me.”
“We’re not going to go through that again, are we?” he asked. “None of this was your fault and you need to let it go.”
“How did you get the driveway cleared away so fast?”
“I have a plow blade attachment for my truck. I simply pulled out of the garage and went to work.”
“Oh, thank goodness. I thought you had shoveled that whole thing yourself!”
“Not anymore,” he mumbled to himself. “It didn’t take too long and I wanted to have it done before I called the tow truck. It would have been pointless to have them drive all the way out here if they couldn’t get onto the property.”
Emma nodded. “How bad did it look?”
“No, my car. Was it bad?”
Lucas took a hearty bite of his sandwich and seemed to chew slowly. Emma did not take that as a good sign. “It was about what I expected,” he said finally.
“Meaning what exactly?”
“It looks like you ran it into a tree. The front end is pretty banged up, but luckily you weren’t going very fast so it could have been much worse. I had Bill take it to his shop. He’s a friend of mine and I trust him and his work. He’ll get a good look at it probably tomorrow and have an estimate to us by Monday.”
“Emma, Montgomerys is going to take care of this. It wasn’t your fault and you were on company time. We’ll take care of the repairs and your car rental for however long it takes to get your car fixed.” In that moment, he sounded very much like a boss and Lucas saw something cross across Emma’s face. Confusion? Disappointment?
“That’s very generous, Lucas. Your father called while you were outside with the tow truck and he told me the same thing. I don’t expect the company to take care of this expense, but I appreciate the help.”
“Well, it was Dad’s fault,” Lucas stated firmly, still angry at what could have happened to Emma because of his father’s inconsiderate behavior.
“I could have told him no, Lucas. He didn’t hold a gun to my head and force me to drive up here.”
“No, but he certainly did all that he could to sweeten the deal for you.” Emma frowned at that statement. “What? What’s the matter?”
She looked over at him and gave a sad smile. “I was actually really looking forward to it—the spa, the pampering, all of it. I never indulge in things like that because it always seemed so frivolous, but once it was offered to me? I found that I really wanted to do it.”
“Well, maybe you’ll get another chance.”
“I’m not driving up here again until the summertime!” she joked and Lucas laughed with her.
“How about someplace local? I’m sure we can arrange something like that for you when you get back.” Again, he came across sounding like her employer, and even though that was exactly what he was, he still hated sounding like that to her. “It’s the least we can do.”
Emma seemed to sober instantly. “That’s a very generous offer, but I don’t expect the company to pay for a day at a spa for me. It’s really not necessary.” Her tone was formal, as if she were talking to someone in the office.
They ate the remainder of their lunch in silence and Emma rose to take both of their trays into the kitchen. “I don’t expect you to wait on me, Emma,” Lucas said, his eyes watching her as she moved around the room.
“Well, you fussed over me yesterday when I was hurt and now it’s my turn to fuss over you.”
“Why would you say that?” he demanded, sitting up straighter on the couch. “I’m not hurt.”
Emma stared at him point blank, eyebrows arched. “Really?” she asked sarcastically.
“Yes, really,” he replied defiantly.
“Okay, stand up.”
“You heard me. Stand up.” She crossed her arms over her chest and waited.
“And what will that prove?”
“Stand up and walk around the sofa without limping or scowling.”
Lucas did not like the challenge in her tone. “And if I don’t?”
“Then you’ll just be proving me right. I’m not a fool, Lucas. Your knee is hurting and there’s no shame in that. You probably messed it up yesterday carrying me up from my car, and then again today helping the driver get my car out of the ditch. Why is that so hard to admit?”
“Because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he snapped. “There’s nothing wrong with my knee, and I resent you saying that there is.”
“Then prove it.”
Rage built in Lucas faster than he thought possible. In the two years since his injury, no one had provoked him like this. People left him alone; even the physical therapists stopped pushing him when he refused to be challenged. How dare Emma come here and make these ridiculous demands on him!
Sure his knee hurt; anyone would feel some sense of pain after the way he had exerted himself in the last twenty-four hours. But it wasn’t like he couldn’t handle it. Lucas knew he could get up right now and do a damn jig and never let on that he was feeling any kind of pain. He glared at Emma and saw that she hadn’t budged.
Fine. He’d prove her wrong and then they could move on with their day. Placing both hands firmly on the sofa Lucas braced himself and pushed to a standing position and went to take a step.
And crumpled back down to the sofa with a growl of disgust. Emma was at his side immediately and he heard her soft curse. “I cannot believe that you are so stubborn that you would rather risk aggravating an injury than admitting that you have one.”
His first instinct was to argue, but she had hit the nail on the head.
“What do you need? Heat or ice?”
What he needed right now was to have his solitary life back and to be left alone in his misery. One of the reasons he’d quit going to rehab was because he hated having anyone help him; it reminded him that he wasn’t the man he used to be.
“Lucas?” she said, snapping him out of his reverie.
“Ice,” he mumbled and sat back on the sofa, lifting his leg up onto the coffee table. In no time at all, Emma was beside him and rolling up the leg of the flannel pajama pants he had thrown on earlier. All Lucas wanted to do was push her away but he just didn’t have the strength to.
He flinched when she placed the ice pack on his scarred and swollen knee, refusing to look at her. Lucas didn’t want to see the pity in her eyes. There was the sound of Emma’s feet walking across the room and he heard her moving around in the kitchen before coming back offering him water and ibuprofen.
“Do you have anything stronger?” He shook his head. “Okay, then. What do you usually do when this happens?”
“Who said this ever happened before?” Lucas knew he was sounding like a belligerent child, but couldn’t summon the energy to care.
“I’m trying to help you,” she said wearily. “This is all my fault, and I’m trying to do what I can to help you. Can you please just cooperate?”
“Really? Like you cooperated last night?”
“Did you not wake me up every two hours? And didn’t I answer all of your stupid questions each time?”
“Stupid ques… Look, I know how to handle a concussion, Emma; you don’t know the first thing about a knee injury!”
“So teach me! For crying out loud, Lucas, we’ve got nothing else to do here! You refused to let me even speak to the tow truck driver about leaving, so you’re stuck with me for the weekend. Now either let me help you or deal with the fact that I’m going to sit here and nag you all afternoon.” She sounded pretty smug and she knew that she had left him no choice.
“Fine,” he sneered. “Normally when this happens I take the OTC stuff and ice it for a while. I do my best to stay off it and by the next day I’m usually better. Satisfied?”
“Hardly. What does your physical therapist have to say about this? Why is this still happening? I thought you had the surgeries to repair the injury?”
“That’s none of your damn business.” Lucas so did not want to have this discussion. He’d avoided talking to anyone about this and he certainly didn’t want to talk to Emma about it. How did he explain that he’d elected out of the last two surgeries because even though the problem would have been repaired, he still wasn’t going to play football ever again? Rather than continue to go under the knife, Lucas had simply given up and decided to live with the limp and the pain as a reminder that he couldn’t go back.
“It doesn’t matter what the therapist thinks or says; sometimes injuries just don’t heal.”
Emma looked at him suspiciously. “I would think that you would have gone for a second or maybe third, fourth, and fifth opinion to get yourself better.”
“Who says I didn’t?”
“Did you?” she challenged.
“Christ, Emma, what do you want from me?”
“I want to understand why you choose to live such an isolated life! I want to know why with all of your money and connections that your knee isn’t healed and that you don’t seem to care! I want to know why you seem to have just given up on life!” Her tirade ended on a near shout. She opened her mouth to speak only to have Lucas cut her off.
“You want to know why, Emma? Is that it? Well, let me tell you, sweetheart, it isn’t pretty.”
“No, you wanted to know, well, here it is. When I hurt my knee I was having my best season ever. I had endorsement deals and was making more money than I’d ever dreamed of. I thought life couldn’t get any better, and then I messed up my knee. I had the first surgery and the doctors were optimistic and my coaches and agents were optimistic. It didn’t take long for them to realize that I wasn’t healing properly. So they called in some specialists.
“More tests were run and more doctors looked at me and saw a secondary injury, and so they did a second surgery. Everyone was cautiously optimistic at this point. I was still promised the sun, the moon, and the stars by everyone around me. I was promised that I’d be back to full strength by the following season and all of my endorsement deals were still in play.” Lucas took a steadying breath and adjusted the ice pack on his knee.
“After the second surgery and another round of physical therapy, they let me go to a couple of practices to see how my endurance was, and my knee gave out before I even hit the field. A trip back to the hospital showed that I would probably need at least another two surgeries, but even with that, I’d never play football again.”
“Oh, Lucas, I’m so sorry.”
And that was what he had wanted to avoid: her pity. Now that he had started, however, he had to finish. “I had a team of doctors encouraging me, but my agents and coaches had pretty much moved on and all of the endorsement deals closed. I realized I had no reason to have the surgeries. They weren’t going to give me what I wanted most: my career back. Why should I subject myself to more pain and therapy and recovery for nothing?”
“But it wouldn’t have been for nothing; you wouldn’t have this pain! You wouldn’t have to worry about watching what you do.” Emma stopped and thought for a moment. “Oh, gosh, Lucas. Is that why you removed yourself from everything and everyone? So that no one would know that you weren’t fully recovered?”
His eyes bore into hers. “I didn’t want anyone’s pity, just like I don’t want yours.”
“It’s not pity that I’m feeling, Lucas, it’s…”
“What? What is it, Emma? Are you telling me that right now you’re not sitting there thinking poor Lucas? That you don’t wish things could be different for me?”
Emma’s gaze hardened. “Actually, no. I’m thinking what an egotistical jackass you are. You had the opportunity to live the kind of life that most people dream of, and because you couldn’t keep having that one, you threw another one away. Some people don’t have the means to recover from a catastrophic accident and have no choice but to go through their lives with their impairments. You chose to keep yours and hide away. So no, Lucas, I don’t pity you; I think you’re a coward.”
Lucas made to try and stand up and then thought better of it. “That’s right,” she mocked, “you can’t get up. You have an injury of your own making. Sit there and wallow in the sheltered world you created.” Turning from him, she stalked to the doorway where her bags were. “I’m going to get dressed,” she stated. “I may not be able to leave here, but I don’t have to sit here with you and your bad temper.”
“You wanted to know all the gory details, Emma,” he reminded her.
“You’re right; I did. I guess I just didn’t expect such a disappointing tale. My mistake. From now on I’ll keep my curiosity to myself.” Lifting her bags, she headed toward the bedroom and shut the door behind her.
Lucas’s first instinct was to go after Emma and defend himself, tell her how wrong she was, but what was the point? She was right. Lucas created a world where he was by himself in a misery of his own choosing. No, he hadn’t chosen to get injured, but he had chosen to stay that way.
He sighed heavily. In less than twenty-four hours Emma had learned his deepest secret, the one he hadn’t shared with anyone. Now what was he supposed to do? His knee throbbed, and all Lucas wanted to do was howl and rage at the unfairness of it all. He’d been a professional football player, dammit! He’d made more money than he’d known what to do with, and had his pick of women any night of the week. Now look at him: he was sitting in a secluded house in the mountains unable to walk across the room and face a tiny slip of a woman.
Thoughts of their earlier kiss came to his mind and Lucas gave a mirthless laugh. He’d known that Emma was attracted to him well before this weekend. He’d seen it in the way she would watch him or smile at him whenever he went into the office. But when he’d touched her, especially this morning, he’d discovered just how much he wanted her. He wanted Emma with a fierceness that had nothing to do with the way he’d been denying his body for way too long and everything to do with the woman before him.
What was he supposed to do now? If things had been different, if there’d been no tow truck to disturb them, Lucas had no doubt he’d have taken Emma to bed and not let her up until it was time to take her home after the roads had cleared. In the span of a few short hours, however, everything had changed. Her opinion of him certainly had, and Lucas was in too much pain, mentally and physically, to deal with seduction.
Turning his head, he glanced at the bedroom door and wondered when she was going to come back out.
On the other side of the door, Emma lay curled up on Lucas’s bed. What had possessed her to go on such a rant? She was normally way more even-tempered. She certainly never pushed someone when they were down, and Lucas was most certainly down. He didn’t deserve her cruelty, he deserved compassion. Had she given him any? No. That was a bitter pill for her to swallow.
While her job was certainly not a factor in what had just transpired, Emma couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen come Monday morning when she was back in the office and Mr. Montgomery found out how hideously she’d treated his son. She groaned and curled up even tighter on the bed.
The clock read that it was barely one in the afternoon, and between the disturbed sleep the previous night and the emotional toll of their argument, Emma decided that with nothing else better to do, she’d give in to the urge to nap. Maybe everything would look better after she’d slept and cleared her head a little.
It wasn’t the coward’s way out, she reminded herself, it was simply a matter of doing what was necessary to not make this bad situation even worse.
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