He had screwed the pooch. Big time. Travis ran his hands through his thinning and graying hair. What was he to do now? But he knew the answer to that. He had to apologize. Explain as best he could.
He laid the quilt on the arm of the couch. It was beautiful. He didn’t know what she was talking about. All those points and binding stuff. It was perfect. Maybe not as perfect as its maker, but far better than he deserved.
That was just it. She didn’t owe him anything. Couldn’t she see that? Not her first quilt and certainly not that kiss. He could never live with himself if he took advantage of her like that.
He sighed as he stood up and walked down the darkened hallway. He could hear her tears through the closed door. He thought about going back to the study. Maybe it was best if he just let things settle a bit? Perhaps talk to her tomorrow? When things were calmer, less volatile? When his cock was not still hard and throbbing for that heat, he would have sworn ground against it with each caress of his tongue against hers.
Fuck, this was a bad idea. But something told him if they did not settle this now, it might be too late. And he could not let them happen. As hard as it was keeping things in the ‘friend zone,’ he could not imagine his life without his girls. Not anymore. He just had to come up with the right words to make her understand. She did not owe him anything. If anything, he owed them. His whole life. Where would he be now if not for them? For that Christmas miracle.
Now he needed another one. A New Year’s one. Because he could not begin this new year with this all standing between them. Travis forced himself to knock softly. He did not want to wake up his dad or Angel. He waited. And waited. He considered knocking a bit louder.
He could still hear her crying. Perhaps she had not heard him knock? But if he knocked any louder, he was sure to wake the others. He tried the knob. It gave. He hated invading her privacy like this. But they needed to talk. To clear the air. He had to explain.
He pushed the door open. His breath caught in his throat. Key-Key was sprawled across his bed. Her face half-turned into his pillow. Her breasts strained against the white cotton of her t-shirt. He would swear he could make her nipples through the thin fabric. He must be imagining things. They could not be hard, begging for his…
He had to stop this. This was what got them in the position, to begin with. His inappropriate thoughts about… His wife? What the hell had he been thinking? Listening to his father. He should have found some other way to help them out. He should have realized how impossible it would be to be married to this woman and not want… More. Everything. A real marriage.
But she deserved so fucking much more than a beat-up old man who would probably never be able to hold a job. Whose dreams were haunted with the faces and screams of dead men. Including the one, she had loved. This was all just so impossible.
Yet, here they were. And there was no denying how well Breeanne was doing. His father too. Not since his mother’s death had Travis seen the man smile and laugh like he had these past few weeks. It was as if having them here gave his dad a new lease on life. It certainly had him. Hell, until tonight, he had liked to believe that even Key-Key liked it here.
No, they had to settle this. Now. Before that clock down the hall rang in a new year.
He sat on the foot of the bed. She must have felt the weight shift because Keisha pulled the old blanket tighter about her chest. She wiped her face with her arm and looked up at him with swollen eyes that glistened in the gentle glow of the bedside lamp.
She shook her head against his pillow, “No, this is all my fault. I am the one that should be apologizing. I shouldn’t have… It was stupid. As soon as it’s safe, we’ll pack up…”
“No, you can’t. You can’t go. This is your home now. You and Bree. She likes it here,” he pleaded in desperation, reaching for any argument that he could as his heart seemed to explode in his chest. He could not lose them.
“Please, Key-Key. I promise I’ll never touch you again. I’m sorry. I know I’m too old. Too messed up. That a woman like you deserves so much more than I can ever give. I’ll move out to the old house. Just as soon as Chad and I can fix it up. You won’t have to see me much. Just please…”
She sat bolt upright in the bed. The quilt fell away, and he did everything he could to keep his eyes on her face and not let them drift back to those breasts that were driving him insane beneath that damned almost translucent fabric. Fuck, who would have thought an old-wife beater t-shirt would be sexier than some fancy sheer lace number from those posh lingerie shops?
“What? What did you say, Travis?”
He forced his eyes to meet hers. He could do this. He had to. He could not lose them now. “I said, I’m sorry. I never meant for you to feel that you owed me anything. Especially not…”
His hands tightened in his lap. He had to look away. As much as this woman deserved the truth, he just could not look into those eyes right now. “You don’t owe me anything, Key-Key. Especially not sex. I never want you to think that there are strings attached. That I expect sex…”
He knew he was only making things worse, but he needed her to understand. “As I said, I know I’m way too old for you. And that I can’t give ya’ll all the things you deserve. I’m just a broken-down old jarhead. I get that. I don’t want you to… Not out of some misplaced gratitude. And I sure don’t want to be a pity fuck.”
His heart stopped when that soft hand cupped his cheek and turned his face. He tried to keep his head down. But Keisha lifted his chin, and he had no choice but to look at her. “You think that I came to you out of pity or gratitude? Do you honestly believe that, Travis?”
His throat was too tight to speak, so he nodded. He felt the moisture gathering in his eyes. Maybe he should be ashamed of the tears. Marines didn’t cry. But he learned sometimes tears were the only way to wash away some of the pain. It was just that usually, he took to the woods. He rarely let anyone, even Chad or his dad, see him like this.
She smiled and brushed a tear from his cheek. Then she leaned her forehead against his. “Well, at least, I’m glad it wasn’t that you aren’t interested. The rejection was sort of getting to me. Let me tell you a secret. I’ve never tried to seduce a man before. And I thought I must have done something wrong or that you weren’t interested in me.”
“Wait, did you just say you were trying to seduce me?”
“I guess trying is the operative word. I don’t seem to be any good at it.”
“Good at it? Hell, I almost came with you in my lap. But, Key-Key, I don’t understand. Why? Why would you want to? With someone like me?”
“Someone like you? You mean kind. Generous. Caring. Always looking out for everyone else. Does whatever it takes to keeps his promises. What woman wouldn’t want a man like that?”
“But… I mean…”
Whatever he was going to say was lost in the taste of her lips and the feel of those soft feminine curves against his body. By the time they came up for air, his shirt had disappeared, and he was the one laying on his back in the bed.
“I don’t understand, Key-Key.”
Her hands stilled on the bottom of that shirt. “Then let’s get somethings clear before we finish things. I am not doing this out of gratitude. Though I will always be grateful for everything you have done for us. From bringing that letter that gave me closure, to marrying me and giving us a life I never dared to dream of, to my only second ever Christmas present. But this certainly is not a pity fuck.”
She leaned down. Her lips were almost touching his as she whispered, “I love you, Travis Baker. And the funny thing is I’m not even sure when that happened. And if you want the truth, from the moment I opened that door in Atlanta, all I wanted was to throw myself in your arms and kiss you until nothing else mattered.”
He lifted his head and captured her lips, and her sweetness exploded in him from the top of his head to his toes that curled in his socks. “Then, I have a wonderful idea of how we can ring in the new year, Mrs. Baker.”
The snow began to fall. Huge flakes twinkled in the warm, soft light that drifted from the house windows. Three figures stood hidden within the cocoon of those East Texas pines.
“Looks like my part here is done. Good job, you two.”
The dark-skinned young man smiled at the older woman by his side as the older man spoke again.
“Are you sure about this? You know you don’t have to?”
“No, sir, I’ve been waiting for this moment for years. I want to be part of my family again.”
The man nodded his head. The power of these karmic contracts never ceased to amaze even angelic beings. The law of love was more potent than anything. It was the source from which all else flowed. It was a divinity to which even the gods bowed low. With all their flaws and frailties, these humans indeed held the most incredible power in the whole universe.
“Alright then, I’ll leave you here. Good luck. May this life be all you dream.” He turned from the spirit who had once inhabited the human body known as Brian Moultrie. “And you? Miss Addie Mae?”
The woman turned to stare into the darkness as if seeking something unseen. Then she reached out for the young man’s hand, “You go. I’m going to stay. I want to wait for him. I want another fifty years with the man I have loved through all eternity.”
With tears in his eyes, the young man squeezed her hand. “It won’t be long now.”
“I know. And you will be there to take care of them. To comfort Travis and our girls. I promise you, we’ll both see you again one day. And even if you don’t know who we are, I know that you’ll understand on some level. I always do with that man. Until then…”
They never heard that old clock striking down the hallway. They had fallen asleep in one another’s arms. The perfect ending to a challenging year. And the ideal beginning of a new life together. As a family.
And down the hall, a smile curled on the lips of the young angel. She was not sure what the dream was but knew it meant a happier tomorrow.
In his bed, Bill Baker stirred. It had been hard getting to sleep without her. When you fell asleep next to the same woman for fifty years, well, nothing would ever be the same. He smiled as he heard that old clock chiming in the new year.
He knew it would be his last. But he was alright with that. His boy was home. Safe. And he had a good woman this time. Someone who would love him through the bad times as well as the good. And they had friends, old and new, that would support them. And in this life, that was all that really mattered.
He closed his eyes as that twelfth dong chimed. His dreams this night were sweet. Her face was so clear that he could almost feel his Addie Mae by his side. Somethings lasted an eternity.