Posts tagged “sister

Sanctuary, Chapter 1

Posted on 12/05/2017

“Thanks brother,” J.R. Obed said graciously as he patted Clement Teka, his brother-in-law on the back. The two men shared smiles and a handshake before J.R. took his place beside his teary bride.

Clement grimaced at the sight of her big brown eyes glimmering with tears. “What bride goes to her honeymoon in tears? It’s Dubai, for goodness’ sake not Arlington. No offense to Arlington—”

“Oh come here, you big doofus,” Darah laughed amid her tears and flung her arms around his neck.

“Be careful,” he said, giving J.R. a pointed look over her head. “You’re carrying precious cargo.” He finally drew her back by her slender shoulders and scanned her features. “What happened to my tough, no-nonsense sister?” His thumb rubbed a stray tear that fell down her cheek.

“She’ll be back in a few months,” J.R. quipped as Clement released Darah and she moved back into her husband’s arms. Placing a hand over his wife’s protruding stomach, J.R. smirked and earned himself a dig in his side from his wife’s unrelenting elbow. He grunted in reply. “My bad, she never left.”

Darah clucked her tongue and turned back to face her older brother. Her brow furrowed slightly, concern etched in his face. “When do you leave?”

Clement pocketed his hands, one fiddling with car keys. “In a week.”

“Will you get to talk with Eli before you go?”

Again Clement and J.R. exchanged a look before he looked down at his sister, giving her a gentle smile. “Give him some space, D… he’s figuring things out.”

That was not at all what she wanted to hear. Darah frowned. “We’ve given him space. It’s eating Abe alive and I just wanna shake—” she paused when J.R.’s hand rested on her shoulder.

“Relax,” her level-headed husband of a few months said gently, his hand kneading the tension between her shoulder blades. “Like Junior said, he’s figuring things out… and Abe understands that.”

“Well I don’t,” she shot back, impatience clear in her tone.

“That’s because you’re not a man… thank God,” Clement quipped and flashed his frustrated sister a smile. Then his gaze shifted over their heads to the security line. “You better get going. The line’s long.”

The tension eased from Darah’s face and she glanced over at the security line. Whipping her head to J.R., she nodded before looking to Clement. “We have to go.”

“I know,” Clement dead-panned and accepted yet another hug. He laughed when she held on a moment longer, leaving J.R. to wrestle with her two carry-on bags and the roll-on suitcase. It was Darah’s first international trip and her naive excitement was definitely showing. “Get going, Squirt.” He pressed a kiss to her temple and released her.

Her gaze stayed on him even as she followed J.R. toward the line. “Be careful on your way back.”

Clement merely smiled and waved to both, then once both were addressed by the stern-faced TSA agent and Darah had to turn away, Clement finally dropped his hand. Still, he waited until they’d been cleared and sent down the priority check line, thanks to Darah’s heavy pregnancy and J.R.’s connections. It didn’t take long before they were cleared at the other side and he caught J.R.’s face and waved. With a sigh, Clement finally turned away and headed for the bathroom before driving home.

“Okay,” Karen breathed a sigh, adjusting the strap of her bag on her shoulders. She turned away from the security line and faced the crew of family members standing before her. She smiled at their expressions conflicted. “This is it. Smile a little, it’s just a vacation.”

“A long vacation,” Deidre Wells grumbled, stepped forward to adjust the stiff neck of Karen’s caftan blouse. Her eyes swept over her youngest daughter’s face, a furrow appearing in her brow. “You have your passport and medical card?”

Karen refrained from rolling her eyes. Instead, she patted the pocket of her jeans jacket. “Got it right here, Mama. Relax.”

“How can I when this is your first international—“

“Dee, take it easy,” Gabriel Wells said, placing a sustaining hand on his wife’s shoulders. His eyes crinkled in the corners as he gave his daughter a smile. “She’ll be fine.”

“Thanks for the confidence, Dad.” She smiled when he winked and then shifted her gaze to her sister who looked ready to weep. “Oh Lord,” Karen muttered in mid-laugh. “Not again.”

Samina Wells-Chance sniffed and shook her head. “Sorry, I can’t help it.” She too stepped forward and threw her arms around her youngest sister’s shoulders. “Call us when you arrive.”

“At my layover or final destination?” Karen asked, staying in Samina’s arms for a moment longer than usual. As her mother mentioned, this was her first trip abroad and to Africa, no doubt. Despite her bravado, she was nervous and somewhat afraid of what waited for her.

“All cities, Karen,” Deidre said in a voice that brooked no argument. Her daughters disengaged from their embrace and Deidre stepped in when Samina moved toward her father, resting her hand on her slightly-protruding stomach. Deidre squeezed Karen in a tight hug and Karen made a face over her shoulder, invoking a chuckle from both her father and sister.

“I’ll be fine, Mom,” Karen said, careful to keep exasperation from her tone. “I’m not a teenager.” And just as she said that, a young boy sauntered past them with no entourage of teary-eyed mother and sister to escort him. Karen watched as the boy confidently approached the stern-faced TSA officer, presenting his passport and ticket before walking forward after receiving permission to continue.

She sighed, releasing her mother. “Stop worrying. Besides…” her eyes skittered over Samina’s pregnant belly. “You’ve got two and a half grandbabies to worry about. By the time I get back, my third niece or nephew would be here.”

Samina made a face. “Don’t remind me.” She sniffed and ducked her face against her father’s shoulder. Gabriel smirked and wrapped an arm about his first-born’s shoulder, pulling her close.

“Oh brother…” Karen rolled her eyes heavenward. “I better go before this one starts crying again.”

“I can’t help it!” Samina protested, sniffling.

The intercom beeped and an announcement about international flights sounded over the speaker. Gabriel met Karen’s gaze and nodded. “You better get going.”

Karen nodded, grateful that her father wasn’t as emotional or she would’ve cried too. As much as she was excited about this long-awaited planned trip, her stomach was in tight knots of anxiety. What if she was making a mistake going on her own? Maybe she should’ve waited for Samina to deliver and then plan for the two of them to go together. Topher had already volunteered to plan his work travel around their plans so he could stay with their two kids while Samina traveled… so why couldn’t she wait?

“Make sure you take pictures,” Samina said, pulling Karen out of her reverie.

“And keep your phone on,” Deidre said pointedly, still adjusting Karen’s collar.

Karen managed not to roll her eyes. “Mom, that’s Samina not me. I always have my phone on…. Besides, international calls are expensive, so I’ll just send emails instead.”

“We’ll take care of the bill,” Gabriel inserted firmly and Karen could only smile. Her father didn’t say much about her going on this long pilgrimage to the Motherland, but she knew he was in support even though he worried as the others did.

“Thanks Daddy,” she said gently, earning a wink from him. Then drawing a breath, she smiled through the frazzled nerves. “Okay, I better go.”

“You have everything you need? Cash, calling card, your contacts?” Samina asked, proving fretting was in her blood.

Karen merely nodded. If she was in their shoes, she’d probably be just as bad. “Yup,” she said confidently, patting the breast-pocket of her jacket. After another round of hugs and kisses for everyone including her unborn nephew/niece, Karen finally turned toward the TSA agent who eyed her curiously.

“First trip out of country,” he drawled while checking her ticket.

“Yup,” Karen answered with no reaction to his obvious censure. Collecting her documents, she nodded her thanks as he directed her to the long line of people waiting to unload their bags and get scanned. Tamping a sigh, she turned back to look at her family one last time. “Say hi to everyone for me.”

“Will do,” Samina promised, parking her hands on her stomach. “Love you.”

“Love you too.” Karen smiled, her heart warmed as she watched them blow her kisses and winks before they ushered her pregnant sister away. Ignoring the pang in her chest, Karen drew in a breath and turned to face the front. Standing on her tiptoes, she quietly counted the people in front of her and fought a groan. It would take at least thirty minutes before she would reach her gate terminal. Shaking her head, she lowered her heels and lifted her phone from her pocket to browse her email.

A few minutes later, someone tapped her shoulder. Karen glanced up and behind her, eyes wide in surprise. “Clement,” she said and smiled in greeting. “What are you doing—you’re leaving already?”

Clement’s smile was warm and visible since he’d shaved the beard he had for months. She could clearly see his handsome face, most especially his youthful features. “Not yet,” he said in that deep melodious voice that matched the twinkle in his eye. “But I see you’re on your way.”

Karen smiled demurely, patting her breast pocket for her passport. “That I am.”

His smile turned crooked and his deep-brown eyes did a sweep of her face. Feeling subconscious, Karen arched a brow. “So what are you doing here?”

“Just dropped off the newlyweds for their long-awaited honeymoon.”

Karen laughed softly, inching a bit when the line finally started moving. On the other side of the barricade, Clement also inched forward. “Oh that’s right,” Karen replied with a smile. “I forgot they’d wanted to wait a bit because of Mr. Obed. How is he?”

“He’s fine,” Clement answered easily of his in-law. “He’s inherited my meddling—I mean doting sisters so he’s in good hands.”

She held a hand over her mouth, trying to contain the giggle. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that slip up.” She inched yet again and Clement took another step.

He bowed his head slightly though his twinkling gaze never strayed from hers. “How magnanimous of you.” His eyes then shifted over her head and he straightened. “I think it’s your turn.”

Just like that, the anxiety rolled over her in waves. Karen swallowed and she looked to the young teenager standing next to her. “Excuse me, you can go ahead of me.”

Clement’s brow arched as she allowed four more people to skip her in line. “When’s your flight?”

Karen bit her bottom lip as she fumbled with her passport, the ticket almost dropping if not for her quick hand to catch it. “Uh… in two hours.”

He searched her features. “You nervous?”

His gentle voice made her pause and she nodded, expression chagrined. “A bit.”

Clement’s searching eyes should’ve made her squirm, but it didn’t. After two more curious travelers passed Karen, he pulled his hands from his pockets and held them out to her.

Karen blinked at his open palms and then at his face. “Hmm?”

“Give me your hands for a minute,” he said, tone patient.

With only a moment of hesitation, Karen slowly placed her hands in his. She drew a breath when his long fingers closed around her palms and she peeked up at him, almost forgetting to breathe when she saw that his eyes were closed! Was he about to do what she thought he was about to—?

“Our Father in heaven,” Clement began, his voice gentle and warm as it was the day he officiated his sister’s wedding ceremony in their family’s backyard months ago.

Moments later, Karen’s eyes fluttered open to his and she whispered a soft ‘Amen.’ His dimpled smile stole her breath away and for a moment, Karen forgot where they were… or the anxiety that once rolled violently in her stomach.

He squeezed her hands before releasing it. “God speed on your journey.”

Karen gave him a smile and before she could think to regret anything, she closed the distance and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you,” she said, closing her eyes as she held on for another moment, wanting to prolong the time and the peace his prayer and presence had gifted her.

Struck by the surprise embrace, it took only a few seconds for Clement to return the hug. He kept it brief, squeezing her shoulder before releasing her. “You’re welco—”

His eyes widened when she pressed a kiss to his cheek. Tongue-tied, Clement watched as she drew away and flashed him a smile. He still didn’t say anything, standing there with his mouth propped open as she maneuvered her way through the gate toward the impatient TSA agent that barked for her passport and ticket. His brow furrowed, feeling annoyed by the agent’s treatment but when Karen peered back at him to wave, he straightened.

“Take care!” they said at the same time, and Karen giggled. “You too!” she called out, waving once more before hurrying to the next shortest line.

A bemused smile quirked his lips as he watched her pull off her sneakers and place them on the conveyor belt. He couldn’t help but chuckle when she forgot to put her phone on the conveyor belt and had to be instructed to do so. Clement shook his head as she took it all in stride, not frown in place.

His grin deepened when she successfully made it through the scanner and did a fist pump when it didn’t beep.

“Cute,” he muttered and stretched a bit to see her pass through the gate until he couldn’t see her anymore. Then Clement finally turned away, heading for the exit towards the parking garage. He had only a few hours left in the day and his first stop was dinner with baby brother Eleazar.

On the short trek to the garage, Clement dialed his brother’s cell and waited. After the second ring, it went straight to voicemail. Frowning, Clement pulled back the phone to stare at the screen.

“Something’s wrong, Junior,” Darah had complained on the way to the airport, fretting as she always did when it came to their youngest brother Eleazar. “I swear, ever since he moved in with his grandmother he’s been acting dodgy and it kills me.”

Clement’s mood darkened as he ducked into the car. He’d been against Eleazar getting close to his biological grandmother, mother to a woman who had abandoned him at the foot of a church dumpster days after his birth. Though the older woman insisted that she would’ve stopped her daughter from abandoning Eleazar so cruelly and causing years of trauma, Eleazar couldn’t separate her from her cruel daughter who at least had the decency to die soon after her unforgivable crime.

He dialed the number again. His fingers curled around the steering wheel, thinking about the woman who put a rift between him and his brother. Though he’d been absent for a few years and the distance could be blamed for the strain in their once-tight bond, Clement blamed the elderly woman for why Eleazar now avoided his adopted family and treated them with a cool attitude whenever he came by to visit his nephews and nieces.

Clement slammed a fist against the steering wheel when the call rang four times before going straight to voicemail. Summoning what patience was left, Clement waited for the beep to leave a message.

“Eli, I leave in four days. Call me as soon as you can.” He swallowed hard. “I love you, bro…” Then with a sigh, he disconnected the call and tossed it to the passenger’s seat before reversing from the parking spot. For now, all he could do was wait and pray.

Unfortunately, Clement was not a paragon of patience.

<<Cover Page || Chapter 2>>

Lighthouse, Chapter 24

Posted on 30/08/2016

In the two-room suite of Bart and Geraldine’s office, the first three Teka siblings sat in companionable silence. Bart sat behind the executive desk, Abe on the opposite chair, and Clement perched on the window sill; all three wearing pensive expressions. Although they were not biological brothers, these three reacted quite similarly in perplexing situations—initially, at least. Astonishment… and then the rest depended on their different temperaments.

“Maybe I didn’t pay that much attention during that guardianship class,” Bart finally spoke up. “But what the Sam’s hill is emancipation?”

Using profanity was one of Bart’s vices, especially when things bothered him greatly. Being a dad of four impressionable children meant he had to employ milder terms in expressing his irritation.

Abe remained silent. Though his slow-to-anger attitude made him the more approachable brother, he bottled too much inside. The only way any of his family members could tell was by the pain in his eyes. Though this time, he kept his head bent, still reeling from the letter he’d found in Eleazar’s room hours ago.

“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” Clement spoke up, crossing one ankle over the other. “The letter was dated three years ago and since we knew nothing about it, he probably changed his mind. Although I don’t see why he couldn’t wait two more years to be legally independent and leave. This emancipation nonsense, who taught him that?”

“Not even Darah, with all her teenage dramatics, mentioned such rubbish.” Bart’s brows bent in a deep V. “But seriously, was that really in the orientation because I never learned about it. Back when Mom and Dad used to really drive us insane, did any of you consider it?”

Clement shook his head and scratched his chin. “Did we have a choice? Heck, their discipline and nagging sure beat living in a different hellhole every other six months.”

Out of the three, Clement had been through the horrible foster system and bore deep scars from it. His deeply-rooted bitterness stemmed from being moved from one bad foster home to another, and though it had shaped his life mission as an overseas orphanage chaplain, it had also hardened him. Even though he’d “found God” through his job, he was still battling demons from the past.

“Maybe that’s why…”

Bart and Clement looked up at the sound of Abe’s voice. He kept his head bent.

“Maybe he thought the alternative was better.” He put a shaky hand to his forehead, missing the worried look his brothers exchanged. “Even now, he thinks we’re… stifling him too much.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bart groused. “We’re not nearly as stern as Mom and Dad were with us.”

“Yeah well I told you we shouldn’t have let him meet that woman,” Clement pushed off the sill and walked over to Abe, placing a hand on his shoulder. He frowned at Bart. “The minute I saw her, I knew she was bad news. I bet she was the one that put that silly idea in his head. Emancipation, my foot.”

Bart arched a brow. “Mrs. Crane? Pshaw! The kid’s old enough to know better. Since he turned eighteen, he’s acting like a punk but wants to be treated like a man.”

“Weren’t we all like that once?” Abe countered gently.

“Not if Mr. and Mrs. Teka had anything to say about it,” Bart quipped, irritation forgotten for a brief moment as he thought of their late parents. “Dad didn’t hesitate putting us in check, and don’t let Mom get a hold of your ear…”

All three brothers grimaced, Clement rubbing his ear absentmindedly.

Then Abe shrugged off Bart’s hand and reached in his pocket. His brothers curiously eyed the device he pulled out.

“What’s that funny looking thing?” Clement asked, watching Abe strap it on. “A watch?”

“A fitness something-or-other,” Bart answered, leaning back in his chair. “Darah persuaded Phoebe to buy Abe one, and now Geraldine keeps threatening to get me one.”

Clement chuckled and peered over Abe’s shoulder as he fiddled with it. “Looks like a prison bracelet. What is it, a tracking device?”

“Maybe so.” Bart crossed his arms over his head. “All Abe needs to know is it monitors his blood press…” he paused at the frown wrinkling Abe’s forehead. “Is it high? Bro, we’ll figure Eli’s situation out. Stop stressing yourself—“

“No, Phoebe called a gazillion times,” Clement said. “You’re in trouble?”

“Or maybe she saw the letter. Where did you leave it—?”

The front door of the suite flung open, startling the three men. A wild-eyed Geraldine stormed in, holding a wailing Augustus on her hip. “Where in Sam’s hill are your phones?! We’ve been calling you clowns and you were just here chilling?!”

The three men shot to their feet, Bart coming around the desk. When Augustus whined for him, he plucked his last born from Geraldine and kissed the tears away. “What happened? Why is he crying?”

Clement smoothed Augustus’ ruffled curls. “Poor guy.”

A now-docile Augustus propped his tear-stained cheek against Bart’s shoulder and Geraldine ran fingers through her disheveled mane. “He saw me crying, and started… been crying since we left daycare.”

Alarmed, Bart turned to his wife. “You were crying? Why?”

“What happened?” Abe asked gently, concern etched in his features.

“Especially you, with the call feature on your tracker, should’ve known we called a million times.”

“So it is a tracker,” Clement muttered, shaking his head.

Abe frowned. “I just turned it on, what happened?”

Geraldine rolled her eyes. “You’re supposed to wear it at all times, Abe. Look, if Phoebe finds out—”

“What happened?!”

She and Augustus flinched when the three Teka men snapped in irritation. Then she sighed. “You three need to get down to the hospital, ASAP.”

Their eyes widened. “What for now?” Clement asked, articulating their unease.

Geraldine’s face fell and her lips started to quiver. Bart shifted his son out of view. “Babe, what is it?”

“Darah was taken to the emergency. It’s the baby. Phoebe’s with her…”

Clement muttered an expletive and no one had time to call him out for it. They all remembered the times Phoebe had been rushed to emergency, only to miscarry the babies she’d carried. The thought of Darah facing the same fate, propelled Abe and Clement for the door, almost tripping over each other to exit the office suite.

Bart stalled, watching Geraldine wipe stray tears from her cheeks. He didn’t dare ask what happened, the look in her eyes revealed all and chilled him to the bone.

She then nodded, confirming his fears, and opened her arms to carry Augustus. “You head down first.”

“No, let’s go together,” Bart grabbed her hand instead, knowing Geraldine needed to be there as much as any of them. As far as he was concerned, she and Phoebe had become Darah’s sisters the moment they married into the family.

Geraldine let her husband lead her down to where Abe and Clement had pulled up in front of the building. Clement rolled down the window, his grave expression matching Abe’s. “You coming?”

Bart nodded. “We’ll drop off August with Mama first.”

“No,” Geraldine protested with a shaky voice. “Go with them, I’ll meet you—”

“C’mon, let’s go!” Abe barked from the driver’s seat.

Geraldine plucked Augustus from her husband. “I’ll meet you. Go.”

Bart nodded and kissed his family before climbing in the seat behind Clement. As Abe drove away, Augustus started to whine and Geraldine jostled him against her hip. “You have to be a big brave boy for Mommy and Daddy, okay?” Her eyes watered, walking across the lot to the minivan. “No crying, okay?”


L.J. stirred awake, the sound of the beeping EKG greeting him in an empty room. He groaned and closed his eyes, groggy but without the searing pain. Thank God. Now if someone could do something about the cumbersome mask around his mouth. He reached for it just as the door swung open.

“Don’t think about it, Uncle,” Hana berated in a stern tone, carrying in a flask and a book. She nudged the door to close with her hip and continued her trip to his bedside. “You need to keep it on for now.”

He frowned in disapproval, watching her pour out a cup of coffee. Although it wasn’t his favorite kind, his mouth watered for a taste.

“I promise I’ll brew you your favorite once we get out of here…” she took a sip and faked a grimace, though a telltale dimple in her right cheek gave her away.

L.J. sighed forlornly. What a nice girl… if only J.R. would change his mind. The mention of his son had him scanning the room. He frowned and swung his gaze to Hana enjoying her coffee.

“J.R. stepped out for a bit.” She lowered the cup and folded her hands on the bed railing. “Uncle… there’s something you should know.”

The wrinkle between her brow and the conflict in her eyes made the hair on his forearms stand up. L.J. had a sinking feeling he wouldn’t like what she was about to tell him.

J.R. couldn’t keep his eyes off her. He gazed at the curtain of thick lashes laid flat, her parched lips parted in sleep, tendrils of dark curly hair laying against her pixyish face. His fingers itched to touch her, to hover over the rounded tip of her nose and feel her breathing. He needed reassuring that she’d be fine, that she wouldn’t suffer like his mother had in her last moments. Cold frisson rushed through him, sending tremors along his back as it had when Phoebe finally called him back with the dreadful news.

He drew in a breath and it caught in his throat. He choked on it and immediately felt a hand on his back. Phoebe, the only other person in the room. He’d been allowed entry to the room only because the staff believed he was her fiancé. J.R. closed his eyes tight, scolding himself. He should’ve proposed sooner and made her happy with his love. Why did he waste so much time until it was too late.

Phoebe squeezed his shoulder. “It’s a blessing they could save the baby… It’s a relief.”

He just stared at Darah’s peaceful face. For now, she could rest in peace but the blood-chilling fear when Phoebe first informed him of Darah’s condition made him shiver once more. He could’ve lost them both. The thought made his eyes water. His foolish reaction of Darah’s first child not being his and his begrudging the baby’s father for causing a lifetime of drama had caused this fiasco. If she’d lost the baby, Darah would’ve been crushed and he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself.

“Maybe this is a second chance,” Phoebe spoke through J.R.’s musing and she wore a pained expression. “Not many get that chance… Darah is a lucky woman. I pray she knows that and accepts her place as a mother now.” Her eyes glistened with tears as she gazed down at Darah. “My silly, lucky sister…”

The door opened and Darah’s three older brothers stumbled into the room. Phoebe quickly wiped her eyes, but not before Abe saw her. “It’s about time—” the rest of her words were muffled in Abe’s chest as he pulled her to him and held her tight.

“Is she alright?” Bart asked, standing by J.R.’s shoulder. He and Clement frowned at Darah’s still form.

“She’s asleep,” J.R. answered listlessly, returning his eyes to her. How he wished she would open those pretty eyes of hers and melt away the fear that gripped his heart.

“What happened?” Clement muttered. “She was fine when we left her at home.”

Phoebe sniffed back tears invoked by Abe’s touch. “I should’ve insisted she eat and rest. All that running around, the sleepless nights, the stress… it was too much.”

Guilt pricked J.R., as he recalled the night Darah slept on the stiff-backed sofa in his father’s room.

“And why wasn’t she at home?”

“She insisted on going out,” Phoebe mumbled against Abe’s shoulder. “She must’ve met up with her friend, Tess. Thank God the girl was with her or else she would’ve… w-would’ve lost…”

“Friend, my foot.” Bart snorted. “No telling if she wasn’t the one that caused it.”

“No one caused anything,” Abe countered firmly. “Like Phoebe said, thank God she was there… and Darah is fine.” He stroked his wife’s hair while staring at his sister’s sleeping face. “She’ll be fine.”

Clement took the seat Phoebe abandoned for her husband’s arms, and reached for Darah’s hand. Bending his head, he began to pray silently and the family followed suit.

“What’s with the moment of silence?” a feeble voice drew them out of their musing. As they lifted their heads and opened their eyes to Darah laying there staring at them, she gave them a weak smile. “I’m not dead… yet.”

“Oh dear!” Phoebe stepped away from Abe and hurried to Darah’s side, embracing her.

Darah closed her eyes and let herself be hugged tightly. Once Phoebe released her to perch on the bed beside her, she gave her sister-in-law a more convincing smile. “I’m fine.”

“You better be fine,” Bart groused, folding arms across his chest. “You almost gave Abe a heart attack.”

“Sorry about that.” Her gaze skimmed over her brothers, then settled on J.R, smile dimming. “It won’t happen again.”

“It better not,” Clement muttered, squeezing her hand before releasing it.

J.R. swallowed hard as relief swept over him like a rushing wave, stealing his breath and his words. He’d almost lost her, all because of his foolhardiness.

Her eyes searched his face and her features tensed visibly. “Guys, can you leave us alone for a minute?”

The brothers didn’t say a word, didn’t move a step. Phoebe glanced from Darah to J.R. whose gazes were locked with such intensity, and stood to her feet. “Sure, we can do that. C’mon, boys.” She patted Clement’s shoulder, hooked an arm under Bart’s and Abe’s, and tugged them towards the door.

Clement quietly stood and followed after them, closing the door behind him.

With only the hiss of the humidifier and the faint sounds of her siblings talking outside, Darah and J.R. just stared at each other for what seemed like forever. Then Darah released a sigh and lowered her gaze. “I want you to do me a favor, J.R.”

Her gently-spoken words unlocked something in him and he reached for her hand, cradling it between his. “Anything.” In fact, he was willing to die for her if the need presented itself–his love for her was that strong, that overwhelming.

Her lashes fluttered against her cheek. “I want you to forget me. I want you to move on.”

These words pierced him like a sharp dagger. His jaw slackened and he gaped at her. What on earth was she saying?

At his stunned silence, Darah raised her head and pinned her tear-filled eyes on him. “I want you to leave me alone and go away.”

<<Chapter 23 || Chapter 25>>

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