Chapter Eighteen

"Come on, Jack. You can do it." Rose stood a few feet away from Jack, watching him balance on his crutches. "Just move your leg forward. That's all there is to it."

Jack grimaced in frustration. Gaining the ability to stand had given him hope that he would soon be back to normal, but several weeks had passed and he had yet to be able to move without the help of the wheelchair. It sounded so simple—just put one foot in front of the other—and he had done that every day without thinking until Cal had shot him. Now it seemed like the most insurmountable task possible. Even a baby had an easier time walking than him.

His mouth set, Jack pushed one foot forward against the floor, sliding it over the wood. This time, he would do it. This time, he would take that first step.

He almost made it. Then, as before, his other leg buckled, sending him tumbling to the floor.

"God dammit!" he swore, sitting there in frustration, wondering if he would ever be able to even begin to walk again. He went to physical therapy three times a week, but he hadn't progressed beyond standing. Even in the water, he was unable to walk, although falls weren't nearly so painful there.

Rose knelt down to help him, hugging him around the pillows she had helped him strap around himself for protection against falls. He had taken several painful falls, one resulting in a sprained ankle, before Rose had come up with the idea of having him wear pillows to cushion himself.

"You'll make it eventually," she reassured him, pulling the wheelchair over and helping him drag himself into it.

"Yeah, right," he mumbled, his face clouded. No matter how hard he tried, he never seemed to get anywhere. Every attempt at walking had ended in him falling, although sometimes Rose had been able to catch him before he hit the ground.

Rose put her arms around him, pressing her forehead against his. "You'll make it, Jack. You have too much determination not to make it."

"It's not going to work." He pulled out of her embrace, blinking against a sudden rush of tears. He wasn't one to give up easily, but all his weeks of hard work seemed to be for nothing—and he wanted more than anything to walk again.

Rose stopped him as he began to wheel away from her, understanding how much this upset him. "Jack…"

His hand moved to his face quickly as a stray tear escaped his eye. "Leave me alone, Rose."

"No." Rose moved to stand in front of him, then carefully lowered herself into his lap. "I won't leave you alone." She took his face in her hands, forcing him to look at her. "Jack, whether or not you ever walk again…some things aren't going to change. I love you, and that isn't going to change. We've got a good house to live in, a beautiful little girl who thinks you're wonderful, and I'm making enough money for us to live on by making dresses for the girls and women of Chippewa Falls."

"I don't want you having to support us. I should be doing that."

"Then perhaps you should learn to sew, too." She stopped as he set his jaw. Her words weren't doing much to comfort him.

She stood, but didn't allow him to move away from her. "Jack, I know it's hard, but I honestly do think that you're going to walk again. You managed to move your foot two inches farther than last time, and it took at least an extra second for your other leg to give out. You will walk again, even if takes longer than you'd hoped."

Jack had been sitting silently in the wheelchair, listening but not commenting, until Rose told him that he had done slightly better this time. Raising his head slightly, he looked at her.

"Did I really do better this time, or are you just saying that to make me feel better?"

"You really did better. I wouldn't make up something like that when you're in this kind of mood."

He frowned at her, but then turned the wheelchair back towards the open area he had been practicing in. Reaching for his crutches, he looked at her. "Help me up. I want to try again."

"Jack…are you sure about that?" Rose didn't want him to risk another failure that day, nor did she want him to risk falling and injuring himself.

"Yes, I'm sure. Maybe I just haven't been practicing enough each day."

Rose pressed her lips together in worry, but helped him to his feet anyway. He stood, supported by the crutches and his leg braces. Slowly, he slid his right foot out again, pushing it forward until it was almost enough to be called a full step—if he could get his left leg to cooperate.

Once again, he felt his left leg begin to give out, but Rose rushed to support him, keeping him from falling. He clung stubbornly to his crutches, wavering until he managed to support his own weight again.

"Jack, maybe you need a little more support when you attempt to walk. Maybe if I helped you…"

Jack nodded, determined to make it work this time. "Yes. Let's try it."

Rose moved behind him, her arms around him to provide extra support as he tentatively moved his foot forward again. This time, when his leg began to buckle, he focused all his attention on keeping it straight, and after a moment, he pushed his left foot forward with agonizing slowness, until finally he brought it to stand beside his right foot.

"Jack!" Rose couldn't contain her excitement. "You did it! You took a step!"

Jack stared down at his feet, a tentative smile spreading across his face. "I did. It was a small step, but…I did it." He tightened his grip on his crutches. "Let's see if I can do it again."

Straining his tired legs, he forced each foot forward, a little faster this time. Rose looked over his shoulder, her eyes lighting with joy.

"Jack! You're—"

"Not quite walking yet." Taking a deep breath, he pushed his legs to move forward again, and again, until he had taken five steps. "Rose, I'm doing it! I'm walking!"

"I knew you could do it! I knew you would walk again!"

Jack looked down at his feet, and then, concentrating hard, he lifted his right foot slightly and swung it forward. He wobbled a little, but then, putting his weight on it, he managed to lift his left foot and move it forward.

He looked back over his shoulder, his earlier despondency forgotten. "Rose! I…"

She moved around him quickly, throwing her arms around him. "Jack, I'm so happy for you. You've worked so hard…"

Jack leaned his head forward and kissed her, deeply and spontaneously, one of the few times he had done so since coming out of the coma months before. Rose kissed him back, her eyes shining with joy.

"I love you, Jack," she told him. "I love you so much. Remember when you made me promise not to give up?"

He nodded. "Yes."

"I want you to make me the same promise now. Never give up, Jack. Now matter how hopeless it seems—never give up."

Jack smiled at her, a hint of the old light in his eyes. "I'll never give up, Rose. I promise."

Rose threw her arms around him again, laughing joyfully. Jack laughed, too, until he attempted to take a step backward and stumbled, falling into her arms.

Rose held him tightly, a bit startled, then grinned playfully. "It seems I've swept you off your feet, my love." She giggled, helping him stand again.

Jack laughed, too, in a better mood now than he'd been in a long time.

XXXXX

"Operator, I'd like to make a long distance call to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin."

"Yes, sir. To what location?"

"The O'Connors. And operator, this needs to be a private call."

"Yes, sir." The line hummed as the operator went through the steps to connect him to Chippewa Falls.

Cal waited impatiently, tapping his fingers on the wall. He had to find Rose, and soon. His father had disinherited him just the week before, due to his continuing unmarried state. After he had awakened in one of Philadelphia's best hospitals following Rose's rescue, his father had informed him that he had six months after he was released to find a real wife. Cal had protested that Rose was his wife, and that he would find her and bring her back, but Nathan Hockley had informed him that he had obtained copies of the papers showing Rose to be Jack Dawson's legal wife, and that unless she was widowed or divorced her husband, Cal's marriage to her was null and void.

Cal's face twisted into an angry frown as he contemplated the situation. Rose was his. He had been engaged to her long before she had ever met Dawson, and he was the one who had more than enough money to keep her and her mother comfortable for the rest of their lives. Or he would, if he ever managed to convince his father to change back the will.

Nathan Hockley had disinherited his son in favor of a nephew with a wife and several children, but the nephew had not been informed of that fact, and if Cal could find a wife, his father would change the will again so that his son would inherit everything.

Cal took a deep breath through his mouth, cursing Jack Dawson and his friends. He had once been considered a good catch, with his pick of beautiful debutantes for a wife, but it was Rose who had caught his eye, Rose whose family's finances had been shaky enough to make her an especially easy catch, at least before she had met Dawson.

Angrily, Cal moved his hand to touch his face. He had once been considered a good catch, but no more. The rock that had smashed into his face had done severe damage, and the ugly scars and disfigurement had made him unacceptable in the eyes of the women of high society.

His hand moved over his face, touching the scars as though he hoped that they had miraculously vanished. They hadn't, of course. His nose had been smashed by the rock and had never healed properly, forcing him to breathe through his mouth most of the time. One eye opened only partway, and he could see very little with it. An ugly scar ran from the corner of his mouth down to his chin, where an edge of the rock had caught it and torn it open.

Of course, there were women who would have married him anyway, caring more about his money than his ruined face, but he wanted a woman of his own society, one who would bring her status to the marriage and bring back some of the status he had lost after the scandal involving Rose and his injuries.

Rose was the only woman of his society that he could hope to win. They had been engaged before, after all, and he had learned how to manipulate and control her. The threat of injuring her, of causing her to lose the baby she carried, of turning her mother out on the streets—all had been effective ways of controlling her, although they had grown less effective with time as her hatred of him had grown.

Cal was certain that he could get her back if he found her, though. There was a possibility that she was widowed now—he had seen the bloodstain spreading across Dawson's back after he had shot him, and he might not have survived it. Even if he had—what did he have to offer her? A life of drudgery, as opposed to the luxury that Cal could offer her if she cooperated. And if something had happened to Dawson, she would need someone to take care of her, to provide for her. He couldn't imagine a girl of Rose's upbringing taking care of herself.

Of course, Rose was no longer carrying a baby that he could use to threaten her, but he was certain that he could fix that quickly enough. It was his face that was scarred and mutilated, not the rest of him, and he was sure that he could get her with child quickly enough if he brought her back to Philadelphia. And if Dawson was still alive, Rose would have no choice but to divorce him then—what man would want a wife who was bearing the child of another man?

It was the perfect plan—but only if he could find her. That was why he was calling the O'Connors—they might well know where she was, if she was still in Chippewa Falls, or they might know where she had gone if she had left. Either way, he was determined to find her.

"Hello?"

Cal quickly turned his attention to the phone. "Hello. This is Caledon Hockley. To whom am I speaking?"

"This is Matt O'Connor. We wondered if you were still alive and kicking. What can I do for you, Mr. Hockley?"

"I'm looking for my fiancée. She disappeared again several months ago. I was wondering if you had any idea where she was."

"Dawson's bitch is right here in Chippewa Falls. After she left you, she came back here instead of disappearing like she should have."

"Disappearing like she should have?"

"Yes. If she wanted to get away from you, she shouldn't have come back here. She should have known you'd be looking for her."

"What of Dawson?"

"He's still alive, though he was in a coma for six months after being shot taking her back. Now he's in a wheelchair, and no one knows if he'll ever walk again."

"A wheelchair, eh?" Cal was intrigued in spite of himself. Dawson was still alive, but if he was confined to a wheelchair, he would be that much easier to dispose of.

"They've got a kid, too—a baby girl. Name's Emily."

"A baby? But—"

"The bitch was already pregnant when we sent her back to you. I guess she didn't tell you."

"Oh, she told me, all right. I thought I'd taken care of it." Cal was sure that Rose had miscarried, and yet she had an infant daughter now. What had happened? He had seen the blood, had heard her beg him not to harm her baby. Somehow the baby had survived. But then, what did he know about how women's bodies worked? He knew that he enjoyed being with them, but he really didn't know much about how the female body worked. He had been wrong when he had assumed that Rose had lost the baby.

The thought angered him. She had gotten away from him, married a man who was entirely unsuitable—she shouldn't have had a baby, too, especially after all he had done to make her lose it.

But it didn't matter. Now that he knew where Rose was, he could find her and bring her back. Dawson wouldn't be able to protect or rescue her this time. As for the baby—he would have to find another way to get rid of her.