Chapter 23

I couldn't remember a time in my life when I'd been so afraid. I paced. I worried. I cried. When Glen finally took pity on all of us and agreed to let us wait it out at the airport, I hugged him out of pure relief. At least we'd be a little closer to communications.

The airport wasn't crowded, but it wasn't as comfortable as the restaurant or the house, so the five of us waited there. Melissa was worried, but it didn't keep her from flirting with Glen or casting an eye around the restaurant for interested looks. There were several people sitting at the airport, and a good many of the customers were men.

I had eyes for no one. My worried gaze was fixed on my lap while I tried not to wonder how I could go through life without Mark. I'd never thought about it before. Mark had always seemed immortal. He was so strong and commanding; it didn't occur to me that he was as vulnerable as any man. Now, I had to consider that possibility and it froze my blood.

"I can't stand it," I whispered to Glen, rising. "I'm going out to the airfield."

"Jaime, it may be hours," he protested, walking with me as far as the door.

"I know," I said. I managed a smile. "But if he...when he comes back," I corrected quickly, "I think one of us should be there."

He clenched my shoulders hard. "Jaime, it's not definite that he's coming back. You've got to face that. His plane went down, that's absolutely all I know. The rescuers are searching, but heaven only knows what they'll find!"

I bit my lower lip, hard and my eyes were misty when I raised them. "He's alive," I said. "I know he's alive, Glen."


"Do you think I'd still be breathing if Mark were dead?" I asked in a whisper. "Do you think my heart would be beating?"

He closed his eyes, as he searched for words.

"I'm going outside," I said gently. I turned and left him there.

The skies were still gray, and the sun hadn't come out. I started pacing every time I heard a sound that might be a plane.

Minutes later, Brenda came out to join me. "I wish we knew something," she murmured. "Just whether or not they think he could be alive."

"He's alive," I said confidently.

Brenda stared at the brave face. "I've never been so blind, have I, Jaime?" she asked.


"Come in and have another drink. It won't make that much difference."

"They found him!" Glen yelled from the doorway, his face bright. "The rescue plane's on its way in now!"

"Oh, thank God," Brenda said.

I let the tears run silently down my face. Mark was safe. He was alive. Even if I had to give him up to Melissa, if I never saw him again, it was enough to know he'd be on the same planet with me, waiting. Minutes passed until there came a plane.

I watched the plane with tears in my eyes, until it stopped, the engine cut off, and the door opened.

A big, dark man in an open-necked shirt stepped out of it, and I was running toward him before his feet ever touched the ground.

"Mark!" I screamed, oblivious to the other members of the family coming out of the terminal behind me. I ran like a frightened child seeking refuge.

He opened his arms and caught me up against him, holding me while I ground my cheek against his chest.

"Oh, Mark," I whimpered, "they said you'd gone down, and we didn't know...oh, I'd have died with you! Mark, Mark...I'd have died with you, Mark," I whispered, over and over, my voice muffled as I clung to him.

His big arms tightened around me, his cheek rubbing against my forehead. "I'm all right," he said. "I'm fine, Jaime."

I drew a breath and looked up at him with tears streaming down my face.

"I love you so," I whispered brokenly. "Oh, Mark, I love you so much!"

He stood there frozen; staring down at me with eyes so dark they seemed black.

Embarrassed at having been so blunt, I tugged weakly at his arms and stepped back. "I...I'm sorry," I choked. "I...didn't mean throw myself at you a second time. Melissa told disgusted you were yesterday," I added.

"Melissa told you what?" he asked in a strange loud whisper.

I stepped away from him, but I still clung helplessly to his big arm, walking beside him as we moved to join the others.

"It doesn't matter," I said. "It's all right."

"That's what you think!" he said in a voice I didn't recognize.

Melissa came running to meet him, shooting a death look at me. "Oh, Mark, darling! We were so worried!" she exclaimed, reaching up to kiss him full on the mouth. "How lovely that you're safe!"

Brenda and Glen echoed the greeting, Brenda with tears filling her eyes.

"Close call?" Glen asked.

Mark nodded. "Too close. I wouldn't care to repeat it."

"I'll buy you a drink," Glen said. "You look like you could use one."

"A drink, a hot bath, and a bed," Mark agreed. He glanced at me as I moved away toward Glen. I wouldn't meet his eyes, couldn't.

"I...I'm going to pack," I murmured, turning away.

"Pack?" asked Mark. "Why?"

"I'm going home," I said proudly, letting my eyes meet his, only to glance off again. "I...I've had enough sun and sand. I don't like's got too many snakes," I added looking at Melissa briefly.

I turned toward the car. "Glen, will you please drive me back to the house?" I asked.

"Let Brenda," he said, surprising me. "Would you mind?" he asked his mother.

"No, not at all. Come on sweetheart. Melissa, Vince, are you coming?"

They declined, preferring to go to the bar with the two brothers.

"Don't go," Brenda pleaded with me as I went to get my things together. "Not yet. Not today."

I turned at the head of the stairs with eyes so full of heartache they seemed to grow with it. "I can't stay here anymore. I can't bear it. I ...I want to look for an apartment before he..." I turned and went upstairs. The tears choked my voice out.

I had packed everything in my bags and had changed into a sundress when the door opened suddenly and Mark walked in. I stared at him across the bed. He looked more relaxed, but he still needed a shave and a nap.

"I...I'm almost ready," I stated. "If Glen could drive me..."

He leaned back against the closed door and watched me. He was wearing a white shirt opened halfway down and a pair of blue jeans.

"The McMahon's are leaving," he said quietly.

"Oh, are they?" I asked. "For how long?"

"For good. I went to sign a contract. I'm switching the London mill to a new location," he replied.

I stared at him. "But, Melissa..."

"Jaime, I brought her over because I knew she was the power behind her father," he said. "I knew if I could convince her to meet my terms, she'd convince him. But you misread the situation completely, and I suppose it was partially my fault. I wanted you to misread it."

I glanced at him and away. "It doesn't matter now."

"Doesn't it?" he asked softly.

"I'm going to look for an apartment when I get home, Mark," I told him. "I want to be by myself."

He searched my eyes. "You told me you loved me, Jaime," he said quietly.

I swallowed nervously. "I...was upset," I stuttered.

"Don't play games. You said you loved me. How? As a big brother - a guardian - or as a lover, Jaime?"

"You're confusing me!" I protested.

"You've confused me for over a year," he said. "All I do lately is slam my head against a wall trying to get through to you."

"I don't understand."

He shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned against the door.

"You never have," he replied.

My soft eyes looked at his face. "Mark, you look so tired," I said. "Why don't you go to bed for a while."

"Only with you, Jaime," he said. "Because I'm not going to close my eyes only to open them again and find you gone."

"Jeff," he growled. "And then Glen. My own brother, and I hated him because he could get close to you and I couldn't. And you I couldn't tell you that I just wanted you!"

"Wanted you!" he repeated. "My God, I've been out of my mind wondering who I substituted for that night on the beach, and all along...!" He drew a breath. "How long have you planned to keep it from me, Jaime?" he demanded. "Were you going to go home and lock it away inside you?"

Tears threatened to fall from my eyes. I moved to the foot of the bed and held onto the bedpost. "Mark?" I whispered, sadly.

"You told Glen that I had to be alive, because your heart was still beating," he said in a strange voice. "It was that way with me when you went to pick up Jeff. As long as I'm still breathing, I know you are, because there is no way on earth I could stay alive without you!"

I ran to him blindly and reached up to be folded against him in an embrace that all but crushed the breath from my body.

"Kiss me," he whispered, bending to take my soft mouth. "Jaime, Jaime, I love you so...!" he ground out against my soft lips.

We kissed wildly, hungrily, and I could feel the rhythm of drums in my bloodstream as the pressure became deep and intimate.

He tore his mouth away finally and buried it against my soft throat. With a sense of wonder, I felt the big arms that were holding me tremble.

"I thought you hated me," I whispered.

"For what? Trying to seduce me on the beach?"

"I wasn't," I protested.

"It felt like it," he replied softly. "I'll always see you the way you looked in the moonlight, with your skin like satin, glowing..."

"Mark!" I whispered, turning red.

"Don't be embarrassed," he said. "Or ashamed. It was beautiful, Jaime; every second of it was beautiful. It's going to be like that every time I touch you, for the rest of our lives."

I drew away and looked up at him. "That long? Will you marry me?"


He reached down and brushed my mouth with his. "I hope you like children."

"How many do you want?"

"Let's get married next week and talk about."

"Next week! Mark, I can't! The invitations and I'll have to have a dress...!"

He stopped my words with his mouth.

He drew back a breath. "Next week," he whispered.

Outside, the sunset was lending a glow to the water and there was a promise of blue skies ahead.

The End

The end!