Janet Evanovich owns the rights to the following characters. This story is intended as artistic exercise.

A Walk Through Hell

Chapter 14: Love

"Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as a rock

and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect."

***

Carl Sandburg.


I stretch my neck, desperately trying to see around the nurse in front of me; the palms of my hands sweating with my nerves, my heart beating frantically in my chest. She turns around slowly, a bundle of blue wrapped in her arms.

"Congratulations Mr. Manoso… It's a boy!" The nurse coos, smiling down at the miniature version of myself.

I take my son in my arms, my hands trembling with emotion, my vision swimming with tears. I blink them back furiously, needing to study the miracle before me.

I gasp as I stare into my son's eyes… the eyes of his mother; a blue so intense that they pierce into my soul. I take his tiny hand in mine, his skin a shade lighter than my own, reveling in its powder soft texture. I caress his face, his silky black hair standing in disarray; long, dark lashes fluttering against his cheeks.

He is beautiful.

His eyes drift over my shoulder, his chubby cheeks dimpling as a smile breaks across his face. I follow his gaze to the most stunning woman I have ever seen.

"Babe," I croak. "He's perfect." I place him gently in her arms, the picture they make together taking my breath away.

Perfection.

"Ranger…"

"Ranger… Man… wake up!" I shake my head, clearing the fog from my mind; staring up into Tank's amused face. "Are you gonna walk off the plane, or did you want me to carry you Princess?"

"Fuck off Tank," I grumble, rubbing the sleep from my eyes; my mind fuzzy with the effects of jet lag. I stand up, stretching the cramped muscles of my legs.

It was just a dream; my heart clenches painfully as awareness dawns upon me; my chest aching and hollow with loss.

My thoughts freeze instantly, my mind instinctively clamping down on my desires; years of emotional suppression coming in to play.

I take a deep breath, ridding myself of the confines of my mind. I will no longer be a slave to my fears.

"You okay Boss?" Ram questions me skeptically.

I nod at him curtly, shaking myself from my reverie.

I exit the plane quickly, throwing my duffel bag over my shoulder; leaving the last remnants of doubt and fear behind me.


I spin the dial on the safe in my office, unlocking my life's greatest secrets.

Concealed inside are my government contracts, Secret Service files and debriefing documentations. Evidence of my time as an assassin, a spy, and a black operations specialist; all buried behind six inches of impenetrable steel.

There, among the scattered proof of war and death sits my deepest secret; the secret that I swore to protect above all others; from my enemies, from myself… from her.

I cradle the velvet box in my hands, the proof of my love and loyalty lying within. I flip the lid back with my thumb, the light above me reflecting off of the diamond solitaire nestled inside.

I remove the ring from the box, turning it over in my hands; reading the Cuban proverb inscribed on the inside of the band…

"A love that can last forever, takes but a second to come about."

I had learned the truth behind those words the day that I met her. I knew in that moment that I would love her for the rest of my life.

At the time, that knowledge was more of a curse than a blessing; my heart and soul pulling me to her while my mind was pushing her away. Love and logic divided; leaving me torn.

I purchased the ring shortly after we met, knowing that I would never give it to her. I placed it in my safe, praying that if the unthinkable happened, it would somehow find its way to her. I had to know that she would never doubt my love for her. That I desired, more than anything, to give her the life that she deserved; that I loved her enough to let her live without the demons I carried within me; that her happiness was worthy of my sacrifice.

Love unrequited by choice is a festering wound; when the closure needed to heal is impossible to gain. I stood by for years, watching, protecting, dreaming; living on stolen kisses and unobtainable dreams.

And yet, I stand here now with hope swelling inside of me; grateful for second chances and new beginnings.

Placing the ring back into the box, I shut the door to the safe; closing a chapter of my life along with it.


I met Ella outside of her apartment retrieving two large covered silver platters, a thermos, two dozen roses and a bag of supplies. I called her from the plane asking her to prepare a special breakfast; a mixture of Italian and Cuban foods. The meal consisting of lemon and basil eggs over foccacia, sweet Italian sausage, bacon frittata's, fresh Cuban bread and butter and café con leche to drink.

I hurry up to the seventh floor, silently letting myself into the apartment. I set the platters on the table, removing their lids and filling two glasses of café con leche.

I remove six pillar candles from the bag; lighting them and placing them about the room; a soft glow filling the room from the mixture of candle light and the light of dawn filtering through the windows.

I sit down at the kitchen table, a pen and paper in hand; writing down quotes from Carl Sandburg, each one reminding me of my Babe. I can no longer read his poetry without thinking of her and how much I love her.

"Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me."

Babe,

You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Your love brings joy to my life and comfort to my soul.

***

I take a single long stem red rose from the bouquet, attaching the note to it with a black silk ribbon. I set it aside, continuing the process.

"Nothing happens unless we first dream."

Babe,

For so long I denied myself from acting upon my feelings,

but never could I keep you from my dreams.

***

"I tell you the past is a bucket of ashes, so live not

in your yesterdays,

not just for tomorrow, but in the here and now."

Babe,

I can't replace lost time, but I will cherish every moment

I have with you for the rest of my life.

***

"Sometimes to live our dreams is an act of courage."

Babe,

Taking a leap of faith is never easy, but

I promise to always help you fly.

***

I finish the twelfth note, attaching it to the final rose. I move silently to the bedroom, placing a single rose on the pillow next to my sleeping Babe. She stirs in her sleep, unconsciously sensing my presence. She smiles sleepily, her riot of curls spilling out around her. I lean over to kiss her gently, not wanting to wake her yet, but unable to resist the temptation.

I tip toe out of the room, leaving a trail of roses behind me.

I walk to the stereo, selecting a soft classical c.d.; scanning through to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

Knowing the music will wake her, I stand by the table, unable to sit down with the anticipation building inside of me. I hear the rustle of sheets from the bedroom, feet padding softly across the floor.

Stephanie opens the door, wearing one of my black button up dress shirts. Holding the roses she has gathered in her hands, her long legs left bare, her hair wild and tousled from sleep.

My breath catches in my throat at the sight of her. No words can describe the emotion flooding through me.

Her eyes meet mine, tears glistening on her cheeks. She continues on her journey, pausing to pick up each rose, reading each note before moving on.

She stops in front of me, love and wonder lighting her face. I drop to my knee, holding the ring in my hands.

I take a deep breath, willing my heart to slow its frantic pace. "Stephanie, I love you with all of my heart. Please… Babe… Marry me?"

She chokes back a sob, a whispered "Yes!" escaping her lips. She cups my face in her hands, bending over to kiss me softly.

I sweep her up into my arms, carrying her towards our bedroom and our future together; grateful for the broken road that has finally led me home.

The End.

*I'd love to hear your thoughts on my story!