Miranda sat at her desk staring at the ring that had graced her finger for a little over a week. A solitaire princess-cut diamond stood sheathed in prongs with rows of diamonds chips rising to meet it on either side.
Zach had presented this ring to her when he proposed at Emily’s wedding reception. At the time, she had willingly accepted, but as she stared at the token, fear gripped its claws in her heart.
Her first marriage had ended only a little over a year ago, and she still felt the sting of her ex-husband’s words. Even more powerful was the sting of his fingers on her face when he had kidnapped her and her daughter. Thankfully, she had escaped, but the wounds were still open, and every so often, she felt herself picking at the emotional scars.
She grabbed her coffee cup and drank deeply, fending off the stinging in her eyes, willing her throat to not to close. Refusing to head down the same old path, she glanced at the clock, gathered her things, and rose to leave. She reached up and pulled the pencil that had been holding her long auburn tresses off of her neck, and ran her fingers through her hair.
As she passed through her office, she noticed that all of her employees had already left for the day. Emily’s desk sat empty waiting for her to return from her two week honeymoon. If Miranda had ever wondered about Emily’s position in the company, she didn’t anymore. The entire office had been crazy without their secretary keeping everyone in line.
As the elevator doors opened to take her down, Miranda smiled to herself. It had been a long day, but she was heading to pick up her daughter, Elizabeth, from the in-house daycare on the first floor.
was her world, and even a moment away from her seemed like a year. In just a
would be in her arms, and the rest of the world would melt away. Elizabeth
Miranda tapped her foot anxiously as the elevator slowly came to a stop. The doors slid open and she gasped. Directly in front of her was a scene filled with love and devotion unlike anything she had ever seen.
Zach sprawled on a decorative wooden bench with his legs crossed. On his lap,
sat facing him, chatting happily.
One of his arms was wrapped loosely around her, giving her freedom to move
while protecting her from a fall. His other arm draped across the back of the
bench making him look completely at ease. Elizabeth
The ring of the elevator caught their attention, and they raised their eyes to meet Miranda’s. She caught her breath again as she felt the warmth radiating from his eyes.
’s face brightened as she struggled
to leap from Zach’s lap. He stood to steady Elizabeth on the floor as Miranda met them
both in a strong embrace. Elizabeth
His warm breath tickled her neck as he whispered, “I missed you.”
She grasped his hand and sighed, “I missed you too.”
“I thought we would grab something to eat. Shall we eat out or pick up something to take home?”
Without hesitation, Miranda answered, “I would so much rather be at home, if that is okay with you.”
“Anywhere you are is where I want to be,” he squeezed her hand, reached down to pick up
. They walked out into the brisk
October breeze. Elizabeth
Open cartons of Chinese food littered the coffee table in front of the muted television set. Discarded jackets sprawled over the backs of chairs, and kicked off shoes scattered the floor.
Zach pulled Miranda's feet onto his lap and began to massage them gently. She lay back on the couch and exhaled.
She still didn't feel comfortable in this apartment. After she had been attacked by Geena and watched her die, she had to move out of her old apartment. Although she stayed in the same building, and the room had the same layout, she remained uncomfortable. When her eyes were closed, images of Geena's lifeless body flashed through her mind.
"You are sighing. What's going on in that beautiful brain of yours?" Zachary asked as he continued to knead her aching feet.
She frowned, annoyed that he could read her expressions so easily. "I was thinking about Geena."
Zachary nodded slowly, "I know that the situation still bothers you." He paused for a moment, unsure of whether to broach the subject of her living arrangement again. "I know we've talked about this before, but I think you need to get out of this apartment."
"There's no reason to move again. It didn't happen here, and I'm no longer in danger."
Zachary searched her eyes for a moment before continuing. "Miranda, the police haven't caught Corbin, yet."
Leaning her head against the arm of the couch, she covered her eyes with her arm. "I know that, but I'm convinced he only wanted the money. He kidnapped us and delivered us to Ethan. Ethan paid him. Corbin disappeared. That's the end of that."
Zach eased out from under her feet and placed them on the couch before crawling to her head. "I'm more concerned about Ethan. We thought he was dead. With the amount of loratab that you put in his beer, he should have been dead."
"I know he should have died, but he didn't. Now he is in prison and that's where he is going to be for quite a while," her voice quavered as she reiterated the facts as she did almost every day.
He reached up and pulled her arm away from her eyes. Running his fingers through hair, he tried to help her relax. She could feel the tension slowly leave her shoulders and her neck, replaced by the tingles than ran through her body with his touch.
"I want you to move in with me."
She groaned and turned away from him, "You know I'm not ready for that."
"Miranda, we are going to be married. I know that you are afraid to stay here by yourself. I have plenty of room at my house. We can stay there or we can buy something else."
Her face remained turned to the back of the couch as she refused to answer him.
"Look at me." His voice was strong and firm, irresistible. Slowly she turned to face him, but adamantly refused to speak. "I have worried about you every night."
There was no response that would make sense. Sleep had been difficult over the last six months as she tossed and tumbled, filled with dread, unable to avoid the nightmares that haunted her every night.
"I have a room already set up for
I left the decorating for you, but I stocked the room with everything she might
need." He took a deep breath before he continued, "I also set up a
room for you because I know how you feel about sleeping with me." Elizabeth
She sat up straight on the couch to face him. Her heart began to race. She could feel the flush of her cheeks as anger pulsed through her veins. "You did what?" Heaving with emotion, she continued, "What in the world made you think that was a good idea? Did I give any indication that I wanted you to do that?"
Zachary squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, "I want you near me. If I can't have you in my arms each night, at least you can be near me in the next room. It's the only way I can keep you safe! Ethan won't be in jail forever, and Corbin is still out there somewhere."
Miranda rubbed her fists against her eyes, frustrated by her mixed emotions. Thoughts whirled through her mind. I am so mad that he made this decision without consulting me, and yet his protectiveness is endearing. I know that I would sleep better with him being near. I haven't slept in months. Still, am I really ready to take this step?
"I just don't know, Zach. I don't want to talk about this anymore tonight."
Resigned to waiting, he sat back on his heels and took her hand, "I've told you before that I will wait as long as it takes." He raised her hand to meet his lips, "I just ask that you make a decision before it's too late." He kissed her palm and wrist before making his way up her arm. "Just the hope of being near you makes it worth the wait," He softly grazed her lips, "but your safety is most important to me. I am dreaming of the moment I can call you mine, and I can take care of you every moment of every day."
No matter which way she looked, construction signs surrounded her. She didn't know the destination. She only knew that she had to complete her mission. She continued to climb through road blocks, over dirt piles, and around piles of discarded rail. Rocks dug into her knees, and blood streaked her jeans as she wiped away the shards of glass that pierced her hands. As she looked down, she realized that the piles of dirt had turned to decaying bodies. She wretched violently as the stench filled her nostrils.
A blood curdling shriek woke her from her nightmare. Jumping from her bed, she flew to
's room and flipped on the light. Elizabeth stood in her
crib, screaming wildly with white knuckles clenching the rail. Her red face
shimmered from tears streaking down her cheeks. Sweat matted her thin hair to
her head. Elizabeth
Miranda swept her from the crib and sat down in the rocking chair. She placed the baby in her lap and cuddled her head to her chest. As she rocked and hummed, the baby calmed down, but her own heart continued to race wildly. Her hands trembled as she stroked the child's back, feeling her relax in her arms and return to sleep.
Miranda considered calling Zach to ask if he would come get them. She knew he would be there in a heartbeat, but what would that mean? Would he expect her to stay with him forever? Would she want to stay with him?
Guilt ripped through her body as she realized that her fear of Zach was just as real as her fear of the nightmares. She had agreed to be his wife, but she had never said she loved him. She had not truly come to terms with everything that marriage entails.
As she looked down at her daughter, she realized that she was becoming the woman that she never wanted to be. She never wanted to live in fear. Deep down, strength flowed through her, but she needed to find it again.
deserves a strong mother. Zach deserves a
wife that comes willingly, because she loves him, not because she is scared of
being alone. Elizabeth