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Shadows of the Heart
Daniel looked up into the office. She wasn't there. He walked back into the workroom. Empty. He frowned. Everyone but Arlen was working at the far end of the gallery. The British man was working at a table near the conference room doors. He shoved his hands into his pants pockets and walked in that direction, his shoulders hunched forward slightly. "Hi, Arlen."
The man looked up from the work he was doing with one of the tablets just recently brought in. "Daniel! So, do you have that secretary?"
He smiled. "Yeah, I do. Have you seen Casey? She said she was coming here."
Arlen frowned. "She asked Susan to take her home. Is…is something wrong?"
Daniel was frowning as well. Why would she go home? Surely she would be willing to let him explain who Julie was and why she had been in his office. "No, nothing's wrong," he said absently. He went to the nearest phone, dialed a number that he rarely had to use. "Hi, Erin. It's me. Look, Case is on her way home, would you have her call me at my office in the mountain as soon as she gets in?…Thanks…okay, bye." He put the receiver back in the cradle. He'd wanted to surprise Casey with the news that she wouldn't have to take care of all of the filing of miscellaneous mission reports, taking care of inventories, and email any longer, that she was going to be working full time with him, and that he was going to teach her how to read Ancient. He suddenly had the feeling that he should have told her from the beginning what he was planning. He walked back to the mountain entrance, barely responded to the guards. When he got back to his office, Julie had folders stacked on the worktable, and was sorting through them.
"I hope you don't mind," she said, when he entered the office. "I needed the room."
"What? Oh, no, that's fine." He sucked on his lower lip. Worry was beginning to win out over the anger at her response to his 'surprise'. Unless it was something she could unwrap, Casey wasn't big on surprises. Yep. He'd screwed up…again. Damn, when would he quit doing that? That part of his brain that was still holding onto his anger reminded him that she'd screwed up a few times, as well. But all his heart was concerned about was making everything all right again.
Julie studied him for a minute. "Daniel, is something wrong?"
He looked over at her. Dark hair, dark eyes. Oh hell! He hadn't even noticed - honest to god had not even paid attention to what the woman looked like! Well…maybe he had a little bit, he admitted to himself. She did have nice legs. Almost as good as Casey's. Her coloring hadn't even registered in his mind until now, however. He could only hope that the break-through they'd had in Gwenyth Blackstone's office would keep Casey from freaking out about Julie. If not…he sighed. If not, then he had just dealt his marriage a very damaging blow. Damn it! All he wanted was for her to be able to work with him full time, not spending half of her day trying to keep up with all the paperwork that collected! Paperwork that a secretary was perfectly capable of handling! He sat down at his desk, stared at the telephone. Reached out again, his heart dropping when he hit the wall that prevented him from feeling her sweet touch. "I hope not," he said finally.
A A A A A A
Casey thanked Susan for the ride, invited her in for a cup of tea. The archaeologist thanked her for the invitation, but insisted she needed to return to the Center. With a forced smile, Casey waved goodbye, then walked into the house.
Erin was in the kitchen. Emily and Nicholas were busy coloring in new coloring books at the breakfast bar. "Daniel called. He wants you to call him back. Although I don't understand your sudden need for the telephone." She studied her daughter. Noted the deep sadness in her eyes.
She leaned against the counter. "Emily, would you mind taking Nicholas outside to the swings?"
Emily looked up at her mother. Something was wrong. Mommy's eyes were sad. "Why, Mommy?"
"I…I need to talk to Meemaw." She was battling tears, didn't know how long she could hold out before the floodgates opened. Silently willed her daughter to cooperate.
The little girl thought about this for a minute. Maybe Meemaw could make Mommy feel better. Then Mommy's eyes would be happy again. "Okay. C'mon, Nicholas, let's go swing." She climbed down from the barstool, waited while her grandmother lifted the little boy to the floor, and then took him by the hand. "We'll play outside, and let Mommy and Meemaw talk."
Casey waited until she was sure that Emily couldn't overhear her. "I…I…" the tears she had been fighting for the past hour would be held back no longer.
Erin opened her arms, and took her sobbing daughter into her embrace. "It's all right, Casey. Let it out. Then we'll talk."
It took several minutes before she was finally able to speak. She followed her mother to the sofa, leaned against the soft shoulder, took comfort from the gentle caresses as Erin brushed her hair back from her face. "Daniel has been acting…strange…for the past few days. This morning… this morning is the first morning we haven't made love since I came home. This afternoon, I went up to his office…he had a woman there…they were laughing, he was holding her hand…and…and…oh, god, Mom, what if he's having an affair? What if he doesn't love me any longer?"
Erin was surprised to say the least, more so that Casey could even suspect such a thing. Had she forgotten the Fire? "Oh, Casey, I don't believe he's having an affair! When would he have time? He's with you constantly! He doesn't want you out of his sight! What did he say about her?"
"I…he didn't say anything…well, he looked kind of surprised when I walked in, and then said that I was finished sooner than he expected. I guess he figured I'd be tied up with Duncan and Jack long enough for him to sneak her out."
Erin frowned. "Who is she?"
She shrugged her slender shoulders. "I don't know. I turned around and ran back to the elevator. I...oh, Mom, she has long dark hair and dark eyes. Just the way he likes them!"
"I thought Gwenyth told you that he prefers blondes?"
Another shrug. "How do I know he was being honest with her…with me?"
"Casey, I just can't believe that Daniel lied to you, nor do I believe he's having an affair. My darling, he nearly collapsed beneath the weight of his grief when you were lost to him. His joy at your return has been tangible, and the very fact that he doesn't like you far from his side tells me that his eyes, his heart, see only you."
"I wish I could be so certain."
"You have not explained why he had to call here."
She sat up. "I…I'm…uh…"
"You're blocking him. Casey Renee! After all that the two of you have been through, I would think by now you would know him better!"
"I guess I don't know him as well as I thought," she replied, the hurt and anger she felt speaking for her. She pulled herself to her feet. "I need some time to…think. Do you mind staying until Daniel gets home? Or I get back. Whoever comes home first," she said.
"You know I don't. I think you should talk to your husband."
"I think he should have talked to me," she said, not a little peevishly. She leaned over and kissed her mother's cheek. "Thanks for listening."
Erin smiled. "You're welcome, Casey. I hope you will, as well, when Daniel explains to you what is going on."
"If he tells me," she said. She gathered her purse. "Tell the kids I love them and I'll be back after while."
"I will." She frowned as she watched Casey walk out the front door. She had a feeling she knew exactly where her daughter was going. Erin rose and went to pack overnight bags for her grandchildren. Daniel and Casey needed to talk, and they needed uninterrupted privacy to do it in.
A A A A A A
Daniel finished organizing the last of the notes for his book, glanced at his watch and frowned. Maybe Susan had stayed for a cup of tea, he thought. That's why she hadn't returned his call. She was still blocking him, and the silence, the feeling of being…alone…was dredging up memories he would rather forget completely. The emptiness he was feeling right now was the same as he had felt for those six long weeks she had been away from him.
"Daniel?" a soft voice said from the worktable.
He looked up. "Yeah?"
"It's five-thirty. Is it okay for me to leave?" Julie asked.
"What? Oh, yeah, sure. See you at eight tomorrow."
"Eight it is," she said, smiling brightly. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," he replied absently. He ran his hand over the middle of the desk. Right here. Her beautiful, sexy body had been right here when he had taken her that day. She had been so willing, so eager to do whatever he wanted. No matter what he asked of her, she gave it to him. She gave him everything he ever needed, or wanted. There wasn't a sexual fantasy left in his head…she had fulfilled them all, came up with a few things that he'd never even thought of.
When the phone rang he nearly knocked over his coffee in his haste to grab it. "Casey?"
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Erin's voice said. "She's not here."
"She didn't get there?" Panic filled his mind, gripped his heart and began to squeeze.
"She was here, briefly. We talked, and then…she said she needed time to think. Daniel, she thinks you're having an affair. I told her I couldn't believe it. She's convinced that you…desire …this woman because she has long dark hair and dark eyes."
"Oh, hell," he hissed. "I thought we had finally taken care of that!"
"It would seem that fear was only laid to rest, not eradicated," Erin's voice replied. "I’m taking the children home with me. I think you need to speak with her. If I'm not mistaken, you'd better get to Rinaldi's before she's unable to talk."
"Thanks, Erin, for everything. I'm on my way."
"Daniel, just so I know…what is going on?"
"I hired a secretary. So that Case can work full time with me, and not spend half of her day on paperwork."
"I see. I think perhaps you should have told her this."
"I wanted it to be a surprise," Daniel said petulantly. His hope…his dream…of seeing her excited about working with him - her eyes bright, that incredible smile on her face - lingered in his mind.
"Considering the circumstances, I think this is something that would have been best revealed to her as soon as you decided to hire someone. The thought is very sweet, Daniel," Erin said. "However, leaving her in the dark has only caused her to come to the wrong conclusions. I don't know that you'll have an easy time convincing her of your true intentions."
He closed his eyes. Why did she have to be so damn suspicious? Because, his brain reminded him, she's been tricked, victimized, and hurt, over and over in her life. She expects to be treated poorly. He frowned. But I have never treated her that way! he argued. His brain fired images of Neferteri and Ishtar at him. Followed in quick succession by memories of his own jealous fits of temper. "I'll find a way to convince her," he said softly. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"All right. Good luck."
"Thanks." He hung up, leaned back in his chair and wiped his hands over his face. He'd planned on surprising her first thing in the morning, bringing her in and introducing her to Julie, letting her know that from now on, the secretary handled the paperwork that kept piling up. Then he was going to start teaching her how to read Ancient. He shook his head, stood up, and turned off the desk lamp. No matter what it took, he was going to make her understand that she had no reason to ever fear that he would…wander. He loved her…needed her…just too damned much for that to ever happen!
A A A A A A
John looked up when the door opened, surprised to see Casey Jackson walk in. There were very few people that he didn't like seeing coming through that door. She was one of them. Not because he didn't like her…no, sir, Casey Jackson was a sweet lady, and the classiest thing that ever graced the joint. Not because she caused trouble. No, he disliked seeing her come in, because she only came here when she was hurting. Like she was now. Her green eyes were full of sadness. He hated seeing those beautiful eyes so full of pain. "Hey, Casey, nice to see you again," he called to her.
She gave a sad smile. "Nice to see you again, too, John."
She nodded, dropped down onto the chair. She crossed her arms on the table, and rested her forehead against them.
"Uh…it's probably none of my business," John said softly when he sat the tray down in front of her a few minutes later, "but you might like to know that Doctor Jackson came in, drank himself under the table mourning for you."
She raised her head, forced a smile. "I heard about it."
"Never saw a man grieve so hard. He must be damned glad to have you home."
"So he says," she replied carefully. She didn't want to hear about how he grieved for her. She didn't want to think about what he'd gone through, what her babies had gone through, while she was gone. She didn't want to think that it was possible that he just couldn't take it any longer, and that being married to her was too much of a risk…too painful. She didn't want to think that she wasn't enough for him, wasn't able to make him happy, keep him satisfied.
"I'm kinda surprised to see you here," the bartender admitted, carefully arranging the items on the table.
"No more than I am to be here," she said softly. She poured a shot from the bottle of Tequila in front of her, licked her hand, salted it, then proceeded to down the shot.
John took the hint and went back to the bar. He couldn't help but keep looking out the window. Surely Dr. Jackson would be here soon. When he looked back over at her, he was relieved to see that she was writing something, rather than downing drinks.
It wasn't fifteen minutes later that Daniel walked in the door. He nodded at John, and went to sit with his wife. "Hey gorgeous," he said softly, sitting down beside her.
She looked into his beautiful blue eyes, trying to see what he was thinking…feeling. Could see nothing behind the guarded look he gave her. "Hello…Daniel."
No 'hey handsome'? Her voice was cool…reserved, and every syllable had quavered with emotion. Okay, she's pissed. "We need to talk."
Casey shook her head. "Ya think?"
"I screwed up," he said bluntly, staring at his hands. He missed the flash of pain that filled her eyes.
"I hope she was worth it," she replied calmly, just before downing another shot.
"What? No! Oh hell no! It's not like that!" he insisted.
"So what is 'like'?"
He looked at her. Could see the anguish that refused to stay hidden. Saw the fear that lurked in those amazing green depths. "I wanted to surprise you," he said softly.
"Oh, I'm surprised all right," she snapped. She was clinging to the anger that swept through her, using it to protect herself from the pain that was reaching for her, that would soon strangle her in its horrible grasp.
Daniel felt the anger build up. "What the hell are you so damned pissy about? I haven't done a damned thing wrong!"
Her eyes widened slightly, her fingers began to tremble. "Walk away Daniel. Before we both say things we might regret," she said softly. Her heart was begging him, pleading with him to tell her that everything was going to be all right.
Goddamn it! He had done this for her! So that she wasn't bogged down with all of the damned paperwork that kept piling up! She spent most of every morning in his office, just trying to keep up with the email! Then she was teaching aerobics, something that starting tomorrow, she would only be doing twice a week, so that she could instead work with him! "Are you even going to let me explain?"
She watched the anger flare in his eyes. Knew that no matter what he said, his mind, his heart, thought, felt differently. He would tell her what he thought she wanted to hear, placate her with words of apology. No, he was too good a man, his heart and mind would never allow him to let her see, hear what he really felt, deep down inside. "I'm all ears," she replied, just before she downed another shot. She reached for the bottle, frowned when he moved it out of her reach.
"I want you sober enough to actually hear me," he growled. "I hired a secretary, Casey. So that you don't have to do all of the goddamn paperwork that needs to be done! I did it for you!"
"For me? You hired a secretary for me? Don't make me laugh! Please, at least be honest with yourself, even if you have to lie to me! You hired…her…for you!" she retorted.
"I just wanted you to be able to work with me full time!" he said. Her eyes were full of hurt and anger, he knew what he should say, what she needed to hear. But damn it to hell, he was tired of her accusing him of things he wasn't guilty of! Every goddamned time a brunette crossed his path, she was convinced he was screwing her, or at least thinking about it, wanting it. Yeah, his brain taunted, something that never happened before you fucked Neferteri, and lied to her about it! He shoved that thought, and the flood of guilt, away. He wasn't in the mood to deal with that right now.
He stared at her. "Why what?"
"Why do you want me working with you all the time? Do I suddenly need constant supervision? Haven't I been doing my job to your satisfaction?" She lifted her chin slightly, still trying to cling to the anger in an attempt to ward off the despair that was moving through her. Her arms had wrapped around her slender waist in a posture of self-protection.
His hand slammed onto the table. "Where in the hell do you come up with this shit? If I have to explain it to you, then it's not worth the hassle!"
She blanched slightly at his response. "Not worth-" Her eyes widened, her breath caught in her throat. Not worthy! Oh dear goddess, her dream! It was happening…it was…oh it was true!
Had he not been so angry, he would have recognized the emotions that flashed through her eyes, over the delicate features of her face. "I'm tired of having this argument with you. I'm going home. Are you coming?"
Her eyes wide, her entire body trembling, she shook her head. She had no idea when it had happened. But it had. At some point, Daniel had decided - had come to the realization - that she wasn't worthy of him. Her heart tried to push his words into her ears, his declarations of love. But those dark shadows whispered loudly, telling her that whatever he had said, had been said in the heat of passion, spoken not from his heart, but from his physical need at that moment.
He watched her, finally saw the deep pain in her eyes, realized that something had just happened. He had no idea what it was. He only knew that suddenly his marriage - his beautiful, wonderful life with her - was teetering on the brink of collapse. And he had no clue how to stop it from toppling over that edge. "Case-"
She shook her head again, stood up, and ran toward the restroom. She slammed the door closed, locked it, leaned against it and pressed her fist to her mouth. What did she do now? What could she do? It was over…Daniel no longer loved her, there was nothing to be done, was there? She sank down to the dirty floor and began to weep, hot tears of pain washing her cheeks before they dripped from her jaw.
Daniel noticed the notebook. When they had returned from their vacation on Langara, she'd let him read all of her poetry. Most of it was filled with anguish, the words her way of dealing with whatever she was struggling with at the moment. The others were all…well, love poems to him, about him. Whatever she felt, good or bad, flowed out of her into the lines of her poetry. He glanced toward that closed door, then slowly pulled the notebook toward him.
Shadows of the Heart
In the deepest part of my heart, the Shadows hide,
In the deepest part of my heart, the Shadows hide,
The words written exposed the extent of her fear…her self-deprecation...her heartbreak...and left him breathless with regret, and pain. He glanced again at that closed door. Oh, god, what had he done?
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