When his tour bus rolls off the road, Liam’s rushed to the hospital where I work. A jagged scar runs the length of his face, ruining his good looks and jeopardizing his career. As his nurse, I’m around him more than I’d like, but the more I get to know him, the more I realize the world wasn’t blind to him.
Liam McGuire feels deeply and loves wildly, throwing himself into everything he does with more passion than I ever dreamed possible. With that intensity aimed at me, the scars slashed across my own heart start to heal. He is fire and I’ve been cold my whole life.
Am I ready to thaw? Or is life better—safer—when I’m cold and numb?
I play for Tyler.
I play for who Michael and I were, and for who we’ve become. The music rips itself out of me and tears fall from my eyes, dropping on my hands, but still I play.
Before long, I sense movement at the doorway. My fingers slow and then stop, cutting off the melody on a harsh note.
“Don’t stop.” Liam sounds groggy. “It’s beautiful.”
“It hurts,” I say, sniffing.
“Ahhh.” There’s more movement and then he’s sitting next to me, his shoulder pressing against mine, his sleep-warmed skin almost too hot for me in my agony. “That’s why it’s beautiful.”
I pull my hand from the keys and put them in my lap. “There’s nothing beautiful about pain.”
“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” Liam puts his hands on the keys, lets them wander around a melody. “I think Bob Dylan said that.”
The urge to lean into him, to borrow some strength from his size and his warmth is so strong I almost succumb to it.
Instead, I put my hands on the keys and wind my melody around his.
“What’s wrong, Bailey?” Liam keeps his voice low, almost a whisper.
“It’s just a bad day,” I whisper in return.
His fingers chase the melody towards mine. His skin brushes mine and chills rush through my body. I stop playing and stare up at him.
“Why are you being nice to me?”
“Maybe I’m still mostly asleep.” Liam smiles, the moonlight streaming through the window catching the scar winding down his face.
Without thinking, I run my finger along it. My touch light, just a whisper of contact. “Does it still hurt?”
Liam leans into my hand, pressing my palm against his cheek, and closes his eyes. “Deeply.”
The low rumble of his voice touches the aching part of my soul and I know he’s not talking about the scar. I pull my hand away and study his face as he opens his eyes and stares down at me. The space between us takes on a life of its own, shrinking and contracting with each and every one of our breaths. I lean into him, needing contact. Needing sensation and oblivion and a reason to step outside of myself for a while.
“Today’s the day they died.” I blink several times but don’t look away. “My parents.”
I shake my head and the world spins drunkenly. It hurts to be this exposed, as if my whole body is a raw nerve, our words grinding against it until the pain forces me to cry out.
“I’m sorry,” he says, bringing his hand to my cheek and threading his fingers into my hair.
I lean into him and close my eyes, swimming in grief and guilt, desperate to feel anything but the way I’m feeling right now. I lick my lips. Open my eyes and find him close. So close. He drops his hand from my cheek, his eyes searching my face.
There’s a moment. The two of us knowing what’s about to happen and trying to decide if we should let it, and then Liam kisses me. His hands slide up my arms and clutch my shoulders. His lips are warm and supple against mine. Our breath fills the room, twining with the rustle of fabric as I bring my hands to his back and grip his shirt in my fists.
I breathe him in. His clean skin and the scent of his cologne are so foreign to me. They’re unlike any of the smells that I sometimes imagine still linger around this house, triggering memories with the power to bring me to my knees. Liam is different. Nothing about him reminds me of my past, and there’s salvation there. Safety in his newness. In his total lack of knowledge of me from before. I can be anything with him.
Our kiss deepens, the stubble of his beard scraping the delicate skin on my cheeks. I open to him, lean into him, and his tongue darts out to meet mine.
He pulls back but keeps his hands on my face. “Have you been drinking?”
I nod. “It’s a bad day.”
Liam’s eyes burn into mine, moving across the planes of my face. He takes a breath like he wants to speak, only to close his mouth and look away. “I’m sorry, Bailey,” he says after a moment. “I don’t want this because you’re drunk and hurting. And I know, deep down, neither do you.”
And then he stands and walks out of the room, leaving me to stare after him, cold in the wake of his fire.