Unbreak my Heart, page 8
Clare nervously cleared her throat. “Actually, it’s almost the exact opposite,” she confided. “As a matter of fact I am almost flat broke. Clay’s savings have all ran out and Willow and I are about to be without a home once the real estate agent sells it.” She took another sip of wine to steady her nerves. “The truth is when we get back to Houston we’ll probably be forced to put the cabin on the market as well so that we can afford to buy a cheaper house in one of Houston’s outer suburbs without the burden of a mortgage.”
Crank reached his hand across the table and rested it on hers. “Clare you don’t have to sell your cabin. How would you and Willow feel about moving to Austin with me? I don’t have a house right now but I could …”
“Stop, Crank, please,” she interjected, “slow down, we’ve only known each other for two short weeks. Don’t you think you’re trying to move things a little too fast?”
Crank squeezed her hand. “Maybe?” he agreed, “but I’m not really sure. All I do know is that when I’m with you I feel happy and complete, and when I’m not I feel empty and lost.” He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. “Will you at least think about it?”
Clare got up from her chair and slid onto his lap. “Crank, I feel the same way about you, you know that, but I’m scared. I have Willow to consider if things don’t work out. How about for now we just leave things as they are and continue to enjoy each other’s company while we can. Agree?”
“Whatever you think is best,” he said, slipping his arms around her waist and pulling her close, “but sooner or later I intend to convince you that you and Willow belong with me and when you finally realise that I’m right, I intend to marry you.”
“Oh really?” That’s very forward of you Mr Jackson,” she said teasingly. “Then I guess you had better invite Willow and I to the lake tomorrow for a picnic and perhaps we could ask the twins to take Willow for a walk so we can spend some time alone, just the two of us.”
Crank cradled her face in his hands and kissed her softly on the lips. “Consider it a date. What time would you like the boys and I to pick you and Willow up?”
Clare was just about to return the kiss when Willow appeared by her side. “Where is Crank taking us tomorrow Mama?” she asked curiously.
“Crank and the boys are taking us to the lake for a picnic,” she said excitedly. “How ‘bout that?”
“Oh yeah,” Willow cried enthusiastically, pumping her fist in the air. “I love picnics and we haven’t had one in days.”
As soon as Clare opened the door she knew Crank had something on his mind. Normally he was all smiles and breaming with a sense of adventure, but this morning, as he sat beside her at the dining table watching her pack the picnic hamper, he seemed as if he was a million miles away.
“You’re not regretting saying that you want to marry me when I finally come to my senses are you?” she teased. “Because I mean, if you are having second thoughts about us I would completely understand.”
“That’s not it,” he assured her. “In fact I am more convinced than ever that you and I belong together. It’s my sister Macey; she called me this morning. She wants me to drive the boys back to Smithville the day after tomorrow, says there’s something important she has to tell me in person and she doesn’t want to tell me over the phone.”
Clare stopped packing the food and sat down beside him. “Are you worried that it will be bad news?” she asked, wrapping a reassuring arm around his waist.
“To tell you the truth I’m not sure what I think,” he confided. “It’s just that I am enjoying my time here at the lake with you and Willow and the twins so much and I guess I just don’t want it to end.”
Clare rolled her eyes and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Crank, if you’re serious about us having a relationship then surely you realise it has to include the rest of the world, especially your sister Macey and your brother-in-law Eli.” She squeezed his hand. “Have you even told them about us yet?”
“I’m planning on telling her about us when I drop the boys home,” he admitted. “Telling Mace over the phone with everything else that is going on in her life doesn’t seem right somehow.”
“There you go!” she jibed, nudging him in the ribs. “She probably feels the same way about her news. She probably just thinks that with everything else going on it would be better to tell you her news in person.”
Crank eyed her nervously. “Will you and Willow come with us back to Smithville? We could tell Mace about us in person. She’ll be completely thrilled.”
Clare’s willpower was weakening by the minute. “Maybe,” she said, getting up from her chair to return to the kitchen. “Why don’t you give me the rest of the day to think about it and I’ll give you my answer in the morning?” I’d like to talk it over with Willow this evening first.”
“Who’s up for a row around the lake?” Michael suddenly asked, pointing to Clare’s wooden dinghy at the end of the jetty.
Clare glanced at Crank and grimaced. She and Crank had desperately wanted some alone time together and without the twins to entertain Willow that would not be possible.
“Actually Michael,” she said apologetically, “your uncle and I were sort of hoping that you boys might take Willow for a walk along the boardwalk so that we can have some time alone for an hour or so to discuss a few things in private.”
Before Michael had a chance to respond, Clare suddenly felt a small hand gently tugging on the hem of her blouse. “Can’t I just go with them in the dinghy Mama? P-L-E-A-S-E! I promise I won’t try to stand up or stick my hands in the water.”
Clare looked down into a pair of pleading eyes. “Oh Honey, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. Mama would be worried about you the whole time. Why don’t I just get the boys to take you for a walk today and we can arrange with Crank to take us out in the dinghy again soon?”
“P-L-E-A-S-E Mama,” she begged once more, tears welling up in her big blue eyes. I promise to be good for them.”
“We don’t mind if Willow comes along,” the boys interjected, “and we promise to take good care of her. We used to take our cousin, Ellie, out on the creek that runs through the back of our ranch all the time before she died.” He suddenly turned to Crank. “Sorry Uncle Crank, I didn’t mean to make you sad or anything.”
Crank smiled understandingly. “That’s okay Michael; you haven’t made me sad, I promise. In fact I’m very proud of you boys for wanting to include Willow in your adventures.” He looked over at Clare and smiled at her reassuringly. “But if Clare has any reservations you need to respect them, okay?”
Clare shifted her gaze from the pleading eyes of her daughter up into the expectant eyes of Michael and Edward and shrugged her shoulders in defeat. “Okay, okay, you can go with Michael and Edward in the boat, but only if you promise not to stand up or put your hands in the water, okay?”
“Thank you, Mama,” she shrieked excitedly, scooping Mr Truffles from the top of the picnic basket, “I promise.”
Crank shaded his brow with one hand and glanced up into a clear, blue sky spattered here and there with small tufts of white cloud. “They’re predicting another one of them wild storms later this afternoon,” he said, addressing the twins, “so I would like you three to be back here in an hour so we can all start headin’ back before it hits, okay?”
The twins both nodded. “Sure thing Uncle Crank.”
Crank discreetly studied Clare’s worried face as she watched after the small dinghy until it was completely out of sight. “She’ll be just fine,” he said reassuringly, patting her hand. “Michael and Edward are very responsible boys; they’ll take good care of Willow.”
Clare tried to put on a brave face. “I know that, it’s just that …”
“You’re a mother?” Crank said, finishing off the sentence for her, “and mother’s worry, I get that. Now, how ‘bout we relax and enjoy a wine
Crank dug the wine bottle out of the bottom of the picnic basket and poured them a wine each into two clear plastic glasses. He waited patiently until Clare had taken a sip and set her glass aside before he spoke. “I can’t stop thinking about you, Clare,” he said softly, tilting her chin up with his hand. Then he was bending his head, covering her mouth in the gentlest of kisses.
Her heart started racing and her stomach started fluttering as if it had just been filled with butterflies, rather than food. Crank’s lips were soft and gentle against hers and tasted like wine, yet at the same time his kiss was sexy and hot, and hinted at the masculine urgency that was now coursing through his veins. Clare moaned as he gently lowered her down onto the blanket and pinned her beneath him, deepening the kiss as he rested his weight on his forearms.
As Crank explored her mouth with his tongue, she felt the warmth of the heat inside her body suddenly turn from a kindling fire into a white hot blaze. “Crank,” she whispered longingly, “I want you so badly.”
“Oh God, Clare,” he panted, lifting his head to drink in her beautiful face and eyes. “I want you too, but …”
Suddenly, without warning, he was pushing himself back up into a sitting position and doing back up several buttons that had come undone in the throes of passion. “I’m so sorry,” he apologised, taking her hand and helping her back up into a sitting position, “but we really do have to talk before we take things any further.”
Clare searched his face. “What is it Crank? I’ve had a feeling for days that there was something else you’ve been putting off telling me. Please, just get it over with so we can get past it.”
Crank picked up the glasses of wine and handed Clare’s to her, before downing his own in a single gulp and refilling it. “The man who killed Georgia and Clare,” he said without making direct eye contact. “He was Georgia’s new partner, Wade Jennings. Georgia and I were actually estranged when the accident that claimed their lives occurred. She had recently moved herself and our daughter Ellie into his house.”
Clare rubbed his shoulder soothingly. “Oh no, Crank, that’s terrible. I just assumed you two were still happily married when …”
Crank reached up and put a finger to her lips to silence her before she could finish. “Clare, I was so angry with her for leaving me, but for Ellie’s sake I kept the peace. I knew Wade had a habit of driving under the influence of alcohol and I tried to warn Georgia, but she wouldn’t listen.” He took another large gulp of wine. “I just wish to God that I had tried harder. I should have made her and Ellie move back out. If I had they would still be alive.”
Clare slid her hand down around his waist and pulled him closer. “Crank, you can’t keep beating yourself up over what happened to Georgia and Ellie. None of it was your fault.”
Crank pulled away, got to his feet and took a few strides toward the lake before pausing with his back to her. “You don’t understand, Clare! I killed him; outside the courthouse at his trial. I was still angry with Georgia for moving in with him and even angrier with Wade for driving drunk and killing my family, so I saw an opportunity and I took it; I punched him, right there in front of three dozen witnesses.”
Tears streamed silently down Crank’s face as he finally turned to face her. “All this time I thought it didn’t matter to me that I had killed him. But it did, and I see that now. It always did matter. I’ve been in denial since it happened.”
Clare was completely stunned. “Crank, what do you mean, you killed him?” she asked shakily. “Did you stab him or shoot him or something?”
Crank thought he saw a glimmer of fear in her eyes. “No, like I said, I punched him. I didn’t use a weapon, I used my fist. I was angry because of his light sentence and I punched him square on the jaw.”
Clare was confused. “Then how did he die? What killed him? I don’t understand, surely your punch couldn’t have been powerful enough to kill him?”
Crank sat back down beside her on the blanket. “It wasn’t; it didn’t even break his jaw, but when he fell backwards he fell awkwardly onto a garden bed and snapped his neck.” He paused and searched her face with pleading eyes. “I swear to you Clare, I never meant for him to die; I just wanted him to feel some pain like I had been feeling since he killed my family.”
Clare’s mouth was now hanging open in shock and she felt completely numb. “What happened when Wade died?” she asked. “You can’t just kill someone and move on with your life? There must have been consequences?”
Crank could see that she had turned a pasty shade of white so he took her hands again and squeezed them gently in an effort to reassure her. “Clare, I’ve just spent the last six years in jail for manslaughter. I only got released on parole for good behaviour just before I came to the lake.”
This time it was Clare who shakily pulled her hands free and got up from the blanket. “Oh my God, Crank!” she exclaimed sounding slightly hysterical. “You’ve just spent the last six years in jail for manslaughter and you’re only just telling me now! For god’s sake I have a daughter to consider. What else have you been hiding from me?”
Crank scrambled to his feet and tried to take her hand again, but she snatched it away. “Please Clare; can we just talk about it?” he pleaded.
Clare shook her head. “No Crank, please, not right now. I’m going to walk back to the cabin alone. I need some time to think.”
Crank tried to block her path. “Look, Clare, please don’t go. This is the first moment that has truly felt like the right time to tell you about my sentence. I tried to tell you the night the boys arrived, but we were interrupted.”
Clare took a few calming breaths before she spoke again. “Look, Crank, I’m not angry with you, I promise, I’m just completely shocked and I need time by myself to process what you have just told me. I think the best thing right now is for me to head back to the cabin by myself. Could you please ask Michael and Edward to walk Willow home when they get back? You can take the picnic basket and rods back to your cabin for the time being”
Crank took a step toward her. “I can bring Willow home for you if you …”
But Clare put her hand up to silence him. “No, Crank, please. I just need some space. Just have the boys walk her home, okay? We’ll talk again tomorrow, I promise.”
As soon as the dinghy was safely tied to the jetty Willow carefully hopped out and raced up the path toward him. “Crank we had the best time ever. Michael took us through some tall reeds and we saw a mother duck with her six ducklings swimming in the water.” She paused briefly to look around. “Hey, Crank, where’s Mama?”
Crank forced a smile. “She decided to go home early, sweetheart, but guess what?”
Willow’s eyes opened wide in anticipation. “What?” she asked curiously.
“Well, your Mama said that Michael and Edward can walk you home while I carry the picnic basket and rods back to my cabin. How does that sound?”
Willow looked a little puzzled. “Why don’t you just come for a walk with us and we can all help carry the gear back?”
Crank was momentarily lost for an answer, but just then there was a rumble of thunder in the distance. “I would love to come for a walk with you guys Sweetheart, but do you remember when I told you it was going to storm this afternoon?”
She nodded her head. “Yes, I remember.”
“Good, well I have to get back to my cabin and move all of the loose items inside before it hits, otherwise they will get blown away by the strong winds.”
Edward and Michael had just arrived back at the picnic spot after securely tying the dinghy to the jetty and both boys took a seat on the picnic blanket beside Willow. “What’s this I hear about strong winds blowing stuff away?” Michael asked.
“Nothing to worry yourself about,” Crank reassured him, “but all the same I have some loose items back at our cabin that I would like to put inside before the storm hits so I would like you boys to take Willow h
“You heard Uncle Crank,” Edward said cheerily, crouching down and turning his back to Willow. “Why don’t you jump on my back and I’ll piggy-back you home?”
“YIPPEE,” Willow shrieked excitedly, “I’m getting a piggy-back home! Thank you Edward.”
“Be careful,” Crank called after them as they headed back along the trail, “and come straight home before the storm hits.”
“We will Uncle Crank,” they called back in unison.
When the three kids had disappeared around a bend in the path, Crank picked up the picnic basket and the fishing gear and started back along the path to his cabin. He knew he had done the right thing telling Clare about his time in prison, and he certainly had no regrets about doing it, but all the same he felt numb with fear. What if Clare couldn’t get past the fact that he had taken someone’s life? Or worse still; What if she no longer trusted him around Willow? The thought was like a dagger being driven through his heart. He loved Clare and Willow and he wanted to marry Clare and adopt Willow as his daughter. The realisation had come to him suddenly one night in bed a few days ago and when it did it made him realise how wrong he had been to fear a new relationship just because he might get his heart broken again. Like his sister Macey had told him when he had stayed there on his first night out of prison: He had a big heart and there wasn’t much point him keeping it closed off from love forever just because he feared having it broken again.
At the first exploding clap of thunder, Clare peeked nervously through the window at the worsening storm. By now the heavens had opened up and the rain was pouring down almost horizontally in the driving wind, making a deafening racket as it pelted against the shingled roof and glass windows of the cabin.