By: Sarah Mayberry

She opened her mouth to call for help, but her throat was so dry she could only produce a tortured croak.

Suddenly Eddie was there, filling her vision as he leaned over the bed, his hand finding hers on the bedcovers.

“It’s okay, coração. You’re okay. You’re in hospital. You’re a bit banged up, but you’re okay.”

She stared up at him, unable to fully comprehend what he was saying, but so grateful he was here.

And then she remembered.

Maggie’s party. Fighting with Eddie. Walking across the road. The roar of the motorbike.

The split-second of pure, ice-cold fear as she’d understood what was going to happen to her.

“Don’t cry, coração. Don’t do that to me,” Eddie said, but she was powerless to stop the hot tears sliding down her cheeks.

She gripped his hand as tightly as she could, needing his strength to anchor her.

“I thought I was going to die,” she whispered, staring up into his face.

“You are not the only one.” His accent was thicker than she’d ever heard it, his forehead creased into a deep, pained frown.

She couldn’t seem to stop the tears, and after a moment Eddie swore quietly under his breath. The next thing she knew he was on the bed beside her, his arms coming around her as he cradled her ever-so-gently against his chest. She breathed in the smell that was uniquely Eddie — clean clothes, warm skin, traces of aftershave — her good hand clutching at his shirt, and allowed herself a small moment of weakness.

“I’ve got you, Blue. I’ve got you,” he said, and it was exactly what she wanted — needed — to hear.

He kissed her forehead, and she ducked her head beneath his chin and pressed her face against his neck. She could feel his pulse against her cheek, and the rough rasp of his beard growing in. For a few precious seconds it was the safest place on earth.

She closed her eyes, savoring the moment, but as her brain came back online, it started hitting her with fragments of memory.

A flash of someone — a stranger — in a paramedic’s uniform leaning over her, asking if she knew her own name.

Someone repeatedly insisting that she remain awake.

Bright lights.

And pain — or, at least, the memory of it — burning along her nerve endings, stealing her breath.

And, most disturbingly, that moment, over and over, when she’d stared in frozen horror at the headlight coming toward her and understood, absolutely, that she would never know what it was like to make love to the man who was now holding her in his arms, to have him inside her, to know him the way she’d always wanted to know him. That her chance to love and be loved by him was gone, forever.

She lifted her head, pulling away from him. Confused and confronted by the images and memories and thoughts pummeling her.

“Am I hurting you?” Eddie asked.

“A little.”

He released her immediately, as she’d known he would, easing away from her and sliding off the bed. The relief she felt was indescribable. As lovely as it was having him hold her, it scared her how much she wanted it, how weak she was feeling. She’d always been so clear about what she wanted from him, about who he was and who she was. But that remembered moment of regret…

It was profoundly unsettling to realize that her — potentially — last mortal thought had been about what could have been, if she’d been brave enough to go there. It overturned everything she thought she knew about herself.

“You want some water? They said you’d probably be thirsty when you woke up,” Eddie asked.

“Yes, please.”

She watched as he poured her a glass from the jug beside her bed, taking note of his five o’clock shadow and wrinkled shirt and jeans. The same clothes he’d been wearing at Maggie’s party.

“What day is it?” she asked.

“Monday morning. Early.”

Maggie’s party had been Saturday night, which meant Blue had lost a whole day and a bit. Eddie handed her the glass, then helped her sit up enough to swallow. The movement made her ribs and belly ache, and she let out a little gasp, almost dropping the glass. Eddie’s hand was there to steady hers, his green eyes dark with concern.

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