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Johnny (Connelly Cousins #2)(6)

Abbie Zanders

Before they knew it, they had devoured the entire pizza and were halfway through their second six pack. By the time Kyle returned, both women were stuffed and nicely buzzed. With a bit of patience, he managed to get them both to bed without too much trouble.

On Thursday, Lina gave Stacey the grand tour of Birch Falls. They started at O’Leary’s diner, where they had a big breakfast and Lina introduced Stacey to her grandfather. Then they visited Amy’s Book Shoppe, which Stacey absolutely loved. As it turned out, Amy had an entire window display dedicated to Salienne Dulcette, declaring herself to be Salienne’s biggest fan. When Lina confided Stacey’s secret identity to Amy over gourmet coffees and fresh pastries, Amy could barely contain her excitement. And when Stacey autographed several dozen books for her to sell, Amy was ecstatic.

Still feeling rather full from breakfast, they skipped lunch and went to Big Mo’s, the custom chopper shop where Kyle worked as the head cycle guru. Stacey lovingly ran her hands over some of his custom creations. She’d been quite an avid rider at one time, but the accident put an end to all of that. Now, among the smell of leather and gleaming chrome, she swore an oath to herself that if she was ever able to ride again, she would ask Kyle to make her something special. The man was a certified artist, a genius with steel, chrome and beautifully shaded paints.

Lina also took Stacey by Tiny’s Tattoos, calling him the ‘Rembrandt of tats’. After seeing the design he’d created for Lina, she made up her mind to get one herself. They spent a fun afternoon looking through possible designs before finally deciding on a dragon wrapped around her left ankle. As a special favor to Lina, Tiny stayed late and did it for her that very evening.

Friday was “spa day”. Lina and Stacey spent most of the day at the local salon and spa, being primped and pampered with soaks, wraps, massages, facials, mani-pedi’s, and waxes while sipping margaritas. It was the most relaxing day Stacey had in a long time.

By Friday night, Stacey wondered why she hadn’t done this sooner. She leaned back in her chair with a contented sigh. The past forty-eight hours had done more good than all of her sessions with over-priced therapists combined. She was having fun. She couldn’t remember when she had last smiled so much, or when her heart had felt so light. Yet no matter how wonderful the last two days had been, her wheelchair never let her forget her reality completely.

Lina was a doll. Not once had she badgered Stacey about her injuries or her prognosis. They had done a great job of ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. As it turned out, it was Stacey who finally broached the subject.

“I don’t blame you, you know.” Stacey’s quiet words made Lina pause as she was shoving a few things into an overnight bag. They were expecting Kyle home any minute to drive them up to the cabin. Lina said nothing and resumed packing.

“Lina.” Stacey moved beside her. “Please look at me.” Lina sat on the edge of her bed, biting her bottom lip and twisting her hands in her lap. The familiar tell almost made Stacey smile. She’d forgotten how Lina had done those things when she was unsure or nervous.

“There’s still hope, you know, remote though it might be. They’re coming up with new procedures all the time.”

“How many have you had?” Lina asked, her voice even quieter.

“A few,” she admitted. “It doesn’t matter, Lina. I can’t give up. I want my life back.”

“You are a beautiful, caring, hugely successful woman. Isn’t that a life?”

“For some, maybe, but it’s not me. I want to ride on a bike again, Lina, and feel the wind whip through my hair. I want to drive fast, sporty cars. Go white water rafting. Spend the entire month of February in Vail, skiing during the day and warming by the fire at night.”

“But you can do those things.”

A sad smile played about her lips. “You sound like one of my therapists. Technically, and to a certain degree, you’re right,” Stacey agreed. “But it’s not the same. It’s not enough. I want the Harley, not the sidecar. The Shelby Terminator, not the handicapped-friendly van. Don’t you see? I want to walk into a room and have heads turn because of the way I look or what I’m wearing, not because my chair can’t quite fit through the door.”

Stacey took both of Lina’s hands in hers. She needed her to understand. “I want to be able to wrap my legs around a man while he’s making love to me, Lina.” She smiled sadly. “Hell, I want a man to want to make love to me again.”

Eyes filled with unshed tears, Lina wrapped her arms around her. “I’m sorry, Stace. I cannot even imagine what it’s like for you. You have my support always, no matter what, you know that. Just stop selling yourself short, okay? You’re still the same person on the inside. You are vibrant, caring, and creative. And you’re like a sister to me.”


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