Liz jerked awake, sitting up, panic-stricken that she and Max were about to be murdered.
It took almost a full second for her to realize that she wasn’t in the barn, and it was almost another second to figure out were she was. White walls and bedding, clinically clean, machines everywhere, she was in the hospital again.
And then the pain started. She felt like she hurt everywhere, but her arm and head were absolutely throbbing.
As that realization hit her, someone touched her arm, and a soft voice spoke her name.
She jerked again, turning to see her sister sitting near the bed.
“Serena,” she said in relief. Her eyes flicked quickly over her sister, eager to see if she was injured. “Are you okay?”
Serena smiled. “You’ve been unconscious for hours, and you ask if I’m okay?” She nodded. “Just a little bump on the head, but I’m fine. How are you feeling?”
Liz tried to shrug, but winced. “A little sore,” she admitted. Looking down at her flat stomach, she asked softly. “Is the baby okay?”
“Fine,” Serena assured her. “I told the doctor you were pregnant, and told him not to say anything to anyone. He said the baby is just fine.”
A rush of relief filled Liz. She’d been scared and unsure about the baby before but now she felt fiercely protective. Her hand covered her stomach. She didn’t have doubts anymore. She loved and wanted her baby, and she’d do anything to keep it safe, even if that meant a life away from its father.
Liz’s eyes flicked around the room, looking for Max. She opened her mouth to ask about him, but Serena spoke before she could.
“Max is fine,” she said. ““I didn’t tell him about the baby, so he still doesn’t know. I thought you should be the one to tell him. He’s out talking to the Police now, but he’s been in here with you every other minute, sitting here, holding your hand.”
She smiled. “Liz, he’s in love with you, it’s so obvious.”
Liz shook her head. “He’s in lust, but it always ends. He goes through women faster than most people get oil changes.”
“I think you’re wrong,” Serena said. “The way he was looking at you, like you were the only thing in the world…” she shook her head, but Liz cut her off.
“I think you’re just seeing what you want,” she said, and quickly changed the subject. “So tell me what happened,” she insisted. “Where is Tess? What did she do to you?”
“As far as the police can tell,” Serena started, “Tess broke into your house and got my address from there. Then the psycho came to my house,” she reached up, touching the back of her head and wincing, “and hit me with something really heavy, and tied me up in the kitchen.”
“She called Max, and told him to come and watch her kill you, and if he told anyone or brought anyone, she would just kill you and disappear. So he did what she said, and came to the house alone and tried to save you.”
“Luckily your team put a GPS tracker on his car, and were only a few minutes behind him. But from what I understand you’d already kicked her butt before they got there.”
Liz nodded, and wished she hadn’t when the pain came. “Yeah,” she said, putting her hand to her head. “I seem to remember something about that. So where is she now?”
“Locked up tight,” Serena said, “and under constant supervision.”
“Good,” Liz said.
Serena spoke up. “Liz, I think you’re missing the point here though,” she said. “Max came alone to face that psycho bitch, knowing she might kill him. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going until it was too late. He didn’t expect help to show up at all, and he did it because he loves you. Max risked his life to save you.”
Liz shook her head. “He’s a good man. He would have done it for anyone.”
“I don’t know about that,” Serena said, “and if you’d seen the way he’s been.” She sighed, “I think you should tell him everything.”
Liz felt a rush of hope, but then it died. “Even if by some miracle he was in love with me, he would go running when I told him about the baby. He doesn’t want anything permanent. His love wouldn’t last. It doesn’t mean…”
She trailed off as the door opened, and Max looked in.
When he saw she was awake, a smile lit his face and he rushed to the bed. “Liz!” Touching her cheek gently, he placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “I’m so glad you’re all right.”
Serena smiled softly and rose. “I’m going to let you guys talk,’ she said, moving toward the door.
Liz reached out for her, not wanting to be alone with Max, but Serena just waved. “I’ll be back later.”
Max took a seat, and waited for the door to close behind Serena before he spoke. “Liz,” he said softly, “why did you leave me? I thought we had something really good together. You were going to stay with me while you recovered, and we could get to know each other better.”
This is exactly why Liz had left Max without saying a word. She didn’t want to have this conversation.
“Max,” she said, “I think we both know that this thing between us isn’t going anywhere. This is what you do. You’re with a woman for a couple of months, and then you move on. I was just being realistic.”
He nodded. “That’s true. In the past I haven’t wanted to be with a woman for more than a few months, but it’s different with you.”
He took her hand. “Liz, I’ve been wanting to tell you since the first time we made love, but I thought you wouldn’t believe me. I love you. I want to be with you, all the time, and not just for sex, although the sex is incredible.”
Liz shook her head. “Max,” but he cut her off.
“It seems sudden, I know, but it’s really not. I know you won’t believe me,” he said, “but over the years I thought about you a lot. Whenever I was especially lonely, an image of you from school filled my mind.”
Liz was incredulous. “But you didn’t even know me in college.”
“I knew enough,” he said. “I could see the real you. You were different, special, more real. And I saw the same things inside you again, when you came back into my life, even though I didn’t know who you were.”
Liz smiled, disbelieving. “With all of the women in your life, you didn’t have time to think of me.”
He nodded. “I did. Because no matter how many women I dated, you stood out in my mind. They were temporary distractions, at best. I never wanted a long-term relationship with any of them. Even when I was with them, I felt alone.”
He kissed her hand. “Being with you fills up the empty spaces inside me for the first time in my life. I never want that feeling to end. I love you, and want to be with you, always.”
Liz couldn’t speak, she was so surprised, and simply shook her head.
“Please,” he begged, “marry me, move in with me, date me. I’ll accept anything you want. I’ll do anything to prove to you that I love you.”
Liz felt like her heart was going to burst with happiness, but at the same time she was so scared. She really believed Max loved her at that moment, but would it last?
Tears gathered in her eyes. “I love you too,” she breathed.
A huge smile made his face glow with happiness, and he carefully hugged her. “Oh Liz, we’ll be so happy together, you’ll see.”
“But Max,” she said, pushing him away, “I have to tell you something else. It’s the reason I left you.”
He kissed her forehead. “You can tell me anything.”
Taking a deep breath, Liz steeled herself for his reaction. “Max, I’m pregnant.”
For a moment he looked confused, and then his eyes widened as he looked down at her stomach. His gaze snapped back to hers, and was filled with worry.
Liz’s breath caught as she waited for his reaction.
“Is the baby, okay?” he whispered. “After everything that happened…” he trailed off, looking down at her stomach again, and swallowed hard.
Liz nodded. “The doctor says everything looks fine.”
“Thank God,” Max breathed. He gripped her hand tightly, and brought it up to his mouth to kiss her knuckles. “But why did you leave me? I don’t understand. Don’t you want me to be part of the baby’s life?”
She met his eyes. “I didn’t think you’d want the baby,” she said softly.
“Why?” Max gasped.
“Because it would mean a permanent link to me, and I didn’t think you want that, or the responsibility of having a child,” she explained.
Max shook his head, smiling gently. “I love you, and I want to be with you. And I’ll admit the baby is a complete surprise, but I couldn’t be happier.”
“Are you sure?” Liz asked, hopefully.
He nodded. “The baby was created from our love.”
Tears started in Liz’s eyes. “I’m just scared you’ll change your mind. You’ll want your freedom, and leave us.”
Max bent down close to her, and stroked her cheek. “Not going to happen. Even before you came back into my life, I knew I needed to change to find happiness. I’d already decided that I wanted something real, someone to love and build a life with, and I’m so lucky that the someone was you.”
He kissed her gently and Liz smiled through her tears. “I love you,” she said.
“Then marry me,” Max said with a smile. “I love you, and I will spend the rest of our lives proving it to you.”
Tess had been locked up for almost four months, but her devotion to Max had never waivered. It wasn’t his fault that he’d been bewitched by the bitch, Liz.
Soon he would realize his mistake, and rescue her from her prison.
Tess looked out the bars of her padded room, at the television in the nurses’ station, her only glimpse at the outside world. Her favorite show was about to start and she vibrated with excitement. It was a celebrity gossip show and sometimes she caught glimpses of Max.
The blonde announcer came on, giving a brief overview of the stories covered in the show, and then her face took on a pretty pout. “It’s a sad day for all you hopeful girls out there. You can cross one of America’s most eligible bachelor’s off your list. Notorious ladies’ man, and retired basketball superstar, the drool-worthy Max Evans has at long last announced an engagement, to, hold your breath gals, his former bodyguard, the gorgeous Liz Parker.”
The whole screen filled with images of Max and Liz being escorted through a crowd.
The announcer continued, voicing-over the looping pictures of the couple. “As all of you undoubtedly know, Max has cut a wide swath through the single women for years, but none of them ever came close to catching him, until now. In a statement from his manager, the delectable Max Evans announced that he has never been happier and is looking forward to a long marriage to the love of his life.”
The camera focused on the blonde announcer again, and she leaned in, as if sharing a secret. “In an exclusive, this station has learned that Max and Liz attended the same college and had several classes together, no doubt where the spark started. And now years later they were reunited when he unknowingly hired her as his bodyguard. It obviously didn’t take long for the flames to reignite!”
“There are even rumors that Max’s lady-love might be pregnant. In the few times they’ve been seen out, photos have captured a suspicious bump on the slim frame of the beautiful brunette.”
She paused as a still picture was featured, focusing on Liz’s stomach. “If it is true,” she gushed, “just think of the gorgeous baby these two will make!”
“And no wonder Max wants Liz in his life permanently. She’s not only gorgeous, but you’ll all remember that she recently saved his life…”
The announcer continued with the story, but Tess turned away, fuming. She couldn’t believe that Max would do this to her. He really was a bastard.
After everything she’d done for him, he was marrying Liz.
A sick feeling filled her stomach. Maybe he was mad at her. Maybe he didn’t think she had done enough, didn’t think she was worthy.
Angry, disappointed tears filled her eyes, but she brushed them away. For a moment she considered what she could do, but then a sudden thought filled her mind. Max wasn’t worth her time and devotion. Maybe she should give it to someone who would appreciate it, and appreciate her.
Someone whistling outside her cell made her look through the small window again, and she spied a new guard coming down the hall. A soft smile crossed her lips as she saw how handsome he was.
She waited until he got closer, and smiled at him as he walked by. He nodded back, and she felt a rush of excitement. Maybe he was a better choice than Max.
He was nice, and now she knew his name. She’d see it on his nametag.
“I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Max leaned in, cupping Liz’s cheek and kissed her deeply, not needing the prompt from the minister.
The crowd cheered and Mr. and Mrs. Evans turned toward them, smiling radiantly. Liz’s stomach was starting to show a little, and everyone agreed that she had never looked more beautiful.
Hand-in-hand they walked back through the crowd, waving and receiving congratulations as they made their way into the reception room.
Max and Liz’s family gathered around them, crying tears of happiness, and hugging. Maria, Michael, Isabel and Alex welcomed Liz into the family eagerly because they all knew how much Max loved her. And Max’s parents were glad he was finally settling down.
Liz’s parents could see their daughter’s joy and Max’s obvious love for her, and accepted him immediately.
Serena, the maid of honor, took her sister’s hand, pulling her aside, and hugged her tightly. “I know you’ll be so happy together.”
Liz smiled. “And you can say ‘I told you so.’”
Serena giggled. “Well, I did.”
“You were right,” Liz said, “and I’ve never been happier to be wrong. Max has been wonderful, and he loves me and the baby so much.”
“I’m just glad you’ve found happiness,” Serena said, hugging her sister again.
“And what about you?” Liz teased. “I’ve seen you with my boss’ son, Kyle, the last couple of days, at the rehearsal dinner, making googly-eyes across the table, and then dancing afterward.”
Serena’s eyes widened and she blushed slightly. “I thought you were too busy to notice.”
“So it is true,” Liz giggled.
“He’s a great guy,” Serena said. “I will certainly be getting to know him better.”
At that moment, Liz felt a familiar body press to hers, and a loving arm wrapped around her waist. Liz leaned into her new husband as he placed a kiss on her temple.
“The photographer will be ready for us in a minute,” he said.
Serena smiled at them and excused herself. “I’m going to talk to Mom and Dad.”
When Serena had gone, Max turned Liz to him and whispered against the side of her head. “Thank you.”
“For what?” she asked, drawing back to look in his eyes.
“For everything,” he said, putting a hand on her growing stomach. “For being with me, for loving me for who I am, for believing in me, and filling up my life and my heart. I love you, and I’m going to spend every day thanking you for this wonderful life you’ve given me.”
Tears of joy sparkled in Liz’s eyes. “I love you, and I’m so lucky to have found you again. It must have been destiny when you hired me to protect you.”
He smiled. “It was destiny.” He kissed her softly on the lips. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me. You saved me from Tess, from loneliness, from an empty, loveless life. You even saved me from myself.” He kissed her again. “You saved me in every way possible.”
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