Part 3
By Pat

"  Readers Advisory: This story contains some brief, graphic sexual content."

He could hear the rumbling and see the flashes of light as the missiles struck their targets. He was running, running, trying to reach them. Luka felt as if his lungs would burst. He was almost home when he saw the missile strike his building, saw the explosion, the fire. He struggled to get to them through the rubble. He could hear his wife's voice in the distance, calling his name....

“Luka, Luka, wake up. It's just a dream. Luka, can you hear me?” Jennifer pleaded. She was somewhat frightened. She had never seen him this bad. She knew he had bad dreams, she had watched him restly toss and turn at night, sometimes to wake and sit trembling on the side of the bed. “Luka, please, you're safe here. No one will hurt you,” she said, reaching for his arm, trying to break the hold the nightmare had on him.

As Luka felt the hands on him, he panicked even more, swinging out wildly. He felt his hand hit something. Shouting in Croatian, he finally manged to break free of the nightmare, sitting up on the sofa. He was breathing heavily and his heart was pounding. He could still hear the rumble of the missiles, the flashing light. He felt a hand on his arm. He looked at Jennifer in almost a daze. “Luka, you're safe. It's just a storm. Only thunder and lightening.” Jennifer kept repeating over and over as she tried to calm him. Finally her words penetrated the haze in his mind. “A storm?” he questioned hoarsely. “Yes, Luka, just a storm. You're safe here with me.” He looked into her face, noting the blood on her lip. 'Did I hurt you?” he asked. “Its nothing, absolutely nothing.” Jennifer replied.

“No, I hit you, that's unforgiveable.”

Jennifer wrapped him in her arms, feeling his whole body shaking, “It's all right. You didn't hurt me, I'm fine.” She tried to reassure him. She felt his arms tighten around her, as she gave him her warmth and support.

“Luka, I know something is troubling you. I'm here for you.” Jennifer told him. “You can trust me. Tell me what happened, please, I just want to help you, if you'll let me.” She gently stroked his cheek, pushing back the locks of hair that had fallen over his face. Luka hadn't talked about his past to many people. But now, he found himself opening up to this woman, pouring out his heart to her. He told her about his wife, his two children, the day the missile landed on their building, destroying them, and in many ways, him with them. He told her of the emptiness his life had been, the guilt he carried, blaming himself for not being there to save his family, the constant moving he had done, trying to escape the ghosts that haunted him. Jennifer quietly listened, encouraging him to continue with his story. He talked until his voice was a hoarse whisper. Jennifer felt a tear slide down her face. He too had suffered so much pain, so much loss in his life. They were kindred spirits. No wonder she had been so drawn to him.

“Oh Luka, I'm so sorry, how terrible for you...” she tried to comfort him, but angry at himself for revealing so much, and misreading her compassion, Luka snapped “I don't need your pity!” Jennifer sat back as if he had slapped her. “It wasn't pity I was offering,” she said quietly, “I was trying to tell you I understand your grief, what you've been going through.”

“How the hell can you understand anything?” he growled at her. “You've been here, an American, where its safe from war, you don't have soldiers shooting each other, bombing innocent women and children. Have you watched a loved one die?”

Finishing his tirade, he looked at her. She had gone white and rigid as a piece of fine marble. Jennifer felt stunned; he might as well have punched her. Then, like a match to dry tinder, her shock turned to white-hot anger. Bringing up her arm, she slapped him as hard as she could.

“How dare you? How dare you say that to me?” Jennifer raged. “I haven't always been an American. I'm Irish, don't you understand, Irish! Born and raised in Northern Ireland. Belfast, Northern Ireland. You don't have to tell me about shooting, and bombing, and people dying. I grew up with it! Protestants and Catholics hating each other, the IRA hating the Brits, someone always hating, killing someone else!”

She turned her back on him. The tears were flowing freely now, and she struggled for control.

Luka couldn't believe what he was hearing. He started to move, to get up to go to her. Without turning around, Jennifer put out her arm, motioning him back, away from her.

After what felt like forever to Luka, she turned around. “You think I don't know what it feels like to lose someone you love? No, Luka, I may have not lost children, and I can't imagine the terrible agony that must be, but I have watched my loved one die. I held him in my arms. His blood was all over me.” She held out her arms, looking at her hands. “Its still there. I can still see the blood on my hands. So much blood. I tried to stop it, but I couldn't, I couldn't! He died and it was my fault!” Jennifer shouted at him.

Oh my God, what have I done? Luka thought. How could I have been so blind? Too wrapped up in myself, I couldn't see her pain, he berated himself. He rose quickly and went to her, pulling her into his arms. Jennifer fought him, beating on his chest with her fists, trying to get loose, but he held her that much tighter until finally she collapsed sobbing against him. Holding her to him, he could feel her body shaking with the force of her emotions. “I'm so sorry, my love, I'm so sorry.” He kept murmuring softly. Finally, her tears started to subside, and he felt her go limp in his arms. Carefully lifting her, he carried her over and placed her gently down on the sofa. Jennifer sat motionless, head bowed, staring at her hands.

v Sitting beside her, Luka gently turned her to face him. Placing his fingers under her chin, he raised her head so he could look into her face. With the handkerchief he always carried, he softly wiped away her tears. “Jenny, have you ever talked about that day?” He asked her. “No.” she whispered.

“I know after what I've done to you, I have no right to ask you to trust me, or to forgive me,” Luka said quietly, “but I'm begging you to do both. You can't keep the grief, or the guilt bottled up inside you. It will tear you apart. I know. I've tried. You were here to help me, now let me be strong for you.”

Jennifer searched his face, looking for any sign that he would push her away again. Luka met her look. He knew why she hesitated. “Trust is a two way street, Jenny, it has to go both ways.” Luka told her. “Who was he?” He knew he had to get her to open up and let go. It was a lesson he had just learned himself.

Taking a ragged breath, she said, in a voice as soft as pure silk, Luka had to strain to hear, “My husband, Jamie MacLeod.” Jennifer whispered. “We had been married six months. I was 17, he was 20. Jamie was a trainer at the stable. He wasn't involved in politics or even interested.” She said. “Jamie loved three things - me, the horses and Scotland, his homeland.” Her voice broke.

Luka took her hands in his, “You're doing fine,” he encouraged her, “tell me the rest.”

“We had gone into town that day, just to get away from the barn, spend some time together. We were getting ready to go back home, but Jamie decided he wanted a pint first, so he took us to the nearest pub. We finished our drinks and left. We were several blocks away and I remembered I had left my sweater. Jamie told me to wait here; he'd run back and get it. Then I heard the explosion. I ran down the street. Everything was in ruins, there were bodies everywhere. I crawled through the debris, the broken glass, the bodies, screaming Jamie's name. When I found him he was barely alive. He died as I held him. I took him home to Dunvegan, and then I left for America. I couldn't stay in Ireland anymore, and I didn't belong on Skye, not without Jamie.” She had to stop talking; the pain was so strong she couldn't go on. Then somewhat bitterly, she continued, “And I've lived with the knowledge that I caused his death ever since.”

Luka was stunned. My God, he thought, she went through a hell that would have been hard enough to bear as an adult, and she had been just a child! Like a bolt of the lightening that was still flashing outside the window, the realization hit him. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with her - protecting her from harm, keeping her safe with him, and he also knew then that he would never feel whole again without her. She had become a part of him. Luka also realized he was very close to losing her.

“Why do you blame yourself, Jenny?” He asked.

“If I hadn't left my stupid sweater, if Jamie hadn't gone back for it, he wouldn't have been there when the bomb exploded!” Jennifer cried.

Luka pulled her on to his lap, cradling her as if she were a child. “You are not to blame.” He told her. “The bastard who set that bomb is the only one who is guilty. You couldn't have prevented it.” Luka felt the words he was saying to her were the same words he should have listened to all these years. “There was nothing I could have done to save my family, any more than you could have saved your husband from the cruel and vicious killers in this world. But we can stop them from adding to their list of victims. We don't have to let them destroy us with the guilt they want us to feel.”

Jennifer listened to his quiet words. “I don't know if I can.” She told him. “Yes, you can.” Luka replied firmly. “We can do it together, you and I.” As she looked at him, Luka decided he had to risk it, “I love you.” He told her. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you, I want you for my wife. Maybe somewhere in your heart, you have little bit of love for me?” His accent had deepened with his emotions. He waited, holding his breath, for her reply. Jennifer looked at him in astonishment. Then wrapping her arms around his neck, she cried, “Of course I love you, my darling idiot,” she called him, reminding him of the day they had met, “I think I loved you from the day we met, and I would be honored to be your wife!”

Jennifer had to know, “But what about them?” Luka knew whom she meant. “We have to believe they are at peace with God now,” he told her, “and we have to let them go. Yes, part of me will always love Elena and my little girls, just as you will always love your Jamie. They are a part of us, they helped make us who we are today, but since they loved us, now they would only want our happiness.”

“I love you so much, Luka, my Luka.” Jennifer whispered to him. Holding, kissing, they could feel the passion rising. Picking her up, Luka carried her to the bedroom. Standing her by the bed, he swiftly removed her clothes, as he felt her fingers fumbling at his shirt, pulling it from him. He gently pushed her naked on the bed, his clothes quickly ending on the floor near hers. Once beside her, he possessed her mouth with his. Noticing her wince from the bruised lip, he murmured, “I guess I'll have to find other places to kiss.” And he proceeded to find those places. Jennifer moaned softly as his lips were leaving a trail of fire from her throat to her breasts. Her hands caressed his back. She felt his hand on the inside of her thigh, gently spreading her legs, until his fingers found what he was seeking. He heard her little cries of pleasure as his fingers worked their magic on her. “Take me, Luka, take me now.” Jennifer cried. 'Not yet, sweet, we've got all night.” He teased her. When he had worked her body to a fevered frenzy, and he could wait no longer, Luka shifted his weight, quickly positioning himself on top of her. He felt her hand reach down, and he groaned as she grasped him, guiding him to her. Then he was inside, filling her completely. She felt so tight and warm. He watched her throw back her head and felt her nails rake his back. Catching him by surprise, Jennifer pushed him on his back, positioning herself astride him. “Keep me waiting, will you.” She laughed at the expression on his face. Quickly recovering, Luka took advantage of the situation. With his hands on her hips, he controlled the rhythm as she rode him like she did one of her Trakheners in the barn. Holding her firmly in place, he sat up, pulling her closer, her breasts rubbing against his chest, her mouth on his, her arms wrapped around his neck. Then, feeling her tremors start, he rolled with her so she was once more on the bottom. With her legs wrapped around him, he felt her body shuddering as he drove even deeper, heard her crying out his name as she reached the height of her passion. Luka too found release as their bodies fused into one.

Lying together spent and satiated, wrapped in the warm afterglow of their love; a thought came to Luka. “What about your career?” He asked, “I don't want you giving that up for me.” Raising on one elbow, Jennifer looked down at the man she loved. “I'm not giving up anything,” she assured him, “I'm gaining everything. Jennifer MacLeod has just retired from the show scene that's all.”

“Are you sure, Jenny? “No doubts or regrets?”

“None whatsoever.” She told him firmly. “I've had my day in the sun, I don't need any more trophies or medals. All I need is you. Now I can ride again for the joy and fun of it, not as a means of forgetting. Besides, I can still compete locally if I want to, I can coach, or train, and someday I can teach our children to ride.” She laughingly added, “Maybe even one day I can get you on a horse!”

“Not if you want those children you mentioned!” Luka quipped, laughing at the look she gave him.

Still wrapped in each other's arms, they fell asleep. They knew there were still some rocky times ahead, the battle scars they both wore would not fade overnight, but together they had come through the storm. Together they could face whatever would come. As they slept, the storm died away, the clouds overhead parted, and slowly the stars appeared in the sky.

End Part 3


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