Jack collapsed onto Ally’s sofa as soon as they were in the door. He stared into space.
Ally watched him, concern and love for him swelling and aching in her chest. If only she could make this all right for him. She’d do anything to ease this pain for him. This was unbelievable.
She sank down on the couch beside him and took his hand. For a long moment they sat there in silence. The tension between them was replaced by the shock of Sarah’s illness, the horror that she might die, and anger that something so cruel could happen to a beautiful child.
“Are you okay?” she finally whispered, not looking at him.
“No,” he groaned. “Ally.” He turned to her and pulled her into his arms, which tightened around her like clamps. She slid her arms around his neck and let him hold her, nestling in against him, both of them taking comfort from the close connection.
“I can’t believe it,” he said, his low voice muffled by her hair. “I just find out about her, just get to meet her...and I find out she’s dying.”
“She might not be.” She stroked her hands over his back. “If you’re a good match, and you’re willing to donate, maybe you can save her.”
His arms tightened and she felt his uneven breathing, the heavy thud of his heart against her. “Yeah. Maybe.”
They stayed like that for a long time, and she knew Jack was fighting to control his emotions, his breath shuddering in and out of him.
“Would you do it?” she finally asked him, drawing back a little. “Donate your bone marrow?”
“Of course!” He looked down at her with faintly red eyes, his face drawn. “Man, if I can do something so little as donating bone marrow to save a life, why wouldn’t I? So many families I saw ripped apart, innocent children killed. Those parents - Mohim - had no choice about keeping their kids alive.” He shook his head, his eyes sad.
“You can do something about this,” she whispered, laying her palm on his cheek, rough with a day’s growth of golden beard. “And I’m here for you, Jack.”
“I know.” He hauled her against him again, pressed his face to her hair. “I know you are, Ally. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re all that’s getting me through this.”
“No, I’m not. You’re strong, Jack. You’ve always been strong. You know what you need to do and you do it.”
“I know, but it doesn’t make it easier. I didn’t plan to stay here very long. I have a job I have to get back to. My whole life is bombed–out rubble.” He shook his head. “Except you.”
She knew he wanted her, cared about her. She felt the same. She also knew if they slept together again Jack was going to feel horrible. But she couldn’t stop it. They needed each other, on a level that went far beyond rational thoughts about why they shouldn’t do it. And Ally didn’t care. She didn’t care if Carter was pissed off at them. She and Carter had been done a long time ago. She should care about Carter and Jack, she supposed, but she couldn’t help feeling that Carter didn’t deserve Jack’s unswerving loyalty.
She stood up and took Jack’s hand in hers. He looked at her. Then he stood up, too. And followed her up the stairs to her bedroom.
* * *
“I’m going to go stay with Carter.”
Ally’s head snapped up. They sat in her kitchen drinking coffee the next morning.
“Why?” Her forehead creased.
“I can’t stay here with you, Ally.” He swallowed hard. “This is going to keep happening. And it can’t.” He tensed, waiting for her response.
She set her cup down on the counter, looked down at it.
“I know,” she whispered.
Jack blinked, then stared.
“I’m being when you have so much stuff going on. I swore to myself I would let you deal with Sarah and Brittany. You don’t need me bugging you about us and about Carter on top of that.”
“Oh.” Jesus, that wasn’t the problem. Ally was the one sane thing in his life, his angel. He struggled with how to tell her that.
“You still feel guilty, don’t you?” she asked.
“Hell, yeah. Although I have to admit, I totally forgot about Carter for a while there.” He let out a long breath. “I just couldn’t help myself. Couldn’t resist you. I’m weak, Ally.”
She gave a little laugh. “Weak my ass. You’re the strongest person I know.”
“Not when it comes to you, apparently.” He reached for her hand, then drew back. “I’m sorry.” He wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. For hurting her? For being a stupid idiot who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants? “I know we shouldn’t have done it, but damned if I could help myself.”
“I know.” She touched his face. “I feel the same. I told myself I would leave you alone, that I would just be supportive and helpful until you get through all this. Then you touch me and I’m gone. I’m sorry, too, Jack.”
“Don’t apologize,” he whispered in agony. “You don’t need to feel guilty, too.”
“But I do feel guilty. Your life is crazy right now. You don’t need this on top of everything else.”
Hell, she was right. And yet...how could he get through it without her? Ally may think he was strong, but the truth was, without her he felt weak and helpless.
Ally sat there, quiet, then asked, her voice touchingly tentative, “Will you let me know when you get the test results? And how things go with Sarah?”
Her words made Jack’s chest tighten. “Of course.” Did she think he was going to leave and never see her again?
“And what about after your surgery?” she asked. “You need someone to drive you home and you shouldn’t be alone. You can come back here, then, if you want.”
“I thought Carter might look after me,” he joked.
“Yeah, right. ‘Cause Carter is so nurturing.” Her lip curled.
“Hey. He stood by me once before, when I went through a tough time. The toughest. He was a good buddy, and I’m sure he will be this time, too.”
Ally stayed silent and he shifted, turned her face with a hand on her chin so he could see her eyes.
“You know, Carter changed the last few years,” she said slowly, meeting his gaze. “When he started working for Chipman, Barratt he got so involved in his career. There were things about him I didn’t like. Sometime he was working on cases that I...had problems with. Defending guys that were guilty, getting them off on technicalities. I felt like he was becoming...unethical.” She cleared her throat. “The first time he cheated on me I tried to tell myself it was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. But the second time - no.” She hesitated. “I shouldn’t be saying this. He’s your friend.”
Jack listened, touched her hair.
“I just want you to know ...be prepared that maybe he’s not the guy you think he is.”
Jack knew Carter wasn’t perfect, but he still felt he owed him a lot. He owed him his loyalty.
“But,” Ally continued, her voice determinedly upbeat. “Sarah is the most important thing right now. I understand that.”
“Thank you, Ally.” He held her to him for a long moment then kissed her hair.
Extreme Close Up Chapter 25