Love on a Limb by Laurie Lewis
Matthew Grayken is young, successful, and dying, which is why he’s about to propose to a total stranger. He isn’t interested in love. He needs a caregiver, a companion, and someone to be his legal voice when he can no longer speak for himself.
Lonely, compassionate nurse Mikaela Compton is intrigued by Matt Grayken’s tender request, but when their friendly marriage turns into love, she rejects the inevitability of Matt’s death and prays for a miracle instead.
Mikaela succeeds in reigniting Matt’s will to fight, but his body is losing the battle and he is suffering. She recognizes that her urgent need to save Matt has caused her to betray the fundamental promise she made him–to help him die peaceably.
Matt needs a miracle, and Mikaela believes one is attainable, but she will need to leave him at the hour of his greatest need. She’s about to learn that while love sometimes draws you close, it sometimes requires you to go out on a limb.
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She slipped her hand back again and sat upright with her elbows on the table. “You’ve spelled out the financial terms, and the wedding plans. So far, this is just a lucrative long-term nursing job with companion care, but what are your expectations for—” her voice lowered to a whisper, “—the marriage?”
Of course, he knew this delicate issue would arise, but it was the most painful part of the equation. “I hope we’ll be great companions, enjoying friendship, respect, humor. But that’s not what you’re asking, is it?” He played with his spoon as he gathered the right words. “You want to know if a dying man would play on your sympathies to lure you into his bedroom?”
She didn’t flinch. “The thought crossed my mind.”
Try as he might to remain even, he knew his disappointment showed on his face. “Fair enough. No, Mikaela, I am not asking for a full marriage in that way, nor am I looking to fall in love. I want to avoid that, as much to protect me as to protect you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t want to grieve for anyone else as I pass, nor do I want to leave someone else grieving for me.”
“So just friendship and companionship?”
“Yes, but neither is a small thing. I’m embarrassed to admit that I find myself feeling a little anxious. I would be a bit possessive of your time and company.”
“Would I need to quit my job?”
“Not at first. I intend to work a while longer. When I quit, I’d like you to do the same. That’s when I’ll need you the most.”
Mikaela nodded quietly as she stared down at the table. Matt couldn’t read her expression, and his heart clutched.
“So what do you think?”
She looked up, tilted her head to the side, and studied his face. “I’m up for a second date.”
Mikaela paced in a tight circle, muttering “I knew it,” a hundred times. She confronted Matt. “They hate me already. What did you agree to tell me?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does. They’re your parents. For better or for worse, they’re going to be part of my life too.”
Matt sighed long and low, his reserves nearly spent. All he wanted was peace. “They see this as a practice wedding to keep things proper between us if we travel together. They want to throw a big, ‘real’ church wedding at Christmas, and they want us to visit as soon as possible.”
“A practice wedding . . .” she muttered. Matt could see the earlier magic of the day vaporizing before them. He placed his hands on Mikaela’s shoulders and looked into her eyes. “I don’t care what they or anyone else thinks or says. This marriage is the only one I will ever know. It may not be the marriage we could have enjoyed under different circumstances, but you are the only woman I will ever take as my wife. This is as real as it gets for me, Mikaela.”
He wanted to burn that message into her heart, to protect his brave savior against all comers, including his own parents. He closed his eyes against the sting there, and when he opened them, he found himself within a breath of Mikaela. “Are we okay?”
She smiled up at him. “We’re okay.”
Matt knew he actually wasn’t. A thousand horses’ hooves hammered against his chest as logic and nature battled for control. Six inches. It was the current distance from his hungry mouth to hers. The irreconcilable distance between boundaries and abandon. Six lousy inches between a full life with a potentially agonizing goodbye or a tepid skid into eternity. And then he remembered the promised kiss at the end of the ceremony. How would he get through that?
“So . . .” asked Nelson Woodruff, an investment banker. “How’s it feel to be off the market?”
Matt sat back, prepared for this question. “I highly recommend it. You should try it yourself.”
Gunther Gnudsen piped in. “I hear your wife is a real looker.” His brows wriggled and his eyes half closed. “It must be nice.”
Matt thought of Mikaela and what the guys were implying by their sophomoric eye-wriggling and joking. Mikaela deserved better, and though he wasn’t a husband in the way they assumed, marriage to Mikaela had taught him enough on the subject of love and respect to school his irreverent friends on the matter.
“It is nice,” began Matt. “It’s wonderful, actually. You guys think you know about passion and romance? I’ll tell you what’s romantic. To feel your heart rate increase just because your wife smiled at you from across the room. Or to watch that same woman, who’s smarter and more capable than most of your corporate associates, get up a half-hour early to make you a special breakfast because she’s worried about you. And passion? Imagine feeling your body electrified from simply holding her hand or from the privilege of putting your hand on her back and knowing she’s with you. She’s on my mind all the time. The things I want to tell her. Or silly things I want to buy her. I drove by a hardware store on the way home, saw a mum, and wanted to buy her a shovel. I ended up buying a Christmas tree too.” He raised his face to the ceiling and laughed aloud, “And right now, for the life of me, I can’t imagine what I’m doing here, with pizza and you lugs, when I could be home doing something as simply wonderful as talking to Mikaela.” He stood and packed his chips. “There’s a big difference between sex and love, my friends. One is instinct. The other is . . . well . . . I hope you grow up and find out.”
“All right, smarty-pants.” She leaned close to deliver what Matt assumed was another comic barrage, but as she drew near their eyes met and understanding passed between them. Understanding that, despite their efforts to make light of their situation, they were alone in a valley and the way out would require a hard, bloody crawl. He saw determination mixed with fear and pure love. It warmed him, as if the hands of her heart had reached into his chest to warm and calm his own trembling heart. Her face hovered near his, becoming almost iridescent from the emotion there. Her expression spoke a language of its own, one Matt translated before she uttered a sound.
“Your plan failed,” she whispered. “I know you already love me.”
Matt felt the skin of his face prickle as heat rose from deep within him. A sheen of sweat broke across his skin from the stop-and-go battle raging inside. He knew his face took on the same sleepy-eyed glow of unanswered want she showed. He leaned forward, closing the inches between them and whispered back. “I’m afraid you’re wrong, Mikaela. I’ve always loved you. From the first day I watched you walk through the clinic.” He closed his eyes. “But what does it get us?” He looked down at his bruised body and shook the papers about AHCC and cow shares. “Look at the fight we have ahead.”
Mikaela closed the distance and brushed her lips over his. His sensible side told him to push back, but he had no will to send her away again. His battered hands framed her face and pulled her mouth to his. He felt wholly alive for the first time in weeks, not a patient first, but filled with the thoughts and feelings of a man. Of a husband. He tried to raise his arms to wrap her close, but a sharp pain ended the effort as Mikaela pulled back an inch, her smile completely happy and her eyes joyfully bright.
“I love you, Matt.” The words were spoken in a whisper, so light and airy that they tickled his lips. “Just finally be mine. Give me these arms to hold on to. This shoulder to lay my head on. This mouth that speaks honesty to me and gives me kisses. These are enough until you’re well. Just knowing you love me is enough.”
“Not just great writing but spectacular. This is a book that I will keep in my library and cherish.”
“The characters in this book are written so well you can actually feel their emotions and can’t help getting swept away in their love story.”
“. . . completely unforgettable, heartwarming, and joyous. Have the tissues ready.”
“This book was extremely well written and has fast become one of my favorites of all time.”
Author Laurie Lewis
Laurie (L.C.) Lewis knows that wherever life takes her, she will always be a Marylander at heart—a weather-whining lover of crabs, American history, and the sea. She admits to being craft-challenged, particularly lethal with a glue gun, and a devotee of sappy movies.
Therapists have been chasing her down to diagnose her multiple personality syndrome, since she writes under three names–historical fiction as L.C. Lewis, romance and women’s fiction as Laurie Lewis, and general fiction as Laurie L.C. Lewis.
Laurie was honored to win the 2017 RONE Award for Inspirational Romance. She also has been an IndieBRAG Medallion Honoree, and a New Apple Literary Medallion winner. She has twice been named a Whitney Awards finalist, and a USA Best Books Award finalist.
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