Hearts of Sacrifice

Hearts of Sacrifice

Status: Finished

Genre: Romance

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Romance

Summary

Bad boy Hunter Cartwright always has been the black sheep in his loving but prosperous family. He's overshadowed by his big brother Billy who everyone loves and looks up to. When tragedy strikes, it is a wound that cuts deep and one that separates Hunter from everyone who loves him. Eight years after his abrupt departure, Hunter makes his return home to Oregon. Much has changed including the girl he grew up with Sophie. She's always been around as his sister Michelle's best friend and his friend too once upon a time. Sophie dates his younger brother Evan now. The fiercely competitive Evan is none too thrilled with his return just like Sophie. Can Hunter make amends to his family and regain all he's lost including the friendship of the one girl Sophie who means more to him than he ever realized?

Summary

Bad boy Hunter Cartwright always has been the black sheep in his loving but prosperous family. He's overshadowed by his big brother Billy who everyone loves and looks up to. When tragedy strikes, it is a wound that cuts deep and one that separates Hunter from everyone who loves him.

Eight years after his abrupt departure, Hunter makes his return home to Oregon. Much has changed including the girl he grew up with Sophie. She's always been around as his sister Michelle's best friend and his friend too once upon a time. Sophie dates his younger brother Evan now. The fiercely competitive Evan is none too thrilled with his return just like Sophie.

Can Hunter make amends to his family and regain all he's lost including the friendship of the one girl Sophie who means more to him than he ever realized?

Chapter52 (v.1) - Confessions

Author Chapter Note

Hunter worries over his little brother and reflects on how much Evan means to him…<br /> “Honor and vigilance are what our nation’s armed forces represent. An act of valor…their willingness to answer our country’s call is a constant reminder of duty, honor, and sacrifice.”<br /> <br /> --Unknown<br />

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: September 03, 2018

Reads: 404

Comments: 4

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: September 03, 2018

A A A

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CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO – Confessions

 

Hunter sat at the bedside of his little brother.  The memories flooded his vision when a much younger version of the same face occupied a hospital bed like now.  Hunter sat waiting on the edge of his seat, leg shaking, feeling helpless.  Anxiousness crept upon him to act.  Do something!  Back then, Hunter worried about his nine-year-old brother in equal measure. 

“You’re rather quiet,” Sophie prompted as she glanced over at him brooding. 

Uncle Dave, Aunt Flo, and Michelle had been so relieved when the surgeon Dr. Fallon said that she was able to repair the areas of Evan that hemorrhaged the most because of the gunshot.  The internal wounds would have killed him had they been one to two centimeters to the left striking a main artery.  She revealed that Evan’s lung collapsed shortly after being punctured by a fractured rib when the bullet tearing through his body ricocheted.  Despite all the damage done, it was believed Evan was strong.  Dr. Fallon thought that he would make a full recovery.

Hunter had not moved much since the nurses brought Evan out of surgery.  Unlike the others who sought some rest and return to visit later, he could not leave his little brother’s side.  Neither could Sophie. 

“Just thinking,” Hunter said quietly.

She was concerned about his tone as she rose an eyebrow at him.  Sophie gathered that maybe if she could get him to talk that she might get to the bottom of what bothered Hunter.  “About what?”

The older Cartwright rubbed his mouth a moment and asked, “Do you remember the last time Evan was here?”

“You mean in the hospital?”

“Yeah.”

After a moment of thought, Sophie nodded wondering why he would think about that.  “We all thought he was going to die.  He was so sick that he was hooked up to a breathing machine.”

“No one suspected anything was wrong.  It wasn’t until he fell out during his middle school spelling bee we knew differently.”

Sophie frowned with a sigh.  “Evan had walking pneumonia, right?”

Hunter nodded his head as he rubbed his nose.  “We thought E just had a bad cold.  He was never one to complain about his aches and pains no matter how many times you badgered him about it.  He played tough a lot.  He never wanted to show any weakness.”

“He still doesn’t,” she murmured with the shake of her head at the man in the bed.

A younger Hunter peeked in the school auditorium watching the skinny kid step to the microphone.  "Beelzebub.  B-E-E-L-Z-E-B-U-B.  Beelzebub," the young Evan recited with confidence.

Hunter noticed how shiny and pasty his brother’s little face looked.  Huge sweat stains grew under the armpits of his Polo shirt.  Hunter believed it strange.  Evan was not nervous to be in the spotlight.  He loved being on stage where he could show off the ridiculous words he could spell like magic.  Since he was five, he had been doing it.  

No matter how badly Evan felt, he would not have missed that competition.  His classmates were counting on him, and he didn’t want to let them down.  Besides, Evan practiced so hard in preparation.  Momma and Daddy showered their praise and glowing pride.

The announcer, Mrs. Reynolds who was a short lady with heavy jowls said, "Correct!" 

Thunderous applause followed from the audience in the packed auditorium of students, faculty, and parents.  Only Evan and another little boy from another class remained for what felt like hours of spelling obscure words.  Most of the words spelled Hunter never heard of before.

When Evan missed his footing as he sought to go back to his chair, Hunter was the first to notice and to act.  He ran down the aisle when his brother fell face first knocking out one of his teeth on the side.  The other boy never got a chance to spell his word because everyone clamored over to Evan in alarm.

Hunter scooped his brother up in his arms who felt to be burning hot with a fever.  "Call an ambulance!" he screamed after putting his ear to Evan's mouth.  An instant later, he began performing CPR. Billy leaped on the stage to help. Both brothers had learned the lifesaving technique as a contingency to Daddy installing the Olympic size pool at the family summer house in Bandon.  Both brothers were glad they did.  The ER doctor who later treated Evan said that their quick action saved their little brother's life.

For days after Evan's emergency admission to the hospital, Momma laid in bed cradling him all hooked up to tubes and breathing mask since he was not strong enough on his own.  She blamed herself for not noticing how really sick he was.  Daddy told her to stop being so hard on herself.  It could have happened to anyone.  No one was blaming her.

When Evan finally did open his eyes and saw how everyone fussed over him Hunter would never forget what he asked, "Is it my birthday?"  His room was filled with flowers, cards of well wishes, and balloons everywhere of every color of the rainbow. 

They all laughed at that because the next thing Evan wanted to know was, "Hey, did I win?"  That competitiveness never died in him.  It only grew with time.

Hunter laughed at that younger version of his brother who faded into the silent older man in the bed before him.  He covered his face.  Feeling choked up with so many emotions and memories, the older Cartwright breathed deeply for a few moments.  He shook his head sure he hated feeling scared and helpless watching his little brother bleeding to death on the ground outside the convention center.  Hunter knew it should have been him in Evan’s place.

“Hunt, Evan was tough all those years ago just like he is now.  He’s going to be all right,” Sophie said in a sympathetic tone. 

“I’ve always admired him, you know,” Hunter revealed in the way of confessional.  He pulled his bow tie apart and unbuttoned the top collar of his dress shirt.  Some of the buttons were missing lower down, causing it to gape open showing a hint of the top of his abs.

Sophie rubbed Evan’s head of dark curly hair from his forehead and then nodded slowly at Hunter’s statement.  She wanted to encourage him to continue what she knew he needed to say.  It had been too long.

“I always wished I could have been more like him.  You know, Evan was so smart in school, and then he went on to get his MBA graduating at the top of his class.”  Hunter chuckled with a hint of self-loathing.  “What did I do?  Go off half-cocked to war on terrorism.”

“You learned some life skills in the Army, too, Hunt.  Don’t sell yourself short,” Sophie advised wanting to keep things objective.

Hunter waved his hand at her in dismissal.  “I learned how to manage men in life and death situations, sure, but Evan practically ran our company during a downturn.  Did you know that?”

Sophie commented gravely, “The recession was bad for everyone.”

“Yeah, but not so much for CI because of Evan’s dedication and efficiency.  He managed to help keep operations solvent while not laying off anyone.”

She blinked at the handsome older brother as he stared only at Evan with love and pride.  “Really?”

Hunter replied in admiration, “Yeah.  I read the annual reports from the last eight years.  It’s damn remarkable what he did.”

“True, he’s very good at what he does,” she agreed with a soft smile.

Hunter’s smile slipped from his sexy lips.  “And so here we are at each other’s throats.”

Sophie replied gently, “None of that is important, Hunter.”

He glanced into her sympathetic teak brown eyes.  “He’s the only brother I have left.  I don’t want to lose him, too, So.”

“And, you won’t as long as you stop pushing him away.”

He sighed as he glanced at Evan.  “I know.”

“You should tell him how you really feel when he wakes up.  I’m sure he would love to know how proud you are of him and how much you love him just like you love Billy, because he’s your brother, too,” she proposed, tilting her head at him.

Hunter clenched his jaw. “We’ve always been at each other’s throats.  I don’t think we know how to do anything else.”

Evan’s eyes popped open since he’d been awake for a while and heard his brother’s staggering confession.  He stared in Hunter’s direction and smirked at his amazed pale green eyes.  The older man jumped out of his seat, which fell over.  Evan’s azure eyes stared back at him glittering with bright awareness. 

“Aww, man, stop!  You’re gonna make me cry,” Evan teased sounding a little rusty.  His amused chuckle reminded one of a chain-smoker.  The swelling in the surprise of Hunter’s pale green eyes was priceless.

Hunter laughed outright in the gratefulness that washed over him.  He should have known the deceiver was awake the whole time.  That was just like something he would have done in the past before the teenage years when things were more natural for them, and they were still kids in many ways.  “How long have you been playin’ possum?”  Evan did that particularly well and always fooled Hunter every time.

“Long enough to know you wanna be like me,” he snickered while smiling crookedly in amusement.

“Yeah.  Yeah.  You feeling all right?”  Hunter uneasily rubbed his hands through his hair before righting his chair and sitting it in next to his brother.

“Like an ass.”  Evan took a glimpse at Sophie who allowed tears of joy to slip down her cheeks at their playful interaction.  It was something she had not seen in a very, very long time.

Sophie felt such relief to see and hear it.  The last thing in the world she ever wanted was to come between them as she had.  One of her hands she held over her mouth, astonished yet happy.

“I’m so sorry, Soph.  I never meant to hurt you,” Evan apologized as he squeezed her hand that still held his.

She wiped her tears away.  Her voice cracked, when she responded, “You’re always acting temperamental.  Nothing new for you.”

“We Cartwright men don’t hit women, and Hunter had every right to kick my ass for it especially in light of everything Chelle’s gone through.”

“I’m an ass, too, for hurting you and making such a mess of everything.  I’m really sorry, Evan,” she revealed as she stood to brush a kiss on his forehead.  When she pulled away from him, she wiped the tears that fell from her eyes stunned that he would even let her touch him.  She could see the love in his azure eyes as he stared up at her.  At the back of her mind though she wondered about Debbie, the receptionist.

Hunter chimed in, “Hey, I’ll join the ass club.”

“You didn’t know that you joined a long time ago, huh?” Evan teased with another chuckle and then grimaced as a shot of pain went through him.  “Please don’t make me laugh.  Oh, it hurts.”

“You know I’ve been a real asshole, E.  I swear I wasn’t out to hurt you, though.  I love you, man,” Hunter said in earnest.

“I said don’t make me laugh,” Evan retorted with his snicker and braced his hand against his injured chest.  “Yeah, I heard the real love fest going on not long ago.  I swear I could hear violins.”

Sophie did not retake her seat.  She looked at Evan and then Hunter smiling at each other deciding to grab her purse.  One minute they tried the kill one another and the next they were best buds.  She just never did get how guys could do that.

“Well, I’ll let you two talk and find Chelle.  She’ll want to know you’re awake.” 

Hunter and Evan watched her hearing her heels click out of the room before they looked to one another again.

“The dickhead’s dead?” Evan asked clenching his jaw.

Hunter nodded with an amused smile.  He always did like how Evan never beat around the bush when he wanted to know something.  “Oh, yeah.  After I tried to crack his head open like a goddamn egg on the pavement, he ate two bullets.  One from Scully and the other from Yavin.”

Evan shut his eyes with relief.  He only wished he could have gotten a couple of good licks in just because Kirk earned them.  “Too good for that douche bag, though.Still think we should have double-teamed kicking his ass again.  He certainly had it coming for hurting Chelle so bad.”

Hunter nodded his agreement recalling well what they had done to Kirk in his gym parking lot.  In that, neither brother had no regrets except wanting to do it again.  He would have had that kind of satisfaction too if Sophie didn’t interrupt.  “Chelle’s okay.  Scully made sure of that.  She’s looking after him now.  The guy almost died in waiting too long to treat that knife wound caused by that dead cretin while watching over Chelle until she regained consciousness.”

Evan whistled.  “He’s dedicated.  I’ll give him that.  Thank God, you hired the best guys, Hunt.  It could have been worse had you not done that.”

Uncomfortable with the compliment, his older brother shrugged, “Yeah, well, thanks to Ollie, honestly.  I’d do anything to see the ones I love safe.  Even you.”

Evan opened his eyes and stared at him for a long time.  “I know.  So would I.”

Hunter clenched his jaw as he looked over his brother.  “You almost did, damn you!  I don’t know what I would’ve done—”

Evan broke him off seeing the tears welling in his pale green eyes.  It stunned him the depth of emotion on Hunter’s face as he cut him off and patted his brother’s hand that rested near his.  “Hey, but it didn’t.  We did what we had to do to save our baby sis.  I hope that fucker is being flayed in hell.”

Hunter nodded as he sniffled and blinked back the tears with a laugh even hurt Evan had not lost his sense of humor. “You’re right, of course.  I’ve always known how much you’ve loved our family and I thank you for taking care of everyone while I’ve been gone, lil bro.  You’re a good man.  Far better than I’ll ever be.”

Evan clinched his jaw not sure how to take that from him, but when he stared into Hunter’s eyes, he saw the truth of the statement there.  No sarcasm, just the facts.  “Not better,” he professed.  “There were a lot of years I hated your guts.”  He paused as he considered that statement and then amended, “Well, most of them anyway.”

Hunter stared him in the eye warily.  “Because of Sophie?”

“Because of everything!” he snapped bitterly with the wave of his hand at his older brother.  “The more you screwed up it seemed, the more they all loved you.  I resented that so damn much I thought I’d fucking choke on it.”

“Evan, you’re so wrong.  Momma and Dad loved you so much it was crushing me.”  He waved at him.  “If they didn’t compare me to Billy, it was to you.  Why couldn’t I be more like my brothers?  Why did I fight so much?  What the hell was wrong with me?  Blah…blah…blah.”

Evan’s eyes widened as Hunter nodded miserably.  “I never knew that, Hunt.”

“It’s true.  Every bit of it,” the older Cartwright asserted with the roll of his eyes.  “You were always the better son and always will be… just like Billy.”

The beep of the monitoring equipment accented an awkward silence between them.  Evan sighed because it all came down to just one thing in the end.  “You know I’ve always wanted her.”

Hunter nodded knowing that they would eventually have to talk about Sophie.  There was no way to avoid it when she stood such a big part of their family and their lives.

“And then here you come after being gone eight whole years, and I just knew you would steal her away from me.”  Evan shook his head and breathed deeply.  He ran a hand through his curly hair that stood up on his head in delicate waves that always drove the women crazy at the office especially that cute receptionist Debbie Simpkins he’d been hooking up with lately.

“E, I swear it wasn’t my intent when I saw you two were together.”

“But you had to hope she was free.”

Hunter ran his own hand through his hair.  “Hey, I tried to let her go and ignore everything I felt.”

Evan frowned at him openly with bewilderment as he shook his head.  That statement made no sense.  “You did?  Why?”

“I could see how happy you were with her and she with you.  All I hoped for was to be friends again, but she was so pissed at me.”

Evan gazed off thoughtfully at the hospital door.  “Yeah, I know.  She’d never tell me why, and I never pushed on that subject.  I was just glad you hadn’t wooed her back to your camp.”

Hunter stared down at his hands.  “It took me a while to figure out why, but I soon did.”

“She’s in love with you, isn’t she?  She always had been then,” Evan guessed for it was the only thing he could come up with since their breakup. 

At first, his action with the young receptionist Debbie, who he innocently flirted with every morning when he arrived to work, had everything to do with his being furious as hell at Sophie’s betrayal.  After the hurt, fury took its place.  The vindictive part of him craved to get back at his girlfriend where it really hurt.  What he had not banked on though was how genuinely sweet Debbie was. 

With measurable patience uncharacteristic of most, she listened to him rant and rave about another woman all that first night after they slept together and then the next.  By the third night, he did not talk about Sophie so much in favor of learning more about his new lover who was far more than the naïve pawn he needed to make Sophie jealous.  Debbie held a little vamp within when he picked her up as his date for Michelle’s masquerade gala. 

“Sophie loves you, too,” Hunter said quickly with the shake of his head as he frowned.  “It tears her apart.  I never wanted that either.”

“Do you love her?” Evan inquired with the cock of his eyebrow at his brother when he stared him in the eye. 

He could see that Hunter did without him saying the words.  It blazed in his pale eyes when he looked after Sophie as she left the hospital room.  Evan always had seen it though but tried to ignore it.  He pretended that he never saw it, and then it wasn’t real. 

“Dammit, you do, don’t you?  Of course, you do.  You never stopped.”

“Can you find a way to forgive me … and her?” Hunter asked looking glum and sorrowful.  “It’s not her fault.  It’s mine.”

“No.”  Evan scrubbed his stubbled jaw with the pad of his fingers in deep thought.  “I pushed her to you.  I was the one who accused you of being lovers when you weren’t.  You even tried to get us back together.  It’s just that when she rejected my marriage proposal, I knew something was wrong.  I guess I knew well before that maybe.  She’d been so scared just like when I asked her to move in with me.” 

Hunter’s eyes swelled for he had no idea that things had progressed so much between those two that Evan already asked to move in together.  Sophie must have refused for some reason, but he could not imagine why. 

“I pushed too hard, and never talked to her about what she really wanted because… because I was afraid of what I might hear.”  Evan glanced at his brother who seemed thoughtful when he expected a snide remark like in the past.  That was something he would have done he realized, but Hunter was different.  He changed over the years apart.  “Man, you and her just went and did exactly what I already accused you of.”

Hunter shook his head slowly knowing that he was not blameless in the whole affair.  “But I should have kept my mouth shut and stayed away from her.”

Evan blinked at him seeing his brother’s willingness to forego his own happiness for him.  It amazed him that Hunter really did care enough about him to do such an unselfish thing.  Evan could not say that he would have done the same.  “How can I blame you if you loved her that much, Hunt?  I’d do no different.”  He chuckled lightly.  “Gaining Sophie’s love since you’ve been gone hasn’t been a cakewalk.”

“So what do we do?  Fighting over her clearly doesn’t work.”

Evan inhaled, held the breath and then released it.  “Make her choose which of us she wants to be with and accept whatever comes next.”

“You ought to know Sophie well enough by now to realize you can’t make her do anything,” Hunter said sourly with the downturn of his mouth.

Evan chuckled with the shake of his head recognizing he was right, of course.  “Poor choice of words, but you know what I mean.  Sophie’s the only one to settle this once and for all, but you said yourself that we’re tearing her apart because of how she feels about both of us.”

Hunter blinked at him amazed.  “Could you really let her go?”

“Could you?” Evan lifted both his eyebrows toward his hairline.

Hunter did not know the answer to such a question.  He tried to contemplate before what that would be like and hated how it tormented him.  Hunter spent eight years away from her physically, but mentally and emotionally he carried her around with him everywhere he went.  He heard her wise advice in his head soothing his anger as he always had in the flesh.  Hunter felt his feelings grow for her each day as he remembered their time together and how much she meant to him.  How could he be in her presence and not acknowledge his love for her? 

Hunter stated instead of answering his question, “So we’ll both leave her alone.”

“No contact?” Evan questioned for even while he was pissed at Sophie for sleeping with his brother he still wanted her.  He couldn’t give up without a fight.

Hunter shook his head.  “None.”

“Swear?”  Narrowing his azure eyes at his older brother, Evan bent his arm at the elbow and held out his hand.

“Swear,” Hunter agreed and shook his hand with a crooked smile that Evan knew better to trust.


© Copyright 2020 Amy F. Turner. All rights reserved.

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