I wake feeling more content, more fulfilled than I can ever remember having felt, except maybe when I was a little girl and my beloved grandfather used to pull me onto his lap and hug me and kiss me and show me I was the focus of his entire world.
I suppose that's a good way to describe how I feel now, as I open my eyes and see the blond hair on the pillow next to me. In the night, he has wrapped his long arms and long legs around me, effectively trapping me within his embrace, but I'm not complaining. Because last night I felt like I was the focus of his entire world.
It's easy to tell even with his eyes closed that he did a lot of crying last night. But the warm feeling in my belly and the fluttering of my heart speaks of what came after.
I wonder, as I think about my friends and various coworkers, what they would think of me if they discovered I was sleeping with one of billionaire Jeff Tracy's sons. I wonder how their opinions of me would change if I showed up to a company Christmas party with this man on my arm. Not only is he unbelievably gorgeous, but John is a Tracy, and Tracys turn heads no matter where they go.
I've had enough years as his friend to experience that firsthand.
So many times in the decade that I've known him, when I've been sitting in whatever cubicle or office a company has set aside for me for the duration of my contract, I've marveled over how mundane my life is compared to his. I'm usually not doing much more than staring at a bunch of numbers, some of which are largely meaningless to me depending on what they're measuring.
At first, of course, I didn't know anything about his connection with International Rescue. I knew only that he was a Tracy when our paths crossed. I was helping astronomers compile five years' worth of research data from the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, which we just call PARI, in North Carolina.
The data wasn't making any sense to the research team, and after they realized it wasn't because of my work, but because of the data itself, they called in one of the best astrophysicists in the world to go over it all with me. The idea was to see if we could, as a team, determine what was happening.
I will never forget the moment I was introduced to John.
At the time I was reporting to Dr. Bill Schellinger. As an expert on data compilation, I'd been chosen to be part of his team, with a two-year contract. The third week into the contract, Dr. Schellinger knocked on my office door and said, "Ann, here's the big gun I told you I was bringing in." I looked up and had to fight to keep my jaw from dropping to my chest as he continued, "John Tracy, Ann Rose. Ann, this is John."
Oh, I knew who he was immediately. I'd read a good number of his books, and recognized him from the author photos on the back of those books. Only the photos hadn't done the man justice.
When he smiled at me as he reached out to shake my hand…I know it sounds corny…the entire office lit up. From the perfect blond hair with that stubborn curl hanging down in the middle of his forehead to the golden-tanned skin, he looked like a god. His blue eyes were so striking I had to force myself not to stare. Oh, I was smitten. The funny thing is, after ten years? I still am.
We worked side by side for seven months solid, sometimes late into the night, trying to determine what was happening with the quasar research statistics we were compiling. I knew data and John knew quasars, so between the two of us, we did eventually get it all solved, much to the delight of Dr. Schellinger.
I did think it odd how sometimes John would disappear for a few days. He'd never provide an explanation, only that he'd had other business to attend to and that it might happen a lot. I figured hey, a guy with the reputation he had, plus the father he had, it's no big surprise he'd have a lot more on his plate than this one project.
But it wasn't until four years later that I found out about his other job. About what it was that had really kept him having to leave North Carolina.
And it happened at the very place where we'd first met.
I was back there for yet another contract, this one to deal with research data on black holes. I'd been there about two months. John had been excited to hear of my return and told me he'd be watching closely to see what came out of the numbers I was crunching.
And then the hurricane. She was a doozy. Hurricane Mariana was her name, and she came onshore from the Atlantic with her eye right between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. We were 265 miles inland but she packed such a punch, making a beeline right for us as though we were her intended target all along. PARI was decimated. Eleven people died. Only six of us survived.
And the reason we survived? International Rescue.
No local rescue agencies could get through on any of the roads that led to the town of Rosman. And things were way worse south and east of us. So International Rescue divided themselves, with some of them heading down to the most directly hit areas along the Atlantic coast, while the other half of them came to get us out of danger.
When the largest satellite dish at PARI was ripped from its foundation, and came sailing into the main building at over two hundred miles per hour, needless to say, it flattened the entire structure. One of the scientists, her name was Rita Swanson, was trapped with me beneath at least a ton of rubble. We'd managed to scramble into the corner of the building furthest from the point of impact right before the satellite dish hit. It was the only reason we'd survived at all.
Rita was hurt badly, and I still have scars on my legs from where both knees were snapped backwards in half. I don't remember much of our time trapped there, other than the fact that Rita's blood was all over me and that I was in so much pain whenever I regained consciousness that I pretty much passed out again almost instantaneously.
I woke when I was jostled, the pain making me scream myself to consciousness. I heard an "Oh, God, no," in a very very familiar voice. I focused my eyesight, wondering what in the world he would be doing there…and then I saw the uniform. The insignia. The hat.
I saw a face of International Rescue.
I saw John Tracy.
He said later that he supposed he'd outed himself to me on purpose, because he couldn't stand keeping that part of himself a secret from his best friend. He knew I was working there when the storm hit. It was why he'd insisted on being part of the IR crew that came to PARI instead of the coast. He had to know I was okay, and when I didn't answer my cellphone, he had to find out in person for himself.
I kept my mouth shut, not letting on that I recognized him. Part of that was because I was really in too much pain to have anything but moans, groans and cries of pain come out of my mouth. But part of it was because I knew these guys were secretive on purpose, and that if John was part of them, it wouldn't be me who let that cat out of its bag.
Of course, it was a bit shocking to find out that the rest of IR was his father and brothers, but it also made perfect sense.
From the day I met him until last night, I'd not been with anyone else, not seriously. Never had a steady boyfriend in all that time. I did often wonder if he questioned my sexuality since I never dated…or at least never told him I dated. I was always alone when he sought me out, whether for some quiet time or a walk in a park or whatever it was that he had a mind to do when he'd visit. Why? Because once I'd met him, and gotten to know him, no other man on Earth could compare.
The first year of our friendship consisted of emails and text messages that graduated to vidphone calls. The second had been in-person visits to wherever I was in the world, whenever he could. The third year saw those visits become more frequent. And after I found out what he did for a living that didn't involve astronomy, our relationship took a turn.
We grew closer. We talked even more often. Finally he had someone to open up to about his secretive life. He regaled me with behind-the-scenes stories of rescues I'd heard about on the news, or read about on the 'net. He talked with great affection about the Thunderbird considered his, number Five. Oh, it fascinated me, and oh, how I longed to visit it. But of course, if he tried to bring a civilian aboard, then his father would know that I knew their secret and John wasn't prepared to go that far with the whole thing.
And then the accident on Five that nearly took him from me. All that time not knowing why I hadn't heard from a man who'd been calling me, texting me or emailing me multiple times every day for the last five years. Dead silence on all fronts. Just…nothing.
Until finally he'd gotten hold of me, and told me what happened.
God, what a nightmare for him. A nightmare I'm hoping will ease now that he's gotten it out of his system. I'm glad I could be there for him last night. That he trusted me with something so much more valuable than the knowledge that he's International Rescue: his heart.
I reach out and trace his strong, square jawline with the tip of my finger, marveling at the road we've traveled together, at the things we've shared. I have no idea what the future will bring for us, I really don't. He's got two lives that he lives, and I'm constantly traveling for my work. Right now I'm in Australia, but that'll only be until December, when I move on to whatever's next.
But, I realize, I guess I really don't care what the future holds. Because right now, I'm being held by him. John Tracy loves me, and not like before, not just as a friend. I'm not sure that's ever actually going to sink in, to be honest. But as his eyelids open to reveal those startling blue eyes, as his perfect lips curl up into a smile, and as he leans in to rub the tip of his nose against mine, I let the flip-flopping of my heart remind me that it's my bed he's in right now. It's my body he's pulling close. And it's me that he whispers, "Mmmm, good morning, Beautiful," to.
It's more than I ever dreamed possible.