Thanks to reader demand, here's a very special BONUS EPILOGUE just for you! If you want to find out what happens after Mark and Abby finally come face to face, just keep reading...
MarkBaynard: What are you wearing?
Abby_Donovan: A hopeful smile and the thigh-high black vinyl boots Julia Roberts wore in PRETTY WOMAN.
MarkBaynard: Is that all you’re wearing? Because if it is, my smile just got a lot more hopeful.
Abby_Donovan: Don’t get your hopes up too high, mister. This is only our third date and I don’t put out until at least the dessert course of the fourth.
MarkBaynard: Don’t all those romantic interludes over the congealed cottage cheese in the hospital cafeteria count for anything?
Abby_Donovan: Well, there was the night we shared the Diet Dr. Pepper ice cream float and I almost let you get to first base.
MarkBaynard: And the time I stumbled over my IV pole in the hallway and accidentally got to second base.
Abby_Donovan: Ha! I never believed that was an accident.
MarkBaynard: You and the grumpy old lady in room 337.
Abby_Donovan: So that’s why she called hospital security!
MarkBaynard: No, that was because I flashed her after she stole the lime jello off my tray.
Abby_Donovan: So what are YOU wearing?
MarkBaynard: Anything but a hospital gown.
Abby_Donovan: I’ve heard that’s a very trendy look these days. Especially on the runway in Milan and among escaped mental patients.
MarkBaynard: Is Margo still trying to warn you not to go out with me?
Abby_Donovan: After playing Scrabble with you and Kate all those times in the hospital, she’s even more convinced you’re a serial killer.
MarkBaynard: She just hasn’t forgiven me for insisting “oxyphenbutazone” was a word.
Abby_Donovan: She hasn’t forgiven you because it WAS a word.
MarkBaynard: I got a profane text from her today challenging me to a game of “Words with Frenemies.”
Abby_Donovan: When she found out where I was meeting you for our date this time, she accused you of trying to sweep me off my feet.
MarkBaynard: I’ve spent enough of our relationship off mine. Don’t you think it’s your turn?
Abby_Donovan: You know I would have been perfectly happy to meet you on the Poet’s Walk in Central Park. Or the basement of Macy’s.
MarkBaynard: I haven’t seen you in almost a month. I wanted our third date to be something special.
Abby_Donovan: How did your visit with Mini-Mark go?
MarkBaynard: Except for his hair, he’s more like a Mini-Joe Pesci right now. Threatened to put a mob hit out on his mom if she wouldn’t let me see him.
Abby_Donovan: See…I told you he would never forget his daddy!
MarkBaynard: That’s because I brought him a box of Oatmeal Creme Pies. As long as I keep a lifetime supply of Little Debbie’s on hand, I’m gold.
Abby_Donovan: Did he like the pics of Buffy the Mouse Slayer and Willow Tum-Tum I e-mailed him?
MarkBaynard: His mom and stepdad will never know another moment of peace until they get him a cat of his own. Which is an added bonus for me.
Abby_Donovan: I hope you know I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had decided to stay in Mississippi.
MarkBaynard: I was sort of hoping it would break your heart.
Abby_Donovan: I said I wouldn’t blame you. I didn’t say it wouldn’t break my heart.
MarkBaynard: It would have broken my doctor’s heart if I had missed my follow-up appointment.
Abby_Donovan: You’ve already been? Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you promised there’d be no more secrets between us!
MarkBaynard: And there won’t be. I was going to keep our date no matter what news he gave me.
Abby_Donovan: (Deep breath). So what did he say?
MarkBaynard: Turn around and I’ll tell you.
Abby lowered her iPhone to the table and rose from her chair, slowly pivoting to find Mark strolling across the spacious plaza of the Place de L’Alma. Behind him the graceful latticework of the Eiffel Tower was silhouetted against a lavender sky. The sun had dipped below the horizon while Abby waited at the café for him. The deepening dusk only made the glow of the city lights reflecting off the inky waters of the Seine seem more luminous and magical.
Mark’s gait was strong and steady, his body already recovering from most of the ravages of the chemo and steroids. He would never be Batman or Hugh Jackman, but somehow that made him even more beautiful and dear to her eyes. He didn’t have to be larger than life. It was enough that he was alive.
She had curled up next to him in his hospital bed while they watched endless episodes of The Golden Girls and season one of Veronica Mars. She had held the trash can for him while he puked. Held his hand during those dark, endless nights when pain and the drugs they gave him to take the edge off that pain had driven him half out of his mind. Held on to hope even when his own had begun to flag.
Yet as he stopped in front of her, giving her a lopsided grin as he tucked his own cell phone in the pocket of his jacket, she felt her throat tighten with a peculiar shyness, almost as if it was their very first date.
Which is many ways, it was.
Instead of thigh-high boots, she was wearing sensible flats, perfect for strolling the Paris streets arm in arm with the man she loved. She’d accessorized her simple black wool dress with one or two of the obligatory cat hairs that always ended up in her carry-on. Her sweater was the perfect weight to ward off the autumn chill of the mild November night.
There would be no more hiding behind the walls of her sublet apartment or the columns of her Tweetdeck or even the endless parade of doctors and nurses at the hospital. There was just the two of them and the bottle of wine chilling on the table behind her.
Finding it easier in that moment to touch than to share the words overflowing from her heart, she reached up and gently stroked his hair, marveling at how much it had grown since she had last seen him. “You do know it’s growing back even thicker than before?”
“So they tell me,” he said ruefully, unable to completely hide his pleasure as he ran his own hand over the flourishing crop of curls. “You may have to get used to it. It seems Dr. Evil has left the building. At least for now.”
“Is that what your doctor told you?”
“That’s what my lab results told him. They looked even better than he had hoped. He didn’t exactly tell me to rush out and buy my dream house but he didn’t rule out signing a long term lease on a rental.”
“Oh, Mark!” Abby didn’t realize how relieved she was by his words until she actually staggered. She reached to throw her arms around his neck, hoping to rely on his strength until her own returned.
But he caught her by the shoulders and held her away from him, his warm hazel eyes searching her face with an intensity that made her feel even giddier. “Look, I appreciate everything you did for me while I was sick, but if you want to walk away now, I understand. Remission doesn’t mean cured. I could still relapse somewhere down the road.”
“And I could go out tomorrow and get hit by a bus.” Abby beamed up at him through a haze of joyful tears. “Haven’t you learned by now that there aren’t any guarantees in this life?”
Mark lifted a hand to her cheek, touching her as if he still couldn’t quite believe it was possible. “That’s where you’re wrong, Abby Donovan. Because I can guarantee that as long as there is breath in my body, I will love you.”
Then he gathered her into his arms and kissed her the way Sawyer kissed Kate for the very first time on Lost. The way Jack kissed Rose on the bow of the Titanic. The way Spike kissed Buffy at the end of the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He kissed her until all they could do was cling to each other, swaying to music only they could hear.
Somehow Abby knew it was a song that would last a lifetime, no matter how short or long their lives would be. If they could spend all of their todays together, she would gladly surrender all of her tomorrows.
When they finally drew apart, both as breathless as if they’d run the entire length of the Champs D’Elysee, she was surprised to find the other diners still nibbling on their bread and cheese and nursing their glasses of wine and smoking their expensive French cigarettes. No one was staring at them or rolling their eyes or muttering beneath their breath that the two of them should get a room.
And why would they? Paris was not only the City of Lights, but the City of Love.
“Are you sure this only counts as our third date?” Mark whispered into her hair, his breath warm against her ear. “I was thinking we might be able to count that night at the hospital when we snuck up to the rooftop terrace to watch the sunset and got locked out after the fire door closed.”
Abby leaned back to smile up at him. “Get me an order of crème brulee to go and I might even call it our fifth date.”
THE END (OR THE BEGINNING)
E-Book Editions Now Available
E-Book Editions Now Available