This is my new story in the 'Elizabeth and Mr Harkness' series. The first one proved a success, so this is the next one. Personally, this is my favourite! Enjoy.
Epigraph from 'You Found Me' by Kelly Clarkson.
'You found me when no one else was looking. How did you know just where I would be?'
She sat and sighed and waited. She didn't quite know what she was waiting for. Her suitcase was thrown beside her and the rain hammered down on her hard. It was five o clock in the evening on a wet winter's day. She only had a dress and a pair of shoes on. She sat outside the school on the steps, her head in her hands until she heard a pair of feet. She looked up. It didn't matter that she was crying, everyone would think it was rain water. The man passed by without a comment.
She looked up and stared down the street's T junction as she sat outside her school. It was dark and stormy, a little rumble of thunder a few miles away. The rain was hard and torrential, the droplets large and travelling with tremendous force. She had been drenched in a matter of seconds as she'd stepped outside. The streetlights seemed dark and distant from where she was sitting. Her school books were inside her suitcase and she sat, dress clinging to her form and hair dripping wet. She didn't feel much better either. Her father had just kicked her out of the house.
Another pair of feet were audible and she looked up, trying to assume a vacant look.
She looked up and stared. It was her English teacher.
"Yes, Mr Harkness?" she asked in an unassuming voice, forcing a smile.
He looked down at her and she smiled at him weakly.
"What the hell are you doing out here?"
She swallowed and stared at him. He was drenched too. His white shirt was completely see-through, his thick dark hair dripping. He pushed it back with one hand, the other supporting a strap on his brown leather bag hanging off his shoulder. He was utterly soaked, his face covered with droplets of water.
"I'm...waiting for my cab."
"Can't you wait inside? It's soaking out here."
She swallowed and got up, pulling her black leather suitcase up with her. He looked down. There was a dry patch where she'd been sitting. The rain had been going for almost an hour. For her to have sat there when it was dry? He did a few calculations in his head and gawped at her.
"Two questions," he roared over the persistent drumroll of the rain, "Why are you carrying your suitcase and how long have you been here?"
She flushed as she caught sight of his hot, chiselled features. His jaw line was hard and defined as he water ran down it to his chin, his green eyes somehow darker in the night. He was only 28 and the youngest, handsomest teacher the school had. His thick American accent curled luxuriously around his words and she stared at him. Although she never fancied him, it was hard to divert her eyes from his toned, hard abs that were clearly visible through his sodden white shirt. Everyone knew he'd been in the army for eleven years. It obviously showed.
"My father kicked me out of the house," she murmured in defeat, leaning back against the railings and looking across the street, away from him. He stared at her.
"Your father's kicked you out of the house at five o clock in the evening in the rain?"
She swallowed and looked determinedly away from him. He sighed and looked around him. He'd been given training in this kind of thing, how to deal with angry fathers and dissolute mothers. It was a private school after all, and the level of pastoral care was very high. He'd seen problem girls kicked out and had found them suitable places to live or had then reconciled with their families usually within a day. However, Elizabeth was a good girl. She was always attentive in class, got great grades and was an all round friendly, caring person. She was always baking for the teachers, making treats for the other girls. She was always caring and just about passed for the shiest girl in the whole school. With her pretty brown eyes and long, dark, rich curls, coupled with her sweet smile, Elizabeth couldn't even hurt a fly. Naturally, his curiosity was aroused somewhat and he'd never even seen a hint of her father being possibly abusive but didn't think that it was the best place to talk about the issue. They were both cold, wet and distinctly pissed off.
"Come inside with me and we'll deal with this."
Reluctantly, she sighed and pulled her suitcase up the stairs to the main door. They fell in the door together and the receptionist cast an eye over Jack's toned chest with barely-disguised delight. Elizabeth threw her suitcase down and they stared at each other, both pairs of eyes getting used to the light and dry.
"Right, so he's kicked you out. Do you have somewhere to live for the night?"
She sighed again and didn't bother to tuck her dripping curls behind her ear.
"No, no, I don't."
"You've got no money for a hotel, a bed and breakfast?"
She shook her head and threw herself down onto the sofa.
"All I've got is this dress, my school books and a few pieces of clothing in that suitcase."
He sat down opposite her and lowered himself to her level. Her head was bent over in her hands and sounds of her choking through her tears were audible. He could see soft droplets drenching the already-wet fabric of her dress.
He walked to her and knelt down to her level, grasping her wrist to see her face. He pulled it down and she looked up in despair.
It was only then that Jack could see through her glowing face that she'd been crying for a good hour. Her eyes were red and watery, her face blotchy and wet.
"Hey....hey, hey, it's OK. Don't cry. I'm here and I'll sort this out, alright? Don't worry, I'll make it all better."
She nodded pathetically and he smiled. They let a few moments pass in comfortable silence as she cleaned up her tears and he waited for her. She swallowed and got up as he led her to the desk.
"Hello, Jenny. I was just wondering if you'd be able to book a hotel room for two nights for Elizabeth."
The receptionist stared at Elizabeth as if she was mad and turned an adoring gaze to Jack. He sighed and forced another Hollywood smile towards the receptionist.
"Sorry, Jack. It's Race Weekend so every hotel's booked up and there are long waiting lists. I can't get anything until Monday, I'm afraid."
Jack sighed and ran a hand through his hair as Elizabeth hung at his elbow. He looked around as if his surroundings would help him then looked back helplessly.
"What about bed and breakfasts? Vacancies anywhere?"
"Jack, it's Gold Cup Day tomorrow, every room and its mother is booked."
Jack sighed and turned around, staring across the reception and trying to find his head. The poor girl had been thrown out of her house and had nowhere to stay for the weekend. Every hotel was booked up and there was nowhere for her to go. He didn't like the idea of her having to sleep in the beds in the Medical Centre. The college was a frightening place if you were by yourself, especially for a sweetheart like Elizabeth. He turned to look at her and wished he hadn't. Her soft, wide eyes stared at him despairingly, clearly begging him to do something. He sighed. He didn't have time for this. There were no teachers in the college left whose houses she would have gone to. He knew it wasn't right, it wasn't appropriate for him to invite her to stay over at his house for the weekend, but what else could he do? There were no female teachers who would have been the first port of call. If he got a caution for his behaviour, he'd simply have to explain to the Principal that it was their fault they weren't here. After all, it was a last resort. And he was taking it. He turned to her and breathed in.
"Elizabeth, do you want to come round to mine?"
She stared up at him in disbelief.
"What, your house?"
"No, my dump truck. Yes, my house."
She stared again.
"No, it's OK. I don't want to...that's a really kind offer but...I mean, I don't want to impose myself on you."
She bit her lip shyly and looked down. He stared at her. She considered herself as a burden?
"Elizabeth, you're a naive, shy 17 year old girl. I've met dinner plates more imposing than you."
She giggled a little and he grinned at the sound of laughter back on her lips. Her eyes lit up as her lips curled upwards and a lovely lilting sound escaped from her mouth. He savoured it for a few seconds. It was a warm, familiar sound, the kind that reminded him of his long, hot summers back when he was eleven, playing with his mother among the waist length high grass outside their estate. He smiled.
"Right, let me take that suitcase."
She smiled as he picked up her suitcase in hand and threw a cold look at Jenny before walking out into the rain again. It hadn't lessened.