“My face is here now,” a familiar voice said from the doorway. My head snapped up, and I turned in his direction. He was there, looking like he’d stepped out of the pages of a magazine. Leaning against the door frame with his hands tucked into the front pockets of his jeans, his words oozed with all his sexy gruff. “Tell me, Delaine. How do you feel about me?”
I’d overheard every word she had said. It wasn’t that I was trying to eavesdrop; I just didn’t want to interrupt the moment she was having with her mother. I’d even turned to walk away, but when I heard my name, human nature took over and I stuck around because some masochistic part of me needed to hear how much she hated me. What I’d heard hadn’t sounded anything like hate, but I wasn’t about to make an even bigger ass out of myself by trying to figure it out for myself either.
Delaine looked at me, stunned, but she didn’t answer my question. She didn’t say anything, in fact. What she did do was leap to her feet and run to where I stood. I righted myself in the nick of time to catch her when she jumped into my arms. Her lips crashed against mine, her pliant body molding to my hard planes as she kissed me like it had been months since we had last seen each other rather than hours.
“Hey, hey, hey,” I got out between the onslaught of kisses. I could taste the salt of tears that had dropped onto her lips. She was full-on crying and shaking uncontrollably, so I tucked her head into the crook of my neck and held her tight. “It’s okay. I’m here now, kitten. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“My dad can’t see me like this, Noah. He still doesn’t know anything about you or what I did, and he can’t find out. He just can’t,” she said frantically.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
Polly stormed into the room like a mama bear on a mission. “Damn it, Noah! What did you do to her? Is she okay?” Normally I’d say her tone was way out of line and I’d give her a stern talking-to, but under the circumstances I understood her abruptness. She and Delaine had grown close, and Polly was only being protective, the same way she was toward me. So I let it go.
“She will be,” I answered. “I need to get her out of here.”
“No! I can’t leave,” Delaine protested through her tears, but she still wouldn’t look up.
“No, kitten. I’m not going to take you away from the hospital. I just want to take you someplace a little more private so we can talk,” I reassured her while stroking her hair.
“Omigod, that’s Noah freakin’ Crawford!” I looked up to see a leggy chick with a fake rack, a way too skinny waist, and a face concealed by two inches of makeup blocking my escape. She had stars in her eyes at first, and then those stars turned to daggers. If looks could have killed, I would have been murdered, cremated, and had my ashes added to compost. “Get your hands off her before I rip your balls off and shove them down your throat, you bastard!”
“Dez, leave him alone,” Delaine mumbled into my neck.
“Ah. Dez. You’re the best friend,” I said, finally figuring it out. “Listen, you can make me choke on my balls later if you want—I’ll even handle my own castration—but right now I’ve got to take care of Lanie. I need to get her somewhere a little more private before her father sees her. Will you please sit with her mother until I get her calmed down?”
She looked from Lanie back to me, then gave a reluctant nod.
I turned to Polly, still holding my million-dollar baby in my arms. Fuck the million-dollar part—I guess she was just my baby now. “Polly, for some reason I will never understand, you have a way with people. They like you. So can you stay here and run interference with her father?”
“Roger that,” she said with a salute and a playful wink. When Polly had a mission to accomplish, she thrived.
I left Dez and Polly to their tasks and carried Lanie down the corridor, ignoring the curious glances of hospital staff and patients alike. When I finally made it to Daniel’s office, I knocked on the door, and he called out, “Come in!” At the sight of Lanie in my arms, he stood from his desk, his brow furrowed with concern. “Is she okay?”
“Yes, she’s fine. I, uh … we just need a little privacy. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. I’m due in the OR to scrub in and start the procedure anyway.” He cleared his throat as he passed to leave. “Lock the door and no one will disturb you.”
I set Delaine down on the couch after he left, but when I tried to pull away, she grabbed my arms and looked up at me pleadingly. “No, please don’t leave me.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Lanie. I promise. I’m just going to lock the door, okay?”
She nodded and reluctantly released her hold. I quickly went to the door and turned the bolt before stopping by the mini refrigerator to grab a bottle of water. “Here, drink this,” I said, removing the top and handing it to her.
She took a tiny sip and then set it on the table. I’d no sooner sat down beside her than she was crawling into my lap and laying her head on my shoulder. She was still shaking and quite visibly upset, and I had no idea how to calm her down.
“Shh, it’s okay, baby. Everything’s going to be okay now,” I said, rubbing her back and kissing the top of her head. “What’s got you so upset? Talk to me.”
“Oh, God, Noah, it’s not okay. She’s dying. Or at least she was dying, but now your uncle says they have a donor, and I was such a bitch to him at the ball. But all I knew was that she was dying and Dez came to get me and I had to get here, and I was scared to death that I wouldn’t get here fast enough. I didn’t want to leave you, but I had to. And I needed you here, but you weren’t because you ran away from me this morning and I was so pissed at you. I wanted to yell at you. I wanted to smack you upside your beautiful, stupid head and you weren’t there, but you weren’t here, either. And I still kind of want to yell at you and punch you, but I can’t because you’re here now and I just want to be in your arms. You left me.…”
She was hyperventilating and ranting incoherently at the same time, and the tears were back in full force, but I understood every word she’d said. She was upset and scared, and I hadn’t been there when she needed me the most. She was right: I was stupid. And she had way too fucking much on her plate to have to deal with my shit on top of it.