I slipped from the car and rushed inside, checking my texts for her room number. My heartbeat pounding in my ears, I took the elevator to the right floor and found my way to Emma’s room with little effort. As I walked, I wondered if I should have brought flowers or balloons or chocolates, anything to show her how sorry I was that I wasn’t there when I should have been.
Finally, I stepped inside the private room to find Emma sleeping peacefully. Her eyelids were a little purple and her skin was pale. An IV clung to her arm and I winced, hating every last detail of the image in front of me. Including my brother’s presence at her bedside.
“So, you show up now?” I asked him with barely checked fury.
Cooper blinked at me, then frowned. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Another burst of rage bloomed inside my chest. “Let’s have a talk in the hallway.”
Reluctantly, Cooper got up from his seat and followed me into the near-empty hall. I closed Emma’s door behind us, careful to make sure she wouldn’t hear any of what I had to say. What I needed to get off my chest.
“What the fuck did you do?” I ground out, my voice low but laced with venom.
“Are you under the impression that I’m the one who hit her with my car or something?” Cooper said. “Because—”
“I am under the impression that you had one job to do while I was away, and you failed. All you had to do was keep her safe, and here she is, lying in a fucking hospital bed.”
He blanched like I’d kicked him, but I didn’t give a fuck. “And what did you want me to do? Stand over her night and day until you got back? Nobody could have guessed—”
“Yes, they could have. We knew someone was out to hurt her. You were careless, and because of that she’s here, hurt.”
“I didn’t know someone was out to hurt her,” he said, his pulse throbbing in his throat. “It could’ve been a prank. I stayed with her last night, and she went to work this morning with the driver you hired for her. How could I have known? And she’s going to be all right. She has some bruises and a mild concussion.”
“She could have died!”
Cooper raised his eyebrows, then slowly lifted his hands as if to ward off an attack. “You know what, asshole? I took care of her when you couldn’t, despite the clusterfuck of feelings I’m still dealing with. Something bad happened and I understand you’re upset, but none of it’s on me.” He shook his head and stared at his feet, cupping one hand to the back of his neck. “I’ve had enough. I can’t deal with this anymore. You and Emma can have each other. I’m done.”
Without another word, he turned on his heel and headed to the elevator. I should have gone after him, but I didn’t have time to worry about that now. In fact, I was certain I’d be better off if I didn’t have to see his reckless, stupid face for a few days.
Right now, all that mattered was Emma, and I wasn’t going to waste another moment before seeing her again. Slowly, I opened the door to her room again to find her squinting up at the television, a massive remote in her small hands.
“They don’t have any good channels at hospitals,” she said, though she grinned weakly at me as she spoke.
“Pet,” I murmured, my heart clenching at the paleness of her cheeks. “How are you feeling?”
She shrugged. “I’ve been better. How was your trip?”
“Does that matter?” I took the seat beside her bed and reached for her hand after brushing the remote away.
“Sure, it does. I like hearing about your exciting life. Beats the hell out of my boring one.”
“Yeah, your life really does look pretty boring right about now.”
She rolled her eyes, and I could tell she was trying not to look at me. “Where did Cooper go?”
“He had to leave. I told him you were in good hands, though.”
“Whose?” she teased, and I kissed her cheek.
“Don’t make fun of me. It’s been a stressful day.”
“I’m so sorry for your struggle. You’re right; the girl in the hospital should be more sensitive,” she joked, clearly trying to make me feel better.
“You’re damn right. Besides, you won’t be in here much longer. Word on the street is they’re letting you out soon.”
“That’s a shame,” she said with a shrug. “I don’t have nearly as many Jell-O cups at my house.”
“I’ll get you all the Jell-O cups you want.”
And I did. The second we left the hospital a few hours later, I texted Ben, asking him to go to the store and pick up everything Emma could possibly need. Jell-O and pudding, fixings for sandwiches, a dozen different boxes of tea. Anything I thought she might like.
“I have bruises and a headache that’s almost gone, not a terminal disease. You don’t have to baby me,” she said as he delivered the items to her front door.
I scoffed. “Oh, I’m babying you. You just have to get used to it.”
Did she not know me at all? I wasn’t about to let her go through this alone.
Instead, I fetched everything she would want or need before she even asked for it. I called in to her work for her and held her while she slept—and while she dreamed. When she cried out, I was there to calm her back to sleep.
Emma could pretend to be tough if she wanted to, but there was no question she was afraid. The police still had no leads, either on the hit-and-run or the bloody mess left at her door, and her nerves and mine were starting to fray.
• • •
After a few days, I was sure my hovering was starting to annoy her, but most of the time, I thought she found it endearing. Which was good. All I needed her to know was that I was going to take care of her.
Always, if she’d let me.
“I’m going to get bed sores if you don’t let me start doing things myself,” she said on the fourth day of my doting on her.
She probably had a point. I hadn’t let her out of my sight.
“Baby, you’d still look cute with bed sores.”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you going to let me take a bath on my own, or—”
“I’m going to carry you up the stairs and put you in the bath,” I said.
“Of course you are,” she mumbled, her tone sarcastic.
Not wanting to listen to the rest of her protests, I went upstairs and drew her bath, making sure there were plenty of bath salts and bubbles, before heading downstairs and scooping her into my arms. By this point, she knew better than to argue, and when we reached the bathroom and she stripped down to nothing, I helped her into the tub and lathered a loofah while she breathed in the lavender bath oil.
“Let me do that. You go downstairs and take a break. I’ll call for you when I need help getting out.”
“Gavin,” she said. “Really. Trust me to do this one thing myself. I’m giving myself two days to sulk and be afraid, and then I’m going back to work and getting on with my life. So, I’ve got to start somewhere.”
Only the certainty of her tone made me hand over the loofah to her outstretched hand.
“You promise you’ll call when you need help getting out?”
“Fine,” she said. “Now, go relax for a while.”
I straightened the sheets on Emma’s bed, but no sooner had I finished fluffing her pillows than the doorbell rang.
I frowned and headed down the stairs. In all the days I’d been here, only Bethany had come to visit. For all I knew, this could have been Emma’s attempted murderer, coming to make sure the job got done right this time.
As I strode toward the door with my fists clenched, I almost hoped for it. I was fairly certain I could kill the motherfucker with my bare hands.
I peeked through the peephole and then twisted the knob to find both my brothers waiting for me on the stoop.
“What’s wrong? I’m off work for the week, I told you,” I said as they stepped past me into the foyer.
“We know,” Quinn said. “But you also haven’t been answering your phone, and we need to talk to you.”
This, strictly speaking, wasn’t true. I’d been answering my phone . . . for everyone but my brothers. I just didn’t want to deal with work yet, not until I was sure Emma was safe and better.