When I opened my eyes again, I was staring up at a plain white ceiling. Not the kind in the elderly couple’s house. My gaze was slow to drift down, over the pea green curtains and the little table to my right where a ceramic pitcher sat with empty plastic cups.
I was in a hospital room.
When did that happen?
Sensing another presence in the room, it hurt to turn my head to the left, but I did, and was rewarded with a beautiful sight.
Jensen sat on the edge of my bed, his hands folded in his lap.
My heart turned over heavily. He was alive, and he was up and moving around. Emotion clogged my throat as I stared at him.
His chin was dipped down, and several dark blond locks fell over his forehead. His hair was darker along one side of his head, matted with dried blood.
I didn’t speak, but he seemed to become aware of me. He lifted his chin, and eyes the color of dawn met mine. Relief splashed across his face.
“Hey,” he whispered, one side of his mouth curling up. “There’s my beautiful girl.”
“Hey you,” I croaked and started to smile, but my lips felt too tight and hurt. I raised my other hand, reaching for my lips.
Jensen caught my fingers. “Nah, babe, don’t do that.”
“What’s wrong with my mouth?”
“Your lip was split. There are a couple of stitches.” A dark look crept across his striking face as his gaze dipped to my wrist. It was heavily bandaged, but a bit of red had stained the cloth. “God, Ella . . .” He choked off, closing his eyes as he bent his head, pressing a kiss to the center of my palm. “When they told me you’d been brought in, I feared the worst.”
“I’m okay.” I pressed my hand against his cheek. “Are you? I was so scared. I thought—” My voice broke. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“My head is harder than it looks.” His eyes opened, the blue a startling color of the ocean. “Are you? Because they told me what happened—they told me who it was and what he admitted to you.”
“He’s . . . he’s still dead, right?”
Jensen frowned at that question, and I got that it sounded weird, but whatever. “He’s dead, dead,” he told me.
I drew in a deep breath and winced. “That hurt.”
He shifted closer, his movements slow. “You’re pretty banged up, Ella. Busted lip and eye. Half your face is swollen. The nurse said your ribs are bruised.”
“How about you?”
A soft, tired smile appeared. “Bruises. A contusion. They’re keeping you in here for observation—both of us.”
“I bet I look terrible.”
“You look freaking beautiful.”
I snorted. “So you have a concussion then.”
“No.” He bent down, kissing my forehead. When he straightened a little, he swallowed hard. “I know he hurt you, but did he—”
“No.” I knew where the question was heading. “It wasn’t about that. He was . . . he was out of his mind, Jensen. The things he said, I . . .”
“It’s okay. They told me. You don’t have to go through it again.” Smiling again, he glanced over his shoulder. The bruise along his temple was ugly and mean. “Your parents have been here, but they went to grab some food with Linds’ parents. You’ve been asleep for a while.”
“I have? It felt like minutes.”
He watched me intently. “If he wasn’t dead, I would’ve killed him for what he did to you.”
“No,” I whispered, an ache piercing my chest. “You don’t want that on your hands.”
The look on his face said he disagreed with that. “Can you roll on your side?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Why?”
“I need to hold you right now and I’m going to make this work.” He glanced at the narrow bed and frowned. “Somehow.”
My heart turned over happily. “I’m not sure the nurses and staff will appreciate that. Wait. Are you even supposed to be out of your room?”
His eyes sparkled. “No. But I’m still in the hospital and that counts for something, right?”
I laughed, ignoring the pain pounding in my ribs. “I’m not sure they’ll think that.”
“I don’t care.” Standing like a man four or five times his age, he made his way to the other side of the bed. “Let’s do this.”
It took a while for me to get onto my side without killing my ribs, and then even longer for Jensen to lie down.
“Ow,” we moaned at the same time, and Jensen chuckled as he readjusted himself so I wasn’t resting against his ribs. “We’re both kind of pathetic, aren’t we?”
“Yeah.” I smiled in spite of the stitches. It was good being almost in his arms. He really couldn’t hold me, but we made it work, lying as close as possible. His warmth, his very presence, chased away some of the darkness from the night. “But I love you.”
His lips brushed along the nape of my neck, eliciting a shiver from me. “But I love us.”
THE NURSES DID chase Jensen off, back to his room with adoring expressions on their faces. I think I rolled my eyes so far back they almost rolled out of my head. They also chased off my parents after an hour or so of my mom, my dad, and Rose clucking over me like worried hens.
After they left, it was a few hours shy of morning. I was hovering back and forth between asleep and awake when I heard the door creak. Figuring it was one of the nurses checking on me, I opened my eyes into thin slits. The pea green curtains fluttered.
It wasn’t a nurse who walked in.
I started to sit up, but my body screamed in protest. “Gavin?”
“Don’t sit up.” He came to the side of the bed, sitting down just like Jensen had. His gaze drifted over me. “You look terrible, Ella.”
He didn’t look much better. His forehead looked a bit swollen, and it was purple from where I’d hit him in the head. Oh dear.
“Gavin, I’m so sorry. I thought—”
“You thought I was the killer.” He smiled as he reached across the bed, wrapping his hand around mine. “It happens.”
My brows rose. “I don’t think someone mistakes their friend as a killer that often.”
“Well, with everything going on, it’s easy to imagine.” His shirt stretched over his shoulders as he shifted, the material over his arm torn. “Let’s not talk about that now.”
He was taking this very well, or maybe he just got one good look at me and felt too bad to really make me feel guilty. “Okay,” I said, squeezing his hand. “Did you have to sneak past the nurses?”
“Yeah, but I needed to see you.” He paused, pulling his hand free. “I tried to come by earlier, but you were with Jensen.”
Before, I would’ve felt a tidal wave of embarrassment and awkwardness, but after everything, I couldn’t muster the feeling. “The nurses ran him off. He should be let out tomorrow. Me too.”
Gavin reached up, scrubbing his hand carefully through his unkempt hair. “God, Ella, I can’t believe . . . things have ended up here.”
I closed my eyes briefly. “Me neither, but I’m glad you’re okay.”
His lashes drifted shut. “I think you’re mistaking what I’m saying.”
Confused, I tilted my head toward him. “How?”
He leaned down, placing one hand next to the shoulder furthest from him. The closeness wigged me out a little, but he was my friend, and I had knocked him over the head not too long ago. “I have a secret to admit,” he whispered.
Something in the way he said that caused tiny knots to form in my stomach. “What?”
“Shaw wasn’t the only one,” he said, and my eyes widened. “And he sure as hell wasn’t the brains behind any of this.”
My body jerked and I started to sit up, but Gavin moved incredibly fast, smacking a hand over my mouth as he climbed onto the bed, forcing his weight down on my legs.
A slow smile curled his lips, turning a familiar face into something I’d never seen before. My heart kicked against my chest frantically as I breathed heavily out of my nose.