Authors: Cristin Harber
“Okay.” Sugar crouched down too. “So first we stop for a drink. Then we get on the jet.”
So no one knew she was pregnant. She sniffled, too exhausted to begin that conversation.
Mia’s face pinched. “Or not.”
Nic glanced from one woman to the next. Maybe they did know.
“Like a drink of—” Sugar’s face twisted as she obviously tried to come up with something appropriate. “Milk?”
Nicola couldn’t help but smile. They were confirming without asking. They knew without her having to tell them. “Sounds great.”
Sugar lifted her shoulders. “So booze and caffeine are out?”
“Congratulations, then?” Sugar asked.
“Thanks,” Nicola whispered.
Mia hugged her. “Congrats. It will be okay.”
“Get your bag,” Sugar ordered. “Do you need to go puke or something? I guess you don’t have”—she used air quotes—“the
anymore. How does that work? Morning time only or what?”
“Pretty much all the time.”
“Glad we drove in your car.” Sugar raised her brow to Mia. “Shotgun.” Then she looked at Nicola. “Unless the front seat means you don’t puke as much.”
Only Sugar. Nicola rolled her eyes. “I can keep a lid on it.”
“Good. Keep it together until we’re where we need to go.” Assessing Nicola in a way that only she could do, Sugar clapped her hands and pushed off the ground. “I might call an audible, but for now, I’m riding shotgun.”
Mia stood and pulled Nicola up. Side by side, Mia and Sugar were comical. Mia wore a very cute, super-soft sweater. She could have walked off the front pages of any number of department-store catalogs. Sugar was all in black except for a magenta XOXO written across her T-shirt. They were an unstoppable force hell-bent on saving her and Cash.
Nicola hugged Mia all the time, mostly because Mia was huggable and liked hugs. Sugar, on the other hand, wasn’t and didn’t. Nicola didn’t care. She hugged the snot out of Sugar, making her squeak.
“What are we doing?”
“It’s a hug, Sugar. Shut up.”
it’s a hug.”
Nicola didn’t let go; she and Sugar had way too much history not to hug at a moment like this. “Ask Jared for practice. You suck at it.”
“Oh, for crap’s sake.” Sugar made a huge show of throwing her arms around Nicola too. “I love you, girl. Nothing’s going to happen to our boy. Okay?”
Nic nodded into Sugar’s hug. “Okay.”
“Don’t get your tears or snot on my shirt. The only ones allowed to do that are your future children.”
Nic laughed, breaking the strong hold on Sugar. “Alright.”
“Ready?” Mia asked.
Nicola inhaled a slow breath, for a second believing that everything would be okay. Simple hugs—that was all they were, but they were soul repairing. That was the power of friendship. She had her tribe, and they gave her the strength she needed to take that step forward. “Let’s go wake my husband up.”
“Such a lazy ass,” Sugar mumbled.
“Jeez, Sugar,” Mia whispered. “Tone it down.”
“Please don’t.” Nicola walked to get her go-bag. “If anyone is not themselves, I might really start freaking out. So Sugar needs to stay an insensitive bitch.”
Sugar beamed. Mia shook her head, and Nicola dug through her bag, ditching anything that might be used on an actual job and replacing it with prenatal vitamins and enough ginger to stock a sushi shop. “Let’s do this.”
There was nothing more terrifying than the man in the white coat. Surrounded by the hum of fluorescent lights in the quiet conference room, Nicola sat across from the brain-trauma specialist who had overseen Cash’s care since he had arrived. She simply stared as the doctor organized a folder on the table that most likely contained charts or concrete data for an uncertain prognosis.
“When will he wake up?”
Dr. Lobani smoothed the edge of the page. Nic’s fingers fluttered in her lap. She and the doctor had similar tics. His wasn’t necessarily the nervous energy that hers was, but nonetheless, he didn’t stop moving.
“It’s not that easy. Cash sustained—”
“I understand what he went through.” She’d forced Roman to give her every single gory detail. “I want to know two things. One, he obviously is past the point where he will die on me, right?”
“At this point, your husband is stable.”
Her fingers fidgeted as she ignored his generic answer. “And two, when will he wake up?”
“I can’t give you that answer.”
“Does he just open his eyes and—what, we start therapy? He’s going to be groggy? What? I’d like some details here because—”
“Because you’re overwhelmed and feeling the timeline of your pregnancy.”
Her shoulders slumped. Saying it like that made her sound selfish. But it was also true. “I want my husband healthy and at home, yes.”
Dr. Lobani leaned back in his chair, tapping his fingertips together before steepling them. “Most coma patients wake within days.”
That didn’t sound too bad. She had thought weeks; in the made-for-TV movie about their lives, he would wake up to find his kid in college or something.
“They don’t just suddenly arise, but rather, it’s a waking process. Moments of alertness. Passing realizations coupled with long bouts of rest.”
“Gradually. He’ll stay awake with us longer, and we can assess how he is.”
“We’ll determine what steps he will have to take in recovery.”
That made sense. It wasn’t as if her husband would just wake and skip out of the hospital, one hundred percent better. What if he didn’t wake? “Do stable patients always get better?”
“Our focus is Cash. Not patients in general. Let’s watch his progress over the next few days.”
“But that does happen? Sometimes stable people don’t wake up?”
He shook his head. “Brain injuries manifest in many ways. We need to watch your husband, and prepare for future rehabilitation.”
“What kind of things”—Nicola cleared her voice, trying to hide the fear—“should I be prepared for?”
“It is a wait-and-see situation. The brain could—”
She flattened her hands on the table. “What kind of things?” She hoped he’d see past the shock and anger and understand the level of desperation that she was teetering on and her need to plan for the future. “Please.”
“Anything from a lack of motor skills, mental reasoning, and verbal abilities to cognitive deficiencies.”
“Meaning what? Cognitive deficiencies?”
Again, the doctor scrutinized her, likely knowing that she was Titan and former CIA and that if she wanted to, she’d torture the information out of him. But his eyes showed compassion and acknowledgement that they were just two young parents, wanting desperately to live their lives together. “Concentration, memory, speed of processing information. Things of that nature.”
Cash’s career would be over if he lost all of those things. She gulped away the hurt that she prayed he would never know. “That’s all, huh?”
“That was sarcasm, Doc.”
Dr. Lobani rubbed his forehead. “There’s no need to worry about what may not be an issue.”
“He’s had brain trauma before.”
Nodding, he said, “I’ve read his file.”
“Not good, right?”
“Many circumstances can affect TBI.”
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Traumatic Brain Injury.”
Was that a label that a parent-to-be was able to handle? Nicola fidgeted. “What am I supposed to do?”
“I wish I had a better answer.”
She looked at the doctor with raised brows and an unsteady gaze. “Than…?”
“Wait and see.”
One night and two days later, the vigil hadn’t changed, and the doctors weren’t making Nicola feel any better. Even the nurses were giving her pitying looks.
didn’t begin to describe the toll her body had taken, and she tried to hide it from the world—from herself—mostly because the medical center’s OB-GYN said the baby was fine, and that was all that mattered. And if the baby was okay, everyone could stop bothering her.
The door pushed open, and Nicola turned to see a man she didn’t know.
“Hello, sorry to interrupt. Don’t mind me. I’m upgrading the software on a monitor.”
Nic smiled. “Sure.” It wasn’t the first time that someone had tromped into Cash’s room. The guy was in uniform but wasn’t medical personnel, and he looked miserable. “Are you okay?”
“Sure.” He squinted. “Do I know you?”
She shook her head. Even on a secure base, she was paranoid. Having a history in witness protection, the CIA, and Titan would do that to a girl. “I don’t think so.”
His eyes flashed to where names were normally listed on the wall for patients, but because of the classified relationship that Titan had with Landstahl, Cash Garrison was simply listed as “Patient, Room 6806.”
After an awkward pause, the tech tinkered with a machine. It beeped a few times as he reset it, then he turned, staring. They were about the same age, and he searched her face as though he had a question.
“Do you need something else?”
“No, ma’am.” He looked away, clearing the inquisitive expression from his face, and scurried out the door.
Nicola’s gaze narrowed on the empty space where he had been. She was always on red alert. Was it safe to bring a baby into their world? Sure. Mia and Colby had kids. Sugar and Jared. Brock and Sarah. They had intense safety-and-security protocols, some of which bordered on paranoia, but Nicola appreciated them. She settled down, telling her hormones to take it easy. No sense in riling herself up when she couldn’t do jack about it.
Sugar’s heels clicked down the hall, announcing her arrival before she walked in. Nicola wiped under her eyes, knowing full well that she couldn’t swipe away dark circles and bags. She shifted from her chair by Cash’s bedside as Sugar walked in.
Her dark eyes looked from Cash, in the same state he’d been in for two days, to Nicola, in the same place Sugar had left her. “You look like crap.”
“Jeez, sunshine. Thanks for coming over.”
Sugar extended the coffee cup in her hand. “Decaf tea.”
Nic nodded. “Thanks.”
“You need to eat.”
“When?” Sugar snapped the word in what was probably meant to be uber-caring but to the outside world likely looked scary-slash-bitchy.
Well… good question.
“That took way too long to answer.” A couple click-clacks of her super-high-heeled boots, and Sugar was next to Cash, inspecting him as though she could see something the doctors couldn’t. “He’s not going to wake up in the next fifteen minutes. You need to eat.”
“I have breakfast bars.”
“You need to eat, Nic.”
“I’m not leaving him.”
“For Christ’s sake, Nicola.” Sugar tossed her bright-red-fingertipped hands in the air. “He’d kick my ass for letting you and baby just sit here, crunching on protein bars. If you don’t come with me, you’ll have an entire contingent of dudes to deal with.”
Nicola blinked. “Excuse me?”
“None of them know how to deal with a pregnant superspy. But what they do know is that if you don’t take care of yourself, they will force you to do it. For you and for him. For that little tater tot growing inside you.”
She smiled. “I think it’s more the size of a blueberry right now.”
Sugar grinned too. “I missed that part of the moms’ club. It was a guess.”
Jared and Sugar’s daughter, Asal, was adopted, and Nicola wondered how deep Sugar’s maternal clock ran, but now wasn’t the time to ask. “I don’t want to leave him, Sugar.”
“You’re scared. I get it.”
She dropped her head. Being scared wasn’t something that any of them ever talked about. Fear was part of the job. They accepted it and moved forward. That was why they were excellent in their roles with Titan and their partners—Sugar, Mia, Sarah, and even Beth to a certain extent because she and Roman had something long-term happening. But there was another level of fear that they had to live with in addition to what they might encounter on a job: what if the job was too hard? What if a spouse was hurt? What if they said good-bye to their spouses for the last time?
Nicola’s throat tightened, and tears stung her eyes. How much more could she cry?
“Nope. No more tears right now. Cash, man, I’m taking your woman for some hot grub in the cafeteria. Don’t die while we’re gone.”
“Christ, Sugar,” boomed a voice from behind Nicola. Jared walked in. “Take it down a notch already.”
“Hey.” Nicola lifted her chin to say hello.
“Hey, Princess.” He pulled a chair and gathered Sugar onto one knee, where the ballsy, brash woman compliantly perched then eased. They were two harsh people, but when coupled, they were soft and in love, although with an I-can-kill-you edge.
Her stomach growled. It was all the talk of food. She certainly was taking very good care of herself and the baby, eating lots of calories, protein, and carbohydrates—everything that their bodies needed. Nicola had even double-checked with the doctors that the stress wasn’t causing undue stress to the fetus, and they’d had her examined by an OB. Maybe she was hungry. But she didn’t want to leave Cash. It was that simple.
“Nicola,” Jared said.
She tore her attention away from Cash, not realizing that she’d been lost—again—in his face. Scratched and bruised, he rested quietly just as though he were sleeping the day away. “Yes.”
“Go with Sugar. Get some grub. A change of scenery. It’s an order, Princess.”
She dropped her head, not wanting to say no to Boss Man, but—
“And before you fight me on this…”
Nic lifted her eyes.
“Roman’s bugging out of his fuckin’ mind. If nothing else, give him five minutes. Go talk to him.”
She dropped her head and rubbed her temples. Roman always took care of her, and she’d forgotten to even have a conversation with him. “Yeah. Okay.”
“With the exception of when he’s checked on you two, Roman hasn’t moved.” Sugar stood. “I’ll show you where he’s posted up. He’s pretty much just stood there, waiting for you.”