Authors: J. J. Knight
Tags: #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #MMA, #boxing, #fighting
“Tell me about Colt,” I ask Buster. “Tell me.”
My tongue is fuzzy and thick. My ears fill with a roar.
And then it’s black again.
* * *
I’m in a fighter cage. Not Buster’s cage, where I’ve had two fights. And not the one at Colt’s family compound. I stare at it a minute, and I realize it’s the one Parker fought in, that time Lani took me to his match.
Nobody’s sitting in the chairs. I keep thinking if I look hard enough, I will see Colt. Last time I came, he was here. I turned around, and he was right behind me. I thought he was lost to me then. But I found him. I’ll find him again.
The door to the cage opens, but there’s no one there. It’s like a ghost. Now I’m crying, and I don’t cry. I never cry. But I am now because I know Colt is dead, and his ghost is opening the cage door.
I say his name over and over. I don’t even care now that he’s a ghost, as long as he comes back to me.
“Jo, Jo, you can wake up now. Just be calm. Can you be calm?”
It takes me a minute to hear Buster and know that it’s him. I open my eyes. It is no longer bright outside, but grayish blue. I don’t know if it’s later the same day, or another day.
My bed is surrounded. A nurse in blue scrubs has her finger on the IV. My good hand is strapped to the bed. They are ready for me this time.
“Will you stay calm for us?” Buster’s bald head is hovering over me. He’s serious and concerned.
My brain starts to clear, like someone’s vacuuming the cobwebs out. A man in scrubs takes Buster’s place. “Hello, Jo,” he says. “I’m Dr. Landon. I did a little work on your shoulder. Do you know what happened?”
I don’t care what he did to me. I swivel my head back to Buster, who has moved to the end of the bed. “How is Colt?”
The doctor looks over at Buster, who speaks up. “He’s in ICU,” he says. “He made it through, Jo. He’s made it so far.”
I let my head sink back into my pillow. Colt isn’t dead. He isn’t dead. He isn’t dead.
The doctor blathers on. I don’t pay any attention. Buster nods thoughtfully as he talks.
“When can I see Colt?” I ask, probably in the middle of the doctor’s sentence. I don’t care.
Dr. Landon hesitates. “We’re going to get you up and around later tonight,” he says.
“So I can go to ICU?”
Buster shakes his head. “He can’t have visitors right now, Jo. He’s in pretty bad shape.”
I swallow around the thickness in my throat. “How bad?”
Buster grips the rail. “He lost a lot of blood. They had to take some serious measures to save him.” His face is grim. “Parker heard the shots and got there fast. But it was complicated. Colt was bleeding an awful lot. The bullet nicked an artery.”
“Has he woken up at all?” I ask.
“No,” Buster says. “Not sure he can, that they’ll let him. He was in surgery all day yesterday.”
“How long has it been?”
“Two days. It’s Sunday now. Sunday evening.”
The fight was Friday.
“When can I see him?” I ask.
“Let me see who can update you,” Dr. Landon says. “We’ll find something out.” He pats my arm. “I’ll be in to see you tomorrow. You’ll be out of here in no time.”
He heads for the door.
The nurse twists a thick cord around the rail near my good arm and shows me the remote. It has buttons for up and down, for the bed, and a big red one for help.
“You can sit up a little if you like,” she says. “We’ll bring you some broth to get you started back on solids.” She fusses with a few things on a little machine by the bed, then leaves.
It’s just me and Buster.
“Did they arrest the guy?” I ask.
“It’s been pretty big news,” Buster says. He sinks down in a chair by the window. “The shooter was still there. He took a good blow from somebody. The police are guessing Colt did it, though I said you could have sunk him yourself.”
“We both got him at one point or another. There were four men.”
“Four?” Buster jumps up from his chair, then sits down again. “I’ll call the detective later.”
“I guess they’ll want to talk to me.”
“We know a few things.” Buster swipes at his eyes. “They got another guy whose prints were on the gun.”
The one with the brass knuckles. “Good,” I say. “What about Striker and Annie and Lani?”
“They were picked up after Parker said they were involved. Striker’s been charged with hiring the guy. The girls and Parker are out on bail.”
“They arrested Parker?”
Buster leans forward in his chair, bracing his elbows on his knees. “He was part of it, apparently. He was here at the hospital when they came for him, waiting on news about you and Colt. He didn’t fight it. Just went.”
“He saved us,” I say. “If he hadn’t come…”
Buster sighs. “It looks bad for everybody. Big mess.”
I feel so tired. “Have you seen Colt?”
“I’m not family.”
God. The Cure, Colt’s father, must be here somewhere. “His dad?”
“I haven’t seen him. But I’m sure he’s around. Probably has lawyers all over the place.”
“Maybe you can call Killjoy?”
“Nate is trying to get him. He’s been up here too, snarling at everyone.” Buster gives a feeble smile. “Trying to make sure they fix you up right so you can get back in the cage.”
I glance down at the sling. “I couldn’t move my arm before.” I wiggle my fingers.
“Blood loss. They don’t think any damage is permanent.”
I realize something. “How come you know about me? You’re not family either.”
He shrugs. “I lied.”
My eyes prick with tears then. Buster doesn’t even know my real name, but he’s playing like he’s my dad. “Thank you,” I say.
He stands up. “Somebody’s got to step in for Jo.” He lays his meaty hand on mine.
“Did someone tell Zero?”
“He’s been here too. He keeps leaving these.” Buster leans over to a cabinet near the head of the bed to pick up a Styrofoam container. It’s the kind they have at the cafe where Zero works.
“I don’t know what he puts in them, but they look kind of strange.”
He pops open the lid. Inside are two pieces of bread with all sorts of spreads and meats and vegetables in between.
“It’s a randomwich,” I tell Buster. “It’s our thing.”
Buster closes the lid. “I’m sure he’ll be back with another one soon. I keep telling him you can’t eat them right now. But he brings them anyway. Probably helps. We feel helpless.”
I look around the room. I have no idea how any of this will get paid for. I don’t have insurance. I don’t have anything. I spot a vase of flowers that look expensive.
Buster follows my gaze. “Those are from Brittany,” he says.
“Did she come here?”
“No. They were delivered.”
I figure she didn’t have anything to do with Lani or Annie. Not after what happened. Spying is one thing. And maybe even intimidating. But not a street fight. Or thugs. Not her style.
“You should probably rest a bit,” Buster says. “I’ll be here until Nate comes. We’re taking turns.”
My jaw aches from the effort of not crying. “You don’t have to do that.”
Buster settles back in his chair. “Sure we do. Somebody’s got to look out for our Jo.”
I lay back on the pillow. I have to get well. I have to get up. And I have to find a way to get to Colt. I need to look out for him.
I’ve barely walked around the room for the first time when a man in a dark police uniform knocks on the door. Nate is here now, and his lips clamp down on the cigar with annoyance when he sees the officer.
“She’s barely been awake two hours,” Nate bellows.
I’m feeling panicked. The police. Of course they’d come. But I’m not Jo Jones. My ID, wherever it is, is fake. I know I got fingerprinted when I got my original driver’s license when I was sixteen. They can find out who I really am.
I wobble a little. The nurse who is holding my arm frowns at the officer. “I don’t know if she has medical clearance for a police interview.”
I’m hoping she can get me out of this. I don’t want to talk. The nurse leads me back to the bed to sit down. Thankfully they’ve given me two hospital gowns, one opening in the back and the other in the front, so I don’t feel so exposed. The IV is finally out of my arm.
“You just get on out of here,” Nate says to the officer.
The detective glances with a bit of apprehension at Nate, who, despite being on the small side, looks intimidating and mean in his trench coat. Nate has bushy gray eyebrows that would bury an ordinary face and have expressions all their own. And right now they are saying,
“Pardon me, Miss Jones,” the detective says. “I’m Detective Case. I would just like to ask you a few questions so we can catch the men who did this to you.” He ignores Nate’s indignant snort from the chair.
I don’t answer, but look up at the nurse. Maybe I can fake passing out.
She’s tucking me back into the bed, her lips pressed together in a line. She’s bulky and strong. She could probably take this guy out.
But even if I can buy some time, they’ll be back. I don’t know the lawyer Colt hired. Or if he would help me with this. I may have to talk no matter what.
The detective walks closer to the bed and flips open an iPad case. “We just got word that there were more men,” he says. “We want to bring them in for questioning. We need your help. Until now, no one has been able to speak on your behalf.”
And Colt still can’t. My throat closes up.
The nurse straightens up. “You want me to call a doctor?” she asks me. “I might be able to get this postponed.”
I look from her to Nate to the officer. Everyone is grim and serious. I don’t see what waiting another day would do, unless I plan on running. And I can’t leave Colt.
“It’s fine,” I say. They can’t arrest me from the hospital, I don’t think. I have no choice now but to face whatever’s coming.
The nurse frowns again, but she adjusts the angle of the bed and leaves the room.
“Thank you,” the officer says. “Let’s start at the beginning. You were walking from a restaurant back to the gym where you work?”
I straighten the sheet over my legs. “Yes. Lani, Striker, Annie, and Parker were waiting there.”
“And there was an altercation.”
“Not with Parker. He left.”
“But with the others.”
“Yes. Lani and Annie grabbed me first. Then Striker attacked Colt.” My heart squeezes just to say his name.
“Then they left.”
“Yes. But the four men came almost immediately. The timing was too perfect for them not to have been waiting.”
Detective Case nods, jotting notes on the screen.
I describe the four men, and the fight, and the shots. Nate leans back in his chair, trying to keep his face straight, but I can see how upset he is. When I get to Parker coming back and helping Colt, my voice just gives out.
“I think that’s enough,” Nate says. “You got the basics. There will be a lot more.”
The detective closes the iPad case. “We want to make sure we get these other two guys.”
Clearly the one who shot us hasn’t squealed on his friends. Even thugs have codes. At this point, I don’t care about any of that. I just want Colt to be okay. But then, there’s still Lani and Annie.
“What will happen to the girls?” I ask.
“That’s for the DA to decide,” the detective says.
“They’ll walk,” Nate grumbles. “Go scot-free for what they did.”
“You have the option of filing charges against all of them for assault,” the detective says.
I won’t. They’ll definitely want my name for that, and so far this guy hasn’t asked me to prove who I am. “I will think about it,” I say.
“Thank you for your time,” Detective Case says. He sets a white business card on the side table next to Brittany’s flowers. “Call me if you need me. We’ll be in touch.”
My body feels exhausted, but my mind is racing. How can I get out of the room? I want to find my way to ICU, to see Colt.
When the detective is gone, Nate walks around the side of the bed. He pulls the cigar from his mouth. “I know what you’re thinking, Jo. But don’t go running off right now. The Cure’s done set a guard at ICU. Been a big mess. Hospital is mad at the interference. Don’t get mixed up in it.”
“Did you find out how he is from Killjoy?”
“It’s pretty bad. He had several surgeries to repair his stomach, some intestine, muscle. The big problem was the blood loss, lack of oxygen, how long he was out. Parker saved him, no doubt, keeping those compressions going.”
I picture the bullet puncturing Colt’s belly and feel sick. He seems so strong, but even he can’t deflect a gunshot.
“Is Parker going to go to jail? Will he be able to keep fighting?”
“I doubt he’ll see jail time. Seems like he wasn’t caught up in it as much as the others.”
“But his career?”
“Hard to say. Sponsors are fickle. This looks bad, fighters going after fighters.”
I lean back against the pillows and stare at the ceiling. “I need to see Colt.”
“Now that you’re up, I’ll get Killjoy down here,” Nate says. “He’ll see what he can do.” He picks up my hand in his grizzly beaten-up one. “Can you work with us on this?”
I nod. I don’t want to. And I probably won’t in the end. But I’ll at least act like I will.
Later that night I start working to convince a clearly exhausted Nate to go home and sleep. When the nurse brings me pain pills, I pretend to take them, and complain I can’t keep my eyes open.
It takes a good half hour of pretending to sleep before Nate believes me and leaves.
I wait another half hour before I throw the sheets aside and set my feet on the floor.
My steps are not as solid as I would like. I want to yell at my ridiculous legs for being wobbly and weak. They have nothing to do with the silly wound in my shoulder. I refuse to let them shake. I will get to the ICU floor by sheer will.
It’s late, and no one is in the hallway. I have no idea how secretive I should be, if I’m allowed to walk around, or if someone will force me back to the room. I decide to play it safe and stay out of sight as much as possible.