Authors: J. J. Knight
Tags: #New Adult Contemporary Romance, #MMA, #boxing, #fighting
After a turn in the corridor, I see the nurses’ station. I figure they are going to stop me, so I have to find another way. But I don’t even know where I’m going. If I can get to an elevator, surely it will tell me how to find ICU.
I backtrack up the hall. When I pass my room again, I pop inside to look beside the door. Sure enough, there is a fire evacuation map on the wall.
The main hallways all lead to the nurses’ desk, but if I cut through the break room and go to a side hall, I can make it to the elevator without passing the desk. I peek out the door again. Still quiet.
I head the opposite direction until I reach the break room. A nurse is just leaving out the opposite door. I pause, then cut through. The nurse carries a cup of water into a patient’s room.
My legs are shaking, but my adrenaline is rising. I can feel the power surging through me. I know I can count on it. It will get me where I want to go.
This corridor is short, and a door leads me right to the hub of the hospital and the visitor elevators. I wish I had regular clothes, but I will just have to fake it.
A custodian pushes a cart into one of the elevators, and I follow him in. The directory is posted inside. The man nods at me politely, trying not to look down at my bare legs and socks. When the door opens, I step out.
The ICU ward is straight ahead. Visitor hours are over. A woman in bright red lipstick and a neck draped with jangly beads looks right at me when I come through.
I decide to ignore her and see how far I get. But I only have two choices. The waiting room, or a sealed door that requires an access pass. I’ll have to talk to this woman.
I turn back around. “I’m Colt McClure’s wife,” I say. “We were shot a couple nights ago.”
Her eyes get big. Good. Maybe she’ll listen to me.
“I’m here to see him.”
The woman picks up her phone. A dozen gold bangles slide up her arm. I don’t think I could ever in my lifetime even own all the jewelry she’s wearing right now.
“Hatty?” she says. “I’ve got a girl here saying she’s Colt McClure’s wife.” She nods as if Hatty could see her through the phone. Pendulous earrings swing from her ears. “I’ll tell her.”
She sets the phone down. “Someone will be right with you.”
I’m not sure what to make of this. I can’t picture someone named Hatty dragging me out of here. I’m feeling strong, the intensity of my need to see Colt driving me.
The oversized metal door beeps and begins to open on a motorized hinge. I’m expecting another version of this woman, so when I see two hulking men in black suits, I take a step back.
“No visitors for Colt, doctor’s orders,” one says. His voice is like thunder.
I am not going to be intimidated by this man. I see how it is. These are the goons sent here by Colt’s father.
“You’re not a doctor,” I say.
The door starts to close again, so I rush forward. One of the men grabs my good arm. “I don’t want to hurt an injured lady,” he says.
“So don’t,” I say. I’m inside. The door is closing behind me.
“Only family in ICU,” he says. His face and his neck are all one big round lump above his suit collar.
“You didn’t hear we got married? Just a little something to piss off his father.” I jerk my arm away. “Are the lawyers here? Because I’m about to throw a fit if I’m not let back there.”
I start working the sling off my elbow. I can move my arm enough to matter, and I need to be nimble if I’m going to slip away from these knuckleheads.
The other man punches a button to open the door again. I’m about to be escorted out if I don’t act.
Damn, but these men are solid walls of muscle. Still, a concussion is a concussion. It’s all about finding the right spot.
I shift my right leg back, deciding which one to try to sink, when the first one simply picks me up by the waist.
“I don’t want to hurt an injured girl,” he says again.
I start kicking with everything I’ve got, but my feet in hospital socks just bounce off the wall of his belly. What are these people made of? Concrete?
Even a hurricane can’t bring down something that solid. Still, I know he is trying to be gentle, and I’ll use this to my advantage. I manage to snap my knee high and land a solid blow to his chin.
He takes the blow and doesn’t even flinch. Holy crap.
A firm female voice says, “Set her down.”
“I’ve got orders from The Cure,” he says.
“And he takes orders from me. Set her down.”
The door starts closing again as the man lowers me back to the floor.
I can’t see anything for the wall of suits, but they step aside.
A tall graceful woman in dark silvery pants and a fitted knit jacket comes between them. “You must be Jo,” she says. “I’m Eve, Colt’s mother.”
Colt’s mother stretches out her hand. It isn’t positioned for a greeting, to shake, but like a mom expecting her child to take it and be led.
The hurricane has totally collapsed. I’m a little girl now, doing what she’s told. I reach out and accept her hold on me.
This woman is beautiful and poised, like a queen. Her serene face has only the slightest lines giving away her age. She is calm and stately, completely the opposite of Colt and his father. I feel like a gangly street rat next to her.
She leads me down the hall. Her hand is cool and gentle surrounding my hot and clammy palm.
“I heard you got up earlier today,” she says. “I hoped to meet you tomorrow, but this will do.”
We pause at the end of another hallway, and she says, “Of course you should come see Colt. Don’t let my husband intimidate you. He’s just looking out for Colt’s safety.”
“I would never hurt him,” I manage to say.
“Of course not,” she says. “You and that fighter boy saved his life. Nothing that happened that night had anything to do with you. Striker was always a problem. Geoffrey should have taken it more seriously.”
I’m confused a moment, then remember that The Cure has a real name. Geoffrey. “You knew?”
“Everyone knew Striker wanted to get even with Colt.” Her forehead creases with concern. “We just had no idea it would lead to this.”
She takes in a deep breath. “I want you to brace yourself for seeing him. He doesn’t look good. But he’s stable, and the surgeries went well. He lost a lot of blood, and there was oxygen deprivation.” She stops. “I’m sorry, you’re anxious. I have to give myself this pep talk every time I go in. Remind myself that he is strong.” She squeezes my hand. “Here we go.”
We turn the corner, and the dimly lit room of the ICU ward is just ahead. Machines fill the spaces between the beds, some making light breathy sounds or beeping faintly. I spot Colt immediately, at the far end. I let go of Eve and hurry to him. My socks whisper on the floor.
I can barely see his face for the tubes. His skin is ashen and cast blue from the monitor. I press the back of my knuckles to his cheek. My Colt.
My jaw clenches with the effort of not crying. He looks so strong lying there, as always. His arms are just as beefy, his chest still wide. But he’s so
My legs give out, so I kneel by his bed and clutch his hand. I can’t look at him for a moment. I need to compose myself. So, I rest my forehead on our joined fingers. If I clear my mind and concentrate only on the feeling of my face against his skin, I can almost imagine I am at his beautiful place in Santa Barbara, the fan whirring overhead and the wispy fabric blowing around the bed.
I picture this scene until I am calm again.
Eve comes up behind me and lays a hand on my shoulder. “He’s going to get through this.”
“Is he in a coma?”
“Not exactly. They are keeping him sedated while some of the worst of this heals. Colt isn’t an easy boy to keep still.”
Someone calling Colt a boy almost makes me smile. If only this wasn’t so serious, so hard.
“I’ll give you a minute.” She turns and drifts back toward the entrance.
I watch Colt’s chest rise and fall. The monitor behind him registers each heartbeat. He’s always been so fierce, so invincible. But now he’s here.
He went so long without oxygen. He lost so much blood. I run my hand lightly across his belly, the sheet rough and rumpled on top of bandages and a drainage tube. He might never fight again after this. He might not know me. He might be permanently damaged.
Fear takes over my body. I don’t want this. I refuse to let it happen. I don’t care about my fights or my life or anything I’ve ever wanted. The hurricane starts to rise in me, like I could spin around and destroy anything that would interfere with Colt’s future, his dream.
My chest heaves from the rapid breaths. My skin prickles, gearing up for the confrontation, to win.
But I don’t want it. I don’t care about it.
And then I know.
I can give it up. If I let it go. If I sacrifice it, then maybe I can save Colt.
“I give it to you,” I whisper across his body. “I let go of my hurricane, any fight in me, for you.”
A peace settles over me. I let my forehead fall against his hand again. I’m so exhausted. So tired of struggling.
But I will remain strong in this. For Colt. Until he’s back.
I will do anything so that he can keep his dream.
Eve comes back. “We’ve been caught,” she says.
I turn to see a nurse beside her. “Visiting hours are long past,” the woman says quietly.
“We know,” Eve says. “Thank you for giving us a moment.”
Eve helps me stand. “You can come back tomorrow to see him. Geoffrey and I have arranged for a private room here at the hospital, so I will always be here. Just ask at the ICU desk. I’ll put you on the family list.”
We walk out of the ward. When we get into the hall, I look back at Colt in his bed. He will be well. I will do anything in my power to make sure of it.
The next morning, I wake up in the hospital room to the sound of angry voices outside my door. I sit up. Buster is here. He leans forward in his chair, also listening.
“What’s happening?” I ask him.
“I don’t know,” he says.
My door smashes open. The two goons from last night enter the room. “Who the hell are you?” Buster asks.
But then Colt’s father comes in behind them.
I jerk the sheets up to my neck. What is he doing here?
The Cure doesn’t even acknowledge us. He turns to an orderly in blue scrubs pushing a wheelchair in behind them. “Make it snappy. We’ve got maybe five minutes to move her.”
The orderly rolls the chair to the side of my bed and drops the rail. “I need you to come with me, Miss,” he says.
Buster leaps from his chair. “What the hell is this about?”
The Cure turns to look at him. “Buster Cane, pleasure to see you again.”
“What is the meaning of this? Barging in here.”
The Cure snaps his fingers at the orderly. “Load her up or my men will do it not nearly so nicely.” He turns back to Buster. “Jo needs some protection. I’m moving her someplace more secure.”
The orderly pulls the covers away from my legs. “Can you stand?”
“I can stand FINE,” I say. I tell The Cure, “I don’t need you protecting me.”
Colt’s father’s lips twitch. “This is not a matter of those minor fighters. I’m afraid I’m having to protect you from your own sordid history.”
“Please come,” the orderly says.
I flush hot with panic. It’s happened. It’s finally happened. My past is out in the open.
Buster is both angry and confused. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ll explain when Jo is secure.” He waves his men over. “Go ahead and carry her if that’s what it takes.”
I leap from the bed. “I can walk.”
“Please sit,” the orderly says. “Hospital policy.”
Buster gestures for me to sit in the chair. I’m angry and afraid, but I obey. The orderly shifts the footrests and begins pushing.
“Quickly, quickly,” The Cure says. “I’m sure some overzealous media hound is trying to make his way here even as we dawdle. Two news vans pulled up minutes ago.”
The Cure leads the way out of the room. A few more suited men are standing in the hallways, blocking paths and generally looking menacing. I’m not sure the President would have this many bodyguards.
We all load into the elevator, and The Cure presses a button for one of the top floors. Finally, he turns to me. “I assume the names Retta and Rich Mahoney are familiar to you?”
Everything in my body tenses up. When I don’t answer, The Cure goes on. “I don’t know who these money-grubbers are, but they do seem to have convinced the media that you are a menace to society. They’re trying to sell their story to any two-bit outfit that will have them.”
The elevator doors open. At first this floor appears to be an ordinary ward of the hospital, but when we turn to the right, one of the hallways is locked tight. The orderly waves his badge at it, and a door much like the one securing ICU begins to open.
The Cure strides through. Over his shoulder he says, “I could have just turned you over to the police, but I’ve decided to bring you here instead. For Colt.”
We follow a long hallway until we reach a door halfway down.
The Cure pauses in front of it. “My wife and I are staying here while Colt recovers. Hefty donations do create cooperation among the staff. Your doctors and a private nurse will see to you.”
He turns to the security guards. “Nobody in or out except him.” He points to Buster. “Or hospital staff you personally recognize and are cleared by me. I won’t have anyone faking a hospital ID to get to Jo.”
The two men nod.
I’m not sure if I should be grateful or pissed off.
Inside the room is an ordinary bed like you would have at home, a sofa, and a small table with two chairs. It feels more like a hotel than a hospital room. Eve is inside, sitting on a blue wing chair. “Hello, Jo.” Her smile is tighter than last night. Her easy grace seems strained.
She is about to turn off the television when The Cure says, “Oh, no, let Jo see what she’s done.”
The orderly rolls me to where I can see the screen. It’s high in the corner, mounted to the ceiling. On it, an announcer is talking about basketball scores.