For Disclaimers See Chapter 1
THE BLUEST EYES IN TEXAS
Copyright 2000 by Texbard
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I am pleased to announce that Jane Doe Press will publish The Bluest Eyes in Texas. (Editor's note: Jane Doe Press is no longer in business. For the latest edition of Bluest Eyes, visit Regal Crest Publishing.)
(posted May 2, 2001)
The City Central Hotel lobby was empty of people, save the night clerk at the desk and a lone bartender in the lounge off to one side. Kennedy looked cautiously around from the open front door before she moved quietly inside. Her eyes darted about the room, taking in the elegant gilded wallpaper, the tasteful Renaissance-era paintings on the walls, and the rich burgundy carpet dotted with tiny gold flecks, that flanked the central marbled entryway floor.
It was the same hotel where Carson had met Nick and Tony for dinner, so it made sense that Nick had a semi-permanent suite there. The restaurant they had met in was down a hallway that turned past the main check-in desk. She reflected solemnly on Carson's phone call from that night. Why didn't I have her call the police?
She realized that what she was doing now was almost a repeat performance. I should call Officer Stanton and let him know what I'm doing. But I don't even know if I'm in the right place. She sighed, unsure of how to proceed.
Instinct told her not to ask the clerk for information. If Nick was a regular they might be apt to warn him if anyone were nosing around after him. He has to come down here, eventually. Doesn't he?
She pulled the collar of her black polo shirt up, and tucked her ponytail more securely against the back of her neck. On the way to the hotel she had stopped off at a gas station and changed into some of the clothing from her duffle bag, which she had transferred from Heidi's car to Carson's earlier in the evening. In addition to the polo shirt, she wore denim shorts, her hiking boots, and a University of Texas baseball cap. She had pulled her shoulder-length hair through the cap in the back and then tucked the tail in, in an effort to disguise herself.
The bored night clerk finally looked up from reading a book and frowned. Kennedy was not dressed like a typical patron. "May I help you?" The slightly irritated man asked her, his eyebrows arching up above the rims of wire-framed glasses.
"No." She nodded her head once in greeting. "I'm meeting someone here. I'll just take a seat until they arrive." She could tell the man didn't believe she was meeting anyone at the late hour.
Kennedy made her way over to a plush paisley couch in a far corner and sat down, her presence mostly hidden from the rest of the lobby by a large square support pole. She grabbed a magazine from a side table and began to slowly peruse it. Her eyes occasionally strayed toward the elevator banks, keeping watch for Nick to appear.
She briefly considered going to the high-rise where Tony had indicated Nick had a penthouse apartment, but this hotel did indeed have a clear view of the red Pegasus. She could see it out the large floor-to-ceiling windows that lined the front of the lobby. It was actually unusual to have a really clear view of the red winged horse anymore. The building it sat on top of was at one time the tallest building in Dallas. Several much larger ones that had been built closer to the outskirts of the downtown area now overshadowed it. Clear views were hard to come by.
Restless energy prevented her from either relaxing or reading. Pacing was out of the question, lest she draw unwanted attention to herself. Guess I should at least let Parker know where I am. She unclipped her phone and pressed a speed-dial number, waiting until she heard her brother pick up.
"Shea, where the hell did you go?" Parker's voice was as angry as she had ever heard it. "Do you have any idea how scared I am? First Carson disappears and then you . . ."
Oooo. It hadn't occurred to her that her disappearance might be interpreted as another kidnapping. "Parker, I'm so sorry." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I got a call from Nick. At least I think it was Nick. He told me to call everyone off him or they might hurt Carson."
"Shea. Where . . . are . . . you?" The clipped words stung, digging into her conscience.
"I'm at the City Central Hotel. That's where I think they're holding her." She lowered her voice in case the night clerk suddenly become interested in her.
"Shea! Why didn't you tell Officer Stanton?" Parker was practically screaming at her, and she held the phone away from her ear, cringing as her eardrum vibrated. "What are you, a one-woman SWAT team?"
"Parker. I know I should. But I was so afraid . . ." Her throat felt tight and she swallowed. "Parker. I wanted to at least make sure first. I . . . if I bring the police down on them, I'm afraid they might hurt her. Parker . . ." Her voice broke and she paused. Dammit, dammit, dammit. I am NOT going to cry right now. She allowed her anger to rise to the surface, overtaking the grief and fear. "Parker. I am not going to lose her. You got that? I just found her and I . . . am . . . NOT . . . going to lose her now. I don't want the police down here until I'm sure she's here. There's nothing more I can do at the hospital right now anyway. There's no law that says I can't go sit in a hotel lobby if I want to."
"Shea . . ." Parker's patience was worn thin.
"No." The alto voice was low and steady. "I won't risk it. Not until I know where she is, and have a pretty good idea of the layout of the area they're holding her in. After that, I'll call the police. After what I saw at Carson's office, I'm not terribly impressed with them right now."
"Shea." Parker forced himself to calm down. "There's something you need to know."
The timbre of her brother's voice got her adrenalin racing, and she felt her skin prickle with fear. "What?"
"The lab results are back, and the blood on the chair is Carson's" He listened to his sister's breath catch. "And that syringe . . . Shea, that was used on her too. They've given her a dose of Valium. That's what was in the syringe."
"Her drug of choice." Kennedy smiled bitterly. "Can you get a doctor on the line for me, Parker? I want to ask a few questions about that."
"Overdose side effects?" The dark-haired man pulled out a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "Got them right here."
"You know me too well." The attorney removed her palm wizard from the other side of her belt, and prepared to take notes.
"Shea, I just might care about her too." Parker felt his own eyes cloud up. "Besides the fact that I like her, she makes you happy. And it's been a long time, sis. A long long time since I've seen someone make you laugh and smile the way she does. I want to see that smile on your face for many years to come."
It was a rare moment between two siblings who typically were either all-business with each other, or else constantly tormenting one another, albeit in a good-natured way. Kennedy savored it for a several seconds. "Thanks, Parker. That means more than you know."
"Yeah . . . um . . ." The moment passed. "Valium overdose symptoms include sleepiness, confusion, labored breathing, slow heart rate, slurred speech, unsteady gait and impaired coordination."
"She already has those symptoms." Kennedy felt defeat begin to rear its ugly head, and she gritted her teeth, determined to fight it to the bitter end. "Parker, these guys are idiots. What if . . ." She couldn't bring herself to think about what would happen if they gave her a lethal overdose.
"Shea, please." Parker pleaded. "Please let me go get Officer Stanton. I'm in the hospital cafeteria. It'll only take be a few minutes to get back up there. He's still in ICU with everyone else. They're still arguing the final details of Tony's plea. He should know that you already know where Carson might be, don't you think?"
"Parker, if I promise to call as soon as I'm certain she's here, will that be good enough for you for now?" Kennedy watched as a man appeared from an elevator. Her eyes grew wide and she ducked down into the couch, hiding more fully behind the pole. It was the man she'd fought with in the State Fair parking lot. "Parker, I've gotta go. I'll call later. Don't talk to Stanton yet."
"Shea . . ." Parker cursed as the line went dead.
"What the . . ." Nick shook Carson furiously. The blonde didn't respond at all. "Damn!" He shook her again, rolling her body to the side, where it landed, her legs and arms askew like a limp rag doll. The short man knelt down beside the bed and felt her neck, just below her jaw line. He pressed deeply into her skin and felt the blood drain back into his face, as a very weak slow pulse beat against his fingertips. He pushed an eyelid up and drew back. Her pupil was dilated to the point that the grey iris was barely visible.
He got up and charged across the room and into the living area of the suite, jerking the door open on the refrigerator in the mini-bar. He looked inside and pulled out one remaining vial of Valium, which was almost empty. He raced back into the bedroom and picked up the trashcan, tipping it over and emptying the contents out onto the bureau top. Two empty vials and a syringe were at the very bottom, buried under a folded up newspaper.
"Marcello!" Nick bellowed at the top of his lungs. "What have you done?" He slammed the trashcan down onto the floor and exited the suite, his short legs carrying him to the elevators as fast as they could.
He had woken up from a catnap to find Marcello missing. The taller man's suitcase was still in the room, along with his car keys and revolver, so Nick knew he was still in the hotel, most likely at the bar. They had argued fiercely over what to do with Carson.
Marcello was furious. Carson had indeed broken his nose, and he had managed to get an ice bag from housekeeping, which he made periodic trips to the bar to refill. Each time he went downstairs he also had a few drinks before returning. And each time he returned to the room, his anger was increased, partly a side effect of the cheap whiskey he consumed. Nick had managed to keep him from beating Carson up, but there was murder in the taller man's eyes.
Nick could only assume that Marcello had used most of the rest of the Valium in an attempt to sedate Carson to the point that she simply wouldn't be a threat again. The shorter man knew nothing about medicine or medications, and had no idea if the girl had been given a fatal overdose or not. He paced up and down in front of the elevators until finally one of them opened and he stepped in, almost breaking the keypad as he hit the button for the hotel lobby.
Kennedy remained hunkered down in the chair, peering around the pole and watching the man as he disappeared into the bar. She counted to twenty and then got up, creeping across the floor. She reached the lounge entrance and slowly looked around the doorway. The man was seated at the bar with his back to the door. She looked over at the night clerk, who also had his back turned, bent down behind the desk doing something.
She quickly slipped past the lounge door and around a corner where the clerk couldn't see her. She pressed her back against the wall and strained to listen, trying to catch anything the man in the bar might say. Her ears pricked up, catching most of their conversation.
"Back for more ice, huh?" The bartender took the bag from Marcello and refilled it for him.
"Yeah." The tall man took the bag and pressed it gingerly against the bridge of his nose. "And another shot of the whiskey."
"Ah. Your buddy need some time alone with that little blonde he brought in?" The bartender winked. Around the corner, Kennedy's heart twisted in her chest and she had to force herself not to charge into the bar and beat the man senseless. I can do that later, after I follow him to their room.
"Something like that." Marcello accepted the glass and swirled the amber liquid around before belting half of it down.
"She come around yet? She was so drunk when you two brought her in, you were carrying her, weren't you?" The bartender made idle talk as he wiped down the bar.
"Yeah. Some little tramp Nick picked up somewhere."
Kennedy's blood boiled and her nostrils flared in barely-contained rage. I'll kill him if he touches her, I swear I will.
"Marcello!" The brunette jumped as she heard the voice from the phone call yelling across the hotel lobby. She eased to the very edge of the wall and carefully poked her head around. She recognized Nick from photos Carson had shown her. The short man's face was beet red and was contorted into a menacing snarl. "What the hell were you thinking?" Nick knocked the whiskey glass from Marcello's hand, shattering it on the floor.
The bartender decided it was time to take a break, and quickly exited the bar.
"What are you talking about?" The taller man instinctively brought his hand up in front of his face to protect his broken nose.
"You know what." Nick got in his face, pushing his hand aside. "When did you give her the rest of it, huh?"
Kennedy's brows furrowed. Rest of what?
"A little less than an hour ago." Marcello shrugged. "She was starting to come around and I'm tired of dealing with the little bitch. Figured I'd put her out for a while."
"Idiot!" Nick backhanded him and the taller man doubled over in pain.
"Ahhhhhh. Damn! My nose." Marcello covered his face with his hands, as fresh blood seeped between his fingers.
"Screw your nose. Do you realize she's dying up there, you dumbass?" Nick grabbed Marcello's collar and hauled him off the barstool.
Around the corner, Kennedy felt her heart drop into her knees. She quietly unclipped her cell phone and dialed 911, as she made her way to the far end of the hall, away from the bar. "Hello?" She whispered into the phone as low as she could. "I need an ambulance at the City Central Hotel." She paused, listening. "Valium overdose. Room number? Don't worry about that. I'll have the victim in the lobby by the time you get here. While you're at it, call Officer Stanton with the police department and tell him to meet Kennedy here. Tell him to bring back up officers. He knows who I am." She hung up and turned off the phone. The 911 operator would not be able to call her back, and would thus be forced to comply with her request. Now, I've gotta make good on my end of the bargain.
She crept back to her former lookout post, just in time to catch Nick and Marcello storming out of the bar toward the elevator bank. She waited, her heart racing double time. As soon as she heard the elevator door ding, she ran around, following them. She looked above each of the four elevator doors, studying the floor numbers. There. One was just starting to go up, currently on the third floor. She watched until it stopped at the very top floor, the twentieth. Figures he'd be up there.
She punched a button for another elevator. Mere seconds seemed like hours, until a car arrived and she got on, finding the twentieth floor button. She watched as the car moved up with maddening slowness. Finally, she reached her destination. Now what? She looked down the hallway at all the closed doors, counting ten of them. Which room?
She tilted her head to one side and closed her eyes, listening. For anything at all. She jumped, as a door flew open and Marcello barreled out of it. "Screw you, Nick! You're on your own." He slammed the door and was halfway down the hall before he saw her.
Ah, damn. Kennedy automatically took a defensive stance, one born from years of drinking in small west Texas dives where nightly brawls were part of the entertainment. She waited, watching as he slowed and then stopped.
"You." His lip curled up. "You've ruined everything. You and your little whore in there." He grinned evilly. "Wouldn't you like to know how we've spent our time with her in the last few hours?"
The brunette flinched, the only sign the comment had registered. "Give yourself up, Marcello. Cops are on their way."
"Nick's your man, not me." He moved forward.
"Not according to what I heard downstairs." She met him halfway, fists cocked. "You know, we've gotta stop meeting like this."
They circled each other and Marcello lunged first. Kennedy sidestepped and landed a blow to his midsection as he stumbled past her. He recovered and came back around, slugging her lower back before she could turn. She rolled with the blow and landed on her feet, spinning around as he came at her again. She kicked him in the shin and he cursed, grabbing at his leg and hopping on one foot. He hopped forward and lunged again, getting a solid punch to her gut, but failing in his attempt to actually grab hold of her.
She slipped past him, running for the door he had come out of. As she reached it, he dove for her, grabbing her ankles. She hit the floor barely breaking the fall with her hands, her face mere inches from the carpet. She felt him dragging her backward and she twisted, fighting his pull. They played tug of war, establishing a rhythm. Suddenly, she broke the pattern, going with his pull instead of against it, using the momentum to kick both feet forward, hitting him in the groin.
"Goddammit! You bitch!" He dropped to his knees. "I shoulda killed you the first time you did that." He looked up, just as the flat of her hand slammed into his nose. He screamed and the hands previously covering his groin flew up to his face. The trickle of blood became a steady stream, running down his face and soaking into the carpet.
Kennedy pulled out her gun and turned it, stepping over him. She brought the butt down, connecting with the base of his neck. He sank into the rug, feeling no more pain. It wasn't a fatal blow, but it would keep him out long enough for her to get into the room. She used his suspenders to secure his hands behind him, and fished in his trousers pockets until she located the card key to the room.
Rooms must be really sound proof. She couldn't believe no one had come out to check on the commotion. She pressed her ear against the hotel room door and heard nothing. Can't wait. She slid the key into the slot and turned the knob with a soft click.
She froze. Nick was hovered over the couch, furiously shoving clothing and other items into a few bags, oblivious to her presence behind him. He looked up as the sound of sirens reached his ears. They grew louder and then stopped right below the building. He ran to the far window, still unaware that Kennedy was in the room. Several choice curses escaped his lips and he turned around, just as her fist connected with his face. "How'd you get in here?" He growled, as he stumbled around, rubbing his stinging jaw line.
"Borrowed a key from your buddy out in the hallway." She watched him warily, waiting for the counter attack. Too late, she saw him snatch Marcello's revolver from the table behind him. She watched, as if in slow motion, as he swung the weapon around. She had spent hours at target practice, and well-honed skills kicked in. She raised her own gun, took aim, and with forced calmness and a steady hand, shot his right shoulder.
"Ahhhhhhh!!" He dropped the gun and grabbed his wounded arm. "Now you will die." He leaned down and picked the gun up again, this time with his left hand. "I'm ambidextrous, bitch." He lifted the weapon and cocked the trigger.
A stinging pain ripped through his left shoulder, as a second shot exploded, almost rendering him deaf.
"Not anymore." Kennedy retrieved his pistol, dumped the ammunition, and shoved it into her back pocket. She re-holstered her Glock and made quick work of tying Nick's hands behind his back with his belt, pushing him down onto the rug. She carefully examined his bleeding shoulders. "Hold on, they're just surface wounds and an ambulance is on the way."
A mumbled curse reached her ears, Nick's lips pressed into the carpet.
She rushed into the bedroom and flipped on the light. "Carson?" The blonde lay on the bed, completely motionless. Carson's face bore several bruises, and her upper lip was swollen and covered in dried blood. "Carson."
Kennedy's hands shook and her knees finally gave out, as she sank down onto the floor next to the bed. She reached out. Her lover's skin was cool, but not cold, and her face was as pale as the white sheets she lay on. "Carson, come on now." She located a very faint pulse at the blonde's wrist, and then placed one finger on Carson's upper lip. Warm uneven breaths tickled her finger. "Baby."
The brunette's lips trembled, and she brought her fist up, pressing it against them. She shook her head as the tears fell. "Hang on, baby. Don't you die on me." She took a deep breath and stood up. She picked up her lover and practically ran down the hallway, dodging several guests who were milling about, and jumping over Marcello's passed-out body.
"Is that man dead?" A frightened woman asked as she ran by. "I thought I heard gunshots."
"No. He'll be fine, and the police are on their way. There won't be anymore gunshots tonight." Kennedy stooped down to press the elevator button. It opened immediately and she silently said a prayer of thanks as the doors closed and she caught one last view of the confused guests. She cradled the precious body against her as the car descended.
Carson was completely limp in her arms, her eyes were closed and her lips slightly parted. Her hair was dried and plastered against her head, indicating it had either been wet or she had sweated profusely at some point. "Carson, the ambulance is here. They're going to take us to the hospital and you're going to be just fine, you hear me?"
The elevator stopped and she got off. Officer Stanton met her halfway across the lobby. "Your perps are up on the twentieth floor, one is out cold in the hall and the other is in room twenty-twelve, tied up on the floor. The one in the room needs an ambulance. Gunshot wounds to each shoulder."
"Nocona, I need you to hang around to give me a statement." He stepped in front of her.
"Outta my way." She shouldered past him and felt his hand on her arm. She spun around. "You want my statement, you come get it at the god-damned hospital, 'cause I'm not leaving her."
"You do know you're in serious trouble?" The angry officer persisted, grabbing her arm again. Two blue eyes bored into him with almost physical force.
"You wanna read me some rights, you better follow me out to the ambulance, but you better make damned sure you really have a crime to charge me with first." She shrugged free of his grasp and exited the hotel.
"Somebody help me!" She cried out, getting the attention of the paramedics who were grabbing bags from the back of the ambulance. "Overdose of Valium. She's barely breathing."
"Get her over here." A paramedic rushed to her side, helping her get the blonde into the back of the ambulance. "We can pump her stomach with liquid charcoal on the way to the hospital."
"She didn't ingest it, somebody injected it." Kennedy followed her lover into the ambulance, sitting anxiously across from Carson, out of the way of the medical personnel who might be able to help her.
"Injected it?" The paramedic stared at her. "What the hell?"
"Look, she was kidnapped a little less than twelve hours ago, and the people that did it gave it to her. I have no idea how much, but apparently it was a lot, and it was within the last hour or so." Fresh tears spilled down bronze cheeks. "Can you help her?"
Kidnapped? "We'll do our best, ma'am." The young auburn haired woman studied the anguished face. Family. "Let me get her set up, and then you can trade places with me, okay?"
A look of profound understanding passed between them. "Okay. Please, just don't let her die."
The paramedic briefly patted Kennedy's leg and then turned. She applied a blood pressure cuff, quietly calling out readings that sounded very low to Kennedy's untrained ears. She watched as her lover was set up on oxygen and an IV bag was hung from a pole overhead, it's tube connected to a needle in the back of Carson's hand.
The ambulance jerked and the sirens began to wail. "Here. I've done all I can until we get there." The paramedic gestured to her own seat next to Carson. "Get over here and let me strap you in. It's the law."
Kennedy quickly complied, barely noticing as the paramedic buckled her seatbelt, all her focus on Carson. She reached across and took her lover's hand. She stroked the back with her thumb and reached out with her other hand, brushing it across Carson's head. "Hang on for me Carson. You fight, you hear me? We've got a lot of stuff to do, baby. Get you moved. Go home for Thanksgiving. I want you there with me. I want you to meet Mama and Pa. Take you for a ride on the Harley. Go hiking in the park. It's so beautiful there this time of year." Her eyes filled up and her lover became a blur. "You're beautiful. I thought so from the moment I first saw you." She leaned over and kissed Carson's forehead. "I love you," she whispered softly.
They reached the hospital and Carson was quickly wheeled into the emergency room. Kennedy was forced to stay behind and an attendant gave her some forms to fill out. She provided as much information as she could. Carson's purse was still in the Integra at the hotel, along with her insurance information. The brunette gave the incomplete forms back to the attendant and leaned in, her eyes beseeching the woman. "Please. Can I go watch through the ER window?"
The attendant sighed and almost sent her back to the waiting room. Something in Kennedy's face reeled her in. "Sure. Go on in."
It wasn't until Kennedy had disappeared into the ER area that the woman frowned. That's the same woman who came in here earlier looking for that lawyer. She scratched her head in confusion, and then gave one last dismissive look toward the ER before she turned and dove back into her paperwork.
The brunette peered anxiously through the glass, watching a team of doctors and nurses working on her lover. The paramedics were still in there, talking to one of the doctors. Kennedy tapped on the glass and the auburn paramedic looked up. She said something to the doctor and then came outside. "What's up?"
"They . . . um." Kennedy looked down at the floor, gathering her wits. "They need to rape kit her, just in case." Haunted blue eyes looked up.
"Don't move. I'll be right back." The paramedic squeezed her arm and went back inside. She spoke to the doctor and then returned to Kennedy's side. "You and I are going to go get some coffee and sit in the waiting room for a while, okay?"
"You don't have to do that." The brunette looked at her, the emotional pain written all over Kennedy's face.
"You got someone you can call?" She pointed at the attorney's phone.
"Yeah." The brunette retrieved it by feel. "Yeah, I do."
"Then you call them, and I'll sit with you until they get here."
"Okay." She slowly dialed Carson's number. She waited, her entire body starting to shake. "Heidi?"
"Shea?" The honey-haired woman had been sound asleep. "Shea, what's going on?"
"Oh God, Heidi. She might die." Kennedy almost dropped the phone, and she felt the paramedic's hand on her elbow, steadying her.
"Shea, where are you?" Heidi started pulling on a pair of jeans.
"I'm at Central Hospital, the same one where Tony is. Where's Parker?"
She looked at the bedside clock. "He just got here about an hour ago." She covered up the mouthpiece. "Parker! We need to get to the hospital." She spoke into the phone again. "Shea, you hold on. We're on our way."
"Hurry. I'm in the ER lounge." She hung up, and allowed herself to be steered toward the waiting room. She stared at the floor, unseeing, until a cup of coffee was pressed into her hands. "Thanks." She sipped at the hot liquid, feeling it burn a path down her throat. Her mind was racing in a hundred different directions. She drained the cup and then stopped. I don't drink coffee.
She shook her head and crunched the Styrofoam cup in her fist. "You wanna talk about it?" The paramedic slid closer, not touching her, but merely offering support.
"I can't even think right now, much less talk." She raked her fingers through her hair. She had lost all sense of time, but her body told her it was much closer to dawn than midnight. She looked at her wrist and realized that somewhere along the way she had lost her watch.
"How long have you two been together?"
"About a month." She smiled sadly. "Best month of my life."
"Only a month?" The paramedic sat back in surprise. "I figured y'all had been together for a lifetime.
"For the only part of my life that counts." Kennedy looked at her companion and slowly held out her hand. "I'm Kennedy, by the way."
"Oh." The woman shook her hand. "I'm Mary."
"Mary." The brunette released her hand. "Thanks for hanging out with me. I'm sure you've got a nice warm bed to go home to."
"Yeah, and a nice warm partner." She studied a solid gold band on her ring finger. "I took one look at you back in the ambulance, and I wondered how I'd feel if I were in your shoes. I just figured you shouldn't be alone right now."
"Oh. Well thanks." She looked up as a doctor stepped into the room.
"Kennedy Nocona?" He walked over, extending his hand as Kennedy and Mary both stood up.
The brunette clasped his hand. "How is she?" Kennedy's forehead was deeply lined in worry.
"We're working on getting her stabilized. They pumped her pretty full of Valium. Her toxicity level was just below what I would have considered to be a fatal dose for her height and weight." He looked at a chart in his hand. "No broken bones, but several contusions on her face and body." He looked up. "She wasn't raped."
Kennedy closed her eyes and felt part of the tension drain from her body. Thank God. She opened them again. "Is . . . is she going to be okay?"
"I'm going to say, guardedly, yes." He tucked the chart under his arm. "Barring no unusual turn in her condition, she should pull through this. But we're going to need to watch her very closely for the next twenty-four hours. I'm going to admit her to ICU and we'll go from there."
"ICU?" Kennedy bit her lower lip. "Can you maybe put her as far away from Anthony Moore as possible?"
The doctor merely raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, I'll see what I can do." He left the room and Kennedy sank back down onto the couch.
She placed her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands, and finally allowed herself to just cry, her body shaking in relief. Mary tentatively rubbed her back. She looked up as a tall woman and an even taller man entered the room. The man was obviously related to Kennedy. "Hey. I think your friends are here."
Kennedy looked up. "Yeah." She sniffled and stood up. "Thanks again, for everything."
"No problem." Mary patted her back and quietly left the room.
"Shea?" Heidi moved uncertainly toward her, and was surprised when Kennedy closed the distance, engulfing her in a rare hug.
"They think she's going to be okay." The brunette smiled through her tears.
She wasn't sure what woke her up, or how long she had been asleep, or even where she was. Her face hurt and she discovered that too much movement made her heart beat fast and rendered her short of breath. She blinked, looking up at the ceiling, which was white panel board. Over her head was a pole and an IV bag. Her eyes traced the tubing and discovered that it ran to the back of her hand. Her hand hurt too, where the IV needle punctured her skin.
Needles. She had vague memories of someone sticking her with a syringe. She suddenly realized that she also had something in her nose. She plucked at it and frowned. A steady stream of air was flowing from the device. Where am I?
Slowly, she turned her head to the side. A familiar form was curled up in a chair right next to the bed. She looks awfully uncomfortable. Carson made note of long legs that were tucked up against her lover's body, and a dark head that was crooked at a sharp angle. The attorney was asleep, her face frowning slightly.
"K . . ." Her vocal chords refused to operate, and the name died on her tongue. She was beyond thirsty, and her lips felt parched and swollen. They hurt too. "K . . ." She tried to speak again, and failing, reached her hand through the bars that separated her from the dark-haired beauty.
Her fingertips made contact with Kennedy's forearm, which was propped against the side of the bed, holding up her head. The attorney stirred slightly, and then two bloodshot blue eyes fluttered open. A sad smile graced her face, as she peered into two grey eyes at close range. "Hey there."
"Wh . . .?" The blonde scowled in frustration.
"Easy." Kennedy stood up. "Ow." Long limbs complained from being stretched out after several hours of confinement in the too-small chair. She turned her neck from side to side, hearing satisfying pops. "You want some water, sweetheart?"
Carson managed to nod, and her eyes tracked her lover, as the brunette took a few steps to a rolling table that bore a pitcher and some cups. She watched Kennedy pour some of the cool liquid, and then remove the paper covering from a flexible straw. Water had never looked so good.
The attorney returned to the bedside, and pushed a button on the railing, raising the head of the mattress slightly. She leaned over and carefully placed one arm under Carson's shoulders, holding the straw to her lips. The blonde sucked greedily, almost choking in the process.
"Whoa. Slow down, Carson. It's not going anywhere." She could read utter confusion in the grey eyes, and realized that Carson more than likely had no idea where she was or how she got there. After several more sips, Carson turned her head slightly, indicating she was finished.
Kennedy started to put the cup back on the table and felt a gentle tug at her shirttail. She turned back around. "What is it, sweetheart?"
"Stay," the blonde rasped.
"Im right here, baby. Just putting the cup away." She quickly set the cup aside and returned to the bed. Damned railing. She reached down and lowered the metal barrier, and then sat carefully down on the mattress. Carson immediately reached out and touched her leg, the smaller fingers idly tracing patterns on her thigh below the edge of her shorts.
Kennedy took the hand and raised it to her lips. "How are you feeling?"
"Hurts." The blonde shifted, wincing slightly. "All over."
"Yeah. It's gonna take a little time for you to feel better, I'm afraid." She paused, searching the pale face. "Do you know where you are?"
"Hospital?" Carson hazarded an educated guess, based upon her surroundings. "What happened?"
Kennedy let out a long breath. "What do you remember?"
Blonde brows furrowed in concentration. What do I remember? She shuddered, as a vague vision of a fist coming at her face flashed through her mind. She felt a comforting touch to the side of her cheek, and she leaned into it. "Someone hit me."
"Yeah, baby, they did. A few times, apparently." Long fingers lightly traced a large bruise that surrounded her lover's right eye. She smiled faintly. "But you hit him harder."
"I did?" Carson looked up, still lost.
"Broke his nose, as a matter of fact." The smile grew broader as Kennedy watched the blonde mirror her expression.
"Good." She winced again. "Ouch. Hurts my lips to smile. Who hit me?"
"Carson . . ." The brunette wasn't sure how much her lover could handle, just yet. "Can we hold off on questions until I call your doctor in here and he checks you out? This is the first time you've been awake since you got here.
"Time?" Confused grey eyes darted around. There was no window in the room to indicate the hour. "Day?" She realized she had lost all concept of how much time had passed, or where she had been before she apparently went to sleep.
"It's Tuesday evening, sweetheart." Kennedy glanced at a clock on the bedside table. "A little after seven p.m."
"Oh." Carson watched as her lover reached up and absently tucked some lose locks behind her ear. The taller woman sported a bandage to three of the fingers on her right hand. "What happened to you?" She gestured toward the gauze wrapping.
"I . . . um . . . sprained some knuckles on a guy's face." She shook the hand slightly. After they had gotten Carson settled in the ICU, a nurse noticed the swollen hand, along with the way Kennedy seemed to be favoring her left side. They finally talked her into an examination, and found a deep bruise to her left lower back where Marcello punched her. She bore a smaller bruise on her lower left ribcage in front where he had also hit her. X-rays had shown no broken bones to her hand, but the knuckles were sprained and throbbing with pain.
"What guy?" The blonde captured the injured hand and held onto it.
Oh God. Should I tell her? "Baby, can you wait for any more answers a little while? Let's call your doctor and let him know you're awake, okay?"
"Nick did this to me, didn't he?" Grey eyes pinned Kennedy with sudden clarity. "Tell me, Kennedy. I want to know."
The attorney sighed heavily. "Yeah. Nick and that guy who followed us around the fairgrounds. His name is Marcello." She paused, licking her lips. She leaned over, reaching across Carson's body and resting her weight on her hand. The fingers of her other hand fluffed through short blonde hair. I need to help her wash that later. "Baby, Tony was in on it too."
"Oh." Carson closed her eyes, thinking hard. It was coming back to her. "I was in Tony's office. Nick was in there, and that man. He hit me. I tried to get away. I think they . . ." Her eyes grew wide with fear. "Oh, God. Kennedy, they drugged me or something. What did they do to me?" She involuntarily tried to sit up, and then thrashed over to her side, tugging at the IV line. "What did they give me, Kennedy?"
Kennedy grasped her lover by both arms, and just held her down against the mattress. "Hey." She waited, forcing eye contact. "You're going to be okay. They gave you Valium, Carson. That's why you don't remember anything. It made you real lethargic."
Carson felt her throat grow tight, a mixture of anger and fear swirling around in her chest. She took deep gulps of air through her mouth, bypassing the oxygen feed to her nose. Her pulse began to race and then she felt strong arms wrapping around her, as Kennedy did her best to slide in behind her. "Easy, Carson. Easy there, baby. You're going to be okay."
The brunette sat back, carefully pulling her lover against her, mindful of the IV line and Carson's fragile condition. She stroked the blonde head and made little shushing noises until she felt Carson begin to relax against her. "They kidnapped you, sweetheart. And they did give you the Valium. At least one of them knocked you around some."
Two pained grey eyes peered up at her. "Did they do anything else?"
"No." Kennedy said a second silent prayer of thanks that she didn't have to convey a very different story to her lover. "The doctors gave you a complete examination, and that's all they did. No broken bones. No other drugs. No rape."
"I feel so violated anyway," Carson whispered, and then finally started to cry. "I don't remember any of it. Not after I tried to get out of Tony's office. How did I get here?"
The attorney considered several answers, choosing not to tell her lover exactly how she was found and rescued. I'm no hero, and she doesn't need to start thinking I am. "Tony's right down the hall in ICU too."
"Huh?" The paralegal looked up, momentarily forgetting her own worries. "Good grief. What happened to him?"
"I think a belated case of guilt and remorse. And a little stress-induced heart attack." The brunette shifted, trying to make her lover more comfortable. "He had a few ideas as to where they might have taken you, and one of them proved to be the correct place. He's going to be okay, health wise, anyway."
"What about Nick and that other guy?" The blonde shivered, remembering Marcello's eyes as he pulled the syringe out of his pocket.
"They're never going to hurt you again." Kennedy rubbed one hand up and down Carson's arm. She watched her lover's eyes close and felt Carson release a long relieved breath. Small fingers dug into the brunette's arm, as the blond clung to her with a surprisingly strong grip, given her condition.
Gradually, the grip eased up, and Carson's breathing evened out. The brunette assumed her lover had drifted off to sleep, overcome by exhaustion. Kennedy closed her own eyes, absorbing several emotions all at once. Carson was awake and knew who she was. She decided that maybe her lover's lack of memory of recent events was a good thing. Wish I could forget about it. She still blamed herself for Carson's condition, convinced that she had handled things completely wrong.
No one should be with me. I'm nothing but bad news for anyone who's foolish enough to try to love me. She opened her eyes and looked down, plucking at her clothing. I need a shower. She felt grimy, but wouldn't leave Carson long enough to go to the blonde's apartment or over to Heidi's to bathe and change.
A pleasant-looking doctor entered the room, interrupting her thoughts. "Hi. I'm Dr. Gilmore. Dr. Maxwell is off rounds right now. So, how's our patient?"
Kennedy looked down at Carson, who was curled up against her, and then back up at the doctor, who seemed completely oblivious to their position. She slowly eased out from under her lover and resumed her earlier place on the edge of the bed. She blushed as the blonde murmured a small protest when she felt the long arms release her, before Carson settled back down against the pillow, her eyes still closed.
The doctor pulled a pen from behind her ear and retrieved the chart from the end of Carson's bed, studying it. She absently ran her fingers back through short graying hair. "Valium overdose, huh?" She moved to a sink and washed her hands. "Is she awake, or asleep?"
"I'm awake," a small voice replied. The blonde forced her eyes open. "Just tired. Sorry."
"I'd expect you to be tired." Dr. Gilmore moved to the bedside opposite of where Kennedy sat, lowering the railing. She glanced at the brunette and began to draw privacy curtains around the bed, blocking the view from the glass ICU window. "You want your friend to stay or go? I'm going to need to open your gown up to check a few things."
"Stay." Carson squeezed Kennedy's hand and drew it closer, not even realizing she had done so. "Nothing she hasn't seen before."
The attorney turned several shades of pink and ducked her head, rubbing her hand against the side of her neck. She realized her lover's normally careful defenses were down, and chuckled a little bit. The doctor gave her a reassuring smile and she felt herself relax slightly. "You need me to move over to the chair out of the way?"
"No, I can work from this side just fine." Dr. Gilmore checked Carson's blood pressure, listened to her heart and lungs with a stethoscope, took her temperature, and peered into her eyes. "Pupils are almost back to normal. I need to check the bruises on your torso, okay?"
"Okay." The blonde bit her lip. "Ow. Keep forgetting my lip hurts." She felt the top of the bed rise up higher, as the doctor pressed the button on the control panel. The doctor pulled the front of her gown aside, revealing a bruise that covered her left side from just below her breast almost to her waistline. "Oh." Carson grew silent, studying the injury with a critical eye. She looked up at her lover. "You sure the other guy is in worse shape than I am?"
Kennedy visibly flinched. It was the first time she had seen the extent of the damage below her lover's neckline. Carson's normally fair skin was a mottled purple and blue over almost half her torso. Anger boiled to the surface, directed at both Nick and herself. "Definitely." Kennedy smiled, belying her feelings. "You broke his nose, Carson. He's gonna take a lot longer to heal than you are, right?" She looked hopefully at the doctor.
"Right." Dr. Gilmore made a few notes on the chart and pulled the gown back together. "In fact, I'm going to draw some blood and if everything looks good, I'm going to move you out of ICU to a regular hospital room."
"Good. I'd like a window. And maybe a bath." Carson could feel her hair plastered against her scalp.
"That can be arranged. I'll send the nurse in for the blood work, and be back around later tonight." She placed the pen back behind her ear. "Can I have a word with your partner here? I'll only keep her for a minute, I promise."
Before she knew what was happening, Kennedy found herself gently pulled up from the bed and directed out into the hallway. "How are you doing?" The doctor peered at some notes. "Ms. Nocona?"
Tired blue eyes blinked. "Fine. Im fine. Why?"
"Do you realize the doctor that examined your bruises wanted to check you in?" Dr. Gilmore gave her a pointed stare. "He said you promised you'd take care of yourself if he'd let you go. Have you been?"
Kennedy looked down at the floor, kicking at it with the toe of her hiking boot. "I'm okay."
"Ms. Nocona. In the last twelve hours, this hospital has dealt with the police and four different patients that are all tied to this mess. You are very close to becoming patient number five. How long since you ate a meal?"
"Um . . ." Kennedy bit her lower lip. "I ate lunch yesterday, I think."
"Uh-huh." The doctor made some notes. "Slept?"
"I've been sleeping . . ."
Dr. Gilmore cut her short. "In a bed. For more than an hour."
"Oh." The attorney thought for a minute, her forehead furrowed in concentration. "Sunday night?" She offered with a bit of a squeak, realizing it had been almost forty-eight hours since she last went to bed.
"Ms. Nocona, I am ordering you to go home, eat a meal, get some sleep, take a shower, and let us take care of your friend in there." From her tone, the doctor wasn't giving her room for negotiation.
"I can't leave her alone," Kennedy huffed.
"Then call someone. Where are her parents, anyway?"
"Deceased." The attorney picked up her cell phone and then cursed, finding the battery dead. "I'll call my brother to come down here. But I'm only leaving long enough to shower and change. I'll bring food back here and I'll be fine sleeping in the chair."
Dr. Gilmore finally smiled. "Stubborn. Okay. I guess that will have to do." She helped Kennedy locate a pay phone.
The brunette called her office and gave Valerie the short version of what all had happened, and made arrangements for her calendar to be cleared for the rest of the week. She then called Heidi and Parker and Parker agreed to come down and sit with Carson while Kennedy followed the doctor's orders. Her last call was to Officer Stanton, who gave her an extra day before he would take her statement.
Weary, she plodded back to the ICU and plopped down in the chair beside Carson's bed. She leaned her forehead against her arm on the mattress and felt her eyelids grow heavy. Thirty minutes later, Parker shook her awake. She stood up and yawned. "Thanks for coming down. I'll only be a little while."
"Yeah, and you're not driving. Heidi's waiting downstairs in her car to take you to her place. She figured you'd want to go there because it's closer." He ruffled his sister's tousled hair, and his eyes grew serious. "Shea, you don't have to do this alone, okay? Go take care of yourself. Carson needs you, and she needs you healthy."
Sad blue eyes met Parker's, and he read the pain and guilt there. "Thanks, Parker." The brunette turned, and leaned over Carson, kissing her sleeping lover on the forehead. "I'll be back as soon as I can, baby. Parker here will take good care of you while Im gone."
She simply patted her brother on the shoulder and made her way out of the room. Oh, Shea. Blaming yourself, are you? I should have seen that coming a mile away. He watched, noting the complete defeat in his sister's posture as she turned the corner out of sight. She and I need to have a long talk. Soon.
Bright lights veered toward her, crossing the median on a head-on collision course. She reflexively turned the wheel and stepped on the gas. Before she knew what was happening, her car was careening through a field, and then it crashed. She must have blacked out or something, because the next thing she knew, she was wandering through the field, the tall coarse grass stems cutting at her bare legs, but for some reason she couldn't feel the cuts. She peered down to discover she was bare-footed. Strange.
It was dark, the sky covered in thick rolling clouds. Occasionally it came alive, as streaks of lightening snaked out in all directions. Cold. It was so cold. Large drops of rain began to pelt her arms and legs, and she felt her bangs start to plaster against her forehead. She was dimly aware of activity back on the highway behind her, the sounds of sirens wailing in the distance and the flashing strobes of a police car casting an eerie red and blue glow across the landscape.
She was looking for something. Or someone. Then she saw it, a dimly lit figure sprawled facedown across the grass. Her heart began to race. Angela. She approached the girl and knelt down, carefully rolling her over.
Oh God. She recoiled back. It wasn't Angela, it was Carson. Her lover's face was covered with blood, an ugly gash slicing across her scalp and forehead. She checked for a pulse and then felt her stomach twist with nausea. Carson was dead. I killed her.
She stood up and backed away slowly, at first. Then she turned and ran. Ran as fast as she could. She couldn't see anything or anyone, or even where she was going. All she knew was that she had to get away.
She approached a chasm and stopped, peering down into absolute inky blackness. Behind her she could hear footsteps, and the angry accusing voices of those who would take her into custody for killing Carson. My life is over, anyway. Without further thought, she threw her body out into open space, and fell endlessly, never reaching the bottom.
She awoke with a start, her t-shirt drenched in sweat. It was still dark, but she wasn't falling or in a field. She was in the private hospital room Carson had been moved to. She was laying in the extra unoccupied bed that was a mere five feet from her lover's bed. Too damned far away.
With a mind of their own, her legs swung over the side of the mattress and she stood up, padding across to Carson's bed. Her lover was sleeping peacefully, the city lights from the large window bathing her face in soft pale hues. She reached out and placed one flat hand on Carson's chest, sighing with relief as she felt her lover's ribcage expanding and contracting with her breathing.
The small clock on a table across the room indicated that it was a little past midnight. She frowned in frustration and crossed over to her small duffle, retrieving a dry shirt. She drew the soaked one over her head, feeling goose bumps as the cool hospital air hit her damp bare skin.
She sniffed and realized the fresh shirt smelled like Carson's clean clothes. Heidi had taken the dirty clothes in her duffle and washed them while she was waiting at Carson's apartment, using the blonde's detergent and fabric softener sheets. Spring rain. Kennedy smiled. That's what she smells like.
Unable to go back to sleep, she slipped on a pair of sneakers and decided to go get a little snack from vending. She'd tried to eat dinner, but the veggie burger she'd bought at a health food store had mostly stuck in her throat, dry and unpalatable. Now she actually felt slight hunger pangs. Reaching the row of machines, she studied them critically. They were mostly filled with fatty junk. Good Lord. And this is a hospital.
She settled for a carton of skim milk and a granola bar, making quick work of consuming them. She wiped a milk moustache from her upper lip and then tossed the empty wrapper and carton into a trashcan, basketball style, bouncing on the balls of her feet and high-fiving an invisible team mate as she sunk both with ease from across the area. Pretty good for a left-handed toss. Her stomach quit grumbling at her, and she could already feel her blood sugar leveling out.
A voice clearing from behind her caused her to spin around. "You sure seem to be feeling better." Dr. Gilmore chuckled.
"Oh." The brunette gave her a sheepish grin, which was quickly replaced by open remorse. She felt that she had no business playing around while Carson was back in a hospital bed recovering from injuries she should never have suffered. "Couldn't sleep, actually. Got hungry."
"That's a good sign." The doctor moved into the room. "The hunger part, anyway. The not sleeping part isn't so good."
"Yeah." Kennedy visibly shuddered, recalling her dream. "Had a bad dream."
"Come with me." Dr. Gilmore wrapped a hand in the crook of Kennedy's arm, steering her back out into the hallway and toward Carson's room. "I'm going to show you a little secret."
"Okay." One black brow arched with curiosity. "By the way, doc. Who picks out the food you put in your vending machines, anyway?"
"Pretty bad, huh?" The doctor laughed pleasantly. "I have to pack a lunch kit with snacks to keep me going while I'm on rounds. Most of the choices in the machines would put me to sleep, make my face break out, and raise my cholesterol."
"No kidding." Kennedy paused as they reached the room, allowing Dr. Gilmore to enter first. She watched as the doctor gave her lover a quick visual examination.
"I don't think we'll disturb her too much with what I'm going to do." The doctor moved the small rolling table between the beds around, until it was on the other side of Kennedy's bed. It bore a pitcher of water and two cups, along with a box of tissue, the remote for the overhead mounted television, and a stack of magazines.
She lowered the inner rail on Carson's bed and then pushed Kennedy's bed against it. "Look under here." She knelt down and flipped on a small penlight, indicating a set of metal clasps that could be fitted together to secure the inner legs of the bed together. The doctor worked on the ones at the foot and Kennedy scooted around to work on the head.
"There." Dr. Gilmore stood up. "Maybe that will keep the bad dreams at bay, eh?"
"Thanks." Kennedy lowered her eyes uncertainly. "That's really nice of you."
"Don't mention it." The doctor smiled. "You wouldn't be the first couple that did better in here sleeping together, than apart. Pleasant dreams."
The brunette watched her leave the room, and shook her head in wonder. The doctor hadn't set off her gaydar in the least, and she could only assume that the older woman was simply a very open-minded individual. Pretty cool.
She turned, and hesitated, watching her lover sleep for a few minutes. Then she crawled up into the empty bed, closing the distance, not even minding the crack between the mattresses. She rearranged the bedclothes so that they were both covered under one blanket, and stretched out on her side, tucking one arm under the pillow. She reached out with her other hand, and stroked Carson's short blonde hair.
An orderly had come in earlier in the evening and washed the younger woman's hair, and gave her a sponge bath. Kennedy had returned from her own trip to Heidi's for a shower, to find her lover much more alert than she was earlier in the evening. They had talked quietly for an hour or so, as Carson insisted on getting Kennedy's opinion of what would happen next to Nick, Tony, and Marcello.
The attorney wondered if anyone would ever stand trial. She suspected that once Nick and Marcello's attorneys were confronted with the evidence against them, that they'd probably plea out rather than risk facing a jury and much harsher potential punishment. Carson had seemed relieved at the possibility that she might not have to testify. Kennedy told her that they might be able to get by with giving a statement, or possibly a deposition, which would be a little more nerve-wracking, but a lot less stressful than testifying live at trial.
Right before they'd gone to bed, Dr.Gilmore had come in and taken Carson off both the IV and the oxygen feed. The blonde was thrilled to be unencumbered by the various tubes, and greatly relieved to have the bothersome needle removed from the back of her hand. Another orderly had brought in a small tray of soft foods, and the paralegal had consumed most of a bowl of vanilla pudding, along with a can of generic lemon-lime soda and a cup of chicken noodle soup, in that order.
When all was said and done, it was Carson who had fallen peacefully asleep, and Kennedy who had tossed and turned before slipping into fitful dreams.
She was brought out of her musings, as the younger woman unconsciously snuggled up to her. Kennedy carefully rolled onto her back, pulling Carson with her. The blonde molded herself against Kennedy's side, and draped one arm across the attorney's torso.
"Are we home?" A sleepy voice asked. The brunette studied her lover's face. Carson's eyes were firmly closed, but she was obviously at least half-awake.
"No, baby, we're still in the hospital."
"Oh." Two full lips pursed together, the grey eyes still closed. "How'd you get in my bed?"
"Dr. Gilmore pushed our beds together." Kennedy wrapped her arms around the smaller body, settling Carson's weight against her and greedily inhaling the scent of the blonde's clean hair and skin.
"Mmmm." The blonde tightened her grip. "Night, Kennedy."
"Goodnight, sweetheart." She brushed her lips across Carson's head and closed her eyes.
Home? Two blue eyes popped open. My home? Her home? Our home? What did she mean by that? It was a while longer before Kennedy managed to fall asleep, this time without dreams.
Carson was enduring another round of poking and prodding, this time from Dr. Maxwell, the on-call daytime doctor. He was barely older than Kennedy, and the brunette could tell her lover was a little bit less comfortable with his treatment than she had been with Dr. Gilmore. The blonde's body language was tense, and she refrained from touching Kennedy as she had done during Dr. Gilmore's examination, despite the fact that the attorney was seated on the edge of the bed right next to her.
"Okay, Ms. Garret," the doctor removed a blood pressure cuff. "I need to look at your torso injuries, please." He drew the hospital gown aside and gently probed Carson's bruises.
It was Kennedy who sucked in a breath. The injuries looked worse than the day before, as more blood had settled just under the surface of the skin, painting her lover's body in various shades of blue, red, and purple. She was responsible, ultimately for Carson's condition, she was certain of it. She felt her breakfast come partway up, and quickly stood. "Excuse me, I need to step outside for a minute." Her eyes met Carson's for a brief moment and then she averted them, before making a hasty exit from the room.
The paralegal frowned, watching her lover's retreat. She waited patiently until Dr. Maxwell was finished. "So, when do I get to go home?"
"Actually, we may be checking you out as early as this afternoon, once we get this last round of blood work back. Of course we'll have a list of instructions for you to follow at home. Looks like you'll have a good helper to take care of you." He turned toward the doorway where Kennedy had disappeared.
"Yeah." The blonde gave him a half-smile and watched him leave. I sure hope so. Kennedy had been fairly quiet since they had woken up around seven o'clock. While the brunette had a propensity for stoic silence, this had been an uncomfortable, almost palpable distance between them.
Carson puzzled over that. She vaguely remembered her lover telling her, in the middle of the night, that their beds were pushed together. She'd slept like a baby after that, secure in the arms that she hoped would be holding her for many nights to come. Now she wondered. Maybe she was planning to leave me before all of this happened, and she's just waiting until I'm better to let me know.
No sooner had the doctor left, than another dark face with blue eyes peered inside the doorway. "Hey shorty, you're looking a lot better this morning."
"Hey. Who you calling short?" Carson huffed playfully.
"You." Parker crossed the room and sat down next to the bed. "Where's Shea?"
"She left." The blonde's jaw worked in silence for a few moments and she slowly met Parker's gaze. "'Bout the time the doctor started looking at my bruises." She carefully pulled the edge of her gown aside, exposing a healthy expanse of skin, but nothing that would embarrass the tall man.
"Ouch." Parker studied the bruise before Carson covered it again. "Did she get squeamish or something?" He frowned. Not like her.
"No, I don't think so. She's been acting strange all morning. Almost like she's about to bolt." Grey eyes watered up and the blonde blinked away a few stray tears. "Is she about to break up with me, Parker? Do you know?"
"She loves you." Oh, Shea. Don't screw this up.
"I know that." Carson frowned. "Is she going to break up with me?"
"I don't know," Parker answered honestly. "What I do know, just from watching her, is that I think she's blaming herself for everything that's happened to you."
"Why?" The blonde looked genuinely puzzled. "She didn't kidnap me and beat the heck out of me."
"I should say not." Parker shook his head sadly. "She saved your life. I accused her of trying to be a one-woman S.W.A.T. team and damned if she didn't go and become exactly that." He watched Carson's forehead furrow in deeper confusion. "She hasn't told you about her role in your rescue, has she?"
"She's told me a little. That she called the police and the ambulance and all. And I know she sprained her hand in some kind of fight, but no . . . she keeps dodging my questions on all of that. I'd like to know who all was involved so I can thank them, but she hasn't been much help." The paralegal pulled the covers up more snugly around her legs and lower body, wiggling her toes under the soft cotton sheets.
"Tell you what. Let me go get a cup of coffee for me, and a coke for you, and then I'm going to come back and tell you the whole story." Parker stood, fishing some change out of his pocket.
"Thank you." Carson smiled. "I'd really appreciate that."
"Back in a minute." The tall man slipped out the door and down the polished linoleum hallway, inhaling the lemony scent of the recently mopped floor. "And after I finish the story, I need to go knock some sense into a certain sister of mine," he mumbled under his breath.
The mid-morning air was cool, in contrast with the warmth of the sun, which burnished her hair with auburn highlights that were not usually noticeable. Kennedy sat on a bench under a Pecan tree in a park across the street from the hospital. A Mockingbird trilled in the tree overhead, oblivious to her melancholy mood.
Her heart was torn in two. She knew she loved Carson. That was not in doubt. The vision of the blonde's bruises kept playing itself out in her mind's eye, causing her stomach to twist into sick knots. Might as well have put them there with my own two fists.
She thought about Carson's first tearful phone call from the pay phone after her dinner with Nick. Shoulda had her go directly to the police station. But would Carson have done it? Several times over the past few weeks she had urged the paralegal to walk away from her job, everyone else be damned. Carson had steadfastly refused.
What were you gonna do, Shea? Tie her up in her apartment and put her under house arrest? That would have gone over real well. Carson was stubborn. And independent. Kennedy knew that if they did stay together, those traits would not always be the best combination with her own tendency to take charge in a situation.
She turned that thought over in her mind. Are we doomed to spend the rest of our lives butting heads? Considering their respective personalities, they had really only had one major fight, and that was after a very tense situation at the State Fair.
Her parents shared a very similar relationship, her father being strong, methodical, and somber, in contrast to her mother's hotheaded Irish temper. Her father tended to brood when things went badly, and was usually able to keep his wits about him, even under extreme pressure. Her mother, on the other hand, was a volcano, and there was no predicting when she would erupt. The good thing was that she would explode and move on quickly. Sometimes her father didn't have to do anything except sit back and wait for the storm to pass. Two more opposite people couldn't have found each other, and yet their marriage was still going strong after almost forty years. It worked.
Just like she and Carson worked. We do, dont we? It makes no sense at all, but we do. 'There's no accounting for love,' her father had mused on more than one occasion, especially in reference to her mother. He had also told her that sometimes love has to be taken on faith, and that love was a decision and a commitment, as much as a feeling. He said that falling in love was easy. Staying in love was work. It involved making a decision to stay committed to the relationship, through the best and worst of times, and working to keep the love you found.
Am I ready to be committed to Carson? They had been together for a month. How can anyone know what they want after only a month? Yet two days earlier she had been more than willing to give her life for Carson. With no further thought, she had dropped everything, jumped on a plane, flown to Dallas, and ultimately, had faced off with an armed man, all in an effort to save the one person who admittedly, had come to mean everything to her.
Carson had given her a gift. For the first time in five years, she cared about something besides her job. Giving of herself to her clients was gratifying on certain levels, but she still left the office and drove to an empty house each evening, usually only conversing with the animals over dinner.
She liked tossing together meals, but it wasn't much fun doing it for one. Reading or watching television was entertaining, but snuggling up with a pillow was less than satisfying. Increasingly in the past few weeks, she had unconsciously began to picture what her life would be like if she chose to share it with Carson, sometimes imagining the blonde spending her evenings with her, and wondering what they would do, how they would split up household duties, what they would talk about, and all sorts of fun things they could do together.
She knew she wasn't ready to say the word 'forever' just yet. At the same time, she thought about what life had been like one month earlier. She didn't want to go back to that. Her life felt full again, after feeling empty for so long. She had something in her life that made her want to leave work and go home each day. She craved the nightly phone calls, and hungered even more for their weekends together. She wanted to be with Carson, to take care of her as much as the blonde would let her, and to spend more time with her and see if they could work toward building a life together.
But what's best for Carson? She sighed. Have I been good for her at all? Would she be better off if I hadn't been around? She thought that maybe if she hadn't been there, the blonde might have been quicker to go to the police and to walk away from her job. Did that matter now? There was no turning back the clock. What was done was done.
What of the future? What did she want in the coming days, weeks, and months? She closed her eyes, feeling the sun on her face, and allowing the songs of the birds to calm her, body and soul. What do you want, Shea? It came to her with agonizing clarity that made her heart ache with physical pain. The answer was so simple.
I want her.
"Wait. Just back up a minute." Carson shook her head in disbelief. "You're telling me that while the police and lawyers and judges spent several hours arguing about Tony's future, no one was out there looking for me?"
"No one but Shea." Parker sipped at his coffee, trying to ignore the slightly burned undertones in its flavor. "She was nearly insane with worry, and about ready to kill someone."
"Didn't they care that I was missing?" The blonde's anger was rising, along with her blood pressure. "Nick and that other guy Marcello, geez, they might have killed me by the time all those details were ironed out. What made them change their minds and come after me?"
"They didn't," the tall man answered softly. He leaned forward, studying Carson's confused features. "Carson, Shea went after you on her own. She got a call from Nick and marched into Tony's room and pretty much forced him to tell her where he thought you might be. Then she just disappeared. She was fed up with the police by that point, and convinced that they would just botch things up. I thought at the time that she was completely wrong."
"At the time?" A blond brow rose in question.
"Carson, she found you just in time. I don't know all the details because she hasn't shared them with me. What I do know is that she went down to that hotel and she found you. The next thing I knew, Nick and Marcello were in custody and you were here in the hospital." He fidgeted with a plastic straw, stirring up the settled non-dairy creamer in his cup.
"Parker, I don't remember anything after that afternoon in Tony's office. I don't remember getting beaten up and I don't remember breaking Marcello's nose. The first thing I remember is waking up yesterday." She paused, swallowing a sip of coke. "How bad off was I when she found me?"
Parker coughed and looked away, before getting up and walking over to the window. He peered down. Ahhhh. Several stories below, he could see Kennedy across the street, sitting on her bench, obviously deep in thought. "Bad." He turned back around. "I'm going to tell you something that Shea doesn't know. I think you can handle it. Her, I'm not so sure of."
"Okay." Grey eyes became very serious and Carson unconsciously drew her knees up, hugging her legs against her body. "Go on."
"Once they got you into the emergency room, you quit breathing twice. I had a long talk with Dr. Maxwell yesterday morning after they brought you into the ICU." His thoughts turned briefly inward. Kennedy had been barely holding herself together, exhausted from stress and wired from coffee she didn't normally drink, her own body at war with itself. "Basically you overdosed on Valium. If Shea hadn't found you when she did, you would probably be dead."
Carson shuddered. "Why do I get the feeling this is harder on her than it is on me?"
"Because I think it probably is." A grim smile graced Parker's face. "She's suffering. It's so ironic, because she's the damned hero here. She's told you about Angela, I assume?"
"Yeah." A light bulb went off. "She's reliving a nightmare, isn't she?"
"I think so." He walked back to the window. His sister hadn't moved from her seat. Her head hung low and her weight was braced on her forearms across the tops of her thighs. "When Angela died, Shea did a one-eighty. She ran away from the life she had been living. That wasn't entirely a bad thing. She was headed for disaster, one way or the other. It was only a matter of time before she would have gotten a DWI, or a possession charge, or something that would have screwed up her legal career. The bad part is that she left the fun behind too. She wouldn't allow herself to really enjoy life anymore. Even at parties or other social activities, she always had a very careful check on her behavior. That changed when she met you. In the one day I spent with you two, I saw her relaxed and laughing, even in the middle of a crisis. She needs you."
"I need her too." Carson's voice quivered slightly. "I haven't allowed myself to lean on anyone for a very long time. I don't know if I've ever truly loved anyone before her. If I did, this is stronger. What do I do to get her to quit beating herself up over this?"
"I don't know." The tall man sat back down and crossed one leg over the other. "I think it may be something she has to work through herself."
"No." The blonde frowned. "That's part of the problem here. She and I have both been trying to do things alone for far too long. You go find her, Parker. You tell her to get her lovely behind back into this room and talk to me. I'm not going to let her run away. You tell her . . ." Carson paused, clenching her fists. "You tell her if she doesn't get back in here, I'm going to get out of this bed and come find her myself, whether I'm supposed to get up or not."
Parker smiled and stood up. "Yes, ma'am. I think I know exactly where she is." He leaned over and pecked Carson on the cheek. "Thank you."
"For what?" Carson tilted her head to the side.
"For being stubborn enough to take her on." He grinned. "I think Shea has finally met her match." He left the room, his step much lighter than when he'd entered it.
Carson watched him leave and released a breath she didn't realize she had been holding. She ran a trembling hand back through her hair and sighed. Kennedy was so stubborn. Overprotective. Perfectionist. The blonde smiled. Gorgeous, sexy, loving, and talented. She wondered how many adjectives she could come up with and laughed. Too many to count.
Now, what can I do to help her get through this with a minimum of pain? She had felt the taller woman holding her during the night, aware of the occasional troubled mumbles and small twitches of muscles that wouldn't completely relax. Moving to Austin should help alleviate some of Kennedy's fears. The smile broadened. Yeah. That would probably work.
Kennedy stood up as her brother approached her, smoothing the legs of her jeans down. Uh-oh. Parker wore his most non-nonsense expression, his face set in stony resolve. He was a man on a mission.
He held up one hand in front of him. "Shea, now don't get mad, hear me out, okay . . ."
"Carson's upset because she thinks I'm going to leave her, right?" She stifled a grin.
The tall man stopped and his mouth fell partway open. "Um . . . yeah. And another thing . . ."
"I need to go talk to her before I do anything rash?" One black eyebrow quirked playfully.
A matching one responded. "Well . . . yes. Shea, you need to think about this. I mean after all . . ."
"She's probably the best thing that ever happened to me?" Her lips twitched with great effort.
"Damn straight," Parker huffed. "Well, not 'straight,' but you know what I mean. It's so obvious that you two . . ."
"Belong together?" She finally allowed the smile to surface.
Her brother simply stopped in mid-gesture. "Yeah, you should at least . . ."
"Go tell her how I'm feeling and give her a chance to respond?" Kennedy clapped Parker on the shoulder. "I think I will. Thanks for helping me sort this out, bro."
"Sure." He scratched his head in confusion as she strode away toward the building. "Anytime."
Kennedy's steps slowed as she approached Carson's hospital room. Despite the light-hearted banter with her brother, the undertones had been deadly serious. Her heart hammered in her chest and her skin prickled as the adrenalin rushed through her system in an all-too-familiar fight-or-flight sensation. She paused, leaning against the doorframe, gathering her courage and sparing a few seconds to watch her lover.
Two soulful grey eyes turned toward her. Carson held out her arms in wide invitation. "Come here."
Her fear dissolved, just like that, and she crossed the room without a second thought. Before she knew it, she was being rocked in an embrace that was so sweet she thought she might melt on the spot. She heard a gasping sob and pulled back, and watched tears streaming down Carson's face.
"Baby, I'm so sorry. About everything." She brushed her thumb across downy skin, collecting the moisture there. "For how I handled this. For walking out like that this morning. You deserve so much better than what I've given you so far."
"No." The blonde pressed two fingers against full lips. "You've given me your best, honey. Think about it. You let me handle this the way I wanted to. Despite everything, I don't think I truly believed how dangerous this whole situation was until I walked into Tony's office Monday afternoon. I even knew they had been snooping in my office at night and I still refused to believe they were really as bad as they are."
"You didn't tell me about the snooping." Carson frowned. "Why not?"
"Because I knew it would only make you worried, and I just figured if they really meant business, they'd be more direct with me. I kept thinking that maybe they were just trying to scare me." She watched the pain on Kennedy's face and reached out, brushing her hand against thick silky dark hair. "I'm sorry, too."
"You didn't do anything wrong . . ." The brunette started to protest.
"Maybe not. I can't go back and do any of it over. The thing is, if I had been alone in this, things could have gone so much worse." Carson felt long fingers grasp her own, and then a gentle kiss across the back of her hand.
"How so?" Kennedy scooted around, carefully tucking Carson's good left side against her good right side. Glad our bruises are on opposite sides, she mused.
The paralegal settled into the warm embrace. "Because I would have gone on just like I did, but with no one looking after me. I would have eventually figured everything out by myself, as far as the things Tony and Nick have been up to. I had already found some fishy stuff in some of the files before I met you, and called Tony on it. He always had some lame excuse or reason for things, but they were starting to wear thin with me. I don't think they would have kidnapped me, Kennedy. I think if you weren't in the picture, and if you hadn't brought others into it to complicate it for them, thy might have just abducted me and killed me. Made it look like an accident."
A shiver ran the entire length of the attorney's spine. She hadn't even considered things from that perspective. "You wouldn't have gone to the police or to Howard?"
"Not right away, no." Carson smiled wryly. "Even if I had, given how things went for you, imagine how they would have gone if I'd just marched into the police station to report a possible case of insurance fraud. I'm not sure that would have gone on the top of the police department's 'to do' list. And I'd be loath to go to Howard without a lot of concrete evidence. A paralegal tattling on a partner to the managing partner would not look very good without it. All that stuff that Mike wanted from me, I would eventually have reached the same conclusions, and collected the information anyway."
"You wouldn't have just looked for another job and walked quietly away?" Kennedy stroked the blonde hair, occasionally running her fingertips along Carson's shoulder and upper arm.
"No. My conscience wouldn't have let me do that. I couldn't have let them get away with ripping off so many people." The paralegal looked up, gazing thoughtfully into troubled blue eyes. "Im getting way off point here."
"And what's your point?" Kennedy blinked, softening her expression.
"That you saved my life." Carson inched closer until they almost shared the same air. "Parker told me about my rescue. You may think you were wrong, Kennedy, but you weren't. Gutsy, yes. Wrong, no. In the short time I've known you, your instincts have proven to be right on target. So whatever you think you should have done differently, think again. I'd be dead if it weren't for you."
"Not sure about that." The brunette swallowed, fighting a rising lump in her throat. She remembered her nightmare and how she felt in her dream when she thought Carson was dead. Only the very solid body in her arms and the knowledge that Carson was very much alive kept the tears at bay.
"I am." Carson softly pecked her cheek. "Let it sink in, honey. I am alive right now because of you. You found me just in time. Believe it, because it's true. I know this is hard on you. Probably worse than it is for me because frankly, I don't remember most of it."
"I'm glad you don't." Kennedy kissed her lover back, pressing her lips against Carson's forehead. "Probably for the best."
"Speaking of 'best'," The blonde sat back and hesitantly met the attorney's eyes. "What's best for us, Kennedy? What were you thinking this morning, and what do you want to do?"
"I was kicking myself this morning and thinking of everything I would have done differently." Her lips trembled, fighting back another round of threatening tears. "I thought you'd be better off without me . . ."
"No . . ." Carson began to argue.
"Wait." Kennedy silenced her. "Let me finish. I kept coming back to two things, though, that I can't argue with. We work, you and I. We make a good team. And I love you." She watched grey eyes flood with relief. "What I want, is for you to heal up and then I want to help you get moved down to Austin."
"I've been thinking about that, Kennedy." The paralegal saw her friend's face fall. "Hey, don't look like that. It's not what you think." Carson smiled. "What I think, is that I need a little time off."
"Time off from us?" The brunette felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach.
"No. Oh, no." Carson leaned in and kissed her lover on the lips, a gentle reassuring contact. "Time off to figure out what I want to do next. I've got enough saved to live on a while, but getting an apartment might be a tricky thing without a job. Property managers tend to want proof of income before they'll let you sign a lease."
"You . . . you could move in with me." Doubt clouded the alto voice. Kennedy didn't want to push her friend. "If you want to. You could stay there as long as you need to. I have plenty of room."
"I think I'd like that." Carson smiled. "It would give me time to get back on my feet. The bruises will heal. I think it's going to take a while longer for my head to catch up."
Kennedy drew her lover into a loose, warm hug. "Can I make a confession?"
"Anything." The blonde closed her eyes. It felt so right to be in Kennedy's arms. This is where I belong.
"It's gonna take a while for me to work through everything that's happened." The brunette kissed the pale head. "You have no idea how relieved I'll be to have you under the same roof with me, even if it's a temporary arrangement. I'm going to try really really hard not to hover over you, but it's not going to be easy. When it comes to you, every protective instinct I have rears its ugly head."
"Can I confess something too?" Carson looked up, absorbing the moment and the emotions that hung thickly between them. "I think your protective instincts are beautiful. I trust you with my life, Kennedy. One thing I know. I might fight it sometimes, but the truth is that I know you would never do anything to hurt me, at least not on purpose. You have a good heart."
"Oh, Darlin', a heart that loves you more than life itself." The attorney finally gave into her cravings and ducked her head, meeting Carson's lips with unerring accuracy, savoring a union that went beyond the physical, reaching into her soul and beginning to fill in some of the cracks that were there, both old and new.
Some time later, Parker poked his head into the room and smiled. Carson and Kennedy were both fast asleep, wrapped in each other's arms.
To be continued in Chapter 10 . . .
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