My aunt is unable to contain her quick flinch at the reminder of my past. “That wasn’t the same thing, Luc,” she says quietly. “I’m not saying you didn’t love Cassie, because you did. You just were not in love with her. Lia, though—”
“Fae,” I interrupt her. “Please stop. I don’t have anything left in me for this conversation today. I’m hanging on to a fucking tightrope by one hand. If you want me to admit I care about Lia, then fine, yes I do. Leave it at that.”
She looks quickly at her phone when a text sounds. “That’s Sara. I told her to let me know when Lia was in her room.” As I jump to my feet, my aunt halts me before I get further. “Lia’s heavily sedated, Luc. Don’t expect her to wake at any point tonight and maybe not tomorrow, either. Right now, her body needs the respite to heal. After you’ve seen her, you should go home for the night and get some rest. She’ll need you more in a few days.”
“That’s not going to happen,” I say flatly. My aunt purses her lips in frustration but doesn’t comment. The thought of leaving Lia alone was enough to make my gut clench in agony. She had needed me earlier, and I’d been unable to go to her; that wouldn’t happen again. I can no more admit to myself how I feel about Lia than I could to my aunt. Truthfully, I have no clue. Love? Maybe obsessed is a more accurate word. From the moment we met, the driving need to have her, to possess her, has ruled my every action where she is concerned.
The double doors to the inner sanctum of the emergency department open for me this time with a simple swipe of my aunt’s ID badge. The irony that here she is more powerful than I am is not lost on me. I’m a rich, well-connected man, but that means little here. I am nothing compared to the heroes hurrying in these hallways, desperately trying to help those like Lia.
We reach a doorway to a room at the end of the hall, giving it a bit more privacy than the ones closer to the nurses’ station. My heart pounds loudly in my chest as I follow my aunt into the small, dimly lit space. My aunt walks straight to the monitors next to the bed, checking each of them before stepping aside and motioning me forward.
Then I see her…My chest feels tight, and my feet so unbelievably heavy as I take small steps until I’m next to her. “Oh, baby,” I whisper as I stand helpless at Lia’s bedside. I reach down and take her small hand into mine, careful of the IV line attached to it.
My aunt steps up, rubbing my arm reassuringly. “Most of what you see is just to monitor her. You can touch her, just be careful you don’t knock anything loose.” At my nod, she says, “I’m going to head home for the night. Call me if you need me for anything…no matter the time, and I’ll be here.”
I give her my thanks, and she tells me she’ll be back in the morning to check on Lia. I am strangely relieved when I hear the door close behind her; I need time to process what I’m seeing and feeling without her curious eyes on me. I turn on the bedside light and wince as Lia is almost fully illuminated. She is pale…almost translucent, making the dark bruises and red scratches marring her skin eerily visible. Her arm, which seemed at such an odd angle earlier now looks normal with the exception of another brace around the wrist area and bandages on her fingers. There are also bandages over her nose, which my aunt had already told me was broken.
The sheet is pulled up to just under her chest, making further examination difficult. At this point, I’m better off not seeing the full extent of her injuries. I pull a chair closer to her bed and drop into it wearily. Lowering the guardrail, I lay my head next to her side while holding her uninjured hand in mine. I just need to feel her body against some part of mine. After being terrified earlier that I’d never touch her again, I’m desperate to feel the proof that she hasn’t been taken from me. “I’m so sorry,” I murmur against her cold skin. “I’ll never let anyone hurt you again, baby.” I kiss her hand and am surprised when I feel myself growing sleepy. My adrenaline is crashing fast, and the stress of the day has depleted me both mentally and physically. Even injured as she is, being this close to Lia brings me temporary peace, and I allow myself to drift off while I hold her hand securely within mine.
Lia has been in the hospital now for three days. Yesterday, they started decreasing her sedating medications, planning to slowly bring her back to consciousness; they need her awake soon so they can assess her condition. So far, other than more movement during her sleep and twitching of her eyes, she hasn’t shown any signs of waking. She has had a CT scan daily, and thankfully, the swelling in her brain has been responding to the medication, but they still need to monitor her closely.
When a knock sounds at the door, I look up to see a tired-looking Aidan standing there. He and I haven’t discussed the possible change in Cassie that happened before Lia’s attack. When Aidan found out about Lia, he came back right away, taking over the operations of the company until I return. I haven’t left the hospital grounds since Lia was brought in. Cindy makes sure I have clean clothes daily, and Sam runs any errands that are needed. This is the first time Aidan has been here, so I’m momentarily surprised to see him.
He stands uncertainly in the doorway, and I motion him further into the room, walking over to greet him with a one-armed hug. When we step back, he looks at Lia and blurts out, “Holy fucking shit, I just…”
“I know,” I say. “All of the bruising makes it look even worse than it is.” It still astounds me when I see the black marks marring her face and arms, so I know well how it must be for Aidan, who is seeing her for the first time. Her nurse comes in at that moment, asking us to step out while she examines Lia. This happens multiple times per day, and I generally use the time to walk outside and smoke. When Sam saw how agitated I was on my second day without my drug of choice, he slapped a pack of cigarettes in my hand and told me to exchange one evil for another until I could get it out of my system. It’s no miracle cure, and I actually find the whole smoking thing disgusting, but it does help to take the edge off. Right now, I need that any way I can get it short of using again.
Aidan trails after me until we reach the small courtyard at the back of the property. This is the one and only area where smoking is allowed. Aidan’s mouth drops in surprise as I quickly light up, inhaling deeply before exhaling. “Damn, when did you start smoking?”