I move to the door when he comes in close. “But if I hear any hysterics, I’m hauling you over my shoulder and taking you out of here, Miss Jones.”

Got to love a man who protects his players like they’re his own. I nod and then open the door to Drew’s room.

Cool air and the smell of antiseptic hit my face as I walk in. At the sound of the door opening, he turns his head, but it’s an abortive movement, and he quickly looks away. His bed is elevated at the end so that his broken leg can rest higher than his head. Fading sunlight turns the picture window into a canvass of orange, and against it, Drew’s profile is sharp and clean. The fan of his lashes are touched in gold as he blinks. But the rest of him is still. So still. And though he’s a large guy, the hospital bed diminishes him.

He doesn’t move as I walk closer, but he swallows rapidly, making a series of clicking noises in his throat. His nostrils flare, and a tremor works over him. He’s trying so hard not to let go. And it kills me.

I don’t make him turn, but round the bed to his good side. To face him. The clicking in his throat gets louder. He sucks air through his nose. God, he’s pale and battered.

“Drew.” My voice is a breath, and his lower lip wobbles. His gaze darts around as if he doesn’t know where to look and is about to break.

I sink down beside him, and a shuddering breath rips out of him. He’s shaking his head as if to say no, no, no, and his face gets redder and redder. Gently, I cup his cheek. Drew’s eyes squeeze shut as he leans into my palm, and a tear leaks out.

“Baby,” I whisper, full of heartache for him.

A sob escapes. He falls into me, his head burrowing against my breast as his hands clutch at the back of my shirt. I gather him close as he lets loose. The broken sounds, his full-bodied sobs, tear into me. I curl myself around his torso, protecting him with what little I have as he cries.

I don’t say a word, don’t try to tell him it’s all right, because it isn’t right now. I can only run my fingers through his hair, stroke his broad back, and rock him slowly. His grip on my shirt pulls it tight like I’m his lifeline. And I cuddle in closer so he can feel all of me. I’m a wall. No one can get through me now. I’ll protect him with all that I have.

I lose track of time, and my leg grows numb. But I’m not complaining. Soon he goes heavy against me. But I know he’s awake. His lashes tickle my neck as he blinks.

“I’m so sorry, Drew,” I finally whisper, and it’s not just about his leg.

And maybe he hears that because a shuddering sigh leaves him. I kiss his temple, the wet rise of his cheekbone, his forehead, all the while stroking him. A soft touch along his neck, over his shoulder, his jaw. “I’m so sorry,” I say again.

His big hand opens and presses against the small of my back. I feel the heat of his lips on my neck, and he’s breathing me in.

“I’m so sorry, Drew.”

“Anna.” Just my name. But I hear the peace in it. And the need.

We hold each other now. And I’m not letting go.

Chapter 30

I STAY WITH Drew until the hospital staff kicks me out. And I return in the morning to stay with him all over again. We don’t say much. I sit in the big armchair that I’ve pulled up next to his bed. Sometimes I hold his hand. Sometimes he just sits and plays with my fingers as he stares out the window with a pensive expression. I read Emerson to him, slow and low and just for his ears. When he grows still and silent, I stop.

“More.” His voice is rusty and soft, and his hand grasps mine in a warm and engulfing hold.

I read until he falls asleep. But I don’t leave him. I can’t. Being close like this highlights how empty I’ve felt without him. I know this man on so many tiny levels. In ways I hadn’t realized, in the cadence of his breath, the scent of his skin, how he always makes a small sound in his throat when he shifts position in bed. Little pieces of information that make Drew wholly and uniquely him.

His hospital room quickly takes to resembling a florist shop. Seemingly endless streams of “Get Well” bouquets are brought in by beaming nurses. None of which makes Drew even crack a smile. When a nurse maneuvers in a massive football-shaped balloon, flower combo, he snaps.

“Take it away.” His hand waves in annoyance. “Take them all.” He looks at the shocked nurse, and his expression becomes pained. “Please, just give them to people who need some joy. There’s got to be plenty of candidates in this place.”

The nurse, who is an obvious fan, smiles at Drew as if he’s a god. “Well, of course there are. Aren’t you sweet to suggest that?”

Only I can hear his muttered, “More like sick of the freaking smell,” and I fight down a smile of my own.

“If any more come, can you do the same?” is all he asks.

The nurse agrees, but when she picks up the vase nearest Drew, he stops her with a quick, “Wait.” The bed squeaks under him as he leans over and plucks a small, yellow rosebud from the vase. He breaks the stem off, leaving only about three inches, and then, without ceremony, tucks the rose into the meat of my high ponytail. I blush, and the nurse beams again, but Drew merely flops back onto his pillows, crossing his arms over his broad chest and glares at the TV—which isn’t even on.

“He’s a natural charmer, your man,” says the nurse as if she’s a proud mama.

“Oh, yes,” I murmur, grinning at Drew, who is blushing now. “Especially when he’s grouchy.”

“Humph…” Drew’s brows knit tighter together. “Rather look at you, anyway.”

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