She wets her lips and I want to lick them, too. “You get nothing you want if you don’t ask for it.”

The air pulses around us and my hand closes over hers. “You have no idea how much I agree.”


“So you’ll go be with your family and let me take care of business?”

“Yes. I will.”

“Mark,” my father says, and I release her hand.

Six

A few hours later, the hospital phone in my mother’s room rings. She shifts against her pillow, still stubborn enough to try to answer it, and moans with the pain that creates.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” my father says, quickly moving from his chair to her bedside, while I swipe the phone from the table.

“Compton room,” I answer.

“Mark?”

At the sound of Crystal’s voice, I glance at the clock, and note that it’s four o’clock. “I thought you were coming back.”

“I am. I sat in a traffic jam for over an hour, and once I got here there were all kinds of things the staff needed for our small Monday event that I didn’t plan on. You know how it is around here.”

“Is that Crystal?” my mother whispers hoarsely. “I want to talk to her.”

“My mother wants to talk to you, but don’t hang up until I speak to you again.” I don’t wait for her agreement—I assume it, as she does for far too many things—handing the phone over to my father.

I watch as he holds it to my mother’s ear so she doesn’t have to lift her arm, and the tenderness of his expression rips through me. My parents’ relationship is not all roses. They’ve made each other’s lives hell. I know this, though no one else does, and it’s made me doubt what people so flippantly call “love.”

Until now. Until this moment, when my mother is broken, and my father is by her side, and I see this look on his face. I see that, despite all they have been through, a part of him would die if we lost her.

My father removes the phone from my mother’s ear and I reach for it a moment too late. He hangs it up.

I wait for it to ring again. And wait. Crystal doesn’t call back. I told her I wanted to talk to her. I run my hand through my hair and walk to the window. It’s all I can do not to call her back and demand an update on Riptide’s affairs. I can’t and won’t try to run two operations in separate states, worrying about what I don’t know when I should. If she wants my trust, she needs to communicate with me.


By the time visiting hours end, Crystal hasn’t called or shown up. I’m reclining in a green chair, much like the one my father has folded out into a bed, while my mother sleeps deeply, tucked beneath her sheets. Though I have Crystal’s cell number, I don’t use it. The more time goes by, the longer her silence draws out, the more I want to call her—but not here, not when it might upset my mother.

I uncurl myself from the chair and walk to my mother’s side, kissing her forehead. She doesn’t move, and neither does my father. Reluctantly, I head out of the room, caving to my father’s request that I give them some alone time in the evenings, which I know is a ploy to get me to rest.

Once I’m in the hallway, I dial the security desk at Riptide and confirm everyone is gone for the weekend, including Crystal. Irritated, I head to the front of the hospital and hail a cab to take me to my hotel, contemplating my next move. I decide I want to see her next move instead. Will she show up at the hospital tomorrow, or go silent on me? If she goes silent, she’s a problem I need to know about now, not later.

Fifteen minutes later, my cab stops at the hotel and I head up to my room. There I strip and go straight to the shower. I’ve tossed on pajama bottoms and I’m towel-drying my hair when a knock sounds on the door. Tossing the towel into the sink, I walk to the door, expecting the maid service. “I’m good. I don’t need anything,” I call out.

“It’s me. Crystal.”

I freeze. Crystal is at my hotel door? This is temptation and danger waiting to happen. This is . . .

I open the door. She’s holding a folder in her hand, her purse over her shoulder. Her gaze slides over my naked torso and lifts, and I don’t miss how hard she swallows. “You weren’t answering your phone. I guessed you were in the shower and your dad gave me your room number, so I—”

I pull her inside and shut the door, and touching her is fire in my veins. A dark, familiar need inside me begins to demand satisfaction. That part of me that uses sex for escape, for control of everything in my life.

But she is not for me, and I am not for her. She knows this. I know she knows this. She shouldn’t be here.

I quickly maneuver her against the wall and my hands settle by her head, my body lifting from hers. “Why are you here?”

“I have a situation I—”

“Why didn’t you call me and check in today?”

“You needed to focus on your family.”

“I told you I wanted to talk to you.”

“And I avoided you.”

“At least you’re honest. Why?”

“Because I had a problem I was trying to solve, and I knew if I talked to you, you’d know about it.”

“You don’t think I needed to know there was a problem?”

“After it was solved, if I could solve it. And I did—one of them. There’s another I need your help with.”

“What are the problems?”

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