I reach into my pocket and hand him my disposable phone, no longer worried about anything but making this end. “That’s my hunter. He was supposed to have the proof delivered to me today. If he gives you any trouble, find me.”

Blake gives me a nod. “I’m going to talk to security, and get Crystal set up in a protected area with Jacob by her door.”


“Mr. Smith.”

Forgetting Blake and Jacob, I turn to find a man in scrubs and rush over to him, my chest unbearably tight. “How is she, Doctor?”

“Are you the husband?”

“Yes, but it’s Compton. Mark Compton. She kept her maiden name.”

“Well, Mr. Compton, your wife was badly beaten. We’re doing a CT scan and diagnostics, but I already know she has a serious concussion. She’s unconscious but her vitals are stabilized for now.”

“But she’s going to be okay?” I ask.

“She’s in critical condition, but we’re going to take good care of her.”

It’s not the definitive answer I want, but it’s the only one he offers before he leaves. Turning, I find that Hank, Anna, Scottie, and Daniel have arrived. I inhale and walk forward, giving them the news I’ve just heard.

“I knew we shouldn’t have let her take this job,” Daniel growls.

“Shut the fuck up, Daniel,” Scottie snaps while Hank cuts Daniel a hard look. “He loves her. He’s blaming himself plenty without you doing it for him. Believe me, I know.”

Hank places his hand on my shoulder and gives his sons our backs. “You didn’t do this, son. Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been there.”

My eyes burn, and I don’t give a shit who knows. Hank might have lost a wife, and he knows the natural guilt most people feel, but not nearly as well as I do. “I should have sent her to Paris.”

“I would have convinced you and her that she needed to leave. Neither of us got the damn chance.”

“Where is he?” my mother demands.

I twirl around to find her and my father entering the ER. “My family,” I tell Hank. Grabbing Crystal’s note from my jacket pocket, I hand it to Hank and leave to greet my parents.

My mother throws her tiny body against mine, hugging me, and her frailness reminds me how close I am to losing not one, but two women I love. She leans back to study me. “Tell me she’s okay.”

“They’re not saying anything certain yet.”

Her eyes widen in fear, but then she grabs my arms. “This is not a repeat of history. You are not going to lose her.”

My eyes burn again. “I’ve never needed you to be right as much as I do now.”

“I’m always right,” she assures me. “You know I am.”

My father gives me a hard hug and I catch a glimpse of Hank over his shoulder, staring down at the note Crystal had left. I know what’s he’s doing—the same thing I did for the past two hours. He’s reading it over and over, clinging to anything that is a piece of Crystal.

I break away from my father as Blake and Jacob join us. “They’re going to move her to a secure wing of the ICU as soon as she’s able,” Jacob says. “The doctor will update you there.”

Then my family and Crystal’s pile into a waiting room, hoping for good news.

It’s ten years ago, all over again. The only difference is that my parents and Crystal’s get along well, while Tabitha’s family had always hated me. I never knew why they didn’t want Tabitha with me, when she was the one always diving into trouble, but in the end, I proved them right. I was trouble.

I start to pace, the time feeling like hours, though only minutes have passed. At some point Blake shows up and pulls me to the corner of the waiting room. “No bomb.”

I inhale this bitterly hard-to-swallow news. Crystal had selflessly left the building to save everyone inside, for nothing. “Tell me you have something on Ava and Jimenez.”

“We’ve got some tips we’re working on. I’ll let you know soon.”

“I don’t know how I can let the staff go back to work. Hell, some of them may quit—and who would blame them?”

Blake sets his hands on his hips. “Bomb threats happen.”

“They’re smart enough to know this is related to everything else I’ve had going on.”

“I agree. Today was an obvious, direct attack on you personally. They didn’t just go after your woman, but also created a disruption to your business, which hurts your family. But there was no bomb.”

“There could have been.”

“No. We have the place too well locked down. But if it’ll make you feel better, we can add dogs. I suggest that you close tomorrow, and when you reopen, we have the dogs in place, and we don’t allow outside visitors until we’ve assessed this situation more. We can even take care of notifying employees for you.”

“Do it. And I’m going to cancel Saturday’s auction if you don’t have good news about Ava and Jimenez by Thursday. It’s too high profile, and too many people could be hurt.”

“Isn’t that a huge income day for Riptide?”

“I don’t give a damn about the income.”

“Maybe that’s exactly what this is about: cutting you financially. Canceling this auction Saturday will do that. And Ricco already tried to bring down Riptide with the counterfeit artwork. More and more, this lead you have on him makes sense.”

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