“Except I can’t dot the i’s on him working with Ava. The entire reason he hates me is his belief that I hurt Rebecca. Yet he knows that Ava killed her. It makes more sense for Ava and Jimenez to be working alone—even if they started out under Ricco’s control.”

“What if Ricco is keeping Ava around just long enough to keep attention off himself?”


I inhale and let it out. “Maybe.”

“Mr. Compton?”

At the sound of my name, I turn and rush to greet another man in scrubs. I assume he’s Crystal’s new doctor. Both families crowd in behind me.

“Your wife has a concussion, but it’s not as severe as we first thought. She remains unconscious but we’ve medicated her heavily for pain. We’re going to keep her in the ICU for now.”

“So she’s going to be okay?” I ask, trying to get the answer I didn’t get from the previous doctor.

“I’d be surprised if we don’t move her to a regular room in the morning.”

I let out a breath. The room erupts in sighs. “Can I see her?”

“I’ll have the nurse take you back in just a couple of minutes.” He disappears back down the hallway, and I turn to face the crowd of family.

Hank steps close to me. “Husband?” he asks softly.

“Yes,” I say without hesitation. “I plan to be, if she’ll have me.”

My mother hugs me. “I told you. Everything is going to be okay.”

“Mr. Compton?”

I turn at the sound of my name again to find that the nurse has already arrived. “You can come back now,” she says as I identify myself.

Hank steps forward. “I’m her father. Can I come, too?”

“Yes, but only two at a time. Everyone else needs to wait.”

Hank and I fall into step, not speaking as we walk the long corridor. When we turn left I spot Jacob hovering outside a door that has to be Crystal’s, and I am reminded that Jimenez is alive and well while Crystal is in a hospital and suffering.

It’s not over. Not until he and Ava are captured.

At the doorway, the nurse motions us forward. Jacob gives me a look that says I’m not going to like what I see. Dreading what is to come, but anxious to see Crystal, I step forward—and stop at the sight of her swollen, black-and-blue face. Hank sucks in air beside me, as shocked as I am.

I don’t think I breathe for a full minute, and I barely remember moving, but suddenly I’m sitting on the side of her bed, touching her, kissing her cold hand, trying to warm it. Across from me Hank is doing the same, and the sight only serves to choke me up more.

Hank starts talking to her, telling her how brave she is, how amazingly strong she is. I force myself to stand up and give him space, when all I want to do is hold her. One by one, her family and mine come into the room, until they all seem to understand I need some time with her alone. My father brings me food, but I can’t eat. I sit in a chair beside Crystal, holding her hand, not planning to let go. Not now or ever.

I whisper, “You’re going to Paris when you wake up if I have to kidnap you to make it happen.” I say this at least ten times. I think it a thousand. Every second of the many hours that pass, I pray for her to wake up, drilling the nurses frequently about why she remains unresponsive. They assure me that she’s fine, but I’m not convinced. She doesn’t move at all. She’s like stone.

Long before evening comes and visiting hours end, my mother’s forced to go home to rest, my father with her. Crystal’s father and brothers remain until I convince them I’m not going anywhere. I remain in that chair by her bed, where I will stay as long as she’s here.

“Mark.”

I glance at the door, surprised to see Hank. I thought he’d left ten minutes ago. He walks around the bed and gives me back the note, pressing it into my palm and holding my hand a moment. “It’s clear that you love her, and that she loves you.” Then he turns and leaves. I close my hand around the note and hold on to it, and Crystal.

* * *

It’s the middle of the night when something tickles my head, and my eyes jerk open with the sensation of fingers on my hair.

“Crystal!” I sit up with a jolt to find her eyes open.

“Bomb,” she whispers. “Is . . . everyone . . . okay?”

I hit the intercom buzzer for the nurse. “She’s awake,” I announce, then answer Crystal’s question. “Everyone is safe. You’re safe. You’re beat up, but you’re going to be okay.”

She swallows hard and nods, and I’m hit hard again by her selflessness. Beaten up, in ICU, she’s worried about everyone else.

She tries to lift her hand. “My throat. Need . . . water.”

“We’ll ask the nurse if you can have some. You scared me. I thought I was going to lose you.”

The night nurse, Bella, a grandmotherly type, rushes into the room and scoots me out of the way. She talks to Crystal and checks her vitals, asking where she hurts.

“My head.”

“That’s normal. You have a concussion and lots of bruising, but nothing that won’t heal.”

“Water,” Crystal says again. “I’m . . . so thirsty.”

“Let’s do ice chips for now; we need to make sure you tolerate it. Throwing up would not be fun now.” She pats Crystal’s leg. “I’ll be right back.”

I go to the side of the bed again. “It’s good to see you awake. It’s the middle of the night, but your family and mine were here for hours and hours.”

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