“Dana . . . was here?”
“Of course she was here. You’re the daughter she never had.”
She tries to smile and grimaces. “Ouch. I feel swollen.”
“Ice chips have arrived,” Bella announces, returning. “You are swollen, honey, but like I said, it’s nothing that won’t heal.” She sits on the bed and helps Crystal suck on a couple of broken-up ice cubes. When those are gone she says, “Okay, I’ll leave you to your doting husband now. We’ll try some water in an hour or so if you want it.”
The nurse leaves and Crystal’s lashes flutter. “Husband?” she whispers.
I settle back into the chair and take her hand. “Yes. Husband.”
Her lips curve a tiny bit and her eyes shut as she slips into deep breathing.
I sit down and hold her hand. “Rest,” I say, unsure if she can hear me. “I’ll be here if you need me.”
I watch her sleep for several minutes and eventually lower my head again, exhaustion taking hold with the first bit of peace I’ve had since her attack. Listening to her breathe, I’m so thankful she’s alive.
“Not . . . your fault,” she whispers, and I lift my head to find her eyes shut, not sure if she really said it or not.
* * *
Crystal wakes at three in the morning with a nightmare, screaming and bringing hospital staff running. They sedate her and she rests, but I’m certain she is haunted not just by Jimenez and Ava, but the past they had to have stirred. That I let them stir. By six o’clock her blood pressure is high, so she’s kept in ICU, and I worry that she’s still having nightmares, her reactions suppressed by the drugs.
By midmorning Wednesday we’ve moved to a regular room, but she’s still struggling to eat and sit up due to the throbbing in her head. Our families come for frequent visits, but she wants sleep more than she does talk. Still, by midafternoon she agrees to meet with Royce and the FBI agent working the case.
Listening to her recount the details of her attack guts me.
When we’re done, I step into the hallway with Royce and the fed, Joe, who leaves Royce and me to talk. Royce updates me. “Ricco isn’t talking, but we don’t need him. A lead turned up Jimenez in a Queens hotel, but Ava isn’t present. We’re watching him, hoping she shows up before we arrest him. We don’t want to spook her into running.”
My relief is a complete physical rush like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
“It’s not over yet,” he cautions. “Ava’s still a problem, and still a psycho bitch from what Crystal just said.”
“Could Jimenez have killed her?”
“If Blake’s theory is correct, that she was being used to divert attention from Ricco, it’s possible Jimenez was done with her. But if that’s the case, why is he still here? He’s smart. He doesn’t get caught, because he doesn’t overstay his welcome—and he has this time.”
This is a cold slap of reality I don’t need right now. “Make sure you’re watching my family and Crystal’s.”
“We’re all over them, and Jimenez. And we’re only giving Ava twenty-four hours to show up or we’re arresting Jimenez. I’ll keep you posted as things change.”
He departs and I enter Crystal’s room, finding her missing. I walk to the open bathroom door to find her staring at herself in the mirror.
“I look like a monster,” she whispers.
More of the past comes back to me, pounding at my temples, bleeding into my sanity. I step behind her, my eyes meeting hers in the mirror. “You look like the woman I love.”
She turns and faces me, her hands coming down on my arms, and I feel her touch like a punch in my chest. Too easily, she could have been gone—and I’d have never had this moment with her. “You do love me, don’t you?” she asks.
I draw her hand in mine and kiss it. “With all that I am. I should have forced you to go to Paris.”
Her fingers trail through the stubble on my jaw. “I would have been furious.”
“And maybe it would have been your parents, then. I can’t regret it being me. And I’m ready to put it behind me. It’s over and I’m fine, and one of us has to get back to work. And while I’d be the bigger attention grabber for the auction Saturday, I think it might have to be you.”
“I’m canceling the auction.”
“What? No! I’ve worked on that for months!”
“Jimenez and Ava are still on the loose. They found Jimenez, and they’re watching him. But Ava is missing. I’m not making the same mistake I made with Paris. No auction. No exposure. No one else gets hurt. The end.”
She tries to argue. She doesn’t win.
Mark . . .
Early Wednesday evening, we’re told Crystal will stay one more day at the hospital, and I have no option but to go to Riptide to take care of business. Kara joins Crystal to keep her company, and as extra security. As they chat about makeup options to cover Crystal’s bruises, I reluctantly stand to leave. “I have to go, but I won’t be long. I’ll bring my work here.”
“You’ll bring me my files for the auction?” Crystal asks anxiously.
“Yes. And I’ll call and personally apologize to everyone, and reschedule it.”
“I can help. I want to help.”
I lean down and kiss her. “You can rest. How about I bring us some dinner from the Italian place you love?”