***

Twenty-four hours after the message in the bottle and the loss of both my child and my brother, it’s time to leave the hospital. I shower and dress in the black velour sweatsuit Liam had brought to me along with many of my new things he’d bought me in New York. Trying to feel human, I brush my hair to a silky blond mass and even force myself to apply a little makeup.

I emerge from the bathroom to find Liam standing in the room waiting on me. To my surprise he’s dressed in a black pinstriped suit with a crisp white shirt and white tie. His dark, thick hair is neatly groomed, his goatee trimmed to sexy perfection, and he’s simply breathtakingly handsome. So very male, when I am feeling like half a woman, but somehow, just having him here soothes the ache inside me.

“All right, Mrs. Stone, I just need you to sign some papers. How will you be paying?”

I blanch at the sound of the voice of a woman I hadn’t noticed was in the room. Holding a clipboard, she brushes her brown hair from her eyes, and presses her black-rimmed glasses up her nose and nods. “Hello, Mrs. Stone.”

I glance up at Liam and his eyes warm, taking on that possessive quality I have come to know so well and a part of me wondered if I’d ever see it again. Without looking away from me, he hands the woman a black American Express. “On my card.”

She clears her throat. “Would you like to see the total?”

“No,” Liam replies. “I do not want to see the total.”

“It’s quite large.”

He flicks her a look. “I’m good for it.”

“Oh, of course. Yes, Mr. Stone. I’ll be right back.”

I glance down at my arm where the hospital bracelet rests, to read the word ”Stone” and wonder how I had not noticed this until now. Liam steps to me, framing my face with his hands. “I wanted everyone in this town to know I’ve claimed you. You are mine and I protect what is mine.”

“But I don’t. I lost...everyone. I lost our baby.”

“Don’t do that to yourself. You didn’t do anything. It just wasn’t meant to be. We can try again.”

“Do you want to try again?”

“If you do.”

“I don’t know. What if I don’t want to and you do?”

“I just want you and us, baby. And when the time is right, and this hospital room isn’t that time, I’ll ask you to marry me properly and then take you pyramid hunting all over the world. You and me, baby. That’s what I want.”

I press to my toes and kiss him. “Thank you.”

He wraps his arms around me and I welcome the strength and tenderness that is this man. I need him as I have never needed anyone in my life. “I should be the one thanking you,” he murmurs, a rough, raspy quality to his voice.

“What are you thanking me for?”

“For being you, and it doesn’t matter what name anyone calls you. I love you.” His lips quirk. “But I like how Amy Stone sounds. I like it a lot.”

I surprise myself and smile, sliding my fingers in that wonderful dark hair of his. “I like it, too.”

A knock sounds on the door and Liam kisses me before calling for the cashier to enter. “All right,” she says. “Here’s your receipt and you’re all set to go.”

Liam turns to her and takes the paperwork and suddenly, the world outside this room crashes down on me. I’m fantasizing about playing house with Liam when nothing is solved. We don’t know who the stranger I’d seen with my mother is. We don’t know if Chad is alive or dead. We haven’t dealt with Sheridan.

The woman leaves and pulls the door shut behind her. I lean on the bed. “Now we face my Godzilla again and I’m pretty sure your sharks are in for the action, too.”

Liam steps in front of me. “There’s a treatment center in Germany for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I thought we’d fly there and make it a vacation.”

“No. I’m not running.”

“It’s not running. It’s about you getting well.”

“There are doctors in New York.”

He studies me a long moment, his expression hooded. “You want to go to New York?”

“It’s the closest thing I have to a home.”

His hand slips under my hair to my neck. “Baby, my home is your home. What is mine is yours.”

“I don’t want what is yours. I want you and I want a home. I want stability. I want to walk outside and not fear what is around every corner. I’m going to do what Chad said. I’m going to talk to Sheridan and I’m ending this.”

“I’m dealing with Sheridan.”

“No. Don’t do this again, Liam. Your taking over my life isn’t what I need.”

“I’m trying to take care of you. Chad had the right idea, Amy, but my involvement will ensure you’re protected.”

“We, Liam. We, not you. I need to go with you. Chad told me to go.”

Torment flashes in his eyes. “I’m trying to be the best man I can be for you, Amy, but I don’t want you around that man.”

I touch his face. “A few minutes ago, I was lost, Liam. Then I walked into the room and you were here and I was found. You do that for me.”

“You are my other half, Amy. I have to protect you.”

“Just like I want to protect you, but it’s not like Sheridan doesn’t know who I am now. He even knows that he can find me with you. This meeting, it’s about closure, and even more so, it’s my brother’s wish, maybe his last one. I need to go with you.”

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