“Perhaps we could chat a moment alone.” He looked questioningly to Blake and then back to me.

“No, you can say anything. Blake is my fiancé,” I insisted.

The doctor coughed quietly and stared down at his clasped hands. He drew in a breath and made eye contact again.

“All right then. One of the bullets skimmed your side here, but passed through, as I said.” He placed his hand over my left side, and the heat radiated down to the place where I registered a faint pain. “And then two shots entered your abdomen. There was some damage to your reproductive organs.”

All the air left my lungs. Silence hung in the air, like we were all standing there frozen in time.

“What does that mean?” A surge of panic flowed through my veins. My breathing became rapid and tears formed in my eyes.

He glanced to Blake again, whose face showed no emotion. “We repaired the damaged tissue of your uterus. That should heal in time, but we were not able to repair the rest. Your ovary was lost.” His lips wrinkled into a sympathetic line. “I’m very sorry, Erica.”

“What about…” I swallowed hard, trying to form the words. Words we’d never even said as a couple, yet here we were in front of a stranger who was threatening all of it. “Does this mean I can’t have children?”

“You will probably want to consult with someone who specializes in these things, but if you had plans to conceive… well, it’s not impossible, but it may not be easy. You have one ovary now and the damage to the uterus could affect implantation and carrying a pregnancy to term. Only time will tell.”

With the exception of my heavy breathing, silence stretched over what felt like several seconds. I couldn’t speak, and Blake’s eyes never left the doctor. I wanted him to look at me. But I was terrified that he would and of what I would see there.

The doctor finally spoke. “Do you have questions for me?”

No. I shook my head. The doctor squeezed my hand gently before he left, saying something to Blake that I couldn’t focus on. My thoughts were swimming. Tightness formed in my throat. I pressed the button on the beige cord a couple more times. I wanted to feel numb. There was too much pain. Suddenly it had all become unbearable.

Blake caught my hand, caressing his thumb again around the place where the IV connected to my vein. He lowered his lips to my skin, pressing softly. He didn’t speak. He simply caressed my hand lightly. His jaw was tight, his full lips drawn up even tighter.

“Blake. I’m sorry.” He couldn’t know how sorry I was.

When he finally looked up, his eyes were misted. He blinked and cast them down again quickly. A painful sob wanted to burst out of my chest, but I held onto it, afraid to unleash it. Why? All I could ask myself was why, and there was only silence to answer me.

Blake shifted beside me. Reaching into his pocket, he retrieved my ring. Sparkles danced off the band of beautifully cut diamonds. I glanced down at my pale bruised hand. They must have taken it off for the surgeries. For all my wounded nakedness under the gown, I suddenly felt bare without it.

He caught my fingers and slipped the band carefully over my knuckle. I closed my eyes and let the tears roll down my cheeks. Warm lips pressed against the skin above the ring, the same place he’d kissed the same day he asked me to be his wife, reminding me of our promise.

* * *

Blake doted on me for weeks. We hadn’t talked about the doctor’s words, and a part of me wondered if Blake was trying to pretend like he hadn’t said them at all. Perhaps he was only trying to help me heal. I played along, pretending my injuries—all of them—would heal and we could go back to our lives. Pick up the pieces of our lives.

I sipped my tea, my thoughts blanked out by the television blaring in front of me. I startled at a knock. Blake looked up from his laptop and went to the door.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

I sat up carefully, peering over the top of the couch. Daniel stood tall in the doorway, seemingly undeterred by Blake’s threatening posture. “I came to see Erica,” he said calmly.

A tense moment passed between them before I spoke. “It’s okay, Blake. Come in.” The part of my mind that was used to doing whatever it pleased wanted to stand up and greet him, but I was still couch-bound. At least Blake insisted I was. I wanted to move around, but he restricted me to mandatory movements only.

Daniel came into the living room and sat on the opposite couch. I shut off the noise of the TV. I had a thousand questions. The news had been extremely vague, and I hadn’t wanted to reach out to Daniel and raise suspicions. I worried that his visit wasn’t a good idea now, but I desperately wanted to know what this all meant. I needed to know why someone would want to kill me, and why Richard had lost his life because of it.

What had really happened that day? I silently implored Daniel as his gaze skirted around the room.

“Do you want something to drink?” I asked weakly, not sure how to break the ice.

He eyed the wet bar at the other side of the room but shook his head. “No. Thank you.”

I had many questions, but one burned in my mind. “Who was he?”

He looked down at his folded hands, but didn’t answer.

“I recognized him. He worked at O’Neill’s. That day we went there.”

“He worked for me.”

I nodded slowly, fingering the knot in the blanket over my lap.

“He was trying to blackmail me. He wanted money to stay quiet about Mark’s death.”

“He knew the truth?”

He nodded.

“Why did he know?”

He lifted his gaze to mine. “Why do you think?”

I swallowed hard. God.

Blake came around and sat beside me. He leveled a dead stare at Daniel.

Daniel cleared his throat and began. “He heard about you in the press. When he found out you were my daughter and linked to my campaign, he must have figured you were pretty important to me. He threatened to come after you if I didn’t pay him off.”

“And you wouldn’t.”

“I would have. If I’d thought that would be the end of it. I was hoping for a more permanent solution, but by the time I figured out what he was up to, all I could do was try to get to you before he did.”

I closed my eyes against the burning behind them. “And Richard. Was that…an accident?”

“Maybe he thought he was Blake, or maybe he was simply too close to you. Someone important to you would presumably be important to me.”

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