Passing by the heavily guarded door, Whitney strayed a little longer than necessary as she walked by. Caring about others’ problems while she had her own to deal with wasn’t a trait of hers. But the more bodies filed in and the more dramatic the scene got, it became all the harder to ignore what was going on.
No matter how chaotic it seemingly became, the medical staffs managed to keep it under hush. In fact, had it not been for being on this part of the wing she was sure to have remained ignorant to this entire ordeal.
Who was there? What had happened?
One of the muscles gave her a nasty glare.
“Can I help you?”
Clutching the water bottle she lowered her head and walked her ass the hell away.
“Yo. The heck took you so long? I’m dying of thirst.”
She shut the door to Bear’s room before tossing the bottle at her brat brother.
He fell upon the pillows, mumbling under his breath. “The audacity to hit a wounded patient…”
Rolling eyes, she rearranged the blanket over his body. Her brother had the attitude of a jock and mouth of a drunk despite being bedridden.
“Got a new girl today.”
He tucked hands behind his head. “She’s a gem. Wiser than Gandhi, holier than God and that sharp, sharp tongue of hers?” He whistled enticingly. “She had me at, ‘you spoiled shit’.”
His sister just stood there with arms over her chest, staring at him.
“She’s also fifty-eight and married.” Mischievous shone from those pale blues. “But hey, what he doesn’t know…”
He laughed, defending himself as she smacked him with a pillow she took from behind him.
Running a hand over his smooth head he said, “Sounds like I have a new neighbor a few doors down. Must be a celebrity. Maybe she and I could get cozy. She can bring her sixty inch and I’ll bring my sixty inch.”
“Really?” She shook her head. “I’m not related to your gross ass.”
“You’re jealous of my swag. But back to my life plans with her. Reruns of The Walking Dead, Attack on Titan, and reenactments of John Wick in the hospital corridors. You know, that scene where he takes out those morons in his house? Soooo epic. And when the cop asks him—
“‘Are you back, John?’” Because she was only a victim of these reruns.
“You got that entire part wrong. If you’re gonna skit a scene you gotta play it to perfection. You do the same thing with TWD too. These are classics, Whit. Or they will be, fifty years after I’m dead. Do you even know which one is Shane?”
She came around and plopped in the armchair beside him, thinking a moment. “The asshole, right?”
“I look up to that guy.”
She glanced at him incredulously. “He got his friend’s wife pregnant, tried to kill him and you look up to him?”
“You see, that’s the root of all problems. In a world of live or die, you can’t afford to let morals come into play. Shane has a straight attitude. He wasn’t in denial. He accepted the outcome of what the world had already become and was adapting to it. He’s a survivor.”
“The world molded him into something worse, Bear. If Shane lived instead of Rick, he’d have made the Governor look like the 2.0 version of himself.”
He grunted in disapproval. “If the apocalypse came you’d be the first to become a zombie.”
She snorted. “You’d be the first person I’d come after.”
“Because I’m so damn delicious. You think cancer taste like excess sugar to zombies? You know, them being dead and all.”
Smiling tightly she bent over to organize his comics. “If I ever become one, I’ll let you know.”
She stayed a while with him, those reruns playing on the black screen. While he and the world slept this late into the night, she watched him amid the sound of violence and gore.
Before leaving she set the temperature to cool, just the way he liked it, even in the winter, and shut off the lights. Getting a final glimpse of him, she shut the door quietly.
Hugging arms tightly around herself she started down the lit corridors. Crazy, that no matter how white these walls were the place still felt like a graveyard. The quiet. The stillness. The subtle touch of sickness and lingering death.
“Miss. Pss. Miss.”
She turned to find a lone guard stationed in front of the door that had earlier been blockaded by a wall of muscle. He was clammy and pale, and she stayed where she was, not trying to involve herself in a situation that screamed, MIND YOUR DAMN BUSINESS IF YOU WANT TO LIVE.
“Jesus Christ…Miss, I’m sorry but could you watch this door a moment?” Bent over, the guard clutched at his stomach. “Never should have eaten the habanero special.”
Looking like he’d ran a marathon, more sweat and desperation bled from his face.
“Please. It’ll just be…oh, Christ…”
He didn’t leave her a choice as he took off at a dead sprint, his hands already moving to his buckle as he disappeared around the hall.
Disbelief on her face Whitney stood baffled, contemplating whether she should just leave. Technically, the guard would be the one taking full responsibility if something were to happen. But that didn’t exactly clear her conscious either. Maybe she could get a nurse. But after a quick play of twister she saw there was no one else around.
Hesitantly, she walked past her brother’s room, towards the door at the end of the hall beside the vending machines she’d gotten water from. Was it her or was this ominous air expanding the closer she got?
Looking through the glass panel of the door she saw nothing but darkness. No monitor lights or anything indicating there was anyone inside.
Come on. Like that was really her business to begin with. This was annoyingly pointless.
Phone buzzed and she held it to her ear.
“Hey, I’m on my way.” She’ll inform someone at the front desk on her way out. They could send someone else.
She readied ditching her spot when a thump sounded.
Weird. Had to be her imagination.
Except it sounded again. Louder this time, and she looked behind herself at the room.
She was leaving. She wasn’t going to play into her empty bucket of emotions and go in. She wasn’t pushing on the handle or taking a step forward, baring herself to the darkness.
Her voice echoing around in the dark nearly had her jumping out of skin. But the vibrating bang did the job. With each lingering second the sound became more furious.
Sliding hand along the wall she found the switch and flicked on the lights, flushing away all signs of darkness, the white fluorescents momentarily blinding her.
A black matted bulk lay in the middle of the vast room, something she’d never seen in hospitals before.
Whatever was in that was the source of the noise and they didn’t let up either.
Hesitation gone, she ran to it, seeing inside the glass fixture of the unit.
A muffled screaming started alongside the hammer fists. Inside lay a figure covered in white bandages. The medical wrappings were stained with red and…soot?
No. Burned skin. A burn victim.
A hard punch to the glass sent a thin breakage running vertical along the surface, astounding her at the strength of this person still able to move around so much despite the extent of damage they should’ve been suffering from.
“Stop! You’re going to hurt yourself!”
But they weren’t hearing anything she said, screaming and repeatedly punching at the glass in desperation to be free until blood bled through the wrapped knuckles, coating the interior of the unit with enough red to rival liquid latex.
Jesus. Where was the call button? Where was the release on this thing?
This was dangerous. She shouldn’t be doing this. Could possibly make shit worse if she pulled or pushed the wrong levers. But she landed gold given an obvious fat, round button and with a hiss, air released from the unit, sliding back to reveal a panicked and thrashing body.
“It’s okay. You’re all right. Look—stop. Look at me.”
He was extremely strong and three times her size. Fingers couldn’t even fit around his wrist as she grabbed hold of him. The bandage over his face loosened, falling to reveal a single eye of crystal blue, so vivid she almost thought him to be wearing contacts. The skin around was charred, cracked and bleeding as he zeroed onto her.
A calm came over him and she took advantage of it, cooing to him and gently pushing him down against the bed. His harsh breathing was all that was heard between them, mixing with her soft coaxing.
He never blinked. Never broke eye contact. To be honest, it was a bit unnerving. And yet…
“Relax. You’re safe. You’re fine. I’m just going to call for help—
As she reached for the call button beside his head, an iron grip whipped out and latched onto her wrist. Unable to move or pull back she could do nothing as he watched her intently, the calm becoming the storm once again.
Fear skittered down her spine, freezing her in place as that eye seemingly grew brighter, more intense. Despite being in unimaginable pain, he resembled a predator readying its strike.
“What are you doing? Let me go.”
But the more she struggled, the tighter he held on.
“Let me go!”
There was no way anyone was capable of being this strong, especially after suffering from such trauma. She began yanking her arms back, fear coming to life as he crowded her.
“Stop! Let me go! Someone, help!”
Like a wish come true, hands and bodies came between them, separating him from her.
She fell to the floor and the situation took a turn for the worse. A thundering roar seemingly shook the entirety of the wing.
Someone grabbed her and pushed her towards the door.
Run she did. Bending down to grab her purse, she turned to see five men holding back the raging patient.
A sharp intake of breath stilled her when the bandages fell further to reveal an opened mouth aligned with pointed teeth. The canines extremely pronounced.
Another roar followed after, chasing her the whole way outside into the thin cold air where a man waited for her by the hospital curb. He narrowed brows at the tight panic on her face.
“What’s wrong? Are you all right—
She threw herself into Chase, burrowing against him as she shut her eyes, trying to forget the vision of the burned patient.
Pulling back, he brushed hair from her face.
“Hey. What’s up?”
She shook her head, forcing the tremors down. “I’m just glad you’re here.”
He kissed her forehead before opening the door to his ride. They were just pulling away when a set of SUVs pulled up, big bodies rushing out the vehicles and heading inside the hospital.
One in particular stopped. Crystal eyes narrowed after the distant car.
Within the safe confinements of the Audi, the air turned up and music playing softly, Whitney was able to convince herself everything she’d seen had been unreal. Just a man severely burned from a terrible incident, leaving him scarred and possibly reliant on others for the rest of his life. It was only natural he reacted the way he did. It was insane what trauma could put a person through. Numb them to. If he didn’t feel the pain now, he was going to feel it tomorrow.
But those ever clear eyes of cerulean…
“Stop the car.”
Chase did better than that. Turning off the road, he took them deep into a silent grove, shutting off the engine when he was met with thick trunks of moss covered trees, layering them into darkness.
Before he could say anything she swung over a leg, propping herself on his lap.
“I need you.”
It was all he needed to hear.
Lips locking and tongues plunging, he loosened her hair, letting the dark mahogany run over her shoulders and back as he ran a hand along her neck to the base of her head, holding her in place.
Tongue trailing down her throat, she moaned and undid his buckle and he yanked the loose flannel and white tank over her head to reveal a supple body.
“I fucking love you.” He whispered achingly, gazing into her amber eyes.
He groaned when she took his length into her hand, arching against her touch.
“I’ll pull out,” he rasped.
And when they were both bare where it mattered, she stroked his length and angled him between her legs. They both groaned when she sat down hard, the swift roll of her hips telling him what she needed tonight.
Gripping her waist, he pumped inside her, hard and fast, leaning in to lick and kiss her neck as she whimpered and followed his pursuit, throwing her head back so that he may take her away from this world. Away from the sorrow, the panic, the fear.
If only for a moment.
Even after the vigorous sex and comforting small talk, even after she came home and checked on her small family, even after the hot shower and cleaning the sex from her, even after she lay her head on the pillow and shut her eyes, the haunting eye of intensity stilled her mind and soul.
As the moon rose high, sneaking a peek at her through the window, her last thought before turning over was that Bear was going to have to be transferred to a different wing first thing tomorrow.
And it was definitely not some sultry celeb that had moved in next door.
“Thanks, Kelly. I’ll cover that double next week.”
Give and take. That’s how life worked, right? Give a little of your time, your money, your soul. In return, you reaped the benefits. You tell yourself it’ll all be worth it in the end. The overtime, late nights and extra bullshit on top of the exhaustion. A three-day weekend right around the corner. A nice payload banking into the account. A month-off trip to Cancun with the family or bros or your llama club members.
For the unlucky ones, the ride didn’t ever seem to let up. It passed the exit gates and continued onward, back onto the ramp taking you higher and higher as you anticipated the fall all over again. The gripping, teeth clenching, gravity pulling fall that never seemed to get better no matter how many times the ride cycled around.
It wasn’t all fun. Sometimes, you wanted to hurl yourself off the ride. But the familiarity of gravity was a bitch you couldn’t combat, not even to take off the seatbelt.
Hair whipping in her face Whitney backed out the tavern, slipping the blazer off as she rushed to her Wrangler. With dad stuck on 85 she had no choice but to cut work early and take care of Bear’s room arrangements.
Cell screen lit up. Ignoring it, she checked the dash, cursing when she saw the time and pushed hard on the pedal.
Heels tapping across the freshly glossed hospital floor, she plastered a smile on for every passing staff members. It wasn’t ever a good thing. To be in the hospital so long to the point a person could literally make a second home of it. At times their stares suspected they thought the same, and that they were just ready to build a whole section for her own usage.
“Hello, Miss Dugan.”
With her southern accent and sweet face, Alicia Fair was the face of southern belles and their soft beauty. Even in pale blue scrubs she maintained that fresh wholesome aura of song birds and refreshing lemonade, smiling gently as Whitney approached the desk.
“Did you leave work early to come see the Baron? That rascal. He took it upon himself to prank Frieda. She’s still hollering and ranting about it.”
Right on cue, a dark haired woman came from around the hall, whispering aggravatingly under her breath with red stains all over the blue scrubs.
Whitney groaned internally.
“What’d he do?”
“I tried telling her he preferred green to red Jell-O. She didn’t listen and, well, you know your brother.” She handed her the visitor iPad. “He made a contraption out of a stethoscope and goggles. Got her square. Apparently, she has new foundation from Sephora. Limited edition.”
Whitney dug through her purse to retrieve her license before signing off on the glass pad and handing them to the nurse. She was going to talk with her brother on rude gestures.
“Too bad it wasn’t waterproof.”
She smiled. “Right.”
“Hey, I’m not sure if you know, but a few days back I put in a transfer request to move Bear into a new wing. Has any rooms opened up since?”
“I just got in so let me check.” Frowning, the nurse pulled at a file and shuffled through the contents. She shook her head. “Nothing in the paper work. But I’ll ask around and if I hear anything, I’ll let you know.”
“Yeah. Sounds good. Thanks.”
Eyes immediately latched on to the closed door at the end of the hall on the way to Bear’s room. No guards this time and considering the event that transpired a few days prior, the staff probably moved him. That or he’d been transferred to a different hospital.
He wasn’t good vibes. At all. After the initial shock she’d thought about it. Given all the security placed on him, she couldn’t help but wonder if he was a convict or worse. If that were the case, she really hoped it was the latter.
Opening the door, she immediately let loose her wrath to chastise Bear for his terrible behavior.
“I heard about what you did, you little brat—Oh.” She stopped upon facing the bodies in the room, none of whom was her brother.
The doctor looked to her questionably while confusion drew tight on his new patient.
“Hey, Whitney. Can I help you?”
“No,” she said quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
Quickly, she exited the room, the need to learn of Bear’s whereabouts a high priority. Luckily, on her way back to the front, Alicia was already running, catching to meet her halfway.
“Where’s my brother.” She didn’t bother toning down the bite in her demand.
“Sorry, Whitney. About that, it looks like he got that room transfer you’ve been requesting.”
Alicia bent down and whipped through the tablet. “Room 5018. Beside the gift shop.”
Holy shit. The bank broker floor? Was insurance going to be able to cover the cost?
“I requested for a level two or three transfer.” Truth be told, she didn’t think insurance would and they wouldn’t be able to handle the out-of-pocket either. “Can they retransfer him immediately? Any room is fine on those floors.”
Alicia remained silent, scanning the screen before eyes nearly bugged out.
“I…believe the bills have already been paid for.”
“What, for the month?”
Handing her the contents, Alicia looked up and said, “For everything. By a Mr. B. Viktor. Is he someone you know?”
Looking at the unfamiliar cursive at the signature line, an uneasy sensation began at the base of her neck.
Elevator doors dinged softly upon arrival to the fifth floor. Or the golden hot spot to put it mildly. A person could believe they’d walked straight into a luxurious suite with the deluxe interior design up here. Only thing missing was the red carpet and snapping lights.
At least the view over the city was nice.
Rounding the immense gift shop on the upper floor she followed the sequential numbers until it lead to the room she was looking for. But paused as she caught sight of two heavily armed guards down the hall. They made eye contact, one of them speaking quietly into his ear piece.
She jumped when the door beside her pulled open, revealing what was more an apartment than a hospital room. Walls were painted in royal blue, decked out with black shelving and additional décor ranging from flower pots and paintings. Hard floor was sleek with fresh wax, enticing the way forward like a yellow brick road to the Land of Oz or Modern Warfare, given gun shots and cursing.
Looking up at the stoic bodies on either side, she cautiously entered. The earlier sensation worsened, the pit of her stomach sprouting ice cubes. Hooting and hollering grew louder as she approached, and she caught sight of a magnificent UHD flat screen against the wall in all its thriving surround sound.
“Yo, Whit!” Looking up from the full size bed Bear gave her a wide grin before tossing the black controllers aside to hop out of bed and squeeze her with strength she didn’t know he had. “You’re amazing. I know I always complain about the dumb things you do, but this is fancy stuff sis. How’d you manage it?”
She was no longer hearing him, her eyes having landed on the back of a strong build. Rising from the ottoman chair, the guy stood up, up…and up. Dark leather dispatch jacket stretched against the solid body, emphasizing raw strength beneath. When he turned she was taken by the beauty of his mold. Hard chiseled jaw splayed wide, showing off a slight shadow a shade darker than his blonde hair. Golden tan seemed to unbelievably perfect, adding true to that golden boy appearance. Except he wasn’t a boy but a GOD.
What drowned all that glorious vibe, however, were his crystal eyes of blue. The sudden memory of the burned patient came to mind.
“Check out the sixty inch! It’s hot. Comes with a PS4 and COD. Hey, are you seeing it?”
He completely missed her freeze-up, too busy with excitement to see the hard look she was glaring into the skyscraper stranger.
Despite his smile, eyes said everything else as he took her in from the dark red of her hair to the strapped heels she wore. When he stepped forward, she matched his pace by moving in front of Bear, clearing her throat and shutting off all point of conversation.
“Whitney?” Bear looked between his sister and his new best friend, finally catching the draft of tundra shooting from her and heading straight for the guy.
Gentle smile still on, Stranger Danger placed hands behind him as he stood tall and proud, resembling a fine gentleman.
“Miss Whitney Dugan, I presume.”
She ignored the perfection of depth his voice exuded, glaring all the harder as she crossed arms over her chest.
“As you’ve no doubt been informed, your brother has been moved to this floor. Everything has been managed. Food, medical billing, room as well as therapy sessions for Mr. Baron if you so require it.”
Her glare turned frostbitten on him.
“Apologies. I’ve yet to introduce myself,” he said after a moment of silence. Stepping forward he offered his hand. “Bragen Viktor.”
Bear swallowed nervously when his sister didn’t so much as lift a pinky, sneeze, or flinch his way. All the signs of a rolling storm on its way to dynamite town, something he was well aware of blowing up this entire hospital.
The third party in the room didn’t seem to let that falter him, lowering his hand without shame as he eyed the woman in front of him.
“You met my brother some days ago. It caused quite a scene on the first floor.”
“The burn victim,” she stated simply.
“Indeed.” He nodded, his tone gentle as he said, “I’m in gratitude of your service.”
“I didn’t do anything. If you’re feeling gratitude it should to be the doctors and nurses that saved his life.”
Smiling that secret smile he said, “You are correct in this. Still, I would like to personally thank you, nonetheless. My brother has a terrible reaction to tight spaces.”
Amber eyes narrowed. “You weren’t there when it happened.” So how could he possibly know about that?
He looked to the camera at the corner of the room. “There are eyes everywhere. Don’t think too much on it.”
Right. Maybe she was overreacting. But she wasn’t at the same time. There were too many questions expanding her brain to suffocation. For starters, who the hell was this guy?
“I shall leave you and your brother by yourself for now while I tend to my own. A pleasure meeting you, Miss Dugan.”
But just as he passed, he pulled a move smoother than Hugh Hefner, grasping her hand and bringing it up for a kiss. Body stiffened on both fronts. Whitney from the electrifying sensation and Mr. Viktor from the intake of her.
Eyes burned the sharpest flame as he lowered her hand. His expression was unreadable. All traces of the kind, smooth-talking gentleman was gone and in his place was something altogether out of this world and unexplainable.
“Until we meet again, Whitney.” He left them his security team following tightly behind.
She clenched the hand he touched tightly, trying her hardest to ignore the currents running through her.
“Sooooo.” Bear rubbed his head nervously. “Wanna play a round?”
“There’s no other choice? We’re stuck with this?”
Bear watched his sister pace around in fury. The phone to her ear was gripped so hard the knuckles were white, nearly to a bursting. He began flicking the ends of his nails against one another in nervous habit.
“I thought everything was cool.”
Hanging up, she picked up a duffel and began shoving his comics and belongings inside.
Yeah. Because the definition of ‘fine’ was on the verge of punching holes through bags and wrecking your hot head through a cement wall. Not to mention, she just oozed of artificial syrup and gumdrops.
“Doc said we could trust Mr. Viktor. He seems okay.”
“Bear,” She clenched fists at the mention of him. “Not now. Okay?”
Phone rang and she saw who it was, jabbing ‘ignore’ and shoving her cell away into her wristlet by the bed. Eyes narrowed on the pillows.
“Is that a phone?” Marching over she swiped it and held it up. “Did he give you this?”
He shrugged. “Everything was paid for.”
“Are you seriously right now?” She asked unbelievably, fighting the urge to throw the thing across the room. “We don’t know anything about him. This? This is candy, Bear. You don’t take candy from strangers.”
“All right. Cool. I get it.” He was silent a moment. “But really, can I keep it?”
“Oh, come on! It’s free and a new model that doesn’t even sell in the states.”
They were going to get him a new room to stay in that didn’t involve being hall-buddies with Stranger Danger’s brother a few rooms down.
Aggravated, she shoved the damn thing inside the duffel before hefting the bag over a shoulder and heading to the door.
And was not surprised by who was on the other side. Especially, considering she just got done hollering the place down.
Not saying a thing she attempted to bypass him only to back up as Mr. Viktor stepped forward, his big body filling up the frame of the door.
“I apologize for any inconvenience I may have caused. Perhaps we may talk of this. Let your mind settle—
When he tried to close the door she whipped her hand out to keep it open. No way was she going to let him lock them in together.
There were very limited people who could pull the kinds of strings he just untangled. The obvious scented money spent on this place and all those bills didn’t exactly scream gratitude donation. Not to mention the magnetic lure of his expensive clothing and come-hither-I’m-dangerous vibe. There was always some sort of black hole bargain at the other end of the stick and she wasn’t stupid enough to bite the bait. And he was a really juicy bait.
Not in that sense.
“There’s nothing to say, Mr. Viktor. You’ve made your decision without consulting me and I’ve made mine without needing yours.” Pulling the Bear’s phone from the bag she jabbed it against his chest. “Please get out of my way before I call security.”
She jumped when he clutched her hand, keeping it against his chest. The pump of his heart was hard, steady. His immense body seemingly grew in size as he stepped forward, casting a shadow over her. However threatening he appeared, his voice maintained that ever-smooth control.
“I meant no offense, Miss Dugan. This would be better discussed privately, or do you wish to cause a scene?
Turning, she saw Bear staring at them with wide eyes.
Yanking her hand back she glared at him.
Naturally, he didn’t.
She grabbed the cordless phone off the wall and dialed in security while he watched her steadily.
“Hal. It’s me. I need security on the fifth floor, pronto. There’s a man harassing me and my brother and refuses to leave. Yeah, that’s the room number.”
She waited on security. Keeping an eye on jerkoff she crossed arms over her stomach, angling the phone between shoulder and ear.
“Yeah. That’s his name.” Eyes narrowed. “What? What do you mean you can’t get involved? Well, can I speak to higher up then?”
The answer to that was Bragen reaching over and plucking the phone from her before gently hanging up. Straightening, he shoved hands in the pocket of his dark slacks, regarding her quietly.
“I am higher up.”
She faced off with him, her momentary shock replaced with simmering anger the longer they stared at one another.
“I should have informed you of the situation.” Gentle smile on he kept his distance, as though not wanting to intimidate her any more than she already was.
“You mean how security won’t even help us.”
“They’ll certainly help you. But only if you truly require it. Considering no threat was being made, your claim for harassment was voided. Especially, since my brother and I are co-owners of this branch of hospitals.”
“It still doesn’t explain why you did what you did without my father’s permission.”
“My associates have spoken with Mr. Dugan, informing him of his son’s situation. His gratitude has been greatly recognized and he’ll be here shortly to oversee the terms of arrangements.”
Slowly, he approached her. Distrust still lingered in those amber eyes, but most of the anger had dissipated.
“If you would permit me, I would like to explain everything over dinner of your choosing.”
She stared him down long and hard.
“Why just me.”
“You didn’t have to help my brother.”
“The nurse aid was inside with him. Did you think of that?”
“There are other ways to call for help. I saw the video feed. Two nurses had just reached the floor closest to your hall. You could’ve easily called out for assistance.”
“If I knew they were there.”
“An emergency phone was also made available.” He nodded to the one beside them.
She got good and quiet. Maybe she was overthinking. Being overdramatic and ridiculous over a situation that could have easily been handled had she been more calm and patient with him explaining things.
They all turned to the door as a set of guards descended on the dark haired man, keeping him from going inside.
“Hey! What the hell!”
“Chase.” Brushing by the intense man, she called after the big guys, needing to dissuade the situation before it got out of control, especially when it came to Chase. “No. He’s good, he’s with me.”
“Release him,” Bragen calmly addressed.
The buffers did so, earning a nasty glare from the younger man as he shoved meaty hands off him and pulled Whitney behind him.
“Who the fuck are you people.”
Well, good to know she wasn’t the only wondering the same thing.
He looked at her. “You all right? Where’s Bear?”
“He’s inside. We’re both good.”
“What the fuck is going on.” He hollered at Bragen. “Who are you?”
“Chase, stop,” she calmed, pulling at his arm she brought him around the corner.
“What the hell is going on?”
Hand over forehead, she sighed. “He owns the hospital. Or, part of it.”
Despite at a distance, Bragen took in their conversation, hearing every sigh and word spoken. The obvious stress and weariness in her voice was evident. The hurt and distrustfulness in this Chase’s.
Feeling the young man beside him, Bragen made room so that they stood side by side, watching the two from where they stood.
“Who is he?”
Bear wasn’t one to read people like that, but the dislike in his tone was obvious. Chilling. Those crystal eyes zeroed on his sister’s boyfriend like he was target practice.
“Uh, a friend,” he lied rather badly.
“Do human friends often hug one another so firmly?”
“They’ve known each other a while.”
“Is that so?”
Maybe it was best he stop answering questions. He could practically feel the heat vibrating off the guy like a bad aura.
Chase brushed a strand of hair from her face. “Hey, is there something you want to tell me? You haven’t been picking up my calls or calling me back.”
She looked away, exhausted. “Chase, I…”
Great. Even after days since that night in his car, she still was having a hard time in figuring out how to say this to him.
“I can’t deal with this right now.”
“With what? Us? Whitney, if I did anything—
“With everything that’s going on with Bear, I’m not at a good place to be with anyone.”
“Whitney, you’ll get through this. I’m here for you, no matter what.”
“We didn’t agree on this.” Crossing her arms she shook her head. “You know that.”
He scoffed in disbelief. “Is this because of a few nights back? Because I love you? Well, I do. What the hell is the problem?”
“That’s the problem.” She stared at him firmly. “No commitment. You knew the terms. I’m sorry, but we’re done.”
He gripped her quick as she passed. Anger burning in those dark eyes.
“Fuck the terms.”
His head hit the wall so hard the noise seemingly echoed through every hall.
The harsh voice in his ear was like teeth ripping flesh from bone.
“You don’t grab her like that. Ever. You understand?”
When he didn’t answer, Bragen applied pressure to his, constricting his air flow.
Gritting teeth, Chase turned and looked into those fierce eyes, not relenting in the slightest as he willed himself from passing out.
Wasn’t that just the nicest ‘fuck you’ Bragen received.
“Stop! Get off him!”
Immediately releasing him, Bragen backed away as Chase leaned over, coughing and rasping for air.
“Get out of my building.”
He rubbed his neck, looking back at Whitney while getting escorted backwards by two stocky guards. “We’ll talk.”
Turning furiously on Bragen she said, “You didn’t have to take it that far.”
Straightening his jacket, he stood tall, resuming the gentleman-like aura.
“I apologize for my manners, Miss Dugan. It’s difficult for me to see a man handle a lady in such a way.”
“He wasn’t hurting me,” she exclaimed.
“About dinner. Have you decided where to go? If not, I have a restaurant in mind.”
“That’s not even—
“Excellent. I’ll make reservations tomorrow night.”
“What—wait, I have work tomorrow—
“Friday night it is then. I’ll pick you up at six.”
“This really isn’t necessary.” Shaking her head she just stopped talking. Really, what was the point? The man was exhausting.
One of the guards pressed his earpiece, looking to Bragen and nodding.
“Ah, if you’ll excuse me, your father is here. I’ll bring him up shortly.”
But he didn’t move away immediately. Instead, he looked like he were about to do something but stopped himself. The tightening of his fists indicating he was holding back. A lot.
Watching him turn away, she noted for the first time in a long while the hard beat of her heart. A real, sure beat that had her clutching at the chest, massaging over it, trying to soothe the ache from spreading further.
What was this foreign feeling?
Carnation flowers. Red, pink, white. Peaking from the gift shop window. For no reason, they became all the brighter as he walked by. He turned to look at her before disappearing around the wall. Was it her or did those eyes appear even brighter than the first time she’d seen them?