© 2017 Melissa L Gibson. All rights reserved.
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“The suspect is approaching the old shipping warehouse on Summit.” Dan radioed to the dispatcher and the other deputies as they pursued one of the worst sexual offenders that has crossed Faye County in its history.
He slammed on his brakes as he reached the building only seconds after the man they wanted for an overwhelming thirteen rapes within their jurisdiction over the last year and a half. Shoving open his door, Dan pursued the man into the building while he ignored the others’ pleas for him to wait for them. While he understood their concern about the man’s penchant for deadly accuracy with a gun, Dan felt confident he could apprehend the man himself.
His need to cuff this man threatened to engulf him as he kicked in the side door of the abandoned building. He worked his way through the narrow hallway leading to the main floor of the warehouse, checking behind the other doors and clearing the corners before proceeding deeper into the building.
As he neared the other side of the building, he despaired that he’d lost the suspect somewhere along the way. He couldn’t and wouldn’t accept this as a defeat as his determination to catch this man. He would be damned before he allowed that man to escape him after the man had taunted Dan with pictures of this sadistic rapist’s next target. He wouldn’t allow this woman to become a victim to this man. He wouldn’t allow this man to hurt the only woman who could get under Dan’s skin and who has the power to torment him without batting an eye. He couldn’t allow this man to hurt Maggie.
His mind filled with mental images of Maggie, distracting him for only a moment, but that moment was all it took for the suspect to gain the upper hand upon Dan.
Something heavy and metallic made direct contact with his shoulders and neck from behind, sending Dan to his knees. Dan tried to shake off the pain and regain his feet.
He never got the chance.
The suspect shot off two bullets, which ripped through Dan’s uniform and his flesh before they lodged within his spine and his lung.
“I win.” The suspect sung as Dan lost consciousness.
Dreams of Maggie dancing within her studio and on the stage drifted through Dan’s mind as he fought to stay alive. Those dreams warped into nightmares as he pictured her raped and mutilated by the monster that Dan had tried so hard to stop, but he’d failed.
“Dan, hang on. Get some medics in here now. Officer down.” One of the deputy sheriff’s barked each of these orders over the radio.
Several taps to his face forced Dan back to consciousness, which caused him to groan in pain as the bullets made it hard to move and breathe.
He needed someone to retrieve Maggie and keep her safe. He couldn’t allow her to be raped because he’d been too slow, too distracted to stop the worst rapist he’d ever seen in all of his years within the sheriff’s office.
“Maggie. Get Maggie. Keep her safe.” His whispered orders went unheeded as the medics worked on getting him prepped for transport to the medical center. “Call Mark. Have him protect Maggie. The suspect is after her.” With each labored breath, Dan felt the pull of the darkness weighing down on him and accepted it as a blessing after he’d said his piece.
“Don’t worry, Dan. We’ve already contacted your emergency contact. He’ll meet you at the hospital and notify everyone else. Just stay calm and hang on, man. You’re going to make it, you hear me?” The EMT tried to reassure Dan despite Dan’s loss of consciousness.
The distressing sounds the machines made as Dan’s pressure dropped had the EMT urging his partner to drive faster as he worked to keep Dan stable until they arrived at the medical center.
The ambulance rushed him to the medical center, which sat on the edge of Fayehallow’s city limits, because it happened to be the closest to the shooting site within the heart of Kingstown. The trip usually took about half an hour, but the driver made it in fifteen minutes as the roads cleared of the little traffic.
People within Fayehallow knew something dreadful had happened as they watched the ambulance race through the heart of town. However, none of them would be prepared to face the possibility of losing one of their beloved sons within the community.
The sound of a siren blaring caused Maggie to glance out the front window of her dance studio as she wondered who could be in need. She shrugged off the vague feeling that slithered down her back and turned back to her task of cleaning up before her class that evening.
Excitement at the progress her beginner’s class was having with their ballet and tap steps brought thoughts of her spring recital. While she still had several months until the event would take place, she knew that the time would fly by fast as she prepared her students and arranged all the details for this town event.
The bell over the front door chimed as the door swung open.
Turning to greet her guest, Maggie found herself staring at one of the most handsome men she’d ever met, taking in his movie-star features. She smiled as she recognized the man as one of the town’s very own.
“Henry Scot, what are you doing here? I thought you were in Hollywood, starring in the next box office romantic comedy.” Maggie walked up to him and looked him over, sensing he needed something big if he’d come to see her. She wasn’t exactly the most sought-after person in town, thanks to her late sister, Bethany, and the torment she’d gotten for several years from the local deputy sheriff, Daniel Elliott.
“Actually, Maggie, I need a huge favor from you. Mark spoke highly of your skills as a dancer. I would like for you to help me learn the right steps for ballroom dancing.”
“Wow! I thought you’d have your pick within Hollywood. What makes you seek out a nobody in Fayehallow?” Maggie stared at him and watched him fidget as he thought up a good response to her inquiry.
After several tense moments, he sighed and confessed, “You’re the only one I’d trust with this. I’m afraid ‘The Great Henry Scot’ is a truly horrible dancer. I’ve always had someone else complete those scenes for me. Now, I may lose the part if I don’t learn to dance. Can you teach me?”
Imagining him a terrible dancer and failing, Maggie giggled and nodded. “We can start tomorrow if you’d like. I have some errands to run this afternoon or I’d start them today. Will that work?”
He agreed upon the next day, working out the best time for them both.
He stayed and chatted with her, catching up with her while she cleaned up her dance studio.
A familiar ringtone interrupted their conversation.
Maggie rushed for her cell phone and answered when she saw Sarah’s name upon the screen.
“Maggie, thank goodness. You need to come to the hospital now. Dan’s been badly injured and he’d want you there.”
“Oh, my God, what happened?” Maggie’s knees threatened to buckle under her. Her world would end if she lost the only man she’d loved since she’d been fifteen.
“He was shot by a suspect. That’s all we know. Mark and I are almost at the medical center. Are you coming?” Sarah’s voice contained all of her fears for Mark’s best friend.
“Yes, I’ll be right there.” Maggie hung up. Rather than moving however, she stood still and stared at her phone, not believing what she’d heard.
She didn’t hear Henry come up behind her. She jumped when his hand touched her shoulder.
“Are you okay?” The concern in his voice undid her.
She collapsed, sinking down to her knees as the weight of the situation could take the man she loved from her.
“Maggie, talk to me. What’s going on?”
“Dan’s been shot. I need to get to the hospital. I need to find my keys and my purse.” She tried to push herself back to her feet, but never succeeded as sobs began shaking her body with such violence that she clung to the only solid thing closest to her. She clung to Henry’s proffered arms and cried out all of her fears, soaking his shirt clean through to his skin with her tears.
“Maggie, let me drive you there. I can drive your car and Mark can bring me back to mine. Does that work?” Henry helped her to her feet as she nodded her approval of his idea. He supported her to her office so she could gather her belongings and continued to support her as they walked to her car parked on the adjacent side street to her dance studio.
She slipped into the passenger seat and fastened her seat belt, staring straight ahead and hoping that this was all a dream, a terrible dream from which she’d awaken any minute.
Henry drove through the main street within town and veered off that road to the one that would lead directly to the medical center. He kept one eye on Maggie, hating the pallor of her skin and the vacant expression she’d adopted since hearing the news, while keeping the other on the little traffic in front of him.
“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” He knew the truth, but he needed to hear her say it. He needed to know his chances with her were none existent.
“Yes,” she whispered. Turning towards Henry, Maggie saw him for the first time. Such a handsome man, she thought, but she’d never felt an attraction to Henry as she’d felt with Dan. While she knew any woman would be lucky to have Henry as her man, Maggie only wanted Dan. “I’m pretty pathetic, I know. He doesn’t want me, never has. He’s made it perfectly clear over the years.”
Henry didn’t answer her at first as he thought about all the times he’d witnessed the two interact and wondered if maybe Dan protested too much. While Henry remained a couple years younger than Dan, he could see and understand why the man had fought against any attraction to Maggie. She’d only been fifteen when Dan had first come to town, but she’d been and still was a true beauty in the deepest sense.
“Sarah asked me to come, but I’m not sure why I’m going. He won’t care if I’m there or not. Henry, can you take me home?” Maggie turned to beseech him this request and found him shaking his head at her as he pulled into the parking lot of the medical center.
Henry parked in the first spot he could find and got out of the car before Maggie could say anything further about taking her home. He dashed around the car, opened her door, and held out his hand to help her from the car.
Henry leaned down so he could see her face. He whispered, “Dan may protest all he wants, but he cares about you, Maggie. He’d be a fool not to. Go inside and wait with Sarah. She probably needs you right now. Your presence could even help Dan whether he knows you’re there or not. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Maggie imagined hundreds of possible scenarios that her presence within the waiting room could produce. However, she took comfort in Henry’s presence and used his strength as her impetus to unbuckle her belt and leave her car.
She held his hand and leaned on him as they entered the medical center, walking into the waiting room within seconds of arriving. As her eyes scanned the room for Mark and Sarah, Maggie gripped Henry’s hand, fearful that she’d collapse in fear if he left her in that moment. She didn’t want to imagine her world without Dan and the small hope she’d had of getting her happily ever after with him. She couldn’t and wouldn’t imagine it.
“Maggie, over here,” Sarah called out from the far side of the room, indicating some chairs she’d saved for Maggie and other family members of the Scot clan.
Maggie and Henry made their way over to Sarah and Mark through all of Dan’s fellow deputies and friends from town as they crowded the waiting room for news about Dan’s condition.
Maggie caught sight of Dan’s girlfriend, Brianna, within the throng of people, her heart going out to the other woman. Maggie understood how the other woman felt as they waited for the doctors to work their magic on Dan in the hopes he’d come back to everyone who cared about him.
The hours seemed to crawl by for Maggie as she continued to sit and wait for any type of news about Dan’s condition.
When she almost gave up all hope of learning anything, Dr. Chris Matthews walked into the room with a weary step, but a smile upon his face. Turning towards Sarah and Mark, he motioned for them to join him near the doorway since they’d been the ones listed as Dan’s emergency contacts.
Maggie watched them walk through the throng and prepared herself to leave the waiting room, assured by Chris’s relieved smile that Dan would pull through just fine. She stood and made her own way through the crowd, only stopping when Chris placed a hand on her arm. Glancing up at the handsome doctor’s face, she waited for him to explain why he’d stopped her.
“Dan’s been asking for you since the paramedics brought him in. Would you mind stepping in and checking on him to assure him that you’re well? He’s awake though he won’t be for long.”
Maggie stared at Chris dumbfounded by this news. She didn’t know what to do since she’d never have guessed that Dan would want her near him. When she could wrap her mind around the information, she nodded and agreed to follow Chris to Dan’s room.
Small protests went up from some of Dan’s coworkers and fellow officers when they saw what was happening, knowing that Brianna should be the one to see Dan, not Maggie.
“Hey, quiet down, everyone.” Brianna stood from her seat and addressed the others within the room. Once she had everyone’s attention, she continued, “I’ve known all along that my time with Dan wouldn’t last. All it takes is one look at him to realize that his affections lie elsewhere. Maggie, please check on Dan. Let him know how much we all care about him and how much we want him to get better.”
Once again stunned, Maggie could only nod at such a simple request.
She turned to follow Chris when she found herself stopped once again. This time by Brianna as she made her way to Maggie’s side.
“Give him this for me. I’m afraid I won’t be here by the time he wakes,” Brianna whispered.
Brianna shoved a folded note into Maggie’s hand before she turned and walked towards the front doors of the medical center.
Maggie watched Brianna’s progress a few moments, soon distracted by Chris as he gently grabbed her elbow and guided her through the ICU doors.
The smells of the center assaulted her as she entered the ICU and followed Chris to Dan’s semi-private room. Along with the strong scents of bleach and antiseptic, her other senses were assaulted by the florescent lighting and the sounds of multiple machines as they announced vitals of every patient on the floor.
Chris stopped at a door at the end of the hall and gestured for Maggie to proceed into the room before him.
Unsure what she’d find on the other side, Maggie took in a ragged breath and pushed the door open on silent hinges. She walked into the room and stopped short as she absorbed the state in which Dan found himself.
Barely conscious, he smiled at her in such relief and happiness that Maggie almost forgot how to breathe. She’d never expected to see him so thrilled to see her of all people, especially since most of their acquaintance had been hostile.
“Oh, thank God, you’re safe. No one would tell me if you were.” His words made no sense, but his welcoming smile drew her to his side as nothing else could.
She moved towards him slowly, giving him ample opportunity to turn back into the man she knew, the man who seemed to hate her at every turn. She liked his smile, but she knew not to trust it. She couldn’t trust it because it would only lead to further heartbreak by him when he did become the mean brute, who took every chance he could to remind her of Bethany, her older sister, and the torment the woman caused before leaving town a few years ago.
“Why wouldn’t I be safe, Deputy Elliott?” As much as she wanted to call him by his given name, she found the name stuck in her throat.
“Oh, Maggie, you have no idea, do you? Come here, sweetheart. I’ll try to explain as best as I can before the drugs take me under again.”
She sat in the chair next to his bed, making sure she had a few feet separating them. Close proximity to this man was dangerous to her constitution and well-being. He was the first man she’d become infatuated with and hadn’t been able to stop comparing other men to him since. He held too much power over her and she didn’t want him to know because he’d only use it to torment her more.
His eyes followed her every movement. He murmured his appreciation of her grace and beauty.
She blushed at his compliments and fought the unbidden pleasure his words evoked within her. As she lost the battle, she beseeched him, “Please don’t say things you don’t mean. It’s cruel.”
“I’ve always thought you were a beauty, Maggie. You’re very hard to ignore. Why do you think I’ve come to see you so often over the years?” The sincerity within his eyes stole her breath.
Needing to change the subject for her own sanity, she asked him pointedly, “So, why would I be in any danger?”
“I’ve been working on taking down a rapist over the past several months. He’s been elusive in more ways than one from destroying physical evidence to scaring his victims so they won’t come forward easily. I finally had him within my sights when he turned the tables on me.” He looked away as he felt his own shame at failing her when she needed him the most.
“What does that have to do with me?” She prodded, sensing his discomfort, but needing answers.
“Apparently, this guy did his own research and discovered that I had one weakness. You. He set his sights on you, taking photos of you and making sure I knew that he was watching you, waiting for an opportunity of his own to claim you as one of his victims.” He paused to catch his breath and control his rising anger. Turning to face her once again, he saw the questions in her eyes, feeling each one like a piercing to his heart. “I’m so damned sorry, Maggie. I never intended for you to be a target.”
Rubbing a hand over her eyes, she tried and failed to gather her thoughts so she could understand what he was telling her. She had so many questions regarding all that Dan had told her, but she couldn’t get it out of her mind that something was changing between them, something she wasn’t sure she was ready to change.
A hand touched her hand in such a gentle way that she flinched away from it, staring up at Dan as he beseeched her closer to him. She couldn’t recall the last time he’d actually touched her, sure it’d been years.
“Maggie, please come closer,” he beseeched her.
She hesitated several moments as she wrestled with her desire to protect herself as well as her desire to be closer to him. He attracted her like no other man had ever done and she found herself powerless to deny her greatest desire. She stood on unsteady feet, taking the hand he offered her, and resettled herself upon the edge of his bed.
He touched her cheek with his free hand since he refused to release her hand. The smoothness he encountered felt like the finest silk. He could touch her all day long and not get enough of her. She’d come to his side even when she had no reason to do so. He felt humbled by her kindness and her gentleness, knowing he’d taken her for granted for far too long.
“Will they catch this guy?”
“Yes, we won’t let him get away. I won’t let him come near you, Maggie. That’s a promise.” The conviction in his voice reassured her that she would be safe from any harm this rapist may try to commit against her. She sensed that something had changed within him and she wondered what that would mean within their future interactions. She felt her hopes rising despite her best efforts to stem that hope. She’d been disappointed too many times for this hope to be budding, but it seemed that it couldn’t be helped.
His eyes began to droop as the medicine worked its magic upon him, causing him to loosen his grip upon her hand. He wanted to talk to her more, but his body wanted rest, clamored for it. She soothed him in ways he never expected with her presence.
As she eased away from him, his grip tightened and his eyes searched hers.
“What is it?” she asked to break the intense silence.
“Don’t leave. Please stay here with me.” He kept her next to him as he fell back into a fitful sleep.
She sat on the edge of his bed long after his grip had loosened on her hand. She watched him sleep and memorized every feature of his face from the spiky locks of hair that had fallen across his forehead to his long, golden eyelashes down his aquiline nose to his full lips made for kissing a woman senseless. Her gaze finally rested upon his strong jawline, etched with the stubbornness and strength she knew he possessed only too well.
An overwhelming desire to touch him had her hand reaching out to smooth his hair off his forehead. Once she started, she couldn’t stop. Her hand drifted down to his cheek, feeling the small growth of stubble. She found the texture oddly alluring and sexy on him. He was usually clean-shaven due to his line of work, but there were a few times when she’d seen him with some stubble and she’d wondered what it would feel like under her fingers.
In his sleep, he sought her touch, turning his face into her hand. He reminded her a young child seeking his mother’s comforting embrace, causing her to smile though she had no idea what that sentiment was like since her mother hadn’t been all that maternal towards her or her sisters. Refusing to allow that particular sadness to invade her then, she focused on providing him as much comfort as she could.
Checking to ensure they were still alone, she maneuvered herself next to him, resting his head against her breasts, and threaded her fingers into his short spikes. She rubbed his head for several minutes, listening to his even breathing and occasional mumblings of appreciation.