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“You ain’t foolin’ me, Dee! I know what kinda sneaky bitch you are.” His laugh comes out completely possessed. “You couldn’t just keep your nose outta my business. Noooo, you had to come in and fuck everything up!” I back up a step when he turns his attention back to Coop. “Stop fuckin’ movin’!” he screams, coming closer to Coop by a step. It’s like a nightmare square we’re forming. Emmy is behind the desk and I’m next to it. Coop is standing in front of Emmy with Adam at the doorway pointing the gun right at him.

“Adam, please let them go. It’s me that you have issues with; these people are just innocent bystanders. Okay? I’ll go with you, and we can go get the money and take care of everything.” He laughs again, and I know that he isn’t going to be reasoned with.

I just need one more inch, and my purse is right there on the floor. I take a step back, hook my purse strap with my heel, and try to bring my leg up slowly where he can’t see it. Luckily, we’re at an angle where he can’t see the bottom part of my body since he’s moved closer to Coop.

“Adam, you don’t want to do anything stupid. Let me have the gun, and we can go in the back and figure this out. You want some protection against this guy? We can do that. Come on, Adam, let me have the gun.” Coop moves just a step closer, and I use the distraction to grab the strap and pull my purse up. My gun is in my hands before he even has a second to notice I’ve moved. The heavy weight feels like the only lifeline I have right now.

“Oh, really? I don’t wanna do anything stupid? Yous idiots can’t protect me from D. He will find me, and since I’m already a dead man walkin’, there ain’t shit to stop me from, oh, I don’t know, taking blondie’s head off first.”

It’s as if the world starts only working in slow motion. Adam turns and points his gun right at Emmy’s head. She gasps but doesn’t even move. Absolute terror washes over her body and she goes statue still. I scream and go to raise my gun, but before I even have it halfway up from my hip, I hear the deafening sound of the bullet leaving the chamber. And then the slow motion, horror show keeps rolling. I watch with helpless, stone-cold dread as Coop flings his body to the side. His large frame jolts when he takes the bullet meant for Emmy’s head.

“YOU MOTHERFUCKER!” I scream and finish raising my gun. He just laughs, and before I can pop the safety and shoot, I hear another shot echo around the room. A burning like nothing I have ever felt in my life sears through my left shoulder, but I don’t even falter. This sick bastard just shot my friend, and I’ll be damned if anyone else here takes a bullet. It seems to take forever, but really, it’s only been seconds since Coop hit the floor, before I take a deep breath and fire my own weapon. When the recoil rocks me back, I lock my knees and keep my eyes trained on the sick fuck that just took my bullet between his fucking eyes.

I drop the gun, and with a sob, I rush towards where Coop’s body is lying motionless on the black tile floor. My ears hurt from the screams that are echoing throughout the office, and it takes me a second to realize that they are coming from my own mouth. When I reach his side, I slip and fall, crashing to the floor next to him. “COOP! Oh, God… Zeke Cooper, open your eyes, please! HELP! SOMEONE HELP US!” He opens his eyes for a second, but they slip closed just as I’m pulling his heavy body into my arms. I search his body, but when I see the dark red hole right in the middle of his stomach, I know this isn’t good.

“EMMY! Come on, Em, help me.”

She doesn’t even move.

“COOP, wake up, Babe! Please, God…” My sobs start to echo around me. I lean back, pull my tank top over my body, and press it tight against his stomach. I don’t know if this is going to help, but I’m not going to stop short of trying everything.

I know they had to have heard the shots next door. There is no damn way they didn’t. “MADDOX! God, PLEASE…” I sob, begging for the only person that can be any help now. Unless the guys in the back open that door, there is no way they can hear anything happening, but I keep trying.

“Coop, please… stay with me, Coop!” I keep pressure against his wound, but when the blood starts coming through my shirt and coating my hands, I start to panic.

“FUCK!” I’m not even sure how I hear Maddox scream over my sobbing, but he is immediately by my side. He pulls his shirt off and puts it on top of my hand. “Hold. Don’t fucking move.”

He bends down and speaks in Coop’s ear. Coop’s eyes open and he tries to nod his head, but his eyes widen before a sickening wet groan comes up his throat. I watch in horror as he coughs once and a massive amount of blood comes pouring out of his mouth. I try to shift my body so that I can offer him something, anything, but my legs slip and my body almost slides, crashing down when I lose my traction. I look down and notice the amount of blood that I’m kneeling in.

“Maddox!”

I call him to come help me, but he’s looking at Emmy as he barks orders into the phone. She still hasn’t moved from her spot behind the desk, tears still pouring down her face, and her small body shaking with so many violent waves, I know she’s about two seconds away from going into shock. Shit.

I see a flash of hot pink and long blond hair rush past me and down the hallway to the back of the building. I look up for a second to see Chelcie with her arms wrapped tightly around her belly, just shaking her head back and forth.

It doesn’t take long before Beck, Greg, and Axel come rushing down the hallway followed by a frantic, crying Sway. They don’t waste any time springing into action. I don’t move from my position, and continue pressing the two soaked shirts against his solid abdomen. Maddox finishes telling the 911 operator the rest of the details before slinging the phone across the room where it crashes against the wall.

“I’ve got it. Go get Em.” Greg’s rough voice, thick with emotion, tells Maddox when he moves to come back to Coop. He looks torn for a second between the man that is like his brother, and the woman that he’s been fighting his feelings for. With a heavy sob, he picks himself off the floor and rushes over to where she is sitting. She doesn’t move, but he picks her up from the chair and quickly carries her over to one of the couches. “Chelcie, find me a jacket, blanket, some fucking thing now!” His tone snaps her attention from Coop, and she rushes back through the office.

I bring my focus back to the men surrounding Coop and take in each one of their faces. They hold so much pain and grief. This is what the face of hopelessness looks like.

“No, no, no! Coop, Coop, you stay with us. Do you hear me?” I sob and scream. Beg for him to be okay. When the paramedics rush in and tell me to move out of the way, I refuse at first. I’m keeping him alive. How can they think of asking me to move! It takes both Beck and Greg to pull me off of his body. When they finally roll him into the back of their rig, I collapse and let out every single scream and ounce of agony left in my body as Beck holds me tight. Axel leaves with Coop, Maddox leaves in the second ambulance with Emmy, and when they come to tell me I need to be checked out, I fight them tooth and nail. Beck finally tells them that they will have to look me over while I sit in his arms.

I look around the room while I hold onto Beck with everything left in my body and take in the grief stricken faces of those that are left. Greg is standing off to the side talking with one of the cops. Another one is talking to Sway over by the couches. Chelcie, having just finished giving her statement, comes to stand next to where Beck is rocking me on the floor.

I remember hearing Beck tell the officers that they would have to follow us over to the hospital before they would get the rest of our statements. Greg finishes up and helps Beck stand from the floor so that he can keep his arms around me. I don’t realize until we are on the way to the hospital that the reason he couldn’t stand on his own is because we had been sitting in the middle of the slippery, dark red, pool of blood that Coop’s body had left behind.

Chapter 27

Three hours.

Three painful hours.

That’s how long we’ve been sitting here waiting for the closed door to finally open. Waiting for answers and praying for a miracle. When I look at the faces of the people around me, I know that we all know how grim this looks.

We arrived at the hospital to find Axel in the waiting room. Maddox hasn’t left Emmy’s side since he carried her into the ambulance back at the office. He’s currently sitting in one of the stiff waiting room chairs with her small body curled in his arms. Dee moves her head off my chest long enough to give her statement to the police. Listening to her play back the events that lead us to where we are right now does nothing to ease the gut-burning dread that is eating away inside me.

Coop was shot right under our fucking noses, and because we had been stuck on some stupid, fucking conference call with some stupid, fucking city official that wanted us to check on his wife, we hadn’t been there.

Right now, Coop is fighting for his life, and I can’t help but think this is our fault. The only reason we shut that door is because we couldn’t let the girls hear the city official on the phone. Eight minutes later, we have Sway throwing the door open screaming for us to get to the front.

Eight minutes is all it took for our backs to be turned long enough, and the unthinkable happen. Right. Under. Our. Noses.

I can’t even let my mind think about how close I came to losing Dee again. Every single time my mind tries to go down that path, I feel as if my heart is being torn from my chest. I shift her and pull her still form closer to my chest. I need to feel that she is alive and right here with me.

I see Chelcie shift, her arms still wrapped around her stomach, and her pale face still dripping with the occasional tear.

“Chelcie?” I wait for her to look at me before continuing. “Are you okay?”

She jumps slightly before her body stills and her tears pick up.

Shit. I don’t want to upset her more. “Chelc?”

She just looks at me. With her eyes vacant and her head slowly shakes back and forth. I sigh and shift one of my arms from Dee’s body. I feel her wiggle closer to make up for the loss of my arm before settling in again. I motion for Chelcie to come over. She doesn’t waste a second rushing across the room and dropping into the chair next to us. I wrap my arm around her shoulder and pull her into my chest. She wraps her arm around both Dee and me, and lets out the emotions she’s obviously been holding in tight. Dee reaches out and hugs her, offering her some of the strength she has left. We sit here like this for what feels like forever before the door opens. We all stiffen, waiting to see who will be walking through that door.

I’ve settled back in my seat when Izzy and Melissa come in. Izzy rushes right into Axel’s arms. He drops his face into her neck, and I watch his shoulders shake. He’s held it in, and I have no idea how. The only thing keeping me from breaking down is knowing that I need to stay strong for Dee right now. Melissa walks as fast as her belly will allow, and Greg meets her halfway. Like Axel, he holds his wife close, and they just stand there. None of us knows what else to do but keep praying and try our hardest to keep our shit together.

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