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And neither, it seemed, did anyone else. Hence the ice cream and horror movie marathon. Well, they could cope with the worry any way they wanted. She was tired of waiting around for Ryder to contact her. Now that Quinn was here to hang with Jared, she was going to the hospital. If her being there was a problem, she would leave. But she didn’t want to leave him there on his own any longer than she had to.

Getting through security at the hospital was a lot harder than she’d anticipated. Apparently the press and Shaken Dirty fans both had been making annoyances of themselves, until the hospital had posted security guards all over the floor Wyatt was on. Without proof that you belonged on the floor, you weren’t allowed off the elevator.

After trying to talk her way onto the ward to no avail, Jamison finally broke down and called Ryder. He met her at the elevators two minutes later and that’s when she got her first good look at him since this whole debacle began. Her heart nearly broke in half.

He looked exhausted, like he’d been to hell and back in the hours since she’d last seen him. And he probably had. Embarrassment and paparazzi be damned. The second she got off the elevator, she threw her arms around him and held him as tightly as she possibly could. For long seconds, he didn’t move—not to hold her back, not to pull away, not even to breathe. And then he shuddered, the tension in his big, muscular body draining in an instant. She wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t have fallen if she hadn’t been there to support him.

“How is he?” she asked, once he finally let her go.

“Addicted to heroin with a side of suicidal thrown in.” His answer was flippant, the pain evident in every line of his body anything but.

“How are you?”

“Not addicted to heroin or suicidal.”

“That’s the best you’ve got, huh?”

“At the moment? Pretty much. Yeah.”

“Can I see him?”

“Of course. But he’s kind of in and out. Depending on how the tests go, they’ll be keeping him until tomorrow…”

“And then?” she asked.

“That’s the fifty million dollar question. The backers are pushing for him to finish out this tour before going to rehab—”


“Exactly my feelings. The label wants him in rehab tomorrow so he’s ready for the big tour in the fall. They’re pushing me to get him into one of three ninety-day programs. They’ll foot the bill for everything…”

“But you don’t like the programs?”

“Shit, I don’t know anything about the programs. I’m just worried about how I’m going to get him to go. I don’t think he’s there yet, in his head.”

“He nearly died today, would have if you hadn’t gotten there when you did.”

“More like, he would have died if you hadn’t gotten there, Jamison.” He lowered his forehead to hers. “Thank you for saving him.”

“You don’t ever have to thank me for helping.”

“Yeah, well, he sure as hell won’t, so somebody should.” He pulled away, paced a few yards down the hallway. As he did, a chill worked its way up her spine, though she couldn’t have said why. But there was something about the way he walked, the way he looked at her, that made her nervous.

“This is his,” Ryder said a minute later, stopping in front of the only room on the floor with a huge security guard posted in front of it.

She nodded, following him inside. Wyatt was sound asleep, hooked up to an IV, a blood pressure cuff and a heart monitor. She looked at Ryder quizzically.

“He’s been having some arrhythmia. We have to talk to a cardiologist tomorrow, find out if it’s going to be permanent.”

Worried tears bloomed in her eyes. She tried to blink them back, but when he stiffened, she knew Ryder saw them. “I’m sorry.”

“Maybe this was a bad idea.” He headed for the door.

“I’m allowed to feel bad for him. For both of you.”

“Don’t feel bad for me.”

Someone had to. Why couldn’t he see how much he was hurting? How much he needed someone to lean on? “Come on,” she said after a few minutes passed in total silence. “I’ll buy you a cup of bad vending machine coffee.”

“I don’t want coffee.”

There it was again, that tone that told her something very not good was running through Ryder’s head. Icicles ran down her spine as she forced herself to ask, “What exactly do you want, then?”

Jamison’s question hung in the air between them. Though he knew she was waiting for an answer, Ryder was having a hard time giving her one. Not because he didn’t have the words but because—for the first time in his adult life—he really didn’t want to say them. And not just because he didn’t want to add to this ridiculous shit pile of a day they all had going on here.

But, whether he wanted to or not, the words needed to be said. Jamison had nearly been hurt once on this tour, had had to deal with groupies and watching one of her closest friends overdose. Add in the clusterfuck his head was at right now and it was pretty much a guarantee that he was going to screw up. She would get hurt—he would hurt her—and he didn’t want to do that. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t—fuck up her life the way he’d fucked up Carrie’s. The way he’d fucked up his mother’s.

After getting the security guard’s reassurance that they wouldn’t be disturbed, he settled her in a chair against the wall in Wyatt’s room. A quick check told him his friend was still sleeping peacefully and that the nurse had just been in.

All of which meant they wouldn’t be disturbed for a while. It was perfect timing, or at least the best timing he was likely to get. So finally, though it hurt more than he’d thought possible, Ryder opened his mouth and forced out the words that would change everything. “I think maybe this thing between us has run its course. The tour’s over, we’ll all be heading out to different places. It’s probably time for us to go back to just being friends.”

For long seconds, she didn’t say anything, just stared at him with those huge amethyst eyes of hers. He waited for her to tell him off, to call him a bastard, to scream at him for leading her on like all the other women he knew would have done.

But in the end Jamison didn’t do any of those things. She didn’t do anything at all, really. Just nodded like he’d told her the weather. Or what she’d expected to hear all along.

Then she stood up and crossed to him. Dropped a light kiss on his cheek. “Okay.”

Okay? That was it? He felt like he’d just ripped his fucking heart out and all she could think to say was okay? “I’m not trying to hurt you, Jelly Bean. In fact—”

She placed two fingers on his mouth. “Shh, I told you when we started this thing that I was a big girl and I could take care of myself. It’s fine. I’m fine. But I should probably get going. I want to check on Jared, make sure Micah and Victoria are leaving him alone.” She walked over to the still-sleeping Wyatt and dropped a kiss on his cheek. “When he wakes up tell him I came by and that I’ll be back tomorrow.”

She headed for the door, pausing only to press a kiss to his cheek as well. “Good night, Ryder.”

And then, just like that, she was gone and he was left staring after her, wondering what the hell had just happened. Before he could figure it out, Wyatt’s voice, weak but with an unmistakable note of authority, rang through the room.

“You’re a fucking moron. You know that, right?”

Chapter Twenty

He turned to his friend. “How long have you been awake?”

“Long enough to hear you tank the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“Yeah, well, no offense, but I don’t think you’re exactly in the best position to give advice.”

Wyatt laughed, but it was a rusty sound, painful to listen to. “Actually, I’m in the perfect position. In case you haven’t noticed, my life’s a fucking mess. When you find someone who loves you the way Jelly Bean does, you need to grab onto her, not crush her into the dust.”

“She didn’t seem very crushed to me.”

“That’s because you were too busy dealing with your own emergency triage to recognize she was doing the same thing. She ran out of here because you ripped her open, not because she didn’t give a shit.”

“You’re wrong.”

“Dude, I’m wrong about a lot of things. But not this. Jamison loves you. She always has—you know it as well as I do.”

Yeah, but— “That didn’t exactly feel like love to me.”

“Why? Because she didn’t cry all over you? You’re a bigger asshole than I thought if that’s what you want from her.”

“Of course that’s not what I want.” Or at least he didn’t think so. He hadn’t wanted to hurt Jamison, had in fact gone out of his way to avoid doing just that. He’d ending things because he’d wanted to protect her from his fucked up life, from the bad shit that always happened to the people he cared about.

And yet, watching her walk away like that had wounded him in a way few things ever had. He felt empty, bereft, and had no idea what to do about it.

“She’s not Carrie, you know. She’s stronger than that. And you’re not the same person you were back then, either.”

He wanted to tell Wyatt to shut the fuck up, not to talk about Carrie. But he couldn’t, because if anyone understood her damage—understood what had happened to her and why she’d chosen suicide over him—it was Wyatt.

“She got hurt because I wasn’t there to protect her.”

“No. She was raped and beaten because the world is full of fucked-upness. And she killed herself because she wasn’t strong enough to move past it. She lost the light and it’s damn fucking hard to live without it.” Wyatt’s voice broke and Ryder knew he was talking about himself as much as he was Carrie. “That won’t happen to Jamison. You couldn’t knock that girl off her path with a fucking baseball bat.”

“What about you?”

Dead silence. And then, “What about me?”

“You nearly died.”

“I’m fine—”

“Jamison and I did fucking CPR on you, asshole. I walked into that room and you were fucking dead. Not unresponsive. Not passed out. Not fine. You were fucking dead. You weren’t breathing and we couldn’t find a heartbeat. That is not okay. Watching you kill yourself is not okay with me.”

Seconds, minutes, ticked by. Then “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, you are. You fucking dick.”

Wyatt laughed weakly. “For the record, I’m not okay with watching you throw away the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“It’s not the same thing.”

“Yeah, it is. In case you haven’t noticed, you’re having a damn hard time breathing without her.”

And here he’d thought the tightness in his chest was the first sign of an impending heart attack. He absently rubbed the area in question. “It’s better for her to get away from all this. In case you haven’t noticed, this life isn’t exactly normal.”

Wyatt snorted weakly. “That’s your problem, dude. You haven’t figured out that no one’s life is normal.”

“Well aren’t you the fucking philosopher?”

Wyatt ignored his snideness. Asked instead, “Do you want her?”

“I want what’s best for her.”

“That’s not what I asked, asshole. Quit being so damn selfless and answer the question. Do. You. Want. Her?”

More than he wanted his next breath. Why had it taken losing her for him to realize that? “Yeah. I do.”

“Then go get her.”

“It’s too late.”

“She left here a couple minutes ago. If that’s too late then you’re a bigger pussy than I thought. Get your ass up. Go fix this. And then bring her back to me and prove you did it. You do that and I’ll go back to rehab. And this time I’ll actually try to stay sober.”

Everything inside Ryder froze. That was a bigger concession than Wyatt had ever before been willing to make. “Don’t screw with me on this.”

“I’m not. But don’t you screw with Jamison. I want her to be happy.”

So did he. Jesus, so did he. He wasn’t entirely sure that he was the one to do it, but what if Ryder was right? What if he’d just broken Jamison’s heart and never even knew it? He couldn’t live with that.

“I’ll be back in the morning and we’ll talk about which rehab you’re going to.”

“Bullshit. You’ll be back tonight—with Jamison—or I’m going to get out of this bed and kick your ass.”

Ryder snorted. “That’s big talk for a guy in a hospital gown.”