“Don’t f**king move,” Quinn told him, voice hoarse. “Don’t you f**king move or I’ll kill you myself.”
He’d never meant anything more in his life and that fact must have registered on Micah, because he didn’t try to leave again. Just cowered against the wall and muttered how none of this was his fault. It made Quinn insane and if Elise’s head wasn’t pillowed on his lap, if he wasn’t sitting there willing her to keep breathing, he would have shut the as**ole up by knocking every one of his teeth down his throat.
But there’d be time to deal with Micah later, he promised himself. Right now, Elise was the only one who mattered.
For the second time in a week, Elise woke up in the hospital, a little groggy, a little sore, a lot confused. The room was dimly lit but she could see enough shapes to figure out where she was. Well, that and she could hear the monitors beeping, could feel the damn pulse ox monitor back on her finger.
Pushing herself up onto her elbows, she willed the room to stop spinning as nausea crashed through her. Someone—Quinn—was slumped in a chair next to the bed, head down and elbows resting on his knees. She couldn’t see his face, but his body language screamed that he was in a bad place and she couldn’t help herself. She reached out a hand to touch him.
He nearly jumped through the ceiling. Eyes huge, hands shaking, he leaned over her. “You’re awake. Oh, thank God.”
She nodded, licked her lips in a vain attempt to get some moisture. “What happened?”
His face darkened. “You don’t remember?”
She wracked her brain, tried to put the day’s events in order as best she could. She’d spent the morning out in the garage with the pink paint Jamison had brought her, but after lunch she’d gone into the studio to work on a song with the guys. And then…Micah. Of course. The band’s ex-bass player had shown up.
“Are you okay?” she asked, hands clutching at him as everything came flooding back. “Did he hurt you?”
“You’re asking me that?” Quinn’s voice sounded rusty, harsh, nothing like the deep, soothing timbre she was used to. “You’re in the hospital because of that bastard and you’re asking me if I’m okay?”
“He hit you.” She ran her uninjured hand over his stubbled cheek, trying to calm him. Trying to find him in the eyes of the man staring back at her.
“He knocked you out. He shoved you and I didn’t stop him. I didn’t—”
“How could you have?” She sat up, then abruptly wished she hadn’t when the room spun around her.
“Hey, none of that,” he scolded her, helping her lie back down. “No abrupt movements. You’ve got a concussion.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
He looked at her like she was crazy. “Why?”
“Always nice to have an explanation for why the room is spinning.” She pressed a hand to her eyes, tried to swallow back the nausea.
“I’m getting a nurse,” Quinn told her, reaching over to press the call button.
“I’m fine,” she told him, but the words sounded weak to her own ears. She hated it, hated being weak in front of Quinn when he’d never been anything but strong. But right now she couldn’t do anything about that, not when her head felt like it was going to roll right off of her shoulders. Not when she would probably welcome it if it meant the pain went away.
“Stop saying that!” Quinn all but yelled at her. “You always say you’re fine but you’re not. You’re not.”
As the nausea passed, she stared up at him, stunned by his outburst. By his clenched fists and harsh breathing and wild eyes.
“Quinn?” she asked tentatively. “Are you—”
“I swear to God, if you ask me if I’m okay one more time, I’m going to lose my shit.” He turned his back to her, shoved a hand through his hair. “I’m going to go get the nurse. I’ll be back.”
“You called her—”
“Yeah, well, she hasn’t come, has she? You need to be looked at.”
Those were the last words he’d said to her. Oh, he’d come back to the room minutes later, nurse in tow. Had stood there as he checked out Elise and assured them both that her vitals were fine and that she just needed to sleep. Then, after the nurse had left, Quinn had held her hand as she drifted to sleep.
She hadn’t seen him since. He hadn’t called, hadn’t stopped by, hadn’t so much as acknowledged her existence. She’d be devastated if she wasn’t so damn mad. Because she knew what he was doing, knew that he was running away just like he had in Paris.
The f**king coward.
Part of her thought that she should walk away. That she should just grab a cab to the airport and catch the first flight out of there. It wasn’t like she even had a doctor’s appointment to wait around for—since she was in the hospital anyway, they’d run X-rays on her hand that morning, just to see how it was doing.
The good news was, it was healing exactly as expected. Of course, that was the bad news, too. And she was stupid, so stupid, because even though she’d known it was coming, the blow still devastated her. Still made her head spin and her stomach sink.
And Quinn wasn’t there. She’d wanted him to hold her, wanted him to press kisses to her hair like he did late at night when he thought she was asleep. Wanted him to tell her that everything was going to be okay, even if it felt like the whole damn world was caving in on her.
But he couldn’t do that, could he? No, not Quinn Bradford. He was great in a crisis, great when things went to shit. But the second things started looking up, he was blaming himself. And then he was out the door.
The fucking, fucking, f**king coward.
By the time the doctor discharged her, Elise had worked herself into a temper the likes of which she hadn’t had in years. Maybe ever. And when Jamison came to pick her up—Quinn thought of everything, that rat bastard—she demanded to be taken to Quinn’s house so that the two of them could have this out.
She knew he was upset with himself, knew he blamed himself for her getting hurt, but they’d been down this road before. She’d lived the last ten years of her life without him and she had no intention of living the next ten the same way. Not when she loved him. Not when she knew, under all the guilt, that he loved her, too.
“Elise, I’m sorry,” Jamison told her, looking just as pissed off as she felt. “Quinn’s not at home.”
“What do you mean he’s not at home?”
“He and Ryder left for L.A. this morning. Went to deal with the label face-to-face.”
“He went today? Even knowing I was getting out of the hospital?”
Jamison looked sick. “We told him it could wait, but he insisted. Said it had to be done now, while…”
“While Micah was still in jail. It gave him leverage.”
“Yeah.” Jamison reached over and squeezed her good hand. “But I’m supposed to take you back to his place and pamper you. Since Ryder’s gone, too, I’ll spend the next couple of days with you. There’s this great spa that does home treatments and I figured we’d call them up, get the works, and make Quinn pay for it all. It’s the least he can do—”
But Elise had stopped listening. How could she pay attention to talk of spa appointments when her heart was breaking wide open? Because Quinn hadn’t just freaked out. He hadn’t just lost his shit for a little while. No, he’d run away from her again. Had, in fact, run halfway across the country to get away from her.
And she was done. She was so done.
“I’m not going to Quinn’s house,” she told Jamison, as the other woman merged the car onto the freeway. “Take me to the W.”
Jamison sighed, her face falling like she’d been expecting her to say something along those lines. Which, of course, she probably had, Elise figured. Jamison had way too much self-respect to let Ryder treat her like this. So why should Elise put up with it from Quinn?
She shouldn’t. And she wasn’t going to. Not for one more second. If he wanted to man up and talk to her, fine. Otherwise, she was done putting up with him and his shit.
“Don’t go to a hotel,” Jamison said, resting a soft hand on her knee. “I get not wanting to go back to Quinn’s house when he’s got his head so far up his ass he’ll have to have it surgically removed. But don’t go to a hotel. Ryder and I have plenty of room. Come back with me—”
“No.” The word sounded harsh, even to her own ears, so she let out a sigh of her own and then said, “Look, I know you just want to help. But Quinn and I…we go back. This isn’t the first time he’s done this to me, and if I stick around, it’s probably not going to be the last.
“I know he’s got issues, I know how messed up they make him. But he can’t keep doing this to me, can’t keep pushing me away like this every time he freaks out. So I need you to take me to the W. Please. Because I can’t do this with him. I can’t play this game, not now when everything else in my life is such a mess.”
Jamison looked like she wanted to say something, like she wanted to contradict something Elise had said. But she didn’t. Because she couldn’t.
In the end, she did exactly what Elise asked.
And that was that.
“What do you mean she’s gone?” Quinn yelled when Jamison called to break the news. “I told you to take her to my house, to watch her—”
“Hey.” Ryder gave him a look. “Stop yelling at my girl. This isn’t her fault. You f**ked this up all on your own.”
He knew that. God, did he know that. “I’m not yelling at her. I’m just…yelling.”
“Yeah, well, don’t. You’re getting her upset and that’s not cool, man.”
Quinn nearly took his head off, probably would have except for the fact that he knew Ryder was right. Jamison had done nothing but help him out with Elise from the very beginning. He had no right to take his frustrations out on her.
Closing his eyes, he took a few deep breaths, tried to calm himself down. It might even have worked if the image of Elise pale and bleeding and unconscious wasn’t seared onto the back of his eyelids so that it was all he could see, all he could think about.
“You went to the W to drop her stuff off, and she was just gone? She’d never even checked in?”
“That’s what they told me, Quinn. I even drove out to the airport, hoping to catch her before she cleared security but I couldn’t find her. I’m sorry.”
“So you think she left Austin?”
“I don’t know what else to think. She was pretty upset when I told her you were in L.A. She didn’t want to go back to your house, didn’t want to come to Ryder’s and mine. They looked at her hand while she was in the hospital, gave her clearance to travel. And with things going to shit with you…I can’t see why she’d choose to stay in Austin.”
Yeah, neither could he. Which was fine. After all, that’s what he’d been angling for when he’d left her in the hospital alone. He’d wanted her to walk away, wanted her to leave him before he could do any more damage to her. But now that she had…now that she had, it felt like his whole f**king chest was cracking wide open.
“Thanks, Jamison,” he said, “I appreciate everything.”
“It’s fine. I—” She was still talking when he decided he was done listening, so he handed the phone to Ryder and went to stand on their hotel suite balcony. It was a great view, overlooking the manicured grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel, but he couldn’t see anything but Elise.
It was better this way, he told himself. Not for him, maybe, but for her. And she was the only thing that mattered. She had enough shit in her life to deal with right now. She didn’t need his, too.