I backed up a half step.


"I'm sorry."


"No, don't.


Shit.


I'm - " His eyes closed.


"I'm exhausted."


Just then the nurse came in wearing scrubs decorated with cartoon tongue depressors and animated stethoscopes.


She was young and pretty, with dark hair and sloe eyes.


She checked Cary over, took his blood pressure, then pressed the button on a remote wrapped around the guardrail.


"You can self-administer every thirty minutes for pain," she told him.


"Just press this button.


It won't dispense a dose if it's not time, so you don't have to worry about pressing it too often."


"Once is too often," he muttered, looking at me.


I understood his reluctance; he had an addictive personality.


He'd traveled a short ways down the junkie road before I kicked some sense into him.


But it was a relief to see the lines of pain on his forehead smooth out and his breathing settle into a deeper rhythm.


The nurse looked at me.


"He needs his rest.


You should come back during visiting hours."


Cary looked at me desperately.


"Don't go."


"She's not going anywhere," Gideon said, reentering the room.


"I've arranged to have a cot brought in tonight."


I didn't think it was possible to love Gideon more than I already did, but he somehow kept finding ways to prove me wrong.


The nurse smiled shyly at Gideon.


"Cary could use more water," I told her, watching her pull her gaze reluctantly away from my boyfriend to look at me.


She grabbed the pitcher and left the room.


Gideon stepped closer to the bed and spoke to Cary.


"Tell me what happened."


Cary sighed.


"Trey and I went out Friday, but he had to bail early.


I walked him out to grab a cab, but it was nuts right in front of the club, so we went around the corner.


He'd just taken off when I got nailed in the back of the head.


Took me straight down and whaled on me a few times.


Never got a chance to defend myself."


My hands began to shake, and Cary's thumb rubbed soothingly over the back.


"Hey," he murmured.


"Teaches me.


Don't stick my dick in the wrong chick."


"What?" I watched Cary's eyes drift shut, and a moment later it was clear he was sleeping.


I glanced helplessly across the bed at Gideon.


"I'll look into it," he said.


"Step out with me for a minute."


I followed him, my gaze repeatedly turning back to Cary.


When the door closed behind us, I said, "God, Gideon.


He looks terrible."


"He got knocked around good," he said grimly.


"He's got a skull fracture, a nasty concussion, three cracked ribs, and a broken arm."


The list of injuries was horribly painful to listen to.


"I don't understand why someone would do this."


He pulled me close and pressed his lips to my forehead.


"The doctor said it's possible Cary will be allowed to leave in a day or two, so I'll make arrangements for home care.


I'll also let your work know you won't be coming in."


"Cary's agency needs to know."


"I'll see to it."


"Thank you."


I hugged him hard.


"What would I do without you?" "You're never going to find out."


* * *


My mother woke me at nine the next morning, gliding fretfully into Cary's room as soon as visiting hours began.


She pulled me out to the hallway, drawing the attention of everyone in the immediate area.


It was early, but she looked amazing in eye-catching red-soled Louboutins and an ivory sleeveless sheath dress.


"Eva.


I can't believe you went the entire weekend without your cell phone! What were you thinking? What if there had been an emergency?" "There was an emergency."


"Exactly!" She threw up one hand, since the other arm had her clutch tucked beneath it.


"No one could get hold of you or Gideon.


He left a message saying that he was taking you away for the weekend, but no one knew where you were.


I can't believe he was so irresponsible! What was he thinking?" "Thank you," I interjected, because she was getting wound up and repeating herself, "for taking care of Cary.


It means a lot to me."


"Well, of course."


My mother took it down a notch.


"We love him, too, you know.


I'm devastated this happened."


Her lower lip trembled and she dug in her bag for her ever-ready handkerchief.


"Are the police investigating?" I asked.


"Yes, of course, but I don't how much good it will do."


She dabbed at the corners of her eyes.


"I love Cary dearly, but he's a tramp.


I doubt he can recall all the women and men he's been with.


Remember the charity auction you attended with Gideon? When I bought you that stunning red dress?" "Yes."


I'd never forget it.


It was the night Gideon and I first made love.


"I'm certain Cary slept with a blonde he danced with that night -  while they were there! They disappeared and when they came back .


Well, I know what a satisfied man looks like.


I would be surprised if he knew her name."


I remembered what Cary had said before he fell asleep.


"You think this attack has something to do with someone he slept with?" My mother blinked at me, seeming to remember that I didn't know anything.


"Cary was told to keep his hands off 'her' - whoever 'her' is.


The detectives will be coming back later today to try to pull some names out of him."


"Jesus."


I scrubbed at my eyes, needing my face wash badly and a cup of coffee even more.


"They need to talk to Tatiana Cherlin."


"Who's that?" "Someone Cary's been seeing.


I think she'd get a kick out of something like this.


Cary's boyfriend caught them together and she ate it up with a spoon.


She loved being the cause of the drama."


I rubbed at the back of my neck, then realized the tingle I felt was for another reason entirely.


I looked over my shoulder and saw Gideon approaching, his long legs closing the distance between us with that measured stride.


Dressed for work in a suit, with a large cup of coffee in one hand and a small black bag in the other, he was exactly what I needed at just the moment I needed him.


"Excuse me."


I walked toward Gideon and straight into his arms.


"Hey," he greeted me, with his lips in my hair.


"How are you holding up?" "It's awful.


And senseless."


My eyes burned.


"He didn't need another disaster in his life.


He's had more than his share."


"So have you, and you're suffering along with him."


"And you're doing the same with me."


I pushed up onto my tiptoes and kissed his jaw, then stepped back.


"Thank you."


He handed me the coffee.


"I brought some things for you - a change of clothes, your cell and tablet, bathroom stuff."


I knew his thoughtfulness had to come at a price - literally.


After a weekend away, he should be digging his way out of a small mountain of work worth millions, not running around taking care of me.


"God.


I love you."


"Eva!" My mother's startled exclamation made me wince.


She advocated withholding the words I love you until the wedding night.


"Sorry, Mom.


Can't help it."


Gideon brushed coffee-warmed fingertips down my cheek.


"Gideon," my mother began, coming up right beside us, "you should know better than to take Eva away without any means of calling for help.


You do know better."


She was clearly referring to my past.


I wasn't sure why she thought I was so delicate that I couldn't function on my own.


She was far more fragile.


I shot a sympathetic glance Gideon's way.


He held out the bag he'd brought for me, the calm and confident look on his face conveying his total comfort in dealing with my mother.


So I left him to it.


I didn't have it in me to deal with her until I'd caffeinated myself.


I slipped back into Cary's room and found him awake.


Just the sight of him made the tears well and my throat close up tight.


He was such a strong and vibrant man, so full of life and mischief.


It was the worst pain to see him looking so broken.


"Hey," he muttered.


"Quit the waterworks every time you see me.


Makes me feel like I'm gonna die or something."


Hell.


He was right.


My tears didn't do him any good.


Instead, what little relief they gave me just put more of the burden on him.


I needed to be a better friend than that.


"I can't help it," I said, sniffling.


"It sucks.


Someone beat me to it and kicked your ass before I could."


"Is that right?" His scowl faded.


"What'd I do now?" "You didn't tell me about Brett and Six-Ninths."


"Oh yeah ."


A bit of his old sparkle came back into his eyes.


"How'd he look?" "Good.


Really good."


Very hot, but I kept that thought to myself.


"Although right now, he might not look much better than you."


I told him about the kiss and the resulting fight.


"Cross threw down, huh?" Cary shook his head, then winced and stopped.


"Taking on Brett took guts -  he's a barroom brawler who loves a good fight."


"And Gideon is a trained mixed martial artist."


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