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“Yeah, and then I came in and pissed him off.”

“It ended well.”

“That depends on your definition of ‘well,’” Mason argued.

“Henley’s home safe and sound. So are Jake and you. Ava will be soon. I call that a damned good ending.” Duncan stole another look at Ava. “I’m headed home to shower and then back to the office. Let me know later how she’s doing.” He strode to the door and opened it, stopping to smile back at Mason. “Merry Christmas.”

Mason blinked. It was Christmas. “Same to you,” he replied automatically.

Duncan vanished.

Mason pulled his chair up to the side of Ava’s bed and clasped her good hand as he sat down. “Merry Christmas,” he said softly.

The first of many to come, he decided. He wasn’t letting Ava McLane walk out of his life any time soon. She’d pushed her way under his heart, and he intended to keep her there. Her eyes opened, and she looked directly at him, giving a small smile.

“Is he gone?” she whispered.

“Were you awake?”

“I woke up while he was talking. I didn’t want to deal with bureau business,” she said.

Mason chuckled. “You fooled both of us. I doubt he would have grilled you this morning.”

“You don’t know Ben Duncan very well. Being unconscious is the only way to avoid his questions.” She yawned and flinched as the movement stretched her bandaged shoulder. “Am I in one piece?”

“Yes, thanks to the grace of God and Kent’s poor aim. Now you’re part cyborg. The surgeon seemed very pleased with himself, so I think you’ll be in good shape.”

“Sounds like I’ll need some help for a while,” she said, blue eyes staring straight into his.

“I’ll give you whatever help you need. Getting dressed, bathing, eating.”

“It could be a big job. I’m rather demanding,” Ava stated.

He stared at her. “Why do I not believe you?”

“I can be difficult. I’m very particular about how I like things done.”

Mason smiled and leaned closer. “Then I’m your man. Anyone who has discerning taste wants me to help them get dressed.”

“What are you suggesting, detective?”

“I’m suggesting that you rely on me for a while,” he said softly. “Catch your breath, heal, and see if you enjoy seeing me every day.”

Her eyes widened as his words sank in.

Were they on the same page?

“Ava? Are you in here?” The door burst open without a knock, and Jayne swept into the hospital room, blond hair flowing behind her. She had two bandages on her face from her car accident, and her hand was in a fabric brace.

Mason shot to his feet and stepped in front of Ava’s twin before she rushed the bed. “Slow down!”

“Jayne? What are you doing here?” Ava asked, surprise on her face.

“The hospital notified me. This is quite a switch,” Jayne said with a wide smile. She scanned the bed, the room, the window, and Mason within two seconds. The woman seemed wired for a hospital visit at eight in the morning.

Her pupils were huge.

Shit. What’s she on?

“Usually I’m the one in the hospital bed.” Jayne laughed as if it were the cleverest joke in the world. “I’m so lucky that my injuries weren’t too serious from that stupid car accident.”

Mason kept one hand on the twin’s good arm. Energy vibrated under his fingers. This wasn’t espresso overload. Jayne was blinking too often, and a twitch shook her shoulders, painfully reminding him of Josie on his last visit before she was murdered.


“Merry Christmas, darling!” Jayne squealed and tried to pull out of Mason’s grasp to hug her sister. “Let go.” She tugged at her arm, a scowl deepening the lines between her brows.

“No,” said Mason. “Don’t touch her shoulder. She’s had surgery.”

“I’ll just give her a kiss on her forehead.”

Mason slowly let go, and Jayne dropped a peck on Ava’s forehead. Ava’s expression didn’t change. She simply watched her sister.

“I need to run. I could only spare a minute. I’ll call you later.” Jayne waved her bandaged hand at Mason and practically skipped to the door. “Ta-ta, darlings.”

Silence filled the room.

Ava watched the door shut behind her twin. Tears burned at the back of her eyes. She blinked hard. I won’t let her make me cry. She wiped her face.

Mason seemed dumbstruck. He turned brown eyes to her, his lips slightly open in shock. He shook his head, a scowl turning down the corners of his mouth. “And I thought I couldn’t be any more surprised after meeting her the first time. She didn’t ask a single question about your injuries.”

Ava tried to shrug, and pain shot up the left side of her neck.

“She was on something,” Mason stated.

“She usually is.”

Mason carefully sat on the edge of her bed and took her good hand, rubbing her fingers in his grip. “You are nothing like her.”

“I know.” Ava fought to keep the tears back.

“No. Listen to me,” Mason said, leaning forward and emphasizing each word. “You are plumb full of caring. Every damn cell in your body cares about the people around you. Even the ones who are crazy and treat you like crap. It makes you an amazing agent. When I heard you talking to Kent yesterday, I could hear genuine concern in your voice.”