I cross my arms over my chest and lean my hip against the counter, pretending like I’m not completely thrilled by this information, because that would make me a hypocrite and Bettie would be right about yet another thing.

“So, Leo just showed up at the hospital because you two are friends?” I ask.

“Yes, he showed up at the hospital because we’re friends. And you’re right, he had some suspicions about Jed and the abuse, but he never had any proof because I always covered for him,” she explains quietly, picking at the label on the wine bottle nervously. “Leo was nice enough to never come right out and ask me about it because he didn’t want to embarrass me, but he’d always ask me if everything was okay. I knew that he knew, but just like I’ve been doing with everyone else, I lied and I pretended, and I covered it up because I was embarrassed.”

Reaching up between us, I grab a clean wine glass out of the cabinet above our heads, not wanting to stop Emma Jo from talking just to go into the living room and grab the one she was using earlier. I pour her a full glass and hand it to her.

“So, how did he know you were in the hospital? Did you call him?”

I do my best to keep more jealousy out of my voice when I ask this question. It was kind of nice knowing I was the only person in the world Emma Jo trusted with this situation, and all of that will be for nothing if I find out she trusts Leo just as much. Maybe even more since he’s been here, living in Bald Knob with her, and she can go to him with her problems so much easier than she could with me.

Emma Jo shakes her head when she grabs the wine glass from my hand and takes a sip.

“He told me he has a friend who’s a nurse and was working in the Baptist Health emergency room when I came in. I guess she works as a temp nurse and travels all around Kentucky. She recognized my name from when I went to a different hospital she was working at about six months ago and I put down Bald Knob as my hometown instead of making up a different one like I usually do.”

Tears fill my eyes when she tells me this and I grab the wine bottle from the counter and take another big gulp to try and stop myself from dwelling on the fact that Emma Jo has been bouncing around to different hospitals all over the state for years, lying about where she’s from so no one would find out what was going on.

“The nurse remembered me and knew I was from Bald Knob, even though I wrote down Louisville. I was so out of it when I went in there and I don’t remember what I said to her, but it was enough for her to call Leo since she knew he was the sheriff,” Emma Jo finishes.

“That was kind of awesome of her. I mean, she could have lost her job by doing that without your permission.”

Emma Jo nods. “I know. I told Leo to make sure she knew I wasn’t mad or anything. If it wasn’t for her, and you coming out here for me, and Leo promising me that he would do everything he could to keep this quiet for as long as he can, I don’t think I would have been strong enough to file that restraining order tonight, Payton. I would have left the hospital, hid away here at home until I healed, and then went back to pretending like everything was fine. I owe you and Leo so much.”

Well, the jury is still out on how much she owes Leo. I mean, he had his suspicions for years but he never did anything about it? What kind of friend does something like that? What kind of sheriff does something like that? Maybe Leo forgot about how much of a dick Jed Jackson was to him in high school, and now he’s under the same Jed-spell everyone else in this town has been under. Just because he’s nice to look at doesn’t mean everything on the inside is nice. Jed is a prime example of that.

Not wanting to make Emma Jo feel worse by bringing up this point, I quietly give her a smile and rub my hand up and down her arm soothingly.

“I know I already said this once, but I promise everything will be okay. I talked to my manager and the shop is fine without me right now. I’m here for as long as you need me,” I reassure her.

Emma Jo gives me a small smile and takes a deep breath before sipping some more of her wine. I quickly decide to continue doing whatever I can to keep her happy and calm like this by suggesting we watch a few mindless chick flicks. Emma Jo agrees and heads down the hall to the office to grab a few DVDs from the shelf where she keeps them stored. My feeling of contentment as I head into the living room to turn the TV on is short-lived when I hear a loud pounding on the front door as soon as I walk by. I pause in the entryway and a chill races over my skin when the pounding is replaced by someone trying to turn the handle from the outside.


I look back over my shoulder, wondering if Emma Jo can hear the shout from the other side of the door. This house is pretty big and the office is clear on the other side, facing the backyard. I don’t see her come around the corner and she doesn’t say anything, which means she thankfully isn’t hearing what I am right now – an angry man trying to get into his home and wondering why he can’t, making him more pissed-off by the second.

A fist pounds against the front door again, so hard that it rattles the doorframe, making my heart beat wildly in my chest wondering what the hell I’ll do if he kicks the damn thing down and storms in here.

“Open up the fucking door, Emma Jo! I don’t know what kind of shit you’re trying to pull here, but enough is enough. I cut this business trip short a day early so we could spend some quiet, alone-time together. I left my meeting with a potential campaign investor early for you, and this is how you thank me? Do you have any idea how much money I could lose out on now?”

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