There was no way he survived.
Anne’s tears were hot on her cheeks as more images of Danny came to her, the weight of the loss increasing as the sediment layers of what they had shared grew higher and higher. Moose’s wedding was the worst. When they had danced. When they had . . . done what they did later.
It was impossible not to view the series of memories as her brain’s version of phantom limb pain, her yearning emotions like nerves now servicing that which no longer existed. Danny was gone. Whatever they had had together, those currents of connection and bolts of passion were now tied to a void. For the rest of her life, be it long or short, all of that potential would never be answered, no Polo for the Marco.
“Danny,” she moaned. “It’s my fault—”
And right on cue, there he was, opening the door.
Not Danny Maguire, no. Her brother, Chief Thomas Ashburn, the legend himself.
Tom was so tall and so broad that as he came in, the hospital room shrunk down to a shoebox, the ceiling shortening to mere inches, the walls crowding in until she couldn’t breathe. He looked the same, with that prematurely gray hair, and the hard, handsome face, and the aura of power and authority—and yet he was not the same, at all.
For once, his eyes were not narrowed with suspicion. Far from it.
“Oh, God, Anne,” he said hoarsely. “You’re awake.”
She looked away from his sympathy. There was a temptation to lean on him, use his strength to help herself, rely on her big brother to make all this better. But that was a getaway car with no brakes and a kidnapper behind the wheel.
“You never call me by my real name.”
Closing her lids, she braced herself. “Did they find Danny’s body? Be honest. I’d rather know now.”
“They got him out. He’s in surgery.”
“What?” She sat up so fast, she went faint. “Danny? Danny—they got him out?”
“Yeah. They did.”
The trembling came on quick and with violence, and as she sank back down onto the pillows, Tom took a step forward like he was thinking of helping her. He stopped that before she could tell him to back off.
For once, his eyes were sad, and that was far from a comfort. The sympathy from him made her realize how there was no one in her life that she could trust.
“When can I see him?” she asked.
The door swung open, an annoyed millennial in a nursing uniform bursting in.
“Not now,” Tom snapped.
The young woman stopped short and looked at him like he was suggesting she’d voted for Trump. “Excuse me?”
“I’m talking to my sister. I’ll tell you when you can come in.”
The nurse glared up at the mountain in front of her. “I’m here to check on the patient’s vitals—”
“Her blood pressure spiked and is normalizing. Same with her pulse. No change on oxygen stats. IV lines running clear and her urine bag does not need to be emptied. Good-bye.”
“I’m getting my superior.”
“Do that.” He pulled the door open and nodded to the corridor. “And I’ll throw them out, too.”
“I don’t know who you think you are, but you’re not in charge here—”
Tom leaned down and spoke slow, like he’d made a call about her IQ level and it was not a compliment. “I’m telling my sister about the man who nearly died saving her life. Who is currently being operated on for an internal bleed that, if it doesn’t kill him from blood loss, will probably make him stroke out and leave him a fucking vegetable. So yeah, get your goddamn superior, get the hospital president, call the fucking pope—and I will throw every single one of you out of this room. Are we clear, or do I need to draw you a diagram.”
The nurse stared at him with such shock, it was clearly the first time anyone had not provided her with a safe, supported, emotionally aware and nurturing, microaggression-free educational platform.
And also, Tom was being a total dick.
As the nurse tripped over her Crocs to get out, Anne closed her eyes. “You have such a way with people.”