“We have a problem.”
Damien looked up from the screen of his laptop to see a grim-faced Cain Lawrence standing in the open doorway holding a tablet and looking especially grim and good goddamn what now?
Smothering the urge to dive under the desk, he rubbed the fatigue from his face and waved in the security chief. Damn but the hotel business was nothing but a giant pain in his ass. He shouldn’t even be occupying the hotel manager’s office, but as he’d fired Shay two days ago there was no one but him to deal with the cluster-fuck she’d created one e-mail at a time. Hell, if it wasn’t for Wyatt’s sting operation he’d have already dumped it.
Fuck top dollar.
“It’s a video I pulled from Union Station.” Caine handed him the tablet, “The guy in the bottom right corner of the screen. It’s him.”
Yes, it was. There was no mistaking the face he knew as well as his own. “Call Wyatt. Get him and Maurice to meet me at Hughes.” The fastest way to Richmond was air, “And get the …”
“Footage of Richmond Amtrak. Already on it.’ Caine took his tablet back as they both made for the door, “This is my fault. I should have already put men on her.”
“Don’t blame yourself. I agreed to wait.” He hadn’t wanted to overwhelm Andie. That had been a mistake. One that could cost him…. everything.
She’d made a mistake.
A grievous error in judgement.
She was wrong.
Way way way wrong.
It had started out well enough. After a long day of playing assistant to Jose and Layla’s manic Black Friday quest the three of them made their usual pit stop at Heather’s Tea and Cakes.
Located in the thriving shopping district of Cary One, it was one of her favorite places. It was cool while being cozy and nothing absolutely nothing matched. Every table, every chair, every kitchen hutch and every tea cup they held and there were hundreds, all different, not a single repeat in the bunch. Not the tea pots or the trays, not the cake stands, not even the sugar and creamer bowls, nothing, not a single thing matched and yet it all looked like it had been around forever in exactly this way. Oh, and they had the best scones this side of the Atlantic.
The place was packed, but they’d gotten served quickly and snagged a small table at the window so Jose could engage in his favorite pastime of spotting new fashion trends among the shoppers walking by. Layla spent her time silently sucking down coffee, gobbled scones and read her Washington Post, taking a break every so often to call Jose shallow. Usually this is how it went. Usually. None of that was happening today.
Andie threw her hand over Jose’s mouth, “SSHHH!!!!”
Yep, she’d miscalculated all right.
It had been a gamble. Jose would never let up about the “dirty deets” and with her mother in town for a month Andie made the decision to tell the story of her deflowering while the two were separated. Her parents having taken the train to DC this morning, saying they wanted to get settled. Going with the whole divide and conquer idea, she told the story focusing on the baking soda hoping it would be enough to distract from further questions. Her plan had worked too well.
“I’m sorry.” He bent over holding his ribs, “Oh God, I can’t…Baking soda!”
Telling the truth was overrated. “It wasn’t that funny.”
Layla’s reaction was a little better or would have been if she hadn’t shouted out, “Holy shit! Baking soda! You’re shitting me!” In English.
“Ssssshhhh!” Andie slapped her hand over her mouth. Jose was a lost cause. He’d fallen over sideways on the window seat cackling like a hyena on speed.
“You all right over there?” Nigel, the manager and a long-time friend of Jose’s called out over the heads of the two dozen or so people lined up and waiting on fresh scones.
“He’s good.” Layla called back. Jose rolled around howling.
Yep, telling the truth sucked.
“I’m sorry.” Jose pulled himself back into a seated position, sort of, “Did he really say labia?”
“He was reading from his phone.” Andie said, wrapping her last scone in her napkin, “We need to get going.”
That sobered him up, “Andie, my darling, please for the love of all that’s good in this world….”
“Please!” Jose clasped his hands together under his chin, “I won’t tell. No one will know.”
“They are calling for rain. It’s cold. That jalopy doesn’t have heat.”
“It has heat it just takes it a few minutes to warm up.” The jalopy was a 1985 wagon belonging to her Grandmother’s neighbor. They borrowed it every year to get the trees.
But it’s a long drive. It will be dark by the time we get there. There could be bears and rats.”
Andie cut off the drama with the magic word. “Pact.”
The Black Friday Pact was sacred. She helped them shop. They helped her get the Christmas trees. And yes it was a bit of a drive, but as she’d gotten up at five to stand in Nordstrom’s and hold shoe boxes for hours, Jose could stuff it and deal.
“Jose give it up.” Layla stood. Andie couldn’t help but notice the glances slung her friend’s way. Even in jeans and a borrowed rain slicker she turned every head in the room. And she was oblivious – as usual. It wasn’t that Layla didn’t know she was gorgeous, but in her words, She didn’t ‘have time for that ‘shit cause she had shit to knock off her shit to do list. And besides most men were little shits and not worth a shit, anyway.” And right now she was focused on getting Jose up and out the door. Grabbing him under his arm, she yanked him up and didn’t let go until they were out the door, “The sooner we get out there and trudge through hell the sooner we’ll get back.”
“We?” Andie followed dumping their trash on the way out, “There is no we. You guys stay in the shack, drink coffee and complain about the lack of tight tushies.”
“It’s called Big Bob’s.” Jose sniffed,” It’s not unreasonable to expect a lumber-jack or two. O,h that is gorgeous!” Her friend’s gaze snagged on a jacket hanging in the front window, “I’ll just be a minute.” And he was gone.
Dammit! Getting Jose past ‘On and Off Consignment’ was always a challenge. But Andie got the feeling he was just stalling. Five minutes later, Layla handed her the car keys and went in after him. Andie was unlocking the car door when words in her ear startled her.
“You’re Andie Chase.”
She spun and met dark blue eyes, “Excuse me?”
“Pretty.” The man who was standing too close reached out sliding the back of his hand down her cheek, “Damien always did have good taste.”
“Sir, back away from me, please.”
He didn’t move away, but he did lower his hand, “Give Damien my regards.”
“Sure thing. Get away from me.”
With a smile that sent chills, and not the good kind, down her spine, he walked away. Melting into the crowded streets of Cary Town.
“Who the hell was that?” Layla was suddenly beside her, breathing hard. Andie knew she’d been running to her rescue.
“I don’t know. He said to tell Damien Hi.” Andie got in the car. Locking her door as soon as they were inside.
“Creeper. You should have a security detail.” Layla said locking hers and reaching behind her to lock the back door while Jose was belting himself in. The old station wagon didn’t have auto locks.
“Security? Andie asked, pulling out into the steady stream of traffic, “Don’t you think that’s a little extreme.”
“I’m with Layla.” Jose said, leaning forward to put the heat on full blast, “You’re sweetie has enemies sweetie. I’m surprised he hasn’t already got people on you.”
“You’re overreacting.” She promptly cut the heat off. It would only blow cold air until the car heated up.
“Maybe, but I know threatening behavior.” Layla was searching their surroundings as Andie pulled into traffic. “That guy, whoever he is, is a threat. As soon as we get done with this tree fiasco you’re calling Drake.”
“Layla….” The woman saw threats everywhere.
“Andie, you do it or I will.”
“I’m freezing and I chipped a nail.”
“Does this red-neck-mobile have heat?”
Tree fiasco. Yep. Layla called it. Andie ignored the constant stream of whining from her two bestest buds, concentrating on the road in front of her. The night was thick with the rain Jose had predicted. They were in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the roads were winding and narrow. The only plus was the lack of traffic. These roads were only used by people going to visit the wineries, farms and orchards. It was Black Friday, everybody was snagging deals at Walmart so she could creep down the roads without worrying about someone on her tail. Andie was exhausted and just wanted to get the trees to her Grandmother’s, where there was cocoa.
“I’m freezing. Next year we’re hitting the tree farm with the winery.” Layla waved the brochure she’d found at some point while she and Jose waited in the relative warmth of the Tree Farm’s cash-wrap shack while she did the actual Tree picking.
“Hear. Hear.” Jose thumped his hand on the back of her seat.
Hot cocoa with marshmallows and pie.
“You can go tromping through the woods and we can drink wine and eat chocolate. They have chocolate.” Layla continued to wave the pamphlet with one hand, while digging through her purse. She hadn’t put that pamphlet down since she’d seen the words wine and chocolate.
“There are no Blue Spruce’s at that Tree Farm.”
There was a flash of white light. Andie risked a glance and there was Layla twisted in the seat and facing her. She ‘d dug a mini flashlight out of her purse and was holding it on the brochure like a spotlight.
Oh boy. She wasn’t letting this go. Andie stopped the car and threw it in park, “Okay, get it all out there.”
“The Petite Ruisseau Winery.”
“Ruisseau. It’s French for Creek. Little Creek. Not important.” Layla said, tossing her head to her right, “It’s on the other side of this very mountain. They have Christmas Trees. They have a bistro. They have heat. They have apple orchards. They have cheese. And oh, yeah, they have wine and chocolate. Gourmet chocolates made right there. Right.” The flashlight smacked the brochure, “There. On this very mountain. They guy’s wife makes chocolate while he makes wine. We should be getting to know these people…”
“Layla, I’ve checked them out. They don’t have Blue Spruce.”
Jose’s head popped between them, blocking Layla’s presentation, “I fail to understand your love of evil trees. Look! Look at my poor hands.” The abused appendages joined his head, “That tree is evil. Evil I tell you.”
Yummy Yummy hot chocolate with marshmallows, “I told you to wear gloves. Blue Spruce’s are prickly.”
“Andie Chase, I am not ruining my Gucci gloves on your evil tree and for the record I’m with Layla. The Tree farm with the wine and chocolate should be an official part of the Black Friday Pact.”
“The pact has been sealed and they do not have Blue Spruce.”
“You’re not right.” Layla said.
Like she’d know. “No, really.” Andie threw the car in gear and resumed creeping, “Blue Spruce are getting harder and harder to find…”
“I mean In. Your. Head.” Layla cut her off with a tap of the mag-lit to Andie’s cranium, “Choosing a tree over wine and chocolate. You need help. The professional kind. And who gets a tree the day after Thanksgiving, anyway? What is wrong with you people?” Layla flopped back into her seat, “She has dozen boxes. A dozen fine chocolates for 24.95. That’s a steal.”
“Where. Is. The. HEAT?” Jose’s hand flapped around the dash.
For the love of fudge. Her best buds were officially dancing on her last nerve. Andie took a deep breath, counted down from ten, and with patience that should put her in serious contention for sainthood, explained, “The tree has to soak up water for a couple of days before you start decorating and there’s heat. It will just take a minute to warm up. As. You. Know.” She slapped the slapping hands.
“OW! Andie Chase do not abuse my hands when they’re already wounded.”
“Jose, top whining. Layla get over it. We have a pact. I assist the shopping and you assist with the tree. I don’t tell you how to shop. You don’t tell me how to pick a tree. Now shut it, both of you. It’s dark and I need to concentrate.”
Sainthood, like truth telling, was overrated.
Layla huffed and hunkered, “I’ll bet the roads to the winery slash chocolate factory slash Christmas Tree Farm are wide and well lit.”
Jose removed his head from the front of the car muttering about crazy straight girls and their obsessions with fresh greenery
Andie concentrated on the road. Carter Mountain was technically in the foothills of the Blue Ridge but it was still a long way down. The two-lanes were narrow and it was winding and dark with nothing but trees and vineyards on either side, but she’d driven down these roads many times in this very jalopy. So she knew when to down shift, when to up shift, and when to tap the brakes. Problem was, that brake tapping wasn’t making much difference. She tapped them again and again – harder, then went ahead and stepped. Then stomped. All three methods yielded the same result.
“This insanity must stop, I tell you.” Jose was still protesting.
“Salted Caramel, God, I love caramel and salt.” Layla was hunkered and reading.
The car’s creep sped to a crawl. “Guys.”
“We could get a fresh tree at Lowes…”
“Red Wine Cream Truffle. God, I love red wine and cream.”
The crawl sped to a brisk walk. “Guys!”
“Or we could pay someone to cut the tree down and deliver it….”
“Raspberry Champagne – God I love raspberries and champagne.”
And then a jog, “Guys!”
“Some nice gay boy out to raise money for his trip to Paris Fashion Week.”
“Shit, they’re still open….”
Running. The car was running. “Guys!”
“Charity starts at home, you know.”
“Turn the jalopy around.”
They were going to die. “GUYS!”
“Brakes… no… whahhhshit!!” Layla screamed. Jose shrieked. And the jalopy flew.
Andie held onto the wheel, crisscrossing the tiny lanes to keep from having to make sharp turns. She’d seen that on one of those Fast and Furious movies.
It worked. As long as nobody else came around the bend when they were in the wrong lane and, holy guacamole, that was a big if, they wouldn’t die in the next two seconds. And holy shit, she never thought she’d hear that in her own head.
But she’d have plenty of time to freak out while recuperating in the hospital, that was if they survived and with that intersection up ahead getting closer and closer, the one with big blaring red light, those odds weren’t looking good anyway.
Jose was screeching about dying in a Jalopy.
Layla shoved her arms out like she was trying to push the red light away, “Red light. Shit. Red light.”
“I see it”
“Semi. Oh shit. Semi.” Layla’s arms pushed left.
Oh, of course there was an 18-wheeler coming down the cross-street.
Andie laid on the horn and got… nothing. Damn, the car really was a jalopy.
Layla must have realized the laws of physics were against her with the pushing. She reached over and turned off the ignition, but if anything they sped up. The slope was steep.
“There!” Jose’s hand appeared, pointing right, “A turn off.”
“We’ll flip.” There was a chance they wouldn’t hit the intersection at the same time as the truck. Either choice wasn’t looking good. “What do I do?”
“Swing out and turn.” Layla said with confidence.
Andie went with it. Pulling the car as far to the left as she could before cutting right. The jalopy swung. The back wheels kept swinging in a giant fishtail. Andie’s stomach flew into her throat, centrifugal force throwing her into the door.
“Turn into it.” Layla shouted, grabbing the wheel, pushing it to the left, before jerking it right Miraculously, the car straightened. The front wheels hitting the hard packed dirt and gravel path with enough traction to shoot them forward. “
“It must be an access road” Layla said breathing out, “With the rain and mud we should slow….OH SHIT!!!
The road looked relatively level, but after the first few feet in angled sharply, not left or right. Nope. It was down. Straight. The hell. Down. And they went down with it.
Andie had no idea whose screams were whose. The jalopy groaned, bouncing and rocking, but it kept on rolling. Andie held the wheel straight, she could barely make out what was in front of her in the headlight’s bouncing beam of light, but going left or right was out. This was the land of deciduous woods and the trees were everywhere. Their best chance of not ending up splattered against a giant oak was the path.
Andie felt like she was nothing but a sack of bones bouncing around in her skin. The night had become one giant martini of shaken not stirred. All she could do was hold on while Jose shrieked in her ear and Layla cursed loud and long.
“Fork. Fork” Jose’s shriek’s became words, his hand flailing beside her head, “Fork in the road.”
A fork marked by a boulder bigger than the car barreling towards it.
Christ’s Cookies! Her buds couldn’t agree on anything. Andie didn’t have time for a debate. She pulled the wheel right. A miscalculation on her part. “Oh. Shit.”
“What is that?”
It wasn’t until the wagon was plowing down the stick figures that she figured it out.
They found the vineyard.
The trail ran straight to it and the jalopy followed. Mowing down the frames that in season would be fat with grapes. Right now, they were skinny stick figures and the jalopy was mowing them down like matchsticks.
“Head down” Layla shouted over what sounded like a billions of baseball bats battering the car.
“I have to see.” Andie shouted back.
“You have to live.” Layla grabbed her hair and yanked.
Andie followed. Covering her head with one arms while holding the wheel steady with the other.
She tasted blood. At some point her clattering teeth had bitten something in her mouth. They kept plowing through. Glass shattered. She looked up over her head a piece of lumbar shot straight through the windshield.
She was alive to see it. That was good. Living was good. She shouted a “Thanks.” Layla’s way.
“Welcome.” Layla shouted back.
The vineyard was putting up a hell of a fight.
Then it just stopped.
Andie went to sit up, only to have Layla grab her again, “No. Jose’s got the best position to check it out.”
“We’re clear…Nooooshit! The car lurched left. Andie looked up to see Jose’s arms stretched over her head his hands gripping the wheel. She ducked around the lumber, squeezing herself between the beam and the door. Jose surrendered the wheel.
“What the fuck?” Layla flew up beside her.
And the tree they’d barely missed took what sounded like the entire left side of the car off. Apples tumbled down in a storm of red delicious hail, but they were lucky enough to have a straight shot through. If their luck held, they’d see the Christmas trees next.
Yep, the luck was holding. They ran straight through two rows of Frazier furs.
And out the other side and straight into…
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Andie was rethinking the pact.
They found the “Little” Creek. There was nothing little about it.
“Petite, my ass.” Layla snarled.
“There’s a bridge.” Jose threw an arm between them pointing left. Andie barely made out the graceful arc of the foot bridge. Yep, foot.
“Too narrow. Straight through.” Layla turned the ignition, restarting the car. “It’s shallow, but you need momentum Punch it.
So far, Layla had been right. Andie shoved her foot down on the gas. The car shot forward. The water shot up in white fans there was no seeing though.
“See? It’s shallow.” Layla said. She sounded relieved. Andie was saving her relief for her extended hospital stay. The grip of dry land jarred her. Layla cut the ignition. The water-fans dropped, revealing tiny twin moons darting through the dark.
“BAMBI!” Jose shouted in her ear.
A frickin’ herd of Bambis..
“Fuckin A!” Layla fell back in her seat, “I got nuthin.”
Andie scrunched down behind the wheel, held it steady and played it straight through the melee of hooves and antlers and brown bodies. It’d worked for the water. Glass shattered at her ear. A stray hoof appeared and disappeared in the same instant so close to her head she felt the brush of fur.
And then nothing.
No deer. No trees. No vineyards. The incline shallowed out. They bounced and rocked and rolled ever more slowly. She could see flat land ahead. Andie wondered where the crazy Cruella laugh was coming from, realized it was her and clamped her mouth shut.
“Oh shit oh shit.” Layla muttered over and over again, “That was… shit.…just shit..”
Jose’s head was back, “We are never doing this again. The pact is null. Null and void. Never. Never… SHIT!”
Dammit! There was another road. A big one. With lots and lots of cars on it.
“Coco save us!”
“Go for the bushes!” Layla’s arm shot across her face. Andie couldn’t see so she swung the wheel to the left on faith. Mounds of huge leafy bushes, possibly Sweet Olive zoomed up and everything went KERBLAM!
Her head hurt. Andie lifted her aching body off the steering wheel. Yep, that was sweet olive alright. She got a good look at it because it was smashed up into the windshield and coming through the shattered window beside her. Somebody was speaking Chinese and somebody else was doing that wailing wall thing. It was loud. Too Too loud. She unlatched her seatbelt, shoved the door open.
She needed air. Her feet sank into the mud She stood in the drizzling rain and promptly fell in the mud. Okay. Whatever. She leaned back against the wheel. Residual heat from the engine warming her back. There was a ringing in her head.
No, wait. She reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out her phone. “Hello.”
“What’s wrong? You sound odd.”
“Lots and lots of stuff is wrong. Too much.” She stuttered, because her teeth were chattering.
“Andie, where are you?”
Oh, he sounded upset.
“I’m beside the car. It’s in Sweet Olive. It smells good, but not as good as you. Can you come get me? I’m cold.”
She heard a lot of cursing, but these were in English, and coming from far far away, “Andie. Stay where you are. We’re coming.”
Staying where she was sounded good. “Okay.” Darkness came up and swallowed her.
“Man, you can’t land in the middle of 95…shit. There it is. I think. Hard to see under all those trees. Is that Sweet Olive?” Maurice pointed to the ground below.
He could barely make out the back of a car sticking out of a large leafy mound.
“I’m setting her down”
“Dammit, Drake,” Stan Wyatt’s shout blasted his headphones, “Use that fucking hard head of yours and think. We can meet them at Mary Washington. Layla said she’s fine.”
“Fuck fine.” He wasn’t fine. He’d been preparing to land the chopper in Richmond when he made the call that had stopped his heart. Ever since it started up again, it had been trying to pound its way out of his chest and Layla’s call didn’t do shit to calm it. The helicopter could get Andie to the hospital in less than half the time of the ambulance. There was a clearing at the base of the of the mountain. He was landing. He had to before his chest exploded.
“You two focus on figuring out what went wrong with that car.”
A light was hitting her eye. She batted it away. “Miss, can you tell me your name?”
Sure, she could, “Yes.”
“What’s your name?”
Didn’t mean she was going to. “Who wants to know?”
“I’m an EMT. I need you to tell me your name.”
“Her name is Andromeda Adriana Chase.” Layla said from somewhere. She couldn’t see anything but that bouncy light.
“She has to tell me.” The guy behind the light said.
“She won’t. She doesn’t like it.” That was Jose.
“Oh for the love of frosting, It’s Andie. Andie Chase and get that light out of my face.” She went to smack the light but it kept moving around.
“You were in an accident.” The voice behind the bright light informed her.
Well duh! The guy thought she didn’t know she’d smashed into a giant bush.
What a doofus.
“Oh, say it isn’t so. Really? Is that what that was? tumbling down the side of a mountain around rocks and trees and creeks and herds of deer is that what that’s called?” The ball of light settled. She snatched out of the guy’s hand and pointed it back at him, “An accident? An accident, you say????!!!!!!”
The man blinked at her and his face was just… so….. funny. A cackle escaped. She pressed her lips together and doubled over grabbing her ribs keeping the wild sounds inside. They turned into grunting snorts.
“Is she bi-polar?” The doofus took his light back.
A cackle flew out.
“No.” Layla said
“Are you sure?”
And a snort.
“Positive. She does this when she’s stressed.” Jose explained, “You know, some people cry and some people scream….”
“She did scream.”
She sure did. Another snort and half a howl, but just before she fell in to the waiting void of hysteria
“Ma’am you can’t…”
Oh, she sure as shit could. She got rid of the pesky guy and his bouncing ball of light with a handy knee to the junk and headed for that voice, but the ground moved and the night went sideways and somebody turned off the stars.
Voices. So many. All knocking around in her head, “SSshhh!” She snuggled down into the heat enveloping her, but then she was swept up and she was bouncing and bumping up and down and that felt familiar, “Adonis?”
“Hey there kitten.”
“You’re always scooping me up and running off.”
“Mmm-hmm…” She snuggled sliding her cold hands around his neck, “Your heart’s racing.”
The lights went out again.
“Lay her down.” Maurice was already kneeling on the floor of the helicopter. He was flying back with them, Wyatt staying behind to tend the car.
The car with the two by four sticking through the windshield.
Damien lay Andie down gently. He had to set her down. He had to pilot the helicopter.
“Thank. God. Thank you! Thank!! You!!” Jose jumped in behind him and flopped down in the nearest seat. “Dear God what a night.”
Damien slid his hand from under Andie’s head and rose, moving to the pilot’s seat. The hospital was only minutes away, “What happened?”
“What happened?” He winced as Jose’s voice jumped an octave, “That jalopy is a death trap. That’s what happened. We lost the brakes and took a crash course down Mount Kilamanjaro. Dear God, I need an entire bottle of cabernet.”
Damien’s heart stopped again. His entire body freezing up. “You lost the brakes?” He pushed the words through stiff lips.
“Oh yeah,” Layla confirmed, leaping in behind Jose.
“What happened to Andie?” He clarified through gritting teeth, “Did she hit her head?”
“Bumped it on the steering wheel, but we weren’t going that fast when we hit the bushes.” Jose said, dropping to the floor on his knees beside her, “But I think it’s her blood sugar that’s giving her a problem. It crashes when she’s stressed.”
“Is that dangerous?” He asked Maurice but Layla was the one who answered, “Only to others. You should sedate her.”
“She’s already unconscious.” Maurice pointed out.
“And if you’re fond of your man parts, you’ll keep her that way.”
“Her eyes are responding. If she has a concussion, it’s a mild one.” Maurice released her lids, handed the light to Jose with instructions to follow his movements, and began sliding his hands down Andie’s head shoulders and arms, checking for injuries. “I’m more concerned with the ribs. That car didn’t have air bags.”
He’d noticed. Just what in the hell Andie was doing in that bucket of bolts he didn’t know, but all of that could be addressed later. His heart couldn’t take much more without rupturing. Drake slid into the pilot’s seat, wiped the cold sweat from his brow, and began the takeoff process, devoting all his attention on the immediate task, getting Andie the best medical care in the state.
“Hey, get that out of my face.”
“Oh shit, she’s awake.” Jose pulled the light down from her face, “Hey sweetie, you were in an accident.”
“Sedate her.” Layla was emphatic.
“What’s happening?” Andie propped herself up on her elbows, “Why’s the ground humming.”
“Andie, honey you’re in a helicopter. You were in an accident.” Jose gently pushed her shoulders back down, but she resisted.
“I’m not tired.”
“Sugar, you need to lie still.” Maurice put his hand on her other shoulder
“Hey there, sweetheart.”
“I’m right here, Andie.”
He turned around to see Andie attempting to scramble to her feet despite Jose and Maurice’s efforts to calm her.
“No?” She stopped scrambling to glare at him, “What am I? A pound puppy? NO? You’re not really a Demi-God, you know.”
“Sweetheart, you could have internal injuries.” Maurice said, “That car didn’t have airbags. We need you to stay as still as you can.”
“Oh. Why didn’t you say so?” She lay back down, “Take note, Damien Drake.” Her arms waved in Maurice’s direction, “Maaaannnneeeeeerrrrrs.” She stretched the word, giving it a few extra syllables in the process then turned her head and stuck out her tongue at Layla, “And that’s just mean.”
“Hey, I’m not the one kicking men’s balls into their throats.”
“Who’d you kick sugar?” Maurice asked gently. He had her wrist in his bear-sized hand, taking her pulse. In the dim light, Andie’s skin glowed like porcelain. Delicate. Fragile.
So easily broken.
“The doofus.” She answered with a sigh.
“She’s referring to the off-duty paramedic who pulled off 95 to help us.” Layla elaborated dryly.
“He was still a doofus.”
“Fine kitten. He was a doofus and I’m a rude bastard. Now please please be still and quiet for us.”
“’Kay. Is there a pillow?”
“Here.” Jose pulled off his sweater and rolled it putting it under her head, “Now close your eyes ans shush. And honey, I’m wiith Layla, next year we are going for wine and chocolate.”
Then there was lots of bright light. And she was being set down, “No!” She hung on, “I’ll be cold.”
“Grandma?” She blinked at her Grandmother’s face, “What are you doing here Where are we? What’s happening?”
“You were in an accident. You’re at the hospital. Now, lie down on the gurney.”
“Oh boy. Here we go.” That was Layla. She peeked around Adonis’s inky black hair to see Layla slouched against the wall. Man, she looked rough. She had twigs in her hair that was nothing but snarls of tangles all over her head. Her face was filthy and she was holding her arm funny, “I’m telling you, you need to sedate her.”
“We need juice.” That was Jose. She craned her neck and made out Jose’ running down the hall.
“Andie sweetheart,” A stroke of velvet across her ear, “We need to get x-rays.”
“NO! I’ll be cold.” She held on tight and buried her face into his warm, yummy smelling neck.
“I’ll give you my coat.” He tried cajoling the kitten who’d turned into she-cat from hell. She snorted into his neck, “I’m loopy, not stupid.”
“Loopy? Is that what you call it?” He asked, a smile hovering around his mouth. Now that they were at the hospital the knot in his gut eased somewhat.
“Sedate her.” Layla said for possibly tenth time.
A huff that sent a puff of air into his neck, “Traitor.”
“Hey, when your blood sugar crashes you go whacked out whacko.” Layla said, then to the doctor, “Sedate her.”
“It’s too risky without an examination. She’s bumped her head.” The Doctor, who so far had done nothing to either impress or expunge him in Damien’s mind, “I need to do a cat scan.”
“Here. Here we go.” Jose came running down the hall holding a small box aloft. He stopped in front of them and saw it was a juice box. In his other hand was the iconic Yellow bag of M&M’s
“Peanut!” Andie grabbed the bag of candy and ripped open the bag with her teeth.
“Peanut M&M’s are her favorite.” The woman who’d met them at the hospital explained, a secret smile gracing her mouth.
“You must be Carolyn.”
“And you must be the man who filled my living room with flowers.”
“Adonis – Grandma. Grandma – Adonis” His kitten mumbled around her M&M’s
“Or Damien, if you prefer.”
“Carolyn.” She said with a regal nod.
“Ideally, she shouldn’t eat.” The doctor protested, “If we have to do surgery…”
“Ideally?” Jose cut the doctor off, executing a perfect military pivot, facing the Doctor Juice box still in hand, “Did you say ideally??”
“Oh shit.” Layla backed up until she hit the wall. Layla Markham, whose very name caused The Fugue’s entire security team to break into flop sweats, backed up. This should be interesting.
“Uh-oh.” His kitten whispered, craning her neck to see around his head, “Doc is gonna get it.”
“Ideally.” Jose repeated, his juice box free hand landing on his hip, “Ideally, my dear Doctor, we wouldn’t have driven out to the Deliverance-infested sticks to hack down an evil, flesh-eating tree. Ideally we wouldn’t have had to load that evil tree into the back of a brake-failing, half redneck-trucking Christine wannabe. Ideally we wouldn’t have taken a bone-jarring, near death-defying trip down the mountainside and into a convoy doing 90 on 95. And last, but most certainly not least, ideally Andie’s blood-sugar crashing wouldn’t turn her into a nut-smashing, ball-bashing lunatic but my dear dear Doctor, this is real life.” Jose waved the juice box in an all-encompassing arc, “Real, fucked-up and God as my witness, never–to-happen again-while-I-have-breath-in-my body life. So, sweet-cakes, ” Jose jerked the straw off the side and shoved it in the box, “You work with what you got.”
“I concur.” Carolyn said with utter calm and perfect poise. And though he could see no evidence Damien got the feeling she was laughing her ass off inside.
“Uh well, yes. If she’s calmer….” The doctor shoved a weary hand through his hair.
Jose handed Andie her juice, “Drink it all, Missy.”
Andie took the juice without comment.
Damien pressed the advantage while they had it, “Why don’t I carry her to the exam room?”
With a resigned, “Follow me.” The Doctor led them down the hall.
“Has she always had this type of reaction to blood sugar crashes?” Damien asked
“I believe it started in her early teens.” Carolyn said, “It was quite the shock.”
“Halloween 2006” Layla said from behind them, “What a nightmare.”
“Oh?” He prompted further disclosure, countering the dismissive raspberry His blew over his shoulder.
“She beat the living crap out of Billy Crawford.” Jose said, his chest puffed out like a proud Papa, “Homophobic Jerk.”
“He called Jose a nasty name and tried to take my candy.” Andie explained, dumping the last of the M&Ms in her mouth.
“And you knocked out two of his teeth with your plastic pumpkin head.” Layla said.
He let go of his cheek, “The hell you say.”
“Oh, I say.” He got a loopy sniff, “He was a bully.”
“Now he’s a dentist.” Layla said voice dry or possibly she was just hoarse from screaming.
“See? It was good for him.” The woman in his arms toasted her point with her juice box.
And Damien Alexander Drake III made a decision, “I’m keeping you.”