FBI Agent Darsh Singh should have been relaxing at his dad’s house, watching TSN, drinking Smithwicks beer and stuffing his face with leftovers from another gigantic family meal. Instead, he lay stretched out on an exposed rooftop in Virginia, the barrel of a CheyTac LRRS pointed toward a classroom window. The crosshairs of his Leupold scope fixed squarely on the woman holding a Glock-22 to a hostage’s head after a bank robbery across the street had gone horribly wrong. Her back was to the western wall of the building in a corner of the room as far away from any doors or windows as she could get. It was a good defensive position, but he’d managed to find an overwatch a half-kilometer away that gave him the angle he needed to get eyes inside.
Reports said there’d originally been two attackers. One had been shot and killed along with one of the students, leaving a lone female with nothing to lose. A teacher had been taken hostage, and sixteen grade nine kids were locked in the supply closet. The hostage sported a sharp blue suit and a nifty black hood. The hostage-taker wrapped her arm around the man’s neck and whispered in his ear. A ring with a diamond the size of Arkansas glittered from the third finger of her left hand.
Why was she here? Obviously not for the money.
She was a pretty brunette with short hair and elfin eyes and looked way too sweet to be doing what she was doing. Darsh shifted his legs to better support his weight. A better question might be what was he doing here? The wind blew like a knife-edge across his skin. He swore to God if it started raining, he was pulling the trigger, hostage or no freaking hostage.
HRT’s job was to save lives, but once negotiations broke down, they concerned themselves with killing perpetrators as quickly and efficiently as possible. Not wounding or disarming. To neutralize the threat, which meant making sure the bad guy was one hundred percent dead with zero chance of ever getting back up again. A lot of civilians didn’t get that.
Can’t you just shoot the gun out of his hand?
Who did they think he was? John Fucking Wayne?
His sisters were the worst. He loved them, but they were delusional. They called him bloodthirsty, but what if the attacker had explosives? Wounding them gave the bastards the opportunity to hurt more people. He’d spent time with some of these assholes, and they only cared about taking as many innocents with them as possible. It was his sisters he mentally placed in danger next to the target, and it made pulling the trigger a no-brainer.
Wound them, my ass. Aim for center mass every time.
Did that make him a vicious killer?
A killer—definitely. Vicious? Not on your life.
The face of a man he’d killed in Baghdad flashed into his mind. Nine hundred yards. Head shot because that’s all he could see of the bastard trying to nail his fellow Marines. One shot. One kill. He pushed the image aside. The dead had a habit of doing that. Popping up out of nowhere to live their last breath over and over again in his memory.
In his peripheral vision, he saw the HRT team lining up to enter the building. About damned time. His nuts were like ice cubes. His dick was probably the size of a swizzle stick.
HRT formed a diamond with four men and moved forward using a crouched cat-walk that covered ground quickly and efficiently. The chatter on the radio told him the building was surrounded and secure. The team went in. Darsh kept his scope on the classroom window where he could help end this thing. He’d already adjusted for height, windage, and humidity.
He tempered his breathing, let his heart rate settle. The woman’s chin tilted as if she heard the shuffle of footsteps coming for her, but the hostage still obscured most of her face and body. Darsh’s finger curled around the trigger, like a lover stroking a G-spot. From what he could see of her expression, the woman looked positively smug. The metal of his HOG’s tooth necklace burned against his skin.
Something wasn’t right…
He figured it out just as HRT smashed in the door and cleared the fatal funnel. Things started to unroll in slow-mo as the plan went to shit. HRT were so focused on the woman and her hostage they ignored the supposedly dead bad guy on the floor who hadn’t so much as twitched in over an hour. Darsh couldn’t get a bead on him but saw the guy’s feet move and heard shots. He knew HRT had made an error they were going to regret. But the woman was his target, and she’d shifted to keep her human shield in place while her companion took out the good guys. Darsh had a clear view of her now. The sniper’s mantra ran through his mind—slow, smooth, straight, steady, and squeeze—and he put a bullet through her brain.
He grinned as Agent Mallory Rooney’s shoulders hunched, and the smug smile left her face. Man, she looked pissed. The hostage pulled his hood off and their boss, Lincoln Frazer, had a sardonic grin on his face, like he wasn’t surprised by the outcome. A moment later, Alex Parker came to the window and searched the gray dawn, but Darsh was too far away and too well hidden to be seen. HRT guys were chewing up the radio. All four men on the assault team were dead and, although one suspect had been eliminated, the greater threat was obviously still alive and kicking, ready to kill the teacher and all those kids locked in the storeroom.
HRT were going to be livid—beaten in a training op by a behavioral analyst and a former CIA operative.
Darsh was also officially BAU-4, on loan to HRT for this exercise because their regular sniper had broken his ankle fast roping off a helicopter that morning. Darsh had only come into work to pick up a few files and some equipment for a trip to Boston. The fact he’d been the one to eliminate one of the hostage-takers while the advance team had been annihilated wasn’t going to make the HRT boys any happier.
He belly crawled out of position and handed the rifle to one of his buddies, who was glaring at him, narrow-eyed. Darsh gave him a salute. “Good seeing you, Jordy.”
He jogged down the six flights of stairs to the ground level and then over to where the action was. His BAU-4 colleagues were standing near the bank on Hogan’s Alley where this exercise had officially started a little over an hour ago. Darsh winced as he glanced over to where HRT were getting reamed by their CO, Supervisory Special Agent Kurt Montana, AKA “Joe.”
Mallory Rooney rolled her eyes when she saw Darsh, then a slow grin spread over her features. “You shot me.”
“You gave me the opportunity, Agent Rooney.”
Alex Parker stood off to one side, eyeing him with a neutral expression, but he was a little overprotective of his new fiancée, something HRT had just learned, to their cost. Hopefully he didn’t take it personally that Darsh had put a virtual bullet in Rooney’s brain.
They’d been playing a glorified version of laser-tag that the guys in R&D had wanted to test. The ballistic characteristics of the weapons were all programmed and computerized, and the players each wore vests that contained positional information and earpieces that did the same. R&D wanted to build a simulator system that would be accurate within a half-inch for rookie training and dissemination to law enforcement in general. Darsh knew the military would be watching closely too, although there was nothing like live fire to get the blood moving.
“Anyone manage to get Parker before they died?” Darsh asked.
The man in question developed a sudden fascination with a crow making a racket in a nearby tree.
Frazer shook his head. “One of them got a shot off, but he missed. The others all died before they hit the ground.” Grooves etched his mouth. Despite the obvious happiness to have come out on top of this training op, the guy looked tired. Actually, Darsh thought, taking a closer look at all three of them, they all looked knackered.
They’d caught a hot one two days before Christmas when the physicist Scarlett Stone had stirred up the hornets nest at the Russian embassy. They were still dealing with the aftermath and playing catch-up with their normal caseload, even though it was supposed to be a federal holiday. Darsh had missed most of the excitement because he’d taken off early to see his father and sisters down in Florida.
SSA Montana finished tongue-lashing his men and stomped over with a look that would have made a rookie recruit need a new pair of pants. “You brought in a ringer,” he accused Frazer.
“You never know who’s on the end of a bad situation,” Frazer argued.
Montana snorted. “Cybercrime expert? My ass.”
Alex dug into a pocket and handed him his company card. Montana looked surprised. Parker was indeed a cybercrime expert, although from what Darsh understood, he’d taken a backseat in the company to consult with the FBI.
“Well, you did good work,” Montana said grudgingly as he looked each of them in the eye. When he got to Darsh, he frowned. “Can’t believe you’re still hanging around with these guys.”
HRT regularly tried to poach him and Matt Lazlo—another member of BAU-4 and a former Navy SEAL—to their ranks. Darsh had a feeling they’d be after a certain cybercrime expert next.
“BAU-4 just beat you at your own game,” Frazer reminded him.
“Too much fucking eggnog over Christmas.” One side of Montana’s mouth twitched. “I could tell you most of our more experienced guys are still on vacation, but I don’t want to make excuses. They dropped their guard and got sloppy. I’m about to fix that.”
“We still kicked your ass,” Frazer muttered with a smirk.
Darsh figured these guys must be old friends.
“You have a team full of former Marines and SEALs.” His eyes shifted to Parker. “And what were you? Army?”
“Hardly a typical bunch of analysts.”
Darsh knew Parker had a Distinguished Service Cross tucked away somewhere, but he never mentioned the medal or anything else about himself. The guy was ridiculously accurate with a firearm at close-quarters, which was where the real danger lay for most FBI agents. A recent study suggested in 75% of incidents where shots were exchanged, the distance between the players was less than three yards.
“Don’t forget me. I went to law school,” Mallory volunteered brightly. Despite the sunny smile, she looked pale.
“Sharks, the lot of you,” Montana muttered with a grin. They all laughed. Montana rubbed the back of his neck. “My guys want to go again. You up for another drill?”
Rooney yawned, and Parker shook his head. “We have to get back to DC.”
“Me, too. I have to catch a flight to Boston.” Though honestly, no way was he spending more time freezing his nuts off for “fun.”
Montana shook hands with them all and went to tear more strips off his men.
“Wanna ride to the airport?” Rooney asked him.
It was a little early but would save leaving his bucar in long term parking as he had no idea when he’d be back. “Thanks. Give me ten minutes to grab my gear.”
He jogged away, his mind already on his next case and the next set of victims.
Mallory let Alex drive even though they’d taken her car today—a brand-new BMW X3 he’d given her for Christmas. It was a little flashy, but considering his love of sports cars, she was just grateful it had more than two seats. Of course, they’d need extra room for the baby… Her hand went to her slightly rounded stomach.
It was hard to believe there was a baby in there.
It terrified her and at the same time, she couldn’t wait to be a mom. But what did she know about being a mother? Nothing. Every single pregnant woman on Earth was probably struck by the same knuckle-biting whirlwind of terror and elation.
She glanced at Alex—then again, maybe not.
She yawned as he backed them out of the parking space. Tiredness dragged at her bones like barbed hooks weighted with lead. Even though she was supposed to go to dinner at her mother’s followed by a New Year’s party at a friend’s house, bed was calling. She’d spent most of the day on her feet and the “holidays” had been full of all-nighters, racing between West Virginia, Quantico, and DC, with a quick trip to Colorado thrown in for good measure. Even though it had been exhausting, she’d been proud to have played a part in exonerating former FBI Agent Richard Stone. The man had spent fourteen long years in prison. The idea that the federal government had fallen for the well-orchestrated deception that had put him there was scary. They’d given up on one of their own and left him to rot.
Scarlett Stone’s quest to free her father had reminded Mallory of herself when she’d been searching for her sister’s abductor. The inability to let it drop until she got to the truth.
The lamps from the parking lot bathed Alex’s handsome profile in bright light. Mallory still couldn’t believe they were together, that they’d found a way to make their relationship work.
His past was one deception she hoped never came to light.
He’d said there were no loose ends, but what if he was wrong? What if their friend Lucas Randall put the pieces together and figured out it was Alex who’d killed the serial killer, Edgar P. Meacher, on that cold day in North Carolina last November? It was at times like this, when she was limp from both mental and physical exhaustion, that the worry snuck up on her. It was something she had to live with.
As if sensing her concern, Alex put a hand on her knee and squeezed. “You okay?”
The touch was warm and reassuring. She put her hand over his and linked fingers. “Just tired.”
He pulled up as close to the building that housed the BAU as he could get and waited as Darsh Singh loaded his rifle case and a carryon bag into the rear compartment. Then he climbed in the back. “Thanks for the ride.”
“No problem.” Mallory was still getting to know her fellow behavioral analysts and was honored to work as part of their team. Darsh had been out of the office more often than not, but he’d always been friendly. Compared to the sneering disdain she got from Moira Henderson on a daily basis, made worse by her strong relationship with their boss, Lincoln Frazer, everyone was friendly. “I didn’t know you were a sniper.”
“I did three years in the Marine Corp. Didn’t pick up a gun until boot camp and then discovered it was the love of my life.” His grin flashed bright against his tanned brown skin.
“Is that why you brought your girlfriend along with you on a job?” Mallory teased, referring to the rifle he’d packed to take to Boston.
He rubbed the back of his neck in a self-conscious motion. “It’s a perishable skill that I like to maintain. And it’s how I relax after a day spent knee-deep in depravity. How often do you practice?”
Mallory felt an ache in her back and squirmed in her seat. “More often than I used to now I’m with Alex.” She liked shooting, but she wasn’t obsessed by it the way he was.
“What about you?” Darsh asked Alex. “Where’d you learn to shoot like that?
Everyone knew Alex had mad skills with a handgun. His previous occupation had utilized those skills very effectively. Even though he’d given up the dark side, he still went to the range every day he could.
“My grandfather taught me when I was a kid,” he said, surprising her. Mallory flashed him a look, and he gave her a little smile. “What?”
“I didn’t know that,” she admitted.
“Anything you want to know, just ask,” Alex told her.
The subtext was clear. No more secrets. No more lies.
The miles were flying by. The traffic wasn’t too heavy yet, even though it was New Year’s Eve. “You spent Christmas in Florida?” Alex asked Darsh.
“Yeah, I took a week and worked on my tan.” Darsh pulled up his sleeves as if admiring the color of his skin. “Actually I did hit the beach to escape my sisters when they decided to try to set me up with every single woman they know in a twenty-mile radius of Key Biscayne.”
“They must be thinking you’re getting old and need to settle down,” Mallory teased.
Darsh laughed. “I’m not looking for a relationship right now.”
Alex grunted. “Trust me, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking or not. If it happens, it happens.” He shot her a look so full of love and lust she was glad Darsh couldn’t see his expression.
Man, she was sleepy. “I’d love to be on the beach right about now.”
Alex shot her a surprised look. “Why didn’t you say so?”
She put her hand on his thigh and squeezed. “I didn’t even think about it until Darsh mentioned sun and sand. Now I’m thinking it sounds divine.” The fact she was thinking of a vacation, finally, after all the years she’d spent hunting her sister’s killer was a miracle in itself. Maybe she would figure out how to fill her life without that driving force. Another twinge in her midsection reminded her she’d soon have other things to worry about.
“After what you’ve been through you deserve some time off,” Alex told her.
God, she loved this guy, even when he tried to boss her around.
“Talk to Frazer tomorrow.”
“Maybe.” The sky had darkened to the black of a bruise. “What are you working on in Boston?” she asked Darsh.
“Suspected white slave ring. Classic luring people into the country with the promise of a job. A girl walked into a cop shop saying she’d escaped a brothel, but the cops turned her away.”
“Seriously?” Mallory asked.
“She was a homeless addict.” A shadow passed over Darsh’s features. “They started to take her more seriously when she turned up dead with a 9 mm between her ears, but by then she had less to say.”
“That’s too bad.” Mallory shifted uncomfortably as a stabbing pain cut into her midsection. She looked down, and the axis of her whole world shifted.
“Alex,” she shrieked.
He glanced at her in alarm. Then looked down.
Blood. Alex almost swerved off the road when he realized Mallory’s jeans were soaked with crimson.
Darsh had his seat belt off and was leaning forward between the seats. “What’s wrong?”
Mallory turned her ashen face toward him. “The baby. I think I’m losing the baby.”
“Pull over,” Darsh ordered.
Alex’s heart was beating so violently he thought he might be having a heart attack.
Darsh’s fingers bit into his arm, hard. “She needs to be horizontal. Pull over and let her climb in the back.”
Alex struggled to breathe. He checked the mirrors and pulled to the side of the road, trying to be as smooth and gentle as possible for Mal when what he really wanted was to rush screaming into the nearest hospital.
He put the car in park and jumped out to help the woman who meant more to him than every cell in his body. Darsh Singh was already there, lifting Mal into his arms and sliding her into the back of the SUV. “Lie down, Mal. Get in there with her, Parker,” the FBI agent ordered him.
Alex shook his head. “I’ll drive.”
“She needs you with her. I’ll drive.” Darsh bundled him into the car.
His heart buzzed, the feeling of helplessness almost overwhelming. Alex could fix most things, but not this. He dragged the seatbelt around her even as she lay down, and then he knelt on the floor beside her. He swept her short dark hair off her forehead. Her eyes were huge, thin golden bands encircling dilated pupils. Her hands clasped his in a bear-trap grip.
“I don’t want to lose this baby, Alex,” she whispered.
Emotion tore through him. He didn’t want to lose the baby either, but more importantly, he didn’t want to lose her. The SUV veered away from the curb, and he was thrown to the side and forced to hold on to the door.
“You know where the nearest hospital is?” he shouted at Darsh.
“Yup. Hang on.” The federal agent didn’t hold back on the gas, but he was careful of traffic too. The last time Alex had felt this powerless he’d been stuck in a Moroccan prison. He’d happily go back if it meant Mal and the baby would be okay.
His gaze never left Mallory’s. Her fingers never let up on their relentless grip.
After a couple of minutes, Darsh pulled off the highway and a few seconds later, the car screeched to a halt in front of the Sentara Northern Medical Center. Alex lifted Mallory out of the car and headed toward the ER. Darsh locked the SUV and rushed ahead of them, scouting for a gurney.
Two nurses hustled forward to help and tried to whisk Mal away from Alex as Darsh explained the problem. Mallory had gone ghostly pale, and tears pooled in her eyes. Her thighs were soaked in blood.
Emotion clogged his throat. “I’m not leaving her.”
“You have to let us examine her.” The nurse was trying to make him let go of Mal’s hand.
“Come on, buddy, let’s go fill out the paperwork while they get Mal settled.” Darsh dragged him away and pushed him over to reception.
Alex’s throat was closed so tight he could barely breathe. He’d never been this scared. Not even when Mallory had faced down her sister’s killer alone in those West Virginian woods.
Darsh took Alex’s wallet from his pocket and pulled out his medical insurance card. Alex stared down the corridor where they’d taken the only thing that mattered to him. A few minutes later, Darsh led him into a chair in the waiting room. “Sit.”
Alex sat and Darsh disappeared, presumably to move the SUV away from the entrance of the ER. Alex stared down the corridor, feeling like his skin was crawling off his bones. Was this God’s punishment for what he’d done? Divine retribution for taking the lives of others? They’d been bad people, but that didn’t mean he had the right to decide whether or not they lived or died.
Fuck. He’d do anything. Anything at all as long as Mal and the baby survived. He wouldn’t be able to live in a world without her.
He sat there, eyes glued to the last place he’d seen her. He was about to stand up and go find her when someone sat heavily in the chair beside him.
“News?” Darsh asked.
Alex shook his head. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. The waiting was killing him. Where the hell was the doctor? Where the hell was Mal? His jaw was clenched so tight he heard it crack and didn’t care.
A female doctor came around the corner. He jerked to his feet and strode toward her, Darsh a shadow at his side.
“She okay?” asked Darsh.
Alex stood mute, unable to utter a word.
The doctor nodded to Darsh. “Mr. Parker?”
“No.” Alex’s voice finally emerged, deep and agonized. “I’m Parker.”
She turned to him. “Mr. Parker, your fiancée has suffered some blood loss, but it’s not as bad as it probably looked. She’s stable. We’re going to run some tests to locate the problem, but the most important thing is that she rests.”
“The baby?” He pushed the words past the blockage in his throat.
“We need to make sure the fetus is viable.”
He flinched at the word “fetus.” He understood it was a medical term, but that fetus had only ever been a baby to him. “I want to see her. Now.”
The doctor sent Darsh an uncertain look. Alex could only imagine what she saw on his face, but he needed to see the woman he loved with his own eyes. “Please.”
“We’re finding her a room and still have some tests to run—”
His vision went blurry, and he realized there were tears in his eyes. Shit. When was the last time he’d cried?
“Give the guy a break, Doc. He just wants to hold his girl’s hand through this. It’s his baby too.” Darsh argued for him.
The doctor pressed her lips together, then let out a resigned sigh. “I’ll take you to her. But you can not excite her in any way.”
“And here’s me planning to ask her for a game of tennis,” Darsh muttered under his breath as they followed the doctor’s swiftly moving footsteps.
“I should have made her rest more. I should have made her stay home today.” Alex felt like he could barely breathe. Jesus.
“That’s guilt talking. There’s no way a man can make a woman do a damn thing she doesn’t want to and you know it. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent this. Even if she loses the baby these things happen. It sucks, but it isn’t anyone’s fault so don’t go in there saying you should have done this or should have done that. It’s going to suck, but let it suck without either of you blaming yourselves for what is basically a biological flaw.”
The doctor turned her head and gave them a somber smile. “What he said.” Her eyes raked the FBI agent up and down with a speculative gleam. “Smart man.”
Alex’s skin went cold.
No way would he want to make Mal feel bad. Whatever happened, he would support her. He’d be there for her. As long as she was okay. They’d be okay.
The doctor stopped outside a room and knocked before entering. Darsh squeezed Alex’s shoulder as he walked past him into the room.
Mallory lay prone on the bed, her skin so pale it was almost translucent. She was dressed in a blue hospital gown, and a monitor was attached to her stomach and her arm.
“Hey,” she said with a smile, then burst into tears.
He strode to her side, calmer now he was with her. He held her hand. The heartbeat in his ears was almost as fast as that on the monitor.
“Baby has a heartbeat. They’re running a Kleihhauer-Betke test to see which one of us is bleeding.” Her voice was calm, but her grip on his hand intensified. “Then they’re going to do an ultrasound to check for Placenta Previa.”
“You need anything?” he asked her, kissing her fingers and wishing he didn’t feel so goddamned useless.
“I’ll go get you both a drink from the vending machine.” Darsh turned on his heel and left them alone.
Alex rested his head against her thigh. “Please, please don’t ever scare me like that again.”
She ran her hand over his scalp. “I love you, Alex Parker.” She swallowed noisily. “Our baby is going to be okay. I know it.”
He nodded. He didn’t know if it was true or not, but he’d believe it for her sake.
Darsh came back with three drinks, but the doctor wouldn’t allow Mallory to have hers in case she needed to go into surgery. Instead, she got to suck on ice chips.
Two hours later, the tests came back. No sign of anything seriously wrong with the baby or with Mal. The band around Alex’s chest started to loosen. The doctors were keeping her overnight, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
He went to find Darsh to tell him the news. He was reading case files out in the hallway. Alex checked his watch. “You should go. Take the car, and you still have time to catch your flight. I’ll get someone to pick it up from the airport tomorrow.”
The agent shook his head. “I’ll drive you both when you’re ready to go home.”
“Docs want her to stay overnight. I’ll be here, too.” He gave the guy a grim smile, grateful this man he barely knew had gotten him through one of the worst hours of his life.
Darsh stood and stretched. “Glad I could help. I’m just sorry you both had to go through this.”
Mal had refused to let him call her relatives, friends, or co-workers. Not until she was being discharged.
They shook hands.
“If there’s ever anything you ever need…” Alex offered.
Darsh shook his head and pulled the car keys from his pants pocket. “Mallory’s one of my teammates—it’s what we do. I’m just sorry I shot her in the head earlier.”
“Hell of a shot.” Alex had been pissed he’d failed to protect Mallory even during something as harmless as a training op. But it was a useful lesson, and he always learned from his lessons. Alex paused, then decided to spill it. “I’m sorry about what happened to your mother.”
Darsh’s black gaze narrowed. “You really ran background checks on everyone at BAU?”
Alex winced. “I have trust issues.”
“Obviously.” A slow curve stretched the FBI agent’s lips, then he sobered. “My mother chose a path that didn’t include me. Or my family. I’m over it.”
Alex had a feeling it was more complicated than that, but he nodded. “I still owe you.”
“You don’t owe me anything except a stiff drink next time I’m in town.” Darsh hiked a brow and picked up his work files. “Oh, and making sure that woman stays off her feet and figures out how to take it easy for the next few months.”
“I’m going to make it my life’s mission.”
“Yeah, good luck with that.” Darsh gave him a friendly punch on the arm and walked away.
Alex went back to see Mallory.
The radiographer was just pouring gel on Mallory’s stomach. “Let’s take a look, shall we?”
Mal’s color was better, and the dark shadows beneath her eyes vanished when the image of a tiny figure appeared on the screen. Alex’s knees wobbled, and he collapsed to the chair as he made out eyes and ears, two arms and two tiny legs. It was the first time he’d seen their baby.
“He or she should be about the size of a lime now.” The woman took some onscreen measurements. “Everything looks fine on the development front.” She adjusted the probe on Mal’s stomach, and the baby squirmed.
“Did you see that?” Mallory’s bright eyes met his briefly before turning back to the screen.
“They look like you do when I wake you up in the morning.”
She stuck her tongue out at him, and he laughed. The tech turned off the machine but printed off a photo for them to have. When she left, Mal stared at the image for a long moment and then handed it to him. “So you get to carry him or her around with you, too.”
He held it tight, then closed his eyes and pressed his face into the sheets beside her leg. All the emotion of the last few hours washed over him. “Jesus, Mal. I thought I’d lost you both.” He had no clue how he’d ever survive something like that. He wouldn’t. They may as well dig a deeper grave and save themselves some trouble.
She stroked his head, even though he was the one who was supposed to be comforting her. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, you know.”
He gripped her wrist. “I never want to get rid of you. You’re part of me. The only part that matters.”
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Alex Parker.”
He felt her move as if to sit up, and he lifted his head and shook it. “You’re not getting up for any reason, sweetheart.”
“For how long?”
She raised a brow. “Doctor said I needed a few days’ rest.”
“A few days’ complete bed rest, then two weeks of taking it easy until you’re out of your first trimester.”
Her eyes widened. “I’ll go insane.”
“You can read some of those books you’re always complaining you never get to.”
She tilted her head. “I could read case files and do some work on my laptop.”
He blew out a big breath. “I’m going to buy one of those motorized beds and a laptop stand that means you can work lying down. If the doctor says it’s okay.”
“Deal.” Her hands covered her stomach. “I don’t want to put junior in danger, but I really think I just need to rest for a few days.” Her smile hit him like a champagne cork. “I was thinking that if it’s a girl, we should name her Evelyn after your mom. And if it’s a boy, we should name him George after your grandfather.”
He fought hard to kill the tears that blurred his vision and push past the stranglehold his larynx had on his tongue. But there was nothing he could say to the generosity of that offer, to honor his family that way. He leaned down and took her mouth with his, wishing he could wrap her and the baby up in a cocoon of safety where nothing bad could ever touch them. He knew it wasn’t possible. But he’d do his damnedest to keep them as safe as humanly possible.
She kissed him back, tangling her tongue with his until he wanted to crawl into bed with her. They finally broke apart.
“Better check with the doc about when we can have sex because I can definitely do that horizontal,” she said, sounding breathless.
“Although vertical works too, if I remember correctly.”
Her lips curved warmly. “True.” She exhaled deeply. “Where’s Darsh?”
“Not sure I like that segue.”
She gave him a look.
“I told him to go catch his plane.”
“So you forgave him for shooting me earlier?”
Alex snorted. “I had planned to wipe his entire online computer history, but I changed my mind.”
“You did good, Alex.” She patted his hand and yawned widely.
“Go to sleep, Mal.”
“What do you think?” he growled.
Her smile grew soft. “We love you, Alex Parker.”
“I know.” He leaned down and kissed her mouth again. “I love you more.”
Her fingers squeezed his, then slowly relaxed as she finally fell asleep. He got up, closed the door, and turned off the light. He sat in the darkness, keeping the vigil until dawn broke over the eastern sky and Mallory opened her eyes again.
Her loving smile of recognition hit him in the gut every single time. He let out a sigh of relief. They’d made it another day. Loving someone as much as he loved Mallory was never going to be easy, especially with his history. But each day was a gift, and he intended to make sure they both enjoyed every moment.
Read Darsh Singh’s story in COLD HEARTED
Copyright © 2016 Toni Anderson. All rights reserved.