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Appealed: Chapter 18

The automatic doors to the emergency room slide open and I head straight for the reception desk. “Kennedy Randolph.”

Behind the desk, the dark-haired woman’s mouth hangs open slightly before she recovers. “Um . . . there’s no Kennedy Randolph here.”

She’s lying. Even if she wasn’t bad at it, spotting the automatic tells people do when they’re nervous or hiding something is necessary for my job. This is the second hospital we’ve come to—and the receptionist at the first one wasn’t lying.

One of Jake’s contacts, a private investigator, called him after seeing the whole thing go down. He saw the pretty blond prosecutor get into a dark sedan with government plates, a driver at the wheel. And just a few blocks down the road, at an intersection, he saw that sedan get T-boned by an SUV—and flipped.


Shots fired. FBI on the scene. Flashing lights and sirens. Injuries, medics.

Body bags.

So it’s actually a relief that the receptionist is lying to me; it increases the odds that Kennedy isn’t in one of those bags. Or wasn’t when she got here, anyway.

I lean over the desk. “I know she’s here, and I know why you’re telling me she’s not . . .” My voice wavers and my hands clench with frustration, panic—the urge to tear the hospital apart looking for her, or to go find the fuckers who dared to do this to her and tear them apart. “And you have to let me see her.”

Even before she opens her mouth, I know she’s going to shoot me down. “Sir—”

“I’m her husband.”

It’s not a smart lie; too easy to disprove. But it’ll get me in—or at least get me to someone higher up in the chain who I can convince to let me in.

The desk lady’s face softens. “Just a moment.” She picks up the phone, turning her back to whisper into it.

Stanton, Sofia, and Jake watch me as I pace, fingers locked behind my neck, every muscle tight and straining. After a few minutes, a square-jawed guy wearing deceptively casual jeans and a button-down emerges from the door that leads to the bowels of the hospital. His eyes are quick, observant—but his face is deliberately blank.

“Can I help you?” he asks.

“Kennedy Randolph—” I start.

“Is not here,” he finishes.

“I know she is.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I’m her—”

No, you’re not.”

It takes everything I’ve got not to grab him by the throat and squeeze the answers out. “Are you FBI? Are you with the Marshalls? Your department’s job was security—keeping her safe.” My cheek twitches. “Bang-up job they’re doing, Skippy.”

“I have no information for you. It’s time for you to go. Now.”

“Is she alive?” My voice sounds like a captive who’s been tortured for intel, and is finally broken. “Just give me that, for fuck’s sake.”

I don’t care about the rest—her hair, her face, her arms, her legs—they don’t matter. I’ll love her without them. As long as she’s still breathing. As long as she’s still her.

Stone-face gives me jack shit. “Information on an active case can only be given to immediate family. I’m not confirming that there is an active case, but if there was—you are no one’s immediate family. So I have nothing for you. I won’t be telling you to leave again.”

I move forward, ready to get in his face, but Sofia’s hand on my arm pulls me back. “Come on, Brent. That’s not going to help. Let’s go.”

I let her pull me outside to the sidewalk.

“Fuck!” I push my palms against my eyes. “God fucking damn it!”

Was this what it was like for my parents after my accident? While they waited for the doctor to come out to tell them if I’d made it?

It’s like there’s a hot poker under my ribs, pressing against my stomach, my lungs, my heart. Burning me alive slowly, from the inside.

I drop my hands and turn toward the door. “I’m going back in to talk to that agent. I’ll make him—”

Stanton steps into my path. “You’ll get arrested. Not the way to go, man.”

I grind my jaw so hard the sound echoes in my eardrums.

Jake puts his hand on my shoulder, and his voice is clear and calming. “Brent, pull it together. You have resources: take a breath and call them.”

I’ve always hated assholes who use their money and connections to exert undue influence—and believe me, I’ve known a lot of them. But at this moment, I’ve never been more grateful for my last name. Because it opens doors.

I take my phone out and dial. “Dad? I need your help. Do we know anyone in the U.S. Marshal’s Service?”

When he replies, my eyebrows go up. “The director, huh? That’s convenient. Can you call him for me?”

•  •  •

Ten minutes later, Urban Cowboy walks back into the waiting room. “Brent Mason.”

I stand, but when the four of us move to him, he puts up a hand like a traffic cop. “Just you.”

I’m immediately engulfed in Sofia’s strong embrace. “Call us as soon as you can—let us know how she’s doing.”

“I will.”

Jake squeezes my shoulder, Stanton smacks my back. “Anything you need.”


Then I get into the elevator with Super Cop. As the doors close, he tells me, “She’s all right.”

My lungs collapse. Deflate. Like I’ve been holding my breath for a millennia—waiting to hear those words.

“Broken arm, two cracked ribs, some facial contusions, but nothing serious.”

Okay. She’s injured, but she’ll heal. I’ll help her heal.

Thank you, God.

As the elevator starts to rise, I feel his eyes on me. “My supervisor called, told me to get you upstairs straight away.”

I nod. “Yeah.”

“He said the director called him personally.”

“That sounds about right.”

He pauses for a beat and then asks, “Who the hell are you?”

There’s only one way I can answer. I lower my voice and look him in the eyes. “I’m Batman.”

And he actually cracks a smile. Then the elevator opens on the tenth floor and he leads me down a hallway. There are a few agents milling about, but only one door has an armed guard stationed outside. They nod to each other, the marshal opens the door, and I step in alone.

The lights are low, the blinds closed. Kennedy’s propped up in a hospital bed, her left arm encased in plaster hanging in a sling. I stand there for a minute, reminding myself that she’s alive; looking her over, taking in every mark, every bruise. Her face is a mess—bottom lip split in the middle, caked with black dried blood; her left cheek is scraped raw, already starting to turn purple; the eye above it is swollen completely shut; and there’s a row of stiches at her hairline.

“You’re here.” Her voice is soft—raspy—like her throat is sore.

And then I’m sitting on the bed, cupping the uninjured side of her jaw. She leans into my palm, and my throat strangles so tight I can barely get the words out. “You’re okay?”

She tries to smile, but can’t quite manage it with her lip. Her good eye gazes back at me—that sweet, soft golden brown. “I’m okay.”

My other hand gently—so gently—runs through her hair, over her shoulder, settling on her chest, soaking up the feeling of her heart beating strong and steady beneath it. I swallow hard and my eyelids burn, because she’s my Kennedy and she’s hurt . . . and I could’ve lost her. For good.

“Jesus, Kennedy . . . let me just . . .” I can’t finish. Instead I pull her into my arms, chest to chest. I turn my face into her neck, breathing against her soft skin that still smells like peaches beneath the scent of hospital antiseptic. She’s trembling, so I stroke her hair and rub her back and rock her slowly, resting my lips against her temple.

And I want to stay just like this. Where I know she’s safe because my arms are around her, and I’ll never, ever let anything fucking hurt her again.

“They hit the car hard,” she whispers against my shoulder, her fingers clinging to my bicep. “I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, and we flipped on our side. I saw their feet—I knew they were coming for me.”

I press her closer and have to force myself not to hold her too tight.

Her voice goes shaky and I hear the tears. “And all I could think was that I’d never see you again.” She pulls back just enough so she can look up at me. “That I’d never have the chance to tell you that . . . that I have loved you forever . . .”

The last word comes out on a sob, her face crumbling. “. . . but never as much as I love you right now.”

I wipe her tears away with my thumb, kissing her softly—just a brush against her upper lip. And my voice is steady, solid, with the easiest words I’ve ever said.

“I love you.”

Then I tuck her in against my chest, my chin on the top of her head. “We’re going to have lots of time to say that to each other, Kennedy. Over and over again. Thousands of days to show it.” I kiss her hair. “It’s gonna be sickening.”

She laughs.

And that’s when I know for sure that she’s going to be okay.

•  •  •

A little while later, after a nurse checks in with pain meds and Kennedy’s sucking down some apple juice, I ask about the bastards who went after her.

“The agents shot them. They’re dead.”

“Good.” There’s a dark undercurrent to my voice.

I take the empty juice box from her and put it on the table. She lies back on the pillow, looking sleepy—the medication’s doing its job. She touches her discolored cheek. “You can start calling me Bruiser now—there’s a nickname for you.”

“Bruiser’s a name for someone who gives bruises, not gets them.”

She traces the frown lines on my forehead, smoothing my scowl. “Too soon to joke about it, huh?”

“A millennium isn’t enough time to make this jokeable.”

Before she can reply, a sharp female voice cuts through the closed door.

“Do you think I’m concerned about hospital policy? I don’t care if she already has a visitor, I will see my daughter now!”

Kennedy’s good eye slides closed. “Oh no.”

“Remove yourself from my path or there will be consequences, young man!”

“Oh no.”

Mitzy Randolph steps into the room, looking unusually haggard in an untucked dark blue blouse, black slacks, her pearls askew, her hair falling out of its bun. I’ve never seen Mitzy’s hair not flawlessly styled; I always figured the strands were too terrified to move.

Like a bodyguard, I stand but don’t move an inch from Kennedy’s bedside. Because, mother or no mother, if I hear one backhanded insult, I will lose my shit.

“Hello, Mother,” Kennedy says quietly.

Mitzy’s breathing is shallow as her eyes roam Kennedy’s battered features. She moves forward slowly, as if she’s in a trance. “Oh, Kennedy, your lovely face.”

“It’s all right.” She tries for a stoic grin. “They’re just bruises. Nothing permanent, no scars.”

Her mother’s lip trembles and her eyes fill, then brim over. I’ve never seen Mitzy cry—and from the look on her face, neither has Kennedy.

“My dear, precious girl . . .” Her voice cracks. “. . . what have they done to you?”

Kennedy’s expression goes soft and she looks almost apologetic and at the same time, grateful that her mother actually cares enough to be bothered.

“Don’t cry. I’m okay, really.”

But her mother just shakes her head, weeping quietly.

I gesture to the door. “I’m gonna step outside a minute.”

Kennedy’s eyes flick quickly to me and she nods a silent thank-you.

Before I walk out, I glance back at them. For some people, this is how it works. You have to get smacked right in the face with the possibility of losing something before you wake up and realize how much it means to you.

Mitzy whispers softly and gazes down at her daughter like she’s finally seeing her, not just all the things she wants her to be.

About fucking time.

•  •  •

Out in the hall, I spot the marshal who escorted me to Kennedy’s room and motion him over. “You think they’ll try again?”

His eyes narrow. “As long as there’s money being offered, they might.”

I nod, grab a pen from the nurse’s station, and take a business card out of my pocket. I scribble on the back and hand it to him. “Any security arrangements that need to be made should be made at that address. When she comes home, she’s coming home with me. And I’m keeping her there.”


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