But she wasn’t a child anymore. And Mercer’s word wasn’t law, even if he wanted it to be. “Genevieve planned it all. I thought…I thought I could help her. That she needed me.”
“But she was just trying to use you in order to get to me.” A muscle flexed along his jaw. “It had to be the agents I sent to guard you. She figured out what—who—you were because of them. She traced them back to me. I put you at risk, the same way I always have. First Marguerite, then you.” His hands tightened on her. “I never wanted to hurt either of you.”
His voice had broken at the end.
She’d never seen him broken.
“After your mother was killed, I tried so hard, I swear I did. I tried so hard to protect you. But I just made a prison for you—one that you couldn’t escape.”
Because guards had always been there.
Men and women who’d jumped at Mercer’s command.
“I don’t know how to open the prison. I don’t know what to do.”
Mercer didn’t know?
“I do.” She straightened her shoulders. “You just let me go.”
His head bowed. “I want you to be safe.” A ragged breath escaped him. “And I want you happy.”
She was as far from happy as she could possibly get. Grief was a knife in her gut, twisting and cutting away at her. The waiting room was empty—just her and Mercer. She had no idea how he’d arranged that. Mercer and his strings.
They sat together. The silence was thick and hard.
She couldn’t keep her eyes off those operating room doors. “Tell me again that he’ll be okay.”
“He will be.”
She wanted to believe him. Mercer could move mountains. Once she’d thought her father could make anything happen.
But he hadn’t been able to keep her mother alive.
Cassidy licked her dry lips. “I didn’t mean to love him.”
“I know.” His shoulder brushed hers. “We can’t control who we love. You will be able to tell him…soon.”
Cassidy nodded, and she prayed that he was right.
* * *
CALE HURT. The pain pulsed through him in waves that wouldn’t end.
“He’s coming around, Doctor. Should we—”
Cale’s hand flew out. He grabbed hold of the person talking, and the man’s voice broke off.
His throat burned as Cale rasped, “Cass…”
“Sir, we just removed the tube from your throat. You need to calm down.”
Forget calm. His hold tightened. His eyelids were heavy, and he struggled to lift them. Had the jerks taped them down? “Cass…”
“Sir, just calm—”
No tape. He finally managed to crack open his eyes. “Want…Cas…sidy…” His voice was stronger, more a snarl than anything else.
The guy he was holding tried to pull free.
“Mr. Lane!” Another voice. Snapping.
Was he supposed to be impressed by some doctor’s snap?
Need Cassidy. Was she all right? The last thing he remembered was the gunfire.
He’d tried to stop Genevieve before she could hurt Cassidy.
“We just spent hours stitching you back up. You’re damn lucky your spine wasn’t damaged. Now stop struggling before you undo all my work!”
If they’d get Cassidy, he’d stop. “Cass…”
“Yes, yes, I get it. You need Ms. Sherridan. We’ll get her, okay? But first, calm down or we’ll strap you down.”
They’d better not.
He eased his hold on the man. Footsteps raced away.
The doctor’s face came into focus as he leaned over Cale. “Mercer told me you’d be like this.”
Cale couldn’t do more than bare his teeth in a grimace.
“He also told me that you’d pull through, no matter what.”
Sinking into that black oblivion of darkness hadn’t been an option. Not when he had Cassidy waiting for him in the light.
If she was waiting.
“Don’t worry,” the doctor told him. “Your Cassidy is fine.”
Then the doors flew open and banged against the wall.
No voice had ever been sweeter, even if it was clogged with tears. He turned his head. Saw Cassidy standing in that doorway, with Mercer just a few feet behind her.
Cassidy rushed toward him. Her face was too pale, her eyes too wide. He hated for her to be afraid.
Especially when that fear was for him.
“He’s lucky to be okay,” the doctor muttered, plenty loud enough for him to overhear. “If that bullet had been another inch over, he would have—”
Cassidy’s lips shook.
“Out!” Mercer’s order. “You can tell me outside, Dr. Longtree.”
Then Mercer dragged the guy away, barking an order for the male nurse to stay in the room and keep an eye on Cale.
Cale stared up at Cassidy. She was inches away but not touching him. That wasn’t good enough. “Closer.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to hurt you.” But then she crept a little bit closer, as if she couldn’t help herself. Her fingers, soft and light, feathered over his arm.
His heartbeat started to calm down. Cassidy soothed him. Cassidy made him feel at peace.
He studied her a moment. Machines were beeping around him, the nurse was trying to blend in with the wall and Cassidy had dried tear tracks on her cheeks. “Is Genevieve…dead?” A blunt question, but one that had to be asked.
“Yes.” Cassidy licked her lips. “She’s gone.”
And he’d been the one to kill her. “She was going to…shoot you. I remember that…. I had to take the shot….”
“What else do you remember?” Her fingers had stilled over his arm.
“The sound of gunshots. A scream.” Cassidy’s?
Was there something? The hesitation in her voice told him that there was.
Her lashes lowered, then lifted so that her gaze could hold his. He loved her eyes—so deep and green and shining with emotion. So—
“You told me that you loved me.”
The machines beeped a little louder.
“Don’t tell me it was the blood loss or delirium or anything like that.” Her voice had sharpened. Her eyes narrowed. “Because I’ll know that you’re lying to me.”
He didn’t want to lie to her.
Cassidy’s shoulders straightened. “You said you loved me because you thought you were going to die, and you didn’t want to pass without telling me.”