Xavier Thorne, former SEAL and chief of medicine at New Hope Hospital, buries his turbulent past safely where it could no longer touch him—until Jane Doe’s case resurrects the whispers and doubts haunting him, until his every moment is consumed with bringing her back from the brink of death, with the hope of getting answers that may just free them both from the demons of the past.
Laramie Caine, reformed wild child, finally stumbles on danger she can’t handle, the fire hot enough that it almost costs her everything including her life. Her need to get well to return to the daughter she’s left behind ignites a furious will to live. The voice in the dark spurs her on, and when she wakes up and finds that voice is none other than the doctor who saved her, she’s tempted to be reckless just one more time, and gamble with a real shot at losing her heart.
The clock is ticking while the enemy lies in wait. As Laramie’s strength grows, the bond between doctor and patient evolves into a stunning bond capable of thawing Xavier’s frozen heart. When the enemy draws near, Xavier must take a side in the war between taking life and saving it. The time is here where he must decide if he’s the SEAL to protect her or the man to put her back together after her final dance with the Devil, hoping there are enough pieces to stitch together one last time.
Xavier sat in the corner of Laramie’s hospital room, his eyes fixed on her heartbeat spiking on the monitor, seventy-two beats per minute. For what had to be the hundredth time, he asked himself what the hell he was doing there. Watching. Waiting.
Harmony lay next to her, in a bed of her own, the side rails between them lowered so Laramie didn’t have to let go of her hand.
He glanced away, doing his best to keep those small gestures from clouding his perspective. He’d seen that kind of devotion and love before, that need for connection, and still, no matter how strong the loyalty, selfish desires overrode any sense of honor and protective instinct, leading to disaster.
How much would Laramie give up to protect her daughter?
He’d stopped by earlier to check on her, and although her face was pinched with pain, she passed on anything stronger than ibuprofen for her discomfort so she could spend every minute possible with Harmony. Her focus had been on talking with her little girl, despite the roomful of people surrounding them, and although he had doubts, he had to respect that.
Not ready to concede just yet, he had to admit that the chances of her being on the wrong side of the baby mill her husband had been involved with became slimmer and slimmer with every glimpse of her as a mother. Lucas had written off the possibility altogether, but Xavier still wondered.
Or maybe he was kidding himself and instead he was grasping at anything to keep him from getting too close. To keep him from finding some sort of peace inside himself.
Deep down, here in the darkness, he could admit that he didn’t deserve peace. He hadn’t been there for his own family. He’d neglected the two people who mattered most in his world, and he’d paid the ultimate price.
It didn’t matter that he’d neglected them for his job. For his SEAL team. For missions assigned by the US government. All that mattered now was that the two hearts he cared about the most in this world were forever silent, leaving him wondering how to divvy up the blame.
Let it go, man. She’s not Sarah.
“You’ve been in here before sitting with me while I slept, haven’t you?” Laramie rasped.
His skin prickled, the hair rose on his neck, and heat flooded his cheeks. Glancing down at his watch and then up to her monitors, he tried to make it like he was in there to check on her vitals. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Nice try, Doc, but you’ve got one of those voices, and I remember you talking to me,” she said as she tucked Harmony’s hand under her blanket and reached behind her to shift her bedding.
“Here, I’ll get that,” he said, joining her to support her back while he adjusted her pillow. “Better?”
“Yes, thank you.” Her eyes tracked him as reached for his jacket that lay over the rail at the foot of her bed. “You don’t have to leave.”
“I just came in to check on your vitals,” he lied. Truth was, he didn’t know why the hell he couldn’t walk away from her, from her case. At first, he’d been determined to make sure she survived. Then his focus had shifted to doing everything in his power to make sure she healed well without needing extensive surgeries to fix the damage.
And he’d succeeded. The purple and black bruises that had covered her entire face and part of her scalp had morphed into sickly green and yellow, then finally faded away, leaving porcelain skin behind. With a few more weeks, the slight puffiness would slip away, leaving her skin almost unmarred other than the few thin scars where her skin had broken open in remarkably straight lacerations.
She’d gotten away with her life and her beauty intact. Hell, even the slight swelling didn’t look like swelling. If anything, it took a few years off her face and made her look like she’d just graduated high school at most.
“Checking my vitals with nowhere to write them down?” she asked, raising her eyebrow.
“I have a good memory,” he said quickly. Too quickly.
“Don’t nurses usually check vitals?” she asked, the skepticism in her voice thick as she continued to prod at him.
She wasn’t going to make this easy, and despite all of his questions and doubts, he wanted to see how far she would go and how much he’d be willing to admit to her in return. “I’m a hands-on doctor.”
She shook her head and let out a laugh. “You’re a terrible liar.”
He sighed, glanced down at her, and reluctantly smiled. “Tell me about it.”
“Harmony told me about you, about what you did. Thank you,” she said. She reached for his hand and took it between her own, casting a quick glance down at her daughter.
He froze, his gaze locked on the sight of his hand in hers. The way her thumb slid back and forth over his skin. Something shifted in him at the image of them intertwined, at the first woman to hold his hand in a decade. He swallowed hard, his skin growing tight and his heart sprinting away in his chest. It wasn’t sexual, but it awakened something in him he thought he had banished.
He shook his head, the fact that he’d missed it still heavy on his conscience. “It took me over a month to figure it out.”
Still holding his hand in hers, she caught one of Harmony’s dark curls with the other and twirled it around her finger. “But you did figure it out. Give yourself a break, Doc. No one’s perfect.”
Harmony stirred and settled. Laramie squeezed his hand one last time before letting go to adjust the blanket around Harmony.
“No, I guess not,” he conceded, shoving his hand in his pocket. Whether he did it to keep her from taking his hand again or because a part of him wanted to take hers, he didn’t know or care to examine.
“So tell me, how bad is it?” Laramie asked.
“How bad is what?” he asked, his eyes still on the little girl snuggled under thick blankets.
“The damage. So far no one has been able to locate a damn mirror, and that tells me it’s not good.” Fully awake, her voice had become clear and strong, a hint of stubborn frustration fueling her words.
“It’s not bad, either.”
She slumped back, and her head tilted as though it became too much for her to hold up. “Your skills at reassurance could use a little work.”
If she were any other patient, he’d be clinical about it, but the blurred lines between his professionalism and her particular case had him wandering in uncharted territory where he could no longer treat her as just a patient, or a friend. He’d never been good with shades of gray. That’s why being a doctor served him well. He could keep his heart out of it and just focus on the details. Or at least, he could before her. “I expected far worse with how you came in.”
“How bad was it?” she asked.
“Lucas said he already told you.”
“Lucas is my big brother and has always been…selective with me,” she said.
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea—”
Blonde eyebrows dropped low over her eyes as she glared at him. “Don’t treat me like a child. Be honest. After all, if my own daughter had to see me that way, I sure as hell need to hear it.”
“Okay,” he said, crossing his arms. “You died on the table three times the first night.”
She sucked in a breath at his blunt admission. “Gloves are off now. Damn.”
“You wanted to hear this,” he reminded her.
“Need to hear it. Keep going,” she said.
“You should have died from the blood loss alone. You had multiple transfusions and over the course of the first twenty-four hours, twenty units of blood.”
Laramie bit her lip and didn’t say a word other than a nod that he took as her encouraging him to keep going.
“You had multiple fractures in your face. Enough that I hope to hell you lost consciousness early in the attack.”
“I don’t remember any of it. Not even the first hit,” she whispered past silent tears that had begun to slide down her cheeks.
“You had a brain injury that miraculously healed with only blood pressure control. We’ve done scan after scan, but there’s no permanent damage. You had dozens of injuries working against you. So many that there are moments I’m still shocked you made it. You’ve got one hell of a powerful guardian angel sitting on your shoulder.”
“Is that why you spent so much time with me? Because of my injuries?”
“No,” he said as he handed her a tissue.
She swiped at her cheeks and sniffled. “Then why?”
“I was looking for answers,” he said quietly, the hum of the heater kicking on the only sound in the room.
“Did you find them?” she asked.
He glanced away, his heart heavy with questions. “No. Sometimes the answers take more than a lifetime to find.”
She nodded as though she understood exactly what he was talking about, and maybe she did. Her eyelids grew heavy, her blinks slower, as exhaustion closed in, and he took that as his cue to head for the door.
“Doc?” she said before he could reach for the handle. “Thank you for fighting so hard for me even when I couldn’t fight for myself.”
He had medical knowledge and the capacity to think quickly which allowed him to patch the human body, nothing more. Everything else was one hundred percent her. With his hand on the light switch, he gave her a brief smile. “If you hadn’t been a fighter, you wouldn’t be here.”
Her lips curved in a grin, and for a brief second, he caught a glimpse of the warrior inside. A peek into her soul that took his breath away and made him want to know her. Not just her medical history, not just her injuries, but the woman who’d ended up here where they had to teach women to stop thinking of themselves as victims, but as survivors.
But no one had to teach Laramie a thing. She’d never settle for being called a victim. She had an S for survivor carved on her heart.
“Doc? Leave them on. I’ve been in the dark long enough,” she said, rolling onto her side and taking Harmony’s hand once again.