Read an Excerpt
His To Claim
Part 6: Perfect Rhythm
By Opal Carew
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Opal Carew
All rights reserved.
From Part 5
"So you think that's why he left, too."
He shrugged again. "I really don't know. He's been struggling with some shit for a long time now. Who knows what set him off?" He shook his head. "Just don't take the blame on yourself. Okay?"
She sucked in a deep breath as he sent her a reassuring smile. "Okay."
But it was an empty word. She couldn't help feeling that she'd driven him away.
"Yeah. I understand," Travis said into his cell as he walked along the aisle of the bus toward her and Diego. "Thanks for letting us know." He shoved his phone into his pocket, then stared at her with a grim expression.
"Melanie, that was about Storm."
Her stomach dropped like a rock. She stared at him, barely able to breathe.
"What is it?" she finally managed to utter.
"That was Storm's brother. Storm's been in an accident."
Melanie's chest tightened.
Storm was in an accident?
She sucked in a deep breath. "What happened?"
"His brother doesn't know anything yet, except that he had an accident on the bike," Travis said. "The hospital in Madison, a small town north of here, called him and he called us because we're nearby. Jess and Dane are on the way to the hospital now."
Images of Storm, broken and bleeding flashed through her mind. A wrenching pain started in the pit of her stomach. She glanced around, feeling powerless.
"I need to go to the hospital, too."
"I know. I'm going to have the driver take a detour to Madison, which is about forty-five minutes from here, and drop you and me off."
She gazed into his blue-green eyes. "Do you think he'll be okay?"
"He better be. He's my future brother-in-law."
She just nodded. Diego returned with a bottle of water and handed it to her. She tried to twist off the lid, but couldn't seem to get a grip on it. Travis took the bottle from her and took off the cap, then handed it to her. She took a sip, her hand trembling.
She stared out the window, barely seeing the landscape flashing by as the bus drove onward. Worry gnawed at her. Travis squeezed her shoulder briefly, then left her to her thoughts, though he was a comforting presence beside her.
What would she find at the hospital? Would she get there and find out Storm was ...
A lump formed in her throat. Oh, God, don't let him die.
As soon as the bus pulled up to the hospital, Melanie shot to her feet. Travis stood up and stepped into the aisle to let her pass. She reached for the overhead compartment to grab her pack, but he waved her away.
"I'll get it," he said.
She nodded her thanks and hurried to the front of the bus, Travis on her heels. When she stepped from the air-conditioned bus to the hot air outside, she drew in a deep breath, then strode to the hospital entrance. Travis opened the glass door for her and she stepped inside the cool building. It was a small hospital, with no one in sight.
"This way." Travis led her down a hallway with arrows indicating Emergency ahead.
Anxiety swelled in her as they followed the appropriate arrows, turning several times along the way, and soon arrived at the reception for Emergency.
Travis talked to the man at the desk, asking about Storm. When the man said no one had been admitted with that name, he asked about Rafe Ranier. A moment later, Travis joined her again.
"He said that Storm was admitted about a half hour ago but they have no information on his status yet. They're taking X-rays. He said the waiting room is this way." He took her arm and led her through a door.
They stepped into a large area with stiff-looking vinyl upholstered chairs of metal tubing. The place was crowded, but Travis guided her to a couple of empty chairs and went and got her a coffee. He sat down beside her and she drank the hot liquid without tasting it, watching the other listless people in the waiting room, her own nerves fraying.
They had rushed here, her heart pounding the whole way, but hoping they would soon know how bad Storm was. But to have to sit here now, with no idea if he was horribly injured, or even dying, was tearing her apart.
Travis took her hand in his and squeezed it, offering some small level of comfort. She gazed at him, trying to stop tears from welling in her eyes. He just gazed back at her, both of them knowing there was nothing to say. Thankfully, he didn't try to make small talk. He was just a comforting presence by her side. Hours passed, her stomach churning and her nerves shot. Melanie didn't know how much more she could take.
Melanie glanced up and saw Jessica hurrying toward her.
Melanie stood and stepped forward to meet her with open arms.
"Oh, Melanie. I'm glad you're here." Jessica wrapped her arms around Melanie and hugged her tightly.
Instead of a quick hug, she hung on. Melanie patted her back. Jessica and Storm might not be a couple any longer, but they had been in love once and Melanie knew Jessica still cared deeply about him. Finally, Jessica released her, then she glanced at Travis and hugged him.
"Hey, sis." He didn't ask any questions, just held her tight.
Dane stepped toward Melanie.
"Mr. Ranier, I'm so sorry —"
"I'm Dane," he said and to her total surprise, he took her in his arms and hugged her tight. He was so big and warm and comforting she could have broken down into tears right then and there.
One of his hands rested flat on the middle of her back, and it had a calming effect on her.
"I know you must be worried, Melanie. We all are. But I know he'll be all right."
"How do you ...?" Her throat was so tight, her voice turned to a croak and she started again. "How do you know?"
He drew back and gazed at her with confidence. "Because I'm not willing to lose him again."
She stared into his confident blue eyes and couldn't help but believe him. The man always got what he wanted, so even though it defied logic, she believed that he would not be denied this.
"The man at reception told us they couldn't give us any information about Storm's condition until his family arrived," Travis said. "All we know is that they were taking X-rays. Do you know any more than that?"
"I'm afraid not," Dane answered.
"Can you go in and see him?" Melanie asked. "You're family so they'll let you, right?"
"No, they won't. I already asked," Dane answered.
Oh, God, was Storm so bad that ... She choked up, not willing to continue that line of thinking.
"Do you know anything about the accident?" Travis asked.
"I did talk to the police." Dane glanced at Melanie.
At his hesitation, her heart froze.
"What is it?" Melanie glanced from Dane to Jessica, pleading in her eyes.
Jessica took her hand. "Look, we don't really know."
"But ... it's bad, isn't it?"
Their silence confirmed it.
Melanie wrung her hands together and Travis guided her to a chair. She sank into it and Jessica sat beside her.
"Would you like some coffee?" Dane asked.
Melanie shook her head. "I've had enough coffee."
"Some water then?"
"Jess?" he asked.
He glanced toward Travis.
"I'll come with you," Travis said, and the two of them headed for the door.
Melanie bit her lip and gazed at Jessica.
"I know what's on your mind," Jessica said. "The same thing as me. Is he okay? He's alive, but ... is he paralyzed? Is he still in one piece? Is he ..." Her voice broke and she wiped at her eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Melanie. I shouldn't say those things. But it's what we're both afraid of." She squeezed Melanie's hand. "I should be strong for you. I shouldn't say things that will upset you."
"It's okay. I know what you mean and maybe it's better that we express our fears."
Travis reappeared with three water bottles and handed one to each of them, then sat on the other chair beside Jessica.
"Where's Dane?" Jessica asked.
"A nurse spotted us and told Dane that he could go in to see Storm."
Jessica's face lit up. "Oh, that's wonderful. That's a good sign, right?"
A wave of relief washed through Melanie, until she noticed Travis's grim expression, then her gut tightened.
"She said they're worried about his spine and the X-rays were inconclusive, so they're sending him for a CT scan."
"What does that mean? What else did she say?" Melanie asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing else. We'll have to wait for Dane to get back. Once he sees him, and talks to him, we'll know more."
Melanie just nodded like a bobble-head doll.
"I'm afraid it might be a while, though," Travis continued.
Melanie suddenly found the room stifling. She pushed herself to her feet. "I need to get some air."
"I'll come with you." Travis stood up, but she shook her head.
"You stay with your sister. I'll be okay." Melanie hurried to the door and stepped into the hallway. She turned left and walked, no idea where she was going.
At Travis's voice, she turned around.
He caught up with her. "I don't want to leave you alone just wandering around the hospital. I'll walk with you."
"Really, I'm okay, I —"
A man in green scrubs passed them pushing a patient on a gurney. The man was flat on his back and was strapped down, totally immobilized. It was a distressing sight and ...
Her eyes widened. "Oh, God. That's Storm."
His eyes were closed and he looked shockingly pale.
She started forward, to follow the gurney that was already several yards away, but Travis grasped her arm.
"No, Melanie. Come back with me."
She gazed at him, pleadingly. "But I have to —"
"No," he said in a no-nonsense tone, then his voice softened. "Let's go back to the waiting room. Maybe Dane is there with more information."
She watched Storm and the orderly disappear through a door at the end of the hall, and she bit her lip, then finally nodded and allowed Travis to guide her back.
Dane was sitting with Jessica and they glanced up when Melanie and Travis returned.
"I'm just heading over to sit with Rafe while he waits for the CT scan," Dane said, "but I came out to update you before I go. He's regained consciousness and appears to be in one piece. He is in some pain, so they're checking for internal injuries."
"Why do they have him strapped down like that?" Melanie asked.
Dane's gaze darted to her face.
"We saw him being wheeled down the hallway," Travis explained.
Dane nodded. "They told me that's because they don't know if he's suffered a spinal injury so they want to keep him immobile until they find out."
Melanie sank into the chair, wishing this nightmare was over. After a few minutes, Dane left to be with Storm and the three of them sat in silence. It seemed hours before Dane finally returned.
"What's happened?" Jessica asked as he sat down.
"I still don't know, but they said they'll call me soon to go over the results. In the meantime, Rafe sent me back out here. He knew you'd all be worried."
Dane took Melanie's hand and gazed at her. "He said to tell you he'll be fine."
She nodded. Storm's comforting words didn't mean anything — the test results would tell them if he really was fine or not — but she liked that he knew she was here for him.
Melanie and the others glanced toward the tall man in scrubs across the room who had called Dane's name.
Dane stood up and followed the doctor from the waiting room.
Travis leaned forward, intertwining his fingers. "I guess we'll know soon."
Soon turned out to be about a half hour.
"Rafe!" Jessica surged to her feet and Melanie glanced after her to see Dane pushing a wheelchair.
Storm sat in the chair, still pale, with a badly bruised cheek and a black eye, but with no casts in sight. Joy surged through Melanie as she stood and walked toward them, holding back a little while Jessica gushed over him. Travis stood beside Melanie and placed his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. She fought back the tears of relief.
Jessica moved beside the chair and Melanie stepped forward.
"You gave us quite a scare," she said.
"I know. I'm sorry."
His voice sounded shaky.
"I'm just glad you're okay."
Their gazes locked for a second, then he seemed to fade into a daze.
"He's pretty bashed up and has some nasty bruises. He's on painkillers right now," Dane said. "Let's get him home."
* * *
Melanie watched the door close behind Jessica and Dane, then she returned to Storm's bedroom and sat in the upholstered chair by the window. Storm was asleep.
Dane had arranged transportation to take Travis to meet the band so he could do the show tonight. The doctor had told Storm to take it easy for a week or two, then he could return to work.
She gazed at him, his eyes closed, his broad shoulders naked above the dove gray sheets, tattooed arms sprawled to the side.
She'd faced losing him today, at first because she'd believed he'd up and left her, then because she thought he'd been taken from her in an accident. Her heart ached at the thought of not having him in her life anymore.
But that might still happen. She had no idea why he'd gotten up this morning and taken off on his bike, but she had the sick feeling he had decided the two of them weren't meant to be together. Whether he'd wanted time to think to figure out the gentlest way to break up with her, or whether he'd decided to just up and leave, she wasn't sure. The latter wasn't really his style — he was more caring than that — so he'd probably been trying to figure a way out of the relationship. With her traveling with the band, there wasn't a straightforward answer. Since he felt guilty about her leaving Ranier Industries because of him, she knew he would be unhappy driving her away from this job with the band, too, yet if he wanted to keep playing with them, it would be awkward if they broke up.
Damn it, was it possible he might pretend to keep the relationship going until the end of the tour, but keep a growing distance between them until both of them would be ready to end it?
She blinked back a tear at the thought he didn't really want her, and that she would probably lose him soon.
* * *
Storm drifted toward consciousness, feeling sluggish. He should open his eyes, but his lids felt too heavy to budge.
He realized he wasn't quite sure where he was. He should be in a hotel room on tour, but from the feel of the high-quality pillow-top mattress under him and the fine Egyptian cotton sheets around him, he would guess this was his bedroom in his Philly penthouse.
He drew in a breath and opened his eyes, then blinked at the sunshine streaming across his face. He pushed himself up on his elbows, but pain shot through him and he groaned. His head ached and his whole body felt bruised and mistreated.
He turned his head to see Melanie sitting in the armchair a couple of yards from the bed. She sat in a tight little ball, hugging her knees close to her body.
"Hi." He rested his hand on his head, wishing the pounding inside would stop.
"Do you want another painkiller?" Melanie asked, concern in her wide green eyes as she sat forward, dropping her feet to the floor. "I'll get you some fresh water."
"No." He waved his hand. "No painkillers." He started to sit up again, slowly this time. Everything ached, especially his ribs, but there was no intense, shooting pain this time. Or maybe he was just getting used to it.
She rushed to his side and propped some pillows behind him. He rested back against them, deciding he'd give himself a moment before he pushed himself to his feet and answered the call of nature.
"Do you remember the accident?" she asked, standing beside him, watching his face.
"Ah, fuck yeah." Memories of swerving and his bike going out of control, then him flying through the air. "Damn. Did the deer make it?"
"Deer? I don't know. Is that how it happened? You almost got killed trying to avoid a deer?"
He shrugged, then wished he hadn't at the spike of pain through his shoulders. "Actually, the car in front of me swerved to miss the deer and went out of control."
"But the police told Dane there were no other vehicles around. If the driver wasn't hurt, why wouldn't he stay with you?"
"I'm pretty sure he'd been drinking. He'd been driving erratically and I'd been watching for a chance to pass him. I'd just pulled out into the passing lane when he swerved toward me. I barely missed getting hit by him."
Storm had gone out at about four in the morning, needing to get out on the open road and clear his head. He was pretty sure the other driver had been returning from a late party.
Melanie sat down on the side of the bed, watching him carefully.
He tried not to wince at the jostling of the bed, but failed.
"Sorry, I'm hurting you."
"Don't worry about it," he responded. "I'm fine." The truth was he didn't want her to leave. He wanted to be close to her.
The delicate touch of her fingertips on his upper arm sent tingles through him. Even his cock stirred a little, which was fucking stupid because he couldn't do anything about it right now.
"Storm, I was so worried about you."
Excerpted from His To Claim by Opal Carew. Copyright © 2014 Opal Carew. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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