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"Are you sure I canâ€™t do anything else for you?" Addison Stark asked.
Arthur bit back the acid words threatening to spill out of his mouth. He needed peace, quiet and no more chattering in his ear. Addison hadnâ€™t shut the fuck up for days.
"No, Iâ€™ve got it from here. Thanks for the ride." As much as he appreciated his friendâ€™s help, Addie had become too possessive over the past few days. Unexpectedly showing up at the hospital, harassing the staff about Arthurâ€™s careâ€”the man had been relentless. Arthur almost regretted agreeing to let Addie drive him home after his surgery. Addie had mentioned several times how heâ€™d be happy to stay and take care of Arthur while he recovered. It had taken a lot of lying out of his ass to convince Addie that Arthurâ€™s brother, Callum, would be along soon to take care of him.
Callum would be surprised to hear the news too since he didnâ€™t even know Arthur had been injured. Arthur might have bent the truth until it screamed, but his instincts told him to keep Addie at a distance.
"You can set my bag over there." Arthur nodded towards a spot on the entryway tile. Addie didnâ€™t need to come any farther inside. If Arthur offered him coffee or anything, heâ€™d never leave.
The slim redhead gave Arthur an odd look but set his bag down. "How long do you need to be on those crutches?"
"A couple of weeks to keep the weight off the leg so the wound will heal. I can hobble around on my own after that. I was luckyâ€”no major nerves were severed and he missed the artery." Arthur tried to remember that luck while nightmares played in his head every night. The memory of his partner scattered about their motel room in bloody, oozing chunks remained vivid in his mind.
"Poor Dwayne canâ€™t say the same thing," Addie said. The words were right, but the tone lacked emotion. Horror shouldâ€™ve been in his voice like it lived in Arthurâ€™s mind. A psychopath had sliced Dwayneâ€™s body to pieces. No one deserved that kind of death, even a screaming homophobe like Dwayne. He knew Addie hadnâ€™t liked Arthurâ€™s partner, but surely there should be some sympathy for the dead?
"Did you go to the ceremony?" Arthur asked.
"Iâ€™m sorry I missed it. I had wanted to be there for Lisa and Destiny." Theyâ€™d still been stitching him back together when theyâ€™d laid Dwayne to rest. It had spared Arthur the burden of pretending to be broken up over losing his partner, but he wouldâ€™ve liked to have helped Lisa through the ordeal. His partner had been a tool, but Arthur had always liked Dwayneâ€™s wife and daughter.
"It was a nice ceremony. Lisa doesnâ€™t blame you for his death." Addie dropped that bombshell casually as if it didnâ€™t have the weight to affect the rest of his life.
"She doesnâ€™t?" A pound of guilt slid off of Arthurâ€™s chestâ€”the burden heâ€™d been carrying since he found his partner butchered under the knife of a serial killer. "But I wouldâ€™ve been there to save Dwayne if I hadnâ€™t gone to meet you."
The fact that heâ€™d returned too late to save his partner weighed on his conscience. If heâ€™d arrived only a few minutes earlier, Dwayne might still be alive.
Addie nodded. "Yeah. Did you ever figure out how he found your motel room?"
"No." It bothered Arthur, that little tingling fact being out of place. He knew he hadnâ€™t been followed and Dwayne hadnâ€™t taken the car anywhere without him. It was almost like the killer had had an inside track on their whereabouts. Arthur pushed that thought away. No one would help a psychopath kill an agent, at least not anyone who had known where Dwayne and Arthur were staying.
"If youâ€™d returned later than you did, you wouldnâ€™t have caught him and heâ€™d still be out there carving up who knows who."
Arthur knew Addie was trying to make him feel better but somehow it didnâ€™t. Pretty four-year-old Destiny with her big brown eyes and corkscrew curls didnâ€™t have a daddy anymore because Arthur had sat down and eaten an eggroll with Addie before he left their meeting. Dwayne might have been a bigoted idiot, but heâ€™d been a caring father and husband.
"But if Iâ€™d been there earlier I might have been able to stop him," Arthur protested. His nightmares were filled with the image of his dead partner strewn in pieces across their motel room floor. The patterns of the blood alone remained vivid in his mind like bloody watercolours across his memory. Heâ€™d been to war zones that had had less blood than that one crime scene.
He shook his head as if that could dispel the brutal images burned into his mind.