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St. Joseph's Convalescent Hospital San Antonio, Texas
"LILLY CAME out of the coma." Dr. Staten's voice was clinical. Void of emotion or any speculation as to the impact of the bombshell that he'd just delivered.
Detective Jason Lawrence's reaction, however, wasn't quite so serene or detached.
There was emotion. Plenty of it. And speculation? That, too. A really bad kind of speculation that knotted his stomach and tightened every muscle in his body.
It felt as if someone had sucker punched him.
"Lilly's awake?" Jason managed to ask even though he already knew the answer. Still, he wanted a confirÂ ¬ mation, and while he waited for it, he prayed.
Except he didn't know what the hell to pray for.
Dr. Staten nodded. "She woke up about two hours ago. That's why I called and asked you to come."
And at no time during the call had the doctor inÂ ¬ dicated that Lilly was no longer comatose. Of course, Dr. Staten probably thought it was news best delivered in person. Jason was debating that. Though there was nothing that could have helped pave the way for this, he would have liked a few minutes in private to prepare himself.
"How did this happen?" Because he didn't want to risk something as dignity-reducing as losing his balance, Jason dropped down into the burgundy leather chair across from Dr. Staten's desk.
"She simply woke up." The doctor lifted a shoulder and flexed his dark, gray-threaded eyebrows. "We don't know why. It's not a common occurrence, but it does happeneven after nineteen months."
Yes. These things probably did happen. But nineteen months had been more than enough time for Jason to believe it wouldn't happen.
And he'd built his entire life around that ever.
Dr. Staten sat, as well, easing down into his chair, and from over the thin silver rims of his glasses, he examined Jason with sympathetic brown eyes. "I know this has to come as a surprise "
Jason almost laughed. Not from humor. Definitely not from that. But from the irony. Lilly was awakeafter nineteen months, three days and a couple of hours. After everyone, including the medical community, and he had given up hope. She was awake.
It was nothing short of a miracle.
And the beginning of what would no doubt be his own personal nightmare.
Jason pulled in his breath, released it slowly. "Has Lilly said anything?"
"A little. She's still somewhat disorientated and doesn't remember much about the car accident. That's to be expected. It'll take a while for her body to start functioning normally, but now that she's awake, I believe she'll make a full recovery."
Jason silently cursed his reaction. Cursed himself. And then cursed fate for dealing him a hand that he didn't want to play. He was happy for Lilly. Truly happy. No one deserved to be in a vegetative state, and now she would get a second chance at life. But Jason couldn't help it: her second chance changed everything.
"Have you told her?" Jason asked.
Dr. Staten paused a moment. There was no need for Jason to clarify his question; the doctor certainly knew what was foremost on his mind. "No. I figured it'd sound better coming from you."
Jason seriously doubted that. It wouldn't sound better coming from anyone. But it was truehe needed to be the one to tell Lilly.
So he could soften the blow.
So he could prepare her for the shock of her life.
And then what?
Would he ultimately lose everything that he'd come to love in the past year? Jason suddenly felt as if he were perched on top of a house of cards with an F-5 tornado bearing right down on him.
The doctor picked up a pen, groaned softly and tossed it onto his desk. The cool facade was broken, and for the first time since Jason had walked into his office, he saw the frayed nerves.
Not exactly a comforting reaction.
"Lilly's expecting you," the doctor instructed. His suddenly strained voice said it all. "I let her know that you were coming."
And that was Jason's cue to get to his feet. He mustered what courage he could and tried to push aside his fears. No easy feat. His fears were mammoth, and the next few minutes would change his life forever.
"If you need more time, I can postpone the visit," Dr. Staten offered.
Man, was that tempting. But it wouldn't solve anyÂ ¬ thing. This conversation with Lilly had to happen. Plus, delaying the inevitable would only prolong his agony.
Jason followed the doctor out of the office and toward the patient ward of the convalescent facility. With each step, his heart pounded and his breath thinned. Sheez. Such a wuss reaction. But he couldn't help it. Because he was a cop, his life had been on the line a couple of times, but he'd never before had this much at stake.
When they reached the room, the doctor stepped aside to allow Jason to enter ahead of him. Jason took a deep breath and pushed open the door to Lilly's room. A room he'd seen at least a dozen times. From the vantage point of the doorway anyway. He'd kept his distance, literally and figuratively. But this was different. She wasn't just lying there, eyes closed and attached to machines to monitor her vitals. One machine was still in place, as was an IV, but she was sitting up with the help of pillows stuffed behind her back.
Her gaze slid in his direction and she spotted him. Instant recognition. Jason knew that from the brief widÂ ¬ ening of her blue-green eyes followed by the not-so-brief tightening of her mouth.
"Jason," she said.
Not a friendly greeting. It dripped with questions.
Why are you here? Of all the people in the world, why would you be my first real visitor?
Unfortunately, she would soon find out.
Because he suddenly felt awkward and fidgety, Jason stuffed his hands into the pockets of his khakis and ambled closer. "Welcome back, Lilly."
The right corner of her mouth lifted. "You actually seem sincere." Since her first attempt sounded as if she were speaking through gravel, she cleared her throat and repeated it.
"I am sincere."
And Jason was almost certain he believed that.
Lilly was pale, a skim-milk kind of pale, but other than that and the two-and-a-half-inch whitish scar angled on the left side of her forehead, she didn't look as if she'd been through a horrifying ordeal.
However, she did look different.
Her normally short auburn hair now lay on the tops of her shoulders. Loose. Not confined in one of the not-a-strand-out-of-place styles that she usually preferred. No makeup, either.
She had freckles and chapped lips.
Definitely not the pristine, polished corporate image that Jason had come to associate with that face. Too bad. Because that executive veneer had always been a reminder that she wasn't his type. That she was hands-
For reasons he didn't want to explore, she didn't seem so hands-off right now. Lilly seemed very small and vulnerable, despite her defensive expression and her smart-ass reply to his greeting.
"How are you?" he asked, mainly because he couldn't think of what else to say.
She hesitated as if considering what ulterior motive he might have for his question, and she moistened her lips. "Coming back from the dead isn't easy."
Jason nodded. "I imagine not."
Lilly made a you-don't-know-the-half-of-it sound. "My whole body's stiff, and it doesn't respond the way it should. I'll spare you most of the specifics, but I've got a wicked headache. Cotton mouth. And I understand it'll be days.. .or even longer before I can walk. I'm a little scared about that."
Lilly stopped, wrinkled up her forehead. And closed down. She was no doubt embarrassed that she'd revealed her fear of not being able to walk. It was a totally human, normal response, but Jason figured she would view it as a weakness.
"Of course, there's a bright side to this," she continÂ ¬ ued. It was her CEO presentation voice. Light, confident, airy. "I figure I've lost a lot of weight. I doubt I've been this thin since high school." Lilly fanned her trembling fingers through the air to indicate an imaginary marÂ ¬ quee. "Comathe ultimate diet."
"You'll be back to normal in no time," Jason promÂ ¬ ised her. Though he didn't know why. That certainly wasn't a promise he could deliver.
She stared at him a moment. "Oh, I get it now." Lilly's mouth relaxed and she made a clumsy swipe to push her rumpled hair off her forehead. "This is an official visit from Detective Jason Lawrence, San Antonio PD. You want to question me about the car accident that put me here in this hospital bed."
He wished that was the reason he'd come.
"I work Special Investigations now," Jason informed her. "Your accident doesn't come under the jurisdiction of my department."
Something, some raw emotion, riffled through her eyes. "So, you're here to talk about Greg." Lilly huffed and coupled it with a disapproving groan. "I figured you'd give me at least a day or two to catch up on curÂ ¬ rent events, physical therapy, visits from friends, trips to Krispy Kreme, et cetera, before you started badgering me again about the night Greg died."
Greg. His brother. His dead brother. And the subject of the majority of Lilly's and his last conversations, and bitter arguments.
It didn't matter that she was trying to defuse this tenÂ ¬ sion with her Krispy Kreme style of humor. The emotion and the pain were still there, crouching just below the surface of her words.
Jason moved closer and stopped a few inches from the foot of her bed. "I'm not here about Greg, either." Besides, no amount of questioning and arguments would bring his brother back. He knew that. Now. But Lilly was rightnineteen months ago, it'd been a topic he'd broached often with her.
And yes, there had been plenty of badgering involved.
"All right, then." She took a sip of water from a plastic cup clutched in her right hand. "You've piqued my interest. If you're not here to talk about Greg or my car accident, then this'll be a very short visit. Because I think we both know there's nothing else for us to discuss."
Jason couldn't fault her defensive attitude. He deserved it. After all, this was the woman he'd accused of contributing to the death of his brother. Despite the fact he'd known Lilly for more than six years before his brother's death, it was hard to stay friendly after an acÂ ¬ cusation like that. However, she was wrong about them having nothing else to discuss. There was plenty.
"I'll give you two some privacy," Dr. Staten anÂ ¬ nounced, and he stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
Jason glanced over his shoulder to confirm the man's timely exit. Staten was definitely gone. The room sud-denly seemed too small, and it was getting smaller by the second with Lilly's stare drilling into him. Where had the air gone?
"Do you remember anything that happened while you were in a coma?" Jason asked.
Lilly blinked, as if surprised by the question. "No." She paused. "In fact, not only is the coma a blank, so are the last few hours before I got into the car." She stopped, angled her head, studied him. "Is there something about the accident that the police are investigating?"
Jason chose his words very carefully.
"The case is still active. I'm sure the lead detective will want to question you when you're feeling up to
And he left it at that.
She made a soft hmm of agreement. And concern. "Then something must really be wrong for you to be here."
It was, and since there was no good introduction for what he had to tell her, Jason just started with the basics. "The night Greg was killed, you had sex with him."
Not a blink of surprise this time. More like a flash of anger over his bluntness. "I don't want to discuss
"I know it happened because he called and told me. In fact, he told me just minutes before he died."
Since this was only a recap and since he hadn't wanted to start an argument with her, Jason left out one important detail: Greg had thought the sexual encounter might lead to a permanent relationship with Lilly rather than her shutting him out of her life.
But she had shut him out.
And because of that, Greg was dead.
There it was. The flood of old memories. The still-fresh pain. Always the pain. Jason knew for a fact he wouldn't forget that grief anytime soon. Nor would he forget, or forgive, what Lilly had done.
"Is this actually leading somewhere?" Lilly prompted in that crisp voice that he'd learned to hate. "Because I'm not in the mood for a trip down memory lane, esÂ ¬ pecially when you're the one doing the navigating."
"It's leading somewhere." Since he needed it, Jason took another deep breath. "You got pregnant that night.
With Greg's baby."
That got her attention. Man, did it ever. She did a double take and her breathing stilled. "Excuse me?"
"You got pregnant," Jason repeated. Because Lilly looked as if she badly needed it, and because he needed
it, as well, he waited a couple of moments to give her some time to try to absorb that.