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Home > White Lies (Rescues #4)(8)

White Lies (Rescues #4)(8)
Author: Linda Howard

Frank Payne silently opened the door and stopped in his tracks, listening to her low murmurings. She still stood by the bed; hell, she probably hadn't moved an inch from the man's side, and she had been in here--he checked his watch-- almost three hours. If she had been the guy's wife, he could have understood it, but she was his ex-wife, and she was the one who had ended the marriage. Yet there she stood, her attention locked on him as if she were willing him to get better.

"How about some coffee?" he asked softly, not wanting to startle her, but her head jerked around anyway, her eyes wide.

Then she smiled. "That sounds good." She walked away from the bed, then stopped and looked back, a frown knitting her brows together. "I hate to leave him alone. If he understands anything at all, it must be awful to just lie there, trapped and hurting and not knowing why, thinking he's all alone."

"He doesn't know anything," Payne assured her, wishing it was different. "He's in a coma, and right now it's better that he stays in it."

"Yes," Jay agreed, knowing he was right. If Steve were conscious now, he would be in terrible pain.

That first faint glimmer of awareness had faded; the warm voice had gone away and left him without direction. Without that to guide him, he sank back into the blackness, into nothingness.

Frank lingered over the bad cafeteria food and the surprisingly good coffee. It wasn't great coffee; it truly wasn't even good coffee, but it was better than he'd expected. The next batch might not be as good, so he wanted to enjoy this one as long as he could. Not only that, he didn't know exactly how to bring up the sub- ject he'd been skating around all during lunch, but he had to do it. The Man had made it plain: Jay Granger had to stay. He didn't want her to identify the patient and leave; he wanted her to become emotionally involved, at least enough to stay. And what the Man wanted, he got.

Frank had sighed. "What if she falls in love with him? Hell, you know what he's like. He has women crawling all over him. They can't resist him."

"She may be hurt," the Man had conceded, though the steel never left his voice. "But his life is on the line, and our options are limited. For whatever reason, Steve Crossfield was there when it went down. We know it, and they know it. We don't have a list of possibilities to choose from. Crossfield is the only choice."

He hadn't needed to say more. Since Crossfield was the only choice, his ex- wife was also the only choice by reason of being the only person who could identify him.

"Did McCoy buy it?" the Man had asked abruptly.

"The whole nine yards." Then Frank's voice had sharpened. "You don't think Gilbert McCoy is--"

The Man interrupted. "No. I know he isn't. But McCoy's a damned sharp agent. If he bought it, that means we're doing a good job of making things look the way we want."

"What happens if she's with him when he wakes up?"

"It doesn't matter. The doctors say he'll be too confused and disoriented to make sense. They're monitoring him, and they'll let us know when they start bringing him out of it. We can't keep her out of his room with-' out it looking suspicious, but watch it. If he starts making sense, get her out of the room fast, until we can talk to him. But there's not too much danger of that happening."

"You're stirring that coffee to death." Jay's voice broke in on his thoughts, and he looked up at her, then down at the coffee. He'd been stirring it so long that it had cooled. He grimaced at the waste of not-bad coffee.

"I've been trying to think of how to ask something of you," he admitted.

Jay gave him a puzzled look. "There's only one way. Just ask."

"All right." He took a deep breath. "Don't go back to New York tomorrow. Will you stay here with Steve? He needs you. He's going to need you even more."

The words hit her hard. Steve had never needed her. She had been too intense, wanting more from him, from their relationship, than he had in him to give. He'd always wanted a slight distance between them, mentally and emotionally, claiming that she "smothered" him. She remembered the time he'd shouted those words at her; then she thought of the man lying so still in the hospital bed, and again she felt that unnerving sense of unreality.

Slowly she shook her head. "Steve is a loner. You should know that from the information you have on him. He doesn't need me now, won't need me when he wakes up, and probably won't like the idea of anyone taking care of him, least of all his ex-wife." "He'll be very confused when he wakes up. You'll be a lifeline to him, the only face he knows, someone he can trust, someone who'll reassure him. He's in a drug-induced coma... the doctors can tell you more about it than I can. But they've said he'll be very confused and agitated, maybe even delirious. It'll help if someone he knows is there."

Practicality made her shake her head again. "I'm sorry, Mr. Payne. I don't think he'd want me there, but I wouldn't stay anyway, if I could. I was fired from my job yesterday. I have two weeks' notice to work out. I can't afford not to work those two weeks, and I have to find another job."

He whistled through his teeth. "You had a bitch of a day, didn't you?"

She had to laugh, in spite of the seriousness of the situation, "That's a good description of it, yes." The longer she knew Frank Payne, the more she liked him. There was nothing outstanding about him: he was of medium height, medium weight, with graying brown hair and clear gray eyes. His face was pleasant, but not memorable. Yet there was a steadiness in him that she sensed and trusted.

He looked thoughtful. "It's possible we can do something about your situation. Let me check into it before you book a flight back. Would you like a chance to tell your boss to go take a flying leap?"

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