Page 19 of Coercion

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“And you’d…what?Hire more security and send them on their way?I might know some people, if you’re thinking about bowing out again.”

A strip across my lungs burns.“You’re a prick, Donovan.No, I would notsend them on their way.I would—” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him smiling.He’ssatisfied.I hate him.My face burns along with my lungs.I turn toward him, and Evan wipes the grin off his face.“I would take care of them too.Fuck off.”

“Aww.”He pats at my shoulder, and I slap his hand away.“I never thought you’d care that much, Leblanc.”

There’s nothing I can say.

It’s true.I do care about them.I wouldn’t leave Bristol and Mia and Ben for anything.It’s an awful feeling, like walking around with an open wound.Andit’s put me in the position of caring whether their piece-of-shit father lives.Does he deserve another shot at life?No.But I don’t want them to be sad if he dies.

The asshole had better live.

There’s a flash of movement behind the windows.My heart speeds up.I want it to be Bristol.

The doors open, and it’s her.Yes.

I want to crush her to the wall and kiss her until she’s breathless and incoherent, but I don’t.Someone brushes against my side—Ben, with one arm still around Mia’s shoulders.

Bristol bends down and gives them a big, tight hug.“Hey, guys.”Her eyes meet mine over the twins’ heads.Her dad has to be alive.There’s no way she’d look so hopeful otherwise.Right?“Are you doing okay?”

“Yes.”Ben’s firmer than before, if possible.Mia says nothing.“How’s Dad?Is he—is he—”

One more squeeze, and Bristol releases the twins.Her hands go to her hair.I wantmyhands in her hair.Then she drops one hand to Ben’s shoulder.“Dad’s out of surgery.He’s in stable condition, but the doctors won’t be sure about anything until they see what state he’s in when he wakes up.”

“That’s reallyreallygood.”Ben throws himself at Bristol for another hug, pulling Mia along with him.“That’s so good.I was really worried.”He takes his arm off Mia’s shoulders and hugs Bristol tighter.Mia’s shoulders go up in an instant.Bristol pats at Ben’s back.“I’m sorry, Bristol.I never should have emailed him.Or…I should have told you.I knew it wasn’t right when we got to that pawnshop.The car just drove off so fast, and then dad was there, and he lookedbad, you know, and then the van came and—”

“Shut.Up.”Mia’s voice is a pointed shout that carries down the entire hallway.She takes a big step back from Bristol and Ben, who’s frozen, staring at her with his mouth open.“Shut up.”

The second time is even louder.

Bristol looks as surprised as Ben.“Mia, honey—”

Her shoulders start to shake first, and I open my mouth to sayBristolfollowed by who knows what.

I’m too late.Mia screams.

It’s nothing like the way she screamed when I launched myself into Bristol’s apartment.That was fear.Shock, probably.

This is shock, too, but it’s more than that.There’s rage in the sound.More than anything, sheer distress.

Mia’s hands go to her chest, then her ears.Her whole body’s shaking now.

“Oh my God.”Bristol reaches for Mia.“We need somebody over here.”She looks over her shoulder.There’s a nurse at the far end of the hall, turned toward us, probably because of the screaming.“This is—oh my God.This is an emergency, can you hurry?”

“I don’t think—” That it would be a good idea for a nurse to come over here, actually.

Ben talks over me.“Don’t be mad.Don’t be mad at her, okay?Bristol, you have to tell them not to be mad—”

Mia bolts.

She’s fast, ducking by Bristol’s arm, and then she’s sprinting down the hall.

I don’t think.I just go.

Mia runs as fast as she can.I’m faster.I have two seconds to be glad, very glad, that we’re not near any traffic, and then I cut in front of her and put my palm out to the wall.

She goes right, into the smaller family waiting room.Last door in the wing.Best-case scenario, because I have no idea what’s in the other hallways.A door with an alarm won’t make anything better.

I follow her in and stand in front of the open door.