Page 37 of Coercion

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“It’s just that you’re a Morelli.Like…a famous Morelli.And my family is basically a train wreck.”The elevatordings and the doors open, letting us out onto the fifth floor.All the good chemicals from sex with Will dissolve out of my blood, replaced by a cold, jittery shame that someone like Daphne Morelli is going to meet my dad.

She faces me in the quiet space near the elevators, Evan hovering nearby.“I don’t know how I seem to you, but—”

“Perfect.The exact opposite of a train wreck.”

Even her small huff of a laugh sounds expensive.“Well, not everything is as it appears.Fancy families have their issues, too.My brother Leo basically raised me.”My eyes must get wide, because she gives me a firm nod.“Yeah.He and my sister Eva.She was always there whenever he had to—whenever he was busy.That’s why I have so much respect for what you’re doing for your siblings.I know it wasn’t easy for Leo and Eva, and it can’t be easy for you.”

I’m surprised to find myself a little choked up.“It’s not that easy, no.”I think of the doctor with his hunched shoulders, practically running out of the hospital, and Mia with her hands over her ears in that warehouse, and Ben’s face when we were waiting for my dad to get out of surgery.“But nothing worth doing is easy.”

Daphne pats my arm.“I totally agree.”

She walks with me to the nurses’ station, where a cheerful blonde woman smiles when I tell her I’m here to see my dad.It’s kind of her, especially when there’s an officer from the NYPD posted outside my dad’s door.He has a guard in part to protect him from the men he got involved with, but also because they’re keeping him in custody so they can question him about the kidnapping.

“He woke up and had breakfast this morning, right on schedule.”The nurse seems impressed.“He’s in great condition.He must be determined to get back home.”

“Oh, wow.”Great condition?A day after he got shot?“I’m glad to hear that.”

I take a couple steps away from the nurses’ station.Evan moves ahead of me, and Daphne follows.“That’s good news, isn’t it?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Then why do you look upset?”

I’m not upset, exactly.I’m…uneasy.Just like I was when that doctor brushed by me downstairs.

I move down the hall as quickly as I can, Daphne and Evan hurrying to keep up.The nurse calls after me.

The cop by my dad’s door looks young, almost baby-faced.He’s not the one who was here yesterday.He holds up a hand as I get close.“Ma’am, I’m going to need to see some identification before I can determine if—”

Daphne draws herself up to her full height, and—woah.She looks cold and regal.Like a Morelli.“This is Mr.Anderson’s daughter.Let her through.”

The cop backs down.“Of course.Go ahead.”

I shoulder the door open.

“Wait.”Evan bumps into me.“I go first, remember?”

“Evan, just let me—” I cross the threshold just ahead of him.“Oh, God.”

My dad’s not in his hospital bed.Someone else is.

A white-haired doctor wearing a haphazardly fastened hospital gown, his wrists tied up with bandages.

Behind me, the cop curses under his breath.There’s a shocked gasp from the nurse, who wasn’t far behind us.She rushes to the bed at the same time as Evan and starts untying the doctor.

“I knew it.Iknewit.I should have said something.”

“That doctor.”Evan’s either pissed or guilty.Probably both.

“I just didn’t place him because of the coat.And he was moving weird, because he’s injured.Of course he would do this.I don’t know why I thought anything would be different.”

If all the blood hadn’t drained out of my face, it would be on fire.It’s beyond embarrassing.

My phone buzzes in my purse.

“That him?”The cop’s still in the room, doing pretty much nothing.

I give him a withering glare.“Why would he call the scene he just escaped from?Of course it’s not him.”I’ve never seen the number on the screen before.“Hello?”