My editor is going to kill me. 🙂 I think you guys deserve this though.
Blame @andriiisantiii, she convinced me to do this. It’s still fairly rough draft but… Ah heck, you guys just want to read the story don’t you? 😉
I was eight years old the first time I got the flu. It was bad, enough so that I had to be rushed to the hospital. While I couldn’t remember much, I did remember vividly the aches and pains as my body struggled to rid itself of every last vestige of the foul disease.
Waking up in that hospital room felt similar, like waking from a painful dream. Eyes still closed, I turned my head to the side, the simple movement making me dizzy and nauseous. At my moan there was a commotion next to me then a strangely familiar man’s voice said, “Get the doctor.”
Why was that voice familiar? Who… Thinking made my head hurt so I gave up for a while, trying to keep as still as possible. After a moment the nausea subsided and I cracked open one eye, then the other.
I was in a well-lit room, the bright fluorescent lights above like knives in my skull. Figuring for the time being it would be better to keep my eyes closed, I listened as several people filed into the room.
“Ms. Delacourt, my name is Doctor Montague. I’m going to need you to open your eyes.”
“Hurts,” I mumbled, my tongue stinking to the roof of a dry mouth. I tried opening my eyes again and it was a little better this time. The room and its occupants were fuzzy; the tall figure beside my bed leaned in close and shined a light in my eyes. I flinched but the pain from before was already subsiding and he only did a few sweeps before pulling the pin light away.
“How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a bus.” The doctor spoke very good English but I could hear the slight French accent in his words. “Am I still in Paris?”
“Oui, you were brought here soon after your little incident.”
“Where’s Jeremiah?” I struggled to pull myself upright, ignoring the explosion in my head and the doctor’s restraining hand. “Is he okay?”
“He’s been coordinating with French officials on investigating what happened. Discreetly.”
It took me a moment to recognize the familiar from beside the bed. I barely made out Ethan’s bald head through bleary vision. “So he wasn’t…?”
“No, he wasn’t poisoned,” he replied, correctly guessing my unspoken question, and I let out the breath I was holding. “He’s been going through various channels to try and find the culprit. I sent word that your awake, he should be here any moment.”
Hearing that Jeremiah was on his way eased a burden inside my chest. The doctor handed me a glass of water as I glanced toward the clock, then the dark window. “How long was I out?”
“Three days,” Ethan replied and I coughed on the water I’d just swallowed. The big man shifted. “We didn’t know how it would end up. Lucky for you, Jeremiah has some medic training.”
“I almost died?” My words were a whisper and I found it difficult to come to grips with the idea.
“Officially, you did. Twice.” The doctor took my cup and set it on the table beside me I finally saw clearly. “If not for the, hm, insistence of Mr. Hamilton we may not be having this conversation.”
I stared at my hands for a long moment, emotions all jumbled together in my head. “I’m tired,” I murmured, sliding back down the bed.
“Before you sleep,” Ethan said, stepping toward me, “I’d really like to ask you a few questions about the man who brought the bottle to your room.”
Everything in me went cold. “You think he was the one who…?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out.”
The familiar deep voice made my heart leap. Jeremiah walked into the room and stood at the foot of the bed before looking at the doctor. “How is she?”
“Awake, and that is a good sign. I’d like to keep her at least another day for observation.”
Jeremiah nodded at the doctor, who stood and silently left the room. I blindly reached for Jeremiah’s hand when he took the empty spot beside me, not caring who saw or thought what. Fear settled over me like an oppressive blanket. Someone tried to kill me.
“What do you remember about the man who delivered the champagne?” Ethan asked as I clung to Jeremiah’s hand.
“He was ordinary,” I said, then winced at the phrase. Way to be unhelpful. “He was dressed like a hotel employee, white with medium brown hair and brown eyes I think.”
“Hair and eye color can be changed,” Jeremiah interjected. “What about facial features? Any scars or moles?”
Thinking made my head ache and I closed my eyes, trying to picture the brief glimpse I’d had of his face. “He had kind of deep set eyes, thin lips and was a couple inches taller than me. Um, I think he had a mole on his left temple and a scar on his chin, but I don’t know how much of that was makeup.”
Jeremiah and Ethan’s gazes met briefly and my heart sank. I probably just described half the country.
“What did he sound like?” Ethan asked finally after scribbling notes on a small notepad.
“He spoke English really well, I thought he sounded American.” I thumped my hand on the bed in frustration. “I don’t know. He seemed like a normal hotel employee and I didn’t think to look that hard.” A thought occurred to me. “What about the security cameras? There has to be something on them.”
Both men shook their heads. “We already checked. Whoever it was knew exactly where even hidden cameras pointed; we never got a face shot.”
I slumped in the bed. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Jeremiah’s phone went off, and he pulled it out to check the screen. “I need to take this,” he said, pulling his hand free from my grasp. “Ethan, see if you can find an artist to draw what she remembers. I’ll be back.”
Tears pricked my eyes as I watched him leave the room. Silly girl, I chided myself, blinking hard, he still has to do his job. It still hurt to have him gone however, there was security in his presence that I didn’t feel with a simple bodyguard.
“You know, this whole deal hit him pretty hard.”
I looked over at Ethan, wiping at my leaking eyes. The bald man wasn’t looking at me, too busy typing into his phone, but I could still sense his attention. “What do you mean?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, intent on his phone, then clipped it to his belt and looked at me. “How long have you two known one another again?”
The question felt like an interrogation and I frowned. “A few days, why?”
Ethan grunted. “He’s pulled out all the stops trying to find out who did this. I haven’t seen him this driven in a long time; even the last time someone tried to kill him he wasn’t this motivated.”
My mouth dropped open. “What?” I said, voice barely a whisper.
Ethan shrugged one shoulder like it was nothing. “A man like Jeremiah, given the cutthroat business he does, gets threatened a lot. It was not long after he agreed to sponsor my company that someone tried to shoot him outside his building.” Ethan snorted. “Jeremiah had already broken the man’s wrist and taken the gun by the time I got close. Turns out the gunman wasn’t even the person with a beef, he’d been hired to do the dirty work.”
“What happened next?” I asked when Ethan lapsed off, looking at his phone again.
“Nothing. The boss told me to find out who was behind it and let him know, then got on a plane for Dubai. Didn’t seem worried in the slightest.” Ethan peered at me. “Maybe it’s because you got hurt on his behalf. Either way, Celeste has taken over business operations while he focuses on this manhunt and tries to keep the press from getting wind.”
“So, the person on the phone…?”
“Was probably one of his contacts. If he didn’t want us to listen in, it was probably one that I don’t approve of. Either way, he’s gone to extremes on this one.”
Jeremiah chose then to come back inside, stowing his phone in his pocket. I got my first glimpse outside the door and saw two men dressed in black standing on either side of the entryway before the door closed again. “I have the boys looking for an artist now,” Ethan said. “Hopefully we can get someone up here within the next few hours.”
“Good.” Jeremiah moved to my bed then frowned down at me. “You should be resting.”
“Who was that on the phone?” I asked bluntly. When his eyes narrowed, clearly annoyed with the question, I persisted. “If it has something to do with me then I should know. Who tried to kill us?”
Jeremiah glared at Ethan but the big security expert had his eyes back on his phone, deliberately ignoring our conversation. “I’m not sure yet,” Jeremiah finally said. “I gave them the description you provided and they’re hopeful. Now, rest.”
My body demanded I follow the order – I’d been fighting against sleep anyway, but I still struggled to keep awake for one last question. “You won’t leave?” I asked, pushing myself deeper under the sheets.
His eyes softened a bit. “I’ll be nearby,” he promised, and at his words I finally closed my eyes, letting my exhaustion overwhelm me.
I stayed in the hospital for three more days under observation. The doctor seemed optimistic about my recovery, but I felt weaker than a baby. Needing help to do simple things like walk proved frustrating and I was determined to do it on my own. After I slipped and nearly fell trying to get myself to the attached bathroom however, Jeremiah ordered that I have constant help available, whether by nurses or bodyguards.
Most of my days were spent sleeping, but it quickly grew boring staying in the hospital bed. When I mentioned this to Ethan, an ever-present fixture in my room, a brand new tablet, still in the box, appeared beside my bed soon afterward. The device gave me something to do with my spare time, and I spent most of it researching my new boss.
I’d joked before that I knew the Wikipedia version of his life, and as it turned out so did the rest of the world. There were articles on him that mentioned he was an Army Ranger, talked about his charity work, and went into detail on his business ventures, but I knew all this already. The media threw out words like “mysterious” and “enigmatic” when they described him, and the words seemed appropriate given the lack of any in-depth information through nearly all channels. Articles on the corporate changeover after his father’s death were similarly shallow, mainly analyst predictions where the company would go under new management, if a man who had minimal business education could really take over for the tycoon Rufus Hamilton, and so on.
By day four of my stay I was walking on my own again, just in time to leave the hospital. Our exit felt like an espionage movie: I was shuffled to the basement garage by the bodyguards and carefully packed into a waiting limo that I assumed would take us to the airport. Jeremiah watched over everything, never leaving my side, even maintaining a possessive grip around my shoulders as we drove out of the parking garage.
I dozed through most of the trip, using Jeremiah’s shoulder as a pillow. I awoke once an indeterminate amount of time later to see we were no longer in the city but didn’t think anything of it, nodding back to sleep until the car finally stopped. Jeremiah shifted under me and I lifted my head, gazing blearily out the window. This definitely isn’t the airport, I thought, rubbing my eyes. “Where are we?”
Jeremiah didn’t answer the question, merely edged toward the door as it was opened from the outside. “Come find out,” he said, taking my arm to help me out of the car. I didn’t immediately recognize the structure. Nearby was the faint sound of water and a monument that looked vaguely familiar.
Several men in dark suits were scattered around the area and one black man came jogging up to us. “The place is secure, sir,” he said, and as Jeremiah nodded I finally realized where I was.
“You brought me to Utah Beach,” I whispered in stunned surprise. I’d only mentioned the location once to Jeremiah, so this was proof he was really listening to me. The wind off the water was chilly, cooling the already cold winter air; the sky was overcast and looked like it might spit snow at any moment. Looking around at a place I’d only seen in pictures online, I found myself inexplicably tearing up.
Jeremiah took off his jacket and slipped it around my shoulders when I shivered. “You mentioned this was someplace you wanted to visit.” He looked uncomfortable and edgy, and I wondered if it was my tears. “They have a Visitor’s Center with artifacts from the beach itself, but we can go down to the water if you’re up for it.”
His voice was gruff and his demeanor short, but I didn’t care. Happiness suffused me at the sight of a place I’d always dreamed of visiting, and I slipped my hand through his. Jeremiah stiffened and I saw him swallow, then his fingers relaxed into mine. “Help me inside?” I asked, burrowing myself deep inside his coat.
His gaze softened as he peered down at me, then he lifted my hand to his lips. “I’d be honored.”