Brad Callahan has lived with regret for thirteen years. In college, he broke Justin Lowe’s heart by cheating. Justin hasn’t spoken to him since, although his love for Brad never died.
When Brad’s paramedic unit is called to an accident, he finds Justin in the wrecked car. When Brad visits his former lover and well-known mystery writer in the hospital, Justin reveals he believes he was forced off the road and has been receiving ominous letters. Brad takes Justin home. Passion long held back ignites and they cannot resist being in each other’s arms.
But someone still wants to tear them apart, and Justin may never be able to trust Brad again.
Brad stared at the closed doors leading to the intensive care unit. He was shaking all over and couldn’t seem to stop. Had been since seeing Justin lying in the wrecked car, pale and bleeding. Near death.
As soon as his shift ended, Brad changed into jeans and a blue polo shirt and came straight to the hospital where Justin had been taken.
He hadn’t even known Justin was in California. Didn’t his biography on both his books and website say something about upstate New York?
“Brad, what are you doing here?”
Brad turned to face the pretty African-American nurse who called out to him. He knew many of the staff in the area hospitals. “Hi, Gretchen. I was just wondering how the accident victim we brought in is doing.”
“Oh, the writer? He’s critical. They’re watching him closely for brain swelling.”
“The press has been calling ever since they learned of the accident,” Gretchen said. She sighed, crossing her arms. “We’ve already had some trying to get in to take pictures.”
Brad swallowed the bile rising to his throat. Paparazzi in Los Angeles were like piranhas.
“Listen, Gretchen, do you think I might be able to see him for a minute?”
“You? Why? Brad, you know only immediate family is permitted.”
Brad nodded. “I know but ... Justin has no family out here anymore.”
“Do you know, Mr. Lowe?”
“Yeah, we ... we were good friends once.” Brad blanched. His heart threatened to leap into his throat.
Gretchen stared at him, her mouth twisting in consideration. “All right, but only for a few minutes. Come with me.”
He followed her through the double doors and past several rooms, most of which were merely covered by curtains. He heard groans of pain coming from some of the rooms and low but poignant weeping from the room next to where Gretchen led Brad.
“Wait here,” she told him. “I’m going to tell his nurse.”
Brad stood outside the room covered with one of those ringed curtains. He felt sick and wasn’t sure he should even be there.
Justin’s nurse, an older woman with gray curls, piercing blue eyes and a name tag that said Betty, walked over to him. “Are you a family member?”
“No, ma’am. I-I used to know Justin. I don’t know where his family is now. I’m one of the paramedics who were called to the accident.”
Betty appeared unimpressed but she shrugged. “Two minutes. We’re keeping him sedated so he won’t even know you’re here.”
She sniffed and drew the curtain aside to reveal Justin looking very small and ghostly white in the hospital bed. Tubes stuck out of him and a white bandage had been wrapped around his head.
“Two minutes,” the nurse said again then sort of nudged him in the direction of Justin and pulled the curtain closed behind him.
Brad walked within touching distance of Justin. He was so pale Brad could see little blue veins beneath his skin. Justin’s lips were almost as pale as his skin and there was a cut and a bruise next to his mouth.
He had an uncontrollable urge to touch his former lover’s face. His hand shaking, Brad reached out and touched his index finger along Justin’s cold cheek. Somehow it seemed a violation. He had no right to touch this man. He’d lost that right years ago.
His chest constricted and he dropped his hand away from Justin. His ex had always been smaller than him. Justin was five feet eight inches tops. But lying helpless in the hospital bed he appeared even smaller and frailer. Just as heartbreakingly beautiful, though.
Justin wouldn’t want him there, of course. Brad was well aware Justin hated him. He’d screwed up bad in college, and even after Justin walked out of the locker room, Brad had tried to talk to him. Justin would have none of it and had even moved away to avoid Brad. He’d given up then, not wanting to be Justin’s stalker.
Still, he followed Justin’s very successful career as a mystery novelist. Brad always knew he would do well.
The curtain moved and Brad knew his time was up. Had been thirteen years ago, really. The foolish prick of tears stung his eyes. The heartache never went away.
“Time’s up,” Betty said unnecessarily. She stood with her hands on her hips, looking like a bird protecting her baby in the nest.
“How is he doing?” Brad asked.
The old nurse shrugged. “About as well as can be expected. Airbag saved his life but he hit his head pretty hard. Doctors are monitoring him and so far there’s no swelling of the brain.”
Brad nodded, aware one of the tears he’d tried to hold back fell hotly against his cheek.
Betty’s face seemed to soften a bit. “Want to be sure there’s no spinal damage too.”
Brad stepped away from the bed and Betty closed it off again. He felt a little lightheaded.
“You can come back tomorrow if you want,” Betty said with a sniff. “In the morning.”
Brad found he couldn’t speak so he mouthed the words thank you and walked back through the double doors and out into the regular wing of the hospital.