Part #2 of Breathless series by Maya Banks
Her cell phone rang and she automatically reached for it. She glanced at the LCD screen, holding her breath as she realized she hoped it was Jace. She frowned when she saw Kaden’s name as the identifying contact.
“Miss Willis, this is Kaden. I tried to call Mr. Crestwell but he’s currently unavailable. So I wanted to let you know that Mr. Kingston is back at the apartment.”
She sat up fully in bed. “Jack’s there?”
“Yes, ma’am. He returned a half hour ago.”
She threw off the covers and swung her legs over the side. “Where are you right now? Are you still there?”
“I’m coming over. Stay there, please. Jace wouldn’t like if I was there alone. Just don’t let Jack leave before I arrive, okay?”
Kaden hesitated a brief moment. “Okay. I’ll be here and I’ll go up with you. Those are the conditions.”
“Of course,” she said hastily. “I’ll leave right away.”
She disconnected the call and hurried out of bed to dress. She looked like crap but she wasn’t going to take the time to shower and make herself look any better. Jack might not be there that long. Who knew what he was thinking?
A few minutes later, she went down to the lobby and asked the doorman to get her a cab. Twenty minutes later, she arrived at the apartment building. Kaden was waiting for her just outside the main entrance.
“He’s still here?” she asked breathlessly as she ran up to the door.
“Yes. I’ll go up with you now. I left a message with Mr. Crestwell’s receptionist, but I was told he’s in closed-door meetings for the next while.”
“Yes,” Bethany murmured as they got into the elevator. “He’s really busy this morning.”
She used her key to get inside the apartment and Kaden came in with her, sticking close to her side.
“Jack,” she whispered when she saw him standing by the bar in the kitchen.
Jack’s head came up and his eyes sparked with surprise when he saw her.
She flew around the bar and hugged him fiercely.
“Jack, I’ve been so worried. Where have you been? Why haven’t you called? Why did you let me think the worst?”
Jack pulled her away and grinned crookedly at her. He looked awful. Paler and thinner, more gaunt. And he had shadows under his eyes that told her he hadn’t slept in forever.
“Had shit to do, babe. Told you that.”
Anger whipped up her spine. “That’s bullshit! You had a nice place to stay. Jace did this for you. All of it. And you didn’t even stop to think that I was worried sick about you.”
Jack’s eyes grew hooded. “He didn’t do it for me, babe. He did it for you and we both know it.”
“Does it matter who he did it for?” she all but shouted.
“Yeah, it does.”
She turned in agitation and glanced over to where Kaden stood, his expression indecipherable. “Can you give us some privacy?”
Kaden didn’t look thrilled at that prospect.
“He’s not going to hurt me,” she said in exasperation. “You can stand just outside. No way for either of us to go anywhere as long as you’re guarding the door.”
Kaden’s shoulders heaved and then he reluctantly went to the door, walked out and then closed it behind him. Then she turned back to Jack.
“What the hell is going on with you, Jack? What about the drugs? What are you into?”
A bleak expression entered Jack’s eyes. “Let me make you a cup of hot chocolate. Already made me one. We can talk then. You’re cold and hate to say this, babe, but you look like shit. Crestwell not taking care of you like he promised?”
The accusation in Jack’s voice just pissed her off even more. He busied himself making another cup of cocoa and set it next to his to stir in the mix while she stood there and continued to stew.
“Jace is taking care of me just fine. This isn’t about me. This is about you. You have the chance to do something better with your life. Why are you so determined not to take it? He’s willing to let you stay here as long as you need to. You could get a real job. Get out of the life you’re in now.”
Jack finished stirring and then turned back to the sink to drop in the spoon and put away the milk. She grabbed one of the mugs from the counter and walked into the living room to sit on the couch. She was angry and she needed to get it under control. But it ate at her. This wasn’t the Jack she knew. He seemed like he didn’t give a shit about himself one way or another. It infuriated her that he had a chance to be better now and he was just pissing it away.
She sipped at the chocolate, allowing it to burn a warm trail into her belly.
Jack came in and sat across from her in the armchair, his own mug in his hands. But he didn’t drink. He just watched her with sad eyes.
“You can’t worry about me now, Bethy. You have a life. You have a man who cares about you. You need to focus on that and quit worrying about me.”
She made a sound of exasperation and downed half of the chocolate.
“I can’t just stop worrying about you, Jack. I’ve been worrying about you for too many years. That just doesn’t go away because my circumstances have changed. Why don’t you care more about yourself?”
“I came back because I’d planned to call you from the phone here,” he said quietly. “Wanted to say good-bye.”
Alarm raced down her spine. “Good-bye? Where are you going?”
“Away,” he said simply, not elaborating.
She finished off the cocoa and set the cup back down on the coffee table with a thud.
“Where?” she persisted. “What are your plans? Don’t do this, Jack. Please, I’m begging you. Stay here. I’ll help you find a job. You can have a good life. You can turn this around. Please, I love you.”
He gave her a tender look. “You don’t love me, Bethy. Not like you love him. I see the way he is about you. You deserve that. You deserve more than I could ever give you. You being happy is enough for me. That’s all I ever wanted.”
“Just because I love him doesn’t mean that what I feel for you is any less,” she said emphatically. “It’s a different kind of love. You’re my brother, Jack. Family.”
“I’m not your brother,” he said quietly.
It was then she realized. It hit her and she wondered how she could have been so blind. She sucked in a deep breath and the room went swimmy around her. She blinked to ward off the sudden dizziness but the room continued to sway around her. She frowned and shook her head to clear it.
“You have feelings for me,” she whispered. “You don’t see me as a sister.”
“Now you see it,” he said, an edge of bitterness to his voice.
She bowed her head and closed her eyes but then struggled to open them again. God, what was wrong with her? She suddenly couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t even summon the words she wanted to say.
“I’m so sorry, Jack.” Her words slurred and her tongue felt too thick in her mouth. “I never knew. Never realized . . . I love Jace. Completely and utterly love him. I love you absolutely, but not in that way. I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you.”
The room was starting to blank around her. She tried to stand but her legs wouldn’t cooperate. She staggered upward, pushing herself. She saw Jack’s look of alarm and then utter panic entered his eyes. He glanced down at his cup of hot chocolate and then reached over to grab hers, swearing when he found it empty.
It came out as a whimper. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong with her.
“I don’t feel so well,” she whispered.
The last thing she saw was Jack lunging for her, but he wasn’t in time. She hit the floor and the world blanked around her.
“Mr. Crestwell, I’m sorry to interrupt, but you have an urgent phone call from a Kaden Ginsberg. I told him you were in meetings but he insisted on speaking to you at once.”
“Crestwell here,” Jace barked when he picked up the phone.
“Mr. Crestwell, you need to get to Roosevelt Hospital as fast as possible,” Kaden bit out with no preamble.
Jace’s blood froze and he had to sit down before his legs gave out. “What the fuck is going on?”
“It’s Miss Willis. I called her this morning to tell her that Kingston had come back to the apartment. I escorted her up myself and stayed with her. I stepped just outside the apartment so the two could speak privately. When I came back in, she was unconscious on the floor of the living room.”
“What the fuck?” Jace exploded.
“Sir, it’s not good. She’s not good. Looks like an overdose,” Kaden said quietly.
Jace’s heart fell and panic seared through his brain, rendering him incapable of thought or speech. Overdose? Oh God. Had she tried to kill herself? Had he driven her to this?
“Overdose?” he croaked. “Are you certain?”
“I’m not certain of anything. I called for an ambulance but her respirations were so light I could barely detect them. Scared the shit out of me. I did mouth-to-mouth. She still had a very faint pulse. When the medics got there, they intubated her and loaded her up as fast as they could. We’re en route to the hospital now. Should be there in a couple of minutes.”
“I’ll meet you there,” Jace said shortly.
He hung up the phone and lunged from his chair. He ran headlong into Gabe and Ash, who’d both been standing at the door listening.
“What the fuck is going on?” Ash demanded.
“Bethany’s on her way to the hospital. It’s not good,” Jace choked out. “Overdose.”
“Jesus,” Gabe breathed.
“I’ve got to get to her,” Jace said, trying to push past his friends.
“Fuck no. You aren’t in shape to be driving anywhere,” Ash said, holding his arm. “Gabe and I will drive you.”
“I don’t give a fuck who drives. I just have to get there now,” Jace roared.
“Cool it, man,” Gabe said. “Get your head on. Last thing you need is to lose your shit. Take a deep breath. Be strong for Bethany. We’ll get you there. Ash, call for the driver. Mine is on standby. I’d planned to take Mia to lunch after our meetings so he’s waiting. Have him pull to the front immediately.”
“How can I cool it when I fucking did this to her?” Jace asked in a haunted voice.
“Jesus,” Gabe cursed again.
“Come on, we’re wasting time,” Ash clipped out.
They ran out to the car that had just pulled up when they exited the building. Gabe climbed in front and directed the driver while Jace and Ash got in back.
His mind was numb. His heart flayed open. The only thing he could feel was paralyzing fear. It choked him until he couldn’t breathe. He was absolutely gutted. All he could think of was last night, the look on her face, the devastation in her eyes and her accusation that he didn’t trust her, that he’d never trust her. Her saying she wanted out, to leave. Her saying she didn’t want to sleep next to him.
Memories flooded him. Bethany the first night he’d seen her. Her beautiful eyes. Her breathtaking smile. How she’d responded to his touch. And now that could all be taken away in one cruel moment because he’d been the worst sort of ass. He could have prevented this. If only he’d stayed with her this morning. He should have worked it out. He should have made certain she knew that she was the single most important thing in his life. But he hadn’t and now she was on a stretcher in an ambulance fighting for her fucking life.
“Jace, man, you have to breathe,” Ash murmured. “Keep it together. You need to be strong for her.”
He lifted his gaze to meet Ash’s. Cold and numbness crawled through his body until it blocked everything else. “I did this to her. Jesus Christ, I drove her to this. You were there. You know what I did. What I did to you both.”
“You don’t know that,” Ash snapped. “Keep your shit together until we know what happened.”
“Kaden said she was barely breathing. He had to do mouth-to-mouth on her. The medics had to intubate her. Kaden said it looked like an overdose. Now you tell me. After what you saw last night when I lit into you both, how upset and devastated she was because I was a complete asshole. You tell me I had nothing to do with this. This is on me, man. I left her this morning when I damn well should have stayed with her to make things right. But I left because I wanted to give her some space. I put a business deal before her and what she needed from me. I left her to think that I still didn’t trust her. You didn’t see her. Eyes swollen and puffy from crying her fucking heart out last night. We went to bed and she had her back to me all goddamn night. Fuck, she wanted to leave last night and I wouldn’t let her. She wanted to sleep apart from me and I wouldn’t allow that either. So she laid in that bed next to me last night and she cried because I’m an arrogant dickhead who lost his shit over nothing.”
“Man, you have to chill,” Gabe said grimly. He turned in the front seat so he could look at Jace, and his eyes were hard. “You don’t know what happened. None of us do. Until you get there and she explains it, you can’t jump to conclusions. You can’t do that to her.”
“She was barely breathing,” Jace bit out. “She may not even be alive when I get there. God, I can’t lose her. Not like this. Hell, I’m not even good for her. She tried to tell me. I knew what our relationship was doing to her. It almost happened before. She almost took a pill when I upset her last time. But I hung on because I was too selfish to do anything else. I was only looking at my wants and needs and I need her more than I need to breathe.”
“Pump the brakes,” Ash ordered. “Until we get the story, you can’t be making stupid, rash decisions. She needs you, man. She needs you more than ever right now. Whatever happened, it’s not good and she’s going to need you to be her rock. Whatever happened, you can fix it. But not if you’re already checking out and being all noble and shit by saying she’s better off without you. Do you honestly think she’s better off on the streets with fucking Kingston, who obviously doesn’t give a shit about the kind of life she has? Hell, he was pushing drugs at her. Does that sound like the kind of man she needs to be with?”
“I can give her a better life. I just don’t have to necessarily be in it,” Jace said bleakly. “I hurt her. I’ve hurt her time and time again. No one should have to put up with that shit. I can give her a better life and step away. Let her make her own choices. I’ll make damn sure she always has whatever she needs, but maybe the biggest thing she doesn’t need is . . . me.”
“Swear to God, I’m going to beat your ass if you don’t shut the fuck up,” Gabe growled. “Now isn’t the time for you to wimp out. Man up and be there for her. Find out what happened and then work it out. Bethany is fragile, but now? She’s going to be even more so. We don’t know what drove her to this. There’s a lot of questions we don’t have the answers to. And until we get those answers, the thing she needs most is you. There by her side. Supporting and loving her.”
Jace went quiet. He closed his eyes, torturing himself with images of Bethany’s lifeless body. Face pale in death, shadows from the night before still hanging permanently on her cheeks. Of her dying thinking he didn’t love her or trust her. Or her thinking she wasn’t the single most important thing in his life. Of her dying without him ever telling her how sorry he was and how much he fucking loved her.
She was everything to him and he was goddamn well going to make sure she knew it.
Gabe was right. No matter what had happened or why Bethany had done this, she needed him. He wasn’t going to let her go unless she convinced him she truly didn’t want him or his love. And even then he’d make damn sure she was always provided for. Even if it ripped his heart and soul r
“Going to marry her as soon as possible,” Jace said hoarsely. “Swear to God, if she survives this, I’m going to marry her and spend every goddamn day making sure she knows where my heart is at.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Ash said.
Jace lifted his haunted gaze to Ash. “I’m sorry, man. More sorry than you’ll ever know. I didn’t even think you did anything. Was just a shitty day and I went off without thinking. Just wanted to bite at someone and you and Bethany happened to be there at the wrong fucking time.”
Ash made a sound of impatience. “We already went over this shit. You said what you needed to say last night. It’s done. Won’t say I’ll ever tolerate that bullshit again, but it’s done. You just have to make it up to Bethany now.”
“Yeah,” Jace whispered. “If I only get the chance. God, don’t let her die. She has to live. We have to get through this. Please don’t let her die.”
Grief was choking, cutting off his air. It was a weight pressing down on every part of his chest until it was unbearable. He couldn’t lose her. Not like this. Never like this. He’d never survive this if she died.
“She’ll need help,” Gabe said in a low voice. “Counseling. If she tried to kill herself, she’s going to need professional help.”
“She’ll have whatever it is she needs,” Jace said. “However long it takes. But I’ll be there with her every step of the way. She’s never going to be alone again.”
The driver roared to a stop outside the emergency room entrance and Jace jumped out, running inside, where he was immediately met by Kaden. Jace grabbed the much larger man by his shirt, pulling their faces close together.
“Where is she?”
“They’re working on her now,” Kaden said grimly. “Doc came out briefly to ask about family. I told him you were on your way. Said it was definitely an overdose but they can’t rouse her enough to ask what she took or how much.”
“Fuck!” Jace exploded.
He dropped his hold on Kaden and then stalked toward the desk and the wary-eyed receptionist.
“Bethany Willis,” he bit out. “I want to see her now.”
She rose and walked around the desk as Gabe and Ash came up behind Jace.
“Sir, they’re working with her now. You’ll have to wait out here.”
“The hell I will! Take me back to her now. I have to see her. She’s not going to die alone. I have to see her.”
She looked helplessly at Gabe and Ash as if asking for their help in calming him. Thankfully neither did or said a word and stared the woman down to show her that Jace had their full support.
“Belinda, let him come back,” an older doctor said from a few feet away.
Jace immediately turned to the physician. “Is she okay?” His heart hammered and he staggered, struggling to remain upright. Icy fear gripped him. What if the doctor had come out to tell him she was gone?
“Come with me,” the doctor said in a quiet voice.
Jace followed behind, every step filled with overwhelming dread. He was led into a room where Bethany lay pale and quiet on a bed. Surrounding her was a bevy of doctors and nurses. There was a tube down her throat, and one down her nose. They were injecting some nasty-looking shit into the tube in her nose.
“Is she . . . is she still alive?” Jace choked out.
“We’ve managed to stabilize her but she still hasn’t regained consciousness,” the doctor said. “We don’t know what she ingested or how much so we’re treating her blind. We’ve tried to get her to rouse so she can tell us what happened, but so far we’ve had no luck. Maybe you can try to get a response from her.”
Jace surged toward the bed and one of the nurses stepped out of his way so he could get to Bethany’s side.
He picked up her limp hand and curled both of his hands around it. He brought it to his lips, pressing his mouth against it. Tears burned his eyes and he swallowed, sucking in deep breaths so he didn’t lose his composure.
“Bethany, baby, you need to wake up,” he said in a low voice.
“You need to speak louder,” the doctor advised. “I know you’re instinct is to be gentle, but she needs to regain consciousness.”
Jace leaned over and kissed her forehead as he swept one hand through her bedraggled hair. “Bethany, baby, can you hear me? You need to wake up and talk to us. We’re worried sick, honey. Come back to me. Please just come back to me.”
He broke off as a sob welled in his throat. She lay unmoving, all those damn tubes running everywhere.
“What about the tube in her throat?” Jace demanded. “If she wakes up, she’s going to panic. She can’t talk around that damn thing.”
Fever by Maya Banks / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on45 votes