Page 77


He pulled Mama in too, and we stood in an emotional little huddle in the middle of the waiting room.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled into his chest.
He sighed. “No, you’re not.”
We laughed and he held me tighter. He knew me too well.
• • • • • • • • • •
Texas and Tennessee grappled with who would charge Mitchell with attempted murder first—first-degree in Texas and second-degree in Tennessee, where he’d nearly strangled a fellow student to death in a fit of rage the evening before he showed up at my door. The details were still emerging, but news reports said they’d gone out once or twice and he became enraged when she told him she wasn’t interested in seeing him anymore. He’d gone to her apartment with a gun. They argued and he choked her until she lost consciousness. Her roommate—also a med-school student—hid in a closet until he ran out the door. She called 911 and did CPR until help arrived, saving her friend’s life.
He’d come straight to Texas. Straight for me. I didn’t even know he owned a gun. I didn’t know if he’d had it on him when he came into the house—when Mama confronted him. I felt ill thinking how much uglier that situation could have been.
I sat next to Boyce, his hospital bed angled halfway between lying and sitting, as he told the sheriff what had transpired from the moment Mitchell stepped foot on the property to the last thing he remembered. He pulled at the thin hospital gown, and judging from the way it stretched across his chest and hid nothing of his defined arms, I assumed it resembled a long, split-down-the-back shirt.
“I knew the only chance I had was right after we went into the trailer. When it’s sunny out, you’re half-blind for a minute or two after going inside. Soon as he shut the door, I turned and tackled him. I heard the shot but honest to God, I didn’t feel a thing. I grabbed his wrist and elbow and busted his forearm over my knee—”
“Boy howdy, you sure did—you snapped his damn ulna!” Sheriff Walker snorted a laugh.
“Huh. Well, then I just beat the shit out of him until I started feeling woozy, which was when I felt the bite of those bullet holes and saw the blood. I hit him one more time, and then I guess I passed out.”
“You lost quite a bit of blood, son, but he wasn’t going nowhere after the pounding you gave him. He looked like he fell down a long flight of concrete steps and landed on his face.”
From the toothy grin and literal knee-slapping glee that followed, I guessed Sheriff Walker would have paid good money to see that fight.
The whole account made my stomach churn. The way Boyce had looked on that floor—pale and still and lying in a pool of blood—I couldn’t think of it without tears stinging my eyes, and I couldn’t stop thinking of it. If Sam hadn’t texted me, if Randy hadn’t been willing to run into that trailer, Boyce might have bled to death. He wouldn’t be lying in that bed holding my cold hand.
As if he knew the direction of my thoughts, Boyce squeezed my hand and brought me back to the present. “I’ve got too much living to do to let a little bullet stop me.” He smiled wearily at the sheriff, eyelids heavy. “I’m feeling dog-tired, Sheriff Walker. Is that all you need for now?”
“Yessir, that’ll do it for now.” He jumped up and gathered his things. “The DA is gonna want his shot atcha—sorry—wrong choice of words there, heh-heh. He’ll be wanting statements from both of you. We’ll be in touch.”
After he’d hustled from the room, I asked, “Should I leave so you can sleep for a bit?”
“Hell, no.” Boyce’s mouth twisted into a roguish grin. “I want you up on this bed so I can claim my reward.”
“I don’t want to hurt you—”
“Then get that pretty mouth up here. This body denied a bullet, baby.” He gestured to the body in question, both arms wide. “The only thing killing me right now is not touching you. Boyce Fucking Wynn has to live up to his middle name, and I can’t do that without you.”
“You and your middle name did just fine without me for a while.”
He tugged my hand and winked. “Naw, baby, I just got by. I was saving the good stuff for you.”
I laughed, settling gingerly onto his left side regardless of his claims of bulletproofness. “Oh, were you now.”
Pulling me close, he held me against his shoulder, tipping my chin, fingers spreading to cradle my head, thumb caressing my face. “There was no one before you, and anyone in between was my sorry-assed attempt to ignore what I thought I couldn’t have. You broke my heart every time I saw you, sweetheart.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, dragging my fingers over the planes of his face, watching him close those beautiful eyes that had never once lied to me and lean into my hand. “I’ll never break it again.”
Tugging me higher, his breath whispered over my mouth. “Do these lips belong to me?”
“Yes.” I smiled and he pressed his lips to mine softly—a murmur of a kiss.
“And those dark eyes—I could sink and drown in those eyes—are they mine too?”
I nodded, lids falling closed as he touched feather-soft kisses across them. My fingers curled and slid to his neck.
He kissed me again—sweeping his tongue through my mouth as his callused hand skimmed down my arm to press our palms together. “And this hand that could lead me anywhere and I’d follow?” He threaded his fingers through mine and turned the back of my hand to his mouth for a kiss.
His left hand stroked over my hip and curved over my side. “This body,” he whispered, trailing our joined hands down the center of my chest. “Will it surrender under my hands? If I swear to worship you from the top of your head to your toes and everyfuckingthing between?” At my nod, he left my hand low on my belly, his palm roaming back to cover my heart. “And this heart, above all else. Does this heart belong to me?”
“All yours,” I said. “Always yours.”
The realization that followed was like the sun surrounding his head the day I died and didn’t die. That little boy, kneeling at my side, holding my hand, telling me to wake up—he didn’t have a perfect life, but he hadn’t been damaged yet. He hadn’t been disappointed and misunderstood, neglected and battered. He hadn’t suffered the loss that was coming for him.
He hadn’t needed salvation that day—I had. He had saved me, and his love for me had somehow saved him. I felt no pride about that. Just gratitude and relief that I finally had my finger on the pulse of our shared heart. Not just Boyce’s and mine, but everyone we knew and everyone we’d ever known. We were all parts of this interconnected life. We existed for it and because of it and sometimes in spite of it.