The unmistakable tang of blood filled my mouth. My brain was fuzzy as I tried to open my eyes, but it was like they were superglued shut. My shoulder throbbed as if jammed in a wood chipper, and I couldn’t seem to move, no matter how much I wanted to.
“Can you hear me?” a gentle voice asked. Fingers gripped my wrist, and I groaned. “I’m so, so, so sorry.” A definite loss of control wobbled thorough that same male voice. “Please be okay.”
Someone smoothed the hair off my forehead. It felt kind of nice. The hands were soft, and they touched me like I was fragile. Valuable.
Sirens, blaring horns, and raised voices surrounded me in a swirl of confusion, and still I found it impossible to move.
“I saw the whole thing,” a nasally voice announced. “He rode right in front of you. There was no way you could have stopped in time.”
“That isn’t really the point right now, is it?” the gentle voice snapped back.
A loud, raw groan erupted from my tight throat. My bones and flesh ached so horribly I thought I might even cry. Oh, God. How embarrassing. I wasn’t a crier. But then I’d never been in the kind of pain I was in at the moment either.
“It’s okay. It’s going to be all right,” the soft voice reassured me. “I’ll take care of you. I promise.”
People grabbed under my arms and lifted me. That’s when the real torture started. I wanted to yell for them to put me back down. Leave me where I was. But I couldn’t seem to form the words needed to beg them to stop. But then none of that mattered because everything went black.
When I opened my eyes, the light above me was so white and harsh I slammed my lids shut again. I wasn’t out on the street anymore. I was in a room, and the only sound was a high-pitched beep off to the side of my bed. Instinctively I knew better than to try and move. My body still ached, but there was a warm layer of something blurring the pain. It was like someone had inserted a barrier of cotton between my nerve endings and my injuries.
I popped my eyes open again and scoped the room as best I could without moving my head. There was someone sitting near me. I couldn’t make out who it was because I was terrified of actually engaging my muscles enough to look properly. The memory of my earlier pain was still very much etched in my brain, and I really didn’t want it to return.
“You’re awake.” I recognized that gentle voice from the street, and a chair creaked as someone stood and came closer. A guy about my age appeared above me. He had jet-black hair and moss-colored eyes. I’d never seen eyes so green. Who was he, and why did he look so guilty?
I licked my dry lips, noticing that my lower lip felt swollen. “Where?” I attempted to speak. My throat was bone-dry, and I sounded like I was in Citizen Kane about to share the name of my childhood sled.
“You’re at Dallas County Hospital. I don’t want you to worry about a thing. My dad’s paying for everything, absolutely everything, and you really, really don’t need to be concerned.” He swallowed and his Adam’s apple bobbed in his slender throat.
Paying for what exactly? I still wasn’t sure what had happened.
I guess he could see the question in my eyes because he said, “I hit you with my car.” He winced and then held up his hands quickly. “Nothing’s broken. Well, on you. Your bike is toast.”
Now it was coming back: the screech of tires, the slamming onto the pavement. I frowned and even that hurt. “Who are you?” I did another husky Rosebud impersonation.
“I’m Sam. Sam Foster.” He started to hold out his hand and then shoved it in his jeans pocket. “I saw from your license your name is Harper.”
I just stared because I wasn’t really able to do much more than that very well.
“My dad will buy you a new bike. I don’t want you to worry about a thing.” He grimaced. “I know that’s easy for me to say, when you’re the one lying in a hospital bed. But I mean it. It was all my fault, and I’m going to see to it that you’re taken care of.”
“Right.” I was too tired to argue, and I still felt disconnected from reality. Was this actually happening? Judging by how banged up my body felt, it was. But it was hard to believe I’d have been that careless. I’d been riding for years and no one had ever hit me. Sure I’d had some close calls. The streets were packed with cars at rush hour, but I was careful. No way I’d let someone plow into me. I was quick. I was professional. I was fucked.
He approached the bed and leaned over to gently squeeze my arm. I wasn’t accustomed to people I didn’t know touching me, but a pleasant shiver rolled through me and I sighed. There was something about his touch that made me feel better. I remembered that from earlier. His smile was warm, and my chest tightened as his sincere gaze held mine. Nobody smiled at me that way usually. Nobody wasted time trying to charm me. As thrashed as I felt, the heat of his smile wiggled through me. Why was he being so nice? Was he afraid I’d sue him? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was his motivation. If there was one thing I was certain of, it was that most people were self-serving.
He shared another beguiling smile. “Like I said, no bones are broken. But your shoulder was dislocated, and your leg was sliced open and bruised pretty badly. They gave you like twenty stitches. You’re going to have to stay off your bike for a few weeks.”
I widened my eyes in horror, and he flinched.
I did something very stupid: I attempted to sit up. The screech I let loose didn’t sound like me. He cowered briefly, and I fell back against the bed as agonizing pain radiated through my shoulder and shot down my arm. I gasped for breath and tried to stay perfectly still as the excruciating, stabbing pains in my shoulder and arm slowly began to fade.
“You shouldn’t get up.” He sounded almost angry. “What are you doing?”
I licked my lips again and gritted out, “My job. I’ll lose my job.”
He shook his head. “No.” His voice was sharp. “I’ll make arrangements. I’ll figure something out. You will most definitely not lose your job.”
I gave a short, bitter laugh, making sure not to jolt my shoulder. I worked as a bicycle courier. There were no desk jobs at my place of employment. My boss, Jack, already didn’t love me, and he didn’t tolerate fuckups of any kind. Not being able to ride for weeks would definitely qualify as a fireable offence. What the hell was I going to do? I could barely make rent as it was on my one-bedroom apartment. I wasn’t soft or weak, but I didn’t know that I could survive being homeless. The very thought of that made me feel sick. Hopeless.
Sam still hovered. His eyes were bright, and his mouth drooped. “I didn’t see you, and by the time I did it was too late.” He paled. “I feel horrible.”
I knew he wanted me to forgive him. I wasn’t sure I had it in me at the moment.
I cleared my throat. “Water?”
He straightened and grabbed a plastic pitcher on a tray nearby. Then he poured some water into a little pink cup with a bendy straw. He held the cup near my lips, and I sipped from the straw. I was embarrassed when some of the cool water dribbled down my chin. He surprised me when he wiped the drops away with his thumb, as if it was no big deal to wipe away a stranger’s drool.
“Is there someone I can call for you? Maybe your parents? Your cell was smashed.” He swallowed hard. “I’ll replace that too.”
My throat felt much better now that I’d had some water. “No. I don’t have anyone to call.”
He frowned as if he couldn’t imagine that would be true. “No one?”
I thought about some of the riders at my company. Maybe I could have reached out to them if I were a reaching-out type of guy. We were a tight-knit group while on the clock, and we’d occasionally drink together after work. But we didn’t spend holidays together or hang out at each other’s houses. Besides, my fellow employees were already riding their asses off trying to make a living. They couldn’t cover for me without blowing out their legs. There was no way they could risk that just to help me.
I closed my eyes and tried to keep back the tsunami of fear that hurtled toward me. I didn’t know what to do. I usually had a plan, but I couldn’t think my way out of this at the moment. I’d known the possibility existed that I might get hurt one day, but I’d never really believed it would happen.
“You can probably claim disability insurance.”
“My boss doesn’t exactly do things legally,” I whispered. “I’m not sure what I can claim.”
A line appeared between his perfect brows. “Oh. Well, either way you’ll be okay. My family will take care of things.”
He sounded so self-assured. He obviously had great faith in his family’s willingness to help me. I didn’t have any such faith. Not in his father and not in anyone. I’d been on my own since I was sixteen, and depending on someone else to save me wasn’t in my DNA.
An older man with a fluffy salt-and-pepper mustache strode into the room. He looked vaguely familiar, and his wide shoulders and palpable self-importance shrunk the room immediately. Instinctively I wilted from his aggressive energy, pressing back against the soft pillows.
“Dad, what are you doing here?” Sam’s surprise was evident. “I told you I could handle this.”
The older man approached the bed and observed me with steely gray eyes. “You’re far too trusting. I wanted to meet your new buddy Harper myself.”
I was taken aback that he knew my name, and I stared at him wordlessly.
Mr. Foster tilted his head studying me as if I was an amoeba on a glass slide. “The nurse at the desk said nothing’s broken, so that’s good.” He rubbed his chin.
“Why are you here?” Sam repeated. “Don’t you think I can do anything on my own?”
“It’s my money. Am I not allowed to assess the situation?” The older man sounded patient when he spoke to his son. His tone changed when he addressed me. “Sam believes in the goodness of others.” His tone implied he thought his son was nuts. “I, on the other hand, don’t.”
We actually had that in common.
“This is really annoying. You’re treating me like a child,” grumbled Sam.
“The world is filled with shysters, son. Things aren’t always what they seem.”
Sam’s face was pinched and his mouth tight. “I hit him with my car, Dad. That really happened.”
“I’m sure you did, son. But there are ways to fake an accident. Believe it or not, Dallas has a lot of con artists who throw themselves in front of cars and pretend to be hurt.”
Heat flooded my swollen cheeks. Even if he thought I was some sort of scumbag, he shouldn’t have had this conversation in front of me. I’d have loved to take a swing at that arrogant asshole, but I knew that would hurt me more than him. Instead I put all my energy into glaring at him.
“Jesus, Dad, just look at him. He’s not faking his injuries,” Sam exclaimed. He looked uncomfortable, and I got the feeling he wanted to defend me but wasn’t sure how.
Mr. Foster grabbed my chart off the foot of my bed and studied it glumly. “My son’s a very responsible driver. I find it hard to believe he just didn’t see you, Harper.”
“There was a ton of traffic, and it happened really fast.” Sam crossed his arms. “I told you all of this on the phone.”
“Still, one can’t be too careful.” Mr. Foster eyed me suspiciously. “Don’t you agree, Harper?”
I found it annoying that he kept using my name. We weren’t friends. Far from it, in fact. He was scowling at me as if I was trying to steal his wallet. Who did this blowhard think he was; accusing me of trying to scam his precious son? Every inch of my body throbbed with pain, and I had no idea what would happen to me now. Did this middle-aged bastard actually think I’d wanted to be hit by a car? He could kiss my ass. I narrowed my eyes and managed to hiss, “Fuck off. I don’t want your damn money.”
Sam looked shocked at what I’d said, but he didn’t speak.
Mr. Foster raised his brows. “Come again?”
At that exact moment, a nurse wandered into the room wearing a pink smock with kittens on it. She stopped short when she saw Mr. Foster and Sam. “Visiting hours are long over, boys.” She grabbed the clipboard from Mr. Foster and shook her head. “He’ll probably be discharged tomorrow, so you can catch up on all the gossip then.”
“So soon?” Sam looked surprised.
She nodded, studying my chart. “Looks like there are no broken bones. We need every bed we can get right now. Anybody who isn’t on death’s door gets the boot.” She gave me a sympathetic glance. “Sorry.”
I wasn’t sure if I was relieved to be leaving the hospital so soon, or terrified. I was hopeful my wallet was somewhere nearby so I could call a cab to take me home. God, how much would a cab ride be from here to my place? I rarely had much cash on me, and my cards were maxed out. Maybe I could catch an Uber or something. That would be cheaper. But would I even be able to walk from the car to my apartment? I was still too scared of the pain and hadn’t had the nerve to try and move my leg yet. Jesus, would I have to crawl up the walkway? That wouldn’t be humiliating at all.
“It seems like he should stay longer.” Sam bit his lip as he studied me.
Mr. Foster puffed out his chest. “Let the experts handle things, son. If the hospital thinks Harper is well enough to go home tomorrow, who are we to argue?”
Sam gave his father a surly glance, and then he addressed the nurse. “What time will he be released?”
“Oh, I’m guessing around two in the afternoon.” The nurse tinkered with an IV bag hanging near my bed. She winked at me. “This is morphine. You should feel awesome in about five minutes.”
It didn’t even take that long before my body felt flushed and my lids heavy. The last memory I had, before my eyes slammed shut, was of Mr. Foster dragging a very disgruntled-looking Sam out of the room.
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