Excerpt: Dirty Secrets

Book 3: Mechanics and Mayhem Trilogy

Excerpt: Dirty Secrets Book Cover

Chapter 1



U.S. Route 90, Tallahassee, Florida
Thursday, 10:02 a.m. Daylight Saving Time

DETECTIVE JANE COOPER’S heartbeat pounded in her ears as a tow truck, police cruisers and ambulances came into view. She parked along the shoulder of US-90 and drew in a deep breath, hoping the sudden wave of anxiety-induced dizziness would pass. When one of her fellow Violent Crimes Unit detectives, Keith Pierson, approached her car, she quickly wiped her sweaty palms along her pants, then exited.

“Morning, Keith,” she said with a nod, hoping to come off as aloof when her insides were in turmoil. Her emotionless attitude and investigative mind had helped her become very good at her job. After breaking up with her lover, then dealing with breast cancer, her demeanor had changed, leaving her with a barrage of feelings she still struggled to understand. One thing about her that hadn’t changed was her ability to keep those inner struggles bottled deep inside. Right now, she needed to maintain her cool. Because if one of the victims was the man she still loved, every feeling she’d kept buried would surface in a cataclysmic meltdown of grief and regret. And she couldn’t allow that to happen at a crime scene. That would be unprofessional.

She pushed thoughts of meltdowns from her mind and forced herself to concentrate on her job. “What do we have?”

“Two males. One dead, the other severely injured and unresponsive. EMTs are prepping him for transport.”

She tensed, braced herself for news she wasn’t sure she could accept. She might’ve been the one to dissolve the relationship she’d had with Sully Dolan, but she still loved him and never wanted to see him hurt, let alone dead. “ID?” she asked, then swallowed hard to stop her chin from trembling.

“Not on the deceased. The injured man is Ross Webber.”

Although grateful her ex wasn’t the one being taken to the hospital, Ross was one of Sully’s best friends. She still couldn’t relax. What about the deceased? What if Sully and Ross had done a tow run together? What if he was the other victim? Anxious to find out, she walked toward the crime scene and glanced at the dead man. At his blond hair and thinner build. Relief rushed through her. Not Sully.

“I know who Webber is.” She focused on the tow truck, specifically the company graphic located on the door. “The Garage is an auto repair shop. They also do repossessions and, obviously, tows.” She directed her gaze to the Chevy Impala parked behind the truck. “Did the first responder speak to the victim?”

“Jane, I wouldn’t call Webber a victim yet, and I remember The Garage. We investigated a body found in a trunk there, and less than two months later, we questioned one of the owners after a domestic dispute led to a man’s death. Now we have another dead body.” He shook his head. “That’s three deaths in ten months. If I worked there, I’d look for a new job. That place is cursed,” he said, smothering a yawn.

Her chemo brain had almost forgotten Keith had been with her during those cases. “You’ve always been superstitious. Explain why you don’t think Webber is a victim.”

Keith rubbed his glassy, bloodshot eyes which were underscored by dark circles. “A tire iron was found next to him with blood on it, and taking a quick look at the deceased, it looks as if he suffered severe head injuries.”

“We won’t know whose blood it is until a DNA test is conducted. It could be the tire iron was used on Webber.”

Keith shrugged. “True. Let’s talk to the first responder.”

“Wait,” she said, stopping him. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve been up all night.”

“I was. My daughter is sick. With my wife out of town, I had to play nurse.”

“That’s miserable. I hope Avery is feeling better today.”

“I’m hoping whatever she has doesn’t go through the rest of the house.”

As they walked toward a uniformed officer, she eyed the cloudy gray sky. Rainfall in April normally averaged around four or five inches for the month, but they hadn’t had so much as a drizzle in more than two weeks. If it rained—and she hoped it didn’t—forensics would have to tent the area and work quickly to preserve the evidence.

“Officer Vargas.” Keith waved over a patrolman. “Tell Detective Cooper what you found.”

“Ma’am,” the young officer began, “at approximately eight fifty, I was driving eastbound when I noticed the tow truck and sedan parked across the median. The thing is, when I was on patrol yesterday, I tagged the sedan to be impounded. Those impound notifications are neon pink and hard to miss. When I didn’t see the one I left on the windshield, and didn’t recognize the name of the towing company, I made a U-turn to assess the situation. Upon arrival, both vehicles were off, and both men were lying on the shoulder. The deceased was on his back, his face, head and shirt covered in blood. The other man was face down. His injuries appeared similar, but I did notice his hands were cut and bleeding.”

“Sounds like the two had a fight,” Keith suggested.

While Jane agreed, Sully had talked quite a bit about his friends and coworkers from the auto repair shop. Although she’d met most of them during the ‘body in the trunk’ case, she had never actually socialized with them. Still, from what Sully had told her about Ross, the man sounded more like a lover than a fighter.

Vargas nodded. “That was my initial thought. But something doesn’t seem right about it. I ran the Impala’s plate yesterday and the car belongs to Brenda Holmes. Here’s her information.” He ripped paper from a small notepad and handed it to Keith. “Maybe her husband or boyfriend came by to get the car and that’s him lying on the shoulder. But where’s the tag I left?”

“We’ll make sure forensics keeps an eye out for it,” Keith said.

Although something as simple as a missing impound notice could break the case, at this point in the investigation, they needed to look at all the evidence surrounding them, not just one piece of the puzzle. “Was Ross Webber conscious?” she asked.

Vargas shook his head. “I struggled to find a pulse and initially thought he was gone.”

Keith had Jane and Vargas walk with him closer to where the men had been found. The deceased was currently being photographed. Near his body were several yellow markers, which made a path and stopped roughly five feet away and toward the front of the tow truck, where Jane assumed Ross had been lying.

She looked at the truck. “The doors are open. Is this the way you found it?”

“Yes, ma’am, and the keys were in the ignition. Something else I thought strange was the smell of gasoline. It was very strong and concentrated toward the backend of the wrecker, not the car. But there was no gas can.”

After Vargas pointed out the location of the gas odor, he went back to his patrol car. “I smell it, too.” Jane bent forward and inhaled through her nose. “Vargas is right. Something isn’t right.”

“Maybe.” Keith squatted low, his gaze on the gravel and dirt covered ground. “Or this could be pretty cut and dried. Let’s say the Chevy is here because it ran out of gas. Brenda Holmes sends her guy to fill the tank and get the car running, but he sees Webber is ready to tow it away, and they have an altercation that goes too far.”

“Jane, Keith.” The lead forensics tech, Dana Wong, came around the backend of the Impala. “I was wondering where you went.”

“We were playing hide-and-seek.” Keith gave her a tired smile as he stood. “Now you’re it.”

“I’m glad homicide hasn’t affected your sense of humor,” Dana said with an eye roll. “I’d like you to take a look at something.”

 “Before we do…” Jane began, then brought up the impound notice and gas spillage. “Also, did the deceased have car keys on him?”

Dana shook her head, making her black ponytail sway. Jane experienced a brief stab of jealousy and momentarily missed her long hair. “He has nothing on him.” Dana veered them closer to the body and pointed to the man’s jeans.

“One of the front pockets is inside out,” Jane said. “As if someone didn’t want to leave anything behind that might ID him.”

With reluctance, she drifted her gaze up the man’s body, over his bloodied shirt, stopping at his battered face. Acid crept up her throat. God, what was wrong with her? She’d always had a strong stomach and viewing the dead had never bothered her before. Fortunately, Tallahassee didn’t have a high homicide rate. But the cases the Violent Crimes Unit investigated weren’t just murder related. Their unit also dealt with assault, domestic violence, suicides, accidental deaths, fire deaths…too much damned death.

“Agreed,” Dana said. “Hopefully, his fingerprints are in the system. Speaking of prints… Because we’re worried about rain, we’ve already used plaster to lift shoe prints from the dirt. Four sets. We can rule out three—Officer Vargas, and the two men at the scene. The other set was next to the deceased.”

“Meaning someone else was present during the assault.”

“Which might confirm my theory,” Keith said. “This guy had to get here somehow, right? So, he drives over, possibly with the owner of the Impala, to fill the gas tank. Sees the tow driver, they fight, and the Impala’s owner—or whoever was with him—either gets involved or later comes over to check on our deceased guy. She finds him dead, panics, strips him of his wallet, keys and cell, then off she goes.”

Dana’s expression said she wasn’t convinced. “Then you’d be looking for a woman who wears a size twelve shoe.”

Jane considered the shoe print, which had her thinking about the gas can again. “A five-gallon can of gas weighs a little over thirty pounds. If they brought it here hoping to fill the tank, wouldn’t we find an impression of the can in the dirt?”

“Good call,” Keith said, then added, “And would someone in a panic remember to take the impound ticket?”

“More importantly, why take it at all?” Jane let out a sigh. “We could speculate all day, but I’d rather meet with the Impala’s owner and hear her story.” She met Dana’s gaze. “Is the ME on his way?”

“He should be here in about twenty minutes. I think he’ll confirm this man died within the past hour, and the cause of death was likely due to head trauma.”

“From the tire iron?” Keith asked.

“I don’t know about that, and it’s for the ME to decide. Here’s what I wanted you to see.” Dana stepped around the body and to the path of markers. “See these grooves in the dirt and gravel?”

Jane and Keith crouched beside Dana. The pattern in front of them was indicative of someone crawling on all fours, and there were circular drops of what could be blood in the area in between the grooves. Where the trail stopped were a few more markers, along with the tire iron. “Keith, let’s think about this…if Webber used the tire iron on the deceased, then crawled over to there—”

“Where’s the impression in the ground from the tire iron?” he finished for her. “And if it was found next to his left hand, and he’s right handed…”

She grinned. “That means whoever else was here possibly used the tire iron on one or both of these men, then staged the scene to make it look as if Webber was the last person to use it.”

“Your mind-melding moment is kind of freaky,” Dana said. “But my question would be why? Unless the third individual killed this man, what would be the point in staging the scene?”

As they left Dana to do her job, Jane attempted to come up with an answer to the forensic tech’s question. Instead, her thoughts kept returning to Ross and how his role in what had happened here would affect him, Sully and his friends. Mostly—selfishly—she worried how seeing Sully would impact her. Since she and Keith were working this investigation, she would have no choice but to face Sully. Soon.

“Let’s drop off one of our cars, then find Brenda Holmes,” she suggested.

Keith fished keys from his pocket. “We need to notify Webber’s next of kin about his condition first. We also need to go to the repair shop. I was just thinking about Officer Vargas. He said The Garage isn’t one of the companies used for impounding vehicles.”

“But the tow truck is here,” she said, following his line of thinking. “Someone had to have called them. If Brenda Holmes ordered the tow, your cut and dried case just became complicated.” Although the temperature hovered in the low seventies, goose bumps crawled along her skin. “Damn it, this was a setup.”

Which meant that unless Ross had been requested for the tow, any one of the men who worked at The Garage—Sully included—could have been behind the wheel of the wrecker. Anger and frustration simmered in her chest. Along with fear. If someone was targeting the workers or the repair shop itself, they could attack again.

“So, we’ll head to the shop first?” Keith asked.

Her stomach tightened with nervous energy. “Yeah, I think it’s a good idea we start there,” she said, even though she didn’t want to go. Her fear wasn’t just for the guys at the garage. No, she was afraid to see Sully. The last time she’d talked to him, she’d told him she was dying and that she didn’t want to see him again. The shock and hurt in his eyes had nearly crushed her and was an image she couldn’t erase, no matter how hard she tried. Now she worried what she’d see in his eyes today. Hatred? Cool indifference? Relief she was still among the living?

There was only one way to find out.


The Garage, Tallahassee, Florida
Thursday, 11:42 a.m. Daylight Saving Time

“Have you heard from Ross?”

Sully closed the hood of the Ford he’d been repairing, then grabbed a rag to wipe his hands. “Not since he left to do a tow. Why?”

His boss and friend, Jude Kendrick, walked over, wearing a combination of concern and irritation on his face. “He’s been gone for well over three hours and isn’t answering his phone.”

While that was odd, sometimes their buddy liked to take detours when he ran a tow. “You know how Ross is. He probably stopped by his mom’s for breakfast and lost track of time.”

“With a car hooked to the truck? And for three hours?”

It was a long time, but Ross had also been seeing a woman he’d met on an online dating site. Maybe his detour had led to her. Still, three hours… “I’m sure he’ll be along soon,” he said, ignoring the unease working through him

“I’m not paying him to have breakfast with his mom.” Jude glanced at his watch, worry still clear in his eyes. “Even if he did, he should be back by now. It shouldn’t have taken him more than fifteen minutes to get to the car, add on ten to load it…I have a hard time believing he’s been at his mom’s for over two and a half hours. And he always answers his phone.”

That unease pricked at the back of his neck. Jude was right. Ross, unlike the rest of them, was diligent about answering or returning calls and texts. “Why don’t we solve the mystery right now?” He pulled his cell from his pocket, then searched for Mrs. Webber’s number. As he was about to place the call, with the exception of the classic rock station playing in the background, the garage went silent. He glanced at Jude, who looked past him and to the open bay behind. The intense concern in his friend’s eyes caused Sully’s muscles to stiffen. “What’s wrong?” he asked, afraid to turn around and see for himself.

“Detective Lady is here,” Jude said, his tone quiet as he met Sully’s gaze. And the look in Jude’s eyes, the fear in them, made his body go cold. “Ross isn’t with her.”

The implication that a homicide detective was here about Ross made him sick and angry. She made him sick and angry. He hadn’t seen Jane in seven long-ass months. He’d tried. Dozens of times, he’d tried calling, texting, had sent her flowers and had even gone old school and mailed her cards. Her response? Not a goddamned word.

Whatever the fuck. His concern was Ross. And she damned well better not be here to tell them…

Sully turned and caught his breath. He’d always thought Jane was a beautiful woman, but she was now even more alluring. Her super-short hair had somehow brought out her green eyes, making them look bigger and more intriguing. If he hadn’t kissed her lips hundreds of times, he would swear she’d had cosmetic work done because they were fuller and—she fucking dumped his ass. He would do well to remember that and not get caught up in how sexy she was, or how much he wanted to hold her, taste her, hate her. 

“We’re Detectives Pierson and Cooper,” Jane’s partner said, and flashed a badge. “We’d like a word with you, Mr. Kendrick.”

“Unfortunately, we’ve already met. What’s this regarding?” Jude asked, tension in his voice.

Pierson glanced around the shop, while Jane dropped her gaze to the floor. “I think we should talk in private.”

His buddy, Cash Maddox, who was also part owner of the shop, walked over with their other mechanic, Vlad. “If this is about Ross, you can say it in front of all of us.”

Sully wiped a hand down his face and was tempted to leave out the back exit. If he didn’t hear Ross was dead, it wouldn’t be true, right? And Ross couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t go through life never to hear Ross’s laugh again, or one of his horrible jokes. Damn it, Ross and the rest of the guys were the only family he had. He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t—

“Ross is alive,” Jane said, and finally met his gaze. “But he was badly injured. I understand you’re all close friends. So you know, we had an officer go to his mother’s and escort her to the hospital.”

“How bad is he?” Cash asked.

“We’re not sure of the extent. He’s currently in surgery at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.”

Sully’s mind raced. Mrs. Webber was like a mom to him. To Cash, as well. Ross’s sisters no longer lived in the area, and his dad had passed years ago. While Mrs. Webber was a strong woman, he could guarantee she’d be a devastated basket case right now.

Needing to move, to do something other than stand there and look at the woman who had caused him to become a devastated basket case, he turned away. “I’m heading to the hospital.”

“Same. Close down the garage,” Cash said, and started for the exit.

“Wait.” Jane held up a hand. “I understand you want to be there for your friend, but there’s more.”

“Detective,” Jude began, “you absolutely don’t understand. We’re not just coworkers and friends. We’re brothers.”

“Who could all be in the same position as Ross,” she countered.

Sully froze. “What are you talking about?”

“This wasn’t a car accident,” she said, sympathy in her eyes. “Ross was found unconscious, five feet from a dead man.”

Cash swore under his breath while Sully soaked in Jane’s words.

“We need to know who called for the tow,” Detective Pierson said.

Without saying a word, Cash rushed to the office.

Jude pushed a hand through his hair. “This is repo revenge.”

Now that made sense. They kept their business heavily gated and had security cameras because people didn’t like having their vehicles repossessed. Since those individuals couldn’t go after the banks, or whoever had given them the loan, some took out their anger on their garage.

Cash returned and handed a piece of paper to Jane. “I took the call. Here’s the guy’s name, number, vehicle type and location. Is this the name of the guy who died?”

Jane and Detective Pierson looked at it. “Car and location are right,” Pierson said, glancing up at Cash. “Have you received any recent threats?”

“I’m not aware of any. Jude?”

“No. But, vandalism has always been an issue. You’ll find we’ve filed plenty of police reports over the years.”

“I imagine you guys make quite a few people extremely angry on a daily basis,” Pierson said.

Jude shook his head. “Not so much anymore. We got into collision repair almost two years ago and are more focused on that than repossession.”

“How many do you average a week?”

“About ten. If the shop is busy with repairs, we’ll pass on repo gigs.”

Sully hadn’t complained about that. No one liked a repo man, and many considered them scum. Over the years, he’d been spat on, punched, threatened with bats, shovels, knives and guns. In his younger days, he hadn’t cared what people thought about him, and he’d liked the adrenaline rush he would often experience when a job went south. Then Cash had taken a brutal beating. After that, they’d all become less cocky and even more cautious than usual. Now the only reason they continued to repossess vehicles was to help keep the auto-body end of the business afloat. Cash and Jude’s goal was to hopefully be done with repoing by the end of the year.

Jane folded the paper and pocketed it. “You’re looking at approximately one hundred and forty repossessions so far this year.”

“One hundred and twenty-eight,” Jude said. “I can give you the paperwork on each one of them.”

She nodded. “Thank you. I know you’re anxious to get to the hospital, so I’ll call you later about it.”

“You didn’t answer Cash’s question,” Sully reminded her. “Is the dead man the same one who called for the tow?”

Her eyes filled with apology. “We can’t disclose that information.”

“How’d he die?”

She glanced to her partner. “We’ll have to wait on the medical examiner’s report for cause of death, but he appears to have been beaten. Same for Ross.”

“Beaten.” Jude’s face went stony. “This was a setup.”

“This might not have anything to do with your business. We’ll have to see where the investigation leads.”

“Can you tell us a little about Ross?” Pierson asked. “Did he have any enemies, an angry ex, or has anyone given him a hard time lately?”

They all shook their heads. “He’s a big softy,” Sully said. “Everyone likes him.”

“Except for those whose property he took,” Pierson countered.

Jude let out a tired sigh. “If it was their property and not the bank’s, we wouldn’t take it. And Ross rarely does repossessions.”

“You say he’s a big softy.” Pierson shoved a hand in his pocket. “Yet it looks as if he beat a man to death.”

Before Sully’s patience and temper snapped, he drew in a deep, calming breath. “Ross is the victim here. There isn’t anyone out there who has a grudge against him. He was jumped. Plain and simple. And if he did kill that guy, he was protecting himself. Period. He’s not the type to look for fights or lose his cool.”

“Да.” Vlad stepped forward and folded his arms over his chest. “Do not punch bear.”

Pierson’s face twisted in confusion. “Come again.”

“It is saying.”

“Don’t poke the bear,” Jane clarified, and Sully didn’t like the sudden worry in her eyes. “One of us will call you later. Again, we’re sorry about your friend.”

“They’re not telling us something,” Cash said as Jane and Pierson walked toward their sedan.

“Agreed.” Jude closed the garage doors. “None of us are small people. Ross isn’t just tall, he’s a big guy. During the few fights I’ve seen him in, no one has ever taken him down.”

“Never,” Sully concurred. “And when he’s been in a fight, he’s always known when to stop. It only takes a couple of punches to make a point.”

“This true.” Vlad said. “I find I am in bothersome place. If this is repo revenge, will we be attacked again?”

“The guy’s dead,” Cash reminded him. “And if you start talking about his ghost haunting us, you can drive to the hospital alone. Let’s get out of here.”

“I do not believe in ghosts. I believe more than one man have hurt Ross.”

“He’s onto something.” Sully went to the sink to wash his hands. “Unless the dead guy is a zombie, there’s no way he could’ve beaten Ross until he was unconscious. Someone else must’ve been there.”

“Let’s keep this to ourselves for now.” Cash joined him at the sink. “I don’t want Mrs. Webber to know what we’re suspecting.” He met Sully’s gaze. “You doin’ okay?”

“One of our best friends is in surgery, so no.”

“You know that’s not what he meant,” Jude said, shutting off lights as he moved through the building.

“I wonder the same.” Vlad walked with them toward the back exit. “This is first time you have seen Jane since she take dump on you.”

Cash laughed and rested a hand on the Russian’s shoulder. “She didn’t take a dump on him, she dumped him. Big difference, buddy.” He made his way through the exit. “God, I needed that laugh.”

Vlad frowned. “I sometimes hate English language, but now understand mistake.”

“No mistake there,” Sully said with bitterness. “She shit all over me and our relationship. I’m over it now.”

“You’re sure about that?” Cash asked.

Not at all. Especially after seeing her again. For seven months, he’d made it his mission to do anything and everything possible to forget about her. He put in extra hours at work, remodeled his kitchen, tried to find a hobby and a woman. But no matter what he’d done, at the end of each day he would lie in bed, close his eyes and pretend Jane was there with him. Loving him with her body, or simply holding him and making him believe he’d finally found his future. Seeing her in the flesh…damn it, he couldn’t keep doing this to himself.

He unlocked his truck. “Positive,” he lied. “I don’t want to talk about her. Ross…he’s priority one.” Without another word, he climbed inside. As he followed the others to the hospital, he tried to tamp down his worry and guilt. If not for winning a coin toss, he would be the one in the hospital right now. Neither he nor Ross had wanted to do the tow. They’d both had packed schedules and hadn’t wanted to lose an hour in the shop to pick up a car.

What the hell had happened out there this morning? Had Ross been loading the car onto the truck when a couple of guys showed? He wouldn’t bother calling Jane and asking for inside knowledge. Since this was an ongoing investigation, he doubted she would tell him anything. Besides, the odds of her picking up the call were about as good as winning the lottery. He should know. After the breakup, and worried about her health, he’d tried to remain in touch with her. Not as a stalker, but as the concerned guy who was in love with her.

No more. That love had run out, if it had even existed. Before Jane, he’d never been in love, so maybe all those fucked-up emotions he’d had were nothing but lust. She certainly hadn’t cared much about him. She’d used him for sex and to keep her company.

As soon as the word sex passed through his thoughts, he pictured her. Naked. Eyes dark with desire. Lips parted and swollen from his kisses. In that moment, he swore he could taste her on his tongue.

“Don’t do this,” he told himself as he cranked up the radio. The heavy metal couldn’t drown out her voice, her rejection…

The sex was fine, but we don’t have a future. I don’t see the point in pretending we do.

He’d never forget what she’d said. Discovering the woman he loved not only didn’t want him, but was also dying, still haunted him. Had being with him been that bad? Or had she thought he couldn’t or wouldn’t be there for her while she dealt with cancer? If that were the case, it meant she had never truly known him, and she’d had the three months they’d been together to try. Maybe that was what bothered him the most. He hadn’t been worth her time.

He hadn’t been worth anything to her.

It shouldn’t bother him. He knew he was a good guy and had people who cared about him. But, damn it, he’d wanted her to care. He’d wanted her to prove to him that this love thing could be real, that relationships weren’t always tragic or twisted. What she’d proved was that words could be just as painful as the swing of a fist or the lash of a belt.

As he pulled into the hospital parking lot, he told himself, enough’s enough. For his own good, he needed to turn his back on her, on what they’d had—or what he’d thought they’d had—and move on with life. If Jane had more questions for them, she could deal with Cash and Jude. He had nothing more to say to her.

When he and the guys reached the waiting room, all thoughts of Jane vanished. Mrs. Webber sat in the corner, staring blankly at the opposite wall, reminding him of a shell-shocked soldier after a deadly battle. Although she was a tiny, slim woman with an Italian background, her robust and dominant personality had always made her seem bigger. Consumed with family, cooking and cleaning, she was the opposite of the people who’d raised him. The day he’d met her, she’d pulled him in her arms, given him a hug, then filled his belly with utter deliciousness. He’d instantly adored her, and hated how small and vulnerable she looked right now.

“Mrs. Webber,” Cash said, and touched her shoulder.

She blinked, then looked up at them. “Boys, I didn’t see you come in the room.”

How anyone could miss the four of them—considering they were all six foot three or above and had a combined weight of around eight hundred pounds—suggested she really might be in shock. Hopefully Ross’s sisters would come back into town, so she wouldn’t be alone. With how important family was to her, she would need the girls, and them.

“Any word on Ross’s condition?” Jude asked.

Her chin trembled, and tears slipped down her cheeks. “The nurse said the neurologist would come see me when the surgery was over.” She reached up and gripped Sully’s hand. “A neurologist. His brain…what if—?”

Sully bent down and hugged her. “I’ve heard you say it thousands of times…Ross has a thick skull. Don’t worry, he didn’t survive Iraq and Afghanistan to let a bump on the head take him down.” When she gave him a hard squeeze, he kissed her cheek. “We’ll get through this. Ross will be just fine.”

He hoped.