THIS IS BOOK EIGHTIN THE BO AUSTEN SERIES. If you have not read:
1. THE SURGEON
2. THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERER
3. THE HUNTER
4. THE PUPPET MASTER
5. THE WHITE ROSE BUTCHER
6. THE ACID BATH KILLER, and
7. THE GHOST
it is highly suggested that you stop now and read the previous seven books before continuing.
Sunday: November 24, 2024
7:45 AM; CLINSTONE SPECIALITY HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM
Bo Austen squatted down in front of the three young children in the hospital’s waiting room, hoping that something as simple as being near them would help settle the worry on their faces. “I am… going to go talk to your dad, and then we’ll go get something for breakfast, all right?” he asked.
“They have food here,” Katie Mason said quietly.
“You guys deserve better than crappy hospital food,” Bo said. “I’ll be right back. You can watch these two for just a few more minutes?” he questioned. Silently, the teenager nodded. Bo pushed himself to his feet and walked out of the waiting room, heading for the elevator. He rode up to the Intensive Care Unit.
After his talk with the chief of surgery, word had gotten around quickly that one of Jamal Pitman’s top men was in the hospital and that he shouldn’t be disturbed. Bo hated the reputation that came from being a main member of Jamal’s team, but in the hospital, it was useful.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” Bo asked once he got to the main desk in the ICU. The nurse looked up at him, swallowing roughly. “I’m a nice guy, ma’am. You don’t… you don’t have to be terrified of me or anything. I’m not going to hurt you,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry, Mister Austen,” she said quietly. “What, uh, what can I do for you?”
“Alice Mason. Is her husband in her room?”
“Yes, sir. Down that way. First door on your left,” she said, gesturing down the hall. “You have to turn your phone off before you go in.”
He offered a faint smile. “It’s been off since I got here, ma’am. I know the rules.” He tapped a hand against the desk and turned down the hall. On his left, he opened the door to Alice’s room. His eyes scanned the machines she was hooked up to before his gaze fell on Jacob Mason. He sat in a chair against the wall, his head in his hands.
Bo shut the door and walked over to the sergeant. Carefully, he laid a hand between Jacob’s shoulders. “Jake?”
“Are you hungry?” Bo asked.
“I couldn’t eat even if I wanted to,” Jacob said quietly.
“I figured.” The blonde cleared his throat. “Have you seen your kids?”
“I don’t know where they are.”
‘They’re in the NICU, Jake.”
Jacob lifted his head, lifting his sapphire blue eyes to the blonde’s face. “Why would they be in the NICU?”
“Jake, your newborn children. Not the other three,” Bo said.
Jacob shook his head, dropping his head back to his hands. “No. As far as I’m concerned, they’re not my children.”
“They’re the reason Allie’s in here. They’re the reason she could die,” Jacob said, his voice breaking. “They aren’t my children, Bo. That’s all there is to it.”
“Oh… Umm, okay. I… am going to take Katie, Elijah, and Charlotte for breakfast,” Bo said slowly. “Are you sure you don’t want me to grab you something?”
“Not hungry,” Jacob muttered.
“Okay.” Bo glanced over at Alice, clearing his throat. Alice reminded him a lot of his adoptive mother, and seeing her in such a precarious life or death situation made him uncomfortable in more ways than one. “I’ll be back soon, okay?”
“ ‘Kay,” Jacob whispered.
Bo patter Jacob on the shoulder, whispering something about being sorry before the leaving the room. He headed back down to the waiting room. “Come on,” he said quietly, holding out a hand. Elijah jumped down from his chair and held his arms out to Bo.
The blonde bent down and picked the child up. Elijah wrapped his legs around Bo’s waist, burying his face in the crook of the man’s neck. Bo laid a hand on the back of the young boy’s head, his free arm wrapped tightly around Elijah’s waist. “Katie? Grab your sister’s hand so we can get out of here for a little bit?”
“Sure thing,” Katie said quietly. “Come on, Char.” Charlotte grabbed her older sister’s hand and, for the first time since she learned how to walk, followed Bo and her siblings in absolute silence.
6:51 PM; CLINSTONE SPECIALITY HOSPITAL, INTENSIVE CARE UNIT
Bo walked into Alice’s room, quietly shutting the door behind him. Half an hour ago, he had managed to talk Jacob into taking a few bites of a salad, but the sergeant hadn’t been in the mood for much more than that. Now, however, Jacob was asleep in his chair, his elbow propped up against the arm of the chair, his fist digging into his elbow.
Bo crossed the room, unfolding the blanket he had brought from his house. He draped it over the sergeant, careful not to wake him. He moved Jacob’s hand ever so slightly, pulling off his glasses. He folded them and set them on the small folding tray in the room. He moved the tray closer to Jacob so that his glasses were easily in his reach.
Bo pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and set it on the tray. He had prewritten a note explaining the whereabouts of himself and Jacob’s three eldest children so that Jacob would worry about the once he awoke.
He looked over to the other side of the room where Alice’s parents were sitting. Adashe Tangwerai had an arm wrapped around his wife’s shoulder. Natalia, his wife, dropped her head to his shoulder, closing her eyes. Adashe lifted a hand in silent greeting. Bo nodded his own acknowledgment before heading for the door.
He walked back out of the room, walked back to the elevator, rode down to the waiting room, and headed back to his car in the parking lot. He unlocked the doors and slid into the driver’s seat. He closed the door, leaning his head back against the seat as the warmth of his still-running car greeted him. “Are you guys hungry?” Bo asked.
“No,” Katie said from the passenger seat. “Where are we going now, Bo?” she questioned.
Bo let out a breath, clicking his seat belt into place. “Your house. You’ll pack an overnight bag, we’ll grab Chloe, and we’ll go back to my house for the night,” he said. “Does that sound good?”
“Sure, Bo,” she said quietly.
11:34 PM; CLINSTONE, THE AUSTEN-TAYLOR HOUSEHOLD, FAMILY ROOM
Bo looked up as Katie sat down beside him on the couch. Chloe, the Mason’s little lap dog, followed her. Silently, she leaned into his side, folding her legs beneath herself. Bo wrapped an arm around her shoulders and Chloe jumped into her lap. “Can’t sleep, huh?” Bo questioned.
Katie shook her head. “Is… is Mom gonna die?” she asked.
“You know I can’t answer that,” Bo said quietly. “But I’ll tell you something I haven’t even told your dad.”
“I made that hospital hire the best surgeons in the world. They will only work Alice’s surgeries. All of their time and energy will be dedicated to her,” he said.
“So she’ll be okay.”
“That’s the hope, anyway.”
“What about the babies?” Katie asked.
“I made them bring in the best neonatal surgeon, too,” Bo said. “You guys are my family. I’ll do everything I can to keep each and every one of you safe,” he said softly.
“Thanks Bo,” she whispered. She cleared her throat, her gaze shifting to the news report playing on the television. Bo had the volume turned down too low to hear. “Thank you for bringing us here tonight. I don’t think I could’ve slept at home.”
“You’re welcome, Katie. My home is your home. This place is always open for you guys, no matter what,” he said.
She nodded slightly. “Where’s everyone else?”
“Los Angeles. We just headed back there yesterday morning to spend Thanksgiving break with my parents.”
“So you’re gonna have to be here by yourself until school starts up next week?”
“That’s the basics.”
“I’m sorry,” Katie whispered.
“Don’t be. I have you guys,” Bo said. He ran a hand up and down Katie’s arm. “I can’t promise that everything’s going to be amazing, because it’s going to be really damn hard for quite a while. But I promise you that I’ll do everything in my control to make it all okay.”
“Thank you, Bo.”
“You’re very welcome, Katie,” he murmured.
A/N: In preperation for what I’ve experienced before with this book: nasty comments about Alice and Jake at any point in this story will be removed. If you don’t understand trauma, trauma responses, and grief, as well as how they manifest in different people, I can only do so much to show you different perspectives. Please be respectful. They don’t have to read your comments. Only I do.
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