Edwards The Marrilian

Chapter 15 – Aftermath

James crashed through the double doors into the waiting room at Pey's clinic and stopped short. The room was full. He hadn't expected that. The investigatory work had been left to General Burk and everyone else had apparently come here. He found two three-star generals, General Desante and his own mother General Jesse Kennedy and she sat with the planet's two four-star generals Clair Pearl and Darcy Lufkin. He stopped in the door.

Lord Mois and Lady Mois blinked at him along with Matilda, Roger, and Elsbeth.

Elsbeth had cleaned up a little. She had shed her outer uniform coat and washed Erica's blood from her face and hands but she still wore bloody pants and her shirt now showed the hole where she had been shot.

James had to explain his arrival without showing his concern for Erica. He had come for Erica but he wasn't supposed to have personal feelings for her then like an idiot he had been thinking of her and entered the room so harshly everyone stared at him, even Elsbeth. She squinted at him as if she couldn't focus.

The light! He still held the doors open. They were blinking at the light behind him. He allowed them to swing closed.

"Excuse me," Jesse begged and got up from the group of generals surrounding her.

Jesse was half a foot shorter than James. She had light brown hair and a motherly figure but she wasn't the least bit motherly when she was in uniform. She knew how to use a stern attitude and control every expression on her face. She gripped James' arm and dragged him towards the double set of doors leading towards the surgical suites. It was the farthest point away from all the other people in the room. The only person who might hear them talk would be Gina, the receptionist. Jesse glared at her.

Gina left her seat behind the reception window. She found some filing deep in the office that would keep her busy.

"What are you doing here?" Jesse hissed at him.

He closed his eyes and dropped his head. He had already seen he had been wrong to come.

"Didn't your father and I explain well enough that the worst thing you can do for her is show your feelings?"

"Yes ma'am," James answered.

"Lufkin is here," she admonished further and as angry as she was she still managed to speak in a whisper. "He wants his nephew on this case. You are giving him an excuse to assign him with this sort of behavior!" she spit. "That is the last thing I need! A god damned Lufkin reporting to me! Exactly how much information do you think I'd get?"

"Yes ma'am," James replied." Except-"

"Stand straight! Look at me!"

James stiffened. He looked his mother in the eye.

"Now tell me what the hell happened out there. Make it convincing. As far as I am concerned that is why you came here. Do you understand that? You came here for that and to check on Elsbeth. Look at her right now and see that she is all right."

He set his jaw. He had to get through this. He looked over at Elsbeth. She smiled and nodded at him. He made a show of relaxing. He nodded to her then looked back to Jesse. "I thought General Lufkin's nephew wasn't going to be a problem," James said quietly. "He isn't a captain. You have to be a captain to be involved with Erica and he's on Sirrus. He isn't here is he?"

"He can take a test. If he passes, he is a captain," she snarled. "And I have heard rumors that Sirrus has a ship that could get him here in two months."

"Two? It's a three month trip."

"Not anymore," Jesse told him.

"Damn," said James softly. "So is there anything you really need to know or do I need to be debriefed by you too?" he asked.

"I don't know nearly enough. I'm told you saw most everything including that child in there breaking a man's neck," she said and tipped her head towards the surgical suite.

James nodded. He made the motion he had seen Erica make with the downward strike of her elbow. "I think that is what did it. She got the guy doubled over then did that on the back of his neck. I saw it from the corner of my eye while Elsbeth and I were subduing the other agent on the other side of the carriage."

Elsbeth came over. "Is that the motion Erica used to break the man's neck?" she asked James.

He nodded. "On the back of his neck, when he was doubled over."

"She must have known right where to hit," said Jesse. "Isn't that right?" she asked Elsbeth.

Elsbeth nodded. "Regardless, it would be hard to do unless the man had a previous injury."

"He deserves what he got." James growled.

"She paralyzed an agent," Jesse reminded him.

"He was trying to kill Matilda," James shot back. "That he happened to grab Erica was lucky!" He made sure he spoke loud enough Lufkin heard.

Jesse jerked his arm and made him face the wall. "Nice," she told him.

Elsbeth slid in on his other side. "She'll be fine," she said softly.

"We got an update about ten minutes ago," Jesse added. "They have all the shrapnel out-"

"Shrapnel?" asked James.

"The bullets broke up," Elsbeth explained. "They were a mix of some cheap metal casing with ceramic."

"She's survived so far," Jesse continued. "Levitus will keep her alive. They are closing her wounds now."

"It's been hours," James complained fearfully. "How much damage was there? How many pieces of shrapnel were in her?"

"Am I supposed to take up a collection and count the bits?" Jesse demanded. "Be satisfied she has the best care and forget the shrapnel. It's none of your business."

James drew a deep, slow breath then released it. He kept his eyes firmly on Jesse and kept them open.

"You know the miracles he can work," Elsbeth reminded him.

"If I have to send her up to the space station to finalize treatments I will," Jesse told him. "She has done enough to earn that."

"Do you think?" James asked. "Matilda would be dead if it wasn't for her."

"Is this a private conversation?"

All their heads spun. Darcy Lufkin and Clair Pearl approached behind James. Darcy waited stiffly for his answer. He was the four-star general that Quirni's Commander had selected from Sirrus. He was six inches taller than James with dark brown, wavy hair and brown eyes. His shoulders were broad and his waist narrow and he worked hard to keep them that way. He appeared to view those who were less accomplished than him as lesser beings and that was most people. His mouth pressed in a permanent, firm line. He rarely smiled and even though he was a handsome man it didn't matter given his severity.

Clair Pearl didn't like him much. Actually no one did. Clair enjoyed a little gossip and light banter but she didn't often find people that would loosen up around her rank. Darcy should have been a person to talk to but instead he was too competitive. He already sought to take the Quirni Commander's position and Powell hadn't even stepped down.

Either Darcy or Clair would to become the next Quirni Commander in Chief. Not much else could have drawn them to the planet except Commander Powell had hand-picked them with the understanding they would be groomed for his position and one of them would advance, although Quirni's health and longevity was attractive to Clair. Unlike Darcy she was older and living on Marril had made her older still.

She was one of the few women on Quirni with a full head of gray hair, which she wore short and kept neat to make up for its coarseness. She was thin from thayanite poison. She was still muscular and somewhat fit but her features had begun to sag with age. Her blue eyes weren't as bright as when she was young. Her body hurt when she started out in the morning. She couldn't ride the damn horses like Darcy could and walk away unscathed. But Quirni could change that given time.

The planet had been known to heal age. In any event, even if it didn't, her ageing would slow now. She would live plenty long enough to take command of the planet and rule the QSDD for decades if she were chosen but Darcy was a competitive prick and she had to be careful of him every moment so she followed close behind when he crossed the room to learn what the Kennedys discussed.

"I would like to debrief him before I make my report," Jesse answered. "I hoped to hear a few answers now but obviously this is an emotional situation. Elsbeth, Matilda, and Erica were all shot. The vests should have worked but one of them is in surgery. I suppose if I were in his shoes I might not be able to keep my voice down either. But we have civilians present. They would be upset to hear you," she told James as she tipped her head towards the Moises, Matilda, and Roger.

"I understand James is the one who saw most of what happened," said Pearl.

"So I am told," replied Jesse. "He helped subdue the man who shot Elsbeth and Matilda and then he was able to return through the carriage in time to overtake Erica's second attacker while Elsbeth was knocked down by a bullet. He witnessed more on that road than most people."

"It sounds as if you are already well briefed," Darcy noted.

"Not by James," Jesse told him. "He has been helping with the investigation until now. I still want to hear what happened from him, I just don't want to do it here." She scowled at James. "I would rather have done this where you could sit and recall everything in order, without disturbing others, and without distractions." She tipped her head toward the waiting room full of people. "The Moises, Matilda and Roger are all far too attached to Erica. They will not welcome your report. You should be making notes not putting civilians in a situation like this. That is basic training."

He dropped is head again and nodded. "Yes ma'am. I made a report with General Burk. I thought her interview would be the only paper copy. I just came here to check on Elsbeth."

"Is Burk the top ranking general in charge of Erica Kinsley?" Jesse demanded harshly.

Her tone was so severe James instinctively stiffened to attention. "No ma'am."

"Then don't assume she can take your statement!"

"Yes ma'am," he said stiffly and stared straight over her head.

Darcy walked away.

"I have a room at the hotel around the corner, room twelve. Go and wait for me." She glared at Elsbeth. "Go with him and make sure he follows protocol."

"Yes general," Elsbeth responded. She saluted Jesse and led James out of the Clinic.

They said nothing as they walked the short distance to the hotel. They went inside, found the room, and closed the door behind them.

"Why the hell were all of those people in the waiting room?" James asked her quietly. "What interest do so many generals have in Erica?"

Elsbeth pushed away from the door. She stepped very close to James so she could whisper. "Because one of them is likely our traitor."

"What?" James quickly ran back through the scene in his mind. "Desante, Lufkin, or Pearl? Impossible."

"There is no other explanation," Elsbeth told him. "The traitor would want firsthand knowledge of whether Erica survives and what her condition is if she does. Their plans undoubtedly hinge upon her recovery."

James' jaw dropped.

"Now a warning, Captain, do not let anyone else know that you love her."

James froze. "I never said-"

"And do everything you can to cover the fact that you do," she interrupted. "There have been too many times that you have been obvious about it."

His shoulders fell. His eyes betrayed his worry.

"If General Lufkin gets any idea you are involved with her he will have you off the case immediately. He never liked the Kennedy's being in charge of her to begin with. You know that. He thought Desante should have had the rights to use her and you just saw who two of the three people are that we suspect."

"He can't remove us. Powell put us in charge."

Elsbeth smiled slightly. "Maybe. Powell trusts your family implicitly. Your father and mother have helped him too many times and kept far too many of his secrets for him to wonder about their loyalty. He knows they will do everything they can to support him and Quirni. That is why they got the job over Desante. She is too important to leave to potential enemies.

"Still, you can make it hard on all of us if you violate SDD protocol, which you have come damn close to doing so stop it. I suggest you pay attention to how you act around other women like me and Matilda and act that way around Erica. You smile around her far too much and touch her every chance you can."

"I do?"

Elsbeth nodded.

"And from now on you will have to spend more time with her. You and I will be returning with her to Matilda's. We areat a critical point in this case. There is no doubt now that someone is trying to kill Mati and we don't know who. You, I, Sati, Rami, and Mark are all going to be assigned to watch over her and Erica now."

"Assuming Erica lives," said James stiffly.

"She'll live," Elsbeth told him. "She's a damn Kinsley. They don't die that easy."

He closed his eyes. God he hoped she was right.

She gripped his shoulder. "You can show your feelings for her around me. You can talk about her to me but other than that don't trust anyone. You will make it harder on your mother, your father, all of us, if anyone else learns of this. Lufkin is begging for a reason to remove you. Do you understand? Don't give it to him."

James nodded.

She squeezed his shoulder hard. "Good. I hope you know she feels the same way about you as you do her. Your feelings can wait. She will."

"Really?" he asked.

"Oh you moron," Elsbeth laughed. She gripped his arm hard and she would have shaken him if he wasn't such a strong man. "Wake up. Yes she does. I told you she does. That first day she saw you she practically swooned."

"She was weak from lack of food. She wasn't carrying anything to eat. Why can't you accept that?"

"Because she was eating the plants that she picked! Lords, James. Take off the blinders! She cares about you. You accept that! If you do maybe you will start to see the signs that I'm right and let things be. You don't need to rush her. She loves you. She'll wait. Hell, she probably realizes more than you do the foolishness of showing her feelings for an SDD agent."

His eyes narrowed as he wondered if that was possible.

"You'll see it," she told him. "When you do, just keep control. Don't get all giddy."

He continued to look at her doubtfully.

"You are such an idiot," she moaned. "Pay attention to me and I'll let you know if you're screwing up but in the meantime I want to know if you aware that your father is back from Marril?"

He nodded. "Yes, for a several weeks."

"Then you have spoken with him?"

He shook his head. "My sister told me he got back safe. She worries about things like that and thinks all of us should. She was on the base when he got off the ship. She sent us all a message."

"Lynsey? She doesn't seem like the type to worry."

"No. Charlotte."

"Oh. I forget she has joined."

"She shouldn't have. She isn't the type."

"Everyone is the type."

"You haven't met her. She's pink and lace."

Elsbeth hesitated to say anything. Her mouth twitched. She fought what wanted to come out. James waited. It was as if he knew she couldn't hold her tongue. He lifted his chin. Her upper lip twitched harder.

"What?" he asked.

"Pink and lace? A Kennedy? And your father didn't shoot her before she finished crawling?"

James smiled. "She grew on us."

"You mean she grew on your mom. I'll bet Jesse was so thrilled to have a girly girl she probably cried the day she joined."

James shrugged.

"She did?"

"She didn't cry. She was upset."

"Damn, I never thought I would hear a Kennedy secret as big as that one," Elsbeth grinned. "There is a real woman in your family."

"Keep it to yourself," James told her.

"Oh of course," she agreed with a grin. "I suppose you intended to make up for it by bringing Erica home?"

"A whore?" He shook his head. "Hardly. Mother almost bit me in two."

"Over Erica?"

"She hates her."

"No way."

James nodded. "Sometimes I feel like I have to protect her from my mom's command decisions as much as I do the people attacking Matilda."

"Wow, I didn't expect that either. That little Kinsley is fantastic. At least your father knows that. The first chance you get go talk to him about her you should do so. Tell him everything. She is far more impressive than we gave her credit for. He'll appreciate her even more."

"I have given her a lot of credit," James warned.

"Not enough," Elsbeth told him and smiled her impish smile. "Not nearly enough."

"Why?" he asked. "What do you know?"

She glanced at the door. "I shouldn't tell you. If your mother came in, I would have to stop talking and you should hear this from your father."

James frowned at her. "You are wasting time. Tell me."

"I will if you want to chance hearing only part," she agreed. "Jesse is headed this way right now or I'm not in the SDD."

"Tell me," he insisted.

She shrugged. "You know she was raised in a place called Tenpole right?"

He nodded.

"She ran away to there. Her father didn't move them there like we thought. She left her father and ran to Tenpole so she could escape his beatings and molestation."

"What?" James looked sick. "Molestation?"

"Yeah but that isn't my point," Elsbeth told him. "My point is what makes her extraordinary." She smiled.

He squinted, unsure that this was something he wanted to hear.

"Most children who suddenly end up on their own drop out of school and take to the streets. She, unlike most children, enrolled herself in Tenpole's school and finished her grades. She didn't do great but according her the teachers she could have. They think she held back in order to fit in with the miner's children. She was a Kinsley in Tenpole. She wasn't welcome. Only her age and the obvious fact she was beaten and harassed at home kept the other children off her back. She arrived at school bruised and cut often. She even had on casts at times.

"The bruises showed up every time her father took her. At those times she would disappear for a week or two. She eventually figured out a way to stop his abductions. She moved to Chaucer Street. That is where the lowest class Tenpole live. Chaucer houses the whores of Tenpole. Marrilians can hear Chaucer in a whore's speech. They can hear it when she speaks."

James' eyes widened.

"According you what your father learned, after she started to sound like a Chaucer whore Samuel Kinsley, her father, wanted nothing more to do with her. From there on she was free to finish school un-harassed. She learned to fight, and she saved money. She came to Quirni with over four million quid."

She gave James time to process that. He tried to but the more he considered it the more it amazed him. He knew she had money but the rest of it was a surprise. "She had no mother?"

"She does but she was and is on Sirrus with Erica's brothers and sisters."

"Didn't anyone help her?" asked James. "Other than a brothel?"

"Do you remember when we rode with her how surprised she was when we did things for her?"

"It was like she was suspicious of our motives," said James.

"Exactly."

He held her eye for a moment. "Wow," he finally mouthed.

"It explains a lot about her temperament doesn't it?" asked Elsbeth.

James couldn't answer. He stared at the floor.

"It might be hard to convince her that you care about her," Elsbeth told him. "Which is for the best right now. So keep it calm alright?"

He nodded. "I never realized I was obvious."

"You aren't the worst. And it didn't matter when we were at Matilda's but it does now. Lufkin could notice now. Your mother indicated she would like to use you as Erica's escort if she has to go to any functions but only if you can learn to act right. Otherwise we'll have Rami escort her."

"Are you kidding me?" James winced. "If he recognizes the Chaucer in her he will be worse than me. Quirni are like horses to hay for that!"

"At least it would be lust and not love. He would be reprimanded and everyone would understand and move on. Erica probably wouldn't even care. That was her job."

"Which she left!"

"How do you know she didn't like it?"

James had nothing to say to that.

"You don't know," Elsbeth told him. "That is a point isn't it? You don't know her that well. I suggest you watch her. Learn more about her from your father and observation. Maybe she isn't the person you think she is and you only feel infatuation for a strong little woman you saw up a tree."

His jaw ground shut.

"Don't get angry at me," she warned. "You are the one that can't behave."

He turned his shoulder to her.

"Get over it," she admonished. "If you love her I'll be the first to help you two get hitched but do the right thing and be sure. Cool it off. Do your job. You have to for everyone's sake."

"I thought I was," he growled. "But thanks for telling me. I would rather hear this from you than my mother."

"I'm certain you will hear it from her too."

"No doubt endlessly," he mumbled. "This case needs to end. We need to find out who made that damn vest. Someone has to go back to Marril and track it down."

Elsbeth shook her head. "We already thought of that and can't. Marril is locked down. It appears it might be time for their Council soon."

"Aw hell."

"I know. Tickets, information, communication, everything is slow or shut down."

"Good lords I hate it when Sirrus and Marril have Council. Ours doesn't affect them in the least but theirs shuts our economy down without warning."

"At least this time we have a ship on Marril," Elsbeth consoled.

"For repairs," James hissed. "They probably won't repair it during Council. They wouldn't want Quirni to get any information off the planet."

Elsbeth didn't respond to that.

"So what now?" asked James.

"We go back to Mati's," Elsbeth told him. "And we hope someone on our side thinks of a way to identify the assholes working against us."

His mouth hardened. "Do you think I could get in to see Erica while she's in clinic?"

Elsbeth smiled and put her arm around him. "We'll all see her," she told him. "And I don't doubt I will find many excuses to leave the room when you two are together."

He relaxed under her hold. "Thanks because I want her to have some idea that I'm interested. If I don't, she could be taken by any number of men. Any Quirni would want her. You and I both know it. She's rich and Chaucer. She's a catch and she doesn't know it."

Elsbeth laughed. "You are an idiot but I guess I'm stuck with you aren't I?" She pushed off him and fell into a chair.

He squinted at her with his lips parted, confused.

"Sit down," she ordered. "It's your first order of business to keep her and Mati alive. Your mom will be along shortly. She will tell you what I just told you only now you are prepared to hear it."

His mouth twisted with a spasm of sneers. He sat on the sofa. "She won't get in trouble for hurting that agent will she? It was self-defense."

"It's more than likely she killed an agent," Elsbeth corrected.

James squinted, confused once again.

She sighed, as if annoyed he couldn't keep up. "We think Council has started on Marril," she reminded him.

"So no ships will be coming here. No one will be able to pick him up and take him back there to treat him," James realized.

"And our ship isn't advanced enough to keep him alive for the trip. A broken neck on Quirni is a death sentence. It will be six months before shipping starts again, a year before he might get Marril. If he can hold on that long then your lady love will only be guilty of injuring an agent otherwise she killed him."

"Which sounds likely," James realized.

"Highly," Elsbeth told him. "But he did attack Matilda. He's a traitor, James. He wasn't acting as an agent. She did the right thing. One of these days you might just start thinking and realize things like that rather than worry about them."

He sat on the edge of the sofa and tried to not reply to her rebuke. She was right. He didn't have time to try and think. Elsbeth had to add more.

"Marril knows when we have Council," she told him.

He sat up. "Every five years, soon," replied, and wanted to ask 'and?' but he didn't. He had to start thinking.

"Isn't it odd they choose to have a Council the same time as ours?"

It was odd. He couldn't remember it ever happening before. "What are they up to?"

"You know who the High Claimant on Marril is don't you?"

"Of course, Silas Kinsley," answered James. "I might be just a captain but even a grammar school kid knows that."

"Well, captain, can you answer this question? It's one we are all asking. Why would a Kinsley on Marril be interested in shaking up his government at the same time that the Kinsley's on Quirni are having so many problems? Could it be coincidence that he calls for Council now?"

"No," James replied.

She smiled. "So why?"

"He doesn't like something he sees going on there and maybe he can change it?"

"What?"

James had to think a while. "Obviously it's something to do with the government," he said. "What else might he change during Council?"

"Or who might he meet?" suggested Elsbeth. "Who is drawn together in one place during Council and no one would be suspicious of them talking?"

He looked at her and might have grown to another conclusion, which was rare for him since his parents did most of his thinking, but Jesse knocked twice then entered.

James and Elsbeth stood.

Jesse carried the bloody white vest Erica had been wearing. She closed the door and dropped the vest on the floor. It fell open. The inside of it was all red.

James saw it and suddenly felt hot.

"What is wrong with you?" Jesse demanded as she crossed the room to them.

He pulled his eyes from the vest. "Nothing," he told her.

She glanced where he had been looking. "She almost bled to death a few times," Jesse said without a trace of emotion. "She is out of surgery now."

James released a breath he hadn't realized he held.

Jesse eyed him.

He held her gaze.

"I'm sorry to tell you that she could still die," she told him. "Levitus said the wounds are bad enough. He said he had to do some quick surgery to save her. She had a heart attack while he was working. Her iridim levels got out of control from the blood loss and the lack of iridim in her system induced the attack. He believes they revived her in time but they won't know for sure until they get her iridim levels back to where they belong."

"God help her," Elsbeth muttered softly.

"Everyone is praying for her," Jesse agreed. "It's amazing you kept her alive in the field, Elsbeth. Levitus was shocked to see the damage and know you had kept her alive long enough for him to get there."

James couldn't take the conversation. His legs went weak. He sat down.

"Keller and Welsh died," Jesse informed him.

"Who?" James asked.

"The two men you shot."

"Oh."

"And the fellow who shot Erica has a concussion, broken jaw, broken arm, and five broken ribs. I have to wonder if you were upset when you tackled him."

"Heh," James grunted softly.

"He fought you didn't he," said Jesse.

He lifted his eyes to her. "Yeah," he replied. "I was there to protect Matilda and Erica and he thought he shot Matilda. I would say that was fighting me."

"That isn't what I meant," Jesse warned.

"Tough."

Jesse's eyes narrowed. "I want to see an emotionless SDD face on you this instant!"

James drew a breath and managed to relax his face. He stared at her with blank eyes.

"Maintain that while I speak to you and keep your mouth shut."

He didn't twitch.

"If your whore survives, you will be with her again. I don't want to hear one report from Sophie or Elsbeth that you have misplaced feelings and I sure as hell don't want to hear anything from Darcy Lufkin or Clair Pearl. If she gets out of that bed then treat her like any other person you defend.

"In the meantime we have to devise a means to lure out the person or persons who orchestrate these attacks. That will require we use your whore again. I don't want you to twitch one hair when we do."

Jesse paused to wait for a reaction but James remained impassive.

"My bet is Desante is involved," she added.

James blinked.

Jesse glared at him. "He was on Marril," she added. "He had time to set up the SDD treatments that ruined that brat's therapy. She was whole and cured from what John learned. Something happened while she was institutionalized by the MSDD."

James shoulder's tensed.

"Captain Kennedy, you are a disgrace to me," she hissed. "If you can't listen to this from someone who you know is trying to goad you then how are you going to act when you are surprised by real news?"

He breathed evenly and relaxed again.

"We'll practice his control," Elsbeth promised.

"Do it for a couple of hours each day," Jesse told her.

"Yes ma'am."

"That white vest was made on Marril," James said. "Desante isn't from Marril and neither is Lufkin."

"What is your point?" demanded Jesse.

"Whoever had the vest made wrong has to be on Marril. It is unlikely Lufkin would know them. As for Desante, he is too arrogant. Hadn't you decided there had to be someone here working with someone from another planet? I can't see Desante following orders from Marril."

"Then who do you suggest?" asked Jesse.

"General Pearl. She is recently from Marril."

Elsbeth made a pained face. "Consider the problem with that. Why would she follow anyone else's orders when she just received a forth star and has the chance to become a commander?"

"Ditto for Lufkin," Jesse added.

"So it might be someone else altogether," James suggested. He stood.

"It might be," Jesse agreed. "So you shouldn't be surprised to learn I mean it when I said we will probably end up using Erica to lure them out. Be ready for that. I'm sorry but be ready."

He drew a breath and dropped his face into pure military non-emotion. "I want to be at her side. I'll be ready."

"It is Matilda that has to live," Jesse reminded him. "It is your job to save Matilda not Erica. Be ready for that. If you can't do it then Mark or Rami will take your place. They will be ready when needed."

'When needed?' He had lost his mother's confidence. He had become less of an agent in her eyes. This was a blow he hadn't expected. He did his best to not respond but it cut to lose her respect.

Why did he have to fall for this girl now? Of all the times and all the people, this was the worst. Maybe Elsbeth was right and he was being a fool, an infatuated fool, but it didn't feel that way and he could list a dozen reasons that Erica was worth their effort.

God help him if he had to jump in front of the next bullet but he knew he would do it if that was what it took to save her. He made all emotion drop from his face. He stared at his mother. God help them all.

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