The Second Season

Parental Advisory Rating: AS, L

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!


Created, Produced, Directed and Written:

Fanatic and TNovan


Final Scene from Episode Twenty-Four:

"Shots fired! Down, down, down!"

Oh Jesus.

We all stare at the radio waiting for something else to be said. Anything else. Christ, say something!

"Residence secure."

I let out a shuddering breath, collapsing against the car. I know how boneless chicken feels now. My relief is complete.

"Two victims," is the next thing we hear.

Two? He had another woman in there?

"One male. One Female."

Oh, that explains it. The SWAT team shot his ass. Good. Saves me the trouble. But, wait, if there’s a female victim, that means Kelsey … oh God!

"Positive ID on the female victim."

That’s the code phrase Bear gave them to let us know if it was Kels in the house. It’s not part of their normal protocol, but they agreed to at least let us know if she definitely was inside.

"Dispatch two ambulances."

An ambulance. So, she’s alive. She may be hurt, but, thank God, she’s alive!

"Correction. Dispatch one ambulance and the coroner."

And now … Exposure: Season Two


Episode One: Looks Like We Made It


I watch as the paramedics rush in. Please, God, let them bring Kels out of that house soon. I just need to see her, to know she’s all right. "Bear, can you go to a back channel and find out if she’s alive? I can’t take this. Please?"

I don’t know if it’s the desperate tone in my voice or the pleading look in my eyes, but he picks up his radio. He walks away from the car to give himself some privacy. He knows if she’s the one dead, I don’t need to hear it from a stranger.

Robie steps up and wraps his arm around my shoulders. "She’s alive, Harper," he whispers, his voice tight with emotion. "I know it. Kels is tough and she wouldn’t leave you."

I nod, fighting back the tears. I feel like I’m a kid again, afraid of the unknown.

Bear returns to me, taking me gently by the arm. "Come on, let’s go see your gal."

Oh, thank you, God! What sweet words to hear! I throw my arms around Bear’s thick neck and kiss his cheek. "Thank you, Bear."

He pats my back awkwardly. Poker buddies aren’t supposed to embrace and kiss in public in his world. Or in mine either, but I’m willing to make an exception right now.

I release him and turn toward the house, heading for it at a run. All that matters now is Kelsey is inside and she needs me.

Bear drags me to a stop at the door. "We wait here," he explains patiently, seeing my indignant look. "That’s still a sealed crime scene. They’ll bring her out as soon as she’s stable."

"She’s alive, Bear," I reply quietly. As I wait for her to be brought out, I find myself shuffling back and forth a bit. I am flooded with adrenaline. My body realizes the end of its ordeal. Now all of my energy is back, focused on Kelsey and her safety. I’m going to spoil her rotten.

The door opens and one of the paramedics comes backing out of the house, nearly toppling me over. I step aside and take my first look at Kels.

My baby.

What did that sick fuck do to you?

The paramedics are moving on toward the ambulance and I follow after them quickly, anxious to not be left behind. I take inventory of the injuries I can see on her. Her face is bruised and swollen from being badly beaten repeatedly. Her left leg has been splinted, along with her right hand and wrist. She has two lines running into her – one an IV, the other oxygen. Her eyes are closed.

It’s a good thing the coroner is coming for that son of a bitch. I want to shake the hand of the cop that shot him.

They stop for a moment to ready the rig for transport, giving me a chance to take her hand. I touch her gently, desperate to not cause her any more pain. "Hey, Little Roo?" I call softly.

Her eyes open for a moment. She struggles to say something, her lips moving, but no sound coming forth. Her lips are so chapped, different from the softness I normally find there. I lean in close so I can hear her as she whispers.

Finally understanding, I reply. "No, baby, you’re not dead. You’re gonna be fine, I swear it. You’re with me now."

One of the paramedics gives me a little nudge. "We’re ready."

"Can I go with her?"

He looks at me. "Are you family?"

"All that she has." And that’s the God’s honest truth. Her mother is worthless, preferring to stay in New York while her child was missing. Her father is out of the country on business.

"Yeah, sure, come on."

I let them load her in before I climb inside. I immediately retake ahold of her hand. I lean down and whisper to her. "Just relax, Kels. You’re out and you’re alive. You hold on. We’ve got a big move to New York to put together. And Mama will be seriously upset if you give up your spot in the kitchen."


* * *


The ride to the hospital is one of the longest on my life. I know she is alive. I am watching the rise and fall of her chest – for the first time without lascivious purposes – but what disturbs me is I can’t get her to grip my hand. I hold her limp hand in my own, willing her to be strong, to be all right.

"Everything’s going to be fine, Kels," I whisper, close to her ear. "I love you." With those words, I hear a little whimper from her and feel a very slight grasping of my hand. Elated, I try again. "I love you, Kels." Again, she grasps at my hand and I watch her eyes flutter open. I position myself so she can see me. "Hey, sweetheart."

Her green eyes seem almost devoid of color, but full of pain. She licks her lips and breathes out, "Harper."

I don’t think her voice has ever sounded so lovely. "Shh, rest. You’re safe and I’m here."

"Love you"

I close my eyes, thanking God for those few words. When I look at her again, her eyes are closed, but her grip remains steady on my hand. "That’s right, Little Roo. Everything is gonna be fine."

We arrive at the hospital and they are quick to unload her, to get her into the emergency room. I am forced to let go of her hand to allow them to move her into the trauma room, but I stay as close as I can.

I am stopped at the door by a heavyset and imposing nurse. Her hands are gentle, but firm, on my shoulders, keeping me out of the room. I strain past to see them lift Kels from the gurney to the table.

"We’ll let you know as soon as we can," she tells me before closing the doors, leaving me to watch through the small windows. How come the family members always seem to be in the trauma room on ER?

It’s not long before I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn to find Robie and Bear. I offer them as strong a smile as I can manage. "She’s alive. She spoke to me on the ride over."

"I told you she’s gonna be fine."

"He hurt her, Robie."

"I know. But she’s alive, and she’s going to stay that way. You keep telling yourself that." He squeezes my shoulder.

I nod. "She told me she loved me."

"Yeah, well, wait ‘til she finds out you’re not a girl," he teases, reminding me of our conversation earlier tonight. Or was it yesterday? The dawn raid on the house, lack of sleep, emotional exhaustion of the last four days, all come crashing down on me.

"Right." I laugh, wiping away the tears that have pooled in my eyes. I notice Bear staring through the window at the team working on Kels. "What’s wrong?" I turn my attention inside the trauma room, fearful of the worst.

"That’s a hell of a woman in there."

"You don’t need to tell me that."

He turns to me, shaking his head slightly. "You don’t understand." He pauses and seems to be figuring out how to tell me something. In the end, Bear is simply direct. "She killed him, Harper. She put fourteen bullets into the bastard. The SWAT team found her holding his gun, dry firing into his dead body."

"How?" I ask. I don’t even want to imagine how she obtained his gun. If he had it near her, it means he was planning on using it. We were almost too late. Almost.

Bear shrugs. "I dunno. We’ll have to ask her later what happened."

I look through the doors at Kelsey. She killed him? My mind can’t even picture Kels holding a gun, let alone pulling the trigger fourteen plus times.

"It probably saved her life, Harper." Bear must sense my distress.

I nod. "Of course, it did. She wouldn’t have done it otherwise. She’s not that kind of person." I, on the other hand, had I encountered the bastard and had a gun in my hand would not have hesitated even a second. I’m sorry Mama and Papa, but some people don’t deserve to live.

"I know," Bear agrees sympathetically.


* * *


It seems like it’s been hours, but I know it’s only been a short while that we’ve been sitting in the waiting room. The rest of the family arrived a few minutes after Robie and Bear did. Mama is sitting next to me, her hand on my back. Rene is on the other side of me, her hand wrapped around my upper arm. Clark in sleeping soundly in my embrace, baby drool staining my shirt. Papa and Robie have been sent to find food and coffee, not necessarily in that order.

"As soon as Kelsey is well enough, you both should come home," Mama says softly, glancing toward the trauma room doors, as she has every few minutes. She’s as worried as I am.

"If the doctors say it’s okay, and Kels wants to, we will," I agree, giving Clark a little kiss on the top of his head. He still has that baby soft spot, reminding me of how fragile life truly is.

"We’ll convince her." Mama smiles at me, holding out her hands for Clark. My Mama is the only person in this world I would give him up to right now. Once I am no longer holding him, I need to move around the room.

I find myself standing in front of the door again, peering through the window. The flurry of activity around Kels has stopped and only a doctor and a nurse remain. This is a good sign. It means soon I will be able to get to her. The doctor makes a note in his chart, while the nurse adjusts an IV drip. Finally, the doctor turns and heads toward us. At last.

"Are you with Ms. Stanton?" he asks me, letting the door close behind him, keeping me from her still.

"Yes. How is she?"

"She’s a remarkably strong woman. Right now, we have her stabilized, and we expect her condition to improve fairly quickly."

"Thank God," I murmur.

"She’s been through quite an ordeal, however. She’s dehydrated and malnourished. She has a concussion, three broken ribs, a broken right wrist and a badly damaged left knee. In addition, she has bruising to her liver and kidneys from when he beat her. But, given time and rest, I don’t expect she’ll suffer any complications from those injuries. She may need to have surgery on the knee, but I think we can do it orthoscopic when she’s healed up from her other injuries some."

"Can I see her now?"

"As soon as we get her settled in her room. She’s been sedated and she’s going to be groggy. She may not even know you’re there."

"She’ll know," I reply, confidently. I’ll make sure she knows. I don’t want to, but I have to ask. "Doctor, was she raped?"

"No. The rape kit came back negative."


* * *


The family has gone back to my place to rest and let the others in the family know the good news about Kelsey. Papa also could tell I needed time with Kelsey, alone, and he made sure I got it. I love my father.

Kels and I are in her room. She’s resting comfortably, even snoring a little. I think that’s my favorite sound now, and will be for the rest of my life. It tells me she’s alive.

I make myself at home here. I dare anyone to tell me I can’t stay with her. I’ll never understand a legal system which doesn’t guarantee me the right to be by my partner in time of crisis. Hell, maybe it is a good thing Mom is on that Committee for Same Sex Marriages. If anyone can beat sense into lawmakers, it’d be my Mama. I need to make sure Robie draws us up health care proxies and power of attorney, as soon as possible.

Taking my jacket off, I toss it over a chair, then take a seat next to the bed.

Lifting her uninjured hand, I give it a little kiss, resting my head on the mattress next to it. I feel her fingers move, brushing my cheek. Lifting my head up, I find her looking at me.

"Hey, Little Roo."

"I want a vacation." She struggles with the words and a smile.

"You got it, chér. I know just the place."

"Oh yeah? Tell me about it."

I smile, so glad to be enjoying easy conversation with this woman. "It’s a big, old house surrounded by magnolia trees. During the summer, and especially during a rainstorm, you can smell that sweet scent hanging heavy around you. In the house, there’s this amazing feather bed in an airy room on the third floor. The room has a fireplace and a balcony. And, there’s this bossy lady downstairs who cooks all the time and won’t let me into the kitchen."

Kelsey whispers, "You don’t belong in there."

"No, I suppose I don’t. But, you do."


* * *


I feel like I’ve been run over. And then the truck stopped, backed up, and ran over me again.

I try to decide what hurts worst – my knee or my wrist. My knee wins. Jesus, it hurts. I can feel every heartbeat in it, as blood passes through the huge swollen appendage. I couldn’t move it, even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I don’t want to ever move it again. Not if hurts like this.

My nose itches. Carelessly, I reach up to scratch it and nearly give myself another concussion. Note to self: don’t scratch with the hand in the cast.

I study my right hand and wrist, encased in white plaster. I broke my arm once in grammar school. I had jumped out of a swing, a little too high, and landed rather badly. But it was fun for a couple days having everyone write on my arm. It made me feel a part of things for once.

I was sent to a new boarding school the next semester. Mother said this one, the one where I had friends, didn’t have a high enough standard of safety for her tastes. I think I hate my mother. And I am not surprised to not find her at my bedside right now.

A glance out the window tells me it’s either very late at night or very early in the morning. Either way, it’s dark outside. I can’t see the stars due to the light given off by Los Angeles. I miss the stars.

And I don’t mean the Hollywood kind.

I turn my head to the left and look down at the head nestled against my waist. Her long arm is wrapped around my hips, holding me in place securely, as if I could go anywhere. I can’t see her features, her hair has fallen over them, obscuring my view, but I imagine what she looks like in sleep. She looks unguarded, like she does when we’re in New Orleans, surrounded by people she loves. Her lips are always slightly parted and she breathes more through her mouth than her nose. When I closed her mouth one time, she began snoring and woke herself up. It was endearing.

With the free and unhurt fingers of my left hand, I gently comb her hair back so I can see her face. Her hair is silky under my fingertips, its darkness blending in with the shadows in the room. God, she’s beautiful. I didn’t think I’d ever see her again.

I thought she had died.

That thought, even in the face of such obvious falsity, causes me to choke up. I can feel the tears streaming down my face, pooling in my ears. I hate that. I start to reach up to wipe it away, but catch myself in time. I nearly clocked myself again. This is going to take some getting used to.

"What’s wrong, Little Roo? Are you in pain?" she asks, awake now. She pushes herself up and looks down at me, her thumb wiping away my tears.

"I thought you were dead," I choke out, a tidal wave of emotion rolling over me, submerging me in its depths. I begin sobbing, unable to help myself.

Harper begins making soothing, nonsensical sounds, carefully pulling me into her embrace. I grab onto her like the drowning woman I am. She is my life preserver.

Somehow I manage to sit up and wind my arms around her neck, pulling myself as close to her as I can. My ribs hurt from this exertion, but I’d rather have their pain than the pain of being separated from her again.

"Shh, chér, it’s alright. I’m here. Even in death, I would never leave you." Even in death, I would never leave you.

I cry myself out in her arms, feeling safe for the first time in days, or it is weeks? I don’t know anymore. Time meant nothing when I was with him.


I killed him.

I knew he was growing tired of me. I could feel it.

It started when I made my one futile attempt to escape and get past him. He hobbled me. He took a police baton and beat my left knee until it folded under me. That was the beginning of the beatings. I lost track of the others, the pain simply became constant and overwhelming.

I just wanted to be able to sleep, to have it all over with. I wanted him to kill me so I could escape the pain.

That last time, he came to the room and left the door open. I knew then that when he walked out, I would be dead. It was a final taunt to me. Freedom, just beyond my reach.

He came to the bed and pulled my legs, to turn me over. My knee screamed in agony, but I did not. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of hearing me.

"It’s time!" he growled.

I knew what he meant. I was to be like the others – raped and murdered.

At least, it was almost over.

He unchained my hands from above my head. The right one was bent awkwardly. He had broken it before, when I wouldn’t touch him.

He placed his gun to my head again, the same way he had hundreds of other times since I’d been in the room. "I want you to put your arms around me." It was the same request I had refused before.

"Go to hell," was my reply.

I didn’t really feel the slap he gave me. It was just another in a long string of them.

Maybe it was that slap which put some courage back into me. But I decided right then that I wouldn’t give up quite so easily. I wouldn’t let Harper hate me for just giving up. I knew she was dead, he had told me so, but she was watching me. She had visited me. Well, at least her ghost had. And I wanted her to know that I was strong enough to put the sick bastard in jail for what he did to her.

I felt him move the gun so he could get closer to me. I felt his hands on me, tearing my clothes off my body.

And then I knew.

If he was using two hands, his gun was somewhere nearby. Waiting for me.

It was by my left hand, thank God. The one he hadn’t broken. An unfortunate oversight on his part because I reached out and grasped the handle, felt my fingers slide around the grip and the trigger.

And I prayed for God to give me the strength to kill him.

I put the gun to his rib cage and pulled the trigger.

The look of surprise on his face was almost comical as he looked down to confirm what his body was telling him. He had been shot.

I pulled the trigger again.

He pushed himself away from me, standing on trembling legs, blood spilling out of his side. His hands were covered with the dark liquid, trying to hold it in.

I rolled onto my side and leveled off the gun, once again, aiming for his gut. I pulled the trigger again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

I just kept pulling the trigger.

"Sweetheart," Harper whispers, breaking into my memories. "Let’s get you lying down. I know you must be in pain."

"I killed him," I choke out. Will she hate me now?

She shudders and nods tightly. "You came out alive. That’s all that matters. I’m so proud of you for coming back to me."

"You don’t hate me?"

Harper looks genuinely shocked by my question. "I could never hate you, Kelsey Stanton."

"Will Erik?" I ask.

"No, Erik won’t hate you either, Kels. Sleep now. You need to get better. We have a vacation to plan, right?"

I nod, exhausted. Sleep sounds perfect right now.



* * *


I wake up again. I don’t know how much later. It’s light outside, though, so it’s been a few hours, at least. My fingers are tangled with Harper’s. I don’t know if I’ll ever let go of her again.

I realize she is talking to someone so I open my eyes to see who our visitor is. To my delight, it is Mama, Rene and baby Clark.

Mama’s sharp eyes focus in on me. "Oh, look who has joined us." She gets up from her chair and walks over to the bed. She bends down to place a kiss on my forehead. "Welcome back, little one."

"Merci, mamman."

Rene comes closer as well. "Hi, Kelsey. Good to see you with us."

"Thanks, Rene. Where’s Christian?" Truth is, if there was a man in the Kingsley family who could take me away from Harper, it would be Christian. He’s precious.

"He’s with his Uncle Gerrard and Aunt Katherine right now. Probably eating sugar and drinking caffeine. It’ll take us a week to get it out of his system."

I smile, but my face is still tender from being struck repeatedly the last few days. "Thanks for coming." I relax back into the mattress .

My mind turns to my other favorite guy. Erik.

Oh God.

The last I saw of him, he was lying there on the living room floor. How could I have not asked about him sooner? Dammit, Kels, nothing like being self-occupied.

Harper raises a quizzical eyebrow. "What’s wrong?"

"How’s Erik? Is he okay?"

The prolonged silence should be enough of an answer for me. But, I need to hear it. To know it for certain.

"Kelsey, honey, I’m afraid Erik didn’t make it," Harper says in a gentle tone, her hand squeezing mine gently.

Didn’t make it. Sounds so benign. Like he didn’t make the train. Or the grade he wanted. Surely death shouldn’t sound so trivial.

He died because of me.

Like those women. They died because they looked like me. Erik died because he lived with me.

My fault.

How come I escaped and they didn’t?

‘And I alone survived.’ What novel was that from? I remember it was depressing, whatever it was.

Just like now. All I feel is emptiness. I suppose I should happy to be alive, grateful to have been spared. And a part of me is, I can’t deny that. But a larger part knows I don’t deserve this. And I shouldn’t be here.

I’ve cheated death and others paid the price.

I killed Erik.


* * *


She’s been asleep for about four hours. The doctor had to sedate her after I told her about Erik. I hated having to do that. Yet, I didn’t want anyone else to be the one to tell her. Wow, taking responsibility in a relationship, Harper. Big step.

Kels was inconsolable. She kept saying over and over again she had killed Erik. Nothing that Mama, Rene or I said to her would make her believe that wasn’t true. I hate that she’s in so much pain, both physically and emotionally, and there isn’t a goddamn thing I can do except sit here and hold her hand. Of course, Mama says that’s the most important thing. I’ve always trusted Mama in the past. Best if I don’t start doubting her now.

With Kels asleep, Mama and Rene have gone to look after their husbands. Robie is especially helpless without Rene, except with his sons. We’re all glad for that one area of domestic competence he has displayed.

Even through the sedatives, she’s still crying out in her sleep, calling Erik’s name. She didn’t ask me for specifics and until she does I don’t intend to tell her. And even then I don’t see a need to fill her in on the gruesome details. She knows he’s dead and I really think that’s all she needs to know. It’s bad enough I know. Those images haunt my dreams too.

I’m raking my fingers gently through her hair, calming her from her latest nightmare when the door opens slightly.

"Hey," Bear calls softly, sticking his head in the door.

"Hi, buddy. Come on in."

"CJ’s with me. Is it okay…?" He lets the multitude of possible questions fill in the empty air.

I don’t object. There’s no need for me to play the jealous, immature lover. "Oh yeah, please, come on in."

They both enter quietly. Bear has brought a stuffed teddy bear that has a really silly, little hat. He holds it up, giving me a grin. "I just thought…." He shrugs, handing me the bear.

"Thanks, she’ll love it." I set it on the table near Kels’ bed. Both the bear and I would love to crawl in there next to her.

CJ has brought flowers, a bouquet of Freesia, yellow, white and purple. Their strong scent quickly fills the room. "Her favorite," she says quietly, nodding to Kels, and lays them on the bed tray. I make a mental note of the information.

I know this has to be as hard on CJ as it is on me. They did, after all, love each other once. I move from Kels’ side and offer my place to CJ. She looks mildly surprised, but takes me up on it. Once seated, she gently reaches out to hold Kels’ uninjured hand.

Watching her with Little Roo, I can see that CJ definitely loves her still. This must be hard on her. I can’t imagine how I would feel if our positions were reversed. I find I’m feeling a little jealousy. There is a nagging deep in my gut, a strange feeling for sure; one I don’t recall experiencing in the past. Kels doesn’t need me to be a child right now, though, and I decide to get over it. Bear and I move back a bit, to allow them some privacy.

Kels opens her eyes, looking panicked. "Harper! Harper!"

I move to the other side of the bed, brushing my fingers through her bangs. "I’m here baby. I’m right here." Strangely enough, her calling out my name has assuaged the feeling in my stomach. "You have some visitors." I gesture toward CJ and Bear.

Kels turns her head and smiles at the cop. "Hi, Tough Stuff," she whispers, squeezing CJ’s hand.

"Look who’s talking," CJ chokes out, her throat constricting. "Brought you some Freesia."

"You remembered."

"Of course. How could I forget?"

The little gnawing is coming back in my gut. I stand by impassively though. I am a mature adult.

"I still get them on my birthday." Kels bestows CJ with a fond smile.

Okay, I am a mature adult. I am a mature adult.

"And you always will. As long as it’s all right." CJ looks to me.

I do my best to give a sincere smile in return. I may not have been the first to love Kels, but I do intend to be the last.

I guess the talk of the future, reminds Kels of their past together. "Erik," Kels whispers, tears spilling out of her eyes.

"I know, sweetheart." CJ drops her head closer to Kels, giving her a little kiss on her left temple.

"I killed him, CJ. I killed Erik." Kels curls toward CJ, clutching at her shirt.

"No, sweetheart, you didn’t. Bill killed him. You saved him, Kels, a long time ago."

"Bill?" she echoes. "Oh my God! That was Bill! I knew I recognized him, but I didn’t make the connection." She shakes her head sadly.

"See, my fault too. If he hadn’t been my partner, he never would have met you." I appreciate CJ trying to take some of the guilt off of Kels’ shoulders. "Erik had a great life that he wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for you."

Kels sniffles. "If it weren’t for us."

"Right. We did good with our boy." CJ laughs a little, before her tears start flowing.

It occurs to me that these two people are basically parents mourning the loss of a child.

Kels reaches out, brushing away CJ’s tears, words failing her.

"He was a good kid, Angel, and he loved you a lot. He’d be very proud of you for coming out of this alive. And it’s through us that he’ll always live. Well, us, and those really bad movies he made." She laughs, trying to ease the tension.

Kels sniffs a little, nodding. "There are those."

"Lots of those," CJ agrees. "The most important thing here, Kels, is that you’re all right,"

"I will be."

"Good. Well, you know me, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to pick up the phone." CJ looks over at me. "Either of you."

I smile at being included in her offer.

"I love you, CJ," Kels whispers.

I am a mature adult.

"Love you too, Angel. I’m gonna get going. I’ll drop by soon." She kisses Kels’ knuckles and stands up, stretching her lower back. I think all cops have lower back pain after a year on the force.

"Be careful out there, ok? Nothing bad is allowed to happen to you, Tough Stuff."


CJ gives Kels one last kiss on the forehead. She then stands up straight and offers me her hand across Kels’ bed. "If either of you need anything, day or night."

"You’ll be the first to know," I reply, taking her hand.

She winks at Kels and leaves. Bear moves into the spot vacated by CJ.

"Hi, Bear." Kels gives him a little smile, reaching out to take his hand. "Thanks for everything."

"It wasn’t me so much as your partner there. She figured it out and put it together."

Kels’ green eyes track over to me. They look a bit surprised, but also proud of me. "Well, I know her. I’m guessing you made her keep her head and she probably didn’t like that much. Thanks for keeping her safe."

"No problem. I’m pretty fond of that one."

She looks to me again and beckons me closer. The fingers of her broken hand graze across my mine. "So am I."

"Well, you’ve got your hands full, that’s for sure." Bear winks at me.

"Wouldn’t have it any other way." Kels yawns a little, her eyes fluttering closed.

I can tell the sedatives are starting to take effect again. "Sleep, chér," I instruct gently.

"Sorry, Bear …" Kelsey mumbles before fading off.

Bear remains quiet, moving away from the bed to let her rest. He settles into a chair on the far side of the room.

I stay with her until I can tell she’s fully asleep again, her breathing deep and even. Then I join Bear.

"So, how’s she doing?"

"All in all, not too bad right now." I pick up a cup of coffee that must be three hours old. It’s cold, but it’s coffee. "I think she’s overwhelmed and not sure what to focus on. We’ve got a long road ahead of us here."

Bear looks at me steadily, then asks, "You sure you want to travel that road, Harper?"

The force of his question hits me square in the chest just as sure as if he had thrown a punch at me. "Of course, I am," I reply angrily, biting off each word. "What kind of a dipshit question is that?"

"Think about it, Harper. You’ve gone from being a very free spirit to being settled with one woman rather quickly. And that woman is now facing a very rough time in her life, physically and emotionally."

"Yeah, and I won’t let her go it alone. I love her, Bear. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. I can’t just let her go because it’s inconvenient for me." I take a deep breath. "I know it’s going to be rough, but we’ll make it. As soon as I can, I’m going to get us the hell out of Los Angeles. That’ll be a big help."

"New Orleans?"

"Yeah." I have to laugh a little. "When Papa found out Kels will most likely be in a wheelchair when we get there, he was ready to call a contractor to start making the house accessible for her."

"You have a very special family."

"I know it. I’m lucky to have them. And I’m grateful to be able to share them with her. Her own family is fucking worthless. Her mother wouldn’t even come out here to be with her. She didn’t want to be part of a ‘media snowstorm.’"

"What about her father?"

"I’m trying to reach him. He’s out of the country on business. I’m having a hell of a time trying to track him down. Apparently, he’s somewhere in Eastern Europe and their phone service is less than reliable."

"Anything I can do to help?"

"Nah. His company is helping out. I’m sure they’ll find him." I take the last sip of my cold coffee when something occurs to me. "She’s not going to have any legal problems here, is she? You know, because she, ah…." I can’t quite bring myself to say it.

"No, not at all. It’s one of the most clear-cut cases of self-defense I’ve ever seen. When Kelsey is up to it, we’re going to need a detailed statement, but I don’t foresee any problems."

"Good. I just want to get her out of here so she can rest and get better." I hear her fuss again. Returning to her, I take her hand. "It’s okay, sweetheart."

Her eyes open again. "It hurts. It all hurts," she whimpers.

"I know, chér." Yup. Gotta get her out of here and get her home. She’ll rest much better in that big, old, feather bed. So will I for that matter.

I need to call Saunders and tell him we’re both taking extended vacations. Hell, maybe Kels’ agent will have our new contracts negotiated soon then we can just quit.

I fuckin’ hate LA.


<fade out>


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