Ride Wild(8)

By: Laura Kaye

He wasn’t aware of falling asleep. He wasn’t aware of anything, actually.

Until a commotion jolted him awake, his heart racing, his brain disoriented.

Cora was at the side of his bed, her mouth moving, her hand on his arm, her expression filled with bad news his mind wasn’t quite processing.

“—wake up, Slider,” she was saying. “School called. Ben’s on his way to the hospital. There was an accident on the playground.”

He shoved upward onto his arms. “What?”

“Ben. He’s hurt,” she said. “They’re taking him to Frederick Memorial Hospital.”

Not Ben, Slider thought, flying out of bed and tearing clothes out of his dresser. Not his innocent little alligator. “Jesus Christ,” he growled in frustration and desperation as he struggled into a pair of jeans. He turned when he finally got them up over his ass. “What else did they say, Cora? How is he hurt?”

For a moment she just stood there staring at him, mouth wide and eyes wider, like maybe he’d grown three heads while he was asleep, which was when he realized he’d just walked across the room butt-ass naked. “Um,” she finally said, blinking out of her surprise. “They, um, said he fell from the monkey bars and that he’d lost consciousness but was awake when the ambulance came. Other than that, I’m not sure how bad it is, Slider. I’m sorry.”

He shook his head and tried to focus as he jammed his feet into a pair of boots and stuffed his arms into a T-shirt. Only one thing mattered here. Ben, being okay. God, he had to be okay. “Let’s go,” he said.

“Wait. Me?” she asked, hugging herself. For the first time, the gesture made him notice that she was wearing one of his T-shirts. And, possibly, nothing else. The white cotton V-neck hung wide on her shoulders and long on her body, the hem hitting her just low enough to make it unclear whether she wore panties. Under any other circumstances, he wouldn’t have been able to think of anything else but the picture of her that way, in his clothes, in his room . . .

“Yes. Ben will want you there.” And so do I. Because he wasn’t sure what he was walking into, or how bad it was going to be. Jesus, the thought of his boy being hurt made him want to vomit. “Get dressed,” he said, manhandling her toward the stairs.

“But what about meeting Sam off the school bus?” she asked, peering up at him as they raced down. “He’s gonna be freaked out.”

She was right about that. “I’ll get one of my brothers to bring him to the hospital,” he said, hoping someone would be willing to do that for him after Slider had pretty much gone ghost on the club after Kim’s death. They all thought that was because he was wrecked with grief, when really it was because her cancer had made it so he could never reveal all the ways in which she’d given him cause to grieve. And the more he’d dwelt on her lies, the more he hadn’t known who or what he could believe in—even the club. And that had killed him even as he hadn’t been able to stop himself from pulling away from his brothers.

Nothing like betrayal to shut you down and make you unsure who or what in your life was true, was real, was worthy of your trust. Sonofabitch.

“Okay,” she said dashing toward the laundry room. “I won’t be thirty seconds.”

True to her word, Cora returned quickly, dressed again in the same clothes as before, his white T-shirt hanging out under the sweatshirt as if she hadn’t wanted to take the time to change out of it. “Ready,” she said, stuffing something into her purse.

The hospital was only a fifteen-minute drive across town, but it felt like a fucking lifetime until they were pulling into the lot at the emergency department. Slider cut the engine and jumped out in one frantic motion.

And then they were inside, waiting in the line to talk to someone while Slider lost his ever-loving mind. The smell. The fucking smell. It took him right back to Kim’s illness. The countless visits. Those final days when her death was simply a matter of when not if. His sons’ heartbreaking good-byes.

And now Ben was here all by himself. Was he remembering all of that, too? The thought made Slider want to tear down doors and walls to get to him.

But he could hardly blame the tall, bald guy in front of them for being in the way when his blood had soaked through bandages he wore around his left wrist. “Got bit by a dog,” he told the intake nurse. “Pit bull.”

“Was animal control involved, sir? Do you know if the dog had rabies?” she asked. It was the first of about a half-dozen questions she asked him, and Slider’s patience significantly decreased with every one.