Cory Foster drove too fast. He knew it, but he didn’t care. Ella was his focus.
After all the years of looking after her, he could tell in less than ten seconds—even over the phone—that she was freaking out.
He wouldn’t panic. He never did. He was calm, cool and collected—even in the midst of a firefight.
The apartment door slammed behind him, and the window shades rattled. He needed to find them a different apartment. It was one thing for him to live in a crappy place—he was hardly ever home—but his little sister should have better digs.
“Ella?” He paused to listen, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
She was in the bathroom.
He stalked down the hall and tapped on the bathroom door. “Ella. I’m here.” He used what she called his authoritarian voice. “You’d better tell me what’s so important you had to drag me off the firing range.”
“Oh, it hurts…”
Her moan set his teeth on edge. His hand went to the doorknob, and he almost turned it. “Ella, what’s happening?”
The only reply was muffled crying.
This was not good.
“I’m coming in,” he said.
“No!” It was a weak protest.
He turned the knob. “I’m not going to look.”
He cracked the door open.
There was a pair of underwear on the bathroom floor.
He nearly gagged, and his heart rate jacked up. “Please tell me it’s that time of the month.”
No answer to that either. But even he knew that was too much blood for a monthly period.
He pushed the door open further. She was sitting on the toilet, naked from the waist down. Her head was down and her hands were fisted in her hair.
“Oh, my God, Ella.”
She looked up at him. Her blue eyes were wide with fear, her face streaked with tears. “I—I can’t stop bleeding.”
As he dropped to his knees beside her, the metallic smell of blood hit his nostrils. He was no stranger to blood, but this…
This was not a battlefield.
His voice sounded calm, even though he was feeling anything but. “Sweetheart, I’m going to take you to the E.R.”
St. Joseph’s Hospital
Maddy’s shift had started less than an hour ago, and every exam room was full.
It was going to be one of those days.
“Exam Two.” Maria shoved a chart into Maddy’s hands. “Vaginal bleeding and pain in the lower back.”
“Can you check on the labs for—”
“I’m on it.” Maria turned back toward the nurses’ station as Maddy stepped behind the curtain of Exam Two.
“Hello. I’m Doctor Wright.” Her gaze zeroed in on a young woman—barely legal if she didn’t miss her guess—who had a firm grip on a man in military camouflage. “You’re Ella?”
“Ella Foster,” the soldier said. He was looking at her patient with a mixture Maddy had seen many times: worry, love… and guilt.
He looked up, and she was struck by how dark his eyes were. Brown. Or maybe a very dark green…
“She won’t stop bleeding.” Maddy heard the underlying fear in his voice. “What’s wrong with her?”
Maddy set the chart down. “I’ll do my best to find out.”
She pressed gently on the young woman’s abdomen as she asked the standard questions—how long and how much she’d been bleeding, when her last period was, etcetera. She’d need to do a gynecological exam, but she was ninety percent sure that Ella Foster was having a miscarriage.
She met the young woman’s eyes and knew that she knew.
She turned to the soldier. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to wait in the family room,” she said.
“I will not!”
Maddy placed her hand on the man’s arm and lowered her voice. “I believe Ella is having a miscarriage.”
Maddy waited for the inevitable understanding.
“You mean she’s…”
So her patient hadn’t told him.
His dark eyes went wide. “She’s pregnant?!”
“I believe so,” Maddy said. “We’ll need to do a complete exam and a blood test to confirm.”
The man went still, clearly stunned.
Ella started to cry. “Cory, I’m sorry. So sorry.”
Fury lit in his eyes. “Who did this to you?” He aimed his demand at the girl on the gurney.
Crap; this was not the boyfriend. Then who was he? And why did the nurses let him in?
The young woman shook her head.
“I swear to God, Ella, if he hurt you—”
Ella clutched at his hand. “No. No, it’s not like that. I thought… I thought he loved me.”
"He’s gone," Ella said.
His eyes went flat. “It’s Rolando, isn’t it?”
Ella stared at the sheet.
“You went with Rolando while I was gone, even though I told you not to!” The man’s fist hit the bed railing, and Maddy jumped. “I’m going to kill the bastard!”
Under that camouflage, she could sense the man’s raw physical power. The deepest part of her—where the memories still lived—wanted to recoil, but for the sake of her patient, she would not.
Maddy gripped the man’s arm. “Sir, I need you to step outside right now.”
The man glanced at her.
“Don’t make me call security,” she added.
Abruptly, he stepped back.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant,” Ella said. “Not until a few days ago, I swear.”
The man glanced back at Ella as Maddy steered him around the curtain.
“Who are you and what relationship are you to my patient?” she demanded.
“Cory Foster,” he said. “I’m her brother.”
“Cory, your sister is going to be fine,” she said in her soothing-doctor voice. “I know it’s hard to see her in pain, but we’re going to take good care of her. I promise.”
His eyes wandered toward the curtain.
She placed her hand on his arm. “I need you to wait in the family room,” she said. “I’ll do a thorough exam and bring you an update as soon as I can.”
The fury had faded from his eyes, leaving what she could only describe as anguish.
“Ella will be fine.” She paused. “Will you?”
She held his gaze until she was sure he understood what she was asking.
He nodded briskly. “Yeah, Doc. I’ll behave.”
Cory jerked awake when someone entered Ella’s hospital room. Shit, he’d fallen sleep at her bedside, his head propped on his folded arms.
“I’m sorry,” the woman gasped, clearly startled as well. “I didn’t see you there, Mister Foster.”
He recognized the doctor from the E.R. “Cory,” he said. “Call me Cory.”
“I just wanted to check on Ella,” she said.
He followed the doctor’s gaze to his sister. Ella looked so peaceful when she slept. With her eyes closed, he couldn’t see the weariness—or the tears.
The doctor touched Ella with such obvious care that Cory was blindsided by a feeling of… he didn’t know what the feeling was, but it was different than the anger and loathing that burned in his chest every time he thought about Ella gettingpregnant by a bastard drug dealer who’d likely abandoned her the moment he found a new piece of ass.
He swallowed. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for her, Doc.”
The doctor gestured toward the door. “Can we can talk out there?”
He followed her down the hallway to a small nook with two chairs, a couch and a coffee table.
“Coffee?” she asked.
“No thanks,” he said.
She poured herself a cup. “Doctor Spangler’s been called into emergency surgery and asked me to talk to you.”
She took a seat on a chair, and he followed suit. His eyes went to the badge on her jacket: Dr. Madeline Wright, E.R. Physician
“As near as we can tell, Ella was about nine weeks pregnant,” she said.
Nine weeks! He’d been gone for twelve…
“Is there something wrong with her?” he said. “I mean, that she would miscarry?”
“Miscarriage is actually quite common,” the doctor said. “There’s no single, identifiable cause for it. It’s sad, but the fact is, miscarriage just happens sometimes.”
It wouldn’t have happened if he’d been around.
“Ella chose to have a natural abortion, which means that we’ve given her medication to help expel the dead tissue from her body,” she continued.
Cory had a sudden urge to cover his ears.
“She’s young and healthy and there should be no long-term repercussions from the miscarriage,” she continued. “She should be able to have children in the future.”
“You should be able to take her home tomorrow,” she said. “We’ll provide her with home care instructions, but it would be good if you can spend time with her this next week or so. We can treat the physical symptoms, but she may have some emotional fallout.”
Anxiety pulsed in Cory’s temples. He was no good with emotional stuff!
Ella’s going to be fine. That’s what matters.
The doctor cleared her throat. “You and your sister are close?”
“Yes,” he said. “Our parents weren’t really in the picture. Someone had to watch out for her.”
“And you took on that role?” she said.
He nodded. “Someone had to be responsible—unlike that bastard who got her pregnant.”
Anger tightened around his chest like a fist. “The low-life drug dealer responsible for this took a sweet, innocent girl and turned her into his private whore—”
He inhaled sharply.
Rein it in, Foster. You know how to do it; it’s what you’ve been trained for.
“Cory?” The doctor’s fingers on his sleeve sent a jolt of electricity through him. “Are you okay?”
He nearly choked. Was he okay? Nobody ever asked him that. The fury left as quickly as it’d come, leaving only confusion in its wake. “I’m just…” He searched for the best word. “…angry.”
That was all she said. She didn’t say he was wrong to feel the way he did, or that he needed to ‘manage’ the anger or ‘let it go.’ As if she understood him.
In that moment, something squeezed hard—right in the vicinity of his heart.