DIRTY WAR

chapter one

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

That sound needs to stop.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Oh, dear God, someone make it stop.

But it doesn’t. It’s a continuous repeat of annoyance that’s echoing in my head. What the hell is it?

Making myself hone in on the noise, I realize I know what that sound is. I’ve heard it plenty of times before when I’ve had to come to the hospital to interview victims and criminals. 

“Baby, please wake up.” Drago is here? His voice nicks at my heart. I’ve never heard him sound so distraught, if that’s even the right word for it. It’s more than agitated and crazy. He sounds a little desperate in the way he’s begging. “Why isn’t she waking up?” His voice cracks. “It’s been hours!”

Something, or someone, squeezes my hand tightly. 

“Mr. Acerbi, I wish I had a better answer for you. The only thing I can tell you is that she’ll wake up when she’s ready. Be patient.” The man’s voice is soft, patient—but lacking of concern for D’s state of mind.

“Some doctor you are.”

That’s what I’m saying . . .

It’s with that thought that all of the events from before hit me at once, smacking me in the face. Gabriel. Shit, I want to cry and I’m not the crying type. That son of a bitch took him! And I couldn’t protect him like I was supposed to. Some fucking parent I’ll be one day. I let Drago’s son be taken. The pain that rips through the center of my chest hurts so badly, making me wish for darkness to overtake me again. I don’t want to face this. I don’t want to be the one that let them both down.

I’d never forgive me if I were in his shoes.

“What the fuck is happening?” Drago demands, his voice taking on a panic I wouldn’t have thought possible with the strength he outwardly projects. “Why is the monitor making those sounds?”

“Her heart rate has increased. It’s accelerating rapidly.”

“Why? Do something?” D demands.

There is a fast, scrapping sound to my right as if a chair was shoved backward.

I open my eyes, and I’m hit with the bright fluorescent light above me, making me squeeze them shut again. Trying again, I open them, only slower this time, allowing my sight to come into focus seconds later. It’s then I realize I’m lying in a hospital bed just as I thought when I first heard that telltale beeping noise of a heart monitor. Rolling my head left, I see Drago standing tall on the other side of the bedrail.

“Bri, baby?” His voice sounds broken and unlike him. Does he know that sweet boy is his son? No. My mind shuts that thought down. If he did, he wouldn’t be here with me. He’d be out, searching every place on earth for him just like I want to do now. “Are you okay?”

I turn my head away from the machine, away from the thoughts lodged in my throat. Mike had to have gotten that Amber Alert out. He had to.

Seeing Drago on the opposite side of the machines, he sits in a chair that’s pulled close to the bed. The grieve-stricken look that mars his face makes me want to crawl under the covers rather than face the man I’ve been keeping a huge secret from. I’m not weak, I remind myself, steeling my back on the thin mattress I’m lying on.

He has my hand clutched in both of his, holding it like he’s been in prayer.

“Gabe,” I croak out.

“Stop worrying about the kid and worry about you,” he forces out, confirming he’s still in the dark about his son. “Are you okay?” D doesn’t give me a chance to answer. Instead, he turns his face away from me, looking toward my feet. “Is she okay? Is she going to be okay?”

My eyes follow the direction of his voice, landing on a tall, dark-skinned man dressed in a white coat who’s standing at the foot of bed. My gaze zeroes in on the name threaded through the fabric in cursive script: Marcus Thornton, MD. He’s good-looking, late thirties I’m guessing, and even in my medically drug-induced hazy vision I can see he’s well built underneath his clothes.

He reminds me of someone—but who?

“Welcome back, Miss Andrews, or Detective Andrews, if you prefer,” he greets me. “I’m Dr. Thornton. I’m the trauma surgeon that treated your injuries upon arrival a few hours ago.”

A few hours ago? How long ago was it? How long has that fucker had my baby? 

Fuck! 

Everyone is right. I’m already too attached. I know he isn’t mine. I know I cannot keep him long-term. But that fact doesn’t stop me from caring about him, from loving him.

“Bri. You can call me Bri—or Brianna,” I tell him. I’ve never cared for the formalities or the titles.  

“I prefer Miss Andrews or Detective Andrews.” 

Then why the hell did he even ask? Whatever. I don’t care. All I care about is finding the little boy that was depending on me for his safety.

The cold, sterile environment of a hospital, that until this moment has never bothered me, coats my skin, and starts to seep into my pores as it wafts up my nose, making my stomach churn with nausea.

I want out of this bed. I want out of this plain, off-white room. I want out of this hospital.

I have to get out of here if I’m going to find Diaz.

“How do you feel, Miss Andrews?” 

My eyes flick up to the doctor’s dark brown ones. He’s emotionless and I suppose you have to be when you see the things they do on a daily basis. I know that. I have to turn off a lot on the job. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have lasted a week as a cop.

“Fine,” I tell him. “When will I be released?”

“Not tonight,” he says, almost with a hint of amusement that I don’t care for.

Well, I don’t know anyone that wants to stay in a hospital longer than necessary. People don’t vacation here.

“What do you mean not tonight? Didn’t I say I feel fine?”

“Bri.” Drago draws out my name, but I don’t bother to look in his direction or acknowledge I heard him. My eyes stay locked with the doctor’s, waiting on an explanation as to why he thinks I need to be here instead of out in the city, searching for the missing boy I failed to protect.

Something in the physician’s eyes and facial features makes my stomach drop and dread washes over me from head to toe.

“Perhaps your friend would step out to the waiting room and we can—”

“I’m not fucking leaving. How many times do I have to say that, doc?”

I squeeze D’s hand, making sure he knows he’s not taking even an inch of step away from me. I’m a strong woman. I know I am, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach is scaring the shit out of me. A moment ago, I was prepared to leave here so I could find the man that put me in this bed and place him behind bars. But now . . . I’m not sure if I’m going to get that chance.

Was Gabriel already found? Did something worse happen?

My mind races like it never has before. I need Drago here.

“Are you sure, miss?”

A growl rips from Drago’s mouth.

“Yes,” I bite out at the ridiculousness of his mannerism. If it is about Gabe, then Drago should be here. If it’s about me, then just tell me and let me get out of here so I can do my damn job.

“Very well.” The doctor sighs and it’s then I recognize the hint of sympathy in his eyes. “You have a concussion from hitting your head. Your ribs are severely bruised and I’m surprised none of them were broken by the numerous blows your body took. You were lucky there,” he nods, “but you’ll be in a lot of pain once the morphine wears off. You do have a button to push should the pain get too unbearable.” 

His head dips, nodding to my side, and it’s then I look down and lying next to my free hand is a white plastic device with a button on top. I pick it up, but I don’t press it. Other than stiffness and grogginess, I feel okay, so why the cloak and dragger nonsense about D leaving while he speaks to me. I know now even if he knew something about Gabriel, he wouldn’t be the one to tell me. There would be no reason for him to. So what is it? 

This, what I’m feeling now, with the drugs in my system, is nothing like the pain that sliced through me when Diaz shot me, or when— 

“I’m sorry I have to inform you of this, but you miscarried your baby.”

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