It took me a minute, but then I nodded because he was right. I’d been strong for a very long time and now I’d have to be stronger. Oh, God. What was I going to tell Jess?
“You’ll come back to my house tonight,” he said. “And if they let Mellie go, she can sleep upstairs in Kit’s room. Tomorrow you’ll pick up Jessica and she can stay at my place, too. Fuck, I’m used to having a house full of girls. That’ll give you the time to figure out what your next step is. I’m assuming you had insurance?”
Insurance. I’d forgotten about insurance! Woo-hoo!
“Of course,” I said, sitting up so quickly I almost fell off his lap. “I have insurance. I need to call my agent—I think it even pays for an apartment or something.”
“Okay, that’s a start,” he said, then smiled at me. It hit me hard, the way those bright blue eyes crinkled at the corner, and I felt a very inappropriate wave of lust sneaking up. Even if the house had blown up, it didn’t change the fact I’d finally gotten laid and it kicked ass.
Something stirred under my butt. Guess I wasn’t the only one in lust.
Leaning forward, I whispered, “I feel sort of like a pervert.”
He laughed, rubbing his nose along my cheek.
I looked up, full of that sudden, guilty, caught-in-the-headlights sensation I remembered from the time the PE teacher at my high school caught me making out with Troy Jones behind the bleachers. We were supposed to be running laps.
See? I wasn’t always a good girl.
“I’m London Armstrong,” I said quickly, standing up and smoothing my clothes—a pointless task if one ever existed, because they were muddy and disgusting from Reese’s protective tackle earlier. My hair wasn’t much better, although I’d managed to get the dirt off my face in the bathroom sink.
“Melanie’s done with her scan now,” the ER nurse said, a hint of humor in her eyes. Glad someone could appreciate the situation. “She’d like you to come back and wait with her.”
I started to follow, Reese one step behind. The nurse paused and frowned.
“She didn’t mention him,” she said. “Are you family?”
Reese shook his head.
“I’m here with London,” he said. “If Mel doesn’t want me in there, I’ll leave. No arguments. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable … but I’d like to talk to her if she’s okay with that.”
The nurse looked skeptical, but she nodded.
“If she doesn’t want you in the room, you’re out.”
Then he caught my hand in his, giving it a quick squeeze as the nurse used her card to buzz us through the big double doors separating the ER itself from the waiting area. We passed room after room until she stopped outside one at the end of the hallway, giving the door a quick, crisp knock.
“Yes?” Mellie called, and I sighed in relief. She didn’t sound full of energy and giggles, but her voice was steady and calm. The nurse opened the door for us.
Mellie’s eyes went wide at the sight of my new … whatever the hell he was. Boyfriend? Seemed a little too cutesy, somehow.
“You want him out?” the nurse asked bluntly, which I thought was pretty brave of her considering Reese was twice her size and looked scary enough when he wasn’t covered with dirt and soot.
Mellie glanced at me, and I nodded encouragingly.
“This is a friend of mine,” I said. “A good friend. But if you don’t want him here, he’s gone. Reese is the one who pulled you away from the fire.”
“He can stay,” she said hesitantly.
“Just push the button if you need anything,” the nurse said. “The doctor will be in as soon as we have your scan results.”
She left the room and we stood there, Mellie trying not to stare at Reese and failing miserably.
“I’m Reese Hayes,” he said, his voice gentle—far gentler than I would’ve dreamed possible. “London and I are together now, and she’s told me all about you. I have two daughters, just a few years older than you. Told London she could come out to my place while she gets things straightened out. You’re welcome, too. I hear home’s a little uncomfortable these days.”
Mellie’s face crumpled, and she sniffed.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry, London. I didn’t mean to burn down your house. I can’t believe you’re still talking to me.”
Oh shit. Like Mel needed more trauma and guilt? I moved quickly toward the bed, taking her hands into mine.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, baby,” I told her. She shook her head, then tears burst out like a dam had broken.
“I was using the stove,” she gulped between sobs. “I checked to make sure the burners were all off, but I guess I missed one. It’s my fault.”
“I don’t know what happened,” I said slowly. “But I sort of doubt that leaving on one gas burner for a short time would be enough to blow up the whole house. Even if it was, it’s okay. It’s just a house.”
Huh. I’d said it to make her feel better, but it was the truth, too. It really was just a house. The sadness and shock I’d been fighting faded, replaced with relief. Not that I was happy about losing my home, but I was mostly just thankful that Mellie hadn’t been hurt. That I hadn’t been hurt.
“I can buy a new house. Or build one … I don’t know. Nothing that really matters is gone.”
The door opened, and a woman stepped in. She looked way too young to be a doctor, but she had all the right props—white coat, stethoscope, hair pulled back in a bun.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Logan,” she said. “I’ve got your test results, Melanie. Would you like to talk with me privately?”
“No, they can stay,” Mellie said, her hands tightening on mine.
“Well, I think you’re going to be just fine,” the doctor said with a reassuring smile. “You’ve got a concussion, so we’ll keep you overnight to keep an eye on things, but I don’t think you need to worry. There’s no sign of bleeding, no serious trauma to the head or spine. You got lucky.”
Relief filled her face. Then she glanced at me.
“Do I have to stay at the hospital?” she asked quietly.
“I think it’s a good idea. You can go home first thing tomorrow, if there aren’t any complications.”