The only thing he wanted, he already had in the form of her daughter. Did twenty bucks in the cafeteria line count as throwing it around?
“No.” He bit his tongue to keep ma’am from coming out. It wasn’t a slight to her age, just a sign of respect that had been drilled into him in the military.
“Or making demands on Erin—”
“Of course not,” he cut in smoothly.
“Well,” he repeated. “I assured her that I’d win you over with my charm. Since I don’t have any charm, we’ll have to come to an understanding instead.”
She paused. “Are you threatening me?”
“I would never presume to.” At least partly because he had nothing to threaten her with. In fact, he wanted to get along with her, he hoped to. But he wasn’t going to let anyone get between him and Erin, not even the woman who’d raised her.
Her expression was mildly pissed off. And amused. He’d seen that exact smile on Erin, and it meant he was off the hook. Of course, that didn’t prove anything. Erin liked him a lot better than this woman did.
She managed to look intimidating from her supine position. “It’s no business of mine what’s in your bank account, but if you hurt her, I will find you.”
He let the threat hang in the air. She was short and slight. At a disadvantage financially and socially. There was nothing she could do to him, and they both knew it, but the intensity, the worry in her eyes squeezed a fist around his heart. He understood how much she cared for her daughter. He appreciated that she’d raised her to be strong, and smart, and confident. Now that was his job. His responsibility, his privilege.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, because she’d given him an order and he swore to follow it. He would have done it anyway. Nothing was more important to him than Erin’s safety and happiness. But if it set her mind at ease, he let his resolve show in his eyes. She studied him—his direct gaze, his disfigured skin. She didn’t flinch, but then he already knew Erin had come from tough stock.
“You’ll do,” she finally said.
Well, at least that part was worked out.
Now they needed to make sure she was discharged and healthy. He also needed to speak privately with Erin, to somehow make it up to her that he hadn’t been around when she needed him. And to double-check that she knew he hadn’t been cheating during that time. He had a full day ahead of him, basically.
Turning to the plastic bags, he began to pull out options. “We have Jello. Yogurt with granola topping. Tapioca pudding.”
She stared at him, unimpressed. Wordlessly, he found the container with his own loaded cheeseburger and flipped it open.
With a relieved sigh, she accepted it. “You and I just might get along after all.”
* * *
The county hospital was an old building that, if Erin were honest, was better suited to a prison than a hospital. Its rectangular shape bled inward with concentric rectangular hallways. She stood on the outmost ring, where thin, barred windows drew afternoon light onto the grey rubber floors.
Dr. Parkins had grey hair, an ever-present clipboard, and a kind smile. What the building lacked in charm, the people made up for with their thoughtful care for her mother.
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes, definitely. I’ve just been in to see your mother. Her condition is improving and we’re moving forward to the recovery phase.”
Relief swept through her. Her mother had seemed good during lunch, even making light conversation with Blake, but she was glad to have it confirmed. “That’s wonderful. When can she go home?”
“She can be discharged as soon as tomorrow, but she’ll need a high level of support. She shouldn’t be up and walking around for another week or two.”
“I understand,” she promised. “I’ll stay with her.”
After a few more instructions, the doctor started to walk away.
“Um, Doctor?” She felt weird asking him this, but she’d made two full circuits around the hospital and hadn’t found what she needed. “Can you tell me where the restrooms are?”
He smiled kindly. “They’re on the other side, near the elevators. But there’s a smaller one down that hallway, third door on the right.”