Everyone there was related to Jade, except for Brooke’s husband, my mother, and me.
My mother had shown up after I talked to her on the phone to explain that I wasn’t going to be able to host the fund-raiser that I’d promised for Jade’s charity. Mom had taken over and postponed the event, calling every attendee and vendor to reschedule with the help of my assistants.
“I’ll be back,” I said firmly.
“Is that a threat or a promise?” Aiden said jokingly. “She’ll be fine, Eli. My brothers and I have taken care of her most of her life. It’s not like we haven’t seen her sick or banged up before.”
Maybe they had seen her hurt, but I hadn’t, and her condition had kept me glued to her hospital bed nonstop for a few days.
I’d been there with her in Billings when she was making anguished cries of pain while they were putting her shoulder back in place.
Jesus Christ! If I never heard her hurting and in pain again, it would be too soon. Her agony had ripped my heart out, leaving a clawed wound in my chest that I wasn’t sure would ever heal.
“Call me if she wants anything,” I conceded as I stepped up close to my mother.
“I think she’s pretty much out cold for now,” Seth commented. “It’s probably better that way. It will give her body a chance to heal.”
My eyes flew back to Jade, examining every scrape, laceration, and bruise on her visible skin.
“We got lucky,” I grumbled.
She’d landed on her left side, dislocating her shoulder and glancing her head off a nearby rock. But her initial body landing had broken her fall, and her head didn’t take a direct hit. If things had happened even slightly different, she could have had a much worse head injury.
“We all know it could have been even more serious,” Noah said somberly. “But it’s best not to dwell on that. If you do, it drives you crazy. Take it from me . . . I’ve been in the hospital with all of my younger siblings more times than I can count. Every one of those incidents scared the shit out of me. But they all got through it.”
Even though I knew that Noah was just a few years older than I was, his presence seemed to be a stabilizing factor for everybody.
When Brooke had arrived from the East Coast in hysterics, Noah had calmed her down with his steady demeanor.
He’d talked to all of Jade’s half-siblings and cousins on the phone, using the same even, stable tone and logical thinking to convince them that Jade was okay, and that they didn’t need to come to California to be with her.
Owen was also reassured that he didn’t need to interrupt his busy residency schedule to make his way back to California, since Jade was stable.
It was like Noah just knew how to calm everybody at the same time, probably a skill he’d acquired while he was caring for his younger siblings.
He must have felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“I had your assistant bring dinner for everybody,” my mom said as she put her hand on my arm. “Let’s go eat.”
“If you don’t go, I’m going to go back to the dining room and inhale your food,” Seth joked. “It was really good.”
Everybody else murmured their agreement. Apparently, the only one who hadn’t eaten was me.
I quietly followed my mother out of the room, to an empty dining area right outside the room that the staff had set up for the family.
Since it wasn’t common procedure to accommodate visitors this way in the ICU, I was pretty sure that my mother had insisted since she and I were both very large donors to the research facilities.
“Sit down before you fall down,” my mother ordered.
I complied, since I’d heard that tone of voice my whole life, and I knew better than to argue with it.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “I’m just tired.”
My mother fussed with making me a plate, slapping it down in front of me within a few minutes. “Don’t lie to me, Elias,” she warned. “I always know when you aren’t telling me the truth.”
Jesus! I fucking hated it when she used my full name. She was the only woman who could make me feel like a contrite kid when I was a well-respected, and sometimes feared, billionaire businessman.
Rarely did my mother fuss over me anymore, nor did she use a tone of voice that demanded my attention.
Truth was, I could tell she was worried.
I forked a piece of the lasagna on my plate, and forced myself to chew and swallow it. I kept eating, and before I knew it, I’d cleaned the entire plate. Maybe I was hungry, but I hadn’t really stopped to think about it.
I lifted my brow as I looked at her. She’d gotten both of us coffee, and had taken a seat across from me while I scarfed down a whole plate of Italian food. “Happy now?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No. You look like hell, Eli. But I’m glad you got some food in your belly.”
I gave her a small, involuntary smile. My mother, Elizabeth Stone, was a force to be reckoned with in business. Although she’d slowed down after my father had passed away, doing more philanthropic work now, she’d worked side by side with my dad for decades. She was frighteningly intelligent and intuitive, plus she was well educated. My father had always seen her as one of his greatest assets, both in and out of business.
She’d definitely cut the umbilical cord a long time ago, but we were still close. With my dad gone now, Mom was all I had.
“It’s not exactly been an easy couple of days, Mom.”
“I expect it wasn’t,” she agreed. “I’m so sorry this happened, Eli. But I’m relieved that Jade is going to be okay.”
My parent had listened to me talk about Jade, but I was grown, so I didn’t talk much about my emotions with her anymore. “It was my fault,” I confessed.
“It was an accident,” she corrected.
“A fall that I caused,” I rasped. “I saw her too close to the edge, and I yelled at her. I startled her, and she fell.”
“You are not going to blame yourself for this,” she insisted. “Accidents happen. You acted out of fear. And you had no intention of making her fall.”
“It was stupid,” I growled. “I don’t act with my emotions. Ever.”
I calculated almost everything, thought it through before I reacted. But Jade had turned my usually logical brain upside down.
“You’re not a robot, son,” she pointed out. “Somewhere along the way, you’re going to have emotional reactions, no matter how much you try to avoid them.”
“I don’t want to feel this way,” I said in a desperate voice.
“You care about her,” she deduced. “I’m glad.”
“I’m not. And I think I care too damn much.”
My mom smiled. “Does she know that?”
“Maybe you should tell her.”
“It wasn’t part of the deal. And I’ve pretty much been a dick to her. She’d probably run the other direction if I told her I was having a change of heart about the no commitment thing.”
“So you’re going to do the running instead,” she predicted. “Because she scares you.”
I ran a frustrated hand through my hair. “Right now, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, and I hate that.”