Archer weakly flipped him off and then grabbed Elle’s hand. “You really okay?”
“Yes.” She ducked around the paramedics working over him and clutched his hand to her chest. It was utter chaos around them and yet it somehow felt like they were all alone. “And so are you, dammit,” she said fiercely.
A tight smile twitched at his lips. “Yelling at me even when I’m flat on my back.” His eyes drifted shut and he muttered something that sounded a whole lot like, “Christ, woman, I love you . . .”
The words reverberated through her, rocking her to the very foundation. “What?” she whispered. “What did you just say?”
He didn’t respond. Or move. She whirled to Spence. “What did he just say?”
Spence, who’d been watching the paramedics, gave her his worried look. “I didn’t hear him say anything.”
“But he did. He said—” She whirled back to Archer, leaning over him. “Say it again!”
“I’m sorry,” the paramedic said. “He’s unconscious.”
Elle put her face close to Archer’s. “If that was some kind of goodbye, Archer Hunt, I swear I’ll follow you and bring you back myself. Do you hear me?”
“Lady, the people in China can hear you,” the paramedic said. “Aliens can hear you. Everyone can hear you except him. Now I’m going to have to ask you to step back.”
Spence pulled Elle back. “Easy, tiger. There’s a bunch of cops here. No sense in getting arrested with the actual bad guy, right? I mean I’d bail you out of course, but you might have to spend a few hours in lockup in an orange jumpsuit first, and I know how you feel about orange.”
“He was shot.” God. Shot. Because of her. “He has to make it, Spence.”
“He will out of sheer orneriness, trust me.”
All around them was wild pandemonium. First responders were everywhere. Reyes and Lucas had been separated and were answering questions. As was Morgan. Elle gasped in horror when they clicked handcuffs on her sister, and she ran over there.
“I’ll bail you out,” she promised thickly.
Morgan gave her a tight smile. “Get Archer taken care of first. Don’t leave his side for me.”
“I can wait,” she said, voice steady, her eyes not quite as much.
Elle hugged her fiercely. “I’m so proud of you.”
Morgan’s eyes filled with tears and a low sob escaped. “Right back at you, sis. But seriously, I’ve survived every single screw-up I’ve ever made and we both know there’ve been some spectacular ones. I’ll be okay.”
Elle gave her another hard hug before they took Morgan away. She turned to Spence. “I want to call a lawyer for her—”
“We’ll call mine on the way to the hospital.”
The medics were still working on Archer, starting an IV, controlling his bleeding. When they had him where they wanted him, they clicked the stretcher upright and prepared to wheel him out to the waiting ambulance.
“We’re following them,” Elle said to Spence.
He already had the keys out. “Yep.”
This time there were no smartass comments from the peanut gallery in back. Nothing from Eddie but a tense silence. Spence gave Elle his phone, and while he drove, she called his attorney for Morgan.
When they arrived at the hospital, they were told Archer was in surgery and were directed to a waiting room. Elle called Willa, who was better than any calling tree. She called all the others, and within the hour they’d piled into the waiting room with her. Pru and Finn, Willa and her boyfriend, Keane. Haley in her optometrist’s lab coat. Kylie, still wearing sawdust and sporting a suspicious Vinnie-sized lump in her sweatshirt pocket.
All of Archer’s guys were there too as well as Mollie.
“Didn’t expect to be back at a hospital so soon,” Joe said.
Spence’s attorney called back to let her know that Morgan’s bail hearing was set for first thing in the morning. Beyond that, he couldn’t say for sure, but he felt that it was possible she’d get off with restitution only, no additional jail time.
Elle knew and believed that Morgan wanted a clean slate more than anything, so this got her more than a little choked up and hopeful for her sister’s future. She thanked him and disconnected. “I’ve got to call Archer’s dad,” she said.
Spence sucked air in through his teeth. “Not sure if Archer would want that.”
Elle looked at everyone else.
Joe shook his head. “He’ll be pissed.”
“Super pissed,” Finn agreed.
“But it has to be done anyway, right?” Elle asked.
No one answered.
That meant the call was hers to make. Fine, she’d made tough and uncomfortable decisions all her damn life, what was one more, right? She didn’t have his number but she knew what station he’d retired from. She could at least get a message to him.
Spence did her one better and once again handed over his phone. He had Archer’s dad’s direct cell number. Elle left a message and then realized how full the waiting room was.
For a man who lived like he was an island, Archer sure as hell had a lot of people who cared deeply about him. She hoped he knew it.
“Sit, honey,” Willa said, patting a chair between her and Pru.
Christ, woman, I love you . . . Archer’s words echoed in her head. At least she hoped that’s what he’d said.
“How do you do it?” Elle asked Pru, the one of them who’d been in love the longest. “How do you handle the sheer, overwhelming emotions of it all? And then there’s the biggee—why?”
Pru smiled. “When you find someone who knows you’re not perfect but treats you as if you are anyway, someone whose biggest fear is losing you, it’s worth whatever you have to go through.” She glanced over at Finn. “And if that person is someone you can wake up in the morning with and let see you without makeup and whatever other armor you use to hide from the world . . . well, you’d best hold on tight because if you let that go, then there’s no hope for you.”
Finn pulled Pru into his arms. “Never letting go,” he murmured.
Elle’s heart took a direct hit. She didn’t want Archer to let go . . .
Two hours later, a man wearing scrubs and holding a clipboard appeared in the doorway and looked around the very full room. “Archer Hunt’s family?”