Gabe knew this.
Drawing in a shallow breath, he tugged the curtain aside and then he saw her—well, he saw her back.
Nic was curled on her side, facing away from the door. He saw one IV bag and the bare minimum of monitors. That was good, all things considered.
But she looked so small in the bed, too small.
Gabe made his way around the narrow bed, his gaze desperate to see those beautiful brown eyes. Then he really saw her.
His heart fucking broke right then.
Knowing what Troy had said about what Parker had done to her couldn’t have possibly prepared him for what he saw. There didn’t appear to be more than a few inches of her face that wasn’t battered. Her lip was red and angry. Bright red bruises were forming along her jaw, turning purple around the edges. Her fucking left eye was swollen shut, blue, and purple. There were scratches on the one cheek he could see.
His knees weakened on him.
Gabe wished Parker was alive for several reasons. One of them being that Nic wouldn’t have had to do something like that. She was too damn good to carry that kind of weight. But the most selfish reason? He wanted to beat that motherfucker to death, paying him back for every bruise, every second of pain she felt.
He sat down in the empty chair in front of her, wondering where in the hell her parents were. Resting his elbows on his knees, he dragged his hand down his face.
Goddamn, she didn’t deserve this. No one did, but she really didn’t deserve this.
His eyes . . . his damn eyes felt damp.
He should’ve seen this coming. The mindset that Sabrina and her brother were harmless annoyances was proven false the moment he realized just how much Sabrina had known about him. He should’ve anticipated one of them going after Nikki. Neither Sabrina nor Parker ever believed that Gabe would be the one to tell Dev. He knew this, so he should’ve been there for her.
Nic shivered, catching his attention. Gabe exhaled heavily, glancing down at the blanket. It had slipped to her waist. Carefully, he leaned over and tugged it up to her shoulders.
She stirred, wincing. His gaze flickered over her. What else was wrong with her? What couldn’t he see? A shudder worked its way through him.
Nic moved again and then one eye opened. Awareness crept over her features. “Gabe?”
“I’m so sorry.” His voice was thick. “So fucking sorry.”
Her brow knitted as she tried to sit up. “What . . . ?” She sucked in a sharp breath.
He reached for her, but froze, unsure of where to touch her that wouldn’t hurt her. “How can I help you?”
Nic’s lips thinned as she eased onto her back. “What are you doing here?”
The question surprised him. “Where else would I be?”
She didn’t answer as she looked away. Her neck. Holy fuck. He saw the bruises on her neck, bruises that looked an awful lot like fingers.
“Jesus,” he growled.
Nic’s hand stilled. “Do I look that bad?”
He realized he was clenching his fists. “You look beautiful.”
A hoarse, choked laugh left her. “I think . . . you’re having problems with your vision.”
“I’m seeing just fine.” His hands opened and closed. “Where are your parents?”
Her one eye closed. “I haven’t called them yet.”
“I don’t want them to see me like this. They’d freak out . . . and my mom doesn’t need this right now.”
Gabe couldn’t believe she was worrying about upsetting her parents. “Babe, they’re going to have to see you eventually.”
“I know.” She swallowed and then winced. “But they don’t have to see me right now.”
“You called me,” he said after a moment, voice rough. “I didn’t answer. I was talking—”
“It’s okay. It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters, Nic.”
Nic was quiet for a moment. “I called you afterward. I wasn’t thinking straight. I thought Devlin . . . should know.”
She hadn’t been calling him for help, and God, that cut him deep. When she needed him the most, he’d created a situation where he couldn’t be there—where she wouldn’t even think about coming to him.
That wasn’t something he would easily forgive himself for.
Nic lifted a hand, prodding gingerly at her lip. “Ow.”
A wry smile twisted his lips and he leaned over, gently catching her wrist and pulling her hand away. “Don’t poke at it.”
Her gaze met his and then darted away. A moment passed and then he let go of her wrist. God, he wanted to gather her in his arms and never let go.
“Do you know if they’ve . . . um, if they’ve removed the body yet?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but I can find out.”
Her lip trembled. “There was a lot of blood. It probably ruined—”
“I’ll take care of it.” And he would. She would never have to see any of that again. “I don’t want you to worry about that. I’ll make sure everything is the way it was before.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“You don’t need to thank me. I should’ve . . .”
“You should’ve what?”
Been there. He should’ve been there to protect her. He should’ve handled things differently with her. He should’ve told her about William, and he should’ve . . . he should’ve let himself feel what he was feeling instead of being a closed-off jackass who had been terrified of feeling what he was beginning to feel for her.
He should’ve let himself love her.
The outcome could’ve been different. Easily. Instead of going to a hospital room, it would be a morgue and a funeral. Like with Emma, he wouldn’t have gotten a third chance to make things right.
And he needed to make things right.
It was funny how in moments like this you realized what mattered the most and how everything else was fucking background noise.
Nic broke the silence. “I’m going to . . . I’m going to call Rosie and I’ll go home with her. I can’t go back there until it’s cleaned up.”
“You’ll come home with me,” he said, frowning. “And you’ll stay as long as you need to.”
“I don’t think . . . that’s smart.”
“Why the hell not?”
She stared at him a moment and then looked away. He needed to tell her what he’d been thinking and feeling, but now was not the time.
Gabe picked up Nic’s hand. Her knuckles were red, swollen. There was dried blood under her fingernails, between her fingers. Seeing all of this pissed him off, but there was no denying that his girl was a fighter.
Those two words felt just as right as they did the first time he thought them, but this time, he let himself welcome them, feel them.
“Are you up for telling me what happened?” he asked after a moment.
“I didn’t even know it was him at first,” she said, her voice soft. “He was wearing a ski mask and he came at me. I was trapped in the bedroom and he . . .” A shudder rolled through her.
Every muscle went rigid as he folded both hands over hers. Troy hadn’t mentioned any type of . . . of sexual assault, but a whole new wave of fury and horror was building inside him. “He what, sweetheart?”
“I think he was trying to, you know, rape me.” Her eyes were closed, and thank fuck for that, because he was sure there was no hiding the murderous rage he could feel brimming to the surface. “I fought back and I guess he decided to give up on that and tried to . . . end it.”
He gently squeezed her hand. “Did he say anything to you?”
“Yeah, he did.” Her inhale was shaky. “He said something I don’t even know how to tell you.”
“You can tell me anything.” He kissed her knuckles, and her one good eye flew open.
A long moment passed. “He pretty much said he was there because of Sabrina. She’s . . . she’s dangerously obsessed with you. I don’t know why he’d do what he’s done for her, but Gabe, he said . . .”