CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY-SIX
Two days later Friday morning — 7:40 A.M. Denver Health
Sandy pressed open the door to Seth’s hospital room. He and the other officers were stable. They were moved from the ICU yesterday. Knowing Seth’s wishes, and in full control of his finances, Sandy had arranged for the officers to be moved into their own private rooms.
The patients remained unconscious, confounding the medical experts. The neuroscientists were meeting today to go over test results. The predictions ranged from dire statements to shrugged shoulders. Sandy sighed and went into the room. She folded the blanket Ava had used last night and set it on a chair.
“Another hospital room,” Sandy said.
She set her bag down on the chair and began setting up. She didn’t really understand what the doctors were talking about. She only knew that it was Friday, early morning. Seth needed his cut and shave. Leaving Aden with the kids, she’d navigated the morning commute traffic to come to Denver Health.
“You’re particularly scraggy,” Sandy said. “What is it about being unconscious that makes your hair and beard grow?”
She plugged in her cup warmer and set a glass jar of his favorite shaving cream on it. She went into the bathroom to wet her badger hair brush.
“Sandy?” a woman’s voice came from the door. Sandy peeked out of the bathroom. “Here are the towels we have. Will they work?”
“They’re perfect,” Sandy smiled at the nurse. “I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”
“Not at all,” the nurse said. “Will you shave the other officers?”
“My pleasure,” Sandy smiled. “We’ll see if we can lure them back to the land of the living.”
“Great idea,” the nurse said.
Sandy took the towels from the woman and set them on the chair. She wet a few and set them in her spa towel warmer. She took her set of scissors and her portable shaver out of her bag. Using the window ledge, she unrolled her black scissor pouch and grabbed a comb from her bag. As she did most Fridays, Sandy clipped Seth’s hair.
“Remember when you were shot?” Sandy asked. “Your hair grew like this. Crazy hair. Maybe it seems like more growth because you’re lying down.”
She looked at Seth’s sleeping face. The breathing tube had been removed but a nasal cannula remained. She worked on the front of his head first.
“Of course, you’ll be delighted to know that Valerie and the gang have taken down both of those evil creatures,” Sandy said. “I’m kind of proud that Rachel and I were involved. Noelle and Nash too. Well, Sissy and Charlie… I guess everyone.”
“They found a state water quality truck outside my salon,” Sandy said. “Ferg says it’s Saint Jude’s get away vehicle. It makes sense. Who would look twice at someone out in the open spaces looking at the water? I know. I know. The water is foul out there. Especially along Sand Creek. So it makes good sense. One thing you can say about Saint Jude, he wasn’t dumb.”
“But you of all people know that,” Sandy kept her voice bright and cheerful. “Delphie and the Coroner have met with all of the families to let them know. It’s amazing how much peace one man’s death can bring.”
“The media is hailing you as the crime stopping savoir you always have been,” Sandy chuckled. ”Magic O’Malley rides again. Don’t laugh. You did good, real good. Of course, Ava’s dad is being a jerk, but that’s his job. He’s taking a lot of credit for the take down of Saint Jude. To anyone who doesn’t know anything, it kind of looks that way. State Attorney General Aaron Alvin takes over and Saint Jude is apprehended within hours. And as you always say, he does have to get elected.”
Her sharp scissors clicked quietly. Seth had a thick mane of salt and pepper hair. Rotating his head to the right so she would work on one side, her breasts brushed his face.
“Lucky you have that breathing thing in. You might have suffocated,” Sandy said. “I’m still breast feeding Rachel. The postmaster assigned my breasts their own zip code – 80206-H-U-G-E.”
She leaned back expectantly. Nothing.
“Well, I thought that was funny. Anyway, Rachel is doing really well. She’s gaining weight and starting to be more attentive. Don’t tell anyone, but I think Charlie is her favorite. She always smiles when he’s around. Charlie seems to have really bonded with her too. It’s nice to see.”
“Of course, Sissy and Noelle are all over the baby thing,” Sandy said. “I’ve had to argue with them to get her back. Rachel will not die from the lack of love. Oh Nash and Teddy too. They pretend to not care, but when she laughs or smiles at them? You’d think they’d seen a super model. Rachel is a love. And Aden… You were right. I like being married and he’s a really great man, father; he’s good to me.”
“My brood is doing well,” Sandy said. “Of course, Mom called. Yeah! That Mom. Can you believe it? She told Sissy how sorry she was. They’ve talked every night this week. Sissy is thrilled. She’s talking about us all moving ‘back home.’ Charlie is angry and pretends to be uninterested. We’re going to Tucson tonight. I know! Sissy only gets to miss one ballet class this summer. She wants to see Mom. And I… I guess I want Mom to be better too.”
She turned his head to the other side and began working with her comb and scissors.
“Valerie got some deal at one of those fancy resorts in Tucson,” Sandy said. “They’re paying for everything for us. Food too, which is good because now that Teddy and Nash are working they eat as much as Charlie. All Val has to do is show up and waddle around a little bit. She’s supposed to get her photo taken in the pool. That’s easy because the kids say they’re going to be in the pool all day. Valerie loves those kids. It’s a little weird because she’s a movie star and stuff, but I guess Noelle and Nash pretty much grew up at the Castle.”
Sandy paused to think for a moment.
“I guess the thing I’m most worried about it Sissy,” Sandy said. “She’s been doing really well. Her weight is stable; she’s even gained a little muscle mass. If you ever decide to get up from this nap, you’ll notice how beautiful she’s become. Really stunning. She even had a period. I’m not supposed to tell anyone that, but I know that you know what a big deal that is. And…”
Sandy brushed through his hair with her comb.
“Charlie’s sober,” Sandy said. “It’s been three months. He’s really proud of himself.”
Grabbing her portable electric razor, Sandy climbed into the bed and propped Seth up to work on the back of his head.
“And he can read,” Sandy said. “He’ll have to show you. You were totally right. Anjelika was the ticket. You should see them together. She gets him laughing. She even talked him into cutting that mess of his hair. He also gaining weight, mostly muscle. He looks so much like Dad, it makes me smile. The doctors think he’ll be healthy enough to take the Hep C treatment this summer. We’ll see.”
She clipped the back of his hair and used the razor to clean up his neck.
“This is a lot easier than when you were shot,” Sandy said. “You remember how I had to avoid opening your wound? What a nightmare! Yeah, I guess you probably don’t remember.”
Stretching out her arm, she set the razor down and grabbed her handheld vacuum. She made quick work of the hair fragments.
“All clean back here,” Sandy said.
She scooted out of the bed. Opening the towel warmer, she laid the towels on Seth’s face and neck. Seth made a sound somewhere between a groan and an ‘aw.’ She leaned down to see if he was awake. Nope. Just the sound he always made when the towels go on. She warmed her cup under the bathroom hot water and added the shaving cream. She was silent for a few minutes stirring the warm shaving cream with her brush.
She pulled off the towels and stroked the shaving cream on. She had to lift the plastic of the cannula to get his cheeks.
“I have to tell you, Ava did really well,” Sandy said. “I saw an article in the New York Times about the crack team in Denver. The CDC and the Geneva team have given her full credit for saving you and the other men’s lives. Of course, I think Alex made that happen, but either way, Ava’s a star. Of course, she’s been here with you so I don’t think she even knows.”
Sandy picked up her straight razor and dragged it across the leather to hone the edge.
“Did you know Schmidty has a thing for Lizzie?” Sandy asked. “Well, I didn’t.”
Sandy began stroking his face with the razor.
“He’s positively smitten,” Sandy said. “Lizzie had no idea until Julie Ann told her. Lizzie is totally your daughter. When Julie Ann said something, Lizzie’s first response was ‘Why?’ She enumerated all the reasons he was richer, handsomer, and better educated than she was. We laughed. Anyway, Lizzie and I have been to the adoption agency and finalized the papers. She thinks she’s picked out a couple, but she wants me and Aden to meet them. She’s due soon, sooner than I thought. I bet we’ll have a baby here in a couple weeks. You’ll have to wake up Rip Van Winkle. You haven’t missed a birth yet. You’ll have to be there.”
Finished shaving, she used one of the warm moist towels to wipe off the remaining shaving cream.
“No one knows what woke Rip Van Winkle, Seth,” Sandy said. “He just woke up. I really hope you wake up soon. I miss you. And I could really use your help this weekend with Mom. I don’t think it’s going to go well. Mom might have changed, but not that much. She’s using Sissy and Charlie to some end. I just can’t figure out what.”
Sandy laid another round of warm towels on Seth’s face. She fell quiet while she cleaned up the haircut and shaving mess. She began taking her equipment into the officer’s room next door. She stopped for a moment to chat with his wife and returned to Seth’s room. She checked around but had everything in the next room. She removed the towels and tucked them into the laundry bag the nurse had given her. Leaning over the bed, she kissed his smooth cheek.
“I’d really like it if you came back to me, Seth,” Sandy said. “I miss you. Rachel misses you. And we have to find my mother. Not that one. The one who gave birth to me. I think she’s still alive. Don’t you?”
She peered at him. Still nothing.
“You tell Saul and Silas that I need you here. They can deal with me.”
Seth made a sound. She leaned forward to see if he was awake. He wasn’t.
“Oh I know all about Saul and Silas. You told me about them when you were shot,” Sandy looked up at the ceiling. “Uncle Saul? Uncle Silas? Thank you for taking care of Seth, but you can send him home now.”
She kissed Seth’s cheek again for good measure and left the room.
The rain let up and the men got out from under the big tree. They were walking the cement path around Ferril Lake.
“Uncle Saul? Uncle Silas? Thank you for taking care of Seth, but you can send him home now.”
Sandy’s voice made Seth smile. In this blissful place with such wonderful company, he’d forgotten all about Sandy.
“She’s a great girl,” Saul said.
“I wish I had been able to protect her against…” Seth started.
“You can’t know what you don’t know,” Silas said. “And even you don’t know everything.”
“Is her birth mother alive?” Seth asked Saul.
“Sort of,” Saul said. “Wanna go back?”
“Is that how it works? I want to go back and I do?” Seth asked.
“You don’t remember last time?” Saul asked. “You might be a babe magnet but you’re a total dingbat.”
The brothers laughed at Seth. They continued walking around the lake.
Friday night — 6:20 P.M
“Thanks Julie,” Jill hugged Paddie Hargreaves’ mother. “You’re a God send.”
“You’ve taken care of Paddie through thick and thin,” Julie said. “One weekend is pretty easy. Plus your sister Megan is coming to get Katy tomorrow evening. Have a great time in Tucson.”
Katy threw herself at Jill. Jill hugged her close until Katy squirmed. Katy hugged Jacob and ran to where Paddie was waiting for her. Paddie squealed when he saw Katy.
“Paddie’s thrilled,” Julie said. “We’ll have fun and we’ll keep an eye out for anything suspicious. No one’s very worried here. Too many soldiers around.”
“Thanks,” Jacob said. He put his arm around Jill and guided her to the car. They had driven down the block before he spoke. “You okay?”
“Worried,” Jill said.
“Katy,” Jill said. “This is a fun surprise. Thanks for setting it up.”
“I hope it’s the start to a return to normalcy,” Jacob said. “Blane is feeling better, stronger. He’s supposed to be back at work on Monday. Aden too. It feels like it’s been forever since we had the full team. Maybe this weekend we can decide what might work better than me working all the time.”
Jill nodded. He turned onto Colorado Boulevard.
“We have a lot to talk about,” Jacob said.
“We do,” Jill said. “How are we getting there?”
“Corporate jet,” Jacob said. “It’s cheaper than seats for everyone. Plus Dad and Delphie decided to come.”
“Wow, it’s everyone,” Jill said.
“Is that bad?” Jacob asked.
“Makes a weird date night,” Jill said. “Are Blane and Heather coming?”
“Of course,” Jacob said. “You know your Mom’s coming, right?”
“She said she was,” Jill fell quiet and watched the road. He turned onto the freeway.
“I thought this is what you’d want,” Jacob said. “You usually like everyone around.”
“I miss you, that’s all,” Jill said. “I haven’t seen you practically since we got pregnant. I was kind of hoping for some alone time.”
Jacob’s heart sunk with the feeling that he screwed up again. They drove the rest of the way to DIA in silence. He pulled into a parking spot.
“You’re quiet,” Jill said.
“I was hoping you’d be happy,” Jacob said. “But I screwed up again.”
“You did?” Jill asked.
“I don’t know how,” Jill smiled at his worried face. “I love having everyone around. You’re right. I also love you. It’s weird. I spent so much time with Trevor and I never wanted to see him. I long for you and you’re gone.”
“Look at how weird you are,” Jill said. “This insecurity is because we don’t see each other.”
Jacob let out an explosive sigh.
“We don’t see each other. We don’t see each other,” he said. “We’re seeing each other. Right now!”
Jill tried to keep from chuckling. She’d been so terrified of what he would be like when he was angry with her. But here he was – pissed off and still Jacob. This wasn’t the first time he’d been angry with her. It just made her chuckle at herself every time.
“What?” he snarled.
“You’re very sexy.”
With a small smirk, she got out of the car. He shook his head at her and got out. Grumbling to himself, he grabbed their bags from the back. She hugged Heather when she got out of her vehicle. They took the elevators and made it to the corporate jet terminal. Once everyone arrived, they settled down in the jet. Aden had set up date night on board. Every girl and woman received a long stemmed red rose. There was champagne for the non-pregnant adults and sparkling water for everyone else. The pilot lifted the plane off the runway with ease. Before they realized it, they were on their way to a luxury spa in Tucson, Arizona.
“Would you come with me?” Jill asked after they took off.
Still irritated, Jacob took her hand and she let him back to the conference room near the back of the jet.
“What would you think about joining the mile high club?”
Stunned by the proposal, he gawked at her.
“I thought you were mad,” he said.
“Mad? Me?” Jill said. “Not at all. Frisky.”
“What about all the people and…” he started.
She shook her head at him.
“What?” he asked.
“You can’t read my mind,” she said.
He shook his head.
“Or intuit what I’m feeling,” she said.
He shook his head.
“Is it just me?” Jill asked.
He nodded. To keep from laughing, she beamed at him.
“What? You’ve had that stupid smirk on your face since the car.”
“Now you know what it’s like to be me,” Jill said. “Or Val or Mike or all of the rest of us regular people. We’re all just bumbling along.”
Shocked, his mouth dropped open. She began to laugh. Unwilling to let go of his anger, he scowled and looked away from her which made her laugh harder.
“You are going to have to use your words, Mr. Marlowe,” Jill said. Repeating what he’d often said to her, she said, “Ask me anything. I’ll tell you. But you have to trust the answer. Because I’ll never lie to you.”
“Did I screw this up too?” Jacob asked.
“No.” Jill shook her head.
“You sounded disappointed we weren’t alone.”
“We’re not,” Jill said. “But you’re right. This will be fun. Val’s scheduled all kinds of spa treatments for us girls. You’ll have fun with the boys. She’s arranged for a horseback riding trip for you guys and the boys. Dancing at night. Pool during the day. I think we’ll have a blast.”
“But we’re not alone,” Jacob said.
“We’re not,” Jill said. “And you’re not spending time with Katy. But if our lives settle down like you’d like, we’ll get there. I think we’ll get some alone time this weekend and you’ll be able to rest and relax. You’re exhausted.”
“So this is all right,” Jacob said.
“This is all right,” Jill said. “You’re going to have to trust me, Jacob Marlowe. If I have a problem with you, I’ll tell you.”
He gave her an unsure nod.
“We’re alone right now,” Jill said.
Unwilling to have her ask twice, he locked the door. And they joined the mile high club.
Friday night — 9:40 P.M
Ava finished her last meeting around eight and went home to Seth’s house. She picked at the plate Maresol had left for her. Killing time, she took a bath until she was bored silly. She got out of the bath and plucked her eyebrows. With a towel in her hair and one around her middle, she sat down on the bed. She had no idea what to do with herself. She’d spent every moment of the last week working or in meetings. Right now, she had nothing to do.
Maybe she should have gone with Sandy for date weekend. She smiled at the whole date night thing. Sandy, her friends and her family were going to Tucson for a spa weekend. Sandy insisted Ava was part of the family, but right now Ava felt very alone.
Her mother wasn’t speaking to her which was fine because she wasn’t speaking to her mother. Her older sister had left about fifty messages bitching her out. Her younger sister left a message saying she was ‘disappointed’ in Ava. She felt like she’d lost the trifecta of female relatives: one angry sister; one disappointed sister; and one resentful-of-her-ungrateful-daughter mother. Ava sighed.
Sandy was having date night and she…
There was no reason she couldn’t have a date night too. Sandy said she thought Seth needed a little encouragement to come back. If he was here, she’d know just how to do it. She smiled at the idea.
She went to the room Seth had filled with her stuff. With a sense of preparing for a red carpet premiere, she took special care to pick out a super-sexy but classy ensemble. She slipped on black thigh high stockings, lace panties and a lace strapless bra. Perfect for a sensuous unwrapping. She tugged and pulled on a strapless red velvet knee length dress.
There wasn’t much she could do about her half inch hair. She dabbed some gel in it and focused on her make up. At least most of her bruising was gone. She smiled at the results and stepped into the pair of super sexy, too expensive black pumps Seth had bought for her. She found a black clutch purse and transferred ID, phone and keys inside. She went to the downstairs closet where she got Seth’s small gun as a precaution. She grabbed a little gym bag and filled it with the things she really needed.
Seeing the keys to Seth’s precious European racing car, she nodded to herself. Date night needed a fancy car. She had to fight to keep the car under the speed limit on Eighth Avenue. She gave the car, and the information that it belonged to Detective O’Malley, to the valet at the hospital. She was in his room in what seemed like a heart beat.
Ava placed some tangerine scented candles around the room, lit them then flicked off the lights. She smiled at the results. She pushed the flowers and plants away from the bed. Taking out a single red rose in a vase, she set it on his bed table. She opened a bottle of champagne, olive tapenade, some expensive Gouda and tore open a baguette she’d found in the kitchen. She set everything on the bed table and climbed in.
Once in the bed, she scooched Seth over so they could lie side by side. She moved the bed to sitting and crossed her legs to let one shoe dangle on her toes. She poured a glass of champagne for herself.
“Happy date night, Seth,” Ava took a drink of her champagne. She kissed his lips. Her mouth an inch from his face, she added, “I know how you like the taste of champagne.”
“I like the taste of you,” Seth said.
Ava was so stunned she spilled her champagne. He laughed.
“When did you wake up?” Ava asked.
“Sometime after you lit the candles,” Seth said. “I could smell them then… I don’t know. I was here. I wondered when you’d notice.”
“Kiss me again,” Seth said.
She did. The heart rate monitor began to beep faster and the nurse pushed open the door. She flicked on the lights. Seeing Ava and Seth kissing, she smiled.
“Come get me,” the nurse said.
Ava laughed. Getting out of the bed, she went to the door to find the nurse waiting on the other side. Ava smiled.
“Date night?” the nurse asked.
“Good thinking,” the nurse checked Seth’s monitors and turned off the oxygen and removed the cannula. “I wish that would work for the others.”
“The other officers aren’t awake?” Ava asked.
“Not yet,” the nurse said. “Just Magic O’Malley. How you doing, Seth? It’s not nice to see you in my bed again.”
“Yes ma’am,” Seth said.
“Get the hell out of here as soon as you can,” the nurse said.
“Yes ma’am,” Seth said.
“I’m going to leave you for a bit,” the nurse said. “But the doctor has to check Detective O’Malley. I’ll give you… fifteen minutes? Does that work?”
“Thank you,” Ava said.
The nurse flicked off the lights and closed the door. Ava climbed back in the bed to kiss Seth.
“The last thing I remember was a text from you saying, ‘yes’,” Seth said. “Why did you text me ‘yes’?”
“I’ll marry you,” Ava said.
“I don’t remember asking,” Seth said.
Ava held up her left hand. She was wearing his mother’s sapphire and diamond eternity band. Shaking his head slightly, Seth smiled.
“You do want to marry me don’t you?” Ava asked.
“I do,” Seth said.
Ava kissed him again.
“What happened?” Seth asked.
“Oh Seth, that’s a long story,” Ava said. “And the nurse is calling the doctor.”
“I love you, Ava,” Seth smiled.
“Really?” Ava flushed. It was the first time she’d heard him say he loved her. “Really?”
“I love you, Seth,” Ava said.
They kissed again.
“Your face is so smooth,” Ava said.
“It must be Friday,” Seth said.
“Sandy cuts my hair and gives me a shave on Friday,” Seth said. “Is that Gouda? Can I have some before…?”
“I hope you’re not even thinking of eating that,” the nurse said from the doorway. “You’ll throw up all over her fancy dress.”
Ava climbed out of the bed while the nurse blew out the candles. The doctor arrived to put Seth through a variety of tests. No, he wasn’t in too much pain. No, he wasn’t dizzy or numb. He had normal responses in both hands and his feet. The doctor and nurse did their work while Ava waited in a chair. When they were done, the doctor looked from Ava to Seth.
“I’ll give you an hour,” the doctor said. “Then I want you to sleep. You’ve been through an ordeal. You need rest.”
“Yes sir,” Seth said.
The doctor nodded and left the room.
“You need rest and love,” the nurse said. “As long as the oxygen is off, I’ll let you have one candle. I’ll deny it if anyone asks.”
“See you in an hour.” The nurse flicked off the light and closed the door.
Ava climbed back into bed. Seth scooted over and put his arm around her. She poured more champagne.
“Welcome back, Seth,” Ava said.
He tugged on her. She set her glass on the table and rested her head on his shoulder. He sighed. This was definitely the best date night ever.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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