Part 50

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She'd had her fingers free for two days, so they discharged Caitlin that afternoon, before any more press turned up. I offered to give her a lift home right away and, rather than have to call anyone else and wait longer, she accepted.

Now that her stitches were out, she could walk a little, but I was the one who walked alongside the unfamiliar nurse who pushed her in a wheelchair. She was slow, but I kept pace with them until we reached the outside doors. I saw Michael take up his position on a couch in the foyer. He nodded to me once before turning his eyes back to Caitlin.

Secure in the knowledge that she was under surveillance still and she'd be safe 'til I returned, I asked Caitlin to wait while I brought the car to her. She nodded and shifted to a seat by the door, before the nurse whisked the wheelchair back inside. I set off across the car park, my swift strides carrying me quickly across the tarmac. Surveillance or not, I didn't want to leave Caitlin alone for long.

I pulled the car up under the portico at the entrance, but there was an ambulance in my way. I could see Caitlin sitting on the bench beside it, looking little and vulnerable. She stared at the paving below her dangling feet, for the bench was too high for her toes to touch the ground. She wore clothes I'd hurriedly bought from the nearest supermarket and they didn't fit her. Even the cheap pair of thongs hung from her feet, a few centimetres of green foam rubber clearly visible past her heels. An abandoned waif in oversized clothing, looking as lonely as if she'd been left there for good. My heart ached for her as I waited and watched.

Michael caught my eye and nodded again as he stood up. He stuck his magazine under his arm and marched out of the hospital, without another glance at Caitlin or me. His watch was over for the day – now it was my responsibility to get her home, before the next surveillance shift started at her house.

I waited patiently until the ambulance officers headed off. I drove into the space they'd sat in, right in front of Caitlin. From forlorn to frantic, the change was as sudden as cutting the car's engine. I stopped and she panicked, lurching to her feet and nearly tripping as she tried to retreat inside the hospital foyer.

I got out of the car, running around to her. "Caitlin, what's wrong? What are you doing?"

She shook her head. "They're not going to take me back. I'll die first!"

I looked around wildly, scanning the car park for any sign of danger, but I saw none. What had she seen that I'd missed?

I approached her slowly, but she shrank away, backing up against the window beside the automatic doors. "I won't get into their car again. Not you – you can't take me back!" Her eyes were huge with horror.

Their car? My car. Oh, fuck, I forgot about the car.

I stood in front of her now, shaping my expression into a smile to mask my desire to smack myself in the head for being so stupid. "It's not their car. It's mine."

"No – I trusted you!"

I started to understand the extent of her terror.

Through the glass behind her, I saw the hospital security guard speaking to the receptionist as she pointed urgently at us. He turned to look and started toward the entrance, looking grim. He wasn't the guard who'd been on duty that morning, keeping the reporters from Caitlin. This was a new bloke who didn't know me or her, and this scene looked bad from any perspective. Oh shit.

Every instinct went against it, but I forced myself to back away from her, my hands up in a gesture of surrender. Behind her, one security guard had become two and the newcomer knew me on sight, not least of all from his help that morning. I could see him speaking urgently to the first bloke, his hands waving wildly as he shook his head.

The helpful one…I struggled to remember his name. I knew I'd spoken to him before and he'd had a distinct accent…Sam? No, Sean. The dark-haired Irish bloke.

Sean the security guard looked enquiringly at me and I gave a slight nod, which he returned, walking away. His colleague looked grumpy, but headed away, too.

Right, that sorts security escorting me off the premises and leaving Caitlin with no one else to watch over her. Now to get her into the car and home.

Looking at Caitlin again, I pointed at the bench. "I'm going to sit down. If you want, you can join me," I told her evenly, as I took careful steps to the bench and plonked my bum on it.

She was slower to move, but it was only a few seconds before she slumped down heavily on the bench next to me. I regretted letting her stay on her feet so long – she looked pale and clammy already.

"This is my car. It's been my car since I turned twenty-one and my parents bought it for me for my birthday," I said steadily. Yeah, they bought me a blocky, conservative car that said I had money but couldn't take off fast, for that wouldn't mean a smooth ride in the luxury bloody sedan. It had a comfortable back seat, though, that'd seen some use…I shut that thought down before it went any further. Focus. Caitlin.

She stared at it, licking her lips nervously. "They had a car just like this one. They pulled me into it and drove me...there…and…" She gulped back tears, not wanting to finish her sentence.

"Check the number plate, if you like. Then you'll see they probably just had the same car as I do." If you know the number plate, now's the time to tell me.

She shook her head. "I never saw the number plate. I wouldn't know."

"Would you like to check the car? I'll pop the bonnet and the boot and open all the doors. If you find any of them, I will happily beat the crap out of them for you, with the tyre iron, even," I offered cheerfully. Behind my back, I crossed my fingers, desperate for any luck I could get.

She let out a held breath and laughed, a little nervously, but it was a laugh, nonetheless.

" swear you don't work for them?" She smiled as she spoke, as if she felt silly even voicing the words.

I did my best to take her question seriously, clearing my throat before I replied, "No. And even if I had, I'd say that arrangement would have ended about the time one of them decided to try and kill me on that beach where I found you." I paused and held out my hand. "Would you still like a lift home?"

Don't get into cars with strangers. No one knew that better than Caitlin. God, I wish I had half the courage it took her to do it again after what happened the first time.

Her breath hissed through her teeth as she gave me a frightened smile. "Yes. Could you help me to the car, too, please? I think I've had about all the walking I can take today."

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