EIGHTEEN

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The elevator doors opened on Virginia's floor and Mark stepped out. Louis followed, his hand reaching out to Janine, who was struggling to maintain her hold on the stuffed giraffe propped under one arm. The two nurses at the desk in front of them looked like a couple of baby birds when their mouths dropped open at the exact same time.

"Is that her daughter?" one of them whispered to him.

"Yes, is she awake?"

"Uh-huh, her parents are in with her, but you can go ahead." She pointed down the hall.

"Thank you."

When they reached her door, Mark sank down onto his haunches, trying to read the young face in front of him. "Remember what we talked about, Janine?"

Dark curls bounced as she nodded.

"The accident banged her up, but it will all heal, just like your cuts and scratches do. You can sign her cast too."

"Okay," she said with a tentative smile.

"Are you ready to go in?"

She took a deep breath and squeezed Louis's hand. "Yes."

"You are strong, just like your mommy." He gave the end of her nose a playful tap only to be rewarded with the cutest smile he'd ever seen—she had definitely gotten that from her mother.

"All right." Mark stood up and nodded at Louis, who pushed on the door.

An older woman, Mark assumed to be Virginia's mother, glanced up from the couch at the far side of the room. When her eyes shifted down, she dropped the book she'd been reading and it landed on the floor with a thud. "Oh my God!" Her hands flew to her mouth. "Janine!" She jumped up and ran over to them.

The man next to the bed—had to be the father—looked just as shocked, but he stayed on the stool by his daughter's side with his mouth hanging open. The hospital curtain was slightly pulled, blocking Mark's view of Virginia, but he could see her legs moving under the blankets as she struggled to look toward the doorway. That brought the older man back to reality, and he leaned over his daughter to help.

Janine was swept up into her grandmother's arms in an instant. Looking at them over the dark head tucked against her neck, the woman's voice was drenched in relief when she said, "Thank you. Thank you so much." After brushing the tears from her cheeks, she carried Janine over to the bed.

"Mommy?" Janine squeaked. The giraffe's neck practically folded in half when she pulled it tight to her chest.

Virginia spoke slowly, her voice on the edge of breaking. "Janine. It's okay. Mommy's okay, now that you're here." She tried to raise her right arm but the tubes and wires were in her way.

Janine was placed, stuffed giraffe and all, in her grandfather's lap so that she could hold her mother's hand. Her grandmother then turned and waved the two of them over. "Come closer. She can't see you."

As they approached the bed, Mark knew the exact moment Louis saw the extent of Virginia's injuries when he heard the muttered curse coming from behind him.

Virginia was watching him. "Thank you both, so much."

Mark smiled. "I know this will help you recover much quicker." In fact, she already looked better, the anxiety he had seen earlier now gone.

"Mommy, you can keep my giraffe for company until you get better." As an afterthought, Janine turned her head to the man who had bought it for her. "Is that okay, Louis?"

Louis looked positively smitten. Wrapped around all ten of those little fingers. "That sounds like a great idea." He shot Mark a shut-up glare as if sensing his amusement.

"I'll take good care of him," Virginia said to Louis. She must have seen it too.

Introductions were made all around, and the news of Tom's delivery to Captain Beal was shared, describing it as more of a visit to Virginia's boss, for Janine's benefit. If Barbara and Dave Sullivan were in the least bit surprised at who had brought in their granddaughter, it certainly didn't show on their faces.

Mark moved to the edge of the bed. "We'd better go." He didn't want to overtire her.

She looked up at him. "Thank you again."

Bella verde, he said to himself. The rest of her may have been unrecognizable, but those eyes he would have known anywhere. Yes, beautiful. Captivating. The color of jade. He could only hope it meant she possessed some of the stone's reputed healing qualities. Could she heal me?

Realizing he was staring without saying a word, he cleared his throat. Okay, now who's the smitten one?

Dave saved him from any further awkwardness. "I need to stretch my legs," he said as he stood and placed Janine down on the stool to sit alone. "I'll walk you out."

He accompanied them to the elevator.

"You don't know how much you have done for my daughter here tonight, Mr. Spinelli. I don't know what she would have done if Janine hadn't come back to her." The older man's chin quivered, and before Mark even realized what was happening, he was pulled into an embrace. The move was then repeated on Louis.

Mark held out his hand to shake Dave's, more impressed than embarrassed by the man's show of emotion. "You have a great daughter, sir. She just happened to make a mistake by marrying that asshole."

Dave's face hardened. "He'll pay for this. I'll make sure of it. I still have some close friends in the courtroom."

The elevator dinged. When the doors opened, Mark and Louis turned and stepped into it. As Louis pushed the button, Mark nodded his approval to Virginia's father and added, "If that doesn't work, we'll do it my way."

The doors closed with Louis's quiet chuckle.

END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Janine is back where she belongs! Do you think that's the last we'll see of Tom?

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