TWENTY

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Mark returned every morning to accompany Virginia on her walk. The hospital was not far from his office and it was easy enough to schedule his appointments around a mid-morning break. Helping her out was simply payback for the favor she had done for Simon. At least that's what he told himself. The fact that returning Janine to her had more than squared things up between them didn't sink in. Nor did the fact that he watched the clock all morning until it was time to head to the hospital.

He was amazed at the progress she had made in a week. Walking faster—even though he could still tease her about it, calling it her grandma shuffle—she now only needed to hook her arm into his for support. The swelling had gone down significantly, the purple and blue coloring having faded to yellow and brown tones.

On his way out from another of his daily visits, Nurse Campbell stopped him in the hallway. "Mr. Spinelli, aren't you going to miss us?"

"Is she getting out?"

"Tomorrow. They're going to replace the cast with a softer one first."

The excuse to see her every day was gone. He hoped his face didn't betray the disappointment he felt.

God, he was a jerk. His first thought should have been happiness for her. The fact that her life was getting back to normal was a good thing.

"I have to say, I won't be sorry to see her go," Nurse Campbell added. "Between you and that handsome redhead"—she frowned at the young nurse standing beside her—"what's his name again?"

"Walt," she answered with a coy smile.

"Right." Nurse Campbell turned back to Mark. "Between you and Walt coming in every day, I've got all the nurses running down here. I feel sorry for the patients on the other floors."

The younger woman blushed as she studied her clipboard.

Mark smiled because they expected it, but on the inside a little twinge of resentment stabbed at his gut. Walt, huh? He didn't like hearing that Walt visited every day. Mark recognized the name from her stories. He was the sergeant who sat at the desk beside her. There had been no mention from Virginia of a relationship beyond that. Still . . . he didn't like it.

Knock it off! he told himself. Thoughts like that were perilously close to jealousy. She was free to see whomever. Why should that even bother him?

) l (

Even though Virginia had made strides, her co-workers had not. Captain Beal's frustration and blood pressure were rising with each passing day, knowing Tom's hired goon was still out there. They'd had a few tips come in, but all of them had been dead ends. DNA samples had been tested, including what was found under her fingernails—nothing matched the files. Hundreds of mug shots had been brought to her hospital room—still nothing.

A sketch artist had come up with a pretty good likeness. The picture had been aired on the news frequently in the first few days, but as expected, it soon became old news, put on the back burner by the networks until something new arose.

Her attacker had come out of nowhere and disappeared. They weren't giving up, though, still following up on every lead no matter how small.

Tom, in the meantime, had hired a high priced attorney—no surprise there. He'd been denied bail, but it wouldn't stay that way if they couldn't find his puppet. Being the slimy politician that he was, he was using the media's interest to his advantage. After publicly apologizing for his poor judgment in taking his daughter, he'd actually had the nerve to appear choked up when he claimed it had no tie-in to the home invasion. Unfortunately, neither Janine nor the neighbor had seen anyone with Tom, which was both a blessing and a curse. Virginia didn't want the little girl knowing what had really happened, including her father's sinister part in it.

It was three in the afternoon when the call came in. A bartender on the west side of town had phoned the hotline when a man entered his place with facial scratches matching the sketch on the news. Police in the area had just picked him up and were bringing him down to Southeast. That was, after all, what cops did: They looked out for each other, protected their own.

Captain Beal slammed down the phone and began barking out orders.

Within forty minutes, two West Los Angeles area officers arrived, dragging the intoxicated suspect between them. The bartender had had the wherewithal to keep filling up his customer's glass without prompting, hoping to keep him there until police arrived. It had obviously worked.

They put him in a holding cell, giving him coffee. Lots of it. The more cups he drank, the more aware he became. And the more belligerent.

He was up on his feet, demanding to be released, when Virginia was escorted in by Walt and his partner, Joe. They had gone to pick her up, arranging for her to be released a day early. She moved with a sluggish cautiousness but was doing it unassisted, the two men standing on either side of her keeping watch.

The suspect stilled upon seeing her. "You scarred my face, bitch."

Virginia stared back at the man with the partially-healed gashes running down his cheek.

Walt looked like he wanted to jump through the bars and give the guy a taste of his own medicine, but as Virginia's stillness persisted, he became all about her. "You okay?" He lifted a hand up to her good shoulder.

"Yes." She turned her head to Walt and blinked a few times before shifting her focus back to the suspect. "That's him."

END OF CHAPTER TWENTY

They got him! He doesn't seem to happy about it, does he?

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