My beautiful girl is almost completely nude and lifeless. Her pants are around her ankles, and her panties are lying to the side, visibly torn. Her shirt and bra look like they’ve literally been cut from her body. There are marks, which resemble handprints all over her small body. Her face is noticeably swollen and streaked with either dirt or mascara. Her nostrils are rimmed in red and were bleeding at some point. Gashes on her stomach and thighs steadily drip blood. I hear a gasp from behind me and feel a hand on my shoulder. “Oh, Christ, Luc,” Sam says as he steps slowly forward. I am shaken from the trance I had fallen into when he drapes his jacket over her. I hear sirens wailing in the distance as I sit next to her.
I cup her head in my hand, saying, “Baby, it’s Luc. Can you hear me? Lia, please open your eyes, sweetheart. I’ve got you; I’m right here.”
Sam holds her wrist. “Luc, her pulse is slow, but it’s there.” I am stroking her hair, afraid to touch her anywhere else. I whisper repeatedly that I’m here, that I have her. I have no idea if she can hear me; she’s so still. Sam has to pull me away when the EMTs arrive. “Let them work on her. She needs them now.” He has Rose tucked against his side, trying to calm her down while they work on Lia.
As they are loading Lia onto the stretcher, she moans low in her throat and I leap forward. “Baby, can you hear me?”
Tears leak from the corners of her eyes as a cry like that of a wounded animal escapes from her throat. She struggles to move and seems to panic when she feels the straps from the gurney around her. I speak soothingly against her ear, trying to calm her before she hurts herself further. “Luc.” She gasps before collapsing back as if that little bit of effort was too much.
They rush her into the waiting ambulance. We follow closely behind, and I am momentarily surprised at the crowd of people who have gathered outside the apartment building. Word has spread quickly, and I want to push them all away; I don’t want strangers gawking at her.
I try to accompany her into the ambulance but they refuse, saying they need the space to work on her. Instead, Sam pushes me toward the Mercedes and both Rose and I get in the back. Sam takes off at a fast clip, following the ambulance through the city and to the emergency entrance of Memorial Hospital. Rose sobs quietly beside me, but I am incapable of offering her comfort. I can’t get past the image of Lia’s broken body. Guilt reaches out to choke me. I should have taken better care of her. How could I have let her out of my sight? Jim Dawson is a fucking dead man. It’s too coincidental to me that he was released earlier today.
When my phone buzzes, I pick it up with the intention of hitting the ignore button. When I see Max’s name on the ID, I decide to take it instead; I need him on this, now. With no preliminaries, I say, “Max, he fucking got her.”
He doesn’t need to ask whom I’m talking about; he knows. “Goddammit to fucking Hell! What happened?”
“He pulled her into a damn storage room in her apartment building. He beat the hell out of her and I think…shit, I think he raped her.” I choke on the last words, feeling them burn like bile in my throat. I take a deep breath as Max curses, sounding as shaken as I feel. “Her clothes had been cut off in places, and Jesus, she was bleeding and bruised all over. She was unconscious but came to for a moment as they were wheeling her out.”
“Which hospital, Luc?” When I answer, he says, “I’m sure the police will be waiting when you arrive, but I’m going to call my friend, Carly, and have her meet us there. She’s an investigator in the violent crimes division, and she’ll do what she can to get things moving. Luc…I’m so sorry.” I end the call without replying. There’s no shortage of sorrow and guilt right now. In such a short amount of time, Lia has gained the admiration of my friends. Everyone in my inner circle cares about her, and this will hit them hard. Even now, in the rearview mirror, I see Sam wiping away tears.
I want nothing more than to disconnect, but I force myself to reach for Rose’s hand and offer her what comfort I can. She is Lia’s best friend, and she’s falling apart. As if reading my mind, Sam says, “Miss Rose, Jake is meeting you at the hospital.” Rose nods gratefully, mumbling her thanks. I don’t even bother to ask how Sam knew to contact Rose’s boyfriend. He is used to working behind the scenes and handling the details others don’t think of; of course, he would do what he could for the distraught young woman sitting next to me.
I continue to stroke Rose’s hand soothingly but lay my head back on the headrest to regroup. I am equal parts shattered and furious. I want to fucking kill the bastard who hurt her. The only thing that gives me any peace is knowing I’ll find him. He will never touch a hair on her head again as long as I’m alive.
The ambulance doors are open and Lia is being unloaded when we arrive. Sam drops Rose and me at the curb so he can park the car. Lia has an oxygen mask over her mouth and an IV line in her wrist as they wheel her quickly past us. Her eyes are closed and her body still. We follow them into the hospital and only make it as far as the double doors, which lead into the emergency department before we are stopped. A nurse in blue scrubs blocks our path, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, but only patients and staff are allowed past this point.”
I want to ignore her and follow Lia, but I know she’s just trying to do her job. “Is Fae Quinn on duty?”
She looks surprised but recovers quickly. “Yes, I believe she’s still here.”
Relieved, I say, “Could you please tell her that her nephew is here?” The nurse relaxes; probably relieved I’m not going to give her any trouble. I’m sure they have their hands full here most days.
“Sure, just a minute.” She walks through the double doors, and within a few moments, a worried-looking Aunt Fae comes rushing out.
“Luc, what’re you doing here? What’s going on?”
Running an agitated hand through my hair, I say, “It’s Lia. She was assaulted at her apartment. She…fuck, I don’t know what’s happening. Other than one brief moment, she was unconscious when we found her.” Before I can ask, she’s running back through the doors. My chest lightens just a tiny bit for the first time since seeing Lia. I trust Aunt Fae with my life; if anyone can help Lia, she can.
Jake, Max, and the police arrive within seconds of each other. I realize Rose is still clutching my hand. I unwrap her fingers gently and hand her over to the arms of her boyfriend, who pulls her to a sofa in the corner.