**Trigger warning** this scene contains discussion around child loss & miscarriage and allusions to off-page references to rape. Be advised.
Posting another look at CRASHED, the final story in the Barnes Brothers series…my contemporary romance series about five sexy brothers.
FYI, if you’re a librarian, bookseller or reviewer, you can request to review it from NETGALLEY! It will only be available another two weeks (roughly) so grab it while you can!
“Sir. Sir! You can’t come in here!”
Isabel Steele rolled her head so she could bury her face in the pillow. She hurt so bad, she would have curled into a ball to ease the pain in her belly, but even moving hurt, so she stayed still.
If she had the energy, she would have told the well-meaning medical staff not to bother. Nobody told Wilson Steele what he could and couldn’t do, where he could and couldn’t go.
“I’m going to speak to my daughter now.”
She barely controlled a flinch at the whip that was her father’s voice.
Then she forgot all about him as pain tore through her abdomen, arcing up through her spine, then down through her thighs. She tried not to scream, but the pain was too severe and her cries shattered the taut silence of the room.
“Here,” a soft voice said and she opened bleary eyes to look at the kind nurse who’d been with her almost since the moment they wheeled her onto the floor. “Squeeze my hand.”
Behind her, she could hear Wilson berating the staff and demanding to speak to her.
“He … ” She stopped and licked her lips. She was so thirsty. It felt like it had been days since she’d had anything to drink. “He won’t leave. You can’t make him.”
The nurse’s eyes glinted against light brown skin, almost like golden coins in their brightness. Leaning in, the woman lowered her voice, but the intensity never wavered. “Honey, I know all about who your dad is. But he’s met his match. Don’t worry.”
Isabel wanted to believe that. But that last time she’d believed in anything, it had led her straight into hell.
“You should all be careful,” she said, pitching her voice low even though the voices behind her were too loud for anybody but Tamika, the nurse with the bright eyes and warm smile, to hear. “He’s dangerous.”
“I know, baby. But nobody pushes Dr. Viv around. Trust me.” She brushed Isabel’s hair back. “Is there anybody you want here? Anybody you’d like me to call?”
Isabel thought of a warm smile, a boy with laughing blue-green eyes who’d told her he loved the second day after they’d met. Another pain seized her, but this time it was in her heart and nothing, not even the drugs they pumped into her system to help with the contractions, could help.
She wished they’d just drug her heavily enough to knock her out. It wasn’t like it mattered. The tests already showed that the fetus was dead. A pregnancy that had been forced on her, just like too many other things. Now it was ending and the dead baby was another casualty of her father’s cruelty. Couldn’t she have the respite of unconsciousness for a little while?
But she’d asked twice, and had been told no twice. She wouldn’t ask again.
Aware the kind-eyed nurse was still watching her, and patiently waiting, Isabel shook her head. “No,” she said softly. “There’s nobody. I don’t have anybody.”
* * * * *
The man in the chair across from her had faded, tired-looking gray eyes. His shoulders bowed forward somewhat, as if he carried a heavy weight.
“I want to assure you that absolutely nobody will know you’re talking to me, Ms. Steele.”
Isabel studied him a long moment before shrugging and looking back out the window. The sky was impossibly blue and the leaves already started to turn golden.
She usually loved this time of year.
Fall was her favorite season and the colors in Richmond were stunningly beautiful.
But all the color had washed out of her world over the past two weeks. No. Longer. More than a month since color, life, joy … hope had disappeared.
“My father has people everywhere, Mr. Hawkins,” she said.
He said nothing for a long time. And when he did speak, he sounded puzzled.
“You don’t sound very concerned about that.”
“It’s not a matter of concern.” She lifted one shoulder. “I just don’t care.”
She knew she should. The hospital had a shrink come in to talk to her every other day. That shrink, and the dogged determination of Dr. Vivian Atwell, were the two main reasons why Isabel was still in the hospital after two weeks.
The first week would have been understandable.
She’d started bleeding the day after the baby had been delivered—still-born, just as the doctors had known it would be. It had taken surgery to stop the bleeding.
Her father had strode in on the third day and hauled her out of bed, which tore stitches, both inside and out. She hadn’t attempted to fight as he led her out of the room, even though she’d felt the blood on her thighs in a hot, thick flow.
Doctors and nurses swarmed him, security staff facing down with Wilson’s bodyguards in a stalemate that ended when Isabel collapsed.
She hadn’t woken up for two more days following the surgery needed to repair the damage he’d caused.
The story was leaked to the press and her father, normally so protected and unaffected, was faced with a firestorm of negative publicity from all fronts.
One of his bodyguards was found dead in his home—the reports were suicide but nobody knew what to believe.
His second bodyguard was arrested for trespassing on hospital grounds after being thrown out twice and the judge, a very vocal opponent of Wilson Steele, had denied bail after the second arrest.
All this time, she’d seen her father as the boogeyman and now the public had a glimpse of the monster, too.
It had been Dr. Viv who had come to Isabel about an FBI agent wanting to speak with her. If she was up to it, the doctor would make it happen. If she wasn’t, then the doctor would make sure he stayed away.
Isabel had nothing left to hold onto, so she’d agreed.
She hadn’t been surprised to find out that when he entered, he’d looked familiar. Special Agent in Charge Miles Hawkins had tailed her several times—she’d seen him. Chances are, he’d wanted her to. And now, he wanted her help to put her father away.
But he just sat there.
So she did the same.
A suppressed sigh from Hawkins caught her attention and she looked at him, puzzled by the way he watched her. “What do you want, Agent Hawkins?”
“I’ve already told you that I’d like your help in locking away your father.”
“Yes. So … why aren’t you asking questions?”
“Frankly because I’m concerned.”
Leaning forward, Hawkins said, “I’m concerned about you, Isabel. You’ve been through a rough few days. You lost your baby—”
“I wanted an abortion,” she said, cutting him off.
He sat back, caught off guard.
Shifting her gaze back to the window, she stared at the endless blue sky. It hurt to see that shade of blue. It made her think of Travis. The ice around her heart grew another layer. She welcomed it.
“One of my father’s friends raped me,” she said tonelessly. “My father knew. He’d been pushing me into dating Stephen—our fathers are thick as thieves. I told him no. But my father doesn’t believe in the word no. Neither did Stephen. We were at a charity dinner on Valentine’s Day and my father trapped me in a corner all throughout dinner, then left with my mother near the very end of the meal, leaving me stranded at the banquet hall with nobody but Stephen to take me home. Stephen raped me, then walked me back into the house once he got me home and smiled at my father.”
Hawkins’ breath came out in a harsh burst. “Your father … he knew?”
Isabel turned dead eyes to the man. “He’s involved in human trafficking. People are commodities to him, agent. Especially women. Why would you expect him to see me any different?”
The look he gave her actually struck her as funny.
She’d tried to tell so many people who Wilson Steele was, had tried for so long. But nobody believed her.
“You really think you can lock him away?” she asked quietly as the shadow of the girl she’d once been stirred inside her.
Hawkins inclined his head. “With your help, I think we can.”
“I want something.”
She barely saw the flicker of his lids. He didn’t hesitate to ask, though.
“What do you want?”