We were able to see her for a few minutes after surgery but she was pretty out of it, so Dr. Chams suggested we go home and get a good night’s sleep. We were both so exhausted that it didn’t take much persuading.

We walked through the door and dragged ourselves up the stairs, straight to my bedroom. When Regina called me earlier that day, Taylor, Mike’s youngest sister happened to be over playing with Matthew and Maura. She wasted no time offering to sit with the kids while I rushed to the hospital. Then when we found out that Gam was going to need surgery, and since we were most likely going to be home late, she packed up bags for them and took them to her house for a sleepover. While I wasn’t used to being away from my babies and missed them terribly, the thought of having several hours of uninterrupted sleep, snuggled up next to Viper, made me giddy.

He collapsed on top of the covers and let out a heavy sigh.

“You okay?” I asked, immediately regretting my question. “Of course you’re not. That was stupid. Is there anything I can do for you?”

Without saying anything, he waved me over.

I set my purse down and lay next to him on the bed, curling up in the nook of his arm.

“That’s perfect,” he said.

I rolled onto my side and rested my hand on his chest. “What are you gonna do about tomorrow?”

“I already left a message for Coach Collins to call me. He’s gonna be pissed that I’m missing practice, but I think he’ll understand. I’ll be at the game on Tuesday. I just need to make sure she’s okay tomorrow.”

I nodded. “She was pretty funny today, with the horse thing.”

“She was,” he agreed, “but she scared the hell out of me, Michelle. I don’t ever want her riding that thing again.”

“I know—”

“No. I’m serious,” he cut me off. “She’s the only real family I have, and I can’t stand the thought of anything happening to her.”

Ouch. That stung.

“I get it,” I responded softly, trying hard to ignore the lump that had formed in my throat. “Let’s go to bed so we can head to the hospital early, okay?”

A minute went by and he didn’t respond.

I lifted my head to look at him just as a single tear fell from the corner of his eye and dripped down toward his temple. Scurrying to sit up, I held my arms out. “Hey, come here.”

“No. I’m fine,” he said gruffly, pushing my arms away as he stood. “I’m gonna take a quick shower. Go ahead to sleep, I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Viper, wait—” I called after him.

“Just stop!” he snapped angrily without turning around.

My heart sank as he walked to the bathroom and slammed the door. The day must have been horrible for him, and I knew that, but I wished more than anything he would let me in. Even just a little.

But . . . I wasn’t surprised.

That was Viper.

He was really good at expressing his feelings when they were good, but when they were bad . . . not so much. He was a runner. An ostrich. He buried his head in the sand and pretended the bad things weren’t happening until they eventually just went away. I’d seen it more than once over the last year, but I kept hoping that if I stayed by his side and never wavered, it would get better.

The shower turned on as I walked over to the closet and changed into pajamas. Without saying any more to him, I quickly brushed my teeth and hopped into bed, fighting back my own tears. Just as I started to drift to sleep, I felt the mattress dip. He scooted right up behind me and wrapped his big arm around my waist, pulling me tight against him.

His chest rose and fell with a deep, troubled breath. “I’m sorry about before,” he said against the back of my neck, sending shivers down my whole body.

“It’s okay,” I lied. It wasn’t okay—not even a little okay—but I just wanted him to be normal again. “I’m kinda used to it at this point,” I added, sounding snottier than I’d meant to.

He loosened his grip on me and lifted his head. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked defensively.

“Nothing.” I grabbed his hand and pulled his arm back down around me. “I don’t want to fight tonight, okay? It’s been a long day for me, too. Let’s just go to sleep and talk more in the morning.”

He didn’t argue back, but he didn’t hug me the same way either. I instantly regretted opening my mouth. It was the wrong time. I knew it was the wrong time, but I did it anyway.

I took a deep breath and laced my fingers with his, thankful that he didn’t pull his hand back.

The next morning, I woke up with the night before not far from my mind. Viper, on the other hand, didn’t remember anything.

“Morning, sexy,” he said cheerfully, slapping my butt as he passed me at the bathroom sink. “I didn’t even hear you get out of bed.”

I shrugged. “You looked comfy so I snuck out and hopped in the shower early.”

“Should’ve woke me. I would have joined you.”

I raised an eyebrow at him in the mirror.

“Ya know, to conserve water. Gotta save the planet and shit.”

Pinching my lips together, I tried to stifle a laugh.

“So what’s the plan for today? Hospital, kids, dinner, then sex?”

As annoyed as he made me at times, I couldn’t stay that way for very long . . . especially when he gave me his signature shit-eating grin. I smiled back at him and rolled my eyes. “Sounds like a plan.”

Gam was awake by the time we got to the hospital, and the scowl on her face showed us exactly how she was feeling.

“What’s wrong?” I asked as we were barely through the door.

She slid her eyes over to us but didn’t change her expression. “I want to go home,” she complained.

“Gam, you just had major surgery last night. It’s going to be a couple days,” Viper said as he walked around the other side of her bed.

“Then I’m going to starve to death. These people don’t know how to cook.” She waved toward her breakfast tray that was sitting off to the side. “Runny eggs and rubber bacon. Mmmm, delicious.” The tone of her voice was dunked in sarcasm and covered in scorn.

Viper let out a chuckle as he bent down and set a soft kiss on her forehead. “Good to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor though, huh?”

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