“My daughter. Lexi,” he said hoarsely. His pain-glazed eyes bored into hers, and his grip on her wrist tightened painfully. “Where’s Lexi?”
The flash of fear faded when she realized he was concerned about his daughter. She glanced over to where Merry and Gabe were examining the young girl. “Don’t worry. Lexi is right here in the gurney beside you. My name is Julie and I’m your nurse. Merry and Dr. Allen are taking good care of your daughter.”
Lexi must have heard her father’s voice, because up until now, the silent child created a sudden commotion from the gurney next door as she struggled to get away from where Merry was trying to hold her down. “Daddy! Let me up! I wanna see my daddy!”
“Lexi.” Derek dropped Julie’s wrist and struggled to push himself upright as if intending to go to his daughter. He didn’t get far before he let out a harsh sound and grabbed the right side of his chest, swaying dangerously. His face went pale, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead.
“Take it easy. You’re going to hurt yourself more,” Julie told him, trying to keep calm, knowing she didn’t have the strength to hold him down if he chose to get up. Derek Ryerson was a big man, at least six feet tall and broad shouldered—his entire body was solid muscle. Whatever he did for a living, he kept in shape. “You have a couple of bruised or broken ribs, and we haven’t cleared your spine yet, either. We also need to make sure you don’t have a head injury.”
For a moment, he stared into her eyes, as if trying to decide whether or not to believe her. Considering the strength with which he’d grabbed her wrist, she thought he couldn’t be too badly injured. She waited, simply looking back at him, secretly amazed at how brilliant his blue eyes were.
Good thing she was immune to good-looking men.
After what seemed like a long time, he dragged his gaze from hers. “Lexi, listen to what the doctors and nurses are telling you to do, okay, honey? They’re only trying to help. I’m right here next to you. I promise I won’t leave without you.”
“Daddy, I want my daddy,” the girl cried out between heartbreaking sobs, repeating herself over and over again, seemingly inconsolable. The poor child must be traumatized from the accident.
“Gabe? I might need a chest X-ray here,” she called out, doing her best not to be distracted by Lexi’s sobbing mantra, even though she wanted nothing more than to cross over to offer comfort.
Gabe walked to her side. “His vitals, along with his oxygen saturation, are stable, so let’s do a CT scan of his head, neck, chest, and abdomen. That way we’ll have the big picture.”
“Sounds good.” She picked up the phone and called over to radiology to put in the request for the CT scan. When she finished, she turned back to Derek. “How does your head feel?”
“Fine,” he said through gritted teeth. The lines bracketing his mouth indicated suppressed pain, but whether from just his ribs or his head, too, she couldn’t say for sure. He closed his eyes, as if he couldn’t stand the bright lights. “I’m fine, just take care of my daughter.”
She frowned. Was his head injury worse than she thought? Hadn’t she already told him that his daughter was being cared for? “Merry and Dr. Allen are taking good care of Lexi, remember? Does your back hurt anywhere? I need you to be honest with me, because if you have a cracked spine that goes undiagnosed, you could become paralyzed.”
He opened his eyes and glared at her, but she refused to back down. She couldn’t understand why he was downplaying his injuries. “No, my back doesn’t hurt. My neck is sore, and my head hurts a bit, too. The right side of my chest feels like it’s on fire, but nothing hurts as much as listening to Lexi cry.”
She smiled gently, feeling bad for him. She could only imagine how difficult it would be to stay on a gurney if her niece had been injured. “I know, and I’m sorry. But the best thing you can do for your daughter is to make sure you’re all right. She needs you.”
“I’m fine, nothing a little aspirin won’t cure. Bruised and battered from the airbag and the crash, but fine.”