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Chapter 4

 

It seemed wrong that the weather was so beautiful. The room faced east and she had been watching the sun rise until it formed a blinding glare on the window panes. Her fingers folded, unfolded, refolded the ugly hospital gown. The pale blue fabric fanned over her stomach in undulating patterns. Because they were the only part of her that moved, the movements, even though they were slight, seemed grotesque against her still body.

She was alone for the moment. The doctors had finally convinced him to go home. He’d been standing sentinel by her bedside since they had admitted her into the hospital. After the first few hours, he’d given up the idea of making her talk and had contented himself with staring at her.

Shifting her legs beneath the blankets, she released a small puff of air. She hadn’t expected to have to re-evaluate her life. Waking up in the middle of the night had been an unwelcome surprise. Waking up to find the Admiral and Harm flanking her like the lions in Trafalgar Square was worse. She shouldn’t have called him. That was where she had screwed up. She should have known that despite everything that they had been through, he would swoop in and rescue her from herself. He’d been doing it for eight years and she supposed old habits were hard to break. Even when – her mind stopped at that thought.

A chair’s legs scraped against the linoleum by her bed. She didn’t have to turn her head to know it was Harm. She blinked against the sudden lack of sunlight. Bright blue and purple spots obscured her view of his face for a minute. He was dressed in a suit, elbows on knees, chin resting against steepled fingertips. He didn’t smiled, didn’t speak for a minute, just studied her face.

“I might not be able to get away with this,” he said after a few minutes. “But the Admiral and I agreed.”

“You.” The word caught in her mouth and she cleared her throat to try again. “You talked to the Admiral?”

He nodded. “He’s granting you leave while you get therapy. You can go through a private doctor and we’ll try to keep this as quiet as possible.”

“You can’t force me into therapy,” she said mildly.

“You tried to kill yourself.” The words were said quietly but she could hear the anger behind them. Her fingers curled around the gown again, bunching it in her fists, before clawing at the blanket and pulling it up to neck. “Therapy seems like a reasonable step to me.”

She sighed a little and looked away again. He put a finger under her chin and turned her head to face him. “You’re going to get help, Mac. You have three choices. You can stay in the hospital—“

“No,” she said quickly.

“You can get help from a private psychologist and stay with one of us.” He waited to see her reaction.

“Or we transfer you to Bethesda and the doctors there will treat you.”

“You can’t transfer me.”

He took a deep breath. “I’ll go to court, Mac. I’ll bring in the doctors who were here last night and I’ll petition the courts. I’ll try my damnedest to get an order to show cause to have this done immediately.”

He waited a minute. From his raised eyebrows, she guessed that he was expecting a reaction from her. For a minute, something flared up and railed against the bullying tactics. But it died just as quickly as it appeared. Exhaling slowly, she said, “You can’t do that.”

“Yes. I can. I may not succeed, but I can certainly try. And I can do it loudly.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“You tried to kill yourself,” he bit the words off in hard syllables. “You have no leverage in this.” He pushed the chair back as he stood up. In an awkward gesture of affection, he patted her shoulder. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t care. Call me when they release you and I’ll pick you up.”

Halfway across the room, he turned back to face her. “I have the name of a psychiatrist. Someone recommended her. He said she was very good. I’ll make the appointment for you.” His mouth tilted up at the corners. “Try to get some rest, Sarah. I’ll be back later this afternoon to check up on you.”

She waited until he left the room before she started to cry. It had seemed like such an easy solution to her problems before. And now, now her life was more of a mess than it had ever been. Hiccupping, she closed her eyes and prayed for sleep.

 

Chapter 5

 

Dr. Audrey Hepburn, her name an unfortunate accident resulting from a star-struck mother and the bad luck to fall in love with Walter Hepburn, studied the woman in front of her. She was getting plenty of time to complete her study. Sarah Mackenzie didn’t speak unless spoken to, didn’t make eye contact, and, from the looks of it, didn’t eat much. She was sullen, uncommunicative, and prone to one-syllable answers.

She repressed the sigh that wanted to force its way out of her throat. She had told Sarah’s friend – she checked her notes – Harm that this wouldn’t be a miracle cure. A person did not appear in therapy one day and emerge magically better. It was a complex cocktail of sessions and, in cases like Sarah’s, the right drugs. She did agree with his assessment that Sarah needed it. The suicide attempt alone demanded it. But Sarah had to want help in order to receive it and it appeared that she didn’t realize that she wanted to be helped yet.

“Sarah,” she prompted. They only had fifteen more minutes left in their session and she wanted an answer to her original question. “You never answered me. How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” She rubbed her hands down her arms and looked around the office. She pulled the corners of her mouth up in what passed as an imitation of a smile. “You have a lovely office.”

“How’s your mood been today?” She ignored the attempt to dodge the question, but she could have laid even money on the answer.

“Fine.”

Audrey tapped her fingers against the side of her desk. Leaning forward and resting her chin on her palm, she said, “Your friends don’t think you’re fine. They’re worried about you.”

“I’m okay,” she murmured.

Audrey shook her head. “Why do you think you’re okay?”

The other woman looked up. “I’ve been in difficult spots before.” Her lips trembled into a smile. “I’ll survive.”

“Sarah,” Audrey said firmly, “you very nearly didn’t survive this.”

“And yet, here I am.” Sarah shrugged her shoulders and studied the woman’s office. “You have a lovely office,” she said again.

“Thank you.” Audrey followed the path of Sarah’s eyes. “Most of it I picked up while traveling.” She flicked her gaze back. “Do you like to travel?”

“I don’t get the chance to very often.” She knitted her fingers together tightly in her lap. Audrey could see the knuckles turning white from the pressure of the grip. “Work. I travel for work.”

“Do you enjoy it?”

“Work? I guess. It’s a job.” She hitched a shoulder a little. “If it were fun, it’d be called play.”

Audrey had already talked to a few of Sarah’s co-workers, unofficially. She needed a control group because she knew Sarah’s viewpoints were likely skewed by her emotions. Although there was a fair amount of the usual office grumbling, everyone had been unanimous in the unique atmosphere. She heard the word family mentioned often during the interviews.

Sarah’s response, despite the contrasting stories she heard earlier, didn’t surprise her. Often, people who attempted suicide developed a type of tunnel vision approach to their lives. Combined with a sense of isolation, they lacked the ability to see the fuller picture. She thought that Sarah had simply lost the ability to see that people cared about her.

“What about your co-workers?”

She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and chewed on it. “They’re nice.” She glanced away. “I like them.”

“They said the same about you.”

“I know.” The words shuddered out.

“Do you really?” Audrey leaned against the side of her chair and rested her elbow on its arm.

“Yeah.” Her voice was small. “I do.” She paused. “It’s getting late. Can I go home now?”

“Do you have someone to take you home?”

Sarah jerked her thumb over her shoulder in the general direction of the door. “My frie – uh – Harm.” She stuttered the beginning of his name. “He’s set up residency in my apartment.”

“It’s better for you to have people around.” Audrey had explained that same principle to Sarah’s friends. Sarah couldn’t be left alone. Not because of the risk of another attempt, although that played a role in the decision, but because many people who tried to killed themselves were isolated or felt that way. She needed the contact with the outside world that another person would provide. She simply could not be left alone with the demons in her mind. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

She walked the other woman to the ante-room. The man, Harm, stood up when they entered. Sarah didn’t look at him and he didn’t take his hands out of his pockets. He looked puzzled, as if he had yet to figure out how he had arrived at the office. Audrey understood his frustration and she could only hope that Sarah would be able to see his concern, but if body language was any indication, a major source of Sarah’s problems stemmed from the tension flowing between them.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Her apartment was getting dark but she didn’t want to turn any lights on. Her hands were wrapped tightly around her mug of tea she stared out the window. It had taken some convincing but she was finally alone. He’d been reluctant to go and for that she was grateful. She was just tired of being watched.

Everyone was watching her. Her doctor, her CO, her friends. Harm. It was the first moment alone since she’d been released from the hospital. It was temporary, Harm was picking up Chinese take-out, but she relished it. Her stomach growled in protest at the thought of food. She hadn’t eaten much in the past few days. Weeks, really, if she were honest with herself.

Her fingertips pressed against the window sash. The glass was cool beneath them. She imagined the coolness spreading through her hands, radiating up her arms and down her bones until she was as cool, as calm, and as invisible as the glass. Her forehead leaned against the panes and she watched the world below her.

Often, during the course of their time together, she wondered why Harm felt compelled to fly. But now, she wanted to experience the freedom. She wanted to feel the rush of the wind against her face. Wanted to be able to spread her arms and feel those few precious minutes when all there was the air, the wind, and the sky.

An arm wrapped around her waist and yanked her back from the window. Off-balance, she tumbled to the ground, taking the body attached to the arm down with her. Almost objectively, she noticed the broken mug on the floor and the half-open window. Had she done that?

From their position on the floor, Harm soothed her hair back from her forehead. “Mac, what are you doing?” He kissed the crown of her head. She wondered if he knew that he was doing it.

“I don’t know,” she said, studying the mess under the window. “I didn’t know I did that.”

His arm tightened around her waist. “Why are you doing this?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” he murmured into her hair. “Get better, please, Sarah.”

She nodded slowly. The tears gathering in her eyes spilled over onto her cheeks. She buried her face into her hands and mumbled, “I’m sorry,” into them repeatedly.

 

Chapter 6

 

Mac’s bedroom door was closed. She had gone into her room, mumbling something about needing a nap after her session, and pushed the door closed behind her. The car ride back had been silent. The journey from the car to her apartment had been silent, too. She hadn’t looked at him either. She sat or stood with her face angled away from him and her arms wrapped tightly beneath her ribs. He hadn’t realized how much he could miss a voice.

Two weeks before she tried to kill herself, he had decided that he was okay, that his life was okay, without her. He’d even told his new partner that it had been time for him to move on. They hadn’t been friends, best or otherwise, in a while. They’d been reduced to co-workers, sparring partners, and, on occasion, co-counsel, although that was increasingly rarer. The degeneration from friends to casual acquaintances had been slow. Little things, not so little fights, had eaten away at the bones of the friendship until it was a brittle shell. It had almost been a relief to cast it aside.

Or, at least, that’s what he had told himself. It was harder to lie to himself when he had set up camp in her apartment. He dragged his fingers down his face, stretching the skin beneath them into a warped mask of his face. This would definitely qualify as a mess. He couldn’t really remember a bigger one.

Trust Sarah Mackenzie to throw everything into a tailspin. She was, without question or doubt, the unstable air mass in his life. His life was gaining some semblance of normalcy. He had a decent job that gave him the chance to fly and provided him with the adrenaline rush to which he’d grown accustomed. It was far a field from the life he’d imagined as a little boy. There were no more carriers, no more flight decks, and the courtroom battles had been silenced. But he was growing used to revamping his plans. He thought he was adjusting nicely this time around.

And then she called. Her voice had been shaky and tired. It still sang in his ears, weeks after it had been erased from his answering machine. He could recall it with perfect clarity; her slight exhalation and the way the resigned “I love you” whispered out into his apartment, louder than any scream. Anger and concern warred for supremacy in his emotions. He was angry at her for trying something so unbelievably stupid, so incredibly selfish. When he saw her lying on the gurney, her face pale and sweaty, the paramedics hovering over her, he tried to tell himself that it was just an attempt. That she hadn’t been serious and it was just an attention getting technique. A horribly cruel one, but effective. The doctors had disabused him of that notion. They had loaded him down with pamphlets, websites, and fact sheets. It was a shame he was no longer practicing law, he could almost call himself to the stand as an expert witness in this area now.

He didn’t know how to help her. He felt powerless watching her struggle with something that he couldn’t begin to understand, mostly because she wouldn’t let him try. The day he’d come back to her apartment, arms loaded down with Chinese food, to find her leaning halfway out the window, he just reacted. The sight of her balanced precariously against the window ledge had scared him. He had cherished hopes that she’ been getting better. It hurt him to realize that he had only been seeing what both she and he wanted him to see.

She never explained what prompted her to apologize. Her broken sorrys echoed in his memories. God, he wanted a drink. A long, slow pull of whiskey or bourbon and a puff on a strong cigar. He was so tired of this. He wanted to run for the hills and never look back. How easy would it been to just walk away from this mess? To leave Sarah behind and never go back to find her? He could call Catherine and ask her out to dinner. He could call Beth and see if she wanted to go out someplace, any place but here. He could do something that would let him spend the night far away from this apartment. And his mind, he knew, would never leave this room.

He pushed himself up off the couch and hesitated outside her bedroom door. He wanted to make sure she was sleeping and not just avoiding him. The information on the websites and booklets that the doctors had given him said that he should talk to her about her experience. Obviously, the people who conducted the studies did not conduct them on stubborn Marines.

She wouldn’t talk to him. Oh, she’d speak to him. She’d ask him about his work, the CIA, and his family. It was perpetual small talk, never reaching the underlying problems. Turnabout, he supposed, was fair play. He’d kept his fair share of secrets from her, too. It was a hell of a game to play, though, when her life was on the line.

He took a risk and turned the knob on her bedroom door. The quilts and blankets piled on her bed cocooned her form from view. Only the top of her head was visible. Her soft, even inhalations and exhalations filled the room. After eight years as her partner, he knew she was really asleep, not just hiding from him. She never could pull off the fake sleep.

He pulled the door shut quietly and went back to his spot on the couch. There was another test flight scheduled for next week and he wasn’t sure how long he’d be gone. At least overnight. The thought worried him more than it had before. He needed someone to stay with her. He had systematically eliminated all of their friends, except for Sturgis. After weighing the pros and cons, he had been tempted to call him but stopped short of actually dialing the number. With Mac on leave and his resignation, Sturgis’ caseload was probably huge. He didn’t need the added burden of Mac’s problems and Mac deserved better care than he could give her. He had considered the Admiral, but rejected him, too. Personal reasons more guided that decision than practical ones.

Briefly, he considered Webb, but rejected that idea as quickly as it came. As much as the guy bothered him, he’d be willing to set aside personal differences if it meant Mac would get better. But, he didn’t think Webb knew about this. He hadn’t asked and she hadn’t said, but he’d gotten the impression that Clay wasn’t a factor in her life. It made him wonder about what he’d seen in Paraguay and in the hospital. Regardless of what did or didn’t happen between them, Webb’s absence, at the hospital and at her apartment, told him what he needed to know. He couldn’t call him.

More than she needed company, he wanted to be certain that she would be okay while he was gone. They both needed to know that someone who cared whether she got better watched over her. He didn’t know to where she’d disappeared, but he wanted his Mac back. He wanted the woman who trekked across forests to find a truck; the woman who wore flowered skirts and rode along beside him in the back of a Gypsy caravan. She was the woman he had fallen in love with. The woman sleeping soundly behind that bedroom door was her shell. She didn’t fight with him; she acquiesced when he acted overbearing. She ate when he cooked, watched TV if he had it on, read if he handed her a book. She was lost. She was trapped somewhere and it was time for him to find her. She’d found him in the middle of the ocean once. He could certainly find her when she was only a few feet away from him. He’d done it before over greater distances.

He knew whom he could call. The only person in the world, other than the woman he was trying to help, he’d want if he were hurting. Sighing, he cast a glance at her closed bedroom door. When she got better, she was going to kill him. On the bright side, it might anger her enough to pull her out of her stupor. Maybe one day, when she was old and feeble minded and her swing didn’t pack as much of a punch, she’d even thank him. He was going to relish that day. If, on that day far in the future, when he had great-grandchildren running around the house, his bones will let him, he has a dance of victory already planned. Picking up the phone, he dialed and waited for the phone to ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Mom?”

 

Chapter 7

 

The voices whispered in the dark. They hissed in the corners of her mind. They were armed with claws and she could feel them pinching and pulling at her, tugging her back into the dark. She was so tired of fighting them. She was so tired of telling herself that they didn't matter, that she was better than them.

She didn't have any weapons left to fight them. She had used them all and the voices were still there. It was time to acknowledge that they were stronger than she was.

It wasn't just her father's voice or Chris's voice, either. It was a full chorus of voices, blended together in discord, telling her it wasn't enough. That she wasn't enough. She would never be good enough; she would never be smart enough; and she would never be able to quiet them.

Her opinion of the quiet had changed. If it could drown out the sounds of her demons, she wanted noise. She left the radio playing in her bedroom, the television on in the living room. During the day, while Harm was at work and she was waiting for her appointment with Dr. Hepburn, her apartment was a barrage of noise. It poured from the doorways and spilled into the apartment's central rooms.

And still, the voices were louder. She didn't know how to clear them. She slept, pulling the covers over her ears. She read. She ran. And the voices would not go away.

Every once in a while, she was tempted to tell Harm about them. Her mouth would open and the words would be there, waiting to be formed, and she would lack the air to push them out. She couldn't bring herself to say the words. Contrarily, she found herself wanting to ask him questions, wanting the answers in order to restock her arsenal against the voices. She wanted the reinforcements without having to explain why she needed them. So she tried to stay silent. Twice, she bit her lip to keep herself from blurting the questions out like an insecure teenaged girl asks, "Do you think I'm pretty?" It was an odd position to be in. To want to talk and not be able to, to not want to ask for reassurance and be powerless to do almost anything else.

Instead, she found herself chattering inconsequentially, talking about the weather, how much she loved this time of year, asking about his job, and his family. Her jaw ached from the fake smiles and the constant pressure of trying to maintain a calm façade. She suspected that he probably missed the days when she didn't talk at all.

One night, over dinner, he interrupted her babbling. She nearly cried from relief. Shut me up, she wanted to scream. Make it quiet again. Make the noises stop. But he didn't, because he didn't know they were there. He couldn't know because she couldn't tell him.

"Mac," he said. He sounded nervous and she raised an eyebrow. "I have to leave tomorrow."

"Oh." She lowered her fork to her plate. "Of course. You have things you need to do. You can't just spend the rest of your life here." She pushed herself back from the table and began to clear the plates. "You didn't have to stay this long. I appreciate it, but you know you didn't have to stay, Harm." She smiled to let him know that she was okay with his going. "Do you need help packing?" The hand holding the plate shook lightly as the demons danced in her head.

"No, Mac--"

"Oh." It shouldn't have hurt. This had been her goal since that night in the hotel in Paraguay. "Okay. Well, I'll just start clearing up then. You can start packing. You made dinner, you don't need to help with the clean up." She set her plate down when the tremors wouldn't stop, drew a deep breath, and decided to start over again.

"That's not what I meant." He moved his napkin from his lap to the table and made an ineffectual grab for her wrist, but she was a flurry of movement. "Mac, please sit down."

She sat. Her lips trembled open and closed again. "Okay, I'm sitting." She gestured to the chair beneath her.

"I have to go away for work," he started to clarify.

"How long - no, never mind. You probably can't say. Where are." Her voice trailed off and she shook her head. "I know better. I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He clapped a hand down on hers to stop her fingers from tapping against the table top and squeezed her fingers lightly. "The point is, I don't know how long I'll be gone."

"Harm," her voice was calmer, soothing, "I'll be fine."

"I know. Because," he paused, sucking in air to give himself time and courage. "You won't be alone," he said in a whoosh, running the words together.

"I don't understand," she said, her eyebrows sinking low on her forehead.

"You won't be alone," he repeated.

"But you won't be here," she pointed out. "You'll be in some exotic locale."

"Yes, but - "

"And Harriet and Bud have AJ and the baby. And the Admiral and Sturgis are busy. And you won't be here."

"No." He wanted to scoot his chair back into the safety of the kitchen. "But my mother will be."

"Your mother." She wondered if she heard him correctly.

"Her plane lands in an hour. We're going to have to leave soon to pick her up."

Her fingers curled around her glass. She wanted to throw it. She wanted to give into her childish urge and have a temper tantrum. "I'm not a child," she said slowly. "I don't need a babysitter."

"I know that, Mac."

"Obviously, you don't."

"Yes," he said calmly, "I do."

"Then tell your mother not to come." Her tone was almost pleading.

"It's a little late for that. She'll be here in," he checked his watch, "fifty-six minutes. Get your shoes, we have to go." He stood up and took the stack of plates away from her.

"Don't handle me," she snarled the words out.

"I'm not." He dumped the plates in the sink. "Get your shoes."

The muscles in her arm bunched and tightened as she lifted the glass slightly. Realizing what she was about to do, she lowered it and pulled her hand into her lap. "I don't need a babysitter," she repeated, pouting.

He turned back to face her. "I know." At her skeptical look, he repeated, "I know."

"Then why fly your mother out here?"

"Because." He shrugged. "Because I trust her."

"Harm," she began.

"Mac," he cut her off. Kneeling before her, he said, "I need to concentrate on my job."

"I know."

"I can't do that if I'm worried about you." He tugged her hands and hauled her to her feet. "You'll be okay with my mom."

"Oh."

"That's it?" he asked.

"We're going to be late." She avoided his question. Watching him move about her apartment, she wanted to ask him why he cared. She had done everything she could to make him leave and he still wouldn't go. Nothing worked. It was no damn good, but she didn't know what she could do to make him see that. She was a black hole and it was only a matter of time before one of two things happened. He would see her one day. One day, he would look at her and see beyond the woman and into the abyss and he would run. Or he would never see it and he would stumble into it and die.

 

Chapter 8

 

Walking down the concourse of Dulles International Airport, Trish Burnett was confused. Not by the airport or where to go, but by what she was doing in the airport. She had been puzzled ever since Harm’s phone call. It had been a week since he called and during that week, aside from making travel plans and provisions for the gallery, resentment had begun to build. Not for Harm, but for the woman who had caused her son so much pain. It had been simmering beneath the surface, she was sure, since Harm had told her that he’d resigned from the Navy to find her and had come back without her and with a broken heart.

He’d never told her exactly what had happened. He’d categorized under the broad catchall of “it’s classified,” but he’d said enough to let her know that he was unhappy. Logically, she knew that she only had one side of the story, but she felt she was entitled to be biased. He was, after all, her son.

Although they had only met a handful of times during the course of Harm and Mac’s partnership, Trish had always liked Sarah Mackenzie. Despite the weight of that precedence, the woman striding through the terminal was prepared to dislike her time in Washington, D.C.. She was here as a favor to her son and that was it. And she wasn’t quite certain why Harm had thought she’d be the best person for the job. Didn’t Mac have friends? Friends other than her son, who could watch over her and let Harm move on to a happier, healthier life? Apparently not. So here she was, in Washington, getting ready to babysit a woman in her thirties that she couldn’t bring herself to like anymore.

It was easy to find her son. Even if the crowd hadn’t been thin because of the late hour, he would have stood out. Not just because of his height. There was an air about him. An indefinable air that commanded people to take notice of him. He’d had it all his life as had his father. She looked around the waiting area to see if he’d brought Mac with him, but couldn’t see her. Stretching her arm out in front of her, she cried out, “Harm, darling.” She reached up to hug her son. “It’s good to see you.”

“Hi, Mom.” He returned the embrace before pulling away. “How was your flight?” He reached out to take her carry-on and started to guide her to the baggage claim area.

“Long.” She grimaced a little and put her hand against her stomach. “And bumpy. We hit turbulence somewhere around the middle of the country.”

He pulled his face into a sympathetic expression. “I’m sorry. Listen, Mom, thank you so much for coming out here. I really appreciate it.”

“And how does Mac feel about it?” Trish asked.

He had the grace to look a little embarrassed. “She, uh…” he stuttered, unsure how to tell his mother about Mac’s reaction.

“She doesn’t appreciate it, I take it?”

“She thinks I think she needs a babysitter.”

“Well, Harm, honestly, how did you think this would be interpreted?” She ran a hand through her hair, frowning when it caught on tangles from her trip. She glanced around the airport again, exaggerating her movements so he would be sure to take notice of what she was doing. “I’m surprised you didn’t make her come along.”

“She’s, uh, she’s waiting at the baggage claim.”

“Harm,” she sighed.

Misinterpreting her sigh, he said defensively, “I didn’t make her wait there. She wouldn’t come up here. She said we needed time alone.”

“Harm,” she said patiently, “she’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need someone to watch her every minute of the day.”

“I know that.” When she only looked at him, he said, “I do.” He sighed as they arrived at the baggage claim area. He stopped walking. “She’s not doing well. I need to know that someone I trust is taking care of her.”

Trish raised a hand to his face and ran her thumb over his cheek, something she hadn’t done since he was a boy and needed comfort. “I’m flattered that you asked, but I really don’t see how I can help.”

He set her bag down and walked over to the monitors to find Trish’s flight number. When he came back, he stuffed his hands into his jeans’ pockets. “I guess,” he shrugged, “I thought she could use a mother.”

Trish smiled at him. She couldn’t help it. He looked so uncomfortable and awkward, a look she wasn’t used to seeing on him. It reminded her of the way he acted as a little boy when he thought she was unhappy with him. Truthfully, she was unhappy. Not with him, but with the situation, with Mac for causing it, and with herself for being unable to be more sympathetic. “I’m your mother,” she reminded him, “not Mac’s.”

“I know.” He flashed her a grin. “But you’re a very good mom and who the hell knows where hers is.”

Trish let out a resigned sigh and picked up her bags. “Let’s get Mac and my luggage.”

Mac was sitting by herself. Had she been standing with the throngs of passengers, she still would have looked lonely. Her head was angled away from them and the crowds, so Trish couldn’t see her face. But she could see the rest of her. During the few times that they had met, she’d always walked away with the image of a pulled together and confidant woman. She had been lovely, and she probably still was, but the woman leaning against the low silver railings surrounding the baggage carousel looked nothing like the woman Trish remembered. She looked smaller and, somehow, crumpled. Her entire body seemed to have collapsed in on itself, giving the impression that the only thing keeping her from sinking under the weight of gravity was the small silver rail.

“I told you it was bad,” Harm said in a low voice.

“I had no idea.” Trish looked at her son. “No idea at all.” The resentment began to lessen, but the tension it caused remained. She cast a quick prayer heavenward that her son would survive this, even if Sarah Mackenzie did not.

 

 

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