Disclaimer: JE owns them. I do not.
Not Her Fault
My phone rang just as the meeting I was in began to wind down.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," I said as I silently cursed the phone. "Yo."
"Boss, it's Bomber."
I was instantly on alert. "Hold."
I looked at the three men sitting in my office. "I'm sorry, I have an emergency. Tank, would you mind going over the rest of the paperwork with them for me, please? I'm very sorry. I need to leave." I shook their hands quickly, nodded at Tank, and then was out the door, my cell phone pressed to my ear.
"Okay, Binkie, what's going on?"
"Just got word that her car blew up again. She's in the hospital with cuts, bruises, and a possible concussion. The skip didn't fare as well and was DOA at the hospital."
"Shit," I cursed. "Okay, I'm on my way there now. Let Tank, Lester, and Bobby know as soon as Tank's meeting is done. I'm offline until further notice."
"Got it, Boss."
I flew down the stairs to the Cayenne and sped out of the garage to the hospital, a route I was more than familiar with since meeting my Babe. I grabbed a spot two down from the Emergency Room entrance and hurried inside.
"I need to see Stephanie Plum."
The lady behind the admissions desk looked flustered as she answered, "I'm sorry, sir. Are you family?"
My answer was interrupted by Dr. Spencer West, a man who was all too familiar with Steph. "It's okay, Gloria. I've got it. Ranger, come on back. She's okay. She just really wants to see you."
I gave a sigh of relief that wouldn't completely clear my fears until I saw her and followed him back. I heard her tears before I saw her, and I brushed past Dr. West and rushed into the curtained area. Steph was curled into a ball on the bed, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Babe," I said as I sat down on the bed and scooped her up into my arms. "Are you hurting? Do you need something?"
She shook her head. "Now that you're here, nothing." The tears continued to pour down her face.
"Steph, talk to me. What happened?"
Her only answer was the tremble that started deep inside her belly and soon had her entire body shaking.
"Come on and talk to me now. Don't hold it all inside," I told her as I gently swiped the tears away with a finger.
"I c-c-can't," she cried. "Everyone hates me. Everyone already calls me a failure, and now they'll call me a murderer, too."
My heart was breaking for her. "Nothing you confess could make me love you less. You know that, right?"
She paused before nodding.
"So tell me, Babe. I can't help unless you tell me."
Her voice shaking, she answered, "I went to pick up Carl Jackson, my FTA. We went running past my car as I was chasing him, and he decided to pull some bomb from his jacket and throw it at my car. I was far enough back that I just got a little of the blast, but it exploded before he'd gotten very far from it, and he was killed."
Tears started pouring from her eyes again, and my arms tightened around her. "Babe, you didn't do anything wrong. It was his fault. You didn't force him to have a bomb in the first place, let alone use it. You can't let your fear of what everyone might say affect you. If anyone says this is your fault, they are wrong, do you understand me?"
I tilted her face up gently until she was looking me in the eyes. "I love you, Stephanie. Nothing will ever change that. Especially things that aren't your fault."
I knew she was going to have a hard time dealing with this, so I made a silent vow that I would be there for her every step of the way until she was able to feel no guilt about the incident. I hugged her to me and cried silently for her pain.
My poor Babe.