To help him heal, Bria moves back home. But once there, she can't resist a stolen embrace a stolen night. Can she bear leaving him a second time? Or will she find the courage to stay?
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Standing in the hospital waiting room, Bria wrapped her arms around herself as she tried to chase away the chills. It did no good. In spite of the fact that it was early June in Texas and already extremely warm, she couldn't seem to stop shivering.
Terror like nothing she had ever known had clawed at her insides as she'd helplessly watched the angry bull slam Sam into the fence, then pummel his limp body repeatedly with its large head. Thankfully, the bull didn't have horns and therefore Sam hadn't sustained any puncture wounds, nor had he been stepped on by the massive animal. Nate and Sam's foster brothers had immediately jumped into action and diverted the bull's attention as quickly as they could. But it seemed as if they'd all moved in slow motion and took forever to get the beast away from him so the emergency medical crew could move in and take over.
She drew in a shuddering breath. There was no getting around it, she was responsible for Sam's accident. If she had only waited for another day, another time to bring the divorce papers for him to sign or if he hadn't seen her and been distracted, she wouldn't be standing in the waiting room while he underwent tests to see just how badly he was injured.
But the rodeo was only a two-hour drive from her new home in Dallas and she had wanted to get the papers signed and everything finalized before she started her new job as a marketing consultant for one of the major department stores. If she hadn't run into a traffic jam on the interstate, she would have arrived with plenty of time to get things taken care of and left before the dangerous bull-riding event even started.
Her breath caught on a sob. It didn't matter why she had been running late or that she had wanted to get on with her life. Sam was the one having to pay the price for her impatience.
"Have you heard anything, Bria?" Nate called from somewhere behind her.
Turning around, she watched Nate and his brothers hurrying down the hall toward the waiting-room entrance. Tall and ruggedly handsome, all five men were cowboys from the top of their wide-brimmed Re-sistol hats to their scuffed Justin boots. All six of the boys Hank Calvert had fostered had grown up to be extremely wealthy men, but to the outward eye, they were down to earth, hardworking cowboys who passed up designer clothing in favor of chambray shirts and jeans. Nate was Sam's only biological sibling, but the other four men they called brothers couldn't have meant more to them if they'd had the same blood flowing through their veins.
"Th-They just took him to the imaging department for X-rays and a scan of his head," she said, unable to keep her voice from cracking.
Nate stepped forward and, putting his arms around her, pulled her to his broad chest. "He's going to be all right, Bria."
"Sam's as tough as nails," Lane Donaldson added. The same age as Sam, Lane had a master's degree in psychology that he used quite successfully as a professional poker player. Bria didn't think she had ever seen the man look less confident.
Ryder McClain, the most easygoing of the group, nodded. "Sam's probably already being a pain in the butt about getting out of here."
"I hope all of you are right," she said, feeling helpless.
"Can I get you something, Bria? A cup of coffee or some water?" T. J. Malloy asked solicitously. He was the most thoughtful of the brothers, so she wasn't the least bit surprised that T.J.'s concern extended to her.
"Get some coffee for all of us, T.J.," Nate commanded, without waiting for her to respond.
"I'll go with you to help carry everything," Jaron Lambert offered, turning to follow T.J. Stopping, he turned back to ask, "Do you want anything else, Bria. Maybe something to eat?"
"Thanks, Jaron, but I'm not hungry. I doubt that I could eat anything even if I was," she said, thankful to have Sam's brothers with her. They treated her like a sister and she was going to miss them terribly once the divorce was final and she was no longer part of their family.
"Come on and sit down," Nate said, guiding her over to a bank of chairs along the far wall. When she sat, he asked, "Did Sam regain consciousness in the ambulance on the way over here?"
She shook her head. "I think he was starting to come around when they took him back to the examination room, but they told me I couldn't stay with him and that the doctor would come out and talk to me when he knew something."
Unable to leave the rodeo they had coordinated to honor their late foster father, the men had sent her to the hospital with Sam, while they attended to dispatching the livestock Sam's company had provided for the various events to the next rodeo on the schedule. She knew it had to be extremely hard for them not to have dropped everything to go with their brother to the hospital, but they had done their duty and seen to Sam's interests when he couldn't.
"Is everything over with for this year's memorial rodeo?" she asked, knowing the bull riding was usually the last scheduled event.
"Yup, we got everything taken care of," Lane said, lowering his lanky frame into one of the chairs. "There's nothing for you to worry about right now, except being here for Sam."
"I wish they would come out and tell us something," Bria said, unable to sit still any longer. She walked over to look down the hall toward the room where they had taken Sam.
What could be taking so long? she wondered as she spotted T.J. and Jaron returning with several cups of coffee. The longer it took to hear something, the more worried she became.
"Still no word?" T.J. asked as he stopped to hand her a cup. He had no sooner gotten the words out, when a man in blue scrubs and a white lab coat entered the waiting area.
"Mrs. Rafferty?" he asked, walking over to her.
As she braced herself for whatever news he came to deliver, Sam's brothers rose to stand with her. "I'm Brianna Rafferty," she said, surprised that her voice sounded strong when her nerves were anything but steady. "Is my hus is Sam going to be all right?"
"I'm Dr. Bailey, the neurologist on call this evening." His expression gave no indication of what kind of news he had to tell them. "Let's sit down and I'll explain what's going on with your husband." Once they were all seated, he pulled up a chair to sit across from them. "Sam regained consciousness just before we took him to Imaging for the CT scan and X-rays, which is a good sign. And there was no evidence of broken bones."
Apparently sensing she needed support, Nate took her hand in his and asked the question that she couldn't. "Why do I hear a 'but' in your voice, Doc?"
"The scan showed that Sam suffered a severe concussion, but there were no signs of bleeding in his brain, which is good," Dr. Bailey explained. "There is, however, some swelling."
"What does that mean?" Jaron demanded. With his raven hair and dark demeanor, Jaron was the type of man other men rarely had the nerve to cross.
"There may or may not be complications." Dr. Bailey met their worried gazes as he continued, "The next twenty-four hours should tell us if the cerebral edema will get worse. If that happens, we may have to take him into surgery to remove a section of his scull to relieve the pressure."
Bria covered her horrified gasp with her hand.
"I really don't think that's something we'll have to do, Mrs. Rafferty," Dr. Bailey hastily added. "I've been monitoring his condition since he was brought into the E.R. and the swelling doesn't show signs of worsening. But even if that isn't an issue, we'll have to watch for other neurological problems that wouldn't show up on a scan."
"What kinds of problems are we talking about here?" Ryder asked, looking as if he would like to punch something. A rodeo bull rider, normally the man was absolutely fearless. But Bria knew his frustration was a mask for the fear they all felt for Sam.
"With brain injuries there's always the possibility of memory loss, problems with reasoning abilities or a personality change," the doctor answered. "I'm not saying any of those things are inevitable or that they would be permanent if they do present, just that there are those possibilities."
"Dear God, this can't be happening," she said as tears spilled down her cheeks. Sam was so strong, so self-assured, it was impossible to think that he might end up having problems. That she had played a part in his being injured in any way was almost more than she could bear. But she couldn't live with herself if he had long-lasting problems because she'd chosen today to end their marriage.
Nate protectively put his arm around her shoulders. "When will we be able to see him, Doc?"
"We've put him in the Intensive Care Unit for closer observation and he's resting comfortably. But two of you can go in to see him for a few minutes now, then again every two hours or so." The doctor stood up and shook their hands. "I'll let you know more after I assess his condition in the morning. For now, I'll have one of the nurses direct you to the ICU waiting room upstairs."
As the man walked away, Jaron patted her arm. "It's going to be okay, Bria. Sam will get through this without any of those problems."
"Sam's tougher than anyone I've ever seen," T.J. added. "I have no doubt he'll be up and around in no time."
Lane took a deep breath. "Why don't you and Nate go on up to see him, while the rest of us stake a claim on some space in the ICU waiting area."
On the elevator ride to the third floor, Bria couldn't help wondering how much Sam had told his brothers about their divorce. Knowing him the way she did, he probably hadn't told them any more than he had to.
Bria sighed. She might have decided that she couldn't be his wife anymore, but she wanted to be with him tonight, wanted to help see him through whatever he was facing. But she wasn't entirely certain she should stay either. After all, they were so close to being divorced, she wasn't sure she had the right.
"Nate, maybe I shouldn't be here," she said uncertainly.
Her brother-in-law looked at her as if she might be losing her mind. "Why the hell would you say something like that, Bria?"
"Sam and I are one signature away from being divorced," she said, hating the word. "I'm not sure he will even want me to be here."
Nate shook his head. "It doesn't matter. You don't have that signature yet and until you do, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm pretty sure the state of Texas is in agreement on this, the two of you are still married."
"But nothing," he cut her off. "You're still his wife, and until this is over with and Sam is back on his feet, this is where you belong. After that, it will be up to the two of you to sort it out."
She supposed Nate was right. Until the dissolution of their marriage was final and the documents filed at the courthouse, they were still legally married. If medical decisions had to be made on Sam's behalf, she would be the one they turned to for answers. Besides, she wanted to be with him until she knew for certain he was going to be all right.
As they stepped off the elevator and turned to go through the Intensive Care Unit doors, Bria bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling. Even though they were ending their relationship, she still cared deeply for him. She just couldn't live with him anymore. Not after what he had done almost five months ago. She had needed him with her when she lost their baby, not his excuses for being unable to leave his stock-contracting company during a rodeo.
When they checked in at the nurse's desk and were directed to Sam's room, a tear slid down Bria's cheek at the sight of him. There was a swollen lump at his right temple and an ugly bruise ran along his jaw, but to her relief his eyes were open, clear, and she knew immediately that he recognized her and Nate.
"Will you tell these people to give me my clothes back so I can get dressed and get out of here?" he asked impatiently.
"Well, some things never change," Nate said, his smile reflecting the relief Bria felt. "I see that bull didn't knock any of the orneriness out of your sorry hide."
Bria approached the side of the bed and, unable to stop herself from touching him, gently brushed Sam's dark blond hair from his brow. "Does your head hurt, Sam?"
He reached for her hand. "Don't worry, sweetheart. I'm going to be just fine. Just find me some clothes, I'll get dressed and we can go home."
"You really need to stay here for a day or two so they can take care of you and make sure you're going to be all right," she said, taking his hand. The moment her palm touched his, a deep sadness for what could have been tightened her chest.