Kane parked in the nearly empty hospital parking lot. He entered through the front doors. After shaking the snow off his hat, he stood there like a dumbass, wondering what the hell to do next.
The blowsy blonde manning the information desk looked all of seventeen. But that didn't stop her from offering him a lewd once-over and licking her shellacked lips. "Well, hello, cowboy. You lost? Or is something broken and needin' some fixin'?"
"Neither. A...friend of mine was brought in a little while ago."
"Male or female friend?" the receptionist cooed.
"Female. Her family can't get here so they sent me to get some information."
"Sorry, I can't give it out, no matter how cute you are. It was a wasted trip for you Mr...."
"McKay. Kane McKay."
"McKay?" Her raccoon eyes lit up. "Any relation to that hot, awesome bull rider Chase McKay? Is he your son?"
Son? Jesus. Chase was only ten years younger than him. Even on his worst day Kane knew he didn't look that damn old. "No, he's my cousin."
"Omigod I love to watch him ride. He's like...so incredible. Sheer poetry on the back of a bull." The girl actually stood and craned her neck, trying to look behind him. "Is Chase with you?"
"No." Wasn't the first time his cousin's groupies grilled him for the elusive Chase McKay's whereabouts. "Is there any way you can just--"
He whirled around to see Libby, his cousin Quinn's wife, hustling toward him. Unease punched him in the gut. His gaze dropped to Adam, perched on Libby's hip. The kid didn't appear sick--he was his same stout-bodied, chubby-cheeked, blowing-spit-bubbles, happy-baby self. "What are you doin' here?"
"Joely--Doc Monroe--called me about Ginger." Adam squealed and Libby shushed him. "What are you doing here?"
"Ginger called Dash and Hayden and only gave them enough information to freak them out, so I showed up to figure out what's really goin' on."
"Typical Ginger behavior," Libby sniffed. "She's been moved from emergency into a private room. Come on."
Kane didn't bother to check with the chickie behind the desk to see if he was breaking any rules by following Libby.
Halfway down the hall, Libby stopped in front of a closed door. "She's already had her shoulder reset and they're putting a walking cast on her calf to immobilize the sprain."
"What the hell happened to her?"
"Doc Monroe can explain better than I can." Libby brushed her lips across Adam's dark head when he fussed again. "Ginger is lucky she didn't break her damn fool neck." She pushed open the door.
Kane followed her inside. And froze.
Ginger was sprawled on the hospital bed, damn near naked. The hospital gown left little to the imagination, exposing the deep "V" of her cleavage and stopping mid-thigh. Her right arm was tucked in a sling. Her left hand was heavily bandaged. He dragged his gaze up to Ginger's face. Her hair was an untamed cloud of red, spread across the white pillow behind her head. Her face was perfectly beautiful, nary a scratch, but it held the too-white shade of shock and pain.
Her eyes opened, narrowed. "What are you doing here, McKay?"
"Hello, to you too, Red," he drawled. "I'm here because a very scared little boy called me and asked me to check on you."
"Hayden called you?"
"Yeah, and I talked to your dad too." He jammed his hands in his pockets and ambled across the room. "They're worried, since you didn't let them know what'd happened, beyond that you fell down the stairs and ended up in the hospital."
Any semblance of Ginger's bravado fled.
"I can call Dash and let him know what's going on," Dr. Monroe said. "Including the bit where I'm keeping you overnight."
"But I can't stay in the hospital. I can't leave my son and my father alone. Not even for a night."
"Accidents happen, Ginger."
"They don't happen to me. I'm fine. Really."
He exchanged a look with Libby. They both knew Ginger was far from fine.
Dr. Monroe got right in Ginger's face. "How much pain are you in?"
Ginger swallowed and looked away.
"Answer me. Scale of one to ten."
"Five," Ginger admitted softly.
Kane sucked in a breath. Knowing how hardheaded Ginger was meant her pain was a least a seven, if not an eight.
The doc piggybacked a small, clear pack of solution onto the IV and popped the needle into the tubing. "Now listen up. You dislocated your shoulder. You have a severe sprain that I'm still not sure isn't a ligament tear. Knowing you, I was forced to put a cast on it to keep you from injuring it further until I can ascertain just how bad it is. You have a deep laceration on your shin, which was filled with metal flakes and salt, requiring an antibiotic to stave off an infection. You sustained multiple bruises from your fall. You claimed you didn't hit your head, but I can't take a chance you did and just don't remember.
"So given those injuries...you have to stay in the hospital, Ginger. Just one night. If you're improved tomorrow, I'll let you go home. But tonight, I'm not giving you a choice."
"Right now I'm your doctor, not your friend. I'm doing what's best for my patient." Doc Monroe squeezed Ginger's left shoulder. "You need to heal and it's my job to ensure that happens. The best way to do that is to drug you up and let you sleep uninterrupted."
Kane knew Ginger and the doc were good friends, and it had to be hard as hell for the doc to do what was right, not what was easiest, not what Ginger wanted.
Ginger's teary eyes searched the doctor's face. "Who will take care of Hayden and my dad while I'm in here? You know I don't have anyone else."
Libby said, "If you don't mind me bringing Adam, I can--"
"I'll do it," Kane interjected.
All three women looked at him as if he'd caught fire.
He bristled. "What? Hayden's camped out with me plenty of times. Takin' care of him will be a breeze. And Dash just needs me there in case Hayden needs something, right? I don't gotta bathe him or nothin'?"
"You might have to help him get into bed. If he rolls out of it for some reason during the night, you have to get him back in. Sometimes in the morning he needs assistance getting out of bed and into the chair..."
Kane stared at Ginger. "You do all that for your dad every day?"
"Yes, sometimes twice a day. So I just don't think this is your thing, Kane. No offense."
No offense? Bullshit. Before he could snap at her, Dr. Monroe jumped in.
"This would have to be for more than one night. If I release her tomorrow she'll need someone to help her out for at least five days. Would that be a problem for you?"
Five days, hanging with Hayden? Five days of playing fetch and carry for a scantily clad Ginger?
Sign. Him. Up.
"Nah. I can get Kade or my cousins to fill in for me for a few days. We're pretty slow right now."
"I'll talk to Quinn and Ben too," Libby said.
"Good. Then it's settled."
"Don't I have a say in this?" Ginger demanded.
Doc Monroe said, "Nope. Besides, I'll be more inclined to release you if I know you've lined up aftercare. You do want to go home tomorrow, right?"
Ginger huffed out an impatient "Yes."
The doc pointed at Kane. "Then there's your answer."
Kane focused on a wide-eyed, surly-mouthed Ginger and grinned. "Well, roomie, probably we should iron out the details before I head on back to your place and start fluffing your pillows."
"I don't need to tell you if anything happens tonight that you can't handle with either Hayden or Dash, call 911," Dr. Monroe said to him.
"No. I know my medical limitations."
"Good. I'll be back later to check on you, Ginger." As Dr. Monroe walked past Kane, she muttered, "The drugs will start to take effect in a few minutes. She'll be loopy, so say what you need to while she's still coherent."
Libby leaned over and rubbed Ginger's upper arm. "Take care. I'll swing by tomorrow."
Ginger reached for Adam's chubby leg, realizing at the last second she couldn't touch him due to her injuries. Frustration darkened her eyes as she watched Libby and Adam leave.
Finding themselves alone, they stared at each other in the sudden silence.
"You want to call your dad and Hayden and fill them in? Or do you want me to do it?"
Ginger bowed her head. "I can't even hold a phone, Kane. Just tell them I love them and I'm...sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
She intended to apologize for an accident? Again, Kane forced himself not to chew her out for something that wasn't her fault. He turned his back on her and dialed. Dash answered and Kane explained the situation, sensing the older man's relief. Then Hayden came on the line. "Hey, buddy. Your mama is a little banged up but she's gonna be fine. Yes, I promise. I know you miss her, but she has to stay here overnight."
Ginger made a pitiful-sounding gasp and Kane spun to face her.
"She misses you too. Uh-huh. Tell you what, I'll be stayin' with you for a few days to help out. That sound all right?" Kane smiled. "Sure we can do that. I'm callin' the bottom bunk in your room, so get all them robot parts put away before I get there." He locked his gaze to Ginger's. "No, I'm sure your mama don't want me sleepin' in her bed."
She blushed and looked away.
"I'll cook something when I get there. No pizza. 'Cause I know you've got a milk allergy, that's why. See you soon." Kane snapped the phone shut and wandered to Ginger's bedside.
"Thank you. I'm sorry if I seemed ungrateful, I'm very grateful, it's just...I'm not used to needing help, let alone asking anyone for it."
"And you're being so sweet and thoughtful, volunteering to take care of my son, my dad and me."
Really interesting that she put herself last.
"I can't help but worry that you're getting roped into something you didn't want and you're too much of a gentleman to say no." Tears seeped from the corners of her eyes.
Dammit. What was he supposed to do when she cried? Kane had little experience with women's tears, except the manipulative variety. And these were borne of pain and frustration.
He grabbed a Kleenex. "Come on, sugar, you're breakin' my heart here." He gently blotted her tear-dampened face. "You in a lot of pain?"
"Yes. It's like my whole body is throbbing. Not a good kind of throbbing."
He laughed softly. "I do believe the drugs are finally kickin' in."
"Maybe." Ginger blinked at him. It didn't help; her eyes had taken on a dreamy, unfocused look. "Can I ask you something?"
"I suspect you will ask me regardless if I say no."
"Why did you kiss me that night?"
Kane's heart skipped a beat. His gaze dropped to her lips. God, he still fantasized about that lush mouth. How aggressive he'd been with the kiss, how eagerly she'd welcomed it. How his wanting of her overrode his common sense, but he had zero regrets. Even now. Months later.
He met her eyes again. "Why you askin' me this now?"
"Because we've never talked about it. We both pretended it never happened. Or was that kiss so easy for you to forget, McKay?"
He angled close enough that her breath teased his lips. "Not. Even. Fucking. Close. You have no idea how much I still..." Crave you. Fantasize about you. Wish I would've taken what we both wanted.
However, Kane said none of that. He backed off just like he had that night. "Never mind. This definitely ain't the time or the place to talk about this."
"No. Tell me. Please."
"I kissed you because you needed to be kissed."
Her lips formed a half pout. "That's all?"
Goddammit she was beautiful, even in pain, and Kane couldn't resist touching her. "No, that ain't all. But that's all I'm gonna admit to when you're drugged up and hurtin'."
Her lashes fluttered coquettishly. "See? Just like I thought."
"What did you think?" Did you imagine I came this close to fucking you up against that wall until you screamed loud enough to wake your kid and your dad?
Ginger gifted him with a dreamy smile. "I think that you are a gentleman."
"You have no idea how badly I want to challenge that statement," he murmured, moving his thumb up to caress the arch of her cheekbone and the dark circle beneath her closed eye.
"Bring it, cowboy. Maybe I'm not as much the prim and proper mother that you see me as."
Right. Kane doubted she'd be on board with some of the kinkier things that did it for him. "Sugar, you're babbling."
"No. I'll remember every word of this conversation. I have perfect recall."
"I don't doubt that a bit, counselor."
He grabbed a spare blanket from the dresser and covered her completely. "Better?"
"Uh-huh. Thank you."
"Good. Get some rest. I'll be back to get you tomorrow." Kane made it to the door when her raspy voice stopped him.
"About the sleeping arrangements."
Had to be the drugs talking.
He didn't even turn around. He just kept walking.