What Mattered Most by Linda Winfree
Houston homicide detective John O'Reilly is torn between two women. One is the woman he's loved without hope for years. The other carries his unborn child. Now, a man bent on revenge wants O'Reilly to choose, and any choice he makes could cost him everything.
Gutsy sheriff’s deputy Lanie Falconetti is determined not to repeat her mother’s mistakes in love. Her no-strings attached affair with John O’Reilly leads to an unexpected, but joyfully welcomed pregnancy. However, the shadow from John’s past threatens not only her chance at happiness, but her life and that of her unborn baby as well.
Once the door closed with a soft click, he dropped his head back against the pillow and stared at the ceiling. He welcomed the pain that shot through his skull. He deserved it. Guilt coiled through him. She was right—he’d let down his guard, let Mitchell catch him unprepared.
Beth was paying for his mistakes.
He couldn’t stay here in this bed while she was out there, somewhere, at Mitchell’s mercy. A grim chuckle escaped him. Mercy. Mitchell didn’t have any, and Beth bore the scars to prove it.
Teeth gritted against the pain, he shoved to a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Waves of dizziness attacked his head, and he closed his eyes, swearing. Beads of icy perspiration broke on his upper lip, and he brushed at them, the slight weight of the intravenous line dragging at his arm.
He glanced at his hand, a large purple bruise spreading to his wrist, and memory returned of pulling the needle out earlier. Gritting his teeth, he tugged the line free once more. Stinging hurt shot up his arm. He held on to the discomfort, using it to focus his flagging energy. His feet slid to the floor, and he stood, shaky knees not wanting to bear his weight.
The door opened, and he glanced up, his gaze clashing with Lanie’s. Her full mouth, already bracketed with tension lines, twisted in frustration. “Damn it, John, I warned you.”
“I’m getting out of here.” He glanced down at the hospital gown and his bare feet. “Where the hell are my clothes?”
One hand holding the door open, Lanie glanced back over her shoulder. “Steve, I need your cuffs.”
“Like hell you do!”
Martinez appeared in the doorway. “Falconetti, you’re not really planning to—”
“Don’t touch me,” John snarled, pushing her hands away.
“Believe me, right now I’d rather pick up a live rattlesnake.” Lanie glanced at him, her hazel gaze far colder than her cousin’s had been. Unable to meet her eyes, John glanced away. Damn it, he’d never wanted her hurt. He struggled to stand again. “But you’re going to hurt yourself if someone doesn’t stop you.”
Her fingers slid into the pressure point behind his clavicle, buckling his knees, sending numbness along his arms. “You damned—”
Cold steel closed around his wrist; a metallic ring told him the other cuff had closed around the bed frame. Lanie glared down at him. “Just spit it out, O’Reilly.”
He gave a hard, ineffectual tug at the cuff, then matched her glare. Defensiveness tightened his lungs. “I guess you’ve been talking to your cousin.”
Her eyebrows lifted, a cold smile curving her mouth. “I’m just finally seeing what’s been right in my face all along. Steve, would you leave us alone?”
“You’re not going to hurt him, are you?” The joking didn’t cover the concern in Martinez ’s disembodied voice.
“No.” The disdain in her voice matched the emotion that John watched flicker in the golden depths of her eyes where before he’d only seen affection and desire.
“I’ll be right outside. Holler if you need me.”
Silence followed the click of the door closing. His chest heaving and aching, John stared up at Lanie. Blood dripped down his wrist and pooled at his elbow. “You have to take that cuff off. I’ve got to get out of here.”
Her stony expression didn’t change. “I don’t have to do anything, you lying rat.”
“Lanie, please.” He rattled the cuff again, hating the hoarse pleading in his voice. “You don’t understand.”
“I understand plenty. Do you have family I need to contact?”
He frowned. She knew his parents were dead, that he was an only child. “No. You—”
“So at least part of it was the truth. Wait, you didn’t really lie, did you, O’Reilly? You just didn’t tell the whole truth.”
“I know you’re angry, but I’ve got to—”
Her harsh laugh exploded in the quiet room. “Angry? I wouldn’t exactly call it anger. And what you’re going to do is stay in that bed and recuperate.”
Desperation slid under his skin. “He let Nicole go because he won’t hurt Beth in front of her. She’s in danger, and I—”
“You love her, don’t you?”
The quiet, deadly words brought him to a stop. For the first time, he glimpsed agony beneath the ice. Guilt cramped his stomach, and he softened his voice. “Lanie, I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“I’m sure you didn’t.” Her gaze didn’t move from his, but the existence of their unborn child hung between them, the double meaning heavy in her words. “Were you sleeping with her, too?”
Anger rocketed through his veins. “No, damn it, I wasn’t sleeping with her.”
“Of course not.” That same harsh laugh escaped her, and she turned away. “If she was sleeping with you, you wouldn’t have needed me, would you? So were you thinking of her while you were with me?”
Her voice dropped with the accusation, and he shook his head. He hadn’t had to think of Beth because the physical attraction, the pleasure, had always been so strong with Lanie. She’d made him forget anything or anyone else existed. “No.”
“Lanie, it’s the truth, I swear.”
She shot him a glare, sliding the infinity pendant over her head and letting it drop into a silver pool on the bed. “Right.”
He watched her move toward the door, and panicked helplessness rose in him. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to check on Nicole, and then I’m going home.”
“Take Martinez with you. Your cousin thinks Mitchell might try to use you to get back at me.”
“I can take care of myself. And as good as Cait is, there’s only one problem with her scenario—in order for Mitchell to use me against you, you’d have to give a damn about me. Goodbye, John.”
“Damn it, Lanie, I do care about you.” The words fell in the empty air, the door closing behind her. Dropping against the pillow, he muttered growling curses, jerking at the cuff and sending pain shooting up his arm and through his upper body.
She wasn’t going to listen to him. The lump of cold fear in his stomach grew larger. What if Ms. Perfect was right? What if Mitchell decided to go after Lanie?
He tugged at the cuff again. He had to get out of here. He couldn’t let another woman die because of him and his failures.
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