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Fourkeeps: Ever After Duet, Book 2 by Jayne Rylon (1)

1

Ford Westbrook rubbed his stomach through his dress shirt. The motion didn’t calm the growling and churning anymore. “Hey Brady, didn’t you say Kari was bringing some dinner over to the office?”

Blinking, Brady Arman looked up from the closing remarks he’d been drafting for a high-profile case their law firm was handling. He studied the clock as if it didn’t make sense. “Yeah. Is that right? It’s really eight already? She thought she might get here by six. I did tell her to take her time, but...”

Their other partner, Josh King, shook his head. “Are you saying she’s over two hours late? That’s not like her.”

Ford paced the office carpet. “Something’s up. Either you can call her and check on her or I will.”

Brady frowned. “I don’t want to go full barbarian on her. She quit her job here for exactly this reason. She didn’t want us nosing around in every corner of her business.”

“Normally I would agree with you,” Josh said to Brady. “Except she’s always on time. If something came up, she would have at least texted you to let you know her plans had changed.”

“That was when she was our employee,” Brady argued. “Now she’s our girlfriend…I guess. Big difference. We can’t act like we own her or we risk losing that privilege too.”

“I get it. I do.” Ford nodded. “But sorry, you’re outvoted this time. We’ve waited long enough.”

“You call her,” Josh told Ford, then turned to Brady. “It’s okay, she’ll understand we’re worried for her. And honestly, I’m hungry enough to eat that damn case file by now. If she’s not coming, I’ve got to order something or run down to the hotdog cart on the corner.”

“Damn, you are desperate.” Brady frowned.

“Hey, if their special seasoning is the taste of burnt roaches, then I like bugs every once in a while,” Josh joked. It didn’t really help cut the tension escalating between the three men, though.

Ford hesitated just long enough for Brady to reluctantly agree. “Okay, fine. Do it. But if she’s pissed, it’s your fault. And I don’t plan to stop seeing her because the two of you have a falling out.”

“I’m happy to take the blame so long as she’s all right.” Ford nodded then pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed. None of them were experienced at serious relationships and this one was far more complicated than most. It was going to take some work and some getting used to, all of which he was prepared to handle.

Of course, he couldn’t do that if Kari wasn’t around or even taking their calls.

His face fell. “Voicemail.”

Brady looked like he might have puked if his stomach weren’t empty. “What if something really happened? And I…oh shit.

Josh put his hand on Brady’s shoulder and squeezed.

Brady whipped out his own phone and tapped the screen a few times before putting it to his ear. He looked up at Ford and Josh in horror. “Voicemail.”

“Maybe I’m the lucky one tonight?” Josh didn’t sound hopeful, but he grabbed his cell too. He dialed, then paused before pulling it away from his face. He stared at it shock for a moment before saying, “Hello? Who the hell is this? Where’s Kari?”

The silence that followed was one of the longest of Ford’s life. Before Josh even finished listening, he was motioning for Ford and Brady to follow him. He dropped his case notes and sprinted toward the elevators, his loosened tie flapping behind him.

What. The. Fuck!

Ford and Brady followed without question. Screw the trial. Forget their work. If Kari needed them, that was most important.

“Is she okay?” Ford asked as he smashed the elevator button and flicked his gaze to Josh.

Josh didn’t answer right away, though sweat began to dot his brow, making a knot settle in Ford’s guts. The acid burning in them had nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with cold dread.

“Josh!” Brady shouted. “What the hell?”

He mumbled to the person on the phone, “Thank you. We’ll be right there.”

“Where are we going?” Ford asked.

“St. Mary’s Hospital,” Josh responded, his normally chipper and enthusiastic tone terrifyingly devoid of emotion.

“Why? Is Kari okay?” Brady grabbed Josh’s arm.

He shook his head then buried his face in his hands. “They don’t know yet. She was brought in nearly three hours ago. Hit by a car. She’s still in the trauma center under some sort of protective order and they can’t release information over the phone. We’re lucky that nurse answered at all. I got the feeling she wasn’t really supposed to do that. Because we all called at once, she probably figured Kari’s family was freaking out.”

They were.

Freaking out. And her family. They were both.

In that moment, Ford knew it absolutely. If—no, as soon as—he could tell Kari, he would do just that. It was time they admitted they were playing for keeps.

Brady was one step ahead of Ford, his fingers flying over the screen of his phone as they rode the elevator downstairs. “Bronson is bringing the car around. He should be out front in two minutes.”

“Fuck!” Ford punched the embossed paneling of the elevator. He’d only felt this helpless once before, when they’d realized that Kari had been assaulted by Marty right under their noses.

She’d already suffered so much. She didn’t deserve this too.

“This is my fault,” Brady groaned as they piled onto the curb. He bent over, his hands on his knees.

“It’s not.” Ford shut that shit down fast. “It was an accident.”

And he would make damn sure that if the driver had been reckless or intoxicated or distracted, they would pay for hurting the woman he was coming to love.

That thought hit him so hard, he might as well have stepped out into traffic himself.

Sure, he’d always respected her. Appreciated her skills in the office and the beauty even her stark wardrobe couldn’t obscure. He’d looked forward to their easy conversations. But when she’d unraveled in his arms the other night while his partners gave her the tiniest taste of what they were capable of and she’d absorbed it all plus reflected it back, he’d known deep down.

She was meant to be theirs.

No one was going to take that from them.

“I should have insisted that Bronson drive her here.” Brady groaned and swayed.

Josh put his hand on Brady’s back. “That’s not what she needs from us. That wasn’t what she wanted. You respected her choices, which is the only way this will ever work. If we get the chance…”

He trailed off, clearing his throat as if considering any other possibility was too painful.

Because it was.

Tires squealed right then as Bronson took the corner out of the garage nearly on two wheels. The guys didn’t wait. Together they bolted toward him and piled inside when he screeched to a halt.

No one spoke again as they flew through the city on the blessedly short drive to the hospital.

It was hard enough to breathe, never mind form coherent thoughts.

Until he saw Kari, nothing would be right in Ford’s world. From the grim expressions on Brady and Josh’s faces, he knew it was the same for them.

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