“Max, stop,” Jen screams as she pulls on her husband’s arm, and it’s like she’s a paperweight as she practically dragged across the room.
My security team springs into action, but I hold a hand up, causing them to stop. I catch Jonathan attempting to pull Val out of the way, but she’s standing firm beside me. So, I manage to push her behind me and out of harm’s way. I hear her give a little protest, but I can sense as Max closes in that she’s taken ten steps back.
“Oh, my God, Maxwell, stop!” Jen yells again.
But it’s too late, Max shoves me by my shoulders, causing me to take a few steps back, but I remain unfazed. I’m not going to be the first one to swing, even though I want to clock his brains out. Not yet, at least. “We should have been called the moment she was taken to the hospital. But, instead, I find out by my wife leaving a damn note and running off to New York.”
“Sounds like a personal problem,” I say dryly.
Max snorts out a dry, sardonic laugh, “You’re my god damn problem.” He bellows as he shoves me back again. “Where is this party-fighting Mr. Hollywood I’ve heard so much about. Come on, let’s settle this.”
“Maxwell,” Jen screams as she puts herself between us. “Stop, he didn’t do anything. Thomas was involved in the crash too, and so was Travis.” She states, pointing blindly in Travis’s direction.
Max takes his wife by the shoulders and gets down to her face. His face is a deep shade of red, and convinced of a false truth he’s set to believe in. “Don’t let him lie to you. He was probably driving the damn car. There was no drunk driver. Just some bullshit excuse delivered by his PR team.”
Now he’s crossed a fucking line. Before I can even move, Val has put herself between Max and me too. She turns to me, putting her palms into my chest, stopping me from moving because I’m not going to plow through her and put her in harm’s way. “Thomas, stop. Don’t start the fight.”
“Oh, why not VAL-ER-IE. Let’s finally settle this now.” Max challenges and immediately sets Val into a fight mode I didn’t know existed.
Now it’s my turn to pull Val away and out of this fight as she scrambles to remove her tennis shoe from her foot. I wave for Jonathan to remove her, and he does by wrapping his arms around her midsection. But she doesn’t go without a fight. “Fine, let’s fucking settle this, you coward piece of shit. You want a fight; let’s go.” She spits as I watch her pull her hair into a bun and attempting to get around Jonathan. Max seems taken aback by her sudden outburst. “What’s wrong? Scared of being taken down by a fucking girl? Come on, you fucking twat face! You think I’m bad? Watch your fucking back. Xayla is around the corner waiting to lodge her heel into your damn ear canal!”
“Maxwell, seriously stop. What’s gotten into you?” Jen pleads in a sad attempt of trying to push her husband back and away from everyone.
Max looks back down to his wife, and I watch his eyes glaze back over with rage as he points in my direction. “He’s my problem. He’s corrupted Ryann’s life and caused her to pull away from her family. This isn’t the Ryann that we know.”
Jen shakes her head frantically, “It is the Ryann that we know, but it’s a better and improved Ryann. Max, she’s doing so well out here and working with Thomas and Val. Please calm down, and just listen to me.” Jen urges as she attempts to calm her husband down.
Max shrugs out of her hold before turning and walking the opposite direction and starts to pace the room and grunting out his frustrations. I watch Jen run a hand through her with determination before running off to her husband. Her whispers are harsh and muffled, and I can’t make out a word she’s saying. But they’re words that I don’t care about as my eyes wander over to an irritated mother watching her son-in-law act out like a purulent child who just dropped his sucker.
Taking a deep breath in, I decide I’m going to be the one to break the ice with Betty while Jen has Max somewhat distracted.
“A drunk driver hit us,” I say softly as I find I can no longer keep Betty’s eye contact. I watched a mother’s worst fear come to light, and I don’t think I can watch the heartbreak in her eyes. “Our driver did a maneuver that saved Ryann’s life but cost him his. She had some internal bleeding that the surgeons were able to stop and were able to fix her dislocated shoulder. But she hit her head against the window on impact, and there was some swelling on her brain. So her doctors decided that it would be best for her body to heal, to put her in a medically induced coma until that swelling went down. They did testing today, and the swelling has gone down enough that they’re starting to wean her off the medication to wake her and....” I break off as I attempt to swallow the lump forming in my throat again. The pain in Betty’s hazel eyes is almost too unbearable for me to witness.
“And....” Jen continues when I find that I need a comment to compose myself. “They’re hoping that she’ll be awake by the end of the week. If not sooner, but the doctors did note that she’ll still have a long road to recovery and want her to stay in New York until she’s cleared to travel; back home to Cali.”
Max snorts, “Like hell, she’s coming back home to Indiana. That is her home. Not California. She has nothing there.”
Like hell. Ryann has more there than she does in the fucking Hoosier state, and I’ll be damned if I allow her to step back into that hometown of hers.
“Maxwell,” Jen hisses.
Looking back to Ryann’s mom, I can see tears glossing her eyes, “I’m really sorry, Mrs. Anderson. This wasn’t supposed to happen, and if I could, I would change Ryann spots.”
“You’d change her spots?” Max questions with so much venom I can feel the fire of the fight restarting. “You should be laid up in that hospital bed, not Ryann! She’s been through enough.” He can’t be serious, can he? “She doesn’t need to add this to the long list of her past. Now her sobriety is going to be hindered because I’m sure that this clown.....”
I storm towards Max, pushing him against the wall. His back collides with such a force that I’m surprised he’s not on the ground gasping for air. There are collective gasps and screams as I feel Travis at my back, restraining me from throwing a fucking punch. I also catch Jonathan attempting to control a pissed-off Val as she tries to join the fight.
We have officially lost our damn minds. Forget composure; it’s now out the window. The only sane individuals keeping this fight in check are Travis, Jonathan, and Heather.
“For your information, I’m fully aware of Ryann and her past. Sobriety and all. So, don’t act all high and mighty to me, Maxwell Johnson. Ryann’s sobriety has been protected since before she came to this hospital.” My voice is low, booming, and threatening. I’m ready for a fucking fight.
“Right, and I’m going to trust some alcoholic A-list.....”
Pulling against Travis’s hold, I nearly break free with clenched fists, but Travis recovers quickly as he places my arms behind my back. “Ha, that’s rich coming from you.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” Max challenges. It’s easy to challenge me when I’m the one being restrained suddenly.
“It means Maxwell Johnson that your trust and honesty is worth shit.” I spit through my teeth.
“What is he talking about, Max?” Jen questions.
“Thomas, enough.” Val hisses across the room. But I’m so lost, and all I’m seeing is fucking red that I don’t think I can stop.
“My trust and honesty are worth more than yours!” Max spits before he suddenly swings and makes contact with my jawline. Travis pulls me back just as Jonathan restrains Max. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of Heather standing beside Val with a firm hold on her bicep.
I watch Jen place herself between us, “Max, stop. This isn’t you. Why are you doing this? You know Ryann wouldn’t want this.”
Taking a deep breath in, Jen is right. Val is right, even though Val is preaching for the fight to end when her actions are screaming for it to continue. I know Val is just as enraged as me, but she’s trying to fight through it better than I am.
I crane my head up to the ceiling and start to count to ten when my blood is at a low simmer; I lax against Travis’s hold and stop pulling against him. “You good now?” Travis asks. Nodding my head, he stands at my side as we watch Jonathan easily restrain back a madden Maxwell.
“Because Thomas Copeland is only using Ryann. He uses women! The likes of Thomas Copeland don’t really care about her. Do you think that someone like him could....”
“MAXWELL!” Jen screams, cutting him off and causing him to jump in surprise. I watch her back rise and fall with a deep breath as she attempts to recompose herself. Then, finally, she turns to me and gives me that knowing look and an approving soft smile that I’ve yet to get. And it’s in this moment that I know she’s pieced it together. “He’s not using Ryann. They’re dating.” She says softly.
“No, no, she would have told me. She would have told Betty or Teresa.”
I watch Jen put the palms of her hands against Max’s chest, “I don’t think she’s told anyone within the family.”
“Then how do you know?” Max demands. “For all I know, this could be some sort....”
Jen shakes her head, “Because I’m not stupid, Max. Mom,” Jen says softly, turning towards her mom. “He hasn’t left Ry’s side since I’ve been here. He’s stayed with her 24/7 and refuses to leave. He’s been vigilant with what Ry is given for medication, and he’s talked to all of her doctors and the specialist. He even has a place lined up for them to stay at once she’s discharged from the hospital.” She pauses as she turns her attention back to me, and I watch as soft tears fall down her face with a happiness I have yet to see from Jen, “And I saw him kiss her forehead. I heard you talk to her the other day.” Jen admits, “You kept telling her how much you love her. How you’ll always love her.”
I’m not embarrassed that she overheard me talking to her sister. I’m not ashamed that Jen is the one who is telling her family about Ryann and me. But what I’m surprised about is that she didn’t call me out the moment she heard me. That she didn’t walk into the room to make her presence known. Instead, on that day, she left because she didn’t come by to visit until the early afternoon when I was asleep and resting my head next to Ryann’s hand. I woke to Val waking me because she had just returned, and Jen was sitting on the couch on her phone. She didn’t even wake me then. Why?
I watch Betty close the gap between her and me. Her eyes are piercing, and I know she’s pissed because of the secret relationship that her daughter kept from her. “Do you love my daughter?” She asks seriously.
Biting my lip, I swallow the nervous lump that has formed in my throat. “I do. Very much.”
I watch her twist her lips off to the side before embracing me into a tight and loving motherly hug, taking me by surprise. Returning the hug, I feel a long-lost warmth that is emitted out by the love of a mother. “Thank you for looking after her.” She says before pulling away. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not pissed at all of you for not calling me sooner.”
“I’m...I’m really sorry. I wasn’t thinking.” I admit. Well, I was, but it was purely for selfish reasons. “I wanted to make sure Ryann was okay and give you guys some good news before calling, and then Jen just showed up.”
Betty turned towards Jen, and I watch her cave to the glare that could end all glares. “And we will be talking back at the hotel Jennifer Louise. And Maxwell, go out in the hall and cool off before I send you back out to the car.”
“No,” Betty warns. “I told you to keep your tude in check, and you didn’t. So now go out into the hall, so this gentleman doesn’t have to keep restraining you.”
Jonathan turns Max towards the door of the room before releasing him. Max glares at me, and I see it before I’m able to react. A light pink tennis shoe flying across the room and nailing Max in the shoulder. Max looks suddenly surprised by the assault, Travis groans out with aggravation, and I think I heard Jonathan let out a low chuckle. But as quickly as I heard it, he’s composed himself and is now standing next to Val, whispering into her ear. But whatever words of wisdom he had to offer, I can tell by the roll of Val’s eyes she’s not interested in listening to it.
“Speak to me like that again,” Val warns. “And it will be more than my shoe you’ll have to contend to. MAX-WELL.”
Watching his lip snarl, he’s escorted out of the room by Jonathan, and I watch the door slam shut behind Max, Jen, and Jonathan. God, after today, I need to up my security details salary.
“Now, was that necessary?” Betty scolds Val.
Val shrugs a shoulder, unfazed by the motherly tone, which makes me wonder how her mother could handle Val as a kid. Or worse, a teenager. “He deserved it. Don’t act like he didn’t deserve it. You’re lucky Travis here held Thomas back, or it would be Max in the damn emergency room.”
“Language, young lady,” Betty warns.
And now Val flinches, “Sorry, Mrs. Anderson.”
Betty walks over to Val and embraces her into a hug, too, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Ry. You have no idea how happy it makes me knowing she’s someplace surrounded by people who love her.”
“It’s you I have to thank. Ry has really brought out this secret sassy side of me, and I’m lovin’ it.”
Rolling my eyes, “It’s been a real joy.”
Val laughs out as she collides into me and fiercely pats my chest, causing me to groan out in pain, “Don’t lie; it’s the main reason why I’m your new PR.”
“And in case you’ve forgotten, I was in a car accident, and I have bruised ribs and a nice seatbelt burn going across my torso. So, could you please get off?” I groan out with each pat Val delivers to my chest.
“Ohh, shit. My bad.”
Betty lets out a little laugh, “Thomas?”
Looking to Betty, “Yes, ma’am?”
“Take me to my daughter, and you can tell me how long you two have been dating and where my daughter went in October. Because I know she wasn’t in Cali, and I know she wasn’t with you.”
Talk about being put on the spot. I can feel the heat creeping up my neck as I feel trapped and forced to spill some form of the truth. There is no way I’m going to be able to lie to Ryann’s mom, and by the look on Val’s face and her sudden need to get the hell out of dodge, she knows that I’m going to have to spill the beans and she’s leaving me to fend for myself.
And I’m not going to lie; I’m nervous as hell.
Fuck. There truly is a first time for everything.