BURNING LOVE

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Backing him

He had intertwined his fingers with hers while he drove to the hospital, squeezing her hand lightly from time to time, as if he needed to reassure himself she was there with him.

He was anxious and nervous, but nobody could blame him. He doubted Maggie when she told him about her fiancé abusing her, and even though he had helped her, he still didn’t believe her and now she was in the hospital. Guilt was eating him alive.

Since they made the decision of helping Maggie throughout this situation, they had chained themselves to her fate in a way. Whatever happened to her would affect them and the kids, and that was driving Sawyer insane —even if he didn’t speak about it.

Lizbeth had never seen Sawyer that shaken and it was contagious. She was starting to feel jittery herself, but she didn’t want to say anything that could make him explode. So she just held him between both her hands, softly caressing him with her thumb.

The sky looked darker than other nights, and the calm outside the car was eerie. Her instincts wouldn’t stop yelling at her that something was off about that whole situation. But there was nothing they could really do about it. It was just a sensation and she could be wrong, so she tamped all her suspicions down and tried to focus on the present.

The trip to the hospital lasted less than twenty minutes but it seemed like a lifetime. They pulled in the parking lot and walked around the hospital to go to the emergency ward. Sawyer hadn’t let go of her hand the whole time and her palm was sweaty when he released her to change gear and stop the car.

“Sawyer… We’ll figure it out, okay?” She tried to reassure him. He looked at her with a stern expression and just nodded. The last time he put on that mask was when his mother fell from the ladder. It was painful seeing him in that state. “I’m here with you.” She grabbed his hand again and kissed it. “Don’t forget that.”

He closed his eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. “I know,” he said in a low voice. “Thank you, Kitten.”

The bright lights of the hospital forced her to squint her eyes at the beginning. Administrative personnel and nurses were moving around the entrance, talking to patients and trying to solve insurance issues. They looked around for the police officers, but they spotted them first.

“Mr.Cox?” A woman’s voice asked from behind them.

“Yeah,” Sawyer said as he turned around.

“I’m officer Morgan, this is my partner officer Brown.” She held their hands out to them.

“Hi… And call me Sawyer, please,” he asked her as he shook her hand and then officer’s Brown. “This is my girlfriend, Lizbeth.”

“Sorry to meet you in this kind of situation,” officer Brown apologized.

“What happened?” Sawyer asked without beating around the bush.

“As I let you know on the phone, Ms.Summers has been assaulted by her fiancé in her motel room. The owner heard the screams and called us right away, but the alleged aggressor…” She stopped to look through her notes. “Mr.Rogers, ran away when he heard us coming.”

“We already caught him. We found him in his apartment, as if nothing had happened,” the other officer informed them. “But we have a few questions for you.”

“Sure.” Sawyer nodded.

“You said Ms.Summers contacted you asking for help?”

“Yeah. Ten days ago I met with her and she told me about her boyfriend getting home drunk and beating her, that she needed to get out of there.”

“I see…” The brunette mumbled as she wrote down something. “What was her state back then?” She was pretty cold and hostile. Lizbeth knew she was doing her job, but they weren’t the enemy so her attitude made her feel insulted.

“Hm… I don’t know, she seemed normal. She looked a bit tired though, like she hadn’t been sleeping much.”

“Okay…”

“And what’s your relationship with her again?” The other policeman asked out of the blue.

“We’re friends,” Sawyer stated. Lizbeth squeezed his hand, telling him to tell the truth, he was talking to the police and anything he kept from them could be seen as suspicious if they found out later. “Well, Maggie and I dated for some years but we hadn’t seen each other for two until last… October?” he said more like a question, looking at Lizbeth.

“Yeah.” She nodded, tightening the grip on his hand as she caressed his forearm with the other one.

“Okay…” The woman looked at them suspiciously. “So you two have been helping her?” she asked looking at Sawyer and then at Lizbeth —a robot would have had a more expressive face.

“I told her to rent a room because I don’t have space at home to shelter her,” Sawyer didn’t exactly lie. It was true that with the kids, the dog, and Lizbeth the apartment was packed, but that wasn’t the real reason why she wasn’t staying with them. “And we’ve been in contact since then.”

“Hasn’t she mentioned someone wandering outside her apartment or any feelings that she was being followed.”

“No.”

“Actually…” Lizbeth interrupted. “She called me last week.”

“What?” Sawyer asked, puzzled.

“Continue, please,” the officer told her.

“You see… I’m a psychologist and she asked me for advice because she was having trouble sleeping.” Lizbeth looked at Sawyer. “She asked me not to tell you because she didn’t want to burden you with anything else…” Sawyer’s nose flared when he took a deep breath, Lizbeth didn’t know if he was angry or worried. “The thing is she mentioned something about being paranoid, that she had the feeling that someone was following her.”

“Why didn’t you tell her to report it?”

“I actually told her to do so because it wouldn’t be so weird that her fiancé was following her.”

“Why didn’t she call us in the end?”

“I honestly don’t know…”

“Okay. Thank you. If I have any more questions I’ll call you, and please, contact me if you get any new information that could help us with the charges against Mr.Rogers.”

“Sure.” Sawyer nodded as he took the card from the officer. “What happens now?”

“We’re going to provide her with a new mobile phone and a personal attack alarm, and tomorrow we’ll drive her to the room she rented.”

“You’re leaving her alone?” Lizbeth was shocked, she thought they would put her into a women’s shelter or something.

“There’s nothing much we can do, women protection residences can’t accept more people right now unless the case is critical, and we already got the suspect in the station. He’ll be prosecuted in the next twenty-four hours. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”

“Can we talk to her now?” Sawyer asked.

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Thanks.”

“Brown, we’re done here. Let’s go back to see what they guys have.”

“Okay. Have a good evening.” He slightly bowed, tipping his cap down.

“You too. Have a good service.”

As the police officers left the hospital, Sawyer turned to Lizbeth, his glare traveled with unnerving thoroughness across her face. Then his brows came together creasing the skin between them. “Why the fuck didn’t you tell me about Maggie calling you?” he almost growled at her, something he had never done before.

“Sawyer, she just needed advice on some techniques to deal with anxiety, there was no point in telling you about it. Besides, she asked me not to, and to be honest, I forgot to tell you when I got home that day.” Lizbeth didn’t understand why he was so angry about something so irrelevant.

Sawyer pinched the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb, letting out a frustrated sigh. “It’s not that you didn’t tell me, it’s the fact that she’s bothering you with this shit! She contacted me, and I accepted to help her, and I don’t care if she knows we’re dating, but she shouldn’t have bothered you.” He paused. “And how the fuck did she get your number?”

“I don’t know…” She looked to the floor.

He grabbed her face between both of his hands and forced her to look at him, drilling her with an intense gaze. Then, he kissed her. “It’s hard enough to know that I’m dragging you with me into this situation, so from now on, whatever it is, tell me, okay?”

“I didn’t mean to keep it from you,” she said in a low voice as she touched his hands.

“I know…” He sighed. “Sorry for snapping like that, I’m just afraid that you might do something stupid and dangerous.”

“Like what?”

“Like going to save her if something happens.” He narrowed his eyes at her, as if it was obvious she might do something crazy and reckless like that. Maybe, at another moment of her life she would have, but with the kids at home, she wouldn’t jeopardize her safety so easily.

“So you can do that but I can’t?” she teased as she circled her arms around his waist, trying to lighten the mood.

“I might, just might be, a bit stronger and bigger than you, and also trained to deal with hard situations,” he snorted with a mocking tone.

“You calling me weak?” She arched an eyebrow.

“No, I’m just telling you that I have enough with my ex being in danger, I don’t want you to get tangled into this too.” He pinched her cheek. “I’d kill me if something happened to you,” he whispered against her lips.

“I love you too,” she said before kissing him. He chuckled. “Let’s go see if she needs anything.”

“Yeah…”

Sawyer knocked on Maggie’s door and soon her voice reached them from inside the room. “Come in!”

He opened the door and let Lizbeth go in first. She stopped on her tracks as she saw her. She had been working in a horrible murder case the previous year, she had seen pictures of the bodies and read the most terrific reports. She even met the victim that survived the aggression, to later leave this world too, and she was a mess of fear, anxiety and depressión.

However, she had never seen someone close to her in that state and it made her heart sank in her chest. Sawyer stopped right behind her as a grim atmosphere wrapped around them, freezing the air in that room that seemed smaller by the second.

Both her eyes were red and puffy, probably from crying. With dark circles under her eyes and a distressing aura surrounding her, she tried to smile when she saw them, but her face soon switched into a painful expression when the cut in her lip stretched. It was heartbreaking watching her like that. As much as she had hurt Sawyer in the past, she didn’t deserve any of that. No one did.

“Don’t look at me like that, please…”

“Sorry, I… How are you feeling?” Lizbeth didn’t want to tell her the obvious, she looked as if a truck had run over her and she already knew.

“Have been better, but could have been worse… Some bruises won’t kill me, I’m tougher than that.” She tried joking, but she was nervous because she wouldn’t stop fidgeting with the hospital bracelet. That’s when Lizbeth noticed the red marks around her wrists, they looked painful.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” Sawyer asked her as he stood beside her bed.

“Not really…” Her voice quivered. “I’m just… I…” Her voice died in her throat when she fell to pieces, crying her heart out. “He— He dragged me to the bed, tied me and… and...” The sorrow and fear drowned her voice and she couldn’t say anything else.

She wrapped her arms around Sawyer’s waist and pressed her cheek to his abdomen. Her whole body was shaking, heartbroken, as the tears rolled down her face.

Sawyer was petrified for a moment, but then his hands moved to her head and caressed her, trying to calm her down. “You’re not alone, Maggie,” he said. “We’re here.” He had done a great job keeping his mask on all the time, but at that moment it melted away with the fire of the rage that was sipping through all his pores.

Lizbeth felt a lump in her throat when jealousy, fear and pity took over her. It was such an intense mix of feelings she didn’t know how to breathe.

She swallowed hard, trying to sink her emotions and focus on what really mattered then. As she approached them, she rubbed Sawyer’s back with one hand as she put the other over Maggie’s and she intertwined her fingers with hers, tightening the grip when Lizbeth curled her fingers to hold her hand. “We’ll help you out of this.”

Maggie’s sobs and her uneven, sharp breathing filled the room, making it hard for Lizbeth to stay put. She had studied psychology for one reason, and it was to teach people the secrets of the mind and its whole range of possibilities. She knew everything there was to know about traumatic experiences, but the tidal wave of emotions she was having at that moment was harrowing either way.

Suddenly, her phone rang, startling her. She got it out of her purse and saw it was Mike. She slightly frowned. “I gotta pick this up,” she told Sawyer when he looked at her. “It’s Mike.”

“Go.” He nodded.

“Be right back.”

Sawyer softly kissed her and right after that she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. “Hey, Mike.”

“Hi, Liz… Are you at the hospital?”

“Yeah, sorry we didn’t tell you anything. Maggie’s so broken… God, it’s so hard to see her like this, she’s always been so cheerful.” Her voice got caught in her throat.

“I guess…”

“By the way, the officers just told us the man’s last name. They were a bit hostile, so we didn’t ask the name, and Maggie is not in her best shape right now. Sorry…”

“Actually… I called you because I already know who he is.”

“How?” she asked, surprised. It had been barely three hours since they had separated ways and he already knew more than they did.

He sighed.

“Mike, spit it.”

“I’ve received this call from a friend of a friend of a friend that works with this guy. They wanted me to help him, which I can’t because I’m the prosecutor… But I had to let you know that he claims this is all bullshit, that his friend would have never done something like that, that there must be some sort of mistake.”

“If you saw her, you couldn’t say that...” she scoffed.

“I don’t know how to tell you this without stirring shit from the past but… Did your ex boyfriend ever hurt or threatened you?”

“What?”

“The man I spoke with told me that I should try finding his ex and ask her, and then he mentioned you…”

“None of my exes could have done something like this.” She could have broken with them for different reasons, but none of them were that kind of monster. None of them would have threatened nor verbally and physically abused a woman like that.

“These cases can be tricky sometimes…”

Her brain blocked for a moment as a bittersweet taste filled her mouth at what he was implying. The possible and harsh reality of Maggie faking all that was too much to bear. “What’s the name of the man?”

“Nicolas Rogers.” Mike’s voice was hoarse, as if letting that out burned his tongue.

“Nick? No fucking way!” She almost yelled. “There must be some sort of mistake, did you get the name right?” Her heart began to hammer in her chest, deafening her, building up an uncomfortable pressure in her head. Nick could be a lot of things, but abuser wasn’t one of them and, because of this, his career could be ruined and he could end up in prison for even ten years —she had learned a lot while working with Mike.

“Yeah, there’s no doubt. Nicolas Andrew Rogers is the man in prison charged with abuse and rape.”

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