Excerpt: Allies & Enemies

The sun struggled to shine through the clouds, and it was one of those days destined to be miserable. Not just because of the weather, but because of the girl sobbing out her heartbreak on a sterile hospital bed, the sheets pulled up around her shoulders as she buried her face in the flat and lumpy pillow.

Vereint clenched his hands together on the handles of the two shopping bags he held. It took all of his willpower to keep from running into the room and scooping her into his arms. Instead, he stood in the hallway and watched through the window as she mourned the loss of her parents. Behind and to the left of him, he could hear Warrick talking to the nurse and the social worker, and Vereint was sure everything was just about worked out.

They were going to take that little girl home and give her a family and make sure she grew up knowing that she was loved. He didn’t think they could ever erase the loss of her parents, but they would try their best to make her realize she still had a whole life to live and they would be there for her.

Vereint heard the slight scuff of dress shoes on the linoleum floor, and then Warrick’s arm settled across his shoulders. He didn’t hesitate to hug Warrick’s wrist against his chest. He breathed in the scent that his brain uniquely identified as Warrick Reidenger Tobias and something screaming and tight in his chest released. “Do we get to take her now?”

“I talked them around,” Warrick said. “There will be social service visits and we’ll have a social worker assigned. They’ll still be looking for any family she has, but she gets to go home with us tonight. They say she’s all right, just shaken up, so it’ll be better for her if she doesn’t spend another night in the hospital.”

“Good.” Vereint had never been fond of hospitals. Just the smell and the sounds were enough to make him uncomfortable; he couldn’t imagine how miserable it must be for a grieving twelve-year-old who had watched her parents die. “The guest room will be fine for tonight, and tomorrow I can go and get things to make it more comfortable.”

He’d get her a few things to make her feel welcome, then later after her grief had a chance to settle he would take her to pick out things she wanted for herself. It would give them a chance to bond. He wondered what she looked like when she smiled.

“Here comes the social worker,” Warrick said.

There was the clack-clack of sensible pumps attached to a tall, thin woman with a pair of no-nonsense glasses perched on her nose. She looked like she might be kind, but also as though she didn’t suffer fools. The subdued floral print of her purple and black blouse showed she had a softer side that they would be able to appeal to.

“Mr. Georges-Tobias, Mr. Tobias, I’m Nancy Daniels and I’ve been assigned to Melissa’s case.” Her handshake was brusque and businesslike. She wasn’t ready to be friends, not until she was sure of them, but Vereint knew she was the kind of ally they were going to need. He’d done a bit of research about child services, and while money could take them far, they would need her help to smooth away the minor irritations of the legal system.

He smiled at her, trying to pour on the charm without going too far over the top. “Thank you. I’m just glad you’re letting us take her home with us.”

She sighed. “It will be nice for her to be out of here. From what the nurses have said, last night was not a good night for her.” She walked toward the door. “Come along and I’ll introduce you.”

Warrick reached the door first and held it open with easy grace. He brushed his hand against the small of Vereint’s back as Vereint passed by him. Vereint gave him a smile before his attention was caught by the girl on the bed.

Melissa was a cute Korean-American girl with long black hair and a triangular-shaped face. She was short, her body so tiny that her head looked large in comparison. With the opening of the door, she hastily sat up, raking her hands through the tangled mess of her hair and scrubbing at her eyes with the corner of the sheet. Her face was still blotchy and red, but her chin firmed as she pretended she hadn’t been crying.

“What do you want?” she asked, her lips twitching as she tried to maintain her control. She blinked rapidly to clear the gleam of tears from her eyes.

“Hello, Melissa,” Nancy said, her voice gentle and soothing. “I know you said you want to leave the hospital, and that’s why I’ve brought these two gentlemen with me. This is Vereint Georges-Tobias and his husband Warrick Tobias. They want you to stay with them until everything gets figured out.”

Melissa gave them a suspicious glare. “I don’t know them. I don’t want to go anywhere with them.”

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Nancy said, “but Vereint and Warrick are offering you a safe place to stay.”

Vereint stepped forward, shifting the bags until they hung from his left wrist, and held up his hands, palms out so she could see that they were empty. He gave Melissa a tentative smile. “Hi. I can tell you want to get out of here. I don’t much like hospitals myself, and it must be pretty cold here at night, huh?”

Her black eyes were still suspicious, but she gave a nod of grudging agreement. “The blankets are thin and you can hear everything that goes on at night. I think the man in the next room died last night; there was a big ruckus and people were running in and out.” Her chin was a hard nob that she refused to let tremble.

Vereint pressed his lips together. He’d pushed for her to be put in a different unit of the hospital, but her brush with the freeze ray that had shot her parents meant she needed close observation. At least, that had been the line the doctor had given when Vereint had asked if she could be discharged two days ago. Vereint didn’t think a lonely and sterile hospital room was a healthy environment for a traumatized child. He didn’t want to see her spirit damaged.

The fact that she was defensive made him like her more. He’d felt as though something had stabbed him in the chest the first time he’d seen her after her parents’ death. He’d never believed in fate, but it was obvious to him that he and Warrick had to take her home and raise her as their daughter. There had been so much hurt in her eyes when they’d met his and so much spirit beyond that, it had been no effort at all to nudge Warrick into grudging action.

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