Book: Tough and Tender (Bad Boy Romance Box Set)





“Trish? Are you still here?”

I jump awake at the sound of my brother’s voice and swing my legs over the side of the cot tucked into the corner of the hospital room. “I’m here,” I say, hurrying over to the hospital bed.

For the past few weeks, I practically lived at the hospital, spending all of my time with Ty when I’m not working at the bar. The nurses eventually took pity on me and pulled in a cot for me to sleep on at night.

Ty is treating me civilly now at least. I don’t know if it is because they’re keeping him doped up or because he feels bad for everything he put me through. I’m just glad he’s not his normal nasty self, so I don’t question why.

I pick up a Styrofoam cup from the bedside table, bend the straw, and place it between his parched lips.

“Are you in a lot of pain?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

The doctors aren’t giving him enough painkillers to keep the pain at a manageable level. I’m not sure if this is intentional on their part or if they’re simply being negligent.

“Yes,” he whispers hoarsely. “What else is new?”

He takes a long sip of the water then leans back and closes his eyes.

“Trish, you need to go,” he says after a long minute. “For good this time, and don’t come back.”

“For good?” I ask in surprise. “What are you talking about? You need me here. Who would take care of you?”

“The nurses,” he answers, then erupts in a fit of coughing. “Shit!” he swears. “This damn incision is killing me.”

I check the hanging IV bag of pain medicine. Empty again. I hit the call button for the nurse. Not that she will pay any attention. They usually don’t, and I have to chase them down at the nurses’ station where they gather for coffee and goodies brought in by other families. Maybe I should try bribing them, too.

“I’m serious,” he says. “It’s past time you left and got on with your life.”

“What about your life?” I ask. “Why aren’t you agreeing to take the deal you’re being offered by the Feds? I don’t understand why you’re being so stubborn. With good behavior, you will be out of prison in a few years.”

He grimaces in pain and tries to scoot up in the bed. “I would be dead in prison long before that. Big Roy has lots of friends on the inside. I’m not taking the deal, and I don’t want to hear any more about it. You wouldn’t understand my reasons, so there’s no point in trying to explain.”

“But you didn’t do the things they’re accusing you of.” I frown and try to untangle the sheets caught around his legs. “It doesn’t seem fair that you go to prison while Big Roy is still out there running around free.”

Ty opens his eyes and looks directly into mine. At times he reminds me so much of our father, the little I remember about him before he left us. One day we were a family, the next two little kids left alone with an addict mother.

“Deep down, you must know better than that. None of us are innocent, Trish. Not me, not Big Roy, and especially not Jesse. We’re all bad. Real bad. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. The best thing for you to do is save up enough money to buy a bus ticket to California or someplace else far away. Get on that bus and don’t ever come back.”

I touch his hand that the police have handcuffed to the hospital bed. It seems like overkill. Ty can’t move two inches in the bed by himself, much less crawl out of the hospital and escape.

“I can’t do that. You’re my family.”

“If you want any kind of a life, you don’t have a choice. I mean it. Don’t visit me in prison, don’t try to save Mom, and never see Jesse again. Or any other biker as far as that goes. You don’t owe any of us jack shit. You understand? Not even Mom. You remind me of that mangy stray dog that kept hanging around our house that summer. Remember him?”

I nod. “I wanted to keep him and you kept chasing him off.”

“I know. You think I wouldn’t have liked to have a dog and be a normal kid? Hell, I knew we weren’t no good for him. We didn’t have enough money to feed ourselves, much less a dog. No matter how many times I yelled at him, he kept coming back around. I knew he would be better off with any other family besides ours. Eventually he got the point and never came back. I know you’re at least as smart as that stupid dog.” 

As much as I hate to admit it, I know there is some truth to what he is saying. All of my relationships are toxic.

“The rest of us are already fucked up,” he continues. “It’s not too late for you. They’re transferring me this afternoon to the prison hospital. I don’t want you here when they come to get me. So go now.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” Everything is happening too fast. “You’re not well enough to be moved yet. I’ll talk to the doctors and see if they can stall the transfer for a few more days.”

Ty coughs again. “Don’t waste your breath. They don’t give a shit about my health. I’m a criminal, and they can’t wait for me to leave.”

A nurse pushes the door open and hurries in. “I have some pain medicine for you,” she says with a fake smile. We don’t talk as she quickly switches out the IV bags. “There is some nausea medicine in here too, so it will make you drowsy,” she warns before rushing back out the door.

“I’m staying here with you as long as I can,” I say firmly. “A few more hours isn’t going to make any difference in my grand life plan. Do you want to try some yogurt?”

I reach for the container and peel back the lid, turning away so he can’t see the tears forming. Why are they taking him away so soon? I thought they would give him a chance to post bail or something. We don’t have enough money for a lawyer, so he’s stuck with a public defender that is doing a terrible job.

Ty starts to say something and stops.

“What is it?” I ask.

The medication is already kicking in. He tries to hold his eyes open and fails. Struggling to stay awake, he mumbles something that I can’t catch. I lean closer.

“Ty? I’m still here.”

“Just go,” he mutters before falling asleep.

Tears roll down my cheeks. How am I going to be strong enough to keep it together when they take him away? I won’t be able to. There’s no way. Ty knows it too. For once in our lives, he’s thinking of me instead of himself. By pushing me away, he’s protecting me this time.

For a moment, I thought he was going to apologize. In a way, I’m glad he didn’t. An apology would have sucked me right back in again. The truth has always been there. I just didn’t want to see it. He’s bad and I can’t fix him. The only person I can fix now is myself.

Leaning down, I brush the hair back from his forehead. He’s already snoring softly. I take a deep breath. This might be the last time I ever see him. He’s treated me terribly, but he’s still my brother. Like Jesse said, I can’t choose my family and I can’t help how I feel.

“Goodbye, Ty. I love you.”