She wanted to give up. Multiple layers kept her from reaching Jackal, forcing her back under. His voice, which had been close, was becoming farther away. She was losing her battle to stay with him, with their child.
She wanted to cry but couldn’t, no longer even able to her own voice. She was about to give in, the pain too relentless. She felt her heart faltering one beat at a time, becoming fainter with each beat.
She stopped struggling to reach Jackal. It was useless …
His voice called her name again. That was when she remembered something Shade had taught her.
She listened to her heart, making herself take one breath at a time, forcing her heart to beat faster with each breath she took, not letting the lifeline float away. Little by little, she felt her faint heartbeat become stronger and stronger.
At first, she couldn’t see anything. Then she saw her husband’s face staring down at her.
“Don’t you dare leave me again.” His voice was so hoarse she could barely understand him.
She tried to talk but couldn’t.
“You can’t talk. There’s a tube in your throat. Stay, babe, stay with me.”
Penni gripped his hand, trying to tell him without words that she wasn’t going anywhere, but then she fell away again.
Each day, she grew more coherent until the third day when she became alert to what was going on in the room.
Shade and Jackal were standing by the window, talking. She tried to tell them she was awake, but her throat was too sore.
“It was the doctor who saved her life. If she hadn’t recognized the symptoms of amniotic fluid embolism, Penni would have died. She said sixty-eighty percent of women who have that happen don’t live.” Jackal pressed his hand against his eyes. “If you hadn’t talked me into making Penni give up on using a midwife, she wouldn’t have made it.”
Jackal rubbed his face with both hands. “God, since the first time I met Penni, it’s like I’ve been chasing a rainbow before it disappears, trying to catch her with a butterfly net, because I was afraid she wouldn’t stay.”
“Do you know why I kept giving you hell when I found you didn’t call me about Hennessy?” Shade said, not waiting for his answer before continuing. “Whenever Penni was in town, she fussed about something you had done to piss her off: that you were doing the strippers, even how you look in your favorite dark navy shirt.
“You didn’t have to catch her with a net. I just wanted to make sure you deserved her. You took my shit and held your own. I couldn’t ask for any better for her, and I know Penni felt the same. The doctor may have saved her life, but you’re why she wanted to stay.”
Jackal gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Penni told me once she wanted to stay and smell the roses. She had already planned to stop touring with the band and stay home with the baby.”
“I know Penni. What can go wrong, usually does.” Shade turned toward the bed. “She’s awake.”
They moved to tower over her bed.
“I heard that.” She winced as the words came out.
Jackal raised her head, giving her a drink of water. “Better?”
Penni nodded, not ready to chance the pain returning by talking again.
Shade moved closer to the head of the bed, leaning down to brush a kiss across her forehead. His expression softened.
“You did good, butterfly.” Raising up, Shade put his mask firmly back into place before striding across the room to the door. “I’ll leave you alone for a minute. Then Mom and your dad want to see you.”
Her hand brushed her abdomen when she tried to sit up straight.
“The baby?” Memories struck her, and she tried to sit up, but Jackal placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Stay still. I’ll raise you up.” Jackal raised her bed slowly.
Penni’s eyes bulged at the pain in her chest and abdomen.
Shade gave her a shuttered look before leaving the room. “I’ll give you a few minutes before I let them come in.”
Was there a reason her brother had left so quickly? Penni wanted to scream at him to go get her baby, but as she opened her mouth, she saw Jackal go around her bed, bending over. Then he turned back to her again with a blanket against his chest.