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Authors: Candace Calvert

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Critical Care (10 page)

BOOK: Critical Care
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Now there was Logan Caldwell, the source of the worst confusion of all. When Claire was around him, her usually wellcontrolled emotions got the best of her. There was that strange,
prickly anger that seemed to go deeper than mere advocacy for the
nursing staff, a raw new awareness of her loneliness, and-worst of
all-an unbearably painful need for ... hope. Hope that it might
be possible to feel good again. That happiness could be as real as
those glorious hills of daffodils.

The trouble was, she couldn't seem to have one without the
other. It was like one emotion set the others spinning; a sliver of
hope-that wonderful hug-started a painful rush of memories.
Claire wouldn't risk that. She couldn't come undone again, because
she might not survive it this time. Even if Logan's arms around her
and the brief silly laughter had made her feel more alive than she
had in a long, long time.

She wasn't going back to the ER. She was sticking to the plan
she'd made. She'd pray harder, that's all.

Claire tossed the dusty silk daffodils into the wastebasket. They
didn't fit in Kevin's house, and she couldn't look at them anymore.
She rinsed Smokey's dish and headed for the shower.

The blinking light on the bedroom answering machine caught
her eye. Claire shook her head. Mom again, she'd bet, with information on Phoenix hospitals. She'd told her mother that she'd
consider moving only as a backup plan; she was going to get that
clinical educator position. She'd been interviewed, and she'd hear
within a couple of weeks. Sorry, Mom. Claire sat on the bed and
pressed the button.

"Claire, Merlene Hibbert. I'm sending you to the urgent care
clinic tomorrow. One of the ER nurses quit, and I can't find a

Claire held her breath as the nursing director continued.

"I know how you feel, but this is temporary. Erin's pulling
the clinic nurse into the ER. She'll do the acute care, and you'll
take her place in the clinic. Should be a snap for you." Merlene
sighed. "I know you want all your hours assigned to the education
department, but your hiring status allows us to float you to other
departments when need arises. And right now I'm in a bind. If Dr.
Caldwell is short-staffed tomorrow, there'll be the devil to pay."

Sarah Burke checked her watch and picked up her pace, her lavender clogs squeaking double-time against Sierra Mercy's flooring.

She popped the pull tab on the morning's second Diet Coke
and held the can safely out of splash range as she hustled. It wasn't
that she was late, but she wasn't as early as she'd wanted to be
today. Six thirty, and she'd planned to be in the ER by six fifteen,
which would have given her plenty of time to make sure things
were organized and ready to go by the start of day shift. She didn't
give a flying fig that the night crew hated her second-guessing their
ability to stock the department. Or that she didn't trust them to
check the resuscitation equipment: cardiac defibrillator, bulbs in
the laryngoscopes, the suction machines, oxygen tanks ...

The only time Sarah could be assured everything was done
right was when she did it herself-lives depended on that. And
Logan counted on Sarah's extra diligence. Respected her competence. She wasn't about to let that end; it had become as important
as breathing. Sarah swallowed against a lump in her throat. The
truth was, Logan's respect made Sarah feel better about herself than
anything had in years.

She rounded the corner at the radiology suite, snapped a salute
as she passed Merlene Hibbert riding herd on a group of nursing students, and strode along the last corridor leading to the ER. She
frowned as she spotted overfilled linen carts, several abandoned
wheelchairs, and an unloaded supply cart.

Then she continued past the doors to the chapel. Open
doors ... Oh, that's right. Sarah slowed, then stopped and backed
up a few steps to peek into the drab, nondenominational sanctuary. She took a sip of her cola and shook her head. Erin and her
Faith QD. She'd never met a more dedicated charge nurse, and she
had to give her an E for effort on this undertaking, but was Erin
ever going to find any more recruits? Only two people had ordered
those logo T-shirts.

Sarah peered cautiously into the room used most often by families of very sick patients, a place to pray for the strength needed to
wait, to cope, and sometimes to let go. It was where the hospital
chaplain offered informal services for staff pulling shifts on Easter and Christmas, and once the site of a wedding between two
wheelchair-bound oldsters who'd fallen in love in the skilled nursing wing. Someone said they'd had accordion music and bread
pudding with pink candles instead of wedding cake.

But now it was just Erin, Inez, and a ruddy-cheeked woman
with a hairnet whom Sarah vaguely recognized as a new cafeteria
employee. Bowing their heads and voicing concerns, asking God
to be present during their workday. Or at least that was the plan
Erin described when she invited Sarah. An invitation she'd quickly

Sarah stepped backward as Erin raised her head; then she hurried toward the ER before the charge nurse could spot her.

Erin didn't need to know that Sarah left God on the outskirts
of Pollock Pines a few years ago. That awful Sunday morning her
mother confronted her in the church parking lot. "You don't belong with these good people," she'd hissed. "Sin's written all over you,
and I can't bear it-be packed and gone by the time your father and
I get home. You're a disappointment, Sarah Lynne."

Faith QD: faith every day. Nice thought. She hoped it worked
for Erin and the rest of her staff. But Sarah wouldn't be ordering a
T-shirt. You could count on that.

Sarah emptied the cola can and took aim at the trash container outside the emergency department doors. Then noticed the
tremble in her fingers. Too little sleep, too much caffeine. She was
so tired, but she had to soldier on. There was work to do.

Logan bit back a curse and forced himself to concentrate on the
task at hand, stitching up a writhing, tattooed drunk. So far it
was the highlight of the day, which explained his mood. Not that
Merlene Hibbert hadn't just come right out and asked, "Now then,
what's got our knickers in a twist today, Dr. Caldwell?"

Logan chuckled to himself; the woman was one of a kind, for
sure. Maybe he was irritable but not without reason. Two very good
reasons. One of them was the fact that the hospital's chief of staff
was suddenly nosing around, his crisp khakis, blue blazer, and dotted Brooks Brothers tie standing out like a foreign costume in the
ER's sea of scrubs. What was up? Was it about the nurse who had
walked out after her public tirade about Logan? All he needed was
another barrage of complaints like he'd had in Reno.

The other reason for his mood, the one that was making him
even edgier, was the fact that Claire had shown up this morning.
The educator, but without her usual workday suit and briefcase,
too-tight smile, and armload of pamphlets. Dressed instead in soft
pink scrubs and white clogs, a purple stethoscope around her neck, and all that dark hair piled on top of her head like she was headed
for a garden party instead of a clinic shift. In truth, she'd taken his
breath away.

She'd parked her SUV beside Logan's bike and stridden in with
her shoulders squared and pretty chin lifted with determination,
but he caught the look in those gray eyes. Easy to diagnose: out of
her element and a little vulnerable. He already knew her enough
to know she'd hate feeling that way. It had taken all his strength
to resist putting his arms around her.

And now Claire was working in the urgent care just a few steps
away. A clinic he was responsible for, but it was under the direct
supervision of a very competent nurse-practitioner. So competent,
unfortunately, that there was little likelihood Logan would need
to go over there. Unless ... No, he wasn't going over there. Just
like he wasn't going to lose any more sleep thinking about what it
might have been like to kiss Claire yesterday. Ah, man, he'd wanted
that. But she hadn't wanted to be kissed. She'd probably rather slug
him. Hadn't she tried to take his head off when she accused him
of not caring about his staff? Yes. But then there was that look on
her face when she'd thanked him for the daffodils, followed by an
out-of-the-blue hug.

"Hey, buddy, hold still, okay?" Logan tapped a gloved finger
against the green towel covering his patient's head. He skillfully
pierced each edge of the scalp wound with a semicircular cutting
needle, grasping its end with a needle holder and pulling the nylon
suture taut before tying triple knots. He snipped the suture and
inspected his work. It would likely take a total of eighteen stitches
to repair the damage caused by the business end of a broken bottle.
This guy wasn't having much of a morning either. After a night
that had continued long after the bars closed.

Logan set the scissors down and sighed with frustration as the
man thrashed on the gurney, sending a stack of iodine-soaked
gauze squares hurtling to the floor. The sterile drape slid away from
the tidy line of sutures to expose the man's bullish, blood-speckled
neck and a partially visible Born to be Wild tattoo.

"Easy, Wild Man," Logan said, trying to protect his sterile field.
He nodded with gratitude as Sarah arrived from out of nowhere to
assist. "I'm not a rodeo vet," he advised his patient. "Hold still for
me, okay? Almost done here."

The man mumbled, gave a beery belch, and Logan grimaced.
Not that he wasn't used to moving targets, or drunks, for that matter. He'd learned way too much about alcoholics firsthand. It was
the reason he never took a drink himself.

The painful lessons started early. When at age eight Logan
learned to hide his mother's car keys, snuff her discarded cigarettes, cajole her during raging hangovers, and make excuses to
friends and teachers. More than once Logan had to talk his father
out of punching the daylights out of a neighbor man he'd caught
her kissing. By twelve, Logan had taken charge of his two little
brothers and struggled to hold his father together after she wadded
her clothes into grocery sacks, drained their Christmas account,
and caught a Greyhound bus.

"You'll be out of here soon, pal," Logan told the drunk.

Sarah reached a gloved hand over the sterile field to snip the
last of the sutures for Logan, leaving the nylon exactly long enough
for easy removal later on. Too long and the sutures would mat in
the hair and increase the chance of infection. Too short and they'd
be a beast to find later for removal.

Logan pulled the last suture through. "You spoil me for anyone else. How'd you learn to read my mind? I could understand if you
were a battle-scarred nurse with fifty years in the OR, but ..."

"My dad," Sarah said, snipping the last suture. She smiled, and
there was something in her eyes that Logan had never seen before.
Wistfulness, maybe even happiness.

"Your father's a doctor?"

"Nope. A mechanic," Sarah said with a chuckle. "The best. He
owns a body shop in Pollock Pines. I used to help him work on our
cars at home and at the shop sometimes too when he stayed late
and everyone else was gone. We'd have the Stones jammin' on the
speakers, and we'd drink bottles of Coke and eat spicy pepperoni
sticks. I would do this impression of Jagger, holding a huge Crescent wrench like a microphone: `I can't get no satis-fac-shun,' and
he'd laugh so hard...."

Her voice got thick and she cleared her throat. "I knew all the
tools, exactly what he'd need next. He used to say I could read
his mind. Same way you did just now. Anyway, that was a long
time ago. And lucky for you I went to nursing school instead of
working at the speedway." She grinned. "They begged me, you

"I'll bet." Logan smiled back, having no problem imagining
Sarah in grease-smudged overalls and a backward ball cap. It struck
him this was the first time they'd talked about anything personal.
"So you're Daddy's girl?"

BOOK: Critical Care
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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