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Authors: Candace Calvert

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Critical Care (25 page)

BOOK: Critical Care
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Claire, arms full of notebooks and binders, fumbled blindly with
the key to the front door and nearly fell inside when it opened. She
laughed, remembering Logan standing on that same porch early
this morning, his arms full of breakfast. She set her pile of belongings on the table and shook her head. Less than twenty-four hours
ago she'd been ending a day with Logan that began with fishing
and concluded with a sunset and an amazing kiss. And this morning there had been so many more kisses-incredible, heart-melting
tenderness. How was it possible so much had happened in a single
day? It felt surreal, like a dream.

She glanced around the room, then whistled. "Smokey?" She
rolled her eyes. He was probably on her bed, leaving black fur all
over her white down comforter. Typical. But then, nothing really
bothered her right now. She was too giddy to care.

Logan had called her office, and they'd arranged to meet out by
the helipad for a few minutes. Just a short conversation, a covert
but knee-weakening hug and a quick kiss, like two secret agents.
Logan promised to call her later tonight when he got back to his
condo. He was playing basketball with one of the Placerville ER doctors, part of his regular routine. She'd been touched when he
apologized, but frankly Claire was relieved. Her mind was still
jumbled, and she needed time to sort it all out. Time to accept the
fact that ...

She looked at the fireplace mantel and then walked over to
Kevin's picture, a lump rising in her throat. "I've found someone,
Kev." She took a breath and felt it escape without swirling through
the old, painful hollow. "It's finally happened." She touched a
fingertip to his smiling face. "And I think you'd like him. I know
you won't believe this, but even your crazy cat likes him."

Claire turned around. How come Smokey hadn't found her?
It was dinnertime, and she could set her clock by his demanding
meows. She headed toward the bedroom. "Smokey?"

When she saw he wasn't there, she checked the bathroom, the
shower, and the laundry room, telling herself not to worry. Then
she checked under the bed, in the closets, and in the kitchen, feeling anxiety rise. She hardly ever blocked the pet door until nighttime, because that was normally when the raccoons and opossums
came out. Smokey stayed inside during the day, so-

Claire's breath caught as she peered onto the deck. Oh no. She
opened the door and knelt down, picking up the clumps of fur
outside the pet door. Black fur, Smokey's fur. And a trail of dried
footprints. Slender, like palm prints. With five toes.

Sarah moaned, squinting into the light ... too bright, too much.
Her back was stiff and sore, and ... oh, the rocking chair. She'd
fallen asleep in the rocking chair; she'd get up and get into bed,
get some z's before work. She moved and the prescription bottle
rolled in her lap.

It had taken two pills last night, plus two glasses of wine. And
still she'd slept precious little. She stroked the small quilted blanket
on her lap. How could she sleep, with the pain of knowing that the
stroke of midnight made it officially Emily's second birthday? But
maybe now she could turn off the merciless blinding lamp and get
into bed, and-oh no!

She rubbed her eyes and stared at the window. The sun. Not a
lamp. Sunlight because it was-she jerked her head, looking frantically from the clock to her watch-quarter to seven? Fifteen minutes before her shift started? No, no. Her heart thudded in her ears.
I can't be late. She shoved the pill bottle into her pocket and rose
from the rocking chair, the baby blanket sliding onto the floor.
Her sleep-deprived brain, fuzzy like it was wrapped in sterile cotton, scrambled to make a plan. She was still in her scrubs from
yesterday, so ...

Sarah took a step, and her knees buckled as a wave of dizziness
swept over her. Her stomach roiled and perspiration prickled her
forehead. It was hard to see. She shook her head, but it didn't help.
Low blood sugar probably-she hadn't eaten last night, and there
was no time now. She'd get something at the hospital. But if she
was too woozy to drive, how would she get to work?

Think, think. She'd take a cab. Good. No. How would she
explain that to Erin? What would Logan think? But then what
would he think if she wasn't there? if she let him down again? if
Erin had to explain that Sarah's behavior was unsafe to patients?
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, remembering the humiliation of
being sent home.

If there was one way to honor Emily on her birthday it was to
be where Sarah could make a difference, where her skills could save
lives. In the ER. The only place I count for anything.

She was okay to drive. She was tough. She'd splash some water
on her face, grab her purse, and take every shortcut she knew.
Logan could count on her.

"Hey, Claire." Erin looked up as Claire walked into the hospital
chapel, surprised and grateful to see her so early. A friendly face
was exactly what she needed. Along with a plan for dealing with
Brad that didn't result in eating prison food for the rest of her life.
The angry snarl of disbelief twisted beneath Erin's ribs. He's a thief.
And I'm a fool. Again.

"Hey yourself." Claire handed her a cup of coffee and then sat
down beside her. "My turn-raspberry mocha."

"Thanks. It's exactly what I need right now." Erin fought
against the sting of tears. No. No way was she going to cry. Or start
any ugly venting. She wasn't about to dump all this on Claire and
ruin her day. That's what punching bags were for. She cleared her
throat. "Why are you here so early? Urgent care opens at ten; you
could've stayed in bed another couple of hours, pal." She took a
sip of her coffee, sweet and rich.

"I couldn't sleep."

Erin nodded sympathetically, though she doubted Claire's
insomnia had anything to do with fantasies about lashing a certain
car salesman to the hood of a luxury SUV, driving it to the edge of
a Sierra cliff, and ... Erin fought the image down.

"Actually I've been up since dawn looking for Smokey-you know, the crazy cat. He's run off." Claire frowned. "But since I was up,
I thought I'd get here early and catch the HR director about my application for the clinical educator position. They should be announcing
the choice on Monday, and I want to do a little last-minute campaigning." Claire studied Erin's face. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Sure. Absolutely." She lifted the coffee cup. "Only not awake
yet. This'll help. Hopefully I'll have some folks wandering in for
Faith QD in a minute here. Who knows, maybe McSnarly will
finally show. I'm not giving up on him yet."

"Well . . ." Claire's gaze moved toward the altar decorated by
the women's auxiliary with a wicker basket of daffodils. "There's
always hope." She turned back to Erin. "Anyway, I'm here. You're
here." She patted Erin's hand and smiled, her eyes warm. "And I
seem to recall this truly amazing book saying, 'For where two or
three come together ...

"Amen." Erin's eyes brimmed with tears despite her grin. "Good
company, indeed." She held her coffee aside and wrapped one arm
around Claire in a tight hug. "Thank you for being here. It means
more than you can know."

"Ditto," Claire said as Erin leaned back in her chair again. "And I'm
glad you'll be close by in case I need your help in the clinic today."

"Count on it," Erin said, suspecting once again that this former
ER nurse was unsure of herself. "Just call me. I'll need a break. Logan
will be watching Keeley Roberts like a vulture over a wounded jackrabbit, and I may end up as referee. Thank goodness Sarah will be
here. She probably has Logan's coffee brewing already."

Sarah slammed the Jetta into reverse, remembering at the last
second to glance over her shoulder. It was garbage day, and her neighbor had a habit of pushing her can into Sarah's driveway. If
she hit it, there would be precious seconds wasted getting out of
the car to shove the can and disgusting mess aside. There was no
time for any slipups. She hadn't even had time to brush her teeth,
for goodness' sake.

She fumbled on the console for a stick of gum as she pulled out
into the street, then groaned as the thought came to her. Garbage
day. Perfect name for a day spoiled by those sleeping pills, wine,
and oversleeping. In an instant, guilt jabbed without mercy and
her eyes blurred with tears. No. Not garbage day. Emily's birthday.
The best day of my life.

She had only herself to blame for the mess of today. And for all
the sad yesterdays leading up to it. Her fault. My sin. No one else's.
Now she had to do whatever she could to make up for it. To stop
anything else bad from happening. Sarah glanced at the digital clock
on the dash-7:04. Fortunately her fourplex was just minutes from
the hospital. If she took the access road, she'd miss the stoplights.
Then she'd hop onto the freeway for the last mile and cross the overpass. Sarah pressed the accelerator down hard and sped off.

By the time she'd passed the second corner, she managed to
reassure herself a little. Though it was only Keeley Roberts's second
shift, she was a skilled veteran and would be an acceptable backup in
the fifteen minutes or so that Sarah would be gone. Erin was there,
after all. Logan would still grumble undoubtedly, but Sarah could
make him smile. He knew he could count on her. Sarah's stomach
churned. That's a lie. She'd fouled it all up. Sent home yesterday, late
again today. He'd never trust her again. Never, ever forgive me.

Sarah whipped her head side to side as she approached the
four-way stop, then pressed the Jetta forward without braking. The
freeway on-ramp was just ahead. Almost there, almost there. Her mouth was dry, and her pulse vibrated inside her sleep-fuzzy head
as if her heart had torn loose from her chest somehow and drifted
upward like a helium balloon.

Good, there it is. Sarah passed the freeway's hospital sign, spotted
the exit, and flattened the accelerator. Light traffic, thank goodness. Wait. Hold on. Why was that yellow van going so slowly?
Crawling along, for heaven's sake. A school van, with kids at the
window, waving and laughing. Sarah's breath caught. Oh no. It was
stalled, stopped. No!

She jammed her foot against the brake, but the distance kept
closing like something out of a horrible dream; the faces of the
kids getting clearer, their smiles fading, their mouths opening wide,
screaming. Oh, please don't let me hit them! She gripped the wheel,
nearly standing up as she crushed the Jetta's brake pedal to the floor
and then made the only decision she could. Don't hurt the kids. Don't
hurt the kids. . . . She cranked the wheel hard left, away from the
van, using all her strength. Her shoulder strained in its socket as she
struggled to prevent the wheel from straightening out.

She felt the impact at the rear as she clipped the van, her seat
belt biting viciously into her collarbone as the car tipped sideways
and slid across the intersection toward the overpass guardrail.

There was the acrid smell of smoking rubber, horrible sounds ...
honking, so much honking, shattering glass, ripping metal, and
something hard slamming against her chest. Piercing and unbearable pain, her gargled scream ... and finally merciful blackness.

BOOK: Critical Care
8.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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