Authors: Cate Ashwood
Tags: #gay romance
By Cate Ashwood
Zero Hour: Book Two
After his last disastrous relationship, Joseph Ford has absolutely no interest in getting attached again. Concentrating on working as a trauma nurse and keeping his life as simple as possible are his only goals. Unfortunately, his plans could be derailed by the charming, sexy Nash.
Things are looking up for paramedic Ridley Nash when he transfers to Station 217. He gets along with the crew, likes his partner, and is finally on a team willing to accept him—gay and all. It’s everything he’s always wanted, but when he meets Ford, Nash knows his life is about to get very interesting.
As Ford and Nash find themselves stuck in the middle of a homicide case, things become more complicated. For the last year, the mutilated bodies of teenage boys have been showing up all over downtown. With no leads, the police are getting desperate. One of the victims is found alive, and he’s the best chance the police have to catch the killer—if only they can get him to talk.
Will Nash be able to catch Ford when he falls, or is there too much standing in their way to make it work?
Table of Contents
For Sandra. You are an incredible editor and an even better friend. This would have been a completely different story without your help and input. I will be forever grateful.
thank-you to my beta readers/cheerleaders, who were invaluable in helping to shape and perfect this book. Sandra, Becky, Crissy, Piper, Julia, LJ, Skylar, and Trisha, you ladies are beyond wonderful!
And as always, thank you to the Dreamspinner team who always works so hard to make my books the best they can be.
thump against the wall of his apartment told Ford his neighbors were at it again. Their honeymoon phase, a blissed-out sexfest, was making him grumpier than usual. It wasn’t that he didn’t want them to be happy. He just didn’t want to hear the evidence of that happiness pounding through the tissue-paper–thin walls of his tiny downtown apartment.
For a moment he contemplated pounding right back like the cantankerous old man he was apparently becoming but thought better of it in the end. Just because he was jaded and miserable didn’t mean he needed to dispel all the happiness in the world.
But when the high-pitched feminine moans of “Oh, Steven” and “Oh baby, right there” accompanied the frenzied humping sounds, he was so out of there.
He slipped his runners on and grabbed a jacket before heading out onto the street.
The September evening was cool, made colder by the bite of moisture that hung in the air from the recent rain. Or coming rain. Ford wasn’t sure which. It seemed as though it was always raining. Fall was officially upon them, not that it made much of a difference to him. Most of his time was spent indoors—at the hospital where he worked as an trauma nurse or in his apartment, sleeping off the aftermath of those shifts.
Ford tucked his headphones into his ears and picked up the pace, jogging toward the water. The walkway along the shoreline was calming, and with the music pounding in his ears, Ford could almost forget how he felt for a while. It had already been almost six months. Six months that awful train wreck of a relationship had haunted him.
He broke into a faster run, his feet pounding metronomically against the inky pavement. The bite of the wind moving past his face made him feel as though he was cleansing himself of all thoughts of Peter. The prick didn’t deserve Ford’s thoughts anyway.
He was nearing the convention center when his phone buzzed in his pocket.
“Heya, handsome,” said Amanda, one of the nurses at Saint Joe’s. Anyone else would have missed the raggedness, the edges smoothed out by her good nature, but Ford noticed.
“Rough night?” he asked immediately.
She sighed. “How’d you guess? Wait. I wasn’t interrupting anything, was I? You sound out of breath.”
“Nope. Just running. So it’s a typical Friday night at Saint Joe’s?” Ford didn’t need to ask the question. Friday nights were always insane. Actually, most nights were insane. Saint Joseph Memorial was home to the busiest emergency room in the city. Smack-dab in the center of downtown, it was one of the largest hospitals in the area and the destination for most paramedics when someone was sick or injured.
Ford had worked there as a trauma nurse for nearly seven years. Hired off his practicum, he couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Most nights the place was an absolute shitstorm of fucked-up patients, ranging from the worst traumas to the most intense psych cases. It was always hectic, never dull, and Ford wouldn’t give it up for anything.
“Yeah. Exactly. About that….”
“When do you need me?”
Amanda’s sigh of relief floated through the phone speaker. “Have I mentioned how much I love you? As soon as you can get here would be good. Susan booked off, we’re short-staffed as it is, and it must be a full moon. There is literally a lineup out the door, the waiting room is packed, and triage can’t keep up.”
“I’ll be there in twenty,” Ford said, already turned around and headed home. His closet was stacked with neatly folded scrubs. It wouldn’t take him long to grab a set and get to the hospital.
“You’re a saint.”
“Nope, I lead a sad, sad life and have nothing better to do on a Friday night.”
“You and I both know that’s not true,” Amanda said. “But we’ll all be glad for the help anyway.”
“I’ll see you in a few.”
Ford hung up and set to getting ready for a long night.
sirens were loud, even in the distance, and Ford steeled himself as the doors slid open and he stepped inside. The hospital had a smell—potent antiseptics and sick people—that, even after seven years, he hadn’t gotten used to.
He walked directly into the ER, where the floor was a zoo of activity. Doctors, nurses, and various other hospital staff danced around each other, dodging patients and family members as they hurried from one place to another. Ford made his way to the nurses’ station in the center, doing a mental inventory of empty beds as he walked.
There weren’t any.
“Catch me up?” Ford said, sidling up to Amanda, who was poring over one of the patient binders at the desk.
She stood and wrapped her arms around him, pressing a wet kiss to his cheek. “Thank God you’re here. We’re drowning.”
“You think I’d leave my best girl without backup?”
Amanda giggled, then proceeded to give Ford the rundown on where they were at with each of their patients. The workload was divided, but there was occasional overflow between nurses when someone needed an extra hand or two. It paid to be apprised of everything going on, even if he was only responsible for a portion of the shit show.
The ambulance bay doors flew open. Adam Carson, one of the city’s paramedics and a friend of Ford’s, pushed a stretcher through as his partner pulled. Ford rushed over, tugging a pair of purple nitrile gloves on as he moved. Bleeding from the head, the patient was unconscious, and the hospital-issue blankets were pushed back from his other injury. Ford could see the blood soaking through the bandages pressed against his leg.
“Construction worker versus excavator,” Adam explained, his mouth taut. This was his game face—stoic and unchanging, never giving a hint as to what he was feeling. It was an important skill to have and one Ford himself had mastered early on. Nothing set off a patient or their family like the medical professional freaking out. No matter how bad the situation, there couldn’t be any negative reaction.
Ford walked beside Adam as he pushed, concentrating on Adam as he briefed Ford on all the information they had. There wasn’t much. The patient had been trauma stripped on scene, and Adam’s partner had started two large-bore IVs in each arm, in anticipation of the need to bolus fluids. The man’s pressure was dropping, and Ford knew from experience that the outlook was not good.
They wheeled the man into the trauma bay, where every available member of medical personnel descended, hands flying everywhere in an effort to stabilize and save the man’s life. Kendra, the third-year student nurse, stood to the side, writing notes in the patient’s chart as they worked.
“Page the OR and let them know to be expecting the patient,” Dr. Morin barked, her vision laser focused as she removed the blanket covering the patient and took an inventory of the man’s injuries.
They dealt with his wounds as much as they possibly could before transporting him to the OR, and from there it was up to Dr. Kozlowski and the surgical team. As the man was wheeled from the trauma bay toward the elevators that would take him to the surgical floor, Ford felt the energy draining from his body. Adrenaline was an incredible thing, but once it was gone, the crash happened quickly.
later and Ford was deeply regretting agreeing to come in. Amanda had been right. There had to be a full moon, or something in the water. The city had apparently gone insane, and it seemed as though half the population had ended up in Saint Joe’s ER.
He leaned down over where Amanda was sitting, head down on the desk, trying to regroup.
“Coffee?” he whispered in her ear.
She sat straight up, almost knocking him over as she rose. “I think I might be in love with you.”
Ford quirked a smile. “You and I both know that if I were into girls, you’d be the first one I’d call.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. “You’re so full of shit, but I’m going to pretend like you mean that. And yes. Coffee would be fantastic.”
“Be back,” he said. Since the beds they’d cleared had all been filled once more, there likely wouldn’t be any more patients coming in, for a few minutes at least. Anything imminently life-threatening, they’d make room for, but the patients who could stand to wait a few minutes would be diverted to other hospitals in the area or made to sit in the waiting room for God only knew how long.
Ford took the opportunity to sneak away from the nurses’ station. He craved the kick of caffeine, but even more than that, he needed to step away from the pandemonium of the emergency room, if only for a minute.
It got into his head, sometimes, the chaos and the mayhem.
The hallway that led to the main ward was quiet that early in the morning. It was rare for coffee kiosks to stay open twenty-four hours, but the one at Saint Joe’s did, and to be honest, it was one of the many reasons he could never transfer to another ER. When most of the staff and half the visitors lived off not much more than coffee and energy drinks, it made good business sense to keep the place open all hours.
The barista looked almost as tired as he felt when he arrived at the counter.
“The largest, strongest coffee you make, black, and a skinny vanilla something. Whatever you got,” he said, knowing the girl would come through for him. She always did. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Adam standing behind him.
“Hey, man,” Ford said, grinning wide. Adam was one of his favorite medics. On top of being one of Ford’s best friends away from the hospital, he was damn good at his job. Some nights that made all the difference.
“Hey. I didn’t know you were working tonight,” Adam said, stepping in beside Ford to place his order.
“Got called in. Busy night.”
Adam nodded, understanding in his eyes. He knew, without Ford having to explain, exactly what “busy” meant and everything it entailed.
“Dispatch is kicking our asses tonight,” Adam said, but Ford barely heard him.
As they stood there, Peter breezed out of the elevator at the far end of the hallway, coming down from the surgical floor. He looked over at Ford as he walked, pausing midstep. For a moment Ford thought he was going to come over. He gave a silent prayer, and a moment later that prayer was answered when Peter turned in the other direction and disappeared through the doors out onto the street.