Authors: Lisa Ladew
By Lisa Ladew
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons or organizations, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 Lisa Ladew
You do NOT need to have read any of the prior Heat books in order to enjoy Edge of the Heat 6, although it is recommended for the most enjoyment.
T minus 7 days
Westwood Harbor Medical Center
Charlene watched the heart monitors from the nurses’ desk and held her breath as Ms. Taylor’s monitor in room 14A stayed silent for a few beats too long. Her muscles tensed, ready to spring out of her chair, grab the crash cart, and call a code. They all knew Ms. Taylor was going to die in the hospital this time, but she wouldn’t sign a Do Not Resuscitate order until her son came. And until it was signed, all possible life-saving efforts would be attempted in order to get her body functioning again.
Beep. A single, staggering pulse blipped across the monitor. Then silence again. Finally, a steady rhythm marched across the screen. Charlene blew out her breath. In her head, she urged Ms. Taylor’s son to
Charlene knew he was a Marine and he was coming all the way from Iraq or something, but it had been 2 days since they had sent for him. Ms. Taylor was holding on only by her will now. Her body had given up. She had suffered a massive heart attack while volunteering at the local nursing home. An octogenarian had attempted CPR on her and fell over with his own heart attack. After the mess was sorted by the two ambulances that responded, she made it to the Emergency Room, then started having mini strokes. At first she was having as many as 20 an hour. Strong drugs had brought these mostly under control, until the last few hours.
Charlene got up and silently padded down the hall in her smart nurse’s sneakers. At just after 2 in the morning, she had the entire place to herself. The doctors were napping in the on-call room, the other nurses were either on break or gathering supplies, and the only nurse’s assistant had smashed her pinky finger in a bed rail and was in the ER getting X-rays. Charlene didn’t mind. All the patients were asleep. As long as no one coded, she was looking at an easy shift tonight. And she needed easy. Her four year marriage was falling apart for no reason that she could tell, so she barely slept during the day. Earlier that day, as she lay in her heavily-curtained bedroom trying to sleep, all she could think about was where her husband was and what he was doing. She knew he was supposed to be at work, but was he in reality at a hotel somewhere with some faceless woman? Or perhaps he was at work but under some secretary’s desk. Or maybe she was under
desk. She had seen it in her mind a dozen times.
His fly open, her hand reaching in, grasping --
With serious concentration she pulled her thoughts away from a second playing of those lurid imaginary details. She peeked into rooms as she passed. Mr. Donning was snoring. Mr. Smith had fallen asleep with the remote in his hand. Mrs. Flanders was sound asleep sitting up with her mouth open. Charlene slowed as she came to room 14A. Correction. Not
of her patients were sleeping. Ms. Taylor sat up in the bed, her face somehow folded in on itself, her gray eyes staring intently out the door, the creased white envelope still gripped tightly in her right hand.
Charlene remembered her shift 24 hours ago, when Ms. Taylor had written that letter. She’d just been brought up to the floor, stable but declining, despite everything the doctors tried. She had refused to relax or lay back in her bed until someone brought her a pen and some paper. There was something she had to tell her son, she’d said. Her son’s very happiness depended on it, she’d said. She'd screeched and swore at everyone. Charlene had sprinted down the hall and grabbed the pen and paper, then held it behind her back until the doctor had given an OK. As soon as she had placed the items in Ms. Taylor’s hands, the elderly woman had spent almost an hour writing, thinking, scratching out, and writing again in a giant, looping, jittery script. Some of the other nurses had been joking and making snide remarks about the letter and what secrets might be in it, but Charlene didn’t join them. The fearful intensity on Ms. Taylor’s face had stopped her. Like Ms. Taylor was terrified she would die before she could get it all out, and that would be a tragedy.
With the letter finally done and sealed, and
scrawled across the envelope, Ms. Taylor had relaxed a little. She had watched the nurses parade in and out of her room with somehow hateful eyes, and when Charlene had come in, she had gripped Charlene’s scrubs top in surprisingly strong hands and begged for a promise. A promise that if she died, Charlene would make sure that the letter got to her son. No matter what. Even if she had to stay after her shift was over. Even if she had to break some rules. Charlene had promised. The intensity of Ms. Taylor’s glare had scared her a little. She wondered what was in that letter that was so important to a dying woman.
The glow of the heart monitor fell on Ms. Taylor, giving her a ghostly cast. Charlene shivered a little. Ms. Taylor’s strokes had gotten more serious and her mouth was twisted into a permanent sideways slash. She’d lost the power to speak clearly, but Charlene could see the question in her eyes.
“No, Ms. Taylor, I’m sorry. We haven’t heard from him yet.”
As Charlene finished her sentence she heard the elevator outside the waiting room ding. She pulled her head back to peek out the hallway. A man dressed in sharp, military fatigues, obviously Ms. Taylor’s son, strode out of the elevator with purpose. He stopped at the nurses’ desk and swept his head right and left. Charlene’s muscles almost failed her.
He was so handsome!
She’d never been a sucker for a man in uniform, but after this encounter that might be changed. He looked like the quintessential marine. Chiseled face under a regulation high-and-tight haircut, muscular build, strong hands, confident walk. Like he was already in charge of this floor, maybe even the hospital.
His eyes met hers and she felt her knees go a little weaker. His dark hair and dark gaze contrasted sharply with his bright, light blue eyes. She felt her lower belly go warm and blood rush between her legs, making her gasp a little.
Was she turned on? Just by meeting a man’s eyes?
With effort, she reasserted will over her body. What it thought it wanted was irrelevant. She was doing a job here.
And she was married! Kind of.
She raised a hand and motioned him towards her. But she needn’t have bothered. His powerful legs had already eaten half the distance to her. She stepped out of the room in order to meet him. A patch over the pocket of his uniform top read TAYLOR. Absently, Charlene clasped her fingers together in order to keep him from extending a hand to her. She didn’t want him to touch her. Didn’t want to feel the heat and strength of his hands. Suddenly, exhaustion settled on her and she wanted nothing more than to be anyplace else.
But she was here, and she had a job to do. She hesitated, not sure what to call him. “Ah, Mr. Taylor, I’m so glad you were able to make it. Your mother has been waiting up for you.”
He nodded, his blue eyes burning holes into her. “I came as quickly as I could. How is she?”
“She is not doing well. She can’t talk anymore, and she is having a few strokes an hour. You should get in to see her quickly.” Charlene pressed herself against the wall, hoping he would walk past. Maybe she should take the rest of the night off. Go home. Yes. She was feeling a bit of a headache coming on. She pressed a hand to her temple.
Jon Taylor nodded and started past her, then paused. “Are you OK?”
She nodded mutely, her blond hair bouncing with the force of it.
He paused for a moment, possibly not quite believing it, then went in to see his mother.
“Are you sure it’s OK?” Charlene asked her boss on the phone an hour later.
“Yes, yes, go home and get better,” the charge nurse answered. “Tonight is slow. We will be fine.”
“OK thanks,” Charlene answered. She placed the phone back in its cradle, nodded to her two coworkers at the desk, and plodded slowly towards the exit. She was going to have to walk past room 14A. Should she go in and say goodbye to Ms. Taylor if she was still awake? Or just walk on past? She decided to peek in the room before she made her decision.
Her slow steps drew her closer and closer to the silent room. She stopped before the doorway and listened. Nothing. Charlene chided herself for her uncharacteristic timidness.
What was with her tonight?
She nudged herself forward just a bit and looked in the door.
Ms. Taylor lay back on her pillows, her body finally relaxed and her eyes finally closed in rest. Her son held one of her hands in his, and wiped her face gently with a washcloth held in the other. His face, twisted with restrained grief, looked uncommonly somber to Charlene. The letter was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly Charlene was glad she had not just walked in. She took a few steps past the doorway, leaving the Taylors to their goodbyes.
She had her own business.
She continued towards the exit and wondered if there were any surprises waiting for her at home.
T minus 6 days
Durham, North Carolina — Daniela Clarkson’s family home
Dani held her hands to her head, as if it might explode at any second. She lowered them slowly and looked her father in the eye. “Tell me what you think Dad, what do you think he is doing?”
She watched closely, occasionally flicking a glance at her mother, trying to figure out what the emotional undercurrent in the house was. Her dad, still tall, slim, and solid-looking, even at just over 60 years old, paced in front of her. Her mother sat on the couch across from her, purposely looking anywhere but at her husband and youngest daughter.
Her father stopped abruptly. “Something illegal, that’s what!” His eyes darted around the room, alighting anywhere but on Dani. She didn’t understand this.
Why exactly would no one look at her? What was Uncle Kevin doing that could cause this kind of response?
? You say his wife is suddenly rolling in money. She bought a new $200,000 car. They bought a new house. Kenny is going to an expensive private school. Suddenly they’ve come into a ton of money somehow.” Dani tugged on her own hair in frustration.
Why wouldn’t anyone say what they were thinking?
A thought struck her. “Maybe they won the lottery!” she offered, a hopeful smile on her face.
Dani’s dad flicked a disgusted look at her mother, who still refused to look at him.
He stopped dead still in front of her, his mouth pressed into a grimace. “
. Oh if only they had won the lottery! Oh no Daniela, don’t you believe it. Your Uncle Kevin is going to bring disgrace on this family and ruin our lives!” He stormed out of the room, towards the back yard.
, Dani thought.
He can cool off a little. Maybe mom will tell me what’s really going on.
Dani and her mom watched him go. “Mom, what in the world?”
Dani’s mom sighed. “He’s just been sick over this, Dani. You know your dad. He loves the Corps and he loves his country as much as he loves his family.”
Dani nodded. “Yeah, I know. What does he think Uncle Kevin is doing to come into this money?” She watched her mom double check that her dad was really gone then lean forward like she was going to tell a dark secret. Dani leaned forward too, feeling ridiculous.