Authors: Maria Rachel Hooley,Stephen Moeller
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Romance, #Health; Fitness & Dieting, #Death & Grief, #Relationships, #Love & Romance, #Contemporary Fiction
Maria Rachel Hooley
© 2010 Maria Rachel Hooley
Cover Image by Stephen Moeller
Final cover by Phatpuppy Art.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—except for brief quotations in printed review without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
“The full moon really brings ‘em in, doesn’t it?” Maddie Gilcrest asked, pulling off her scrub cap
Yolanda smiled and grabbed a pen from her work space. “Yep. You look dead tired. You should head home and try to sleep.” She snatched up the last chart, checking to make sure the patient’s vitals had been noted.
“You don’t have to tell me twice.” Maddie strode down the hall and ducked into the physician’s lounge/changing area. She plopped onto a narrow bench and peeled the scrubs from her chinos and dress shirt. As she tossed the hat and scrubs in the linen hamper, she reached into her locker and retrieved her coat and purse. Tension corded her neck and back, bunching the muscles into taut, unyielding knots. She rolled her shoulders, trying to quell the ache.
As she left the lounge and walked past the nurses’ station, Yolanda waved. “Have a good evening, Maddie.”
“I will,” she replied, fishing keys from her purse. “Don’t have too much fun while I’m gone.”
Yolanda winked. “Don’t worry. We’ll give it all to Ashford. All for you. And just think—the woman in 12 is about to have triplets.”
Maddie grinned, picturing Ashford delivering babies. For a man in his forties and a doctor to boot, he knew about as much about women and babies as the Christmas cactus blooming in the corner. He assumed every woman liked the name Sweetie, and had Maddie been able to prove sexual harassment when he’d “accidentally” brushed his hands across her rear, she would’ve.
Maddie buttoned her coat. “Take down all the details, will you?”
Passing through the emergency room entrance, she stepped out into the November night, where winter’s chill lashed at her. As she walked through the almost empty garage, Maddie mused that most sane people were in bed at 2 a.m. Then again, Maddie had never claimed to be sane.
Moments later, she pulled out of the garage and headed to a home Yolanda said was too far away for comfort. Still, Maddie enjoyed the drive and her privacy, even if part of the trip did take her through the country in the blackest part of night.
The full moon glowed in the bluish-black sky and gleamed off the black Lexus Maddie drove. An unexpected cold front had moved in earlier, and even the steering wheel felt frozen. Maddie shivered and glanced at the heater. Most of the windshield was glazed over save for the small patch the wipers had cleared.
“By the time I get home, the heater should blow warm air,” she muttered, shivering. One hand gripped the wheel, and the other drew her coat collar tighter about her neck. She ducked low to peer out of the only clear patches on the glass.
The miles passed, and she plucked the hair clip loose, letting her long, brown hair spill over her shoulders and down her back, cascading free of its rigid bun. Covering her neck, it hampered the cold air. “Damn, it’s brisk,” she snapped, switching hands on the wheel and thrusting the other into the folds of her coat. She’d repeated the process three times—or was it four—before the turn came at last and found her on the dark country lane that would eventually lead her home.
She double-checked the defroster’s setting again. The frost coating the glass refused to give up. When she glanced up again, she saw a brake lights not fifty feet ahead.
“Oh, God!” Maddie stomped on the brakes. She wrenched the wheel to the left and swerved, but too late–the Lexus slid into a battered white truck.
Thankfully, the collision was mild; still, Maddie gripped her sides as an ache seized her muscles, and she sucked air. Seconds later the pain abated as she eased open the door. Stepping out, she wrapped her arms around her torso and scurried from the car to the truck. Her hood had crumpled into the unyielding wall of the truck’s fender. “I can’t believe I just did that,” she stammered, staring at the small dent in the primer-spotted truck and the crunched fender of her car. “I am so sorry.”
“Are you, now?” a flat masculine voice replied as a tall, twenty-something guy stepped away from the driver’s side and walked to where Maddie stood. She noticed first his crisp, white shirt and the moonlight glinting off the ring he wore. She glanced at his face, taking in the hard line of his jaw as he gritted his teeth. The same rigidity gripped his shoulders and the rest of his body, over six feet of it. Frowning, Maddie sized him upas she did with a lot of the male patients she saw in the ER. It was a habit anymore, considering how sometimes she had to move them in a hurry, and as she looked at this man, she knew he weighed at least 240, his broad shoulders revealed that much. His boots snapped amid the gravel of the road as he ambled toward her. His breath, seasoned with alcohol, sounded like he had been running. He was just a few feet away.
Maddie turned her attention to her surroundings as she realized just how isolated she was-a stretch of road that hardly anyone drove during the day. No cars. No streetlights. No cops.
“I’ll get my insurance card,” she said, thinking of the mace in her purse.
As she turned, he whistled. “Baby, you don’t have to do that. I’ll let you work off what you owe.” She felt his hand creep between her legs and grab her, pinching. “I’ll just put a fucking dent in you, and we’ll be even.”
She jerked away. “Stop it!” She hurried to the driver’s door
. Please, God, just let me get inside this car!
Her fingers curled under the handle, and she jerked open the door. Half-falling into the driver’s seat, she tried to pull the door closed, but his body blocked it as he reached for her. She grabbed one of his hands, but the other wrapped around her throat. She dug her nails into his skin until he yelped and she could pull his hand away.
He grabbed her hair and yanked her back against him. “I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” he seethed, reaching to savagely squeeze one breast, kneading the flesh so hard she could almost feel the bruising.
Maddie tried to grab his hand, and as she couldn’t release his grip, she raked her fingernails across it, gouging his skin.
“Bitch!” he snarled, grabbing her arm, twisting it until it protruded upward just a scant inch from snapping. “You fucked up my truck. Now it’s my turn to fuck you up!” He pushed her elbow higher, snapping the bone.
A white pain filled her. She screamed. Her body started to fall, but he grabbed her, half-carrying, half-dragging her to his truck. He shoved her inside and climbed in behind the wheel. “Shut up!” he yelled, slamming his fist across her face, her stomach.
Still, she screamed.
He grabbed her throat and squeezed.
Maddie gasped and slumped against the passenger door. Darkness danced in her vision. Despite the fog suffocating her brain and the pain blistering her arm, she thought,
Sweet Jesus, He’s going to kill me.
* * *
“Don’t look at me like that, Donner—it’s 15 degrees out there and three in the morning. It’s not going to take that long to get home.” Gabriel Martin gripped the wheel tightly as he navigated the highway, his high beams the only thing unsettling the darkness swallowing his truck. Still he looked at the German shepherd pawing and whining at door, its brown eyes pleading for freedom. As Gabriel spoke, the dog scratched harder, wagging its tail and whining more.
“You’re actually serious,” Gabriel said, shaking his head. Sighing, he reluctantly flipped the blinker so he could turn down a side road. While Donner was pretty-well trained, he wasn’t taking any chances about getting the fire house mascot hit—never mind that the damned dog had bounded into his vehicle earlier this evening with great expectations. Nobody’d been able to coax him out, so Gabriel had taken him along to see his brother. “I hate winter,” he growled, sliding one arm into a coat sleeve and then the other. As Gabriel grabbed the leash, the dog darted forward and jumped upon him, allowing Gabriel to fasten the leash to the dog’s collar. Gabriel opened the door and stepped out into the cold night air.
“Let’s get down to business,” he said, shoving his free hand into his pocket. “I’m not standing out here all night.”
The dog pulled against the leash and sniffed the trees and shrubs along the roadside. After checking out two potential bushes, he jerked toward the fence, his tail snapping back and forth. Barking once or twice, he looked at Gabriel and back at the fence.
Frowning, Gabriel wondered what the dog had spotted. “Is there something there, boy?” he asked.
The dog barked twice more and stepped closer to the fence. The full moonlight cast its glimmer on a dark mass. Frowning, Gabriel took a step closer. “What the hell is that?” Another step. He spotted a hand protruding from the blackness. His heart sped up. Kneeling, he realized the black mass was a coat, and he gently pulled it back to find a half-naked woman curled into a fetal position. Her long, dark hair spilled across her face, concealing her features.
“Damn,” he whispered.
Is she dead
? He touched her arm and she screamed in a low, keening whine. She stirred, her elbow slipped from its normal position, and the broken bone prodded at the skin, threatening to poke through.
Gabriel winced, and his mouth fell open. For a few seconds, he stood, listening to the wretched keening she made, like a cat caught in a trap. Her body convulsed, and thin gulps of air emerged in thick, steamy bursts.
“I’m so sorry.” He glanced at his vehicle and then at the empty landscape around him. He was tempted to yell for help, but no one would hear him. He didn’t want to leave her, but he had no choice. Gabriel laid the coat back across her body, leaving her face uncovered. “I’m going to gol for help. I’ll be right back.”
He sprinted toward the truck with Donner in tow. As he ran, he thought he heard her say something in the midst of her shrieking. What he couldn’t tell. He threw open the door, turned loose of the leash, and grabbed his cell. He punched 911 and waited for an operator to answer.
“I’ve found a badly injured woman who needs an ambulance. I’m on Highway 58 about fifteen miles from Lawton city limits. The woman has at least a broken arm, and she’s bleeding. My name is Gabriel Martin. I’m a firefighter with Lawton Station 17, and I’m going to attend to her wounds until help arrives.” He snapped the phone shut and shoved it into his pocket before shimmying out of his coat and heading back to her.
As he knelt before her again, her scream died to a whimper. “It’s going to be all right,” he said. “I’ve called 911.” He lightly draped the coat atop her shivering body. “My name is Gabriel Martin, and I want to help you.”
He leaned over her. Maddie inched away. She whimpered, watching him through half-closed slits. Considering one of her eyes was almost bruised shut, she was lucky to be able to open it at all. Dark bangs lay matted against her forehead amid dried sweat and blood. As he leaned closer, she scooted farther away, whimpering as pain closed its vise around her arm and ribs. Were they broken?
She’s terrified of me
, Gabriel thought, frowning. Nausea rose in the pit of his stomach, and he tasted bile. Shaking his head, he wondered how somebody could have hit a woman. Or worse. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I’m a fireman, and part of my job is helping people like you.”
Maddie shivered violently and sobs wracked her body convulsively. She tried to rise, but quickly tottered and fell. Gabriel reached out and caught her.
“Take it easy.” As she lay in his arms, her breathing quickened as sobs ripped through her body. Her lips parted, and the keening wail started again deep at first, as though from the back of her throat, then shriller. He peered at the huge bruises on her face and saw the thick clots of blood matting the skin around her eyes and at her temples. He exhaled sharply. Hell, he’d seen bodies ripped apart by car accidents, but this—this willful act of violence—tightened every muscle in his body. And that sound, that mournful wail. How could he help her now?
A siren screamed. He drew the blanket around her as he held her close and watched the wisps of her breath disperse in the cold. Her cries faded to whimpers. He heard a car door open and close.
“What have we got?” a burly female EMT asked as she carted a box of medical paraphernalia and set it next to the woman who had, by now, slipped into unconsciousness. As the EMT bent and began checking vitals, Gabriel relayed the few details he knew while hovering over her.