Twelve years later St. Andrews Hospital Atlanta, Georgia
"HE'S DEAD, MEGAN. CALL IT," Scott Rogan said as he looked at her over the body of the fourteen-year-old boy. "Give it up."
"Tell that to his mother." She hit the paddles again to try to jump-start the boy's heart. Come on, Manuel. Come back to us. "I'm not going to do it without a fight."
"We've been working on him for the last twenty minutes."
"Then another few won't make a difference." She counted to three and then hit him again. "Live, Manuel," she whispered. "You have so much to do, so much to see. Don't let it end like this."
But it had ended, she realized in helpless frustration after another two minutes. Dammit to hell. Poor kid.
She ripped her gloves off as she turned away. "Document that the patient died at eleven-oh-five P.M.," she said jerkily to the nurse. She strode out of the ER to wash and change her bloodstained scrubs. She couldn't face the boy's mother like this. The woman was going to have a bad enough memory to carry for the rest of her life.
Damn. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the jamb of the door for a minute. It shouldn't be like this. She should be able to do more.
"Are you okay, Megan?"
She opened her eyes to see Scott standing beside her. "No." She straightened. "I wanted a miracle. I didn't get it."
"You did your best. We're just doctors. We can't walk on water."
"I can try. Every day I can try a little harder and maybe someday I'll be good enough to--" She rubbed her stinging eyes on the back of her hand and turned away. "I can't stand here talking. I have to talk to Manuel's mother."
"Wait." He was hurrying after her. "I'll tell her, Megan."
She shook her head. "My job. He was my patient." But, dammit, she didn't want to do this. It was always a painful responsibility but especially traumatic when it concerned the young. "Thanks anyway, Scott."
He shrugged. "It's bad for me too. But it doesn't tear me up like it does you. Sometimes I wonder why you decided to become a doctor. You're too damn emotional. All that psychological training we were given in med school didn't get through to you."
"I'll get used to it." Her gaze was fixed on the small Latina woman sitting in a chair across the waiting room. A deep pang of sadness surged through her. Dear God, the woman's hopeful expression as she saw Megan ...
No, she'd never get used to it. Not in a million years. Then take it on the chin and go tell that mother her boy is dead.
The woman was tensing, her eyes anxious. Megan could feel her pain and desperation as if it were her own. It was surroundingher, deluging her, drowning her. She braced herself, fighting to pull away from it.
"Megan," Scott murmured.
She shook her head to clear it. "It's okay." She moistened her lips and forced herself to start across the room. Get it over with and try to offer the woman what comfort she could.
"Mrs. Rivera, I'm Dr. Megan Blair." She drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry to tell you that ..."
HE COULDN'T TELL WHO WAS suffering more, Scott Rogan thought, as he watched Megan take the woman in her arms. Megan should have let him do it.
"Stop worrying about her. You can't protect your little buddy for the rest of her life."
Scott turned to see Hal Trudeau standing a few feet away. He hadn't been in the operating room, but by now the story of Megan's frantic efforts at reviving the kid was probably all over the ward. He wished to hell Hal had not been on duty tonight. Hal was highly competitive and he considered Megan a threat in his climb at the hospital. The first couple years out of medical school could sometimes be a make-or-break period for a doctor. Hal would like nothing better than to make Megan look unprofessional.
"I'm not worried," Scott said. "She's handling everything fine."
"I hear she almost fell apart when the kid died."
"She was upset. She didn't fall apart. She'd never risk a patient's life by losing her composure." He turned on his heel. "And everyonein that room will tell you the same thing. Don't try to stir up trouble over this. The only mistake she made tonight was caring too much and she didn't let it interfere."
"That's open to argument. I've heard the chief administrator thinks she gives the impression of being unstable." Hal smiled maliciously. "But then you probably enjoy that emotional side of her. How is she in bed, Scott?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Sure. That's why you trail behind her like a stud around a mare in heat. I bet she's one hot number when she needs to release some of that stored-up energy. I don't blame you for jumping her." Hal's gaze returned to Megan. "She's not bad-looking. I wouldn't mind screwing her myself. If she wasn't such a stuck-up bitch." He turned and walked away.
Scott smothered the surge of irritation that moved through him. He felt like decking the son of a bitch. Yeah, that's all Megan needed was to have the two of them brawling in the halls over her. Hal was right, the administration was keeping a close eye on Megan. They liked their hospital rolling on greased wheels and even a hint of instability in their personnel scared the hell out of them.
And Megan was not unstable. No one worked harder. St. Andrews was lucky to have her. She'd been offered a job in a number of more prestigious hospitals in the Northeast before she'd graduated. The only reason she'd stayed in Atlanta was because she hadn't wanted to leave her uncle Phillip who had cared for her since her mother had died.
Hell, Hal would probably have made a case against family feeling as well. Anything to bring her down.
Including accusing her of sleeping around with a married man.
The idea was oddly intriguing.
What was he thinking? He and Jana had been married for only two years and they had been good years. Megan had been a good friend to him since med school. He would never have passed chemistry if she hadn't drilled him for almost a complete semester. After he'd married Jana, Megan had been there for both of them. Jana's young son, Davy, was crazy about her.
She's not bad-looking, Hal had said.
Understatement. She was damn good-looking with her slim, graceful body, glossy dark-brown hair, and those enormous hazel eyes. But none of those features were what drew men to her. Hal had hit the target when he'd mentioned that stored-up emotional energy that never left her. Even when she was relaxed Scott could sense the emotional turmoil that seemed to electrify her. It was ... interesting.
And he had better stop analyzing his responses to Megan. It wasn't fair to Jana. He would never be unfaithful but he was beginning to feel guilty.
Yes, perhaps it would be better if he made an effort to keep Megan at a distance.
MEGAN'S HAND WAS SHAKING AS she unlocked the door of her SUV. She took a deep breath before she got into the vehicle and started the ignition. She should probably wait until she recovered a little before she left the parking lot but she wasn't going to do it. She wanted to get home to Phillip. She needed her uncle's quietsteadiness and gentleness. She was raw and hurting from those hours she had spent with Delores Rivera.
It would be better once she got home. After a few hours, she would regain the balance she had lost in that waiting room. The pain that was rising, roaring, inside her would fade the longer she was away from that grieving woman.
Now that was really adult and responsible, she thought with self-disgust. She was planning on running home and dumping all of this depressing angst in Phillip's lap. God knows she had been doing enough of that in the past few years. Get a grip and give the man a break.
She rested her head on the steering wheel, blinking back the stinging tears. So many wild emotions had been hurled at her during those hours. Delores Rivera's blame and agony and guilt mixed with a dozen other incomprehensible feelings that had mounted until she had been overwhelmed.
Don't think about it. Call Phillip and the sound of his voice would help to make everything all right.
No, don't do that to him again. Live with it. Get through it on your own.
She drove out of the parking lot and turned left at the light.
PHILLIP CALLED HER WHEN she was getting on the freeway. She pressed Connect on her cell phone earpiece for hands-free operation. "Everything all right? I don't want to be a worrywart but I knew you got off duty a couple hours ago. If you're out having a drink with Scott and Jana, just tell me to buzz off."
Lord, she was glad to hear his voice. From the moment he hadwalked toward her at her mother's funeral, she had felt this warm sense of belonging whenever she was around him. "No, it was just a rough night. I had a few problems. I'll tell you about it when I get home. I'm on my way. What are you doing awake anyway? It's after two in the morning."
"I was only dozing. The football game didn't end until midnight. We won in the last four seconds. I was too wired to relax."
"Damn right." He paused. "What kind of problems?"
"A fourteen-year-old boy died on the table. I couldn't save him."
"Yeah. How about having a cup of hot chocolate with me and you can tell me about the game?"
"Sounds good. I'll have it ready. How close are you?"
"I'm on the freeway. Twenty minutes." She frowned as blinding lights glared in her rearview mirror. "Cripes, I've got a tailgater. It's a truck, I think. He must be drunk. At this time of night you'd think he'd realize that he's got plenty of room to pass me." The lights were suddenly gone. "Okay, he's passing in the left lane now. Good riddance. I hope he gets a tick--What the hell!"
The truck had slammed into the side of her 4Runner! She fought the wheel as she was pushed toward the side of the highway.
"What's happening, Megan?" Phillip's worried voice in her ear.
No time to answer him.
The truck slammed her again.
Crazy bastard. He'd rammed her against the low bridge over the river. One more hit like that and her SUV might roll over and go into the water.
She barely managed to straighten before the truck slammed into her from behind, sending her wheeling wildly in a circle.
Straighten out. Get off the bridge. She had a better chance going down the embankment.
She straightened back in her lane and pressed the accelerator.
"Megan!" Phillip's voice.
The truck was next to her again.
Get off the bridge.
She stomped on the accelerator and momentarily left the truck behind her.
Twenty yards and she'd be across the water.
The truck was gaining on her.
He hit her rear door as she reached the end of the bridge.
The 4Runner went off the highway and began bouncing down the embankment.
She had to stop it before she reached the river.
She stomped on the brakes and skittered sideways, slid fifteen yards before she was stopped by a pine tree.
Her air bag went off, pinning her to the seat.
She could see the truck stopped on the road above her and a silhouette moving toward the embankment. He was tall, thin, wearing jeans and a cowboy hat.
Her OnStar program was telling her that her air bags had gone off and that they'd notified 911.
But the man on the bank was already starting down the ridge.
Then she heard the sirens.
Hurry. Dammit, hurry.
The man hesitated and then turned and started climbing back up the embankment. A moment later he was in his truck and driving away.
She felt limp with relief.
PHILLIP ARRIVED AT THE SCENE twenty minutes later. By that time Megan had been helped out of the wrecked SUV and was sitting on the riverbank with a blanket wrapped around her.
He handed her a thermal cup. "Hot coffee. I figured you could use the caffeine."
She nodded and took a sip. "Actually, I could use a stiff drink."
"I'd never offer you alcohol at the scene of an accident. You can never tell when the police might try to breathalyze you." He sat down beside her and tucked the blanket closer around her. "Okay, Megan?"
"No, I'm mad as hell." She grimaced. "I couldn't even get the license number. I think it was a blue Ford pickup but I'm not sure. The only thing I'm certain about is that he's nutty as a fruitcake and should be taken off the road. He scared me, dammit. When I was sitting pinned in that SUV and he was coming down the embankment, I felt like I was being stalked by Freddy from Elm Street." She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he'd regained his senses and was coming down to help me. But I was glad when he turned and took off in his truck."
"Me too." Phillip glanced at the policemen measuring and marking the tire tracks. "Do they want you to check in at a hospital?"
"Yes, but I'm not going to do it. There's nothing wrong with me but a sore chest and ribs from the air bag. I want to go home." She shook her head wearily. "It's been a hell of a night."
He nodded and rose to his feet. "Let me see what I can do. Drink your coffee and leave it to me." He moved toward the sergeant giving orders on the embankment.
Megan felt a surge of affection as she watched him. It was always safe to leave anything and everything to Phillip. He didn't give the impression of brilliance and ultraefficiency, but she had never run across a situation that he couldn't handle. Even now, dwarfed by those husky policemen, he quietly dominated the scene. In his early sixties, thin, small-boned, with a high forehead and large blue eyes, he was calm and reassuring. People instinctively responded to that gentle demeanor as she did. Her mother had never even told her she had an uncle, perhaps because he was only Sarah's half brother and he had moved away when her mother was only a teenager. But from the time Phillip had come to Myrtle Beach to assume guardianship after her mother had died of a heart attack, Megan had known that nothing bad could ever happen to her as long as she had Phillip Blair beside her.
And Phillip's gentle charisma was working its magic once again. She saw the police sergeant hesitate and then shrug and turn away.
"Thank you, Sergeant." Phillip winked at her as he started back. "The kind officer is willing to believe that the physician can heal herself. Now, you mustn't let me down by having a sudden relapse." He helped her to her feet. "He asked you to drop in at the precinct to fill out the reports tomorrow or the next day. He's hoping you'll remember something more about the hit-and-run."
"So do I." She leaned on Phillip as she climbed the hill toward his car. Lord, she was tired. She could barely put one foot in front of another. "But I don't think it's going to happen."
"A shower and bed," Phillip said. "I'll take care of everything. Trust me."
Yes, she could trust Phillip. She was trying desperately not to be a burden to him these days. She wasn't that bereaved teenage kid any longer. But tonight maybe it would be okay to accept that comfort and strength that was always there for her ...