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IF NOT FOR YOU
She’s always played by the rules.
E.R. doc Elizabeth Carr studied hard in school, became a doctor, and married the chief of cardio-thoracic surgery. She’s checked every box in the Success column. Except happiness. Now in the midst of a contentious divorce, struggling to find her own way, she’s treating a patient who refuses to obey her orders and seems to think life is all about having fun. He challenges her to say yes instead of no to opportunity, and develop a new attitude. Can Liz open her outlook enough to take a chance—with him?
He believes rules are for other people.
Born with a bad ticker, Jack Hardy spent most of his childhood in and out of hospitals. Since receiving a new heart and tasting freedom, he’s indulged in every dangerous sport and daredevil activity presented him. But a life heavy on adventure has left him light on relationships. As he becomes less thrilled with thrills, he yearns to settle down with someone who will love and accept him for who he is. Has he played around too long to make a serious relationship work?
Women empowering women--and the Men who love them
If Not For You is the third book in the Rainy Day Women series. In a converted warehouse near downtown Dallas, Texas, a group of strong, professional women come together to volunteer their services to women of an under-served community. They name their facility the Rainy Day Women's Center. Each book is a stand-alone romance about competent, independent women and the equally competent, independent men they can't ignore--or live without.
“I am not signing this.” Squeezing the divorce decree between thumbs and forefingers, Elizabeth Carr ripped it down the middle.
“I can print another copy.” Dr. Gary Sheridan, chief of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, sat straight-backed and confident behind his polished mahogany desk as if presiding over the Oval Office. “No need to get upset. I just thought it might be easier for us to do this amicably without getting lawyers involved.”
“But lawyers are already involved.” Liz guessed Gary had been shell-shocked by his attorney’s retainer and was now hoping to cut his expenses with this do-it-yourself divorce. She shoved her hands into the pockets of her scrubs. “Seriously, you gave yourself our house?”
He shrugged. “It’s my name on the mortgage.”
Because when they’d purchased the lakefront property ten years ago, Liz’s credit rating had been nonexistent. “But we’ve both paid on it.” And the deed was in both their names. Wasn’t it? Why had she not paid more attention at the time?
“You abandoned the house when you moved out.” Stone gray eyes bored into hers.
“Texas is a community property state.” Adrenaline pumped through her veins. “Any assets attained or debts incurred during the marriage get split down the middle.” Thank goodness for her lawyer friend who worked with Liz at the Rainy Day Women’s Center. Though declining to represent her, Kate Steele had briefed Liz on the basics, to save money on the expensive lawyer she’d eventually need to hire.
Eventually seemed to have arrived.
Gary trotted out his amiable grin that evoked confidence in his patients, but Liz knew the smirk that lurked behind it. “But the debts you incurred before we married, including your medical school student loans, are all on you, Sweetheart.”
“I’m not your sweetheart.” She refrained from spitting the words. “And your gambling debts are all yours.”
“I’ve paid off my pre-marriage debts. Anything still owed was incurred after the ceremony.” There was no mistaking the smirk now. “Making you responsible for fifty percent of my Vegas losses as well as taxes on the winnings.”
Liz gripped the edges of his desk so hard her fingers cramped. Blissfully in love, she’d entered into their no-contract marriage with her eyes closed. Naively leaving all the financial details to Gary. But he’d been looking out for his own interests since Day One.
“You shouldn’t have moved out, Sweetheart.”
Bile rose in her throat. What choice had she had? After crying herself to sleep almost every night for a year, Liz couldn’t tolerate living with the verbal abuse one more day. It didn’t help that her hospital friends and associates wrote off her mildest complaints about the man as overreactions. Dr. Jekyll had acquired a reputation over the years as not only a skilled and talented surgeon, but a kindly, compassionate caregiver, and as his devoted wife, Liz had to admit she’d been complicit in defending the narrative. Few people would suspect that behind closed doors Gary Sheridan became Mr. Hyde.
He rose from his desk, fastening the lower button of his Armani suit jacket. “If I were you, dear,” he said, all civility wiped from his austere face, “I’d take the offer. If this goes to court, things will get ugly, and you could walk away in even worse shape.”
How could she have ever found this man handsome? Willingly kissed those cruel, spiteful lips? Liz’s gaze roved over the shelves of medical books in the large, windowed office, skimmed the framed degrees lining three walls, and landed on an eight-year-old photograph of the two of them smiling in a gondola on Venice’s Grand Canal. She picked up the silver-framed photo and dashed it against the wall with a resounding crash. “See you in court.”
The shattering glass alerted Gary’s secretary. The slim young blonde he was undoubtedly banging hurried in, offering a curt “Hello, Dr. Carr” as Liz strode past her. “Are you all right, Dr. Sheridan?” the adoring woman cooed.
Seething, Liz walked with measured steps toward the elevator and jabbed the button with her thumb. Thankfully, the car arrived empty. She covered her face with her hands and breathed in short bursts. The walls of the confined space closed in. She needed air.
Emerging at the lower level, inhaling the cafeteria smells of today’s soup being prepared for lunch, she marched past the corridor entrance to the E.R. and outside to the ambulance bay. The brisk mid-November air whipped at the thin cotton of her short-sleeved scrubs. Several of her colleagues stood smoking a short distance from the entrance, but Liz ignored their half-waves and sat alone on a stone bench, rubbing her bare arms.
He always did this to her. Unleashed emotions that normally stayed safely buried beneath the surface. It wasn’t right for one person to have so much power over another, even years after all the good feelings had eroded. She let out several short breaths, her muscles weakening as the adrenaline fizzled away.
An ambulance siren wailed in its approach to the hospital. A scary sound for some but to Liz, just the hum of everyday business. She was good at what she did, triaging and treating car accident survivors, heart attack victims, gunshot wounds. It made her feel necessary. One didn’t have to be a cardiac surgeon to make an impact. Day for day, hour by hour, Liz had saved many more lives than godlike Gary Sheridan.
Brakes squealed as the ambulance stopped in the circular drive, and two paramedics, one portly and mature, one young and thin, opened the double doors. They emerged carrying a gurney whose occupant was, thankfully, conscious. Despite the pain evident by his wincing eyes, the bearded, thirty-something man seemed almost jubilant, teasing and joking with the EMTs. “I can walk,” he protested, straining to sit up. “You guys are making me feel like some Egyptian Pharaoh being carried on a chariot.”
“Hospital rules, sir.” The younger EMT settled his patient with a kind but firm hand.
“Paging Dr. Carr,” a speaker announced. “Dr. Carr to the E.R.”
At least that wouldn’t change. Her medical license read Elizabeth Carr, M.D., and Gary couldn’t take her professional name away from her. Liz took in a deep breath to calm herself before returning to work. Inhale peace, exhale anger. But instead of peace, she inhaled the fumes of cigarette smoke, and the anger sputtering out was so toxic she choked on it.
“Wait.” The man on the gurney motioned for the EMTs to slow, then stop, a few feet from where Liz sat. He held out an unused barf bag. “You look like you need this more than I do,” he said with a wink.
The random act of kindness choked out unshed tears. “Thanks. But I’m not nauseated.” She swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“You’re hyperventilating. Breathe into the bag. It’ll help.”
She took the bag. “You’re a doctor? Medical student?” He definitely wasn’t affiliated with this hospital. If she’d seen that bushy beard and infectious smile circulating the halls, Liz definitely would have remembered.
“Nope. Just a student of life. Onward, my good men.” He gestured to the EMTs to continue on into the hospital.
Liz took several breaths into the bag. You are in charge of your own destiny. Nobody can make you miserable unless you let them.
Gradually her head cleared, and her stomach settled. Tossing the bag into a nearby trash can, she exhaled one last breath of fresh air and inhaled the odor of alcohol and disinfectant as she walked through the doctor’s entrance to the Dallas General Emergency Room.
“Oh, there you are. I was about to call your cell phone.” The admitting nurse, Cathy Warren, accosted her as she slipped on her white lab coat. “You have patients waiting in Four and Six. Six is first.”
Liz picked up the clipboard and reviewed the admitting data. Female, age twenty-one, presenting with a split lip, black eye and a possible wrist fracture.
“She claims she fell down the stairs,” Cathy said, her narrowed brows the only change of expression on her coffee-colored face.
Liz nodded. The scenario definitely sounded suspicious. But she’d do a thorough examination before jumping to conclusions.
She pushed open the privacy curtain and introduced herself to the young woman, Heather Barnett, who looked more like fifteen than twenty-one, and the man accompanying, short, squat, and probably in his forties. “Are you her father?” she asked him.
“I’m Heather’s husband, Roy Barnett,” the man said. “She stumbled and fell down the stairs this morning. Luckily I hadn’t left for work yet.”
Yeah, that was real lucky. Liz turned to the young woman. “Do you have anything to add, Mrs. Barnett?”
“She’s shy,” the husband said, cutting her off without giving the wife a chance to reply. He stroked the young woman’s long hair. “You just sit tight, honey and the doc will fix you right up.”
Liz examined the patient’s her wrist, then ordered an X-ray.
“It’s not broken, is it?” Mr. Barnett asked. “I figured it was just a sprain but I thought I’d better bring her in.”
“It could be a sprain. We won’t know until it’s X-rayed.” Liz had seen injuries like this before. The likely cause was that someone had applied pressure to Heather Barnett’s arm and twisted it. Liz wanted to examine her for other signs of possible abuse, but when she asked the woman to undress and put on a hospital gown, the husband pushed back.
“Is that really necessary?” He stood beside his wife. “You can see everything you need without embarrassing her any further.” Softening his tone, he cooed into Heather’s ear. “It’s alright, baby, I’ll protect you.”
Stifling a growl, Liz treated the bruise around Heather Barnett’s eye. After examining her mouth to make sure there were no broken teeth or bleeding gums, she applied a salve to the patient’s lip.
When the orderly from X-ray appeared with a wheel chair, Mr. Barnett attempted to follow his wife. “Sorry, Sir,” Liz said firmly. “You’ll have to wait for her here.”
Liz was tempted to follow them down herself to see if she could get Heather to talk, but she had another patient waiting and the intake area was filling up.
The patient in room four was a three year old boy suffering a severe nosebleed. He was coughing and crying, but the mother, who looked barely older than a teenager, was crying harder.
“I only left him alone for a minute,” she sniffled. “How could he even put that stuff up in his nose?”
The ‘stuff’ was a handful of peas the boy had apparently experimented with, and had gotten stuck when he’d tried to blow them out. Liz cleared the final peas from his airwaves and patted the boy’s back to make sure there was nothing in his throat. “It’s okay, Tommy, you’re going to be fine. Believe me, that pea was way more scared than you were.”
She whispered to the mother. “Can he have a sweet?”
When Tommy’s mother nodded, Liz reached into the pocket of her lab coat and withdrew an orange lollipop. The child’s eyes lit up as he grabbed it.
She turned to the anxious mother. “He’s more scared than hurt. Kids do these kinds of things all the time.”
Did they? Liz didn’t exactly know from experience. She and Gary had never tried to have children. They were too busy with their medical careers, he’d said whenever the subject was mentioned, and didn’t she want to keep her ‘girlish figure’? Now pushing thirty-six, she’d probably missed her chance.
“Thank you, doctor.” The boy’s mother patted her son’s tightly coiled hair. “Is there anything I need to do for him?”
“You can give him a children’s Tylenol if he’s still upset when you get home.” Liz directed a passing nurse to procure one. She helped the boy off the examining table and smiled broadly. “Remember, food goes in your mouth, not your nose.”
Offering a shy grin, Tommy took his mother’s hand and toddled out.
“Who’s the next patient?” Liz asked the admitting nurse, after completing the little boy’s chart.
“Room Two. Skateboarding accident.”
She expected to see another child, or perhaps a teenager. But when she parted the curtains of Room Two the bright blue eyes of the man she’d encountered outside smiled up at her.
She glanced at his chart. Jackson Hardy. Thirty-eight years old. “Hello, Mr. Hardy, I’m Dr. Carr.” She stepped inside the room. “You were involved in a skateboarding accident?”
“Call me Jack.” A half smile curled his lip. “Not exactly an accident. A small mishap. I zigged when I should have zagged and a tree sort of got in the way.”
Sitting in the chair next to the bed, Jackson Hardy looked taller than when lying on the gurney. His rusty blond hair flopped lazily over his ears. A golden brown beard covered his cheeks and chin. Liz lowered her gaze to his injured leg. His jeans were caked with blood from his left shin to his ankle.
She examined the wound. “You’re lucky you hit your leg and not your head.”
“That’s me. Lucky Jack.” He grinned. “Some call me Hard-headed Hardy.”
Fool Hardy would have been Liz’s assessment. What grown man skateboarded? According to his chart, this was his third visit to the E.R. in the past two years. Prior admissions for a broken ankle and a second degree burn on his torso. Apparently Mr. Hardy was a frequent flyer.
“You’re looking a little better now,” he said, scanning her face. “Did the bag help?”
“It did,” she admitted. “How did you learn that trick?”
“Mountain climbing. It keeps you from passing out in high altitudes.”
Skateboarding and mountain climbing. The guy was an adrenaline junkie. “Take off your clothes,” she directed, “down to your underwear, and put on this gown.” She patted the folded cotton fabric on the examining table. “It ties at the back.”
She was turning away when she noticed his raised brows. Eyes the color of the Caribbean at sunset twinkled with amusement.
Realizing how personal her request sounded, Liz blushed. How many times had she told a patient to undress and never thought twice about it?
She was thinking about it now, though, and so, apparently, was Jackson Hardy.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she stammered, and pulled the curtain closed behind her. Nothing about this day was going the way she’d planned.
The reception area was filling up. Liz checked to make sure the patients were assigned to intake in the proper order, then returned to Room Two. Mr. Hardy was wearing the paper thin hospital gown and sitting at the edge of the examining bed. His bare arms and legs were thick with muscle, and although it was modest enough, the gown scarcely covered his large body.
“Lie back, please.”
Another phrase she’d uttered hundreds of time that suddenly sounded way too intimate. But if his mind had gone the same place as hers, Jack Hardy’s face didn’t give him away.
The patient flinched—it helped to think of him as merely a patient-- as Liz poked delicately inside the wound. The laceration was an inch wide, and deep enough to see a hint of bone. But nothing appeared broken. “You’ll need stitches,” she said, folding a flap of skin over the wound. “But it should heal okay.”
“Told you it was no big deal.” Jack Hardy propped up on one elbow. “Okay, let’s do it.”
Liz glanced at the scar on his other knee and the line of stitches below it. “We’ll give you a local anesthetic,” she said, “and wait a few minutes for it to take effect.”
“Not necessary.” He sat up. “Let’s get this over with. “Places to go, people to see, you know.”
Mr. Macho Man. “It’s hospital policy.” She peeked out the curtain to see Amber Ruiz hurrying down the hallway, still in her street clothes. Checking the clock over the reception desk, Liz noted that not only was the nurse late for her shift, she was wearing the same outfit as yesterday.
Somebody had a fun night. “Amber, as soon as you’re ready.” Liz ordered the anesthetic and supplies, then popped back inside Jack Hardy’s room. “It’ll only take a few minutes,” she assured him. “Then you can get back to skateboarding or skydiving, or whatever else you do to fill your afternoons.”
“I was kidding.” That wasn’t obvious? “You need to take it easy for at least two weeks. Make sure you don’t strain your stitches.”
“Whatever you say, Doc.”
When the nurse returned wearing scrubs and bearing the shot, Liz sidled out of the room and checked the admissions log for her next patient. There was no one waiting. But the X-ray orderly was returning with Heather Barnett.
She started down the hall to intercept the patient before her overprotective husband saw her. But she was too late. Roy Barnett emerged from Room Six and practically sprinted toward the wheelchair. “Baby,” he exclaimed. “You’re okay, right?” He turned to Liz as she walked up. “It’s just a little sprain, right?”
Liz scrutinized the X ray tech’s report. As she’d feared, Heather Barnett’s wrist had a spiral fracture. “I’m sorry, sir.” She looked at her patient. “It is broken. And it’ll need surgery.”
A trace of a tear formed at the corner of Heather’s eye, but she blinked it back.
“I’ll check the schedule. She needs to have that set as soon as possible.”
Liz felt eyes glaring into her back as she went to the desk and made a phone call. “Dr. Patel can do the procedure at three o’clock this afternoon,” she informed the Barnetts.
“Patel?” Mr. Barnett’s face crinkled in disdain.
“He’s one of our best orthopedic surgeons,” she said, disregarding his expression. She turned to Heather. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to get this fixed and be out of pain.”
No response from the patient. Maybe she was mute? Possible, but muffled was more likely.
“I’ll call upstairs and have a room readied for her,” she said to Mr. Barnett. “Once she’s settled, you may want to go home and get her toothbrush and a few toiletries. They’ll probably keep Mrs. Barnett here overnight.”
The husband’s face paled several shades whiter. “Isn’t there something you can do? Put on a splint or something?”
“I will do that to immobilize it before surgery. And I’ll get her something for the pain.”
Mr. Barnett looked uncertain as to whether to follow Liz or stay with his wife. Stepping from one foot to the other, he finally took up a space outside the curtain where he watched Liz gather the supplies.
Heather winced as Liz delicately wrapped the stint against the bone, but said nothing.
After placing the arm in a sling to take the weight off her wrist, Liz told the Barnetts to wait until someone came to take her to her room. Hopefully she’d get a chance to check on Heather later while her husband was away. She was ninety percent convinced this was a case of abuse, but she couldn’t report that to the authorities unless the patient actually stated that herself.
Muttering under her breath, she went back to Room Two. The patient sat on the bed, tapping on his phone. “How’s that leg feeling now?” she asked
“Leg? What leg?” His eyes twinkled.
Liz tested the skin around his wound with her gloved finger. Jack didn’t flinch. Either the anesthetic had taken full effect or he was the type who wouldn’t acknowledge pain if he had a hundred needles plunged into his chest.
She peeled off her gloves at the sink, washed her hands, and slipped into a clean smock and gloves. “All right, Mr. Hardy. Let’s get you sewed up and out of here.”
As she readied her materials, he leaned forward to read Liz’s name tag. “So what do they call you? Lizzie? Beth?”
“They call me Dr. Carr.”
“So it’s Elizabeth, right?” He chuckled. “Elizabeths are usually reserved, rule followers, and risk-aversive.”
She disregarded the apt description. “Actually, it’s Liz.”
He shot her a ‘gotcha’ grin.
She ignored that too. “I see you’ve been our guest in this E.R. before. Are you accident prone, Mr. Hardy?”
“Jack,” he reminded her. “I’m pretty careful with the big stuff. I’ve never gotten hurt motorcycle racing. Or hang gliding. Or rappelling off a cliff face.”
Liz frowned. “Aren’t you a little old to be engaging in extreme sports?”
He smiled. “If you think you’re too old to do something, then you are.”
“That’s a nice Facebook meme,” she said. “But your body has more to say about it than your mind.”
“And if you believe that, then you’ve already given up.”
The man was relentlessly positive. Crazy, but cheerful. And his optimism was contagious.
“So, Doc,” he said, after she’d sewed the initial suture, “What do you do for fun when you’re not torturing patients?”
It was usually the doctor or nurse who made small talk to distract the patient, but the reverse wasn’t totally uncommon. “What do you mean?” Liz joked. “Torturing patients is what I do for fun.”
“Well, you’re very good at it.”
She looked up to see if he was serious, but instead of pain in his eyes, she saw calm amusement. And a gaze focused on every motion of her fingers. “You sure you want to watch this?” she asked.
“Oh yeah. I want to see what kind of scar I’m going to have. I’m sort of a collector.”
Liz smiled. “I’ve noticed.” She tapped his other knee with her elbow. An irregular circle of discolored skin hinted at a long-healed scar.
“Oh, that one’s nothing. You haven’t seen the others yet.”
Yet? “Well, I’ll do my best to make this one practically invisible.”
She was sewing the second stitch when George Strait’s ‘Carried Away’ warbled in her pocket.
“You need to get that?” Jack Hardy asked. “If it’s important, I can wait. I’m feeling no pain right now.”
“It’s not important.” She needed to change Gary’s ring tone to something less romantic. Or better yet, block him from her phone.
Seconds later, he rang again. Snarling, Liz stripped off her gloves, excused herself, and walked to the corner of the room. “I’m with a patient,” she barked into the phone instead of whispering.
“Just wanted to let you know,” Gary said lazily, as if he were stretched out in hammock sipping a pina colada. “I’ve been in touch with my attorney and he wants to depose you as soon as possible. So if you don’t have your own counsel, I strongly urge you to get one.”
Liz gritted her teeth. “Gary, I have my hands in the middle of a patient’s blood and bone.” Not quite true but close enough. “Text me your attorney’s info and I’ll have my lawyer contact him.” She switched off the phone and stashed it back in the pocket of her lab coat.
“Sorry about the interruption,” she said, reaching for a fresh pair of gloves.
“That was a graphic way to tell him off.” Jack seemed less annoyed than amused. “Ah, the marital drama. One more reason why I’ve never gotten hitched.”
“Why do you assume I’m—oh.” As she struggled to smooth the blue latex gloves over her shaking hands, she followed his gaze to the gold band indenting her left ring finger.
She ought to take the damned ring off. She still wore it to discourage curious questions and gossip. But somehow, word must have gotten out. Once colleagues had looked at her with admiration, as if just being married to the sainted Dr. Sheridan were an accomplishment in itself. Now the same people regarded her with awkward glances, sometimes even pity.
“Talk of lawyers can’t be good.” Jack’s eyes lifted from her hands to her face. “Is divorcing Mr. Wonderful the reason you were crying outside earlier?”
“Dr. Wonderful,” she corrected. “And I wasn’t crying.” She recalled swatting away those weak tears. “Okay, maybe I was. Bad day.”
“Want to talk to Uncle Jack about it?’
Despite her mood, a smile peeked out. She could imagine Jack Hardy as the never-married cool uncle, bouncing babies on his knees and playing catch with nephews and nieces. “Thanks, I’m good.” She waited until her hands steadied and then retrieved the thread of the stitch she’d been working through the gash on his leg. “I am in the middle of negotiating a divorce, but it’s been a long time coming.”
“We’ve been married almost ten years.” She sewed another stitch. “Actually, we were happy until the last few. At least I thought we were.” Why was she blathering about her personal life to a patient? She hadn’t discussed her situation with any of the E.R. nurses or docs. “I guess I was too busy to notice I was miserable,” she admitted.
“You see what you want to see,” Jack said philosophically, his leg jerking a little as Liz stitched close to his knee. “Believe what you want to believe.”
He was a good listener, easy to talk to. Maybe she felt emotionally safer spilling her guts to a stranger, because in her strait-jacket life Liz had no one she could vent to, no one who had her back and wouldn’t share her confidences the minute it was turned.
She sewed another suture. “You cited drama as one reason you haven’t gotten married. What are the others?”
“How much time do you have?”
She chuckled. “You seem to have a dim view of relationships.”
He shrugged. “Relationships are fine. As long as you don’t allow yourself to get trapped in a cage.”
“So marriage is a cage?” she retorted. “Not a partnership between two people?” Why was she arguing with him? Most of her marriage had been a cage. She’d just been too hopeful and naïve to see it.
“I suppose anything is possible,” he answered. “But how likely does it seem to you that of the seven point eight billion people in the world, you are going to meet the one person who perfectly matches your values and temperament?”
“Not likely at all,” Liz admitted. “Most marriages are not a perfect match. It takes commitment and hard work.”
“Work.” He grinned. “Not a fan.”
He was too young to be retired. Was he a trust fund baby? “Some of us have to work for a living. I’m rather attached to having a roof over my head and food to eat.”
“Oh, me too. But if you’re doing what you love, it’s not really work.”
She’d felt that way about becoming a doctor. It was definitely hard work but the satisfaction of healing broken bodies made the effort well worth it. Liz finished the last of a dozen stitches and covered the wound with gauze. “So what do you do for a living, Mr. Hardy?”
“This and that. I’ve led hiking expeditions in Alaska. Guided white water rafting tours in Colorado. Trained would-be Everest climbers.”
Liz watched the gauze to see if he bled through it. “There are no mountains in Dallas. Or real rivers, for that matter.” The Trinity was a muddy trickle and the only lakes around were manmade. “So what brings you to our city?”
“My mother. She’s getting on in years and I worry about her living alone.”
“She doesn’t worry about you? I mean your risk-taking lifestyle?”
“She does. Always has.” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “But life is full of risks. You have to decide which ones are worth taking.”
The gauze on his leg remained white. After taping up the bandage, Liz stood. “All done.”
Slowly he shifted his weight to dangle his legs over the side of the bed and pointed at the candy sticking out of her pocket. “Do I get a lollipop?”
“Sure.” She reached for her stash. “Lemon or cherry?”
“Lemon.” He unwrapped the candy and licked it, then drew it slowly into his mouth. “I like taking sour things and making them sweet.”
The man was incorrigible. Trying not to smile, Liz clasped her hands to his waist and helped him glide to the floor. “Can you stand by yourself?”
Lollipop stick protruding from his mouth, Jack held on to the bed rail and limped a few trial steps. “I’m ready to run a marathon.”
“Not quite.” She motioned for him to sit in the chair she’d vacated. “You need to take it easy for a while.” She reached into her other pocket for her prescription pad. “I’ll write you something for the pain.”
“Don’t need it.”
Liz raised a skeptical brow. “That was a pretty deep cut, Mr. Tough Guy. You can try to get by on Ibruprofen but you should have this filled just in case.” She wrote a prescription for Hydrocodone and held it out. “Come back in two weeks to get the stitches out.”
“Two weeks from today?” He tossed the lollipop into the trash basket but held on to the prescription.
Liz mentally calculated the date. “Oh, that’s Thanksgiving. If that’s not good for you, we can--”
“If you’re here, it’s good for me.”
“I’ll be here in the morning.” Most Thursday afternoons she volunteered at the Rainy Day Women’s Center, attending low income women with no health insurance, but the center would be closed on Thanksgiving, giving Liz a welcomed afternoon off. “But you don’t have to see me. Any of the ER staff can clip those stitches for you.”
“Thursday morning it is.” He reached for his bag of clothes.
Liz closed the curtain behind her, not bothering to hide her smile. After ordering him a wheelchair, she looked up as a siren blared outside and an ambulance screeched to a halt in front of the bay doors. Two EMTs dashed into the ER wheeling a moaning woman on a gurney.
“Twenty-five year old female in labor,” the lead said, halting in front of Liz. “Contractions two minute apart.”
“Oh my god, I think my water just broke,” the woman wailed.
“Get her to LD stat,” Liz ordered just as the mother-to-be let out a howl that threatened to crack the glass doors.
“Squeeze my hand.” Liz leaned over the gurney. “You’re doing great. Your baby will be here soon. Stay strong.”
With a death grip on her wrist and the woman’s screams pounding her ears, Liz followed alongside the gurney throughout the fifty-second contraction, as the EMTS rushed her out of the ER and toward the elevator to Labor and Delivery. “Breathe. Short breaths,” she directed. “He-he-he. Hu-hu-hu.”
When the contraction passed and the EMTs wheeled the patient into the elevator, Liz slid her hand free and gave the woman a thumbs-up, then headed back to the ER. And noticed that Room Six was empty.
“Did Orthopedics come for Heather Barnett?” she asked the admitting nurse.
Cathy Warren gave her an odd look. “Nobody came from upstairs. I thought you’d released that patient. They just left.”
Shit. Liz raced toward the admission area, rapid breaths in rhythm with her pounding heart. Roy Barnett was pushing his wife toward the outside doors.
“Mr. Barnett, wait.” Liz stood in front of the wheelchair. “She hasn’t been discharged. Your wife needs surgery.”
“That’s your opinion,” the husband said. “I’m taking her to get a second one. That is my right, isn’t it?”
“Y…yes,” Liz admitted. He could get a hundred opinions and anyone who’d been through first year med school would say the same thing. But even though he was putting his wife’s health at risk she couldn’t deny the man his right to leave with her. “But you can’t take the chair out of the hospital. Why don’t you get your vehicle and I’ll wheel her out to you?” That would at least give Liz a chance to talk to Heather in private.
“Don’t need no damn chair.” Mr. Barnett started to yank his wife to her feet, pulling on her bad arm. Her scream of pain was the first sound Liz had heard from Heather since her arrival.
“Hey.” Jackson Hardy rose from a chair in the waiting area and limped toward them. “Get your hands off her.”
“She’s my wife,” Roy Barnett growled. “I’ll touch her any way I want.”
“The hell you will.” Holding on to a chair, Jack stood on one leg, raising himself to his full six feet something. Roy Barnett started to thrust out his fist until he noticed his eyes were on a level with Jack’s chest, and shrank back. Jack lowered his head to meet Barnett’s gaze. “Now do what the doc said and go get the car.”
Harrumphing, Heather’s husband stomped out the doors, with Jack, unmindful of his injured leg, close on his heels.
“Heather.” Liz leaned in close, aware of her short window. “You don’t have to live like this. There are places that can help you. I can help you.” She reached into the pocket of her scrubs for her Rainy Day Women’s Center card, and wrote her personal cell number on the back.
Heather Barnett still didn’t speak, but she took the card with her good hand and shoved it into her jeans pocket.
Seconds later, brakes long due for an overhaul squealed at the entrance and a truck door slammed.
Liz wheeled Heather’s chair outside and helped the woman climb into the cab of the pickup. She had barely closed the passenger door when the truck took off again.
“Damn.” Jack Hardy still stood outside, eyes narrowed in disgust. “That guy must have been born on the asshole farm.”
Liz let out a shaky sigh. “Thanks for trying to help.”
“If I had my own wheels, I’d chase his ass down and teach him how to treat a woman.” Leaning against the wall, Jack reached into his pocket and held out his phone.
“I can’t.” She waved his phone away. “The authorities won’t do anything until she makes the complaint.”
“You mean unless.”
“Eventually she’ll call for help,” Liz said. “Let’s just hope it’s not too late then.”
He lifted a brow. “You see this a lot?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” She extended her elbow for him to take. “Let’s go back inside. You shouldn’t be putting weight on that leg.”
“I’m good,” he said as a white sedan pulled into the semicircular drive. “My ride’s here.”
The woman driving the sedan had long, ash-colored hair. His mother?
“Paging Dr. Carr to the E.R.”
“Take it easy on that leg,” Liz said, and headed back inside. Just inside the doors she turned to see Jack Hardy getting into the car with a woman whose hair was ash-blond, not gray. And she definitely didn’t look like anybody’s mother.
Liz swallowed, pushing aside a loose strand of her own dishwater-blond hair. Of course he had a girlfriend. Guys like him always did.