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Heartbreak must be a regular occurrence here, Caitlin Severn thought, ignoring the elegantly dressed people in the hotel lobby who were politely ignoring her. She would have liked to walk through the lobby with her head up, but she couldn't. Her eyes prickled with unshed tears, and her nose was starting to run. It always did when she cried. She gave her eyes a careful wipe, and walked down the few steps toward the entrance.
When she got there, she stopped.
Perfect, she thought, staring out at the moisture dripping down the glass door. Her life was becoming more like a bad movie script with each passing moment. This unexpected drizzle was a dramatic touch. All she was missing was a soaring soundtrack.
She hugged herself, glancing over her shoulder as if hoping that by doing so, Charles would come running up to her, pleading with her to change her mind. But he didn't.
The world carried on. Cliched, but true. Nothing had stopped just because her own world had been rearranged.
Just ten minutes ago she had broken up with Charles Frost. Again. When Charles had made this date he'd said he had some special news. They'd been dating for three years, and she foolishly thought he was going to propose. Instead he told her about his promotion and subsequent move to Los Angeles.
In the moment when he lifted his glass of wine to her to toast his success, Caitlin was faced with something she knew she'd been avoiding.
Charles's career would always come before her.
Caitlin knew that this was not how she wanted to live her life.
So with a few succinct words, she broke up with him.
Caitlin took a step closer to the front doors and was grateful to see a row of cabs. With a last glance over her shoulder, she stepped out into the early evening drizzle.
She walked down the sidewalk, her high heels clicking on the wet pavement, moisture beading up on the fine fabric of the short, fitted dress she had chosen so carefully for this date and the "important news" Charles had to tell her.
Important to him, she thought with another sniff.
She hailed the first cab, then got in. She gave him quick directions to her home, then sat back, shivering with a combination of cold and reaction, thankful she had an escape.
As the driver pulled away from the front of the restaurant, she felt the first sob climb up her throat. She covered her mouth with her fist, but the hoarse cry slipped past her clenched hand into the quiet confines of the cab. One more got past her guard before Caitlin regained control. The cabbie didn't even look back.
She wouldn't cry, she thought as she defiantly swiped at her cheeks.
But Caitlin knew it was more than her breakup with Charles she grieved.
She watched out the window vaguely noting the buildings flowing by. She had lived in Nanaimo in Vancouver Island all her life and had never moved. It seemed as if her life had flowed along the same lines for the past twenty-eight years.
Twenty-eight and single again. Tonight, after their supper, she and Charles were to have gone to stay with his parents at their cabin on Pender Island for ten days.
Caitlin sighed. She wished she could skip the next few days and head back to work right away. The comforting steadiness of her work at the hospital would have taken her through the week, would have helped her get over the pain she felt. Now she didn't even have that.
Thankfully the driver was silent. The tires of the cab hissed over the wet pavement as a lethargy came over her. Reaction, she thought remembering all too easily the sight of Charles's impassive face as she delivered her ultimatum.
He just didn't care.
The entire evening stretched ahead of her, and she didn't feel like going home. She knew what would be waiting there. Her dear parents sitting in their usual chairs, drinking tea. Her sister Rachel would be curled up with her husband, Jonathon, on the couch, reading while soft music played on the stereo. Rachel, who had just told their parents she was expecting.
Caitlin had been jealous.
Caitlin shook her head at that thought. She was unable to put her finger precisely on why. It had much to do with the malaise she felt before she broke up with Charles. That her life was following the same path without any variation. She had the job she had trained for. She loved her work. But she still wanted someone in her life. Someone who needed her. She wanted to start her own family.
A blast from a motorcycle passing them made her jump. It zoomed ahead then slowed as the cab caught up. Puzzled, she watched, wondering what the motorcycle driver was doing. She found out as soon as the cab came up beside him again. In the bright streetlights, she saw the driver look sideways and, with a cheeky grin, wink at her.
Caitlin only stared back as he kept pace, still looking at her. He didn't look like anyone she would know. His well-shaped mouth had an insolent twist to it, his eyes shaded by his helmet seemed to laugh at her. Not her type.
Then he tossed a wave in her direction and with a twist of his wrist and a flick of his foot, was off again.
Caitlin shook her head at his audacity, watching as he wove expertly around the cab and the vehicle slightly ahead of them. Then a car swerved unexpectedly.
She heard a sickening thud as the car hit the biker. The bike wove once, then dropped, spinning in one direction while the driver shot off in another.
The cab driver slammed on the brakes and swerved to miss the driver.
"Stop," yelled Caitlin, leaning over the seat. "I'm a nurse. Stop."
The cabbie screeched to a halt twenty feet away from the driver, who now lay in a crumpled heap on the side of the road.
The car that caused the accident slowed, then sped away.
Caitlin's breath left her in a swoosh, her hands shaking as she fumbled for the catch on the door. Finally she pushed it open and shot out of the cab. She ran to the driver who was moaning softly.
"Thank you, Lord," she breathed at the sound. He was still alive.
Ignoring the expensive hose bought for this, her special night, the drizzle dripping down her neck, she dropped onto the wet pavement.
The cabbie came up behind her. "I called an ambulance, and the police," he said.
"Get me something to cover him with," she called out, as she automatically did her own assessment of the situation, drawing on her limited experience with emergencies. The man had a pulse, was breathing, albeit shallowly, and blood from a head injury ran in an ugly rivulet down his forehead. His leg was twisted at a grotesque angle. His leather coat was ripped.
Possible broken femur and spine injury, Caitlin thought, noting the angle of his leg. He was in big trouble. She knelt close to keep him from moving, her finger on his pulse as she counted and prayed.
The cab driver came back with an overcoat. "This is the best I could do. I got a first-aid kit, too."
Caitlin opened the kit as he spread the coat over the prone man. Right about now she regretted not having had more emergency training. In her ward at the hospital, she only got the patients from the operating room or emergency. All the critical care had been done by either paramedics or emergency room nurses.
Caitlin willed the ambulance to come, praying as she dug through the kit for a bandage to stop the bleeding from the most serious cut on his head. Her sore knees trembled with tension, she almost shivered in the damp weather, but she was afraid to shift position.
The man at her feet moaned, tried to roll over but was stopped by Caitlin's knees. He cried out, and his eyes flew open, staring straight up at Caitlin. "Hey, angel, you found me," he murmured, then his face twisted in pain.
Caitlin felt relief sluice through her in an icy wave even as she steeled herself against the sounds of his pain. Thankfully he was conscious. That meant no major head injury other than the cut on his temple. She carefully laid the pad on his head wound, applying pressure. "Can you feel your hands, your feet?"
"Yeah." She could tell that even that one word was an effort. "Feel too much."
"What's your name?"
"Doesn't matter " He bit his lip. "Please stay."
"Are you allergic to anything?"
"No." He blinked, looking up at her, then arched his back and cried out again, grabbing her hand.
Caitlin winced at his strength. "Can you tell me where it hurts the most?"
"Everywhere." His words were slurred, and Caitlin feared he would lose consciousness after all.
"What's your name?" she repeated.
"You're a pain," he mumbled, still clinging to her hand. "Everything's a pain." He squeezed her hand, hard, moaning. "Who are you, angel?"
"I'm Caitlin. Tell me your name. Stay with me."
But though his hand clung tightly, he wouldn't answer.
"Please, Lord, keep him with us," she prayed aloud. "Keep him safe, help him. Please send that ambulance, now."
She watched him as she prayed. His eyes were shut, his lashes lying in dark spikes against his high cheekbones. His hair hung over his forehead, some of the strands caught in the trickle of blood from the wound on his forehead, curling in the damp.
He looked to be in his late twenties, well built, she reasoned from the weight of his body against her legs, the breadth of his shoulders. It made his vulnerability all the more heart-wrenching. Caitlin wanted to check his pulse, but his hand still held hers in a death grip.
"Can I do anything?" The cab driver hovered over her.
Caitlin glanced over her shoulder, feeling utterly helpless.
"Pray the ambulance comes quickly," she said, shivering with reaction. The wind had picked up, chilling her.
In her peripheral vision she saw a few people coming out of their houses, some offering help. Someone even dropped a coat across her shoulders.
The victim's hand still clutched hers. Thankfully the flow of blood from his forehead eased, and Caitlin could put her finger on his pulse. It was weak, but then his grip loosened and his pulse slowed. Her prayers became more urgent as his eyes remained closed and beneath her trembling fingers she felt his life ebb away.
"Please, Lord, don't let him go. He's so young," she whispered, watching him. Nothing.
His breathing slowed.
Caitlin lifted his hand, clasped it against hers, her other hand still on his nonexistent pulse. Please don't take him.
Then, suddenly, his pulse returned, his hand tightened on hers.
His eyes fluttered open.
"You're still praying," he gasped.
"Yes, I am," Caitlin replied, relief turning her bones to rubber. He was still with her, he was still alive. "Thank you, Lord," she breathed.
She knew it wasn't over yet. His broken femur and the accompanying loss of blood were life threatening.
But she was reassured by the solid answer she receiveda touch of God's hand on the situation.
"You're wasting your time praying," he said, his teeth clenched against the pain.
"No, I'm not," Caitlin whispered, shaky with reaction.
Then came the welcome wail of an ambulance's sirens and its blue and red lights, flashing through the gathering dusk.
"What happened?" A paramedic ran up to Caitlin while the driver jumped out and pulled the stretcher out of the back.
"Motorcycle accident." As relief weakened her legs, she forced herself to stay calm, to be the professional nurse she was, relating what she had seen of the accident and how she'd treated his injuries. The police could deal with the driver of the car. She was more concerned about her patient. As the older of the paramedics immediately positioned himself at the victim's head, stabilizing it, she said, "I'm a nurse so tell me what to do."
"Just step back for now, ma'am."
She quickly got up and out of the way, her knees aching. She drew the stranger's coat around her, shivering against the chill wind.
The paramedic at the victim's head had his knees on either side, stabilizing him as he checked his breathing, the pulse at his throat. "Give me O2, ten liters, non-rebreather," he called out to his partner as he lifted the victim's eyelids.
"He's conscious. Superficial head injury," the young paramedic said as he started an IV.
"I need a C collar, large."
"Spine seems okay, no internal injuries so far. Fracture of right femur. Both arms, okay. Possible sprain."
"Got the fracture stabilized."
"Let's get him on the board."
The older paramedic at his head looked up at Caitlin. "We'll need your help, now, ma'am."
She nodded, and positioned herself. "Watch for that fracture," she couldn't help saying.
"On three." They rolled him onto the board, the paramedic still holding his head. With quick, efficient movements they had the victim strapped in, stabilizing him. Someone handed her her purse while she watched. The paramedics placed foam on either side of his head, taped the foam in, strapped the spine board on the stretcher and slid him into the ambulance, headfirst. It was all done with a calm efficiency that drew Caitlin along, comforting her. Routine she understood. What she didn't understand was her reluctance to let this man go.
"I'm coming," Caitlin decided suddenly. She handed the coat to someone and scooted into the ambulance before it sped away.
Caitlin's head ached in the overly bright lights of the ambulance's interior as she braced herself against the movement. She sat down on the long bench beside the stretcher. Vaguely she heard the driver on the radio, "Patch me into the hospital."
Caitlin felt as if her breath still had to catch up to her.
The older paramedic switched the oxygen to a fixture in the wall of the ambulance.
"What can I do?" she asked, reaction setting in. She was a nurse, and she needed to be busy.
"Here's a blood pressure cuff and stethoscope. Get me a set of vitals." He smiled at her as he handed her the equipment. "I'm Stan."
"I'm Caitlin." She unrolled the cuff and stuck the stethoscope in her ears.
"Hey, guy, you with me?" Stan asked the victim while he did a head-to-toe check again, opening the patient's leather jacket and his shirt to check his chest and stomach. "What's his name?" he asked Caitlin, as he worked.
"I don't know." Caitlin looked up at Stan, then down at the patient. His face was hidden by the oxygen mask, his eyes shut. His skin had a waxy pallor that concerned her.
The driver called back, "Is he awake?"
"Yes, but poor response. He's a little shocky," said Stan, as he steadied himself in the moving ambulance.
"Vitals are b.p. 118 on 76, pulse 116, respirations 24," Caitlin told him, pulling the stethoscope out of her ears.
Stan nodded as he pressed on the patient's sternum. The ambulance swayed around a corner and then with a short wail of sirens, came to a stop.
"Let's go, Caitlin," Stan said as he pulled a blanket over the patient. The door swung open, and Caitlin grabbed the coat and purse, exiting with the stretcher into a murmur of voices.
She strode alongside the stretcher as they entered the warmth and light of the hospital, watching the unknown man. His eyes flickered open, looked wildly around.