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Frank Chambers prowled the narrow hospital room, feeling like a foul-tempered bear awakening from hibernation with a thorn in its paw. He stared at his own bandaged hands and muttered an oath that would have curled his mother's hair and earned him a sharp rap across his already-injured knuckles. He wanted to smash something, but settled for violently kicking a chair halfway across the hospital room. It skidded into the pale blue wall with a satisfying crash, but did nothing to improve his overall mood. His mother, a wise woman with little sympathy for self-pity, would have said it would have served him right if he'd broken his toe.
The door opened a cautious crack and yet another nurse peered in, an expression of alarm on her face. "You okay?"
"Just dandy," he growled.
When he didn't throw anything, she visibly gathered her courage and stepped inside, marching over to his bed and folding her arms across her chest, assuming a stern posture clearly meant to intimidate. Considering her tiny size, it wouldn't have been an effective stance even if he hadn't been feeling surly.
"You ought to be in bed," she announced. She pulled back the sheet and gestured in the right direction just to make her point.
He glared at her and ignored the invitation. "I ought to be at home. I'm not sick."
"That's not what your chart says."
"I don't give a—"
She never even took a breath at the interruption. She just kept on going, talking over his swearing. "Less than twenty-four hours ago you were in a serious fire. When they brought you in, you were suffering from smoke inhalation. Your blood gases still don't look all that good. You have second-degree burns on both hands. You need rest and therapy."
It was not the first time he had heard the same detailed recitation of his medical condition. "I need to go home," he repeated stubbornly. He tried another fierce scowl to emphasize the point. Grown men had cowered at that scowl. He was certain of its effectiveness.
Clearly unintimidated, the nurse rolled her eyes and left. He doubted she'd gone to get his release papers. None of the others had, either. Hell, his own mother hadn't sided with him when he'd insisted he didn't need to be admitted in the first place. He'd been whisked up to his room and hooked up to oxygen so fast it had left his head spinning. He'd tried bribing each of his brothers to spring him, but they'd ignored his pleas. Not even his softhearted baby sister had taken pity on him. She'd patted his arm and suggested to the afternoon-shift nurse that they tie him down if they had to.
"Et tu, Brute," he'd muttered as Karyn had winked at him over her shoulder. Then she'd linked arms with her new husband and sashayed off to dinner.
The attitude of the whole Chambers clan rankled. That good-natured defiance was the thanks he got for all those years when he'd put his own life on hold to help his mother raise his five brothers and his sister. When his father had died, he'd reluctantly stepped into the role of parenting and discovered that it fit, even at seventeen. Maturity and responsibility had been thrust on him, but he'd somehow liked being needed, liked being the backbone of a large and loving family. In a curious sort of way he'd even suffered through the empty-nest trauma, watching as his siblings had matured and struck off on their own.
Karyn's recent marriage to race-car driver Brad Willis might have been the first wedding in the tight-knit family, but it was hardly the first sign he'd had that it was time to get on with his own life. He'd been told to butt out so often in recent years he'd had no choice but to start focusing on himself instead of his siblings. He'd been doing just that—most of the time, anyway—until yesterday afternoon. Now, suddenly, at forty he was discovering what it was like to have the tables turned on him, to have to depend on others for his most basic needs. And, he didn't like it, not one bit. What man would? No wonder his brothers chafed at all his well-intended meddling. Now they were giving it back to him in spades.