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A Full House
By Nadia Nichols
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHERE WAS A TIME when Annie Crawford looked forward to the unknown challenges she would face at work and the split-second, life-and-death decisions she made every day. But gradually, over the years, those feelings had changed. What she thought about now when she faced another shift was how long and stressful it would be and how desperately tired she was of holding people's lives in her hands.
These days, in those rare moments of quiet that sporadically punctuated her chaotic world, she dreamed of being someplace else. Someplace warm, where gentle winds blew all the clouds away. Someplace serene and peaceful, where tall grasses grew and where sometimes, in the midst of this lush green field, there grazed the most beautiful herd of wild -
"Horses," a man's voice said, interrupting her reverie.
She blinked, lifted her chin out of her hand and gazed up at the broad, friendly face of the man who was lowering himself into a chair across the hospital cafeteria table from her. He was dressed in casual clothes and looked wide awake despite the lateness of the hour.
"For one incredibly hopeful moment I thought you might have been dreaming about me," he continued, nudging a second cup of coffee across the table toward her. "But when I saw the sheer rhapsody of your expression, I knew it had to be that dream about the wild horses in the field of green grass."
Annie accepted the coffee with a slow smile. "There were five of them, and one was a jet-black stallion with a white star. Matt, what are you doing here on your night off? What time is it?"
"Just after midnight. I stopped by to check on Bonnie Mills on my way home from having a few beers at Gritty's." Dr. Matt Brink tasted his coffee and made a face. "So, what's shaking?"
"For a Saturday night it's been downright boring, so I checked on her myself about an hour ago. She was sleeping like a baby."
"Still is." Matt grinned. "She's going to be walking soon, I'd stake my job on it."
"That's the kind of miracle we need more of." Annie lifted her cup and stared at the black brew briefly before taking a sip. She also made a face and sighed. "Listen, I've been thinking ..."
"About the beauty of the Adirondacks in spring?" Matt asked hopefully, and Annie shook her head with a rueful laugh. Matt had been prodding her for weeks to commit to a hiking and camping trip.
"Matt, how many times do I have to tell you that I can't go? I have a thirteen-year-old daughter and I can't just -"
"I know," Matt interjected, raising a placating hand. "She's going through a very difficult period in her life called adolescence and you absolutely cannot leave her without maternal supervision until she is married with several grown children of her own."
He heaved a frustrated sigh. "I know," he repeated. "You're sorry."
Annie smiled. "You're impossible."
"I've been thinking, too," Matt said, leaning toward her. "Why not bring her along?"
"It'll get her out of the city and away from those friends of hers that you don't like. The fresh mountain air and sunshine would do her a world of good."
Annie's beeper chirped and she reached automatically to silence it, checking the extension. ER. She groaned wearily. "Let me guess. Knife wound to the abdomen inflicted by a drug dealer upon a possessive pimp who tried to talk down the price of a gram of crack for one of his girls." Annie pushed to her feet and eased a cramp in the small of her back. She smiled down at Matt. "Be seeing you around, pal, and thanks for the coffee."
"Ask Sally," Matt pleaded as she swiftly departed.
"I betcha she'd love to go on a camping trip." She waved a hand at his words as she pushed through the cafeteria doors but didn't look back.
THE SIGHT OF BLOOD didn't bother her and never had, but Annie sometimes felt as though she should be wearing a full biologic suit when she dealt with some of the shady members of the knife-and-gun club that routinely passed through the ER on a Saturday night. The man she now confronted was being restrained by two uniformed policemen. Male, mid-twenties, black eyes burning with fear and hatred. Blood spurted from his upper thigh while two gloved medics tried vainly to staunch the flow. "We can't get him to hold still," one of them tersely stated the obvious, his face beaded with sweat and dark with frustration. Blood was everywhere. "Gunshot wound. Looks like it's nicked the femoral."
Annie pulled on gloves and protective glasses and leaned into the youth's face. She spoke three terse sentences in fluent Spanish, and the struggling instantly ceased. The cops looked at her in amazement as the medics quickly secured the pressure bandage. "What did you say to him?" one of them asked.
Annie smiled grimly. "I told him that if he didn't hold still I might accidentally cut off his cojones because I was extremely inexperienced and the bullet hole was in a very ticklish spot." She waved her hand. "Let's get him down to Number Two operating room. They're still fixing the overheads in One."
The bullet wound was just the first in a string of injuries typical on a Saturday night. Somewhere between declaring the victim of a single car accident dead on arrival and monitoring the condition of an infant admitted with severe flu symptoms, Annie fielded a call from her ex-husband. "Hello, Annie," Dr. Ryan Crawford said from some five hundred miles north in Bangor, Maine. "Sorry to bother you at work but I haven't had much luck reaching you at home, either, thanks to your hostile housekeeper. You busy?"
"It's pretty quiet now but that won't last for long, so hurry up and state your case."
"Still the same old Annie," Ryan said dryly. "It's about our daughter. I'd like her to spend the summer here, or at least part of it. Did she tell you?"
"She mentioned it," Annie said stiffly, turning her back on the nurse's station. "I'm not sure it's such a good idea. She's going through a very difficult time ..."
"I know. Adolescence. Been there."
"Not as a young girl you haven't."
"Annie, why do you feel so threatened by my wanting to have Sally visit? Trudy and I would love to have her, and she told me she wants to come."
Trudy. Annie's grip tightened on the receiver. Three months after their divorce was finalized, Ryan had tied the knot with Trudy, a medical transcriptionist from his office. It was Annie who had asked for the divorce, citing irreconcilable differences that had nothing at all to do with another woman, or so she thought. Ryan's obvious involvement with Trudy had surprised the hell out of her.
Excerpted from A Full House by Nadia Nichols Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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