Two years later
Fentway University Hospital
What’s going on? You’re not supposed to be here.”
Sophie Dunston looked up from the chart to see Kathy VanBoskirk, the head night nurse, standing in the doorway. “An overnight apnea study.”
“You worked all day and now you’re monitoring an overnighter?” Kathy came into the room and glanced at the bed on the other side of the double glass panel. “Ah, an infant. The light dawns.”
“Not so much an infant any longer. Elspeth’s fourteen months,” Sophie said. “She’d stopped having incidents three months ago and now they’re back. She just stops breathing in the middle of the night and her doctor can’t find any reason for it. Her mother is worried sick.”
“Then where is she?”
“She works nights.”
“So do you. Days and nights.” Kathy gazed at the sleeping baby. “Lord, she’s beautiful. Makes my biological clock start ticking. My kid is fifteen now and there’s nothing lovable about him. I’m hoping he’ll turn back into a human being in another six years. Think I have a chance?”
“Don is just your typical teenager. He’ll get there.” Sophie rubbed her eyes. They felt as if they had sand in them. It was almost five and the sleep study would be over soon. Then she’d run the errand that was on the top of her list before getting to bed and grabbing a few hours of shut-eye before she had to get back for her first one o’clock session with the Cartwright child. “And he offered to clean my car last week when you had him at the office.”
“He probably wanted a chance to swipe it.” Kathy grimaced. “Or maybe he wanted the chance to score with an older woman. He thinks you’re cool-looking.”
“Yeah, sure.” Right now, Sophie felt older than her years, frumpy, and ugly as sin. She turned back the chart and checked Elspeth’s case history. She’d had an apnea episode about 1:00 a.m. and nothing since. There might be something there that would help her pin down–
“There’s a message for you at the nurses’ station,” Kathy said.
Sophie stiffened. “Home?”
Kathy quickly shook her head. “No. God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to panic you. I didn’t think. The message came in during the shift change at seven and they forgot to give it to you.” She paused. “How is Michael?”
“Sometimes terrible. Sometimes okay.” She tried to smile. “But all the time wonderful.”
Kathy nodded. “Yes, he is.”
“But in five years I’ll probably be pulling my hair out like you’re doing.” She changed the subject. “So who left the message?”
“It’s from Gerald Kennett again. Aren’t you going to call him back?”
“No.” She checked Elspeth’s meds. Allergies?
“Sophie, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to him. He offered you a job that will pay you more in a month than you make in a year here at the university. And he might even up the salary since he keeps after you. I’d jump at it.”
“Then you call him back. I like my work here and the people I work with. I don’t want to have to answer to any pharmaceutical company.”
“You worked for one before.”
“When I first got out of medical school. It was a big mistake. I thought they’d free me up to do research full time. It didn’t happen. I’m better off doing the research in my spare time.” She circled one of the medications on Elspeth’s chart. “And I learned more dealing with people here than I’d ever learn in a lab.”
“Like Elspeth.” Kathy’s gaze was on the baby. “She’s stirring.”
“Yes, she’s been in NREM for the last five minutes. She’s almost there.” She put down the chart and headed for the adjoining door to the test room. “I’ve got to get in there and remove those wires before she’s fully awake. She’ll be scared if she wakes up alone.”
“When’s her mother supposed to get here?”
“Against the rules. Parents are to pick up their children promptly at the end of the session and this one ends at five-thirty.”
“Screw the rules. At least she cares enough about the kid to have the tests. I don’t mind staying.”
“I know,” Kathy said. “You’re the one who’s going to have the night terrors if you don’t stop exhausting yourself.”
Sophie made the sign to ward off demons. “Don’t even talk about it. Send Elspeth’s mom in as soon as she gets here, will you?”
Kathy chuckled. “Scared you.”
“Yes, you did. There’s nothing scarier than night terrors. Believe me, I know.” She went into Elspeth’s room and went over to the crib. It took only a few minutes to remove the wires. The little girl had dark hair like her mother and her skin was a silky olive now flushed with sleep. Sophie felt a familiar melting as she gazed at her. “Elspeth,” she called softly. “Come back to us, sweetheart. You won’t be sorry. We’ll talk and I’ll read you a story and we’ll wait for your mama. . . .”
She should get back to work, Kathy thought as she looked through the glass at Elspeth and Sophie. Sophie had picked the baby up, wrapped her in a blanket, and was sitting down in the rocking chair with the baby on her lap. She was talking and rocking the child and her expression was soft and glowing and loving.
Kathy had heard other doctors describe Sophie as brilliant and intuitive. She had a double doctorate in medicine and chemistry and was one of the best sleep therapists in the country. But Kathy liked this Sophie best. The one who effortlessly seemed to be able to reach out and touch her patients. Even Kathy’s son had responded to that warmth the one time he’d met her. And Don was definitely a hard sell. Of course, the fact that Sophie was blond, tall, and slim and bore a vague resemblance to Kate Hudson probably had a lot to do with her son’s admiration. He wasn’t into the maternal types. Unless Madonna was the one on the album covers.
But Sophie didn’t look like Madonna any more than she did the statue of the Holy Virgin. In this moment she was very human and full of love.
And strength. Sophie would have had to be strong to be able to endure the hell she had gone through in the last few years. She deserved a break. Kathy wished she’d take the Kennett job, scoop up the big bucks, and forget about responsibility.
Then she shook her head as she glanced at Sophie’s expression again. Sophie couldn’t shun responsibility, not with this baby, and not with Michael. It wasn’t in her nature.
Hell, maybe Sophie was right. Maybe the money wasn’t as important as the payback she was getting in there with that kid.
“Bye, Kathy.” Sophie waved as she headed for the elevator. “See you.”
“Not if you have any sense. I’m on night duty all this month. Did you find any cause for the increase in apnea?”
“I’m changing one of the meds. It’s mostly trial and error at Elspeth’s age.” She stepped inside the elevator as the doors opened. “We just have to monitor her until she grows out of it.”
She leaned back against the wall of the elevator as the doors shut and closed her eyes. She was too tired. She should go home and forget about Sanborne.
Stop being a coward. She wasn’t going home yet.
A few minutes later she was unlocking the door of the van. She avoided looking at the gun case with the Springfield rifle in the back of the Toyota. She’d checked it earlier to make sure it was in order. Not that she really had to do it. Jock always took care of the weapons and he wouldn’t let her go with a faulty rifle. He was too much the professional.
She wished she could say the same for herself. She’d blocked the thought of Sanborne all night but she was trembling now. She leaned her head on the steering wheel for a few minutes. Get over it. It was natural that she’d feel like this. Taking a life was a terrible thing. Even vermin like Sanborne.
She drew a deep breath, raised her head, and started the van.
Sanborne would be arriving at the facility at 7:00 a.m.
She had to be there waiting for him.
She heard a shout behind her.
She skidded down the slope of the hill, fell, picked herself up, and flew down the bank of the creek.
A bullet whistled by her head.
Run. Keep on running.
She could hear a crashing in the brush at the top of the hill.
How many were there?
Duck into the bushes. The van was parked on the road a quarter of a mile from here. She had to lose them before she reached the van.
The branches were whipping her face as she tore through the shrubbery.
She couldn’t hear them anymore.
Yes, she could. But they sounded farther away. Maybe they’d gone in another direction.
She’d reached the van.
She jumped in the driver’s seat and threw the rifle into the back before she peeled out onto the road.
Her foot stomped on the accelerator.
Get away. It could still be okay. If they hadn’t gotten a good look at her.
If they weren’t close enough to put a bullet through her head. . . .
From the Hardcover edition.