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From the Publisher"An original storyline and a strong female lead will make readers keep turning the pages of this engaging tale."
-RT Reviews on JUST ONE TASTE
Shauna Banks drove slowly as she followed the signs that directed her to Key West Medical Center. But she didn't need the signs. She could have found her way in the middle of a category-five hurricane. Chills crawled through her body and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Being here brought back too many bad memories. She had once vowed never to return to this place and she hadn't in almost fifteen years. Now she didn't have a choice. She looked up at the huge structure and took a deep breath.
Coming from another assignment, she was tired and restless, but she had a job to do and there was no alternative. Being her own boss made her solely responsible for the success of her business. Her biggest client, the Cura Medical Group, needed her professional consulting services. It wasn't until she'd already agreed that she found out which medical center she'd be reviewing. Now, with the faster timetable put in place due to unforeseen circumstances, everything got moved up, including her company's involvement in this process.
Her plan was simple and straightforward—get this over with and leave Key West as soon as possible. To expedite the process, she'd gotten in the night before. Even though she had an appointment to get started the following week, she didn't want to wait. The sooner she got this job over with, the better.
Shauna parked her car as far away from the main entrance as she could. Then she turned the light on and quickly reviewed the notes one last time. She got out and walked toward the emergency doors as if she were condemned and walking to the gallows. Each step sent a spike of pain into her heart. Suddenly, she was seventeen years old again, with her arm draped around her mother's shoulders as they rushed to get help. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled and rain poured down drenching them, but it didn't matter. All she knew was she'd soon be getting help for her mother. Everything would be okay. She was wrong. That was when it all started, or rather, it all ended for her. But that was a long time ago and she was a different person now.
As soon as she entered the hospital E.R. waiting area, her stomach jumped. She hated this part. The ominous thought of being there made her feel empty and raw. She walked farther in and looked around. At five o'clock in the morning, dim lights and sterile surroundings greeted her. A few people turned to look in her direction but then went back to what they were doing. There was a line at check-in. She waited.
This morning it appeared she had perfect timing. There were a number of people already waiting, plus two families in line in front of her. The first was a couple with two small children. One child, the youngest, was crying miserably in her mother's arms. The other clung sleepily to her father's neck while holding tight to a small stuffed animal.
In front of them was an older Latino couple, already speaking with the nurse at check-in about medical insurance and the man's swollen and bruised arm. Shauna smiled to herself. These two families would give her the perfect opportunity to time them going through the system. She stood behind them listening as nonchalantly as possible.
This was her usual modus operandi—to come early in the morning, before she was expected, to observe how the staff operated and performed. Dressed in jeans, a simple top, sneakers and a baseball cap, she made sure to blend in and go unnoticed. It wasn't exactly being sneaky or underhand; it was more like firsthand reliable scrutiny. They anticipated her arrival next week. It was unofficial, but this was when she saw the real people doing their real jobs, and for good or bad, she evaluated them accordingly.
This was always an E.R.'s first impression. And how they made it was extremely important. Shauna watched and listened as the duty nurse gathered the man's pertinent information. Afterward she quickly assessed the extent of the injury for triage and general patient care. It took only a few minutes. To Shauna's surprise, the process was quick and efficient. She walked away quietly as not to draw attention to herself. Finding a seat away from the check-in desk, she sat and began her more intense study.
This was Key West Medical Center E.R. at five o'clock in the morning. She made a notation in her computer tablet, then proceeded to write a few initial observation notes on general appearance, cleanliness, security, staff attentiveness and overall performance. Having done this dozens of times before, she was detached and methodical and her discipline was unwavering.
Just then a woman walked over and sat down, leaving a seat between them. With much ado the woman heaved a huge leather bag onto the empty seat. Shauna glanced sideways and nodded, giving a polite smile hoping the woman wouldn't talk to her. Please, don't talk to me. Please, don't talk to me. Please, don't talk to
"Hi, I saw you when you came in just now. I've seen you before," the woman said as she rummaged through her big bag and finally pulled out a shiny red apple.
Shauna turned at the comment, noticing the older woman leaning to look over her shoulder at the typed screen. She was dressed in flashy party attire and wore way too much makeup and perfume for this time of morning. She was near-skeleton-like thin and her hair was coiffed, teased and lacquered into a huge puff style cemented atop her head. "No, I don't think so. You have me mistaken for someone else."
"I also saw you didn't stop at the check-in desk," the woman said as she rubbed the apple a few times on her dress, then took a huge, juicy bite. "I'm Lindy. We're actually not supposed to eat in here, but I've been sitting here so long that I'm hungry," she whispered and chewed at the same time. She pulled out a second apple and offered it to Shauna.
"Oh, no, thank you," Shauna said, watching her put the apple back into her big bag.
"I see you have one of those new computer tablets that play movies and videos and stuff. I should have brought something more than just this one magazine with me," Lindy said then looked at Shauna's face, puzzled. "So, what's wrong with you? Do you have some kind of chronic illness or something?"
"No, of course not," Shauna said, slightly taken aback.
"Oh, good, 'cause no offence, but I'd have to move if you did. I was in here last month and there was some guy who said he had typhoid fever. Of course, the week before that he said he had malaria." She leaned in closer and whispered, "I think he was crazy or maybe he was one of those hypocrites who think they have all those illnesses."
"You mean a hypochondriac."
"Yeah, that's what I said. I don't see him here right now," Lindy said, then narrowed her eyes and looked closer. "So, what's wrong with you? You don't look all that sick."
"Actually, I'm not here for medical attention," Shauna confessed as her cell phone's email message beeped. She glanced at the message but didn't respond.
"Yeah, I kinda guessed that. I'm also guessing you don't work here, either, right?" Lindy said.
"No," Shauna said, "I don't work here."
"I didn't think so. I know most of the people who work here in E.R. You don't look like a doctor or a nurse. Why are you here?"
Shauna quickly decided to ignore the question. "Really? Then maybe you can tell me about some of the people here. What are they like? You don't have to be exact or anything like that, just general. Do they know their jobs? Are they professional?"
Lindy shrugged. "Yeah, they're all nice. Well, most of them. They're cool, and yeah, they're professional and they know their jobs. They pay attention and do their best to take care of patients when you come in here. But you know there's always craziness going on behind the scenes."
"You mean the lawsuit that's been in the news?" Shauna said.
"Yeah, that and also I hear the hospital is going broke.
I hope not. It would be a shame if they close it down," she said, looking around slowly.
"Sounds like you come here a lot," Shauna said. Lindy nodded. "Did you know Dr. Bowman?" Lindy shrugged hesitantly. Shauna could tell she didn't want to answer her. "You mentioned that you've been waiting a long time. How long have you been sitting here this morning?" Shauna asked.
"About two or three hours," Lindy said nonchalantly.
"What, you've been sitting here for over two hours?" Shauna said in complete astonishment as she quickly made a notation on the computer tablet. "That's ridiculous."
"Nah, it's no big deal."
"Actually, it's a huge deal. That's not supposed to happen. When someone comes into Emergency, they're supposed to get timely medical attention. No one should have to be here that long."
Lindy shrugged. "It's okay. I'm usually here much longer," she said, taking another bite of her apple. "You don't work here and you're not sick, so what are you doing here?"
Shauna decided to hedge and be as vague as possible with her response. "I'm just looking around, checking the place out."
"Oh, I get it. You're one of those."
"One of who?" Shauna asked.
"Hey, look, I know you have a job to do and all—I get that. But seriously, I don't know why y'all keep coming here and hanging around asking questions. What are you looking for? What's wrong with this place?" Lindy asked while looking around. Then she turned for an answer.
Shauna realized her question wasn't rhetorical. Her first instinct was to sidestep the question again, but given the circumstances, she told the truth. "What's wrong with it—I don't know yet. That's why I'm here, to look around and find out," Shauna said. Just then, there was a commotion at the main check-in desk.
A man was taking pictures. Two security guards were called over to confront the man, who seemed adamant about staying. Security was equally determined to make him leave. A few minutes into the dispute another man walked up. The man began taking pictures again and yelling about freedom of the press. The guards eventually escorted the photographer out of the building. Shauna watched the situation play out. "I wonder what that was all about," she said.
Lindy had also shifted her attention to the front area. "Believe it or not, that has happened a lot lately. That same guy was talking to me earlier and asking questions about the E.R. doctors and nurses just like you. Wait, do y'all two know each other?" Lindy asked, looking at Shauna suspiciously.
"No, I've never seen him before," Shauna said defensively.
"Huh," Lindy said, then looked back to the front. "Oh, good, there he is," she said excitedly. "I have to go.
I need to talk to him." She quickly gathered her things back into her bag.
Shauna glanced around, then stopped when she saw a man standing at the check-in desk talking with the nurses and security guards. He was tall, dressed in dark pants and a dark-colored shirt with a hospital badge on his pants belt. He was turned to the side, so that was all she could really see of him. "Does he work here?"
"Oh, honey, does he ever. He is the doctor here. You can forget about all those McDreary, McScary, McWhat-ever knuckleheads playing doctors on those TV shows. He's the real thing. He's gorgeous with money and a heart of gold. Everybody adores him."
"What's his name?"
"I gotta go before he gets away. He's a busy man. It was good talking to you," Lindy said. "See ya."
"Um, maybe we can talk again later," Shauna said quickly, but Lindy had already hurried away. She was headed straight to the check-in desk. She called out just as the doctor was about to walk away. He stopped and turned. Shauna watched, then frowned. Lindy had stepped right in the way and she still couldn't see his face, but there was something about him that seemed very familiar.
A few seconds later, she went back to taking notes specifically centered on tightening security in the E.R. waiting area. Afterward she looked around. Everyone who had been waiting when she arrived was gone and a few new people sat waiting. She noted the time, made a few more notes, then glanced up again.
Lindy was still talking with the group at the check-in desk. Shauna smiled at seeing her. She was in full animation mood with her arms waving and her head bobbing. She laughed loudly and smiled as if she was a teenager again. Then she went quiet and looked at Shauna and nodded her head and smiled. Still watching, Shauna half smiled, then looked down when she heard her cell phone's email message beep again.
She grabbed her phone and checked the message. It was the email she was expecting. She'd gotten the okay she needed to proceed. She replied, outlining the schedule she intended to follow. Just as she pressed the send key, she saw someone standing in front of her. She looked up. Tall, handsome and drop-dead gorgeous was definitely an understatement. He had said something and was waiting for her reply. All she could say was "Huh?"
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