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"It's a miracle you're alive. I caught the crash on the TV in a patient's cubicle," commented Dr. Dan Reems, the chief resident in the emergency room of Mercy Hospital, his long arms folded across his thin chest as he peered at Cameron over the silver wire frames of the eyeglasses perched on his nose.
Cameron agreed wholeheartedly. His car's front end looked like crumpled paper, but thanks to the new safety regulations NASCAR had implemented in the Car of Tomorrow, he had walked away with minor bumps and bruises. "Yeah."
"Will he be able to race tomorrow?" Hilliard asked, his teeth clamped on an unlit cigar. As owner, he had a lot riding on the answer. Sponsors wanted winners. Fans tended to patronize the advertisers on the cars that grabbed the checkered flag. Hilliard was very wealthy on his own after taking his money from a buyout of the computer firm he'd started, but it was nothing for one team's expenses to run from 10 to 15 million dollars a year, and Hilliard had two teams.
Cameron had long ago gotten over the fact that the race, not the driver, came first. He was only a tool. But he was one of the best.
"I don't see why not." Dr. Reems shook his graying head of hair and peered at Cameron over his eyeglasses again. "The X-rays and EEG checked out. He'll be sore as hell in the morning. He won't be able to take the muscle relaxants and drive. It will depend on him."
"I'm driving." Cameron reached for his black T-shirt and pulled it over his head, wincing as sore muscles protested.
"I'll give you a prescription for to night." The doctor went to the counter and quickly scribbled on a pad, tore the sheet off and returned. "An autograph for an autograph."
"Sure." Cameron exchanged the prescription for a pad and pen his publicist, Mike's daughter, Hope Alvarado, held out.
The room was crowded with his pit crew chief, the engine specialist, and a couple of reps from his two biggest sponsors. The reps wanted to make sure their investment was protected and Cameron was still racing the next day.
From years of practice, Cameron quickly personalized the autograph, and signed his name with a flourish. "Thanks, Dr. Reems."
"Thank you," the middle- aged doctor said, proudly looking at the autograph with a wide grin.
A tall, attractive woman in a black double- breasted business suit and white silk blouse stepped forward, her right hand extended, her left hand wrapped around a leather folder pressed to her chest. "Mr. McBride, I'm Ms. Jessup, the hospital spokesperson. There are quite a few news media representatives outside waiting for you. We've set up a conference room just off the emergency room for you."
"Thank you," Cameron said, his grin slow and lazy. "I appreciate it."
The woman blushed. "I'll show you the way."
Cameron eased off the exam table. Mike opened the door and they all piled out of the cubicle. Conversation in the various patient units scattered around the open area stopped for a full fifteen seconds. Since winning the Daytona 500 last week, he'd been thrust into the limelight more and more. Used to the stares, Cameron usually didn't pay them any attention. But he was well aware that if things had gone differently, his life might have been dependent on the skill of the hospital's staff.
The moment he walked through the double doors, cameras flashed, the waiting media surged forward. Questions were .red at him. Several off- duty policemen acting as security moved in front of the boisterous crowd.
"Please hold your questions and move aside. You're obstructing the hallway," the hospital spokesperson instructed.
The policemen pushed the crowd back to clear a path to the patient care area of the emergency cubicles. As they parted, a small group of people, apparently seeing a chance to get past the media, quickly came through the narrow opening.
Leading the charge were two men in white lab coats. Directly behind them was a young boy on a gurney being pushed by a woman in scrubs. His leg in a splint, he appeared to be in his mid- teens. On the far side of the gurney and away from Cameron was a woman carrying a small child. Her head was bent, her arms clasped securely around the boy, whose face was turned away.
There was something oddly familiar about the woman. She hadn't glanced in his direction, but he'd seen her hunch over further as her hand clutched the child closer to her. Cameron slowed his steps, turning to watch the woman. In a matter of seconds, she had passed them.
He couldn't say why he couldn't take his gaze from her. No woman had ever come close to making him feel even a fraction of the all- consuming desire he'd had for Caitlin.
He was afraid no woman ever would.
Just before she would have rounded the corner, the woman paused, then glanced back. Their gazes met. The jolt to his nervous system was worse than hitting the wall.
He had finally found her.
Her eyes rounded, her mouth opened, but no sound that he could hear emerged. Quickly turning away, she hurried around the corner and out of sight. His jaw clenched. Without thought, he started after her.
It had been more than five years and she was still running from him. Why? He'd asked himself that question too many times to count after she'd shamed him before his family and friends. In all this time, he hadn't figured out the answer.
"Cameron," Mike said, catching his arm. "Where're you going?"
Anger rolled through him. "Let go of me," Cameron hissed, not taking his gaze away from the spot where Caitlin had disappeared.
Frowning, Mike's fingers uncurled. "Cameron, son. You all right? The doc miss something?"
The doctor, the nurse, and the spokesperson who had attached herself to them ten minutes after he'd arrived, converged on him. "Do you have a headache? Blurred vision? Are you in any pain?" Dr. Reems asked, his bushy brows furrowed.
Cameron's head snapped back around. "Hurt" was a mild word for what he felt. He'd tried to dismiss her, forget her, hate her. He had been unable to do any of those things.
The media, sensing something was wrong, pushed closer. The two policemen were able to keep them back. If they sensed the woman who had made him a joke of the NASCAR circuit was nearby, they'd exploit it to the hilt.
He didn't need that. Winning the Daytona, the NASCAR kickoff, last Sunday boded well for him for the rest of the season. He planned to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship for the second year in a row. Nothing was going to stand in his way.
Firmly, Cameron turned around. Now wasn't the time. He didn't want the media bringing up her jilting him every time they interviewed him this season. He'd had enough of that the season after Caitlin had wrecked his life. The media had had a field day at his expense. NASCAR SPRINT SERIES DRIVER LEFT AT THE ALTAR.
"Cameron, do we need to postpone this?" Hope asked. Even before she finished speaking, some in the media were protesting. Hope kept her eyes on Cameron. She wouldn't be swayed by what the news-people wanted. Hilliard put winning first, Hope put her clients first. She had several NASCAR drivers as clients and had a reputation as a tough cookie. When pushed, she pushed back. Cameron liked her for that reason.
She might only be twenty- six, reach to the middle of his chest, and weigh a hundred ten pounds soaking wet, but like her father, she had steel in her backbone. And the media knew it. They didn't mess with Hope Alvarado.
She would push him or any of her clients if necessary, but she had a sixth sense for when to back off. Since his first win of the season at Daytona, life had been crazy. She had helped keep it manageable.
"Let's get this over with," Cameron finally answered.
Surrounded by his team members and the media, Cameron started down the hall, still trying to process seeing Caitlin after all these years. He'd looked for her after she'd run away, but she'd made good her escape.
Entering the small conference room, Cameron continued to the front, his mind unable to fully relinquish Caitlin. What he didn't understand was the fear he'd just seen in her eyes. Was it because of the little boy she held so protectively? Had she moved on while he couldn't erase her memory? Was he that big of a fool, to have kept hoping that one day she'd come back to him despite the McBride curse of being lucky in business but unlucky in love?
Faith, his little sister, had certainly escaped the curse. Married to a man she had loved since high school, she couldn't be happier. Cameron and their older brother, Duncan, thought they had escaped the curse as well, but both had been proven terribly wrong.
"Mr. McBride, please have a seat behind the middle mic," instructed the hospital spokesperson. "Mr. Alvarado and Mr. Hilliard can sit on either side of you."
Cameron did as told, his mind back in the emergency room. Did he want to find the answers to his questions or just move on? He wished he knew.
Caitlin couldn't stop shaking. Wasn't it enough that Joshua had tried to make a trampoline out of the sofa and injured his shoulder on the end table when he'd fallen? She had to calm down and deal with seeing Cameron. The day she'd dreaded and dreamed of had finally happened. And it couldn't have come at a worse possible time.
"Mommy, you're squeezing me too tight."
"Mommy is sorry," Caitlin murmured, making herself release Joshua and set him on the exam table.
"I want to go home," he murmured. "My shoulder doesn't hurt any more."
Caitlin swept her hand over his head, cupped his soft cheek, glad he was too young to notice that her hand trembled.
"Mommy, you're doing it again." Joshua wiggled in her arms.
Caitlin stared down into her son's face, felt the lump in her throat grow larger. Each time she looked at him she was reminded of his father.
Her smile trembled as she brushed her hand over his head again. "You scared me," she said, an understatement if ever there was one.
Her heart had stopped on hearing Joshua's scream of pain. Her son was too much like his father. He didn't know fear, and that scared her more than anything. She hadn't been sure what she'd find when she rushed from her home office to the den. He'd been on the floor, crying and holding his left shoulder.
It wasn't until after they'd arrived at the emergency room that he'd calmed down enough to tell her and the doctor what had happened. He'd lost his balance while using the sofa as a trampoline. He'd mumbled the explanation with his head down, and for good reason.
They had rules about playing on furniture and about trampolines. Caitlin refused to buy one or allow him on the one belonging to the family of his best friend next door after another neighbor's daughter Joshua's age had broken her arm the week before. That was enough for Caitlin to put it off limits.
Joshua looked up at her. "My arm doesn't hurt anymore."
She kissed him on the cheek. "I'm glad, but we still have to wait until the doctor looks at the pictures."
"You think she'll give me a treat like Dr. Bob?" Joshua asked, his eyes wide and hopeful.
"Probably not," she told him. "But since you were doing something that was against the rules and dangerous, do you think you deserve to get a treat?"
The answer wasn't long in coming. "No, ma'am, but it would make me feel better."
Caitlin had to smile. Joshua had a way of turning things around in his favor. He was a charmer, just like his father.
The smile died on her face. Sitting on the bed, she hugged Joshua to her, careful of his shoulder. She hadn't known about Cameron's accident until she was sitting in the emergency room waiting for Joshua to be seen. Racing was big business, but since NASCAR only had two races a year at the California Speedway racetrack, she managed to endure the madness.
Terrified, she'd watched on TV as his car spun like a top on the racetrack as other cars tried to miss the out- of- control vehicle. One couldn't avoid the contact, clipping his right back bumper and sending the car straight for the wall. She shivered again.
She'd almost lost Cameron today. He still made her body want, her heart race. And today her greatest fear might have come to fruition— she might have lost him.
That was the reason she hadn't been able to resist one last glimpse of him when she unexpectedly passed him in the hall. She'd been sure he wouldn't notice her with all the media and his crew around him.
She'd been wrong. Once, perhaps, her mistake could have been costly, but not after more than five years. She'd hurt him. Deeply. He probably hated her, and she couldn't blame him.
The curtain whooshed back. Caitlin tensed before she could help herself, then relaxed on seeing Dr. Mathis, who had examined Joshua, enter. She was overreacting. Cameron wanted no part of her. He was probably long gone.
"The X-rays confirmed what I thought," Dr. Mathis said. "Just a deep bruise. You'll be fine, Joshua. Just remember, a sofa is not a trampoline."
Joshua looked sideways at his mother before answering, "Yes, ma'am."
The young doctor chuckled. "I'm betting your mother will help you remember," she said, then turned and spoke to Caitlin. "You can give him Motrin if he complains of discomfort for the next couple of days."
"Thank you, Dr. Mathis." Caitlin stood and took off the hospital gown Joshua wore and helped him put on his shirt, watching his face as he lifted his arm. There was only a slight grimace, unlike the howl of pain he'd given when she removed it after they arrived.
"Thank you," Dr. Mathis said with a smile. "Because I was on call, I got a chance to see Cameron McBride."
Caitlin tensed as she buttoned Joshua's shirt. Her gaze snapped up to the grinning young doctor. "He's not still here, is he?"
The pretty woman sighed dramatically. "Afraid not. The press conference lasted only about ten minutes. I understand McBride ended it early, saying he had things to do.
"Caitlin tried to tell herself she was glad Cameron had left. Unfortunately, she didn't do a very good job.
"Are you a race fan?" Dr. Mathis asked.
"No," Caitlin quickly said, shaking her head for emphasis.
"My fiancé is nuts about NASCAR." The doctor pulled a sheet of paper from a prescription pad out of the pocket of her lab coat. "I managed to snag his autograph on his way out the door. My fiancé will be ecstatic."
"Thank you for fixing my owie," Joshua said.
"You're welcome." A friendly smile on her face, Dr. Mathis brushed her hand over his head. "Just play safe. A nurse should be here shortly with your discharge orders and you can get out of here."
"Please. I'd like to get Joshua to bed."
Nodding, Dr. Mathis left the cubicle. Almost immediately a male nurse entered with a clipboard and went over the discharge orders again. Caitlin quickly took the pen the nurse handed her and signed. Putting the sheet of paper in her purse, she picked up Joshua and headed for the door.
Quickly she exited the double doors of the emergency room entrance, and headed for the exit straight ahead. She was almost there when a man stepped out of a hallway to block her path.
"What's your hurry, Caitlin?" Cameron asked, as he lifted his shades.
Caitlin gasped and stepped back, clutching Joshua tighter to her. She didn't look around for an escape because she knew there was none.
Time had run out for her.
Excerpted from NOBODY BUT YOU by FRANCIS RAY
Copyright © 2009 by Francis Ray
Published in March 2009 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.