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As Kit slowly awoke and opened her eyes, she saw a man standing in the doorway. He was very tall, and in the shadowy, dim light he at first appeared to be darkand sinister. She had the uneasy feeling that he had been standing there, staring into the room in silence for a long time. Staring as she slept, making her feel oddly vulnerable.
His shoulders were broad beneath a heavy winter coat, and he seemed to stand very straight, with a great deal of confidence and assurance. She sensed that he wasn't watching her. He was watching her father.
Waiting for him to die.
Kit blinked, and awkwardly tried to rise, wanting to demand to know who he was, and what the hell he was doing. But when she blinked, he was gone. There was no man in the doorway.
Frowning, she rose and walked to the door and looked out into the hall. There was no one there, either.
She'd fallen asleep in the hospital chair at her father's side, and apparently dreamed that he was there.
"Katherine Delaney, you're losing itthough exactly what 'it' is I'm not sure, nor am I sure you ever had it," she said aloud to herself, trying to dispel the unease that had settled over her. She looked around her father's darkened hospital room once again. It had been late afternoon when she dozed. It might well be late in the night now. Shadows were everywhere.
Kit watched the IV's clear liquid as it dripped, traveled along the length of tube, and entered into Mark Delaney's vein.
He hadn't moved for a long time, and until she had opened her eyes to see the vision in the doorway, neither had Kit. Of course, it had been longer for him. He had lain in a coma for more than a week now, and it was doubtful that he would ever awaken again. She had accepted that fact. There had been days when she had tried not to cry because she had wanted to encourage him as though he could still hear her. There had been days when she had cried buckets. Now, there was an acceptance in her heart, but she had no intention of leaving him now, not until the very end. And it didn't matter whether he knew that she was there or not.
A rueful half smile curved her lips. In her dozing, she had probably had strange snatches of dreams. Her friend Jennifer would say that she was having desperate illusions. Her subliminal mind was inventing a tall, dark, mysterious stranger for her, since it had been months now since she had done anything but work or spend time with her dad. Jennifer basically understood, but she shook her head over the fact that Kit hadn't taken so much as a few hours to go out and find a handsome hunk, a suitable dinner companion orfor sanity's sakea one-night stand on her own.
"Jen, it's just not the time," she said softly, and looked down at her father. His illness had ravaged his features, but he was still handsome. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes were closed. But she would remember them, forever. Bright powder-blue, full of life, laughter and wisdom.
She started as Sherry, her father's very skinny but wonderfully compassionate and competent nurse, slipped quietly into the room. Had it been Sherry she had seen in the doorway before? Had Kit, in strange, quiet dreams of drifting time, imagined the nurse to be a tall stranger in a winter coat?
"I didn't mean to startle you," Sherry said.
"No, no, it's okay."
"He showing any signs of distress?"
Kit shook her head. She knew that the doctors had told the nurses all they could do at this stage was make their patient comfortable. When he needed more morphine, he was to get it. But he hadn't shown any signs of distress. He hadn't shown any signs of life, either, other than the little blips on the screen, for days now.
"Honey, it's way, way past dinner time. You go on out for a few minutes. Stretch, walk, get yourself something to eat and some coffee."
"I don't want to leave him alone."
"I'm signed out, my paperwork is done and the night shift nurses arrived a long time ago," Sherry informed her. "I'll sit right here with him and read up on the new drug literature."
"Sherry, you've worked all day! I can't impose" "Get!" Sherry said firmly, settling into the chair by Mark Delaney's side.
Kit started to protest again, but Sherry had already turned on one of the lights and opened her book. "You're ruining my concentration," Sherry informed her.
"Thanks," Kit said graciously. She did need to get out of the room.
It was late, she realized as she walked down the hallways. Past regular visiting hours, though the fact that the hospital offered all private rooms kept patients' family coming in and out around the clock. No one seemed to be around at the moment. The hallways were entirely deserted as she walked toward the elevators. "Shades of Halloween IIP" she murmured softly as she punched the down button. She hadn't seen the slasher movie in years, but she could suddenly recall a limping Jamie Lee Curtis being chased along empty hospital corridors. The homicidal maniac coming after her relentlessly. In the movie, the night nurse couldn't help because she'd been having sex in the hot tub with another hospital employee and the murderer had boiled them both. Kit, however, sincerely doubted, that, should she need help, the hospital staff would all be parboiled in the therapy whirlpool. Sherry would be indignant and furious at such a suggestion.
Scary movie, though. Jen would probably say that it carried a subliminal message warning employees to avoid sex in the workplace.
Strangely, she was actually feeling a little nervous. Sure, people would show up if she screamed, but of course, they would think her a maniac, and have her escorted out of the hospitaland possibly admitted into another kind of institution. She had nothing to be afraid of here, and she knew it. It was strange how the mind played tricks. Especially now, when she was so tired. However, the emptiness of the corridors still seemed a bit eerie.
The cafeteria would definitely be closed, she thought, walking along the ground floor hallway. Maybe Halloween II hadn't been quite so silly. She'd changed floors and hallways, and still hadn't encountered another soul.
"Kit, get a grip!" she said, then realized that she'd spoken aloud to herself several times in the last hour, and groaned.
"Coffee, I need coffee!"
She was doing it again. But she spoke aloud often in the hospital room, talking to her father. As long as the graph on his monitor was "blipping," she was going to talk to him.
The cafeteria was closed and locked, but she'd learned through experience that, oddly enough, the vending machine in the snack shop made decent coffee, even going so far as to offer a choice of Colombian, cappuccino, espresso, and French roast. Naturally, however, as she stood in front of the machine, she realized she had no change. Ah. The machine took dollar bills.
Except for her dollar bills, she realized with aggravation as the machine spit back her third one-dollar bill.
"Dammit! I do have the president facing the right way!" she informed the machine.
She dug through her bag and tried all five ones in her possession, but the coffee machine continued to spit them back. Frustrated, she swore and kicked the machine.
"May I help?"
The deep, slightly amused male voice coming from behind her startled her so badly that she jumped and spun around, her heart in her throat. She almost expected to see the maniac from Halloween II standing there.
But of course that murderer hadn't looked anything like the stranger before her.
This man might have stepped out of the pages of GQ. Jen would say that he was "devastating, to die for." He wore a business suit, expensively cut, possibly Armani or Versace, she guessed. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and wore the suit well. It was late, and he had loosened his tie; the weariness about him seemed to add to his rugged good looks. She estimated him to be somewhere between thirty and thirty-five years old, with dark-auburn, collar-length hair. His eyes were true brown, without a touch of hazel, so dark that they appeared black as coal. He was bronzed as though he spent a lot of time in the sun. Strange, Kit thought, since snowstorms were currently plaguing the north from Seattle to Maine.
She realized that she was just staring at him. And for the first time in forever, she was wondering about her own appearance. Naturally, she was a disaster. Wearing worn jeans and a Museum of Natural History
T-shirt with a large dinosaur that appeared to roar. Her hair was probably clean enough, but not brushed. And she wasn't wearing a speck of makeup, but maybe that would be all right. She was supposed to look a great deal like her mother, and Marina, she had been told, had possessed some of the finest coloring in the world, with hair so dark her father described it as the "ebony of a raven's wing" and eyes "so blue they were like the sky right when dusk began to turn to twilight."
Ah, the human mind! She wanted to explain to the stranger that she was usually halfway decent looking. Then she wondered what difference it made, he was a man visiting a relative, compassionate enough to try to help her get some coffee, and she was here
well, she was here for very serious reasons. How could she even worry about something so superfluous as looks at a time like this?
"May I help?" he repeated politely.
Embarrassed, she felt herself flushing. She wasn't usually dumbstruck at the sight of a man, not even one as imposing as this.
"I'm so sorry. You startled me. The place is so quiet. Like a morgue." Bad choice of words. "If you have any more luck with machinery than I do, I'd be grateful for any form of a cup of coffee."
He grinned, stepping by her. "It is quiet here tonight," he said. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
"I wasn't scared."
He looked at her, arching a brow slightly. He clearly didn't believe her. "Good," he said, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a leather wallet. His bills were clean and crisp and hadn't been wadded into a messy purse like her crumpled ones. The machine took his dollar instantly. Kit resented the machine and wondered if an inanimate object could have feminine traits and respond to a man.
"What would you like?" he asked her.
"What would I like?"
"Oh, I'm not just going to get coffee, but the choice the machine promises. French roast, thank you," she said, flushing again as he pressed the right button. Coffee poured into a foam cup. He reached for it, handed it to her, then put another bill into the machine and hit the same button again. She was still just standing there, staring at him.
"Ithank you. Oh! How rude of me, I'm sorry. Here's one of my reject bills" she began, offering him a dollar.
He shook his head. "It's all right. I needed coffee myself."
"Thanks so much, but I can't let you do that" "It was a dollar. Just a dollar. And I got change back, too." He fingered the coin return, and produced several quarters. "See?"
"Are you a raging feminist?" he inquired, a dark brow arched, his smile amused.
"No!" she exclaimed. "Well, of course, I believe in equal rights and equal pay and"
She broke off, because he was subtly smiling at her. Not in a mean way. She didn't need to explain herself.
"I'm not a raging feminist," she said evenly. "Thank you for the coffee." She could be gracious, and judging by the cut of his clothing, he could certainly afford to squander a few quarters, even on a stranger. What did he do for a living? she wondered. Attorney, she decided. He'd be wicked in court.
"My name is David Moore," he said, offering her his hand.
She smiled, accepting it. "KitKatherine, Mr. Moore, and thank you very much for the coffee."
He inclined his head slightly. "You're staring at me strangely, you know."
"Am I? Sorry. I'm tired I guess."
"You were thinking something," he prodded.
She laughed then. "Yes, I was. I was thinking that you look like you should be an attorney."
"Prosecution or defense?"
"Prosecutionor defense, either. I admit, in my mind's eye, I saw you making mincemeat of a witness on the stand. Or
telling a jury with passionate indignation that they can't possibly convict a man for such a horrendous crime on circumstantial evidence."
"Hmm, interesting. Do I look like an ogre?"
"Fierce. Intenseor possibly cool as a cucumber. Are you an attorney?"
"I keep up my credentials in the state of Florida, but I haven't practiced for a while."
"Ah, but you were an attorney!"
"Yep, I worked for the district attorney for several years. And I was with a firm in private practice as well."
"But no more?"
"No more." He didn't explain further. Looking at his suit, she wondered if he'd won a lottery. Florida. That explained the tan. It didn't explain what he was doing in frigid Chicago. "And you?" he asked. "Pardon?"
"What do you do?"
"Oh. I do a syndicated comic strip." "Great. Have I read you?"
"Maybe. I'm just beginning to get picked up. I do a little strip called Annie's Day. Pitfalls of day-to-day life, dating in the twenty-first century and the like."
"Have you seen it?"
"Yes, I think I have."
"You're just being polite." "I'm seldom just polite."
She arched a brow, sipping her coffee, shaking her head. "I can't believe that. You came to my aid with your dollar bills. Oh, and listen, I'm sorry to have kept you. I imagine you're here to visit someone?"
"An old friend, a man I haven't seen in years. In fact, I believe I've made the trip for nothing, so it was delightful to talk with you."
"Your friend has passed away?"
"I just asked about him at the information booth. They said that if I waited, a nurse would be free to speak with me. I may not even get to see my friend. He's in a coma."
Suspicion triggered quickly in Kit's mind. "What's his name?" she asked thickly.
"Delaney. Mark Delaney."
"My father," Kit said softly.
He arched a brow very high, and seemed to reassess her. Carefully. He smiled. "I should have known. Kit. Katherine. Katherine Delaney. You didn't say that."
She kept staring at him, confused. "How could you have known? Orshould I know you? You're an old friend of my father''s?"
He nodded, smiling ruefully. "A voice from the past, actually." He hesitated. "And I should have known you because you're the spitting image of your mother. I'm not so sure you'd remember me, but, yes, you did know me. You were very young at the time, but once, you lived at a huge estate called Bougainvillea. On the water. Your mother died when you were just six"
He nodded. "Your father was devastated when she passed away. He left Miamiand never returned."
"I have a very vague memory of Florida," Kit said, intrigued. "My father didn't want to remember a lot. We didn't talk about it. I do remember a big beach area, ponds, long grass, lots of flowers, a big old house with arches and gables
partially constructed out of coral rock. I had a wonderful room with a tiled balcony. And I remember a vague assortment of people therebut forgive me, how rude, I don't remember you."