Read an Excerpt
A Time To Protect
By Lois Richer
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Lois Richer
All right reserved.
Chloe Tanner checked the mayor's vital signs once more, noted them on the chart, then walked out of the room to collect a new IV drip bag from her cart in the hall, intending to exchange it for the nearly empty one. A hand reached around her, fingers clamped over her wrist.
"You're not a nurse. What are you doing?"
A man appeared in front of her and he was not the middle-aged guard named Sid who'd been seated by the door of the mayor's room. This man was tall, at least six feet, with the kind of hair she privately labeled "beach boy" — mussed, light brown with golden streaks that reflected the light and made him look as if he'd just left his surfboard and the sand behind.
Mostly it was his green eyes that fascinated her, frozen bits of emerald that echoed the frost in his voice. "I asked you a question."
A reporter trying to get a story? She glared at him. "This is an intensive care unit, sir. You are not authorized to be here. I'll have to ask you to leave." She stood her ground, her fingers still gripping the bag of fluid, his hand still clasping her wrist. "Now."
"I'm not going anywhere and you'll have a tough time throwing me out, honey." He grinned, a slow easy smirk that annoyed her intensely.
"You think so?" Chloe assessed him. Look for the weak spot. In two seconds she'd brought down her other hand in a crack across his wrist and broken his grip. A quick twist of her foot against his knee and he was on the floor.
"Now, if you don't mind," she said quietly, staring at him spread-eagled on the hard white tile, "I have a job to do and the mayor needs new fluids. So please leave or I'll have you removed."
She thought he'd be embarrassed. Most men would be. But this one rose to his feet lithely, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Hey, you're good!" He dusted off his pants with a chuckle.
"But that doesn't explain what you're doing here. Who are you, anyway?"
"Chloe Tanner, nurse." She pointed to her name tag, but realized it wasn't attached because she was wearing scrubs. "A patient was sick on me and I didn't have time to do much more than pull these on." She waited for him to leave. "Visitors are not allowed in Intensive Care. Not today."
"I know." He pulled out his badge, showed her his ID. "Brendan Montgomery. FBI. Can you tell me how the mayor is?"
"No, I can't." She hung on to his badge when he would have pulled it away and gave it a thorough scrutiny. Sid's police presence in the ward had made her edgy. "Nice badge, I suppose. But it doesn't say you have any authorization to be on this floor, Mr. Montgomery. We were specifically warned by the police not to allow anyone up here who isn't on their list. I've memorized that list — you're not there."
"Anything wrong?" Sid had risen, laid one hand on his holster.
"Everything's fine, Sid. You weren't expecting anyone else, were you? FBI, maybe?" Chloe saw his negative response and handed back the badge. "I didn't think so. You, sir, will have to leave. For information about the patient talk to the doctors or the front office. Now if you don't mind?"
"Oh, but I do mind, Miss Tanner." He stood in front of her — tall, muscular, disturbing. A tiny smile flicked up one corner of his lips. "I certainly do mind." One hand stretched out, then retracted as if he were afraid she'd grab it again. "What color do you call your hair?"
"My hair?" Without thinking, she touched the top of her head, felt the ponytail still securely tied. "Auburn, but I can't imagine why it matters. And it's Mrs. Tanner."
"Mrs.?" He frowned as if he'd come upon something smelly and distasteful. "Tanner. For some reason that sounds familiar. What does your husband do?"
"Not visit his family," she muttered without thinking.
"Sorry?" That quizzical look covered his suntanned face again. Chloe regrouped.
"I'm sorry, too, Mr. Montgomery. I'm divorced, so I no longer know nor care what my ex-husband does." She couldn't believe she'd told him that. To regain her composure she bent over and retrieved the IV bag. "Much as I'd like to continue this discussion, I have other patients to see to, and an IV to change."
She turned her back on him, made the transfer and walked back out to the hall with the empty bag, slightly relieved that the mayor's guard was there. If anything happened that she couldn't handle, at least Sid had a gun.
Her nemesis waited outside the room, watching. "Look, buddy, I don't care if you're the president, you're not permitted to be here until someone tells me differently. You'll have to leave. Now."
"I'm not leaving. I'm checking into what happened to the mayor. It's my job. You can call the administrator and you'll find I have clearance to come and go as necessary, which means that it's okay for me to be here."
"You need to understand that looking after this unit is my job and I'm not going to let anyone who's not supposed to be here on my ward. I'm calling security." Chloe strode to the desk, called and asked about her stubborn visitor. A ripple of frustration washed over her. He was who he said he was. And he was allowed to be on her floor, guarding her patient. "Thanks," she mumbled into the phone. She felt like a fool.
She was tired and grumpy because someone had called in sick and the ward was shorthanded again, but most of all she was embarrassed that she'd harassed him — and she'd knocked down an FBI agent! Why hadn't he told her the truth to begin with?
Not that Chloe needed the answer to that. After all, she'd already dealt with a father who'd lied, a cheating husband to whom truth was whatever was convenient and now a supervisor who didn't know reality from his own fiction. She could handle this guy with one hand tied behind her back.
"Everything check out? Did I make your list?" He loomed over the counter, his smile just itching to break free. The ice had melted and he was a gorgeous sight.
"You've been added." Chloe sucked in a breath and ordered her blood pressure down. "You can stay. You can look around. But you cannot touch anything. Understand?" She ignored him, smiled at Sid and returned to the mayor's bed once more before moving on to her next patient. When she'd completed her rounds, she returned to the desk. He was still there.
"How is Max doing?"
Chloe found herself repeating the official version.
"Mayor Vance is currently unresponsive. He has a bullet fragment lodged in his brain which the surgeons feel would be detrimental to remove at this time. The other gunshot passed completely through his body missing his heart by centimeters. At the moment, the mayor's condition is listed as stable but critical. He has not regained consciousness since the incident." She raised one eyebrow. "Anything else?"
"I guess not. If he hasn't spoken then that's no help."
He frowned, making her think of a little boy who couldn't grasp what he'd done wrong.
"Why so hostile, Mrs. Tanner?" he asked. "I'm just trying to do my job."
"As am I, Agent Montgomery." She dropped the chart back into its holder and studied him. "What is it you hoped to find here anyway?"
"Information that would lead me to the perpetrator of this crime."
The grim tightness of his voice suggested the mayor's shooting had been committed against him personally. Chloe admired his dedication to justice but this was taking it to the extreme. She raised one eyebrow.
"We don't have any bad guys hiding here, so I think you can go home and get some sleep." Since she'd moved to Colorado Springs, Chloe had heard a lot about Montgomery and the Vance families and their close-knit ties. Perhaps that's why this man felt he had to stand guard over the mayor. Maybe he was some kind of close family friend — which would make his job much tougher. A trickle of sympathy spurted up.
"Hey, Chloe, I'm back." Theresa, her co-worker, raised an arm as she walked through the elevator door. "Ooh. I see you've had company while I've been away." She offered the FBI agent a fawning smile. "You can take your break now if you want, Chloe. I'll look after your friend."
"That's kind of you." Brendan Montgomery smiled at the woman, but never budged from his position. "Your sacrifice is unnecessary though. I have a few more questions for Mrs. Tanner.You were the nurse on duty when he was admitted, correct?"
"Yes," she admitted grudgingly, searching for an excuse to get away from Theresa's curious stare without being too obvious.
"Then I'd like to ask a few more questions, if you don't mind."
"You'll have to ask while I have my break." Loathe to face the barrage of questions that would follow, Chloe strode to the elevator. Once inside she stepped as far away from him as the space allowed. "I don't know anything more and I really need to relax for a few minutes. Please, just leave me alone."
"Hey!" Brendan Montgomery held up both hands. "I'm not stalking you. I just thought we could have some coffee while I ask you some questions."
"Ask away. But I'm telling you, I don't know anything."
"You might have seen something without recognizing what it was," he said as the elevator opened.
"If I did, I'm too tired to remember it." Chloe stepped out toward the cafeteria. She knew he was following but pretended she didn't. She needed to think about Christmas, figure out a way to handle her son's request to go skiing with his friends for the holidays.
"You're going to eat all that?" a voice over her shoulder asked. Chloe glanced down, saw a carton of chocolate milk, three sandwiches, two apples, a cellophane-wrapped bowl of pudding and a piece of pie. Cheeks burning, she returned most of it then walked toward the cashier.
"I'm paying." A twenty-dollar bill pushed past her shoulder and before she could object the cashier had made change.
She opened her mouth to argue, caught a gleam of interest on the cashier's face and offered a simple "Thank you." Chloe chose a table far away from the few staff who dotted the area, sat down and began to unwrap her sandwich. Night shift wasn't bad, except that she always got so hungry, and she missed saying good-night to the kids.
Brendan Montgomery flopped down across from her. A moment later his hand thwacked the table. "Hey, do you know Madison Tanner?"
"She's my daughter." She frowned. "How do you know Maddy?"
"Soccer," he announced with a grin. "I'm the new coach, started last week. But I didn't see you at the last practice."
"I was working. The sitter took her." She frowned, troubled by his information. "Is something wrong with their former coach?"
"No. Buddy Jeffers is still on our side, but his work at the high school is taking a toll. He mentioned he needed help or he'd have to quit. My mother volunteered me to team coach with him."
"Your mother?" Chloe frowned. He sure didn't look like a mama's boy. "I don't believe I know her." The flicker of a smile that tiptoed across his lips puzzled her.
"Ever hear of the Stagecoach Café, Mrs. Tanner?"
His mother was a waitress? Chloe frowned, then remembered. "You said your name was Montgomery," she said aloud, thinking. "Fiona Montgomery owns the Stagecoach —"
He nodded. "My mother."
"Oh." She had to clamp her lips closed to stop her thoughts about Mrs. Montgomery from becoming public.
"I see you understand how I came to be a soccer coach." Brendan chuckled, his whole face alive with amusement.
"I'm sorry." Chloe felt herself blush. "It's just that she is a little —"
"Overpowering?" He nodded. "No kidding. What did she hit you up for?"
"Nothing, really." Chloe wished she hadn't said a word.
"Tell the truth. I can take it." He raised one eyebrow meaningfully. "I know my mother is like a steamroller. You won't hurt my feelings."
Chloe took one look at his face and knew he'd pry it out of her somehow.
"The blood drive last spring," she told him. "She needed someone to put up posters. She was rather emphatic that I help out. I came home after work to find two hundred posters on my porch, with very explicit directions."
"That's my mom." He nodded, then shrugged. "I can't cure her, so I just love her. Be glad she didn't find out you have kids."
"Why?" Chloe swallowed the last of her sandwich and sipped her chocolate milk. "Doesn't she like them?"
"Oh, yeah, she likes them just fine. But she likes their toys a lot more." He shook his head at her puzzled frown. "Never mind. It would take too long to explain my mother. Anyway I wanted to ask you about the mayor."
"I already told you —"
He held up one hand. "I got the official line. I'm not after that."
"Then what?" She finished the rest of her lunch, rose and carried the tray and contents to the nearest garbage. She had ten minutes more but decided not to linger. That would only mean answering more of his questions and she didn't like to tell strangers anything. She'd learned not to trust long ago.
"Mrs. Tanner?" Brendan Montgomery followed her to the elevator.
"It's Chloe. I don't have any more information about the mayor than his medical condition. And I told you about that."
"Anyone visit him?"
The lurch of the elevator sent them upwards. Chloe thought a moment.
"His wife and children. And a cousin or something from Europe. They left around nine-thirty to go home for a rest, but I'm sure they'll be back tomorrow morning. There's nothing they can do while he's unconscious and with the surgery he's just had " She let it trail away.
"Yes, of course. I knew about Lidia and her family." He matched his pace to hers. "Anyone else?"
"No — oh, yes. The deputy mayor. Mr. Frost, isn't it? He was here for a while, but he just stood on the sidelines. Never spoke to Mrs. Vance, either, except to offer his regrets. At least, that's all I heard."
Excerpted from A Time To Protect by Lois Richer Copyright © 2005 by Lois Richer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.