Major incident headquarters…1500 hours
A tanker loaded with toxic chemicals is headed straight
for an oil rig. The only possible outcome—disaster!
Grace Darling Hospital…1530 hours
A team, led by Dr. Seb Bridges, is ready and waiting—to save lives.
Emergency room…1600 hours
Dr. Libby Bridges is on her way to the E.R.,
determined to ask Seb for a divorce.
For Seb, only two things matter—saving lives
and saving his marriage. This will be the
most important night of his life and the
clock is ticking.
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Friday: 3 p.m.
THE sky had that leaden look that usually heralded a storm. Libby Bridges pulled into a lay-by and checked her map. If there was a storm brewing, she wanted to get to her destination as quickly as possible.
Her finger traced the network of roads and she sighed. By her reckoning, she still had another fifty miles to go before she reached the hospital. Maybe she should phone Seb and warn him that she was coming so he would wait for her. She didn't want him to leave work before she got there. Although he had sent her his new address when he had moved, she had never been to the house and wasn't sure if she would be able to find it on her own.
Libby took her mobile phone out of her bag but even as she went to key in the number, she changed her mind. If she phoned Seb and told him that she was on her way to see him, he would want to know why. Did she really intend to tell him over the phone that she wanted a divorce? Maybe they hadn't been able to make their marriage work but the least she could do was to end it with dignity.
She shoved the phone back into her bag and pulled out onto the road, but her heart was heavy as she set off again. She wasn't looking forward to the next few hours but what choice did she have? There was no point hoping that she and Seb could work things out because they had passed that point now. The problem was that they were two very different people to the starry-eyed lovers who had met at med school and married on the day they had graduated.
Just remembering all the dreams they'd had once for their future together was almost too painful. They had been so sure that their love would last but the strain of working increasingly long hours had taken its toll. Whole weeks had passed when they had barely seen each other if one of them had been working nights. That was the main reason why she had decided to go into general practice. Working set hours—even long ones—had seemed preferable to never seeing Seb and it had been fine at first, until he'd been offered his dream job in the north-east.
Libby's pretty mouth compressed as she remembered the argument they'd had when Seb had told her that he was considering taking up the post. She was just getting settled into the practice in Sussex and starting to find her feet when he had dropped his bombshell. They'd ended up having a massive row. She'd told him that he was selfish for expecting her to give up her job and follow him around the country, and he had accused her of having a closed mind. They had gone round and round in circles, neither of them willing to give an inch, until in the end they had gone to bed with the problem still unresolved.
She sighed. That was the first time they'd slept in separate beds since their marriage and it had been their biggest mistake of all. Each time they'd had an argument after that, one of them had retired to the spare room. They had never actually sat down and tried to talk through their problems. They had shut themselves away and, inevitably, they had grown apart.
When Seb had taken up the post as consultant in charge of the newly opened trauma unit on the north-east coast, they had made an effort at first: Seb had driven down to Sussex one weekend and she had driven up the next. However, they had both known that they wouldn't be able to keep up such a gruelling routine. Something had had to give and in the end it had been their marriage. Now it was time to take the final step and end it. At least this way they might have some good memories to look back on.
Seb Bridges placed the paddles on the boy's chest and sent another surge of electricity arcing through the nine-year-old's body.Young Liam Baxter had had a fight with a bus on his way home from school and he had come off worst.
"Come on, come on," Seb muttered, his dark brows drawn into a frown as he willed the child's heart to start beating again.
"Sinus rhythm," the nurse beside him announced, and a collective cheer went up. Seb grinned at his team.
"Well done, you lot. That's another one we can chalk up as a success. Carry on like this and we'll start winning awards!"
Everyone laughed at that. The idea of them being afforded any credit for their efforts was a pipe dream. With government targets to meet, not to mention patients' increasingly high expectations, they were lucky if they received the odd thank you most days. Cathy, the senior charge nurse on the trauma unit, rolled her eyes at him.
"You still haven't got rid of those high-faluting southern expectations, have you, Seb?"
"Are you calling me a dreamer, hen?" he demanded in his best imitation of the local accent.
"If the cap fits..."
Cathy stuck her nose in the air and whisked past him. Seb laughed. One of the best things about this job was the camaraderie he enjoyed with his team. They were a great bunch, every single one of them as dedicated as he was. He really had struck lucky when he'd made the move north. Not only had he found his dream job but he'd made a lot of good friends, too. It had helped make up in a small way for all that he'd lost.
A familiar pain stabbed his heart at the thought of Libby and he swung round so his colleagues wouldn't see his anguish. There were patients waiting to be seen, and there was no time to waste by thinking about the mess he had made of his marriage. All the regrets in the world wouldn't change things now.
He left Resus and went to check the whiteboard. Every single cubicle was occupied and there was a patient in the treatment room as well. It had been an exceptionally busy day, even by their standards. The closure of several smaller accident and emergency units in the surrounding area had put extra pressure on them. The Grace Darling Hospital's trauma unit was not only a centre of excellence, it was the main provider of emergency care for several hundred thousand people. Now he glanced round when his junior registrar, Gary Parr, came hurrying over to him.
"Looks like your average day in the madhouse," he observed drolly.
"And it's about to get worse, by all accounts." Gary looked worried as he drew Seb aside. "We've just had the coastguard on the phone. Apparently, there's a tanker adrift in the North Sea and it's on course to hit one of the offshore gas platforms."
"Hell! What's the tanker carrying?" Seb demanded. "Some sort of chemicals, although they're not sure exactly what yet. The coastguard is still trying to get the information out of the tanker's owners and they aren't being very co-operative, it seems."
"Does the coastguard think they might be able to head it off?" Seb asked, frowning as he considered the implications of such a scenario. Obviously there would be casualties from both the tanker and the drilling rig if there was a collision, but that wasn't his only concern. If there was a chemical spillage, it could spread for miles along the coastline and that would put many more people at risk.
"There are tugs on their way to it but it doesn't sound very hopeful.'Gary grimaced. "The coastguard says there's a storm brewing and it's going to be a bad one, too. The guy I spoke to didn't rate their chances of avoiding a collision very highly."
"In that case, we need to prepare for the worst-case scenario." Seb swung round and headed for the office. Gary followed him inside and closed the door.
"You think it warrants major incident status?" the younger doctor asked, going pale at the thought. "I think it's worth putting everyone on standby," Seb told him firmly, picking up the phone. "The last thing we need is to be caught flat-footed."
He dialled the major incident headquarters and asked to speak to the duty officer. He was put straight through, although he didn't need to explain why he was phoning—the coastguard had beaten him to it. He nodded when the duty officer explained that an announcement was being prepared and that it would be aired over local radio within the next half-hour.
He hung up and opened the top drawer of the filing cabinet. He took out the file that contained the names of all the staff who were designated to work during a major incident and handed it to Gary.
"Check who's already here then make a list of the others so the switchboard can contact them, will you? I'll go and tell everyone what's happened and start winding things down in here. The last thing we need is a waiting room full of patients if we end up with a major emergency on our hands."
"What about the air ambulance service?" Gary asked hurriedly as Seb made for the door. "Do I need to get in touch with them, too?"
"You may as well, although they probably know about it by now.'Seb turned and stared out of the window, sighing when he saw the black clouds that were massing overhead. "It looks as though it's going to be a very long night."
Friday: 4 p.m.
THE storm broke just as Libby was turning in through the gates of the hospital. Raindrops as big as golf balls struck the windscreen, forcing her to slow down to a crawl. She switched on the wipers to their fastest setting but even then they couldn't cope with the deluge.
Rubbing the back of her hand over the glass to clear away the condensation that was forming on it, she peered out. There was a sign up ahead, directing her to the car park, so she cautiously headed in that direction, surprised by the size of the hospital complex. Seb had told her that a whole new wing had been built to house the trauma unit during the recent renovations but she'd not realised before just how impressive it was.
No wonder he'd wanted to work here, she thought as she searched for a parking place. He had always enjoyed being in the thick of things and thrived in a crowd, whereas she preferred to be with a small group of people whom she knew well. She frowned as she manoeuvred the car into an empty space. She'd never realised before how different they were in that respect.
She switched off the engine then found her umbrella. Opening the car door, she stepped out and gasped when the wind immediately tore the umbrella from her hand as soon as she tried to open it. It went bouncing across the car park, its spokes getting battered and broken as it was tumbled around. She sighed as she locked the car doors. There was no point going after it so she would just have to get soaked, although it was annoying when she'd wanted to appear totally in control when she saw Seb.
She made her way from the car park and followed the signs directing her to the trauma unit. Even though it was barely four o'clock, the light was fading fast. The storm was gathering momentum and she was relieved when she spotted the entrance up ahead. If the wind got any stronger, she doubted if she'd be able to stay on her feet and that would be the last straw—to turn up at Seb's place of work covered in mud!
Libby hurried inside the building then paused to get her bearings. The reception desk was straight ahead with a large waiting area to the right. Rows of chairs were neatly lined up in there and there was a drinks machine in the corner next to a rack of magazines. The place looked exactly as she had expected it would do, apart from one major omission: there were no people.
Where were all the patients? she wondered, looking around. The walking wounded as well as the seriously injured who filled up every accident and emergency department in the country? She couldn't believe this was a normal Friday afternoon. Seb had told her several times how busy he was and that there weren't enough hours in the day to see all the people who turned up. Obviously, something must have happened... "I'm afraid the emergency department is closed at the moment."
Libby swung round when a nurse suddenly appeared. "I'm not a patient,'she explained hurriedly. "I'm here to see Dr Bridges."
"Dr Bridges is too busy to see anyone at the moment," the nurse said firmly. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
They both turned when they heard Seb's voice. Libby summoned a smile but she could see the shock on his face as he moved towards her. "Hello, Seb. I seem to have chosen a bad time to arrive. Sorry."
"There's no need to apologise. You weren't to know that we were in the middle of a major incident alert."
He returned her smile but she could hear the tension in his deep voice. Was he wondering why she had turned up like this, out of the blue? It was three months since they'd seen each other, and that meeting couldn't be classed as a success by any stretch of the imagination. The weekend had been a strain for both of them; they'd found it difficult to think of anything to say most of the time. They had drifted so far apart now that they seemed to have no common ground any more.
She'd been relieved when Seb had decided to cut short his visit and return to the north-east. However, it had been that meeting which had helped her make up her mind about what she wanted to do. It had proved once and for all that their marriage was dead and that the best thing would be to end it rather than allow it to drag on.