Paramedic Sherri Steele refuses to believe someone's out to get heruntil she's held at knifepoint in her own ambulance. It'll take her high school crush to convince her she needs protectionand deputy sheriff Cole Donovan is as persuasive as he is handsome. But when his brother rises to the top of the suspects list, Cole's torn between family duty and the woman he's never forgotten. With every emergency call to the paramedics turning into an attack on Sherri's life, Cole's convinced Sherri has a stalker. Cole needs to know whether his brother is the culprit before things spiral out of control. Survivaland a future with Sherridepends on discovering who wants to cause trauma to this EMT.
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At the sight of her ambulance's side door yawning open, Sherri Steele tripped to a stop. This afternoon was headed the same way as the unsettled June weather. Stormy. Again.
"What's the holdup?" her partner groused from the other end of the stretcher straddling their patient's threshold.
She motioned with her chin for him to pull the stretcher holding the elderly gentleman back into the small bungalow. "I think we have company."
She'd closed the ambulance's door, but in this quiet retiree neighborhood, locking it hadn't seemed necessary. Before her partner could ask more questions, she whispered a quick prayer for protection, slipped out and padded toward the rig. Protocol demanded that a paramedic call the police if she feared for her safety, a practice she'd been a stickler about ever since her former partner had gotten himself killed, but the last thing she needed on her record was a nuisance cry-wolf call if it turned out to be nothing more than a curious kid inside. Maybe one of the neighbors' grandkids. Or worse. No one at all.
Her finger tensed over the radio's call button. She'd take a quick peek and if she saw anyone over four-six, she'd call it in.
"Get back in here with the patient and let me look," her partner hissed from the bungalow.
She put her finger to her lips and waved him off as she melted against the side of the ambulance to shield herself from the view of whoever was inside. The guys would never let her live it down if she turned tail and it turned out to be nothing. Please, God, let it be nothing.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled. Someone was definitely in there. She drew in a deep breath and glanced through the opening.
A lanky teen with unnaturally black hair stood at the wall-mounted cabinet, jabbing at the lock with a screwdriver. He slammed his fist into the steel and cursed.
Sherri jerked back out of sight and fumbled with the button on her radio. That was no curious grandkid.
The next instant she was yanked off her feet and hauled inside the truck. The kid spun her around and pinned her to the wall, the butt of his hand crushing her larynx. Drug-crazed eyes locked with hers. "Open it!"
"Okay," she mouthed, unable to get a breath past the pressure on her throat.
He slowly eased his hold, looking as if he wasn't sure he trusted her. His heavy-lidded, gauzy blue eyes seemed vaguely familiar, which shouldn't have surprised her in a town the size of Stalwart, Washington. But it rattled her more than ever. Maybe someone really was behind the bad things that only seemed to happen on her shift.
He shoved her toward the cabinet.
Making a show of thumbing through her keys, she depressed the call button on the radio and spoke as loudly and clearly as she could make her quaking voice cooperate. "We don't carry narcotics on board the ambulance."
At least he didn't seem to know that the four vials of morphine she carried for patients with extreme pain were on her person at all times. And she didn't dare tell him that the rest of the good drugs were in the trauma bag, still with her partner and the patient inside the house. The last thing she wanted to do was give their hip-fracture patient a heart attack.
With any luck this kid was crashing so fast that in another few minutes he wouldn't be able to put two and two together. By now her partner would have called the cavalry. She just had to keep the kid from going ballistic on her until they got here.
He grabbed her ponytail, twisted it mercilessly, and shoved her face into the cabinet. "Open it!"
Pain ripped through her scalp, exploded in her nose. Screaming, she rammed her boot heel into his kneecap.
He doubled over with a roar, but the grip on her hair only intensified.
Gritting her teeth against the torturous pull, she jabbed the keys between her fingers and swung. Her fist connected with his cheek.
Her partner charged up to the open side door. "Let her go!"
With lightning speed, the kid maneuvered her in front of him like a human shield. His arm tightened around her throat as he snapped open a switchblade. "Stay back!"
Dan, her six-foot, barrel-chested, former-army-medic partner, came to a dead halt at the foot of the door. His arms shot up, patted the air. "Okay, kid. Take it easy."
Straining to pull in a full breath, Sherri stopped struggling.
Blessed sirens split the air, the sound screaming closer.
But the sound made the kid shaky. Real shaky. "Tell them to stay back or I'll cut her. I swear I'll cut her."
A whimper escaped her throat as she winged a desperate plea heavenward.
"Look at me," Dan said in a soothing tone. "You don't want to do this."
"Don't tell me what I want," her captor seethed, pricking the tip of the knife into her cheek. "Nobody cares what I want."
A sheriff's deputy stepped in front of her partner. "I care."
The kid's hold on her neck loosened a fraction, and Sherri dared to breathe.
"You don't care. You left." The teen's arm around her neck went rigid again, his knife poised dangerously close to her carotid. "You left and didn't come back!"
The deputy pulled his stun gun and painted the teen's shoulder with the laser beam. "Drop the knife and let her go, Eddie."
"Or what? You'd shoot your own brother?"
Sherri's heart jolted. This was his brother?
The deputy's arm wavered. "I can't let you hurt Sherri. You know that."
Something about the way he said her name sounded achingly familiar.
His tortured gaze flicked her way, sending an unexpected flutter through her chest.
She gasped. "Cole?" When had he gotten back to town? Become a cop?
He winced at her breathless question and didn't meet her eyes.
She hadn't seen him since he'd left for college seven years ago. And never came back.
Not once. Not to see his brother. Not to see his father.
And definitely not to see the three-years-his-junior neighbor girl who'd been nursing a colossal secret crush on him.
Eddie's hold around her neck eased mercifully, but Sherri still struggled to pull in a full breath as her gaze clung to Cole. He was as tall as she remembered. But his brown hair was shorter and a shade darker. His chest broader. His voice deeper. And his eyes
Those soft gray eyes that had once sparkled with mischievous teasing now brimmed with a tangle of apology, regret and despair.
She swallowed a rush of emotion.
"I wasn't going to hurt nobody," Eddie muttered, gesturing toward the cabinet with his knife. "He said the stuff was in here. Said it would be easy to lift."
Cole edged closer, his stun gun still fixed on his brother's shoulder, dangerously close to her own. "Who said?"
"The guy. The guy!" Eddie waved his knife as if Cole should know.
"Drop the knife, Eddie."
"I just needed a fix."
"I know." That telltale muscle twitch in Cole's cheek gave her an odd pang of reassurance. "But I can't help you if you don't drop the knife."
"You don't wanna help me!" Eddie shoved her into Cole's line of fire and broke toward the rear door.
Thrown off balance, she tumbled out the side opening, right into Cole's arms. They closed protectively around her, his legs already in motion. And for a few blissful seconds she felt fifteen again. He rushed her away from the ambulance and coaxed her onto a porch step.
Her patient's porch step.
Remembering the poor gentleman who'd been in so much pain when they arrived, she lurched to her feet. "We need to transport our patient."
Cole urged her back down. "It's okay. Another ambulance is en route." He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, the tenderness in his gaze making it difficult to breathe.
She forced herself to inhale a deep breath, but with it came his distinctive, spicy scent. A scent that had whisked her into silly happily-ever-after fantasies more times than she cared to remember. Memories assaulted her of the sweet kiss and soul-stirring hug they'd shared after she'd played paramedic and treated the swollen, bloodied knuckles he'd gotten taking out his anger on the wooden fence between their yards. She squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn't let him inside her head again and definitely not her heart.
At a sudden painful pressure against her cheek, she jerked back, her eyes popping open.
Cole's lips dipped into an apologetic frown. "Your cheek is bleeding." He held out a bloodstained tissue.
She accepted it from him and pressed it to the wound, cringing at what a wreck she must look. What was she supposed to say? Good to see you after all these years. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she settled for, "Thank you for getting me out in one piece."
He cradled her jaw in his palm and coaxed the muscles to relax with a soothing brush of his thumb. "You were amazing back there."
She stiffened, not wanting to acknowledge how something inside her came alive at his touch, at the admiration in his gaze.
Dan hurried toward her, trauma bag in hand.
But Cole didn't budge. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and she had the uncomfortable feeling he was apologizing for a lot more than his out-of-control brother.
* * *
If Cole needed any more proof that he shouldn't get involved in a serious relationship, he was staring her right in the facesun-kissed hair pulled back in a ponytail, save for the wayward strands shielding wary blue eyes; trembling lips that even tipped down still dented her cheeks with those adorable dimples he used to lie awake thinking about; and that sweet strawberry scent that would forever transport him back to the day he'd stolen a kiss and she'd responded with a hug so touching it had probably kept him from doing something really stupid seven years agoit and her admonition not to lose faith. Sherri Steele. The epitome of what his messed-up family had cost him.
She'd been the bright spot in their neighborhood, always quick to offer a smile or lend a hand.
Now, with another paramedic examining her neck, thanks to his brother's ruthless attack, she couldn't even look at him.
Exhaling, Cole tore his gaze from the purple smudges blooming under her eyes and turned to his partner, who was hauling his handcuffed brother off the sidewalk.
"This is your fault!" Eddie screamed, wrestling against Zeke's hold as he hurled increasingly colorful insults at Cole, his expression rabid.
This was not how Cole had hoped his first shift with the Stalwart Sheriff's Department would go down. Let alone his first meeting with Eddie. He'd anticipated needing the full armor of God to battle Eddie's inevitable resistance, not his stun gun. He'd been away seven years too long. Seven years of trying to convince himself that he wasn't his brother's keeper. Seven years of running from God. He tried not to cringe at Eddie's hollowed-out cheeks, heavy-lidded bloodshot eyes, the rat's nest ofjet-black hairnot his natural color. Taking another deep breath, Cole bit back the lecture scraping his throat.
His brother was in no condition to hear it. And he had no right to say anything. If he wanted Eddie to listen to him, he needed to start by earning back his trust.
"He's tripping out pretty good," Cole said to his partner, who'd finally got Eddie subdued. "We'll need to take him to the hospital before we book him."
The balding heavyweight who'd bellowed at the sheriff for being "saddled with breaking Cole into the way things worked in Stalwart" propelled Eddie toward their cruiser. "Family connections will not get you any special treatment from me," Zeke hissed in Eddie's ear, shoving him hard against the trunk and digging a knee into Eddie's bony thigh as he reached for the rear door handle.
Cole started toward him, but then stopped himself. The manhandling was over-the-top, but if he stepped in Zeke would accuse him of favoritism. He'd already made it clear that he didn't appreciate Cole "usurping" the position that should have been his nephew's. Cole should've known the ornery deputy would try any tactic to prove Cole didn't deserve to be here. Three years with the Seattle PD clearly didn't rank higher than blood with him. Talk about favoritism. As Zeke clamped his meaty palm on Eddie's head and pushed him into the backseat of the cruiser, Cole hoped his brother wouldn't add his silence to the list of things he held against him.
He should've made more effort to connect since he'd returned to town two days ago, considering it was the only reason he'd taken the job in the first place. Never mind the dozen calls he'd made to Eddie's cell phone. In this condition, his brother probably hadn't even known he was ignoring them. Cole should've dropped by the house. And if he'd had to face his father, well so be it.
He wondered if Sherri still lived next door. She hadn't seemed to recognize Eddie, so she'd probably moved away before the dye job and downward spiral. If not for the call from an old high school buddy alerting him to the situation here, Cole might not have recognized Eddie at first glance, either.
"Did you hear me?" Zeke rounded the hood of the car.
"I said did you get the paramedic's statement?"
Cole blinked, glanced back at Sherri, now being helped to her feet by her partner. She'd pulled the elastic from her hair, leaving it to tumble in soft sandy waves over her shoulders. She was more beautiful than he remembered. Of course, the last time he'd seen her she'd been only fifteenjust a girl. To an eighteen-year-old, the three-year age difference had seemed unbridgeable.
"Cole?" Zeke repeated gruffly.
"Not yet." He pulled his notebook from his pocket and headed toward Sherri, hating how scattered and unprofessional he was coming off. He couldn't have made a worse first impression if he'd tried.
And Zeke's griping about how his nephew wouldn't have forgotten wasn't helping.
The second ambulance had arrived. As Sherri's partner briefed the paramedics on the patient awaiting transport, Cole cut her away from the group. "I need to ask you a few questions for the report."
Her answering smile looked more like a wince. "It kind of hurts to talk."
His chest tightened. If he'd just manned up and gone to Dad's place the day he'd pulled into town, he might have averted this whole incident. "You really were amazing back there. Held it together when most people would've freaked."
Once again the compliment seemed to make her uncomfortable, or maybe it was him. Her gaze flitted from her partner to the police cruiser to the vicinity of his chin. "Would you have zapped him?"
"In a heartbeat. If I'd had a clear shot."
Anguish flickered in her eyes, reminding him of the caring girl who'd nursed back to health every injured creature he'd brought to her doorstep.
He reached for her hand as naturally as she'd reached for his the day he'd been the injured creature on her doorstep. Her fingers felt like ice and remained coolly rigid. "I love my brother, Sherri. But your welfare comes first."
Her surprised gaze jumped to his.
"I'm not going to stand by and do nothing while he hurts innocent people," he added, needing to convince her for a reason he didn't want to examine too closely.
Her gaze dove back to the sidewalk as her hand slipped from his grasp.
Her retreat hurt more than it should have, considering she'd just been ambushed by his brother.
"Listen, I can come by the ambulance base later to get your statement. But I need to confirm a couple of things. Eddie took you hostage to coerce you into handing over narcotics?"
"Not at first. I surprised him when" grimacing, she splayed her fingers over her throat and sank back to the porch step "when he was trying to break into the cabinet."
"Okay." He hated to press her for details when talking was obviously painful. But "One more question for now. Do you have any idea who the guy he referred to is?"
She shook her head.
Cole pocketed his notebook and hunkered down in front of her until she couldn't help but look at him. "I'll make sure Eddie never bothers you again. I promise." The disbelief that flickered in her eyes at her nod pierced clean through his soul. "I'm sorry this happened."
"Fat lot of good sorry does her," her partner growled, stalking toward them. "You need to lock that punk up and throw away the key. He's done nothing but terrorize Sherri for weeks!"
"What?" Cole's heart couldn't have jolted harder if the guy had slapped paddles on his chest and zapped him. He jerked his attention back to Sherri. "Is that true?"
She shook her head repeatedly this time.
"Someone's doing it," her partner hissed.
"Whoa, whoa. Back up a second." Cole pulled out his notebook again. "These incidents, were they reported?"
"No, they've been little things. The kind of things that could happen to any paramedic. Crank calls. Getting sideswiped." He motioned toward Sherri's black eye. "Assaults."
"So what makes you think that Eddie's behind them? They all sound pretty random."
"'Cause they only happen to her!"
The color drained from Sherri's face, her white cheeks a sickeningly stark contrast to the bruises around her eyes and throat. "Dan, leave it alone," she whispered.
Cole's heart lurched. She was afraid. Anyone with two eyes could see it. So why didn't she want the incidents investigated? Did she know who was behind the other attacks?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Who's stalking the paramedic? Can the deputy sheriff figure it out in time? One thing I liked about Emergency Reunion is how much I liked getting to know the characters. The way Sandra Orchard wrote this book I felt like I was friends with the main characters and I could understand how they felt. Steve came back into Sherri's life and you could knew that they had one of those friendships that transcends time. It was like they were never apart. The mystery in some suspense novels is easy for the reader to solve but the great storyline makes up for the simplicity. Some suspense novels have so many suspects that you lose the story. I'm happy to say Emergency Reunion had the perfect balance - a great storyline with just enough suspects that the mystery wasn't easy to solve yet it made sense. Great story of the importance of family and friendship and faith. I really enjoyed this book!