going back? Can you regain what's been lost? For heart
surgeon Jack Morgan the answer is yes.
Paralyzed by a stroke, he has no choice but to turn to
his ex-wife, Anne—just as if they were still married.
During the months that follow, they discover that the
memories of their marriage have an unexpected power
to bring forgiveness—and the return of a love that
never really left.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Beat, dammit. Beat!
As if empowered by the surgeon's silent command, the lifeless heart resumed a steady rhythm, again taking its place among the living,cheating death.Only then did Dr. Jack Morgan allow himself to relax.
At this point during surgery, adrenaline normally coursed through Jack's veins, creating a high that kept him running on all cylinders despite a career that might kill a lesser man.Tonight, he was to-the-bone weary.Too tired for someone still not quite fifty. His limbs felt oddly heavy, weighted with fatigue. But organ donors were few and far between, and failing hearts didn't give a rat's ass about his schedule, holidays or his exhaustion.
After stepping back from the table, he addressed the third-year resident at his side."You can close, Murray."
"Yes, sir." Her expression reflected gratitude and the same thrill Jack had experienced during his tenure as a student years earlier.That thrill that had been waning for some time now.
While Murray completed the procedure, Jack surveyed the O.R., absorbing the atmosphere he'd so often taken for granted. This was his domain, among friends and colleagues and those patients who needed his skill. The culmination of all his sacrifice, all his blood, sweat and tears.
His efforts, though, had not come without a price. No one waited for him at home. No one had for a while.And for some unknown reason, that bothered him more tonight than at any time in his recent past.
Not one to question moods, Jack gave Murray his verbal approval, along with the standard orders for the recovery process.Then he thanked the team members for a job well done, wished them a happy and prosperous 2007, tossed his gloves and gown into the refuse bin and headed out the double doors to tell the family the father of four now had a new heart and a sound future, barring complications and a lapse into an unhealthy lifestyle. For a brief moment he thought about the motorcycleaccident victim, a twenty-year-old kid who hadn't lived to see the arrival of the new year. But he didn't dwell on that. His sanity demanded he remain detached.
After rounding the corner, Jack stopped at the nurses' station,where Peg Jennings sat with her half-glasses perched on the end of her nose as she scanned a chart. He sought refuge at the counter and leaned his full frame against the cold Formica ledge, flexing the tingling fingers of his right hand in and out of a fist."Where're the Graysons?"
"On the roof.Where else?"
Peg was a Dallas Regional Medical Center fixture,with twenty years' tenure and a wit as dry as West Texas. Jack liked her a lot. She wasn't inclined to cower and she sure as hell wasn't impressed with his status.She did have a propensity for sarcasm, though. He didn't need that right now, considering the bongo drum pounding in his head.
His annoyance came out in a rough sigh."What conference room, Peg?"
"The main one." She set the chart aside and steepled her fingers beneath her chin, studying him with concern.
"Dr. Morgan, you look like hell.Are you okay?"
"Sure."Since he'd had less than six hours'sleep the past two nights, not to mention he hadn't finished lunch or breakfast, he was as okay as could be expected. He needed a solid surface to sleep on, a couple of analgesics, a quick shower"after he met with the family.
As he turned from the station, a searing pain struck the left side of his skull. He clamped his hands over the sides of his head and fought the shadowy abyss that stretched out before him. Fought like a drowning man not to go under.
His knees buckled. A feeling of total helplessness screamed through his brain at breakneck speed.Numbness overtook the right side of his body like frostbite in subzero temperatures. He grabbed for the counter, but couldn't hold on.
Annie appeared in his hazy mind, an ethereal presence from a dark place this side of hell. Her hands reached out to him, but he couldn't move. He called to her, a desperate keening cry,yet no sound left his lips.Then she walked away, as she had before.
Too late, Jackit's too late.
As the blackness closed in, reality settled over him like a thick suffocating fog. For the first time in his life, Dr. Jack Morgan, fearless surgeon, was truly afraid.
And completely alone.
The word echoed like a canyon shout in Anne Cooper Morgan's addled brain, blocking out the flurry of activity in the Intensive Care corridor, where she had been summoned only moments earlier.
Anne stared blankly at the messenger, Hank Steinberg, Jack's internist and good friend.Her one-time good friend, before her and Jack's divorce. "There has to be some mistake, Hank."
He scrubbed a hand over his bearded jaw. "No mistake, Anne."
Not Jack. No way could this have happened to Jack. As far back as Anne could remember, her ex-husband had never caught a cold, even when their daughter, Katie, had brought several viruses home from day care. Jack was obscenely healthy.An avid runner. In all the years Anne had known him, he'd never missed a day of work over healthrelated problems. He was immortal in everyone's eyes, including his own.
Anne's shock yielded to harsh reality."How? Why?" "Aneurysm," Hank said. "He bled out night before last, on New Year's Eve."
"Why didn't someone tell me before now?" She knew the answer to that"because she no longer had a right to know.
"I was out of town, so I didn't learn about it until this morning. I called you as soon as I had the details."
Anne needed more details, although true comprehension still escaped her."What next?"
"Nan Travers is treating him, which is good, since she's the best neurosurgeon in town.In a couple of hours,she'll determine if he's stable enough for surgery."
"If he survives."Anne posed it as a very real possibility, not a question.
Hank attempted a reassuring smile."Look, Anne,I have no reason to believe he won't pull through this. He's relatively young. Healthy.And because he was here when it happened, he received early intervention." Hank paused briefly before adding,"He's going to make it."
That slight hesitation told Anne more was yet to come. "What are you not telling me, Hank?"
"What he'll be like afterward is my only concern." Bile rose into Anne's throat, bringing with it the acrid taste of fear."Paralysis?"The word came out in a croak.
Hank streaked a hand over his nape and studied the blue-and-gray patchwork tiles beneath his feet."He's exhibiting some on his right side."
"His hand?" She asked the question for Jack as much as she asked for herself. Surgery was Jack's passion. Jack's life. How well she knew that.Their marriage had paid the price for his obsession, and so had their child. But he didn't deserve this. No one deserved this. Even the man who had shattered her heart.
Hank sighed."The hand's pretty dead right now.The numbness is extensive,especially in his leg.We'll know for sure how bad it might be in the next couple of days, after he's leveled off. If the paralysis doesn't resolve on its own, there's no reason to think he can't recover with extensive rehab.At least, enough to be productive."
"Productive?"Anne released a humorless laugh."Doing what, Hank? If he can't operate, he'll waste away."
"No, he won't. He'll get better. For Katie. For you." Anne shook her head. Jack wouldn't get better for her. Maybe for their daughter, but not for her."He has to do this for himself."
"True.And we have to keep him fighting.We can't lose him over this."
All the well-honed detachment from her former husband couldn't save her from the sudden nausea. Jack was sick. Katie's father. Her one-time husband of seventeen years.Years of abounding happiness and devastating heartache.
She didn't want to feel anything, but she did, and she hated that."Where is he?"
Hank gestured over his shoulder toward the cubicle. "In eight."
Despite all the latent anger, she had to know he was okay, at least for now."Can I see him?"
"Sure.He's had some mild arrhythmia,but his pressure's stabilized.Nan's hydrating him with maintenance fluids to prevent cerebral swelling.He's on pain meds,so he's pretty comfortable, but he's still out of it." Hank sent her a comforting smile. "Guess you probably know most of the routine, huh?"
Yes, as a medical professional with years of training, she understood the treatment and the procedures.Right now, though, all that knowledge was useless. She wasn't the R.N. She was the wife"or ex-wife, as was the case. She couldn't exercise solid judgment at a time like this. Not when thinking with her heart, not her head.
"Don't leave anything out, Hank. Assume I know nothing."
"Okay. I'll remember that." He patted her arm.
"Right this way."
Anne followed Hank on leaden feet down the hall.Rationally, she knew Jack would simply look like Jack, only asleep. But still she was afraid.
Once they reached the window, Hank stepped to one side and motioned for her to join him."I'll be back in a few minutes."
Anne moved slowly to the glass and studied the scene. Jack lay on the white-sheeted hospital bed, his six-foottwo frame nearly covering the length of it. With one wayward lock of dark hair falling over his forehead, his mouth slack, he seemed so vulnerable, so unlike the esteemed surgeon who was openly worshiped and silently feared. In that moment she caught a glimpse of the young man she had married"a brilliant doctor, a good friend, an expert lover. Before the drive to be the best had overtaken the tenderness. Before he'd decided that his life's work was more important than his daughter and wife.
Right now Anne wished he would get up and protest, but he remained motionless.The metal bars on the bed had been raised to prevent him from falling. Jack would hate being confined.But it was for his own good, Although he would never see it that way.
Anne touched her fingertips to the clear glass, as if she could somehow connect with him.As if she could bring him back to the way he'd been all those years ago, when they were everything to each other. She grieved not only for the Jack whose future was so tenuous, but also for the Jack she had lost to stubborn ambition.The man who had been so easy to love, yet so difficult to understand.
She shook off the memories,though she couldn't shake off the regret,or the groundswell of feelings that she'd tried so hard to disregard over the past two years. She had to keep the painful emotions buried,never to resurrect them again, for the sake of her sanity and her soul.
"He's going to need you, Anne. More than he's ever needed anything in his life."
No. She didn't want to hear this."Don't do this to me, Hank."
Clasping her shoulders,Hank turned her around to face him."He's got no one. Just you and Katie. If he's going to survive, he has to have support. He has to have both of you."
Like someone about to tumble over a cliff, she grasped for anything to save her from this fate."He has a brother."
"Bert's out of the country, Anne.Jack needs friends and family right here to help him recover, and that includes you and Katie."
Anne admitted Hank was right,but her survival instincts were much stronger than logic.This summer she'd planned to cut her hours at the hospital and begin work on her master's degree,bringing her one step closer to realizing her dream"a dream she'd put on hold for the sake of Jack's career. Once she had the degree she could sell the house, with its memories, and start over. She could give Katie a mother who was whole, Alive and sure of herself.Jack's need might take all that away.She would suffocate in Jack's need.
Anne tried to stay strong, although she was crumbling inside like week-old pastry. She swiped furiously at the tears that slipped past her attempts to stop them."Katie's only seven.She wouldn't understand seeing her daddy this way. It would scare her to death."
Hank pinned her with a glare."Are you intending to keep Katie from him? Are you going to just say, ˜To hell with you, Jack. Make it on your own'?" He shrugged."Of course, you could hire someone to take care of him while he's recovering. Is that what you want, Anne? Strangers tending to him? Do you hate him that much?"
No, she had loved him too much.
Her tears fell in earnest now. She didn't know what to do, what to feel. She only knew she couldn't breathe in this stifling atmosphere. She needed air. She needed to get back to work. She needed to think.