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|Publisher:||Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
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Life was dull. Dull and mundane.
Carisa MacDowell repeated those words as she jogged, giving the latter emphasis on every curb jump. The syllables had a certain rhythm as she zipped through the streets of her Philadelphia neighborhood. At least twice a week, she took an afternoon jog to clear her head, and today was perfect with its cool autumn breeze to keep her sweat to a minimum.
As with her life, nothing happened around here either. The crimes so common in a large city avoided her neighborhood because of a great community watch. Just a bunch of old biddies with phones to their ears. Big deal, they had the occasional dog bite to report. A domestic. And yes, the buzz of the week, which had heated the phone lines; the cops had arrested the man three doors down for embezzlement. A sleazy fellow. Shifty eyes. Upturned nose with hair sticking out. Nobody liked him. Otherwise, nothing changed. Only the tree roots. They pushed the concrete sidewalks higher with each passing month. Soon, she'd be doing hurdles.
The phone call this morning had put her in a funk. A friend had called to brag about her upcoming trip to Rio de Janeiro with a man she'd met at a bar. Fun. Excitement. Adventure. Head-over-heels in love. The way life should be.
Well, la-dee-da. In a book maybe.
Jealousy without question. And why? Carisa had made a success of herself. She had a great profession, nice house, plenty of friends. Her job as an emergency room physician in a center city hospital kept her adrenalin going. Two years so far and everyday, something new, something to challenge a few dormant brain cells. Except for the knife and gunshot wounds. Those came in every shift. She'd stitched up more cuts in her short career than a seamstress working for a fashion designer.
No, her personal life made the dull and mundane list. She never met anyone worth a second look. Even when she socialized with friends at a bar, she yawned at the men who approached. Not like she wanted a pirate with a knife between his teeth. Just a man a little less humdrum. She wasn't asking too much, right?
Maybe all she needed was a good hobby.
Little Harriet Turner called from across the street. The cute little girl had dark curly hair bouncing on her head like loose springs. They surrounded a pudgy face, a kind of doll-like appearance straight out of the toy store. She sat on Mrs. Schubert's immaculate lawn with its precise edges and polished flamingoes. The old fuss-wart might slip into cardiac arrest when she spotted Harriet's butt cheeks imprinted in the grass.
Carisa preferred the dandelion look. The yellow flowers always gave her lawn the right touch of color. Little Harriet loved to come over and blow the white seedlings when they sprouted. Carisa had often joined her, and they'd have a blast. Consequently, she had the worst-looking lawn on the block. A regular dandelion garden. Carisa waved to Harriet and continued her pace.
Ouch. She should have worn her other sneakers. These had pounded the pavement one too many times and were hurting her feet. Last run for sure. In the trash they go.
While house-hunting last year, she had a stroke of luck. Not only was a great mortgage rate part of the package, but the house had sold for less than it was worth because of foreclosure. So what if she'd bought a townhouse where every unit resembled a cookie sheet cut-out? She owned it — at the end of the mortgage anyway.
"Oomph!" A man plowed into her. He shoved her across the pavement onto someone's front lawn, tangling his arms and legs with hers in a wide sprawl.
What the hell! Since when do we have elephants on the streets of Philadelphia?
She stared dazed at a gorgeous head of curly brown hair that smelled of sweat and shampoo. She tried pushing him off, but he was like an anvil on her chest, restricting her breaths to short ineffective puffs.
The man scrambled to his feet, muttering and cussing. "Sorry, ma'am. Hope I didn't hurt you."
Hurt me? I'm a frog under a tire!
And he was gone. Boom, like that. The way men always came and went in her life. She couldn't move. Her air, vision, and everything in between, gone. Take a breath. Let it out. Repeat. She stared at a clear autumn sky and counted stars.
"Are you all right?"
An old woman stuck her head into the sunlight.
She wore a pink jogging suit with matching sweatbands around her wrists and forehead, like Mrs. Corolla down the block. After a few blinks to clear the stars, recognition registered. The face was indeed Mrs. Corolla. "I'm trying to figure out what happened." She palpated her sternum in case he'd separated it from the ribcage. No flail chest from the anvil. A miracle in the making. She rolled to a sitting position.
Mrs. Corolla took a leaf off Carisa's hair. "All I saw was two men running. One was chasing the other, but people run around here all the time. Like you. I never know who's doing what." She used a wrinkled hand to shield her eyes against the sun. "I don't see them anymore. The first one ran through the separated buildings. The second collided into you. He was pretty big. Are you hurt?"
Carisa rubbed the back of her neck to hear the vertebra snap, crackle, and pop. "I think he rearranged all my bones." Or crushed a few. Highly probable her internal organs had shifted into new territory. "I landed on my glenohumeral junction."
Mrs. Corolla blinked, and her mouth rounded into an "o."
"Shoulder joint." May as well clarify for the old lady. She rotated the cuff. Maybe a slight displacement.
"You doctors and your fancy words. Like a foreign language." She pointed to the grass. "I hate to give ya bad news, but you're on Willoughby's lawn. He doesn't like to clean up after his dog."
Aw, shit. Literally. She inspected her hands. A brown smudge. Oh, dear. She sniffed and made a face before wiping her hands on her pants.
"Maybe you should call the cops."
And tell them what? She had no idea who he was, where he went, or where he came from. They collided, and he was gone.
A police car raced down the street, lights and siren full. A second police car followed. Both whipped around the corner, tires screeching, and disappeared.
"The cops must be after those two," Mrs. Corolla mused. "Maybe we'll see them on the six o'clock news."
"Maybe." Carisa wobbled to her feet.
Mrs. Corolla pinched the front of Carisa's sweatpants. "You got some red marks on you, dear. See?" She dropped her hand and pointed. "There's also dog poop on your butt."
Blood smeared the front of her pale blue sweat suit. A faint trace also soiled the pant leg. She refused to look at the back. "Not mine. The man was hemorrhag ... bleeding." Not like she noticed. The extent of her description involved curly brown hair. And stars. Brown hair and stars.
"I've been meaning to ask you, can I pick some dandelions from your lawn next summer?"
Carisa stared at the old woman, not certain she heard right. Maybe she had some grass in her ears.
"Italians love that stuff, you know. Cooked or raw. Some people make wine. You don't use pesticides, do you?"
Carisa shook herself. "Okay, yes, of course. Pick all you want. It's completely organic."
"Thanks. Me and the mister haven't had a good dish of cooked dandelions since the new drug store paved over the neighborhood park. Sure, the Italian market sells them, but we like picking the leaves ourselves. Ever try them?" "No, and I don't intend to start." Bad enough she was force-fed escarole as a child. Ugh.
"Ah, well. If you cook them right, they're not so bitter." She studied the surrounding lawns. "Too bad you don't have pokeweeds. I can't find them anywhere."
Carisa stared. "I don't even know what that is."
"Just another Italian dish. Are you gonna call the cops?"
"I don't know what to tell them, Mrs. Corolla. Did you get a good look at the man?"
"Not really. Big guy. Brown hair. That's it."
That was her account, too. She thanked her neighbor and headed for home, ignoring the untied shoelace dragging on the ground. She couldn't bend to tie it anyway.
By the time Carisa drove into work, she suffered from shooting daggers around her right rotator cuff. Not a good sign. A possible hairline crack. Either the scapula or ball of the humerus. Both had sustained the brunt of the man's weight, but the lawn softened the blow. Willoughby's poop-filled lawn. If she had fallen onto concrete, she'd be on a gurney by now.
A painkiller. That's what I need. One that wouldn't put her in a comatose state while she worked. Highly probable the impact squirted the bursa fluid straight to her chest cavity. The area needed a good ice pack, but she'd wasted enough time and was running late.
She entered Jefferson Hospital's busy emergency department to find chaos. Two orderlies struggled to restrain a wild man running naked through the waiting area. A cardiac code was in progress. An old man cried at the top of his lungs that he was dying and no one cared. Same old, same old. No matter what shift, chaos reigned. After slipping on a lab coat over her dress clothes of blouse and pants, she approached the charge nurse. "All right, give me the lowdown."
The nurse with her hair askew and cheeks flushed slammed on the computer keyboard only to watch the Enter key pop out of its slot. She held the key in her hand with a look of exasperation.
"Everything rolled in at once," she complained. "Dr. Bonner's running the code in trauma. Dr. Cirello is handling two cardiacs and one respiratory distress. Dr. Patel is in ortho setting a leg, and he has two more fractures waiting for him. We have three bowels, two head colds, and one wino sleeping like a baby in ENT." She pounded the Enter key back in place on the keyboard. "We need you first in bed four. Stab wound. A cop. Get him stitched and out so we can clear the waiting room of all the suits. They're wandering around acting like he's on life support and making the patients nervous."
Carisa chuckled. "I'll take care of him." She walked down the hall past several open doors with patients reaching out, as if they were the walking dead trying to grab her. One little lady was in the process of closing her door. With a raised hand, Carisa stopped her. "We keep the doors open, ma'am, unless a doctor or nurse is with you. Safety reasons."
Unless they were puking their guts out or using the bedpan. Even a big hospital like Jefferson afforded a patient some privacy. She stepped through the open door to bed four and paused to survey the scene.
The man on the gurney, stripped to the waist, had his back to the entrance. He rested on his side with a hand propped on one elbow to hold his head.
A quick visual assessment revealed a man with a broad muscular back that tapered to a slim waist where a large gauze pad covered his wound. No moaning or groaning so pain levels were tolerable. Skin color decent. No monitor was attached so no problems with heart rate or blood pressure. He rotated his head when she shut the door.
She froze. She had never gawked at her patients, male or female, but this man stopped her dead. His head of curly brown hair was a coincidence, right?
A slow smile spread onto his lips. "I'm glad to see I didn't hurt you."
Take it easy. She stiffened her back. She was here to help him, not kill him. "You didn't even stick around to see if you crushed me to death."
"I can see that I didn't."
Her heart pounded with fury at his lackadaisical tone. The increased pressure pulsed through her aching shoulder to egg her on. She wanted to strangle him or pinch his balls with forceps. Instead, she stepped back. "I can't stitch you."
He dropped the hand holding his head. "Why not?"
"Because I want to use the biggest needle we've got, that's why not." Or use a bottle of alcohol to pour on his wound so he could scream bloody murder.
His smile broadened. "You're even more beautiful when you're angry."
Just what she needed to start her shift — a flirty cop. Far too many men were flirty these days. Half of them were married. The other half ... well, if she had taken them up on their offers, she wouldn't have a dull and mundane life to complain about. She'd be like her friend running off to Rio de Janeiro for a fling.
Carisa turned toward the sink to wash her hands. She needed cold water to ease the fury, but hospital water was tepid at best. Even after several minutes of scrubbing, she still wanted a big needle. And wire for sutures. Yeah, great idea. She faced him while drying her hands. "I apologize for the outburst."
"I'm a big boy, Doc. I can take whatever needle you use ... I assume you're the doctor."
She forced herself to calm down. The ER was too busy to pass him off to another doctor. She approached the computer at the head of his bed to read his medical chart.
"Shouldn't you introduce yourself?" he asked.
She was doing everything wrong with this man. What happened to all her training? Focus, girl, focus. She should step out the door and start over. She extended her hand. "Dr. Carisa MacDowell."
"Nice name." He took her hand and squeezed. "I'm Mitch Montero."
"You're a cop?"
He still held her hand. "Lieutenant. Homicide. Philly PD. I'm sorry if I hurt you. I was chasing a murder suspect. I didn't see you until I whipped around the van."
She hadn't seen him, the other man, or the van. Duh.
"You should be more aware of your surroundings, Doc. Life is dangerous enough in this city."
Her grip tightened in his. She wasn't in the mood for a lecture from a man she wanted to thump ... even if he was right. Instead, she forced her hand from his. "I'll keep that in mind. Did you catch the guy?"
"Two blocks later. I couldn't find you when I returned."
Her eyebrows shot upward. "You came back?"
"Of course, I came back." His gaze narrowed. "I don't make a habit of plowing down beautiful women."
The compliment rattled her. He said the words with a tone of annoyance, but the sincerity came through.
Just a flirty cop. Nothing more.
Her heart didn't listen. The vessel jumped around in her chest like a calisthenics workout. The man was distractingly handsome with warm brown eyes that surveyed with more than a casual interest. Cop eyes, clear and analytical, trained to see and evaluate before the next blink. His lips had a sensual fullness while the curls in his brown hair looked finger soft and tempting. If only the knife wound was in that curly mass so she could —
At that thought, she cleared her throat and turned back to the computer screen.
His medical record listed him as single, which had nothing to do with his injury, but a good doctor was thorough. No other pertinent medical history struck her except for a small scar on his left cheek. Hopefully not too close to the curls. She peeked only to lock onto his twinkling brown eyes.
Best to get this man out the door as soon as possible.
Distracted by his knowing look, she returned to the sink.
"You washed your hands already, Doc."
"Yes, but I shook your hand." If she had done that in the first place, she wouldn't need a second wash.
She slipped on a pair of latex gloves and removed the gauze covering his wound. The slash covered a seven-inch section of his waist — not deep, but enough to make a mess of his clothes and require stitches. "You smeared blood all over me," she said while palpating the area. Nothing but hard muscle. Nice.
"Sorry, but I wasn't about to let the perp get away. I had him on suspicion of murder and assaulting a police officer. Not to mention resisting arrest. I wanted to beat him to a pulp, but I threw him in the back of a squad car. Then I returned to see if you were okay."
Commendable. Now, she was sorry she hadn't lain on the poop lawn longer.
She tore off her latex gloves and pointed to the head of the bed. "I need you to put your head on the pillow, Mr. Montero. Once I set up a surgical area, please keep still." She opened a surgical kit, slipped on the required sterile gloves to prevent infection, and then laid out the contents on a nearby tray. The sterile drape was next with the cutout hole positioned over his wound. Cleansing with the iodine solution took only a minute, but before starting with the sutures, she dragged a stool over with her foot to sit.
He lifted his head to see the contents on the tray. "You weren't kidding about the big needle."
"These aren't big. They're standard surgical size. Relax, Mr. Montero. You're already on a gurney. If you faint, I won't have to catch you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Infinite Choices"
Copyright © 2015 Jane Drager.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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