Brought together by disaster. Kept together by love.
In the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, it's chaos for trauma surgeon Jessica Hansen. Among the many victims, one patient stands outSan Diego Police K-9 search and rescue officer Cal Palmer.
Cal vows to help Kayla, a child orphaned by the disaster. But he needs Jessica's help. Will their shared concern for Kayla and for his canine partner, Scout, allow them to put aside their personal torments and discover the difference love can make?
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Calen Palmer's police-issued Ford Explorer veered sharply to the left, barely missing the large chunk of concrete, twisted rebar and other detritus strewn across the road. As he straightened the steering wheel, a blur of motion had him hitting the brakes hard.
The SUV skidded sideways on the dust-slicked road, shuddering to rest just inches from a wide-eyed woman. Her face and clothes were streaked with grime and blood, and she clutched a small bundle to her chest.
At the soft whine behind him, Cal looked over his shoulder. "It's okay, Scout. You're okay, pal," he told his canine partner while he opened the driver's door.
"Earthquake! We got an earthquake!" someone yelled. As if he didn't know that already. But people were panicked and the guy must have been reacting to the San Diego Police Department markings on his vehicle.
Voices erupted all around as he ran to the woman.
He felt the surge of adrenaline. It was a baby she was holding. And the blanket was saturated with blood.
"How badly are you hurt?" he asked, as he gauged the severity of the cuts on the woman's forehead and her right forearm, and checked her pupils for dilation.
"I I'm okay," she choked out through her sobs. "My baby. Lila " She cast a terrified glance at the child she cradled against her.
"Let me see." Cal eased back the blanket and scrutinized the tiny, scrunched-up face, the furiously working little mouth and the tightly fisted hands. The baby was alive. He did a quick, careful check. There were no obvious signs of trauma. The blood on the blanket was the woman's, not the child's.
"Your daughter appears to be fine," he assured her. She didn't respond, and he hoped she wasn't going into shock. He had to leave. People's lives depended on him and Scout, but he had to do what he could for the woman and her child.
A siren wailed, and Cal looked over at the ambulance barreling toward the intersection of University and West Washington. Dispatch had told him the triage area was set up in the parking lot of a nearby mall.
"Listen to me." He shook the woman gently. "Listen, okay?" Finally, her gaze met his. "See where that ambulance is headed?" She nodded. "Go there. The hospital's sent medical personnel. It's not far. Maybe a five-minute walk. Have a doctor look at your baby. They'll need to stitch up your arm, too."
She stared at him, tears welling in her eyes.
"Do you understand?"
She nodded again, and was about to move away, but Cal glanced at the baby again and put a hand on her uninjured arm. "Wait a minute."
He sprinted over to his truck, opened the passenger-side door and pulled a cotton sweatshirt from his duffel. Using a pocket knife, he tore off a sleeve as he ran back to the woman, and tied it around her arm as a makeshift bandage. He then quickly helped her remove the soiled blanket from her child and replaced it with the clean sweatshirt. The woman rested her forehead against her child's, and murmured a thank-you. Cal tucked the cloth more snugly around the small form, and nudged the woman in the direction of the triage area. "Now go. Lila'll be okay," he said, and prayed he was right.
Jumping back into his vehicle, Cal continued to the incident command location he'd been given by dispatch. He veered around a crushed concrete column, toppled on its side. It was blocking part of the roadway, its upper half shattered, the exposed rebar bent and tangled. He knew the amount of force it took for concrete to fail, which didn't bode well for what he'd see closer to the epicenter.
Cal was the newest member of the San Diego Police Department's K-9 Unit, and wasn't it just his luck that although San Diego was one of the California cities least prone to earthquakes, it had been hit by a massive one. He'd heard that the quake was 7.6 on the Richter scale. He could see the devastation all around him as he approached Incident Command. An elevated section of the highway had collapsed, and portions of the road surface had heaved and buckled. A rippled concrete parapet wall leaned precariously over the roadway. Two low-rise buildings and a parking garage had also collapsed.
Cal pulled into the cordoned-off area that had been designated as Incident Command, and parked behind another SDPD vehicle.
Cops, firefighters, paramedics and panicked civilians were everywhere.
Cal recognized Riker, another officer with the department. He was in a huddle with a tall, plain-clothed man and a firefighter. Cal surmised that the man in plain clothes was the incident commander. He left Scout in the vehicle and went to join them. Introductions were made; he'd been right about the third man. His name was Williams and he was in charge.
"It looks bad," Cal remarked. "Do we have any idea of the numbers yet?"
Williams shook his head. "Too soon to tell how many injuries and fatalities we'll have. The fact that it's late on a Friday afternoon might work to our advantage." He jerked his head toward the collapsed structures. "They housed offices mostly. Let's hope a lot of the workers cut out early."
Cal scrutinized the buildings. One had collapsed in on itself. Most of the floor appeared to be intact, if skewed. Best-case scenario, the people inside had time to find shelter near the load-bearing walls and would have survived. The condition of the other building was far worse. A couple of the lower floors had crashed down on top of each other. There couldn't have been much room for people left inside.
Cal heard Scout's muffled bark and knew his partner was anxious to get to work. He was always impressed by how intuitive police dogs were, sensing when they were needed. "Is it safe to go in?" Cal asked the commander. He'd done lots of search-and-rescues in the five months he'd been in San Diego and in his decade on the job with the Lincoln Police Department in Nebraska before then, but he'd never had to deal with an earthquake before. Sadly, there was a first time for everything.
"I think they're clearing it now." The firefighter motioned to a group of men near the entrance to one of the buildings. "But there's always the possibility of aftershocks." He glanced over at Cal's SUV, clearly marked as part of the K-9 Unit. "You plan to go in?"
Cal studied the buildings, considered the risks involved. He thought about Haley and forced the image of his little girl with her blonde ringlets out of his mind. She wouldn't know if he lived or died. He shrugged. "It's why we're here. It's what Scout and I do."
The commander gestured to one of the men by the building "We've got the all clear."
"Thanks." Cal shook hands with Williams, Riker and the firefighter before jogging to his vehicle. He opened the back door and signaled for Scout to jump out. Scout yipped excitedly and Cal took a moment to rub the dog's head and ruffle his fur, then attached his leash to his collar. Knowing it would be dry, dusty work and with no idea how long it would be before they could take a break, he gave Scout a drink from a water bottle.
With another hand signal, he alerted Scout that he was now officially on duty, and they headed toward the collapsed buildings and the men gathered on the roadway in front of them.
Jessica Hansen had been at Ocean Crest Hospital when the earthquake hit. Because of its severity, the hospital had immediately activated its critical incident response plan, including the deployment of the trauma team. The trauma team was responsible for onsite triaging and treating the injured, and dispatching those who needed additional care to the hospital. As a trauma surgeon, Jessica would've been called in regardless, but being at the hospital made it easier for her to mobilize a team and get to the site.
Ocean Crest was the closest hospital to the earthquake's epicenter, where most of the injured would be, and no more than a few miles from where they were setting up the triage area. A 7.6 quake was virtually unheard of in San Diego, but as a trauma doc she'd experienced quakes of a much lower magnitude that still had significant consequences. She knew this would be serious.
Thank heaven the hospital itself was largely unaffected by the quake. But then it had been designed to higher standards to ensure that it did. From the reports already coming in, they'd need all available resources, both human and physical.
In the hour since Jessica, the other trauma docs and a few of the emergency room nurses had set up at the designated triage site, she'd already seen at least a dozen people, and there were many more waiting.
She swiped impatiently at the sweat and loose strands of hair on her forehead as she finished splinting an elderly man's badly fractured forearm, and sent him off to the hospital.
Pinching the bridge of her nose, she counted slowly to ten. She had to stay sharp, she reminded herself. She couldn't be unsettled by the young boy she'd treated and sent to the hospital just before the older man. The boy had lost a lot of blood. Too much blood. Her vision blurred and she swallowed hard against the nausea. If she gave in, she'd be no good to anyone.
She felt a gentle touch on her shoulder. "You okay, Jess?"
Jessica slid her clammy hand over her brow and turned. Marcia Rodrigues stood behind her, the furrows on her forehead more pronounced than usual, concern evident on her face. The gray-haired nurse, now in her sixties, had worked in the emergency room at Ocean Crest longer than Jessica's thirty-one years, but they'd formed a strong bondboth professional and personal. "It was the boy, wasn't it?" Marcia asked.
Jessica passed her hand lightly over Mar-cia's. "Yes, and thank you. I'm okay now." She glanced around. "Did anyone else notice?"
"No. Of course not. I just know you well."
Jessica was certain that her episode and the subsequent exchange with Marcia took no more than a minute. But a minute could mean life or death in a crisis situation. She silently berated herself for her lapse. After all, this was why she'd given up pediatric surgery in favor of trauma. If she couldn't maintain her composure under these conditions, she had to ask herself if she was fit to practice medicine at all.
Jessica barely had time to finish the thought when Marcia brought her the next patient. It wasn't a child; she knew Marcia well enough that she didn't think she'd be seeing more children that day, but she was still relieved.
But she was in charge. She shouldn't have to be protected.
Most importantly, she could not, would not, fall apart. "Focus, Hansen," she ordered herself under her breath as she examined the mangled leg of the woman in front of her.
After a general outline of strategy with the other first responders, Cal and Scout went to work. They started with the least damaged building first. They were gratified to have some quick winspeople relatively uninjured and easily extracted. They cleared the first building, then did a fast sweep of the perimeter of the other building and adjacent parking garage. When they were done, no fewer than two dozen people had been helped out of the rubble, most requiring only minor medical attention.
But now it was time for the hard work. Scout and Cal had to go into the more severely damaged building. Cal knew, too, that his unit mate, Hal Robinson, and his cadaver dog, Max, were on scene. Cal hated that. He and Robinson got along well enough, but he hated to lose a person to Robinson and Max. Cal wanted to find people alive and rescue them. It was still their turn, his and Scout's. He intended to make it a slow day for Robinson and Max.
He and Scout now had to locate the people trapped deeper inside the building and likely requiring more assistance, whether because of injury or where they were. Those they'd been able to rescue said they had coworkers and friends still inside.
Cal and the other first responders had a quick huddle with the incident commander and the city's engineers, and mapped out a course of action.
Cal gave Scout some more water, stroked the fur on his head. "Okay, pal. Ready to go?"
A short bark confirmed Scout's willingness. Along with two firefighters, they headed off toward the more damaged building once more.
Since they couldn't access the interior from street level due to the collapsed floors, they were lowered through the central core by a boom. The city engineers had advised Cal that the building was nearly identical in design to the other, with a central atrium, but in this case, the atrium had held and the floors had collapsed. It wasn't going to be an easy rescue. Even after all his years as a cop, he still found it exceedingly difficult to deal with death. He hoped he wouldn't have to encounter it today.
They were in the bowels of the building and had cleared an area that must have been a coffee shop. They headed to the next space when Scout alerted, and started to dig at an area where a doorway had collapsed. This was not a passive indication. There was someone trapped on the other side. Cal shone his headlight around. They were near the center of the floor plate where the building seemed to have crumpled. The upper floors had caved in. He couldn't see any way into the area Scout had indicated. He ordered Scout to lie down and stay, dropped onto his knees where the dog had been digging and called out. In the relative silence he listened for a response. Gave it a moment.
He tried again. And waited.
Scout's agitation was obvious. The dog sprang up despite Cal's command and started digging at the rubble again. Scout's training was such that he would've kept digging until he got through, but he would have injured himself badly on the shards of glass and other sharp edges in the debris. His behavior was a sure sign that there was someone in there. Cal ordered Scout to stand down again. Just when he was about to call out once more, he heard a noise. A cough.
It was a child. A young child. He called out again. Calmly, reassuringly, despite his fear.
He heard a couple more scratchy coughs before the sound turned into hiccupping sobs.
"Can you hear me?" Cal shouted.
After some soft sniffles, he heard a hesitant, "Yes."
"Okay. I'm with the police and I'm going to help you."
Cal heard whimpers this time.
"What's your name?"
There was a pause, another sniffle. "Kayla."
"Okay, Kayla. Are you hurt?"
"I I don't know. But my mom "
"Your mother is with you?" Cal felt a chill permeate his bones.
"Yes. She she's sleeping."
Oh, God. "All right, Kayla, try to stay calm, and I'll get you out."
"When?" she asked hesitantly. "It's dark in here. I'm scared." Her voice quavered. "And Mommy Mommy's sleeping. I can't can't wake her up."
"Listen, Kayla. I'll get you out," he repeated. "Real soon." Cal hoped he could keep his promise.
He yanked his radio off his belt. "I've got a child here. Condition unknown. With her mother. She says her mother is asleep." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "She hasn't been able to rouse her. I'm betting unconscious." He paused. "At best." He flashed the light around. "It doesn't look good down here," he reported to Command.
"Can you get to them from where you are?" Williams asked.
"No. I don't think so."
"All right. We're sending you help."
"Make it fast. I don't know how much time we have." He was worried about the oxygen supply where the kid and her mother were. He had to do what he could to get some airflow in. He scanned the area around him and found a couple of metal scoops. Based on their size, he assumed they were decorative, but they could've been used for beans in the coffee shop. The good news was they were sturdy enough to be functional. He gave Scout another firm command when the dog started digging, then he used a scoop to clear away debris in an attempt to make an opening. All the while, he tried to keep up a conversation with Kayla.
His radio crackled, and the incident commander's voice came on. "A firefighter is on his way down to you. Have you made any progress?"
"No." He heard the frustration in his own voice.
"Can you get to her with help?"
He almost groaned from exertion and exasperation. He heaved away a large chunk of concrete. "I doubt it. Not from here," he growled. He'd hardly scratched the surface.
"Do you have an update on her condition?"
Cal lowered his voice. "Alive. Other than that, I don't know." He moved away, just in case the girl could hear him. "Her voice is fading. I don't know how much oxygen there is. The doorway here is sealed solid, and wouldn't be a source of air for her and her mother."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The beginning of When the Right One Comes Along sucked me right in as Officer Calen or "Cal" Palmer responds to an earthquake as a rescue and recovery K-9 team with his dog, Scout. It's a dangerous place to be, but he has a job to try to rescue as many as he can and hopefully prevent any further deaths from the catastrophe. In doing so, he takes a chance and ends up meeting Dr. Jessica Hansen in the process. Thus starts a story about two characters who are attracted to each other even though they'd rather not be, thrown together by disaster, who find a connection while helping a little girl and subsequently caring for one K-9 dog. Cal is a great character. He has some trust issues due to his past, but he's loyal, heroic, and has a big heart. Jessica is also a great character and softened up Cal a little. She has her own set of struggles and her first impression of Cal isn't good, but as she spends more time around him she finds that her initial impression was off. I really loved how Scout, Cal's dog, added some fun and sweet moments to the story as well. Cal and Jessica find that they have some common interests, but their real bonding happens as they learn about each other's pasts and can relate and understand. They lean on each other and that forges a friendship with the possibility of more, if they'd only open up and let love in. When the Right One Comes Along was a story of redemption as these characters learn to forgive themselves, in grasping the love that is in front of them, and finding family in each other. I'd recommend this one to those readers who enjoy heartfelt romance. I'm looking forward to getting to know another member of this K-9 department in When Love Matters Most, to be released in January of 2016. Content: Some innuendo and a few mild swear words, but would consider this clean. Source: I would like to thank the author, Kate James, for my complimentary review copy, which did not affect my review in any way.
It is such a pleasure reading such a heartwarming story that you can relate to from the first page to the last. This new series is going to be a big hit no one can resist a dog like Scout or a child who needs a family along with two people who have lost so much come together that have so much hurt and pain to find love again. This is a story that will melt your heart as only Kate James can do with her touching, caring style that gives you a warm glow as she writes a compelling story that reaches into your soul. Ms. James keeps your heart in your throat with the danger that Cal and Scout get into with their near death experiences as they take on an earthquake to save a little girl and go head to nose with a bank robber. There is no way anyone can resist Scout with his heart stealing ways from him asking nicely for something to saying his prayers. He is a dog after your heart with the way he loves his handler to the child they found. He does get in a few messes that will make you laugh out loud as he takes on Cal’s brother. You do not want to miss that read, it will surely keep you laughing and smiling. Scout is a police dog who finds people who are missing, hurt or he might be on the hunt for a bad man with no thought to his self. He service to protect not only his handler but those around him. He gives compassion to those that are hurting as he makes them smile giving unconditional love always putting others first even in the line of duty he servers and protects never thinking of the cost to his self. I really liked Cal he was someone I could really relate to going through some of the same issues I have. It is never easy when one gets a divorce one always makes it harder than it has to be as they do their best to make a mess and get their way. Cal is no stranger to pain with his secrets that he keeps very close. He will have to overcome these issues before he can give his heart again. He loved his job when life gets in the way he moves from one police job to another one. He loves being a policeman but doing the job he did was just too dangerous and he lost so much. He moved to the Police K-9 search and rescue, here he has the only friend he needs his K-9. With the earthquake, finding Kayla and budding head with Dr. Hansen he finds life is about to getting exciting. He doesn’t want a relationship but this Doctor is making him rethink his thoughts as she helps him with Scout and Kayla along with a few other personal issues. She just snuck right in and is taking over his heart. It is very easy to feel for Jessica as she is truly a woman after your heart. Yes she has issues she must overcome to find the peace she needs. She is a good hearted person who puts others ahead of herself as she always second guesses herself afraid of making a mistake. Jessica Hansen is a trauma surgeon she hasn’t always been but just like Cal life got in the way and make her change from the doctor she was to the one she is now. Life hasn’t been easy for this lady as the author tells her story you just wish you could wrap your arms around her taking her pain away. It looks like maybe Scout and Cal will do that for you. First they must get by the wall she has built up which isn’t going to be easy. When she meets Kayla and sees what she had to go through she tries her best to help. Cal, Scout and Kayla are making Jessica wall fall but will it be enough before she makes the biggest mistake of her life? This story touched me in ways that few have from Cal heartbr