Unexpected Secrets, page 9part #1 of Hard Limits Suspense Romance Series
My heart went out to him, and the unbridled fear I heard in his voice. Of all people, I knew he would keep it together, but I also knew he must be terrified.
I called the church, and Pastor Bernie assured her he would be praying. Then I began to pace, wringing my hands, nearly jumping out of my skin when the timer went off on the oven—it had reached the required temperature. The least I could do was keep the faith, and make the cookies, hoping that Mackenzie would be home soon—that this was all just a big mistake, nothing more.
When my phone rang nearly thirty minutes later, I picked it up before the caller ID could come through. “Hello?” I answered quickly.
“It’s Gabriel. We can’t find her.” I could hear his fear and desperation; I wanted nothing more than to be by his side and ask a thousand questions, but instead, I took a deep breath.
“What can I do?”
“I’m sending Fran to the house, just in case this is an abduction and they call the house.”
I fell back onto the table, struggling to keep it together as the world threatened to disappear in a pinhole. I grasped the table and used it for support until I could sit down.
“Thea, are you there?”
“Yes—I’m here,” I answered weakly, breathing deeply to keep the blackness at bay, laying my head on the table. Seconds later the door opened and Fran walked into the room; I gratefully surrendered to the blackness.
“Hello, Hello?” Fran grabbed the phone, as she tried to stop Thea falling from her chair.
“Fran? Is that you?” Gabriel asked, confused.
“Yes, I’m at the house.”
“I think she fainted. Hang on.”
She lowered her to the floor and into the recovery position.
“Is she all right?”
“Yes. She’ll come around, I’m sure. Fortunately, she was sitting down. But where’s the beeping coming from?” she said into the phone.
“A beeping? Oh, Thea said she was making cookies. Check the oven.”
“I’ll call you back.”
“Okay. There’s nothing to report here, but let me know if anyone calls the house phone. And let me know how Thea is doing.” He sounded worried and tightly strung.
Fran tried gently shaking Thea, but she was out cold. She raced around the island to turn off the oven, removing the cookie sheet and placing it on top of the stovetop.
She debated calling 9-1-1 but then heard a groan from Thea. She knelt beside her and gently called her name, “Athena, Athena, it’s me, Fran. Thea, wake up.”
Slowly Thea began to open her eyes, and Fran’s phone buzzed.
“Fran,” she answered.
“It’s Gabriel. What’s going on?”
“Thea’s starting to come to. I laid her on the floor, got the cookies out, and turned off the oven. No calls have come through since I’ve been here, but I haven’t had a chance to check your home phone caller ID before sleeping beauty here went down.”
“I’m sure there haven’t been any calls. Between Thea and me, someone has been there all day. Fran, if she doesn’t come back to full consciousness within the next minute, call 9-1-1. If she does come to, give her some juice. She probably hasn’t eaten all day, it’s been a long one for both of us.”
“10-4,” Fran confirmed as Gabriel ended the call.
Thea struggled to sit up.
“Whoa, there, Thea, let me help you.”
“What happened?” she asked as she slowly pushed herself up, holding her head and looking disorientated.
“I think you fainted. Have you eaten today?”
Thea gave Fran a confused look.
“Look, I was about to call 9-1-1, and unless you drink some juice I’m going to—got it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m fine. Give me the damn juice,” Thea demanded.
Fran smiled. You can’t keep a good woman down, and she knew Thea would rise to the occasion.
After Thea had drunk the entire glass, Fran helped her stand, and Thea looked at her with wide eyes before racing to the small half bathroom off the kitchen. Fran heard retching into the toilet, then silence.
“Thea, are you okay?” she asked, walking toward the bathroom. She was sitting on the floor next to the toilet, holding her head, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Here, let me help you.”
“I’ll be okay,” Thea insisted. “What have you heard from Gabriel?”
“Nothing. They haven’t found her and no one has called here that I know of. Did you hear the landline phone ring at all?”
“No, it’s been quiet. No one uses those anymore, anyway.”
“True,” Fran agreed, “but if this is an abduction, it’s likely the home phone they’ll call, unless it’s unlisted—and you need to eat something.”
“I can’t. I feel sick to my stomach.”
“That’s obvious, but you’re not going to be any good to anyone in this condition, and right now Gabriel needs you, and when we find Mackenzie, she’ll need you,” Fran admonished.
“There’s some ginger ale in the fridge. Can you get that for me, please? I’m going to go upstairs for a minute.”
“Probably not wise. What do you need? I’ll get it,” Fran said, leading her to the kitchen island.
“There’s some migraine medicine in my nightstand to the left of the bed. Can you get that for me?”
“Sure thing,” Fran answered as she handed a glass of ginger ale to Thea, and answering her phone as it buzzed. “Hey, Gabriel.”
Thea grabbed Fran’s arm and mouthed, “Don’t say anything.”
Fran rolled her eyes. “I’m headed upstairs to get migraine medicine for Athena.” Then Fran covered the mouthpiece of her phone and glared at Thea, “No more secrets.”
“I think she’s going to be fine. She threw up when she came to, and she’s drinking ginger ale now. What’s the latest there?” she asked as she ran up the stairs to Thea’s room.
She returned within sixty seconds, handing two pills to Thea who gratefully downed them.
“Give me fifteen minutes, and then tell Gabriel I’m coming to him,” said Thea.
Fran opened her mouth to argue, but Thea held up her hand. “I can’t sit in this house—I have to help them find her. We will find her,” she added, and then walked out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Fran called after her.
Thea turned back. “I’m going to lie down on the couch for fifteen minutes, then I want you to come and get me. Promise me, Fran.”
I walked into the local diner, immediately looking for Jeffrey. Jeffery Harley was the chef there, and Mackenzie loved his mac ‘n cheese. He came around the counter and greeted me. “Hey, Thea, where’s your sidekick?” he asked with a smile, but then sobered. “Is everything okay? You look as white as a ghost.”
“I’m not sure, to be honest with you. Please keep this between us—but have you seen Mackenzie this afternoon?”
Concern radiated on his face. “I haven’t seen her, Thea. Is she okay?”
“We hope so, but if you see her, will you call my cell phone? Do you have a napkin I can write it on?”
“Hold on, I’ll just add you as a contact in my phone,” he responded as he pulled his cell from his back pocket.
I relayed my phone number and turned to leave.
“Yes, Jeffrey?” I only half-turned back, anxious to be on my way.
“You’ll find her,” he assured me. “Bring her by for some mac ‘n cheese when you do, okay?”
I gave him a grateful smile. “You betcha.”
Next, I headed for the ice cream parlor. I stopped a few people along the way to ask if they’d seen a little girl, five-years-old, with blonde curls; everyone said “no” except for the last person I asked, Saige Holcom. She ran the Yarmouth Sentinel, and if anyone knew what was going on
“Hey, Thea, I did see Mackenzie. She was alone, which I thought was odd, and it looked like she was heading in the direction of the ice cream parlor. I assumed you must have been in front of her or behind her. Should I have called you?” she asked as I took off at a run.
“No—you did great!” I yelled over her shoulder, running all out toward the parlor. I grabbed her phone, calling Gabriel as I ran.
“Gabriel, Summer saw Mackenzie! She thinks she was headed to the ice cream parlor. I’m heading there now.”
“I just arrived, Thea. She’s here.”
“She is? That’s great. Is she okay? Why didn’t you call?” I asked without giving him the chance to answer.
“I just arrived. She’s sitting with Daisy—the real estate agent who sold us the house.”
“I know who Daisy is,” I responded through gritted teeth. “If she did anything to…”
“Hold on, Thea. We don’t know what happened yet. Give me a few minutes to assess before you come in.” He disconnected.
My run slowed to a jog. That was confusing. Does Gabriel not want me there? And then it dawned on me—maybe the reason he wanted me to leave had nothing to do with my research—and everything to do with Daisy.
I arrived within four minutes, noting the police cruiser parked outside the store, but no lights were flashing. I peeked through the front window and saw Gabriel talking with Daisy. Mackenzie sat at the bar with two friends from school. Everything in me wanted to rush inside, wrap my arms around Mackenzie and take her home, but I knew I needed to respect Gabriel’s wishes.
I glanced from Zee toward Gabriel, and my eyes connected with Daisy’s. Daisy raised her eyebrows and moved closer to him, putting her hand on his arm, and turning him just enough so his back was to me. I watched as Daisy wrapped her arm around Gabriel’s neck and moved in to give him a kiss.
Then the pavement came up to meet me as everything went black.
“Where am I?” I whispered, willing my eyes to focus, listening to a faint beep—beep—beep.
“Hey sunshine,” Fran answered. “You’re at St. Joseph’s.”
“No, the saint’s.”
I offered a weak smile. “What? Why—” But then it all came rushing back.
“Zee—is she okay?” Panic filled my voice as I struggled to sit up, shielding my eyes from the dazzling lights.
“Whoa there, take it easy.” Fran stood up from her chair and gently pushed me back to her pillow.
“I can’t. I have to get to Zee. Where is she?”
“Gabriel took her home. She was exhausted. He didn’t want her to worry about you, and he didn’t want to not be with her—so I got babysitting duty.”
I gave a half-laugh. “I’m rolling my eyes in my mind, Fran, even though I can’t open my eyes to show you,” I said with a groan. “Can you dim those lights? When can I get out of here?”
“Sure,” she offered, walking over to the light switches beside the door as the doctor walked through. “Hey, Doc.”
“I see our patient is awake. Hi, Athena, I’m Dr. Owens, the attending here tonight. How are you feeling?” he asked as he pulled a small penlight from his coat pocket.
“I—I’m fine, thank you. When can I leave?” I asked, wincing at the bright light.
“How’s your head?” He crossed his arms, clearly not believing me.
“It hurts, but that’s par for the course with a migraine. Surely it’s nothing to keep me in a hospital.”
“In and of itself, no; but in your case, add a case of severe dehydration, low blood sugar, and two fainting episodes within two hours of each other, and I’d say we have a pretty good cause to keep you at least overnight.”
Fran smiled as if she liked this guy, and I gave her a dirty look.
“I can’t. I have to get home. Fran will take care of me, won’t you, Fran? You can release me to her care.”
“You a doctor, Fran?” Dr. Owens looked at Fran.
“Not the last time I checked, Doc.” She gave a dismissive wave of her hand.
“Any medical experience?”
“Just basic first aid,” she added.
They both looked at me, and I groaned.
“Get some rest, Athena, and I’ll see you in the morning. We can talk about your discharge then.” He turned to Fran, assessing her. “Can I get you anything? Have you eaten?”
“I’m heading to the cafeteria, why don’t you join me?”
“You don’t have to ask me twice; I’ll see you in a bit, Thea.” Fran offered as she followed the doctor out of the room and closed the door.
Beep—beep—beep. I stretched, moving my head slowly from side-to-side. So far so good. No pain. I opened one eye, and then the other. Fran was asleep on the reclining chair next to me, and even in sleep she looked exhausted.
I sat up and looked down at the IV in my arm, then at the bag hanging off to the side. It was half full—not good—they must have changed it while I was sleeping. They’d better not make me wait until it was empty to authorize the release. I swung my legs over the bed, pulling the hospital gown closed as I moved, standing tentatively.
I felt better, a lot better than I had, and man did I have to pee. I removed the pulse monitor from my finger and pushed the IV pole as quietly as possible, but Fran woke with a start.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Going to the bathroom, if that’s okay?”
The sarcasm didn’t escape Fran who gave me a sardonic look back. “How’s your head?”
“Much better, thanks.” Then I turned back to her. “Hey, did your first aid training include removing IV’s?”
Fran rolled her eyes. “Do you want to get out of here today, Thea?”
“Okay, okay. Don’t be testy.”
I heard voices as I finished washing my hands and opened the door to find the doctor talking with Fran.
He turned toward me, watching me closely as I moved toward them.
“Hey, Doc Owens, perfect timing,” I greeted him cheerfully.
“You look better today.”
“I am, so can we get this thing out of my arm so I can go home?” My stomach sunk even as I said it. It wasn’t my home anymore, but I would go back one last time.
“Are you in pain?” he asked, reaching out to help me to the bed, concern on his face.
“No, there’s no more headache. I’m fine.” I offered a smile.
“I’ll be outside,” Fran said as he took his stethoscope out of his pocket.
He waited for the door to shut before he began his exam, asking questions that only increased my annoyance.
“Doc, I appreciate your concern and thoroughness,” he raised his eyebrows at me as he silently counted my pulse.
“Okay, well that may have been a slight exaggeration, but I do appreciate that you take your job seriously. I am fine, can you release me now, please?”
“I’ll release you with one condition,” he stated as someone knocked at the door. “Come in,” he responded.
“Anything,” I said, waiting for Fran to join us as the door opened.
“You need to take it easy for a few days, drink a lot of liquids, eat, and no running or traveling for at least three days.”
“It’s not negotiable.”
“I’ll make sure of it, Bentley.” Gabriel’s voice sounded from the doorway.
My pulse leaped, and the doctor’s eyebrows raised as he pulled his eyes from my face, turning to shake Gabriel’s hand.
“Gabriel, it’s good to see you.”
“You, too, Bentley. How’s our patient?”
Both men turned to assess me.
“Sounds about right,” Fran agreed peering around Gabriel.
I narrowed my eyes at her, the flush in my face deepening.
“All right, enough! I’m sitting right here.” I glared at each of them. “And, I’m ready to go.”
“You’ll make sure of it?” Dr. Owen’s asked Gabriel.
“I will,” he promised.
Gabriel turned to Fran. “Can you help her get dressed and meet me at the entrance? I’ll pull the car around.”
We rode in silence for the first five minutes before I broke it.
“Gabriel, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry to cause all of this trouble. Mackenzie—how is she?”
“She’s excited to see you.”
“I can’t wait to see her.” I couldn’t keep the longing out of my voice.
“We need to talk, Thea. Maybe not today, Bentley was pretty insistent that you need to rest, and Mackenzie seems quite enthralled with the idea of doctoring you.” He smiled. “But we need to talk soon.”
“I know.” It was hard for me to believe that he’d chosen Daisy to spend the rest of his life with, but at the end of the day the only thing that mattered to me was that he and Mackenzie were happy, and if they’d be happier without me, so be it.
I laid my head back on the headrest, closed my eyes, and rode the rest of the way in silence.
* * *
No sooner had Gabriel opened the garage door and begun pulling the car inside than Mackenzie had the side entry door open. Her eyes were wide and filled with excitement. She carried a little doctor’s kit in her hand, and I half-laughed and half-groaned when I saw it.
“She’s taking her new role very seriously,” he offered.
“She is her father’s daughter,” I affirmed, and my stomach somersaulted when he turned to look at me. “That wasn’t intended as a compliment,” I clarified.
He nodded. “Wait there. I’ll come around to help.”
“I’m fine, Gabriel. You don’t need to help me,” I insisted as I pushed the car door open, and in one fluid movement was out of the car and moving quickly toward Mackenzie.
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