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Emergency parents needed, p.1

Emergency: Parents Needed, page 1

 

Emergency: Parents Needed
 


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Emergency: Parents Needed


  Maggie’s heart twisted into a knot. If only she had a camera. Seeing Joe hold the little girl in a protective embrace, especially while he slept… He obviously had more fathering instincts than he’d credited himself with.

  Neither of them looked comfortable, so, taking a chance, Maggie lifted Breanna out of his embrace.

  Joe didn’t budge an inch. Clearly he was exhausted.

  Before she’d taken two steps, Joe shifted position, then suddenly bolted upright.

  “Breanna?” he asked, his voice rusty.

  “She’s in her crib,” Maggie answered softly.

  His tension visibly eased.

  “Thanks.” Then, apparently gaining more of his wits, he stared at her in surprise. “Maggie?”

  “In the flesh,” she said cheerfully. “I thought I’d check on you, and when you didn’t answer the door I used your spare key. I hope you don’t mind.”

  His suddenly wide smile transformed his face. “No, I don’t. In fact, I’m glad you did. I was counting the hours until tomorrow morning when I’d see you again.”

  Words to warm a woman’s heart…

  Dear Reader,

  I enjoy fish-out-of-water stories because I can relate to them as I’m sure you can, too. When you’re facing a situation that takes you completely out of your comfort zone, you have to dig deep inside for the strength to do what has to be done.

  My hero, Joe, finds himself in a similar situation. He’s thrust into circumstances that he had never imagined when he becomes a child’s guardian. But with the help of his friend Maggie, things don’t look as bleak as he’d first thought. Even with Maggie’s support, though, parenthood isn’t easy….

  I hope you enjoy Joe and Maggie’s journey as they both discover the important things in life!

  Best wishes,

  Jessica

  EMERGENCY: PARENTS NEEDED

  Jessica Matthews

  EMERGENCY: PARENTS NEEDED

  To my readers.

  Thanks for allowing me to share

  my stories with you.

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ONE

  “THERE’S been a change in plans, Maggie.”

  Reporting for duty on Monday morning, Maggie Randall stopped in her tracks at Captain Keller’s words. That particular phrase never heralded good news and she braced herself for the latest bombshell. Two weeks ago when the captain had said something similar, she’d gotten a new partner and her life hadn’t been the same since.

  Then again, maybe he had finally realized how partnering her with Joseph Donatelli had been a mistake, she thought hopefully. Perhaps he was about to announce that he would shuffle the duty roster and assign her to someone else, someone who understood the concept of compromise.

  “Oh?” she asked.

  “You’ll work with Kevin Running Bear today,” he said.

  Kevin was a firefighter with emergency medical technician training. Normally, he fought fires, but in a pinch he filled in on the ambulance crew. Apparently today was one of those move-people-around-to-cover-the-hole days, which meant that Joe must be playing hookey.

  As crazy as it sounded, she was actually relieved. For the next twenty-four hours she could do her job in peace. No battles to fight. No justifying her every move. No opportunities for Joe to find fault with her decisions, complain about what he considered her overly friendly bedside manner or the length of time she spent with their patients.

  And definitely there would be no chance of her knees turning weak when he flashed one of his lazy smiles at her. Being attracted to a man who could push her buttons without even trying was extremely irritating, which was probably why she practically bristled like a porcupine whenever they were together.

  Needless to say, their little ‘clashes’, as she liked to call them, were making it extremely difficult to develop the rapport they needed to function together as a team. Doing so was important to her for no other reason than she’d never live with herself if a patient ultimately paid the price for their inability to get along.

  “What happened to Joe?” she asked, half-surprised that he called in on such short notice. In the four years they’d both been employed by the Barton Hills Fire Department, Joe had received citations for his perfect attendance. Whatever had kept him from his shift must be serious indeed.

  “He’s taking a personal day,” Captain Keller said.

  A personal day? She may have only worked with Joe for the past two weeks since his temporary transfer to Station One, but the crews scattered among the three fire stations in Barton Hills were a close-knit group. Everyone knew everyone else and Joe’s record for dependability was legendary. The man was the first to arrive—often an hour before his shift began—and the last to leave. Rumor had it that he’d work 24/7 if allowed to because he didn’t have anyone waiting for him at home. Of course, that would cut into the steady stream of women he supposedly dated, but, regardless of his social life, he lived his job to the point that he only scheduled a vacation when he’d maxed out his earned time hours.

  “Really?” she asked, incredulous.

  He nodded. “Really. But before you break out the champagne….”

  Her face warmed under her superior’s chastening gaze. “I wouldn’t,” she protested weakly.

  He raised an eyebrow, as if he knew she wasn’t quite telling the truth. “Just remember, this is only for today.”

  She held back her sigh of disappointment. “I know.”

  He eyed her carefully. “Look, I’m aware that things aren’t running like a well-tuned engine between you two, especially after the Hilda Myers incident.”

  Hilda was an elderly lady who suffered from anxiety attacks and called 911 on a regular basis. Maggie had befriended her and usually, after a short visit that was long enough to sample the cookies or cake that Hilda had so precipitously provided, the older woman was fine. Joe had taken exception to a call that he considered to be little more than a social visit and quietly began to dig into Hilda’s history. The next thing Maggie knew, he’d gotten the captain, then the chief involved, and by the end of the week Hilda’s family had moved her to an assisted living home. While Maggie had been working for weeks to convince Hilda to accept her limitations and relocate to a place of her choosing, she hated that the elderly lady hadn’t been given the option to decide her own fate.

  In truth, she didn’t fault Joe for the final outcome—Hilda was finally in an environment that suited her needs, even if the older woman had been reluctant to take that step. However, what really rankled Maggie was how Joe had accomplished in a matter of days what she hadn’t been able to accomplish in months. He was the full-steam-ahead sort while she was willing to look for a more circuitous solution.

  “The problem is, you’re both, shall we say, strong willed,” the captain continued, “but you each have partners on medical leave and pairing you two was the only logical decision Chief Watson could make.”

  This time she did sigh. “I suppose so.”

  He clapped her shoulder. “Cheer up. It’s only until Bill and Robert get back on their feet. A few months, tops.”

  Her regular partner, Robert MacArthur, had missed a step at home and fallen down a flight of stairs, breaking an ankle. He’d undergone two surgeries and developed an infection after the second. Bill Reeves, Joe’s partner at Station Two, had torn a rotator cuff in his shoulder, playing baseball with his teenage son. After surgery, he wasn’t healing as fas
t as his doctor had hoped. As a result, both Joe and Maggie had been “orphaned” and rather than play musical partners, the chief had matched them on the paramedic duty roster.

  In Maggie’s opinion, it wasn’t a match made in heaven.

  “A few months,” she echoed with a weak smile. She could handle anything for that length of time. Or so she hoped.

  “You’re both off for the next couple of days,” Keller reminded her. “If I were you, I’d use the time to figure out a way to resolve your differences. Otherwise the next couple of months will stretch out mighty long for all of us. I don’t want to referee your little skirmishes for the entire time.”

  Once again, the captain was right. Four months, less two weeks, could stretch out interminably, even with their twenty-four-hours-on, forty-eight-hours-off schedule.

  “Yes, sir,” she said, hoping he’d given Joe the same pep talk when he’d called in to take his personal day.

  Maggie thought about the situation throughout her entire shift. Resolving their differences when they were rooted within completely different philosophies seemed an impossible task, but she had to do something.

  The answer came in the late night hours as they often did when she was about to drift off to sleep. If Joe had called in to take an unscheduled personal day, he had to be sick. What man wouldn’t appreciate someone giving him a little sympathy when he was suffering? Yes, she thought with some satisfaction, a bit of TLC was in order…

  Joe saw the familiar older-model sedan with its front end folded like an accordion against a light pole. He jumped from his ambulance and ran forward, only to find Dee’s head resting against the steering-wheel. Eyes closed, blood ran down her face from the cut on her forehead.

  “Dee?” he urged, feeling a familiar panic as he recognized his victim was a friend. “Hang on and we’ll get you out of there.”

  Her pale eyelids fluttered open. “Joe?”

  He clasped her hand, noticing how cold her skin felt. “Yeah?”

  “I’m glad you’re here.”

  “Me, too.” He turned to yell at the firefighters swarming over the vehicle. “Hurry up. We need to get her out of there, now.”

  “Joe?”

  He met her gaze, determined to hide his worry in spite of the fear gripping his chest. “Yeah?”

  “I can’t feel my legs or my arms.”

  “Don’t panic,” he told her, trying to follow his own advice. “We’ll take care of you. I promise.”

  “O…K.” Dee’s eyes closed, then burst open. “The baby. Look after…the baby, Joe.”

  Immediately Joe glanced into the backseat. Empty. No infant car seat, no baby paraphernalia. “What baby, Dee?” he asked. “Whose baby?”

  “Mine,” Deanna mumbled.

  “Where is it?” he urged. “I don’t see a baby.”

  “Take care…of…her.” Dee gasped for air and began to act agitated. “Promise.”

  Trying to keep her calm and certain she was hallucinating, he said the only thing he could to a friend. “I promise, but where is she?”

  Dee cocked her head. “Can’t you hear her, Joe?”

  He listened. “I can’t.”

  “You have to, Joe. You’re all she has.”

  This time, a distant wail of a baby caught his attention and he knew it was imperative that he locate this child. But where should he look? “I hear her, Dee, but where is she?”

  “She’s right here.”

  He glanced around the scene, afraid to find the broken body of a child thrown from the vehicle. Nothing. “I don’t see her, Dee…”

  Joe bolted upright in his easy chair, awakening to the now-familiar sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach before he realized he’d been dreaming again. He wasn’t reliving a modified version of the accident that had taken the life of his old friend, Deanna Delacourt, and he wasn’t frantically searching for a baby. He was at home, dozing in his easy chair, and Dee’s daughter was sleeping in his spare bedroom, although at this particular moment she was wailing loud enough to wake the neighbors.

  Muscles protesting as he unfolded his body to stand, he rubbed his gritty eyes before checking the time. 9:00 a.m. He’d gotten exactly three hours of uninterrupted sleep all night, which wasn’t remarkable by itself. Working long stretches without a break wasn’t uncommon when he was on duty because emergencies didn’t occur on a schedule. He simply went home at the end of his shift, fell into his bed and caught up the hours he’d missed.

  Unfortunately, his life wasn’t as accommodating since little Breanna Delacourt had moved into his house. She was his to care for 24/7 whether he was exhausted or not, which meant his days of solitude had come to a swift end. Hell, at this rate, he’d have to go to work just so he could get some shut-eye.

  Breanna’s wails pierced his eardrums. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” he said aloud to the empty room as he walked down the short hallway, rolling his shoulders to ease the ache and rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes.

  “Good morning, little Bee,” he told the eleven-month-old, who was sitting on her makeshift bed of blankets and a sleeping bag in the middle of the bedroom floor. “What’s wrong?”

  Breanna’s mouth quivered as tears glistened on her eyelashes. From the way she eyed him, she’d obviously felt as if she were living her worst nightmare, too. And she probably was. Wanting her mother and getting him instead had to be as stressful for her as the situation was for him. He, at least, had the advantage of understanding what had happened but Breanna did not. She only knew that she wanted her old life with her mother, not this new one with a man she’d never met.

  What were you thinking, Dee? he silently railed. You knew I wasn’t cut out to be the sort of father figure a kid needed.

  But whatever plane in the universe where Dee had gone didn’t allow for two-way communication. He was on his own, left to devise a plan for a situation he hadn’t anticipated in his wildest dreams. And at the moment the first thing to do was to sort out what Breanna wanted…

  Uncomfortable in his new role as father, Joe had learned enough in his crash ‘daddy’ course to change her diaper and he did so with clumsy hands. He’d never felt as helpless as he did now—as he had for the past thirty-six hours. Nothing he did made the little girl happy and he’d already exhausted his small store of parenting ideas. He needed help…and fast. But who could he call?

  Honestly, Dee, what made you think I was the best candidate to take care of your daughter?

  His little voice corrected him. Dee said you were all she had, remember?

  “She was wrong,” he said aloud, ignoring the idea that denying Dee’s claim didn’t make it so.

  The doorbell pealed and he frowned at the interruption. Dressing Breanna for the day would have to wait.

  He freed her snuggle bunny from being buried in the blankets and tucked it next to her, hoping he could deal with his early morning guest before Breanna realized he’d left the room and raised the roof again.

  A minute later, to Joe’s amazement, he saw his fellow paramedic, Maggie Randall, fidgeting on his porch. She’d obviously come directly on her way home from the fire station because she still wore her blue uniform. Her long, tawny hair was restrained in her customary braid and her expression reflected the wariness he was coming to expect when she spoke to him.

  He wasn’t so physically and emotionally exhausted not to realize that he was responsible for the caution in her chocolate-brown eyes, but what could he expect? They’d butted heads from the very beginning and all because it was the only way he could counteract the electrical jolt a single, innocent and accidental touch had given his system. Right now, though, she was a familiar face and a welcome sight.

  “Am I glad to see you,” he said fervently.

  She blinked, clearly taken aback by his declaration. “You are? Oh. Well, good morning to you, too.” Her gaze swept over him, making him conscious of his babyfood-stained T-shirt, tousled hair and bare feet. “Sorry to show up unannounced, but you mis
sed a shift so I thought I’d check on you and make sure everything was OK.”

  The concept of anyone questioning his absence and worrying about him was foreign and completely disconcerting, especially when Maggie was the one worrying. She was an attractive woman with a vivacious, caring personality that he found very appealing. For the hundredth time, he wished Maggie had chosen another field because she stirred him in ways he shouldn’t be stirred if he wanted to keep their relationship on a professional footing.

  “Actually, things aren’t OK,” he began.

  Sympathy shone from her eyes. “I can see that. You look a little rough around the edges. The stomach bug going around right now is vicious.” She thrust a container at him. “My mother swears there isn’t anything that chicken-noodle soup can’t cure, so I got up early and threw it together just for you.”

  The dish was still warm. Once again, it was humbling to realize Maggie had gone to the trouble when she didn’t have to bother. It was even more humbling to think she’d made the effort when he hadn’t exactly endeared himself to her. “How did you manage? You couldn’t have had time to go shopping….”

  “I didn’t,” she admitted. “I raided the cupboards at the station so I’ll replace what I took the next time I’m on duty. It’s no big deal.”

  Her effort may not be a big deal to her, but to him it was. “Thanks, but I’m—”

  “Don’t worry, I left out the arsenic.”

  Unable to help himself, he chuckled. “I wasn’t worried. If anything happens to me, you’ll be the first suspect.”

  Her smile lit up her face. “Exactly. However, if I were you,” she continued as if she were in a hurry to leave now that she’d done her good deed, “I’d go back to bed and get some rest. Do you have the usual home remedies? Acetaminophen, decongestant, cough medicine, soda and crackers? If not, I’ll be happy to run to the store or do whatever….”

 
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