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His long awaited bride, p.6

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 6

 

His Long-Awaited Bride
 


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  “Where were the ER docs? Dr. Tremaine or Dr. Stafford?”

  “Jared was on duty but he was busy with a car wreck. Five people injured with four needing surgery. I hung around to handle the minor stuff as most of them were my patients anyway.”

  He may have been physically occupied with tending patients all night, but that hadn’t stopped his mind from occasionally wandering to Marissa. Luckily he’d been too busy with patients to dwell on what she and Pendleton were doing at her house, although at two a.m. he’d fought the strongest urge to drive by her house. Now he took comfort that it hadn’t been necessary.

  Equally fortunate was how Toby had done his part at keeping those two from tangoing between the sheets. He made a mental note to buy the year-old Cairn a case of his favorite beef-and-cheese treats.

  “Isn’t that what you always do?” she asked. “Hang around the ER to help out? I’ll bet the docs love it when they call you for one of your patients. They know you’ll stay all night.”

  He shrugged. “Why not? There’s nothing to do at home.”

  “That’s my point, Justin. You need a life beyond the hospital.”

  Did he? He hadn’t considered his daily routine on those terms before because his work had always been his life, even more so after his divorce, but maybe she was right. He couldn’t steer Marissa’s affections away from Pendleton if he spent every waking moment seeing patients. Then again, if he was a good man, a gentleman, he would step aside for Pendleton because he was the one Marissa thought she wanted. However, Justin had never claimed to be a gentleman.

  That morning, as he’d showered and shaved, his thoughts from the previous night had coalesced into a semiplan. He couldn’t discredit Pendleton because he had promised Marissa not to dig up any skeletons in the man’s closet, but that didn’t mean someone else couldn’t do the honors. He had several people he could enlist for such a purpose.

  While he was waiting for the right information to surface, he would implement phase two of his plan. Ever since they’d both landed in Hope City, Marissa had been appalled by his spartan living. After his divorce, he’d gotten rid of everything except the barest essentials because he hadn’t wanted any reminders of his former life. He’d intended to replace the items, but his long hours of residency had never given him the time. Eventually, he hadn’t noticed the lack, either.

  Marissa had, though. And she’d hinted, encouraged and sometimes fussed at him to furnish his house as a sign that he’d put his failed marriage behind him. Now he’d use that very situation to draw her attention away from Pendleton.

  “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that,” he said nonchalantly. “I wondered if you could give me a few decorating tips to spruce up my place.”

  “Decorating tips?” she repeated, her shock apparent.

  “Yeah. Haven’t you been suggesting a new coat of paint? I need your advice on choosing colors.”

  She eyed his black trousers and white shirt. “You have been stuck on certain shades,” she agreed.

  “Which is why I need your help. If you’re free, that is.”

  “You’re serious.”

  “As a heart attack,” he replied. “Isn’t that what you’ve been telling me for the last two years? That new paint was the absolute first thing I needed?”

  “I didn’t think you were listening.”

  “I was. The question is, are you able to lend your decorating talents to my cause?”

  She nodded, her surprise giving way to puzzlement. “Sure, but why now?”

  He shrugged. “As you said, time marches on and change is inevitable. Is Thursday night good for you?”

  “Yeah.” She bobbed her head, her puzzlement still obvious.

  “Travis doesn’t have plans?” he pressed.

  “He’s going out of town this weekend to visit family and then on Monday he’s attending a city managers’ seminar in Kansas City.”

  “Fine. It’s settled. Thursday night.”

  Suddenly she shook her head. “I just remembered. Thursday won’t work after all. I’m taking Abby to her first childbirth class. Her brother-in-law can’t go with her this time.”

  “No problem. We’ll hit the hardware stores on Friday.”

  “Okay. Mentioning Abby made me remember to tell you that I’m a little concerned about Lonnie.”

  “What’s wrong?”

  “His breathing doesn’t sound quite right. Everything checks out—no temp, stable respirations, but…”

  Marissa had good instincts—part of her magic touch—and whenever she thought something wasn’t quite as it should be with a patient, he’d learned to pay attention.

  “Okay. I’ll have a listen and ask Respiratory Therapy to give him a once-over as well. Has Lucy’s culture report come through yet?”

  “It printed off this morning,” she said, handing over her chart.

  “Let me guess,” he said before he opened to the correct tab. “Negative for microorganisms.”

  “Did you expect it to be otherwise?”

  He paged through several documents. “Not really. From yesterday’s test results I’d ruled out bacterial meningitis, which left viral causes or encephalitis as my diagnosis. And of those two, I’m leaning more to encephalitis because of her altered mental state and the slight droop on one side of her face.”

  “But you started her on IV antiviral medication right away. Shouldn’t we be seeing some sign of improvement by now?”

  Marissa’s voice held concern, not objective curiosity. No doubt she had expected to see Lucy more responsive that morning than when she had left at the end of yesterday’s shift.

  “Not necessarily. It may take several days to see any effect.”

  “But it will work, won’t it?”

  He shrugged, wishing he could give a guarantee, but he couldn’t. “The antiviral agent only works on certain viruses, like herpes simplex or varicella zoster. If one of those two is causing Lucy’s problem, then we should see a response soon. If it’s another type, like West Nile, then the drug probably won’t have much effect.”

  Her apprehension hadn’t disappeared, and rightly so. Viral diseases didn’t always react as one hoped or expected—her nursing experience had taught her that. It was simply harder to accept when it involved a loved one, but he’d do what he could to help her remain positive.

  “Meanwhile, we’ll give her supportive care and wait for her own immune system to fight the battle.” He touched her shoulder. “She’s a tough bird.”

  “Even if it is West Nile?”

  “Even then. Let’s not write her off yet, okay?” Impulsively, he hugged her, and enjoyed how she felt in his one-armed embrace.

  Her smile wobbled and she blinked. “I won’t.”

  A high-pitched beep sounded across the hall in room four where his cardiac patient from last night lay. “Time to hang a new IV bag,” she said. “While I’m gone, don’t forget to write your order for Lonnie’s RT.”

  “Yes, ma’am,” he said dutifully. “Now, take care of your beep before it drives us all batty.”

  Marissa had no sooner left the nurses’ station than Kristi appeared. Just the woman he wanted to see. What perfect timing.

  “Kristi,” he said, pulling her off to one side, out of Marissa’s line of sight. “I need a favor.”

  “If I can. What’s up?”

  “You’ve heard about Pendleton and Marissa?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Well?” he demanded. “What do you know about this guy?”

  “Not a lot. He’s only been in town for a couple of months.”

  “Does your brother-in-law still work for the city? Has he said anything about his new boss?”

  “Actually, Brian is on the maintenance crew and doesn’t interact too often with the manager.”

  “Can you ask him for the latest scuttlebutt?”

  She grimaced. “Oh, have mercy. You’re doing it again.”

  “Doing what?”

  “Can the innocent act, Doc,”
she ordered irreverently. “You’re hunting for skeletons.”

  “I’m not,” he insisted. “You are.”

  “Gee, thanks. Why am I getting involved in your dirty work?”

  “Because you’re Marissa’s friend. Friends look out for each other.”

  “She won’t like this,” she warned.

  “If people have good things to say, then she’ll never know and we’ll all be happy.”

  “I don’t want to stick my nose in her business.”

  “You aren’t.”

  She raised one sardonic eyebrow. “Gathering clandestine information on the man she’s interested in is not being an objective bystander.”

  “Afraid you’ll discover that he’s not what he’s cracked up to be?” If it would only be so easy…Justin’s first impression was that Pendleton was an okay guy, even if he thought a little too highly of himself. If Justin found something to exploit, he would.

  “No,” she answered warily, “but if I do, then what?”

  “We’ll tell her.”

  “Oh, no.” She shook her head and waved her hands like a traffic cop signaling someone to stop. “Not me. Forget it. Absolutely not.”

  “The question is, do you want her to hook up with some guy who’ll break her heart because he isn’t what he seems? You’ve been in circulation long enough—you know that what you see isn’t always what you get.”

  She hesitated, then nodded reluctantly. “Okay. I’ll call Brian and ask what he knows or can find out.”

  “Perfect.”

  “You’d better hope Marissa doesn’t catch wind of this,” she mumbled darkly.

  “How can she? I’m not going to mention it. Are you?”

  “Of course not. I don’t have a death wish, nor do I intend to lose a friend over this.”

  He nodded and replied with all seriousness, “Neither do I.”

  CHAPTER FOUR

  “HOW are you today, Lucy?” Marissa asked on Friday, as she had every morning since her neighbor had been admitted to the ICU.

  “It certainly would be nice if a person could actually get more than a few minutes of sleep at a time,” the older woman said with a weak smile. “I tell you, there’s always someone coming in for something, either to poke me for more blood or to fiddle with my IV.” She raised a thin arm with the intravenous tubing taped into place. “Or just to tug on my sheets. And speaking of sheets, tell your laundry people to use a little fabric softener. It’s like sleeping on sandpaper.”

  Marissa smiled. “If you’re able to complain about the service, then you’re feeling better.”

  Lucy grimaced as she shifted her hips slightly. “If feeling like a truck dragged me for three blocks is feeling better, then I’d rather skip the ‘better’ stage and go right to ‘normal.’”

  Marissa checked the IV pump as well as the array of monitors above her bed. “You will. It’s just going to take time.”

  “I certainly hope I’ll get my strength back. I hate being so helpless and shaky.” Lucy flexed her age-spotted fingers, but it was plain that her hands shook with a tremor that hadn’t diminished. According to the lab result that had just arrived, Lucy’s West Nile virus test had been positive. From the few cases Marissa had dealt with before, Lucy would be looking at a long recovery with the potential for lingering side effects.

  “I know, but today we’re going to try moving you from your bed to the chair and see how you do. And if all goes well, we might see about transferring you to a regular room.” While one side of Lucy’s face didn’t appear to droop as much as it had, a stint of physical therapy would probably be in her immediate future.

  “I’d ask about going home but, to be honest, I can’t imagine how I’d manage.”

  “Believe me, we won’t kick you out of here until you’re ready.”

  Marissa helped Lucy slip a bathrobe over her hospital gown, then slowly maneuvered her to sit on the edge of the bed. “Don’t worry,” she said, her grip on the woman’s shoulders firm. “I won’t let you fall.”

  Mindful of the IVs and monitor cords, Marissa eased Lucy to her feet. Seeing her dearest friend in such a frail state was somewhat depressing when Lucy had been so filled with vitality before, but at least she had turned the proverbial corner in her recovery. Her temp had dropped to a low-grade fever and her vital signs were strong. After several clearly painful shuffles, Lucy sank onto the padded chair with a heavy sigh.

  “Oh, my,” she panted. “I hadn’t expected to work quite so hard.”

  “You can have fifteen minutes before it’s back to bed. You’ll need to rest for a repeat session this afternoon.”

  “You don’t have to tell me twice.” Lucy tipped her head back and closed her eyes while Marissa tucked blankets around her. “Did Justin ever decide why I became ill in the first place?”

  “He did,” she began, but before she could explain, Justin walked into the cubicle. “Speak of the devil,” she said instead.

  “Did someone say my name?” Justin quipped as he approached the chair.

  “Lucy was just asking if you had a diagnosis yet.”

  “I do,” he said with a nod. “The report that I’ve been waiting for just came through this morning. Your West Nile test was positive.”

  “West Nile?” Lucy’s rheumy eyes narrowed. “What’s that?”

  “West Nile virus is a virus carried by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds.”

  “I’ve lived a long time, young man, and seen a lot of different diseases and epidemics in my day, but I’ve never heard of West Nile.”

  “The virus has only recently come to the Western Hemisphere. It was primarily found in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Considering how people jet from country to country these days, the theory is that the virus ‘hitchhiked’ a ride to New York and is making its way across the country.” He paused. “Had you noticed any dead birds in your yard?”

  “A few,” she admitted. “I bagged their carcasses and put them in the trash.”

  “Those birds could have died from the virus, but even if those particular ones didn’t, the virus got into our local mosquito population and they passed it on to you.”

  “I told you that the mosquitoes were terrible this year,” Lucy commented. “I had to stop working in my garden during the cool morning hours because of it. With all the rain we had last month, they’ve been thick.”

  “When you go home, you’ll have to be very careful to stay indoors at dawn, dusk and the early evening when they’re at their worst. Don’t forget to wear insect repellant and long-sleeved clothing.”

  “Oh, I will. When did you say I could go home?”

  He exchanged a smile with Marissa. “I didn’t. First we have to move you out of ICU to a regular room. If you manage being out of bed today, we’ll give you a change of scenery tomorrow. Then maybe a week or two should be enough to get you back on your feet.”

  “Another week?” The wrinkles in Lucy’s forehead deepened. “Oh, but my garden. My flowers.”

  Marissa patted her shoulder. “I’ve watered every other day, just like you did.”

  “Thank you, dear, but the weeds will have completely taken over by the time I get home.”

  “You won’t be able to weed,” Justin cautioned. “At least not at first. You need physical therapy to regain your strength, and even then you’ll tire easily. I’m afraid that we’re looking at a long recovery period at home.”

  Lucy’s bony shoulders stiffened. “Weeds wait for no man,” she said.

  “I can’t promise we’ll do as good a job as you do,” Marissa jumped in, “but Justin and I will do what we can this weekend.” If she was going to become his interior decorator, then he could lend a hand at pulling a few weeds.

  “Are you sure?”

  Marissa smiled. She’d walk through a blizzard to help Lucy and told her so.

  Lucy’s eyes brightened with merriment. “I do hope that won’t be necessary, my dear. I appreciate your help though.” She glanced
at Justin. “Yours, too.”

  “My pleasure. Just don’t snicker when you see me on Monday, all bent over and stiff as a board.”

  Lucy giggled. “You young people just don’t know how to handle physical labor.”

  Justin leaned over and spoke in a loud whisper. “Now you know why I went into medicine, but don’t tell anyone.”

  This time, Lucy laughed aloud. “Oh, go on with you.”

  “Do you mind if I borrow Marissa for a minute?” he asked her.

  Lucy waved her gnarled hand. “Take your time. I’m not looking forward to the trek back to bed anyway.”

  Outside the cubicle, Justin steered Marissa toward the nurses’ station. “Be prepared—Galen Stafford is admitting one of his patients to your unit as we speak. Another suspected West Nile case.”

  The news sent a shiver down her spine. Before she could comment, he continued.

  “There’s also a nine-year-old boy in the ER who’s worse—he’s slipping in and out of a coma.”

  Immediately, she mentally ran through their pediatric supplies. “Are you admitting him here?”

  “George Martin, the pediatrician, is airlifting him to a children’s hospital.”

  “We’re going to get bombarded, aren’t we?”

  “It’s very possible. The pathologist announced at our staff meeting this morning that he’s seeing a dramatic increase in positive West Nile test results. Granted, not all of the patients are as sick as the ones you’re seeing now, but it’s a definite cause for concern.”

  “So what do we do?”

  “I’m trying to reach our county health department. The sooner we start alerting people to the dangers and instruct them on proper precautions, the better. Meanwhile, are we still on for tonight?”

  She smiled. “Yeah. I’ll meet you at your house at seven.”

  “You’ll have to backtrack because the hardware store is past your house.”

  “That’s okay. I want to walk through your place first and get some ideas.”

  “I thought you had the colors already in mind? Or so you’ve always said.”

 
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