Visiting Hours, page 1
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Table of Contents
About the Author
Alison Reynolds knows exactly who she is and what she wants. With a well-established career as a history professor, Alison is professional and, for the most part, strait-laced—the exact opposite of Dr. Jess Baker.
Jess is spirited, impulsive, and confident to the point of cockiness. A promising physician recently transplanted from the West Coast, Jess sticks out in her new home of Richmond, Virginia.
The two clash immediately and often. Jess is infuriating, unprofessional, and altogether too distracting. She also seems to be trying awfully hard to get Alison's attention. The more fate throws them together, the more Alison discovers that while their differences may be exciting, it’s the little ways they're alike that are downright irresistible.
Copyright © 2017 by Tagan Shepard
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
First Bella Books Edition 2017
eBook released 2017
Editor: Katherine V. Forrest
Cover Designer: Judith Fellows
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
About the Author
Tagan Shepard has always spent quiet moments weaving stories in her head. It didn’t occur to her until recently to take the time to write them down. Now that she’s started, she can’t seem to stop. When not writing, she makes her living in a hospital laboratory.
She is a cardio junkie, history buff, and unrepentant nerd, happily wasting countless hours of her life on video games and science fiction/fantasy of every stripe. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her very patient wife and two rather surly cats.
To my dearest wife.
Without love, there is no life, and so without you, there is no me.
Thank you to Deirdra McAfee for being the first person to call me a writer, long before I was even willing to call myself one. Also to Lavinia Moxey and Nathalie Oates for your invaluable insight. Bella Books and Jessica Hill took a chance on me and for that I will be eternally grateful. To Katherine V. Forrest for being the best editor a new writer could hope for. Archive of Our Own provided a venue for me to cut my teeth at this whole writing thing and gave me a forgiving and supportive audience. It is an invaluable resource and I am most grateful.
Writing is a solitary art and I have at times neglected the people in my life in favor of the people in my head. I’m lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive family who continue to love me despite my flaws. In particular, my wife Cris who looked at me one day and said, “Why don’t you write a book?” Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As the doors of Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center slid open in front of Alison Reynolds, tension suffused her body. She’d never had a problem with hospitals until her best friend became a regular visitor to them. Now the smell of bleach and nitrile made her skin crawl and her heart ache. Worse yet, she had never been either a patient or a visitor here, and the lack of familiarity made her edgy. She had lived in Richmond most of her adult life, but never had a reason to come into VCU’s hospital. It was the big one. The one where they took gunshots and major accidents. The one where people came to die.
Alison shook the thought from her head. It brought up too many ghosts. She needed to be in a positive frame of mind when she got to Beth’s room. Her best friend had always been able to read her like a book. Whatever mood she arrived with today would immediately show. She needed to be happy. Or at least not scared.
She made for the information desk near the bank of elevators. At most hospitals, an elderly volunteer with a wide smile but little actual information to impart would occupy this space. Instead, she found a harassed-looking, middle-aged African-American woman finishing a phone call. Alison took up a position directly in front of her and waited, scanning the lobby and trying not to tap her nails on the stone countertop.
It was the middle of the day, and there were a fair number of people around. Alison caught her reflection in the tinted glass partition to her left and looked quickly away. She knew she didn’t look her best today, but she wasn’t keen on seeing the evidence. Her sleep had been fitful ever since Beth announced her most recent pregnancy. The bags under her eyes, only barely camouflaged by her simple makeup, were proof. Unfortunately, her best features were round brown eyes and high cheekbones, neither of which she could highlight in her present state. Now all she had to work with were thin lips, a long, arrow-straight nose, and a rounded jaw that at least kept her looking young. She wore her hair long and the thick, dark curls paired with the cheekbones drew a lot of comparisons to Julianna Margulies.
“Thank you for your patience, ma’am. How may I help you today?”
The woman at the information desk looked up at her with a warm smile. Almost as surprising as her kindness was her ability to give Alison detailed directions. More than one hospital in the area had left her frustrated and annoyed at the lack of knowledgeable staff. To find a person who could help her and do so pleasantly was a welcome surprise. She boarded an empty elevator, beginning to hope that this visit would go more smoothly than similar trips in the past.
Her hopes were dashed the minute the doors opened. The directions seemed relatively straightforward downstairs, but it didn’t take long to get herself hopelessly los
A high counter ran around a central bank of desks and computers. She assumed that this was the unit nurses station, having seen similar setups before. Unfortunately, it was currently abandoned. The omnipresent beeps and tones announced themselves to a slew of empty chairs. Further along the hall stood a pair of elevators that bore no resemblance to the ones she rode up. People in lab coats milled around in front of them, but, as she started to make her way toward them, an elevator arrived and they all disappeared onto it without noticing her. She sighed in frustration and turned, looking again for someone to help her. Around the corner of the nurses station was a bench against the wall. Someone sat on the bench.
The woman there looked like she might be in her mid to late thirties, but the way she dressed and carried herself were at odds with that age. She was slouched forward over a cell phone, typing away with her elbows on her knees. Her blue jeans were worn and form-fitting, and the sleeves of a black V-neck T-shirt were bunched up around well-toned shoulders, several inches of colorful tattoos visible beneath the left sleeve. She had golden yellow hair cut short on the sides, pulled into gelled spikes on top. It wasn’t quite a mohawk, but it belonged on one of Alison’s students, not an adult. She guessed this woman was a graduate student or perhaps one of the more punky bike messengers popular on this end of town. Her thumbs flew across the screen of her smartphone with a strength and confidence that suggested she worked with her hands a lot. Alison judged that she pretended to be a sculptor or a drummer or something equally unemployable when she wasn’t loitering in hospitals.
Alison turned away, trying to guess a direction based on the room numbers around her. She let out a long, frustrated breath.
“Can I help you find something?”
The voice was low and a little throaty, but with a cadence that exuded confidence. Alison turned. The woman stood, slipping the phone into the back pocket of her jeans with a motion that stretched the fabric of her T-shirt tight across her chest. Alison forced her gaze to the woman’s face. She wore a gleaming smile, showing off impossibly white teeth and shockingly green eyes. Had it not been for her growing annoyance, Alison would have allowed herself a long moment to appreciate the woman in front of her. Today she really didn’t have time.
The obvious chill of her tone did nothing to dissuade the stranger, who took a step forward, her thumbs hooked in her back pockets. “Are you sure? You look sorta lost.”
“I’m fine.” Alison bit off the words as she pulled out the scrap of paper where she’d scribbled down Beth’s room number. She looked at the hair spiking up a couple of inches over the woman’s head and said, “I think I know where I’m headed.”
She laughed and took a few steps forward, her hand outstretched. “If you let me see the room number, I can point you in the right direction. This place is a bit of a maze. Which unit are you looking for?”
Alison took a step back, her eyes flicking again to the woman’s hair. “Thank you. But again, I don’t need your help.”
Her smile widened. “A blow-drier and a lot of texturizing cream.”
“It’s how I get my hair like this. It’s a lot of work, but I like it, so I put in the time. I assure you I don’t yank out any brain cells when I style it.”
“I’m sure you don’t, and if I were looking for directions to a tattoo parlor or a head shop, you’d be the first person I’d ask. Now, if you’d excuse me?”
The woman laughed, crossing her arms over her chest, but not budging. “That would be a bad idea. I’ve never gotten a tattoo here in Richmond and I haven’t smoked weed since undergrad. I can take a hint though. I was only trying to help, but I can see you’re set on finding your own way. Best of luck.”
She turned away just as a nearby door opened. A young man with a worried look on his face and a white lab coat in his hand hustled out of it.
“Doctor Baker! I’m so sorry! I think I got the stain out, but it’s still a little damp.”
She took the coat from him and slipped her arm through the sleeve. “Not a problem at all. I told you not to worry about it.”
“Oh no! I couldn’t let you walk around with a coffee stain on your coat. Especially when it was my clumsy fault it got there in the first place.” He headed behind the half-wall that separated him from the nurses station. “Should I call Antepartum and let them know you’re on your way?”
Her lab coat back on, the doctor started off down the hall Alison had come in from. “No need. Thanks!”
The young man turned to Alison and asked politely, “Can I help you, ma’am?”
Alison stared after the stranger’s retreating form. Antepartum was Beth’s unit and the annoying woman with the ridiculous hair said she was going there. And she was a doctor, no less. Alison turned back to the nurse. “I…No. Thank you. I know where to go.”
She waited a beat to let the doctor get some distance. She followed quietly and slowly, but she had the sense the woman knew she was there. Alison couldn’t take the thought of her smug smile when she caught Alison following. The very person from whom she’d refused help. Alison slowed to a crawl.
The slower pace gave her time to size up her quarry. Despite the coat’s billowing tails, it was cut well, accentuating the doctor’s broad shoulders and long legs, showing off a slim waist. The coat’s long arms covered the tattoos, and the jeans didn’t appear quite so unprofessional with square-toed black shoes. Most doctors wore business casual if they weren’t in scrubs. On closer inspection, this outfit appeared only slightly more casual than that. Take away the hair and tattoos, and she had the physique of a woman who could talk Alison into almost anything on the third date. Shame it was wasted on such an immature individual.
She turned a quick corner and was suddenly out of sight. Alison cursed for allowing herself to become distracted and hurried to follow. She sped around the corner and nearly slammed into the other woman. She was leaning against the wall, arms crossed, wearing the smirk Alison dreaded.
“I thought I was being followed,” she said good-naturedly.
Alison blushed. She smiled back, but she couldn’t think of anything to say to defend herself.
The doctor laughed and stood straight, holding out her hand. “Jess Baker.”
Alison took her hand and shook it. “Alison Reynolds.”
“Pleased to meet you Alison Reynolds.”
She tried not to notice the way her face heated up as the doctor’s smile widened. “Likewise.”
“Why don’t I show you the way to Antepartum?”
The walk wasn’t particularly long, but it was incredibly uncomfortable for Alison. She couldn’t help mulling over the things she said and the looks she gave to this woman before discovering she was a doctor. Every memory made her cringe. She had not been polite. The quip about the head shop seemed particularly rude in hindsight. She longed for them to arrive at their destination so that she could leave the doctor behind, never to see her again.
Dr. Baker seemed perfectly at ease. Neither smug nor offended, she walked with her hands in her pockets and her eyes straight ahead. They turned into a wide hallway clearly marked with the unit name. How, Alison thought, could she have missed the foot-high, brushed nickel sign earlier? She could only guess it was from being preoccupied with worry.
A man leaning against the doorframe with his back to them blocked the way ahead. He was shouting into his cell phone.
“No. You’re in the wrong place…I don’t know! I’m in Antepartum…This is where Kimberly is…She hasn’t had the baby…I know! Antepartum is for women who are just pregnant and Labor and Delivery is for women who are givin
He spun around, banging hard into Alison’s shoulder as he passed without apologizing.
“I told you this place is a maze,” Dr. Baker said with a shrug. “Everyone gets lost in here at least once.”
Just ahead Alison finally saw the right room and decided it was time to make her graceful exit. She stopped, the doctor did as well. Turning with her most winning smile, she held out her hand.
“Well, thank you Doctor…Baker was it? Thank you for helping me navigate the maze. This is my stop.”
“Please call me Jess.” She smiled wide again, shaking Alison’s hand. Motioning toward the door, she continued, “I’m afraid you can’t get rid of me that easily. This is my stop too.”
“You mean you’re…”
“Ali? Is that you?”
It was Beth’s voice, and Alison clung to it like a lifeline.
The room was bright and airy despite the oversized hospital bed and equipment crammed into the small space. Beth looked right at home on the bed, at least a half dozen pillows propped up behind her. Her growing belly was just visible under the blanket.
Alison had met Beth when they were both four years old. Their families were members of the same church, and Alison could remember with perfect clarity the day that a chubby little girl with a pair of puffy pigtails and skin the color of milky hot chocolate plopped down next to her on the carpet in Sunday school and asked her name. She had maybe three tiny teeth still in place and immediately showed them off in a wide grin. Alison smiled back shyly and they had been inseparable ever since.
When Alison’s parents sent her to St. Catherine’s, the all-girls private Catholic school in town, Beth had sweet-talked her parents into sending her as well. When she had gone to University of Richmond, Beth leveraged a basketball scholarship to follow. When Beth chose Boston College for law school, Alison went to Harvard for her master’s degree and they picked an apartment halfway between campuses. Their only separation came when Alison studied in England, but Beth had made the transatlantic trip six times to visit even while studying for the bar and planning a wedding.