If you are a new reader here, I share a chapter from my WIP each Friday, and sometimes Saturday, on my blog. There are typos, grammatical issues and even plot holes at times because this is a first, second, or third draft that hasn’t gone to my editor (eh, husband) yet. If you see a typo, feel free to kindly let me know in the comments. Sometimes the error has already been fixed on my copy, sometimes not.
Catch up with the rest of the story HERE. Don’t feel like reading the book in a series of chapters each Friday? Preorder the book HERE. Do you want to read the first book in the series? Download it HERE. (It is free on Kindle through today.)
“Hey, Trooper. How you holding up?”
Jason looked up and watched Brittany walk into the emergency room exam room, her usual jovial and flirty behavior greatly subdued.
“You here to sew me up?” he asked with a grin, his hand still holding the gauze the nurse had pressed there before she left to consult the doctor.
Brittany laughed. “No. Sadly, that is not one of my specialties. I just came to see how you were doing. Emotionally more than physical.”
He shrugged a shoulder, frowning. “Eh. I’m . . . well, hanging in there, I guess.”
She sat back on the exam table next to him and leaned her shoulder into his. “We win some, we lose some, okay? It’s not a reflection of how good we are at our job. Sometimes crap just happens.”
Only she didn’t say crap, because that Brittany didn’t tone her language down for anyone.
Jason stared at the pattern of the linoleum on the floor, Anne’s voice echoing in his memory. He knew Brittany was trying to comfort and encourage, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that if he had been more careful, he would have understood what Anne was saying and could have saved John too.
“Okay, Mr. Tanner.” The nurse stepped back in the exam room, bringing the tangy citrus smell of her perfume with her. “The doctor is on his way in. He’s going to do the sutures instead of the glue. He says that cut is too deep for the glue, so I had to grab more threat. Sorry for the wait.”
Brittany winked and slid her hand over Jason’s, intertwining her fingers with his. “That’s okay. I was keeping him company. I’ll hold his hand while the doctor stitches him up.”
She punched Jason playfully on the upper arm. At least he thought it was playful. Maybe Brittany was trying to be more than playful. Her fingers were tightly wound around his. If she was trying to be more than playful, he didn’t have the mental capacity to worry about it at the moment. The only subject on his mind, other than his need to apologize to Ellie, was hearing from Cody, finding out for sure that John was in the house and if Anne was okay.
The doctor came in next and after a greeting, wiped more blood away, cleaned the wound while Jason grimaced, and started the stitches. Jason’s phone rang on the third stitch.
“I’ll get it,” Brittany announced, snatching it from his hand.
Jason didn’t like her assertiveness in this case, but at least she wasn’t holding his hand anymore.
“Yeah, Cody, it’s me, Brittany. The doctor is sewing him up, so I thought I’d answer for him. I was on a transport to the hospital when I heard about the fire and that Jason was here. I thought I’d check on him.” She paused. “Yeah. Okay.” Her playful tone morphed into a more serious one as she nodded and listened to Cody talking. “I’ll tell him. No, I will. You know that. I’ll make sure he knows. Okay.”
She slid her finger over the screen and laid the phone on the top of the exam table between them.
He already knew what she was going to say before she said it. Her blue eyes glistened under the fluorescent glow.
“The fire marshal found John. In the kitchen. Near the stove. Preliminary investigation shows the fire was an accident, but she’ll know more later.” Brittany slid her hand over his again, squeezing gently. “Cody wants me to tell you that this isn’t your fault. You didn’t know John was in there. You’re a good man and a good firefighter. And he wants to make sure you call him if you need to talk. He’s also going to call later today and check on you and would appreciate a text when you get out of here for an update on the cut.”
Jason nodded, tight-lipped, jaw tight. He tried to speak, to thank her for the information, but no sound came out. He swallowed hard, finally got the words out. “Thanks, Brit. I appreciate it.”
She kept her hand tight on his and laid her other hand on his arm, leaning her head against his shoulder while the doctor continued sewing. “Anytime, bud. Anytime.”
Cody had told her Jason was at the hospital being stitched up. He’d also told her what the fire marshal had found, and that Anne Weatherly was being examined at the hospital. They’d know more about her condition later that evening.
As Ellie walked through the emergency room entrance, she felt a case of deja vu, only this time she knew Jason was okay and had only needed a few stitches for a cut on his forehead.
The situation could have been very different. One wrong step, a few more minutes of delay in the house, and she could have been here to identify a body. Of course, that task usually fell to family members, not ex-girlfriends.
Glancing at the front desk, she stifled a laugh. No way. It couldn’t be. What kind of crazy schedule did this woman have? Or maybe she was the only receptionist the hospital employed. Maybe this woman simply lived somewhere down the hall. Or pulled her bed out from under the desk in between visitors.
She didn’t have time to worry about the work schedule of a purple-haired stranger. She simply needed to find out where Jason was.
Wait. Purple hair? Didn’t she have blue hair last time? No. It was purple then, too. Wasn’t it?
Not that it actually mattered.
The woman didn’t look up from the computer, per her usual customer service performance.
“May I help you?”
Fingernails clipped across the keyboard.
“I’m looking for Jason Tanner. He was brought here a couple of hours ago.”
“No, I’m —”
The woman pointed past Ellie’s shoulder, her gaze still on the computer. “Waiting room. Across the hall.”
“I understand, but —”
The receptionist pointed again.
Ellie rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and sighed.
In the waiting room, she pulled out her phone and saw a message from Molly.
Molly: I didn’t know whether to message you or not, but did Lucy tell you about the fire at Weatherly’s?
Ellie: Yes, I’m at the ER, waiting to check on Jason.
Molly: He texted and said it was just stitches, so we’re back at his place waiting for him.
Ellie: I’ll update you when I know more.
Molly: Thanks. Love you, El.
Ellie: Love you too, Molly.
She spent the rest of her wait scrolling through social media posts, crinkling her nose at the outfit of some 20-something-year-old celebrity she’d never heard of.
She had no idea why she’d ever signed up for Instagram anyhow. Probably because Judi had told her to so she could follow Judi and all her city-based adventures.
Speaking of Judi . . . What had she been posting on her account lately?
She searched Judi’s name and found a photo of her with an attractive-looking man at the top of her feed. A click on the photo showed the picture had been posted more than a month ago, a few days before Judi had arrived on Ellie’s doorstep.
Ellie read the caption.
“Life is better when you’re out on the town with your seriously hooooot co-worker. Kiss-kiss-hug-hug, peeps.”
Someone with the username lifeisahighway was tagged.
Ellie clicked the name and a series of photos of the man with his arms around barely stressed women or posing sans shirt popped up. The latest photo had been posted yesterday and was him being straddled on a couch by a woman with long red hair, his hands grasping her waist, his face buried in her cleavage.
“Nothing like a sex-filled weekend in the Hamptons,” read the caption.
Ellie cringed. “Gross.”
She scrolled further down his feed and stopped at a photo of him with Judi. They were standing on the patio of some restaurant. He was one step behind her, his hands resting on her thighs.
The caption drew a gasp from Ellie. To say it was crude and beyond inappropriate was an understatement. His description of what he planned to do with her sister clearly crossed the line of pornographic.
She scrolled further down the feed, but didn’t see any other photos of him with Judi, only other women, most of them cuddled up against him, a few even in his bed, sheets draped over them, yet making it clear they weren’t wearing clothes under those sheets.
At the sound of voices in the hall, she looked up, the phone still in her hand, her mouth still slightly open, denoting her shock over what she’d seen. Through the doorway, she watched Jason stop in the hallway next to the receptionist’s desk and turn to a blond woman next to him.
Ellie couldn’t hear what they were saying from where she was sitting, but the woman’s expression exuded compassion and her mannerisms were those of someone who was familiar, very familiar with him.
The woman patted his shoulder in one move and in the next her arms were around his neck, her lips against his cheek. The embrace and kiss were brief. In less than 30 seconds she was gone, and Jason stood in the hallway alone, watching her leave.
Ellie glanced to her left, wondering how smoothly she could move out of Jason’s eyesight if he turned toward the waiting room. He didn’t, though. Instead, he pulled his ducked his head down, pulled on his John Deere cap, and walked through the exit doors. Craning her neck, she looked through the wide windows in the waiting room, her gaze following him, curious if he’d follow the blond woman to her car.
She stood and walked to the window, almost afraid to look.
A truck was idling in the hospital driveway and for a moment she thought it might be the woman, picking him up. She watched Jason climb inside and then realized, as if a fog had lifted from her, the person driving the truck wasn’t blond and it wasn’t a woman. It was their friend, Matt McGee and obviously off duty as a Spencer Valley Police Officer.
Relief swept over her, but only briefly, because then she remembered how the woman had hugged Jason and pressed her mouth to his cheek. Who was she? Was she someone Jason had been seeing? It’s not as if Ellie could say anything. She was the one who had broken it off, the one who had pushed him away no matter how many times he had tried to apologize.
She slid her purse strap over her shoulder and walked into the hallway.
“That guy you were looking for just left.”
The receptionist’s voice mixed in with the sound of her nails clicking across the keyboard. As usual, she didn’t look up from the computer while she spoke.
“Thank you,” Ellie said with an amused smile. “You’ve been very helpful.”