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       Jacked, p.6

           Tina Reber

  I fought the urge to turn back, to glance his way just one more time to see if he’d had some magical change of heart and I was the one he truly wanted, but the emptiness I carried told me he may have been what I had wanted but he was definitely not what I needed.

  After all this time, after all the tears I shed for him from how he’d broken my heart into tiny fragments, he still affected me. No, the quicker I could get away from him the better. My self-worth was more valuable.

  Falling for him was such a huge mistake…

  I heard another deep voice call out my name, this time making me flinch with nervous worry. Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

  On command, I followed our Chief Resident Director, Doctor Sam Wilson, into his office; the fear of being in trouble quickly replacing lingering thoughts of broken promises.

  “Have a seat,” he instructed in his no bullshit tone. Being under his direct tutelage for my entire residency, I was well-versed in his moods but still slightly intimidated by him.

  “I’m surprised to see you on shift,” he started, giving me a lukewarm smile.

  That made two of us, surprised, that was, by his line of questioning. If he mentions my almost arrest I was going to lose it. “Why wouldn’t I be here?”

  He frowned at me. “Your family had a major setback last night, Erin. I consulted with Doctor Sechler.”

  I’d seen plenty of people fired over the years for their poor work ethics so I felt I needed to justify—immediately. “I know and I’m sorry. I’m actually glad we’re meeting now. I had fully intended to discuss my behavior with you. I want you to know that it won’t happen again. I should not have frozen up like that receiving a patient. It was very unprofessional of me to let my team down like that and to allow personal familiarity to detract from my attention to the patient’s care—”

  His hand flew up. “Whoa, Erin, stop. Everyone understands. This was a relative of yours, not some stranger. You’re not impervious, for God’s sake. No one is blaming you or thinking anything less of you.”


  “But nothing. It could happen to any one of us seeing a family member come in as a trauma patient, and considering the circumstances, you held yourself together better than most.”

  I nodded even though I wholeheartedly disagreed, feeling the cold shock of tattered nerves seep into my fingertips. He eyed me as I wrung my hands.

  “In my eighteen years in this position I have only had a handful of residents who have worked as hard as you do. In all honesty, I felt like a proud father when you completed your residency but you’re too hard on yourself. No one is questioning your leadership and dedication, especially not me, but you have to realize that you’re no good to anyone while you have a loved one two floors up in critical care.” With that, he crossed his legs, his telltale sign of getting down to business. “Have you checked in with Doctor Giffords yet?”

  Shit. Chief neurosurgeon. Not good. “No, sir. I just got here.”

  He gave me a superficial smile. I knew exactly what it meant. “I know this is a difficult time for you. I hope you can also use this experience and learn from it and expand your growing knowledge of TBIs.”

  My nerves took another jump. If he only knew just how much experience I’d already had dealing with traumatic brain injuries after my sister’s accident, he’d be astounded. But that was another area of my personal history I kept tightly under wraps. After all, it was my fault it happened in the first place. If I hadn’t been so self-absorbed in my own problems, Kate would have never suffered.

  “Don’t let your family’s loss be in vain.”

  I gasped, unable to swallow. “Has he—?”

  Again with the fatherly smile. “No, but things are not looking promising. Unless he makes an upswing in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, you and your family should probably prepare. Take some time off. I’m giving you permission to deal with the human side of medicine, Doctor.”

  I shook my head vehemently. “I don’t need time off, sir. I have my interview with the Fellowship committee in three weeks and I need to be prepared. I need that fellowship, Sam. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

  Doctor Wilson held up his hand again, halting me. “I’ve known that for years. It’s not new news. I’ve already sent in my letter of recommendation. Doctor Gaudet and Doctor Chanpreet have submitted theirs as well. Everyone knows how badly you want your medical toxicology residency, although I have to again say that I feel you’re making a big career mistake. You’ve never been too keen on sitting on your butt in the lab, Erin.” He drew in a leveling breath. “I know you have some personal goal here but I think you’re going to be miserable and I really wish you’d reconsider. The Assistant Director position we discussed is still on the table as an option, should you want to reconsider it. Continue to study toxicology on the side if it’s still your passion. It will only add to your value in emergency medicine. But honestly, I’ve watched you grow and thrive and I truly believe here is where your true calling is.”

  I shook my head, though after all this time, it had become somewhat automatic. “My goal has always been singular.”

  “It means a huge pay cut too. Keep that in mind.”

  He studied me. “I wish you could see in yourself what I see in you. Well, think about it. No final decisions need to be made, but for now, for today and tomorrow, I think you should take some time to regroup.”

  I could see his point but being dismissed because of my own emotional weakness was not something I could stomach either. “Sam, I’m fine, really. I’ll go check in on things up in ICU and then I’ll be back on the floor. I just need maybe an hour—”

  His hand slapped down on the desk. “Damn it, Erin. No.”

  I cringed back in my chair slightly, caught off guard by his angry retort. I had heard him yell plenty of times over the years, but I loathed myself every time it was directed toward me. “I can do this. I’m not going to let my team down because of it. We’re already short staffed tonight.”

  His reprimanding glare was slightly intimidating, like when your father expressed his disappointment. “I thought you of all people realize that when you go in there without your head in the game that’s when critical mistakes are made. Just because it’s you, don’t think you’re immune. I’m not going to let you risk it, even if you’re too damn stubborn to realize that for yourself. We’ll manage. You go home.”

  Stubborn? As if I’d never heard that one before. Usually there were other adjectives to go along with that one but now was probably not the best time to be defiant, especially since I’d schooled other residents on the importance of focus.

  I knew if I went home, I’d wallow in my thoughts. “I didn’t drive.”

  “Can someone pick you up?”

  “No, I need to keep busy. I’ll just…” I didn’t know what I’d just do.

  “Go see your family. Go rest in the on-call room. Just no patients tonight.”

  As if I’d be able to rest. After I’d been dismissed with my marching orders, I pressed the button for the elevator, knowing he’d follow through with his threat to have me physically removed from the ER if he saw me in there anywhere tonight. I chose being smart over being foolish—for now.

  I checked my pager, wondering if Doctor Sechler was available for consult.

  No sooner did I make it through the security doors of the ICU, I spotted my mom sitting stoically by my Uncle Cal’s side, her cheeks pale and worn with emotional exhaustion, rubbing his non-responsive hand.

  THESE BASTARDS ARE going to nail me to the cross today. I just fucking know it.

  Marcus had warned me earlier at the gun range that the guys were going to be relentless tonight, but what was I supposed to do? Not show up for work?

  Screw that. I had shit to do.

  I headed down the florescent-lit hallway and its dingy walls to our main briefing room, flicked on the lights, not surprised that I was the first one in. And tonight, I was an extra hour early, but not by choice. I grabbe
d a copy of the hot sheet and got comfortable in my ratty-ass tan desk chair, knowing I had some time to kill. It creaked in protest as I leaned back, like a crotchety old man too weathered by years of hard living to move.

  Something sharp dug into my elbow and I wondered for a moment if the chair had grown teeth, hungry to take a bite out of me too. The armrest was all but gone, held together with my repeated attempts to repair it with duct tape. Despite its sad condition, good, bad, or otherwise we were partners, and right then and there I made the decision to wheel him home after shift, see if I could replace the faithful arms propping me up.

  I straightened the page and perused the list, hoping I’d find something that would distract me from thinking about not just one but two major traffic accidents that happened on our watch and the blood and gore that coated both of them.

  I rubbed my neck. Restful sleep had eluded me again. The nightmare had me sitting straight up in bed this time, gasping. The gunshot, the vacant look on my partner’s face after the bullet penetrated his skull, all followed by the silver charm bracelet dangling on the charred remains of another ghastly memory. I rubbed my eyes.

  The only thing keeping me from falling into another downward spiral was visualizing that gorgeous doctor we pulled over this morning. Every time the anger, frustration, and haunting images started to swell I’d force my thoughts back to her, finding the memory of her bright enough to break through the darkness.

  Her long, dirty-blonde hair had just enough wave in it to make me fantasize what it might feel like threaded through my fingers. Those killer blue eyes and soft cheeks naturally blushed with the cold hit me every time I blinked. Recalling how she fought through an extremely shitty situation to rally in the end with her extraordinary heroics tangled up with images of her sexy mouth and plump lips.

  I felt tight in my skin and my chest ached, as if this random female had managed to turn me inside out somehow. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else for more than a few seconds before returning to visions of her. My imagination was having a field day with its vivid depictions.

  I rubbed a thumb over my breastbone. Funny, thinking of her had gotten me through that burning urge to dull the pain in other ways. Huh. I wonder if it would be harmful to my health to be addicted to a hot doctor instead.

  Hot sheet. Concentrate on the hot sheet.

  I tried to look at the paper in my hand but the print distorted; its allure paled in comparison. I finally managed to note the makes and models of a few high-end vehicles reported stolen this morning, which immediately took over my attention. I sat forward in my chair, circling several on the list with my pen.

  The hot sheet was long and I was still slightly distracted by an alluring blonde, so I went over the list twice. Most of the vehicles reported were typical; they were older makes and models, easy to steal with a brick and a screwdriver. But the ones I’d highlighted were anything but. Son of a… While we were screwing around and getting innocent people killed, four new cars vanished off of a dealership’s lot.

  “Trent, it’s time,” Cap said from the doorway, jerking his head. “Suits from the network are here.”

  Fuck. I dropped my pen on the table and followed him out into the hallway. With all that had gone on in the last twenty-four hours I had refrained from thinking about this meeting. This was the television network’s answer to me refusing their repeated requests to take another private meeting at their office in Manhattan. This time the mountain came to me at my convenient hour.

  A new throb immediately started in my skull. No way was I going into Cap’s office unprepared. “And?”

  “They want to talk to you.”

  “I gathered that. Christ, Cap.”

  “I know.”

  “Do you? I just had three girls camped out on my goddamned lawn take cell pictures of me when I left my house. I mean, how the hell do they find out where I live? Fans have even started calling up my mom. My mother, Cap. She doesn’t need this shit and I sure as hell don’t either. She’s got her hands full taking care of my pop; she doesn’t need to add nonsense on top of it.” I took a deep breath. “I didn’t sign on for all of this.”

  Cap sighed hard. “Yeah, well, unfortunately you did. We all did.”

  I glared at the ominous office door down the hall. “If I would have known it would turn out like this I would have said no.”

  “Just hear them out. A few more months and our contract will be up and we can all get out of this clusterfuck.”

  I wanted to punch the wall. “We fucked up—majorly—last night. This lack of focus is stacking the shit pile higher. I need to know that every one of them has their head in the game and has my back and I gotta tell ya, Cap, I’m not feeling it.”

  My captain’s eyes slid back and forth down the hallway, obviously worried that we might be overheard. I knew we had to be careful; so much was on the line.

  When he glared at me in silence, I felt like he needed a wake-up call. Insubordination be damned. “Three bodies on the highway, Cap. Three. And one hanging on by a thread. Bad intel on the Taurus SHO, pulling over that doc last night, then that multi-car wreck. Jesus… We’re lucky no one else died.”

  “Hey, you know damn well that every man on this team takes their job very seriously. You making this personal?” Cap questioned.

  He’s lucky I didn’t turn around and take a walk after that remark. “Yeah, I am. I got blood on my hands and I’m not liking that one bit. We should have stopped that Nissan before it got out on the Schuylkill. But instead of figuring out where we all went wrong tonight, our team is going to be distracted by fucking fan mail. We need to sort this shit before someone else gets hurt, or worse—one of us gets killed.”

  Cap growled at me but I didn’t give a shit. It was the truth and he knew it.

  “Listen to me, son. I get your anger. I do. But like I told you before, sometimes it’s out of our power to prevent bad things from happening. We can only do our best, that’s it. I’ll put foot to ass for the fuck ups. Mark my words.”

  I tried to take another calming breath. “The call on the doc’s car was a complete diversion. I just reviewed the reports. Four high-end vehicles were boosted at the same time we were chasing bogies. That’s no coincidence.”

  The entire thing made my skin itch, and that was not a good sign. I had a gut feeling why it played out like it did, and that made me feel even more uneasy. More often than not my gut instincts turned out to be accurate and if they were on the mark now, the criminals just played us at our own game. “We were set up like chumps and we fell for it.”

  Cap heaved a heavy sigh and nodded. “That’s not lost on me either, Adam. I got a report back on the driver on the stolen Nissan. They ID’d him as one Harrell Manley.”

  My brain seized. “Manley?”

  I instantly recognized the name since I’d busted him a few years ago. He was young but a seasoned car thief, repeat offender, gang member, and I knew for a fact that he had connections with chop shops, using their illegal activities to support their other illegal habits. I also knew who he’d been working for these days.

  “Yep. Had his younger brother Dwight in the car with him, too. Both DOA at the scene.”

  I rubbed my hand down my face as the news sunk in. I’d also busted Dwight back when he was only thirteen. He was a good kid at heart but fell victim to his shitty environment. Mom was on welfare with a heroin habit; dad was unknown and definitely not in the picture. He followed his brother right into the gang life.

  I tried to scare him straight when I had him, even put Dwight in contact with free counseling services that worked with at-risk kids. His brother was too far embedded in his ways to turn away and make something out of himself, but I really tried to make a difference with the younger Manley kid. Tried, but obviously failed. Now he was dead and gone and there would be no future for him. No redemption. Just another kid I couldn’t save. Before I could stop it, my disappointment turned into physical burn. What a waste of a life.

p; “That confirms it was a diversion. Both calls were.”

  Cap sort of agreed, though not as confident as I was. The Manley brothers were in it for the money and had been stripping and selling cars parts for years, but lately word on the street said they were boosting cars for one specific client. “Both were armed but there were no drugs on the bodies or in the vehicle.”

  We’d called off the chase when things got too dangerous. “The Nissan is the only piece that doesn’t quite fit. Maybe he was off the clock and working his own deal.”

  He shrugged. “Maybe. But he’s too dead to ask now.”

  That he was.

  “I just briefed Commissioner Quinlan and he agrees that we want you to lead the investigation since you’re already working the Mancuso case. See what you can dig up. Hopefully you can tie something back to them.”

  A guy in a dark suit popped his head out of Cap’s office at the end of the hall and waved, demanding our attention.

  Cap’s exasperated sigh reflected my own. “We’ll discuss this later. Let’s go get this shit over with.”

  I reluctantly followed him into his office, noting the small space was already occupied by three bodies, one of who instantly set me on guard. It was an automatic reaction to being sized up as if I were her next meal.

  Long chestnut hair, expensive stilettos, a killer body clad in a dress meant for anything other than talking business—her motives for making this trip couldn’t have been any more obvious. Fuck, I hated surprises. Last time I saw her, she was trailing behind her father’s shadow, pouting and bored.

  Apparently she was taking her father’s recent death in good stride.

  “There’s our star! Mr. Trent! So good to see you,” the one suit gushed.

  Harry, Herby something.

  He was the one who originally lured us into this mess, promising all sorts of things along the way. I sure as hell didn’t want to shake the asshole’s hand but to avoid so would be rude. Instead, I gave the outstretched hand a squeeze until the condescending smile turned into a slight register of pain.

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