Manon Lockley parked in the driveway of the small yellow brick ranch house she’d converted into an office for her medical practice. She slid from the driver’s seat and paused to inhale the fragrance of the June roses.
At the moment she felt like the White Rabbit. She was very late for office hours. Mrs. Patton, director of nursing at Fern Lake General had been admitted to the hospital this morning with chest pain. As her primary physician, Manon had remained to monitor the older woman’s condition and to work with the cardiologist to stabilize the hospital’s most admired employee.
Manon glanced at her watch. Well past three. How long would she need to stay? Her stomach grumbled reminding her she hadn’t eating lunch. Exhaustion caused by the emergency made her shoulders slump under the weight of the event.
She opened the door leading to the reception area. Hopefully her nurse/secretary had been able to reschedule the patients for another day.
The rumble of a motorcycle sounded in the distance. Her muscles tightened. Her fists clenched. Her heart pounded in an erratic rhythm. The roar of a bike never failed to flood her with memories she didn’t want. Those memories had been shattered years ago and still filled her with anger and grief.
Do not go there.
After sucking in a series of cleansing breaths, she entered and paused at the reception desk. The cheerful yellow walls brightened her mood. She glanced into the waiting room and saw just two people seated on the brown leather chairs. Manon smiled. Two to four patients was better than the dozen plus who had been scheduled.
Emma hung up the phone. “Finally.”
Manon nodded. “It’s been quite a day. Things here.”
“Relatively quiet. Managed to reschedule all but five of today’s appointments. Schedule will be tight for the rest of the week. How’s Mrs. Patton?”
“Stable. Angina. No cause yet. Tests to run before we know her course of treatment."
Emma smiled. “That’s great. Will be hard to think of the hospital without her at the helm. I wouldn’t be in school for my nurse practitioner’s degree if she hadn’t pushed me to try.”
Manon half-sat on a corner of the desk. “Did you know she plans to retire?”
“I’ve heard the rumors. They say she waited until she found the right replacement. I heard she made a recommendation to the Board. Someone from the city.”
Manon frowned. “How do you think the supervisors will feel about that?”
“None are qualified. Ruth has a doctorate. None of the others in upper management does. What have you heard? Any names?”
Manon rose. “No rumors but I’m not on the Board. Hope they bring the person on staff early.”
“Is she that ill?” Emma asked.
“She’s almost seventy. Time for her to relax. She needs less stress.” Manon moved toward the hall. “I’d better start. What do we have?”
“You’ve time to settle in. There’s a protein bar and pomegranate juice on your desk. I imagine you skipped lunch.”
Manon laughed. “Does four cups of coffee count?”
“Actually two sugars and milk.”
Unhealthy. Eat the snack.” Emma raised her fist in a mock gesture of threat.
Manon giggled. “Yes, Mother. Thanks.” She dashed down the hall to her office. Light from the windows revealed a neat oak desk with a computer on one segment of the L-shaped piece of furniture. She locked her purse in the bottom drawer. After settling on the chair, she sipped juice and ate the bar. The snack should hold her for an hour or so. She used a wipe on her hands, donned a white lab coat and stood at the window to admire the red, pink and white roses in the side yard.
Emma tapped on the door. “Prelims done. One of the patients who refused to reschedule is, guess who?”
“Sands,” Manon said. “Why me?”
“You’re too nice to the jerk.” Emma fisted her hands on her hips. “Don’t you feel weird examining a man who has the hots for you?”
“Emma!” Manon shook her head. “There’s nothing personal on my part.”
“You need to dismiss him as a patient. He’s a stalker and if this visit is like the others, we can’t bill his insurance.”
Manon groaned. Tom Sands was a persistent pest from her past who wanted a role in her present and future. They’d gone to the same private high school. When she’d entered med school, he’d been studying law at the same university.
Manon released a long sigh. Why today? Twelve years ago on this date in June, she had experienced the worst day of her life. Had he purposely chosen this day for a visit?
She stepped into the hall. “What’s his problem? I wonder why a lawyer doesn’t understand how close to trouble he ventures.”
“He knows you’re a softie.” Emma scowled. “Do you think he’s trying to push you into committing fraud so he has a hold over you? Doesn’t he understand you can’t bill his insurance company for every silly complaint?”
Though Manon hadn’t wanted to believe her friend. She knew Emma was right. Tom’s frequent visits for non-existent illnesses needed to end. “I don’t think he cares. What’s his current complaint?”
“Fever. Was ninety-eight point nine. Since that’s above the average normal temp, I guess he’s right.”
“Want me to come in with you?”
Since she seldom needed a nurse for a routine exam, Manon shook her head. “If I’m not out in ten minutes think of an excuse to barge in. Anything else I need to know?”
“Tried to reach patient number five. The new one. The message went straight to his voice mail.” She turned. “He’s a hospital hire.”
Manon frowned. “Why come here? I could have seen him tomorrow at Employee Health.”
“Never thought to ask. Want me to try again?”
Manon nodded. “Refer him to the hospital.” She’d taken the position there when she’d arrived in town. The extra money had helped until her practice had built. Did any of the new doctors in town wanted to take her place? She would ask.
“Then we’re set.”
Manon moved into the hall. “If this hire arrives before I’m through I’ll do a physical. Where’s Sands?”
Manon crossed the hall and pulled the chart from the rack on the wall beside the door. She glanced at the number of unwarranted visits. Her determination to see him gone grew.
Carrying this thought, she entered the examining room and halted. Tom had failed to don the patient goes. Clad only in bright blue boxers and blue socks he sat on the edge of the examining table. His physique lacked the ability to attract her. Flabby chest, narrow shoulders, pale skin covered with dark hair. Her jaw clenched.
Tom grinned. “I’ve been waiting.”
I haven’t. She remained in the doorway. “What do you want?”
“I have a fever.”
She released an exasperated sigh. “Ninety-eight point nine isn’t indicative of an illness. Why are you wasting my time?”
“If you would take my calls and accept my invitations to dinner, I wouldn’t have to play sick.”
Her hands coiled into fists. “You’ve put me in a difficult situation. If I bill your insurance company, I’m guilty of fraud. Was that your purpose? Want me to lose my license to practice medicine?”
“If course not.” He set his feet on the footstool. “I’m frustrated. Come to dinner with me.” He lunged for her hand and nearly fell.
Manon reached behind for the doorknob. “The answer is no. I don’t want to go anywhere with you. In high school, after that first dreadful date, I turned down your invitations. I said no when I was in grad school. That remains my answer.”
“How long will you cling to the memory of a dead man? He deserted you.” Tom reached for his trousers.
Manon’s bond tensed. Did he remember the date? Had he come to the office to say those words? “That is my affair.”
He pulled on his trousers and donned his shirt. “There’s no reason for you to be so cold. A bit of a social life might thaw your icy core.”
Manon jerked the door open. The aloofness had developed during the three years of touring
with her father. Iciness had kept her sane. Thoughts of grief and anger oozed
beneath the barrier she’d built over her emotions. Though she had tried to
forget her first love, he’d claimed part of her heart and the emptiness
“Just go away,” she said.
“Come on. Give me a chance. Your father favored me.”
A peal of laughter she couldn’t contain escaped. Did Tom think mentioning her father would influence her decision? “You have no idea what my father thought about you. He believed you wouldn’t interfere with his plans for me.”
“I told him. I would be proud to manage your career.”
Her lip curled. “One I never wanted.”
“What was wrong with pursuing a career as a concert pianist? Think of the fame and fortune.”
She turned away. “And dreary hotels, fawning people and having your strings pulled by an egotist. Becoming a doctor had always been my dream. Get dressed and leave. Find another doctor.”
She closed the door with a firm click. When she reached her office, she slumped on the chair. She needed to calm her anger before seeing her next patient. Tom’s persistence began to frighten her. She wasn’t sure what she could do.
After she regained her calm center, she left the office. Relief washed through her. The door to the first examining room stood open. Emma stood with another patient.
Manon entered the second treatment room where she checked a hypertensive woman’s blood pressure and handed her several diets. She returned to the first room to study a diabetic’s blood sugar results. She congratulated him on how well he controlled his condition without medication. On her return to the second room, she listened to the lungs of a recovering pneumonia patient and cleared the woman to return to work.
She dropped the charts in her office and walked to the reception area. “Has the last patient arrived?”
“He’s changing. I’ll do the prelim.” Emma grinned. “He’s hot. Big guy with well defined muscles. Blue eyes surrounded by dark lashes. Lord, I’d love to have them. Oh, a killer smile.”
Manon laughed. “Have plans for him?”
Emma turned away. “I can only look and dream. He says he’s taken.”
“Maybe the next one will be yours.”
Emma hurried down the hall. Manon studied the next day’s schedule and discovered she’d be involved in a marathon of patient visits.
She rested her elbow on the desk. She had to do something about Tom. His weekly visits for vague complaints had to stop. Several times she’d referred him to specialists. The lack of calls from these doctors meant he hadn’t made any of the calls. Why didn’t he hear her message? She had no intention of dating him again. His awkward attempt at seduction when they’d been in high school had made her vow never again. She hadn’t changed her mind.
A painful memory surfaced. Her hands fisted.
Not going there either. Not today. Not ever.
Emma paused at the desk. “New patient is set.” She dropped a thick packet on the desk. “Copy of his medical record.”
Manon stared at the manila folder. With a health history with that many pages, she wondered why the hospital had hired him. She rose.
“Anything I should know?” Emma asked.
“There is. Once I document Mr. Sands’ last visit, make a copy of his records for him. If he calls for an appointment remind him he’s no longer my patient. I’m not willing to commit insurance fraud or have him continue to take time when I could see someone who needs me.”
“About time,” Emma said. “What if he persists?”
“I’ll ask for a restraining order and mention the office visits and my fears of being involved in fraud.”
Emma laughed. “Good for you. Bet that stops him.” She leaned against the wall. “Do you mind if I head out? If I rush, I can have dinner before class.”
“Go ahead. “Which class?”
“Statistics. Love that class.”
Emma slung her bag over her shoulder. “See you.”
Manon watched her friend hurry away. At the door, Emma waved and grinned.
Why the sly smile? Manon walked to the examining room and pulled a folder from the holder. She glanced inside. No name. Emma had been in a hurry.
As she opened the door, the scent of an aftershave sent her hurtling toward the past. For the second time that afternoon, memories of the boy she’d loved surfaced. She drew a deep breath.
Get a grip.
Without a glance at the waiting patient, she strode to the counter. The aroma strengthened. Hadn’t been her imagination. She turned her head and stared at the man wearing the green cotton examining gown. She gripped the edge of the counter. Blood rushed from her head.
“You’re dead.” The words slashed the silence. This couldn’t be happening.
The voice sounded like the one from her dreams. She opened her mouth to ask where he’d been and what he’d been doing for the past twelve years. She sucked in a shallow breath. Asking that question would only stir the emotions she had frozen.
“Don’t bail on me. Sit down.”
Her fingers had no feeling. Waves of darkness dimmed her vision. The edge of the counter disappeared. Her knees buckled. Blackness engulfed her.
* * *