“Dr. Faberman. Dr. Faberman! Are you in there?”
Alexa Faberman cracked open an eye. She spied Brandon, one of her ER nurses, standing at the threshold of the hospital room she’d been occupying. He appeared to be panting like he’d run some distance. The lights were off in the empty room she’d been resting in, but the fluorescent ones in the hallway illuminated Brandon’s frantic features. Apparently, there was a crisis.
Break time was over.
“I’m here. What’s going on?” Alexa used both of her sore, tired arms to wrangle herself into a sitting position on the hospital bed she’d been napping upon.
“They just brought in a gunshot victim, and it’s a chest wound,” Brandon said. “His blood pressure’s running around sixty over forty, and he’s on his first unit of O negative. Dalton’s with him in three.
Dalton was her PA and a cool-headed young man. She trusted him completely in crisis situations.
“If there isn’t a crash cart already in there, grab one. I’m right behind you,” Alexa said.
“Will do.” Brandon turned and, ran out of the room.
Alexa picked up her phone sitting on the small table next to the hospital bed, and checked the time. It was four-ten a.m., which meant she hadn’t even slept a full thirty minutes. She’d been on duty for twenty-one hours, because she’d had to pick up a day shift for Dr. Black, who was on vacation. She only had three more hours to go. Hopefully, she could stay awake that long.
Alexa swung her legs over the side of the bed and hopped off. Her clogs were on the floor beside the hospital bed. She slipped them on, dropped her phone in her lab coat pocket, then took off for room three.
As soon as Alexa walked in, she took a quick inventory of the situation. Her PA, Dalton Cummings, was giving the big man on the table chest compressions. Brittney, another ER nurse, held an Ambu bag over the patient’s nose and mouth.
“Dalton, fill me in,” Alexa said as she walked over to the end of the table.
He spared her a quick glance. “He’s a gunshot victim, late thirties with a vicious little bleeder, and he’s a John Doe. No ID. He’s been unconscious since the paramedics arrived on the scene, and he coded about two minutes ago.”
Alexa studied the patient, assessing him. His upper half was mostly bloody, including the large gauze pad covering his chest wound and the sheet he laid upon. She also noticed that his black motorcycle boots hung off the end of the table with several spatters of blood on the top of one boot. He was certainly a big fellow and sadly a dead one at the moment.
Alexa intended to remedy that. “Shock him.”
Dalton stepped back, turned around, then adjusted the current level on the defibrillator. After jelling the paddles, he placed one on the upper right part of the man’s bare chest, just beneath his clavicle, the other on his side slightly below his nipple. “Clear.”
Brittany stepped away from the bed, still holding the Ambu bag in her hand. Dalton pushed the orange button on the paddle. The patient’s body shuddered, then stilled. Alexa stared at the heart monitor to the side of the bed. The ECG line was disappointingly flat.
“Resume CPR,” Alexa ordered.
Dalton moved closer to the bed, then returned to doing rapid chest compressions. Brittney placed the Ambu bag over the man’s nose and mouth, then squeezed. Alexa kept her eyes on the heart monitor, only looking away briefly to check the time. After two minutes had passed, Alexa’s hands began to get clammy. Her breathing had ramped up as well, and the knot in her stomach felt as tight as a bowstring.
The man was not responding. She was going to lose him if she didn’t change things up.
“Dalton, stop. Give him another ten ccs of epinephrine.”
He nodded, then opened the first drawer on the crash cart and pulled out a vial. Alexa waited for him to administer the drug before she walked over to the cart and picked up the paddles. Dalton squeezed in beside her, lubed the paddles, then pushed the charge button for her. Alexa waited a few moments, then administered the shock.
Her gaze shot toward the heart monitor. A second passed, then two. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Alexa smiled. The ECG line showed blips now, erratic ones, but the man had a heartbeat.
“Yes!” Dalton said.
Brittany exhaled loudly, tossed the Ambu bag on the crash cart, then hooked him up to oxygen.
Brandon began a blood pressure check on the patient.
“Good job, guys.” Alexa clapped her hands a few times. “All right. Dalton, call surgery.”
“You got it.” Dalton nodded, then dashed out of the room.
Alexa lingered a moment to look over her patient. She assessed his face first, previously hidden by the Ambu bag. To her surprise, his coloring was good, kind of a swarthy brown. She suspected some Native American heritage to be more responsible for his dark skin tone than the sun. Shoulder-length, jet black hair framed some fine, rugged features, like prominent cheekbones and an angular jaw. His nose had a slight bump on the bridge that made her suspect it had been broken at some point. A variety of colorful tattoos sleeved both arms and covered much of his impressive chest. One of the tattoos on his chest was a large, human heart with a ribbon across it, but no name graced the ribbon.
That seemed odd.
Alexa decided he was one of the most attractive men she’d ever seen. If she were to guess, she’d say he was also one of the most dangerous. More often than not, people who suffered gunshot wounds had been in a place they shouldn’t have been at the time of the shooting. Whether he’d been involved in a bar fight, a drug deal gone bad, or something even more nefarious, she’d bet a good wad of cash, he was trouble.
She frowned at the bloody gauze bandage on his chest. The police would be lurking somewhere nearby, waiting to talk to him. She left the room to let them know they were going to have a long wait.
Alexa walked into the nurses’ station with a new patient chart. She set it down beside the keyboard Brittany happened to be typing on at the moment.
Brittany smiled at her. “Is that for me?” She nodded at the chart.
Alexa took off her stethoscope and shoved it into a side pocket on her white lab coat. “Yes. It’s the chart on the guy with the right lower quadrant abdominal pain. I’m admitting him. Call internal medicine and see about getting him a room up there.”
“Right away, Dr. Faberman.” Brittany picked up the receiver on the landline left of the keyboard.
Alexa started toward the patient roster board to see who was up next but didn’t get that far. In walked Dalton, Brandon, and Lacy Adams. Lacy was the graveyard shift’s phlebotomist for their small hospital, Washington Regional, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Alexa smelled gossip as the three huddled together and began whispering. Lacy was known for wagging her tongue about patients. She decided to investigate and joined their huddle.
“So what’s up, guys?” She crossed her arms, assessing the guilt factor on each of their faces. On a scale of one to ten, all three scored an eleven.
No one said a word, not even Dalton. She frowned at him first because he should know better than to enter a conversation that revolved around a patient. Alexa didn’t take HIPPA laws lightly.
“Who are you three talking about?” Alexa pinned Lacy with a glare next, knowing she’d crack first.
Lacy huffed, then spilled. “Do you remember that John Doe with the gunshot wound that came in a few hours ago?”
“Yeah. Why are you discussing him?”
Lacy’s eyes darted to Dalton, then Brandon, then back to her. “Well, he’s not human,” she whispered.
Alexa let loose a snort of laughter. “Did you just recently acquire your medical marijuana card, Lacy?”
Lacy wrinkled her nose. “Very funny, Dr. Faberman. I’m serious. I can’t get a type on his blood. I tried four times, and nada. So I got curious and put a sample of it on a slide. The guy’s red cells are a fraction of the size of a human red blood cell. I’m not talking about a few or a percentage. All of them. I swear to you, the size, shape, and contour of his platelets and red and white cells are inconsistent with a human’s.”
Alexa rolled her eyes. “There are perfectly logical and unfortunate reasons for his red cells to be shrunken. Like microcytic anemia. As far as his blood type, I assure you he has one. Either something is wrong with your STATx machine, or there’s a problem with his antigens.”
Lacy huffed. “There’s nothing wrong with the STATx. I’ve used it all night, both before and after I ran his blood. I’m telling you his blood isn’t human. It’s alien is what it is. Go to the lab and check it for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
“I don’t have time for that, but I guess I’ll have to make some. We’re running low on O negative right now.”
“Good. Then you’ll see I’m right,” Lacy said, her tone snippety. She hustled out of the nurse’s station toward the elevators.
Alexa sighed, then glanced at Dalton. “Why would you entertain that girl’s nonsense?”
“Sorry.” His expression turned contrite.
“Well, you’re in charge since I have to go do Lacy’s job for her. Page me if you need me.”
“Sure thing,” Dalton said, then walked off.
Brandon continued to stand there, blinking at her.
“Do you need an invitation to get back to work, Brandon?” Alexa asked.
She hated being a hard ass and rarely had to be with her ER staff, but Lacy had a dumbing-down effect on everyone she encountered.
Brandon scurried away, disappearing into a patient room across from the nurses’ station. Alexa took off for the lab.
Thirty minutes later, Alexa sat on a stool in the hospital’s lab, preparing to examine John Doe’s blood. She put the slide in place, then peered into the lens of the microscope. She let out a soft moan born from sympathy. John Doe was a very sick man.
His red blood cells were a quarter of the size of a normal healthy red cell. The flattened shape was frighteningly abnormal and probably wouldn’t be able to carry enough oxygen to the rest of his body. He likely suffered from severe Poikilocytosis and hemolytic anemia. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a hematologist, and at this time of night, there were none here to consult with.
She’d also performed the standard ABO typing test and struck out there, the same as Lacy. His blood had no antigens, which should make him type O, but she couldn’t find antibodies in the sample. His white blood cells and plasma weren’t typical either, which led her to believe his chances of surviving surgery were slim.
Alexa decided she should draw another sample of his blood, provided he was still alive. That way, when the hematologist arrived in the morning, it would be here in the lab for him. She went over to a cart holding some lab caddies, grabbed one, then hurried to the surgical unit.
She discovered from a surgery nurse that John Doe had made it through surgery and was now in recovery. After acquiring his room number, she went to his suite.
Alexa nearly dropped the plastic lab caddy when she saw her John Doe sitting up on the side of the bed, yanking heart monitor electrodes off his impressive, bare chest. The rest of him was as naked as the day he’d been born. She noticed his hospital gown lying on the floor beside the bed.
He still hadn’t noticed her, or if he had, he chose to ignore her. Alexa swallowed hard and looked her fill. He had thighs as thick as tree trunks. Arms that had either been built in a gym or on a construction site. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t seen her fair share of unclothed men, but since when did gazing upon a male patient cause a severe hot flash and her heart to beat so erratically?
She took a deep breath, then set the caddy next to the door. “Excuse me? Sir?”
Finally, he turned his head and scowled at her. “What do you want?”
She hesitated to reply. The man’s eyes were a gorgeous deep blue with gold flecks scattered throughout the irises. The fluorescent overhead lighting seemed to give them a sparkling effect.
Lord, he was something to behold, she thought. His demeanor, well, it could use some work. Still, she had to reason with him. He hadn’t ceased removing his heart monitor electrodes.
She walked about halfway across the room, then stopped. “What are you trying to do?”
He shot her a sideways glance, grabbed his IV line, and yanked, then tossed the needle and tape on the floor.
Alexa sighed. People coming off anesthesia sometimes said and did all sorts of crazy things. Obviously, he wanted to leave. She had to get him to see how very dangerous that decision would be.
“Sir. I’m Dr. Faberman, and you need to listen to me. You just had surgery, and you’ve lost a lot of blood. You won’t even make it out of this room, let alone wherever you wish to go. If you just tell me what you want, maybe I can help you get it.”
He stilled and stared at her with a good mixture of impatience and irritation. “I need my clothes, a gun, and my fucking bike back, which I’m sure has been impounded. Anything on that list you can come up with?”
“I’m afraid not.” She wasn’t about to ask him why he thought he needed a gun, but that he wanted one proved her initial impression of him to be correct. He was a menace.
“Then, get out!” He looked down and grabbed the rubber Foley catheter tube that had been inserted into his urethra. “What’s this?”
“You’re catheter, sir. I wouldn’t pull on that if I were you.”
The man was not a very good listener. Alexa winced when he yanked on the rubber tube protruding from the tip of his penis. He howled.
“I told you not to pull on that.”
He glowered at her and tossed the tube on the floor. “Where are my clothes?”
Alexa crossed her arms. “Most likely, they’ve been discarded,” she lied.
“Fuck! Go get me something to wear!” he hollered.
“No. I’m not about to assist in your suicide.”
He mumbled something under his breath she didn’t catch.
Alexa had no clue how he was sitting up on the side of the bed. The man suffered from a severe, albeit rare, form of anemia. Add to that, he’d just had open-heart surgery. In his condition, he shouldn’t have the energy to move around at all.
“What’s your name?” he asked, his tone considerably more reasonable now.
“I told you that already. I’m Dr. Alexa Faberman. I was your ER doctor.”
His eyes roved over her with unveiled male interest. Alexa felt heat flare in her face. She crossed her arms over her tiny breasts, which of course, her oversized scrubs hid. It was a reflex action that stemmed from a poor self-image.
Eventually, his attention drifted to something behind her, so Alexa glanced over her shoulder.
“Let me guess. You’re here to get a blood sample from me.” He gestured toward the lab caddy she’d placed on the floor by the door.
Alexa didn’t see any harm in answering his question. “Yes.”
He chuckled. “Didn’t like what you saw in the first batch, I take it?”
“There were some anomalies,” she admitted. “I need another sample in order to rule out some common blood diseases.”
He snorted. “You’ll never figure out the one I have, doll.”
“Then tell me. It’s important we know about any chronic conditions you have, so we can treat you properly.”
He smiled mockingly. “There’s no cure for what I have, and I won’t be sticking around long enough for any more of your treatments.” He stood, propped a hand on his hip, and glanced about the room, seemingly hunting for something.
Modest, the man was not. His impressive penis stood at half-mast, and like the proverbial elephant in the room, she was unable to resist staring at it. All of a sudden, a strange throbbing sensation between her legs started up. She stifled a gasp, mortified that she was getting turned on by looking at his man parts.
Alexa picked up his hospital gown and thrust it at him. “Put this on. No one wants to see you parading around like that.”
He ignored the gown she offered him. “If you feel that way, then get me some jeans and a t-shirt.”
“We don’t stock jeans and t-shirts here, and I’m afraid the Gap is closed at this hour.”
He chuckled. “You’ve got some starch in your britches, doll. I like that.”
Alexa shook the gown in her hand. “Would you cover yourself, please?”
He smirked at her, then wrapped the gown around his waist. “Why, you’re blushing, doll.”
“I am not! And quit calling me that!”
He quirked a brow. “Those pink cheeks would suggest otherwise, but I ain’t got time to argue.”
He clutched one arm to his chest, then took a couple of wobbly steps. The effort seemed to wind him. Alexa feared he was seconds from fainting. She had to figure out how to get him back in that bed.
“What’s your name?” she asked, attempting a more soothing tone.
“Raul. I understand that you want your clothes, so I’ll make you a deal. If you lie back down, I’ll find out where the nurses put them. Okay?”
He didn’t respond. He appeared to be studying the rectangular bandage on his chest. Alexa could tell his adrenaline was beginning to wane. Sweat beads dotted his brow, and his breathing was more rapid than it had been a minute ago.
Alexa took a cautious step toward him. “Raul?”
His gaze cut to hers, and she saw turbulent emotions reflected in his eyes. Much of her irritation with him faded away then. She realized his behavior stemmed from fear and confusion. He’d woken up not knowing where he was or how he’d gotten here. He might not even remember being shot.
“Raul, you’re at Washington Regional Hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Do you know why you’re here?”
He grunted. “I have a pretty good idea.”
She nodded. “Well, you were shot, which is why it was necessary to do surgery on you.”
“Did you dig that slug out of me?”
She shook her head. “I’m not your surgeon, although I’m sure he’ll be in to check on you shortly. The paramedics brought you to me in the ER. All I did was get you stable enough for surgery.”
She left out the part about his heart stopping. That was not something he needed to know.
He grunted, then walked over to the IV pole and took down the unit of blood that had been hanging on it.
Alexa frowned at him. “What are you doing?”
He didn’t answer her. Instead, he put a corner of the bag into his mouth, then tore at it with his teeth, like a wild animal attempting to pull sinew from bone. Somehow, he succeeded in tearing a hole in the bag. Then to her horror, he leaned his head back and drank every drop.
“Oh, my God,” Alexa muttered, palming her forehead. She’d seen patients do some crazy things, but this took the cake.
When the bag was empty, he tossed it on the floor, then limped his way toward a built-in wall closet near the bathroom.
At that point, Alexa realized reasoning with the man would be a futile effort. It was time to employ help. She needed to speak with his surgeon first, but she intended to tell him what she’d just witnessed and suggest he call the psych ward immediately.
He’d succeeded in finding his belongings. He had the closet open and grabbed the contents, tossing his jeans and boots on the end of the bed.
“I-I should go now. I have other patients to see.” Her goal was to exit the room without incident.
Raul snatched hold of her upper arm. Alexa was startled since he’d been standing by the closet a second ago. Somehow, he’d gapped a distance of twelve to fifteen feet without her seeing him do it. That scared her worse than him putting his hands on her.
Alexa shrieked and struggled against his hold.
He tightened his grip on her upper arm and hissed, “Shut up!”
“Let go of me! I’ll scream my head off if you don’t.” Her gaze clashed with his fierce blue-gold one. “Y-you told me to get out, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, well, that was before you decided I needed a shrink.”
Alexa frowned. “I never said anything of the sort.”
“You thought it, though.”
“You have no idea what I’m thinking,” she retorted.
He snickered. “I know you’re planning on talking to my surgeon about locking me up in your loony bin.”
Alexa’s eyes widen. How could he possibly know that? “You’re wrong. I need to get back to ER. That’s all.”
“You’re a pretty little liar, aren’t you?”
“I-I-I’m not lying,” she stuttered.
He snorted. “Right. Stay put. I mean it, or I’ll stuff your ass in that closet.” He tapped the end of her nose with a forefinger, then went back over to the bed, grabbed his filthy, dirt and grass-stained jeans, and put them on.
Suddenly, her luck took a turn for the better. He began struggling to lift his leg high enough to get a foot into one of his boots. Alexa saw her chance to escape and made a break for the door.