Excerpt: The Rescue of Jenna West

Book 2: The Garrett Brothers

Prologue

He wasn't drunk enough.

He still knew where he was—his barn, slumped against the back stall door.

And the pain still burned through him like a jolt of bad drugs—disabling, numbing, weakening.

Even the familiar, often comforting scents of hay and oats and horseflesh couldn't dim the pain. The reality.

Michelle had left him for another man. And she'd also—

Enraged, Linc Garrett closed his mind against the thought.

He drained his beer, hurled the bottle at the barn wall, then crumpled back against the stall door. Getting out of the house—Michelle's house—hadn't helped.

He'd thought the liquor would blunt the edge of agony. Instead it had sharpened, burning deeper into his soul. Every time he moved, every time he thought her name, he sliced himself on another memory of Michelle. Damn her!

He groped beside him for another long-neck, guzzled the beer and slammed the bottle into the door beside him, breaking it off at the neck. The sharp crack and splinter satisfied him. He needed the sound to drown out the scream of agony that welled inside him.

Staring vacantly at the broken bottle piece clutched in his hand, he brought it closer to his face. Closer. He turned the ragged edges this way and that, wondering if he would even feel the pain of a cut.

He couldn't imagine feeling anything else on top of this searing brutal pulse of his senses. She'd cheated on him with a friend, but that wasn't the worst of it. Today, he'd learned that she'd taken his—

“Dr. Garrett?”

He started, the jagged piece of broken glass grazing his cheek. Peering into the hazy light that filtered into the barn, he squinted up. “Who is it?”

“Jenna West. The vet. I came to check Dixie's sprained fetlock.”

“Don't need a vet. Go away.” He barely recalled his mare's injury. His blurry gaze focused on the slender, jean-clad legs in front of him then climbed over a denim shirt with cuffed sleeves, and up to a smooth sweep of auburn hair. She knelt until her eyes met his.

She smelled like flowers and hot sin. Gently, she pulled the piece of broken glass out of his hand. “I want to help you get to the house.”

“Don't need your help. Don't like women. Hate 'em.”

“I'm a doctor,” she said reasonably. “Like you.”

“You're pretty.” He'd noticed her before, all those times she'd come to check his dogs or the horses. Noticed the way her jeans cupped her shapely rear, noticed the aqua of her eyes. She had incredible eyes. Eyes that now gazed at him warmly. She wasn't Michelle. She wouldn't treat him the way Michelle had.

Jenna leaned closer, reaching for him.

She had nice lips, not too full and they were soft looking.

She wanted to help him. She could make him feel better. He grabbed her forearm and pulled her toward him, wanting to kiss her, wanting to feel the hot slide of her tongue against his. Wanting to forget.

“No!” She wrenched away from him, so hard and fast that she nearly fell. She caught herself, her nails digging into the dirt floor.

Linc blinked. What was wrong with her! All he wanted was a kiss. She'd said she wanted to help.

“Come back,” he said hoarsely. Frustration burned through him. And then the sense that something was wrong. But what?

Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Tension lashed her lithe body, but it was her eyes that captured his attention. They were dark now, with fear. And revulsion.

Fear. She was afraid of him.

No one had ever looked at him like that, as if he disgusted them. As if he scared them to death.

The realization crashed over him like a frigid wave.

Beneath the alcohol, beneath the pain, guilt welled. He leaned his head back against the post that supported him and closed his eyes. “I won't hurt you,” he whispered, sickened at putting that look on her face. “I won't.”

“Don't you want to go inside?”

He opened one eye, surprised at her question, surprised she was still there.

“In the house? Don't you want to go in the house?”

She was afraid of him, but she hadn't left. He wondered why, but his tongue was too thick to form the question. Grateful now, he nodded.

With soft words and persistence, she coaxed him to his feet. Keeping his gaze on her, careful to keep his hands to himself, he staggered toward her. She backed out of the barn and he followed, struggling to stay upright.

Nausea rolled in his gut; sweat prickled his neck and back.

Still he followed her.

They reached his sprawling gray stone house and she persuaded him to the front door. He fumbled with the knob, still haunted by the look of sheer terror in Jenna's eyes. He'd done that to her. Him. He was as big a jerk as Michelle had always said.

Hearing the retreating scuff of Jenna's boots, he turned. She moved gracefully down the shallow porch steps and toward her white Jeep.

He'd scared her to death. His stunned mind seemed capable of only that thought as he watched her walk away from him.

He gripped the doorknob, balancing himself. “I'm sorry,” he rasped, hating himself for frightening her. “I'm sorry. Didn't mean…to scare you.”

She never turned around, just kept on walking.

 

Chapter 1

Four years later

Sirens screamed. Noise exploded in a burst of shouted orders and the rush of thundering footsteps. Inside the emergency room of Oklahoma City's Mercy Hospital, doors popped open and the sirens' wail fog horned through the busy sterile corridors. A blast of August heat cut through the cool interior.

Linc scribbled a prescription for the ten-year-old boy on the bed in front of him and shoved it at the boy's mother.

“These are for pain. Just take the script to your pharmacy.” He turned away, barely registering the paper whiteness of the woman's face.

She grabbed his elbow, turning him slightly. “Thank you, Dr.—” her gaze dipped to his name tag “—Garrett.”

He nodded brusquely, giving a vague smile as he walked out of exam room number three. Signing off on the boy's chart, Linc stepped into the hallway and ran into Bridget Farrell.

“Farrell, bandage that kid's sutures and send him home.”

The pretty blond nurse took the chart from him, scanning his orders. “Which kid?”

Linc motioned to the cubicle he'd just left. “Number three.”

“Don't you want to dismiss him?” She turned, backing into the exam room.

Linc shook his head. “Already did. And tell him to stay clear of handsaws in the future.”

She aimed a look of disgust at him, her attractive features flattened. Shaking her head, she turned away from him to enter the exam room.

The sirens whined to a stop at the emergency room doors and Tracy Bartlett ran past him. “Assault victim. Are you staying?”

“No.” Linc had been on for thirty-six hours without sleep and though he had nothing to go home to, he was craving a cheeseburger.

He shouldered his way inside the doctor's lounge and shucked his coat, scrubs and hospital shoes.

He dressed in worn jeans and the same red knit polo he'd worn to work thirty-six hours ago then pulled on his snakeskin boots. He had staff privileges at other hospitals, but he'd started working this emergency room shift about two months ago and liked it. Palming his keys, he pushed through the door and headed out the exit.

The EMTs were wheeling in a trauma and Linc sidestepped a nurse who sprinted past him to ready exam room one. Dr. John Clive, a third year resident, walked up beside Linc.

“You taking off?”

“Yeah.” Linc edged closer to the wall to give the other doctor more room to pass on his way to the stretcher.

“Multiple contusions, possible broken arm,” one EMT called to Tracy Bartlett.

Nurses clustered around the new arrival like grannies over a new baby and Linc gave a deep sigh of fatigue. Maybe he would forget the cheeseburger and grab some sleep after all.

He neared the door, stepping out of the path of the oncoming stretcher and glanced over at the patient.

His heart slammed to a stop. “Jenna?”

He couldn't remember the last time he'd known a patient.

Shock burned through him and he stepped toward the gurney, pushing between Tracy and Dr. Clive. “Jenna, can you hear me?”

Tracy shot him a look of surprised curiosity and Dr. Clive stepped back.

Jenna West turned her head toward him and Linc's gut clenched. The combination of sculpted cheekbones and square jaw that gave her features such strength were now bloodied and swollen. Always so self-contained, she now looked fragile. Vulnerable.

Her dark auburn hair was stark against the pale marble of her skin. A gash seeped blood above her right eyebrow; her right arm rested carefully across her stomach and her generous lips were busted. Angry red marks ringed her throat like a cruel chain, foretelling of bruises tomorrow. Blood streaked her smooth tanned skin and he noted blood under her fingernails, too.

Blue-green eyes, glazed with pain, sought his, then focused in recognition. “Dr. Garrett?” she managed to whisper through puffy lips.

He nodded, leaning in closer. “What happened?”

Her left hand reached for his, grasping, clutching, her nails digging weakly into his skin. “Wilbur. Where's Wilbur?”

Linc blinked, wondering who Wilbur was, wondering how much of her was operating on shock. She trembled and beneath her golden tan, her skin was waxy. He glanced toward the EMTs and noted a uniformed cop striding through the emergency room doors.

Johnson, a veteran EMT, nodded at Linc. “We did find an old guy at her office. He's DOA.”

The patrol cop, robust and bald, stepped up. “What we figure is the old guy saw the assault, called 911 and headed out the door to help her. He distracted the assailant long enough for us to get there, but it was too late for the old man. The assailant ran off when he heard us coming. She's lucky. She could've been worse.”

Linc thought she looked bad enough. “Did you get a look at the guy?”

“No. We searched the whole area, but haven't turned up anything yet.”

“What about Wilbur?” Jenna's words sounded as if they were scraped out of her throat. “What about the animals? Someone has to take care of the animals, the clinic.”

The officer eased closer to the gurney, light bouncing from his badge. “I'm Officer Sikes. I need to talk to this lady.”

“Not right now,” Linc snapped.

Jenna's hand tightened on his. “Where is Wilbur?”

“We're going to take care of you,” he soothed automatically as he had so many times to other patients, but this time it sounded hollow, less than reassuring. A strange feeling pressed at his chest, as if his heart had just cracked open.

What had happened to her? Who would want to do such a thing to Jenna West? She was a veterinarian, for crying out loud! His veterinarian. He'd seen her last week coming out of his barn, though they hadn't spoken.

Guilt pricked at that, then Linc felt an unfamiliar, unwelcome rage rise up inside him. Try as he might, he couldn't dismiss it. Compassion stirred and something deeper, a concern he hadn't allowed himself to feel toward a woman for four long years. Since Michelle had left. It scared the hell out of him.

He motioned Dr. Clive forward. “Jenna, this is Dr. Clive. He's going to take care of you.”

“No.” Her lashes fluttered and her eyes, cloudy with pain, met his. “You. I know you.”

Panic arrowed through him and his instincts screamed for him to get out of this while he could still do so without investing emotionally. He'd been dog-drunk in his barn, and she'd helped him.

How could he turn his back on her? Besides, he knew if he left, he'd wonder about her all night. Something else he never did.

That night in the barn he'd made a drunken pass at her, but he hadn't been so plastered that the revulsion in her eyes didn't register. Revulsion, directed at him.

Now there was no disgust in her jewel-colored eyes, only a plea. Linc found himself allowing his emotions, as unwanted as they were, to control his actions, cloud his judgment. He could help her, not only as an apology for that drunken pass, but also to return the favor she'd done him that night. She'd most probably saved his life; she had definitely saved his career, had prevented him from cutting his hands to shreds with those broken beer bottles.

“My patients,” she moaned. “Someone needs to take care of them.”

“Shhh. They'll be fine.” Compelled to help in a way he hadn't been in years, Linc realized his decision had been made. He waved Clive away. “I'll take it.”

Moving with the gurney into exam room one, he snapped to Bridget, “Get X-ray down here.”

But she was already running down the hall, anticipating his orders before he could voice them.

The police officer followed, planting himself in the doorway. “I'll need to talk to her as soon as you're finished. If she says anything—”

“I'll let you know.” Linc slammed the door in his face.

Across the gurney from him, Tracy leaned down to Jenna, asking quietly, “Miss West, who should we notify?”

“My—” Tears welled up in her eyes, seeped onto the raw looking scrape at her cheekbone. “My parents. Dave and Barbara. On Gleneagle.”

Tracy glanced at Linc on her way out. “I'll call them.”

“And Steve—” Jenna inhaled sharply as Linc touched her arm.

He didn't know who Steve was and Jenna didn't—or couldn't—say anything further at the moment. Linc focused his attention on her dilated pupils, gently examining her arm. In a distant, detached way, he realized she was beautiful. But as he worked, tamping down emotions that had roared to unsuspecting life inside him, he was uncomfortably aware that he had just allowed himself to become emotionally involved with a patient.

And he had a distinct sense of foreboding that he might not be able to walk away this time.

 

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