Read Always Devoted Online

Authors: Karen Rose Smith

Always Devoted (7 page)

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Jake and Gillian went at it for over an hour.  They worked in a coordinated effort, as if they had done this many times before.  Jake found e-mails related to Paige and while Gillian read them in one window, Jake opened another, searching and searching and searching.  They asked Emma questions about names and places they found.  Emma thought she had known all of Paige's friends, but when Jake switched to
Branches
and other social networking sites, she realized she hadn't known everyone Paige was connected to.

Linc said to her more than once, "Not everybody is a real friend.  People hook up on these sites because they're interested in the same subjects, share thoughts about celebrities, movies and books."

Jake had printed out pages and pages for Gillian to sort through, too, and the printer ran out of paper.

Emma was glad for something to do.  "I keep the reams in the hall closet.  I’ll get more."  She needed a break from her closeness to Linc.  She needed to take a few deep breaths.  Air suddenly seemed to be at a premium.

She kept the box of paper on the floor in the closet.  She bought it in bulk because that was more economical, and when she was doing bookwork she liked a hard copy to look over, too.

After she opened the closet, she stooped over to pull the heavy box from under the bottom shelf.  She did, flipped the lid off and lifted out a ream of paper.  But when she stood, everything was grey.  Dots danced in front of her eyes and her ears rang.  She thought the sensation would pass, but suddenly she felt clammy and disoriented.  When she grabbed for the door handle, it slipped from her hand.

She felt herself falling...falling...falling...then closed her eyes as all the little black spots became one huge black curtain that surrounded her right before she passed out.

#

When Emma awakened she was lying on her sofa, a cool cloth across her forehead and one at the back of her neck.  The first thing she thought was that the pillow in back of her head was going to get wet.  Then she opened her eyes and saw Linc.  He was kneeling on the floor beside the sofa, his hand on that cool washcloth.  Gillian and Jake were standing nearby.

"Don't tell me you're fine," Linc scolded her.  "Does anything hurt?  I shouldn't have moved you, but I just scooped you up—"

He'd carried her to the sofa?  She almost smiled at the image that presented.  But then it all came rushing back and she knew she shouldn't be smiling at all.  "I just bent over for the paper and when I went to straighten up, everything got fuzzy.  She started to sit up.  "But I'm really—"  She stopped.  From the stormy look in his eyes, she knew she'd better not say it.

"I called a friend of mine.  He's a doctor.  He's going to stop by."

"Linc, that's unnecessary.  Two of your friends are already here.  Do you really think you need reinforcements?"  She was trying to make light of this but not doing a very good job.

"I want Zack to check you over.  I already told him you're not eating much and you're not sleeping."

"Oh, thank you.  That will give him a great impression of my life."

"Emma.  If you don't take care of yourself, how will you take care of Becky?  Stop being obtuse about this."

"Obtuse?"  She snuck a look at him.  "What kind of doctor is this Zack?"

"His specialty is internal medicine.  Fainting isn't anything to fool around with."

"I didn't faint.  I was just a little dizzy."

"You passed out
cold
."

Ever since she'd known Linc, she hadn't seen him look angry, but he looked angry now.

"How many friends do you have?" she asked.  "I don't think my house is big enough for them all."

Finally his expression gentled, and he relented a little.  "I meet a lot of people in my business.  I met Zack when he was just an intern.  At that time hospital shows were in and I was taping some real life segments to use for research.  He and I got to talking and we've been friends since."

"Does he still work at a hospital?"

"No.  He has a private practice.  But he's thinking about taking a break from it all for a while."

"Why?"

"That's his story to tell.  But he's known tragedy and it's affected him.  He's always thinking about jumping on his motorcycle and taking off for parts unknown."

If she kept talking and kept Linc talking, he wouldn't look so worried.  "Which parts?"

"I don't think he cares.  But he's good with horses.  His parents owned a ranch when he was growing up.  They had to sell it because times just got too tough, but I think it's always been a second love of his."

Gillian handed Emma a glass of juice.  "Drink this.  You could be dehydrated."

Emma sighed, took the juice and drank it.  Then she said, "Please don't hover.  Go back to what you were doing."

After Gillian gave Linc a long look, he nodded.  Jake and Gillian disappeared into the bedroom once more.

Linc wouldn't let Emma move from the sofa until Zack arrived.  He entered her house carrying a doctor's bag and she felt foolish all over again.

After Linc introduced Zack to Emma, he said to his friend, "Make her tell you what she's eaten in the past week.  It wouldn't even fill one of your pill bottles."  To Emma, he asked, "Do you want me to send Gillian in to watch out for you while Zack examines you?"

Dr. Zackary Burke had black hair and blue eyes and looked as if he could be a heartbreaker.  But there was something in those blue eyes that told Emma he
did
need a break.  Maybe because she'd just found out she wasn't Superwoman and had limits, she could see his.  "I don't need Gillian.  Let her work."

Zack didn't try to make small talk, simply asked her questions about diet and exercise.  He took her blood pressure and listened to her heart.  He put a strip on her forehead to take her temperature, tested her reflexes and then looked into her throat.  He had a gentle, caring  touch—not at all like some doctors who rushed through an exam as if their patient was a mannequin.

Zack asked her about aches and pains and headaches and insomnia.  She answered truthfully on all accounts.  When he was finished, he pulled a hassock up in front of the sofa and sank down onto it.

Giving her a penetrating glare meant to be stern, he said, "You have to take better care of yourself."

She'd heard this from Linc, but having a doctor say it to her shook her up.  "That's difficult when I have no appetite and I'm worried every minute of the day."

The look in his eyes softened along with his voice.  "Linc told me what's going on and I understand.  But you have to manage to grab time for yourself.  You have to figure something out so that you relax or exercise or both at least a half hour a day—better yet twice a day—in addition to eating the right food and keeping yourself hydrated.  Cut caffeine out of your vocabulary.  I want to make sure nothing sinister is going on, so I'd like you to have some blood work done tomorrow.  Will you?"

"Yes."

"You'll have to fast for ten hours.  And I'm going to leave sleeping medication to help straighten out your sleep cycle."

As his blue eyes kept clinically assessing her, he took off his stethoscope and pushed it into his bag on the coffee table.

"Can I ask you something?"  Emma needed more information where Linc was concerned.

"You can ask."

"Why did you do this for Linc tonight?"

Obviously reluctant to answer, Zack finally responded, "Linc has been around when I needed him."

"And you've been around for him," she guessed.

Smiling for the first time since he arrived, Zack stood.  "Are you trying to figure him out?"

She felt herself blush.  "Maybe I am.  He just kind of jumped into my life and—"

Now Zack's smile was a full-fledged grin.  "He can be a bit overwhelming, but Linc's intentions are usually good."

"Just usually?" Linc asked from the hall doorway, obviously hearing at least part of their discussion.

Trying to recover her composure from everything that had happened, Emma finally rose from the couch.

"So what caused the fainting?" Linc asked Zack.

"My hunch is—low blood sugar.  But you had already guessed that.  The best thing you can do for her—"  At Emma's raised brows, he amended, "The best thing she can do for herself is warm up something to eat and get a good night's sleep.  If the dizziness happens again, I'll set up some other tests.  She'll have blood work in the morning."

"You'll still be around to give me the results?" she asked.

Zack shot a look at Linc.  "I'll be around for another few weeks."

Then the handsome doctor made sure everything was where it should be in his bag, clicked it shut, and left.

Linc wrapped his arm around Emma's waist, and this time she didn't protest or pull away.  He was tall and hard and solid and everything she seemed to need right at the moment.

"How do Chinese leftovers sound?"

"I think I'd rather have peanut butter toast."

He arched his brows at her, then shrugged.  "Peanut butter toast it is."

#

Linc wasn't sure what was happening to him.  When he'd seen Emma crumple to the floor, he'd felt absolute panic.  He never panicked.  He couldn't in his business, with the world and finances and ratings changing from minute to minute.  If he didn't have something planned, he winged it and not much ruffled him.

But seeing Emma fall to the floor had.

While the bread toasted, he poured two glasses of milk.  As she slathered peanut butter on the toast and then ate her snack, they talked.  Granted, he was trying to distract her while Jake and Gillian did their thing.  But the talking led him to a deeper appreciation of Emma and her life, though he didn't give away a whole lot about his.

At least he didn't until she asked, "So what was your childhood like?  I told you all about mine and how I want Becky's to be better and different.  But I want to know something about Linc Granger, the kid."

A smudge of peanut butter on her upper lip had him reaching toward her before he could help himself.  He wiped it away with his thumb.  Her gaze took on that deer-in-the-headlights fascination with his and they simply stared at each other for a very long time.

"Was that meant to derail me from taking the conversation any further?" she finally asked as he leaned back in his chair.

"Maybe."

"Just maybe?"

She hadn't known him very long and already she could see through him.  That was scary.  He thought he did a very good job of covering whatever he didn't want anyone else to know.

"If you don't want to tell me, that's fine.  But don't act as if I didn't ask the question or as if it's not important," she scolded.

"You see too much," he said brusquely.

She shrugged.  "Well, perhaps the women in your life up until now just haven't delved deeper than the rich successful producer."

"You're too young to be so wise."

She laughed.  "I'm not that young."

"I have ten years on you."

"You're thirty-six?"

He nodded, then couldn't stop himself before he asked, "How old was your husband?"

"He was two years older than I am."

"I feel like I'm
twenty
years older than you," Linc admitted.

"Why?"

"Because you still see the world as you want it to be, rather than as it is."

"How can you know that?"

He covered her hand with his and rubbed his thumb across her wrist.  "Just from things you say.  You're not jaded, Emma.  You don't have an edge.  You're honest with people and expect them to be honest with you in return."

"So you think I can't see reality as it is?"

"I don't think you
want
to see reality as it is."

Frowning, she pulled her hand away.  "You're so wrong.  After Barrett died, I had no choice but to face reality.  I had Becky to raise on my own.  I made my business more successful with sheer determination and hard work.  That's facing reality."

Apparently she'd taken his comments as insults.  "I meant all of those things that I said as a compliment."

She took a sip of her milk and eyed him.  "Really?"

"Really," he assured her.

After another sip of milk, she studied him until he felt uncomfortable.  "What?"

"I don't think you're as jaded as
you
think you are.  I think you want to believe in the best even if you see the worst.  Why did you decide to help me?"

"Because I saw a good story."  He wasn't going to put a pretty picture on it for her.

"You felt no compassion for what I was going through?"

"Emma—"

"So...tell me about your childhood."

Leaning back in his chair, he realized she wasn't going to let this go.  Why should she?  He'd kissed her and was thinking about doing it again.  "There's not much to tell.  My parents were divorced.  Both my parents wanted custody and I felt like a pawn.  Maybe that's why I became so determined to control my own destiny."

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