Authors: RB Austin
Asjhone Williams walked out of the locker rooms at Astoria Memorial. Head down, she attached her RN badge to the front pocket of her scrubs.
“Whoa.” Two large—male—hands clutched her shoulders.
She stiffened, head jerking up, heart jolting. Her gaze landed on a white coat, unable to hide the evidence of strong arms and wide shoulders, then lifted to meet the amused eyes of Dr. Jones.
Asjhone tried to dislodge herself from the doctor’s hold. He squeezed her shoulders once before letting go.
“Sorry, Dr. Jones.” She stepped back, hid her shaking hands behind her back.
“Kaal, remember?” Bedroom sexy, that’s how Monique described his voice. Although, the fellow nurse could reference most anything to sex.
She ignored the way her heart still pounded out of control. “Of course. How’s the ER this morning?”
His smile showed off perfect, straight white teeth. Okay, so, he
But looks weren’t everything.
“Quiet so far.” His gaze ran up and down her length. It was a quick sweep. More hey-I’m-interested and less I’m-a-total-sleaze-ball.
She folded her arms over her chest, resisted the urge to move farther away.
“So, Asjhone, I’m glad you bumped into me.” He winked, chuckled. “You haven’t given an answer about next Friday.”
“Oh. Um, next Friday?” Her palms grew damp.
“Tickets. To see
. In Portland.” His perfect smile faltered before notching up three degrees. He stepped closer, laid a hand on her shoulder, leaned in. “Dinner’s included.” His breath brushed across her cheek making her cringe.
She leaned back.
His smile dropped.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Jones.”
“My son’s sitter can only watch him during the day.”
Kaal’s features tightened then smoothed away. He flashed another smile. “My sister can watch him. She loves kids. Has a handful of her own.”
She shifted, took another tiny, unnoticeable step away. “Well, the thing is, I’m actually more of a dog person.”
His eyebrows furrowed for a second before he tilted his head back and laughed. “You’re adorable. Don’t like the theater, huh? How about—”
Dr. Jones pulled a black pager from its case on his belt buckle. He glanced at it. Sighed. “To be continued,” he told her and squeezed her shoulder once more before striding away.
Asjhone closed her eyes. Allowed one shudder to rack her body. She shook out her hands. Inhaled deep. Then squared her shoulders, straightened her back, and headed toward the ER.
She ignored the adrenaline still coursing through her body, telling her flight was the only feasible response to the situation.
Somewhere in the distance a child laughed.
Sarid inhaled sharply.
No. Dear Creator. Anyone else. Please.
He struggled against the restraints trapping him inside his own body. The ones that normally held the demon captive.
Another high peal of delight. More than one. Less than two miles away.
Don’t do it. Stop. Turn back.
He pleaded with the Other.
The demon didn’t listen. It never did.
Master will see. He will be proud.
Sarid punched his invisible cage. Again. And, again.
The demon laughed and turned toward the children.
Hurt. Maim. Kill.
At the hub of the ER, Asjhone stopped in front of the u-shaped counter. Three smaller desks sat behind it.
“Then he went down on me right in the bathroom. It was intense. The music was so loud the walls were thumping.” A throaty laugh. “Good thing, though. I came so hard, I screamed.”
Ugh. Asjhone wished she could take a play from her son and cover her ears.
Monique, with her bright red lips and long dark hair that she never tied back, leaned against the counter. Tynice sat at one of the desks typing. She met Asjhone’s gaze, rolled her eyes.
Asjhone raised her eyebrows in agreement.
Tony and Erika stood behind the counter, staring at Monique with mixed expressions of shock and awe.
“Asjhone,” Monique said. “Arriving a little late, aren’t you? You missed shift change.” She smirked. “Did you finally get some?”
“Tony.” Asjhone didn’t even glance in Monique’s direction. “Can you tell me what I missed?”
“Sure,” he answered with an easy smile. “In T-3: male, thirty-five, chest pain, waiting on lab results, Dr. J’s attending. T-13: female, seven, high fever, severe stomach pain, waiting on flu test, Dr. B. T-7: female, multiple bruises, left arm fractured in two spots. Said fell down flight of stairs. Suspected DV. Dr. J’s trying to get her to accept help. T-21: male, iodine and latex allergy . . .”
When Tony finished, Asjhone thanked him and headed toward T-3. Tynice fell in step with her.
“Did you finish
A Lover’s Vow
“Almost,” Asjhone said. “I read a good portion last night.”
Tynice eyed her. “Couldn’t sleep again?”
“Keandre had a bad dream. I had a hard time falling asleep afterward.”
She made a sympathetic noise. “Want to go to the deli stand for lunch? I’m craving their chicken and avocado salad.”
“Sure.” Asjhone said goodbye then grabbed the chart hanging outside room T-3 and pushed open the door. “How are you doing, Mr. Carson?”
The patient lay in bed. A woman sat in a chair next to him. When Asjhone entered, she unclasped her hand from Mr. Carson and lowered the TV volume.
“Any more pain?” Asjhone asked.
“No, the medicine they gave me when I came in eased the pressure.”
She moved to the side of his bed, glanced at the cardiac monitor attached to his chest by three sticky pads. “The results of your blood work should be back soon. Dr. Jones will be in to discuss them. Let me know if you need anything. Just press the red button on your bed rail here.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Carson’s gaze moved back to the TV in the corner. “What do you think of this guy? Me, I think he’s a crackpot. The wife isn’t so sure.”
Asjhone glanced at the TV. It was the man claiming to be Jesus. About thirty years old, he had short, dark brown hair and blue eyes. Was in really good shape . . .
for the Son of God
In his first appearance, he’d walked on water. Three feet of it inside a fountain in the middle of Jerusalem. Asjhone’s first thought: Criss Mindfreak wannabe with a whole lot of crazy mixed in. The news channels barely talked about anything else.
Had Jesus come back? Was this the end of days?
“I’m not sure. It’s hard. Juggling skepticism and faith. No one likes to be made a fool of. I’ll wait a bit longer before making a decision. Besides, I have no plans to go to Jerusalem anytime soon.”
“Didn’t you hear?” Mrs. Carson asked. “He has plans to visit other countries.”
Mr. Carson snorted. “Yeah, there’s a list online. Like he’s putting on concerts or something.”
“He’ll be coming to America at some point,” Mrs. Carson said.
The demon was excited.
It stopped in the shadows two blocks away. Too far for the children or their parents to see, but the Other—and, therefore, Sarid—saw perfectly. Albeit, in red tones.
Cherub faces. Innocent smiles. Small, fragile bodies.
When they see me, their laughter will turn to screams. Their blood will be warm when it coats my fingers. It’ll splatter over their faces. Drench the ground.
Sarid wouldn’t allow it.
The demon laughed.
You can do nothing. You’re powerless right now.
Another deep laugh. Its gaze bounced from child to child.
I’ll take the small boy first. Then the girl next to him. Her curls will look better dripping with blood.
A strangled cry tore from Sarid’s throat.
Next, the two adults on the bench. One sweep of my arm. A cut from ear to ear. Blood will gurgle and stream.
Sarid wouldn’t allow that to happen. Think! He had to do something.
Soon I’ll have my very own red sea. Bodies will float.
A semi turned onto the street. Gears shifted as it picked up speed. The truck passed the corner where the Other stood. The park was momentarily blocked from view.
Find someone else. Please. Not the children.
No. Master will see. He will be pleased.
Sarid choked on a cry. The panic in his chest threatened to drown him.
The demon strode down the sidewalk, no longer sticking to the shadows. Its gaze was on the playground. Locked on its first victim.
One and a half blocks left.
He wouldn’t allow this to happen. Sarid focused on taking control of the Other’s feet. Its legs, arms. Had it just slowed down?
The demon burst into speed, passing the semi. It was trying to finish its kills before Sarid won.
Half a block.
A mother glanced their way. Eyes widened. Mouth fell open. Hand rose to point.
Sarid tapped into the strength at his core, in his will. Yes! Control was his. But it was shaky. He wouldn’t be able to keep—No! The demon fought for dominance.
Sarid used one last attempt. He spun. Forced the demon to run into the street. Directly in front of the semi-truck.
The steel grill slammed into the Other. It was hurled into the air. A short ride to the ground where it skidded across the concrete.
Sarid felt the demon recede. Deadly claws shortened. Hard, impenetrable membrane faded to a more easily wounded dark-brown skin. The red hue faded from his vision bringing back all colors.
He had full and complete control of his body right before losing consciousness.
The ambulance doors at Astoria Memorial burst open. Two EMTs raced through with a stretcher.
Asjhone ran to them, snapping on gloves. Erika followed.
“Approximately thirty-year-old male,” the tall, blond-haired EMT began. “No I.D. Hit by a semi. Possible attempted suicide, thrown forty feet.”
“Forty feet,” Asjhone breathed. Her gaze trailed down the patient, trying to see the extent of his injuries. How many broken bones? “Wheel him into T-23.”
“Unconscious upon arrival. Hasn’t woken yet. Pulse one-fifty. BP three-forty over two hundred. Respiration twenty,” the second EMT said.
“Nothing we could spot. No blood anywhere,” the blond said.
“Oh yeah, and he was naked,” EMT number two added with a hint of a smirk.
“Naked?” Erika repeated.
They wheeled the stretcher next to the bed. Asjhone leaned over, grabbed a hold of the sheet under the patient. “On my call. One, two, three.” The male was transferred to the hospital bed. The EMTs wheeled the stretcher out of the room.
Erika started an IV. Asjhone grabbed the pen light from her pocket and bent over the patient. She stifled a gasp, fell back on her heels.
“What?” Erika glanced from Asjhone to the patient, inhaled sharply. “Good Lord.”
On both cheeks were three deep, claw-like scars. From hairline to an inch above the corner of his lips. These weren’t from the accident. They were years healed. She pushed the horrific disfigurement from her mind. Not the emergency now.
She lifted his right eyelid, shined the light at his pupil. Checked the left. “Responsive.” She lowered the sheet the EMTs had draped over the man. Searched for injuries. “No lacerations, no obvious broken bones, no bruising.”
“Maybe he landed on his back.” Erika fastened the blood pressure cuff around his upper arm. After a moment, “BP’s still high. Three hundred over one-sixty.” She slipped the pulse oximeter on his forefinger. Another pause. “Pulse still high, too. One-thirty.”
“Let’s roll him over.”
“What do we have here?” Dr. Behall strolled in.
Erika ran through the patient’s assessment.
Dr. Behall pulled on a pair of gloves, ran her gaze over his form. She leaned closer to his face, frowned, then straightened. “Let’s roll him. Erika at his head. Hold it still. Asjhone, his feet. On the count of three.”
The patient was rolled onto his left side. For a moment nothing was said.
“Unbelievable,” Erika said.
“He was thrown forty feet. How can he have absolutely no injuries?” Asjhone asked.
Dr. Behall gave a nod and the male was lowered. She stepped back, took off her gloves. “Get him up to x-ray stat. We need to find out what’s going on. With that BP, he has to have internal bleeding somewhere. Maybe a skull fracture. Keep the neck brace on him.”
“I’ll call.” Erika followed Dr. Behall out of the room.
Asjhone pulled the sheet up to the patient’s waist. Her eyes trailed over his face, pausing at the scars again. Though healed, they more than likely caused discomfort whenever he smiled, laughed, yawned. Maybe every time he spoke. She wanted to touch him, offer comfort.
Her perusal continued. Chest, arms. She leaned closer, examined the tattoos sleeving his arms. A spider web on both elbows. Large grim reaper on his left bicep, partially blocked by the BP cuff. Other skeleton faces on both forearms. An old world scripted B with three interlocking circles on his right upper arm.
People didn’t look scary when they were unconscious. The scars on his face drew her sympathy, but with the number of tattoos—the types of tattoos—it was safe to assume he lived a hard life.
Her gaze trailed down his chest and abs again. How many hours a day did this guy work out?
She pressed her lips together. Made herself step back. Ogling patients was not cool. Especially when they might be seriously injured. Or a little crazy. Why did he want to kill himself? She eyed his cheeks again. Had those been self-inflicted?
Asjhone eyed the machine near the side of the bed. His blood pressure was still too high. “What internal secrets are you keeping?” If they didn’t figure it out soon, there was no way the patient would last the night, especially if he didn’t regain consciousness. She stripped off her gloves and after a moment’s hesitation, brushed the back of her hand across his cheek. “There’s always something worth living for. You just haven’t found yours yet.”
After one more glance to make sure the bed rails were in the up position, Asjhone turned to leave. She’d check on that x-ray call.
A hand wrapped her wrist. She gasped. Whirled. A pair of confused, pain-filled eyes bounced from her to the room then back to her.
“The children?” The patient croaked.
“You’re okay,” she soothed. “Do you know what happened?”
“The children? In the park.”
“I don’t know about any children.”
His forehead crinkled.
“No children were brought in,” she said softly. “Only you. You’re at the hospital. Astoria Memorial. You were brought in by ambulance.”
The patient didn’t respond. Just continued to stare at her.
“You’re lucky to be alive.” She paused. “Let me call the doctor.” Asjhone stepped away, planning to hit the button against the wall to alert the nurses at the hub, but didn’t make it very far. He still had a tight, not painful, hold on her arm. She pulled gently. He didn’t release his grip.
Her heart skipped a beat. Fears rose. She pushed it away. He was disoriented. “It’s okay. I’m not going to leave. I just want to press that button on the wall. Get the doctor in here. She needs to look at you.”
“No.” The one word was brusque, full of command.
Anxiety spiked. She tried to yank her arm free. “Let go.” Would she be able to pull the emergency cord by the front of the bed before he . . . did whatever he wanted to do with her? Oh, God.
“Let me go!”
He released her wrist so suddenly she almost fell. Instead, she only stumbled a few steps. He rose, hand outstretched as if to reach for her again.
His hand fell to the bed. Face expressionless. Gaze still on her.
The room filled with the sound of her heavy breaths, until the blood pressure cuff around his upper arm began to fill with air. Her eyes moved to the machine. “You shouldn’t be sitting up. Lie down. You could have internal bleeding.”
Before she finished speaking, he’d pulled the oximeter off his finger. Next, the cuff around his bicep. When he fumbled for the brace around his neck, Asjhone leapt into action, fears forgotten. She grabbed his hands. “Stop.”
“Lie down.” She grasped his shoulders, pushed gently.
It was as if he’d been given a shot of Ativan; his body became liquid, eyelids falling to half-mast. As soon as her patient was prone, she pushed the button on the wall.
He lay still on the bed. Made no attempt to sit up or remove his neck brace. His eyes were on her. Her fear from earlier had abated, but his stare unnerved her.
It was okay. Help was on the way.
She placed the oximeter back on his index finger. When he didn’t object, she refitted the blood pressure cuff, as well.
“I’d like to check your heart now.” She waited until he nodded before removing the stethoscope from her pocket. After warming the end against her palm, she set it on his chest. Her eyes trailed up to meet his gaze. Then stayed while she listened to the too fast beating of his heart.
Since he’d regained consciousness, she’d barely noticed his scars. His gaze held all the power.
“Do you hurt anywhere?” She removed the stethoscope and put it back in her pocket.
“Your pulse is very high. And BP. Blood pressure,” she amended. “That’s not a good sign.”
“I’m fine. They’re always high.”
“Are you on medication for it?” She paused. Some medication prescribed by psychiatrists had those side effects. “Any medication?”
The male shook his head.
“What’s your name?”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sarid. I’m Asjhone.”
“And I’m Dr. Behall.”
Asjhone moved away from the bed, allowing the doctor to see her patient.
“How are you feeling? That was a nasty accident you were in. What do you remember?”
Sarid’s eyes stayed on Asjhone as he answered the doctor. “I was hit by a truck.”
“Yes. A very large truck. Witnesses said you walked right in front of it.” Dr. Behall palmed her pen light. She waved it in front of Sarid’s eyes one at a time. “Any pain?”
“The scars on your face, how did you get them?”
Sarid didn’t answer. The doctor moved to the end of the bed. She flipped up the sheet, lightly grasped his ankle.
His gaze jerked to the doctor. “Don’t touch me.” His tone was low. The warning clear.
Dr. Behall froze, slowly raised her hands. “I just need to make sure you’re okay.” She gave a smile that always had the male patients asking for her number. “It’s my job. Can you wiggle your toes for me?”
The toes on both of Sarid’s feet started to move.
“Any tingling? Numbness?”
“No.” Sarid’s gaze narrowed, moved from the doctor to the closed door.
There was a knock, then Tim stuck his head in. “X-ray?”
Dr. Behall stepped back. “Yes.”
“Now, Sarid, we need to make sure you don’t have any internal injuries. You were hit dead on by a semi. Thrown in the air then crashed onto the unforgiving cement. Your body may miraculously appear unaffected, but it’s your insides I’m worried about. Internal bleeding is serious. Your blood pressure has been extremely high since you arrived. That’s a sign something is going on.”
“My BP is always high.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re here, because left untreated you’ll be dead very, very soon. Organs will begin to shut down.”
“I’m fine. I’d like to leave now.” His gaze moved back to Asjhone.
The light hit his eyes just so, making his brown irises appear bright blue.
“That’s a very bad idea,” the doctor said. “If you leave now, you run the risk of—”
“I’m leaving.” He threw the sheet off and in one swift move was standing.
Asjhone had seen many bodies over the years. Male, female, old, young, attractive or not. A body was a body and nothing fazed her anymore.
Except for his.
Sweet Jesus. He was glorious. Her cheeks began to burn and she wanted to turn around, like a teenager seeing a boy for the first time. But then he started to sway.
Both her and Dr. Behall started for him.
Dr. Behall reached him first, placed a steadying arm around his back. “Whoa, there. Let’s get—”
Sarid growled at her. Actually growled. “Don’t touch me.”
Asjhone, in the middle of reaching for his other side, stopped. The sound had been menacing. Frightening.
His head whipped to her. Lips curled back. Eyes, even the sclera, were red. A gasp flew from her lips. She took a step back. Another.
Sarid’s expression cleared, an apology flickered across his face before his shoulders fell. Gaze lowered. His chin fell to his chest. “I apologize.” His voice was hoarse.
Dr. Behall didn’t seem to know what to say. She was paler than normal.
“Why don’t you get back into bed,” Asjhone said.
Sarid’s head lifted. He searched her face, “of course,” then turned.
For the first time, Asjhone received a clear picture of the massive tattoo on his back. Another grim reaper. Hooded figure with a black cape, glowing red eyes, scythe in its hand. She suppressed a shiver.
The doctor cleared her throat. “It’s my recommendation that we run some tests while you’re here. Most importantly, the x-ray. But we can’t keep you if you wish to go.”
Asjhone gaped at Dr. Behall.
“I do.” Sarid’s voice was clear, the earlier hoarseness gone.
“So, you’re refusing further medical treatment?”
“Fine.” Dr. Behall’s voice was clipped. “Asjhone, will get your discharge instructions.” She left the room without a backward glance.
Asjhone stared at the doorway even after it cleared. She glanced at Sarid. He was watching her. “I’ll be right back,” she said quickly, then hurried from the room, swinging the door closed.