“No.” Nurse McStupid sent an appealing glance toward the doctor. “No, not your employer.”
Dr. Campbell shook his head at her.
Gary pounced on that. “What about my employer?”
Dr. Campbell said, “Mr. White, you really should focus on your recovery—”
At the same time, Nurse McStupid said, “There’s been an accident.”
He looked back and forth between them, then saw the technicians were watching the television, eternally turned on and now muted.
The Gypsy Travel Agency building, a sight Gary knew all too well, flashed across the screen.
Gary reached for the remote, turned up the sound, and got the last of the story.
The Gypsy Travel Agency had exploded five days ago in a still unexplained demolition that left the building and everyone in it vaporized.
The technicians and nurses were shaking their heads as if it was a tragedy.
Nurse McStupid was watching Gary anxiously, as if expecting him to dissolve in surprised tears.
But he felt nothing but a bone-deep satisfaction.
Dr. Campbell took the remote out of Gary’s hand and turned off the television. “The world has changed while you were asleep.”
“So true. It appears I’m no longer employed.”
have at least one relative,” McStupid said. “The very night of the explosion, you had two visitors, a woman named Martha—I thought she was your aunt—and an elderly man who escorted her. He was tall and black; I don’t remember his name.”
“Irving,” Gary said with loathing.
“Yes, that was it. Your aunt said you used to be a hero.”
a hero.” Being a hero was how Gary got in that coma, and without help from any of his “relatives,” he had gotten himself out.
“You’ve been one of our favorite patients. The story of the blast that caused your head injuries indicated that you tried to save six lives at great risk to your own. It’s that kind of behavior that has won you the admiration of everyone here.” Gary could see through the doctor’s machinations. He was trying to make Gary be a good guy and live up to his reputation.
Gary had spent his life living up to that reputation, and look what it got him. Four damned lost years. “I am not going to hang around here, being a human guinea pig so you can get published in the
New England Journal of Medicine
.” The doctor wanted to speak, but Gary had no intention of yielding the floor. “So bring me food, help me get on my feet, and get me out of here as fast as you can.”
The festive atmosphere in the room faded as the medical staff grew quiet, hostile.
“Well,” Dr. Campbell said stiffly, “I’m sorry to hear you feel that way, especially about the nurses who have worked so vigilantly to care for you for so many years.”
The doctor wanted Gary to feel guilty.
The doctor straightened his skinny shoulders and prepared to throw his weight around. “Nevertheless, your best interests are at the heart of my concern, and I intend to personally supervise your recovery. Until you can stand up and walk out of this room, this is where you will stay.”
“Walk out of this room? Is that all I need to do?” Shoving the covers aside, Gary sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
The floor nurse, Miss McStupid Cow, rushed to his side. “Mr. White, you shouldn’t do this.”
“Let him go.” Dr. Campbell watched with the grim satisfaction of a man who expected to be momentarily vindicated. “He wants to prove something to us. He’s going to prove something to himself, instead.”
Gary wanted to laugh, but he saved his breath for the effort of getting his feet on the floor.
The linoleum was cold. So was the bed rail he used to steady himself. He leaned against the mattress until the muscles in his legs were once again used to holding his own weight; then slowly he pushed off.
The nurse hovered there, hands outstretched.
He snorted. Lifting his foot, he took a shuffling step.
The whole room took a collective breath of surprise.
He balanced again, and took another step. He let go of the railing, steadied himself, and took another step. And another.
His hips ached from the unaccustomed weight, his knees creaked, the legs that stuck out from beneath the flowered hospital gown were emaciated and stringy with sinew. Yet with each step, he could feel his strength returning.
Yes. This was what he had bargained for. This was what he’d been promised.
He got to the door, took two steps outside, then returned to step across the threshold. Staring at Dr. Campbell in cold triumph, he said, “So as you can see, I can leave whenever I want. But first—
I want a god-damn meal
Dr. Campbell turned to Nurse McStupid. “Start him on clear liquids, and as soon as he holds them down and passes fluids—”
“I know the routine,” she said.
Turning back to Gary, the doctor said, “Mr. White, I don’t know how it is possible for you to wake from such a debilitating coma and be alert and strong enough to move, much less walk, but I can assure you we’ll do everything we can to get you out of here in a hurry. In the meantime, you should be thanking God for bringing you back from the brink of death.”
“Thank God? I assure you, God had nothing to do with it.” Gary grinned savagely as he made his way back to the bed. “Rather—I’ll pay the devil his due.”
cKenna gave a pained sigh. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, Dr. Hall. I’m afraid our little group is growing impatient with each other ’s foibles.”
Aaron watched Rosamund, interested to see how Miss Prissy Librarian would react to Charisma and her domestic drama.
Rosamund blinked, pushed her glasses up on her nose, and said, “The other women tell me it’s my job to replace the toilet paper in the women’s bathroom at the library because I don’t make coffee. But I don’t drink coffee, so I don’t think that makes sense, do you?”
“Sounds like they’re taking advantage of you to me,” Aaron said bluntly.
“But they’re so forceful.”
“And you don’t care enough about real life to object.”
She thought about that as if it were a new concept to her. “I do care about real life. It’s just not as interesting as what’s in my books.”
He laughed shortly. “That’s about to change. McKenna, is everybody in the library?”
“Miss Charisma, Miss Isabelle, and Mr. Samuel are in the library,” McKenna answered with obvious intention to continue.
But Aaron didn’t have time to let McKenna carry on in the way he liked to. He had about an hour to make Rosamund forget Lance Mathews, and he needed to get cracking. Taking Rosamund’s hand, he walked away. “Great. If you’ll notify Irving that Dr. Hall is here to look at his private library”—he looked meaningfully at McKenna—“I’ll take her to meet . . . our little group.”
McKenna always read between the lines, and he could hurry when needed, without ever breaking a sweat. He did so now, starting up the stairs. “I’ll notify Mr. Shea immediately, sir.”
Rosamund dragged along behind Aaron. “I’m not dressed for company.”
At least she knew that.
“Who am I meeting?” she asked.
“Friends of mine. You’ll like them.” Aaron hoped, because if everything worked out as he had planned, they would be her constant companions.
As they reached the door, Sam came striding out, carrying the toilet paper tube and grumbling, “It’s not like I’m the only one around here who has annoying habits.” Seeing them, he stopped. “Hey, Aaron, I thought you went after an old guy who reads prophecies.”
“I got his daughter instead.”
“Good work. I’ll take a beautiful young lady rather than an old duffer any day.” He offered his hand to Rosamund. “Samuel Faa. I’m an attorney and apparently the most annoying man in the world.”
“I’m Rosamund Hall. I’m a librarian.” She stared up at Sam as if spellbound by his black eyes and hair. Sam started to preen, and Aaron was getting ready to rein her in, when she said, “Are you Romany? Because we saw this woman in the park, and I noted she had many of the same features.”
Sam stiffened and said briefly, “I am adopted, but yes, I’m Rom.”
“How fascinating to run into two people of the same rare genetic background in the same day!”
, Aaron mouthed to him, then aloud, “Come on, Rosamund.” He put his arm around her waist and pushed her toward the door.
Sam twirled the empty paper roll around his index finger. “Be right back.”
“But really,” she said to Aaron, “don’t you think it’s fascinating that we met two Romany in one day?”
“Since we work for the Gypsy Travel Agency, possibly it’s not a coincidence.” Charisma rose from her seat in front of the computer. “I’m Charisma Fangorn.”
Isabelle sat on the sofa surrounded by paperwork. She shuffled it into a pile, put a book on top, rose, and extended her hand. “I’m Isabelle Mason.”
“I’m Rosamund Hall.” But Rosamund walked right past the two women, all her attention on the massive room. “
is the library you told me about, Aaron? It’s gorgeous!”
The library was the jewel of the mansion, with walls painted the color of mustard, heavy blue velvet curtains, and wide sweeps of antique Aubusson rugs on the floor. The tall, wide, medieval-style fireplace was set with logs, and large, soft chairs and a leather sofa clustered around it. A gaming table and two pool tables dominated the center of the room.
But what clearly had captured Rosamund’s attention were the mahogany shelves filled with leather-bound books and dotted with antiques.
Aaron grinned as he watched the mesmerized Rosamund wander deeper into the room. His plan was working.
He moved close to Isabelle and Charisma, and said in a quick, quiet voice, “I was the second man to come to the library and ask her about prophecies today.”
Isabelle gave a murmur of dismay. “One of the Others was there before you?”
“Exactly, and she’s got a date with him tonight.”
“Are they ahead of us on everything?” Charisma complained.
“I suppose, but she’s distractible. We just have to offer the right bait.” He glanced at Rosamund’s face, enraptured as she pulled a book from the shelf. He had only a few seconds to ask about the woman who had spoken in his mind. “Have either of you met a Rom woman with a nose that’s been cut who is a—”
“Aaron, look!” Rosamund rushed to his side. “A first edition of Dickens’s
with illustrations by John Leech!”
“That’s only the beginning,” he assured her. “It’s the contents of Irving’s
library that will truly interest you.”
She looked down at the book in her hand, then up at him, her eyes wide with excitement.
An answering excitement kicked at his gut.
His first impression had been wrong. There was something endearing about a woman who flushed over a first edition Dickens, yet remained so oblivious to her own appearance she hadn’t noticed that the material at the neckline of her dress formed a ragged fringe. “McKenna has gone to get Irving. He’ll want to take you up himself.”
“That will be wonderful! But . . . oh. I don’t have much time.” She glanced at her utilitarian watch. “I have that date with Lance Mathews.”
His warm response to her abruptly faded. “How could we forget that?”
She took the Dickens back, placed it carefully on the shelf where she’d found it, then returned to the little group.
Charisma fixed her emerald green eyes on Rosamund and enunciated clearly, “I’m Charisma Fangorn.”
Rosamund heard her this time. “Hello. I’m Rosamund.” Her smile blossomed. “Fangorn? As in Fangorn Forest from
Lord of the Rings
“My mother’s an aging hippie, among other things, and after she divorced her husband, she chose her own last name, and mine.” Charisma took Rosamund’s hand and led her to one of the sofas. “You’d better sit. This could be a long wait.”