Colton Under Fire Excerpt

Sloane woke with a jerk as Chloe whimpered in her sleep.

Good grief. She might as well be holding a furnace in her arms. Chloe was still burning up. Carrying her carefully into the kitchen, Sloane ran the thermometer across her little girl’s forehead again.

103.6.

Oh, no.

She transferred Chloe’s head to her shoulder, grabbed the baby bag, stuffed her feet in fleece boots, and headed for her car. Chloe didn’t fully wake up as she got her all buckled in and tucked a blanket around her . Trying to stay calm, Sloane quickly climbed behind the wheel and pulled out of the driveway.  She breathed a sigh of relief when the emergency room was empty as she carried Chloe inside. A nurse showed her to an examining room and agreed to stay with Chloe while Sloane went out front to fill in paperwork and hand over insurance information.

She rushed through a pair of swinging doors that led back out in the emergency room…and plowed face-first into a man’s chest. He must have been standing just beyond the doors. Sloane, at five-foot-three and not much over a hundred ten pounds, barely budged the much larger person.

She inhaled sharply, and the scent of pine trees and fresh air filled her lungs. It was as rugged as the Rockies, as big as the endless skies, as free as a bald eagle soaring. She inhaled again, relishing the scent.

Powerful, gentle hands grabbed her upper arms and steadied her. Which was just as well. Suddenly, she was feeling a tiny bit dizzy. 

“Sloane? Sloane Colton?” the man murmured in shock.

She looked up into a pair of familiar aspen-green eyes. 

“Liam?” she blurted, equally shocked to have bumped into Fox’s childhood best friend. 

Bookish, but charming. Smart, self-deprecating, a good skier, and more handsome than he realized…all the girls had loved Liam. But he’d been oblivious. Suppressing a sigh, Sloane’s eyes drifted over him. He had been tall and skinny in high school, but had grown taller since she’d last seen him. And had filled out. A lot. In all the right places. My goodness.

“Liam Kastor. I was friends with—”

“Fox. I remember. You two tortured me incessantly in junior high and high school.”

“We did not! We just were looking out for you.”

She snorted. “You two drove me crazy.”

“You studied too much to even notice our hijinks.”

Lord, it felt good to smile. She set aside the strange sensation of happiness. “I would love to argue the point with you, but my daughter’s here and I need to give these folks my insurance information and get back to her.”

“Of course,” Liam said quickly, stepping away.

She whipped through a daunting stack of medical history and personal information and then hurried back to Chloe’s room. The nurse looked up when she slipped inside. “The doctor has already been in to take a peek at your daughter. He’d like you to try to get a bottle laced with some medicine down her.”

Sloane nodded.

Chloe still didn’t become fully alert when Sloane picked her up and popped a bottle in her mouth. Little Bug only glanced around the strange room, then closed her eyes and turned her cheek to Sloane’s chest.

She looked up at the nurse in worry. “This is totally unlike her. She’s usually wide awake anywhere new. Wildly curious. Full of questions.”

“She’s a sick little camper. You did good to bring her in when you did.”

“Any idea what she has?”

“Not yet. There has been a nasty virus running around, though. We’ve seen a half-dozen kids with it in the past couple of weeks.”

The doctor came back in a few minutes, and Sloane laid Chloe on the bed. He did the usual doctor things—listening to her breathe, taking her pulse, and looking at the chart where the nurse had written down Chloe’s vitals. He looked up at Sloane. “I’d like to do a quick CT scan of Chloe’s abdomen. Also, her temperature is continuing to spike, and we need to get control of that.”

Sloane frowned. She knew in her gut that he wasn’t telling her everything. “What do you suspect?”

“Nothing. I’m just eliminating various possibilities.”

“Look. I’m a lawyer. I deal much better with blunt than tactful.”

“Okay. Your daughter’s belly is painful to the touch. But her reaction is generalized and I can’t pinpoint a source of pain. Could be her spleen. Could be appendicitis. Maybe something else altogether.” 

“Worst case?” Sloane bit out.

The doctor shrugged, and she didn’t like the evasiveness that entered his eyes. He answered, “Worst case, we admit her and watch her.”

“You’d make a lousy poker player, Doctor. Wanna try that, again?”

The guy sighed. “I administered a massive dose of a broad spectrum antibiotic in that bottle you fed her. Based on what the CT shows, we may need to put her on an IV drip and throw more antibiotics at her. If her fever doesn’t start responding to the meds soon, we’ll have to take measures to cool her head and protect her brain from injury.”

Sloane nodded stiffly, too scared to do much more. Still, she would rather know what they were up against than not. The nurse wheeled Chloe’s bed out of the room, leaving Sloane to wait. And worry. And imagine the worst.

A need to dosomething overwhelmed her, and she jumped up. The room was too small and too crowded with machines for a good nervous pace, so she went out into the hall to stride back and forth.

“We have to stop meeting like this.”

She looked up, startled, as she all but face-planted against Liam Kastor’s chest. Again. “I’m so sorry.”

“How’s your daughter?” he asked, cutting off her apology.

“They don’t know. Sick. Her fever’s not coming down.”

“What can I do to help?” Liam asked quietly.

“I have no idea. She’s never had a bad fever before.”

He smiled gently. “I was talking about you. Is there anything I can do for you?”

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