Book 1 in the Women in Danger Series
“Stella MacLean’s latest release is a nail biting suspense.”
A stalker is circling Rachel Moore’s life waiting for the perfect moment to attack.
Dr. Andrew King is seeking redemption for a past he can’t forget.
Rachel and Andrew are forced to face a killer seeking his final act of revenge.
My name is Rachel Moore. My life began in a hospital, and I swear that someday I’m going to make my escape from institutions like this one. Certainly not today, but one day soon.
Looking down the back slope of forty, my most meaningful relationship is with my retirement savings plan—my ticket out of here when the nest egg is plump enough.
My dream occupation is to eat chocolates, go to spas and spend my days searching out the best antiques for my two-story, center-hall Georgian home I’ve mortgaged my life to own.
Meanwhile, back at reality central I’m the VP responsible for all patient care services at Mercy Hospital. In other words, I’m the go-to-gal for most in the building.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do for a living, really I do. But this morning I can hardly see through the shroud of puce-gray fog blanketing the parking lot, and just missed banging the precious fender of my vintage red Corvette into a run-of-the-mill SUV.
My state of mind isn’t helped much by the fact that I was yanked awake last night, not once, but twice by some idiot who had the audacity to call my number way past my bedtime.
The first time it happened, I was feeling pretty generous and forgiving, even though he didn’t offer an apology or say anything for that matter… Weird. Even weirder, it was the third night in the past week I’d received one. After the second call last night I got up and showered because sleep was out of the question.
Weirdos aside, what really has me caressing my worry beads this morning is the teenager discovered wandering in the basement of our hospital four days ago. Melissa Matthews managed to leave the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit without anyone on the unit being aware of it. I’ve arranged for a member of hospital security to be posted around the clock outside the unit until I get a chance to discuss this with Dr. Carson. It’s not that I’m expecting another adolescent to catch the wander bug; I need to reassure the parents of the other adolescents in the unit that we are looking out for their teenagers.
Dr. Carson, head of the unit, is back today from a conference in Cleveland, and I’ve left an urgent message with his secretary. In the time I’ve been working here I’ve tried to get Dr. Carson to talk about security on his unit, but so far he’s refused. Not any longer, if I have anything to say about it.
Sliding the key out of the ignition, I climb out of my car and reach into the back seat for my laptop. The back parking lot of Mercy Hospital, reserved for administrative and medical staff, is mostly empty at six in the morning.
So why am I here at this godless hour? I have less than a week to put the finishing touches on the new laboratory plan. I’ve spent hours of everybody’s time, not to mention my own, attempting to get the ground work laid for a new lab facility.
This stellar report is going to be my passport to Gerald Vance’s job when he retires…an event dearly to be wished for. Gerald, our CEO, is the personification of Attila the Hun.
This is probably more than you need to know, but Mercy Hospital has been going through a major shake-up spearheaded by the hospital board and my friend Nick Simpson, VP of Finance.
I came to work here because Nick tooted my professional horn, made me sound like hospital management’s version of Joan of Arc, but most of all because I needed out of my life back in Chicago. Let’s just say that from my perspective I’d learned there’s nothing holy about the holy state of matrimony.
Reaching the back entrance, I fish my key out of my purse only to have the door whoosh open, nearly knocking me on my size-twelve butt—a size-fourteen butt a year ago, I’ll have you know.
At the urging of my sleep-deprived mind I manage to force my lips into a smile. I swing to the momentum of the door and heft the strap of my computer case further over my shoulder as I come face to face with our Head of Security. “Good morning, Ben.”
I balance carefully on my high heels, as I work through the possible reasons why Ben would be standing at this particular door at this hour of the morning. “What are you doing here so early?”
“Waiting for you.”
This is the one of those mornings when I don’t need to have an urgent problem dropped in my lap. I know from experience that Ben-of-few-words Graham will get to the point in less than four sentences. That means I haven’t much time to come up with a reason why I can’t drop everything and jump to his aid. “What’s going on?”
Ben’s glance is a study in distraction. “I’ve been trying to convince you people in administration to do something about the issue of hospital access after hours. So far, I can only lock this door at night, and then I have to give keys to half the world,” Ben says, his jaw set in a hard line.
Two sentences and counting. “I hear you, but I’m only one vote at the management meetings. One of these days the others will see the error of their ways.”
We stroll together through the maze of corridors under the main hospital structure, me lugging my computer case, and Ben nursing his glum expression. Like me, Ben was another new hire, a retired soldier who decided to take on the job of Head of Security. The man must have a high threshold for the minutiae of life if he likes what he does for a living, but what Ben’s likes or dislikes is not my problem.
We’re accompanied on our walk by the click and clack of the aging water pipes overhead. Finally, to break the silence ballooning between us, I ask, “Can I get Eleanor to set up an appointment for you?”
Ben stops, rests his hands on his hips and stares at me, his eyes hard. “A second teenager from the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, Cindy Pitcher, was found wandering down here yesterday.” His nod indicates the basement area around us.
“Another one? This is our second one in less than a week, despite twenty-four hour security. How did this girl get off the unit?”
“I’m guessing, in the bottom of the laundry cart.”
“Smart thinking for someone so young. Are you sure?”
“No. Cindy managed to slip out without anyone being aware she was gone, just like Melissa.” His frown deepens. “What would bring these kids here, of all places? No one in their right mind spends time here unless they have a damned good reason.”
This basement level of the building holds the Maintenance, Laundry, Central Stores Departments and the morgue. Definitely not a teenage hangout. “Usually our wandering patients prefer the lobby, where they can get a cup of Starbucks and a chocolate sundae.”
“What happened this time raises the issue as to whether they came down here alone, or were lured down here.” Ben’s voice echoes along the concrete corridor, against the distant hum of laundry dryers, while my stomach thuds against my diaphragm.
“Ben, you don’t really think Cindy was lured down here? Be serious. No one would do that, not here in a hospital of all places.”
“I wish I could agree with you,” he says. “But otherwise, give me another reason.”
I don’t want to think about what might have happened if Cindy came down here to meet someone in a space filled with hidden rooms, dead-end corridors and poor lighting. Of course a teenager with a crush on some guy might try to arrange a rendezvous in one of these empty spaces. “Does this girl, Cindy Pitcher, have a lot of visitors to the unit?”
“The nursing staff didn’t mention anyone in particular. What are you thinking?”
“A boyfriend, perhaps?”
“We still have your staff watching the entrance to the unit?” I ask just to be sure.
“Yes, but there is a set of stairs at the back of the unit,” Ben countered.
“With a panic bar on the door, right?”
“Yeah, but these emotionally ill teens are bright. If they want off the unit, they’ll find a way. I’ve had the video footage checked from the past week, and no one is using those back stairs.”
While I try to wrap my mind around his words, the freight elevator whooshes open, disgorging a large wooden cart overflowing with white laundry bags being maneuvered by a man struggling to keep the cart moving forward.
“Dr. Carson is back today,” I tell him. “You and I and the head nurse are meeting with him. We need to heighten security on the unit.”
“Before it’s too late,” Ben says as he holds the elevator doors open.
Giving him a disbelieving glance, I swoop past him, anxious to reach my office. “Eleanor isn’t in until eight, but I’ll leave a message for her to call you for an appointment,” I offer, my fingers hovering over the elevator buttons.
Ben scowls. “This can’t wait. What I have to say requires privacy.”
That hard look has returned to Ben’s eyes. I see my plan to polish my presentation fly blithely up the elevator shaft out of reach. “All right,” I say, resigned to my fate.
Riding in elevators always makes me feel like the village idiot—nothing to say and lots of time to say it. We reach my office, a space I could find my way around in the dark, mostly because it’s generally dark when I leave it.
Reminding myself that as a member of hospital administration, I should appear smart and knowledgeable, I smooth my blue skirt over my lumpy hips and adjust my jacket as I plunk myself down.
By the way, no one told me that when you lose weight it doesn’t come off evenly. Thus, you develop the bumpy-hips-and-belly syndrome. Ah, life in the diet dugout. “So, where would you like to begin?” I ask, very businesslike.
Scanning my cluttered desk, Ben leans forward. “Have you seen my report on this latest incident? I delivered it personally just before five o’clock yesterday.”
I do a quick check for the distinct orange paper. “No, and I was here until after eight last night.”
“That doesn’t make sense. It should be on your desk.”
“I’ll check with Eleanor when she gets in.”
“I’d appreciate that. When my staff discovered Cindy in the corridor, she was agitated and confused. She told them a man tried to strangle her, and she had the marks on her neck to prove it.”