Healing Her Heart

By: Laura Scott

Chapter One





“Larissa, I put a new patient in room four for you,” Merry Haines, the Hope County Hospital ER charge nurse, called out.

“Okay.” Larissa Brockman finished documenting on her recent discharge and then pushed away from the computer. The hour was well past midnight, but the ER remained incredibly busy on this Memorial Day Friday night. Or rather, Saturday morning.

She crossed over to room four but then stopped abruptly in the doorway as she saw the familiar face of her patient. Annie Hinkle, a fifty-year-old woman looking a decade older than she should, was seated on the gurney cradling her right arm against her chest.

No. Not again. The tiny hairs lifted on the back of her neck in alarm. This was the second time Annie had been here over the past month. The last time was for a black eye that she swore was not caused by her husband, Kurt’s, fist.

What would be her story this time? Larissa took a deep breath and let it out slowly before entering the room. “Hello, Annie.”

“Hi.” Annie’s gaze barely met hers before skittering away.

“What did you do to your arm?” Larissa asked, keeping her voice gentle as she approached. She had the distinct impression the woman was on the edge and wouldn’t hesitate to flee if cornered.

“I fell off the front porch—you know how klutzy I am.” Annie refused to meet her gaze but kept staring down at her arm as if the injury might heal itself if she concentrated hard enough.

“I don’t think you’re klutzy at all,” Larissa murmured. “Show me where it hurts.”

“Right here,” Annie said, removing her left hand to reveal a darkly mottled bruise encircling her wrist. Larissa felt a little sick looking at the injury, knowing there was no possible way this had happened from a fall. She could clearly envision a man’s large hand squeezing hard enough to cause this. She’d be surprised if there weren’t a few broken bones hidden beneath the horribly discolored skin.

“Okay, I’m going to get you a cold pack for that, and I’m sure the doctor will want X-rays, too.” She kept her voice calm with an effort. “Do you need something for pain?”

Annie lifted her shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “Maybe a pain pill would help.”

Larissa nodded, thinking the poor woman needed far more than a pain pill. She batted a wave of helplessness aside. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” she asked. “Maybe you hit your head? Or your ribs?”

“No, just my wrist.”

“All right, I’m going to check in with Dr. Allen, and then I’ll be right back.”

“Sure.” Annie’s gaze jerked away, causing Larissa’s stomach to knot painfully.

She recognized the signs and symptoms of abuse. Only too well. Dark memories from the past threatened to overwhelm her, and she fought them back with an effort. Struggling to keep her emotions under control, she grabbed an ice pack from the supply rack and then went searching for Dr. Gabe Allen, the physician in charge of the patients on her team.

He was on the phone talking to the inpatient hospitalist about a patient he wanted admitted. She hovered nearby, waiting until he finished his call. He hung up the phone and flashed a warm smile. “Hi, Larissa, what’s up?”

His smile was far too attractive, an effect she’d been fighting for months now. So far, she thought she was hiding her feelings pretty well. “I need you to examine my patient in room four,” she said in a soft tone in a voice. “I’m convinced she’s being physically abused.”

Gabe’s smile faded. “Are you sure?”

She’d only been a nurse here at the Hope County Hospital for six months, but she’d thought she’d proved her competence by now. She scowled. “Trust me, I’m sure.”

Gabe gave a terse nod. “All right, let me finish up this inpatient admission, and I’ll be right over.”

“Thanks.” She hurried back over to Annie’s bedside, squeezing the disposable ice pack between her hands to activate the chemical reaction inside. “Here, place this around your wrist, okay?” she instructed. “Dr. Allen will be here shortly.”

Annie winced but didn’t say anything as she placed the cold pack over her wrist.

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