Clinical psychologist Ellie Quinn is starting a brand new job at a hospital in Savannah. She doesn’t expect the amorous attentions of quick-tempered ex-cop Owen Mata and handsome Russian surgeon Dmitri Komarnitskaia. But choosing between the two is soon the least of her worries. When she persuades a battered woman to leave her husband, Ellie finds herself the target of a sinister serial killer, and something about the case is making Owen increasingly unstable. Only with Dmitri does she feel safe, but if she can’t bring her psychological skills to bear to catch the killer, she won’t be the only one in danger.
The alarm clock woke me up, but it didn’t have a way to remind me I had moved to a new home. So after I bumped into the first two walls, I found the light switch and headed to get cleaned up. After a long, hot shower and a huge mug of coffee, I was off to start my new job. The three-mile drive to the hospital took thirty-five minutes. You can’t call it a rush hour if no one is moving faster than twenty-five miles per hour. The parking deck was nearly empty, so I had plenty of room to pop the trunk and pull out the boxes I needed to take to my office. The offer of help that I barely heard with my head in the trunk registered enough for me to stop and turn around. Oh, my.
Damn, he’s gorgeous.
He stood a few feet away, yet I still had to look up to find his eyes. They were the deep blue of the ocean with gold flecks that made them sparkle even in the dim light of the parking deck. His black hair was smooth and perfectly placed except for one straggler that hung down just over his brow. I wanted to reach up and run my fingers through it. He had broad shoulders and stood confidently as I let my gaze linger over his strong, lean form. His smile indicated that he was enjoying the attention. The hand he held out to me was tipped with perfectly manicured nails. I saw no wedding ring on his left hand and was relieved. My knees were weak from the brief encounter and I wanted to know more about him.
“Thank you,” I replied. “I could use an extra pair of hands. But I’m not quite sure where I’m going just yet. I only know the hallway where my office is located.”
“It is next to mine.”
His sexy Russian accent was beautiful as he spoke softly, almost in a whisper. My body responded with longing I hadn’t felt in a year. I think I swayed toward him as he spoke.
“I’m Dr. Komarnitskaia,” he added.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Dr. Ellie Quinn. Psychology.”
We shook hands and his were smooth and strong. I felt breathless and weak-kneed. As someone who talks for a living I’m rarely out of words, but looking into his eyes I had trouble finding air or words and momentarily fumbled for my reply. The last time I’d felt like that had been in high school, when my crush had asked me to move out of the way at the lockers.
“I should warn you, I’ll mangle your last name.”
He smiled and my knees buckled. I leaned back against the car for support. Reaching behind me, I grabbed the edge of the trunk and tried to make it look intentional. His eyes sparkled in a way that told me he’d noticed, but he didn’t mention it.
“You can just call me Dr. K. Everyone does. I’m a critical care surgeon.”
That smile could sell anything.
“Okay, Dr. K it is, then.” I smiled up at him and he winked at me.
With my box in his hands, we left the parking deck and he used his access card to get us through the doctors’ entrance. I have to admit it felt a little cool to use that door. I’m not big on superficial things, but I earned this degree and I’m glad there are perks that go with it.
As he stood waiting for me to go through the door he held, I got a very good look at him. He stood at least six feet tall and his black hair brushed the top of his collar. He was tall, with a straight back, as his short black hair brushed the top of his collar, his hips barely moved. There was an easy grace to his movements. It reminded me of an old karate teacher I’d had, who moved carefully yet made it look casual and unimposing. People in the hallways got out of his way and he made the long walk effortlessly. I had to move fast to keep up with him, so I had to catch my breath when we got to my office door.
My nameplate was already there on the wall. Human resources had given me the keys when I was last there, so I fished them out of my pocket and opened the door. Dr. K turned the lights on, and I was impressed.
A full-sized waiting room with leather furniture, toy boxes for the kids, a flat-screen TV on the wall and a bookcase. It all fit easily within the space. The door at the back was to my private office and I headed that way. The smell of oak hit me when I walked into the room. Bookshelves lined the right wall and a mahogany desk took up one-third of the floor space. The back wall was half-windowed and looked out over a courtyard. The fountain looked as if it hadn’t worked in decades, but it was peaceful. Ivy covered the wide base and stretched up to wind around the three tiers that now sprouted clover instead of water. Birds hovered around the top as if they were waiting for flowers to bloom. I placed my purse on the desk and turned to find Dr. K staring at me from the door.
“Thank you for your help—you can place the box on the desk and I’ll get to it when I get back from orientation.” I smiled at him, the best one I could muster given that my stomach was full of nervous butterflies.
“I’m just to the left on the hallway—feel free to stop by anytime,” he said as he put the box down and headed for the door. “Anytime.”
I watched his tall, sexy form leave the room before I turned to grab a notebook and pen and headed to the conference room for orientation. I don’t know who came up with the concept of orientation, but they should have to pay dearly for it. I could have read the entire manual in an hour, but instead I spent a whole Friday listening to hospital board members blow smoke up our butts about the great work they did, how wonderful they were, and the contributions they’d made to get onto the board. I’m not much for blowing your own horn, so these people made me want to find the pharmacy, and quick.
The lunch was the standard conference sandwich with soggy bread, chewy ham, and stale potato chips. At least there was plenty of coffee to rinse the taste out of my mouth.
The last presenter was a former detective from Atlanta. He was now the head of hospital security. If you built a stereotype for compact and powerful, it would be Security Chief Owen Mata. From where I sat, he looked about five feet ten, dressed casually in slacks and a polo shirt that accentuated his bodybuilder’s form. His blue eyes looked angry when he talked about safety, almost as if he took it personally when people didn’t follow the rules. His light-brown hair was unruly, with curls that poked out each time he ran his hand over his head.
Damn, I need help. Or a very long bath with a toy.
I would never remember what he said, but I made sure to write down his office number and location. In my business, it always helped to know security. I’d been threatened and shoved, never needed more than a few moments to calm someone down, but I couldn’t take chances. Not everyone admitted to the hospital was honest about his or her medications, and it would only take one sudden onset of psychosis to get hurt. Rarely happened, but I was careful.
Chief Mata smiled at me as he left the room. The orientation ended and I got up to leave. As I waited to get out of my row of chairs, I was caught between two people who were determined to ignore the fact I was standing between them while they tried to hug around me. A lovely blonde woman showed up with a smile just in time to offer me her hand and get me out of the way.
“That was close,” I said to my rescuer.
“They were about to smoosh you. Nice to meet you—I’m Lee. I’ll be your assistant.”
Her accent was evident but I couldn’t place it. She was used to this and before I could ask, she said, “I’m Welsh.”
I didn’t remember any mention of an assistant. “I’m sorry, Lee. I don’t remember that part of the deal. Although I’ll happily accept your assistance.”
“It was a last-minute decision. The board decided their one staff psychologist would need to spend more time with patients than handling paperwork and answering phones. So they moved me over from the human resources office today.”
“Thanks, Lee.” I walked at her side back to my office suite. She unlocked the door and I noticed a small office I’d missed earlier, tucked to the left as we walked in. It was just large enough for a computer desk and phone, but with a door to shut out the noise if needed. She had a perfect view of the waiting room with a glass partition for privacy.
“Assistant under glass.”
I blushed. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
“It’s okay, the same thought occurred to me.” She laughed and the tension eased.
“Are they any patients I need to see today?” I looked at the pile of paperwork on her desk.
“Not today. Monday, you have a full day, and I’ll try to get you out of the hospital tour they scheduled for some time next week.”
“They? As in the lady with the perfume smell?”
“Stench—you mean stench.”
“Yes, yes I do.”
She smiled. “Yes, she set you up for the standard first week, but forgot the doctors that requested a staff psychologist had a list of people they wanted seen as soon as possible.”
I walked down the hallway past our kitchenette to my office and grabbed my purse. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” She shut the door and locked it behind us. “See you on Monday.”
The drive home was slow, so I got a chance to check out the stores on the way. I still had to unpack and get settled over the weekend. I put the coffee on as soon as I got home and could hear it brewing as I unpacked. I left the garage door open as I unloaded the moving truck. One of my neighbors had been nice enough when I arrived to help me unlatch my car from the back trailer hitch. A local moving company had offered to pick up the truck and car trailer for a small fee as long as I was sure it was empty when they showed up.
The house was small, with a central hallway that ran from the front door to the kitchen at the back. With two bedrooms off to the left, I left the front one as a guest bedroom and took the back room for myself. A small hall ran between the rooms and opened into the garage. I’d rented the house mostly furnished, so I only needed to move in personal belongings and clothes. I’d brought my own couch and a couple of chairs for the den area, which was huge, with a beamed wooden ceiling, hardwood floors and a fireplace I could have roasted a small pig in. My boxes were all labeled by room and contents, so all I had to do was drop them right where they would need to be unpacked.
The last trip up the driveway would have burned my lungs if the air hadn’t been wetter than a damp rag. My new house was cozy and packed with boxes. The last load went into the bathroom. The smell of coffee beckoned me into the kitchen from the back of the small cabin that was mine for at least the next year. I grabbed my travel mug and filled it, then topped it off with enough creamer and sugar to make syrup.
Ahhh. Now it feels like home.
The cable guy had come by earlier while I unpacked the car, and now the TV was on a local news channel. I’d found it was always easier to handle the local cheesy commercials on mute for the first few weeks.
Oh, good—a car commercial with a goat. That makes perfect sense.
The couch fitted along the wall in front of the fireplace, the television sat in the corner, and just off to my left, the sunroom had a view of the marsh. I still hadn’t got an answer about why the pool has a glass house over it. I would have thought a greenhouse was not what you wanted in a Savannah summer. I curled my short legs under me and pulled the ponytail holder out of my shoulder-length, blonde hair. It took boxes of hair color now to keep the natural look I’d hated as a kid, and it went well with my hazel eyes.
I was looking forward to my first official week as a hospital psychologist. Years of training were about to be put to the test and I found myself excited and nervous. Next week, the disgustingly cheery human resources woman would try to parade me around the hospital, and I wanted to avoid that at all costs.
She’d been dressed like a “proper” southern woman. I’d been southern my whole life and still didn’t know why that meant polyester clothing, helmet hair and enough perfume to choke the unconscious man on the stretcher in the elevator with us. Her accent had been syrup-southern, the one that women in the south put on when they don’t like you and are pretending to be polite. I hated that sound. I always looked for the knife.
Outside, the sunset cast an orange glow on the river that wound around the island. The trees glowed as the sun changed positions.
This is a view I could get used to.
The silence settled my mind after yesterday’s four-hour drive to get there from Atlanta. This would be my first official job after years of training and school. A text message popped up on my phone. “Are you there yet?” from my father. I let him know I’d arrived and would call him as I’d got more settled.
My brain started to close down for the night and I knew there was no fighting it, so I got up and shuffled off to bed.
On Saturday, I got the majority of the furniture rearranged. Just as I started to tackle some large boxes, my father called.
“You get settled yet?”
“I’m working on it. It’s gorgeous here.”
“How was orientation?” he teased.
He’d been through similar painful days. “It was all a blur after the smoking-hot cop started talking.”
“Here’s your brother.”
My brother got on the line.
“What did you say to him? He’s laughing. “
“I told him a sexy cop talked at orientation and took away my ability to think.”
“Oh geez, El. Glad you’re safe. I’m taking Dad out to dinner now—just wanted to check in.”
“Thanks, Josh. “
I managed most of the boxes before exhaustion forced me to sleep. The next morning, I woke up with aches and pains in new places from the move. I stood in the sunroom watching nature until the coffee alarm went off. Twenty minutes later, I was in an old wooden deck chair in my backyard, staring at the same view. It was only eight a.m., but the air was already getting thick. Still, it was a very peaceful and calming view. It was nice to know I’d have a place to shed stress after long days at work. My cabin stood at the end of the street, so the peace and quiet should last until afternoon when the boats started to go by. Very little moved on Sundays in the south until church and brunch had concluded.
I treasured the silence because I knew the next day it would end. This was a career that followed you home.. Every moment stolen was appreciated. Hospital psychology was a challenging career. Every day was spent going from room to room to find out what had happened. Asking questions like, why did you try to kill yourself? Do you remember the car wreck? Just how much alcohol did you drink last night? And my personal favorite, tell me again how that got in your ass? Those answers were always the most creative.
The lies—oh my, the lies people tell.
The minutes ticked by slowly as I sat there and watched. A couple of early boats went by close enough for them to wave to me, but far enough away to allow me my privacy. The real estate agent hadn’t understood why I insisted on isolation. Some days after work, I didn’t want to have another conversation. I listened and talked for a living, so silence was my best companion at home. My mute button was the most used one on the remote control.
The need for a refill drove me back inside and the piled-up boxes pushed the responsibility button in my head. So a quick shower and change into jeans and an old T-shirt led straight to unpacking my things. I hung the picture of my parents, the last one taken before Mom died, up in the spare bedroom.
A late afternoon lunch disappeared in a hurry as I moved through the kitchen. My bedroom and bathroom were last. I unpacked the rest of the boxes, hung the clothes, and arranged all the knick-knacks.
Monday morning came fast. The local a.m. news tried to lift spirits with promises of cooler temperatures just as soon as September arrived in a week. I headed for my first full day of work hoping nothing would go wrong. In my business, chaos was the normal order of things, but there were ways for that to get out of control. I also found my mind drifting to the sparkling blue eyes of a certain Russian surgeon. I wondered how often I would see him in the hallways. Given my body’s reaction to him on Friday, I might want to walk close to the walls just in case I needed to lean against something. Swooning was not my normal reaction, but something about Dr. K had me wondering if my office had soundproofing. My face flushed as I parked my car, but he wasn’t there. The office door stood open and Lee was sitting at her desk when I arrived. She even had a coffee from the cafeteria on my desk waiting for me.
She’s going to spoil me.
I sat at my desk just as she walked in with a printed list of patients, sorted by urgency and then room number.
“Not a problem. The top three you’ll want to see this morning. They aren’t more urgent than the rest, but the requesting doctor will call all afternoon if he doesn’t see your note in the chart by lunch.”
“Okay, I’ll start there.”
A new lab coat hung on the back of the door. I had missed it until Lee pulled it down and handed it to me.
“This arrived earlier today. It was embroidered locally, so if anything is wrong, let me know and I’ll get it changed.”
“Dr. Ellie Quinn” was engraved on the first line, with “Psychology” on the second line. “Nope, it’s fine.”
“Off you go.” She pushed me toward the door.
I reached back to get my coffee cup and just as I turned to the door, Dr. K walked in.
“Good morning, Dr. Quinn.”
“Good morning, Dr. K.” His smile made me shiver.
“I’ll escort you to your first patients.”
“Looks as if I start on the sixth floor today,” I said.
I tried to keep up with his long strides as we made our way to the elevator down the hall. I wasn’t entirely sure my shortness of breath was due to the increased speed.
I think I heard Lee laugh as we left the office. I’d have to ask her about Dr. K at lunch, and about Chief Mata—a sexy surgeon on one hand and the obvious bad-boy former detective on the other. The job looked very good from here—very good indeed.
The elevator opened and that unmistakable hospital smell hit me in the face. It was a cross between body odor, disinfectant and over-processed air. We rode in silence to the sixth floor. He kept smiling at me and I wasn’t sure my words would come out correctly, seeing as my knees were knocking. His cologne had a warm smell to it, a little musk with amber, a scent made me think of the woods right after a rain, and I wanted to lean into his neck and breathe deeply. He smelled so good! Dr. K nodded at me as I exited the elevator. The doors closed without him getting off. His scent hung in the air for a moment after he was gone.
I walked over to the nurses’ station and gathered the charts for my first patients. Reading doctors’ handwriting is impossible, but the nurses’ notes and case managers’ information was legible. I’d look up the patients’ full data on the computer later, when I dictated my notes, but for now I wanted to walk in with some knowledge of why they’d been admitted. I cautiously avoided the personal observations in the charts. I wanted to get a clear, objective opinion and that would be hard to do if the rest of the medical team had made up its mind and explicitly written it in the charts.
The first three were typical cases. The patient was either anxious or depressed because of their health or a long stay in the hospital. The doctors just wanted to make sure the mental health issues would resolve themselves after discharge, so they could send them home today. I checked the charts to make sure I had read all their information. It angered patients when another member of staff entered their room and they had to repeat their stories. Then I headed to find the nurse assigned to the room. The nurses on any floor are my best resource. No one knows exactly which family member shows up, who is helpful, and all the little details like the nursing staff. And they loved to talk to doctors. Appreciation for their paying attention is always well-rewarded.
I was sitting at the doctors’ station writing my notes when I heard someone stop behind me. I turned around to find the nurse manager for the floor. She looked a little concerned, but obviously hadn’t been willing to interrupt me.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“We have a situation down the hall. A patient’s husband came by earlier and threatened her. When the nurse told him to leave, he punched her and I had to call security.”
“They escorted him out of the building?” Please say yes. I’m not ready for that on day one.
“Yes, Doctor. But he keeps calling her and now she’s refusing treatment and demanding to be released.”
“Okay, Nurse. I’ll go talk to her.” I stood up and she pointed me to the room at the end of the hall.
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Graylin Fox is a multi-published author and poet. She began writing poetry in 1993 with her first poem published in 1995. In 2008, her characters demanded a larger format and she began to expand her talents into the short fiction market.
Decadent Publishing published her short story, Coming Home, in January 2011. In July of 2011 Decadent Publishing released Your Biggest Fan, a psychological thriller. Her series, Summer Fae, began with Contagion in April 2011. This series continued with Bloodlines, a novella in September 2012. The final installment of the series, The Legacy, will be out in 2013.
Her first full length novel, Smolder, about a Hospital Psychologist who finds love while dodging a killer, has a May 9, 2013 release date.
She lives in a marsh off the eastern coast with plants that struggle to survive on her “happy muse” weeks and a tiny cat runs the place. Graylin can be found at GraylinFox.com and contacted at GraylinWrites@gmail.com.