“It’s just a headache.”
When her friend tried to shine a light in her eyes, Nyrene Goldman averted her head. It was probably more than a headache and she’d go to a walk-in clinic when she got off work, but if that cranky, irritable codger they worked for came by the triage room and saw them, they’d never hear the end of it.
“You were in a wreck,” Michelle said, her eyes narrowed. Her hair, currently dyed a shade that couldn’t decide if it was a deep red or purple, was pulled back into a ponytail. Small tendrils had escaped. She couldn’t tame the frizzy curls for the life of her. They bounced around her face as she shook her head. “You didn’t go to the hospital. You know better than that. For fuck’s sake, Nye, you’re a nurse.”
“Which explains everything,” Nye said, grinning despite the pounding in her head. “I’m a nurse…ergo, that means I’m a lousy patient. And it wasn’t a bad wreck, okay? Somebody just ran up into my bumper. If I hadn’t been pissed off at that son of a bitch, Paxton, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“Well, hey, I’m all for blaming him for everything.” Michelle grinned. “But I’m not sure how you can blame him for this.”
“Easy. I wasn’t paying attention when I slowed at the stop sign. If I had been, I would have seen that idiot kid joyriding and maybe I would have moved quicker…I dunno. But I’m fine. I’m just supposed to work on inputting data for the new system today anyway. I’ll hide in a room and take it easy, okay?”
“Staring at a screen isn’t going to help that headache. And what if you have a concussion? How hard did you hit the window? Does your neck hurt?”
“Not that hard.” She went to shrug and then thought better of it. “My neck is stiff. As expected. And I’ve got muscle relaxers. I take them anyway, remember? I’ll go to a clinic tonight, okay? I just wasn’t going to the ER.”
She couldn’t afford it.
Michelle looked like she wanted to argue, but a door slammed and they heard a familiar grumbling fill the hallway.
“Dr. Evil is here,” Michelle said under her breath. “How long until the new guy takes over?”
“Three months.” Nye moved off the bench and toward the cabinet, as if she’d been checking supplies. Each motion made the pounding in her head increase and she had the insane desire to grab some of the cotton balls and shove them into her ears to silence all the noise. “Three damn months.”
“That’s four months too long.”
But Nyrene barely heard her. The low-level buzzing in her head seemed to drown out everything else.
Sweat dripped down her spine. A cold, icy sweat, but Nye tried to ignore it. She just had to get through the rest of the afternoon.
Granted, every minute seemed like torture.
She almost felt like she was having a cocktail party—inside her skull. Everything was so noisy. She kept hearing whispers and curses, except the words made no sense.
I’m going crazy, she thought, and she was more than a little afraid she wasn’t wrong.
The chart in front of her— her gut churned. Images flashed across her vision. The girl… Nye knew her. Barely. A teen, in and out of foster care, recently reunited with her mom. There was a boyfriend. She’d come in recently…
What was her name?
Even as she thought of the name, she saw the girl.
In a car. Parked in front of a house. There was a flash, like lightning, illuminating the address. Inside the car, a girl struggled—can’t breathe. As if she’d said the words, Nyrene heard them. And Hailey struggled as a boy wrapped his hands around her throat—
“What the fuck?” Nyrene said, shoving back from the desk and standing up. Her legs wobbled and she slammed into the wall as they tried to give out from under her.
She rubbed her throat, that odd sensation of not being able to breathe gone.
Maybe she had a brain bleed. She’d hit her head so hard, blood was leaking inside her skull and she was going crazy. That could make her see things that weren’t there, hear things that weren’t there, couldn’t it?
This wasn’t the first thing like this she’d imagined today.
She’d had to beg a ride from a friend and as they pulled away from the curb, her friend Jazzy had told her, You look like shit.
Except Jazzy hadn’t said anything.
Nyrene had heard the words, but Jazzy’s mouth hadn’t moved, not even once.
It was past noon. She’d planned on trying to work straight through, get her eight in so she could leave, but maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
“I need food.” The thought of that made the nausea even worse, but yeah, she needed to eat. Get a drink, stop making herself go blind from inputting Dr. Evil’s paper records into the new electronic charting system the new doctor would use.
It should have been done years ago, but Evil refused.
Dr. Evil—Dr. Evered, in reality—was sixty-nine years old and the meanest son of a bitch she’d ever worked for. She knew she needed to be at home, but Evil didn’t believe in sick days—not for his employees. Still, he couldn’t deny her a lunch so she made her way down the hall to the break room. It wasn’t much bigger than one of the patient exam rooms and the other three full-time employees were in there, gathered around a small table.
Michelle looked at her and swore. “You look like you’re going to pass out, Nye.”
She gave Michelle a game smile. “Oh, I’m fine. It’s those damn files. How long until we’re free of Evil again?”
It was a familiar game, and they all knew, to the day, when he was leaving. Although, really, just then, Nye couldn’t remember. And Michelle wasn’t answering.
“I’m serious, Nye. You look bad.”
“I just need some food.” She stared dumbly at the table, realized she hadn’t brought anything.
“You sit.” Heather patted her shoulder.
Then, clear as day, Nyrene heard the words, Maybe some food will help.
Nyrene fought the urge to flinch under that touch. Staring at Heather, she offered a weak smile. “Yeah. Yeah that will help.”
“I made soup last night. I’ll get you some of the leftovers. I always bring too much. Maybe some food will help.”
Nyrene had to bite back her hysterical laughter, the urge to say, You just said that!
Because Heather hadn’t said anything about food helping…at least not twice.
Again, Nyrene was hearing the words, but Heather hadn’t actually said it aloud the first time.
“Soup sounds good,” she said wanly. Maybe it would help. But even as she thought of it, her mind went fuzzy and vague, spinning back to the girl who kept sneaking into her head. Hailey. Her name was Hailey. Curled up on her side, crying.
Nye jerked her head up as Heather put the soup in front of her. “What?”
“You said Hailey.”
Michelle, Heather and Judith eyed her oddly. She would have shrugged, but it would have sent pain shrieking through her head, and if she had more pain, she thought she’d cry.
“I’m just remembering something from one of the records I was inputting.” She couldn’t even smile without it hurting. Looking down at the soup, she breathed in. “It smells good.”
No, it didn’t.
But Heather gave her a spoon and she was able to close her hand around it and take a couple of bites. It was actually rather soothing, gliding down to her belly. Felt good.
But her gut started to rebel at the next bite and she put down the spoon.
“Nye, you need to eat.”
“I can’t.” She swallowed and focused on the bowl, the table. On the sound of Michelle’s voice—on anything but the fact that she kept hearing other voices. “I think… I think I need to go see that doctor.”
“Yes. You should.” The relief in Michelle’s voice was palpable. “But…shit, can you drive?”
Drive? She didn’t even have a car to drive. Not right now. She’d had Jazzy drive her to work, but how was she supposed to…
Her mind slid sideways, the thought drifting away on a wave of pain. Images shifted, reformed. The girl.
No. Don’t think about…
Voices churned in her ears. Dully, Nye stared at the little TV she’d brought to the office earlier in the year. They had to keep the volume almost nonexistent and honestly, they had it in there more to thumb their noses at Evil than anything else. It wasn’t the noise that caught her attention, though.
It was something to look at, to focus on, to think about—
And then she saw the words.
Those bright red words. Staring at them made it feel like her eyes were vibrating in their sockets.
Corruption Suspected in Leighton’s Police Department.
“Police,” she said, her lips numb.
Suddenly, the images of Hailey disappeared, replaced by something else.
Screams. Blood. Gunshots.
A pair of ice-blue eyes, frozen in a mask of death.
She shuddered as those eyes began to fill with life, presence.
“Nyrene. That’s a pretty name.”
Those ice-blue eyes thawed as he studied her. Nyrene felt stupid. She’d fallen apart on him, all but soaking the sturdy dark material of his uniform.
“You okay there, Nyrene?”
She sucked in a breath. “I’m fine.”
No, she wasn’t. But she would be. As soon as she forgot about that son of a bitch she’d wasted three years on. Paxton Wallace—accountant, father of two, the one she’d thought for sure was the ideal man.
Only he’d lied. The bastard had lied. He wasn’t an accountant. He had two kids…in this state. And one across the river in Mississippi. Another three in Tennessee.
He wasn’t an accountant. He was a con artist. And the money he’d talked her into giving him—some of her hard-earned savings. He’d claimed he could triple the money.
“I’m so stupid!”
There was a soft sigh. A hand stroked her shoulder one more time. “It doesn’t look like you were at fault, Ms. Goldman.” He had a soft, soothing voice. Smooth and rich, like dark, decadent coffee laced with the finest whiskey.
She stiffened, pulled away, every muscle in her body screaming.
“Deverall,” he said. “Officer Deverall.”
Her mind shifted. Roiled. Those ice-blue eyes, wide and locked. A neat, bloody hole between them, a gun in his hand—
And then bloody red…again.
Local officer, celebrated war hero Bennett Deverall was gunned—
Voices shrieked in her head, blurring together.
Officer Ben Deverall was suspected of corruption. During the operation to bring him in, he resisted arrest—
“No, no, no, no!”
Darkness swam in and grabbed her. Pulled her under.
Nye didn’t even mind. Because for once the pain in her head was gone and there was nothing but sweet, sweet silence.