a Rhea Lynch, M.D. novel by Gwen Hunter


excerpt from chapter one

Lightning tripped the breaker. The overhead fluorescents died, throwing the ER into blackness. In theory, the backup generator was supposed to prevent blackouts, but the reality was often something different. Just outside my range of hearing, thunder boomed, more a vibration of the foundations than a sound. The old building groaned as wind battered the southeast side. Water poured through lighting fixtures and into buckets procured by the roaming security guard. The rattle of metal was soothing, like the sound of rain on a tin roof. I paused mid-suture, waiting for the lights to be restored or for someone to bring me a flashlight. …


High winds were taking off roofs and downing trees all over the state, shutting off electricity for tens of thousands. Vinyl siding torn from houses was flying in the wind, shattered windows were letting in rain by the bucket, buildings were lying flat. Bridges were being washed out and electrical lines whipped in the wind, throwing sparks and starting small fires that the rain quickly damped. Phones were out throughout the piedmont region of the state.

According to the radio, Charleston, where I was raised, was heavily damaged. DorCity, my adopted home, had also been hit badly. …


The lights finally flickered back on. Behind me, the EMS scanner crackled to life. "Dawkins County Hospital, this is Unit 52. Come in." It was an EMS unit, out in this storm. I wandered closer to hear what patient would be brought in.

Anne picked up the mike and depressed the button on the side. "Unit 52, go ahead."

"Dawkins, we have two patients. First is a white male, age twenty-four, with multiple contusions, abrasions, bruising over large portions of torso, abdomen and groin area. Bruising on both wrists, possible broken fingers on both hands. Patient is a victim of assault." Anne sighed as she took notes. "BP is 125 over 85, pulse is 105 and tachy. Temp is 96.5, say again, 96.5.

"Patient two is Asian female, age twenty-two, also victim of assault, para 1, gravida 2, six months gestation." I moved closer, not sure I had heard correctly. A pregnant patient who had been beaten? I hoped the assailant wasn’t the man with her in the ambulance. That was never a good situation. "This patient also has abrasions and shallow lacerations to limbs, chest and abdomen. BP 145 over 95, pulse 125, with very tachy episodes up to 175. Temp is 94.2. Repeat 94.2 Patient appears to be in early labor. Copy that, Dawkins?"

"We copy," Anne said. She was writing furiously, but paused to glance over her shoulder at me and shake her head. I had heard the emergency medical technician correctly. She was pregnant and had been assaulted. Her body temperature was low and her heart rate was high – "tachy" was medic speak for tachycardia.

"Patients were immersed in Prosperity Creek for a number of hours and have swallowed a large amount of creek water. Possible aspiration of same. Copy all that, Dawkins?"

"We copy," Anne said, shaking her head again.

"Dawkins, you might like to have sheriff’s department on hand at hospital. They have not been notified. Unit 52 out."

"We’ll call them in," Anne said. "Dawkins 414, all clear." She replaced the mike and stood, grimacing at me. Neither one of us liked this. We had an assaulted female in labor with a six-month fetus and no OB/GYN on hand. We were supposed to ship all pregnant patients out. …


"Anne?" I called. When she stopped and looked back over her shoulder I said, "Call them back. Ask them if the road to Ford County is open. See if they can take both patients there."

"Not possible."

I looked up at the dry tone and surveyed the cop standing there in a rain slicker and black combat boots. I hadn’t heard Mark come in. "Seventy-two is closed, two bridges out. I-77 is down for the next six hours at least, with accidents." Anne snorted and went on into the treatment room where I could hear the crackle of plastic being torn.

"We have three separate situations with tractor trailers flipped over," Mark continued. "Two on `77, one on Highway 9 just outside of town. HazMat has been called in for the Highway 9 accident, by the way. Guy was trying to head north through this wind carrying a load of sulfuric acid. Thought he’d drive around the mess on `77 and hit the interstate again up in Ford County. Bad decision."

"Lovely," I said. I hadn’t delivered a baby since med school. I wasn’t the maternal type. And if there were any burn victims from the acid spill, I would get them. With this wind, there was no way to fly anyone out to burn or trauma centers.

"Ain’t it?" Mark said. "Now it’s covering the road, running out of the ditch banks, and flowing toward the creeks. Fun time in the old town tonight."

I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not; cops think the strangest things are fun. To Anne, I said, "Get me a mag sulfate drip. If we need to slow down contractions I want it ready." To Mark I said, "You’re dripping all over the floor."

He grinned, a drip of water sliding down his forehead, getting caught in his thick brows. "You gonna mop up after me?"

"Not in this lifetime."

He laughed and leaned forward, stroked my head, his hand damp against my short, black hair. Mark didn’t believe in public displays of affection. Neither did I. "Have to hit Highway 9 and see can I help out." He smiled broadly, as if he thought that standing around in a violent storm, surrounded by flowing sulfuric acid, would be a fine thing. "Be sure to call my deputies on your assault. But if you need me, call the dispatcher. I’ll come back."

I was touched, but wasn’t about to show it. Our relationship hadn’t made it to the point of sharing many vulnerabilities yet. Probably never would. "Yeah. Thanks. And by the way, you were right. I do need a truck to handle this kind of weather. It’s real nasty. Be careful out there."

"I know of a truck for sale. We’ll talk."

"Oh. Whoopee."

Mark laughed at my lack of enthusiasm.

Resigned, I followed him into the airlock, a big, burly, out-of-uniform-cop with a gun on his hip, a second one on his ankle beneath his jeans, and an ugly orange slicker still dripping with water, the word POLICE in huge capital letters on front and back.

Mark pushed against the outer doors and air sucked through, swirling leaves inside. Under the ramp, a branch swept past and the outer doors shook with wind and pressure changes. Without a word, Mark thrust the outer door open and shoved his body into the tumult. He was still grinning, green eyes gleaming, as he drove away in his dark green Jeep, and I knew he was having the time of his life. He un-bent enough to toss me a wave.

The sky was dark, ripped with purple clouds, lit with flares of lightning. Debris, tossed like failing kites, whirled along the ground, only half visible in the dying light. Rain slashed like warm butter knives, beating at the hospital’s brown stucco sides. A cat, drenched and miserable, ran into the covered breezeway and shook herself. She crouched at the sight of me, wary, cautious. When I didn’t move, she relaxed and lifted a paw to lick away the rain. Her affected air of unconcern only partially hid the hyper-alertness caused by the storm.

From the road in front of the hospital, a pair of headlights turned into the lane, red lights flashing above. Wind rocked the ambulance from side to side. Even the heavy conveyance was too small to fight the storm. Engine roaring, it pulled up under the ramp and stopped beneath the covered ambulance bay. The cat scuttled back into the storm, tail down.

The driver door opened and Mick Ethridge hopped out, his wet hair slicked to his skull. He was just a kid, still too young to drink legally, but old enough to take the paramedic exam. Last I heard, he was still waiting for the test results.

"Hey Doc! We gonna need a wheelchair," he shouted, over both engine and storm.

I stepped through the inner doors and shouted back down the hallway, "Anne, Zack, get a wheelchair!" Not waiting to see if they heard, I went to the back doors of the ambulance. Wild wind grabbed my lab coat and tried to pull it from me. Horizontal rain wet my scrub suit and soaked through to my legs. An overweight EMT jumped down, wedging the doors open. I peered past him inside.

There was blood in the back of the unit. A lot of it, pooled in the smooth floorboard. A man, his long, soaked hair draggling forward over his face, sat hunched in the corner seat, almost invisible in the poor light. Lying limp on the stretcher was a young woman, a waif-like thing looking little more than a child, her small belly pushing against her wet dress. Fresh blood ran in bright rivulets down between her legs.

"When did this start?" I couldn’t tell if Mick heard me or not, my breath whipped by the wind.

Zack came through the airlock doors, a wheelchair before him. He stopped, his face lit by flickering florescent lights and shadow. Black skin grayed by lightning. Huge eyes. "What a storm!" he shouted happily.

Mick nodded back, jumping into the unit and assisting the paramedic inside. "Started not more than two minutes ago, Doc. Pressure’s dropping."

The EMS crew transferred the woman first.  She was covered in mud, wet to the bone, and was in heavy labor, bleeding profusely. "Vitals," I shouted as we moved to the airlock doors.

"BP dropping. Last time I took it, it was 90 over 45. Pulse 90. Pupils equal and reactive. They were in the water all day, Doc. Through the entire storm." The airlock doors gave, Anne holding the inner doors open for the stretcher.

"Why?" I shouted.

"They been kidnapped, Doc. …For four days."

 · end of chapter one excerpt · 

Excerpt from the book PRESCRIBED DANGER by Gwen Hunter
Mira Books - April 2002 - ISBN 1-55166-916-1 - ©Gwen Hunter


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Gwen Hunter’s books have been sold in the USA and in Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the UK, where she was a best seller with STOLEN CHILDREN (the UK title for the novel BETRAYAL), and the winner of the W.H. Smith award for best first novel.