Jason stepped off the elevator and headed down the hall, his sneakers almost silent against the vinyl floor. Every moment he’d spent at Georgia Cancer Specialists in Blue Ridge this morning had dragged by, each one delaying him further in getting to the hospital to check on Lacey.
Last night’s inspection of the building’s small backyard had been inconclusive. If someone had moved the limb, he’d scattered leaves and other debris to hide his tracks. The only definitive signs of activity were those Jason and Keith, and the other responders, had left. But Jason wasn’t ready to let down his guard. No one was likely to threaten Lacey in a busy hospital, but he’d asked the staff to keep a close watch on her anyway.
The moment he entered her room, his heart leaped into his throat and lodged there. She was headed toward the door on her hands and knees, breaths coming in agonizing gasps. He rushed toward her. “Lacey?”
She tilted her face upward. Her cheeks were flushed and panic filled her eyes. Her lips formed a silent plea for help.
He scooped her up and rushed to the bed, screaming for a nurse. Within a half minute, two had responded. Lacey had pulled herself into a seated position and leaned over the side rail, which she held in a white-knuckled grip. Her head was forward, her mouth open as she struggled to draw in the oxygen her body craved.
The first nurse called a code blue, and Jason waited, fists clenched. How could she have deteriorated so much since he'd seen her this morning? She'd had a cough and irritated eyes. Now she was gasping for air, unable to draw in a clear breath, her face flushed and growing splotchy.
Realization slammed into him as a doctor rushed into the room.
These weren’t smoke inhalation symptoms. “She has a severe sesame allergy.”
The doctor apparently made the same diagnosis, because he immediately called for an injection of epinephrine. Other medicines went into her IV, names Jason didn’t recognize.
God, please let her be all right. After several tense minutes, she began to respond. Jason’s nerves slowly untangled, but it took some time for his racing pulse to return to normal.
Why had Lacey waited to summon help? In cases of anaphylactic shock, minutes counted. So why hadn’t she used the call button as soon as she began to have problems?
Because it was gone, the connection where it should be plugged into the wall empty. Fire shot through his veins. What kind of place would leave patients with no way to call for help? Someone was going to lose their job.
While medical personnel finished stabilizing her, Jason stood back, arms crossed, lips pressed into a thin line.
Finally, everyone left the room except the nurse who’d called the code, and the doctor. He picked up a clipboard and made some notes. “Your sesame allergy is already recorded in your chart. What else are you allergic to?”
“That’s the only allergy I have.” Her voice was raspy and deep, likely a result of the smoke she’d inhaled the previous night.
“You shouldn’t have been given anything with sesame.”
Jason frowned. “She should have been provided with a call button, too.” In a hospital that overlooked something that important, ignoring an allergy note didn’t surprise him.
The doctor’s gaze shifted to the plate on the wall, its center hole empty. When he looked at the nurse, his raised brow held both a question and a reprimand.
Lacey jumped to her defense. “It’s not her fault. I haven’t used it, but I’m almost positive it was there this morning.” She frowned. “Right before lunch, I fell asleep. My meal sat for probably an hour while I was dead to the world. Someone drizzled sesame oil over my salad, and I don’t think it was your kitchen people.”
Jason had left his cop hat in Oregon two weeks ago when he’d taken an extended leave of absence from Ashland PD. But that hadn’t killed his investigative instincts. He looked at the doctor. “Can we get the kitchen manager up here?”
The man nodded and walked from the room.
Lacey brought the back of her bed upright, then reached for Jason’s hand. “Thank you. That makes twice you’ve saved my life.” She squeezed his hand and grinned. “In less than twenty-four hours.”
He returned her smile. “You’re keeping me busy.”
Her eyes had regained their sparkle, and her face had lost its splotchiness. Other than some slight fullness to her lips, she appeared to be back to normal, externally anyway.
When she relaxed her hand to pull away, he hesitated a moment before releasing her. She’d always held a special place in his heart. Seeing her threatened had kicked his protective instincts into overdrive.
First he’d eliminate all possibilities that both the oil and the missing call button were hospital errors. Then he’d call in Murphy police.
But he already knew what they would find. The meal Murphy medical personnel prepared didn’t contain any sesame.
Someone had tampered with it after it arrived.
Then they’d taken away the call button to make sure Lacey couldn’t summon help.
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