Authors: Marilu Mann
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Changing Times Copyright © 2008 Marilu Mann
Edited by Briana St. James.
Photography and cover art by Les Byerley.
Electronic book Publication May 2008
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home
Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this
copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including
infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is
punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
To Marilu and Deuel “on the
other side”, to Amanda, Ava Marie, Regina and Sharon “still with us”. We love
With gratitude to Kabao and
Conner (who is better known as that “Goofy Bastard”) for being beta readers
with awesome suggestions, unfailing enthusiasm for these stories and excellent
proofreading. To the members of FTHRW, NYTHEARN, FF&P and MFW for your
friendship, encouragement, knowledge sharing and for welcoming us into your
fold so handily. To “the Turtle crew” for your help on those plotting weekend
trips. JL, step AWAY from the slot machine! Finally, (last but certainly not
least) thanks to Briana St. James, our editor.
The author acknowledges the
trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in
this work of fiction:
Jaguar: Jaguar Cars Limited
*Any misspellings or grammatical
mistakes are ours and ours alone. Any resemblance to real persons, living or
dead, is coincidental, really! Our hearts go out to the citizens of New Orleans
who are still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.*
“There must be something to alcohol as a survival method.”
Dr. Carly Chambers rubbed the back of her neck. A man had tumbled from a French
Quarter balcony onto half a dozen other tourists and lived. Just another day at
the office for her meant the usual people coming into the emergency room for
treatment of overdoses, stab wounds, gunshots, bar fights, domestic fights and
your run-of-the-mill tourists who’d had a few too many drinks down in the
The familiar scent of antiseptic hung in the air. The tile
floor wasn’t as clean as it could be, but that was partially because it was in
desperate need of replacing. One of the joys of working in a state-funded
hospital in a town still recovering from a devastating hurricane.
Carly had returned because she loved New Orleans and the
city needed all available medical personnel. The sights, the food, everything
about the city had appealed to her when she had done her residency there. She
jumped at the chance to work at Charity Hospital, knowing she would be able to
practice a wide spectrum of medicine on a diverse group of people.
Carly loved the fast pace. She loved everything about her
work, except perhaps the hours. Anyone who actually liked working twelve-to-fourteen-hour
days was really just a glutton for punishment. She’d been lucky during Katrina.
Her place hadn’t been damaged other than a few broken windows and some minor
Her mood improved when she saw the clock over the nurses’
station. Her shift had ended forty-five minutes ago. Most people were in bed
when Carly was ending her evening. Even the most die-hard partygoers were
winding down in the hours just before dawn. Carly walked slowly down the
corridor of the hospital, speaking to the people she knew or just nodding at
With another yawn, she went into the doctor’s lounge and
removed her stethoscope and white lab coat, hanging both in her locker, then
securing it with a padlock. As she slung her backpack over her shoulder, she
became indistinguishable from the nurses and medical students, all of whom wore
scrubs and comfortable shoes. When off duty, she preferred the anonymity of
looking like a student rather than a “long coat”.
Carly paused just outside the emergency bay doors to take a
deep breath. Still hot and humid, the air pressed into her lungs as she made
her way to the doctors’ parking lot. The night sky was beginning to lighten
from navy to denim as the sun pushed carefully over the horizon. Carly
stretched, raising her arms high over her head. She stopped mid-stretch as
movement off to the side somewhere caught her eye.
A dark van idled at the corner of the lot where the
streetlight didn’t quite reach. Knowing there had been a rash of burglaries in
the area and that some of the staff’s cars had been broken into, Carly reached
for the zippered pocket of her backpack containing her whistle. Carly knew that
the corridor nearest the van’s spot led to the supply room and that particular
area of the hospital wouldn’t be occupied or busy during shift change.
“No one steals on my watch!” she muttered.
She’d just pulled the whistle out of her backpack when a
steely arm wrapped around her middle and a large hand covered her mouth. Her
backpack slid off her arm to hit the asphalt with a thud as her feet lost
connection with the pavement. Carly froze for an instant, then her self-defense
training came back to her.
Go for the instep
the jerk has
me off the ground
…Her mind flew through
Using as much force as she could, Carly drove her elbow
straight back, aiming for her attacker’s solar plexus. A slight grunt from him
and a stinging pain that shot up her arm let her know she’d made contact.
is this guy made of concrete
s like a wall
She wriggled her body as much as she could, clawing at the
hand over her mouth with her nonexistent nails and kicking at him. He just
squeezed her tighter, almost tight enough to make her black out.
ll pretend to pass out
Just as she started to go limp, he loosened his hold
slightly and let her feet touch the ground. The deepest voice she’d ever heard
came from somewhere over her left shoulder.
“Stop fighting me. Just listen. I’m not going to hurt you.
Are you a doctor? Nod or shake your head.” Intense body heat came off the man
who was holding tightly to her.
He was kidding, right? Stop fighting? She wouldn’t agree to
that! His brick-hard chest didn’t give any evidence of rapid breathing. It only
took her an instant to make her decision. Telling him her occupation might get
him to let her go. She swallowed as she slowly nodded her head. Some of the
tension left his body, but the hand remained across her mouth.
“I swear that you won’t be hurt. I need a doctor, so I’m
taking you with me. Don’t fight me and don’t try to get away. Do you
Although softly spoken, the words had steel behind them.
Strangely enough, she believed him. This guy might be big and scary, but she
didn’t sense any violence from him. Her innate sense of people had been honed
from working on a wide variety of them. Her mother had given up warning her to
be wary of strangers and admitted that her daughter had a gift in that area.
Carly nodded again to show that she understood, hoping he didn’t know she had
no intention of not fighting him or trying to get away.
The arm banding her body relaxed slightly in reward for her
answer. She knew there was very little point in her trying to get away from him
right now. He picked her up as though she weighed no more than a child. She
tensed as her feet once again swung in thin air. She felt a swoop downward and realized
he snagged her backpack as well. The huge man set off for the van effortlessly.
Carly prayed that her human nature barometer hadn’t failed her.
She drank in as many details as she could and cursed her
stupid luck to be the only one in the parking lot. If only she’d left right at
shift change, but no, Mr. Swan Dive From the Balcony had made her forty-five
minutes late for that. From her vantage point, she saw the van. It was a dark
red, maybe brown. It was hard to tell in the dim lighting at this end of the
hospital. Another man stood by the passenger door, staring at her in what
seemed to be shock. Her captor moved toward the sliding door of the van. The
other man approached them slowly as though he were nearing a dangerous animal.
“Are you crazy?” This one had the distinct intonation of a
New Orleans native.
“She’s a doctor. We need her. Did you get everything else?”
Huge man’s voice gave away no accent.
“I got it. But put me on record as not liking this.” This
man obviously wasn’t happy about his friend kidnapping her. Carly wasn’t too
thrilled with the idea, either.
“So noted. Now drive, little brother. Get us back to Tony.”
Her captor hurried her inside the van and, before she could move, climbed in
behind her. He kept one hand on her arm as he closed the door. Stumbling, she
fell to the floor. He picked her up and put her on a seat. The driver’s side
door opened then closed and the van sped off.
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but we need your services and we can’t
take a chance on coming into the hospital. I promise that you will be returned
unharmed.” The big man’s voice did seem genuinely contrite.
He’d bound her hands while he was speaking and now he
slipped a hood over her head. She felt him fasten a seat belt around her and
was grateful for that small concession, at least.
“You do know that kidnapping is a federal offense, right? I
mean, let’s get real here, guys. If you let me go, I won’t tell anyone you
kidnapped me.” She didn’t think they’d go for it, but hey, it was worth a shot.
Sure enough, one of them snorted.
Carly tried to count the turns they took, but with the hood
on her head, she found it hard to concentrate on their route. She hadn’t gotten
a good look at either one of them, they’d seemed to know where the shadows were
the thickest. Her hands were loosely bound in front of her with a soft cord of
Carly swayed with the slight motion of the van. Just as she
was ready to plead with them again, the van came to a halt. She heard a vehicle
door open, then the sound of another creak, like a garage or warehouse being
opened. Voices flipped back and forth for a brief moment, but she couldn’t make
heads or tails of what was being said. The door closed. She felt a steadying
hand catch her before she fell as the van jerked forward again.
This time when it stopped, her kidnapper unclipped the seat
belt and guided her to a standing position. A large warm hand engulfed both of
hers as she was lifted from the van. She felt what had to be asphalt under her
tennis shoes. The crunch of gravel replaced the smoothness of the pavement and
then her shoe bumped into something.
“Step up, Doctor. There are five steps up and then you will
be on the porch.”
Carly followed the directions to find herself on what felt
like a concrete surface. She scuffed her shoe to see if she could be sure, but
a hand in her back urged her forward. Up a staircase that had a small landing
that led to another staircase, Carly knew she had to be on a second floor. She
heard a door open and close, a low murmur of voices and then the binding around
her wrists was removed. She heard that deep voice again.
“You can remove the hood, Doctor. Please see to my friend.
He’s been shot.” At those words, Carly ripped the hood off. She saw two men
supporting a third between them. One of them had to be the man who had spoken.
She studied them carefully and quickly.
Native American and tall were her first two thoughts. He had
strong cheekbones and a high forehead combined with long dark hair pulled back
from his face, which housed the eyes the color of antique oak. Massive across
the chest and shoulders, his dark brown denim shirt bore splotches of darker
color. Blood—either his own or that of the injured man he was helping to
support. A faint bruise along his left cheekbone and a partially healed cut on his
left hand gave evidence of a fight. Given his size, Carly guessed he’d been the
one to cart her around. In other words, the chief kidnapper.
The second man supporting her patient was shorter than both
the other two. Carly put him at around her own height of five foot seven inches.
His light brown hair matched his eyes. Blood splotches on his clothing made
Carly wonder if he’d been in the fight as well. Was that his blood or from his
companion? A scowl met her gaze along with a sound deep in his throat that
sounded like he was growling softly. Carly shoved aside her swift appraisal of
the two men as she turned her attention to the injured man.
“Why are you holding him up? He should be lying down.” Carly
shot a look of disgust at the two supporting characters. Did they really not
know any better?
“He can’t. You may not believe this, Doctor, but he’s been
poisoned as well as shot. The bullet was silver, and if he’s on his back, the
poison will spread faster.” Huge man seemed unfazed by her ire.
“Poisoned? How was he poisoned?” Her ER training
jump-started. Immediately she began cataloging what she knew of poisons. “Arsenic?
Oleander? Strychnine? What?”
“By the silver,” the taller man spoke as if his words made
sense. Carly shook her head as she stepped closer to the injured man. Her feet
moved even as her mind told her to stop. Then she looked into those eyes.
Luminescent eyes with a greenish-gold sheen met hers. Carly
shivered. It wasn’t just the color that startled her or the fact that his eyes
seemed to be glowing. The pupils weren’t dilated in a known fashion and the
intensity of his look sent a warning buzz through her entire body.
Something else about his eyes nagged at her. She’d seen
something similar, but where? A brief flash of a trip to the zoo years ago
flipped through her mind. She dismissed it. No time to think about jungle cats.
She couldn’t pin it down. His black hair—no, dark brown—no,
black—no, blue and black—she gave up trying to identify the color, hung long to
the middle of his back. When his head tilted forward, it covered half his face.
Carly’s training took over as that face reflected the agonizing pain the man
“Can he sit?” She directed her comment to the tallest man,
the one who’d done most of the talking up to now. At his brief nod, she looked
around and saw a stool. She jerked a thumb toward it as she hurried to the man’s
side, slipping on a pair of those ugly yellow gloves that she pulled out of her
pocket. She’d always carried a pair after being the first on the scene of an
accident on her way to work one night. With calm efficiency, Carly moved in to
“Where’s the injury?” His skin radiated intense heat as she
gingerly felt his chest for fever.
“Abdomen? When? Why isn’t he dead?” She spared a glance at
the man who had been answering her questions. Touching her patient again, she
wondered if her gloves might melt. He had to be running a very high fever to be
this hot to the touch.
“Missed his vital organs or he would be.”
The injured man still hadn’t spoken, but his skin was
turning an alarming shade of gray. Carly lifted the man’s shirt away from his
abdomen. She didn’t flinch at the sight of the entrance wound, but knew she was
looking at a very close-range pistol shot. ER had been a good training ground
for that type of knowledge. She glanced up at the taller of the two men. “He
needs to be in a hospital.”
Black hair flew around his face as her patient violently
shook his head. The taller man rested his hand on the back of his friend’s neck
for a moment and the injured man stilled. “No hospital can treat him
effectively. Just help him.”