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“I don’t think I could survive if Tara died.”

Biting back the pain that squeezed his chest, he grazed her smooth cheek with his own, and whispered into her ear. “Then we’ll just have to make sure that Tara will always be fine.”

She turned her face ever so slightly, as if she meant to say something. The move brought their lips together. Tentative, as though a mistake. He waited for Jaynie to withdraw. She didn’t. Then, in a rush, their mouths merged warm, soft and open, like lovers.

Like parents, united by tragedy.


Lynne Marshall
has been a registered nurse in a large hospital in California for over twenty years. Currently, she is an advice/triage nurse for fifteen internal medicine doctors. She began writing in 2000, and has earned over a dozen contest awards since. She is happily married to a police lieutenant, and has a grown daughter and son. Besides her passion for writing Medical Romance™ stories, she loves travel, reading, and power walks.

This is Lynne’s first book!


I’d like to dedicate this book to my fabulous critique partners: Roben, Thieme, Gina, Deanne, and Trish.
Ladies, you’re the best.


nurses gathered around the huge panoramic window like they always did at six-thirty each Monday morning. For a moment they’d put aside any last-minute shift-change bustle or patient-charting to enjoy what nature offered. Excited, expectant, they gabbed and giggled while their eyes fixed on the Chinese elm-lined streets that led to the back of Mercy Hospital in northeast Los Angeles.

Jaynie Winchester didn’t approve of their gawking, but who was she to tell them to stop? As charge nurse for the small pulmonary ward, she knew when to crack the whip and when to let her co-workers enjoy a moment’s reprieve from their hectic schedules. She’d studied the statistics and knew mutual respect boosted morale on any difficult hospital ward. And their heavily burdened floor catered to ventilator patients and every imaginable respiratory ailment. Bottom line, the nurses deserved their thirty-second fantasy break.

Any other day she’d pretend to be preoccupied with nursing duties while the scrub-clad ladies gaped—and from the corner of her eye watch right along with them.

Today, though, she was distracted with annoying, moderately painful Braxton Hicks cramping. False labor. What else could you call it at less than seven months gestation? She’d felt so energetic on Sunday. Perhaps she’d overdone it, stenciling the butter-yellow nursery walls with plump, fuzzy ducklings wearing cute blue bonnets and vests.

Jaynie blamed the Mexican food she’d eaten for dinner as the cause of her little one’s spurt of activity throughout the night. The baby had rolled and tumbled, she’d cramped on and off, and because of it had gotten little sleep.

A sudden rise in the nurses’ chatter, followed by awestruck silence, alerted Jaynie that the moment they’d been waiting for had arrived. She rubbed her abdomen, adjusted her small, wire-framed glasses, and wandered toward the early-morning light that poured through the huge window. Heck, she deserved a treat too.

Without fail, at six-thirty, sinewy Terrance Zanderson jogged up the sidewalk, his scant shorts revealing magnificent masculine legs. With thigh muscles tight and bulging, he ran like an Olympic gold medallist. His long, tanned torso met with the nurses’ overwhelming approval, if their sighs were any indication. Taut abdominal muscles could be seen even from the second story distance. Strong, shapely deltoids rippled with each swing of his arm.

A pleasant memory came to mind of the month she’d actually dated Terrance last year. She’d been well set on her plans for motherhood by then, and hadn’t wanted anything to get in the way. And besides, his life had been way too hectic, with his pursuit of medical school while being the day supervisor of the Respiratory Therapy Department, and all his sports activities on top of that. After her last disastrous relationship, she’d expected more from a man than he’d been ready or able to give, and they’d parted amicably.

Aside from being a work of art, what moved Jaynie the most was Terrance’s flowing auburn-colored hair that barely kissed his shoulders. A shade or two lighter and he would nearly be a redhead, a personal favorite of hers. The clean-shaven, chiseled face, square jaw and predominant nose weren’t half bad either. She tamped down a warm, visceral response in her gut.

Why hadn’t she slept with him when she’d had the chance?

The man never let the nurses down. Just before he moved out of their sight and into the ER entrance of the hospital, he lifted a flawlessly sculpted arm and waved. The shameless, worshipful gaggle of pulmonary nurses erupted with squeals and giggles as they waved back. They didn’t care that he’d caught them gawking— again. Getting an eyeful of Terrance was worth the embarrassment.

Jaynie smiled.

“Back to work, ladies. Show’s over,” she said, straightening and smoothing her uniform maternity smock.

A long group sigh followed, then the women dispersed for one last cup of institution coffee prior to taking report for the day.

After completing the change-of-shift narcotics count, Jaynie hurried to the nursing lounge for a visit to the bathroom before beginning her day. Kim Lee scurried in on a breeze of fresh herbal shampoo, arriving a millisecond before the night shift reported off.

“What did you do to your hair?” Jaynie stood in mid-yawn with belly extended, hands resting at kidney level.

“I had it straightened,” Kim said.

“But you already have straight hair.”

Jaynie gaped at the board-straight, waist-length black tresses with electric blue chemically woven highlights. She thought about her own unruly brown curls that she battled each morning, most often settling for drawing them tightly back into an exploding ponytail. Her hand grazed her face; as usual, a few renegade ringlets had escaped.

Kim scooped her hair over her shoulder and began a quick braid with nimble fingers. “All the Asian girls are doing it.” When she’d finished, she twisted the hair into a bun and draped her fuchsia-colored stethoscope around her neck.

“If you say so.”

Jaynie took a quick breath and blew slowly between pursed lips. Another Braxton Hicks cramp grabbed her attention and held it for several seconds. She checked her watch. Only five minutes since the last one had occurred. Odd. She rubbed her hands around her bulging tummy as if it were a genie’s bottle, and ignored her discomfort by talking to her friend.

“So, how was your date with the pharmacist last night?”

Kim’s black almond-shaped eyes sparkled with delight. “Szechwan-hot, baby.”

Jaynie blurted a laugh, but when a sharp pain struck like lightning, she grabbed her friend’s arm. “Ouch!” It built… “Ouch, ouch!” …into a bona fide contraction.

Kim clutched Jaynie’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

Gasping, a typhoon of fear broke over her as water splattered down her legs onto the linoleum floor. “It’s too soon!”

Kim jumped to action, shouting commands. “Call Labor and Delivery,” she yelled to one of the nurses through the door, “Tell them we’re coming.” She rushed back to Jaynie’s side. “Where’s our wheelchair?” Panic punctuated each word. “I’m a pulmonary nurse,” the lithe R.N. emphasized as she scurried to the linen closet across the hall and grabbed a towel. “I don’t know anything about birthing babies.”

Jaynie longed to reassure her friend, but instead became distracted with increasing pain, and decided to work at reassuring herself.

I’ve read dozens of books. I can do this.

A wheelchair appeared from nowhere, and someone shoved it behind Jaynie’s knees. With the help of no less than six other hands, she eased herself down onto the plastic blue absorbent pad haphazardly placed on the seat.

“Don’t forget to breathe, Jaynie.” The calm voice of reason from an older nurse, who’d had several children, comforted her.

Piece of cake. Right.

She diligently repeated the 4/4 breathing rhythm she’d read about.

Kim popped a wheelie with the chair, avoiding the puddle on the floor, and raced toward the white-brick-walled corridor.

“Someone call Housekeeping!” Jaynie called over her shoulder, and pointed toward the mess. “I mean Environmental Services. So no one will slip and fall.”

“Don’t you dare have the baby in the elevator!” Kim’s eyes had doubled in size.

“How can I?” Jaynie said between breaths. “I haven’t gone to Lamaze classes yet!” A second wave of pain clued her in to the realization that she was in labor. “Something tells me I don’t have much control…”

For the first time in ages, Jaynie had to give in to a power much greater than her self-determination. Labor. Every aspect of her pregnancy had been plotted to a tee…but this. Nope, controlling the birth of her baby was definitely beyond her will of steel.

The obstetric nurses were ready the minute Jaynie rolled through the automatic doors.

“Hey, Nurse Winchester, what’s happ’nin’?”A friendly voice and smile from Latasha Hobbs greeted her. “Put her there,” she said to Kim, pointing to Room C on the Labor/Delivery/Recovery Ward. “We’ll take over from here.”

Kim followed the nurse’s order.

Quicker than Jaynie could say “Ouch!” the tall, lean woman removed her from the wheelchair, had her positioned on the bed, and checked her blood pressure and pulse. “You don’t look so big. How far along are you, hun?”

“Not quite twenty-eight weeks.”

Latasha scrunched her nose. “Kinda early. We better get an order for Terbutaline to ward off labor.”

Kim gave a reassuring grasp to Jaynie’s shoulder and whispered, “You’re going to be fine.”

“I know.” She faked a confident smile. “You go back to Pulmonary before they start paging you, okay?”

After squeezing her arm one last time, Kim hesitated, but left the bedside. She paused again at the door with a concerned look, and gave a delicate wave before disappearing. Jaynie hid her fear and waved back.

Another nurse, with broad shoulders, magenta-colored spiky hair, and a “been there, done that” confidence, appeared with an intravenous tray.

“You’re in luck,” Latasha said. “It’s slow today, so Nurse Martin is going to help out.”

“I’m Gail. I’ll start the IV,” the large woman said.

“Did your water break?” Latasha furrowed her brow the slightest bit.

“Just now, on the Pulmonary Ward.”

“Let me help you get undressed, Ms Mother-to-be.” Latasha spoke with a friendly voice that gave Jaynie a sense of comfort. She reached for Jaynie’s scrub top and removed it in record time. A pro at patient admission, with the intake sheet memorized, the nurse asked the necessary questions while assisting Jaynie. “Okay, Mommy, off with the bra and pants.”

Together, between contractions, they removed the soaked scrub pants and then her bra. Jaynie was normally modest, but the shock of being stripped naked in front of total strangers took a backseat to the more pressing business at hand. Labor!

Latasha threw an extra-large hospital gown over Jaynie. She moved efficiently and placed a long elastic strap behind her back, fastening it on top of her stomach. Jaynie jumped when the nurse squirted a cold glob of lubrication jelly onto her skin. Latasha positioned a fetal heart-rate dopler over the best spot, creating an immediate muffled, rhythmic thump-swish, thump-swish sound. The contraction-measuring device was placed snugly over the firmest portion of her abdomen.

“Here comes another one.” Latasha’s attention darted to the bedside machine graphing the movement of the contraction. The baby’s pulse accelerated with the mounting pressure from the tightened uterus. The graph looked like a small peaked mountain, and just above it danced the ragged pattern of the baby’s heart-rate, ranging from 140 to 160 beats per minute.

Latasha announced, “Looks like a healthy baby!” and smiled reassuringly at her—until she checked her temperature. “Low grade,” she commented. “Are you allergic to any antibiotics?”

“No,” Jaynie answered.

Gail went to work with a tourniquet and an intravenous catheter on Jaynie’s right arm.

“I’ve got better veins on the left side.” Ever the patient advocate, Jaynie spoke up for herself in mid-contraction. “Who-who-who,

“Always listen to the patient when it comes to veins,” Latasha reminded the other nurse. “You’d better draw some labs, while you’re at it. Forget the Terbutaline; looks like we’re going to labor her out.”

Gail screwed up her mouth, but undid the tourniquet and moved to the other side of the bed. Latasha gloved up and took a peek under Jaynie’s gown.

“The amniotic fluid looks clear, no sign of meconium. I’m going to take a group beta strep culture while I’m in the neighborhood. Are you registered here at Mercy Hospital for delivery?” she asked, while she swiped her perineum with a long cotton-tipped swab.

“Nope. I was planning on delivering at home with a midwife.” Jaynie felt a cold hand get up close and personal. She gasped, and thought that after all of the prenatal appointments she’d had, she should be used to it by now.

Latasha’s excited velvet-black eyes met Jaynie’s. “Get a move on, Gail, she’s completely effaced and—” she held up the three gloved fingers she’d used to measure the distance “—five centimeters dilated. Let’s have us a baby.”

Another contraction, only three minutes since the last, grabbed Jaynie’s undivided attention.

Gail pierced her skin with the intravenous needle. Jaynie gasped again. Small lab vials were quickly filled with blood.

“Make sure to get a type and crossmatch,” Latasha said to Gail. Glancing at Jaynie, she asked, “You want me to call the father?”

“There is no father,” Jaynie managed to say while concentrating on her breathing. She glimpsed the telling look in the nurses’ eyes.

Like everyone else, they’d jumped to conclusions. Well, it wasn’t like that for her. She hadn’t got knocked up and left behind. She’d walked away from her boyfriend of five years when she’d finally realized all he ever wanted was a lifetime girlfriend, never a wife. Two years ago she’d realized she wanted a family, and last year, at the age of thirty-four, had started making a plan on her own.

A two-part plan. The first part, to pad her bank account by working like a madwoman; the second, to waste no more time gambling on finding the right guy. She’d then meticulously researched sperm banks for the best possible gene pool, and that was what had led her to Mercy Hospital in Los Angeles: a world-class sperm bank at the medical university a short distance away.

There had been just one problem, though. She’d met, and become immediately attracted to, Terrance Zanderson. He’d definitely had possibilities, but something dark and deep in his eyes had alerted Jaynie that he’d never commit. And his schedule had been a killer. She hadn’t been able to compete with prerequisites for med school, or his avid love of rock climbing and extreme sports.

She was well aware that hospital gossip implicated him as the baby’s father. Let them think what they may. Her lips were sealed.

* * *

Swept up by the mounting pain, Jaynie only remembered bits and pieces from the frantic moments—or was it hours?—that followed. Gail hung a small piggyback bottle of antibiotics along with the intravenous fluid; a precaution since Jaynie’s water had broken and she had a low-grade temperature. Latasha scurried around preparing for the imminent birth, assembling basins and various clamps. In between, like a good nurse, she held Jaynie’s hand at the apex of her contractions, and periodically checked and measured her progress.

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