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Authors: Joan Johnston

Johnston - Heartbeat

BOOK: Johnston - Heartbeat


A special thanks to all my readers
who are crossing over from
the historical and category genres
to try my mainstream contemporary novels.
To all of you, and to those of you
who are picking up one of my books
for the first time . . .


I want to thank those who gave of their time and expertise to help make
more authentic, including Texas Ranger Sergeant Rocky Wardlow (it sounds like I made him up, but that’s really his name), who told me what I needed to know about this elite force of lawmen; Aileen Staller, Clinical Coordinator for Neurosurgery at Memorial Regional Hospital, Hollywood, Florida, who helped me figure out the best way to murder someone in a hospital without getting caught; Jon Thogmartin, Associate Medical Examiner of Broward County, who explained how I could discover murder had been committed after all; Jerilyn O’Neil, Community Relations Director, Memorial Healthcare System, who put me in touch with all the right people; my friend and fellow attorney Michael Spain, at Fulbright & Jaworski in San Antonio, who was kind enough to point me toward his colleague, Louise Joy in Austin, an expert on Texas medical law; and Louise Joy, for sharing some of that knowledge with me.

A special thanks to my friend Billie Blake Bailey, of San Antonio, and to the Jay and Bethany Staples wedding party, who contributed invaluable “Texas tidbits.”

I am indebted to James Farmer, a friend in need, who reconfigured my 286 when it crashed and put in a new drive. I have a sentimental attachment to the old girl. She’s helped me write a lot of wonderful books.

Irresistible Invitation . . .

Jack was close enough that she got a whiff of his cologne, a spicy smell that made her think of pine trees and mountains. Texas Rangers didn’t wear uniforms, but unless they had on a western-cut suit—and she was beginning to wonder if Jack owned one—they stuck to buff or dark brown Wranglers, a white shirt, tie, light-colored Western hat, and cowboy boots.

Jack was wearing denim Levi’s, and he had skipped the tie and put on a fringed calfskin vest.

“How long have you been standing there?” she asked.

“Long enough to know I’m your date for the gala,” he said with a grin that crinkled his eyes at the corners and showed off the creases on either side of his mouth. “Will there be dancing?”

“Victoria insists on an orchestra,” she said, “but I don’t usually dance.”

“Don’t know how? Or haven’t had the right partner?” Jack asked.

“Of course I know.” Maggie was distressed at the way the teasing laughter in his eyes tied her up in knots.

“Dancing. Saturday. I know a good opportunity to hold you in my arms when I see it.”


The character of the Texas Ranger is well known by friend and foe . . . chivalrous, bold and impetuous in action, he is yet wary and calculating, always impatient of restraint, and sometimes unscrupulous and unmerciful. He is ununiformed, and undrilled, and performs his active duties thoroughly, but with little regard to order or system. He is an excellent rider and a dead shot. His arms are a rifle, Colt’s revolving pistol, and a knife.


Luther Giddings
Sketches of the Campaigns in
Northern Mexico by an Officer
of the First Ohio Volunteers,





Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Author’s Note

About the Author

Romances by Joan Johnston


About the Publisher


Jack had already looked through the folder once. He forced himself to open it again. Inside were autopsy photos of eight-year-old Laurel Morgan, who had died at San Antonio General Hospital.
Was murdered at San Antonio General,
he corrected. He turned the photograph facedown and picked up an aged newspaper clipping of an obituary.

DAWSON, Trevor Michael.
Died on Tuesday, April 1 at Dallas Memorial Hospital. Trevor was born prematurely and died when his heart failed after seventeen hours of life. Memorial services will be held at 2
Thursday at Parkland Baptist Church. Trevor is survived by his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Dawson.

Trevor Michael Dawson had barely had a chance to live before he died.
Before someone murdered him,
Jack amended.

He discarded the clipping and picked up the hospital records for Frances Petrocelli. Two year-old Frances had been poisoned by cleaning products from under her mother’s sink. She had been in a coma when her heart failed.
With a little help from someone at Houston Regional Medical Center.

Jack let the clipping fall onto the stack of papers on the coffee table and leaned back in the rocker his father had made for his mother once upon a time. He pressed his palms against weary eyes.

I don’t want to get involved in this,
he thought.

Jack was in the third day of a thirty-day administrative leave—sick leave, really. Only Jack wasn’t ill, just sick at heart. Somebody else would take the case if he didn’t. Somebody else could spend his nights dreaming of blank stares and stolen lives.

The face of a little girl with brown bangs and pigtails appeared before Jack. She wasn’t one of the victims in the folder in front of him. She was the reason he was on leave.

Jack felt his body begin to tremble. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, but she was still there with her frightened brown eyes, her clutching hands, the splash of blood on her dress.

Jack lurched from the rocker and headed for the kitchen. He didn’t stop there but pushed on through the back door. He was headed down the porch steps in the dark when something heavy landed on his shoulders. He started to struggle and realized what had happened when four sets of claws embedded in his back.

“Damn you, cat!” he growled. Jack sat down on the steps and hunched over to make it easier for the cat to get off of him. He felt the sting ease as the claws released his flesh, and the cat dropped heavily onto the wooden porch.

He turned to look at the monster that had been the only legacy his mother had left him. He’d thought it amusing the first time the cat dropped out of a tree onto his back.

“That isn’t funny anymore,” he announced to the cat.

The feline gave Jack a baleful stare, turned its back on him and, with its tail held high, stalked away.

The attack had accomplished at least one thing. It had taken Jack’s mind off the disaster that had started him wondering whether he wanted to continue being a lawman.

He dropped his head in his hands and sighed. He had to make up his mind whether or not he wanted to hunt down a serial killer. And while he was sitting here thinking, the primary suspect in the case was working at San Antonio General, maybe targeting his next victim.

Jack rose from the porch and headed inside. He found the phone under a stack of clothes in the living room and dialed a number. His heart began to beat like a butterfly caught in a glass jar, frantically, anxiously.

“Sorry to bother you so late,” he said. “I’ve decided to take the case.”

Chapter 1

Maggie was running late for her 8
meeting with the managing partner of Wainwright & Cobb. She had a good excuse for her tardiness, but Maggie knew better than to use it. Explaining, “I was helping out a friend—an associate traveling today on behalf of the firm—by dropping off her daughter at day care,” was only going to increase the old man’s ire. Porter Cobb expected to get what he wanted when he wanted it. No excuses.

As she headed up the elevator to the top floor of the Milam Building in downtown San Antonio, Maggie’s lips curved in a smile. She reached up to touch her cheek where three year-old Amy had exuberantly kissed her goodbye, leaving a slobbery wet spot. Amy had clung to Maggie for a brief moment before the day care attendant reached out to take her. Even though the child wasn’t hers, Maggie hadn’t wanted to let her go.

Lisa Hollander’s daughter had dark eyes as shiny as seed pods, a smile that lit up like a tin roof on a sunny day, and a cheerful personality to match. Maggie’s heart ached for what she was missing. How lovely to have a daughter like Amy. If only . . .

Maggie forced her mind away from the past. She’d had her chance for a family. Now she did what was necessary to get through each day. To give her life purpose she had dedicated herself to becoming the best—most empathetic, considerate, and kind, as well as legally competent—lawyer Wainwright & Cobb had ever had. Considering the bloodthirsty, cutthroat business she was in, that had been quite a challenge. It wasn’t always easy balancing what was ethically or morally right with what was legally allowed.

“Hello, Trudy,” Maggie said as she stepped off the elevator and passed the firm receptionist on the way to her office. “How’s the old man?”

“On a rampage,” Trudy whispered. “I’ve got orders to send you directly to his office when you arrive.”

“Call and tell Uncle Porter I’m on my way.” Maggie grinned and added, “The moment after I stop by my office to check my e-mail and see if MEDCO has left any messages.”

Trudy shook her head in disbelief at Maggie’s audacity, then picked up the phone and did as she was told.

Maggie knew that Trudy and the rest of the secretaries, associates, and partners at Wainwright & Cobb believed she had Porter Cobb wrapped around her little finger. It was true her late husband’s uncle tolerated a great deal of deviation from the norm where she was concerned. But Maggie knew their tenuous family relationship was not as much responsible for the respect Uncle Porter accorded her as her value to the firm as a rainmaker.

It was through her prior contacts that MEDCO, a huge conglomerate that operated at least a dozen hospitals in Texas, had become a client. Together with Lisa Hollander, Maggie did all of MEDCO’s corporate work and was counsel to the various hospitals in the system.

Recently, as Lisa Hollander had become a more experienced attorney, Maggie’s protegée had begun traveling to MEDCO’s hospitals to put out small legal fires. Lisa had flown out early that morning to attend a deposition at Dallas Memorial Hospital. Since Lisa’s husband, Roman—Chief of Staff at San Antonio General—had an early surgery scheduled, Maggie had taken Amy to day care to help them out.

As she entered her office on the southeast corner of the building, Maggie winced at the bright sunlight reflected through the picture window. She loved having a view of downtown San Antonio, but the sun was uncooperative in the morning. She let down the black Levelor blinds, shutting out the brilliant glare in favor of soft overhead lighting.

The computer where Maggie received her e-mail was in a small, private office adjoining the larger, interior-decorated-for-maximum authority office where she greeted clients. She actually spent a great deal more of her time in the smaller office than in the larger one. It didn’t have to be neat because no one saw it. And because no one else was allowed in it—even to clean—she kept some things there that had special meaning for her, but which she didn’t want to have to explain to curious colleagues.

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