Authors: Mary Lynn Baxter
As a devastating summer storm hits Grand Springs, Colorado, the next thirty-six hours will change the town and its residents forever….
At Vanderbilt Memorial’s E.R., the power goes out, casualties flood in and hospital staff must fight for lives in the dark.
Mayor Olivia Stuart has been rushed to the E.R. with a heart attack. Noah’s sister Randi is still AWOL from her own wedding, and Dr. Karen Sloane’s daughter is trapped by a mudslide. Working with Noah again is only bringing back a flood of regret for Amanda—feelings she doesn’t need since she’s engaged to Gordon. She’s starting to wish that Noah hadn’t come back to town at all, as her anger melts each time he smiles….
The story continues in
In the town of Grand Springs, Colorado, a devastating summer storm sets off a string of events that changes the lives of the residents forever….
Welcome to Harlequin’s exciting new digital serial, 36 Hours! In this thirty-six part serial share the stories of the residents of Grand Springs, Colorado, in the wake of a deadly storm.
With the power knocked out and mudslides washing over the roads, the town is plunged into darkness and the residents are forced to face their biggest fears—and find love against all odds.
Each week features a new story written by a variety of bestselling authors like Susan Mallery and Sharon Sala. The stories are published in three segments, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the first segment of every three-part book is free, so you can get caught up in the mystery and drama of Grand Springs. And you can get to know a new set of characters every week. You can read just one, but as the lives and stories of each intertwine in surprising ways, you’ll want to read them all!
Join Harlequin E every week as we bring you excitement, mystery, fun and romance in 36 Hours!
Director, Editorial Digital Initiatives
Mary Lynn Baxter has written over forty books. She is now retired, and instead of creating romance and mystery in her head, she reads others who do. Her love of reading has never diminished, nor has her love for working out at the gym. Her latest passion, however, is beading flatware in her home. While her life away from the computer is certainly different, it is nonetheless fulfilling.
Only hours into a natural disaster and Grand Springs, Colorado, is in chaos. No power, the roads are blocked and officials are warning residents to stay inside—but no one is listening. The staff at Vanderbilt Memorial are fighting to save patients as they continue to flow into the E.R. at an alarming rate. Even the mayor was brought in with a heart attack. Doctors Amanda Jennings and Noah Howell have always been a strong team, but that was the past. Working together again is only bringing back a flood of regret and broken dreams. Amanda is starting to wish that Noah hadn’t come back to town because her anger at his betrayal is slowly disappearing each time he smiles….
he Squaw Creek Lodge and its occupants seemed oblivious to the power outage and the severe weather—nonstop rain, thunder and lightning. Melissa Howell’s eyes circled the large room where the wedding reception was in full swing,
minus the bride and groom,
and she thought the rustic atmosphere would have been perfect.
Of course, it was
from perfect. Everything that could have gone wrong had, Melissa fumed, thinking this was one of the worst days of her life. The worst day had been when her husband, Albert, had died.
Her gaze stopped on the baby grand piano nestled in the corner near the never-ending windows that overlooked the grounds. In the pitch blackness, the beauty of the terraced lawn was lost, but then so was everything else.
After her son Noah had made the startling announcement that his sister Randi had disappeared, shock waves seemed to have rumbled through the small crowd. Melissa had prayed that the floor would open up and swallow her, but it hadn’t. She’d had to deal with not only Noah’s untimely desertion as he headed back to work at the hospital, but the entire situation at the lodge.
She’d squared her shoulders and walked down the endless aisle to the makeshift platform. Instantly, the room had fallen silent while all eyes focused on her. She’d felt like a freak on display in a circus tent, but she hadn’t let her feelings show.
“I’m sorry, dear friends, about the called-off wedding. However, with the weather being what it is, I’d like to encourage you to wait out the storm and enjoy the food and drink.”
She paused and waited until another surge of mutterings passed through the crowd, then ceased. Forcing a smile, she went on. “With the electricity out, the refreshments will be ruined. So please, join in and have a good time.”
Now, as Melissa perused the guests doing her bidding—dancing, laughing, eating and drinking while candlelight surrounded them in its lovely glow—she wanted to scream with frustration and worry.
While she knew she had to stay, she’d rather have been anywhere other than here. By the second, the situation was growing more intolerable.
Once the guests had begun to partake of the goodies and started mingling among themselves, Melissa was certain they were whispering about the situation, wondering what was really going on.
She’d like to have known that herself, especially after the lodge was searched thoroughly in hopes of finding Randi. Melissa had envisioned the worst-case scenarios, all of them terrible.
What if Randi had passed out somewhere and lay unconscious? After all, it wasn’t uncommon for brides to get the jitters to such an extent. She’d attended a wedding not long ago where the groom had passed out during the exchange of vows.
What if someone had hurt her? Melissa dismissed that possibility immediately. Who would do that? Every person in attendance was a friend of hers and Hal’s. Certainly none of the staff at the lodge would’ve harmed her, for crying out loud.
Why wouldn’t Randi answer her phone?
Too many things were amiss here. Not only was Randi missing, but so was Olivia, the groom’s mother, which Melissa thought was unforgivable, even with the weather being the way it was. She had braved the high water and made it to the lodge—Olivia could have, as well. The fact that Olivia was the mayor of Grand Springs, prominent and visible, and hadn’t shown up was another slap in the face.
Melissa turned and faced Patsy Fuller, Randi’s best friend and attendant. Patsy’s long face seemed even longer as she rubbed at her forehead, hidden behind a fringe of uneven brown bangs. Her too-long hair had the tendency to cover her dark eyes, hiding what she was thinking.
But at the moment, there was no hiding her thoughts. Anxiety and concern were mirrored in those eyes.
“Any word?” Melissa asked, hearing the unsteadiness in her own voice, something she abhorred. It made her feel vulnerable and unprotected, emotions she wasn’t used to. If only Albert hadn’t died on her. How dare he?
“Nothing,” Patsy said, her frown deepening. “I’m beside myself with worry, as I know you are.” She paused and sank her teeth into her lower lip. “Where could Randi have gone on a night like this?”
“I’ve asked myself that same question a hundred times.”
“What does Noah think?”
Melissa made an unladylike noise. “He doesn’t have a clue, either, but you noticed he went back to the hospital, which means he’s obviously not too worried.”
“Well, er, I’m sure there are a lot of emergencies due to the weather,” Patsy said in a lame tone.
Melissa knew she had put Randi’s friend on the spot, that she was uncomfortable with criticism of Noah. She didn’t care. Right now, she was
happy with her son for leaving her alone to cope with this bizarre and embarrassing debacle.
“I just wish I knew what had happened to her,” Melissa whined, at the same time fingering her perfectly coiffed hair.
Patsy played with the creases on her lavender silk dress, then peered up at Melissa. “Did Randi ever say anything to you about her feelings for Hal?”
Melissa stiffened. “What’s that supposed to mean? Noah hinted that their relationship might’ve had problems, which I don’t believe. Randi loved Hal and wanted to marry him. I’m convinced of that.”
“I’m not,” Patsy said, her tone blunt.
Melissa raised her eyebrows. “What are you saying?”
“I’m not going to betray Randi’s confidence, but I will say, in light of this situation, that she and Hal had their problems.”
Melissa pursed her lips. “Then why wasn’t I told?”
“I’m sure Randi didn’t want to upset you.”
“Upset me!” Melissa’s laugh was close to a squeal. “Now, that’s a joke. If this is an attack of cold feet, it’s unforgivable. I don’t like being blindsided, nor do I like being made a fool of.”
“I’m sure something terrible must’ve happened to make Randi run off.”
“Whatever it was, she’s inflicted cruel and unusual punishment on me.”
“It’s not about you,” Pasty mumbled.
“What’s that, dear?”
“I’m sorry,” Patsy said, her features pale and pinched. “I wish there was something I could do.”
“What about calling the police?”
“I thought of that. But they won’t do anything until she’s been missing for at least twenty-four hours.”
“Which is oftentimes too late.”
“I agree, and on a night like this, emergencies are taking all the police manpower. Almost every road is flooded, and with the nonstop rain, there are continual mudslides—the downside to living in Colorado.”
Melissa couldn’t argue with that, aware that the police weren’t going to give her missing daughter a thought, until…She wouldn’t think about that. She couldn’t. The idea of anything seriously befalling Randi didn’t bear thinking about. At the same time, she wanted to strangle her for pulling this stunt.
She swung around and faced Alex Bennett, who was a close and longtime friend of Noah’s. He was tall and powerful-looking with his polished, professional demeanor. He had always been rather imposing to Melissa, but she liked that in a man. He seemed to know what he wanted and went after it. He was a very successful oil tycoon.
“Is Noah still around?” he asked.
“No, he had to go back to the hospital.”
“What about Hal?”
“Come to think about it,” Melissa said, feeling a frown coming on but refusing to give in to it for fear of adding wrinkles, “I haven’t seen him, either.”
“No one has.”
Melissa gave him an incredulous look. “You mean he’s disappeared, as well?”
“Todd, his best man, said as much.”
“Now that you mentioned it,” Patsy put in, “I haven’t noticed him myself.”
“I thought maybe he was simply avoiding me because of what Randi did,” Melissa said in a taut voice.
Alex fingered the knot on his tie. “I have my doubts about that. Since he’s not around, everyone’s assuming he’s looking for Randi.”
Melissa sighed. “If that’s where he is, then let’s hope he finds her.”
“Oh, I think that’s a given,” Alex said. “Soon we’ll all be laughing about this.” Leaning over, he pecked Melissa on the cheek. “Give my best to Noah. Meanwhile, you hang tough. Randi’s going to be just fine. I’m convinced of that.”
Melissa smiled for the first time in a long while, lapping up his encouragement and positive outlook. “Thanks. I hope you’re right.”
Alex nodded at Patsy, then strolled off.
“Is there anything you want me to do?” Patsy asked, shattering the short, terse silence.
“I wish I knew what to do other than stand here like a fool and wait.”
Patsy visibly winced. “You want me to try and call Noah? He’ll want to know there’s no news yet.”
“You probably couldn’t reach him. He’s too busy doing his own thing. Leave him be.”
“I’m going to see if I can find Hal, okay? Then we’ll go from there.”
“You’re a dear,” Melissa said, fighting back unwanted tears. “Thanks for standing by me.”
“No problem. Randi’s my dearest friend, and I’m awfully concerned. This is just not like her.”
“No, it isn’t. I didn’t raise her to be so thoughtless.” Melissa sniffed, then reached into her purse for a handkerchief.
Patsy squeezed her left hand before turning and walking away. Melissa wished she had the nerve to circulate, to visit with her friends. But she was far too fragile emotionally to endure their pity and their questions, questions to which she had no answers.
Damn you, Randi! Where on earth are you?
And Noah. She wasn’t through with him, not by a long shot. He wouldn’t get away with his treatment of her. She’d make him pay for leaving her alone.
Melissa glanced at her watch. It seemed as if hours had passed when in reality it had only been two. Still, there were no signs of anything changing.
She curled her long, expertly manicured nails into her palms and squeezed, grateful for the pain. At least it proved she wasn’t totally numb.
But how much longer was this nightmare going to last? She didn’t know if she could continue to endure the strain.
Why, Randi, why?
* * *
“Come on, Olivia!”
“We’re losing her, Doctor,” Amanda Jennings said, watching from afar as Noah Howell zapped the mayor with yet another round of electric current.
“I know that, dammit!” Noah’s face was drenched in sweat.
“Wipe his brow, Liz,” Amanda said to the nurse.
Liz Roberts did as she was told, then Noah swung himself away from the stretcher.
“Is she going to make it?” Dr. Sloane asked, her gaze jockeying back and forth between Noah and Amanda.
“Let us pray,” Amanda said, her eyes on Olivia. “This is a severe heart attack.”
It was in that moment that she saw the mayor’s lips trying to move. Noah was aware of it, too, she realized, because he bent over Olivia at the same time she did.
In fact, Noah was so close now, Amanda could smell the erotic mixture of sweat and cologne. Mentally, she berated herself for noticing.
He’s your past, not your future.
“She’s moving her lips,” Noah said urgently. “She’s trying to say something.”
Amanda pushed her hair back and leaned even closer. “What is it, Olivia?”
Seconds passed and there was no response. Amanda’s hopes that the mayor would actually speak were dashed. Then Olivia opened her lips again along with her eyes.
Amanda heard Noah’s breathing quicken. “Olivia, what is it? Please, tell us.”
Olivia’s mouth opened and closed while she gasped for breath. “Coal,” she finally whispered.
“What—” Further words dried up in Amanda’s throat as Olivia’s eyes rolled back and her head slumped to the side.
All other eyes darted once again to the monitor. A straight line stared back at them.
“She’s gone,” Noah said in a tight, emotionless voice. He then looked at the clock and added, “Time of death, 9:31 p.m.”
Silence filled the room as the team stepped back and pulled off their masks and gloves.
“Did she say what I think she said?” Liz Roberts asked, the first to speak.
“‘Coal’ is what I understood,” Amanda said, fighting the angry, helpless feeling that always followed the loss of a patient.
“Same here,” Noah added.
Amanda felt his eyes on her, but she refused to acknowledge him. She just wanted to be alone to come to grips with this latest turn of events.
“Do you think she was talking about the strip-mining fight she was involved in?” Dr. Sloane asked.
“Beats me,” Noah said.
Amanda rubbed the back of her neck. “That’s certainly possible. It was no secret how she despised what was happening to our surrounding beauty and how she fought both the unions and the mining companies. She gave them hell.”
And hooray for her, Amanda thought. She, too, despised what strip-mining had done to the area. The smell and presence of sulphuric acid polluted the mountain streams. Land that was once rich and full was now brown, barren and ugly.
Yet she found it hard to believe that strip-mining would be on Olivia’s mind as she lay dying. Amanda spoke that thought out loud, but no one had an answer.
“Cause of death?” Amanda asked into the building silence, forcing herself to look at Noah.
“I’ll notify her family.” Amanda walked to the huge swinging doors and was about to push them open when she felt Noah’s presence.
“Want me to do that?”
“No. But thanks, anyway.”
“Not now, Noah.” Not ever, she wanted to add, but didn’t. How was she going to do her job now that he was back?
“I want to help.”
She stopped and turned around. “You’ve already done all you can.”
“I’m going to my office,” she said, cutting him off.
He would’ve argued if she’d given him the chance, but she hadn’t. She headed down the hall and didn’t stop until she reached her domain.
Once seated, her eyes went to her phone. For a second it seemed to taunt her. God, she hated to make this call, but that was part of her job.
Doctors couldn’t save everyone, no matter how hard they tried.