Read Sophie's Path Online

Authors: Catherine Lanigan

Sophie's Path

BOOK: Sophie's Path
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Her choice. His consequences.

Nurse Sophie Mattuchi has seen a lot of angry patients in the ER, but no one's ever rattled her like Jack Carter. He has no right to blame her for his friend's death. Sophie did everything she could. Didn't she? Yet his accusations sting, and that sets off all kinds of internal alarms. She's never cared this much about any man's opinion of her. But Jack is different. He stirs up feelings. Strong feelings. Guilt. Anger. Attraction. Curiosity. Sympathy. Sophie's definitely not interested in Jack, but even if she was, he'd never forgive her for the decision she made that night in the hospital. Would he?

In the blink of an eye, Jack had placed the people in his charge in jeopardy.

Now he had to face his darkest hour.

The air was split again with screams of human pain that Jack would never have imagined, even in his worst nightmares. He heard a man, a young man, yelling for help on the other side of the ER. Jack wanted to cover his ears, but even if he could have, he knew he would never forget that scream for the rest of his life. It was so terrifying it sounded inhuman.

But above it all, he heard the high-pitched wail of a young girl's terror that turned his blood to ice.

“That's Aleah!” Jack growled as tears burned his swollen and bruised eyes.

A voice came over the loudspeaker. “Code Blue. Code Blue. Dr. Barzonni to the ER, stat.”

Sophie glanced back at Jack with pleading eyes. “I want to help you, but I have to go to her.”

Jack reached out his aching arm and motioned her away. “Save her, Sophie. Save her.”

Dear Reader,

Since I first conjured the inhabitants of Indian Lake, Sophie Mattuchi was a favorite because she was so complicated, intense and an audacious flirt. If you read
Heart's Desire
, book two in the Shores of Indian Lake series, you will remember that Sophie was Maddie Strong's rival for Nate Barzonni. Sophie went so far as to lose eight pounds, cut her hair and bleach it to look more like Maddie. The ploy didn't work, of course, because Nate only had eyes for Maddie. Then in book three, Sophie tried flirting with Nate's brother, Gabe. That didn't work, either.

Sophie's infatuation with being infatuated, combined with her dedication to cardiac nursing, could only ignite fireworks when she meets handsome Jack Carter in the ER on the night of a devastating car accident. An accident caused by a man high on drugs.

The battle against drug addiction is being fought in far too many families. Mine is no exception. The challenges facing parents are agonizing and daunting. Sophie's empathy toward addicts captured me. If you are a parent, I urge you to go to
www.notmykid.org
and make use of their guidance. Stopping drug addiction before it starts for your children is the wise course.

Sophie's Path
also gave me an opportunity to peek back into the lives of some favorite characters in town: Mrs. Beabots, Sarah and Luke Bosworth and of course, Liz and Gabe Barzonni, who are about to give birth to their first child. Boy? Girl?

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Your comments have a strong influence on my upcoming stories. Visit me on Facebook, Twitter
@cathlanigan
, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads and my website,
www.catherinelanigan.com
.

Happy Reading!

Catherine

Sophie's Path

Catherine Lanigan

Catherine Lanigan
knew she was born
to storytelling at a very young age when she told stories to her younger
brothers and sister to entertain them. After years of encouragement from family
and high school teachers, Catherine was shocked and brokenhearted when her
freshman college creative-writing professor told her that she had “no writing
talent whatsoever” and that she would never earn a dime as a writer. He promised
her that he would be her crutches and get her through his demanding class with a
B grade so as not to destroy her high grade point average too much,
if
Catherine would promise never to write again.
Catherine assumed he was the voice of authority and gave in to the bargain.

For fourteen years she did not write until she was encouraged
by a television journalist to give her dream a shot. She wrote a
six-hundred-page historical romantic spy thriller set against World War I. The
journalist sent the manuscript to his agent, who then garnered bids from two
publishers. That was nearly forty published novels, nonfiction books and
anthologies ago.

Books by Catherine Lanigan

Harlequin Heartwarming

Fear of Falling

Katia's Promise

A Fine Year for Love

Heart's Desire

Love Shadows

MIRA Books

Dangerous Love

Elusive Love

Harlequin Desire

The Texan

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin
ebook!
Click here to Join Harlequin My Rewards
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This book is dedicated to my late husband, Jed Nolan, my hero, my best friend, my love.

Acknowledgments

The days and nights of writing this book were difficult and a struggle for me because my husband was dying of leukemia. Much of this manuscript was written in his hospital room and then the hospice room. My heart was breaking and my mind was often distracted, though I continued to write. The gratitude I have for my editor, Claire Caldwell, who was able to take my “compilation of sheets of paper” and be my pathfinder to the core of this story that we both knew was there under too much exposition, is as deep as the ocean. Thank you and bless you, Claire, for being all that you are for me.

And to Victoria Curran and Dianne Moggy for the heartfelt empathy you had and have for me. You have been my champions and I honor and cherish that.

A special hug to Rula Sinara, my Heartwarming blog partner and “sister” of the heart, who answered my midnight texts from Rush Hospital in Chicago. To Kate James, who listened and emailed endlessly to a woman she barely knew, but to whom she extended her friendship and caring. At the time, none of us knew the outcome, but you were all there offering hope.

Always, to Lissy Peace, my agent of over two decades, love and more love.

To ALL my Heartwarming author sisters who sent flowers, cards, phone calls, emails, text messages, each and every one of you saved my sanity and allowed my heart to begin to heal.

God bless you every one.

CHAPTER ONE

J
ACK
WAS
AT
the bottom of a dank, wet drainage tunnel. He smelled earth, rain and blood. It was dark and he couldn't see even a few inches in front of him. The ringing in his ears drowned out everything else. He felt as if there was something nibbling at his ankles. Rats? He hated rats. Just the thought of them made his stomach lurch. He tried to shake them off but couldn't move his legs. No, not rats. It was pain. Shooting, biting, sharp pain that now went careening up his calves.

His thoughts were confused and morphed into one another, creating a senseless universe. That was it, he reasoned. He'd been catapulted into some black hole. Floating. Spinning. Weightless.

And alone. Utterly, completely alone.

Except for the pain. The pain was his bedfellow. His traveling companion. It overtook his entire body now. His spine felt as if someone had shot it with molten steel. His skull pounded in agony. He couldn't open his eyes for fear that the tiniest beam of light would penetrate him like bullets.

Surely, he was dying.

This was what it was like at the end, he thought. Every cell in his body felt as if it had been shot with electricity strong enough to fry him to ash. No human could endure this kind of torture and live. No human would want to. This was the moment, that sliver of awareness that he was about to give up the ghost. And in his moment of choice, Jack knew it was okay to let go. Except for his sister and brother-in-law, he had no one. No wife. No children. No one would mourn him. He wouldn't be missed.

Then he heard a familiar male voice, though he couldn't place it.

“9-1-1? There's been an accident. Hurry. We're going to lose them!”

* * *

L
IKE
THE
HIGH
-
PITCHED
, irritating buzz of a mosquito, a voice reached into Jack's consciousness. Impossible as that was to accept, he struggled to figure out what it was saying.

“Jack? Can you hear me? Help is coming. Stay with me.”

Jack had expected to talk to an angel upon dying, but this was a man's voice. A young man who sounded vaguely like the new recruit he'd hired for his insurance agency, Owen Jacobs. Yes. His mind slowly ground into gear.

“Jack,” Owen said. “Can you hear the sirens? The cops are here. The ambulance, too. It's going to be okay.”

Jack didn't hear sirens. It took all his effort to listen to Owen's voice, which he was positive was coming to him from the other end of a tunnel. Jack wanted to answer Owen, but there was so much blood in his mouth, all he could do was choke, cough and spit. His tongue refused to obey his commands.

Now that he was a little more aware, though, his training kicked in. Apparently, even in his last minutes on earth, he was an insurance agent through and through. He wanted to know all the particulars. Where was he? What happened? Why was he paralyzed and in pain? And what was Owen doing here in this tunnel, if that's where they were? He wanted facts. Even if Owen was talking to him, Jack couldn't be sure he'd understood all the words. Each wave of pain smothered reality like a desert haboob that engulfs land, water and all living creatures. Jack's world now contained only himself and the pain. The incessant, unrelenting, excruciating pain.

For some reason he couldn't open his eyes. Something had glued them shut. He forced himself to listen, to make out even the faintest sounds, but Owen's voice had faded and all that was left were the surges of his pounding blood and rapidly beating heart. Mercifully, that one sound told him he was still alive. For the moment.

Just as Jack's mind was beginning to ease away the fuzzy edges of confusion, a searing, debilitating pain shot across his forehead, making him feel as if his eyes had just been scorched out of their sockets.

Everything went black. Jack was floating in the galaxies again.

* * *

S
OPHIE
M
ATTUCHI
HAD
a little over an hour before she began her weekend night shift as a cardiac nurse in the ER at Indian Lake Hospital. Sophie had signed on for the extra hours because the ER was shorthanded and because she saw the need. Sophie always saw the need.

Although it was an unusually foggy evening, she pulled on her running shoes, determined to fit in a run around the three-mile running trail that circled the lake. It had been a rainy and cold early June, and before that, she'd felt as if winter would never end after a record four-foot snow pack that stayed until late March. Still, she hadn't missed a single day's run since she'd taken up the sport two years ago to keep her weight under control and her mind off Louise Railton's extra creamy homemade ice creams. The city had installed LED street lights all along the trail that allowed fanatics like Sophie to run in just about any kind of weather.

Sophie had invested in the best running shoes, clothing and gadgets to track her fitness, and she'd downloaded motivational podcasts to listen to while she ran. There was nothing like starting her workdays or evenings with inspiring mantras to help her reinvent her life.

And these days, she was all about reinventing, restructuring, realigning and rebooting Sophie.

Ever since she'd kissed a very reluctant Scott Abbot in first grade, Sophie had been labeled the town flirt. For most of her life, she hadn't minded the moniker at all. She liked boys. A lot. She liked flirting and dating and being around men. She liked living in a man's world and she liked being as good as any man in her job. Sophie thought that men were more interesting than women, or at least she'd been telling herself that since high school because she'd never had many girlfriends. She was too busy dating two, three, four different guys in a single week. Sophie always took it upon herself to explore whatever world it was that her newest guy was into. Baseball, football, track, cars, boating, weight lifting. She didn't care. They liked her because she was “interested” and she loved their attention. The truth was that Sophie learned to be good friends—and often more—with all the guys she knew. They liked holding her hand and stealing kisses on the Tilt-A-Whirl at the county fair.

However, the moment anything started to get serious, Sophie moved on. It had been the only way to handle her life when she was in school. She'd been dead set on obtaining her degree, and nothing and no one could stand in her way.

When she graduated, she'd spent a year at a hospital in Grand Rapids then moved back in with her parents to help them with her aging grandmother. What Sophie thought was going to be a single summer at home while she applied to top hospitals in Chicago and Indianapolis had evolved into an entire year. One year had turned into five. Her biggest surprise had been landing her dream job with Dr. Caldwell and Nate Barzonni.

In all that time, Sophie's modus operandi for dealing with men never changed. She was an expert at getting a man's attention, but once she'd landed him, she threw him back. Catch and release.

Sophie had come to realize that her commitment phobia and the lighthearted, devil-may-care persona she put on for the world to see, was just flat boring. Like a hamster in a cage, she was spinning her wheels and getting nowhere with her life.

The problem was that in a small town where everyone knew everyone's business and had very long memories, her flirtatious ways had caused her to lose many people's respect. And that was unacceptable to her.

Sticking her earbuds in her ears, Sophie smiled to herself. She bent down to press her nose to her knees as she clasped the backs of her thighs. She'd made some real changes over the past year.

Running had become nirvana for her and for the first time she had the body she'd always wanted. These days when she got depressed, she headed for the lake trail instead of a dish of Louise's salted caramel and pecan ice cream. Her favorite store now was the organic farmer's market. She had stamina that she hadn't known before, and her weekend shifts at the ER, which could run as long as eighteen hours, didn't compromise her regular weekday workload helping Dr. Nate Barzonni with heart surgeries.

Despite all these changes, Sophie hadn't yet gotten a handle on love. She had no earthly idea how she'd overcome her bad habits, phobias and insecurities, but this was the year she'd start trying. Her self-help podcasts promised she could make it happen. She had to think differently and then she'd be able to make the right choices. She had to trust in the universe. Believe in the laws of attraction. Be the master of her own fate. Write her own script...

Her cell phone blared with an ambulance siren alert. It could only mean the ER was calling.

Sophie halted her run before it even started. She whipped the cell out of her shorts' pocket. “Mattuchi here.”

The excited woman's voice on the other end said, “How fast can you get here? We have a multiple-car accident on its way in from Highway 421. Possible DOA.”

“I'm there,” Sophie shouted into the phone, already sprinting toward her car.

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