The Road Back Home

Part 26-28

by Lynne Norris

 

Disclaimers: See Part One


 

Chapter Twenty-Six




Sandy pushed the privacy curtain aside and stepped into the exam booth. “Alex, when you're done here, there's a fifty year old in room two with bronchitis.”

Alex finished stitching the laceration on her patient's forehead and then looked over at the nurse. “Have Jon take it. I'm already late.”

Sandy held the chart out to Alex. “He's tied up with a trauma in room three.”

“Then page a resident,” Alex replied curtly.

Sandy raised her eyebrows. “You got a hot date or something?”

Alex gave her a dour look and flicked her gloves into the trashcan beside the stretcher. “Or something.”

“Ooh, you're touchy today. What's up?”

Alex ignored the comment and walked past the blonde haired nurse. “Did you work a double shift last night or did you actually go home and talk with Tina?”

Sandy kicked the toe of her sneaker against the floor and wrinkled her nose. “I went home, late. She was already asleep.”

Alex stopped at the sink and stepped on the floor pedal. Tepid water ran over her hands and she washed them under the stream. “Sandy, you two have been together too long not to be able to work this out.”

The nurse leaned against the wall and folded her arms over her chest. “Alex, we want different things.”

“People want different things all the time. Do you still love her?” Alex glanced at Sandy as she dried her hands.

Sandy leaned closer, as a patient was wheeled past them. “What kind of a question is that? Of course I love her.”

“Then isn't it worth staying together?” Alex turned and walked toward the locker room.

“Alex, it's not that simple.” Sandy stormed after her. “Who are you to ask me anyway?”

“A friend.” Alex opened the door and walked inside.

Sandy followed and waited for the door to shut behind her. “Like you you've got some great track record with relationships.”

“You're right. I don't.” Alex removed the lock from her locker door and then leaned against it. “I know I've got a long way to go to learn about loving another person. Regina and I don't always see eye to eye but you know what? She challenges the hell out of me. She's forced me to change and grow and not to run away because that's the easy thing to do.”

Sandy folded her arms and glared at the doctor. “Since when did you turn into a damn philosopher?”

“Because a month ago I had a choice to make about my relationship with Regina.” Alex stripped off her clothes and changed into her pants and sweater while she talked. “It was a pretty simple decision when I thought about it. Work it out and stay together or give up the best thing I have in my life and for what?”

Sandy threw up her hands. “You're right she is rubbing off on you.”

Alex smiled as Sandy turned and opened the door. “Go home and talk to Tina. Don't throw it all away.”

Ten minutes later Alex slipped unseen out of the Emergency Department and walked to her Jeep. While she pulled out of the parking lot, she started to review the information she needed to get for Matthew's investigation. Alex guided her Jeep through the early rush hour traffic. She uttered a curse and hit the brake pedal as an oversized sport utility vehicle abruptly changed lanes nearly clipping her front bumper.

She rolled to a stop at a red light, watching the offending vehicle speed off down the road. So tonight I get a chance to trade information for my freedom. Ironic, what I found out may put someone else away. I wonder how Regina feels about that.

Her expression changed to one of pensiveness as she saw the jewelry store she had been to with Regina. She recalled the promise she made to Regina not to long ago while they were up on the Cape and a wistful smile crept over her face.

As the light turned green, Alex flicked her blinker on and pulled into an open parking space across from the storefront. She folded her arms over the steering wheel and rested her head on them. I must be crazy. I don't even know what's going to happen tonight.

She snorted derisively and shook her head, knowing full well that she should have been going to the clinic to meet Matthew Weber. Alex lifted her head and blinked to refocus her vision. She watched as a group of teenagers ran across the intersection.

Alex rubbed her face with her hands and finally got up the nerve to step out of the Jeep.
She waited beside the Jeep as a small, compact Toyota sped by her and raced through the yellow light in the intersection barely missing one of the kids. Must be a full moon. Several angry shouts erupted and the closest teen graced the driver with a universal hand signal.

Alex watched the group congregate on the corner, still angry at the recklessness of the driver. First there are diapers, then, they go through the terrible-two's and then the dreaded teenage years. She shuddered at the thought.

She cast a cursory glance in either direction of the street, stuffed her hands into her coat pockets, and trotted across the street. Alex shook her head in mild disbelief at herself when she finally stepped into the store. My god, am I really going to do this? Alex almost spun on her heel and left in that instant.

“Hello there.” A warm cheerful voice called out from behind the counter.

Alex recognized the older gentleman who sold Regina the necklace for her mother's birthday the last time they were in the store. “Hi.” She stepped closer and glanced down at the glass cases.

“Can I help you find something?” the jeweler asked, as he moved closer to her.

Unused to feeling so unbalanced, Alex stammered as she fumbled with her words. “The last time I was here, there was a ring, downstairs.”

The older man's blue eyes twinkled as he watched the dark-haired woman. “I remember you and your fair haired friend. It was a Celtic design the young lady fancied.”

Alex stared at him as her heart bounded in her chest. “I'd like to see the ring if you still have it.”

A gentle smile touched the man's lips and he moved from behind the counter. “Certainly. Come, I'll show you.”

Alex followed him down the carpeted steps as her mind raced in half a dozen different directions. I must be half crazy out of mind. She wants to have a baby.

The jeweler looked over his shoulder as he swept back the heavy velvet curtain and stepped into his small back workroom filled with the tools of his trade. “Every now and then there's a piece that comes into the store that is just waiting for the right person to come along.”

Slowly, he knelt in front of a safe, and spun the dial several times and then opened the door. “Now, it may look a bit different from the last time you saw it.”

Alex frowned as she watched him pull out a black box and slowly straighten up. “I don't understand.”

He set the box on the table and turned to her. “The vines that form the bands of the ring signify the never ending circle of our lives and the ones we love.” He opened the box and slipped the gold ring from its velvet nest.

Alex's eyes widened as she studied it. Perfectly imbedded into the smooth intertwining bands were three, sparkling diamond chips nestled into the spaces where the vines curved around each other. “It's stunning.”

The jeweler beamed as he turned the band around for her to see.

Alex brushed her palms on her coat. “Can I?” she asked, reaching for the ring.

He nodded and placed it in the palm of her hand. “What's your name? If you don't mind me asking.”

Alex glanced at him from beneath her bangs. “Alex Margulies.”

“I'm Vincent Falco.”

“How long have you owned the store?”

“It's been in the family for fifty years. I've worked here for the last thirty.”

“So why did you hold onto this ring?”

Joseph chuckled at the quizzical look on Alex's face. “After working in the business this long, I can see when two people are in love with each other.”

A shiver ran up Alex's spine and she stared down at the ring. She swallowed nervously, feeling suddenly like all the air had gone out of the room. “It does make everything else seem pretty insignificant.”

“It's the reason why we're here on the planet.”

Alex laughed and looked back down at the ring. “Can you clean it up so I can take it with me tonight?”

“I certainly can.”

******

It was five o'clock by the time Alex arrived at the clinic. Alex opened the door and stepped out of the Jeep. She pulled her dry cleaned suit out of the back and walked up the concrete steps. Alex stopped on the landing and looked up at the sky. I'm not very good at this God. I'm not even sure I know how to do this or if you're listening up there. If you are, please let this work out tonight.

She entered the front entrance and smiled when a door opened to her right and Regina stepped into the hallway. When their eyes met, a feeling she couldn't even describe settled deep inside her and she stood where she was until Regina walked up to her.

“Hey. Where have you been?” Regina clasped her hand over Alex's arm and pulled her closer as they walked over to the reception desk.

Alex's eyes darted nervously over Regina's face as she leaned against the counter top.
“I had a couple of errands to run.”

Regina frowned and rubbed her arm. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I'm fine.” She moistened her lips and forced a smile, despite the nervous flutter she felt in her guts. “Is Matthew here yet?”

The younger woman nodded and pointed toward the back of the clinic. “He's in the back room with all his high-tech gear. You better go back because I'm going to have to cause bodily harm to him the next time he comes out and asks me if you're here yet.”

An evil smile appeared on Alex's lips and she leaned closer to the Regina. “Now that I'd like to see.”

“I bet you would.”

“There you are. You were supposed to be here a half hour ago,” Matthew called out and flung his arms up in agitation as he walked towards the pair.

Alex met Regina's gaze and rolled her eyes. “Come back when you're done out here.”

“You bet I will.” Regina reached out with her hand and touched a wisp of Alex's hair before she walked away.

Halfway down the hallway, Alex turned back around and held Regina's gaze for a moment. She pointed to herself, then placed a hand over her heart and pointed at Regina.

Regina hugged her arms around herself as a warm tingle ran up her spine and mouthed the words 'I love you' back to Alex.

Behind her, a door opened and her patient, six-year old girl with straight brown hair and gentle brown eyes walked out, clutching a teddy bear in one hand. An older, grizzled looking man shuffled along next to her, holding the girl's hand.

“Thank you,” he rasped and nodded at Regina as he walked past her.

Regina grabbed a prescription pad from the counter. “Here let me get the door for you.” She jogged across the room and pushed the door open. “Don't forget this.” Regina tore a page from the stack of bound paper.

The man reached out and took the piece of paper. “Thank you, doctor. Say goodbye, Becky.”

Regina waved as the girl forced a smile and then ducked her head against her grandfather's leg. “Remember to have her take the pills with food.” She stood on the landing and watched as the pair walked down the steps.

The man hunched forward against the breeze that stirred up around them. He directed the young girl ahead of him as he walked along the sidewalk. Regina watched them disappear into the dark before she stepped back into the clinic and shut the door.

After filing her charts away and locking the cabinet she walked to the back of the clinic. She knocked lightly on the closed door, waiting until she heard the sharp acknowledgement from inside to open the door.

Regina stepped into the stark white room and stood off to the side, watching quietly as Matthew went about his work.

Inside, Alex sat on a treatment table half dressed in her black linen pants and bra. Next to her on the table was an open briefcase with several small devices sitting inside, which looked similar to the pagers they used for work. The doctor's face was set in a stern and somber expression as she allowed Matthew to tape the wire to her skin.

“Um, I…” He motioned with his hand where he needed to tape the final length and Alex rolled her eyes.

“Here,” she grumbled and grabbed the wire from him. She slid it up underneath her bra and affixed it between her cleavage with a piece of tape. “Good enough?” She glared at him from beneath furrowed brows.

“Yeah.” Matthew averted his eyes and fiddled with two of the devices in his briefcase. “You, um, have quite a scar there.”

“Gee, thanks.” Alex leaned toward him. “Would you like one too?”

Matthew startled at the ominous tone her voice and his body stiffened. “I'm sorry. I just meant…” his voice trailed off as he met Alex's stony gaze. He decided it was better not to pursue his present course and instead went back to studying the receivers in the briefcase.

He selected one and inserted the lead hanging at Alex's side. “You don't need to do anything special when you talk. This little microphone can magnify your voice to ten times its normal volume so I'll be able to hear you from the car.” He cleared his throat and stuffed his hands into his pocket. “You know what information I need you to get.”

Alex picked up the small, black instrument, looked at it for a second, and then clipped it to her belt. “Did you talk to the District Attorney?” She boosted herself off the table with her arms, flexing well-toned muscles that despite the two and a half months of little exercise still maintained some of their sleek definition.

“I spoke to him yesterday and they're willing to make a deal based on the information you get for the investigation.”

“What's the deal?”

“They would agree not to bring any charges against you.”

Regina tilted her head and watched as Alex slipped her high-collared shirt on and started to button it. She pushed off the wall and approached her. “Can we have a few minutes together?”

Matthew glanced at his watch and started to protest.

“Alone,” Alex growled as she pinned Matthew with her eyes.

“Uh, sure. I'll meet you outside.” He grabbed his briefcase and closed it, then, ducked out of the room and shut the door behind him.

“You didn't tell me you were wearing a tux to this thing.” Regina ran her fingers over the black three-quarter-length coat and smiled up at Alex.

“Well, it is a formal affair.” Alex finished working on her cuff links and glanced at Regina. “You didn't honestly think I'd be wearing an evening gown.”

The younger doctor wrinkled her nose and pretended to think about that. “Uh, no, but then again you'd look incredible no matter what you had on.”

Alex raised both her eyebrows and pointed at the tiny microphone. “I'm quite sure the he's already listening.”

Regina rolled her eyes and stepped closer. “I don't give a crap. I hate that he manipulated you into doing this.” She tugged on the tails of Alex's shirt and kissed her lightly on the lips.



Alex sighed and rested her chin on the top of Regina's head. “I got myself into this, Regina.” She stared at a crack in the floor, thinking about how one moment in a person's life could change it all forever. “It's just…I have a chance to change something that can ruin the rest of my life and everything I care about.” Alex lifted her eyes and looked at Regina. “I don't want my past ruining what we could have together.”

Regina tilted her head up and smiled sadly. “Come here. I want to give you a hug, but I don't want to get your shirt all wrinkled. You'll get to this stupid cocktail party and everyone will be wondering what you were doing and with who.”

Alex snorted and stifled a laugh. “Or I could just bring you and there'd be no question.”

“You're bad.” Regina undid several buttons and slipped her arms inside. “Mm, that's better.” She nestled her head against Alex's shoulder and hugged her tightly.

Alex closed her eyes and slowly wrapped her arms around Regina. “You okay?”

“I'll be better when you're back home safe, with me tonight.” Regina lifted her head when she heard a muffled cough from the other side of the door. Her lip curled and she pinched the top of the microphone with her fingers. “Do you think he'll hear this?” She flicked her middle finger hard against the tip.

“Ow! Shit, dammit! What did you do that for?” Matthew's aggrieved voice filtered through the closed door.

Alex tilted her head back and her body shook as she laughed. “Excuse me, one second.” She slipped from Regina's grasp and opened the door.

Matthew was leaning against the wall, still rubbing one ear as she descended upon him. He shrank away from her as she invaded his space and towered over him. “Listen you little shit. You pull another stunt like that and I'll shove this receiver so far up your ass you'll be able to pull it out your throat. Turn it off and get lost.”

He fumbled with the device for a few seconds. “Okay, it's off,” he whined and then slunk past her along the wall towards the front door.

“Stupid piece of…” Regina's hand clamped over Alex's mouth as the taller woman turned around.

“I think you just scared the crap out of him.”

Alex stared at Regina and then nibbled at the palm of her hand.

“Brat.” Regina poked her in the stomach and then backed up as the taller woman's eyes glinted with a predatory gleam.

“Come here.”

Regina yelped and half-heartedly skipped back a couple of steps as Alex playfully advanced on her. The next step brought her back up against a wall and she found herself pinned against it with Alex's outstretched arms on either side of her head.

She stared into eyes that seemed more gray than blue in the fluorescent light. Regina watched the corners of Alex's lips twitch into a smile and then felt the soft touch of strong fingers running through her hair.

“What are you going to do while I'm gone?”

“Mm.” Regina pressed into the caress that enveloped her senses. “I um,” she cleared her throat and continued. “I've got some paperwork to finish up here.” She heard Alex exhale.

“Don't stay here too long by yourself. Okay?”

“I won't.” Regina wrapped her arms around Alex's waist and pulled her close. “Please be careful tonight.”

“I will be.” Alex ducked her head and pressed her lips against Regina's in a slow, gentle kiss. When she pulled away she kept her eyes closed while she savored the gentle strength of Regina's arms and the warmth of their bodies where they touched. “Regina,” she whispered and opened her eyes.

“What?” Regina started to re-button Alex's shirt from the bottom up.

“I love you.”

She stopped what she was doing, rose up on her toes, and kissed Alex's lips. “I love you, too.”






Chapter Twenty-Seven



After Alex left the clinic, Regina locked the front door and walked back to her desk. She settled down into a chair, dragged the top chart off the pile in front of her, and opened it. She scanned over the hastily scrawled notes and then rubbed a hand over her weary eyes.

“I wish I could do something to help Alex. I feel so useless sitting here, just waiting.”
With a pensive sigh, she started to write the remainder of her notes for the patients she treated throughout the day.

An hour later, after working her way through half the pile, Regina leaned back in her chair, yawned and stretched her arms over her head. A sound from outside startled her and she twisted in her chair.

“What in the hell was that?”

At first, she attributed it to a loose shutter being rattled by the wind. Then, it came again, and this time, she realized the short, staccato like, high-pitched noise was a dog's frantic barking. The young doctor looked briefly at the pile of paperwork and stood up. She grabbed a flashlight from behind the counter and then lifted her coat off from behind the door.

Regina slipped her jacket on as she unlocked the front door. At the top of the steps, she zipped up her coat while soft gusts of air crystallized into a misty cloud in front of her with each breath.

Across the street, at the firehouse she made out the silhouette of the German Shepard, dancing around in a circle as he barked.

Regina trotted down the steps, glanced up and down the street, and waited for a break in the traffic. When the line of cars finally broke she darted across the road.

“Hey, Lucky. What's wrong?” She called out as she approached the distressed animal. “Did the guys leave you here all alone?” Both rigs were gone and her voice echoed off the concrete walls of the firehouse.

Regina ruffled the coarse hair on the German Shepard's neck and the dog whined softly as he strained against the length of rope that was tied to a bolt in the concrete wall. “It's okay, boy. They'll be back.”

A burst of deep guttural barks startled Regina and her eyes darted around looking for the source of the dog's agitation. “What's got you so upset tonight?” Before she could react, the dog lunged furiously against the leash that restrained him.

“Lucky, stop.” She tried to mimic Todd's stern tone with the dog. A frustrated whine and high-pitched bark answered her.

The powerful dog lunged repeatedly toward the open door. Suddenly, the rope pulled taught and snapped. Lucky bolted into the street, darting in front of an oncoming car and just barely avoided being struck.

Regina took her hand away from her mouth and shook her head in relief. “That was too close.”

Across the street, Lucky lowered his head to the ground and sniffed frantically all along the sidewalk in front of the warehouse. He barked several times and then trotted into the alleyway on the side of the clinic.

Regina ran across the street and called the dog's name. “Oh this is just stupid,” she chastised herself as she halted in front of the dark opening that led between the two buildings. “What am I chasing after him for? He's not my dog.”

She heard another bark and the sound of scamper of large paws running on the concrete grew louder. Regina yelped as the dog's form took shape as he emerged from the shadows.

“This is a fine time for you to decide to play games. Come here.” She reached out to grab his collar but the dog ducked and pranced away from her. Regina glanced back up at the clinic, briefly giving a thought to the paperwork she had left on her desk. “Maybe I can coax you inside.”

She backed away several steps. Lucky tilted his head and cocked his ears at her. He whined and shook his large head obstinately, then barked several times as he backed away.

“What are you trying to tell me?” Regina turned on the flashlight and swept the beam over the alleyway before she tentatively stepped forward. She felt something gooey squish beneath her shoe and she shivered involuntarily. “Yuck. I don't even want to know what that was.”

As she approached the dog, he wagged his tail and danced closer to a stairwell that took shape as her eyes adjusted to the dark. “What is it, Lucky?” She grasped the cold, metal rail and felt a shiver run up her spine as she looked down the dark, forbidding steps.

Lucky turned and trotted to the end of the alley and disappeared around the corner.

Regina shook her head and cautiously followed after the dog. She turned the corner and flashed the beam of light on Lucky in time to see him worming his way underneath the partially opened garage door.

Regina shivered and looked around her. A large garbage dumpster stood in a far corner of the empty lot and garbage littered the ground.

She walked over to the loading dock and boosted herself up onto the concrete ledge. Regina peered under the door and shined the beam of light inside. Two eerie golden orbs reflected back at her from several feet away and she heard the dog whine. She shifted the beam of light and a startled cry escaped from her lips.

Two dirty bare feet stuck out from behind a crate.

“Hello, can you hear me?” She called out but got no reaction.

Regina struggled to lift the door up. It budged several inches and then stuck solidly in its track. Next, she sat back on her heels, pulled out her cell phone, and flipped it open. She dialed several times and then ran her hand nervously through her hair. “Damn, it figures I can't get a connection from here.”

She peered back under the narrow opening and then lowered herself onto her stomach. It took several minutes but Regina finally managed to squirm her way under narrow opening.

A dank, musty odor assaulted her senses and she wrinkled her nose in revulsion. “Gross.”

She pushed herself up onto her hands in knees and was immediately welcomed by Lucky's warm, wet tongue. “I know, I know. You're a good boy.” She pushed him away and then shined the beam of the flashlight around her. After a few minutes of searching, found a row of light switches on one of the walls.

She flipped the switches and was relieved when several rows of fluorescent lights flickered on overhead. Regina exhaled nervously and walked back to where she saw the pair of feet sticking out from between several crates.

Regina looked down and let out a startled cry. “Jesus, how did you get here?” She dropped to her knees, reached down, and felt for a pulse. “Thank god, you're still alive.” Regina cradled the boy's face in her hands. “TJ wake up. Come on sweetheart open your eyes for me.”

The boy stirred and mumbled incoherently for a moment. Suddenly, his limbs thrashed and his eyes rolled back in their sockets. Regina stripped out of her coat and bundled it beneath TJ's head. She leaned against one of the boxes and pushed it several inches away, then, did the same with several others.

Lucky whined and lowered his head as he hunkered down next to the boy.

Regina rolled TJ onto his side and waited for what seemed an eternity until the seizure passed and the boy lay quietly on the ground.

*******

Alex walked around to the back of her Jeep and dropped her keys into the hands of the young valet attendant. A low rumble caught her attention and she quickly jumped back onto the sidewalk just as a candy, red Porsche rolled to a stop right where she had been standing a second before. The driver side door opened and a tall, lithe man with wavy, salt and pepper hair stepped out.

“Where'd you learn how to drive?” Alex glared at him in contempt.

“What are you worrying about, I didn't hit your old relic,” he replied with a sneer. With negligent grace, he tossed his keys at the same valet and walked away with his coat tails flourishing out behind him.

Alex forced a smile as she looked up at the sky and then over at the attendant. “There's a nice piece of open road over on Valley Drive. You should be able to open it up all the way.”

Dark eyes met hers and laughter rung in the air as the valet tossed the Porsche keys in his hand. “Indeed it is, ma'am.”

Alex clapped him on the shoulder and then walked across the circular drive. “Could they have picked anyplace more ostentatious?” Her eyes roamed over the dramatically lit main entrance that was flanked on either side by two life-size, marble statues carved in the likenesses of Greek water bearers. Water bubbled over from their fluted openings and flowed into the pools that were their bases.

Alex opened the door and was immediately blasted with a gust of hot, dry air from the overhead vents as she walked through the entryway.

She slipped out of her long, black leather coat and draped it over the wooden half door of the coatroom where an attendant handed her a ticket in exchange for her coat.

Around her, the noise level rose as a number of medical staff continued to arrive in small groups. Alex walked through the growing crowd toward the large ballroom that was reserved for the evening's function. Strains of dinner music filtered from over-sized speakers at the other end of the hall.

The thought of eating, smiling and fraternizing with Cassandra and her cronies all night nauseated her. What I'd give to be with Regina right now.

Seeking some reassurance, Alex's hand drifted to the inside pocket of her coat where she felt the small ring box that was tucked securely away. She stopped and looked around her for a second, pushing away the dark thoughts that crept into her consciousness. I hope I get that chance after tonight.

After walking through the ballroom, Alex's gaze settled briefly on Cassandra who was dressed in a low cut, black evening gown. At the moment, she was engaged in a conversation with the driver of the Porsche. Oh how lovely, he must be her latest prize. We'll see how long it takes him to fall from grace.

The man's dark eyes locked with Alex's momentarily as he continued to talk with the Vice President. A second later Cassandra turned and glanced her as well.

Alex simply returned the Cassandra's incendiary look with an impassive expression, then, casually turned and walked away. Yeah, that's right I'm here Cassandra, but we're going to play this little charade by my rules not yours.

Across the hall, Dr. Timmons emerged from the fringes of a crowd of people and walked up to Alex. “Evening, Dr. Margulies. How'd you get wrangled into attending this lovely affair?”

“I believe the words command performance are appropriate for this occasion,” she answered shortly.

“Don't I know it. I feel sorry for the poor bastards who don't realize yet that their budgets for next year hinge on the amount of their department's contributions.” He gestured at the long buffet tables that were meticulously decorated with ice sculptures. “How much do you think they're shelling out for this affair anyway?”

Alex shrugged and leaned closer so he could hear her over the rising din. “Too much, I'm sure.”

The pediatrician laughed and gestured across the room with his hand. “It's an open bar. We might as well recoup some of our donation. Do you want anything?”

“Just a tonic with lime.” Alex declined the offer.

“Are you on call tonight?” He glanced at Alex as they walked through the crowd of people toward the bar.

“No. I just want my wits about me tonight.”

“Not me. I need a stiff one to make it through this nonsense.” He turned to the bar tender. “Give me a scotch straight up and a tonic with lime.”

Alex took her drink from Dr. Timmons and sipped it while she studied the occupants of the room around her.

“Let's check out the spread at the buffet before we get dragged into a night of talking about hospital politics.”

“Sounds good,” Alex answered, realizing it had been hours since she'd last eaten.

Twenty minutes later after sampling their way through the buffet, Alex and Dr. Timmons stood at the far end of the room and talked briefly amongst themselves.

“So, shall we go rub elbows?” Alex scanned the room again and found Cassandra standing with a cluster of doctors and administrators.

The pediatrician shook his head. “You mingle. I'll refresh my drink.”

A smirk crossed Alex's features and she acknowledged him with a wave of her hand, then, focused her attention on her quarry standing ten feet away from her.

Okay, this is game time. Get your head on straight, Alex reminded herself as she slipped up behind Cassandra and flashed a smile at the two colleagues the Vice President was engaged in a conversation with.

“We'd truly appreciate any support you can contribute to our endeavor,” Cassandra stated sweetly as she laid a hand on one of the doctor's forearms.

“Hello, Dr. Margulies.” One of the radiologists acknowledged her with a nod of his head.

“Hello, Gordon.” Alex lifted her glass in mock salute and then smiled disarmingly at Cassandra when the Vice President turned toward her.

“Alex it's so nice of you to be here. Gentleman.” Cassandra dismissed the two men with a brief nod of her head. Once they were alone, her eyes roamed appraisingly over Alex's figure. “You're looking rather butch tonight.”

Alex ignored Cassandra's comment and lifted the doctor's empty glass from her hand. “What's you're poison?” she asked, trying valiantly to appear and sound normal and not like she was plotting a strategy to entrap her boss.

“Vodka Gimlet.” Cassandra eyed the taller woman warily and hesitated. “Maybe I shouldn't.”

Alex rolled her eyes and forced a chuckle. “Come on, Cassandra. What's one drink to take the edge off? You deserve it, after all.”

“I suppose one more wouldn't hurt,” she conceded.

Alex nodded her head and strode to the bar. She glanced back at Cassandra as she waited for the bartender to mix the drink she requested.

Cassandra appeared by her side seconds later. “Why thank you, doctor,” she demurred as she took the proffered drink from Alex and sipped it. Her lips left a ruby-colored outline of their shape on the rim of the glass. “I think that's the nicest thing any one's done for me this week.”

“That's not saying much, Cassandra,” Alex replied evenly.

The blonde shrugged. “It's a lonely place at the top, Alex.”

“As lonely as you choose to make it, I suppose.”

“It's a trade off for having to make unpopular decisions.”

That's an interesting spin on things, Alex thought.

Several boisterous residents crowded around the bar where the two women were talking. Alex discreetly guided Cassandra away from the ruckus. “You have a lot on your plate with the new Cardiac program coming on board. When's the ground breaking date?” Alex probed cautiously.

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“How much we draw in from tonight's proceeds.” Cassandra tipped the glass to her lips again and waved exuberantly to a doctor standing several feet away from them.

“How much are you expecting to raise?”

“We have a million dollars in pledges so far, but what's more important is that we have a party who is willing to match us dollar for dollar.”

“Must be one hell of a plaque that's going up on the wall of the new unit for that price,” Alex half joked. Come on Cassandra, give me something I can use.

“We're way beyond plaques at this point,” the Vice President scoffed.

Alex nodded at one of her colleagues as he walked past them on his way to the buffet table. She leaned in closer to Cassandra. “What's the prize? A position on the Board of Trustees?”

Cassandra's eyes widened and she gulped down a swallow of her drink. “Oh, look there's Doctor Pierce. He's the doctor I was telling you about the other day. I must introduce you to him,” Cassandra gushed. “Roger, come here. There's someone I want you to meet.”

Oh lucky me, Alex groaned inwardly as she watched the doctor scrutinize her as he walked towards them.

“Hello, Cassandra.” He nodded graciously.

“Roger, this is Doctor Margulies, the director of our Emergency Department.” Cassandra laid a hand on his arm and turned him towards Alex.

“Ah, the doctor who has nine lives. I've heard so much about you.”

Alex extended her hand, expecting a hand shake and then steeled herself when Dr. Pierce abruptly turned her hand over and kissed the back of it. “Funny, I haven't heard a thing about you,” she replied through gritted teeth.

“No one told me you were so beautiful,” he replied as he raised his head and smiled at her.

Alex extracted her hand from his grasp, resisting the urge to wipe it off on her pants leg.
“So where did you practice before joining the medical staff here?”

“I've been at several facilities out west,” Dr. Pierce shrugged his shoulders.

“Really, where?”

“This is supposed to be a fun evening, Alex. There will be plenty of time to talk about business later,” Cassandra jumped in.

“I'm sure we will,” replied evenly, hoping her voice didn't betray the nervousness she felt. Movement from across the room caught Alex's attention and she watched as two men dressed in white shirts, blue coats, and gray wool pants walked briskly toward them.

“Dr. Mitchard, we have a problem,” the huskier of the two guards reported nervously.

Alex turned and watched Cassandra's reaction closely.

Cassandra's eyes bored into the security guard and a vein bulged in her neck. “What do you mean we have a problem?” Cassandra demanded.

“I think you should come see for yourself.” The guard shifted on his feet and looked around the room before he returned his gaze to the Vice President.

Dr. Pierce turned to Cassandra, his eyes narrowing as he stepped into her space. “I thought you said everything was tied up and there would be no loose ends.”

“Roger, I assure you everything is fine.” With an exasperated sigh, Cassandra waved her hand ahead of herself. “This better be important,” she warned the security guards.

Alex followed the small entourage out of the crowded ballroom and down a side corridor that led away from the boisterous noise of the party. The taller security guard opened a locked door and led them into a small room.

“I thought you should see this.” He pointed at one of the monitors on the wall.

Dr. Pierce walked up behind Cassandra and squinted as he tried to make out the grainy images that were displayed on the screen of one of the wall monitors. “Who in the hell is that?”

Alex's eyes darted to the monitor as she stepped closer. Her mouth went dry and she felt nauseas as she made out Regina's unmistakable image on one of the screens. Oh sweet Jesus, Reg what are you doing there?

“Should we call the police?” Dr. Pierce asked.

“No, absolutely not. We'll take care of it internally,” Cassandra said coldly.

“Is that a good decision?”

“It's not yours to make. Besides, the police can't be involved. There's too much at stake now.”

A chill ran up Alex's spine. She backpedaled to the door while Cassandra argued with Dr. Pierce.

Cassandra leaned closer and then tilted her head. “That's one of our doctors. What is she doing in the warehouse?” She whirled around and let out a frustrated shriek when she realized Alex was standing behind her. “You, you're responsible for this. Do not let her leave the building,” she yelled at the security guards.

Alex yanked the door shut and sprinted down the hallway. She bypassed the coatroom and flung the exit door open as she ran through. Outside, she raced to the small valet shack and leaned in the door, startling the attendant.

“I need my Jeep now. I have an emergency.”

“Sure lady so does everyone.” The young man slowly uncrossed his legs and stood up from his chair.

Alex pulled out her wallet and slipped a bill into his hand. “I'm serious. Now move!”

The boy's eyes widened as he looked at the bill in his hand. “You got it.” He grabbed the keys from a hook, raced out of the booth.

Alex glanced behind her and saw the two security guards bearing down on her. “I've got to go. Just don't give up on me yet.” She flipped her cell phone shut.

She turned to follow the valet but a meaty hand grabbed her by an arm and twisted her around. “Ma'am you have to come with me.”

“Like hell I do.” Desperation fueled her actions and she wrenched her arm out of his grasp. She ducked under his outstretched arm and slammed an elbow into his solar plexus.

As he grunted and doubled over, Alex grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back into the other security guard. There was a strangled shout as they both stumbled and collpased to the ground in a heap.

Breathing heavily, Alex turned and saw the illumination from the Jeep's headlights swing out of a parking spot. She ran out into the road and flagged the attendant down as he sped up the hill. “Thanks.”

She jumped in behind the wheel and slammed the door shut. Her heart pounded in her chest and the bitter taste of adrenaline soured her mouth. She glanced into the rearview mirror in time to see Cassandra and Dr. Pierce hail down the same valet attendant. Alex hit the gas pedal and sped out of the driveway. She offered a silent prayer that she would make it to the warehouse before they did.

She gripped the steering wheel tightly as she weaved in and out of traffic down the four-lane divider highway. Alex punched in the number for Regina's cell phone and waited.

User unavailable?
“Dammit!” She threw the phone on the passenger seat and focused on the road ahead.

Minutes later, she cut across two lanes of traffic and raced up the exit ramp, unaware that behind her, a pair of headlights winked on from the shoulder and a car accelerated out of the shadows.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Regina yanked the blue plastic cover from the metal cart. "Finally," she exclaimed and pulled the green oxygen cylinder from the shelf. She grabbed the regulator lying beside it and lost her balance as she stepped back into a stack of boxes. She teetered precariously for a moment and then fell backwards into them. Her weight sent the box at the top of the stack crashing to the floor. A pile of papers bound in folders slid out from the broken lid.

She shook her head at her clumsiness and gingerly got to her feet still holding the tank tightly in her grasp. "Nice Reg, why donít you just drop the oxygen tank on the floor and have it explode," she berated herself.

Luckyís ears twitched and the German Shepard leapt to his feet, and stared at the stairwell. A low growl resonated deep from within his barrel chest.

"Itís all right, Lucky. It was just me," Regina re-assured him.

Regina knelt and connected the regulator to the oxygen tank. She glanced down at the boy and pressed her lips together. His seizure lasted several minutes and she had no way of knowing if he had suffered more before she discovered him. She didnít want to leave TJ alone, afraid that if she did he would have another seizure while she was gone.

She finished hooking up the oxygen tubing, and slipped it over TJís ears, then, adjusted the cannula inside his nose. She adjusted the flow and checked the gauge relieved to see that the tank was still full. Next, she pulled a blanket from another box she opened earlier and draped it over the boyís body. "At least thatís something for now."

The young doctor stood up and wiped her hands on her pants, leaving dusty handprints on the fabric. The sound of water dripping onto the concrete floor from a pipe somewhere in the cavernous warehouse was the only thing she heard besides her own breathing.

Lucky growled again and his hackles rose on his neck as he stood at attention next to TJ.

"What is it, Lucky? What do you hear?" She ran a hand through his fur, more for her own re-assurance. The dog jerked his head around and whined softly.

"Heíll be okay," Regina said, hoping to herself that she was right.

She moved several boxes aside and found one that was marked medical supplies. "Ah, maybe this has something I can use." Regina ripped the tape off the lid of the box and tossed it on the floor.

Luckyís sudden ferocious barking startled Regina and she fumbled around on a shelf for something to protect herself with. She grabbed a metal pole and gripped it tightly in her hands.

Regina knelt down beside TJ and checked him as she tried to figure out what to do next.

Her heart lurched in her chest when she peaked over the box and saw a shadow looming along the wall of the stairwell.

Lucky launched himself forward and disappeared around the corner. She heard a startled shout and the sound of a body tumbling down the steps, then, more excited barking.

Mustering her courage, she hefted the pole in her hands and crept from her hiding spot. Regina stopped at the top of the stairs and furrowed her brow as she looked at the crumpled body, lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.

Lucky sniffed curiously around the body. He backed up as the person stirred and sat up with a groan.

"Well, that was one hell of a greeting you stupid dog."

"Alex!" Regina dropped the pole and darted down to the bottom of the stairs. She knelt beside the taller woman and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Are you okay? Regina cupped Alexís face in her hand and kissed her temple. "How did you get in here?"

"I still have the keys from when we were here before." Alex rubbed her head and winced as she tentatively moved her shoulder around. "What is he your personal guard dog?"

Regina glanced at Lucky and watched as he caught a scent of something and darted down the dark hallway. "HÖhow did you know I was here?"

"Long story." Alex struggled to her feet. "We need to get out of here. Cassandra saw you on a video monitor that was hooked up in the security office of the hotel."

"WÖwhat?"

"Iíll explain later. Come on. Letís go."

"Alex, wait." Regina grabbed hold of Alex to steady her. "I found TJ."

Alex blinked and leaned back against the wall. "You what? Heís here?"

"Heís up in the storage area."

A car door slammed shut out in the alleyway. A moment later the doorknob jiggled and a shadowy silhouette of a manís hulk filled the window.

"Go." Alex grabbed Reginaís hand and together they raced up the stairs.

"This way." Regina led the way to the cramped space where TJ was tucked securely beneath a blanket. "I think he got in through the loading docks.

Alex glanced back at the narrow space at the bottom of partially closed door "You fit under that?" She observed the muddy streaks across Reginaís pants and shirt for the first time and shook her head.

"I had to."

The slightest hint of a smile played around Alexís mouth and she squeezed Reginaís shoulder affectionately. Alex knelt down with a groan and opened one of the boyís eyelids. "Heís out cold."

"He had a seizure thirty minutes ago and hasnít woke up yet."

"Letís get him out of here." Alex grabbed the boy underneath the arms and started to drag him towards the garage door.

The sound of footsteps running up the stairs alerted Regina. She grabbed a handful of Alexís dinner jacket and tugged her back down. "Someoneís coming."

"Dr. Margulies," a familiar voice echoed through the warehouse. "I know youíre in here, Alex."

"Matthew, go to hell," Alex growled as she gingerly lowered TJ back down to the ground. "I had two security guards try to stop me from leaving the hotel after Cassandra saw Regina on the tape." She stood up and swept her hand out in front of her. "Figure it out. Whatever theyíre hiding is right here under our noses."

The investigator stood under the feeble glow of the flickering fluorescent lights and stared at her. "That means they know youíre here."

"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock." Alex looked at Regina and shook her head before she looked back at Matthew in disgust.

Regina knelt beside TJ and adjusted the blanket around his shoulders. "Alex we need to get him to the hospital."

Alex turned back to Matthew. "Now might be a good time to call for back up and while youíre at it, call EMS so we can get this kid transported."

Suddenly, on the far side of the warehouse, the front door banged open and Cassandra and Dr. Pierce rushed into the storeroom as Matthew reached for his cell phone.

"Put that phone down," Pierce ordered as he pulled a gun from the inside pocket of his jacket and aimed the muzzle at Matthew.

Alexís adrenaline surged. She tackled Regina to the floor and rolled them behind a row of boxes.

"Whatís wrong Alex? Bring back memories?" Pierce cackled from across the warehouse.

Regina pressed her body against Alex. "Alex, what the hell his going on?"

On trembling arms, Alex crouched behind the stack of boxes and watched as Matthew held his phone up and closed it. "It was Cassandra all the time, Reg."

She reached back and wrapped her arm around Reginaís shoulder as the younger woman pressed against her.

Dr. Pierce stepped closer to Matthew and kept the gun trained at his chest. "Take your gun out and turn it around. Donít try anything, smart. Cassandra hurry up and find the charts."

"Just take it easy. Nobody wants to get hurt here." Matthew slowly pulled his jacket back, and removed the nine-millimeter Glock from his side holster,.

"Shut up! Set it on the floor and slide it over there." The doctor pointed to an open spot on the floor between them.

Matthew did as he was told and slid the gun across the concrete floor.

Dr. Pierce scooped it up. "Now lay face down on the floor where I can see you." He pulled a pair of handcuffs from his coat pocket and tossed them across the room where they landed a few feet away from where Alex was crouched. "Those are for you Dr. Margulies. Take those handcuffs and get over to that row of pipes with your girlfriend. Now!"

Oh god, weíre dead. Alex shuddered as she stooped and picked the manacles off the floor. She looked at Regina who was staring back at her with a grim look of desperation in her eyes. Slowly, she held her hand out and waited for Regina to come to her.

A moment later, with the warmth of the Reginaís smaller hand tucked in hers, they walked to the back of the warehouse where a myriad of pipes ran along the wall.

"Now, toss the handcuffs over the pipe and lock yourselves together before I put a bullet in your girlfriendís head."

Alex glanced overhead and slipped one of the cuffs around her wrist. "Itís too high for her."

Pierce glared at Alex and shrugged. "Then cuff yourselves to one of the pipes along the wall. Itís of no consequence."

Alex stared down at the rust-stained floor around several of the pipes and stepped back several paces before she motioned Regina to follow her. Her hand shook as she gingerly squeezed her forearm behind the pipe and held the manacle out to Regina. "Youíve got a chance to make it to the door when heís not looking," she whispered to Regina.

"Not without you," Regina replied, while she slipped her wrist into the manacle and locked it around her wrist.

"Shut up over there!" Pierce charged across the floor, lunged at Alex and backhanded her across the face.

Alex raised her head and leveled a hateful stare at him. Beside her, Regina growled and very deliberately spit in his face. "I hope you rot in hell!"

"Robert, enough! We have work to do," Cassandra reminded him.

Dr. Pierce wiped the spittle off his face and stepped back. "Did you find them?"

"Right here, where we left them."

"Good. Torch them so we can get the hell out of here. We have a plane to catch." He kept his gun aimed at Matthewís head as the agent lay sprawled face down on the concrete floor.

"You just couldnít play by the rules, could you, Alex?" Cassandra asked.

"Rules? You mean the rules you made up as you went along." Alex raised her head and glared at Cassandra with penetrating eyes.

A tingle of dread that ran up her spine when she saw the gas can in the Vice Presidentís hand. She spared a glance at Matthew and frowned in confusion as he turned his head and tried to mouth something to her.

"It was such a simple plan really," Cassandra continued. "T&M approached us two years ago to perform drug trials on their number one and two experimental drugs. They offered twenty thousand dollars per patient that we enrolled in the study."

"So at some point it went from conducting medical research to embezzling money from the drug company," Alex stated, as she continued to watch Matthew.

A subtle movement of his fingers pointing toward his feet alerted her to the irregular bulge outlined by his pants. A glint of metal flashed beneath the overhead fluorescent lights and she realized it was another holster. Alex quickly jerked her attention back to Cassandra.

"Youíre in no position to accuse me of anything," Cassandra spat.

Keep their attention on you. Alex didnít dare look back at him. "How many of the patients that you enrolled were real?"

"Enough to make it look legitimate."

Alex forced a laugh. "Thatís why all those charts were missing from medical records. You enrolled dummy subjects into the drug trials and needed to forge the consent forms so the drug company would pay you for more subjects."

"Precisely," Cassandra laughed.

Donít let them focus on Matthew. Alex racked her brain for a way to keep the conversation going. "You ran two sets of books, one for the hospital and one for the drug company to see."

"Itís too bad you picked the wrong team to play for," Cassandra sneered at her.

"I donít think I did."

Cassandra unscrewed the cap from the can and doused the boxes in front of her.

Oh sweet Jesus. The thick, oily, bitter scent of gasoline filled Alexís nostrils and her throat constricted at the thought of burning alive.

"Dr. Jameson was sloppy. I needed to get rid of him." A selfĖsatisfied smile lit up Cassandraís features as comprehension dawned on Alexís face. "Thatís right, all it took was a slight adjustment in his normal dose of medication and oopsÖ" She pulled a lighter from her coat pocket, flipped it open, and held the flame against the corner of one of the boxes. "He had a heart attack." The boxes ignited with a whoosh.

Alex watched the flames follow the trail of fuel in search of more to feed its deadly appetite. The warehouse was crammed with boxes, old mattresses and god knows what else.

"You conniving bitch. You planned this all out from the beginning," Regina shouted at her as she lunged forward against the pipe.

"Not everything. You being here tonight was unexpected, but not something we couldnít handle." Cassandra turned and walked away from the growing inferno.

"For godís sake, take the boy. He has nothing to do with this," Alex shouted over the growing roar of the flames.

Pierce glanced over at the limp form huddled on the floor and shrugged with callous indifference. "Wrong place, wrong time."

Several feet away, Mathew lunged to his knees and desperately grabbed for the gun that was holstered around his ankle. Dr. Pierce reacted instantly and gunfire erupted, echoing throughout the warehouse.

Matthewís body jerked like a marionette and spun around from the impact of the bullets. His arms flailed helplessly overhead.

As the gun jarred loose from his grasp and arced into the air, Alex pulled Regina to the ground and threw her body over hers.

"Oh god, no." Regina covered her mouth as tears flooded her eyes.

"Donít look." Alex hugged Regina to her and battled the overwhelming sense of futility as flames engulfed the stack of boxes in the middle of the room and erupted towards the ceiling.

The smoke detectors on the ceiling finally blared and the sprinklers spit out a pathetic stream of water.

"I think you used up your nine lives last year, Dr. Margulies," Pierce laughed as he walked backwards and tossed the keys to the handcuffs into the flames.

Alex stared after them until she lost sight of Cassandra and her accomplice in the smoke. It would be easy enough to close her eyes and let the smoke overtake her before her body ever felt the searing heat from the flames but one look at Regina and she knew giving up was not an option. Not if I have anything to say about it, you bastard.

"Alex," Reginaís voice cracked and she began to cough.

Alex tilted Reginaís face up to hers. "Slide your arm behind the pipe."

Despite the paralyzing fear, Regina twisted around and slid her handcuffed wrist between the pipe and the wall, wincing as she pushed her arm through as far as she could.

Alex grasped the handcuffs with her free hand and tugged them. She stretched out to her full length and extended her leg until the toe of her shoe touched the handle of the gun. "Just a little more, Reg. Come on. Thatís it." She nudged the gun forward until she was able to cup it with the top of her shoe. She gritted her teeth as she pulled it toward her.

She grabbed hold of the gun and pushed the safety off. "Close your eyes." Alex pulled the links between their hands taught and aimed the muzzle of the gun down at the metal chain.

Regina ducked her head between her arms and turned away.

Without a second thought, Alex squeezed the trigger and two shots thundered through the warehouse. The metal links shattered between them and she felt the sharp bite of metal as a link flew past her face.

Alex ripped off her jacket, balled it up, and shoved it over Reginaís mouth. "We have to get out of here."

She leapt of Reginaís body and frantically scrambled across the floor to TJ. Alex grabbed the oxygen tank lying beside his body and ripped the tubing off of the regulator. With all her strength, she hurled the pressurized canister into the air away from her and Regina.

A loud reverberating explosion shook the warehouse and a wall of flames erupted toward the ceiling twenty feet away from where Alex was crouched.

"Alex!" Regina cried out and started toward her.

"Down! Stay down!" Alex screamed at Regina as she flattened her body over the boyís to protect him.

Heavy acrid smoke and filled the air. Light bulbs exploded overhead from the intensity of the heat as the flames consumed everything in their path.

Alex scrambled over to Regina and grabbed her by the arm. "Get TJ out of here. Can you do that for me?"

They both flinched as a shower of sparks cascaded down from several light fixtures up on the ceiling.

Regina nodded and crawled beneath the cloud of smoke.

Alex watched as Regina grabbed his wrists and dragged his body over to the garage door.

As Regina disappeared through the opening, Alex turned and raced back towards Matthew. Overhead, flames flared again and flashed across the high ceiling. Please, just give me one more minute. Thatís all I need.

Alex crouched beside Matthew and rolled him over. He lifted his head and tried to push himself up but collapsed to the floor.

"Just stay still." Alex grabbed his wrists and dragged him over to the door. Smoke burned her lungs and her eyes filled with tears, blurring her vision.

A loud metallic noise echoed in the distance and then drew closer. Alex redoubled her efforts. Suddenly out of nowhere, something slammed into her back and knocked her flat.

With enormous effort, Alex lifted her head and saw Dr. Pierce staggering to his feet with a metal pole clutched in his hand

Blood trickled down the side of his face. "You fucking crazy bitch, you trapped us in here."

"You trapped yourself." Alex glanced at the garage door, knowing every second she stayed the slimmer her chances were of surviving.

She squinted as the dim light filtering through the narrow opening changed shape and then was blocked out. Her blood ran cold when she saw Regina pull herself back through the opening and crouch on her hands and knees.

"Regina, no!"

Pierce whirled around and cocked the pole back. It took all of Alexís strength to stagger to her feet. Desperation fueled her oxygen starved muscles and she lunged at his knees, driving her shoulder into his body as the metal pipe descended in a sickening blurred arc toward Reginaís head.

It missed Reginaís head by inches and Pierceís knees buckled as he collapsed to the ground with a grunt.

Flames erupted from an overhead vent and fiery debris rained down on them. Regina screamed a warning at Alex as Dr. Pierce rolled to his feet and swung the bar wildly at Alexís head.

Instinctively, Alex threw her arms up and took the force of the blow on her ribs. As her body absorbed the impact, Alex drove her arms down and wrapped her hands around the metal shaft. Desperately, she used Dr. Pierceís momentum to shove him off balance. He struggled to yank the bar from her hands.

Alex leveraged her body weight against his body and slammed her knee into his stomach. His grip loosened and she viciously shoved the end of the pole into his gut.

"Get Matthew out of here," Alex yelled at Regina over the roar of the flames.

Regina darted around Alex and grabbed Matthew who was slowly crawling on all fours. She struggled to pull him towards the door and collapsed under his weight.

Alex broke free from Pierceís grasp and kicked him viciously in the head. She lifted Regina to her feet and shoved her toward the door. "Get out of here!"

Regina squirmed through the opening first. Alex shoved Matthew after Regina and then squeezed her body through. She crawled to the edge of the concrete loading dock and lowered herself to the ground. Her lungs violently protested the smoke she inhaled and she doubled over in a bout of coughing.

Around her, sirens and horns blared as emergency vehicles converged on the warehouse. With Regina leaning against her, Alex dragged TJ off the loading dock and carried him several feet away.

Firemen and paramedics rushed towards them.

Alex let them take TJ from her and held onto Regina. "Are you okay?" she asked staring into Reginaís eyes.

Regina looked up at the warehouse as an explosion sounded from inside and windows shattered. They fell to their knees and held onto each other.

"No," Regina buried her head in Alexís shoulder as the flood of tears came.

 

Continued in Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

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