It All Began With Road Rash
Lois Cloarec Hart
copyright © 2014 Lois Cloarec Hart
This is a prequel that tells the story of how Lee and Dana, who figure prominently in my novels, Broken Faith and Walking the Labyrinth, first met and fell in love.
For so many years, my beloved wife, Day, and my dear friend, California Kathy, have proofed, polished, and improved my short stories and novels. You both have my deepest appreciation for the wonderful work you do year in, and year out.
If you’d like to comment on my story, I’d enjoy hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Day, always.
* * *
“What on earth possessed you to go riding a motorcycle in the winter?” Dana had just finished cleaning and bandaging the scrapes on her patient’s hand and forearm. “Were you hiding behind the door when the good Lord handed out common sense?”
“No, ma’am. I was just last in line and He didn’t have a whole lot left.”
Dana shook her head and picked up the intake form. “Ms.…Glenn, is it?”
“Ms. Glenn, you have a bimalleolar fracture. The good news is there’s no displacement, but even with the cast on it, you’re not going to be able to walk on that ankle for quite some time. I trust that will keep you off your death cycle until the road are clear again.”
Her patient’s face fell, and Dana sighed. “Will you at least promise me you’ll have the doctor re-check your ankle before you try to ride?” Uh-huh. She looks just like Eli when he’s planning to go behind my back.”
Dana raised an eyebrow. “On what?”
“I’ll make you that promise if you’ll have coffee with me.”
“Now why would I do that?”
“So you’ll have lots more time to lecture me on the folly of riding my bike in winter.”
Her grin was so infectious that Dana couldn’t resist smiling back. “You have to pay the consequences, not me. What risks you take with your body is up to you.”
“Does that mean you won’t go out for coffee with me?”
“It does.” Dana picked up her patient’s crutches. “I’m much too busy, and I’ve got a nine-year-old at home that requires my attention far more than I need coffee.”
“Okay.” Ms. Glenn hopped off the bed on one foot and took the crutches. “I can accept that.”
“I hope you can also accept the need to wait three months before you ride again.”
“Three months? You gotta be kidding.”
“Three months.” Dana shot her patient a stern look. “It’s January 7th, for heaven’s sake. I repeat, who goes riding in Calgary in January?”
“I do, especially when the sun is out and the sky is that awesome shade of blue. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the New Year.”
“Which is exactly why you now have a cast on your broken ankle and bandages from elbow to fingertips.”
Ms. Glenn smiled. “Wouldn’t have gotten hurt if I hadn’t had to lay my bike down when some idiot on a cellphone cut in front of me. Even then my arm would’ve been okay if my glove hadn’t been torn off and my leathers rolled up. And what are the odds that’ll happen again?”
Dana shook her head. “Given the evidence of your disregard for life and limb, I get the feeling that the odds are good.”
Ms. Glenn winked and began to hobble out of the room.
“Wait,” Dana said.
Her patient glanced back over her shoulder.
“Do you have a ride home? Do you need me to call you a cab?”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t ride my bike home?”
Dana’s jaw dropped. “Did you hear a word I said?”
“I’m just teasing. My bike’s not going anywhere, not any time soon, anyway. My ex is here to give me a ride, though. I’m good.”
She resumed her slow progress and Dana followed her to the outer office, watching to ensure that she didn’t slip on her way out.
Ms. Glenn was met by a tall, lovely woman with an exasperated expression.
“Honestly, Lee, I can’t believe you went riding. You told me you’d put the bike away for the winter.”
Amen, sister. Dana watched the blonde escort her patient out of the office, keeping a protective hand on her back. So that’s her ex. Does that mean she was actually asking me for a date? Before she could ponder that, Nancy thrust a chart into her hands.
“Must be the day for breaks. You’ve got a kid in room three with a probable broken arm.”
“Tell me he wasn’t riding a motorcycle.”
Nancy frowned. “Are you nuts? Who does that in January? No, he was playing road hockey.”
She does that. Dana stole a look out the clinic’s glassed front. Her patient was maneuvering into the front seat of a car while the other woman held her crutches.
“Earth to Dana. Room three, remember?”
“Room three, got it.” Dana took the chart and strode away, her thoughts still on her previous patient.
* * *
Lee heaved a sigh as she settled into the seat. Damn, that hurts like fire. This is not going to be fun.
“Are you really all right?” Marika asked as she got behind the wheel. “This scared the hell out of me.”
“I’ll admit, I’ve been better. Would you mind swinging by a pharmacy? The doctor gave me a prescription for pain pills, and I think I’m going to need it.”
Marika gave her a worried look. “Do you want me to stay with you for a few days?”
Lee shook her head. “I should be fine, but thanks. And thanks for coming to get me. I was going to call Willem or Ann, but—”
“Don’t give it another thought.” Marika looked both ways before pulling out of the clinic parking lot. “I’m happy to help.” She shot Lee an uncertain glance. “After all, we’re still friends, right?”
“Absolutely.” Though six months ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able to say that. Lee shook her head. She would always love Marika, but they both accepted that they weren’t good together as a couple. They were much better as friends.
Marika laid a hand on her arm. “I know I’ve said this before, but thank you.”
“For…forgiving me, I guess. For giving me a chance to be your friend after I screwed things up so badly.”
Screwed things up…that’s one way to put it. The pain of Marika’s infidelity was only six months old and it still hurt to think of, but Lee pushed it aside. What’s done is done. We have to move past it, or we’re not even going to be able to be friends. “Forget it. Hey, you should’ve seen the cutie I had for a nurse.”
“Really? Do tell.”
“Well, she was about average height, kind of stocky, with dark brown hair and deep, brown eyes. Oh, and she wears glasses.”
Marika glanced at Lee.
“I know, but she had the sweetest smile even when she was chewing me out, and eyes you could get lost in. I tried to talk her into having coffee, but she turned me down.”
“Are you sure she’s gay?”
Lee shrugged. “No wedding ring, though she did mention having a kid at home. If she’s not, she’s not, but I’d have enjoyed having coffee with her in any case.”
Marika chuckled. “If she could talk you out of riding your damned bike in winter, I’m all for you befriending her.”
Lee scowled at her cast. “Looks like this bloody thing is going to put a crimp in my plans for a few weeks anyway.”
“Hah, easy for you to say. Willem is going to kill me. I’m going to be stuck behind a desk, which means he and Ann have to do more of the legwork.” Lee settled her head against the headrest and closed her eyes. Maybe riding wasn’t such a good idea after all.
* * *
Dana came around the corner of the reception area and stopped short. Oh my God, is that—“Hey, Nancy.”
“The woman with the crutches and cast in the corner…can I have her file?”
Nancy looked at her. “She’s not up next. Mrs. Connelly is.”
Dana shot her a plaintive look. “Give Mrs. Connelly to Mia and I’ll owe you, okay?”
“I will collect.” Nancy held up a file and waggled it temptingly. “I need a babysitter on Saturday. Are you in?”
Oh God. I ought to have my head examined. “Um, sure. Eli and I can come over and look after the triplets.”
Nancy grinned. “For four hours, or you get Mrs. Connelly’s hemorrhoids.”
“Four hours. It’s a deal.” She wrested the file out of Nancy’s hand and stepped forward. “Ms. Glenn, would you come with me, please.”
Dana’s patient rose to her feet, tucked her crutches under her arms, and started forward.
Dana bit her lip and tried not to smile. The ankle cast, which had been pristine the last time she’d seen it, was now cracked in several places and wrapped with strips of duct tape.
She led the way to one of the examination rooms. “Well, Ms. Glenn—”
“It’s Lee, and you are —?”
“Nurse Cochrane, I apologize for messing up your clinic’s fine handiwork, but I think I’m going to have to have my cast replaced.”
“You think?” It was taking rigid self-control for Dana to stifle her laughter at the hang-dog expression on Lee’s face.
“Yes, ma’am, I do.”
Dana knelt to take a closer look. “Kudos on the innovative use of duct tape, by the way.” She shook her head. “How on earth did you wreak such destruction? Please tell me you weren’t trying to ride your bike again.”
“No. I was dog-sledding.”
Dana blinked. “Excuse me? You were what?”
“I was dog-sledding. A buddy of mine is just getting into the sport, and he asked me if I wanted to give it a try. I figured, why not? All I had to do was ride in the sled, right? What could possibly go wrong?”
“I can think of a few things.”
Lee sighed. “Would half-trained huskies chasing a deer be one of them?”
Dana laughed. “Half-trained?”
“Yeah, he didn’t mention that part to me. The dogs took off, the sled overturned, and I got dragged a bit.”
“Well, he’s more of a confidential informant than a friend, actually.”
“An informant, eh?” Dana rose to her feet and got the saw from a cupboard. “Are you a cop?”
“Ex-military police, currently in private security.” Lee looked at the saw. “You’ve got a steady hand, right?”
“You ride a motorcycle in the dead of winter, go dog-sledding with sketchy characters, and you’re worried about a little saw?”
“Trust me.” Dana began to cut the cast off. “We’ll go down the hall to Radiology once this is done. The doctor is going to want another set of X-rays.”
“Okay.” Lee looked at her hopefully. “Maybe I won’t need a new cast.”
“I doubt that. It’s barely been two and a half weeks since you broke your ankle.”
“I’m a fast healer.”
I’ll bet you’ve had a lot of practice healing. “You might be able to go to a removable brace, but it will depend on what he sees on the X-ray.” Dana carefully separated the halves of the cast and eased them away from Lee’s ankle.
Lee instantly started to scratch. “Oh, my God, that feels good.”
Dana smiled. “Here, let me.” She cleaned the ankle with alcohol swabs and applied a generous amount of anti-itch cream. “My son broke his arm a couple of years ago when he was playing football with his dad. He nearly drove me crazy trying to scratch inside his cast with a straightened coat hanger, so I know how you feel.”
“I take it you’ve forbidden your husband to play rough with your son, ever since?” Lee regarded Dana as she gently probed the ankle joint.
Dana rose to her feet. “Ex-husband, and Rick’s a very good dad. It was just an accident.” She picked up Lee’s crutches. “Think you can make it down to X-ray, or would you prefer I get a wheelchair?”
Lee hopped up on one leg and held onto the bed.
Dana handed her the crutches.
After the X-rays were completed, Dana took Lee back to the room and got her seated. “The doctor will be in to see you in a few minutes.” She turned to leave.
Dana glanced back. “Yes?”
“I was thinking—I was wondering if you might have time for coffee on the weekend. Maybe Saturday? You could bring your son along, and I’ll buy him a hot chocolate.”
Dana studied Lee. I have to give her marks for persistence. “Actually, I just committed to babysitting my friend’s triplets on Saturday, so thank you, but no.” And isn’t that bloody ironic?
Lee’s expression fell. “Oh, okay. Maybe another time, then.”
“Maybe.” Dana closed the door behind her. I don’t know. Maybe.
* * *
Dana was inventorying supplies when Nancy poked her head around the corner.
“Hey, your favourite patient is back.”
She blinked. “Who?”
“You know—the dog-sledding, cast breaking patient. I put her in room four.” Nancy winked. “Of course Mia is almost done with her last one. I could give Ms. Glenn to her.”
“No!” Dana blushed. “No, that’s okay. I’ve got it.”
“Okay. You know, me and Larry wanted to go out for Valentine’s Day next week…”
“Yeah, yeah. Tell me what time you need us there to babysit.”
“Seven will do.” Nancy grinned. “You’d better hurry. She’s bleeding.”
Jesus, what did she do to herself this time? Dana hurried down the hall to room four and swung open the door.
Lee looked up. “Why, Nurse Cochrane. We have to stop meeting like this.” Her smile wasn’t nearly as buoyant as usual, and she clutched a bloodstained towel to her upper arm.
“Good heavens, what happened?” Dana cradled Lee’s arm in one hand as she eased the towel away.
“Aw, it’s not as bad as it looks.” Lee flinched as Dana helped her off with her ruined jacket and peeled back the torn edges of her shirt sleeve. “Some idiot cut me with a knife. He’s in police custody now.”
“You have an interesting life, Ms. Glenn. Looks like you’re going to require some stitches.”
“Won’t be the first time.”
Dana gathered her supplies. “Strangely enough, I have no trouble believing that.” She nodded at the brace on Lee’s foot. “How’s your ankle doing?”
“Great. I barely feel it anymore.”
“Uh-huh. Well, since you’re here anyway, we’ll take another set of X-ray. It’s always good to keep a close eye on how the fracture is healing.” And even knowing what little I do about you, you’ve probably haven’t been very careful with it. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut back your shirt here.”
“That’s okay. It’s an old one.” Lee looked away while Dana cleaned, anaesthetized, and stitched her wound. “So you mentioned last time that your son played football.”
“Oh, not organized. He plays baseball in the summer and minor hockey in the winter, though. Eli is crazy about all sports, but hockey is his favourite.” Dana knotted the last of the stitches. “From October to April, if he’s not at the arena, he’ll be on our cul-de-sac playing road hockey with his buddies.”
Lee exhaled slowly and looked at her arm. “Does that mean you have to get up at the crack of dawn to get him to his practices?”
“Every second weekend. My ex and I alternate, depending on who Eli is staying with.” Dana finished putting a dressing over the wound. “Okay, let’s get you to X-ray.”
Lee swayed as she stood.
Instantly Dana steadied her. “Why don’t you sit down, and I’ll go get a chair, okay?”
“No, I’m good. I can get down there on my own two feet.” Lee glanced down at the walking brace. “Well, one and a half feet.”
“All right, but take my arm just in case.” Dana offered an arm and ignored Lee’s smile.
When Lee was finished in X-ray, Dana escorted her to the waiting room. “The doctor will call if he sees anything of concern on the X-rays, otherwise he’ll see you for your scheduled follow-up in two weeks.”
“Okay. Thanks again. And uh…the invitation for coffee is still good, too. You know, if you’re ever interested.”
A small boy hurtled around the corner and collided with Lee head-on.
Lee stumbled. “Ooof.”
Dana grabbed her and supported Lee with an arm around her waist. “Thomas James Junior. You know you’re not supposed to be running in here.”
A very pregnant woman hurried around the corner and took the boy’s arm. “Oh God, I’m so sorry. Are you all right?”
Lee nodded. “I’m fine.”
Thomas’ mother turned to Dana. “He’s faster than I am now. I think I’m going to have to put him on a leash until after this one arrives.” She patted her stomach.
Dana chuckled. “In a few years they’ll chase each other, and maybe you won’t have to worry.”
“No, I’ll have to worry twice as much.” With a sigh, she steered her son to the waiting room.
When Lee and Dana entered the waiting room, two women and a man sprang to their feet and engulfed Lee.
Dana retreated as the blonde she’d seen before wrapped her arms around Lee.
“God, don’t scare us like that!” She backed away, wiping a tear from her eye.
“No worries, Marika. It was just a scratch.”
The second woman hugged Lee. “Some scratch. Al stopped into the office and he said the cops on the scene told him that the guy just about cut your arm off.”
Lee shook her head. “Jesus, he’s such a drama queen.”
The portly man patted her back. “You even made the local news. I heard all about it on the radio driving over.”
“I did, eh? Well, who knows? Maybe the publicity will bring in more business.” The gaggle walked away. Marika held Lee’s uninjured arm.
Dana watched them leave. Her ex is very friendly. I wonder— No, none of my business. She turned back to the desk. “I’m going to finish my supply count now. Call me if you need me.”
Nancy smiled. “Sure thing, but your private patient probably won’t be back for a while.”
Private patient. Dana rolled her eyes and walked away. That’s just silly.
It was a long day and she put in an hour of overtime. After she picked Eli up from his grandmother’s, made dinner, oversaw his homework, got him off to bed, and did laundry, there was little left of the evening.
Dana yawned as she glanced at the clock. Think I’ll catch the late news and head to bed, too. She turned on the TV and collapsed on the couch like a punctured balloon. Her eyes fluttered as she tugged a pillow under her head. Uh-oh. Probably not a good idea. I should just go to bed.
But she was unable to summon the energy to rise, so she listened to the local news with half an ear and her eyes closed. Then her eyes snapped open, and she sat up and stared at the screen.
“…the woman was saved by a passerby who subdued the knife-wielding assailant, said to be the victim’s estranged husband. Witnesses were appalled at the brazen mid-afternoon attack in a popular plaza near the university and Foothills hospital. Global news reporter, Ashley Evans, is with someone who witnessed the entire incident. Ashley?”
“Thank you, Brad. Jim Christopher was across the plaza from the incident. Sir, could you tell us what you saw?”
“This guy was going freaky, screaming at a woman who’d just come out of a store. She had a little girl with her, and she was trying to push the kid behind her as she backed away from the lunatic. I started to run over to see if I could help, but before I could get there, the guy pulls a fu<bleep> big hunting knife. I thought he was going to gut her!”
“And what happened next?”
“I didn’t even see where she came from she moved so fast, but this other woman—a big woman—threw herself between the guy and the lady with the kid. She took him down fast, but not before he sliced her bad. There was blood all over the sidewalk. Me and a couple of other guys ran to help her, but she already had the dude on his face with his arms jammed behind his back. Here, I took a picture of the whole thing on my phone.”
A picture was superimposed on the top corner of the screen. It was Lee Glenn, blood flowing down her arm as she knelt over a man she had pinned to the sidewalk with her knee.
“Did the intended victim or her child appear to be injured in any way?”
“No, they were fine. The cops were there in about a minute. One of them took her and the little girl away, while the others took charge of the dude.”
“And the hero? She was clearly injured. Did you see what happened to her?”
The interviewee jerked his thumb at a store. “A guy came out of there with a towel to wrap around her arm, and last I saw, she was talking to the cops.” He pointed across the street. “Damn good thing she was so close to a hospital, eh? I lost track of her in all the excitement, but I figure she probably went over there to have it looked after.”
The camera swung in the direction the man pointed, showing Foothills Hospital across the road.
Dana shook her head. “But she didn’t go to Foothills. What in God’s name was she thinking, coming all the way down to the clinic? That’s insane!”
* * *
“All right, Mr. Hughes. We’ll see you again in six weeks.” Dana patted the elderly patient on the shoulder. “And don’t forget to have your prescription filled, okay?”
He nodded and walked away.
Dana leaned on the counter. “Who’s next?”
Nancy grinned and reached below her desk. “Not who, what. These just came for you. Someone is thinking of you on Valentine’s Day.” She set a red-wrapped box and a small crystal vase with a bright pink rose in front of Dana. “You’re due for your coffee break anyway. Take ten and find out who your secret admirer is, but don’t forget that my triplets have dibs on your time tonight.”
“I know, I know.” Dana took the gifts and walked back to the coffee room. Who on earth…? Surely Rick wouldn’t send me anything. It had been a relatively amicable divorce, but any vestige of romance between them had died long before the formal dissolution of their marriage.
The staff room was empty, and she took a seat at the table. There was no card attached to the flower, but when she unwrapped the box there was a small card inside.
I thought you and Eli might enjoy these.
Dana lifted away the cover of the box, and her eyes widened. On one side of the interior, nestled in shiny red foil, were chocolates in the form of medical implements—stethoscopes, syringes, a blood pressure cuff, a reflex hammer, a wheelchair, crutches, and even—she picked it up and laughed—a cast. On the other side of the box was a five-inch chocolate hockey player, perfectly rendered, right down to the tape on the boy’s stick. “These are amazing. I wonder where she found them.”
Nancy whistled behind her, and Dana jumped. She glared up at her. “Aren’t you supposed to be at your desk?”
“Tanya’s covering. A girl’s got to go to the washroom sometime.” Nancy leaned over Dana’s shoulder. “You’re right, they are amazing. She must’ve gone to some trouble to find those. Damn. Larry never went to this much trouble for me.”
“He gave you triplets. What more could you ask for?” Dana slapped at Nancy’s hand as she tried to steal a chocolate. “Unh-uh. I’m taking them home to share with Eli.”
“He’s not going to miss one…or two.”
Dana closed the box. “No way. Do you know how long it’s been since anyone gave me a Valentine’s Day treat?”
“Guess you’re going to have to call her to say thank you, then.” Nancy brushed the velvety edge of the rose. “What does this shade of pink mean, anyway?”
“No idea. I’d have to Google it.” But I’ll bet Lee knows. She turned over the card. “There’s no number listed.”
Nancy dropped a piece of paper onto the table. “Thought you might need this.” She laughed and left the room.
Dana unfolded the paper. Lee’s home and business phone numbers and addresses were listed. “What—? Nancy! How did you…why— You’re not supposed to do this.” Nancy was long gone, and Dana shook her head. So much for the confidentiality of patient records.
* * *
At the end of a very trying day, Lee hobbled into the storefront office of DeGroot and Glenn Security.
Willem waved and continued his phone conversation.
Ann looked up from her computer. “Hey, superhero. How did it go?”
“Nasty, but the job’s done. And don’t call me superhero.” Lee lowered herself into her chair with a sigh. Her ankle was not happy with her today. Maybe I should go back to the clinic for a checkup. “Were there any messages for me?”
“Messages, messages…let’s see. Well, Marika called. She said it wasn’t anything important, and she’d catch you tomorrow. And Johnny asked if you were up for dog-sledding again next weekend.”
Lee snorted. “Yeah—no.”
“Your furnace company wants to change the time of your service appointment.” Ann shuffled through a small stack of papers. “And it looks like that’s about it.”
Lee’s shoulders slumped.
“Oh, wait. There was one more.” Ann held up a note and grinned. “A certain nurse called, and was very disappointed when I had to tell her you were out of the office.”
Lunging for the note, Lee almost tripped over her own feet.
“Whoa, slow down. We do not need you to injure yourself again. You’re already setting a record for self-inflicted injuries this year.”
Willem hung up the phone. “Yes, and you know additional staff are not in the budget until later this year, so please, stay in one piece, relatively speaking.”
Lee ignored her colleagues as she scanned the note.
I’m sorry I missed you.
Thank you very much for the gifts.
I hope you’ve been staying out of trouble.
She looked up from the note. “Sorry, what?”
Ann rolled her eyes. “So, what’s next? Please tell me you’re not going to wait until you have another excuse to go back to that clinic again. Ask the woman out, for heaven’s sake.”
“I have, but she keeps saying no. Well, technically she didn’t say no the last time, but she also didn’t say yes.” And thanks very much for that, Master Thomas James Junior. Lee held the note up. “She didn’t say ‘yes’ here, either.”
“Maybe she’s playing hard to get,” Ann said.
“No. She doesn’t strike me as a game player. If she wanted to go, she’d say yes.” Lee rubbed her face. Guess she really doesn’t want to have coffee with me. “I think I’ll call it a day. See you guys tomorrow.”
Ann shot her a sympathetic glance, but it did nothing to pierce the weary pall that settled over her.
When Lee reached her condo and pulled into the driveway, something at the front door caught her eye. What the—? She drove into the garage, then hurried to the front door through the interior of the house.
A single blue rose rested on an envelope on her doorstep. She brought them inside and opened the envelope. It held a thank you card.
I’ve read that a person who receives a blue rose should
know they are the subject of much speculation and thought.
Thank you for the gifts.
Lee grinned. Dana had scrawled her number on the bottom of the card. All right. She hastened to the phone and dialed.
“Hello?” It was a boy’s voice.
“May I speak to Dana, please?”
“Just a minute.” The phone made a clunk as it landed. “Mom! It’s for you.”
Lee’s heart raced, and she took several deep breaths as she sat on the couch and waited. Don’t screw this up. Don’t screw this up. Don’t screw this up.
“Hi, Dana? It’s Lee. Um, I got home a few minutes ago and found the rose and your card. I just wanted to say thanks. Thank you very much.”
“You’re welcome. And thank you for the chocolates and rose. Bright pink—that means gratitude, doesn’t it?”
“It does. I just wanted to show my appreciation for…well, for taking such good care of me the last couple of months.”
Dana laughed. “You’ve certainly made my workdays entertaining.” Then her voice grew stern. “But what on earth were you thinking that last time? The ER was right across the street. You shouldn’t have delayed treatment.”
Lee settled back and lifted her healing foot onto the coffee table. “Have you been in that ER lately? It was quicker to come downtown and go to the clinic than to wait in line.”
“You wouldn’t have had to wait in line. You were dripping blood. They’d have taken you right in.”
Lee smiled. She’s so cute when she’s chewing me out. “Maybe, maybe not. You don’t know for sure.”
“I used to work triage there. I do know.”
“No ‘buts.’ Promise me the next time something like that happens, you’ll go immediately to the nearest care facility. I mean it.”
Do I take another shot? Or will she shoot me down again? “I’ll promise if…” C’mon, old girl, faint heart never won fair maiden.
“You really want that cup of coffee, don’t you?” There was amusement in Dana’s voice. “You know you can get a free cup at the clinic, don’t you?”
“Can I get a nurse to share it with me?”
“I’m sure my friend Nancy would be delighted to share a cup with you.” Dana’s voice lost its bantering tone. “Which reminds me, I’m due at Nancy’s to babysit her triplets about half an hour.”
Lee arched an eyebrow. “Triplets? How did you get conned into that.”
“It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll tell you over coffee.”
Yes! Lee punched the air. “Sounds interesting. Would this weekend be good?”
Dana sighed. “I’m afraid not. I have Eli this weekend, and he has a tournament in Lethbridge. I’ve already committed to driving and chaperoning.” She was silent for a moment. “How about next weekend?”
“Absolutely. I’ll call you on Thursday and we can make plans, if that works for you.” Lee’s face hurt from grinning so broadly.
“Good. I’ll look forward to hearing from you. And Lee, thanks again. Those chocolates are amazing, and they taste every bit as good as they look. Where on earth did you find them?”
“I have a buddy—”
Dana laughed. “Why doesn’t that surprise me? Tell me it’s not the dog-sledding fellow.”
“No. Johnny couldn’t even bake a cake to save his life. Neil is an artist with chocolate, and he owed me a favour, so I called in my marker.”
“Well, they truly were astounding. Eli put his in the fridge. He loves chocolate, but he’s not going to eat it until he takes it to school to show it off.”
“Cool. I hope his friends like it,” Lee said.
“I hope his friends leave it intact. They’re a pretty rough and tumble bunch. Anyway, I have to get going. Talk to you next week.”
“Great. Goodnight, Dana.”
“Goodnight. And—happy Valentine’s Day.”
* * *
Dana accepted the cup of coffee Lee held out to her. “Thanks.” She looked around at the small coffee shop. “You know, we didn’t have to come all the way out to Canmore for coffee.”
Lee took the seat opposite her. “You don’t like this place?”
“I love it, but an hour’s drive just for a cup of coffee?”
“It is exceptional coffee.” Lee winked and took a sip. “Besides, it’s a gorgeous day for a drive, don’t you think?”
Dana smiled. “I guess I should just be glad you didn’t pick me up on your bike.” Though I’d probably have gotten on the back of it. Not that she needs to know that—yet.
“Actually I’m looking at a new one—a black and purple Suzuki 1100 touring bike. I’m not quite ready to pull the trigger on it, but it’s gorgeous.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Dana added sugar and cream to the delicious, but strong coffee. “I’m sure you picked out a beauty. You have such good taste in gifts that—”
Lee laughed and shook her head. “You’re probably the first person in my life who’s ever said that. I usually suck at picking out the right gift.”
“Really? Well, there’s only one chocolate left from last week, so I’d say you did very well.”
“Thanks, but I actually asked a friend for help. She’s really good with that stuff, though I came up with the idea to have Neil make customized chocolates. So which chocolate survived the week?”
“Between Eli and me, we finished the rest of the chocolates by the weekend.” Dana studied Lee over the edge of her cup. I wonder if it was her ex who helped.
Dana blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You want to ask me something. Whatever it is, feel free. I’m pretty much an open book.”
“Why a rose and chocolates?” It wasn’t Dana’s only question, but she wasn’t prepared to get more personal just yet.
“Did it bother you? I certainly didn’t intend it to.”
Dana smiled at Lee’s counter-question. So much for an open book. “It was…nice.” It was also very romantic.
“But?” Lee’s gaze was steady.
She leaned forward and set her cup down. “I guess I’m not sure of your—well, for lack of a better word, intentions. What are you looking for from me—friendship, a nurse on call…romance?”
“Would you mind if I said all of the above?”
For an open book, you’re making it hard for me to turn a page. “Are you saying all of the above?”
“I would like to, but if all you’re cool with is friendship, that’s okay. You can never have too many friends, right?” Lee smiled. “Though that nurse on call part could come in handy.”
Dana chuckled, and the tension lightened. “I can provide the first two… I’m not sure about the third.”
Lee shrugged. “Then friendship it is. But I am curious, and forgive me if this is prying, have you had a same-sex relationship before?”
“Yes and no.”
Lee raised an eyebrow. “That’s cryptic.”
“I left my husband because my feelings for a female friend were…enlightening.”
Lee’s gaze didn’t waver.
“She didn’t return my feelings, and I never did anything about them, but I knew it was wrong to stay with Rick. That said, the most important relationship in my life is with my son. It’s only been eighteen months since his dad and I split up, and I don’t want to upset his world any more than I already have. So I haven’t brought anyone new into our lives.”
“I understand.” Lee was silent for a long moment. “Does Eli like movies?”
“He does. Why?”
“Has he seen The Lion King yet?”
Dana shook her head. “We missed it when it was in the theatre last summer, but it’s long gone, isn’t it?”
Lee grinned. “I have a buddy.”
“I’m sure you do. What did you have in mind?”
“Would you allow me to surprise you? Let me make some calls first, okay?”
“I guess.” Dana frowned. “Aren’t you even going to give me a hint?”
“If I can work it out, it will involve a movie, free theatre snacks, and all the friends Eli wants to invite.”
“Eli has a lot of friends. Are you sure?”
“The more the merrier.”
* * *
Three weeks later, Dana shepherded a group of exuberant boys into an old downtown theatre while Lee held the door open for them. As she passed Lee, Dana whispered, “When am I going to stop being surprised?”
Lee winked at her. The aroma of popcorn greeted them as they passed the closed ticket windows. “Step right up, guys. Whatever you want is on the house. Just give the man your order.” She pointed to the refreshment stand where a man in a white shirt and red bowtie was waiting.
A tumult of sound rose as the boys ordered, changed their minds, and ordered again.
Lee watched them with a grin.
She’s really enjoying this. “How on earth did you get an entire movie theatre to yourself?” Dana asked.
“It actually went out of business a couple of years ago, but my buddy bought it at the end of last year. He’s eventually going to renovate it into a nightclub, but he’s having some problems with the financing, so for now he rents it out for private parties. It’s legit. He’s got all his permits.”
“And he opened it up just for us—out of the kindness of his heart?”
“Sort of. He owed me a favour—”
Dana stopped short. “Do you ever run out of friends who owe you favours?”
“Not so far.” Lee flashed a grin. “But there’s always a first time for everything.”
Dana followed Lee as she herded the boys into the theatre. While it had unquestionably seen better days, there were vestiges of its former glamour in the dark blue ceiling, faded gilt-edged balconies, and tatty red velvet seats.
The boys ran to the front, popcorn flying about out of their cardboard containers and Dana opened her mouth to call out.
Lee laid a hand on her arm. “No, don’t worry about it. Teddy’s not worried about a mess. Let them enjoy this to their hearts’ content.”
Dana shot Lee a wry glance. “You realize you’ve just undercut every motherly instinct I have, right?”
“You can yell at Eli to pick up his toys tonight. For now, let’s let him be big man on campus.”
Dana picked out her son amidst the group of boys. He and his best friend, Tony, were bossing the others over seat selection. “He’s having the time of his life.” She turned back to Lee. “Thank you, again.”
“You’re most welcome. And where would you like to sit, madam?”
Dana led the way into a centre back aisle. They settled in their seats just as the lights went down.
The movie began immediately, with no previews, but that didn’t seem to bother the boys. Most had seen the movie before, but they quickly settled down as the music swelled.
“I forgot to ask if you wanted popcorn,” Lee whispered. “I’d be happy to go get you some if you like.”
Dana shook her head. “No, thanks. Maybe next time.”
Lee beamed and turned back to the screen.
Did I just promise her a next time? I think I did, and I think I meant it.
* * *
Lee pulled the borrowed van to a stop in front of Dana’s house. Eli and Tony were the only boys left in the back, and the noise had diminished exponentially. Thank God. She’d enjoyed the afternoon, but thirteen excited nine-year-olds inside one vehicle had left her with a minor headache.
“Mom, can I go to Tony’s place until supper?” Eli asked.
Dana twisted in her seat. “Is it okay with Tony’s mom?”
“If she says no, I’ll come right home. Please, Mom?”
“All right. But be back by five-thirty, got it?”
“Got it.” Eli hopped out of the van and raced Tony down the street to his house.
“You really think he’ll have room for supper after all they ate?” Lee asked. I’ve never seen a theatre popper run short before. They’d stopped for snacks after the movie ended, too.
Dana laughed. “Oh, trust me, he’ll be hungry within the hour. I dread when he turns into a teenager. I may have to take a second mortgage just to feed him.”
She began to open the door and stopped. “Would you like to come in for a bit?”
Lee glanced at her watch. “I’d like that. I have to return the van and be somewhere at seven, but I’ve got a little spare time.”
“Good.” Dana led the way to the front door. “So where do you have to be by seven, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all.” Lee followed Dana inside. “A friend just went through a bad break-up, again, so I thought I’d take her out to dinner to cheer her up.”
“Mmm.” Dana shrugged off her coat.
Lee took it and hung it in the closet along with hers, and then trailed Dana into the living room.
“Did you want something to drink? Coffee, maybe?”
“No thanks, I’m good.” Lee sat on the couch.
Dana took a seat across and studied her.
“What?” Lee asked.
“Your eyes ask questions even when your lips don’t speak.”
Dana took a deep breath. “The friend you’re meeting tonight—is it your ex? The beautiful blonde from the clinic?”
Lee stiffened. “It is. Why?”
“I guess I was just wondering… I mean you seem pretty close to her…” Dana’s voice reflected her uncertainty.
Lee relaxed. “You’re wondering if there’s anything still between us?” Anything that might cause issues for us, if there’s to be an “us.”
Dana flushed and looked away. “Kind of. I mean it’s none of my business—”
“Sure it is.” Lee leaned forward. “I’ve tried to be clear. I like you very much. I’d welcome your friendship, if that’s all you can give, but yeah, I’d like us to be more. So you have every right to know if my heart is still engaged elsewhere.”
Dana met her gaze squarely. “Is it?”
“Romantically, no. Marika and I tried that road for well over a year. It didn’t end well.”
“Do you mind me asking why?”
Lee sighed. “Marika has…issues that prevent her from whole-heartedly committing to anyone. She did something that— Well, let’s just say it wasn’t conducive to a long-term relationship, so we broke up.”
“But you still care about her?”
“I always will. She’s a dear friend as well as my ex.”
“And you don’t quit on a friend.”
Lee shook her head. “Not if I can help it.”
Dana nodded thoughtfully. “That doesn’t surprise me.”
“Does it bother you that we’re still friends?” God, I hope not, because if it does, this can’t go any further.
“No, it doesn’t. In fact, I like what it says about you.”
“I’m glad.” The tension ebbed from Lee’s body. “So you were going to tell me how you got conned into babysitting triplets on Valentine’s Day. I forgot to ask you the last time we had coffee, and it sounds like an interesting story.”
“Actually, it’s mostly your fault.”
Lee’s eyebrows rose. “My fault? How is it my fault?”
Dana’s eyes sparkled, and Lee’s heartbeat sped up. “Remember the day you came into the clinic with your arm half cut off?”
“That’s an exaggeration, but yes, I know which day you’re talking about.”
“My long-time friend, Nancy, mother of the aforementioned triplets, is in charge of the desk. In exchange for agreeing to babysit the terrible trio, she assigned you to me.”
Well, well, well. How cool is that? Lee grinned. “Did she now?”
“Don’t get too cocky,” Dana said, though her smile belied her words. “You’re just generally a much more interesting challenge than the average patient. I was doing inventory, which I hate, and Nancy knew she could blackmail me.”
“So what you’re saying is that you took me out of pure boredom.”
“Absolutely.” She shook her finger at Lee. “Though if I’d known then that you drove downtown dripping blood when there was an ER one minute away, I’d have chewed you out royally.”
“I won’t do it again.”
“Please don’t,” Dana said. “If you want to see me, just call.”
“Now that’s a deal I can live with.”
* * *
Dana caught Nancy smirking at her again. “What is your problem today? You’ve looked like the cat that ate the canary ever since I came in this morning.”
“And that’s a problem?” Nancy’s grin didn’t falter.
“It is when you’re not telling me why.”
Nancy shrugged. “Nothing to tell. Maybe I’m just feeling good because it’s Friday, it’s quitting time, and a beautiful spring weekend lies ahead.”
Dana shrugged into her jacket. “Do you and Larry have plans?”
“Not really. We’re going to his mother’s place on Sunday, but that’s about all. Do you have any plans?”
“Just catching up on some chores. Eli’s with Rick this weekend.” And Lee’s been out of town all week. I don’t even know when she’ll be back. Dana sighed. Lee had become such a mainstay of her and Eli’s lives, that it was a rare weekend when they didn’t make plans together. Oh, for heaven’s sake, grow up. You can manage fine without her for one weekend.
“Well, have fun. See you on Monday.”
Dana waved as she walked out first. “See you Monday.”
She’d barely stepped outside the clinic door when a motorcycle coasted to a stop in front of her. The rider put her feet down and pushed back the visor on the helmet.
“Lee! Oh my God, you’re back.” Dana restrained the impulse to leap on Lee, for fear of off-balancing her on the bike. “And you got it!” She walked around the big purple and black bike. “It’s gorgeous, but I didn’t think you were going to pick it up until the end of the month.”
“I know. I wanted to surprise you. I’ve been waiting around the corner for you to come out.” Lee reached behind her and produced a second helmet. “May I take you for a ride?”
Dana stepped back and eyed the bike. “I think the C-train would be a lot safer way to get home.”
“I don’t want to take you home.”
Dana blinked. “You don’t? Are we going out for dinner? If so I should really go home and change first.”
Lee put the bike on the stand and dismounted. She took her helmet off, left it on the seat, and turned to Dana. “I would like very much to steal you away for the weekend, if that would be all right with you.”
The doors opened and closed behind Dana, but she paid them no attention. “The weekend? The whole weekend? Where?”
“The lodge at Kananaskis.” Lee thrust her hands into her pockets. “If you’d like to go. It’s okay if you don’t.”
“Of course she wants to go. You’re all she ever talks about.”
Dana spun and glared.
Nancy grinned unrepentantly and handed her an overnight bag. “Here. I went to your place on my lunch hour and packed everything you need. Now go, have fun. I told Rick me and Larry are on call for Eli this weekend, so all you have to do is enjoy the mountains.” She winked at Lee. “And the company.” She turned and walked away.
Dana looked at the bag, then at Lee. “Umm…”
“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I just wanted to surprise you. If you’d rather go home, I’ll take you,” Lee said.
For once don’t overthink it. Go with your heart. “Yes.”
“Yes? Really? Yes?”
“Yes.” A rush of heat made Dana’s head spin. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!
Lee opened one of the saddlebags. “Then let’s get you kitted up.” She pulled out a leather riding jacket, wind pants, and boots.
“Oh, Lee, you didn’t.”
“Sure I did. Can’t take my best girl riding without proper gear. You can call it an early birthday present.”
Best girl? Dana beamed.
“Why don’t you go inside and put these on? Nancy helped me, so I think they’ll fit.” Lee traded Dana for the overnight bag, which she attached with a string cargo net over the saddlebags.
When Dana returned, Lee whistled. “Damn, you look fine.”
She blushed. “I don’t know about that, but you two did a great job with sizes.”
Lee helped her adjust the helmet and then handed her a pair of gloves. “All right. Let’s hit the highway.”
Dana settled in and wrapped her arms around Lee. I can’t believe this. And here I thought I’d be cleaning house tonight.
In less than fifteen minutes, they were on the highway headed west. Dana watched the scenery flashing by. I should be scared out of my mind. But everything about Lee inspired confidence—the solid feel of her body, the effortless way she controlled the big bike, and more than anything, the expression in her eyes when she looked at Dana. Like she thinks I’m the most precious thing in the world. A shiver of delight pulsed through her body. This is going to be a weekend to remember for the rest of my life.
* * *
“…so Grandpa Laird threatened to blister my butt if I didn’t leave the rooster alone, but he let me keep the tail feathers.” Lee grinned as Dana lifted her glasses to dab away the tears. She loved making Dana laugh. I love her. It wasn’t a new thought, though she hadn’t yet voiced the words aloud.
“What did your grandmother say?”
Lee chuckled. “Grandma Marie never said much, but she helped me make my feathered headdress and I won the second grade contest for best Halloween costume.”
Dana reached across the table and squeezed Lee’s hand. “Your grandparents sound like remarkable people.”
“They were. I wish you could’ve met them.” Lee’s smile faded. “It couldn’t have been easy for them. They lost their son, daughter-in-law, and soon-to-be second grandchild in one horrible accident, and suddenly had the responsibility of raising a rambunctious three-year-old. Just at the time of life they should’ve been able to kick back a little and relax, they had to be parents again.”
Dana regarded her, gaze alight with affection. “Well, they did a fabulous job of parenting.”
Lee nodded. “They did. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood.”
“I’m glad, but what I really meant was the wonderful woman they helped shape.”
Before Lee could respond, a waiter stopped at their table.
“Could I interest you ladies in dessert?”
Lee looked at Dana, who shook her head.
“Honestly, I don’t think I could eat another bite.” She looked up at the waiter. “It was wonderful, thank you.”
“Just the check, thanks,” Lee said. “So, what would you like to do now? We could take a stroll, or go soak in the hot pool and watch the stars come out.”
“Could we do both?”
“Absolutely.” Lee accepted the check from the waiter, added a tip, and signed it to their room. “The weekend is ours. We can do whatever we like with it.”
“Good, because I have a few ideas.” Dana’s voice had dropped an octave.
“I’m very glad to hear that.” Lee rose and rounded the table to pull out Dana’s chair. “We should probably go back to the room for our jackets. You might want to layer up, too. It’s a clear night, so it’s going to be pretty cool.”
They returned to their room, where they’d dropped their bags before dinner. Dana excused herself to the washroom, and Lee stepped out on their balcony. The mountains were ablaze with the last rays of the setting sun and the air was crisp enough to make her shiver, but she leaned on the railing and lost herself in the view.
A jacket draped around her shoulders as Dana stepped up beside her. “What were you thinking about so intently?”
Lee gestured at the mountains. “How beautiful it is.” She turned to face Dana and her voice softened. “How right it feels to be here with you, to share this together.”
“That’s exactly how I feel. Like I’ve been holding my breath for years, waiting, but I never knew what I was waiting for until I met you.” Dana put her arms around Lee’s neck.
Lee held her close and lowered her head. It wasn’t their first kiss, but this time she didn’t hold back. She was finally free to pour all her love into the meeting of their lips.
Dana shivered and pressed against her more fiercely.
She tried to gentle her kiss, but Dana would have none of it. By the time they pulled back, Lee’s heart was racing and her body thrummed with arousal. She took a deep breath. “If we’re going to walk, we should probably go before we lose the last of the sunset.”
“There’ll be another sunset tomorrow night, right?”
“I’m pretty sure.” What was the question again?
Dana took her hand and led her back into the room. “Then let’s allow the sun to set without us this evening.” She slipped off her jacket and tossed it over a nearby chair. “We’ve got better things to do before it comes round again.” She pushed Lee’s jacket off her shoulders and stepped into her embrace. “Don’t you agree?”
“God, yes!” Lee revelled for a long moment in the sensation of Dana’s body against hers. She nuzzled her hair. “I love you. I think I’ve been waiting a lifetime to tell you that.”
Dana pulled back and cupped Lee’s face. “And I feel like I’ve been waiting a lifetime to hear it. I love you, too, sweet woman.”
There was no more need for words as lips and hands and bodies told them all they needed to know, all they would ever need to know.
By the time the sun returned, and Lee woke with Dana cuddled next to her, she had no doubt this was the way she wanted to greet every morning for the rest of her life.
Dana stirred and snuggled closer. “There you go, thinking hard again.”
Lee smiled. “How do you know I’m thinking? Maybe I was just enjoying holding you close.”
“Mmm, good answer.” Dana tilted her head to meet Lee’s gaze. “But your thoughts are very loud. I just can’t quite decipher them yet.”
“Maybe with time?”
“I expect so, but for now you’re going to have to give me a hint.”
“I was thinking…” It is too soon? No, it feels right. “I was thinking how wonderful it is to wake up with you in my arms, of how I’d like to do this every morning. And that of all the dumbass things I’ve survived in my life, going riding on a gorgeous winter day was the smartest stupid thing I ever did.”
Dana chuckled, and the vibration tickled Lee’s shoulder. “You do know that you and I are going to have words if you don’t take more care with life and limb, right?” She trailed her hand over Lee’s breasts. “I’ve grown rather attached to your body parts staying right where they are.”
“I’m glad.” Lee tightened her embrace. “I’ll do my best to stay intact.”
Dana rose up on an elbow and caressed her face. “Thank you.”
“For what—staying intact?”
“For not giving up on me. For being persistent and patient and romantic and kind and—”
Lee stopped the litany with a prolonged kiss.
When their lips drew apart, Dana wriggled on top of Lee and rested there.
They were quiet for long moments. Dana smiled against Lee’s chest and she lightly rubbed her back. “What’s so funny, love?”
“I just find it amusing and amazing that the best thing to ever happen to me outside of Eli’s birth…” She raised her head and met Lee’s gaze. “…all began with road rash.”
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