Read an excerpt below. out now.
Paxton Samuels’ decision to leave Boston had been calculated. Volunteering for the temporary medical position in western Oklahoma hadn’t given him pause. It was his ticket out of the emotional nightmare his life had become. He needed this change in scenery, some privacy. Desperately.
With his experience and training in emergency care and family practice, the temp job was a perfect fit for him. That it was halfway across the country from Boston only added to its appeal. Still he’d not anticipated driving through a blizzard at the end of November in the middle of nowhere. He’d been prepared for culture shock but not this blowing snow and endless road. The unexpected brutal weather notwithstanding, the move was well worth the effort. It got him away from his parents’ demands as well as the media’s fascination with the spectacular failure of his wedding, which had been hailed as the ‘social event of the year’.
He searched the empty plain of white for any sign of civilization but only spotted an occasional tree. According to his GPS, Last Stop, Oklahoma, should only be a few miles ahead. Visibility was becoming so bad he had thoughts of pulling over until it improved. Still he couldn’t shake the worry that if he did the rapid snow accumulation would strand him. He had to push on.
Moments later the terrain rose enough to obscure the road ahead. Paxton topped the small rise and instinctively stomped the brakes. The back end of his sports car fishtailed. He yanked his foot off the brake, steering the car into the spin, the vehicle straightened. In control again, he slowed to a stop and surveyed the wreckage before him. Blocking the road was a huge combine tractor laying on its side, a truck smashed against it.
His job as local doctor was starting sooner than anticipated.
Paxton parked on what he guessed was road, making sure two of his tires remained on the pavement. Locating his cell home, he called 911. The dispatcher answered and he reported the wreck, its location, and that he was a doctor.
“Help is on the way,” the dispatcher said and ended the call.
Opening the door, Paxton shuttered at the bone-cutting blast of wind and snow that assaulted him. He snatched his heavy wool overcoat from the front passenger seat and jerked it on. Reaching in again, he pulled out his medical bag. Pushing the door closed with his hip, he shoved his unused hand into a coat pocket and lowered his head against a biting gust. His toes curled in his shoes in an effort to generate heat as he trudged toward the accident.
Reaching the pickup truck, he skidded across a patch of black ice doing a little twist and turn before he smacked his hand against the truck to catch himself. When his feet were firmly beneath him, he worked his way to the cab and peered through the driver’s side window.
The man inside was slumped forward, his head against the wheel. Paxton knocked on the glass. The man moved slightly but didn’t straighten. Grabbing the door handle, Paxton pulled it open and touched the man’s shoulder. In a firm but caring tone he asked, “Hey, are you okay?”
The man moaned and attempted to sit up.
“Easy.” Paxton griped his shoulder to hold him in place. “Don’t move. I’m a doctor. Can you tell me where you’re hurt?”
“I want you to remain still.” Swiftly Paxton accessed his head injury. Delving into his open bag and pulling out a packaged 4×4 bandage, he torn it free of the wrapper and pressed it over the man’s bleeding gash. “Someone will soon be here to help you. I need to check on the other person. ”
The man muttered, “Okay.”
Making his way to the overturned tractor, Paxton stabilized himself by pressing a hand on the side of the truck. The sharp cold metal was like pins beneath his fingers but fear of falling overrode the pain. What light he had was disappearing fast.
At the tractor cab, he rubbed his hand in a circle across the Plexiglas. From what he could make out there was one young man lying on his side, not moving. Paxton would have to climb up onto the side of the cab of the hulking piece of machinery, then lower himself inside to really asses the unconscious man’s injuries. He studied the tractor. It wouldn’t be easy.
Strapping his medical bag over his shoulders, thankful for the growing wail of an approaching siren, he carefully made his way around to the exposed undercarriage. To get inside he’d have to open the cab door. He examined the bottom workings of the engine for footing. No help there. Even if he could find something to stand on he still couldn’t swing high enough to reach the cab handle. The metal step to the cab was just above his head but not large enough to do him any good. On his best day he couldn’t pull himself up far enough to reach the door.
He looked at the front tire of the tractor suspended in the air. That was his way in. Using the inside rim of the tire for foot support, he hefted himself up on the exposed axel then on to the side of the engine hood. Crawling on hands and knees, he reached the latch. At least the engine was still warm enough to give his hands some relief.
Reaching the door, Paxton kneaded his fingers to get them flexible then tried the handle. At first it wouldn’t budge. Using his palm, he hit it. His teeth clamped together as pain shot through his arm. After one more knock the handle shifted and he swung the door back. Warmth greeted him but soon vanished into the frigid twilight.
He looked down at a teen who still hadn’t moved. “Hey! Are you okay?”
The siren grew louder. Relief washed through him. There would be help soon. In Boston he didn’t get tractor accidents so this a new one for him.
Getting on his belly, Paxton leaned in from his waist until he could touch the closest part of the boy’s body which was his thigh. There was still heat there. He was alive. Carefully Paxton pulled himself back. He didn’t need to fall in and cause more damage to the boy or to himself. Sitting on his butt so he could go in feet first, he braced one foot on the side of the seat’s backrest and the other on the dash. Leaning as far forward as possible, Paxton just managed to put two fingers on the teen’s pulse point just below his jaw. It was faint. If the boy was going to live he needed help soon.
The siren stopped. The strobe of the lights reflected off the cab. Help was finally here.
Pulling his bag strap up over his head, he placed his medical duffle on top of the backrest and against the cab window behind his patient so it wouldn’t slide out of his reach. He opened it and onehandedly found his stethoscope. Getting it in his ears, he placed the bell on the teen’s chest. A thrill went through him. A heartbeat was there.
As Paxton was reaching for the boy’s head a voice snapped, “Don’t touch him!”
Looking back over his shoulder all he could see was a face surrounded by a white cap trimmed in white fur. Echoing that command were rosy lips pulled tight, a small flared nose, and wide glaring dark eyes.
“Don’t move him!” Lauren Wilson hung over the edge of the cab, using the tone of voice she’d perfected to stop her two-year-old son from doing something that could harm him. She couldn’t have some Samaritan making matters worse. The situation was bad enough as it was. Gritting, her attention zeroed in on the stethoscope the man held. Amazement rock her. It couldn’t be. Luck was with her. “You wouldn’t happen to be Dr. Samuels, would you?”
“I am and I’m glad to see you. Do you have help coming?”
“I’m your help. Name’s Lauren.” He didn’t look too impressed. “I also have Rick with me. He’s a police officer,” she added.
“We’ve got to get this boy and the other man,” he nodded toward the truck, “taken care of. Where’s the ambulance? This fellow needs to be gotten out of here and on his way to the hospital.”
This wasn’t the type of doctor she’d been expecting. Someone older, less attractive. With graying hair and narrower shoulders. There wasn’t enough light to tell if his eyes were light blue or green.
Last Stop’s longtime physician, Dr. Barden, had retired after forty-five years of service. He’d given up on finding a permanent replacement and had settled for coaxing doctors to at least fill in for a few months at a time, yet often there were no volunteers. The town and neighboring area needed a fulltime doctor in residence. Lauren was the only nurse and medical professional for a surrounding sixty miles. She helped where she could during emergencies until assistance arrived, but the town deserved more. Emergency medical aid was too far away in the absence of EMTs or a resident physician.
Lauren looked over the top of Dr. Samuels as his attention returned to the patient. She had no doubt he was just one more young doctor meeting his medical school loan requirements. He would soon be gone. But for now, she was glad to have him and tonight in particular.
Lewis Williams, the teen who was folded against the cab windshield, she’d known all her life. From the looks of him Dr. Samuels was right. They needed to get him to the hospital right away. “Rick,” she called down, “It’s Lewis Williams. We need to get him out of here. We’re going to need lights, blankets, possibly a rope and your help up here. Throw me my bag.” She grabbed it as it sailed through the air. Lauren looked down at Dr. Samuels wearing an expensive looking coat and no head covering. “We need to get his neck stabilized before we move him.”
“I realize that, but I don’t have a neck brace with me.”
“I have one.” She pulled her bag closer. Unzipping it, she reached for the neck ring and handed it to him. He was already working his way around the steering wheel and further into the cab when she said, “Hold on a minute. I’ll climb in and help you.”
The confining space would be difficult for two to maneuver in but it would take both of them properly get the neck brace into place. Fear clutched at her chest as she worked her way inside.
Red-haired, freckled face Lewis had just earned a university scholarship. His future was bright. Now this. He reminded her too much of her husband. Young, smart and willing to work hard for what he wanted. Then to have it all destroyed by an explosion. She was brought out of her morbid thoughts by the doctor.
“I want you to support him while I check his head wound. We don’t need to make any sudden movements that could make matters worse.”
He seemed to be talking to himself as well as her.
“The light is going. And this weather…” He glanced up.
She watched snowflakes settle on his cheeks and forehead. Even in the dimming light, she registered his wasn’t the average man in looks or attitude. The few single young women in the area would be fighting over him. He was still speaking and she forced her wandering attention back to the crisis at hand.
“If we don’t get him out of here we’re gonna have to worry about hypothermia on top of all his other injuries. What’s the ETA on the ambulance?”
“Under an hour from the time it was called.”
He muttered an expletive as his head jerked around. “That long!”
“The closest hospital is over sixty miles away. In this weather…” she hadn’t meant it to sound so harsh, yet it was the truth.
His mouth dropped in disbelief. Because of the distance or her snapping, she wasn’t sure. It might have been comical in any other situation.
His expression went from resigned to determined as he turned back to their patient. “We’ve got to try and shorten that time or this boy may not make it.”
Terror shot through her. Not another wasted life. She couldn’t stand another one of those. He commanded, “Hand me that brace.”
She did, then placed a foot on the side of the seat to support herself as she climbed down further into the cab. By the time she’d gotten situated, he was working the brace around Lewis’s neck with one hand while supporting himself with the other against the cab roof. Using her free hand, she helped him get it into place then secured it.
“Good. Now I want to have a look at his head. At least get a 4×4 over the wound. Can you get your arm around his shoulders and pull him toward you while I lift his head?”
The action would put her in an awkward position, but she would try. Lauren nodded. “Hold on a sec.” She reached in her bag and pulled out a square paper package, put it between her teeth and tore it open then handed the gauze to him.
Moving her foot on the seat to the floor which put her in contact with the doctor from hip to foot with the steering wheel column between them, she was stable enough to reach both arms around Lewis and pull him against her chest.
At the same time the doctor used his hands to support his head. “Good.” A second later he said, “It looks like he’s taken a good shot to the temple. I’m concerned about his brain swelling. He’s still not regained consciousness. You got a blanket in your bag of tricks?”
Just as he said that Rick called, “Lauren, catch.” A blanket fell into the cab. She passed it to the doctor as another hit her on the head.
“Rick, we’re going to need the rope and you up here,” she called.
“What’re you thinking?” Dr. Samuels asked as he tucked the blankets around Lewis.
“Tie the rope under his arms and have Rick pull him out as we push and steady him.”
“Sounds like a plan. He needs to be in a warmer place than this. I need to check for any broken bones.”
“Lauren, here you go,” Rick yelled from above them as he lowered an end of rope to them. “Just got a message the ambulance is still twenty minutes out.”
Dr. Samuels uttered another word under his breath that she didn’t want her two-year-old to hear, or repeat.
She announced, “Rick, it’s going to take us a few minutes to get Lewis secured, then on my word I want you to pull. We’ll help from down here.”
Seconds later Rick was holding his flashlight over them.
“As I lift can you get the rope in position?” Lauren asked Dr. Samuels as she wrapped her arms around Lewis once more.
“Yeah.” The doctor wound the rope around Lewis and tied it off.
“I’m going up to the door to make sure he doesn’t topple over the side as we pull him out.” She started her climb, but her foot slipped. She fell against Dr. Samuels. His body was hard and his strong hands grabbed her at the waist. “Sorry,” she muttered.
“You get a handhold and I’ll help you out,” he ground out.
Once she was on the engine hood, Lauren remained on her stomach, twisted around and grabbed the rope. Rick lay the flashlight down and stationed himself behind her. “Okay, on three. One, Two, Three.”
Lauren wrapped her hands around the rope. She pulled with all her might until her muscles burned with the effort. Between her and Rick pulling and Dr. Samuels pushing, Lewis’s head came over the door edge then his shoulders.
“Wait. Hold him steady. Let me get a hold of him.” Using her legs, she drug Lewis while Rick pulled and the doctor lifted. Lauren kept working until Lewis almost lay across her, his back to her front.
Rick hurried to help her. With Lewis on the engine hood, they rolled him on his side, placed a blanket beside him, and gently positioned him on it before bundling him up and tucking it around him. Cracking all the heating picks she had she placed them along his side then put another blanket around him. Now they had the chore of lowering him to the ground.
Dr. Samuels, with his bag across his shoulders, hoisted himself out of the cab. He must be freezing in his less than suitable clothes, but she hadn’t heard a complained or seen a winced.
With Lewis wrapped burrito style, she grabbed the rope and tied it around his thighs and shoulders. They couldn’t have Lewis slipping out of control.
“This isn’t the first time you’ve done this,” Dr. Samuels observed from behind her.
“No.” She didn’t slow to look at him. “Rick, you ready?”
The doctor grabbed the rope. “What do I need to do?”
In the dim light provided by Rick’s flashlight and the running police cruiser headlights she could see Dr. Samuel’s fingers were turning dark. He would need attention as well. But that would have to wait until Lewis was taken care of. “We need to keep the rope taut between us as we lower him so that he remains as level as possible.”
“On Three. One, Two, Three.”
Slowly they lowered Lewis a couple of feet to Rick’s waiting hands. Minutes later Lewis was on the ground and she was climbing off the tractor. She had just reached the pavement when she was bumped. The doctor had slipped. Seconds later they were sprawling entangled in the snow.
He was the first to recover. His arms were around her and his face close. “I’m sorry. Are you hurt?”
She blinked. “No.”
“Good.” He scrambled to his feet.
Lauren followed his lead.
“We need to get Lewis out of the elements and see where that ambulance is.” He hurried toward Lewis who Rick was untying Lewis.
“I have the cruiser running so it’s warm. The back seat is clear,” Rick informed them.
As he and Rick carried Lewis around the back of the tractor to the waiting car, Lauren rushed to the far side of the vehicle. Opening the door, she climbed in as Rick laid Lewis’ shoulders on the seat. She placed her arms under Lewis armpits and pulled him toward her. As she did so Dr. Samuels help by pushing from his end. She kept going until the boy lay across the seat. Before she could straighten up, the doctor joined her on her side.
“Let’s get a set of vitals on him,” he said with authority. “Rick, could you see to the guy in the truck. The best I could tell he just has a head wound. I not sure how serious. Also check the ETA on the ambulance.”
The doctor was good with issuing orders, but he had stood back when she’d been the one giving them earlier. Hadn’t arrogantly assumed command of the situation as other male doctors would have done. She appreciated his unspoken acceptance of her as his professional equal.
Lauren went to the other door leaving him room to work. Putting down her bag, she removed her stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Lewis was so thin there was a chance she could get a reading from his calf. She didn’t want to remove the blankets or his jacket unless absolutely necessary. Instead she pushed at Lewis’s pants leg in an effort to get it beyond his boot top. Succeeding, she placed the cuff around his leg. With relief, she found it just fit.
“His heart rate is erratic. It wasn’t when I first checked,” Dr. Samuels said. “BP?”
He shook his head. “We’ve got to get him to a hospital. We don’t have time to waste. Can you get a temp while I check on Rick?”
He disappeared into the night through the blinding snow.
Finding the thermometer, she closed the door to keep the heat in and carefully moved around to Lewis’s head and ran the electronic instrument over his forehead. Ninety-six. The acid taste of panic filled her. Lewis was well on his way to hyperthermia. With a grateful heart and elation knowing no bounds, she saw the lights of the ambulance arriving.
Dr. Samuels came up behind her. “Go help Rick get the other man here while I report to the EMTs. I may need to ride in with Lewis.”
Lauren didn’t miss the concern in his voice or him blowing on his cupped hands. He was in pain as well was her guess. Would he shorten his stay in Last Stop after this adventure?