Hope your February is going well. Since it’s currently -3 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -19 in my little corner of the world, I thought I’d share an exclusive excerpt from my upcoming duet for the Medicals line, First Response in Florida.
These books take place, as you can guess from the title, in sunny, warm Key West and feature two adopted brothers–EMT Jackson Durand and ER doc Luis Durand–on their journeys to find happily ever afters, all while battling a fierce hurricane to save their community.
In this excerpt from book one of the duet, The Vet’s Unexpected Hero, we meet Jackson Durand as he’s finishing up a busy shift as a paramedic at Key West General Hospital and rushing to finish his paperwork before a big meeting of the emergency response team ahead of Hurricane Mathilda’s arrival. He’s not looking for love. In fact, he’s a bit of a playboy. At least until a certain neuro-divergent veterinarian asks him for directions…
Disasters usually had most people running away from danger. EMT Jackson Durand wasn’t most people.
His rig stopped outside the ambulance bay doors at Key West General ER and Jackson hopped out the back, followed closely by his EMT partner, Ned. Jackson’s adopted brother, Dr. Luis Durand, met them at the entrance ready to take on the case.
“Forty-one-year-old firefighter with Key West FD,” Jackson said as he and Ned lowered the gurney from the back of the rig down to the ground. “Riding his motorcycle and thrown from the bike, no loss of consciousness on scene. Obvious open left femur fracture.”
The patient on the gurney moaned loud and tried to get up, but Jackson held him in place with a hand on his chest as they wheeled him into the ER and down a brightly lit hall to an available trauma bay, picking up nurses and techs as they went.
“Sir,” Luis said, stepping in beside Jackson. “Can you tell me your name?”
The patient bucked as they transferred him from the gurney to the hospital bed and one of the nurses lifted the sheet covering his lower body to look at the wound. “Reed,” the man on the gurney said. “What’s wrong with my leg? It hurts so bad.”
“Your leg is broken, sir,” Luis placed his stethoscope on the man’s chest and listened before continuing. “Pretty badly, I’m afraid. But we’re going to take good care of you.” He nodded to Jackson then took over his brother’s position at the patient’s bedside. “Okay, we’ve got a good airway here. Good breath sounds bilaterally. Sir, can you open your eyes again for me? Looks like you’re getting drowsy. Reed, can you wiggle your left toes for me?”
The patient screamed then, writhing on the bed. “Arrgh! It hurts, it hurts. I can’t. I can’t. My leg hurts so bad.”
“Blood pressure?” Luis asked the nurse across the table.
Jackson hid his wince, barely. He felt for the guy. With an open compound fracture of the femur like that, it had to be sheer agony, but they couldn’t risk giving him any pain meds for fear of his blood pressure dropping even lower, which would cause even more problems, including death if he stopped breathing.
“Right,” Luis said. “Let’s give him six units of blood stat.”
Jackson and Ned cleared the area to allow the staff more room to work. While Ned took the gurney back to the rig, Jackson headed down the hall to stock up on supplies before his shift ended. Along the way, he greeted staff as the passed. He knew just about everyone here and had a well-earned reputation as the go-to guy when it came to EMT services in the Keys. He liked being the man with the plan and the popularity that went with it. Mainly though, he liked the control. Hopefully his rep would earn him a coveted promotion soon; he just needed a chance to prove himself.
He entered the supply room and began to fill his kit with fresh gauze packs, elastic bandages, syringes, gloves, and Steri-strips. The neatly ordered shelves were a perfect reflection on his brother Luis, who was the head of this department. Thoughtful, quiet, efficient. Everything in its place and a place for everything. All equal. Yep. That was Luis Durand to a T. The complete opposite of Jackson, who thrived on chaos, quick decisions, and excitement. Always better to keep moving, keep going, because those who fell behind got left behind.
He’d learned that lesson the hard way.
“Hey,” a nurse said, coming around the corner of the aisle where he stood. She was dressed in pink scrubs with a jacket covered in cartoon babies. OB floor. Jackson’s gaze flicked to her face then back to the supplies he was sorting through. She was cute, maybe late-twenties, Asian. He didn’t remember her name, but from the expectant smile on her face, she obviously remembered his. Probably because they’d gone out, had a good time, maybe more. He had a reputation outside of the medical field too.
“Hey,” he said, not meeting her gaze. He wasn’t embarrassed about his flings. He only slept with women who knew the score. No strings, no complications. If they’d been together, then she’d gone into it with her eyes open too. He grabbed a handful of alcohol wipes and shoved them into the outer pocket of his pack, ignoring the hot prickle of her stare on the side of his face.
When he didn’t say anything more, she stepped closer and smiled, shaking her head. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
“Of course, I do,” he said, concentrating on the zipper of his pack, and thinking maybe it was time to get out of the game. Not settle down, because he didn’t do relationships—get in too deep and all you ended up with was heartbreak and disappointment—but his thirtieth birthday was coming up soon and frankly he was getting too old for this crap. Maybe he’d get a dog or something to live on the houseboat with him. He hazarded a side glance at the nametag on her jacket. “How could I forget you, Susie?”
Her snort rang loud in the quiet supply room. “And that proves my point. I’m Amy. Borrowed this jacket earlier because I was cold.” Heat crept up his neck as he straightened, hiding his wince. “But don’t worry. I’m not offended,” she said, jovially. “We hooked up at the St. Patrick’s Day party at Durand’s earlier this year. The night’s pretty blurry for me too, since we’d both had way too much to drink. It’s all good.”
His adopted parents owned one of the most popular bars in the touristy section of Key West, Durand’s Duck Bill Pub. He’d had a lot of good times at that bar, a lot of forgotten nights too. He flashed her a slow smile, hoping his charm might get him out of another sticky situation. “Ah. Yes, right. I do remember you now, Amy. You won the green beer contest and hung a T-shirt from the rafters.”
She shook he head and laughed. “I lost the whiskey duel and ended up having to kiss that gross leprechaun statue near the entrance. Nice try though.”
“Thanks.” He winked and sidled past her. “Gotta go.”
“Of course, you do,” she called as he walked out of the supply room fast. “Thanks for the memories.”
“Bye, Amy,” he called back, glad to be out of the firing line. By the time he returned to the bustle of the ER, his brother was at the nurses’ station barking orders into the phone to what Jackson assumed was the OR.
“Yes. Fireman thrown from his motorcycle with a known bad femur fracture. Suspected pelvic fracture. I’m also worried he may have an as yet undiagnosed solid organ injury, perhaps liver or spleen that’s adding to the loss of blood. We’ll need ortho to assist for the leg, but my primary concern right now is saving his life. Okay. Yes. I’ll be up ASAP. Thank you.”
“Another busy day in the neighborhood, huh?” Jackson moved in beside him at the counter and placed his refilled equipment pack at his feet. “You think he’s going to make it?”
“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he does,” Luis said, heading toward the stairwell up to the third floor only to be cut off by the man’s family and fire crew. Jackson concentrated on filling out the requisition forms for his supplies while his brother did his best to put the new arrivals at ease. “Yes. Reed has got a bad leg fracture from the accident and we’re taking him to surgery now to repair it and also to make sure there’s not more bleeding internally. If you have a seat in the waiting room, I’ll be down as soon as I can with an update. I…”
His brother’s voice trailed off and Jackson glanced up to see what had cause the rare occurrence. Luis was always well-spoken, always prepared, always on top of things. He had a mild case of Asperger’s, so that kept him constantly thinking, constantly working through problems in his head that usually spilled out of his mouth as well. So, him going speechless was quite an event. But all Jackson saw were the same people as before. A middle-aged woman sobbing on the shoulder of a teenaged boy and girl, who he assumed were the patient’s wife and kids. Behind them was Reed’s fire crew in their uniforms, their fire truck parked outside the doors beside the ambulance, lights still blazing. Jackson recognized the firefighters as they often went on the same runs as EMS, since many of them were trained as first responders as well. Bud Landry, John Cheeves, and Stacy Williams. Luis definitely wasn’t gay, so the guys were out as the source of Luis’ sudden silence. Which left Stacy.
Blonde, twenty-seven or twenty-eight maybe. Pretty, in a natural, wholesome, beach bunny sort of way. Curvy and cute, and more than capable in the field and courageous as hell. Looks could definitely be deceiving in her case. Luis was staring at her like he’d seen a ghost.
Huh. Interesting. Maybe he’d been bitten by the love bug at last.
An overachiever in nearly every facet of his life except the personal, Luis pushed himself hard. Always working, always helping, always growing. He’d told Jackson once it was because his parents had died bring him to the US from Cuba, sacrificing everything to give their son a better life. Luis felt obligated to live up to the legacy they’d given him, one of bravery and selflessness, even if doing so was to his own detriment. It was the one area he and Jackson had in common, but for very different reasons.
Luis’s past was rooted in affirmation and acceptance. Jackson’s in abandonment.
His mother had left him behind at four years old with no explanation and no word since.
He had no idea why she’d given him, just that she’d left him and deep down he knew he probably deserved it.
The nearby elevators dinged and broke Jackson out of his thoughts. Seemed to break Luis out of whatever spell he’d fallen under too. He excused himself and shoved into the stairwell like his butt was on fire. Jackson went back to finishing up his blasted paperwork, pushing the painful past away.
Of all the aspects of his job, the bureaucracy was his least favorite. He much preferred being out on runs, saving lives, helping others, protecting those who needed it. In fact, protection was his calling, his reason for being. Plus, being an EMT meant he got in, got out, got on with the next patient, never getting too attached to any one person or case. Attachment—that’s where you really got in trouble.
Because everyone left, sooner or later, once they saw the real, unworthy, you.
“Dude, I’m going to take off,” Ned said, clapping him on the shoulder as he walked by, jarring Jackson out of his thoughts. “You need anything from the rig before I go?”
“Nah, man. Thanks.” Jackson planned to use the staff locker room downstairs to shower and change after his shift before heading to the latest meeting of the local Emergency Response Team in the hospital conference room. He was Incident Commander for this one and if things went well it could lead to him landing the recently vacated regional director spot for the local ambulance authority.
“Oh, wait,” Jackson said, initialing and signing on the dotted lines. “You can take this full pack back with you if want.”
“Will do. I’m going to run down to the cafeteria and get a soda real quick first, then I’ll be back to get it. Sure you don’t want anything?” Ned asked as he walked over the elevators.
“No. Thanks, man. Have a good rest of your shift.” Jackson smiled over at his partner. If he got in and out of the showers fast enough, he’d grab a bite himself before the meeting. Coming off a twelve-hour rotation, he needed time to wind down though before thinking about a meal. “Take your time.”
Jackson flipped to yet another sheet on his clipboard and started on the next form, only half-listening to the drone of the TV in the waiting room behind him.
“…Tropical Storm Mathilda is expected to strengthen into a major hurricane by the time it reaches the gulf early next week. As of right now, projections are still vague as to exactly where the eyewall will make landfall, but we do expect it to at least brush the Keys on its way toward mainland USA.”
Jackson sighed. Another early August day in southern Florida. They’d been having meetings off and on since the start of the hurricane season in May. Each week a few new faces appeared in the conference room, and the team was rounded out as conditions changed. The Incident Commander’s job was to coordinate all the different team members into a cohesive whole and direct their resources to the areas that needed them most during the crisis. Considering he’d worked as an EMT in Key West since leaving the Coast Guard six years ago, and had pretty much seen and heard it all, it was a task he was well prepared for. Plus, he loved what he did. But he also had more to contribute and being named regional director would give him that opportunity.
Jackson dotted the last I and crossed the last T on his paperwork then handed it back to the nurse behind the desk, just as a female voice behind him asked, “Excuse me. Can you tell me where the conference room is please? I’m here for the ERT meeting.”
He turned to see a petite, dark-haired woman with a huge, panting golden retriever at her side. The dog was almost as big as she was, with a goofy doggo grin on its face, tongue lolling, and a red therapy vest on its back. Jackson couldn’t resist crouching to scratch the pup behind the ears. “Who’s a good boy, huh?”
“His name is Sam and he’s working,” the woman said, her tone edged with annoyance this time. “Directions, please? I don’t want to be late.”
Jackson glanced back up into her anxious dark eyes. He straightened and gave her a polite smile. “Sorry. I should’ve asked to pet him first. Come on. I’ll show you the way.” He stowed the pack for Ned with the nurse behind the desk then gestured for the woman to follow him. “You’re way too early though. Meeting doesn’t start until three. It’s only two now.”
“I know.” She moved around him and the dog trotted obediently at her side. “I’d rather be early. I always like to be prepared.”
They walked out of the ER and into a quiet corridor leading to the administrative wing. He gave her a side glance, their shoes squeaking on the shiny linoleum and the dog’s leash jangling in time to the clatter of its nails on the floor. Trying to ease the awkward with humor, he joked, “Isn’t that the boy scout motto? Always be prepared.”
“Could be. I really wouldn’t know.” She stared straight ahead, her steps evenly measured to avoid all the cracks between tiles. Hmm. Her cheeks were pink too, and he couldn’t tell if it was because it was hot outside—almost ninety today—or if she was still mad he’d pet her dog. Either way, it was clear she wanted nothing to do with him.
At the end of the hall they reached a doorway marked with a gold plaque that read ‘Conference Room A’. She gave a curt nod and finally faced him, though she kept her gaze fixed on the dog. “Thank you.”
“Uh, sure.” He slowly backed away, more intrigued than he cared to admit. People liked him. Women liked him a lot. Except for this one. She posed a puzzling challenge, and he did love a challenge. The list of new team members ran through his head as he tried to pinpoint her identity. “I’ll see you later then.”
Confusion flickered across her pretty features and she frowned. “Why?”
“I’ll be in the ERT meeting too. Jackson Durand, by the way. That’s my name.”
He waited for her to tell him hers, but she didn’t. Just led her big old dog into the conference room then closed the door behind her.
Want to read more? My First Response in Florida Duet will be out June 2021. However, you can pre-order now, so they’ll show up as soon as they’re available! Links are below and until next time, Happy Reading! ❤️
~ Traci 😊
First Response in Florida Duet:
The Vet’s Unexpected Hero
In the midst of the hurricane…
…will she find safety in his arms?
Vet Lucy Miller is happy with her quiet, ordered life. But when a tropical storm bears down on her Florida Keys animal sanctuary, the arrival of devastatingly gorgeous, yet equally guarded, emergency medic Jackson Durand brings disorder—and desire! He’s there to rescue her, but Lucy suspects her red-hot reaction to Jackson will be much more dangerous than the storm raging overhead…
Her One-Night Secret
A return, a reunion…
…A shocking revelation!
Firefighter Stacy Williams knows two things about her return to Key West. Her promotion gives her the security she needs to raise her son, and it will be almost impossible to suppress the memories of her passionate night with Dr. Luis Durand. Almost…until working on the hurricane response team brings an encounter with the tall, dark and nomadic doc! And the chance to make her life-changing confession…