Authors: Teri Thackston
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Final Words Copyright© 2008 Teri Thackston
Edited by Helen Woodall.
Cover art by Croco.
Electronic book Publication April 2008
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and used fictitiously.
To the women in my life who have shown me that faith is
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark
owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Coke: The Coca-Cola Company
Discovery Channel: Discovery Communications, Inc.
Frisbee: Wham-O, Inc.
Godiva: Godiva Brands, Inc.
Hardy Boys: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Harvard: President and Fellows of Harvard College
Jack Daniel’s: Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc.
Mustang: Ford Motor Company
Old Spice: Procter and Gamble Company
Ramada: Ramada Inn Inc.
: Castle Rock Entertainment
Stoli: V/O Sojuzplodoimport Corporation
Smith and Wesson: Smith & Wesson Corp.
The Three Stooges: Comedy III Entertainment
Tony Lama: Tony Lama Company, Inc.
Yellow Pages: Yellow Pages Inc.
Clear Harbor, Texas
“We’re losing her!”
Emma opened her eyes. Fluorescent brilliance surrounded her,
bouncing off white tile and stainless steel. A heart monitor keened a flat tone
while latex-sheathed hands probed at a body draped in bloody sheets on a
hospital gurney below her.
Bewildered, Emma looked around what was obviously an
emergency treatment room.
How did I get here? Brian and I were at the restaurant
and that hungry cat…
“Get the crash cart!”
Orders rang across the room. Wheels rattled and cables
slithered. Someone shouted “clear” and a punch of electricity lifted the torso
off the gurney. The monitor continued its flat wail.
Female, Emma noted through her confusion. Too late for her.
She’ll be on
But there was something about the body…
As she stared at it, memory struck, bringing with it the
roar of a car’s engine and Brian’s shout. She recalled an instant of pain
before darkness slammed over her and then—
Dread seized her.
It can’t be—
Golden light cascaded over her and as instantly as it hit,
the dread eased. Relief filtered in after it, a gift of peace that Emma
couldn’t help but savor. The light pulsed and she looked up. Ceiling tiles hung
above her but they appeared opaque, allowing her to see up into a corridor
colored in amethyst and cool sage. Scents of roses and sea grass emanated from
the space and the golden light pulsed there. Drawn by the scene, eager to
escape the chaos below, Emma merely thought of rising and she did.
Strangely easy, like flying…
“Emma?” A man appeared from the light. “The cat’s okay.”
She stared at his familiar blue eyes and that laughable nose.
“Brian? Where are we? What happened? Is that really me down—”
“Emma!” An urgent voice shouted below. “Come on, Emma!”
Ignoring the call, she moved toward her friend. But Brian
drifted away before she could touch him. “Tell my folks I’m okay too,” he said
and then faded into the light.
Emma tried to follow but a young woman blocked her path. The
stranger’s short chestnut hair shimmered as she lifted a crimson rose to her
lips and said, “Tell my brother to stop blaming himself.”
The woman faded too and a richer voice spoke from the light.
Go back, Emma. You have work to do.
Something tugged inside her chest and embers of fire shot
through her. Suddenly heavy, she began to sink. The lights and the soothing
colors dulled. Her sense of dread swept back and she looked down.
“Again!” The command came from a tall man holding crash cart
paddles in the room below. Other people hovered around the man and the gurney,
chattering like wild, worried parrots. Emma wished they would shut up and leave
the body alone.
Double-doors at the end of the room burst open and a man
charged inside. Anguish tightened his lean face. Compassion surged through Emma
as the suffering that darkened his soul reached out to her. Something else
reached out too.
the rich voice said, hushing to little more
than a whisper as the light faded.
Go back, Emma.
She tried to shake her head. “But I don’t want—”
“Clear!” shouted the tall man.
Emma felt a tremendous jolt. Pain seared her. Her vision
went dark and she began to fall.
* * * * *
“We got her!”
The triumphant cry coincided with the heart monitor’s blip.
Detective Jason MacKenzie’s own blood started to flow again.
“Let’s get her stabilized.” The tall man at the gurney ran
the bloodied back of one gloved hand over his forehead. “Martinez, tell OR we’re
sending her up.”
“Yes, Dr. Corbett.” A dark-haired nurse reached for a phone
mounted near the doors.
Jason shoved a hand through his hair. Emma St. Clair was
alive. She could tell him who ran her down and left her and Brian for dead. She’d
survived but Brian…
Bright light bounced off stainless steel, making Jason’s
weary eyes throb. Scents of antiseptic and blood welled in his sinuses and
layered a metallic taste over his tongue. Bitter memories surged but he locked
them behind the wall surrounding his heart. He couldn’t afford to let them out
where they would get in the way of his job as a cop.
Approaching the gurney, he looked at the unconscious woman.
Dirt and blood splotched her face, which was as still and white as the sheet
beneath her. She could have been a china doll lying there for all the signs of
life she exhibited. A broken china doll.
Dr. Corbett stepped near him. “Who are you?”
“MacKenzie.” Jason pulled his badge from a hip pocket and
flashed it. “I need to talk to her.”
Corbett faced the table. “Martinez, get him out of here.”
The dark-haired nurse charged toward Jason. “Out. Now.”
Grief stormed the stone wall around Jason’s heart.
Compassion climbed after it, pricking at him, reminding him that the woman on
the table was probably dying. He tried to ignore both feelings, forcing himself
to do what needed to be done one more time. “I just need to get a statement. It
“No, you need to leave.” The nurse pushed at him but her
soft, rounded form was no match for his determination.
“Look.” Plagued with guilt, he forced himself to stand his
ground. “Every minute we waste arguing is another mile her assailant makes it
down the road. We have one homicide by hit-and-run tonight. If she dies, it’ll
be two. I need—”
“We’re losing her again! Martinez!”
The monitor shrieked and the nurse whirled away. Jason saw
the body on the table jerk beneath the crash cart paddles.
He shoved a hand through his hair again.
* * * * *
Emma sucked hard at the air and the chill of it scored her
windpipe. Every molecule of her body screamed in pain.
“Dr. Corbett,” someone said. “She’s back.”
Emma choked as her burning lungs struggled to process air
that swept in too fast. Harsh light shimmered around her, formless shadows of
green and gray moving within it. And the pain…a jagged snake of glass, it
slithered through her body, coiling and piercing and strangling.
“Emma, I’m Dr. Corbett.” A brown face loomed above her,
haloed by cold white light. “You’re going to be all right.”
A latex-covered thumb lifted one of her eyelids wider. The
light intensified, bringing on a bitter sting of tears.
“Do you remember anything?” he asked.
Her head pounded. Her chest ached. Her left
leg felt as if it had been torn off at the hip and reattached in pieces.
“Do you remember who you are?”
Panic hit her as blankness loomed. Then memory rushed in. “Emma.
St. Clair. I’m…” She tasted blood along both sides of her tongue. “I’m a
“Good. Stay with us now.”
She tried to focus on Dr. Corbett’s face as others,
multi-hued and masked, swirled around it. Confusing memories surged through
her. “Where’s Brian? And that woman…the voice from the light…”
Suddenly, she knew. Brian was dead and what she’d just seen
must have been a dream. A trauma-induced nightmare.
“Dr. St. Clair!” Someone jostled Dr. Corbett aside and a new
face appeared. “Did you see the car that hit you?”
The unkempt hair and lean, worried face. The man who needed
help. The voice had told her…
Her gaze shifted to Dr. Corbett and then to the dark-haired
nurse. Panic threatened again.
How can these people be real when they were
just inside my head?
“Dr. St. Clair, did you see the car?”
She stared at the man, afraid to tap into memory. She wanted
to escape from pain and confusion. She didn’t even need the welcoming corridor
anymore. Darkness would suffice. Darkness would keep her safe. She just had to
close her eyes.
Caught between what was real and what wasn’t, Emma gave in
to the beckoning darkness, going deep at last where no memories could follow.
* * * * *
“I don’t give a crap about your investigation!” Stripping
off his gloves, Dr. Corbett threw them into a hazardous waste bin. Grabbing
Jason’s arm, he dragged him through the swinging doors and into the main
corridor. “When I tell you to get out of my ER, you damn well better get out!”
Jason jerked free of the man’s grip, unable to control his
temper any longer. He’d lost two friends in the last hour and he wanted justice
for at least one of them. “I need information from that witness!”
Corbett poked a finger into Jason’s chest. “You don’t talk
to her until she recovers.”
she recovers.” Jason shoved Corbett’s hand away. “And
if she doesn’t, I need her last statement.”
Rage darkened the doctor’s eyes. “Get the hell out of my
sight!” Whipping around, he stormed back to the treatment room.
Jason started after him but his partner, Charlie Garcia,
caught his arm. “Let it go,” Charlie said.
“But there’s a maniac out there running down—”
“It’s not the same guy.”
Sympathy softened Charlie’s dark eyes and Jason wished like
hell that his partner would stay out of his head. Ty’s death had sliced into
his heart but Brian’s death cut to the soul. The way he’d died had resurrected
too many memories.
Damn, who was he kidding? Memories of Rose hadn’t been
resurrected because they’d never died. They lived with him every day,
whispering insidious taunts that it had been his fault.
Jason clenched his fists, feeling Emma St. Clair’s blood
mingle with his own sweat, feeling fresh guilt for intruding on what might have
been her last minutes of life.
But what choice did he have? No other witnesses had come
forward and another killer was going to get away.
But Charlie was right. This had nothing to do with Rose’s
case. This was nothing but a terrible coincidence.
“I know it isn’t the same guy.” Jason’s jaw ached as he
ground out the words that didn’t lessen his pain. “But this one killed Brian.
And that woman in there…”
In his mind, he saw the blood-splattered sheet, heard the
squeal of the monitor followed by the beep as her heart had started beating
again. His chest ached as if his own heart had stopped and started with hers.
And hadn’t it? Every time his grief tried to escape, it damaged his heart a
little more. One day the damn thing was going to stop for good. And maybe that
would be all right. At least he’d stop hurting.
Weary, Jason sank into a nearby vinyl-clad chair. He stared
at the blood on his hand, giving guilt a little freedom, a little jog around
the prison yard inside his heart.
Charlie sat beside him and handed Jason a handkerchief.
Wadding the handkerchief into a ball, Jason scrubbed at the
blood on his hand.
“I understand your need to avenge,” Charlie said. “But—”
“Spare me the psychoanalysis.” Jason kept scrubbing but the
blood wouldn’t wipe off. “I know why I do what I do and why I feel what I feel.
So just lay off.”
Charlie molded his palms around his knees. His knuckles went
white from his grip. “You forget I knew Brian too. And I taught Tyrone the
ropes at work, same as I taught you.”
Guilt took another jab at Jason’s gut. “I know. And…” His
voice caught but he pushed out the whisper, “I’m sorry.”
He and Tyrone Sharpe had joined the Clear Harbor police
force on the same day. They’d patrolled together, earned their detective badges
together. But they hadn’t been together in that alley at two o’clock this
morning. When it had really counted, Jason hadn’t been there to watch Ty’s
Loss, as raw as a fresh wound, nearly overwhelmed Jason.
Brian and Ty—good friends—had both died within the past hour. Both deaths
brought back the memory of what had happened to Rose.
He balled Charlie’s handkerchief tighter inside his fist. “I
heard about Ty on my way to the hit-and-run.” He controlled his words with a
whisper. “I should’ve been here with him.”
“You were where God wanted you.” Charlie’s hands relaxed on
his knees. “You were doing your job.”
“Was Ty where God wanted him at two o’clock this morning?”
“Tyrone chose to take that security job.” Charlie’s breath
hitched but he went on. “He knew the risks.”
Jason exhaled hard. “Yeah, he knew.”
Two friends in one day. One felled by a bullet, the other by
a stranger’s car. By now they probably lay side-by-side in the cooler room at
the morgue, clothing stripped away along with their humanity.
Jason covered his face with his free hand. Dr. Brian Reiser
had worked at the morgue for years. Detective Tyrone Sharpe had identified dead
suspects there. Now both men lay in that cold place, waiting for their turns on
the big stainless steel table.
Just like Rose did a year ago.
“All this death comes too fast,” Charlie murmured.
Jason looked up. Grief carved deep lines around Charlie’s
mouth. Red rimmed his dark eyes.
“What happened to Tyrone is what happens to cops who aren’t
careful.” Charlie looked at Jason. “And what happened to Emma St. Clair and
Brian makes no sense. But we can’t blame God.”
“I don’t blame God.”
“Don’t blame yourself, either. You didn’t kill Rose.”
Dragging in another lungful of antiseptic-flavored air,
Jason held it, tasted it and then pushed it out. “I just want to catch one
idiot driver before he hurts or kills someone else.”
“This idiot driver won’t hurt or kill anyone else tonight.
He was probably so scared, he ruined his pants. I’ll bet he’s at home right now
hiding under his bed.”
“Or at some all-night repair shop fixing his car.” Jason
tried to think like a cop instead of a grieving friend. But it was too hard.
Wadding the bloody handkerchief into a ball again, he whispered, “Damn it,
Charlie. Brian and I had lunch together just this afternoon. He told me he was
taking the night off. He was gonna have some fun.”