This weekend, I am featuring my book, Not Quite Zen. Of all my books, this one has received the least attention and I’m not sure why. It has a 4.4 Star average rating on Amazon and is loaded with plot. Think witness protection, street gangs, attempted murder, secrets, disguises, accidents, love triangles, therapy dogs, multiple mysteries, car accidents, home invasion, undercover work, escaping dogs, and poisonings. Oh, and I guess there's romance in it too. lol
Story-line: Therapy dog trainer and hospice aide Harmony Hastings takes a much needed Zen vacation only to return to sheer chaos at the Silver Sunset Senior Community. Who is the new gorgeous, young doctor and why has old Doc Barlow disappeared? Why are residents being harmed? Can Harmony keep her chakras in balance long enough to figure out the mystery before one of the baby boomers ends up dead? Is the mysterious doctor the guilty party, or is he only guilty of giving Harmony a terminal case of love?
“A winning combination…” ~Margaret
“A quick-paced read I recommend…” ~Beth
“Cindy Christiansen's books just keep getting better and better!” ~Judie
“Heart pounding romance and nail biting mystery comes together to make one of the most entertaining and fun books you will ever read!” ~Katie
“This is a fun, fast-paced book, very entertaining. The characters are believable, and the dogs almost steal the show.” ~Coffee Time Reviews
Here and only here, I’m posting the first two chapters to pique your interest. It is available for $3.99 in ebook on Amazon and from my Publisher. Hope you enjoy and have a wonderful weekend.
NOT QUITE ZEN
Cindy A. Christiansen
Copyright © 2012
signaled a left-hand turn and waited
for the oncoming cars, her windshield wipers drumming the same tempo as the
classic Dean Martin song on her radio. Back to work and raining buckets. Her
mood exactly. She didn’t hate her job at the exclusive Silver Sunset Retirement
Community by any means, but she’d just finished a peaceful two-week Zen
vacation in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Nothing could
compare to the tranquility and oneness with the universe she’d experienced. Her
mind felt renewed and clear, her body oozed with health and strength, and she’d
gained tons of knowledge about Zazen meditation and the practice of Jikoji.
She inhaled a deep cleansing breath. Hastings
A metallic sapphire SUV slowed at the yellow light. Harmony inched her Toyota Prius Hybrid forward. The driver of the SUV decided to run the red light at the last minute, charging forward like a goaded bull. Harmony tromped on her brakes, sliding on the wet pavement. The guy in the emerald sports car behind her slammed on his brakes and leaned on his horn. Despite her rain-splattered rear window, she could see him give her a one-fingered salute.
She took another cleansing breath and then popped a couple of the organic raw almonds she’d purchased in
into her mouth. Gee willikers. What a start to my day! California
She chomped and focused on the new personal affirmation she’d adopted since returning from the retreat: Live today on purpose.
She finished her left-hand turn on the red light. Oh, the joys of being back in the rat race, although her work at the retirement community in Pearly, Utah, could hardly be compared to corporate
Her job certainly couldn’t compare to a stockbroker’s taxing job or even a
doctor’s or nurse’s stressful job at a major city hospital. The community
wasn’t even a nursing home for the severely ill. True, the residents couldn’t
live on their own, but the place seemed almost like a spa resort for the
elderly. Everyone had fairly decent health and tons of fun activities occupied
the residents’ time, including a number of events Harmony had contributed to
the agenda like exercise therapy using dogs and making quilts, afghans and toys
to donate to animal shelters. America
Living with Gramps couldn’t be considered nerve-racking either. He had an easy-going, fun-loving personality, and he’d taken her in and raised her since she was twelve. So why did Harmony still have so much trouble dealing with stress?
She knew. She just didn’t want to face the reasons. Life certainly hadn’t been easy or calm to say the least.
The jacked-up Chevy truck in front of her screeched and slid to a stop. Harmony’s seatbelt locked, and her heart raced erratically as she swerved to the curb and came to a neck-jerking stop. Her baggie of almonds slid off the seat and spilled. Luckily, she missed the man’s bumper by a few inches. Whew!
She sighed, but then her body flew forward. Her bumper crumpled, and she heard plastic shatter. Her car inched up over the curb, but the airbag didn’t deploy. Stunned, she didn’t move. She watched in her rearview mirror as sweet old Mr. Perkins exited his 1940s Cadillac, opened his umbrella and, using his cane, hobbled toward her.
“Are you okay, missy?” he called to her.
Harmony studied his confused expression through the rain-streaked window and then opened her car door with a moan. “I’m fine, Mr. Perkins. Are you all right?”
He nodded, the extra skin on his sagging face jiggling. “It’s you, Harmony. How’s your grandpa? I haven’t been able to make it to poker night for a couple of weeks. Essie’s been under the weather.”
“Sorry to hear that. Give her my best.”
The truck driver’s cursing interrupted their chit-chat. The man slammed his door and hit his head with the palm of his hand. His sky-blue shirt turned to a dark liquid blue as large droplets of rain pelted down on him. His spiked hair drooped.
Harmony expected the man to come back and check on them. Instead, he raced toward the front of his truck. Curiosity got the better of her. She put on her emergency lights, grabbed her umbrella, and took Mr. Perkins’ arm to follow the fellow.
“I didn’t see it,” he wailed into his cell phone. “It came from nowhere. What do I do?” He whirled around and looked at Harmony and Mr. Perkins for answers.
Harmony stared at the Belgian Sheepdog sprawled near the right front tire of his truck. Patches of hair and skin littered the pavement and blood gushed from the three severe cuts she could see. The dog’s right front leg lay in a peculiar position.
“We have to get him to a vet,” she stated.
However, she knew the nearest veterinarian clinic was in
and not even
open at this hour. Even if it had been, the dog wouldn’t make it there in time. Park
“Do you have anything in your truck we can wrap around his wounds?” she called to the man who paced and still talked on his cell phone.
“No. Man, I didn’t need this. I’m already late for work because of the rain,” he called to her. “Tony,” he said into the phone. “Can you cover for me? I can’t lose another job.”
“What about you, Mr. Perkins?” Harmony asked.
“Uh, sorry, Harmony,” he returned, still staring at the dog.
“I think I have some towels in my trunk,” she said, knowing she wouldn’t be able to put enough pressure on the wounds with the large fluffy towels.
She smiled at Mr. Perkins. His mental faculties had started to slip over the last year, nothing like dementia or Alzheimer’s, but she and Gramps had noticed a few memory issues associated with age…and stress. Mr. Perkins worried excessively about his wife, Essie. She’d been diagnosed with kidney failure six months ago. That kind of stress would keep anyone’s thoughts occupied.
Although it had only been a minor fender bender, Harmony worried about the old man. Mr. Perkins could have bumped his head in the accident. She rushed back to her car and grabbed the cell phone from her purse. She placed a 911 call as she popped the trunk and dashed back to grab the towels. Juggling her umbrella, phone and towels, she made her way back to the dog and dropped to the road to wrap the injuries the best she could without the right medical supplies. Mr. Perkins held his umbrella over her while she worked.
“Great. Did you just call the cops?” the driver of the truck asked. “I don’t need a ticket for this or anything. You didn’t hit me. This is between you and the old man. I’m out of here.”
“I think Mr. Perkins needs to be checked out by a paramedic,” she told him.
“I’ve got to get to work,” he said, pounding a fist on the hood of his truck.
“One of us needs to stay here with Mr. Perkins until the paramedics and the police arrive, and one of us needs to take this dog to a doctor. Right now. If we don’t, I’m afraid he won’t make it.” She glanced up at the man, noticing the onyx o-rings in his gauged ears and the barbell stud in the rook of his left ear. A sea of tattooing washed down his neck and left arm.
“Look, lady,” he said, flipping his phone closed and slipping it into his pocket. “There isn’t any damage to my truck. I don’t wanna report this to my insurance, and I certainly don’t want to talk to the police. I-I can’t be late for work. You take the dog if it matters that much to you.” He scrambled toward his truck.
“I can’t lift this huge dog by myself,” she called after him, coming to her feet.
He paused. “Fine. I’ll help you, but then I’m out of here.” He stomped back, splashing the pooled rain as he went. He scooped the bleeding dog into his arms.
Harmony rushed to open the back door of her car.
The young man slid the dog on the seat. “There. I’m out of here,” he said, darting away.
“We need to get your name,” she called after him.
He revved the truck and hydroplaned as he sped off.
Harmony took a few calming breaths and heard the sounds of sirens in the distance.
“You take the dog right now, Harmony,” Mr. Perkins said.
She bit her lip. “I really shouldn’t leave the scene of an accident. And what about you?”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll report the accident. I know Officer Daniels well. Essie and I are godparents to the boy. He’ll understand.”
She gazed at the wounded dog, bleeding on her backseat. “If you’re sure, Mr. Perkins.”
He nodded with a crooked smile. She gave her car the once-over and then slipped behind the wheel. Other than the crunched bumper and a defunct left tail light, it seemed fine. The impact hadn’t even been severe enough to deploy the airbag, so she couldn’t image much else could be wrong with her car. She waved at Mr. Perkins and headed toward Silver Sunset.
Doc Barlow wasn’t a vet, but he was an excellent, compassionate doctor at the community, and Harmony knew the lovable old man would take good care of the dog. She smiled, thinking about Doc. Besides Gramps, she’d missed him the most during her two-week absence. He looked a lot like Frank Morgan, the wizard in The Wizard of Oz. He still had a twinkle in his eye, a distinguished moustache and a healthy attitude for life.
Harmony veered into the parking lot and drove straight for the front doors. The rain continued to pelt down like swarms of stinging bees. She realized she’d left her umbrella back on the pavement. Climbing out, she rushed into the main entrance. She spotted Nicole Dratch on duty at the front desk.
“Where’s Doc?” she yelled, looking for a gurney, wheelchair, anything to help her get the dog inside.
“And good morning to you, Harmony,” Nicole said, stapling some papers. “I see your Zen vacation did little to calm your nerves. Look at you. You’re soaked…and filthy. It’s a little early for a hamburger, isn’t it? Or do you eat ketchup on your eggs?”
Harmony pushed her rain-drenched locks from her eyes and looked down at her wet, clinging, blood-stained blouse and skirt. Who cares. She didn’t have time to explain. “Doc. I need Doc.”
Nicole pointed a long, manicured finger in the direction of the break room.
Harmony dashed toward the door just as it opened. She bolted straight into a handsome, bearded gentleman in a nicely fitted, navy-blue suit.
“Where’s Doc?” she asked, trying to jump up and see over his shoulder into the break room.
“I’m the doctor here,” he returned, staring at her disheveled appearance.
She drew back. Doctor? You? Under different circumstances, she would have lingered on his handsome features—his sexy beard, cocoa eyes and broad shoulders. His scent drove her wild, taking her back to her peaceful, mountain, meditative retreat. His sexy, good looks rivaled that of James Brolin on Marcus Welby, MD. She swallowed hard. “I-I need Doc Barlow.”
“Dr. Barlow has taken a leave of absence and… Can I help you? Are you hurt?” he asked, staring her up and down once again.
A shiver jigged up her spine. “What? No. What about Doc Barlow?”
“I said, Dr. Barlow—”
“He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.”
“He did and he has,” the man stated. “Can I get you—”
“I-I need him. He’s injured. He’s bleeding.” She took two steps back and pointed out the front door.
“Who?” the man asked, rushing through the automatic doors out into the pouring rain.
Harmony shadowed him. The doctor threw open the door and stared at the dog sprawled across her backseat.
“It’s…it’s a dog,” he said, surprise skittering across his wet face. He blinked the rain from his eyes and looked again.
“Yes. He got hit by a humongous truck. You have to help him.”
“I’m not a vet.”
“There’s not a vet in Pearly.” She grimaced.
“Take him to Park City.”
“No time. Can we get out of this rain?” she asked.
“I’m not a vet,” he repeated, running a hand through his drenched hair.
“You said that. You have to do something. Doc Barlow would’ve seen to him.”
“I’m not Dr. Barlow.”
A definite understatement. The man, or should she say doctor, was simply gorgeous. An unusual tingle zinged through her body. But Doc Barlow would have done anything in the world to help someone injured, including someone with four legs. This doctor had to help.
He stared at her, scowled, but then wrestled the dog into his arms, groaning. “This dog is gigantic,” he said, juggling the dog’s weight.
He shuffled inside as Harmony slammed her car door shut. Rushing to catch up, she felt a tug on her blouse. Buttons flew in every direction. Her cotton canary blouse made a ripping sound like a zipper.
Dagnabbit. She opened the locked door with her remote and turned enough to open it to extract her blouse. A black smudge and torn section decorated the back near the hem. Her favorite blouse too.
She looked down at her revealing lacy bra and quickly pulled her blouse around her. She grabbed her sweatshirt from the back seat and slipped it on over her head. Thank heavens she carried emergency gear in her car beyond just water and snacks.
Racing, she caught up with the new doctor as he struggled with the weight of the dog and its limp body. Harmony dashed ahead, running interference with residents and doors as they worked their way to the doctor’s examination room. Nicole stood up, her mouth gaping open and her stack of papers fluttering to the floor as the new doctor carrying a dog the size of a pony passed by her desk.
Harmony opened the doors to the doctor’s office and then the examination room. The handsome new doctor gently placed the dog onto the examination table and untied one of the towels Harmony had used to compress the bleeding. He sighed and tsked.
“It’s bad, isn’t it,” she stated rather than questioned.
“Let’s wash up.”
“Me? I’m not a surgical nurse. I’m a nurse’s aide. A-a-an assistant.” Either her fear or her soaked clothes made her quiver.
He darted to the sink, slipping off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. “Well, assistant, surely you can assist me then.” He pumped soap into his hand from the dispenser. “Assist,” he said again, glowering at her from beneath squinted, dark brows.
Holy cow! What a way to start the day.
* * * *
Dr. Benjamin Dunford, Jr. slipped off his surgical gloves and eyed his furry patient. First time he’d ever operated on a dog—any animal for that matter. He took off his mask and threw it and the gloves into the garbage can sitting near the door. “Do you want to discuss this in the other room?” he said to the woman with the glistening black hair still stroking his patient’s head.
He pushed through the door. Never in his life had he seen such gorgeous amethyst eyes. Probably colored contacts. Of course, purple eyes did occur, despite being rare and a genetic mutation. The condition, called Alexandria’s Genesis, had been reported in the 1960s and traced as far back as the Middle Ages. Just because he’d never seen anyone with it didn’t mean it didn’t exist. Still, she probably wore colored contacts. He’d gotten familiar with them himself recently. He couldn’t say he cared for them much.
Despite the woman’s soaked appearance and bloodstained clothing, he’d never laid eyes on a woman with so much natural beauty. She had the light creamy skin and raven hair which accompanied Alexandria’s Genesis. He thought about the other stipulation—no other body hair. He’d like to check that out some time. A lazy smile tugged at his lips.
He felt an inkling of male stirrings and quickly squashed it, shaking his head as if to fling the thought from his mind. He couldn’t get involved with anyone, and he didn’t know anything about this woman. Well, except that she was a competent surgical assistant, and she must love dogs very much to go out of her way like this. Who was she? Did she work here? He hadn’t seen her in the last two weeks since he’d arrived. Besides, he had to remain incognito. His safety, and his family’s safety, depended on it. Fear scuttled down his spine. The horrible images of that day at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center flashed in his mind.
“Will the dog be okay? Will he walk?” the sparkling-eyed woman asked, coming out of the meager surgical room.
“I’m no veterinarian, but I think he’ll be just fine. I sutured all the layers of each wound and reset his femur.” He watched as relief flooded her body. “Is he your dog?”
“N-n-no. On the way to work, a guy in a monster truck hit him and then abandoned us.”
“Some people are heartless. I’ve seen people driving on the freeway with their dogs free in the back of their truck beds. If they slam on the brakes, what do they think will happen to their dog? With this recession, people are abandoning their pets on the side of the road and leaving them in their foreclosed homes. It’s a sad state.” He realized he’d been rambling and glanced at her.
Her eyes held a troubled look, and she nodded slowly. He took in every inch of her rain-soaked curves. She even looked lovely in her sweatshirt.
He cleared his throat. “Coffee?” he asked, heading for the break room again. He needed another cup after that ordeal. He also needed a distraction from her.
“I should get him to the vet clinic in Park City,” she said, staying put.
“He’s not ready to be moved yet. Come on. You need to settle your nerves.” He motioned for her to follow him.
She reluctantly trailed him and flopped into a chair at one of the round tables. “What a way to come back from vacation. The rain’s pouring down in buckets, a guy runs a red light as I’m turning, I almost rear-end a guy who hit a dog, and then I got rear-ended myself. On top of that, I ripped my favorite blouse. What I’d give to be back in California,” she said.
Benjamin’s breath caught in his throat. California? What do you know about California?
“Are you from California?” he questioned, trying not to sound too interested. He set a cup of coffee in front of her, trying to keep a steady hand.
“No thanks. I only drink green tea or bottled water. Coffee can over-stimulate the nervous system and prevent absorption of minerals, which increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. It also increases the risk of fertility problems and raises cholesterol, leading to cardiovascular disease. Oh, and coffee causes a release of glycogen by the liver and can generate wild swings in blood sugar.”
He frowned. “I know. Do you want a cup or not?”
She cocked her head. “No thanks.”
He sat down opposite her and pulled the coffee toward him. “California?”
“Oh, I just got back from a spiritual retreat in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”
He finally took a breath. “So you’re not from there?”
Thank goodness. But, had she heard anything in the news? He’d like to get some word of the situation, but his contact, Marshal Shields, hadn’t notified him yet. He couldn’t stand the painstaking wait. He wanted his life back. Even if this woman had heard something in the news, no one could possibly recognize him or suspect him. Not in this small backward community. He couldn’t wait for this whole ordeal to end so he could get back to his life.
The woman extended her hand to him. “I work here, by the way. I’m a nurse’s aide and therapy dog trainer. My name’s Harmony—Harmony Hastings.”
“Oh, so you’re the Harmony everyone’s been talking about,” he returned, taking her hand.
Despite her delicate, ivory hand, she had a firm, strong handshake. He liked that. The patients had been affectionately talking about her since he’d arrived. She seemed to be the nurses’ favorite helper too. Everyone raved about her dog training abilities and the activities she’d created to help patients both physically and mentally. And then there were the unsubstantiated rumors about her secret poker games. “Thanks for operating on the dog. I’m sorry I seemed unfriendly. It’s just that Doc was a close friend, and I was surprised he hadn’t told me he was leaving.”
“I’m Dr. Be…” He did a fake cough and cleared his throat. “Dr. Milburn Warrick,” he returned. He’d almost screwed up his name. His name had been Benjamin his whole life. He couldn’t get used to a new name in just a few short weeks. He’d certainly never make a good con man.
Her eyes lit up. “Mil-Milburn?” she asked, surprise and humor pulling her full lips into a grin.
Oh, no. Here it comes. He’d been taking a ribbing ever since the FBI handed him his new credentials. How would a young woman like her know anything about an old television show like Gunsmoke or its actors? Or was the name that laughable in itself?
“Dr. Warrick will do,” he ground out. Dr. Benjamin Dunford, Jr. was the truth, but he couldn’t reveal his real identity to anyone.
“Yes, Doc. Or should I call you Millie like the rest of the cast on Gunsmoke did to Milburn Stone?” A full grin still illuminated her face.
“Dr. Warrick will do just fine,” he returned through gritted teeth.
“You know, Milburn hated that nickname too.”
“How on earth do you know anything about Gunsmoke? Wasn’t that way before your time?”
“The radio version ran from 1952 to 1961. William Conrad portrayed Matt Dillon, and Howard McNeal was the voice of Doc Adams. The television version ran for twenty seasons from 1955 to 1975, and still remains the United States' longest-running prime time, live-action drama. My grandfather loves watching the re-runs. We have all the DVDs that are currently out. Of course, James Garner on Maverick rates right up there. If you ever need to know a fact or two on Milburn Stone, I’m your encyclopedia of classic television.”
“I’m sure we both have duties, Ms. Hastings. I’ll let you know when your…your patient is well enough to travel.” He flung open the break room door a little too hard, and it bounced back on him on his way out, knocking him off balance. His coffee swirled out of the cup onto his trousers and he cursed. Harmony’s giggles radiated throughout the room before the door closed behind him. He high-tailed it to the safety of his office.
The next few months would be difficult enough without Harmony Hastings around to distract him. Somehow, he’d have to find a way to avoid the amethyst-eyed beauty.
Harmony looked in the restroom mirror and ran her fingers through her hair, trying to get it to lay in some kind of order. Hopeless. Her mint-green sweatshirt certainly didn’t complement her striped, blue, pencil-shaped skirt, but then neither did the torn, bloodstained blouse she still had on underneath. Oh well. If she could make it to lunch, maybe she could run home and change. At least it had started to dry. And why wouldn’t it? They kept the heat at ninety degrees year round. She’d never understand why old people liked it so hot. She’d be steam-boiled in an hour wearing this heavy sweatshirt. Only needing a summer wardrobe turned out to be one of the perks of working here. She fussed with her hair in one last attempt and then shrugged.
Nicole burst through the door. “What do you think of our new, hot doctor?” she asked. “Isn’t he gorgeous? All manly and everything. I can’t believe you made him operate on a…a dog?” She continued on into a stall. “You won’t believe what’s been happening around here. Things have been wacky ever since Dr. Warrick got here. Why do you think Dr. Barlow would take a leave of absence all of a sudden? He never has before. One day he was here, and the next he was gone. We never even saw him, didn’t even know he was going. We could’ve thrown him a party. And where did they come up with this new Dr. Hotty on such short notice? Not that I mind. He is so attractive. Of course it makes me sick to see all these old—these elderly women drooling all over him. Not that I blame them. He definitely is hot. The only thing is, I can’t find any information on our new doctor at all. He’s not from around here, not even Salt Lake.”
The toilet flushed.
“And in the short time you were gone,” Nicole prattled on, “we’ve had two almost fatal accidents. Two,” Nicole wailed, coming out of the stall and straightening her skirt. “You still look a mess.” She moved to the sink.
“Thanks,” Harmony returned. “What kind of accidents? To whom?”
“Residents. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Warrick, I don’t know what we’d have done.”
“Nicole, could you slow down and explain?”
“Well, Eddie Jockisch was in the exercise room. Connie stepped out, and the stand on the bench press buckled when he tried to put the weight back up. The barbell almost crushed him. He has a black eye.”
“What happened then?” Harmony asked intrigued. Nothing like that had ever happened while she’d worked here.
“Dr. Warrick saved his life.” Nicole shook the excess water from her hands.
“You mean, he was in the exercise room?”
“Yes. He was working out himself. Isn’t he handsome? So strong and…virile.”
Harmony nodded. There was no denying his attractiveness.
But, she couldn’t ignore the fact that he just happened to be on hand. Huh. Why would she be suspicious? That wasn’t really her nature. Dang it. It was too. She had become a distrustful, doubting ninny since the death of her parents. No. She had no reason to be thinking along those lines about Dr. Warrick.
“What else, Nicole?” she prodded.
“Well, Mrs. Kammerer’s oxygen alarm went off.”
“Her alarm goes off all the time. She always forgets to connect it to her CPAP machine at night.”
“No, no, no. Agnes said someone tried to smother her with a pillow.”
“It probably just felt like that when she couldn’t breathe.” A lump settled in Harmony’s throat.
Nicole threw her paper towel at the garbage can and missed. “Dr. Warrick had to resuscitate her.”
“Are you kidding me?”
Nicole nodded. “Really. Poor Agnes is afraid to go to sleep at night.”
“Didn’t Mrs. Lambert see anything? She’s her roommate.”
“Gladys was at the pool watching the male residents in their swim trunks. She keeps trying to get her daughter to buy her a bikini. Heaven help us all if she does. Honestly, I can’t remember ever having this much excitement at the community. Can you?” Nicole asked.
Harmony shook her head. She caught a glimpse of her own startled expression in the mirror and quickly veiled the emotion. Incidents happened around here all the time. Well, not all the time, not really—sickness and a few broken bones maybe. They had an excellent record compared to most assisted-living communities. They had one of the longest waiting lists in the state. Although wonderful, the nursing home section of the community where residents needed full-time care turned out to be a place seniors ended up rather than requested. If a resident in the assisted-living area became seriously ill, they received priority in the nursing home wing.
Senior facilities were lacking across the country due to the surge of baby boomers reaching old age. They were now the largest demographic group, and there was a shortage of geriatric doctors and nurses. Heaven forbid her grandpa would ever need to be in a nursing home. But if he did, Harmony hoped she’d be able to afford Silver Sunset.
“Good thing Dr. Hotty was around,” Nicole said.
“Isn’t it, though?” Harmony bit her lip and frowned.
It was good Dr. Warrick had been on hand to take care of things. She’d just feel better if she’d talked to Doc Barlow herself before he’d disappeared. Why wouldn’t he have mentioned something about taking a sabbatical before she left? He’d have to have known, or at least been thinking about a break. How else could they’ve gotten another doctor to replace him so quickly?
“Any ideas where Doc might have gone?” she asked.
“All I know is he’s not at his house, and Dr. Warrick said he went out of state.” Nicole headed out the door. “Do you want to go out for lunch?”
“Thanks, but not today, Nicole. I want to run home and change during my lunch hour.” Harmony scurried down the corridor, trying to convince herself she’d over-reacted. Everything in her life couldn’t be neat and tidy and tied up with a bow. Things happened. Life happened. She’d settle back into her normal work routine, and everything would be fine.
“There’s that girl of mine,” Mr. Bascombe called out to her as he teetered down the corridor behind his walker.
“You’re looking well today. How many games of…Bingo did you win while I was gone?” she asked with a smile when she reached him.
“All my luck went with you.” He gave her a little wink.
“We’ll see if we can remedy that this afternoon.”
“I haven’t had a good poker game since you left,” he grumbled under his breath.
Harmony slowly shuffled down the corridor next to him. “You know gambling isn’t allowed at Silver Sunset,” she said, looking around.
“Neither is drinking or smoking or any of the fun stuff. I want to go home.”
“Ah, but we’d all miss you. Who would I get to play ball with Oreo?”
“I don’t like dogs,” the old man snarled.
Harold Bascombe loved dogs, but he wouldn’t admit it if his life depended on it. He’d also complained constantly about leaving and going back home for the last two years since he’d arrived. But the old grouch loved it here. Everyone at the community was his family. Mr. Bascombe’s wife had died and his only son had left him at the posh retirement community, mainly to appease his guilty consciousness for leaving his father…and the country. At least his son still paid the exorbitant expenses. She looked at Mr. Bascombe’s Einstein hairdo and smiled. How could anyone just abandon the sweet old man?
“My Deidre used to play poker with me,” he said.
Harmony gave him a pat on the shoulder.
“How about a little game of seven-card stud since you’re back?” he questioned, heading into his room.
Nurse Chaffin rounded the corner with a frown. Harmony shivered. The woman honestly resembled Nurse Annie Wilkes in the movie Misery, only older, grayer and more miserable. Harmony thought of the movie every time she looked at the woman.
“Gambling is against the rules, Mr. Bascombe,” the head nurse growled.
“Yes, Nurse Wilk—Chaffin,” Harmony returned and then coughed.
Harmony waited for the cranky woman to leave the area and then leaned against the door jamb to Mr. Bascombe’s room. “I’ll meet you at twelve forty-five. Spread the word. Have the cards ready,” she whispered with a smile.
“Bring lots of money,” he croaked back at her.
Harmony had become a gambling pro while living with Gramps. He and his poker buddies had met every Wednesday for as long as she could remember, and she’d joined them in many a game. Heaven’s angels couldn’t convince her that a little five-card stud would damage the morality of the seniors at the community.
Harmony continued down the corridor, hiding a smile. So far, Mr. Bascombe and she had managed to keep their gambling escapades a secret from the nurses, especially Nurse Chaffin. Their games were innocent enough. In the past two years, the sweet old man had only managed to win about seventy-five dollars of her money. Well worth his happiness.
A few of Grandpa’s friends had ended up at Silver Sunset. Gramps came to visit them regularly and occasionally managed to take them home for dinner and a stimulating game of poker. She’d like to see if she and Gramps could break Mr. Bascombe out of the community one of these nights to join them. So far, she hadn’t been able to circumvent the rules and regulations since neither of them were related to Mr. Bascombe, and they had no way to contact his son for permission.
In the past, they’d managed to round up several other regular “inmates,” as Mr. Bascombe called them, to join them in their devious escapades. Some of them were Grandpa’s old friends.
“Harmony,” she heard Mrs. Stanwyck call to her.
Harmony stuck her head into the woman’s room. “Hello, Mrs. Stanwyck. How are you today? Your hair is quite stunning.” She tried not to stare at the woman’s turquoise-streaked hair. Why shouldn’t Mrs. Stanwyck color her hair different colors for fun? Strange hair color graced the heads of teens these days—hot magenta, purple pizzazz, orange red. Why should they have all the fun? Mrs. Stanwyck’s latest color caused quite a stir at the community. You never knew what her hair would look like next. Luckily their in-house beautician, Gloria, accommodated her unique tastes.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Mrs. Stanwyck had been a famous film actress of the sixties and seventies, competing with actresses like Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews. Though she was much younger, they changed her stage name to Linda Santino so she wouldn’t be confused with the ever-popular Barbara Stanwyck. Like most Hollywood-types, Linda had been married six times and had managed to outlive all her exes.
“I’ve decided to go country, dear,” the woman announced.
Harmony took in the denim clothes and ample turquoise jewelry. She looked country right down to her…well corrective sneakers. Cowboy boots would have matched better, but then Mrs. Stanwyck wouldn’t have been able to walk.
“I think you look fantastic, Mrs. Stanwyck,” Harmony told her. She retrieved the woman’s jug to refill with ice water.
“Are you ever going to call me Linda, dear?” she asked.
“You’re just too special. Besides, I love Mrs. Stanwyck. It’s such a regal name.”
Gramps had taught Harmony long ago to respect her elders. The act felt more respectful, and habits were hard to break. Harmony moved the woman’s empty food tray away from the bed and fluffed her pillows.
“Where’s your roommate?” Harmony asked, stepping into the bathroom to dump the lukewarm water from the jug.
“Uh, Doris? Oh, she’s out for the day.”
“She’s out with her family a lot.” Harmony slipped back into the room.
“True. Say, how’s the dog training going?” Linda wriggled on the bed and adjusted her turquoise bracelet.
Hmmm. If Harmony didn’t know any better, she’d think Linda—who was usually happy to gossip about her roommate—had just deliberately tried to change the subject. But, what reason would she have to do that?
“It all takes time. Sarge and Fang are coming along well,” she said.
“Wonderful.” Linda smiled.
“I’ll be right back.” Harmony slipped out to refill Linda’s ice water.
Was Mrs. Stanwyck trying to avoid the subject of Doris Zillox? Why? Sweet, Plain Jane Doris had a large loving family. She truly had that grandmotherly touch and look. Her smile always reached her eyes, and you couldn’t find a sweeter person if you searched the whole planet.
Every one of Doris’s seven children was willing to have her live with them, but she refused. With her excellent health, aside from moderate bone loss, she could have lived on her own with some sort of alert system, but she chose Silver Sunset. She loved the camaraderie of friends her own age and the multitude of activities available.
One of her kids or grandkids came regularly to pick her up for one family event or another. What a difference between her life and some of the other forsaken residents. And although Mrs. Stanwyck could have afforded a room to herself, she liked the company of Mrs. Zillox. Harmony believed Mrs. Stanwyck envied the common life Mrs. Zillox had lived and the wonderful, close family she had. Mrs. Stanwyck’s children and stepchildren never came to see her.
“What do you think of our new, sexy doctor?” Mrs. Stanwyck asked her when Harmony entered her room with fresh water.
Harmony smiled. She knew the subject would turn to the new doctor sooner or later. “Dr. Warrick?”
“We all call him Dr. Welby. Of course he’s more young and attractive, like Dr. Kiley, but what a doctor. The ladies are all abuzz, especially Gladys.”
Sadly, Harmony did know all about the television series, Marcus Welby MD—another of Gramps’ favorites. The show ran from 1969 to 1976. Dr. Welby was played by Robert Young. Dr. Stephen Kiley was played by James Brolin and Consuelo was—
Oh, holy mother of pearl! Harmony needed a life—any life. Could she get any more pathetic? A classic television guru, a nurse’s aide at an old folk’s home and a dog trainer. And to top it off, the most fun she’d ever had was playing poker with a bunch of old men or sitting around knitting dog afghans with the women’s knitting club. Yikes! Pitiful.
“Earth to Harmony,” Mrs. Stanwyck called.
“What was that?”
“I asked if you’d met the good doctor yet.”
“Uh, yes,” she mumbled. “He operated on a Belgian Sheepdog this morning.”
“Sheepdog? He’s not a vet too, is he? The man can do anything. Gladys says he isn’t married. Of course with Gladys, it wouldn’t matter whether he was married or not.” Mrs. Stanwyck cleared her throat. “I think you need to make a play for the doctor.”
Harmony dropped the woman’s empty water mug. “Me? Seriously?”
“Yes, you, dear. These old biddies around here are dreaming if they think Dr. Warrick is within their romantic grasps. Of course, younger men do marry older women for money, but I don’t think Dr. Warrick needs money. He needs love, romance, excitement…someone closer to his age. He needs you.”
“Me?” she said again. “I-I-I’m not right for the part.” She held up her hands in protest.
“Of course you are.”
“I wouldn’t even know how to act.” Harmony bit her lip.
“Pretend you’re Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and go for it.”
Harmony cocked her head to the side. Me? Audrey Hepburn? She’d seen the movie. Of course.
Harmony left the room in a dazed cloud. Despite the ridiculous nature of the older woman’s suggestion, it merely proved her point. She had to do something about her life…or rather lack thereof.
* * * *
Where is he?
Harmony checked her watch again. One-thirty. What could have happened to Mr. Bascombe? He never came late to one of their poker games. None of the other men had seen him since lunchtime.
Harmony had rushed home, showered, styled her hair, changed and returned to work without being late. However, she hadn’t had time to eat. Her stomach rattled like an old Model T. She rooted in her pocket for another bag of almonds she’d quickly stuffed there, and scurried to the break room to see if she could round up something more substantial to eat before her muscles turned to pudding and her brain began to fog. On the way, she’d stop by Mr. Bascombe’s room to check on him.
She rounded the corner, spotted a group of residents milling anxiously near his door and heard a flat-line on a heart monitor.
Harmony hurried ahead and pushed through the crowd. Dr. Warrick held a portable defibrillator paddle in each hand. Poor Mr. Bascombe lay on the bed, his open shirt exposing his thin, pasty-white chest. His lips resembled a blue robin egg.
Dr. Warrick looked up at Harmony. “Could you get everyone away from here?” he asked, nodding toward the group of upset onlookers. He turned to Nurse Chaffin, always steady as a rock. “Again. Clear.”
Harmony gathered everyone together and tried to herd them to the dining area.
Gladys Lambert wiggled her ample body down the corridor toward them, power walking. “I heard Harold had a fight with Nurse Chaffin, and she strangled him to death.” Excitement sparkled in her eyes. “Are they going to arrest her? Put her on death row?”
“No. Nothing as fantastic as that.” Harmony put her arm around her and guided her to the dining room with the rest of the group.
Gladys reluctantly gave in. “Then did my room transfer come in?”
“I wasn’t aware you were trying to get one.”
“I want a room to myself,” Gladys said, dragging her feet.
Mrs. Lambert reigned as Silver Sunset’s biggest flirt and gossip. She chose to wear clothes more fitting for a teenager…and someone much more slender…and with fewer varicose veins. Gloria kept Gladys’s long dyed-red locks looking natural and soft. Harmony had never spotted one gray hair as of yet. Gladys’s talents lay in the area of keeping them all informed of the community’s latest scandal, in which Gladys usually had a leading role. Her second best talent? Keeping them up-to-date on all of Hollywood’s tittle-tattle.
Nurse Chaffin killing Harold had to be one of Gladys’s biggest whoppers. Needless to say, Gladys couldn’t be counted on for reliable information. Rumor had it, she once worked for one of the biggest tabloids—one of those with Woman Gives Birth to Alien Baby, Father from Mars on the cover. Of course, that rumor hadn’t been substantiated either.
Harmony asked Julie, one of the other aides, to help get cocoa and coffee for the group. Harmony couldn’t take her mind off the image of poor Mr. Bascombe. Did he die? He’d seemed fine earlier. What could have gone wrong?
Of course, the residents did all have one affliction or another, and the staff had had plenty of experience with death. Even Harmony had more than her share of loss. She just didn’t want to think about it, and she didn’t want to lose Mr. Bascombe. Not yet. Not like this. He still held so much vibrancy.
From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Dr. Warrick passing by the room. She slammed the coffee pot to the table and told the residents to help themselves. She rushed to the door and threw it open.
“Dr. Warrick?” she called after him.
He turned, deep lines furrowing his brow. At the sight of her, a surprised expression crossed his face which he quickly concealed. “Yes?”
“Can you tell me…? Is he…?” She reached his side.
“Mr. Bascombe suffered a probable mild myocardial infarction. We got his heart started again, and he’s in a coma-like state at the moment. I believe he’ll be all right.”
Harmony unclenched her stomach and released the tension in her neck. “Thank you, doctor.”
“You have a way with the patients here, Ms. Hastings. Mr. Bascombe is one of your biggest fans and an even bigger fan of one of your dogs named Oreo. Of course, everyone talks favorably of you.”
She fell into step beside him. “You’ve made quite an impression yourself. Tell me, what do you think caused his heart attack? Mr. Bascombe has a strong heart, as far as I know.”
“Indeed. I said probable. Something else could’ve mimicked an MI. I’ll have to check over his medical records.” He looked at her with a raised brow.
“I’m sure you know residents requiring full-time care can’t stay here. Do you think Mr. Bascombe will recover well enough to continue on here?” She studied his handsome face.
“It’s too soon for me to say, Ms. Hastings.”
“Call me Harmony.” Now why on earth had she said that?
“You can call me…” He looked stupefied.
“Doctor?” she suggested.
“That will do,” he answered with a dazzling smile.
She pulled herself from her aroused physical state to a mental state by rubbing the sapphire crystal on her chakra bracelet.
“What are you doing?” he asked, gently grasping her hand and looking at the bracelet.
“Oh, this. It’s a…a chakra bracelet.” Heat radiated from her core.
“It looks like different colors of crystals,” he said, still holding her hand.
“Swarovski, actually.” She certainly didn’t need to rub her orange crystal, which represented her sacral center—the one controlling her desire and will to feel pleasure. She gulped.
“You were rubbing the sapphire.” He peered at her with intense concentration.
“Umm, it represents mental clarity and restores balance.” She reached for her throat chakra, which also represented communication. “I-I better get back to the residents.”
“I’d like to hear more about this. Is it working for you?” He moved even closer and continued to hold her hand.
Nothing. She could think of nothing. Nothing but experiencing emotions and sensations she’d never had before. She needed to pull her hand away, to break the connection. Just do it. Quit standing here.
She grabbed at her bracelet and vigorously rubbed the sapphire. “I’ve been hearing rumors about some other unusual events going on with the residents…” she blurted out and then swallowed hard. “Since you arrived.”
He dropped her hand and his easy, penetrating stare turned immediately to a glare. “Is that an accusation, Ms. Hastings?”
He loomed a good six inches over her and smelled divine. That hint of mountain pine and fresh rain weakened her knees. She drank in the scent, still rubbing the stone on her bracelet. Pull yourself together. Be careful what you’re saying and watch what you’re doing.
“I asked you a question,” he demanded.
“No. I…You have to admit…”
He squared his shoulders. Disappointment riddled his features. “I can assure you, Ms. Hastings, I’d never do anything to harm one of my patients.”
Harmony desperately tried to control her wildly beating heart and her rampaging hormones. How could she possibly accuse him of harming patients, yet find herself so utterly attracted to him? She couldn’t understand what reactions kept dancing inside her. She felt a full body flush. She did a quick calming breath, centered herself and chanted her mantra. “Asato Ma Sat Gamayo. Asato Ma Sat Gamayo.” She rocked back and forth.
He grasped her by the shoulders. “Are you ill? You’re talking in a foreign tongue. You’ve got to be the strangest person I’ve—”
Her knees buckled. Dr. Warrick managed to keep her on her feet. The physical contact with him made her even more unstable. She’d never swooned before in her life. Swooned! Another outdated term. She just had to get a life. Better yet, she’d like Doc Barlow back, and Dr. Tall, Dark and Handsome needed to go back to wherever he’d come from in the first place. She didn’t need this kind of anxiety in her life.
“I-I-I didn’t have any lunch today,” she returned feebly.
“Let’s get you to the break room. I’m sure we’ll find you something to eat there.” He escorted her down the corridor.
She could barely focus on anything but his warm touch on her arms. Trouble. Big trouble. “When will Doc Barlow be back?” she asked weakly.
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Humor, Suspense...and Dogs!
Fly into a good book at: http://www.dragonflyromance.com