Authors: Nora Roberts
“We were told AngieâAngela MacLeod was admitted. This is her daughter, Kathleenâmy wife, Katie.”
“I need to see my mother. I need to see her.” Something in the nurse's eyes had panic bubbling in Katie's throat. “I need to see my mother! I want to talk to Dr. Hopman. She saidâ” And that Katie couldn't say.
“Dr. Gerson's treating your mother,” the nurse began.
“I don't want to see Dr. Gerson. I want to see my mother! I want to talk to Dr. Hopman.”
“Come on now, Katie, come on. You've got to try to calm down. You've got to think of the babies.”
“I'm going to contact Dr. Hopman.” The nurse came around the desk. “Why don't you wait over here, sit down while you wait. How far along are you?”
“Twenty-nine weeks, four days,” Tony said.
Now tears came, slow drops running. “You count the days, too,” Katie managed.
“Of course I do, honey. Sure I do. We're having twins,” he told the nurse.
“What fun for you.” The nurse smiled, but her face went grave when she turned to walk back to the desk.
Rachel answered the page as soon as she couldâand sized up the situation quickly when she saw the man and woman. She was about to have a grieving pregnant woman on her hands.
Still, she thought it better all around she'd gotten there ahead of Gerson. He was an excellent internist, but could be brusk to the point of rudeness.
The nurse on the desk gave Rachel the nod. Bracing herself, she walked over to the couple.
“I'm Dr. Hopman. I'm so sorry about your father.”
“It's a mistake.”
“I'm Katie MacLeod Parsoni.”
“Katie,” Rachel said and sat. “We did all we could. Your mother did all she could. She called for help, and got him to us as quickly as possible. But he was too ill.”
Katie's eyes, the same dark green as her mother's, clung to Rachel's. Pleaded. “He had a cold. Some little bug. My mother was making him chicken soup.”
“Your mother was able to give us a little information. They were in Scotland? But you didn't travel with them?”
“I'm on modified bed rest.”
“Twins,” Tony said. “Twenty-nine weeks, four days.”
“Can you tell me where in Scotland?”
“In Dumfries. What does it matter? Where's my mother? I need to see my mother.”
“She's in isolation.”
“What does that mean!”
Rachel shifted, her gaze as calm and steady as her voice. “It's a precaution, Katie. If she and your father contracted an infection, or one passed it to the other, we have to guard against contagion. I can let you see her for a few minutes, but you need to be prepared. She's very ill. You'll need to wear a mask and gloves and a protective gown.”
“I don't care what I have to wear, I need to see my mother.”
“You won't be able to touch her,” Rachel added. “And you can only see her for a few minutes.”
“I'm going with my wife.”
“All right. First, I need you to tell me everything you can about their time in Scotland. Your mother said they only got back today, and had been there since the day after Christmas. Do you know if your father was ill before they left?”
“No, no, he was fine. We had Christmas. We always go to the farm the day after. We all go, but I couldn't because I can't travel right now.”
“Did you speak to them while they were gone?”
“Of course. Almost every day. I'm telling you they were fine. You can ask Uncle Robâmy father's twin brother. They were all there, and they were fine. You can ask him. He's in London.”
“Can you give me his contact number?”
“I'll do that.” Tony gripped Katie's hand. “I've got all that, and I'll give you whatever you need. But Katie needs to see her mom.”
Once the family members were gowned and gloved, Rachel did what she could to prepare them.
“Your mother's being treated for dehydration. She's running a high fever, and we're working on bringing that down.” She paused outside the room with its glass wall, a fine-boned woman with what would have been an explosion of black curls had they not been
clamped ruthlessly back. Fatigue dogged her deep chocolate eyes, but her tone remained brisk.
“The plastic curtaining is to protect against infections.”
All Katie could do was stare through the glass, through the film of the plastic inside the room, to the woman in the narrow hospital bed.
Like a husk of my mother, she thought.
“I just talked to her. I just talked to her.”
She gripped Tony's hand, stepped inside.
Monitors beeped. Green squiggles and spikes ran across the screens. Some sort of fan hummed like a swarm of wasps. Over it all she heard her mother's rasping breaths.
“Mom,” she said, but Angie didn't stir. “Is she sedated?”
Katie cleared her throat, spoke louder, clearer. “Mom, it's Katie. Mom.”
Angie stirred, moaned. “Tired, so tired. Make the soup. Sick day, we'll have a sick day. Mommy, I want my lambie jammies. Can't go to school today.”
“Mom, it's Katie.”
“Katie, Katie.” On the pillow, Angie's head turned right, left, right, left. “Mommy says Katie, bar the door. Bar the door, Katie.” Angie's eyes fluttered open, and her fever-bright gaze rolled around the room. “Don't let it come in. Do you hear it, rustling in the bushes? Katie, bar the door!”
“Don't worry, Mom. Don't worry.”
“Do you see the crows? All the crows circling.”
That bright, blind gaze landed on Katieâand something Katie recognized as her mother came into it. “Katie. There's my baby girl.”
“I'm here, Mom. Right here.”
“Dad and I aren't feeling our best. We're going to have chicken soup on trays in bed and watch TV.”
“That's good.” Tears rushed into Katie's throat, but she pushed the words through them. “You'll feel better soon. I love you.”
“You have to hold my hand when we cross the street. It's very important to look both ways.”
“Did you hear that!” Breath quickening, Angie dropped her voice to a whisper. “Something rustling in the bushes. Something's watching.”
“Nothing's there, Mom.”
“There is! I love you, Katie. I love you, Ian. My babies.”
“I love you, Mom,” Tony said, understanding she thought he was Katie's brother. “I love you,” he repeated, because he did.
“We'll have a picnic in the park later, butÂ â¦ No, no, storm's coming. It's coming with it. Red lightning, burns and bleeds. Run!” She shoved herself up. “Run!”
Angie dissolved into a violent coughing fit that sprayed sputum and phlegm on the curtain.
“Take her out!” Rachel ordered, pressing the button for the nurse.
Over her protests, Tony dragged Katie from the room.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, but you have to let them try to help her. Come on.” His hands shook as he helped her take off the gown. “We're supposed to take all this off here, remember?”
He pulled off her gloves, his own, disposed of them as the nurse rushed into the room to assist.
“You have to sit down, Katie.”
“What's wrong with her, Tony? She was talking crazy.”
“It must be the fever.” He steered herâhe felt her shaking against himâback to the chairs. “They'll get the fever down.”
“My father's dead. He's dead, and I can't think about him. I have to think about her. Butâ”
“That's right.” He kept his arm around her, drew her head to his
shoulder, stroked her curly brown hair. “We have to think about her. Ian's going to be here as soon as he can. He may even be on his way. He's going to need us, too, especially if Abby and the kids can't come with him, if he couldn't find enough seats on a flight back.”
Just talk, Tony thought, just talk and keep Katie's mind off whatever just happened inside that horrible plastic curtain. “Remember, he texted back he'd managed to book a hopper to Dublin, and got a direct from there. Remember? And he's working on getting Abby and the kids on a flight out of London as soon as he can.”
“She thought you were Ian. She loves you, Tony.”
“I know that. It's okay. I know that.”
“Aw, come on, Katie.”
“No, I'm sorry. I'm having contractions.”
“Wait, what? How many?”
“I don't know. I don't know, but I'm having them. And I feelâ¦”
When she swayed in the chair, he gathered her up. He stoodâholding his wife and their babies, feeling the world fall apart under himâand called for help.
They admitted her and, after a tense hour, the contractions stopped. The ordeal following the nightmare, and the conclusion of hospital bed rest and observation, left them both exhausted.
“We'll make a list of what you want, from home, and I'll run and get it. I'll stay right here tonight.”
“I can't think straight.” Though her eyes felt gritty, Katie couldn't close them.
He took her hand, covered it with kisses. “I'll wing it. And you have to do what the doctor said. You have to rest.”
“I know, butÂ â¦ Tony, can you just go check? Can you go see how Mom's doing? I don't think I can rest until I know.”
“Okay, but no getting up and boogying around the room while I'm gone.”
She worked up a wan smile. “Solemn oath.”
He rose, leaned over, kissed her belly. “And you guys stay put. Kids.” He rolled his eyes at Katie. “Always in a hurry.”
When he stepped out, he just leaned against the door, struggled against the gnawing need to break down. Katie was the tough one, he thought, the strong one. But now he had to be. So he would.
He made his way through the special care sectionâthe place was a mazeâfound the doors to the waiting area, check-in, elevators. Tony suspected Katie would have to stay long enough for him to learn his way around.
As he stepped to the elevators, a slightly built, pretty black woman in a white lab coat and black Nikes stepped off.
His mind cleared. “Dr. Hopman.”
“Mr. Parsoni, how's Katie?”
“It's Tony, and she's trying to rest. Everything's good. No contractions for the last hour, and the babies are both fine. They want to keep her at least overnight, probably for a few days. She's asking about her mom, so I was coming up to check.”
“Why don't we sit down over here?”
He'd worked in his family's sports equipment store since childhoodâmanaged the main branch now. He knew how to read people.
“I'm so sorry, Tony.” She took his arm, guided him to the chairs. “I told Dr. Gerson I'd come down, but I can have him paged, have him come talk to you.”
“No, I don't know him, I don't need that.” He dropped down, lowered his head into his hands. “What's happening? I don't understand what's happening. Why did they die?”
“We're running tests, looking for the nature of the infection. We believe they contracted it in Scotland, as your father-in-law had symptoms before he left. Katie said they stayed on a farm, in Dumfries?”
“Yeah, the family farmâa cousin's farm. It's a great place.”
“Yeah, Hugh, Hugh MacLeod. And Millie. God, I need to tell them. Tell Rob, tell Ian. What do I tell Katie?”
“Can I get you some coffee?”
“No, thanks. What I could use is a good, stiff drink, butâ¦” He had to be strong, he remembered, and wiped at his tears with the heels of his hands. “I'll settle for a Coke.”
When he started to get up, Rachel put a hand on his arm. “I'll get it. Regular?”
She walked over to the vending machines, dug out change. A farm, she thought. Pigs, chickens. A possible strain of swine or bird flu?
Not her area, but she'd get the information, pass it on.
She brought Tony the Coke. “If you'd give me the contact information on Hugh MacLeod and for Ross MacLeod's brother, it may help us.”
She took it all, keyed them into her phone. The cousin, the twin brother, the son, even the nephews, as Tony offered them.
“Take my number.” She took his phone, added it to his contacts list. “Call me if there's something I can do. Are you planning on staying with Katie tonight?”
“I'll set that up for you. I'm sorry, Tony. Very sorry.”
He let out a long breath. “Ross and Angie, they wereÂ â¦ I loved them like my own ma and pop. It helps to know they were with
somebody good, somebody, you know, caring, at the end. It'll help Katie knowing that, too.”
He walked back to Katie's room, walked slowly, even deliberately taking a wrong turn once to give himself more time.
When he went in, saw her lying there, staring up at the ceiling, her hands protectively cradling the babies inside her, he knew what he had to do.
For the first time since he'd met her, he lied to her.
“She's sleeping. You need to do the same.” Leaning over the bed, he kissed her. “I'm going to run home, pack us some things. Since the food probably sucks in here, I'll pick us up some lasagna from Carmines. Kids gotta eat.” He patted her belly. “And need some meat.”
“Okay, you're right. You're my rock, Tone.”
“You've always been mine. Be back before you know it. No wild parties while I'm gone.”
Her eyes glimmered, her smile wobbled. But his Katie had always been game. “I already ordered the strippers.”
“Tell them to keep it on till I get back.”
He walked out, trudged to his car. It started to snow in anemic wisps he barely felt. He slid into the minivan they'd bought only two weeks before, in anticipation of the twins.
Lowering his head to the wheel, he wept out his broken heart.