Mountain Memories

By Kennedy Northcutt ©2011

For disclaimers, see Part 1.

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Part 12

Chapter 38

She was hovering over a sea of blackness. Just hovering. Not falling. No. That would be too easy. To just give in and drop back into that pit of inky blackness. It would be far too easy just to sink down into the abyss and lose herself-again. But she couldn't. It wasn't that she didn't want to. She very much wanted to just let go and return to that black nothingness.

But she couldn't. Something held her there over the abyss. Something anchored her in that place between knowing and not knowing. Something. No. Someone.

Someone's warm fingers held hers tightly. The hand fit perfectly in hers. It was her lifeline. It was her anchor in a world turned upside down and inside out. It grounded her and helped bring her up from the abyss. She needed to leave the darkness because that hand in hers was pulling her back to a world she had hoped to leave forever.

But it wasn't meant to be. Death was too easy. Too final.

Dim light beckoned her higher into that place between. She was nearly awake. She was nearly fully conscious of the world around her. It was strange to feel again. A steady flow of metallic air blew into her nostrils. Not hot. Not cold. Just-there. The steady rise and fall of the bed sheet against her chest with each breath she took. Her heart beating.The sound of someone else breathing.

Lacey's eyelids slowly fluttered open and she stared up at the ceiling above her. She didn't recognize it. It was tiled and full of tiny holes. She'd never seen it before. Wait. That wasn't true. She had seen something like it once. In another place.In another time.

A dark head lifted and a face slowly came into focus in front of her. A smile broke on those beautiful features.

"Hey," Mac leaned down and kissed the hand still held tightly in her own. "Welcome back."

Lacey tried to place that face. She knew it. Had seen it before. Whose face was it?

"Beautiful," Lacey tried to reach up with her free hand to gently brush Mac's cheek with her fingers, but found her wrist restrained in a padded leather restraint.

"Yeah?" Mac couldn't help the tears that sprang to her eyes. "God, I missed you."

"What happened?" Lacey was a little confused by the fact that her left cheek was numb and she couldn't move her arms. "Why…"

"You're in the hospital, Lac," Mac gently brushed Lacey's uninjured cheek with her fingers. "You've been here for nearly a week, now. The doctors kept you sedated to allow your face and knee some time to heal."

"What are those for?" Lacey looked down at the sheepskin padded leather restraints on her wrists.

"To keep you from hurting yourself, sweetheart," Mac said gently. "It's the other reason they wanted to keep you sedated. You…um…" She finished on a choked sob. Mac swiped impatiently at her eyes, as a few tears fell. She then sniffed back the rest and composed herself. "Sorry. Didn't mean for that to happen."

"That's okay," Lacey clung to the hand still holding hers. "I don't remember."

"I know," Mac took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It's been a really long week for all of us."

Lacey felt the memories tickle the edges of her mind. Mackenzie. The woman gazing at her with a pair of amazing blue eyes was Mackenzie. Mackenzie was her lifeline-her anchor.

"I'm sorry," Lacey felt tears prick her own eyes. "I'm really sorry, Mackenzie."

"Shhh," Mac let her forehead rest against Lacey's. "It's okay. I'm just glad you're back with me. I was so worried. I thought…" She finished with a shake of her head, as she swallowed down a fresh bout of tears. "I thought I lost you."

A small smile lifted one corner of Lacey's mouth. "Me, too, Stretch."

That elicited a chuckle from Mac. "God, I really missed you."

"You said that already," Lacey squeezed the hand in hers. "I just wish I could touch you-hug you."

"I know," Mac moved back enough to look Lacey in the eye. "I wish I could remove the restraints, but the doctors say it's not a good idea."



A blond brow hiked on Lacey's features. "Because really isn't an answer, hon."

"No, it isn't," Mac sat back in her chair. "But I'm not really sure what else to say at the moment. You haven't exactly been yourself over the last few days, Lac. You've been…um…"

"A raving lunatic?" Lacey finished with a sardonic smirk. "Out of my head?Completely nuts?Crazy as a loon?"

"Sedated," Mac said. "You tried to tear the stitches from your knee. You had a fever and were out of your head for two days. They think you had a touch of that flu I had last week. The delirium had you saying and doing some really…um…You just weren't you."

"I don't get sick," Lacey said. "I'm a doctor."

Mac rested her head on Lacey's stomach, knowing full well the woman could reach her hair. Lacey lightly brushed the dark locks with her fingers.

They both reveled in the close contact.

"I was sick for a week," Mac said. "It really sucked. Lost my voice and had a cough that nearly killed me."

"I'll just bet it did," Lacey smiled as best she could with only half of her face working properly. "What happened to my cheek? Why is it numb?"

"Brad Miller knocked you out by punching you in the face," Mac's expression darkened. "If I come across that lousy, stinkin' son of a bitch, I'll…"

"Shhh." It was Lacey's turn to shush Mac. "He's not worth it, Mackenzie. He's just a bully and that's all he'll ever be. He gets his rocks off by making other people feel bad. Don't play his game."

"Okay," Mac suddenly lifted her head and narrowed her eyes at Lacey. "Who are you and what did you do with the real Lacey Stephens?"

"She's here," Lacey felt a bit loopy. "I think it's the drugs talking." She glanced at the IV machine on the other side of the bed. "What do they have me on, anyway?"

"Painkillers and an anti-psychotic. Probably still have you on a light tranquilizer, too. I'm not really sure," Mac answered. "That's what the shrink said, anyway. She took you off the heavy sedatives this morning. Said it was time."

"She, who?"

Just then, there was a knock at the door and a red-headed woman poked her head in. "Am I interrupting anything?"

"Not at all, Dr. Morris," Mac sat up, but kept Lacey's hand firmly clasped in hers. "Come in, please."

The woman was dressed in a rose and cream skirt suit that complimented her pale complexion. She also had her hair cut in the latest style more befitting a New Yorker than someone in the middle of cow country. Heather Morris looked like she belonged in a fashion magazine, as opposed to Jackson, Wyoming.

"Hello, Dr. Stephens," she stepped up next to Lacey's bed and glanced at the joined hands. "I'm Heather Morris. Danielle Ellison and Brenda Shubert recommended I take you on as a patient. Apparently, you made quite an impression on both of them during the two days you spent in their company last week."

"Apparently," Lacey's expression turned guarded. "What did they say about me?"

"Oh, not much," Heather watched Lacey's face closely and read the wariness there. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired," Lacey answered. "Mac tells me you're the one I should thank for the sedatives."

"Yes," Heather nodded. "Dr. Johnson and I thought it best, under the circumstances. He really wasn't happy when you ripped the stitches out of your knee and tried to throw yourself out of bed. He worked hard to make sure the scar wouldn't be too noticeable. Unfortunately, now you'll have to live with the repair he had to do."

Lacey glanced down at her bandaged leg that was elevated in a sling above the bed.

"What's the damage?"

"You tore the lateral and meniscus ligaments in your knee," Heather replied, matter-of-factly. "There was also extensive damage to the articular cartilage and both the lateral and medial meniscus. Basically, you did a serious number on your knee, Lacey. Dr. Johnson did what he could, but there will probably be permanent damage from this point forward. Not to mention the eventual development of osteoarthritis in the joint itself. You're looking at about six months of intensive physical therapy just to walk without a noticeable limp again. There's no guarantee you won't have pain to some extent for the rest of your life."

Lacey looked up at the ceiling with a heavy sigh and tears swimming in her eyes. "Crap."

"Hey, it's okay," Mac squeezed Lacey's hand in hers. "We'll get through this."

"We?" Lacey couldn't keep the anger from her voice. "You're not the one who went out there and tore the shit out of your knee, Mackenzie."

"No, I'm not," Mac countered. "You're right. But I will be here every step of the way to help you get through this, Lacey."

"I'm damaged!" Lacey shouted. "Don't you understand? I'm probably not going to walk like a normal person ever again! I can't go traipsing through the snow with you! Probably can't even ride a damned horse now!"

"Lacey," Heather looked pointedly at her. "Mackenzie isn't the one you should be directing your anger at. She's just here to support you."

"She's…" Lacey blew out an exasperated breath. "Fuck!"

"Can you give us some time, Mackenzie?" Heather patted her on the shoulder and gave her a warm smile. "You probably need a break from that chair. Why don't you go eat lunch and come back in an hour or so."

"Yeah," Mac got up and gave the hand in hers one last squeeze. "I'll just do that. Maybe take a walk and clear my head."

Mac left without a backward glance and Heather took the vacant seat. She just sat there and watched Lacey for several moments.

"What?" Lacey finally glared at her.

"You're a very angry woman, Lacey Stephens," Heather said. "And that anger is misdirected toward a woman who obviously cares a great deal about you. She loves you, you know. Despite everything, Mackenzie loves you. She's been here from dawn 'til dusk every day this week and was sick with the flu for most of last week. But she still came and sat with you when she could. That's saying something, you know."

There was a long silence as Lacey just stared up at the ceiling. Neither woman spoke and the silence was deafening.

"I don't do shrinks," Lacey finally said.

"I don't, either," Heather said. "But I'm a very good listener. Want to tell me why you attacked those men and why you're carrying around a great deal of suppressed rage?"

"Long story," Lacey blew out a frustrated breath. "I really don't want to talk about it."

"I'm not going anywhere," Heather crossed her legs and held her knee with both hands. "We have all the time in the world, Lacey."

Lacey lay there in silence for a while, as her thoughts raced with possibilities. She didn't want to talk to a psychiatrist. She didn't want someone crawling around in her head. But she also knew she was incredibly angry. Enraged, more like it. And she was willing to admit that she was taking her anger out on the wrong person. Mac certainly didn't deserve to be treated like a personal verbal punching bag. She had been nothing but supportive and loving through everything.

"Okay, fine," Lacey sighed heavily.

She then launched into the story of her life and didn't leave out any details. She talked about her father and how much she wanted to please him as a child. She talked about the abuse he heaped on her over the years. She told of her realization in high school that she wasn't like the other girls. She talked of her first crush on a girl and how the girl didn't return her affections.

Heather listened to every word and even asked a few pointed questions to flush out certain details. She didn't write anything down and basically just listened as the story of Lacey Stephens unfolded before her. Heather realized that Lacey was a very good storyteller and wove the story of her life into a riveting tale of tragedy, pain and devastation. But she also knew that Lacey's story was pure fact, not fiction. The woman cried in all the right places and raged in anger in others.

And then the story came to an end with recent events. Lacey explained her thoughts and feelings about her mother's murder and the same concerning the betrayal by the man she always thought of as her father.

"And Brad Miller?" Heather raised a red brow. "How did it feel to retaliate against him? I hear he needs plastic surgery to repair his deviated septum and it still won't ever be the same as it was before."

Lacey felt drained to the point that she could just close her eyes and sleep for another week. But she also felt lighter than she had in a very long time. Telling Dr. Morris everything had lifted a load off her shoulders that she hadn't even realized she'd been carrying.

"I don't really remember doing that," Lacey answered honestly. "It was like I suddenly disconnected myself from my body and just…" She shrugged. "Instinct kicked in and I wasn't really there anymore."

Heather nodded sagely. "You checked out."

"Yeah," Lacey nodded sadly.

"It's called a psychotic break, Lacey," Heather explained. "Our minds are no longer able to handle the reality of our situation, so we shut down. Some people go into a kind of catatonic stupor. Others become violent and hurt themselves or others."

"And you're saying I'm the latter," Lacey met the woman's gaze.

"I understand you've struggled with nightmares for quite some time?" Heather watched as Lacey nodded. "And I also understand you've been under the care of a psychiatrist before."

"Yes," Lacey nodded again. "She…" Tears sprang to Lacey's eyes and she shook her head to clear them. "Sorry."

"It's okay, Lacey," Heather put a hand on her arm. "Crying is good."

"Soldiers don't cry," Lacey sniffed. "It's a sign of weakness. Our eyeballs sweat. We don't cry. A Marine told me that once."

"It's okay to cry, Lacey," Heather reached over and squeezed Lacey's arm. "Crying is a necessary defense mechanism the body uses to help the mind deal with emotions that would otherwise overwhelm us. We need to cry, Lacey, just as much as we need to laugh. Those outlets are necessary for our survival as human beings. Understand?" Another quick nod. "Now, tell me what happened to make you stop seeing your psychiatrist."

"She betrayed me-betrayed my trust," Lacey answered in a tone devoid of emotion. "Her testimony at a hearing helped convince a judge that I was mentally incompetent. My fa-the man I knew as my father-wanted me locked away so he could get his hands on a trust that's in my name. They committed me to an institution in Louisiana in the care of a quack who kept me hopped up on Thorazine, among other things. Fucking asshole turned me into a useless zombie."

"You mentioned before that your father isn't really your father," Heather said. "Do you know who your real father is?"

"No," Lacey shook her head. "My mother…" Tears sprang to her eyes again and this time she just let them fall. "Mother told me before I left that James Stephens isn't my real father. But she didn't have the chance to tell me who is. Now I'll probably never know, because…because…"

She couldn't finish as the anguish of her mother's murder bubbled up to the surface and spilled over in heartfelt sobs. Tears streamed down her cheeks and soaked her hair and the pillow behind her head.

Heather grabbed Lacey's hand and held on tight, as she patiently waited for the emotional upsurge to subside. She held that hand tightly with one hand and gently rubbed Lacey's shoulder in an effort to comfort her. She then started to unbuckle the restraint closest to her.

"I don't think you'll need these anymore. Do you?" Heather asked, as she unbuckled the other one, as well.

"No," Lacey sniffed and gave the woman a grateful half-smile. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Heather grabbed a wad of tissues from near the sink across the room and held them out to Lacey. "Better?"

"Yeah," Lacey sighed, as she blew her nose and wipe the tears from her cheeks. "I thought I'd already cried enough tears over my mother's death. Guess not. I even puked my guts out until I couldn't stop. Some soldier I turned out to be, huh?"

"Maybe you're not just crying over your mother's death," Heather sat back down in the chair. "I think you've been holding everything in for so long that you just need to get it out. It's the release your body is telling you it needs. Our bodies have a funny way of doing that sometimes."

"I feel like a freakin' basket case," Lacey continued. "I am most certainly not going to turn into one of those cry-at-the-drop-of-a-damned-hat women who gets all teary eyed every time they see a movie or catch some commercial on TV about starving kids in Africa. I'm not a weepy female…"

"Knock, knock," Mac poked her head into the room. "Is the coast clear to come back in, yet?"

"Most certainly," Heather vacated the chair with a cheerful smile of greeting. "We were just finishing up our session here."

"Yeah, I figured you'd need a little more time, so I took a walk and caught up with a few of the paramedics who were in the cafeteria," Mac stepped up next to the bed, noticed the restraints were off and absently brushed Lacey's hair back from her forehead.

"Well," Heather walked toward the door, opened it and turned back to address the two women. "I'll return about the same time tomorrow and we'll continue this then, Lacey. It was nice meeting you. Mac, it was a pleasure."

Mac waited for the woman to leave, then returned her attention to Lacey. She noted the puffy red eyes and residual tears on her eyelashes.

"You okay?"

"I am now," Lacey nodded and held a hand up until Mac took it in hers. "Just rehashed my entire life and all the emotional baggage that goes with it. I could really use a kiss right about now."

Mac leaned down and pressed her lips gently against Lacey's in a kiss that lingered and held all the love they were both feeling. Lacey wrapped both arms around Mac's neck and ran her fingers through the dark hair. Then Mac pulled back slightly and let her forehead rest against Lacey's.


"Absolutely," Lacey sighed, as Mac gently stroked her hair. "God, I am so damned tired. I can't believe I slept for a week. Feels more like an hour."

"You want me to go so you can rest?" Mac reluctantly lifted her head so she could look into the green eyes staring back at her.

"No. Yes. Oh, I don't know," Lacey blew out an exasperated breath. "I don't want you to stay here and just sit there watching me sleep. You probably have stuff to do. And your family probably wants to wring my neck for keeping you from them for so damned long."

"They'll live."

"I will, too."

"Yeah, but they don't need hours of uninterrupted sleep like you do," Mac sat down in the chair and gently stroked Lacey's forehead with her fingertips. "How about I sit here until you fall asleep? Will that work?"

"Most definitely," Lacey gave her a small half-smile. "I love you."

"Love you, too," she kissed Lacey's hand.

"And I'm so sorry, Mackenzie." Tears sprang to Lacey's eyes again and she blinked them away. "God, I hate this shit."

Mac pressed the backs of her fingers against Lacey's good cheek. "Only because you don't cry nearly enough. It's okay to cry, you know, Lac."

"You sound like my shrink," Lacey sniffed and entwined her fingers in Mac's. "And it seems like all I've done lately is cry. I've turned into a blubbering idiot."

Mac chuckled. "You're not an idiot."

"Nice," Lacey shot her a glare that turned into a pout. "I thought you were on my side, Mackenzie Bridget."

"Always, Lacey Justine," Mac continued to stroke Lacey's cheek. "Always and forever. So, do you like your new shrink? Heather is really nice. She's…um…We've talked a few times when she came to check on you. I have an appointment with her next week, as a matter of fact."

"She's good," Lacey replied. "At least she didn't sit there and make a bunch of notes the entire time I was spilling my guts to her. I told her everything and then some. She listened without judgment. But she does ask a lot of questions. And she removed the restraints."

"Is that a good thing?" Mac looked at the restraints still attached to the bed rails. "Not that having your hands free isn't a good thing. I'm just saying."

"I'm not going to hurt myself, if that's what you're asking," Lacey replied with a frown. "And my shrink-who-shall-forever-remain-nameless used to write pages and pages of notes during our sessions. It drove me nuts to hear all that scribbling and scratching all the time. I thought she was writing a freakin' book with all the notes she was taking."

"Oh, let's hope not," Mac rolled her eyes. "That would just take the cake."

"I'd sue the pants off her," Lacey let her eyelids drift shut. "And then I would kill my father for his part in hiring her or recommending her or whatever happened to get me saddled with the asinine bitch from hell."

"He's not your father."

"Yeah," Lacey nodded quietly. "So, about those paramedics you mentioned."

"What about 'em?"

"Anyone I know?"

"Maybe," Mac replied. "They were there when you all came off the mountain."

"Oh, do tell," Lacey looked on with focused interest.

"They were just giving me the skinny on the patients who were brought in with you," Mac continued conversationally.


"They're both recovering nicely, thanks to a certain ninja doctor with deadly combat skills," Mac grinned. "Deadly combat skills aside, the treatment you suggested was right on the money with the woman. She had a hematoma that was pressing on her brain. That drainage shunt kept her from having any lasting brain damage."

"Not to mention she didn't die," Lacey added with a tired sigh. "How is her fiancé doing?"

"You remember him?"

"Vaguely," Lacey nodded. "His name is Paul or Peter or something."

"Patrick," Mac corrected. "He has a broken pelvis and three broken ribs. There was also some internal bleeding that they took care of surgically when they brought him in. He'll need physical therapy to get back on his feet again. But that won't happen for a couple weeks yet. He's actually just a few rooms down from yours and has the same ortho man that you have."

"Dr. Johnson?"

"Yeah," Mac nodded.

"And the woman," Lacey concentrated, but couldn't come up with a name.


"Yeah, that's right."

"She goes home day after tomorrow," Mac replied. "The paramedics say she has a clean bill of health and will be fully recovered in time for the wedding in May."

"That's great," Lacey yawned suddenly. "Oo, sorry."

"Shhhh," Mac resumed her gentle stroking and watched Lacey's eyes drift shut. "I think that's my cue. Time for you to sleep, sweetheart. You can think about all of this later. For now, sweet dreams."

"Wanna go home an' sleep in our bed, instead," Lacey mumbled as she drifted off.

Mac just grinned from ear to ear at the words. It warmed her heart that Lacey considered the cabin to be her home. Mac realized she would have to get used to keeping the heat on, as well as some other adjustments to her former bachelorette pad. She didn't care. Having Lacey share her life was enough to make the sacrifices worthwhile.


Chapter 39

"We are gathered here for the reading of the last will and testament of Meredith Davies Beauregard Stephens," Franklin Chamberlaine glanced around the walnut conference table at the expectant faces watching him in anticipation. "But first," he hit a button hidden beneath his end of the table, "a few last words from the deceased."

A panel in the wall slid back to reveal a large flat-screen television. Meredith's image was frozen on the screen until Franklin pressed another button.

"Hello, everyone," Meredith's image greeted those gathered. "If you are watching this video, then I am no longer with you. I hope you enjoyed the funeral. Dearest Lillian will have worked especially hard to make everything perfect for the occasion." There was a brief pause, while all eyes glanced at the woman in question and Lily shifted uncomfortably. "There is so much that I wish to say. But I won't bore you with things I should have said while I was still among you. It was a pleasure to be a part of so many dear lives. I enjoyed your company and will treasure those moments we shared." Lily sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "I will miss my girls the most," Meredith continued. "You are my legacy and I love you both dearly. Lillian, dearest, you have always been very active in our social circle. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished for the children and youth in those lovely community centers of yours. And your husband, William, is a fine man and everything I hoped you'd find in a husband." There was another pause, as Bill hugged a teary-eyed Lily close. "I just wish my Lacey could be there with you to share in this moment."

Eyes widened with the words, as a sly grin played on Meredith's features. Franklin remained stoically neutral as hushed murmurs went around the room.

"What the…" Lily sat up in her wingback chair and glared at the attorney. "Franklin? What is the meaning of this?" She pointed at the screen, which he had paused with the touch of a button. "How did Mother know Lacey wouldn't be here?"

"Because," he started and then glanced at the door that slid open in the paneled wall on the other side of the room.

"Because I'm not dead, Lillian," Meredith stepped into the room with a hesitant half-smile. "I am very much alive, no thanks to your father."

There were several gasps from those present. One woman put a hand to her chest and fainted dead away. The gray-haired man next to her waved his hand in front of her face like a fan in an attempt to revive her.

"I know this is a shock for most of you," Meredith continued, as she moved to stand behind Franklin Chamberlaine. "And I'm sorry for the scare I gave everyone." She looked pointedly at her daughter. "Lillian…"

Lily burst into tears, shot to her feet and flew from the room without a backward glance. She ran out into the lobby and nearly collided with Commander Willows.

"Whoa, there!" He grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her. "My apologies, Lily. I didn't see you…"

"What the hell are you doing here?" Lily stepped back and glared at him accusingly. "She brought you into this, didn't she? My mother brought you into this twisted, sick joke of hers."

"It's not a joke, Lily," he said with a glance over her shoulder. "She had a very good reason for doing what she did."

"Yes, I did," Meredith walked up to them. "If you would just come back into the room, I'll explain everything, Lillian. I really don't want to have to say this more than once."

Tears rolled down Lily's cheeks. "You died, Mother! We buried you a week ago. I was there. I cried when they lowered that damned casket into the ground and Father…"

"He's the reason for the charade, Lillian," Meredith interrupted. "Now, can we please return to the conference room? I really don't want to make a scene out here in the lobby. And there is a reason I invited those who are in that room."

Bill silently walked up and wrapped an arm around Lily's shoulders. He nodded a silent greeting to Willows.

"Come on, Lil," Bill pulled her back toward the conference room. "Let your mother explain. Just hear her out."

"Oh, God," Lily stopped and turned back to face her mother. "Lacey."

"I know," Meredith looked on with regret. "She doesn't know that I'm alive. I know. It was the most difficult part of this entire ruse."

"She's probably devastated, Mother!" Lily's voice rose an octave. "How could you do that to her? You know how tenuous her sanity has been over these last few months. What if…What if your actions send her over the edge? What is wrong with you?"

"Lily, please," Bill grabbed her arm, and she yanked it free.

"Answer the question, Mother!" Lily went nose to nose with her mother. "Why would you do that to her? Why would you lie to both of us? What the hell is wrong with you?!?"

"Lillian, please," Meredith kept her composure, despite the scene her daughter was making. "Can we just take this back into the conference room where we have a measure of privacy?"

"Fine," Lily stalked back to the room angrily. "Are you happy, now?" She then glanced around the room. "And who are these people, anyway? I only know Uncle Leonard and Aunt Mabel. I wasn't going to say anything about the others present, but...."

"Won't you please take your seat, Lillian?" Franklin motioned for her to sit down. "Your mother knew this would be very upsetting for you and asked me to invite a few strangers to ease your discomfort." He waved his hand toward the door. "You are all excused. Thank you for coming."

The room emptied almost immediately, leaving Lillian and Bill alone with Franklin Chamberlaine, Meredith and Commander Willows. The older couple hesitated only a moment before they, too, shuffled out with the others.

"Talk," Lily glared at her mother.

"Franklin was worried your father had someone in the firm who was feeding him information," Meredith explained. "He wasn't sure who it was. The person was very careful and covered his tracks. There were certain things that just weren't right, though. That's what tipped Franklin off. He found some papers and some additional evidence that pointed right to the person-a junior member of the firm who has connections to a judge. The judge was the one who was on the bench when your sister was committed to that institution in Louisiana. He's also the one who has been pushing for the board of inquiry through the JAG office in Virginia."

"I knew your father was desperate for money," Franklin added, as he steepled his hands in front of him on the table. "We-your mother and I-devised a plan to flush out your father's contact. And we used Commander Willows, here, to help us."

"I have contacts in the Houston PD, as well as the local FBI field office," Willows said. "We put one of the new bullet-proof vests on your mother and basically used her as bait to get your father to make a move."

"I had no idea James would actually try to kill me," Meredith put in. "We argued in the limousine about your sister and he threatened me. But I wasn't afraid. I had Wilson pull the car over and I got out. I heard the shot and that's when everything went black. I woke up in the hospital with cracked ribs. They're still very tender, actually." She glanced away. "Then Franklin showed up at the hospital and we decided to make sure James was convinced that I was dead."

"That's when they called me in," Willows added. "We had a makeup artist transform your mother into a corpse."

"All I had to do was lay there when you identified my body, Lillian," Meredith said with tears swimming in her eyes. "I'm so terribly sorry I put you through that. I know it must have been very difficult for you. It was excruciatingly difficult for me."

More tears sprang to Lily's eyes. "You staged your death and put me through hell, Mother. I really thought…" She choked back her tears. "I told Lacey you were dead-that I saw your body in the morgue. I told her and she dropped the phone on the floor. Then Mac was on the phone and I told her everything. I haven't spoken to either of them since."

"I know," Meredith walked over and put a hand on Lily's shoulder that was instantly shrugged off.

"Don't!" Lily shook her head. "Just leave me alone, Mother. I really can't…"

"I know I haven't always been the most loving mother in the world, Lillian…"

"It's Lily, Mother!" Lily abruptly stood up and rounded on the woman. "It's just Lily! I never liked Lillian and could never understand why you gave me such an outdated name. It doesn't fit me. It never did. I am just Lily."


"Please, just don't, Mother," Lily turned her back on the woman, as tears ran down her cheeks. "For years I wanted you to just see me as Lily and love me for me. But you were always so involved in other things. You had your garden club and your community service organizations. Tea with the society ladies.Lunches with Houston's elite.Dinners and balls at the Club with Father.Parties and black-tie affairs that lasted well into the night. You basically left Lacey and me to fend for ourselves with nannies who didn't really care and servants who were more interested in gossip than us. You just didn't care enough to be there for us."

"I did care, Lil-Lily," Meredith said. "I love you both very much. I just…" She shook her head. "I wasn't raised to show affection. It just wasn't done in my day. Hugs and air kisses were how those in our social circle showed their affection. And my own mother didn't dare demonstrate love for her children in any manner that might appear untoward. My father would have disowned her on the spot."

"There were days when all I wanted from you was a hug," Lily sniffed. "Even a smile would have sufficed. But you were always too busy pleasing your society friends to want anything to do with me."

Meredith sighed. "You're probably right, Lily. I'm sorry."

"Are you really?" Lily glanced over her shoulder at her mother. "Or are you just saying that to placate me and shut me up?"

"No," Meredith shook her head. "I truly am sorry for everything I put you and your sister through, Lily. Can you ever find it in your heart to forgive me? I can't bear to hurt you any longer."

Lily hesitated for a moment, as she turned around to face her mother. She saw the tears swimming in the woman's eyes and then watched one slide down her cheek.

"Are you crying?"

Meredith brushed a tear away, but more followed until she was crying in earnest. She nodded and didn't meet her daughter's gaze.

"I never meant for my children to grow up with the same heartless mother that I did," Meredith said through her tears. "I wanted you both to have so much more. But I failed you miserably. When Justin went away, I decided to be as cold and heartless as my mother. It was easier than facing the pain of losing him. I'm so sorry."

Lily took her mother into her arms and hugged her tight.

"I am, too," Lily said, as she hugged her mother for the first time in her life.

Meredith returned the hug like a woman clinging to a lifeline. She knew she had wronged her children by ignoring them and leaving them in the care of others. But she hadn't realized how much it hurt her until that moment.

"I wish your sister were here to see this," Meredith said.

"Oh, God," Lily pulled back enough to look her mother in the eye. "Lacey doesn't know you're alive. She has no idea. Wait, why are you alive? You didn't really finish explaining yourself."

Meredith stepped back and took a silk handkerchief from her sleeve to wipe her tears.

"Ah, yes," Meredith said when she finished wiping the tears away. "Your father has been siphoning money from our joint account for years. I found out about it and set up an account of my own. Then I overheard him on the phone talking to someone about the money in Lacey's trust. He said he needed that money to redeem himself in the eyes of his colleagues. He thought she would be killed in action over there in Iraq. He actually wished it would happen. Then we received news that she survived the helicopter crash and was coming home. I thought nothing of her recovery until we were in Italy. He made a call that was intercepted by another of Franklin's associates."

"That's when you decided to return home," Lily sat down next to Bill, who silently wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "That much I know."

"Yes, well," Meredith sat down in the chair in front of Lily. "The rest was just a matter of catching your father in the act. I tried to set up a meeting with him, but he kept avoiding my calls. When you hit him with the frying pan and put him in the hospital…Well, let's just say I hoped he wouldn't leave the hospital alive. But he did. And he overheard a conversation between Delores Pressman and me."

"You said you were wearing a bulletproof vest when he shot you," Lily said. "Why? How did you know he would have a gun with him? Why did you fake your death? And why not make your reappearance at your funeral? Father was there. You could have confronted him, then."

"I know," Meredith frowned. "I saw him from the limousine. I wanted to jump out of the car, walk right up to him and slap him in his smug face." She looked pointedly at Franklin. "If Franklin hadn't been there to stop me, I just might have done it, too."

"So, you still haven't quite told me why you faked your death," Lily glanced from her mother to Franklin and then to the silent Navy commander sitting across the table. "Why, Mother?"

"Commander Willows is looking into something for me," Meredith waved a hand. "It concerns your sister."

"And Franklin?" Lily shot the man a curious glare.

"Franklin has been a dear friend and my rock through all of this," Meredith took his hand and squeezed it.

The gesture wasn't lost on Lily.

"And Lacey?" The younger Stephens woman asked. "When are you planning on telling her the news?"

Meredith let go of Franklin's and clasped her hands in her lap. She fidgeted with her wedding ring.

"Your sister cannot know that I'm alive, just yet, Lily," Meredith replied, as she glanced across the table at Willows. "The commander and I think it best that no one contacts her until we have a handle on everything that is happening with your father and with her legal situation. I don't want James finding out the truth, until everything is taken care of and the time is right."

"And when will that be?" Lily prodded.

"I don't know," Meredith answered.

"You don't know? Or you won't tell me," Lily added.

"I honestly don't know," said Meredith.

"Okay," Lily let her head rest against Bill's shoulder. "Okay, fine. Then what's next?"

"We wait," Meredith replied. "It's your father's turn to make the next move. We have an investigator following him and watching his every move. We even convinced Harold-the man who has been helping your father with all of this-that he needed to post bail and let James out of jail. It was the only we could find out what his ultimate plan is for your sister."

"And what if he goes after Lacey and tries to kill her?"

"He won't," Meredith said with conviction. "There are certain fail safes in place to ensure no harm comes to Lacey."


"He can't touch her money unless she signs it over to him in the presence of legal counsel," Commander Willows said. "Your father will receive a copy of your mother's will tomorrow. The copy states that Lacey is your mother's sole heir and will inherit the entire estate. James Stephens gets nothing from the Beauregard estate. And, believe me, your mother has enough money to satisfy James and then some."

Lily frowned at her mother. "Lacey is your sole heir?"

"It's not my real will, Lily," Meredith corrected. "It is the one Franklin drew up when we put this plan into motion, before your father decided to kill me."

"Oh," Lily shook her head in confusion. "Won't Father be suspicious that I'm not named in the will?"

"It was a chance we had to take in order to keep you safe," Franklin added. "Your mother thought it best not to involve you, especially considering Bill's political career and the advocacy work you both do in the community."

"But what about Lacey?" Lily looked pointedly at her mother. "She doesn't even know what's going on. She has no idea that Mother is alive, much less that you've cooked up this cockamamie plan. What if he tries to hurt her or worse?"

"He won't," Meredith replied.

"How can you be so sure, Mother?" Lily locked gazes with the woman. "What if he tries to have her committed again? Or, worse yet, what if he takes that gun of his and just shoots her? I'm sure she's not wearing a protective vest like you were. She doesn't even know he's free to come after her."

"He needs her alive in order to get his hands on the money in her trust," Meredith said. "And if he manages to find some judge to declare her legally insane, the money goes to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, per your sister's wishes."

"All of it?"

"Every dime." Meredith nodded.


"Lily," Meredith cut her off. "It's not important. What is important is that you needn't worry about any of this. I would like you to go back to Washington D.C. with Bill and continue on as a daughter grieving over her mother's death. You can't let on that you know I'm alive."

"I…" Lily blew out an exasperated breath. "I'm not sure that will be easy, given my present condition."

"What condition?" Meredith looked at Lily with concern. "Is something wrong? Do you need to see a doctor? What can I do?"

"I already did," Lily said with a small smile. "Mother, I'm pregnant."

"What?" Meredith clasped her hands over her mouth. "Pregnant? Are you sure?"

"I'm twelve and a half weeks along," Lily nodded. "I have cravings, mood swings and need to use the toilet every hour on the hour. I'm positive."

"Oh, my," Meredith pulled Lily to her feet and hugged her. "That's wonderful news, Lily. Even better than my coming back from the dead."

Lily returned the hug with a teary laugh. "I didn't think I'd be able to tell you about the baby. I didn't think…" She broke down in tears again. "I still can't believe you're alive, Mother."

"Shhh," Meredith stroked her daughter's hair. "I know, dearest Lily." She then pulled back to look her daughter in the eye. "A baby?Really? I'm going to be a grandmother? That's so wonderful. I can't wait to spoil her rotten. I am so happy for you." She glanced at her beaming son in-law. "For both of you. You're going to make wonderful parents. I just know it."

Bill stood behind Lily and put his hands on her shoulders.

"We're hoping for a boy," he said with a proud smile.

"We're hoping for a healthy baby," Lily shot over her shoulder with a wry grin, as she wiped the tears away.

"Congratulations, you two," the commander came around the table to shake Bill's hand.

"Yes, congratulations are in order," Franklin crossed to the sideboard and poured everyone a drink. He handed around snifters of brandy and gave Lily a ginger ale. "To a healthy baby and to the continued health of both her parents."

"Here, here!" Meredith, Bill and Willows cheered in unison.


Chapter 40

"So, tell me something about you that I don't know already," Dani absently twirled her fork in her chicken alfredo.

"There isn't much to tell," Brenda sat across from her and finished the last bite of her filet mignon, then washed it down with a sip of the Petite Sirah in her wine glass. "I was born and raised in Southern California, then moved here to Jackson after a friend and I came for a visit. I liked it here and decided to stay."

"Where did you go to medical school?" Dani sat back in her chair and lifted her own wine to her lips, which had a fruity flavor that went well with her pasta.

"Stanford," Brenda replied, as she steepled her hands in front of her. "I graduated thirty-ninth in my class, did my residency in Seattle and met the man of my dreams, who would eventually become my husband."

Dani nearly choked on the Riesling wine she was drinking. "What?"

Brenda smirked. "We divorced three years ago."

"Oh," Dani quickly recovered and set her glass back on the table. "Was it amicable?"

"Not really," Brenda finished off the wine in her glass and poured herself another. "I told him I preferred the company of women and he threw me out of our expensive, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath condo with a view of the Pacific. I then threw myself into my work, dated a few women, had one relationship that was doomed from the get-go and decided a change of scenery was in order. That's when I came here for a visit and decided to stay."

"Wow," Dani picked up her wine and downed it. "Kinda puts my measly existence into perspective."

"How so?"

"I've lived here most of my life," Dani replied. "The only time I went away was when I attended nursing school."

"Could be worse, I suppose," Brenda smiled warmly.

"Yeah, apparently," Dani poured herself another glass of Riesling from the bottle next to her.

"So," Brenda leaned forward with her elbows propped on the table and the candle flickering between them. "When did you realize you 'preferred women'?" She mimed quotes.

"High school," Dani grinned. "I had a major crush on a certain tall, dark, blue-eyed, gorgeous girl who wouldn't give me the time of day to save my life. And I wasn't about to come right out and tell her I batted for the same team she did. Not with all the pricks around here who enjoy beating the shit out of people like us."

A dark brow rose on Brenda's features. "You had a crush on old blue-eyed Papadopoulos?"

"Who are you calling old?" Dani scowled. "She's a year younger than I am."

Brenda snickered. "I have you both beat by three years, then."

"I didn't tell you how old I am," Dani gave her a skeptical glare.

"You'll be…um…forty-one?" Brenda smirked.

"Not fair," Dani's scowl deepened. "Although, that would make you forty-four, so I don't feel so bad."

"I'll be forty-five this December," Brenda sat back and downed the rest of her wine. "Getting older sucks big hairy ape nuts, let me tell ya."

"Just hitting forty was a real shock to my system," Dani said. "Ranked right up there with having the crap squeezed outta my mams and doing the whole colonoscopy gig. And that sucked big time, let me tell ya. The prep was the worst. I had the shits for an entire week afterward. Ugh!"

"Most people wait until they're fifty for that torturous act of self-preservation," Brenda replied with a knowing grin. "I know I'm not looking forward to it in five years."

"My mom died of colon cancer, which makes me a prime candidate for the five-year plan," Dani set her glass on the table. "My first was when I turned thirty-five and I had another when I turned forty. Apparently having my father die of a heart attack at the tender age of fifty-two wasn't enough for the dear fates. They had to kill poor mom off a week before her sixtieth and right on Mother's Day. I felt like the world was conspiring, that's for sure."

"You lost both parents?" A look of sympathy crossed Brenda's features. "That really sucks. My mom still lives in Rosemont, where I lived during high school. Dad was in the Air Force and was stationed there during my junior and senior years. It was nice to stay in one place for a while, after being bumped from one base to another for as long as I could remember. Dad now lives in Orange, California. He moved there with his second wife and their two kids after he retired. He took a civilian job at John Wayne International with the TSA after 9-11."

"And you moved here," Dani grinned. "Don't you miss your family?"

"Mom drinks a lot," Brenda shook her head. "The divorce was hard on her and left her really bitter. I just left and went to college up north. Got away while I could. Dad cheated on her with his current wife. My first half-brother was born shortly before I graduated high school-six weeks before the divorce was final."

"Your parents divorced when you were eighteen?"


"And you're not just a little screwed up over it?"

"Should I be?"

"I'm screwed up over losing my parents when I was in my thirties," Dani said. "I can't imagine what you went through with your parents."

"It sucked," Brenda admitted with a shrug. "I got over it. End of story."

"Okey dokey," Dani downed her second glass of wine and poured the rest of the bottle into her glass. "So, what would you like to do next?"

"Go back to my place and have rabid monkey sex on my kitchen counter?" Brenda shot back snarkily.

Wine nearly shot out of Dani's nose, as she looked at the woman across from her in wide-eyed wonder.


"Or we could just go to one of the local bars and get shit-faced," Brenda added with a smirk. "I vote for both."

Dani narrowed her eyes at the woman. "Are you yanking my chain, Shubert?"

"Maybe," Brenda gave the curly-haired blond a saucy grin. "Maybe not."


Chapter 41

One week later…

"Thank you all for coming to pick me up," Lacey looked at the expectant faces of the people she was starting to think of as family. "I really appreciate it."

"Mac can't have all the fun, now, can she?" Carrie rubbed Lacey's arm. "Besides, she asked us to come and we said we wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Oh?" Lacey glanced with a raised brow at the woman standing to one side of the grinning people in front of her.

"I figured you'd curse a lot less and treat the nurses better if you had an audience," Mac smirked, as she rubbed DJ's head affectionately.

Lacey sat on the edge of the hospital bed in a pair of Army sweats that were missing one leg. Her left leg was in a brace from hip to ankle, while a pair of crutches sat propped against the bed. Her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore the forest green top they had purchased their first night in town. It was still a bone of contention between them, especially since Lacey didn't think the shirt went with her sweats at all.

"Just wait until we get to your place, Chief," Lacey growled. "You ain't heard the last of this."

"Oh, we're not going to my place tonight," Mac replied with a playful half-grin. "Carrie and Ben have offered to put us up and feed us. Besides, the workmen haven't finished installing the temporary wheelchair ramp at my place, yet. They should have it in place by mid-morning. Noon at the latest."

"You waited until now to get that taken care of, Mackenzie?" Lacey frowned. "You've had three weeks…"

"Ah, ah, ah," Carrie waved a chastising finger. "Mackenzie didn't know until yesterday that you would need to use the wheelchair for another two weeks. And the workmen had two jobs to complete before they could get to that one."

"Yeah," Ben piped in. "Blame me for that slight oversight. Lil' bit left it in my hands and I completely forgot."

"Besides, we're having fried chicken, cornbread, baked beans and homemade apple pie for dinner tonight," Carrie added with a grin. "I'm sure you'll be okay with that, won't you, Lacey?"

Lacey felt her mouth water at the mere mention of all that delicious food.

"I'm good," she nodded enthusiastically. "Let's go."

She made a grab for her crutches and found them in Tanner's hands before she could get her hands on them.

"You aren't allowed to use those, yet," Mac said.

"Oh, come on," Lacey whined.

"She sounds just like me," DJ snickered.

"She sure does, Digger," Mac squeezed his shoulders.

"Well," Jimmy added with a playful grin that made him look a lot like his aunt. "You two are almost the same height. That's for sure."

"Oh, that does it," Lacey put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Those are definitely fightin' words, young'un."

Everyone laughed at the Texas drawl Lacey used on him.

"I don't think you'll be doin' any fightin', there, Aunt Lacey," Tanner chuckled. "That leg of yours is still pretty banged up."

"Oh, you don't, do you?" She ruffled his hair playfully and earned an eye roll that had everyone laughing harder. "Take that, you."

"Knock, knock!" A voice from the door said, just before it opened to reveal Heather Morris. She walked up to the side of the bed and gave Lacey a warm smile. "Well, isn't this nice? The whole family is here to spring you from your little prison."

"We're kidnapping her and taking her home," DJ piped up proudly. "Aunt Lacey didn't know we were comin'. She thought it was just gonna be Auntie Mac."

"Well, I'm Dr. Morris," Heather held out a hand to him. "And who might you be, young man?"

He took her hand and gave it a firm shake. "Dillon Jeremiah Papadopoulos, ma'am. My friends call me DJ. Nice ta meet ya."

"The pleasure is mine, Mr. Papadopoulos," Heather turned to the rest of the family. "Would you like to introduce the rest of these fine folks with you?"

"That's Jimmy, Tanner, Mama and Daddy," DJ said proudly, as he pointed to each one in turn. "And that's Auntie Mac," he added with a grin.

"Yes, your Auntie Mac and I have already made our acquaintances," Heather chuckled.

"Ben Papadopoulos," he stepped forward and shook her hand. "And this is my wife, Carrie."

"A pleasure," Carrie shook the woman's hand when she was finished shaking Ben's.

"Well," Heather returned her attention to Lacey. "Mackenzie," she glanced at Mac, "You have my card, just in case."

"I do," Mac nodded and patted the front pocket of her jeans.

"Would you all mind if I had a word with Lacey and Mackenzie before you head out?" Heather glanced pointedly at each of them, including the boys. "You can all go down and bring your vehicle up to the main entrance. That's where the nurse will wheel Lacey when we're done here."

"Not a problem. Come on, everyone," Ben said, as he herded Carrie and the boys toward the door. "We'll see you two downstairs."

Heather walked to the door and closed it behind them, before turning back to Lacey. Mac sat down next to Lacey on the edge of the bed and wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders. The move was not lost on the psychiatrist, who merely grinned.

"I expect you in my office first thing tomorrow," Heather said sternly. "Your appointment is set for eight, sharp. Don't be late. I already told Mackenzie that I won't hesitate to make a house call, if necessary."

"I know," Lacey replied. "I'll be there with bells on, Dr. Morris. Promise."

"And Mackenzie has my number if anything should happen," Heather added.

"Yep," Mac nodded.

"I'll be fine," Lacey said. "These sessions have really helped clear my head, Dr. Morris. I really appreciate you coming in here every day to listen to me babble. There aren't many shrinks who would make themselves this accessible to a patient."

"And you're still my patient, Lacey," Heather said sternly, then glanced at Mac. "You, too, Mackenzie." She then took both their hands and squeezed them. "I am only a phone call away, if you should need me. Do not hesitate to call, even if it's late at night. I can't continue to help either of you if you don't let me. Understand?" She waited for them both to nod. "Good. Now take her home and put her to bed."

"Seriously, Doc?" Lacey blushed to her roots. "You couldn't put that a different way?"

Mac couldn't contain her mirth and just laughed at the blush on Lacey's cheeks.

"After all you two have shared with me?" Heather gave Lacey a raised-browed glare. "It's not like I don't know that you two are sleeping together, Lacey. And give me a little credit. I am nothing, if not discreet. I did ask the rest of your family to leave the room before I said what I said."

"She's got ya there, sweetheart," Mac chuckled.

"And don't forget that you have another appointment with me tomorrow afternoon, Mackenzie," Heather looked pointedly at her.

"Do you keep an appointment book in your head, Dr. Morris?" Mac sobered instantly.

"I do, as a matter of fact," Heather wiggled her brows at them. "It's called an eidetic memory, otherwise known as a photographic memory. It's also the reason I don't take notes. I just listen carefully to what my patients say and then recite everything into a tape recorder, later. Cuts down on clutter."

"So, that's how you do it," Lacey nodded sagely. "I wondered why you never took any notes like my last shrink did. She completely annoyed me with all the scratching and page turning."

"I find that people relax a great deal more when I don't sit there with my nose in a notebook," Heather smiled. "That's also why I don't sit behind a desk or across from a table. My office has a couch, a loveseat and two comfortable chairs in it. It's homey and sets people at ease."

"It sure does," Mac agreed with a smile. "I almost felt right at home there. Even had some nice pictures on the walls, instead of stuffy medical degrees."

"Those are on a wall in my office at home," Heather added with a teasing grin. "That's where I do most of my follow up work. Then I don't have to keep my patient files where someone might accidentally happen upon them. They're all in a locked file cabinet and on my computer at home."

"Makes sense," Lacey shrugged. "So, can I go now?"

"Did Dr. Johnson sign off on your release?" Heather asked.

"He did that this morning, before breakfast," Lacey nodded. "He said I could go as soon as my ride arrived. They came just after lunch."

"We're taking her home to fried chicken and all the fixin's," Mac added with a grin.

"Carrie made her famous fried chicken for you?" Heather shot Lacey a look of envy. "I am so tempted to invite myself over for some of that. I've heard so many glowing reviews. There are some folks around here who would love for her to open a restaurant."

"It's Lacey's favorite," Mac said. "And we're also having apple pie for dessert."

"It's one of my favorites," Lacey added with a wry grin. "I've only had the one meal at your brother's place, there, hon. Oh, except for that ham sandwich that was a precursor to the main course. The only other food I've experienced here in lovely Jackson, Wyoming, is the crap they serve in this hospital. And let me tell ya…"

"Well," Heather interrupted. "On that happy note, let me bid you two farewell and safe journey home. Take it easy and don't do anything stupid, Lacey. Mac, always a pleasure."

Heather escaped before anything else could be said.

"Huh," Lacey stared after her in surprise. "What'd I say?"

Mac just chuckled and shook her head, as a nurse in bright blue scrubs entered the room.

"Are you ready, Ms. Stephens?" The petite blond asked with a cheery smile that instantly had Lacey on edge.

"As I'll ever be," Lacey replied warily. "How do you want to do this?"

Mac stood and abruptly scooped Lacey into her arms, then gently set her down in the wheelchair.

"Well," the nurse said in surprise. "I guess that worked out just fine. Can't say I'd do it exactly that way, though."

"My hero," Lacey cocked her head to the side and eyed Mac from beneath hooded lashes.

"Aw, shucks, ma'am," Mac drawled and then gave her a quick peck on the lips. "'Tweren't nothin'."

The nurse quickly lifted the apparatus to elevate Lacey's leg, as she kept her eyes averted and a blush crept onto Lacey's features.

"Sorry about that," Lacey said to the nurse. "I can't take her anywhere."

"Oh, no worries," the blond said with a quick dismissive wave. "I've seen things in this place that would make your head spin. It's all part of the job."

"Her, too," Mac added, as she took control of the wheelchair and headed for the door. "I'm sure the two of you could exchange stories."

"Mackenzie," Lacey growled a warning.

"What?" Mac glanced down innocently at the woman glaring up at her from the wheelchair, as she wheeled her out into the hallway. "She's a nurse. You're a doctor. You served your country in a war zone. She watches skiers and tourists come through here with all kinds of injuries. I'm sure you two would have a lot to talk about."

"Oh, you're a doctor?" The blond caught up to them and gave Lacey an eager look. "I had no idea."

"She helped bring those climbers down from the mountain," Mac added with a proud grin, knowing full well she was tweaking Lacey and that she would eventually pay for it.

"That was you?" The nurse was suddenly in awe. "I heard about that. It was the talk of the hospital for days. The ER docs had never seen a shunt like the one Dr. Shubert used on that woman. Then she told everyone there was another doctor with her who told her exactly what to do. No one has ever done that in the field before. It was amazing! I can't wait to tell the other nurses that I got to be your escort. They will totally flip over it and be soooo jealous."

"Totally," Lacey added with a sarcastic eye roll, as she glared up at Mac and added in a whisper, "You are so dead."

Mac pointed at herself and mouthed, "Who? Me?" She then smirked in triumph as they entered the elevator and rode it down to the main level.

Mac was still smiling when the double doors opened in front of them and her family greeted them. Lacey, on the other hand, was ready to kill her and she knew it. But having the family there was enough to keep the woman quiet during the entire ride back to the ranch, which was just fine with Mac.


Continued in Part 13

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