Colton Baby Homecoming(5)

By: Lara Lacombe

“To keep your skills sharp,” he’d said, his tone suggesting she was in real danger of forgetting everything she’d ever learned if she took a few weeks of vacation.

His implied criticism of her skills had stung, but she’d shrugged off his remarks. It wasn’t as if she had a warm, loving relationship with her parents. Growing up, her doctor father had been absent more often than not, and her socialite mother was always more interested in playing the part of the wealthy doctor’s wife, fluttering from one charity obligation to another with little regard to her daughter at home. As a consequence, family conversations were always rather formal, stilted affairs.

Especially after Darcy had started dating Ridge Colton. They’d met in high school, and she’d been immediately drawn to his quiet intensity. He projected a calm confidence that said he didn’t care what other people thought of him, and coming from a family obsessed with appearances, that attitude both intrigued and attracted her in equal parts. She’d known about his family’s past—everyone did—but his connection to the notorious Matthew Colton hadn’t bothered her. Ridge had a gentleness about him, and as she’d talked to him and gotten to know him, she realized the quiet air everyone mistook for an aloof arrogance was actually a defense against the pain of gossip and rejection. Ridge was so used to people judging him by his father’s deeds that he had stopped trying to reach out and connect with others. Once he’d decided to open up and trust Darcy, he’d let down those walls and his true, amazing personality had shone through.

Around her, at least.

Her parents had hit the roof when they’d found out about the relationship. It was the one time in her life Darcy could remember them taking an actual interest in her activities and friends. They had insisted she break up with Ridge right away, but Darcy had refused. Her obstinacy had led to a further cooling of their relationship, and even though she’d eventually walked away from Ridge, she and her parents had never really warmed to each other. It was part of why she’d chosen to take the temporary job in Granite Gulch. While she knew her parents would never really understand her choices, she didn’t want to start her life in New York without at least attempting to mend some fences here.

Shaking off those thoughts, Darcy returned her focus to the nurse. “I know I won’t be here for very long, but I do want to try to help while I can.”

The woman nodded, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth as if Darcy had just confirmed one of her suspicions. “Give me just a minute—I’ll look up that number for you.”

“Thanks.” Darcy turned to the computer, pulling up the list of patients still waiting to be seen. They’d been triaged according to illness or severity of injury when they’d walked in the door, and since no one was in immediate danger of dying, she’d see them in the order in which they’d arrived.

She’d just pulled up the file on her next patient—a young woman with flu-like symptoms—when she heard the faint wail of a baby’s cry. “Someone’s not happy,” she murmured, pausing to listen. It was a regular, rhythmic cry of a hungry baby, not the piercing wail of pain or the heartbreakingly weak cry of illness, so she turned her attention back to the computer screen.

The sound of urgent voices drifted back from the waiting room, along with snippets of the conversation.

“Sir, you can’t—” said Carol, the receptionist, her distress plain.

“Not leaving her—” This was a low rumble of a voice, most likely the baby’s father. Who was he refusing to leave behind?

“Simply not allowed—” Carol was getting frustrated now, her tone becoming challenging. Darcy could picture the woman leaning forward, her glasses sliding down her nose as she glared up at the man who dared to defy her. Carol wasn’t much to look at physically, but she ran the front desk of the ER with a drill sergeant’s precision and she didn’t take crap from anyone. Whoever was out there was going to have to bend to Carol’s will, and the sooner he did it, the better.

“Service animal—” The words were clipped and formal, effectively ending the conversation.

Well, that was interesting. By law, they couldn’t refuse entry to a service animal—something Carol would already know. However, most service animals wore a distinctive harness or other clearly identifying gear that marked them as such. The fact that Carol had tried to jettison this one meant that the creature in question was likely out of uniform, so to speak. So was it a true service animal, or was the owner just trying to pass it off as such because they didn’t want to leave their pet in the car?

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