So excited! Just received my authors' copies in the mail of The Mammoth Book of ER Romance, which is coming out this September.
The story of how I ended up contributing (and why I was so nervous before submitting), along with an excerpt, below!
Originally published 4/10/13
Instead of appearing in the The Mammoth Book of Medical Romance, my original short story, To Look For You, will now be appearing in The Mammoth Book of ER Romance (same anthology, different title), scheduled for release in September of 2013. Other contributors include Sharon Ashwood, Christine Kelley, Kim Lennox and more.
Though Mammoth reached out to me and requested the contribution, I was still very nervous upon sending it in. My romance work tends to be rather different from traditional fare - kind of an acquired taste, and not for everyone (see Annie's Wild Ride and When a Man Loves a Woman for examples).
Which was why I was relieved (and not particularly surprised) to receive the following comment from the editor: Really liked it. Quite different from everything else I've been getting!
How different, you may ask?
Read the first scene of To Look for You and see for yourselves!
By the third week of NATO’s self-proclaimed humanitarian bombing of Yugoslavia, nineteen year old Alyssa Gordon, a United States Army medic assigned to the outskirts of the Macedonian border, no longer had any idea if the waves of patients constantly arriving to her make-shift field hospital were the Albanian refugees on whose behalf this military action had allegedly been launched, Serbian civilians whom the UN most sincerely assured were not the intended targets, or the actual Yugoslav soldiers their air strikes were aimed to flush out. All Alyssa knew was that the wounded and the shell-shocked and the cold and the hungry kept coming, and that it was her job, along with the dozen other equally overwhelmed and sleep-deprived U.S. medics to sort out who was who. It was also de facto their job to decide who should be referred to a refugee center, who to surgery, who to the morgue.
If truth be told, by this point, Alyssa felt relieved to come across a body with no pulse, lying outside, exposed to the elements. It meant that all she had to do was tag it and move onto the next patient and the next and the next. It meant she didn’t have to do anything useful. She didn’t have to rack her brain trying to figure out how to keep someone alive long enough for a stretcher to show up and transport them to the actual hospital just a few yards behind her. The one that was so filled to the rafters, they’d been forced to perform their initial triage on the wooded grounds around it. It also meant she didn’t have to, days later, find out how all their manic efforts and diligent following of procedures most of them had only learned a few months earlier, during their sixteen weeks of Combat Medic Training, had, in any case, turned out for naught.
Alyssa was about to do exactly that, classify a young man with a gaping, bleeding chest wound and no detectable pulse as simply Dead On Arrival, when her overdeveloped sense of responsibility – in place long prior to enlistment – overruled her equally pressing sense of exhaustion, and she dutifully went through the checklist she’d been taught. Only to discern that her patient, though lacking a pulse, was still breathing. That meant that he, most likely, was suffering from Cardiac Tarnponade. A sharp object of unknown origin ricocheting through the air with the speed of a bullet had penetrated his heart, filling the tough membrane around it with blood, and preventing the heart from beating. But, he was still breathing. This man could still be saved. With surgery. Unfortunately, the time it would take her to summon a stretcher and get him carried to the hospital – not to mention queued and prepped, would also be the time in took to kill him. Alyssa had no idea how long he’d already been laying there without a pulse. But, she knew that much longer was out of the question.
She looked around desperately, willing for a stretcher to appear out of nowhere. The nearest available one was on the far side of the field. Alyssa frantically waved it over, knowing all the while that they would be too late.
“I help you?” What did appear out of nowhere was a high-pitched voice just below Alyssa’s elbow. It had been there for over a week now, ever since Alyssa had cleaned and wrapped some third degree burns on the arm of a remarkably stoic little boy – he was roughly the size of a nine year old, but his ultra-serious demeanor suggested he might have been a few years older – and, as a result, ended up with a permanent shadow.
She’d tried to shoo him away. A few days earlier, she’d even personally taken him to the US refugee camp where kids like him – she had no idea if he was Albanian or Serb or what, but he was definitely on his own – were commanded to go. He ran away before nightfall and turned up back at the U.S. base, looking for her with his combination of broken English, deliberate charm, and gritty perseverance. Alyssa had thought maybe he wasn’t comprehending the situation, and made the mistake of trying to speak to him in Russian, since he appeared to understand that language better – despite her own vocabulary freezing at the level of the ten year old she’d been upon immigrating to America from Moscow. But, all that seemingly did was pin him to her side even more.
Alyssa had pretty much accepted the boy dogging her every move, to the point where she’d forgotten he was even there. Except that right now, his perennial question of “I help you?” had suddenly become relevant.
Alyssa had one chance to save the figure lying in front of her. And she definitely needed an extra pair of hands to so much as try.
“You want to help me, Leo?” Alyssa turned around so quickly that the boy nearly leapt in the air with surprise.
He recovered remarkably though, bobbing his head insistently up and down and assuring, “Yes. Yes, I help you.”
“Alright. This is what I am going to need you to do.” She opened her medical kit, pulling out a thoracic scalpel, a large-blade instrument solid enough to slice through flesh, ribs, and muscle. It took all of Alyssa’s strength. She practically had to lay down on the scalpel in order to bluntly cut the fat between the fifth and sixth ribs. “You,” she indicated the spot to Leo with a sharp jerk of her chin. “You shove down on the center of his chest – yes, right there, perfect. I’m going to count, and every time I say a number, you’re going to push, hard as you can, do you understand?”
Leo nodded and, with the same self-possession that had kept him biting down on his lip and not making a sound even as she removed his own charred flesh – a procedure so reportedly painful Alyssa had witnessed combat soldiers break down and scream – did exactly as Alyssa ordered.
She counted off the chest compressions in rhythm, even as Alyssa sliced through layer after layer of muscle until her knife had perforated the chest cavity. Grateful that she’d just put on a pair of fresh gloves, Alyssa stuck her hand directly into the wound, probing deftly until she found the precise spot where her patient’s heart had been nicked, immediately covering the point of entry firmly with her thumb to keep any more blood from draining out.
She waited, holding her own breath even as she ordered Leo to keep their man breathing.
A beat. And then, right there against her palm, the heart muscle contracted.
Alyssa exhaled in exhilaration and relief.
"We've got a pulse," she said.
Just in time for the stretcher to make its timely appearance, complete with a two-man crew who promptly took over for Alyssa and Leo, prepping the patient for his trip to the hospital – and surgery in slightly less primitive conditions.
As they took the wounded man away, Alyssa sunk to the ground in a slumped, sitting position, her chin dangling so low it was practically between her upraised knees, the surge of adrenalin draining away as quickly as it had come, leaving her utterly spent and unable to so much as fathom looking at another body. Not right now. Maybe not ever again. Her hands were coated in blood up to the elbows, as was the front of her olive green fatigues. Crimson specs dotted the dog-tags thumping against her chest, where her heart was now beating quickly enough to make up for the time her patient had lost earlier.
She felt a hand patting her shoulder. “You good?”
“No,” Alyssa told him honestly, choking on a bitter laugh that came out more like a sob. “Not good. Not good at all.”
Leo gave the declaration some thought, then optimistically proposed, “You better soon?”
“Well,” she considered his prediction, clinging to the one fact that had kept her going the past few months. “I’m going home next week. That’s good.”
“Home?” he sounded like he didn’t know what the word meant. And like he knew precisely.
“Not exactly home,” she conceded. “But, back to America. Away from here.”
“Home,” he repeated slowly, this time clearly not liking what he’d heard.
“Yeah…” She craned her neck to get a good look at him, finding Leo’s face in that moment utterly inscrutable. About the only emotion she could clearly discern was anger. But, Alyssa had a tough time guessing regarding what. Her? Was he honestly… What gave him the right to be mad at her? She certainly hadn’t promised… It wasn’t her responsibility… She didn’t owe this boy anything, after all, not a damn thing. Who did he think he was? Didn’t he know what Alyssa had been through already?
“No,” Leo suddenly blurted, reaching out abruptly and, before Alyssa could stop him, grabbing her dog tags, yanking hard enough to rip them off her neck and into his fist.
“Hey, wait a minute!” Her hand went to her throat in shock. She attempted to grab the tags back, but Leo was too fast for her.
Before Alyssa had managed to stagger to her feet, swaying sickeningly from the lightheadedness that ill-advised, hasty movement had engendered, Leo was turning and running away from her, ducking stretchers and leaping over prostrate bodies in a manner Alyssa’s weary legs couldn’t hope to match.
And so she didn’t even bother trying.