BOOK 2 in The Granton University Trilogy
Contemporary New Adult Romance
Orginally published December 2014
102,667 words, 292 pages
2-Flame Sensuality Rating
Tess Simpson absolutely cannot handle seeing anyone suffer. When she volunteers to work as a candy striper after the Granton University school shooting, she is only supposed to coax the amnesiac in room 312 to eat his supper. Yeah right. After learning no one's come to visit him since he woke from a coma and can't remember who he is, Tess needs to make him feel loved, ASAP. Telling him she's his girlfriend isn't part of her plan, but that's exactly what blurts from her mouth.
Except one little lie made from the purest of intentions can still rattle the hardest of hearts.
It was a good day to be a good person.
As Tess Simpson strolled toward the entrance of Granton Regional Medical Center, she drew in an invigorating lungful of February air. Of course, not everyone shared her opinion. Next to her, her best friend grumbled about the frozen breeze blowing through her coat. Bailey yanked a pair of gloves from her pocket and pulled them on without finesse. Then she cast the clouds a petulant glare before flipping up her hood.
"I cannot believe you talked me into doing this. You hate me, don't you?"
"Actually," Tess said as she cheerfully bumped her elbow into Bailey's, giving her an exaggerated wink, "I love you so much I want to be with you always. You complete me."
The teasing remark made Bailey snort, but Tess decided to ignore her lack of enthusiasm. Nothing was going to burst her bubble. Humming to herself, she applied a layer of Mighty Mango lip gloss before slipping the tube back into her purse just as they approached the front doors, which swished open to welcome them inside.
"And these outfits are ridiculous," Bailey ranted on. "I mean, really? Who makes their volunteers wear true candy striper costumes anymore?"
"Oh, come on. The auxiliary who trained us explained the uniforms. With so many students pouring in lately to help out, they needed an easy way to distinguish the true nurses from the volunteers."
Bailey sent her a sideways frown, full of dry impatience. "Gee really, is that why?" With a sniff, she rolled her eyes. "I went to the training sessions too, you know. You don't have to repeat everything the auxiliary said back to me verbatim."
"Well, you don't have to act as if you've forgotten what she said either." Tess was used to her friend's cranky attitude, but Bailey was on a roll today.
Not that she was going to let that bother her either. She just wouldn't.
"I'm just sayin'. I feel like I'm in a jail cell."
Only Bailey would think of jail from seeing red and white stripes.
"Psht!" Tess snapped her fingers over Bailey's mouth, squishing her lips together and successfully shutting Bailey up. "This is for a good cause. We're needed. Just think of how much of a better person this'll make you feel."
Bailey batted Tess's hand away. "Yeah right. This ain't goodness I feel oozing out of my nose." She pulled a tissue from her pocket and pretended to blow her nose. Then, in a voice crammed with as much nasal blockage into it as possible, she whined, "I think I'm coming down with a cold."
"Oh, you are not. Faker." Tess pressed the button for the elevator before she set her hands on her hips and stared Bailey down with a determined arch of the eyebrows. "Don't you dare flake out on me. You said we could do this."
"Well, remind me to never agree to anything you suggest again," Bailey muttered. She stuffed the tissue away. "And by the way, we are so not needed since there are already other student volunteers just — " she made air quotes " — pouring in. Your words. We'll probably be in the way."
The elevator dinged, and a pair of silver doors yawned open to their left. Grabbing Bailey's arm to force her along, Tess swept them into the car. "Too bad. You already promised. A deal's a deal. We're doing this."
With a little moan of resigned acceptance, Bailey folded her arms over her chest as Tess pushed the button for the third floor. When Bailey didn't complain after the doors shut, Tess grinned and opened her coat to smooth her hands over the outline of her red and white striped apron.
"And I like the outfits. They remind me of candy canes, not jail cell bars." With a wiggle of her butt, she grinned and added, "Plus I look good in mine." As Tess twerked against her friend's leg, determined to coax a smile out of her, Bailey only snorted again and elbowed her away, though Tess swore she saw the corners of Bailey's tight lips tugging up.
"That's because your apron conforms to the shape of your body. You have a little waist to go with your curvy hips and big boobs. I'm sporting a straight line of blob over here. Looks like I'm hobbling around in a potato sack made of freaking jail-cell candy canes."
"Oh, whatever. You look cute too." Unable to help herself, Tess bumped her hip into Bailey's one last time. "Maybe not as cute as I do, but you'll pass."
"Witch," Bailey grumbled as the elevator stopped and let them out, but this time she was definitely hiding a smile as she spoke.
"Grump," Tess playfully volleyed back, smacking Bailey on the butt as she floated into a tiled vestibule. When said grump didn't follow, she had to reach back, catch Bailey's arm, and yank her along. "This way, dear."
As soon as they stepped forward, a harried-looking woman in scrubs de- scended upon them. Panting, she bent at the waist to rest her hands on her knees. "Oh, thank goodness. More volunteers. I am so glad to see you two. It's been one of those days. We'll take all the help we can get this evening."
Tess sent Bailey a told-you-so smirk, to which her best friend scowled and moodily shoved her hands into the pockets of her candy striper apron before pointedly lifting her chin and glancing away.
"I need one of you to deliver this cart of flowers to all the room numbers written on their cards. And I need the other to help the boy in room three- twelve eat his dinner."
"Oh no." With a gasp, Tess pressed her hand to her chest, her heart going out to the poor darling needing help. "He can't feed himself?"
That was so tragic. Tragic stories made her emotional.
Before Tess's sympathy bug bit her right in the tear ducts and she had to ask Bailey to spare her a clean tissue, the nurse gave a moody harrumph and glared at room 312, an open door not too far from them. "Oh, he can feed himself all right. He's just being stubborn, as usual. He refused breakfast and lunch. But he needs to stop fooling around and get some sustenance before he makes himself really sick." Mumbling under her breath, she added, "I wish we could put the obstinate ass on a feeding tube and be done with it."
"Do you know why he refuses?" Tess asked, her brow furrowed with worry. She wanted to fix this as soon as possible.
The nurse scowled, obviously irritated by the question. Then she let out a reluctant breath. "Jonah woke up with amnesia. He can't remember anything. And what's worse, no one's come to claim him, so he takes it out on all us nurses."
"Wait. No one?" Tess shook her head. That couldn't be right. "What about his family? His friends? Classmates? Surely, someone — "
"No one," the nurse cut her off with no room to argue.
Tess gulped and glanced sympathetically at the opened door to room 312. The poor, poor boy. She'd lose her appetite too if no one came to visit her and she couldn't even remember who to miss.
"How the heck do you even know his name if he has amnesia?" the ev- er-practical Bailey wanted to know.
Hmm. Good question. Tess hadn't thought of that; she'd been too worried about his feelings. See, this was why she'd made Bailey volunteer with her; Bailey always considered things that didn't even occur to Tess, and Tess con- sidered things that didn't occur to Bailey. They really did complete each other.
"Because his student ID was on him when he was brought in. All we know is that his name is Jonah Abbott and he's attended Granton for three years."
Tess brightened. "Well, surely you could contact the university to find his — "
"We've called once. They never called back. And if you haven't noticed, we've been a little swamped around here." The nurse splayed out her hand to clue Tess and Bailey in to the chaotic atmosphere surrounding the third floor of Granton Regional Medical Center. "If you want to play Nancy Drew and find his next of kin, be my guest. No one here has the time to dig too deeply. We'll get to it when we get to it. Right now, we're more concerned with keeping everyone alive."
"Well, I'd be happy to find them for you." She didn't understand how no one had found him yet, but the world honestly had turned upside down in the past few weeks. She guessed anything was possible.
The nurse arched her eyebrows as if doubting Tess's sincerity. "Just keep in mind that if someone really cared about him, they would've come for him by now."
She sort of had a point. Exactly fourteen days had passed since the Grant- on school shooting. If someone were truly worried about Jonah Abbott, they certainly would've located him days ago. She winced, pity flooding her chest until it felt crammed full. Aside from trying to regain his memories and heal from a gunshot wound, he probably felt completely abandoned.
And Tess knew he had to be a victim from the shooting, because everyone on this floor was supposed to be; that was why she was here. Since this atrocity had happened on their home turf, the students of the university had wanted to help as much as possible, so the hospital had let them sign up for volunteer services to assist the harried medical staff with caring for other students who'd suffered in the shooting.
Tess had volunteered herself as soon as she'd come across a sign-up sheet, and of course she'd coaxed Bailey into joining her, since they did everything together.
Glancing at the open door of room 312, she ached for Jonah Abbott. She could only imagine the horrors he'd survived.
After hooking her arm determinedly through Bailey's and giving her a bolstering squeeze, she smiled at the nurse with absolute reassurance. "We'll make sure he eats, get the flowers delivered, and we'll find his next of kin. No problem."
But no sooner did she speak than a boom and clanging crash resounded from behind her. Ducking instinctively as the reverberation vibrated up the backs of her legs and spine, Tess let go of Bailey to duck and cover.
It wasn't gunshots, however, and she felt stupid for reacting so impulsively when no else around her had. Flushing, she dropped her arms from over her head and brushed her hair out of her face, trying to look cool and unaffected, when actually her heart was trying to pound itself out of her chest. Twisting to see what had happened, she wondered if someone had knocked over a cart.
But it was worse. Way worse.
Disbelief widened her eyes as she stared at a broken plate of food dripping down the door of 312 where the patient inside had obviously heaved his supper.
If that was all the food he was allotted for tonight, she was screwed.
"Yeah. I'll take flower duty." Bailey popped forward and latched her hands around the cart full of vases and potted plants.