THURSDAY, JUNE 19TH
“Seth, Hugh Weston is here,” Thea, Seth Brady’s secretary, said.
Chase Medical-Denver’s Clinical Facility Director Seth Brady rolled his shoulders. He opened a green folder and answered his intercom, “Send him in.”
The thin operator from Eagle’s Talon Security King Team walked in. His eyes darted around the room nervously. “Seth?”
“Hugh, take a seat.” Seth waited for him to sit.
Hugh sat on the edge of the seat, his feet flat on the ground, his toes tapping.
“Hugh, do you know why I called you in?” Seth asked.
Continuing to fidget, Hugh shrugged.
Seth’s eyes settled on the operator. “I’ve got your physical here. You’re down thirty pounds, and your blood came up positive for opiates and cocaine.”
“I guess all that water didn’t work.” He dropped his head into his hands. “I’m in trouble, huh?”
“Sit back in your seat and take a breath.” Seth steepled his hands “That’s up to you. As of this moment, you’re suspended from duty. You have two choices: you can let me help you, or you can walk out the door and receive whatever retirement you’re entitled to.” He pressed his lips together in a tight line. “How you answer the next question will decide your future.”
Hugh rubbed his head. “You’re not kicking me to the curb?”
“Drug abuse is an illness. We will make sure you get the care you need,” Seth said. “I want to help you.”
Hugh rocked in his chair. “It started after a bad job. I couldn’t sleep. My sister-in-law had some oxys. Said they helped her sleep. One turned to two… And the cocaine—I needed to fight the drowsiness. I got hooked.” He shook his head.
“Why didn’t you reach out to me, your team leader, or a friend on the team?” Seth spoke softly.
Hugh scrubbed his face with his hands. “I guess I thought I could handle it. God, I really screwed up.” Tears filled his eyes.
“The only mistake was not reaching out. We will keep you on salary. Your family will not suffer.” Seth’s features softened. “I know this is difficult.”
“I admit, I’m scared.” Hugh dropped his head to his chest.
“You will not be alone at any time,” Seth advised him.
Hugh swallowed hard. “What do I have to do?”
“I need your gun and identification.” Seth walked around the desk and sat in the chair beside him. “I will admit you to the Center, and we will detox you. Once the drugs are out of your system, we’ll fly you to New Orleans, where you’ll be admitted to a drug rehab unit. Then, depending on how things go, we’ll integrate you slowly into the job as a level-one provider or another non-armed position.”
Hugh stood and, with shaky hands, passed Seth what he’d asked for.
Seth dumped them in his desk drawer, then he grabbed Hugh’s shoulder. “I’ll walk you in.”
Hugh bowed his head. “Um, Seth, thanks.”
“I’m just giving you the chance. The work is yours.”
A well of hurt sat in Seth’s stomach. He meant what he said: the work was Hugh’s.
A smile bloomed on Seth’s face as two tiny hands pressed into the globes of his eyes. “Eyes.” Five-year-old Adam Brady giggled as he was pulled across his father’s chest and belly, then lifted into the air.
“What are you doing up so early?” Bright sun poured through the cracks in the blinds to his bedroom windows in his Bronzefield Lake, Colorado home. Seth noted it was 5:02 AM. “Can we sleep some more?”
“Daaadyyy!” Adam clung to him. His eyes, blue like his mother’s, held him in a laser gaze.
Seth squeezed him tightly. “Potty, and we go back to sleep together,” he sighed.
After a bathroom break, Adam slept soundly, his head pressed into Seth’s armpit. His large hand smoothed down Adam’s Mickey Mouse PJs. His job at Chase Medical had saved them both. Adam was never bothered by his mother’s accident, but five years later, Seth still was.
Staring at the ceiling, Seth played the fateful day over in his head. As a trauma PA at Los Angeles’ Angels Hospital, one of the busiest Level 1 trauma centers in the country, he was used to working long shifts. On a day five years earlier, he was working to save a fifty-year-old man who was struck crossing a street. A harried call had come into the ER from Adam’s new nanny.
“Seth, Miss Wren and Adam are not home. She hasn’t answered any of my calls,” she said.
Wren was Seth’s ex-wife. They’d had a bitter break-up. She’d cheated on him more than once, even telling him Adam wasn’t his. After paternity testing, the divorce decree stated Adam would spend half his time with Seth. That day, their shared custody of Adam, eight weeks old, began.
Anger surged through him. “If she’s done something to him, I’ll kill her.” Instead of his usual rock-steady demeanor, his hands trembled. “I’ll be home as fast as I can get there.”
As soon as he found someone to cover for him, he left the hospital frantic and made his way to Wren’s apartment building. Police cars, their lights flashing, were positioned outside. Still dressed in scrubs, he parked in front of one of the unmarked police sedans.
The nanny he and Wren hired together ran to him. “Seth, they won’t tell me what happened.” She was in tears.
“Melody, breathe,” Seth said, trying to calm her and himself.
“Mr. Brady.” A man dressed in a suit, a silver badge hooked to his hip, approached him.
“Yes. Can you tell me what’s going on?” Seth asked. “Where’s Wren—Mrs. Brady—and our son, Adam? Why are you here?”
“I’m Detective Fletcher. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, Mrs. Wren Brady is dead.”
Seth blew out a breath, rocking on his heels, trying to stay calm. “Wren’s dead? Where’s Adam? What happened?”
“There’s been an accident. Mrs. Brady was pronounced dead at the scene. We found a large quantity of oxycontin tablets in the car.”
“Where’s my son? Where’s Adam?”
“Adam was airlifted to Children’s Hospital.”
He’d never forget those words or the hours that followed. Wren’s accident left him a single father of an eight-week-old infant.
A police investigation followed, during which another cache of pills was found in her apartment. Wren’s autopsy showed she was under the influence of alcohol and oxycontin at the time of the accident. Admission testing showed opiates in Adam’s system.
Seth was cleared of any wrongdoing and retained custody of Adam. But he’d been blindsided. How did he miss it?
Six months later, he was drowning. He hadn’t asked anyone for help. Twelve-hour shifts plus overtime to pay for childcare left him exhausted. An Air Force buddy told him the Chase Group was hiring Physician Assistants. After applying, he was called for an interview.
Seth left Adam with his nanny and drove down to San Diego. The staff position he applied for was taken, but Hunter Montgomery and Pete Walter hired him to go undercover to check care issues within their San Diego Branch. The short gig earned him enough to cover a year’s worth of overtime.
Six months after that, still working at Angels Hospital, he answered his phone.
“Seth, Pete Walter,” the gravelly-voiced Bostonian greeted him.
“Hi, Pete,” he sounded cautious.
“You finish that Health Care Administration Masters?”
“Yeah, as well as my peds specialty certificate.”
“I know you’re working in LA, but what do you think about moving back to the Denver area?”
“It’s not April first—you’re serious?” Seth had grown up in the Denver area. When all he could hear was Pete breathing, he answered, “Hell yeah.”
He now lived in the small town of Bronzefield Lake, not far from where he grew up in Summerton, Colorado.
Seth fell back to sleep.
Later that morning, two padded feet found their way into the kitchen. “Pancakes?”
Seth sat in the breakfast nook sipping coffee. “Pancakes it is.” He opened his arms. “Hug and kiss first.”
Adam ran into his dad’s arms. As Seth was snuggling his son, their Siberian husky, Bingo, started to bark.
“Where’s my big boy?” Karen Brady made her way to the kitchen.
“Gam!” Adam pushed out of his dad’s arms. “Dad’s making pancakes,” he yelled.
Karen swung him around. “Pancakes, huh?” She laughed.
“Hey, Seth, landscaping is looking great.” Grant Brady walked in with a pair of large brown bags. “Pasta night.”
“Pop-Pop, Dad’s making pancakes,” Adam said.
Seth rolled his eyes. So much for a quiet morning. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “When is everyone else coming?” he asked, a touch of sarcasm tinting his voice.
“Hello?” a male voice called out.
“Ty, in the kitchen,” Seth shouted back.
Tyson, Jack, Corey, and Sarah Brady joined them. Adam jumped up and down seeing his aunt and uncles.
“Where’s Powell?” Seth asked about his last brother.
“Hannah is having trouble getting moving in the morning,” Sarah said about Powell’s wife, who was pregnant with their first child.
“Hello, sorry, everyone,” Hannah Brady said as they joined the party.
“Hey, Hannah, can I get you some tea?” Seth offered.
“Aunt Hannah, Daddy is making us pancakes,” Adam said.
Hannah put her hand to her mouth and ran from the kitchen. Powell followed.
“Seth, do you have some ginger? Saltines?” Grant asked.
“Yeah, Dad,” Seth answered.
“Brew some tea with ginger. Put some crackers on a plate and bring them to the guest room.” Grant went after his ailing daughter-in-law. As an obstetrician, he often used the old-fashioned cure for morning sickness.
An hour later, Hannah Brady was sleeping in Seth’s guest room while the remaining Brady family sat on the patio or played in Seth’s pool.
MONDAY, JUNE 22ND
The line at Bean and Gone Coffee’s counter was short compared to the early morning rush. “Hey, Seth. Twice in one morning,” the matronly barista observed. “The usual?”
Seth smiled. “Thanks, Kitty. I’m heading over to the Bronzefield Aquatic Center to teach a water aerobics class for a group from the Bronzefield Senior Living Center. I need the pick-me-up. It’s already been a long morning.” He’d been in since six learning the Medicare and Medicaid billing system.
Kitty Altman chuckled, looking at the handsome man. “You’re the new instructor? Are those ladies going to have a good time with you. You better have a defibrillator. One look at you, and they’ll all be kvelling.”
It was Seth’s turn to laugh, his hazel eyes twinkling. The former Air Force pararescue jumper never considered himself handsome. “Kitty, you made my day. One question: how did you know they were getting a new instructor?”
“I’ve edited the senior center’s newsletter for the last two years.” She leaned conspiratorially over the counter. “The last instructor was over three hundred pounds and was out of breath by the end of the warmup. He also used music with, ahem, language.” Her brow rose.
“Thanks for the heads-up, Kitty. I promise, no foul language.” He paid for his coffee. “I’ll be appearing three days a week. Come down and take a class.” He winked.
“For you, I think I will.” Kitty pressed a strand of her dyed-blonde hair behind her ear.
Seth climbed into his Chase Medical first response vehicle and drove the ten minutes to the aquatic center. He engaged his Bluetooth.
“Chase Medical, Mr. Brady’s office, Thea speakin’,” his secretary answered the phone with her sweet Southern twang.
“Morning, Thea. Sorry I missed you, but I wanted to get the lay of the land at the aquatic center.”
“You wanted to get another good cup of coffee,” she teased.
Seth chuckled. “You never let me get away with anything.” He stopped at a light. “I wanted to remind you I won’t be in until after two.”
“I have it on my list. You’re due at the aquatic center in a half hour, then you’re due at the hospital billing department for a meeting at 1400, followed by a meeting with Mr. Lincoln. Um, what are we calling the hospital?” Chase Care had purchased a failing hospital in Bronzefield.
“It’s Riverview Hospital until Friday at 2401, when it becomes Chase Care Medical Center at Bronzefield,” he explained.
“Riverview is easier,” she argued.
“Riverview is bankrupt. Could you set up a senior staff meeting on Wednesday for me? I’m going to be working a lot of clinical hours when we take over. I want to get things in order.”
Thea sighed. “Now stop worryin’. You always get things done.”
Seth grinned. The curvy blonde always had a positive outlook on things. She was married to one of their new physiatrists from their physical medicine and rehabilitation center. “Any messages?”
“Pete Walter called to tell you he scheduled a clinical directors conference call for seven Eastern Standard Time. I added it to your schedule. Something about Medicare and Medicaid billing.”
“Great.” Seth rolled his eyes. An unplanned call could only mean a problem. “I’ll be in the pool for an hour plus. If you need me, call Reuban.” Reuban was head of his personal security.
The Bronzefield Aquatic Center was a state-of-the-art facility. It had a retractable roof to combat heat and cold, and its Olympic-size pool had movable bulkheads to divide the pool into up to three separate sections. Seth parked, grabbed his gym bag, and headed inside. Today, the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful, humidity-free, eighty-five degrees. The roof was open.
The front desk was staffed by a very stern-appearing man with an Ichabod Crane nose, with which he looked down at Seth. “Good morning, may I help you?”
He offered his professional smile. “I’m Seth Brady. I’m here for—”
“Water aerobics, yes. You will be using the shallower portion of the pool. It goes to five- and one-half feet. You can swim if you must?” His eyes examined him from head to toe. “We have high school diving instruction going on in the diving well.”
Seth stood six feet, two inches tall. His head would easily be above water. And, as a pararescue jumper, he had to complete a 500-meter swim in under twelve-and-a-half minutes and two 25-meter underwater swims at a three-minute interval.
“Yes, I think I can swim.” Seth chewed his inner cheek. What did the public relations department of Chase Medical-Denver get me into? “Where do I set up the music?”
“One of the lifeguards will help you. Profanity is forbidden,” the man said. “Men’s locker room is that way.” Ichabod pointed.
“No profanity. I got it.” Seth headed to the indicated door. A quick change and a shower later, he stepped out onto the deck. Shit, profanity must have been a big issue. He snickered.