Following is an unedited preview of the prologue of Girl of Vengeance, on sale September 15, 2014. This has spoilers. You’ve been warned.
In the silence of the room, the knock on the door startled Carrie and Sarah. Carrie jerked in her seat and looked up, just as a youngish looking doctor with slightly too long hair stuck his head in the room. Doctor Willis was older than he looked, and Carrie had as much confidence in him as she had in any doctor, which wasn’t much. Willis wore a white lab coat with a pocket protector, pens in several different colors poking out of the pocket.
“Mrs. Sherman? May I come in?” The question was rhetorical, of course. She wasn’t going to stop him. He was accompanied by a nurse or physician’s assistant—Carrie didn’t know which. The nurse was in her thirties with severely cut blonde hair.
Carrie gave him a weak smile and shifted in her seat. Her left hand rested beside Rachel in her baby carrier. Her right instinctively reached out and took Sarah’s hand. Sarah gave her an almost imperceptible squeeze.
“We’re ready to begin prepping baby Rachel for the transfusion. But before we start, we need to take a moment to go over the procedure again.”
Carrie nodded. She’d been over the procedure a thousand times in her dreams. She’d talked about it with the nurses and doctors, and gotten a second opinion, and when that one confirmed the bad news, she got a third opinion. The results were unequivocal—her daughter suffered from Thalassemia Major, and would need regular blood transfusions for the rest of her life, which would be cut short unless she could find a bone marrow donor. Now, at six weeks old, they couldn’t delay her first transfusion any longer. Rachel was listless and pale, and her eyes and skin had a slight yellow tinge.
“Okay, in a few minutes the nurse-team will prepare her. You’ll be able to stay with her the whole time, of course.”
“What about Sarah?” Carrie asked.
“Of course she can stay. Now, we need to go over the risks again.”
“I’m familiar with the risks,” Carrie said.
“I know, but it’s the rules.”
Carrie sighed and nodded. She’d spent far too much time in hospitals. She knew the drill. “Go ahead.”
“Okay… so generally transfusions are one of the safest possible procedures. But there are some risks. First, of course, is the risk of infection. That’s substantially reduced by the fact that Sarah donated the blood.”
Carrie squeezed her sister’s hand again. Sarah’s hands were soft, except the tips of her fingers. Those had heavy callouses from her many hours of guitar playing.
“Our second risk is a hemolytic reaction, or allergic reaction. Transfusion reactions are rare in newborns, and Sarah’s blood is a good match, so it’s unlikely. But it is possible. We’ll introduce the blood slowly, so we can monitor her for side effects.”
Carrie swallowed. “Okay.”
“Those are the main short term risks. And, as you know, we’ve gone over the long term risk. Monthly transfusions will cause an iron buildup in her system. She’ll have to begin regular chelation therapy at a year to eighteen months old or risk organ failure.”
“Right. Unless we can find a bone marrow donor.”
The doctor nodded. “Which we’ll keep searching for.” He rested a hand on her shoulder. “Listen, Carrie, you’ve had a hell of a time. I promise you we’ll do everything we can for Rachel. Okay?”
Against her will, Carrie’s eyes watered. She hated not having control of her emotions, but ever since Ray’s death she’d been on the verge of tears half the time. Her stomach wrenched at the thought. Sometimes the ache of loss was just too much. She needed Ray here with her. She needed him. She rolled her eyes up to the ceiling and nodded, trying to keep control of her face and the watering of her eyes, but that didn’t work so she squeezed them shut.
“It’s going to be okay.” A whisper. And for just a second she felt a hand on the side of her face, brushing along her jawbone. Her eyes jerked open, but the doctor was halfway across the room, and Sarah was answering a text message.
She shook her head, confused and brushing off the disturbing feeling. He held out a clipboard. “Okay, Carrie, if you can sign here. This just acknowledges that I’ve walked you through the risks of the procedure. Nurse Reynolds?”
The nurse said, “I’m to sign as a witness. Do you understand what the doctor just told you about the risks?”
Carrie was irrationally irritated. She knew she had to sign. She knew the medical procedures. After all, she’d had to sign the papers allowing them to let her husband die. Shuddering, she took the papers and pen that Doctor Willis held out. She scrawled her signature on the document and said, “Yes. I understand.”
“All right,” he said. “The nursing team will be in, in just a moment.” He took the clipboard back from her and walked out of the room.
Fifteen very long seconds passed by, then Sarah said, “You all right? You looked like you saw a ghost.”
Carrie sniffed, then reached over and unbuckled the straps holding her baby in the carrier. She lifted Rachel to her and snuggled her daughter. It was comforting. She didn’t have Ray, but she had a piece of him, the little girl he’d left behind. The little girl who Carrie would do anything for. She took a long shuddering breath, then changed the subject. For right now, talking about Ray or Rachel was just too raw.
“What’s going on?” she asked, nodding toward Sarah’s phone.
“Alex just texted me and said turn on the news.”
Carrie arched an eyebrow. They didn’t have a television in the exam room in the hospital. Sarah’s face was a little pale. “What is it?”
Sarah handed her the phone. She was shaking.
Carrie had to reread the headline three times before it made any sense.
WIFE OF US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE REQUESTS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN CANADA
Cross-border shootout ends in hospitalization of 18-year-old daughter
“Oh, my God,” Carrie said. “Political asylum? What?”
“I have to go there,” Sarah said.
“To Canada?” Carrie demanded.
Sarah nodded. “If Jessica’s hurt, I’ve got to go to her.”
Carrie sighed. “Of course.” She paused a second, scanning through the article. It described how their mother had dragged Sarah’s unconscious twin across the international border even as a shooter was trying to kill them both. The shooter—the paper read the alleged shooter—had been captured by the Border Patrol two miles south of the incident following a high-speed chase. Jessica’s injuries weren’t described in the article.
Unconsciously, she pulled her daughter a little closer to her.
A single knock was followed by the door opening. Two people stepped into the room—nurses or physicians assistants. The first, a copper-haired woman, said, “Hello, and how is baby Rachel doing today?”
She walked toward Carrie and reached to take the baby. Carrie pulled Rachel closer.
The woman stopped and said, “Sorry—I’m Melissa, the NICU charge nurse. I’ll be supervising the procedure today. May I take the baby?”
Carrie was uncomfortable and tense, but she nodded and held Rachel up an inch.
Melissa, the nurse, took Rachel expertly from her hands and laid her in the plastic bassinet. Rachel’s arms and legs contracted and she let out a cry.
“Oh, you’re such a sweetie,” the nurse said in a sing-song voice, scrunching up her nose. Rachel’s cooed. “I bet your mom and dad are so proud of you! I bet they are!”
Rachel smiled up at the nurse, even as Carrie flinched.
A second nurse entered the room. Expertly, the two of them began moving around Rachel, laying out towels and other equipment. The second nurse laid out a catheter next to a tiny needle, still in a sealed plastic wrap.
Melissa said, “Get a 25 gauge, please.” She began to swaddle the baby, leaving her right arm out.
The second nurse nodded. Melissa said, “This is Jodi. She’s one of our NICU nurses.” Jodi smiled and took out a needle, slightly smaller than the one she’d previously placed on the table. A set of tubes was stretched across the room, various equipment lined up. Both women wore gloves.
“Mom, we’re connecting monitors to watch her pulse and respiration and other vitals right now. Then we’ll start the lines. She’s going to cry a little bit at first, I don’t want you to panic.”
Carrie nodded and squeezed Sarah’s hand again. She was breathing too quickly and closed her eyes for a second, trying to force calm.
It wasn’t working. The second nurse, Jodi, held a pacifier with some liquid, and Rachel happily sucked on it as Melissa tapped a board to Rachel’s arm and attached the various monitors and sensors. Then she wiped a brown fluid on Rachel’s upper arm.
In a low voice, concentrating, Melissa said, “Start the line.”
Jodi ripped open the plastic packaging on the smaller needle. Carefully, her face pinched in concentration, she pushed the needle into Rachel’s arm.
Rachel let out a choked cry, then a full throated scream. Carrie flinched as the baby began to struggle inside the swaddling as her face turned bright red. The screaming got louder and Jodi shook her head, just once, negatively.
“Try again,” Melissa said, her voice quiet.
Jodi nodded, then pulled the needle back. Oh, God. She missed. Rachel’s mouth was wide open, screaming as loud as Carrie had ever heard her. She sniffed and squeezed Sarah’s hand tighter. But she refused to close her eyes or look away from her daughter. She was stronger than that. She’d watched helplessly as her husband drifted away into death. She could be there for her daughter.
After preparing a new needle, Jodi pushed it in again as Melissa held Rachel down with one hand and dripped fluid from the pacifier with the other.
“Got it,” she whispered. She expertly inserted the plastic catheter. Rachel screamed louder, and Carrie’s vision blurred as tears rolled down her face.
Carrie struggled to hold back a sob.
Jodi attached a tube to the catheter.
“Ativan,” Melissa said. She looked up at Carrie. “Mom, that’s the pain killer. It will help pretty quickly.” Jodi inserted a hypodermic into the line. Rachel continued to cry, her tiny mouth and eyes wide open. Tears continued to roll down Carrie’s face, mirroring the one on her daughter’s.
Damn it, why couldn’t you be here, Ray? For the millionth time, she cried out inside, Why?