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Protect Me (Rivers Edge Book 4)

By:Lacey Black

Protect Me (Rivers Edge Book 4)
Lacey Black

       Rivers Edge - Book 4




Prologue


Lia





9 months ago




Beeping. Somewhere very distant, I hear the constant, dull sound of beeping.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The rhythm is enough to try to lull me back into unconsciousness.

I struggle to open my eyes. They feel gritty and heavy like little  weights are pulling down each of my eyelids. My entire body is … sore.  Painfully sore. I feel like I've been run over by a truck. A very large  truck. My limbs are heavy. My abdomen is tight. My head is foggy.

What the hell happened?

And then it all comes back to me.

I reach down and touch my ribs covered with a tight stretchy bandage  underneath my hospital issued gown. That slightest touch is enough to  send fire through my gut and pain shooting through my entire body. I  turn my head to the side, fighting the urge to throw up. I know from  experience that if I just breathe deeply, in and out, and focus on the  breathing with my eyes closed, the nausea will pass. Eventually.

After a few minutes, the first wave of nausea finally subsides. I crack  open my tired, heavy eyelids and take in my surroundings for the first  time.

Another hospital room.

My eyes quickly go to the chair in the corner which is surprisingly  empty. As I scan the small, private room, lit only by a dull florescent  light on the wall above the bed, I realize I am alone. My eyes quickly  avert to the doorway, to the door that is closed all but a couple of  inches. I wonder how long before someone comes in to check on me?

The clock on the wall next to the dry erase board with the name Emily,  RN on it reads ten-fifteen. Ten-fifteen. The fundraiser ends at eleven. I  am alone but only for a short time, and I know what I have to do.

With super-human strength I summon up from deep within, I swing my legs  over the edge of the sterile hospital bed with rough, bleached white  sheets scraping against my smooth body. I fight the returning wave of  nausea as I sit on the edge of the bed. Close your eyes. Breathe deep,  Lia. In and Out.

It doesn't take but a few moments and the queasiness slowly subsides. I  gently grab a hold of the IV sticking out of my hand and give it a tug.  It pulls free and draws just enough blood to turn my stomach again. I  reach for the box of Kleenex sitting on the nightstand next to the bed  and apply a little pressure to the open hole that once held my IV.  Breathe in and out.

The hospital gown falls into place as I gingerly step down onto the cold  linoleum floor. My ribs scream in protest by the sudden movement of my  body, of the twisting and turning as I stand completely upright. Fight  the nausea, Lia.

My eyelids are still heavy and groggy, and the desire to climb back into  bed and succumb to a deep sleep is great. I'm tired. I'm in incredible  pain from the bruised and probably cracked ribs. Just the simple act of  breathing seems to be the most unbelievably difficult task ever. But my  quest for freedom is greater. My need to get out of here and start a new  life is within reach. For the first time in my adult life, I taste it.  All I need to do is get out of this room.

I head over to the wardrobe closet and find my dress. The long, black  sequined dress that I had been wearing when I had this little  "accident." Accident, my ass.

It takes everything I have to slip out of the large hospital gown and  drop it on the floor. My stomach wants to retch. My ribs are screaming.  The fog in my head is threatening to completely take over. I fight to  keep the tears at bay, but a few slip out.

I grab the gown out of the closet and slowly - very, very slowly - start  the agonizing process of dressing myself. I bite my lip hard enough to  draw blood to keep from screaming as I slip the gown over my head and  down my battered body. I contemplate calling a nurse in for assistance,  but know that they will probably hinder my exit. No, no one can know  that I'm leaving.

After what feels like hours, I finally have the dress back on; the  elastic wrap around my abdomen, still securely in place. The once  beautiful dress is stiff around the high neckline, caked with dried  blood. My own.

I try to reach for the black strappy three-inch designer heels that are  sitting at the bottom of the wardrobe, but my ribs won't have it. Screw  it. I don't need shoes. The clicking of the heels in the quiet, empty  hallway would probably only draw attention anyway.

I long to slip into the bathroom and pee. Vomit. Pass out. Anything.  Unfortunately, time is not on my side right now. Leave. Go. Hurry.

I take one last look around the small hospital room and snatch up my  black clutch that is sitting on the bedside table. I know there isn't  anything in there of value, but at least I feel like I have something of  my own. Especially since I can't go back home to retrieve any of my  belongings or the hidden shoebox containing enough money to live off of  to get me wherever I'm going.                       
       
           



       

I slowly pull the door open the rest of the way and peek out into the  hallway. The hallway is fortunately empty though filled with the steady  stream of beeping and low volume televisions from other hospital rooms.  At the end of the hallway is an occupied nurse's station. The woman at  the desk has her head down, vigorously writing in the chart she has laid  out on the counter.

I take my first steps out into the hallway, away from the woman at the  nurse's station, and head towards my exit. Fight through the pain. Fight  it. I keep my back hugged against the white wall. My shaking legs carry  me further and further away. I fight the tears welling up in my dry  eyes as my smarted ribs protest each and every step I take, the breath I  fight to take getting lodged in my throat.

Finally. I reach the end of the long corridor. I glance to the left and  then to the right, looking - searching - for my exit. And then I finally  see it. Stairs.

I hold my breath as I reach for the metal bar across the door. It's not a  fire exit so there shouldn't be an alarm. Just the thought of being  this close to freedom and having it ripped away from me with some  attention-grabbing alarm is terrifying. But's also a necessary risk.

I give the bar a gentle push. It releases with a loud, echoing bang but I  try not to dwell on it. I need to get out of here, and I need to go  now. I step into the stairwell and slowly start my descent. My ribs  continue to protest with each agonizing step, but I can't think about  that right now either.

Once I descend three floors of stairs, I finally find myself on the  ground floor. Sweating and fearing that I might pass out, I contemplate  momentarily if I should head down another floor to the basement, but  without knowing the layout of the hospital, I realize that it could slow  down my exit considerably.

I glance out the little window on the door but don't see anyone I know.  Thank you, God. I slowly open the door, look left and right, and walk  out of the stairwell and into the main hallway of the ground floor of  the hospital.

The emergency room is to the left. I know because that's where they  brought me this evening after my little "accident." The room where I  pretended to sleep so that I didn't have to answer any more questions or  look into the gray eyes that have haunted me for years.

Beyond the emergency room is a large set of sliding glass doors. Daytona  traffic buzzes by on the busy street out in front of the hospital. That  traffic represents my freedom.

I slowly start to make my way towards those sliding doors. I try to walk  as normal as possible even though my steps falter from the pain and  lack of shoes, and my breathing is labored with exertion. Twenty yards.

As I reach the front counter, I see an older woman typing vigorously on  the computer in front of her. She glances up as I approach her  workstation. Ten yards.

I avoid eye contact as I do everything I can to steer clear of  recognition. I know that I must look like hell with my up-do no longer  "up", my makeup all but gone, replaced by swollen and bruised skin. Bare  feet. The dried blood doesn't help either. Five yards.

The sliding door begins to open as the woman finally speaks. "Miss, can I help you?" she asks with concern evident in her voice.

"No thank you. I was just leaving," I reply, giving her the warmest and  friendliest smile I can muster considering the situation, and continue  to walk.

The woman stands up and looks around. I notice the security guard at the  same time she does. He's on the opposite end of the waiting room near  the emergency department. I pick up the pace a little and start to walk  through the opened doors.

"Miss, wait! You can't just leave. Miss!" I hear her exclaim as the warm night air slaps me across the face.

I don't stop, and I don't turn around. This is it. My chance to escape.  My freedom. I have nowhere to go, no money to my name, and no plan  whatsoever. But I don't care.

As I step out onto the sidewalk, towards the filled parking lot that  leads to the busy street, I can't help the smile that crosses my  battered face.

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