Lightning Lingers

By: Barbara Freethy

(Lightning Strikes Trilogy #2)


One


She didn't like storms, especially not on Halloween. But the shiver that ran down Katherine Barrett's spine as she stepped onto the roof of Houston's St. John's Hospital at eleven o'clock at night had as much to do with painful memories of the past as it did with the storm clouds gathering overhead.

There was nothing to be afraid of tonight, and her sense of foreboding was misplaced, she told herself forcefully. Even the ER had been quiet; only a sprained ankle, a broken arm, and a stomachache from too much candy. No one had gotten hurt.

No one had died.

Her stomach twisted painfully at the memory of another Halloween a very long time ago. In her head, she could still feel herself tripping over the long skirt of her costume as she ran through the streets with her friends. They'd gone farther than they were supposed to that night. She'd known it then, but she hadn't stopped. She'd never imagined anything bad could happen.

Shaking her head, she told herself to stop going back in time, focus on the present and not the past.

Today was a celebration, an end of one very long chapter in her life and the beginning of a new one. Eleven years of medical training had come to a finish with her last shift as a medical resident. She was twenty-nine years old and more than ready to start her career as a doctor. She'd thought medical school was difficult, but the past three years as a resident had been brutal. She'd worked eighty-hour weeks, and sometimes she'd been so tired she couldn't remember what day it was. Through it all, she was supposed to be at the top of her game, and for the most part she had been at the top, because she'd given up everything else in her life—friends, family, hobbies—in pursuit of her goal. She'd climbed a mountain, she'd made it, but the hollow in her heart reminded her that she was alone.

Had it been worth it?

Frowning, she couldn't believe she was even contemplating the fact that all the time and dedication hadn't been worth it. She was just exhausted. Tomorrow, she'd feel the exhilaration that she couldn't quite seem to find at this moment. Tomorrow, Halloween would be over, and she'd be done with that painful memory, too.

She reached for the locket she'd put on for her last shift. She didn't usually wear it on duty, but tonight it had felt appropriate. She unclasped the necklace and opened the locket to look at the smiling face of Hailey Peters, a beautiful, freckled redhead with a big smile—her face forever captured at twelve years old.

"I did it, Hailey," she murmured. "I'm a doctor."

For a moment, she thought she could hear Hailey's voice saying I knew you could. She smiled at the foolish thought, but silently offered up a thank you, knowing that Hailey's voice had gotten her through a lot of tough moments in her life.

However, it was another voice that drew her head around. Josie Holt, a fellow resident, walked over to join her. Josie was a gregarious brunette who seemed able to maintain her happy nature no matter the circumstances. She'd also just finished her last day of residency.

Katherine slipped the locket into her pocket as Josie handed her a beer.

"This should be champagne, but we're not making real doctor money yet, so I settled for beer," Josie said with a grin.

"It's perfect."

Josie raised her bottle. "Here's to us, to a new beginning."

"To us," Katherine echoed, as they clinked their bottles together.

"Can you believe we actually made it?" Josie added, taking a swig of beer. "No more eighteen-hour shifts, no more working every holiday and every weekend, no more taking orders from Dr. Horrible."

Katherine smiled. Dr. Horrible was a nickname for Dr. Mark Hutchinson, the brilliant but rigid physician who had terrorized them for the past year. "Would it sound traitorous if I said I think he might have made us better doctors?"

Josie made a face at her. "He might have taught us a few things, but he didn't have to be such an asshole about it. He hated all of us. Actually, he tolerated you, because you're so damn good. In fact, you're the most single-minded, determined person I've ever met. If you don't know something, you make it your mission in life to figure it out. I've learned a lot from you, Katherine."

"We've learned a lot from each other," she said, not completely comfortable with the compliment. Her single-minded focus might have been good for her career, but it had distanced her from everything and everyone else in her life. She'd left a lot of people behind on her way to this moment.

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