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Coast Roadby Barbara Delinsky
When Jack McGill's phone rang at two in the morning, the sound cut sharply into the muted world of a soupy San Francisco night. He had been lying in bed since twelve, unable to sleep. His mind was too filled, too troubled. The sudden sound jolted already jittery nerves.
In the time that it took him to grab for the phone, a dozen jarring thoughts came and went. "Yes?"
"Is this Jack McGill?" asked a voice he didn't know. It was female and strained.
"I'm Katherine Evans, one of Rachel's friends. There's been an accident. She's at the hospital in Monterey. I think you should come."
Jack sat up. "What kind of accident?"
"Her car was hit and went off the road."
His stomach knotted. "What road? Were the girls with her?"
"Highway One, and, no, she was alone." Relief. The girls were safe, at least. "She was near Rocky Point, on her way to Carmel. A car rammed her from behind. The impact pushed her across the road and over the side."
His feet hit the floor. The knot in his stomach tightened.
"She's alive," the friend went on. "Only a few broken bones, but she hasn't woken up. The doctors are worried about her brain."
He pushed a hand through his hair. The disquieting thoughts about work that had kept him awake were gone, replaced by a whole different swarm. "The girls — "
" — are still home. Rachel was on her way to book group. When nine o'clock came and she hadn't shown up, I called the house. Samantha said she'd left at seven, so I called the state police. They told me there'd been an accident, and ID'd her car. They were still trying to get her out of it at that point and didn't know how she was, so I called her neighbor, Duncan Bligh. He went down to sit with the girls. I called them a little while ago to say she's okay, but I didn't tell them about the head injury, and I didn't know whether to tell Duncan to drive them up here to the hospital. That's not my decision to make."
No. It was Jack's. Divorce or no divorce, he was the girls' father. Clamping the phone between shoulder and jaw, he reached for his jeans. "I'm on my way. I'll call Samantha and Hope from the car."
"Rachel's in Emergency now. Check in there."
"Right. Thanks." He hung up realizing that he couldn't remember her name, this friend of Rachel's, but it was the least of his worries, the very least. "Unbelievable," he muttered as he zipped his jeans and reached for a shirt. Things were bad at the office and bad in the field. He was living an architect's nightmare, needed in both places come morning, and then there was Jill. Tonight was the charity dinner that she had been working on for so long. He had deliberately planned business trips around this date, knowing how much it meant to her. His tux was pressed and waiting. She was expecting him at five. Five — and he hadn't slept a wink. And he was heading south to God only knew what, for God only knew how long.
But Rachel was hurt. You're not married to her anymore, his alter ego said, but he didn't miss a beat stuffing his shirt into his jeans and his feet into loafers. You don't owe her a thing, man. She was the one who walked out.
But she was hurt, and he had been called, and depending on what he found in Monterey, there would be arrangements to make for the girls. They would have to be told how she was, for starters. They were too old to be sent to bed with empty reassurances, too young to face this possible nightmare alone. Rachel was their caretaker, companion, confidant. The three were thick as thieves.
The doctors are worried about her brain, the friend had said. Well, of course, they would worry until things checked out.
He tossed cold water on his face and brushed his teeth. Minutes later he entered his studio — and in a moment's dismay wondered why he still called it that. It had become more a place of business than of art. What few drawings he had done were buried under proposals, spec sheets, contracts, and correspondence — the refuse of an insane number of construction projects in various stages. The place reeked of pressure.
Using the slate gray of dawn that filtered through the skylights, he crammed his briefcase with his laptop and as many vital papers as would fit, and his portfolio with multiple versions of the Montana design. Tucking both under an arm, he strode down the darkened hall to the kitchen. He didn't need a light. The place was streamlined and minimal. Grabbing his keys from the granite island and a blazer from the coat tree by the door, he set the alarm and went down to the garage below. Within minutes, he was backing out the BMW and speeding down Filbert. His headlights cut a pale gray swath in the smoky night, lighting little of Russian Hill. Other than the occasional street corner lump that could as easily be a homeless person sleeping as trash waiting for pickup, San Francisco was one big foggy cocoon.
Pressing numbers by feel on his car phone, he called information. He was heading south on Van Ness by the time he got through to the hospital in Monterey. "This is Jack McGill. My wife, Rachel Keats, was brought in a little while ago. I'm on my way there. Can you give me an update?"
"Hold on, please." Several nerve-wracking minutes later, he connected with a nurse in the emergency room. "Mr. McGill? She's in surgery. That's about all we know at this point."
"Is she conscious?"
"She wasn't when they took her upstairs."
The doctors are worried about her brain. "What's the surgery for?"
"Would you hold on a minute?"
"I'd rather not — " The sudden silence at the other end said he had no choice. He'd had no choice when Rachel had moved out six years ago, either. She had said she was going, had packed up the girls and their belongings while he was away on business. He had come home to an echoing house, feeling as thwarted and helpless then as he felt now. Then, armored in anger, he had sold the house moved to one that didn't echo. But now, there was no such out. Her face came to him with every shift of fog, an urban Rorschach in which her features beautiful one minute, bruised the next. His nervous heart was beating up a storm.
He pushed the car faster.
"Mr. McGill?" came a male voice, choppy over speaker but audible. "I'm Dr. Culey. I treated your wife when she arrived."
"What's the surgery for?" he shouted, gripping the steering wheel.
"To set her left leg. Compound fractures, both femur and tibia. They'll be inserting pins — "
"I was told there were head injuries," he cut in. A person didn't die from a broken leg. "Has she regained consciousness?"
"No. There's some cranial swelling. We don't know what direction it'll take."
"I want a specialist called."
"Our man is on his way. When will you be here?"
"I'm just leaving San Francisco."
"Two hours, then?"
"Less," Jack said and, slowing but barely, sailed through a red light. "Here's my cell number." He rattled it off. "Call me if there's any change, will you?" When the doctor agreed, Jack punched out another set of numbers. He wasn't as quick to press send this time, though. He didn't know what to say to the girls. They weren't babies anymore. And teenagers today were a different breed from the ones he had known. Add the fact that he no longer lived with them, and that they were girls, and he was at a triple disadvantage.
But this time he couldn't pass the buck. There was no one else to take it.
Katherine. That was the friend's name. Katherine.
Rachel had never mentioned her, but then, Rachel never mentioned anything that didn't deal directly with the girls. The girls had spoken of her, though. He thought he remembered that.
They definitely had mentioned Duncan Bligh, and more than once. He was the rancher who shared Rachel's canyon. The slop
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