The path to my debut novel has been a ten-year journey. There are so many people who have helped me along the way, and I am grateful to each and every one. Special thanks to Elisabeth Naughton, without whom this novel would not exist. My deepest appreciation to my wonderful parents for always supporting my endeavors; to my coworkers at UCSF Medical Center, whose enthusiasm has kept me motivated; my many special friends, whose interest in my writing has given me hope and inspiration. To my fabulous agent, Paige Wheeler, for loving Fever in its earliest form and believing in my abilities as a writer; my wonderful editor, Alicia Condon, whose appreciation and effort helped me take my writing to a new level and brought out the best in Fever.
Finally, my husband, Rick, who is endlessly supportive of my need for creative expression, and our two beautiful daughters who might not understand that need but put up with me anyway. I love you all. Deeply.
The clank-clank-clank of shackles echoed off the hospital’s linoleum floors, rippling across Doctor Alyssa Foster’s shoulders.
She headed toward the source, her muscles tense despite her fatigue. Normally, she didn’t mind taking on additional duties when the department was short staffed like this. She didn’t even mind carrying the everyday load for her attending physicians. And sure as hell didn’t complain about it like her sorry-assed excuse of a rival, Greg Dyne, but this ... This was the worst of the mundane chores. She’d rather perform the toughest procedure on the nastiest patient than be forced to interact with prisoners.
Before facing the hardened, violent psychopaths waiting at the end of the hall, Alyssa ducked into the restroom and took a minute to splash water on her face. Then she made the mistake of looking in the mirror.
Pale skin, bruise-colored shadows beneath her eyes, frown lines marring her forehead. She almost didn’t recognize the person staring back. Her twelfth day in a row of twenty-fours didn’t look so good in this light, and the unsavory chore awaiting didn’t help.
“Fourteen more days,” she murmured to her reflection. Her year-long fellowship would end in just two weeks. Had it really only been a year? She felt like she’d been at St. Jude’s for a decade already. “And if you want to stay here, you’d better learn to live with jailbirds.”
The hospital had contracts with five neighboring prisons and the forensic patients had prompted the budget increase, which in turn opened this new attending radiologist’s position, one either she or Dyne would fill.
No. The one she would fill.
Alyssa yanked at the elastic band in her hair and smoothed the messy strands back into a ponytail with a damp hand. After stretching her back and popping her neck, she dragged herself through the closed double doors hiding the forensic wing from the general public.
She’d be the first to admit to a bit of a badboy fetish. Certainly had made her share of mistakes choosing men in the past. But her definition of badboys encompassed independent men who pushed the limits and lived by their own rules, not murderers, rapists and drug pushers.
The angle of sunlight spilling through the glass on the single exterior door at the end of the hall told her it was getting late. She still had patients in the intensive care units in need of procedures, the day’s studies to read out and ... oh, yeah, food. She hadn’t stopped to eat anything all day.
Her teeth met and her jaw muscle flexed. She didn’t have time to be doing other people’s work, but if she didn’t, Dyne would. And she damn well wasn’t going to lose this position to that cocky, substandard excuse for a rival.
Alyssa paused at the doorway to the already darkened exam room and nodded to the officer in the hallway. The one with a weapon. The one who kept a safe distance from the inmate so the prisoner wouldn’t have an opportunity to steal a gun. One sweep of his twenty-something, clean-shaven, sweet Midwestern face, and Alyssa knew this was the perfect place for him—well out of the felon’s reach.
“Ma’am.” Farmboy shifted to allow her past the partially curtained opening. “Sorry we’re so late. The transportation sergeant screwed up.”
She couldn’t quite muster the words, that’s okay, because it was really messing with her day and her mood, but it also wasn’t his fault. She nodded acknowledgment. “What facility are you from?”
“San Quentin, ma’am.”
Alyssa resisted the urge to close her eyes and slump her shoulders. Quentin: death row capital of the California state prison system. Home to the most notorious serial killers and mass murderers of the decade. Definitely an apropos ending to this hellacious shift.
With a slow breath directed deep into her chest, Alyssa prepared her emotional shields then passed the guard and scanned the prisoner’s paperwork: Teague Creek, thirty-four, right upper quadrant pain. Abdomen ultrasound. Piece of cake. It would take her ten minutes, tops.
She surveyed the prisoner from shoulders to toes. He was tall, but little else stood out. His periwinkle-blue prison uniform was too similar to hospital scrubs for Alyssa’s taste. Probably because it made her wonder if she was a prisoner of sorts as well. Especially on days like this.
The second officer—this one inside the room and without the weapon—was older, maybe fifty, also Caucasian.
“Officer,” she greeted, “I’ll need his shirt off and his hands uncuffed from the waist chain.”
Alyssa pulled the curtain halfway closed and set the papers on a foldout desk. Her gaze paused on the box labeled RELEASE DATE where the word life had been scribbled. Her lips pursed with an involuntary shake of her head. So young. What a waste.
She slipped on a glove, picked up a bottle of warm gel and turned to find the prisoner leaning on the edge of the gurney. Something dark caught her eye and her gaze passed over his face without seeing it, honing in on the coal black tattoos covering a wide muscled chest.
A swastika the size of a basketball stamped the left side of his torso. The right side of his abdomen flaunted an eagle holding a shield with the letters “A B” and two swords crossed in the background. Barbed wire spiraled his biceps. All classic insignia of the Aryan Brotherhood .
Apprehension clenched her belly in a tight, hot fist. Her eyes darted to his face, looking for something—disgust, venom, condescension—some reaction to her ethnicity. Anyone with two eyes could tell she wasn’t a hundred percent lily white. But he’d tilted his chin down, his gaze now cast on the floor, and Alyssa found herself looking at the top of his head, shaved nearly to the skin, and—surprise, surprise—another swastika centered on the dome of his cranium.