Excerpt: Ultimate Fear
Book 2: Ultimate CORE Trilogy
An angel in the Book of Life wrote down my baby’s birth.
And whispered as she closed the book,
“Too beautiful for earth.”
Thirteen years ago…
“BLOOD,” WAYNE COOKE gasped and looked from his wife to the fast-pinging monitors.
A nurse grabbed him by the arm. “We’re going to have to perform an emergency C-section. The doctor needs you to—”
His wife screamed. Fear slithered along his skin as he shook the nurse off and rushed to the hospital bed. “Dimples, baby,” he choked back the tears, and smoothed a hand across her damp forehead.
Panting hard, she clutched his shirt. “Hurts. So. Bad.” Her reddened face twisted with agony. She gritted her teeth and, on a heart-twisting sob, let out a long, low, painful moan.
He looked over his shoulder. “What’s happening?” he shouted. “My wife—”
“Get him out of here,” a doctor wearing blue scrubs and a surgical cap ordered while a nurse helped him with his mask.
“No,” Dimples yelled, then grunted. Tears streamed down her face. “No. Wayne needs to be here. It’s not supposed to be this way.”
“Mr. Cooke, please.” The same nurse who’d informed him about the C-section placed both of her hands on his shoulders. “You have to leave the room. Now.”
The monitors pinging intensified.
“The baby’s in distress,” someone called.
“The mother’s blood pressure is dropping,” another added.
The nurse pushed him. “Go.”
“Wayne,” his wife cried, and hung on to his shirt.
The terror in her eyes was unbearable. Trying his best to be brave for both of them, he took her hand and kissed it. “They’ll take good care of you.”
“Get him out of here,” the doctor shouted.
She gripped his hand and squeezed tight. “I’m so scared. Wayne, I—” She let out another cry and arched her back.
Several nurses moved to hold her down. Someone shoved him and pried Dimples’s hand from his. “Go, go, go!”
He dug in his heels, but the nurse pushing him toward the door had him inching further and further away from the hospital bed. “Wait. My wife,” he pleaded, and kept his gaze locked on Dimples. Driven by the fear in her eyes, he sidestepped the nurse and rushed back to his wife.
“Call security,” someone shouted.
Adrenaline kicked in. Let them. He didn’t give a shit what the hospital police would do to him. His wife needed him. He needed to be here for her. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…he would always love her.
A male nurse, who had Wayne by both height and weight, grabbed him by the shoulders before he could reach his wife. “Don’t,” he warned, and propelled him toward the door.
As he was pushed from the room Wayne glanced to Dimples just as the doctor in the blue scrubs placed a breathing device of some sort over her mouth and nose. He quickly looked to her protruding stomach, then to between her raised knees and tasted bile. “Blood,” he repeated, while panic weakened his knees. “Why is there—”
The male nurse shoved him into the stark white hallway and closed the door. His entire body trembling, Wayne leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. Hanging his head between his raised knees, he tried to shake the sounds and images from his mind. Dimples’s tortuous cries, the fast-pinging monitors, the fear and anguish in his wife’s eyes…the blood.
His heart sped and his chest constricted. They’d been through Lamaze classes and had watched movies about childbirth. What they’d viewed hadn’t compared to reality. There’d been blood in those films, but not like this. Thick. Dark red. As if someone had dumped a bucket of paint at the center of the bed before lying Dimples on top of it.
It’s not supposed to be this way.
Misery and resentment had his stomach cramping. No, it wasn’t. Not after all they’d been through. For four years they’d been trying for a baby. Dimples had no problem becoming pregnant, but for whatever reason, she couldn’t carry the baby past twenty weeks. After seven miscarriages, when she had carried this baby past twenty weeks, the years of suffering and disappointment had begun to vanish. When she’d hit twenty-six weeks, instead of the endless worrying, they’d become excited about the prospect of finally having a child and creating the family they’d always wanted.
Dimples, for the first time in any one of the pregnancies, had gone ahead and picked out a zoo theme for the baby’s room. Knowing they were having a boy, she’d had Wayne paint the nursery a neutral khaki with an accent wall of robin’s egg blue. She’d also registered for the baby shower her aunt and cousin had hosted for her just last week. The crib was now in place and adorned with the baby animal print bedding. The matching window valances and pictures were also hung. Tiny clothes and blankets were in the dresser drawers waiting to be used. Baby bottles were cleaned and ready for feedings. The only thing missing was their baby boy.
“Can I bring you a cup of coffee?”
Wayne raised his head and rested it against the wall, his nervous stomach souring at the mention of coffee. “No thanks,” he said to the nurse he’d seen earlier when Dimples had been rushed into the maternity ward.
She gave him a sympathetic smile. “If you change your mind, just let me know.”
“Thanks. Um, how long does an emergency C-section take?” He glanced to his watch. “They kicked me out of the room about twenty minutes ago.”
The nurse looked to the floor. “It’s hard to say and is really case by case.”
She’s lying. Wayne didn’t know how he knew this, but he did. “Could you see how things are going for me? I…I’m worried.”
The nurse squatted in front of him and touched his arm. “I’m sure you’ll hear something soon,” she said, and offered him a small smile that contradicted the sadness in her eyes. “Please let me know if you—”
The hospital door swung open and Wayne jumped to his feet. His heart sped with hope, until he met the doctor’s bleak eyes. “Excuse us,” the doctor said to the nurse, who nodded and walked away. When the man faced Wayne again, he rubbed his forehead, then fisted his hands at his side. “Mr. Cooke, your wife experienced an amniotic fluid embolism and flatlined during delivery. She was gone for about two minutes before we revived her.”
Embolism? Wayne steadied himself against the wall. When he’d been in high school, his buddy’s mom had had an embolism and died. He couldn’t stop the tears welling in his eyes or his chin from trembling. “Is she…” He cleared his throat. “My wife—”
“She’s unresponsive. Once we get her in ICU and run tests, we’ll know more.”
“What exactly does unresponsive mean?” he demanded, anger surging to the surface. This man was the doctor. Doctors were supposed to know, they were supposed to have the answers.
“Your wife has slipped into a coma.”
“Coma,” he whispered. “I…will she come out of it?”
“Again, we need to run tests. But I’ll be frank, what your wife experienced is extremely rare. If she survives, there’s a possibility that the embolism will leave her with neurological issues.”
“She might not be the same.”
Wayne twined his fingers together and pressed them against the top of his head. He spun away and walked to the opposite wall. Tears streamed down his face and he used his shoulder to wipe them away. His wife had died. She’d fucking died and he hadn’t been in the room with her. He turned on the doctor. “I should have been in there. I should have—”
The doctor held up his hands. “Our focus was on her and the baby. I understand you love your wife, but I stand by my call.”
Oh, my God. He’d been so focused on his Dimples he hadn’t asked about his son. “The baby. How is he? Can I see him?”
The misery in the doctor’s tired eyes was all the answer he needed. Lightheaded, his legs weakening, he reached for the wall and missed. The doctor caught him.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry,” he said and held Wayne upright. “There was nothing we could do.”
Six days had passed since his wife had gone into a coma and he’d lost his son. Six agonizingly long days. Although God had answered his prayers and had given him his wife back, he now had to tell her the heart wrenching truth.
He edged around the hospital bed and took her hand in his. When she gave him a light squeeze, he dropped to his knees, pressed her hand to his forehead and let the tears fall. Although he wanted children, he loved his wife so damned much he’d rather go without the big family of their dreams than lose her. The worrying, the waiting, the grieving…this week had been hell. And he never wanted to experience anything like it again. According to Dimples’s doctor, they never would.
“Wayne,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
He looked up and forced a smile. With her face pale, her lips dry and chapped, and dark smudges under her eyes, his beautiful wife looked like a corpse. Thankfully they’d removed the ventilator and the sensors the doctor had attached to her head to monitor her brain activity. He didn’t know much about science and medicine, but hated seeing the medical equipment attached to her body. He wanted her back to her old self, and had missed her smile and the laughter and hope in her eyes. Considering what he had to tell her, he feared it would be a long time before he saw that smile again.
He rose and sat at the edge of the bed. Keeping his hand in hers, he leaned over and kissed her forehead. “I love you, Dimples.” His eyes stung with fresh tears. “I was so worried.”
“What’s happened?” she asked, her weary, expectant eyes searching his. “When can I see the baby?”
Now Wayne wished he had let the doctor tell Dimples the truth. The last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt his wife. What he had to tell her would not only hurt her, but destroy her hopes for a future with a big family. “Honey, you’ve been in a coma for six days.”
“Six…” She closed her eyes. “Am I gonna be okay?”
“Your doctor thinks so. Now that you’re awake, they’ll have to run more tests to make sure you didn’t suffer any neurological damage.”
When she met his gaze, the worry scrunching her forehead had his stomach knotting. “You mean like brain damage?” she asked.
“Yeah, honey,” he said, and brushed a lock of blond hair from her forehead. “You suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, and actually flatlined for two minutes.”
“What?” she asked, and tried to push herself upright.
He eased her back down against the pillows. “But like I said, the doc thinks you’re gonna be okay.”
“Six days.” She let out a shaky breath as a tear slipped down the side of her face. “I practically missed the whole first week of my baby’s life.” She turned her head and tightened her grip on his hand. “When can I see him? I wanted to breastfeed, so I’ll need to see one of those lactation nurses the Lamaze instructor recommended. After a week of formula, he might not want to take from me.”
“Dimples, he…ah…” Wayne looked away and dug deep, searching for the courage to tell his wife the truth. He’d spent the week grieving for his wife and child, and praying to God he’d have the strength to live through it again. “He didn’t make it.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she ran her free hand along the blankets covering her still swollen stomach. Her face twisted with sorrow and anguish. Her breath caught on a sob. “I want to see him.”
He pressed his lips together and fought to be strong for her. “You can’t. I…I’m sorry, but I didn’t know how long you’d be in the coma and I already made arrangements for his burial.”
Still holding his hand, she rolled to her side and buried her face in the pillow. Her entire body shook as she released her grief, while her muffled cries pierced his heart and soul. Dimples had wanted the child so badly. He had, too. But he needed his wife more than the baby they’d had their heart set on, or the family Dimples had thought they were meant to have. He’d known her since they were kids. She’d been the one bright and steady thing in his life he could always count on, no matter what. He would sacrifice a family and accept their fate so long as he had his Dimples by his side.
As he stroked her back, she lifted her head. Her face had reddened and sweat caused strands of her hair to stick to her forehead and cheek. Her tear-soaked, red-rimmed eyes were glassy and filled with horror and shame. “How?” she asked, anger causing her voice to shake.
“You had another placental abruption,” he answered, and knew he didn’t need to offer any other explanation. The last two pregnancies had ended just before the twenty-week mark for the same reason.
“Impossible.” She fisted her hand and hit the pillow. “I’ve had so many ultrasounds and my doctor knew I was high risk. He would have—”
Wayne shook his head. “The doc thinks the placenta tore a day or two before the contractions started. Which was a week after your last ultrasound. Until you started bleeding, there was no way of knowing.”
“I want to see him.”
“Your doctor will be by later today to—”
“No. My baby.”
“Dimples, I told you—”
“Wayne, I need to see him.”
His hand trembled as he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the picture a nurse had taken of their stillborn child. He’d only looked at it once and had considered burning it, but hadn’t been able to bring himself to do it. That picture was all that remained of their son and Dimples deserved to see him.
He handed her the photo and fresh tears trickled down her cheek as she smiled. “Oh, Elton, you were so perfect and beautiful. Mama loves you so much. I wish we could have been together here on Earth, but Mama knows we’ll be together in heaven.” She lightly touched the picture, then looked at him. “We made a perfect baby.” She hugged the photograph to her chest. “I can’t wait to see the doctor and ask when we can try again.”
Alarmed by her abrupt change, his chest tightened with unease. “Honey, we can’t try again.”
Her smile fell. “Why not? Now that we know—”
“The doctor said the risk is too great.” He shook his head, his temper flaring. “You died. Maybe you’re willing to take a chance on your life, but I’m not.” He gently grasped her arm. The defeat in her eyes had his breath catching. “I can’t lose you. I love you so much, Dimples, and I know you want a baby, but I’d be nothing without you.”
She cried with him and brushed the tears from his face. “Wayne, I’m sorry. I never thought about what I’ve been putting you through. All of the miscarriages…I’ve been so selfish.”
“Never,” he said with vehemence. “I wanted us to have a family, too.”
“We still can.” She looked down at the photo of their dead son. “We can still have a family. If I promise to get my tubes tied so we don’t run the risk of getting pregnant again, will you promise me you’ll do everything you can to help us have a baby in our lives?”
He grew limp with overwhelming relief. Finally, after all of the years of trying for a child, after all of the risks and disappointments, Dimple was willing to go another route. Adoption, foster care…they had options and could still have a family. He nodded and gave her forehead a quick kiss. “I promise, honey. I’ll do whatever it takes to get you a baby.”
She gave him a watery smile and then looked back to the picture. “I want another boy, just like our Elton.”
“Sure, honey. We’ll get us a baby boy.”
“And I want to name him Elton.”
She met his gaze. The challenge and determination in her eyes caused them to glitter with excitement, and had wariness settling in the pit of his stomach. While he was glad Dimples was willing to give up on having a child of their own, he wasn’t looking to replace the son they’d lost. Dimples probably wasn’t, either. She’d just learned their son had died, and she’d just woken from a coma. After she had time to adjust and grieve properly, she’d realize adopting a boy and calling him by their dead son’s name wasn’t healthy.
“Wayne,” she began, her voice surprisingly strong and defensive, “you don’t have a problem with that, do you? After all that we’ve been through, after all me and my family has done for you, I can’t imagine that you’d lie and go back on your promises to me.”
She’d never held his past over his head and he’d never gone back on a promise. Hell, she’d never spoken to him in a condescending tone before, either.
He reminded himself of where they were at and what they’d just lost, and put her feelings and needs above his. “Never,” he said, taking her hand in his. “You know I’d do anything for you. And if you want to name the next baby Elton, that’s fine by me.”
Her eyes softened. “You’re a good husband. And you’re gonna make a great daddy.” With a wistful sigh, she looked to the picture again. “Ain’t that right, Elton. Your daddy is gonna make sure we’re together again real soon. And we’re gonna be a real family.” As she traced the tip of her finger along the photograph, she began humming a lullaby that should have sounded sweet, but for some reason it gave him an eerie chill.
Dimples wasn’t herself right now, was all. She’d be fine. Once she had herself a baby boy to love, she’d be fine.