Story Excerpt
The Ties That Bind

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"Doctor, you're wanted in the emergency room."

DB smiled at the patient sitting on the exam table in front of him before turning to look at the nurse. "I'm with a patient right now."

"They're bringing in Deputy Hale," the nurse said. "He's been shot."

DB froze, everything inside of him going cold in an instant. Having a best friend who was a police officer was not for the faint of heart. He swallowed hard before whispering the words he had always dreaded asking. "Is he alive?"

He was given back his ability to breathe when the nurse nodded. DB turned and smiled at his patient again. It took every ounce of his control to stay calm when everything in him wanted to scream and go running to the emergency department.

"Anna, I'm going to let the nurse take care of you. I need to go down and see what kind of trouble Deputy Hale has gotten himself into."

Anna O'Brian chuckled. "Go on, doc. I'm good."

It was all DB could do to move at a normal pace as he wrapped his stethoscope around his neck and then handed over the medical chart to the nurse. Once he was out the door to the exam room, however, he picked up the pace. It was a good ten minute walk from the clinic to the emergency room, a five minute sprint. DB made it in three minutes.

He was panting heavily as he rushed through the emergency room doors and headed directly for the nurse's station situated in the middle of all the exam cubicles. "Nurse Linda, has the ambulance with Deputy Hale arrived yet?"

"They're just coming in now, doctor."

DB hurried toward the ambulance bay. The paramedics were just pulling the gurney with the deputy on it out of the back of the ambulance when DB arrived outside. He rushed to the man's side, checking for signs of life.

He needed to see with his own eyes that Nick was alive.

The relief he felt when Nick grunted and then glared at one of the paramedics was so great, it almost took DB to his knees. Not only was the man alive, he was pissed. That was a good sign for Nick, a bad one for Jamie Kent, the paramedic.

DB moved closer to the side of the gurney as Nick was wheeled into the emergency room. He did a quick glance from the top of his light brown haired head to the bottoms of his cowboy boots. The only injury seemed to be his chest.

"What'd you go and do this time, Nicky boy?" DB was probably the only man on the face of the planet that could get away with calling Nicolas Hale Nicky boy. Anyone else would end up with Nick's fist in their face.

Nick's scowl deepened as he turned his head to look at DB. "I made the mistake of trying to stop a bullet with my chest."

DB's gaze dropped to the white bandages covering the right side of Nick's chest. Most of them were splattered with blood. They were situated above the heart and just below Nick's clavicle bone.

"Through and through?" Was the bullet still inside of Nick or had it passed right through him? The answer to that question would help determine what kind of medical treatment Nick needed.

"One of them was." Nick grimaced. "I think the other one is still in there."

DB's face went cold as the blood drained from it. "You were shot twice?" He was going to strangle the deputy. "What? The first bullet didn't do enough damage so you had to try another one?"

Nick's nasty glare reassured DB as nothing else could have. The deputy was going to be okay.

"I was protecting someone we both know." Nick gave DB a pointed look.

"Oh." DB knew exactly who Nick was talking about. He had recently been called in on a case by Sheriff John Riley. A young man named Artie Mills had been assaulted so severely that he was in a coma. Since he was involved with an undercover DEA agent, there was a possibility that his life was in danger so he was moved from the hospital in the city to the small town of Cade Creek. Everything was hush-hush, only a few trusted people had known Artie was in the hospital until he recovered enough to be moved. That had been a couple of weeks ago.

"Maybe later we can discuss it," DB said as he pulled his stethoscope from around his neck. He stepped back as the paramedics lifted Nick and moved him off the gurney and onto the exam bed. "Right now, we need to see how much damage getting shot caused."

DB knew from experience that bullet holes very rarely just went in and came out. They usually caused a lot of damage before they exited the body.

Nick's shirt had already been removed, most likely by the paramedics, so it was easy for DB to press the round disk of his stethoscope against Nick's slick muscular chest. The man was breathing, but DB wanted to make sure there weren't any sounds that shouldn't be there. When everything he heard was normal, DB wrapped the stethoscope back around his neck.

"Let's get you out of these clothes," DB said. "I know you don't want anything happening to your jeans and boots. If I'm not mistaken, these are your favorite holey jeans."

Nick grunted as the nurse unbuttoned his jeans and started pulling them down his legs. "Pervert. You're always trying to get me out of my clothes."

DB chuckled, not offended in the least. It was a long standing joke between the two of them. DB had attempted to kiss Nick once; just a few months after he figured out he was gay. He had been sixteen and hoping his best friend was just as interested.

He wasn't.

After nursing a broken heart for awhile, life went on. DB had learned to live with the fact that the man he had dreamed of since he knew he was gay was as straight as they came. And Nick never knew of the sixteen year old heart he had shattered.

DB prayed he never did.

"Just be lucky I don't have the nurses tie you down to the gurney with IV tubing." DB wiggled his eyebrows. "Just think of the fun I could have. This is an emergency room. Everyone would ignore your screams."

Nick laughed but quickly grabbed his chest and groaned as he sort of curled up. "Oh, don't make me laugh."

DB patted Nick's leg. "Okay, okay. Keep your panties on."

"Dr. Berkley, may I speak to you in the corridor?"

DB turned to see Dr. Andrew Sutherland standing in the open doorway. He glanced at Nick, widening his eyes comically before turning back and following the doctor out of the room. "Is there a problem, doctor?"

"Yes, there is." The man was so starched he couldn't even slouch. His entire body rigid as if he was ready to snap ready to snap. "It is highly inappropriate for you to be conversing with a patient in this manner."

DB's eyes narrowed. "Excuse me?"

Was his ethical conduct being questioned?

"Furthermore," the man continued, "you are not on rotation in the emergency room this evening. As you are not assigned to this department at this time, I am going to have to ask you to leave."

"Bite me." DB could hear the nurses close by quietly laughing at his words as he twirled around and walked back into the examination cubicle. He plastered a smile on his face. He hoped that Nick was too preoccupied with his injuries to notice how fake it was. "Okay, let's see what we're working with here."

"Hopefully," Nick said as their eyes met, "a medical degree."

"Yep." DB smiled for real this time. "Printed it off the computer myself just this morning. The ink might still be drying, but I swear it looks just as good as a real one."

"Oh, okay." Nick nodded. "As long as it looks real."