Kit leaned back against the office door and released a long shaky breath. She'd done it! Ten minutes ago she'd burned the last major bridge behind her. She could take off on an exciting, carefree adventure any time now--if she could think of a single place she wanted to go.
Kit forced herself to focus on the familiar scene. The gleaming desktop looked unnatural without its usual piles of paper. Behind it, the leather bulk of her father's empty desk chair glared at her, emanating waves of cold disapproval. She fought down the familiar wave of guilt. She hadn't made the decision to step down lightly. If she was ever to sort out the chaos of her emotions, she had to get completely away from Florida and its memories.
Yesterday, after she'd performed the unpleasant task of informing Gunther Roth and his team that she could not approve the funding for the next phase of his genetic restructuring research, she'd handed the reins of the foundation over to her assistant until further notice. And as of today, there would be no more Schofields running Schofield Pharmaceuticals. The board meeting had simply put the official stamp on Gordon's role as CEO.
She took a deep breath and stifled the panic that rose in her throat every time she thought about cutting ties and starting a new life.
She glanced hastily around her. The noonday sun poured through the picture window and glinted off the brass desk lamp onto the gleaming walnut desk. She gave herself a mental shake. She should take a memento of this six-year segment of her life. She picked up the onyx pen set Bart had given her when she had taken over this office six years ago.
Their innocent affection had been so comfortable then.
She reached over to flip on the intercom. "Hi, Helen. Please tell Gordon I'm ready to go."
Thank goodness she'd already said her private farewells to her executive assistant and friend.
She straightened her shoulders and stood up as tall as her five foot two frame would stretch. The staff would see the fashionable, decisive Kit Schofield they were used to seeing. She grasped the doorknob and launched herself into the hallway where Gordon waited for her.
"Are you all right, Kit? Would you like to wait a bit to say your farewells?"
There was genuine concern in his brown eyes. Kit wished she could throw herself into his brotherly, middle-aged embrace and tell him what was upsetting her. Gordon would gladly take over and organize her tangled life for her. But she was the only person who could sort out that chaos.
"No, no. I'd like to get it over with," she said, fixing a bright smile on her lips.
As if she didn't have a care in the world, she sauntered over to the crowd of well-wishers who had left their desks to say good-bye. After all, they thought she was heading off on a holiday to launch another phase in her glamorous golden life.
Solid as always, Gordon remained at her side.
They stepped out through the glass outer doors into the humid September day. The hot Florida sun beat down on their heads. The asphalt of the parking lot was so hot that it glistened in the brilliant sunshine.
Kit stopped at the base of the steps and brushed a sisterly kiss on Gordon's cheek. "Thanks for everything, Gordon. You don't have to walk me to the car. It's right over there in the shade."
Annoying tears began to well up behind her eyes as she strolled across the quiet parking lot toward the privacy of her little red sports car. She had to think positively. Who knew what wonderful experiences were just around the corner? Maybe she'd take a long trip. Be away from Florida for the hurricane season.
Deep in thought, she was only vaguely aware of someone gunning a powerful motor about a hundred feet to her right.
Suddenly, tires squealed as a white van with darkly tinted windows turned sharply and skidded into the parking lot. Startled, she turned toward the sound. The van picked up speed and hurtled around the circular driveway in her direction. Was the driver drunk? She took a couple of cautious steps backward toward the curb to give the van plenty of room to get by her. But the driver seemed to be steering right for her.
"Kit! Get back here!" Gordon shouted.
She whirled around and leapt back toward the building. The van swerved and mounted the curb after her. Gordon, moving amazingly fast for a man of his age and girth, grabbed her arm and yanked her hard out of its direct path. However, the front bumper managed to catch Kit's left leg and knock her loose of Gordon's grasp. She spun, flying against the concrete steps of the building.
Instinctively, she tucked in her chin and tried to protect her head with her arms. The last thing she felt before the world went black was a fierce jolt of pain across her shoulders and down her right arm.
In brief moments of semi-consciousness, she was aware of sirens and voices and pain. Above all, pain. She sensed she was in a moving vehicle for a while. Then there were occasional hazy moments of awareness when a vaguely familiar woman's voice gave brisk instructions and the pain receded for a while. But it returned--again and again.
* * *
She didn't know if it was hours or days later that Bart's low voice wrapped around her like a soothing blanket. She didn't quite catch the words. She simply couldn't muster the energy to focus on them. But he was there.
Time had little meaning for her as she drifted in this painful limbo.
Eventually, the fog lifted, leaving only the pain. She opened her eyes a slit to find herself in a dim hospital room. Then, Bart bending over her.
His blue eyes were dark with concern and he looked as if he hadn't shaved or slept in days. Just the sight of him made the pain fade for a moment.
She was so glad to see him. It had been weeks since they had decided to do the only sensible thing and avoid each other. She tried to smile at him.
"You've finally decided to wake up, have you, Kittle?" He turned and nodded at the gray-haired nurse standing on the other side of the hospital bed. "Will you call Dr. Wheeler, Bea?"
Bea? Slowly, Kit made the connection. Bea Foster was the private duty nurse who had looked after Bart's father. What was Bea doing here? And where exactly was here?
"She said she wanted to be notified as soon as Kit regained consciousness," Bea agreed. "I'll be right back with your meds, Kit," she added.
Bart bent to place a light kiss on Kit's forehead. "I'll bet that's the only place that doesn't hurt," he said.
That was true. And what really frightened her was the enormous amount of plaster she was wearing. Her upper body was tightly wrapped and she could see her right arm encased in a cast. Her left leg was in another cast. She seemed to be suspended in some kind of contraption that was attached to pulleys. She tried to move her toes. The pain in her leg was intense but one toe moved slightly.
"Bart," she croaked, "please. Am I paralyzed?"
He looked into her eyes while his fingers lightly caressed her cheek. "Oh, no, Kittle. You may not think so right now, but you were very lucky. You broke your collarbone and your right arm. Cracked that not-so-funny humerus. You also did a good job on the tibia of your left leg. The good news is that you didn't injure your spine. And you didn't hit your head." He held her gaze for a moment as if he were going to say something more. Then he looked away.
She lay quietly for a moment. There was something he wasn't saying.
Bart ran his fingers impatiently through his blond thatch of hair, then looked at his watch.
"Damn! The timing couldn't be worse, Kit, but I couldn't just leave you a message."
"Your dad!" she gasped.
"No, no. Dad is fine. Everyone is fine...except you, Kittle. But I've accepted a job with my old boss. Out of the country. It's a special negotiation."
The only thing she knew about those negotiations was that during the last one, he'd been held hostage in some Middle Eastern country for three months. She couldn't stand it if anything happened to Bart.
"Don't worry, Kit," he assured her. "That last trip was a comedy of errors. People got their wires crossed. That won't happen again."
She didn't have the energy to tell him that she wasn't fool enough to believe that. She closed her eyes to keep back insistent tears.
"Please don't go to sleep on me, Kit. I have to go in a few minutes. My flight leaves in an hour." He cast an anxious glance at the door. "I was hoping I could be here when Dr. Wheeler came in to explain about your injuries."
She wanted to tell him she didn't want him to leave...that she was in pain and didn't want to be alone. But she simply mumbled, "Good-bye, then. Keep safe." And let the tears come.
"Bea," Bart called urgently. "Hurry with that medication."
Kit was sure that no kind of medication would erase this sense of desolation but whatever was in the injection Bea gave her dragged her back into sweet oblivion.