She’s never had a home
Growing up in a troubled foster home, Mercy Dane knew she could never rely on anyone but herself. She’s used to giving her all to people who don’t give her a second glance, so when she races to Blessings, Georgia, to save the life of an accident victim, she’s flabbergasted when the grateful town opens its arms to her. She never dreamed she’d ever find family or friends—or a man who looks at her as if she hung the stars.
Until she finds peace in his arms
Police Chief Lon Pittman is getting restless living in sleepy little Blessings. But the day Mercy Dane roars into his life on the back of a motorcycle, practically daring him to pull her over, he’s lost. There’s something about Mercy’s tough-yet-vulnerable spirit that calls to Lon, and he will do anything in his power to make her realize that home isn’t just where the heart is—home is where their heart is.
It was nearing daylight when her cell phone began to ring. She rolled over and grabbed it as she turned on the lamp. “Hello?”
“This is Mildred Starks from the National Rare Blood Registry. Am I speaking to Mercy Dane?”
“Yes,” Mercy said, as she threw back the covers and stood up.
“Ms. Dane, we have an emergency in your area. This is an unusual situation, and we’re asking something out of the ordinary. Can you respond directly to the hospital in need?”
“Yes. Where do I need to be?” she asked, as she began grabbing clothes.
“You still reside in Savannah, Georgia, and are there at this time?”
“Perfect. There is a small town about an hour south of you called Blessings. There’s no chopper available to fly you there and no time to donate in Savannah and then have it transported. Do you have transportation to get yourself to Blessings?”
Now her hands were shaking as she realized the reality of someone’s life would lie partially in her ability to get there. “Yes. Where do I go?”
“The town is small. There’s only one hospital. I’m sending GPS directions to your phone. Time is crucial. Be safe and Godspeed.”
“On my way,” she said, and dropped the phone on the bed as she took her biker gear out of the closet. Within five minutes she was out the door, her helmet in one hand, keys in the other.
The sun was only a hint on the eastern horizon as she left the complex. According to her directions, she was to take I-16 west, then connect to I-95 south. She wasn’t far from a feeder road that would take her to I-516, which then turned into I-16, so she took that route.
It was early Christmas morning and traffic was sparse. Sunrise was minutes away when she finally hit I-16, and by that time she was flying. Every mile behind her put her closer to Blessings. It wasn’t the first time she’d been called upon to donate her blood, but it was the first time she’d been asked to go to the person in need. It amped the urgency to a fever pitch, making her part in it personal.
Once she hit I-95 southbound, the northbound lane was a black ribbon of flickering headlights, while she and the Harley became a two-wheeled version of earthbound flight.
She rode with single-minded focus, keeping an eye on the traffic while making sure she didn’t get caught in the draft of passing truckers. And when the new sun was just high enough in the east that she could see the landscape through which she was passing, the glimpses of houses led her to imagining what might be going on within the walls—because it was Christmas Day.
Surely joyful families were opening presents and eating breakfasts. She pictured turkeys already in the oven, pies already baked and lining sideboards and tables, and the dough for homemade hot rolls in big crockery bowls, covered and rising in a warm place on the counter. Unfortunately, that scene was nothing but her imagination because she’d never experienced anything like it. But the closer she got to Blessings, the more she realized there was no time to dwell on what she didn’t have. Today, it was what she did have—an RH negative blood type—that mattered most.
She’d been on the interstate forty-five minutes when she reached the exit that would take her to her destination. According to the directions she’d received, Blessings was less than fifteen miles ahead. The roar of the engine beneath her was all she could hear as she leaned slightly forward into the ride and accelerated.
And just as she rode past the city limits sign, she came upon a roadblock and a long line of cars blocking the highway with rescue vehicles up ahead. Her heart sank. She didn’t know it was the aftermath of the wreck that had caused the injuries to the person in need of her blood. But waiting around for permission to pass was not on her agenda.
She rolled out around the last car in line and kept moving forward. When she reached the accident site, she rode around two tow trucks, then took to the ditch to get around a couple of police cars and one highway patrol.
Although she couldn’t hear what they were saying, she saw them shouting and trying to wave her down. She’d never outright defied a lawman in her life, but these were extenuating circumstances, and so she kept moving until she was beyond the roadblock and heading into town.
She knew she was speeding, but traffic on Main Street was almost nonexistent. Her gut knotted when she heard a siren. One glance in her side mirror, and she saw the red and blue flashing lights of a cop car coming up behind her. Stopping to explain her situation could be the difference between someone living and dying.
Led by fear, she swerved off Main Street into a residential neighborhood and accelerated. It wasn’t enough. The cruiser was still behind her and closing the gap. Then she noticed an alley coming up on her right, swerved into it and sped up, trying to get back to Main. Everything in her peripheral vision was a blur, and the sound of the siren was fading as she shot back onto Main and then down to the far end of the street to the blue hospital sign with an arrow pointing east.
She followed the arrow, saw the hospital building straight ahead, and headed toward the entrance marked ER. She slid sideways as she came to a stop and then ran toward the entrance with her helmet in her hand and her hair in tangles.
It had taken an hour and five minutes to get there.
It was thirty-seven degrees, and she was sweating.
Everyone in the waiting room looked up as the tall, leggy woman came running into ER, heading straight toward registration. They saw black leather, wild hair, and a motorcycle helmet, and frowned. Women in Blessings didn’t dress like that. She was obviously a stranger.
Mercy was unaware of the stares and would have cared less had she known. She stopped at the desk.
“I’m here to donate blood to—”
A nurse came out of a nearby office.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
The nurse threw up her hands in a gesture of thanksgiving. “Praise the Lord that you’re here. They’re waiting for you. Come with me.”
They left the waiting area with haste, moving down a long hallway, then through double doors, past the surgery waiting room, unaware of the two men who came running out of the waiting room behind them as they passed. And when the nurse took her through another set of doors, things began to happen rapid-fire.
She’d given them her photo ID and donor card and was now flat on her back, half-listening to the frantic voices around her as they began hooking her up. It was obvious whoever needed this transfusion was someone they knew—someone they certainly cared about. And she was here, so she closed her eyes, letting the chaos go on around her without buying into the panic, just glad she’d made the ride.
Lon Pittman clocked the biker at close to sixty miles an hour going down Main Street. He immediately hit the lights and siren as he took pursuit, and when he got close enough to ID the tag number, radioed it in. He had assumed the rider was a guy with long hair until the dispatcher radioed back. The owner was a woman named Mercy Dane. That wasn’t going to change anything when he caught her, but it did cross his mind that this woman was surely hell on wheels. He was still in pursuit when she suddenly took a right and shot up the alley that ran along the side of Ruby Dye’s home.
“Damn it,” he muttered, knowing it was too narrow to take his cruiser up that alley at this rate of speed, and had to drive to the end of the block to take a quick right, only to see her shoot out of the alley, straight across the street into another one. She was still running the alleys, one block after another.
He took off toward Main running hot, and when he finally reached it, caught a quick glimpse of the bike and rider now on Main and turning east. With lights still flashing and his siren screaming, he took the turn onto Main and followed her route.
It wasn’t until he took the same turn the biker had taken that he realized it led to the hospital. He caught a glimpse of her and the bike heading north around the hospital and floored it.
The last thing he expected to see when he drove up to the ER was the big Harley parked near the entrance. He killed the lights and siren, radioed in his position, and got out on the run.
Once again, the people in the waiting room were surprised. When their police chief entered a building running, they were curious what was going on.
None of them had expected to see so much action and excitement in the hospital ER, especially on Christmas Day.
Lon quickly scanned the room, and when he didn’t see anyone in black leather, he headed for the registration desk.
“Sally, did a woman wearing black leather come in here?”
“Oh…you mean Mercy Dane? Yes, she’s here, thank goodness. They took her straight to the surgery area.”
He frowned. “Why? Was she injured in some way?”
“Oh, no! She came for Hope Talbot. She’s the rare blood donor they’ve been waiting for.”
And just like that, all the anger he’d been feeling for the reckless way in which she’d come into Blessings was gone. He’d helped pull Hope out of the wreck. He knew she was hanging onto life by a thread, but had no idea about her blood type or the frantic call that had gone out on her behalf.
“Where did they take the Dane woman?” he asked.
“Down the hall is all I know. You might check in at the surgery waiting room. Jack and Duke are there. They might know more.”
“Thanks,” he said, and headed down the hall.
Jack Talbot and his brother, Duke, were still celebrating the blood donor’s arrival when Chief Pittman entered the waiting room.
Jack immediately stood up and shook his hand. “Chief! I was told you helped pull Hope out of the wreck. Thank you so much.”
“I just happened to be one of the first on the scene,” he said.
“I’m still so grateful,” Jack said. “My wife is the beginning and end of my world.”
“So how’s she doing?” Lon asked.
Jack shook his head and walked away in tears, leaving Duke to answer. “She’s hanging in, but it wasn’t looking good. She’d lost so much blood that they didn’t think she would pull through surgery without a transfusion. The problem became getting blood for her. She’s RH negative, which is a rare blood type. There wasn’t any in the blood banks that could have gotten to us time, and just when we thought it wasn’t going to happen, they found a donor who lived in Savannah. She just got here a few minutes ago. There’s no way to know how this is going to come out, but whoever she is, her presence was an answer to our prayers.”
The image of Mercy Dane’s frantic ride now made a crazy kind of sense. Now Lon was past curious. He wanted to see the woman who’d made a wild ride on Christmas Day to save a stranger’s life.
“That’s good to know,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I believe I’ll wait here with you, just to see how Hope fares after the transfusion.”
Mercy watched one nurse rush out with the donated blood while another took the needle out of her arm. The panic of getting here was over. Whatever happened now was out of her hands, save for the silent prayer she’d said for the woman in need. She was about to get up when a nurse stopped her.
“Wait, honey. Not so fast,” she cautioned.
Mercy didn’t argue. The room had already begun to spin when she raised her head—a combination of too little sleep, an adrenaline crash, and a unit short of blood.
The nurse helped Mercy up and walked her out, talking as they went.
“I’m taking you to the waiting room to get juice and a sweet roll from one of the vending machines before I can let you leave. I don’t know if anyone told you, but the woman needing the donation is a nurse in this hospital. We are all so grateful you came when you got the call. None of this is standard donation procedure, so thank you for going above and beyond for her.”
“I am happy I was close enough to help,” Mercy said.
“You gave her a chance, which is more than she had before you showed up,” the nurse said.
Mercy was still shaky and wanting to sit down as they walked into the waiting room. But two men who were already there stood up and came toward her so fast she took a quick step back.
However, it was the cop standing behind them who caught her eye. She thought for a moment she was hallucinating, then saw the same look of shock on his face as the one she must be wearing. Her gut knotted.
“You! You disappeared seven years ago. I never thought I’d see you again,” he said.
She shrugged. “Seven years is a long time. Neither did I.” She wondered if he’d stayed to give her a ticket for speeding, and then decided she didn’t care.
The brothers began crowding around her, all trying to talk at once.
“Miss Dane, this is Jack Talbot and his brother, Duke. Hope is Jack’s wife, and it appears they’ve figured out who you are. Jack, this is Mercy Dane. She needs juice and a sweet roll from the vending machine.”
“I’ll get it,” he offered, and ran toward the machines at the far end of the room, and then yelled back at his brother to see if he had a debit card on him while the nurse seated Mercy and introduced her to the chief.
“Mercy, this is Chief Pittman. He helped pull Hope from the wreck.” Then she added, “Ideally, you need to sit at least thirty minutes after you’ve finished eating. An hour would be even better.”
Mercy nodded. “Yes, I will, and thank you.”
“Oh no, we’re the ones thanking you. God bless you, Mercy Dane. Have a safe trip home,” she said.
Lon was in shock. Seven years ago he’d spent a week looking for this woman. She was in his arms when he fell asleep, and when he woke she was gone. He’d never forgotten her or that night, and now, fate had brought her back into his world.
“So, Lucky, long time, no see,” he said softly.
“You are one hell of a rider,” he said.
Her eyes narrowed. “So, Chief, is that your way of saying I was speeding?”
She watched his eyes crinkling up at the corners as he smiled.
“Pretty much, but given the circumstances, I’m gonna let that slide. I stayed because I wanted to meet the donor who willingly interrupted her Christmas Day to save a stranger’s life. I didn’t know I was going to meet an old friend.”
“We’re not friends,” Mercy said, and then blinked as she realized that was what she said before, and added, “I don’t have family. Just a job. I was happy to do it.”
He heard a challenge in her claim…as if daring him to remark about her solitary life. But he wasn’t going to give her a moment of sympathy. “Yeah, same here. Cops and family aren’t necessarily synonymous. Most days I feel like my life is the job. At any rate, you are not what you seem, and I am impressed.”
All of a sudden, a quick wave of weakness washed over her. She bent over and put her head between her knees, trying not to pass out.
Lon caught her just as she was about to slide out of the chair as Jack returned with a bottle of orange juice, a packet of mini-doughnuts, and an iced honey bun. It was pure sugar overload, but Mercy knew it was what her body needed to offset the shock of blood loss.
“Here you go, Miss Dane. If you want more to drink, just let me know,” Jack said, and then pulled out a chair and sat down near her.
Duke was drawn to the woman by her beauty, and unhappy that it appeared the chief and the woman were already acquainted with each other. He followed his younger brother’s lead and sat nearby.
Mercy took a drink of the juice and then tore back the cellophane from the honey bun and took a bite as the chief’s radio squawked. Someone was trying to locate him.
“As you heard, my presence is requested elsewhere,” Lon said, as he stood. “It was a pleasure to meet you again. Take care, Miss Dane, and have a safe ride home.”
“Thank you,” Mercy said.
She didn’t want to watch, but she couldn’t help it. The years had turned him into quite a man. One thing was the same though. His butt still looked good from behind.