Tough Love Series: Traded. Book 1
- Genre: Romance
- Age: 18+
- Status: Completed
- Language: English
- Author: J.R. Campbell
In the words of my family and friends who have been waiting for me to release one of my books for years: About time. Thank you for your never-ending support. I love you all.
For the beautiful cover photo – thank you to Amanda Gilley Photography. Both for the actual photo and for not minding a bunch of women drooling over her husband’s ridiculous body.
To my professional athlete friends – current and former. Thank you for answering all of my questions. I’m forever grateful.
To ellie with Gray Ink – the most badass editor in the US - you rock my world. Thank you for making sense of my scribbles, answering endless questions, and improving this book about 1000%.
Thank you to Siv Olsson – who was a teacher at Nyhedens Skola in Sweden back in the day. Without her constant encouragement, I might not have continued to write. She once told me there was no doubt in her mind that one day people would be reading my books.
As always – she was right.
This book is for Charlene. I will miss you forever.
Fall in the countryside of Virginia is nothing short of spectacular. The vibrant colors of the trees lining Route 15 as Katrina Thomas drove home from work were quite distracting. It was not at all unusual for her to pull over to the side of the road to snap some pictures of the beautiful landscape she continued to be amazed by, even after years of driving by almost daily. Today was one of those days. Kat focused her lens to zoom in on a lone cow grazing in a field surrounded by trees in different shades of reds and yellows. The sun was starting to set just above the treetops.
She was momentarily distracted by the sound of a loud engine and looked over her shoulder as a red sports car zoomed down the hill quite fast and then took a right turn onto a gravel road. Kat hoped the person would slow down some since that road was full of twists and turns and overrun by a large deer population. No sooner had she finished the thought when she heard a loud crash that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Then there was silence. She jumped in her car and quickly turned down the gravel road and hoped things weren’t as bad as it had sounded. She rounded the first curve, and when the trees thinned out, she saw it.
“Oh my God,” Katrina exhaled. The red car was flipped upside down, halfway wedged between two sturdy looking maple trees down on the field, past a deep looking ditch. The wreckage was smoking dangerously as Katrina pulled to the side of the road, fumbling for her cell phone. Fighting the oncoming panic, she quickly turned on her warning lights and opened her car door, trying to scramble out as the 911 operator answered her call.
“911? 911?” Katrina yelled, just as she realized she was still buckled in her seat, which is why she couldn’t get out of her car.
“Yes, ma’am, please calm down so I can understand you,” the operator replied, sounding dead calm.
She obviously had never been in this situation, Katrina thought as she finally managed to get out of her car and was running toward the crashed vehicle.
“There has been an accident!” Katrina managed.
She quickly gave the operator the location of the crash, and as the operator told her help was on the way and to check if anyone was in the vehicle, a small flame shot up through the smoke.
“Holy shit!” Katrina yelled. “The car is on fire! It’s on fire!!”
The operator proceeded to warn Katrina to practice caution and to wait for assistance, but Katrina tossed her phone to the side and jumped across the ditch, slipping in the wet mud. One of her slip-on shoes got lost in the effort, but she kept running and reached the car just as the flames started to spread from the car to one of the trees. Miraculously, the driver’s side door was not blocked so Katrina could pull the door open without much effort.
Trying not to breathe in the black smoke she saw a man hanging lifelessly from his seat belt behind the wheel and taking a quick peek around him she noticed that the passenger’s seat was empty. She reached in and fumbled around the driver’s body and somehow reached the button to release the seat belt.
By now the flames had grown in strength and the heat from the fire was getting more intense each second, but the adrenaline in her system had pushed aside her panic and fear. All she was focused on was trying to get this man away from a sure death, and she wasn’t even sure he was alive to begin with.
Katrina linked her arms around the man’s chest for a better grip and tried to pull him out of the crumpled car. He seemed impossibly big and heavy. As the flames started getting closer and closer to her, Katrina felt the panic build up again, and she screamed at the top of her lungs as she pulled with all the strength she could muster. Finally, he budged and inch by inch she dragged him slowly on the grass farther and farther away from the wrecked car that had become a flaming inferno.
Katrina finally heard the faint sounds of sirens, and tears of relief rolled down her cheeks, but she kept moving, dragging the lifeless body behind her. Suddenly the car gave up to the intense heat of the fire and exploded. Kat was thrown backward by the force of the explosion, with the lifeless man still in her arms. Shards of metal and glass rained over them. She feebly tried to protect both herself and the man against the debris, but she had no clue if she was successful. The pressure in her ears became a loud ringing, and she shook her head to rid herself of it and find her bearings. Her legs were trapped beneath the bulk of the injured guy, which limited her movement. Kat pushed his shoulder to roll him off her legs when he suddenly gasped for air and grabbed her hand.
“Oh thank God. You are alive,” she mumbled. “It’s ok,” she said a bit louder and crawled around him so she could get a better look at his injuries. She had no idea if he even heard her. “You’ve had an accident, but you are safe. Everything is going to be ok.”
The man didn’t respond, but he didn’t let go of her hand. She was kneeling next to him now and continued to look him over for any obvious injuries. His eyes were open, and he seemed to be focusing on her face. His own was covered in blood, and she tried to wipe some away with her sleeve so she could see where it was all coming from.
“Blood,” he groaned.
“Yes. You are bleeding,” Katrina concurred with what she hoped was a calm and soothing voice. “Don’t worry though. You will be ok,” she added with a trembling voice as she wiped more blood from his face.
She could see a nasty cut across his eyebrow, and she was pretty sure his nose was broken. His hair was matted with blood, and even though she couldn’t see anything, she figured there must be more cuts on his scalp, but she was scared to touch anything else in case there were fractures.
The sirens were finally getting closer, and she heard the rescue vehicles approaching at the same time she noticed the large shard of glass sticking out of the guy’s side. His shirt was soaked with blood. Horrified, Katrina covered her mouth with a shaking hand and looked back up at the driver’s face. He was still looking at her, so she forced herself to remain calm. She moved her hand from her mouth and used it to gently try and pry her other hand out of the man’s grip, but he held on tight.
“Please let my hand go for just a second,” she said.” I’m just going to check your injuries.”
“No,” he mumbled. Blood was trickling out of his mouth as he spoke.
Katrina glanced back down at his shirt where the blood stain seemed to grow bigger by the second.
“Please,” she whispered, trying desperately not to let her fear show.
He slowly released his grip on her hand.
“Don’t go,” he begged, his voice barely above a whisper.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she promised.
Almost too scared to look at the damage, she gently pulled his shirt up to see how bad the glass had cut him. There was so much blood she couldn’t believe he was still alive. She tried to recall what she had learned from those CPR classes she had taken years ago, if she should pull the glass out or leave it in. Her brain wasn’t cooperating anymore. Relieved, she heard the doors of the rescue vehicles slam, and suddenly they were surrounded by people who actually knew what they were doing.
The shock of it all seemed to finally set in. Someone wrapped a blanket around her, and ambulance personnel quickly and efficiently started to attend to them both.
“Ma’am, we need you in the ambulance too,” one of the female rescue workers said gently as Katrina watched them load the stretcher.
“No, I’m fine! Really! Please just make sure he is ok.”
“Ma’am, please come with me,” the woman repeated. “Your husband asked for you, and frankly the cut on your face needs to be stitched up.”
“Cut?” Katrina asked. Her hands were still shaking, but she touched her face and felt the wetness of blood on her cheek.
“Yes, that cut,” the woman nodded and pressed some gauze to Katrina’s cheek and secured it with some sort of tape.
“He’s not my husband,” Katrina managed as they helped her up inside the ambulance.
“They never are, dear,” somewhat flustered looking woman said with a wink. “Don’t you worry – everything will be just fine.”
She closed the doors to the ambulance and Katrina took in her new surroundings. The man was bundled up on the stretcher. His eyes were closed, and an oxygen mask was covering his mouth and nose. A machine was beeping behind him, monitoring his vital signs, and an IV had been secured to his arm. One of the EMTs was hovering over him.
“Miss, why don’t you have a seat right there?” the EMT motioned toward a seat by the stretcher, and as Katrina sat, the man’s eyes opened, and under the blanket, his hand moved in her direction.
To spare him whatever strength he had left, she quickly reached over and snuck her hand under the blanket and took a firm hold of his hand. He seemed content with that and closed his eyes again. Katrina wasn’t sure if he was unconscious or just trying to rest, but she held on to his hand tightly as the ambulance sped off toward the hospital.
Once the ambulance pulled up to the emergency entrance, Katrina and the guy from the accident were quickly separated, as the stretcher was whisked away, and Katrina was led to a room for a more thorough examination of her own injuries. It struck Katrina that when they pulled his hand away from hers, he hadn’t stirred. She wondered if he would be ok. There had been an impossible amount of blood. Katrina shuddered and fought the nausea that threatened to bring up her lunch. She never did do well around blood.
The small sterile smelling examination room had a mirror, but when Katrina looked in it, she wished she hadn’t. She looked almost as bad and bloody as the guy she had pulled out of the car. A lot of it must have come from her cheek she figured, which was throbbing painfully under the gauze pad. She also seemed totally covered in soot, and her long blond hair was tangled and smelled burned. Maybe it had gotten singed in the flames she thought, but she was too tired to care.
The adrenaline was finally leaving her system and reality began to set in. Kat felt like she was in someone else’s body. Like she was watching something on TV, and it wasn’t actually her going through it at all. A soft-spoken nurse helped her out of her destroyed clothes and gave her a green hospital gown in return. When she was about to leave the room, Katrina finally snapped out of it, remembering tossing her phone in the grass as she was running toward the wreck.
“Oh my God, where is my phone? And my purse?”
“I don’t see either here, miss,” the nurse responded when she looked through Kat’s belongings. “I will check with the EMTs for you.”
“Thank you,” Katrina said gratefully. “I really need a phone, like right now.”
Her voice was trembling again, and she couldn’t help the tears that escaped from her eyes. The shock was wearing off, and she felt completely exhausted.
“I have to call and check on my son!”
“Of course,” the nurse agreed reassuringly. “I will bring one in for you. Why don’t you sit back on the bed for now, and I will be right back.”
The nurse was true to her word and returned shortly after that with a phone on a small rolling tray, which Katrina suspected was normally used to serve the famously disgusting hospital meals.
“Go ahead and make your calls, and the doctor will be in soon to check on you, ok?”
“Thanks again,” Katrina repeated before dialing the number to her former parents-in-law who happened to have her son Joey that afternoon.
Rose had been Katrina’s lovely mother-in-law during her marriage to Joey’s dad, and these days Kat wondered if Rose wasn’t the main reason she had gotten married to begin with. She was certainly the only reason the marriage had lasted for as long as it did. Rose was the kind of mother Kat wished she’d had growing up. Instead, she had busy parents who never had time for her. They were currently residing in California, still heavily focused on their careers, and had managed to visit her and Joey two times in the last ten years.
Rose answered the phone and Katrina quickly explained what had happened. They agreed not to say anything to Joey to keep him from worrying, and Rose promised to send her husband for Katrina’s car still parked on the side of that little gravel road. Joey would stay with them overnight, and they would get him to school the next morning.
Now that she knew Joey was being taken care of, Kat started to calm down and took a few deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In with the good, out with the bad. Rose was still talking, and as lovely as she was, she was also quite impossible to get off the phone with, so when the doctor knocked discreetly and entered the room, Katrina was somewhat relieved to end the conversation before Rose talked her ear off completely.
The doctor checked her over and proceeded to put twelve stitches across her cheek. Even though no other injuries seemed present, he requested that she stay overnight for observation. When she tried to plead with him, his response was a bit snippy.
“I’m sure your husband wouldn’t mind seeing you when he is out of surgery. The nurse will bring you some things so you can clean up.”
“He’s not...” Katrina started but gave up when she realized the doctor was already walking out of the room.
Kat sighed. She hated hospitals, and she hated not having any of her own clothes to put on. Kat pulled the tray with the phone closer and dialed the only other number she knew by heart, her friend Tamara’s. Knowing Tamara wouldn’t pick up an unknown number she left a voicemail explaining what had happened, which room she was in, and asked that Tam call her back as soon as possible.
Luckily, Tamara was also one of the nosiest people Katrina knew, and a voicemail wouldn’t be left alone on her phone for more than a second or two. The phone on the wooden dinner tray rang within a minute, and Kat picked it up with a smile.
“What the hell?” Tamara started off. “What happened?”
“There was a really bad car accident, I had to stop and help, and it’s a long story. I’m ok, but I need some clothes. Pretty please, can you run to my house and grab me some sweats and stuff and bring to the hospital. Just enough for the night, I will be out of here tomorrow.”
“Anything you need, babe! I want to hear more as soon as I get there!” Tam warned and hung up without waiting for a response.
Tamara could be one of the most annoying and stubborn people Kat knew, but she was fiercely loyal, and Katrina and Tamara had been close since their college days when they had taken several classes together at George Mason University. Tamara and her girlfriend Ana lived in a townhouse no more than five minutes away from where Katrina had bought her little house, which was quite convenient, especially on a day like this.