When Christmas Comes

ISBN: 978-1335402042

When Christmas Comes

October 2024
Could a wild Wyoming summer bring healing for the holidays?

Divorced workaholic Maddox Hale is ready to be the dad his kids deserve. But when a visit to his injured father’s ranch brings the jaded tycoon face-to-face with nurse Sarah Bravo, his plan goes awry. She’s fresh from running a free clinic in the wilds of Bolivia—too young, too independent and too beautiful by far. She’s not interested in Maddox’s alpha rules or attitude. In fact, their only commonality is their off-the-charts chemistry. Mixing business with pleasure is a terrible idea. Until Maddox and his two children worm their way into Sarah’s heart…

Bravo Family Ties:
The Next Generation


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Chapter 1

“I’m sure she’s a fine nurse,” said Fergus Hale as soon as the door closed on the third applicant for the Monday through Friday live-in shift. “But she seems mighty stern. I would be constantly wondering what I did wrong.”

“It’s okay, Dad.” Maddox Hale leaned back in his desk chair in the roomy private office he’d built for himself at the family ranch. It was an office he’d rarely used. Until now. “We’ve got three more applicants to talk to today. I’m sure one of them will work out for you.”

“Turn me back around,” Fergus said.

Maddox turned his laptop around so that he could see his dad. Fergus, on Zoom from his hospital bed twenty miles away up in Sheridan, Wyoming, brought his iPad in close to his craggy, white-bearded face and scowled. “Where’d you get these nurses, son?”

“YourNurse.com. It’s the top job board for nurses. I found six likely prospects in the area. Once you make your choice, I’ll arrange for the final background check myself.” As Maddox spoke, his dad was shaking his head. “Okay, Dad. What’s the matter now?”

“This is overkill.” Fergus had fallen out a second-story window two days ago. By some miracle, he’d broken only his leg. “I don’t need a live-in nurse.”

“But I want you to have the best home care. An RN can pretty much give you whatever care you might need.”

“Son. I’ve got a few friends who’ve been laid up. They had home care aides to do the day-to-day stuff. A nurse is expensive. Medicare isn’t going to pay for what you’re trying to buy.”

“I don’t expect Medicare to pay. I’ll take care of the bill.”

“That’s just throwing your money around, if you ask me.”

“You’re worth it, Dad.” It was the truth. Fergus Hale might be grumpy right now, but he was still the best dad any man could ask for, bar none. A dad who had always loved and supported him, even when Maddox chased after dreams his father didn’t understand.

Fergus had always hoped that his only son would grow up to take over the family ranch. But Maddox had had his own goals. He’d left the ranch at the age of eighteen with a full ride to Harvard as well as his father’s unwavering support. And in the twenty-two years since Maddox had headed off to get himself an Ivy League education, his father’s respect and affection had never wavered.

“Humph,” grumbled Fergus, tipping the iPad so Maddox could see his splinted right leg. “What a mess. It’s all swollen up.”

“I know, Dad.” Once the swelling went down, they would put a full cast on it. And if things went well, the closed tibial fracture would fully heal over the next twelve to sixteen weeks.

“How am I supposed to run the ranch in this condition?” Fergus muttered in disgust.

“You’re not. You’re taking a break. And the hands will manage, you’ll see. Plus I’m here all summer and I’ll keep an eye on things, I promise you.”

“You’re not supposed to be working. The kids are coming. You’re supposed to be on vacation for once in your life.”

“It’ll all work out, Dad.”

“Ugh. I’m sick and tired of this situation already.”

“It won’t be that long until you’re back on both feet again.”

“Yeah? So, how come it seems like I’ve been in this hospital bed forever?”

The old man had always been fit and strong. Now, at seventy, he was still in great physical shape—or he had been until the day before yesterday.

Maddox grinned. “Tell me again how you fell out that window…”

His father granted him a flinty stare. “Told you once. That’s enough.”


The fall had occurred at a retirement community called Sylvan Acres up in Sheridan. Maddox still didn’t really understand how it had happened. So far, the old man had played it way too cagey when it came to sharing the details of the incident. Fergus claimed he was at the facility for the community’s regular Friday night Bingo event. But it must have been a really long Bingo game, because Fergus had gone out that window at around eight Saturday morning.

Maddox was just about to razz his dad some more on the nature of his all-night “Bingo” experience at Sylvan Acres when there was a tap on the door.

“It’s open,” he called.

Alma, Fergus’s longtime housekeeper, stuck her head in. “The next one’s here.” She was smiling. “It’s Sarah Bravo from next door.”

Maddox had recognized the last name when he got the list from YourNurse.com. The Bravos were a well-known family in Medicine Creek, but he didn’t remember any Bravo named Sarah. “I should know her, right?”

His dad was nodding. “She’s a sweetheart. Youngest of Nate and Meggie’s three.” Megan and Nate Bravo owned the Double-K, which shared more than one fence line with the Hale Ranch.

Sarah… Maddox tried to picture her. A vague image of a little girl in pigtails grinning up at him during some summer barbecue years ago floated into his mind.

She was only a kid, wasn’t she? The way he remembered it, Meggie’s youngest was barely out of diapers when Maddox left for college. She would be too young to be his dad’s live-in nurse now, wouldn’t she?

Alma was still standing there in the doorway waiting for a word from him.

And Fergus’s frown had morphed into a giant, happy smile. “Little Sarah from next door. What do you know? Show her in.”

Nodding, Alma ducked back out the door.

Maddox asked, “How old can she be now? I filtered the search for experienced local nurses.”

Before Fergus could answer, the door opened again and a gorgeous, doe-eyed brunette appeared. She wore trim black pants and a jacket to match with a blue button-down shirt and black boots. Her thick, glossy hair was pinned up.

And he’d been right. She was young. Too young.

“Hello, Sarah,” Maddox heard himself say as he pushed back his chair.

Sarah smiled. “Maddox Hale…” She approached the desk. “Life goes by fast, doesn’t it?”

“It does indeed.”

“We met once,” she said. “It was way back in the day. At least that’s what my mom tells me. I don’t really remember. I was four, maybe five...”

He nodded. “Yeah. It was in July, at a barbecue out at the Double-K.” He’d just finished his sophomore year at Harvard and he’d had a summer job right there in Cambridge, but he’d managed to get a week off to go home. “You asked me to hold your snake.”

A burst of musical laughter escaped her, one she quickly quelled. “Dickie. He was a garter snake. I loved him.” She looked kind of wistful now. Adorably so. “Sadly, garter snakes don’t live forever. He died when I was fourteen.”

“Sorry for your loss.” He said it teasingly. Couldn’t help himself. There was something about her that tempted him to…

What? Pull her nonexistent pigtails? Ask her what she was up to this evening?

No. Uh-uh. This was a job interview and he needed to behave in a professional way.

She shrugged. “Thank you. It did kind of break my heart when he passed. Dickie was a sweetie, as garter snakes go.”

Time to move things along, he thought. Sarah Bravo was charming and beautiful—too much so. She was all wrong for this job and he already knew he wasn’t going to hire her. Beyond her youth, the last thing he needed was to be attracted to his father’s live-in nurse.

But for a minute, he just stood there, staring at her. She stared right back, unbothered by the silence or by the way their eyes held.

Finally, he shook himself. “In any case, it’s good to see you again.” He offered his hand and she took it. Hers felt small, cool and a little rough—from ranch work, no doubt. Her grip was firm.

As for the woman herself, her hand might be cool. But she was hot. Way too damn hot. “Have a seat.” He nodded at the guest chair facing his desk. She took it.

“Turn me around,” his father groused from the laptop screen.

“Sorry, Dad.” With a rueful smile for Sarah, Maddox turned the laptop so that Fergus could see her.

“Sarah!” His dad sounded downright delighted all of a sudden. “Seems like I haven’t seen you in years…”

“Well, it has been a while. How are you, Mr.—”

“Oh, now,” his dad interrupted her. “No, you don’t. Don’t make me feel a thousand years old. It’s Fergus to you.”

“Fergus,” she repeated, that glowing smile blooming again. “How are you feeling?”

“Been better, but I’ll survive. Someone told me a month ago that you were home. I kept meaning to stop by, say hi.”

“It is so good to see you,” she said.

“I heard you went off to college, got your degree and moved to…Colorado, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right. Until a couple of years ago, I was at Ohio State for my BSN.” Her gaze shifted to Maddox for a second and then right back to the laptop. She beamed at his dad and continued rattling off her resume. “Once I graduated, I got my nursing license and moved to Denver for my first nursing job.”

“You weren’t in Denver long, I see…” Maddox had grabbed his phone from the corner of his desk, brought up her resume and started rereading her job history as she spoke.

“I worked in Denver for a year.”

Maddox quizzed her on her duties during that time. She answered every question thoroughly and clearly. Then he asked, “So you were doing well there?”

“I was, yes.”

“Why did you leave?”

She made a thoughtful little sound. “I realized I wanted…more, I guess. To work where nurses are desperately needed. And to see the world a little. I took an assignment at a rural clinic in Bolivia.”

“Whoa,” said Maddox. “That would be different.”

She nodded. “It was.” Maddox couldn’t read her expression, but the radiant smile had faded. “Turned out, I was the only nurse for miles around. My Spanish is serviceable, but most of my patients spoke a local dialect. And the overworked traveling doctor assigned to my clinic made it there to treat patients every few weeks at best. It was…challenging. I’ve been home for a while now, taking a little break from nursing, spending time with the family, helping out on the Double-K.”

Maddox studied her expression. She was hiding something. What? He intended to find out. “So you haven’t worked as a nurse since returning from South America.”

She met his eyes directly. There was steel in her gaze now. “That’s correct. I was injured on the job and it took me a while to heal.”

“What happened?” His dad asked the question for him.

She hesitated. “I have to tell you, I haven’t been looking forward to answering that question.”

“But why?” Fergus asked gently.

Sarah Bravo smiled. It was a sad smile, but enchanting, nonetheless. “It’s not a pretty story.”

“Please tell us,” said Fergus, his voice heavy with concern.

She glanced up at Maddox. He gave her a nod. She said, “My injury occurred during a visit from our traveling physician. There was a difficult birth requiring a C-section. In the middle of surgery, the patient’s husband showed up. He burst into our improvised OR, despite two of the clinic aides trying to keep him out. He was intoxicated, very upset and incoherent. And he had a knife.”

Fergus exclaimed, “Oh, Sarah!”

Maddox said, “He attacked you.”

“He was going for the doctor, but I tried to stop him. He stabbed me twice in the abdomen.”

“My God!” exclaimed Fergus.

Sarah continued, “About then, the aides got hold of him and subdued him. The rest is kind of a blur for me. But I can happily report that no one else was hurt, the baby was born healthy, the mother survived and, well, clearly, I did, too.”

“What about the husband?” Fergus asked. “I hope he got sent up for assault in the first degree.”

“Actually, that’s another story.” Sarah cast a second questioning glance at Maddox.

“Go on,” he said.

“Yes, tell us!” Fergus chimed in eagerly.

With a sigh, Sarah nodded. “You see, in Bolivia, there are two systems of justice—the system set up by the state, and the laws of the various Indigenous Peoples. In the village where I worked, the people had their own ways of handling legal disputes, including violent crimes. Later, while I recovered from surgery, I learned that the man who attacked me was sentenced to a public whipping and warned not to do that again.”

Fergus let out groan of outrage. “That’s it? A whipping and a warning?”

“Yes. And the whipping was severe, or so I was told. Also, according to one of the clinic aides I still correspond with, the husband was killed in a knife fight a month or so after he attacked me. His wife took the baby and moved back in with her mother.”

“Well,” said Fergus, “It could have been worse. At least the poor woman and the baby got away from that man.”

“Yes.” Sarah looked at the laptop fondly. “Yes, they did.”

“And you?” Fergus asked. “You’re fully recovered?”

“I am, yes.” She turned those enormous eyes on Maddox. “I’m completely recovered and looking forward to getting back to work.”

“I’m just glad you’re home and safe,” said his dad. And he wasn’t done yet. Fergus had more questions—about the Bravo family, about Sarah’s sister-in-law, Piper, who, Maddox learned, was pregnant with her second child.

Maddox let his dad and Sarah catch up a little, interjecting interested noises whenever appropriate. In reality, he was only waiting for her to leave so that they could move on to the next applicant.

Yes, she and his dad got along well. And yes, she was ready to go to work right away.

Didn’t matter. Sarah was not the one for this job. If he hired her, she would be living right there at the ranch house with the family five days a week. He didn’t feel comfortable about that. It wasn’t something he needed to examine too closely. It was just a plain fact.

One of the other applicants would be a better fit.

The door had barely closed behind her before Fergus said, “That settles it. Sarah’s the one.”

Maddox suggested, “How about we get through the other two interviews before we make a final decision?”

“I won’t change my mind.”

“Let’s just talk to them. Okay, Dad?”

“All right, son. Bring `em on.”

Forty-five minutes later, the final prospect left. Her name was Millie Lejardi.

“I like her,” said Maddox as soon as Millie was out the door. He turned the laptop around again so he and his father were face-to-face. “She’s got a lot of experience and great references. She’s calm, too, and down-to-earth.”

His dad agreed. “I like Millie just fine—but it’s Sarah we’re hiring.”

It wasn’t what Maddox wanted to hear. “Think about it, Dad. Sarah Bravo is too young to—”

“You’re wrong, son. By my reckoning, she’s twenty-four, maybe twenty-five and that means she’s all grown up. We’re hiring Sarah.”

“But the Lejardi woman has so much more experience. Plus, I did some reading on what to look for in a home nurse.”

“Sure you did, son.” Wearily, Fergus shook his head and rubbed at his injured leg.

“What I’m trying to say is that in my reading, I learned that it’s ill-advised to hire a friend. Your nurse should have no emotional ties to you. A nurse needs to be objective in order to be able to give you the best care.”

“Don’t you have enough to do running your real estate conglomerate, without wasting time fussing over this choice when I’m perfectly capable of deciding for myself?” Fergus asked with a lift of one silver eyebrow. “You’re the one who insisted I would have round-the-clock care. I think it’s only fair that I get to make the final choice as to who’s giving me that care.”

What could Maddox say but, “Of course it’s your choice.”

“Then, I choose Sarah.”

“But Dad, please just think about it. Boundaries matter. Nurses need to be neutral, focused solely on helping you get better, and a friend can’t always be counted on to—”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Yes, I know Sarah. But Maddox, I know everyone for miles around, Millie Lejardi included. Sarah’s fully qualified and I’ve got zero doubt she can be objective when it comes to my damn broken leg if that’s what you’re worrying about. I trust her. I honestly do. She’s a ray of sunshine and I need a little sunshine while I’m laid up. Hire her for me. Please.”

At that point, Maddox was fresh out of comebacks. His dad had every right to make the final decision, no matter how much Maddox wished Fergus would choose someone else. “If you’re sure…”

“I am—and I hear the lunch cart in the hallway. Love you, son. I’m signing off.” The screen went to white with the blue Zoom logo.

Maddox checked the time. He had an online meeting in half an hour and another an hour after that. They were meetings he couldn’t postpone. Meetings he should have attended in person.

The original plan was for him to arrive in Wyoming two weeks from now. The idea then had been strictly about finding a way to reconnect with his children. His ex-wife, Alexis, had been after him for a while now about his lack of quality time with the kids. As usual, Alexis was right. He needed to put more effort into being a decent father.

A summer at the family ranch had seemed a good way to begin being a better parent to his thirteen-year-old son and eleven-year-old daughter while also spending more time with his dad.

He’d pictured a lot of swimming in the gorgeous pool he’d had put in a few years back. He’d imagined long horseback rides over the rolling Wyoming land, with his dad along to help him brush up on his parenting skills.

But then Fergus fell out a window, and here he was, two weeks early, taking an endless parade of online meetings with investors, colleagues and coworkers back in New York.

And not only was he here two weeks ahead of schedule, now a too-young and far-too-attractive live-in nurse would be here as well—but that was okay, he reminded himself. He would pivot and adapt to the new situation, just like he always did.

Alma tapped on the office door. She breezed in with a lunch tray and a small carafe of coffee.

The housekeeper had been a fixture at the ranch for a decade and a half now, ever since a month after Maddox’s mom died suddenly of a heart attack. He’d been twenty-five at the time, taking on what he could for his dad, who’d refused to come out of his room for weeks after the funeral. Fergus Hale was a one-woman man and it had just about killed him to lose his beloved Mary.

That was a tough time. Mary Hale had been the heart of their three-person family. A year later, when Maddox married Alexis, it had hurt like hell to see his dad sitting alone in the front pew.

Now Maddox gave the housekeeper a grateful smile. “Alma, you’re a lifesaver.”

“Eat that sandwich and don’t work too hard,” she scolded as she turned to go.

He ate the sandwich, drank the coffee, took his meetings on time and tried not to let his mind wander to thoughts of big brown eyes and thick, glossy pinned-up hair that just begged to be let down.

What in the hell was the matter with him? Sarah Bravo had walked in the door and his brain had gone flying out the window.

It bothered him a lot, this sudden ridiculous attraction for someone so much younger. Powerful men got a rep, after all. Maddox had watched it happen over and over. Many of the men in his circle had gone from what they actually called “starter” wives at the beginning of their careers to a series of trophy wives—each of whom was younger than the one before.

That was not going to happen with Maddox. He was never getting married again. Not to some young thing and not to any of the women he’d dated since his divorce. Nowadays he went out with interesting, age-appropriate, sophisticated women who understood that a marriage proposal was never coming out of his mouth.

Bottom line, Sarah Bravo could too easily be distracting. And he had no time for distractions. This summer, he needed to focus on forging a better relationship with his children and looking after his laid-up dad while staying on top of things at Hightower Property Trust.


“Twenty-four…twenty-five!” Sarah called out as she dropped her hands from covering her eyes. “Ready or not, here I come!”

There was silence, which surprised Sarah. Her niece was three and a half and irrepressible. As a rule, if she was awake, Megan Emmaline Bravo was talking or laughing—or both.

Sarah turned slowly in the center of her brother Jason’s rustic great room. “Where is Emmy? Hmm… I just don’t know. I have no idea…”

A tiny, stifled giggle sounded from behind the sofa.

“What’s that I hear? Could that be Emmy?”

Silence. Sarah pictured her red-haired niece, little hands clapped over her mouth, trying so hard not to make a sound.

“I guess I’m going to have to take a real good look around now.” She started walking, pausing by the window to give her brother’s dog, Kenzo, a scratch on the head. “I’m going to have to go over every inch of this entire room…”

There was a rustling sound coming from behind the sofa—followed by breath-held stillness. Sarah clomped around the great room, making lots of noise, peering under the coffee table and circling every chair, but never once looking behind the sofa.

After a few minutes of that, she flopped into an easy chair. “Oh, I give up,” she announced with a heavy sigh.

Laughing gleefully, the little cutie popped up from behind the couch. “I win!”

“Yes, you do!” Sarah held out her arms and Emmy came running. The little girl climbed right up into Sarah’s lap. Sarah hugged her and tickled her and blew a long raspberry against her velvety cheek.

When Emmy finally stopped giggling, she caught Sarah’s face between her little hands. “Mommy brought me new books.” Piper Bravo, Emmy’s mom, was director of the library in town. “Want me to read one to you?”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay, Aunt Sarah. You wait right here.”

“It’s a deal,” Sarah replied.

Emmy scrambled down from her lap and headed for her room, Kenzo trailing along behind. She returned a few minutes later with a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Clambering back up into Sarah’s chair, she opened the book and started turning the pages, telling the story as she went, seeming to recognize many of the words.

At the end, she tipped her head back to look up at Sarah. “That was good, wasn’t it?”

“The best,” Sarah agreed. “Thank you for reading it to me.”

They both heard the vehicle pull in out front. “Mommy and Daddy are home!” Emmy jumped from Sarah’s lap, dropped the book on the coffee table and made for the door.

Jason and Piper were halfway up the steps to the front deck when Emmy yanked the door wide. She raced out to meet them. By the time Sarah reached the threshold, her brother had the little girl perched on his hip and was carrying her back inside as she chattered away, filling him in on everything that had happened while he and Piper were gone.

The couple had been up in Sheridan for an ultrasound. At forty-four, Piper was what they called of advanced maternal age. She would have ultrasounds every four weeks now until the baby came.

Which wouldn’t be long. She was thirty-six weeks pregnant as of yesterday. Her baby boy led the way wherever she went.

As Jason hoisted Emmy to his shoulders and headed into the kitchen with Kenzo at his heels, Piper lowered her body carefully into a chair. “How was she?”

“An angel, as always. A very happy, enthusiastic angel. Your daughter can get excited over a snack of sliced apples.”

Piper laughed. “It’s a gift.”

“So?” Sarah asked. “How did it go?”

Piper gently stroked her giant belly. “Just great. Everything’s looking good.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Piper grabbed a throw pillow off the sofa and stuck it behind her to support her back. “I didn’t get a chance to ask earlier. How was the interview at the Hale Ranch?”

Sarah thought of Maddox Hale. Tall and fit. Green eyes that seemed to see right through her—eyes with crinkles at the corners because he was around forty. Though he did have a boyish look about him—in his smile, in the way he could seem almost shy now and then. He was charming, really. But then, he would have to be. The Hales had never been rich. Not until after Maddox went off to Harvard, made a bunch of important connections and married an heiress—and yes, Sarah had been Googling the man.

After the interview that morning, she’d come straight home and looked up Maddox Hale online. He was no longer the college boy she’d once asked to hold her snake. Uh-uh. Nowadays Maddox Hale was some kind of huge deal, a high-up executive at a major REIT, which stood for Real Estate Investment Trust. From what she’d read, he really was all that in the world of big-time real estate.

And today, he’d liked her—same as she’d liked him.

But he hadn’t liked liking her. In fact, she would venture a guess that he’d found it unacceptable that he liked her. And that meant her chances of getting the job at the Hale Ranch were probably slim to none.

And that was too bad. It was just the kind of job she wanted right now, a way to ease back into nursing. A short-term job close to home. Nothing too challenging. And Fergus was a sweetheart. She would have loved working for him. Plus the money would be nice. Her checking account didn’t have a whole lot in it at the moment.

“Sarah?” Piper was looking at her funny.

Sarah blinked. “What? Oh! Sorry…”

“You okay?”

“I’m good. Really. It’s only… I don’t know. The interview went fine. I just have a feeling that job’s not for me.”

Piper asked, “Did something happen at the interview?”

“No, it went smoothly.” And it had. Overall. Talking about the stabbing had been a little rocky, but she’d gotten through it. And it was bound to come up in interviews, so she needed to get used to talking about it simply and clearly without flashing back to the horror of the actual event. “It’s just a feeling, that’s all.” She smiled and played it off. “We’ll see. And honestly, it’s not a big deal. I only started looking again last week. I’ll find something else soon enough. I have an interview scheduled for Wednesday and another for Thursday. The right job is bound to turn up.”

“The Hales would be fools not to hire you,” said Piper.

“So true,” Sarah replied. “I’m the best.”

“There you go.” Piper shook a finger at her. “You’re getting that job.”

It turned out Piper was right. Maddox called that night. Sarah was sitting at the built-in table in the trailer she’d been living in on open land about a half mile from her parents’ house. It shocked the hell out of her to hear that deep, velvety voice on the phone.

He was so smooth and so polite. “Just calling to let you know you’re our choice for the job.”

Way to go, Fergus, she thought. Because she had zero doubt that she’d read Maddox right that morning. No way was she his choice. Which meant that Fergus must have stuck up for her. She was grinning smugly as she replied, “That’s great. I would love to look after Fergus until he’s back on both feet again.”

“Terrific.” He said it like he meant it. But she could hear a hint of irony beneath his charming façade. “I wanted to mention that there will be travel. A week and a half in mid-July. I give an annual party at my house in Southampton. I’ve convinced my dad to come along and he will need you with him. I realize that you will be working more than five days in a row during the trip so for that ten-day period I will pay you double your rate to compensate you for the long hours.”

“That works for me.” Double her rate sounded excellent to her.

“Good. From Southampton, it’s on to New York so that I can catch up on a few things at the office. My plan is to keep the evenings free to spend with my dad—as much as possible, anyway. For you, that means once I get home from the office, your time is your own.”

“I understand. The travel is fine.”

“All right, then. I’ve ordered the background check. That will take a couple of days.”

She knew they usually took longer. But hers shouldn’t. She’d blown through a red light once—no, she was not drunk at the time. And that was her only her run-in with the law. She had great references, what there were of them. True, her bank account was on life support and she had some serious student loans to keep paying back. But everyone had those. Otherwise, she carried very little debt, so the credit check should take no time at all.

“I’m hoping you can start Friday morning,” he said. “The way it looks now, they’re releasing my dad Friday afternoon. I would want you here to get him settled in, then the weekend nurse will relieve you Saturday and Sunday. And you’re back on duty at eight a.m. on Monday.”

“Sounds good. So as of now, I start Friday?”

“That’s right. At eight in the morning. I’ll call you Thursday to confirm.”

She made agreeable noises. They said goodbye. She disconnected the call and tossed her phone down on the dinette table.

Take that, Maddox Hale!

She was laughing as she rose from the pleather seat and did a little victory dance on her nine-by-three-foot rectangle of living area floor.