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Authors: Heather Justesen

The Switch

The Switch
Blank Slate [1]
Heather Justesen
Jelly Bean Press (2012)

Tia Riverton never thought cooking on the noon news would land her in the hospital, but a severe allergic reaction does just that. Her mom’s hysterics over her brush with death lead to blood tests that reveal Tia is not her parents’ biological daughter after all.
 
When paramedic firefighter Danny Tullis responds to Tia’s allergic reaction, he feels a tug of attraction right away. When he keeps running into her and her little girls, he can’t get Tia out of his mind. Despite their mutual attraction, the war widow isn’t ready to fall into his arms, but he’s not about to give up.

Facing the fact that the family she grew up in is not her own, Tia searches for her real family, and for answers to how the switch happened in the first place.
 
As Tia and Danny keep searching, the truth about Tia’s past is revealed, and Danny shows Tia that life, and love, are better when they work together.

The Switch, a novel
By Heather Justesen
 

© 2012 Heather Justesen

This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places, incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without prior written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.

Published by Jelly Bean Press, 90 S Main, Fillmore, UT 84631

Dedication

For Gabby, keep writing, your dreams are closer than you think. Love you!

One

“Samantha, it’s time for dinner. Get in here now!” Tia called to her five-year-old from the kitchen. It had already been a long day, and though she’d been running like crazy since before seven in the morning, Tia’s to-do list didn’t seem to be shrinking.

“I’m coming!” Samantha yelled, though she’d been saying that for ten minutes. “Be patient, Mom.”

“Yeah, you tell
me
to be patient,” Tia muttered under her breath as she buckled eighteen-month-old Tristi into the high chair. Her hands itched and felt swollen, but Tia blamed it on the fact that she’d been scratching them for at least half an hour. She must have rubbed up against something in the garden while picking the sage for the dish she was experimenting with for her cooking segment on the noon news.

“Here I am,” Samantha said as she came into the room, her strawberry-blonde hair curling around her face and neck where it had fallen from her braid. “I was working on my story.”

“I’m glad you’re having fun with that, but I wish you wouldn’t keep me waiting. Did you wash your hands?” Tia asked.

“Yeeeees.” Samantha infused the word with the long-suffering tone first graders used so well.

Tia tamped back her irritation at her daughter’s attitude and spooned the mac n’ cheese onto her daughter’s plate, along with a small spoonful of the pine nut and sundried tomato pasta she’d been tweaking. “Give it a try.”

“You always make me try stuff.” Samantha poked at the new dish with her fork before scooping up a bite and tasting it. She tipped her head to the side in boredom and swallowed before she pronounced, “It’s okay.”

“Okay, as in, you’d rather eat it than a pile of mushy canned spinach, or okay, as in, you kind of liked it?” Tia asked. Unlike most kids her age, Samantha was unusually laid back about trying new foods—which was good since Tia was always testing recipes.

Samantha pulled a face and turned to her mac n’ cheese. “It didn’t make me want to puke, but don’t make me eat any more.”

“Not your favorite then.” Tia turned to Tristi and scooped some of the yellow pasta onto her younger daughter’s high chair tray before putting some of the pine nut dish onto her own plate. She fussed over her daughters, making sure they had milk and corn—the only vegetable she could get Tristi to eat these days. “What’s your story about?”

“I’m writing about a fire dog. He gets to ride on the truck and sniff out where fires start and stuff. Everyone loves him.”

“I’ll bet they do.” Tia smiled despite her weariness and took her seat. Samantha had a fascination with all things fire. “I bet your story’s great. Maybe after you help me with dishes you can read it to me.”

“Okay.” She dug into her dinner with more gusto this time.

Tia scooped up the new dish and tasted it. This version was better than the one she’d tried last week. After she swallowed, she tried another bite, savoring the flavor, analyzing it to see if there was anything else missing from the recipe. She jotted a quick note on the pad on the table beside her. A moment later she realized her throat began to feel tight.

Her next breath hurt as it rasped into her lungs and panic started to creep in. What was going on? The tightness increased and she looked at her hands which felt swollen and achy. Had her rash gotten worse? When breathing became more difficult, her panic increased and she stood to grab her cell phone. She froze when she realized it wasn’t on the counter where she thought she had left it. Where was it? How could she call for help if she couldn’t find it? Panic started to grow in her chest.

“Mom, what’s wrong?” Samantha asked.

“Phone. I need an ambulance.” Terror filled Tia as she fought for every breath. What was happening?

“Mom!” Samantha’s voice was small and thready. She shot out of her seat and rushed to the living room. A moment later she returned, the phone to her ear. Her eyes were wide with terror as she sat in front of Tia, babbling, “My mom needs an ambulance. She can’t breathe. We need help.” All of the color had blanched from her usually rosy cheeks. “Please help.”

Tia hoped Samantha had called 911 and not a friend. She leaned over and put both hands on the tabletop, fighting for breath and starting to feel light headed.

Samantha gave the address and talked to the person on the other end about what was going on. She turned to Tia, “Are you ’lergic to anything?”

“Must be. Tell them to hurry.” Tia sat on the floor, afraid she was going to pass out. It seemed like forever before she heard the sirens approaching her apartment, but she knew it had probably only been a couple of minutes. They were quick. She was barely getting any air now, and shook all over.

Tia worried about the girls as Tristi cried in her high chair, smearing cheese sauce in her wispy red curls.

Samantha had tears pouring down her face, her white-knuckled fist still holding the phone to her ear. She ran to the door and unlocked it as the sirens stopped out front and she disappeared outside. “She’s in the kitchen,” her worried voice called.

Tia didn’t even look up as two people approached her.

“Is this an allergy?” a male voice asked.

“Maybe. Can’t breathe.” The pressure on her chest was terrible as Tia gasped. As the edge of her vision began to turn dark and buzzing filled her ears, she felt a sharp pain on the side of her leg as the man hit it with the end of a long tube. He spoke to her in a soothing voice, but she couldn’t understand his words. An oxygen mask covered her face, and when she felt the rush of cool air against her cheeks, she realized she’d been crying.

After a few seconds her lungs began to clear and she gulped in air gratefully.
 
The fuzziness in her head started to dissipate and the voices began to make sense again. “That was fast.” Relief filled her though adrenaline still pumped through her veins.

“That’s a good thing. It’s going to be all right.” His voice was soothing, calming her speeding heart. “Breathe normally. In and out.”

The panic receded and Tia looked up into eyes the color of the blue delft china she’d inherited from her grandmother. Several other people crowded around her, but Tia looked over to see a female EMT talking to the girls. She bounced Tristi on her lap and patted Samantha’s arm. Tia felt sick at the worry she still saw in their faces and wondered if she’d scarred them for life. “My girls.”

“They’re fine. Tanya is taking care of them. We’ll bring them to the hospital with us unless there’s someone close by we can get for you. Can we call your husband.”

“He’s dead. Go across the street in the blue house. Nichole.”

He nodded and turned to a police officer, telling him. When the officer left, the paramedic turned back to her. “You must be feeling better.”

“Much. That’s never happened to me before.” Tia never wanted it to happen again. Nothing had scared her like that, made her think she was going to die. She still felt an edge of panic, but it was much easier now. She was a little shaky, but otherwise fine.

“It can come on suddenly. Any idea what caused it? Was it something you ate?” Someone handed him a square of red gauze, which she recognized from giving blood.

“Maybe.” She tried to think of what the dish had been again, but couldn’t. “Can’t remember what was in it. My brain’s not working yet.”

 
The blond man grabbed her hand and looked at the back of her wrist. She realized they’d put a rubber tie on her arm a few inches below her elbow. So they were going to poke her with a needle—not a thrilling thought, but better than what she’d just been through.

“That’s okay. Give the adrenaline a moment to clear your system and you’ll be able to think better.” He swirled the iodine onto the back of her upper wrist. “I’m going to start an IV so we can get some fluids into you. Your blood pressure is still pretty low, but that’s normal.” He followed up with an alcohol wipe. “I’m Danny, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you.” Tia had a blood pressure cuff on her other arm and an oxygen sensor on her finger. How long had they been there? A glance at the numbers on the monitor displayed her blood pressure. It was much lower than usual. Maybe that was why she was still so muzzy.

“How are you feeling now?”

“Tired, shaky, a little like my brain went on vacation, but so much better.”

“Hold on. Everything’s going to be okay.” He looked up into her eyes and she felt reassured. “There’ll be a slight pinch now.”

“That’s what they always say.” She gritted her teeth as he poked her skin. Though she wasn’t a wimp about needles, she didn’t have fond feelings for them, either. “How would you like it if it were me sticking needles in you?”

“Depends. Do you know what you’re doing?”

“No.”

His grin flashed as he focused on what he was doing. “Then I probably wouldn’t like it very much.”

“And if I did have training?”

He looked up to meet her gaze. “I probably still wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s not number one on my list of fun things to do.”

Danny took something from a coworker and attached it to the tube in her arm, then screwed on some IV tubing. Once he’d taped it all down, he looked at her again. “You’ll be better in no time. Let me help you stand and we’ll slide the stretcher right over here so you can sit on it, okay?”

Tia took a deep breath and reached out. When she was on her feet, black spots appeared in her vision and the lightheadedness returned for a moment. She was grateful he had a good grip under her arm.

“Mom, are you still sick?” Samantha looked over at her as the man helped her sit down.

Nichole showed up at the door, worry on her face. “I came for the girls, are you okay?”

Tia smiled as relief that her girls would be taken care of flooded her. “I’ll be fine. They’re just going to take me in for tests and then I’ll be back.”

When the anxiety smoothed from Samantha’s face, Tia’s tension eased. Everything would be fine

* * *

They’d already been out on another medical run and dropped the patient off at the same hospital when Danny decided to check on his anaphylaxis patient. Though he sometimes checked in on patients when opportunity allowed, he felt an additional tug of interest in this one in particular. The two hysterical daughters had really gotten to him, but they were only a small part of it.

He found Tia sitting up in the bed talking on her cell phone and looking much better than she had last time he’d seen her. Her face color was good and she wore a pained expression. The wavy fall of red curls cascaded down her back and shoulders, begging to be touched, so he hooked his thumbs on his pockets.

She glanced up at him and smiled. “I’ll call you back later, Mom. Someone’s come in to talk to me. Don’t worry, everything’s fine. Of course. Love you, too.”

Worry filled her eyes, and lines bracketed her mouth. The call had been stressful. Either that or she was still worked up from her ordeal.

“Parents are wonderful, aren’t they?” he asked as he took the final steps to her bedside. “Even if they worry.”

“Yes, and she’s a champion worrier.” Tia bunched the blanket between her fingers and met his gaze. “Thanks again. That was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through.”

He wanted to touch her cheek, feel the warmth of her skin beneath his fingertips, but knew it was a bad idea. Even if he didn’t already have a girlfriend, Tia was one of his patients, which made her off limits. “I’m glad I was able to help. Your daughter did well, giving dispatch all of the important information. Very impressive for a kid that age.”

Tia smiled. “Yeah, she’s a keeper.”

The hospital would hold on to Tia for another few hours to make sure her symptoms didn’t return. “Do you have any idea what caused the reaction?”

“It might have been the pine nuts. I started getting a rash after I chopped them.” She shrugged and added a wry grin. “I’ve never heard of anyone having a pine nut allergy before.”

“Not many people eat them often,” he pointed out. “Have you been working on a recipe for your show?”

Her eyebrows shot up. “You recognized me?”

“Of course.” He found her reaction refreshing, and a bit surprising—she was on television every day, after all, even if it was only for ten minutes on the noon news. “I’ve tried out some of the recipes on the guys at the station. They’ve been a hit. Will you still make the pine nut thing on your show?”

“Yes. I think the recipe is ready. It tasted fine in the seconds before it tried to kill me.” She gave him a wry smile. “I’m not going to eat it again though; this was the end of all pine nuts for me.”

“Sounds like a good idea.” He glanced up and saw his partner, James, standing in the doorway. Time to leave. “I guess I better get back out there. I’ll be watching your show tomorrow.”

“It was good to meet you.”

He smiled and walked out, waving goodbye.

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