Chapter One

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It was a quiet night in the ER where Dr. Alexis Sterling was working the graveyard shift. She chose to become an ER doctor because it was chaotic, nerve-wracking, and loud. It was distracting. She liked being distracted. The only thing good about quiet nights was that it meant people weren't doing idiotic things that got them sent to the ER, at least not to the level that they usually did. The bad thing about quiet nights was that Alex had to actively struggle to keep back thoughts that threatened to wriggle their way from the deepest, darkest recesses of her mind and towards the light.

After all, Alex worked in the hospital where Valerie Greco had died seven years ago.

Seven years was a long time, but she still had the strangest thoughts. What would Val look like if she were still alive? Alex could only imagine that Val would have become even more beautiful as she matured.

Alex kept thinking of the only line she remembered from a poem she had read long ago. It was called, Slowly by Donna Masini, and it went, "How slow the body is to realize you are never coming back."

My name is Alex Sterling. It has been seven years. My body has not forgotten her.

Alex could still sometimes feel the softness of Val's skin beneath her fingertips, the feeling as her fingers weaved into Val's hair. She could recall the way Val's lips felt when she pressed her own against them, the feeling of Val's arms wrapping around her neck, the way Val would sit against her as they sat on her couch.

Sometimes, when Alex was in bed, half-asleep, she could evoke what it felt like to hold Val to her, to tangle their legs under the sheets, to feel Val's hot breath roll across the skin of her neck.

It was a curse, Alex had decided. Val felt like the human equivalent of a phantom limb. Alex's heart remembered her too well; felt her where she was not.

Thoughts like these are why Alex hated quiet nights.

"Alex!" It was Dr. Persaud, the doctor Alex had been training under the last two years. Alex, now thirty-two years old, was still completing her final year of residency. Persaud mostly left her alone, knowing she was more than capable of handling the ER without him at this point in her training.

Alex turned away from her patient, a young boy who had thought riding his bike off of his roof into a three-day-old pile of snow would somehow end well.

"Yes?" She asked, smiling at him. She liked Persaud a lot, maybe because he reminded her a bit of her late uncle, Adrian. There was something warm, wise, and fatherly about him.

He was a short, extremely gentle older man, with bronze skin and dark but kind eyes. He was balding and had a bad comb-over, but he was one of the most intelligent men Alex had ever met, and she had been ecstatic when assigned to him.

Persaud glanced briefly at the patient. "Hello young man." Then he turned and gave Alex a grave look. "I just got a call. There are several ambulances en route."

Alex's smile dropped into a frown. Several ambulances? "Why? What happened?"

She had a feeling she already knew.

Persaud pulled off his glasses and wiped them with his scrubs top. "Gang violence," he said, "the usual. Survivors are being sent here."

Alex's jaw tightened. She hated gang violence. She hated gangs. In their city, gang violence meant the two big mafia families, the Grecos and the Costas, were at it again. It had gotten much worse seven years ago, when sabotaged negotiations between the families led to the death of the two families' heirs, Anthony Costa and Valerie Greco. The war was becoming quickly unmanageable, and the corrupt cops and politicians seemed hesitant to do anything about it. Even Alex's congressman brother, David Sterling, seemed to imply that his hands were tied whenever she brought it up.

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