This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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I THINK IT’S THE SILENCE that wakes me up. After two weeks of sleeping in the forest, being lulled awake every morning by calling birds, running streams, and leaves dancing in the breeze, the quiet in my cabin doesn’t feel right.
It’s about time to get up anyway. I have to return to reality today. There were moments during the fourteen days I just spent in the Montana forest when I considered not returning. I had everything I needed to get by in a pack on my back. I considered building myself a small shelter and becoming a true mountain man. I’d spend my days fishing, hunting, and climbing. It would be a life without worry.
But my daydreams of escaping real life were interrupted every time by thoughts of my patients. I took an oath to do no harm, and I knew I couldn’t uphold it and willfully leave people with serious mental illnesses.
No, I’m not the only doctor who can treat them, but I’m one of the few willing to live in rural Montana and work at Hawthorne Hill Mental Hospital. Other than a small town a few miles away, this place is isolated from civilization.
Not that you’d know it when you’re on the property. Henry Hawthorne poured proceeds from his oil empire into this place back in the 1930s, and his estate provides for its upkeep.
Even the cabin I live in as a staffer at Hawthorne is nicer than any place I’ve lived before. I cook the fish I catch on weekends in a gourmet kitchen and write up patient reports on a leather sofa in front of a giant stone fireplace in the great room.
I walk into the bathroom and turn on the shower, then step in front of the sink while I wait for the water to get hot.
Damn. I look grizzly. The dark beard I grew while off work is almost an inch long, and my hair is wild and unwashed. I turn my face from side to side, considering keeping the beard. Maybe if it was trimmed and my hair was under control . . . ?
No. With my six-foot-five-inch height and wide frame, I already intimidate most new patients when they meet me. And the nurses like to call me Dr. Lumberjack—they’d have a field day with a beard.
I shave, shower, and dress in a flannel, jeans, and hiking boots, then make the quarter-mile walk uphill to the main Hawthorne building. I always walk to work unless there’s snow on the ground, and on those days, I take a snowmobile.
Hawthorne is an inpatient mental hospital, but it looks like a luxurious hunting lodge. It’s a massive log structure with private patient rooms, a library, and a two-story great room. It has thirty-eight patient rooms, which are always full. This is where the well off send their loved ones for mental help. Some patients are here short-term, and others live here for decades.
When I walk through the back entrance and go into my office, I’m surrounded by the cedar log smell of Hawthorne Hill. Written reports are stacked on my desk. I’ll go through them later. I’m anxious to round on patients now. I take my white coat from a hook by the door and put it on as I walk toward the medical wing.
“Dr. Delgado, you’re back.” The female voice is eager and breathy. It has to be Sara.
“I am,” I say, glancing over my shoulder.
“How was your vacation?”
“It was good.”
“We missed you.” She licks her lips and takes a step closer to me.
I don’t mix business and pleasure by dating my coworkers. But if I did, Sara would be all too willing to keep my bed warm. She makes no secret of it either.
“So what’s new here?” I ask. “How’s Leonard?”
Sara arches her brows and shrugs. “It’s hard to say. Dr. Tillman has him sedated.”
“He scared the life out of the new girl in Housekeeping. Told her someone had opened fire in the dining room and killed everyone.”
“That’s Leonard, though. He says things like that all the time.”
“The new girl didn’t know that. She called 911 and was hiding in a broom closet with Leonard for almost an hour until the cops found them. We had to evacuate and everything.”
I sigh heavily. “I still don’t see why Tillman sedated Leonard over that. This is a mental hospital, for Christ’s sake.”
“He just restrained him at first, but Leonard was a wreck. He just sobbed nonstop.”
“He has a fear of being restrained. Didn’t anyone tell Tillman?”
Sara nods. “It didn’t help. You know how he is.”
“Shit.” I shake my head in disgust. “That wouldn’t have happened if I’d been here.”
“You can’t work three hundred sixty-five days a year, Dr. Delgado.” Sara gives me an admonishing look. “Oh, and we filled Nicole’s bed the day after she was discharged.”
Sara and I walk toward the coffeemaker while talking, and I pour myself a cup.
“The new patient’s name is Allison. She’s been here for ten days and hasn’t said a word,” Sara says, pouring herself a cup of coffee, too.
“No. She was strangled, so her vocal cords may have been damaged. Or it could be shock. She witnessed her sister’s murder.”
“Oh, shit. That’s terrible.”
Sara’s gaze is sympathetic. “Wait till you read her report.”
“Yeah, I think I’ll go read it before I round so I’m ready to see her. How’s she doing here so far?”
Sara shrugs. “Hard to say. Tillman has her sedated.”
I’m gritting my teeth so hard I feel them grinding. It’s all I can do to stay professional right now.
“Tell him to find me before he leaves, please,” I say to Sara.
“Yes, Dr. Delgado.”
There’s some stomp in my step as I walk back to my office. This is why I was hesitant to take two weeks off—because putting the care of my patients in someone else’s hands is a hard thing to do. But it should have been safe to leave Brody Tillman in charge. He works under me three days a week and covers me on weekends and days off. He knows damn well how I want patients treated.