Chasing River Page 2

I doubt that even the compass can help me now. The tour company brochure states a seven thirty-five sharp departure and it’s now . . . I glance at my watch and my anxiety spikes. Seven thirty-three. Stupid me for booking a day trip the morning after I arrive in Ireland. Just twenty-four hours ago I was plane-hopping from Charlottetown to Toronto to Amsterdam to Dublin, going back in time one hour before jumping ahead five. Instead of sleeping, I spent the overnight flight feeding my addiction to Mad Men. By the time I stepped off the plane at three in the afternoon, I was exhausted.

Of course I figured that two years of flip-flopping between night and day shifts at the hospital would make adjusting to the time change easy for me.

Of course my alarm rang for exactly thirty-two minutes this morning before my brain actually registered the sound.

And now I’m going to miss the freaking tour.

Cutting through this park is supposed to save me a few minutes of travel time. That was one of the few pieces of wisdom my taxi driver from the airport imparted to me yesterday. But he didn’t tell me which paved path, of the countless ones that snake among gardens and forested areas, to take. So in complete desperation, I choose an unconventional diagonal route, rushing past an English garden ripe with colorful summer blooms to run across a grassy field. The morning air is crisp, leaving my legs—bare, thanks to the jean shorts I threw on in my rush, not thinking—touched by gooseflesh, even as sweat trickles down my back. It’ll be okay later, I remind myself. They’re calling for a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit today. Well, technically, 23 degrees Celsius. Even after traveling across Canada for three and a half weeks, I still can’t seem to grasp the metric system.

Seven thirty-four. “Crap!” I scan the city map held out in my hands as I run. So distracted that I don’t notice a section of the field ahead taped off until I’m almost tearing through it. There are no construction signs or pieces of equipment lying around. Probably just freshly planted grass seed or something. Whatever the reason, it’s smack dab in the middle of my path and I’ll lose time trying to avoid it. Time I don’t have. Beyond the field, another path winds its way to a fountain and benches and more paths. A round glass dome peeks out over the tree line farther ahead. That’s the shopping center I’ve read about. And to the right of that is where my bus will be waiting.

Or not, if I don’t hurry up.

I jump over the tape with a grimace and a silent apology. I check my watch again. Maybe it’s a few minutes fast. Maybe the tour bus driver isn’t really a stickler for a prompt departure. Maybe—

He comes out of nowhere, from the left.

My only warning is the sound of his feet pounding against the grass. I turn my head just as he plows into my side, sending me sailing through the air. Pain explodes in a dozen different body parts as I hit the hard ground, my lungs grappling for oxygen.

He’s on top of me in an instant, crushing me under his weight, his thick arms roping around either side of my head, smothering me. I can’t breathe, or scream, let alone fight him off right now.

I manage just one fleeting thought—that this man, with his forehead pressed against mine and his ragged breaths assaulting my face—is about to rape me in broad daylight in a city park.

And then I’m plunged into a strange void that devours all my pain and fear.

A wave of pressure races past a split second before all of my senses are swallowed by a deafening bang that rattles my brain and the ground beneath me. Then . . . nothing at all. Only eerie silence and air.

I know that time has passed, but I can’t say whether it’s been a split second or ten minutes or an hour when I realize I’m lying on my back, staring up at a plume of white smoke, the familiar sweet metallic scent of expended gunpowder permeating my nostrils, my head stuffed with cotton. That eerie silence has given way to a high-pitched ringing and I cringe as it echoes in my eardrum. Maybe I cry out, too. If I do, I can’t hear it. I’m struggling to string together enough thoughts to understand what the hell just happened.

“Are you okay?” The question floats in from somewhere distant. And then suddenly a man hovers over me, a fringe of coppery hair like an untidy halo framing his face, staring down at me through mossy green eyes.

“What happened?” I manage to ask, though my voice sounds far away. At least I’m no longer winded.

“An explosion. A bomb.”

A bomb? A chill runs through my limbs as my brain wraps around that word, delivered in a light Irish brogue.

I sense hands slide along my thighs, over my knees, curling to the undersides, but I don’t think to deflect them. “You’ll be fine,” he mutters, a sigh of relief sailing from his lips. He shifts on his knees, making to stand.

And I seize his forearm, surprising myself with a sudden wave of strength as I hold him down. “Stay.”

His muscles tense beneath my fingertips. “I can’t. But please know that I didn’t do this.” Honest, pleading eyes implore me silently for a few heartbeats, and then he’s gone, running—albeit staggered and off-balance—before I can ask more questions. I roll my head to the side and watch him disappear into a line of trees, a dark stain blooming in the material of his vibrant green T-shirt.

Moments later, a jogger reaches me in a pant, a cell phone pressed against her ear and a panicked look on her face. Shouts sound from somewhere in the park and a chorus of sirens fill the distance. Another jogger arrives some thirty seconds later. Next a security guard, and then a couple dressed in suits, on their way to work. Within minutes I’m encircled by people.

Despite everyone’s insistence that I stay lying down, I manage to sit up. Everything is spinning. The granola bar and orange juice that I stuffed into my mouth on my way out the front door churn and I can’t be sure I’ll keep them down. But I force myself to focus on my surroundings—the charred grass, the divots gouged in the oak tree trunk nearby, the singed leaves dangling above, their ashes floating like sooty snowflakes.

It begins to sink in.

I could be dead right now.

Had it not been for that guy, I might have been. He wasn’t trying to suffocate me. He was shielding me.

“You saved my life,” I whisper under my breath, knowing that my words will never find his ear.

Cocooned within a haze, I watch emergency vehicles and the police and bomb squad charge in, herding the spectators away from the crime scene like cattle, their radios buzzing, their notebooks and pens out and ready. Reflective yellow letters that read “Garda” stretch across bulletproof vests everywhere.

Paramedics rush over to me. I’m fine, I tell them. In shock and my hearing is still muffled, but otherwise . . .

I can’t believe I’m fine.

They help me onto a stretcher and wheel me over to the ambulance to examine me further. Again, I promise them that I know what I’m talking about. I’m a nurse, after all. The female paramedic nods and smiles, dabbing at my bottom lip with gauze. Only then do I see the blood, do I taste the copper.

I allow them to check my vitals as I watch the police dropping numbered markers all over the grass and beginning to question witnesses. I wonder how my dad would handle something like this. I’m pretty sure he’s never dealt with a bombing in Deschutes County, Oregon.

“How is she?” someone asks, pulling my attention to the left, where two police officers stand, watching.

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