"HEEELP! I'm having a heart attack!" I shout.
My eyes frantically squint against the bright morning sunlight as I scour the near-empty parking lot in search of anyone who can help me. I'm about to scream again when I see my hunky neighbor, Dr. Harrison Taylor, jogging a short distance away.
"Harrison!" I wave my arms to get his attention. "Over here!"
He jogs over and is at my side in a heartbeat. "Frankie, you okay?" Harrison's forest-green eyes give me a thorough once-over, one that would normally make my knees wobble, but not today. I am too busy panicking as my heart hammers against my chest in what feels like a heart attack.
"I can't breathe! Can you drive me to the ER?" I squeak in a voice that sounds like I've inhaled helium. Electric shocks race from my shoulder down to my fingertips making me clutch my arm. Gape-mouthed, I stare at my upper left arm as it turns pink and puffy.
Harrison propels me into the passenger side of my Jetta, grabs the car keys out of my hand and tears out of the parking lot. With one hand on the steering wheel, he maneuvers the crowded streets of Miami while his other big hand pats my knee.
"Breathe slowly and try to calm your heart rate," he says in the soothing veterinarian voice he uses to treat sick animals. Except I'm not a sick dog or horse, I am Francesca Lake, WBCG's "Roving Social Diva" reporter and I was on my way to do an on-air interview with Justin Bieber, for God's sake!
"What happened?" Harrison asks, casting a concerned look my way.
I point to my arm. "A tharp thting," I try to explain, but my tongue feels thicker by the second and now I'm lisping.
"Did you say a sting?" He slants an odd look at me. "Never mind. Don't talk."
It's getting harder and harder to breathe and my throat feels tight. I need air in my lungs or I'm not going to make it!
I grab Harrison's arm. "Harrithon, pleath. Gimme mouth-to-mouth," I beg.
Harrison's foot hits the accelerator and within minutes, we arrive at Doctor's Hospital where he picks me up and runs into the emergency room as if his pants are on fire.
"Help, I'm haffing a heart attack!" I shriek, flailing my arms at the attendant.
"Patient is in anaphylactic shock," Harrison says in a steady voice.
A young, harried doctor runs up and gives me a quick examination. When I hear him bark out an order for an Epi, I start to panic. Did he order an epidural? Are they going to operate? I turn to Harrison with beseeching eyes. Before I can say anything, a no-nonsense, matronly nurse materializes before me. I squirm as Harrison holds me securely against his rock-solid chest.
"Hold still. It's gonna be okay," Harrison says.
The nurse lifts the skirt of my coral dress and plunges a needle in my upper thigh.
"Yeouch. That hurths." I shudder as the liquid burns inside my flesh.
Harrison gently sets me down on the gurney brought in by a young male attendant. "You'll feel better soon. Relax and let the epinephrine do its work."
Relax? I wish it were that easy. I hate to admit it, but I am a chicken. I wasn't always a chicken--my motto most of my thirty years was "fear is not an option" and I rarely worried about anything. But after my mom's recent near-fatal heart attack, I've been worrying--a lot--about health issues and a few other things. Every time I remember that Mom might have died if Dad hadn't been there to call 911, my heart clenches. After hearing what she went through, I pray she'll never, ever, have another one.
"Why aren't they giving me an EKG or a heart monitor?" I ask. Oh good, at least I'm not lisping anymore. The shot must have kicked in. I stare into Harrison's eyes. "I know you don't think I had a heart attack, but what if it was? Five percent of heart attacks occur in people under forty."
"So?" Harrison regards me with a bemused expression.
I let out an exasperated breath. "I could be one of that five percent."
"You didn't have a heart attack, Frankie." He rakes a hand through his thick chestnut hair, leaving it appealingly tousled. "You had an anaphylactic reaction caused by an insect bite."
"Anaphylactic reaction? That sounds ominous. Are you sure?" He could be mistaken. Harrison isn't a medical doctor--he's a veterinarian.
Harrison fixes me with a firm look. "Yes, I'm sure."
Before I can ask more questions, a middle-aged physician with a kind face comes up and introduces himself as Dr. Gordon. Harrison steps out of the room while Dr. Gordon checks my vital signs, listens to my symptoms and then scribbles on a pad.
"Here's a prescription for an EpiPen," Dr. Gordon says, tearing off the paper and handing it to me. "Make sure to keep the shot with you at all times."
"For a heart attack?" This sounds like a weird solution. Is there another doctor in the house?
"You didn't have a heart attack."
"Then what was it?" I dare to ask, holding my breath.
Just as he's about to reply, Dr. Gordon's name is paged. He holds up a finger. "Hold on a sec. I'll be right back."
Nooo, don't leave me without answering my question!
Okay, calm down. Whatever it was, the doctor said it wasn't a heart attack. While I wait for Dr. Gordon to return, I invoke every saint I know of and then settle on my favorite one.
"Saint Jude, it's me, Francesca. Please don't let there be anything fatally wrong with me. I promise to...to..."
I wrack my brain to come up with a worthy intention.
"I promise I'll start the campaign for women against heart disease like I've been planning to..."
Dr. Gordon returns to my side with a smile. I unclasp my hands and wait for his prognosis, hoping his is not a pity smile.
"Sorry about the interruption," he says. "I was about to say you had anaphylactic shock brought on by an insect sting. In some individuals an insect bite can cause a severe allergic and respiratory reaction."
"Oh." I am so relieved, but now I'm embarrassed about my dramatic arrival to the hospital. And I'm absolutely mortified over what Harrison must think of me--a nutcase, for sure! I even begged him for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The memory makes my face burn.
"The good news is your vital signs are normal," Dr. Gordon says. "You responded well to the epinephrine, but you're allergic to insect venom. Fill the prescription right away for an EpiPen and don't hesitate to use it should you get bitten or stung by an insect again."
"I will, Dr. Gordon. Thank you so much." Suddenly, I want to jump up and kiss Dr. Gordon's caring face. I didn't have a heart attack--it was only an allergic reaction. I feel like doing a happy dance.
His genial expression turns somber. "I can't stress enough the importance of the EpiPen. The next time can be more serious, even fatal."
"Fatal?" I feel the blood drain from my face. As soon as I get home, I'll have to hit WebMD. "But...but am I going to be okay?" I whisper.
Dr. Gordon studies me for a moment, and then his somber face softens. "Yes. After we run a few tests to make sure everything's stable, you're free to go home. Rest up today and tomorrow you can resume your normal activities."
"Thanks, you're the best." I am so grateful he's given me a weapon against anaphylactic shock.
Dr. Gordon pats my hand and when he smiles, I swear I see a sparkle on his front tooth, like in the cartoons. Before my eyes he is transformed into Dr. Dreamy. I forget that Dr. Gordon is skinny and pale with tired brown eyes. He's kind and reassuring--he is a hero!
Dr. Gordon leaves and Harrison walks in, stretching his brawny arms in front of him and rolling his neck from side to side.
I check my watch. "Oh no. I'm late for a big interview. The cameraman and crew must be looking for me." I grab my iPhone and call my intern Vinny, making his day by assigning him the interview. Once I email Vinny a list of questions, I collapse against the pillows.
Harrison steps out while the staff runs tests on me, including taking blood and urine samples. By the time they're done, I am one step away from bolting out of there. I hate everything about hospitals--the sterile, antiseptic smells, the scary looking equipment, and the sick people who look so vulnerable as they wait to be attended.
When Harrison returns, I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the gurney. "I'm glad you're back. Let's get outta here...please."
"Not yet, Frankie. Dr. Gordon has to give the release order."
"Oh." Harrison's right, of course. To distract myself, I stare at his nice broad chest and notice for the first time the word "Patagonia" splayed across the front of his T-shirt.
"Patagonia?" I point to the white letters on the black T-shirt stretched across his wide shoulders.
"Yeah. I went free diving with the sharks off the coast there."
How can he say that so calmly? My best friend Chloe, who's also Harrison's cousin, relishes telling me wild stories about his penchant for danger. The oldest of three boys, Harrison's daredevil stunts are legendary.
I shake my head. "You swam with sharks in Argentina and I can't get near insects. Something's wrong with this picture."
Harrison grins and I feel a funny flutter low in my belly. "It's fun. You should try it."
Just as I'm about to say I wouldn't go near sharks for a million dollars, the stern, matronly nurse who gave me the shot earlier pops in her head. "Doc says you're free to go now, Miss Lake."
"Thank God," I murmur, vastly relieved.
Harrison helps me off the gurney and the feel of his large hand wrapped around mine makes me glance at him. Did he feel the spark between us? I'm tingly all over. God, he's easy on the eyes with a tall, hard-muscled body that's sizzling hot and a rugged face with the sexy cleft in the chin. I force my gaze away from his striking green eyes that are watching me with a bemused expression.
Even though Chloe has been trying to matchmake us since I moved down from New York to Miami, I've kindly told her I'm not interested. Why? I ask myself as I take in his male beauty, and then I mentally slap myself. Snap out of it! Harrison is a reckless daredevil who loves doing crazy ass stunts. With a boyfriend--or husband--like that, I'd spend too much time worrying about his safety. The last thing I need is more anxiety.
Harrison takes my elbow and leads me down the hall. The feel of his calloused fingertips is pleasantly distracting until we pass a scene that makes me stop and stare. A good-looking young doctor in scrubs checks a female patient's IV and then leans over and kisses her. Pale-faced, the petite patient looks frightened until the doctor's lips touch hers and she visibly relaxes. I am riveted and can't stop staring at them.
"Come on, Frankie," Harrison urges. "I thought you were anxious to leave."
I watch the couple from over my shoulder as Harrison tugs me along. The doctor gives the woman another tender kiss and then steps into the hall. I hear him say to another physician, "Take good care of my wife. She gets nervous in hospitals."
Light bulb flash. Why didn't I consider this before, I wonder as a life-altering epiphany slaps me upside the head. I need to marry a doctor ASAP.
Until now, I loved my job reporting on South Florida's fine arts and social scene. I kept busy, too busy to even think about being single at thirty. Okay, I did think about it sometimes, but it wasn't always on my mind. I had other important things to do, like help my mom get her heart disease under control. With all the changes that occurred last year, I wasn't exactly good company in a relationship. I found that out when my ex-boyfriend, Todd, dumped me because I was being too moody, which translated to my lack of desire because I was worried about Mom. Good thing I found out he wasn't the "I'll love you through thick and thin" type of boyfriend.
After witnessing that scene between the good-looking young doc and his wife/patient, all I can think of is I want to marry a doctor like him who can assuage my medical fears. Marry a doctor. I love the sound of that--it equals no more worrying, which equals getting back to my once carefree self. Most doctors are in their profession to heal and that makes them natural nurturers. I could use some of that nurturing--it sure would be great to feel normal again.
Harrison's hand settles on the base of my spine as he gives me a gentle nudge. "Let's go, hon."
His bold touch sends my thoughts skittering in a different direction. A warm glow suffuses me and I can't budge. Did he just call me "hon"? In Harrison's deep voice, it sounds delicious.
I touch his forearm and gaze into his forest-green eyes. "Uh...Harrison. Thanks for saving my life."
"You're welcome." Harrison gives me a smile so hot it could melt the whole North Pole. I tell myself that he might have a killer grin, but we don't have anything in common that I know of, except for a love of animals. He craves extreme sports and I can barely hit a ball with a tennis racket. He gets an adrenaline fix from playing with assassin sharks and I have to watch out for bees.
It's a real shame he won't do, I think, looking away from those amazing green eyes. After today's scare, I'm turning my efforts toward my new goal.