Treading Water, Book 1 in the Treading Water Series
Jack & Andi
Treading Water, “shines the light on the good and the bad in life and proves that one moment can change everything and it’s never too late to find love.”—A recommended read from Joyfully Reviewed
When you’re living one step at a time, the next one could change your life…forever.
Love is the last thing on Jack Harrington’s mind when he sets out to meet Andi Walsh’s flight. Recently back to work after spending more than a year tending to his comatose wife, Jack is focused on getting through each day and caring for his three daughters. However, the moment he sets eyes on Andrea Walsh, the interior designer who has come to decorate the hotel his company is building in Newport, Rhode Island, Jack begins to wonder if Andi might be his second chance. After a disastrous marriage, Andi, single mom to a hearing-impaired son, isn’t exactly looking for love, either, but that’s what she finds with Jack. The two embark on a long-distance relationship fraught with challenges as they balance the needs of their children and dueling careers while Jack continues to care for his wife, Clare. Just when Jack thinks his life is once again settled, he is confronted with a new challenge that tests him in ways he never could’ve imagined, leaving him to wonder if “happily ever after” is in the cards for him.
“Treading Water creates an emotional firestorm within the reader. It shines the light on the good and the bad in life and proves that one moment can change everything and it’s never too late to find love. Marie Force grabbed my heart and squeezed every ounce of emotion out of it but most importantly her monumental story left me blissful.” –Joyfully Reviewed, a “Recommended Read” for November! Read the full review.
“This isn’t your typical romance where you’re positive you’re going to get the happy ending you were hoping for at the beginning. It will rip your heart out at times and having you weeping for joy at others. A stunning story about learning to love again and learning when to let go to those you love.” –Night Owl Reviews, Reviewer Top Pick
Other Books in the Treading Water Series
Jack gauged the impossible twelve-foot putt.
Jamie Booth, his best friend and business partner, sighed with exasperation. “There’s no way, Jack, so just putt, will you?”
“Stop rushing me.” Jack took a deep calming breath and aligned his putter as a warm spring breeze blew in off Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. He tapped the ball, watched in amazement as it dropped into the hole, and pumped his arm like a professional golfer.
While their clients congratulated Jack, Jamie moaned and groaned. “I’ll be hearing about this for weeks.”
“Watch and learn, my friend,” Jack said with a grin. “Watch. And. Learn.”
His cell phone vibrated in his pocket as the foursome moved to the fifteenth tee. Jack checked the caller ID and saw it was his wife, Clare. After the terrible fight they’d had that morning, he was relieved to hear from her.
The frantic tone of his oldest daughter’s voice stopped his heart. “What’s the matter?”
“What? What, Jill?”
“She was hit by a car.” Jill was crying so hard, he had trouble understanding her. “They’re taking her to Newport Hospital.”
Her words sent a jolt of icy fear straight through him. “I’m coming, honey,” he managed to say. “I’ll be right there.”
Abandoning his clubs and his clients, he took off running across the golf course.
In the parking lot, Jamie pried Jack’s keys out of his hand. “What’s wrong, Jack?”
“It’s Clare.” Jack told him the news in a flat, shocked tone as they peeled out of the parking lot.
“Oh my God,” Jamie muttered.
During the brief ride, a series of images flashed through Jack’s mind, spanning the nearly twenty years he’d spent with Clare. His stomach ached when he remembered their angry words that morning. She has to be all right. She has to be.
“Talk to me,” Jamie said.
“We fought.” Jack felt detached from the moment, as if he was watching a movie of someone else’s life.
“I didn’t think you guys ever fought.”
“We never used to, but lately…Seems to be all we do.” Jack hadn’t even realized it until that moment, until it was possible he could lose her.
“What happened this morning?”
“She…pushed me away. In bed. Again. I can’t remember the last time shedidn’t push me away. It’s been months.”
“You never said anything was wrong.”
“I was afraid to say it out loud until I heard she might be hurt.” He ached with worry and fear over what he’d find at the hospital. “Or worse.” Forcing himself to breathe, he said, “God, what if she’s dead? What if the last thing I said to her was ‘if you want out of this marriage, just let me know?’”
“You’ll work it out. You two are solid, man. Whatever’s wrong, you’ll get through it.”
Provided she isn’t dead, Jack thought. Please don’t let her be dead.
They pulled up to the emergency entrance, and Jack leaped from the car. Inside he found his daughters in the care of a nurse and a police officer. Jill, Kate, and Maggie were crying as they flew into Jack’s arms.
Jack held them for a long time, his heart racing as their gut-wrenching sobs ramped up his already out-of-control anxiety. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Jamie put an arm around Maggie and led her away so her older sisters could talk to their father.
“We were leaving the mall,” Jill said, swiping at tears. “And this car came right at us. We jumped out of the way, but she just stood there, and the car hit her.” A sob hiccupped through her. “She went right over the top and landed on the pavement.”
“Okay, honey,” he said, comforting his daughter while he tried to process what she’d said. As he imagined the scene, his chest tightened. “Maybe she just couldn’t get out of the way in time.”
Kate shook her head. “She didn’t move. It was like she wanted the car to hit her or something.”
“I’m sure it was so scary, but you must’ve seen it wrong,” Jack insisted. “Mom would never do that.”
A young doctor came through swinging doors to the waiting room. “Mr. Harrington? I’m Dr. Rooney.” He led Jack away from the girls.
Jamie left Maggie in the care of her sisters and walked over to hear what the doctor had to say.
“Your wife is in extremely critical condition with a significant head injury,” Dr. Rooney said. “She also has multiple fractures and a lacerated liver. When we get her stabilized, we’ll be taking her up to surgery to remove her spleen and repair her liver.”
Shocked, Jack said, “But she’ll be all right, won’t she?”
“The head injury is a big concern. We’re inducing a coma to allow the swelling in her brain to subside. The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours will be critical.”
Jack’s hands were trembling, so he jammed them into his pockets. “How long will you keep her in the coma?”
“Hopefully, only a few days,” Dr. Rooney said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens when we take her off the sedation.”
“What could happen?” Jack had never experienced such raw fear. “She’ll wake up then, right?”
“I can’t say for certain. The head injury is severe. I wish I could tell you more, but it’s a wait-and-see thing at this point. I’m sorry.”
“I want to be with her.”
“I’ll come and find you when we get her settled after surgery,” the doctor said as he walked away.
“A coma,” Jack said, incredulous.
Jamie squeezed Jack’s shoulder. “Why don’t you call your mother and ask her to come help with the girls?”
“I just can’t believe this. She’s never been sick a day in her life. Remember how she was after having the girls?”
“I remember. She’s superwoman, so there’s nothing to worry about. I’m sure she’ll be asking for you in no time.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “Definitely.”
The surgeons removed Clare’s spleen, mended her liver, and set her badly broken arm and leg. After a week, her doctors were relieved that she was able to breathe on her own when they took her off the respirator. Encouraged, they also weaned her from the sedation. Jack, the girls, his sister, Clare’s mother, brother, and sister kept up a round-the-clock vigil by her bedside. They sang to her, played her favorite music, cried, begged, and pleaded until they were hoarse, but she didn’t regain consciousness.
At the end of the third week, Dr. Blake, the neurologist, asked to speak with Jack. Worried about what he might hear, Jack asked his sister, Frannie, to come, too.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do for your wife. The blow to her head was tremendous, and we believe her coma is irreversible.”
Jack and Frannie gasped as the doctor snatched away their last shred of hope.
“So what does that mean?” Jack asked. “What’re you saying?”
“You have choices. Difficult choices.”
“Since she has no advanced directive, you can make decisions for her as her next of kin.”
“Are you suggesting I end her life?”
“It’s an option you may need to consider at some point down the road.”
“I want to hear the others, because that’s not on the table.”
“Mr. Harrington, she’s forty-three years old. She could live in this condition for decades.”
Jack held up his hand to stop the doctor. “Is she brain dead?”
“Then I don’t want to hear another word about ending her life. As long as there’s activity in her brain I want her treated as if she’s going to recover.”
“We don’t believe she will.”
“As long as there’s any chance at all—”
“There’s less than a one percent chance.”
“That’s not zero,” Jack said with a look that all but dared the doctor to argue with him.
The doctor seemed to realize the conversation was pointless. “We’ll discharge her in a few days. I suggest you investigate long-term care for her. I can get you the names of some places, if that would help.”
Left alone with his sister, Jack tried to absorb what the doctor had told him.
“I’ll move here, Jack,” Frannie said decisively. She lived in New York, where she worked as an artist, and had recently ended a brief second marriage. “I’ll help with the girls and whatever else you need.”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You didn’t ask. I want to.” She gripped his hand as her hazel eyes heated with emotion. “What’s more important than making sure the girls are well cared for right now?”
“Nothing,” Jack said, resigned to the fact that he needed what his sister was offering. Besides, he was too drained to argue with her. “Thanks, Fran.”
When Frannie left to pick up Maggie at a friend’s house, Jack went back to Clare’s room, where he’d spent most of the last three weeks. Despite the feeding tube, yellowing bruises, and casts on her arm and leg, she looked so much like herself that he ached with yearning to have her back, to have her turn those brilliant blue eyes his way and flash that special smile she used to save just for him, back when things were right between them.
Taking her hand, he held it against his face, and smoothed the blonde hair off her forehead with his other hand. “I know you can hear me,” he said softly. “The things I said that day…I didn’t mean them. You know I didn’t. Whatever’s bothering you, we can fix it. I need you to come back to me. Please, Clare. Don’t give up.”
How could this have happened to her? To them? If the girls were to be believed, she’d let the car hit her. But why? The questions tortured him through sleepless nights and agonizing days. Since her accident, he’d run through every minute he could remember from the last few months. Something had definitely been off between them. In place of her usually sunny, upbeat disposition, she’d been prone to long silences and bad dreams she thought he didn’t know about. But every time he’d tried to broach the subject with her, he’d been rebuffed.
Their usually passionate and satisfying sex life had all but disappeared. Was it possible she’d met someone else? Had she decided to end a marriage that ranked as one of the proudest accomplishments in his life? Had she been waiting for the right time to tell him?
No. Not Clare. She loved him. They’d loved each other from the start and had a marriage and family others envied. She’d never leave him. But looking down at the battered woman in the hospital bed and remembering how she’d gotten there, suddenly he wasn’t so sure.
Jill stepped into the room, and Jack forced a smile for his oldest daughter.
“Hey.” She stared at her mother with gray-blue eyes that were just like his. “No change?”
Since he couldn’t bear to tell her what the neurologist had said, he shook his head. “Could I ask you something?”
Jill moved to the other side of the bed and rested a hand on her mother’s arm. At fifteen, she moved with the poise of a woman twice her age. “Sure.”
“Before this happened, did you notice anything…you know…different about Mom?”
“Well, yeah.” Her sarcastic reply surprised him.
“That she was totally distracted, disorganized, scattered? And she was always forgetting stuff—like getting Maggie from school. That happened a bunch of times. They’d call the house, and I’d have to go get her because we couldn’t reach Mom.”
Astounded, Jack stared at her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her shrug was full of teenage insolence. “We didn’t think you’d care.”
“Why in the world would you think that?”
“Because! All you care about is work! And making money! You don’t care about us.”
Jack stared at her, his heart aching. “Everything I do is for you and your sisters.” He glanced down at Clare. “And your mother.”
“When was the last time you came to one of my lacrosse games or watched Maggie play soccer? Do you even know that Maggie plays soccer now?”
Where was this coming from? How long had she wanted to say this to him? “I’m sorry you think I don’t care about you. I love you more than anything. I’ve always tried to show you that.”
The cold, hard look she sent his way let him know he’d failed miserably.
“I tried to talk to her about what was bothering her, but she refused to tell me,” he said.
“I wonder if we’ll ever know.”
Jack couldn’t bring himself to tell her that the doctor had said her mother would probably never recover.
Frannie held back the tears until she reached the parking lot and couldn’t contain them any longer.
“Fran,” Jamie called from the next row. As he jogged over to her, tall, blond, and so handsome, she brushed frantically at the dampness on her face.
He stopped short in front of her. “Hey,” he said, cupping her face and forcing her to meet his gaze. “What’s wrong?”
Telling him what the doctor had said brought new tears to her eyes.
“Shit,” he muttered as he gathered her into his arms.
Frannie relaxed against his muscular chest, wishing she could stay there forever. “Why’d this have to happen to her? To them?”
“I wish I knew.” His ragged sigh told her he was upset, too. As Jack’s best friend and business partner as well as the girls’ godfather, he’d always been close with Clare. Telling herself this embrace was all about comfort, Frannie put her arms around his waist.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked after they’d held each other for a long time.
“What choice do I have?” Reluctantly, she released him and took a step back. “My brother needs me.”
He reached for her hand. “I’m here if you need me. You know that, don’t you?”
She wished she had the nerve to tell him all the ways she needed him, but she never had before, and now was certainly not the time. “Thanks. I may take you up on that. I’m moving in with Jack and the girls.”
“Really?” He seemed to brighten at that news.
“I can’t keep running back and forth between here and New York, and the girls need someone they can count on.”
“They’re lucky to have you.” Tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear, he surprised her when he pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead. “Whatever you need, whenever you need it. I’m here.”
His softly spoken words nearly reduced her once again to tears. “I’d better go. Maggie’s waiting for me.”
“Take care, Fran.” He opened the car door and held it for her as she got in.
She waved to him as she drove past him. Glancing in the mirror, she saw that he was still watching her. Now what did that mean?
Frannie moved in lock, stock, and easel to care for the girls while Jack made phone calls, searched the Internet, and consulted with doctors around the country. They all said the same thing—the longer the coma lasted, the less likely it became that Clare would recover.
Since he refused to put Clare in a nursing home, Jack brought her home to the large contemporary house he’d designed and built as a surprise for her five years earlier. He had the first-floor dining room converted to accommodate a hospital bed and the equipment needed by the team of round-the-clock nurses. Most nights he slept on a sofa he’d dragged into the room so she’d never be alone.
A week after Clare came home from the hospital, Jack received a call from Sergeant Curtis, the Newport police officer who’d investigated the accident. The driver had suffered a fatal heart attack, which explained why the car had been so out of control in the mall parking lot. Jack had thought the case was closed as far as the police were concerned.
“I was wondering if I could come by for a few minutes,” Curtis said.
“Is there something new with the case?”
“I have something you need to see.”
Fifteen minutes later, Jack opened the door to the tall, blond cop, and they shook hands.
“What’ve you got there?” He nodded at the disk in Curtis’s hand.
“I was finally able to get a copy of the security video from the mall parking lot. I think you need to see it, but I have to warn you, it’s tough to watch.”
Jack swallowed hard and gestured for Curtis to follow him into the family room. He fed the disk into the DVD player, turned on the television, and watched in stunned silence as his daughters jumped out of the way of the speeding car and then turned to scream at their mother to do the same. They’d had time to turn and scream. Clare had time to move, but she didn’t. She stood there and let the car hit her as her horrified daughters looked on.
“I just don’t understand,” Jack whispered as he watched it a second time. “Why in the world would she do that?”
“Can you, um, think of any reason why she’d want to end her life?”
“Of course not,” he said, but after his conversation with Jill he wasn’t so sure anymore. “She’d never do that, especially in front of her children. They were her whole world.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to imply—”
“That my wife was suicidal?”
“It’s just, well… Why didn’t she move?”
Crushed by yet another wave of helpless despair, Jack shook his head. “I don’t know.”