Book 4 in my Downward Dog Mystery series, A Fatal Twist, officially launches on January 8, but now’s the perfect time to put it on your Christmas list for some Santa preorder love! For a partial list of sellers, please see my author website: http://tracyweberauthor.com/buy_fatal.html.
In case you’re wondering what the book’s all about, I present to you Chapter 1. Enjoy, and please let me know what you think in the comments!
When I entered the cold, darkened room a lifetime ago, I thought I was ready. I’d trained for this day. Looked forward to it, even. I’d prepared for the hunger, the exhaustion. Steeled myself for the blood. But I’d never anticipated the sounds. The low, tortured moans of the young blonde woman crouched before me. I tentatively reached out my hand, hoping to provide her some minimal form of comfort. She growled at me through bared teeth. A feral dog ready to snap.
“Touch me again and I’ll slice off your fingers.”
I could only hope that my live-in boyfriend, Michael, wouldn’t want to get frisky anytime soon. Witnessing six hours—and counting—of Rhonda’s unmedicated labor might put me off sex forever.
The stream of invectives she spewed next would have offended a drunken sailor, which was particularly impressive considering they came from the mouth of a twenty-four-year-old grade school teacher wearing teddy bear slipper-socks and a fuzzy pink bathrobe. I inhaled a deep breath of lavender-scented air, gave her my most serene yoga teacher smile, and backed away. Summer, my doula trainer, motioned me to the side with her eyes.
In spite of my obvious fumbling, Summer seemed unphased, which she probably was. She’d already assisted in over two hundred births. This was my first.
Like a submissive wolf pacifying her alpha, I avoided direct eye contact. I glanced around the room, pretending to take in my surroundings. The upscale birthing suite was different from any hospital room I’d been in before, which wasn’t surprising. A Better Birth Association (ABBA—not to be confused with the band of the same name) was a one-of-its-kind birthing center that blended Western medical approaches with a home-birthing-like atmosphere, all housed in a converted 1920s apartment building in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood.
ABBA’s birth center had been specifically designed to meet the need of an emerging market in Seattle’s childbirth industry: parents of means who wanted low intervention, home-like births while remaining only seconds away from the latest cutting-edge equipment and liberal pain medication, should they change their minds. ABBA’s tagline read, The Comforts of Home, the Benefits of Modern Medicine.
If these were the comforts of home, my house needed an upgrade. The interior of the birthing suite had been restored with period-appropriate touches: double-hung windows, detailed millwork, freshly painted wainscoting. Live ferns and ficus trees flourished near the windows. The soft, soothing tones of Bach’s Canon No. 1 filtered through the air. A pull-out couch, a rocking chair, and an end table with a granite fountain sat across the room. The only nods to the medical nature of the facility were the hospital bed, which was covered in a purple-blue quilt, and several pieces of high-tech medical equipment that were shielded from view by bamboo shoji screens. The room was elegant enough that if giving birth weren’t a requirement, I would have asked to vacation there.
Summer squatted on the ground, leaned forward, and took Rhonda’s hands. Her soft, voluptuous curves and gray-streaked dark hair seemed maternal, comforting somehow. As if they were medals of honor—proof that she’d survived the birth process countless times before. The tired-looking circles under her eyes didn’t detract from the power of her voice.
“It’s okay, Rhonda. Look at me. Focus. Breathe. Just like we practiced. This contraction’s almost over. All you need to do is hang on for a few more seconds.”
Tears pooled behind Rhonda’s lashes. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. We’ll do it together.”
For the next twenty seconds, the room was filled with deep breaths, low moans, and Summer’s whispered assurances. I stood helplessly next to Rhonda’s husband, who looked more distraught than I felt.
At the end of the contraction, Rhonda’s eyes glazed over. She slumped against the wall.
“I think I should go back to the bed now.”
I grabbed one arm; Summer, the other. I smiled at Rhonda as we guided her to the partially raised hospital bed. “Whew. That was a tough one.”
Rhonda gave me a wan smile. “I’m so sorry, Kate. I never swear. It’s like I’ve developed some sort of pain-induced Tourette’s. I can’t stop myself.”
Her husband grinned. “I can’t even say the word ‘damn’ in our house without putting a dollar in the cookie jar.” He slid a pillow behind Rhonda’s back and offered her a paper cup filled with ice chips. “Believe me, babe, I’m keeping track. At the rate you’re going, we’ll have enough in there for Baby Jane’s college tuition.” He pretended to duck, as if expecting Rhonda to slug him.
“Stop calling her that.” Rhonda wrinkled her lips, but her eyes showed no irritation. “I haven’t picked out a name yet, but she’s not going to be a Jane Doe. She’ll tell me her name when I see her.”
I had to give the man extra-credit karma points for courage. Michael would never crack a joke while I was preparing to push a living seven-pound bowling ball out of my lady parts. I’d worked hard over the past nine months to cool down my Hulk-like temper, but all bets would be off in the middle of a contraction. One bad joke, and I’d probably smack him over the head with a bedpan.
If he was lucky.
“Don’t worry, Rhonda,” Summer replied. “Women say all kinds of things in the middle of a contraction. What happens in the delivery room stays in the delivery room.” She leveled a stern look at the father. “And there will be no keeping track of swearing—or anything else—Dad.”
The labor nurse, whose name tag read Tamara Phillips, turned to Rhonda. Her strawberry-blonde hair was tied back in a severe-looking bun, but her blue-green eyes radiated compassionate concern. “You’ve been stuck at four centimeters for a while now. Are you sure you don’t want an epidural? We’re going to be at this for a long time. Possibly all night and well into tomorrow.”
I glanced at the room’s Buddha-shaped wall clock. Three minutes after midnight. Ugh.
Nurse Tamara continued. “I know you don’t want Pitocin, but I wish you’d reconsider an epidural. Sometimes getting rid of the pain helps labor progress.”
Rhonda’s expression grew worried. “Is the baby all right?”
The nurse glanced behind the shoji screen at the monitor. “The heartbeat looks great. Steady as a drum.” She furrowed her brow. “You, on the other hand, are suffering. You can give birth without benefit of pain medication, but you don’t have to. We live in the twenty-first century. There’s no reason for childbirth to be torture.” She pointed to a black phone on the wall. “I can have our nurse anesthetist here with a single phone call.”
Summer gave Nurse Tamara a look. The kind Dad used to give right before he dragged me out of the room for a good scolding. She spoke through clenched teeth. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
Forced smile notwithstanding, Summer’s question wasn’t really a request. She nodded toward the baby’s father. “Dad, you stay here with Rhonda. We’ll be back in a minute.” She motioned for the nurse and me to follow her into the hall.
Summer spoke as soon as the door closed behind us. “I know you mean well,” she began, sounding like she knew nothing of the sort, “but as I pointed out to you an hour ago, Rhonda specifically asked in her birth plan not to be offered pain medication. Giving birth naturally is important to her. If she changes her mind, she’ll tell me.”
Nurse Tamara’s lips tightened. “There’s simply no reason for her to suffer. It could be twelve hours before that baby comes.”
Summer crossed her arms and stepped her feet wide. “Her birth, her choice.”
The nurse’s frown lines deepened.
The two women glared at each other in silence, each waiting for the other to give ground. I wondered—not for the first time today— if their conflict had anything to do with Rhonda or her supposed birth plan. From the moment I’d entered the birthing suite, I’d felt a palpable, tense energy between the two women. As if every interaction was the next move in a covert battle for dominance.
After several long moments, Nurse Tamara caved.“Fine, for now. But you’re not helping her.” She spun on her heel and marched back through the door.
I sagged against the wall, grateful for once that I wasn’t the source of the tumult. When I’d volunteered to be the doula at my best friend Rene’s upcoming birth, I’d thought a doula was a labor coach with a fancy title. Since then, I’d learned that the job included so much more: helping the couple determine a birth plan, advocating for the needs of the entire family—dad included—and occasionally running interference with the mom-to-be’s healthcare professionals.
I hadn’t expected the last part to be quite so heated.
“Is it always this intense?” I asked Summer.
“Work as a doula can be challenging,” she replied. “But honestly, we’ve barely been at this six hours. If I were you, I’d prepare to settle in. First babies can take a long time.”
“No worries there. I’m here for the duration.” I gestured to the door. “I meant with the nurse. Is a doula’s relationship with the medical team supposed to be that confrontational?”
Summer’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh, you mean my spat with Nurse Doom and Gloom.” She frowned at the closed door, as if replaying the scene on its smooth oak surface. When she turned back toward me, her face wore a resigned expression.
“Tamara and I have a history, but you’re right. I should back off. I’m being a terrible example for you. A doula’s job is to facilitate, not berate.” She sighed. “Take a lesson from that, Kate, especially since your friend plans to give birth in a hospital. If you want to support hospital births, you’ll have to learn how to partner with Western healthcare providers.”
“Is a hospital birth that much different than one here at ABBA?”
She shrugged. “Depends on the hospital. Frankly, depends on the labor and delivery nurse, too. Personally, I prefer home births. But as far as medical facilities go, ABBA is one of the best. It only grants privileges to highly regarded private practice OB/GYNs who support natural childbirth. Most hospitals advocate interventions, like that epidural Nurse Tamara keeps pushing. Drives me batty. Epidurals, Pitocin, C-sections … they simply aren’t needed most of the time. Natural childbirth is far healthier for both mom and her baby.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed with Summer’s steadfast devotion to “natural” childbirth. (Was there any other kind?) But she was right about ABBA, which was one of the most prestigious birthing centers in the Pacific Northwest. There was no better place in Seattle to have a baby. If you could afford it.
A low groan came from Rhonda’s suite. “We’d better go back in,” Summer said. “Tamara’s right. We could be here awhile.”
Summer coached Rhonda through the next set of contractions, skillfully holding her attention while the nurse did something I didn’t care to think about underneath the sheets. When the contraction ended, Nurse Tamara sat back and frowned.
“Still four centimeters.”
Rhonda moaned. “Seriously? Maybe I should get an epidural after all.” Her eyes begged Summer for permission. “What do you think?”
Summer’s face remained blank. “It doesn’t matter what I think. It’s your choice.”
The nurse reached for the phone, preparing to dial her magic number.
The thought of watching someone insert a three-and-a-half inch needle into Rhonda’s spine made my stomach feel woozy. From the expression on her husband’s face, he felt downright ill.
Rhonda seemed conflicted. “If I get an epidural, I’ll be confined to the bed, right?”
Summer nodded. “Yes, for the rest of the labor. Do you want to stick with less invasive options for now?”
Rhonda didn’t reply.
Summer took that to mean yes. “Good choice.” She gestured toward the husband. “You look like you could use some fresh air. Why don’t you take a break while I get Rhonda into the jetted tub?”
He took a step toward the door, then turned back to his wife. “You okay with this, hon?”
Summer patted him on the back. “Go on now. We’ll call your cell if we need anything.” As the door closed behind him, she pulled me aside and whispered, “You look like you’re about to faint. Did you eat dinner before you left home?”
I shook my head no.
“Didn’t you listen in training? Rule number one of being a doula: eat before you leave for the birth. Things can get crazy, quick.” She frowned. “The last thing I need is for you to pass out on me. Go to the family room and have a snack, but don’t be gone long. Bring me back a bottle of water.”
The family room was another of ABBA’s many perks: a lounge in which families and support staff could get sustenance without leaving the facility. I wasn’t sure doulas-in-training were the intended customers, but who was I to quibble?
I stopped in the restroom for a quick bio break, then headed down the facility’s light pink hallway. The spicy scent of Kung Pao Tofu taunted my stomach, courtesy of an open window and the twenty-four-hour Chinese restaurant next door.
A quick left turn later, I was foraging through the empty family room, which was furnished with overstuffed chairs, ornately detailed wooden end tables, and a large selection of puzzles, games, and current magazines. A cabinet topped with a sign labeled Snacks was stocked with protein bars, crackers, and single-serve packages of peanut butter. A refrigerator in the corner held sodas and bottled water. I smothered an individually wrapped graham cracker with a thick coating of peanut butter, added some honey, and placed another cracker on top—my version of a home-cooked meal. I popped the concoction into my mouth, wiped the stray honey from my lips, and groaned. Stale crackers and sweetening-laced peanuts never tasted so good. I slammed down three more, coated with an extra layer of honey for good measure.
Low blood sugar catastrophe averted, I pulled out my cell phone to call Michael.
He answered on the second ring. “Hey, babe. Are you on your way home?”
“Not even close. At the rate things are going, I might still be here next week. Sorry to call so late, but I wanted to let you know not to expect me tonight.”
A cupboard door closed on the other end of the line.
“Aren’t you in bed yet?” I asked.
“Nope. I can’t sleep without you here, so I’m making a sandwich. If you’re nice to me, I’ll make a batch of those vegan brownies you love so much.”
I grinned. Michael was learning. I wouldn’t complain about coming home to a messy kitchen if he’d baked something worth cleaning it for.
A metallic rendition of Brahms’ Lullaby floated through the birth center’s sound system, signaling that a new baby had been delivered. Hopefully Rhonda’s wouldn’t be far behind.
“I need to get back, Michael, but I’ll call again in the morning. Give Bella a kiss for me.” Bella’s distinctive sharp bark sounded in the background.
“Bella says she misses you.”
Michael’s intention was sweet, but we both knew what my hundred-pound German shepherd was actually saying: Give me a bite of that sandwich. Now.
I smiled. “Tell her I miss her, too. I miss both of you. Don’t feed her too many treats, and try not to make a mess.”
“Me? When have I ever made a mess?”
I ignored his obvious sarcasm, told him I loved him, and clicked off the phone.
A vegan protein bar and another peanut-butter-coated cracker later, I grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge and started to head back.
Whispered voices stopped me at the family room door.
“I told you, we can’t do this here.”
I peeked into the hall, toward the sound. Four doors down, a fiftyish man in a white doctor’s coat leaned over a woman wearing a black cocktail dress and red stilettos. The female, a mid-thirties Hispanic woman with heavily lined, deep cocoa eyes, gave him a sultry pout.
“If not here, where? I’ve been waiting in that hotel room for hours.” She nuzzled his neck. Her right hand lay flat against his chest. Her left explored significantly further south.
The man’s voice turned low and throaty. “You’re killing me.” He reluctantly pushed her away, exposing his handsome face, designer glasses, and perfectly tousled George Clooney–like hair. “I told you I’d call as soon as I could leave, and I will. But we can’t be seen like this. Not here. Especially not now.”
She ran a burgundy fingernail down the center of his sternum. “So what if someone sees us? I’m tired of sneaking around. It’s time for you to get a divorce. Past time.”
The man flashed a conciliatory smile. “Patience, Mariella. Patience. I told you. As soon as the lawsuit is settled, I’ll leave her.”
She grabbed his lapels and pulled him closer.“In case you haven’t noticed, patience isn’t my strong suit.”
This time, he didn’t resist her. Their show zoomed right past PG on the fast track to R.
And they were blocking my way back to Rhonda’s birthing suite.
What was I supposed to do now? I considered tiptoeing past the two lovers, hoping they wouldn’t notice me. I considered announcing myself loudly, in hopes that they’d scurry away. I even considered spraying them both with the nearest fire extinguisher in an attempt to cool them down before the building ignited.
Their show was that hot.
In the end, I didn’t have to do anything.
Nurse Tamara appeared behind them and froze. At first she seemed angry, but then the right corner of her mouth slowly lifted, forming a grin that seemed more contemptuous than friendly. She tapped the man on the shoulder, surprising him.
“You certainly live up to your nickname, don’t you, Dr. Dick? Can’t even keep it in your pants for a few hours at work? My lawyer’s going to love this.”
The man’s mouth dropped open, but he remained silent.
Mariella grabbed Nurse Tamara’s arm. “Back off, Tamara.”
Nurse Tamara shoved her away. “You back off, you little gold digger. If you think you two are going to live happily ever after, you’re a fool.” She gave Dr. Dick a scathing look. “That scumbag won’t leave his wife until the day he dies.”
She pushed past the shocked-looking couple and marched up to me. “Summer wants you to go back and meet the new nurse. My shift’s over.” She continued to the end of the hallway, then stopped at the exit and growled over her shoulder. “I’m out of here. I’ve had enough of this circus for one day.”
“Tamara, wait!” Dr. Dick ran after her. The heavy metal door slammed behind them.
Mariella stared at the glowing green-and-white exit sign, face locked in an expression of surprised frustration. After several long, uncomfortable seconds, she frowned at me. “What’re you staring at?”
I scooted past her and jogged back to the birthing suite. When I opened the door, Summer and a new nurse were whispering in the corner. Rhonda squatted on a dark green birthing ball, holding her belly and rocking back and forth.
Still at four centimeters.
Pre-order your copy of A Fatal Twist now at these online booksellers! http://tracyweberauthor.com/buy_fatal.html
About A Fatal Twist: Yoga instructor Kate Davidson’s life takes a chaotic turn once she agrees to not only be the doula for her pregnant best friend, but also play foster mother to two puppies. The chaos only gets worse when Kate finds the dead body of a philandering fertility doctor and Rachel, one of her yoga students, fleeing the scene.
Kate is convinced her student is innocent, and she sets out to find the real killer before her testimony condemns Rachel to a life behind bars. But her hands are full with caring for three dogs, teaching yoga classes, and gaining an unexpected crime-solving partner. If she’s not careful, Kate’s next yoga pose may be a fatal one.