Title: Full Circle
Series: Cox Family Romances #3
Published by: Jelly Bean Press
Release Date: 04/24/2016
Contributors: Heather Justesen
Genre: ,
Pages: 280
ISBN13: 978-1-63034-023-0
ASIN: B01G5WFIJ4

When Shelly’s fiancé dies in an accident days before their wedding, all of her life plans die with him. 

A chance to start over in a new country while she pursues her graduate degree gives her new direction, but a run-in with an old flame makes it hard not to look back while she’s moving forward.

This new adult spin-off to The Ball’s in Her Court and Rebound shows sometimes love has to take the long way around to reach its final destination.

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Chapter 1

“What do you think about the name Rogan?” Jimmy asked.

“No way. I’d sooner go with Grendle.” Shelly turned to look out the window at the passing scenery, mostly to hide her smile. Snow adorned the trees and fence posts along the roadside. The headlights reflected off the ice, illuminating the creek bed below on their right and the rising hills on the left. She’d never liked driving through Nephi Canyon at night.

“Grendle wasn’t even a real person—and you would never be so cruel.” He nudged her with his elbow. “I know you better than that.”

Her lips quirked, enjoying the banter. She caught his glance in her direction along with the flash of the dimple in his right cheek—it never had the decency to duplicate itself on his left side. “The whole discussion is academic, since we aren’t even married yet—”

“The wedding is only five days away,” he said, as if she needed reminding.

“—and I’m not going to try having children until you at least finish at Snow College—which is more than a year off.”

He laughed. “It’s never too early to discuss the future.” An oncoming car’s headlight glared through the windshield and made his tawny hair turn a ghostly silver.

She held in a chuckle as she watched the snow fall softly around them. It wasn’t bad yet, but promised to grow heavier as the night progressed. She was grateful they’d finished their shopping early, but looking at the weather, wished she hadn’t dawdled over dinner. It had been so long since the two of them had been able to spend much time together, especially time alone. He’d been off his mission for over two months, but her final semester at Utah State University while he was living at home in Ephraim still kept them apart. “If you’re looking for an argument, I’d rather discuss the Nuggets’ chances against the Bulls.” She picked a topic they could both discuss with gusto.

“Just because your brother-in-law plays for the Nuggets does not make his team inherently better.”

“And your irrational preference for the Bulls won’t improve their chances.”

“It’s about the team dynamics. Besides, loyalty’s important.”

“So if they were ranked last in the nation, you would still stick by their side?” She tried to make her voice sound scathing, but couldn’t manage it. She loved his loyalty. In fact, she loved everything about Jimmy and had for as long as she could remember.

“Ranked last in the nation? As if that would happen with Cliff on the team.” He snorted and took his eyes away from the winding pass between Nephi and Fountain Green.

“Eyes on the road. I’d prefer to arrive back home in one piece,” she chided. The roads through the canyon could be nasty, even without fresh snowfall.

“It was barely a glance. Besides, I enjoy being with you. After all the time we spent apart, I still have a hard time believing you said yes.”

“You worried that I wouldn’t?” She kept her tone light but didn’t look at him. The fact was, she’d very nearly told someone else yes. A few months earlier she’d found herself caught between her love for Rob, the man she’d been seeing casually for several months, and Jimmy, the one she’d loved since childhood and who would return from his mission in a matter of weeks. Jimmy had won, of course, as she had known he would long before she promised to wait for him, but it hadn’t been an easy decision.

All throughout the past semester, she’d caught the edge of hurt and anger in Rob’s demeanor every time their eyes met on campus. It was a relief to be done with school, knowing he would finish in the spring—long before Jimmy finished at Snow and they moved to Logan so Jimmy could earn his own degree.

“I know I shouldn’t have doubted, but when your companion gets a Dear John, it can be hard to remind yourself your girlfriend would never do something like that to you.” He reached over and gave her clasped handsa squeeze. “I couldn’t ask for anyone better.”

Guilt didn’t creep over her this time—it flooded. Her mind raced as she tried to find the words to tell him the truth—he deserved that much. Though he’d known she dated occasionally, he had no idea how serious her relationship with Rob had become. It wasn’t that she was trying to keep it a secret—she hadn’t been able to get the words out. Maybe this was her chance. “Jimmy.”

“Hold on!” His hand left hers and clasped the wheel.

Shelly looked through the windshield to see a huge elk turn to stare at them from its position in the middle of the road. She had barely enough time to take a deep breath and steel herself for impact before the car crunched against the animal, then spun and flipped end over end.

When the car stopped moving—she was fairly certain it was her head that was still spinning, and not the car—Shelly pried her eyes open. Her head pounded, and her chest heaved as she fought to breathe after the collision knocked the air from her lungs.

“Jimmy?” She looked to the left where she expected him to be, but didn’t see him. Stiff and anxious, she searched the back seat, but didn’t see him there, either. Had he been thrown out? Her heart rate ratcheted up and she looked around to see if she could tell where he’d gone. The side windows were all missing, the roof smashed several inches lower than it should have been in most places, and the front window was nothing but a mass of spider web cracks. “Jimmy!”

When she moved her right arm, pain lanced through her and she clutched it close to her chest, trying to ignore the way the skin poked out on the side. The bone had to be broken.

She looked around, but couldn’t find her cell phone anywhere.

With her free hand, she shook her door, but it was too smashed to budge. She studied the window opening with its chunks of shattered glass. She used the snow scraper at her feet to clear the way, then, trusting her clothes to protect her, began pulling herself through—not an easy task one-handed.

It took more work than she expected as she discovered that she hurt all over. If she hadn’t been so anxious to find Jimmy, she might have stayed put, but she had to find him.

“Jimmy!” Shelly called his name every few seconds, certain this time he would answer. Maybe he was only dazed from the jolt. She saw the headlights from another car parked up on the edge of the road. The car had rolled a lot further down the embankment than she had thought. A person walked in front of the headlights, and she could see them coming down into the creek bed. Shelly was about halfway out of the car window when a strong pair of arms grabbed her under the shoulders and helped her. She stifled a scream of pain as her right arm was jarred.

“Are you okay?” a man’s voice asked. He helped her to her feet, but didn’t let go until she felt steadier. “Is there anyone else in the car? Who are you looking for?”

“My fiancé. I don’t know where he went. He’s not in the car.” Shelly took a step away, searching for a dark shape in the white snow while her head and muscles screamed at her to stop. Hysteria rose in her chest as she considered all the things that might have happened to Jimmy.

“I think you’re bleeding.” The man—somewhere in his forties—touched the side of her head and nodded, as if confirming the injury. “Is your arm hurt?”

“Yes, I think it’s broken.”

“We called 911, but we’re not sure how much they understood. The signal’s bad here.”

Like she needed him to tell her that. She’d lived in the area all her life. “Thanks. Do you know where my fiancé is?” She tried to move through the deep snow, but sank nearly to her knee with every step.

“Hey, over here. I found someone,” another male voice called out, rougher and lower-toned. “Come help me, Mark.”

The man with Shelly turned to her. “You should stay here.”

“Now, Mark. Hurry! He’s in pretty bad shape,” the man called again.

It was freezing and Shelly was in her shoes and shirtsleeves. She reached through the car window and pulled out her fluffy winter coat, struggling to wrap it around her one-handed. Then she moved as quickly as possible toward the two men. They were on their knees in the snow. There was no direct light around them and the reflections of headlights above them weren’t enough to illuminate their actions.

More people arrived and began moving down the embankment, but Shelly ignored their calls, intent on the very still figure lying between the two strangers. Jimmy couldn’t be hurt, not after everything they’d been through. She felt herself begin to hyperventilate and her head spun again when she saw the dark spots against the whiteness of snow around him. Maybe it wasn’t blood, she told herself. It could be anything.

“I found a heartbeat. Hold pressure on that wound,” one of the men said.

Shelly sobbed, trying to grab Jimmy’s hand, but a woman held her back. Shelly tried to get away, to get back to Jimmy, but the woman pulled her further from the scene. “Miss, were you in the accident?” the woman asked.

“Yes.”

“You need to sit. Come on, let’s go up to the road. The police and paramedics will be here soon.”

“I can’t leave him. What if he needs me?” She struggled a little longer, then, too exhausted to fight, allowed herself to be led up to the road as the ambulance crew arrived. A Highway Patrol trooper came over and began asking her about the accident, and another EMT joined her, questioning and checking Shelly.

The next thing Shelly knew, an EMT was coaxing her onto a backboard. “Any time there’s a roll over it’s protocol to backboard patients,” he explained when she resisted. “It’s only a precaution.”

“I’ve been walking around for a long time now,” Shelly protested.

“And the adrenaline that’s kept you moving will wear off soon. There might be something wrong and you don’t even know it yet. Please? My partners are taking good care of the guy you were with.”

Feeling light-headed and queasy all of a sudden, she consented and soon found herself strapped on and wearing a c-collar. They set her board on the bench seat in the back of the ambulance and strapped her in before they staunched the sluggish blood flow on her forehead. After that, the EMTs mostly focused on Jimmy, who had been loaded onto the wheeled gurney a couple feet away.

As soon as he was in the back, the ambulance headed for the hospital in Nephi. The EMTs said Jimmy needed help breathing, an IV, and various other things Shelly didn’t understand. They checked her blood pressure, shone a bright light in her eyes, and asked her some of the same questions she had already answered. She wanted to ask why they kept repeating themselves, but didn’t want to waste her breath as she heard the worry in the voices of the people working on Jimmy.

The twists and turns of the canyon nauseated Shelly and she wondered why the driver had to take the corners so fast, yet it seemed to take forever to get to the hospital in Nephi. With every bump or jolt or shift on the road, pain screamed through her arm.

“Sorry,” one woman told her after a head-spinning turn. “An ambulance isn’t exactly built like a race car. They don’t corner very well, even when driven carefully.”

“I think I figured that out.” Shelly tried to smile, then asked for the hundredth time how Jimmy was doing. Still, she only got the answer that the others were taking care of him, and would do their best.

That wasn’t very comforting, especially when one of the crew members asked about bringing in a helicopter to get Jimmy to Utah Valley Regional, and another said the copter would never travel through the storm.

Shelly’s heart plummeted. It had been her idea to go to Provo earlier. Jimmy had protested that there was too much to do and the weather report wasn’t good, but she insisted. She needed the time alone with him before she went crazy with preparations, time to reassure herself that she’d made the right decision. Now she wished she’d never thought of it. If Jimmy didn’t make it—the thought was too awful to consider. She pushed it away and was grateful when one of the EMTs finally said they were pulling into the hospital parking lot.

The long night only got worse.

Shelly had been through x-ray and was released from the backboard before anyone would tell her anything about Jimmy. A man in a white coat, whose tag read Dr. Chung, came into her corner of the ER, clipboard in hand. “I hear you’re engaged to the other patient, Jimmy Sorenson.”

“Yes, we’re getting married in five days. Is he doing all right?” Shelly huddled under the warm blanket the nursing staff had given her, but she continued to shiver. She couldn’t seem to get warm.

The man frowned, a haggard look on his face. She wondered if he was old enough to be a doctor. He looked awfully young. “His injuries are extensive. The ambulance has already taken him to Provo for critical care treatment.”

Her own injuries were forgotten as panic crowded into her chest. “I have to go. I need to call someone to get me. I’ve got to be with him.”

“What you need to do,” the doctor interjected, “is let me put a cast on that broken arm and take care of you. By the time you’re finished, your parents should be here. They’re already on their way. You can talk to them about taking you to Provo.”

Though the pain medication the nurse had given her earlier was kicking in so she struggled to think, Shelly realized she was stranded and needed to be treated. Still, every minute crawled as she waited for them to finish the cast. Her mother arrived nearly an hour after Shelly reached the hospital and still the cast wasn’t done.

When they finally climbed in the car, Shelly was forced to endure the endless drive to the trauma center. The falling snow only served to slow their progress. She leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes after fifteen minutes of the car crawling through the heavy storm. Cursing the pain medication, she fell asleep.

***

When they reached the emergency area at UVRMC, Jimmy was still in surgery. A nurse took them to a waiting room, where his parents already sat with a few of his siblings in a small alcove of chairs. Shelly and her mom joined them.

“Shelly, how are you?’ Carol hugged her, clinging and shaking.

“I’m okay. It’s just a broken arm.”

Carol’s eyes went to Shelly’s forehead. “Looks like more than a broken arm to me.”

“Oh, yeah,” Shelly touched the head wound that had finally stopped bleeding after she got into the ambulance. It was still bandaged. “A few scrapes and bruises, possibly a concussion. Nothing that won’t heal. Have you heard about Jimmy yet?”

“No.” Carol turned to the nurse, her face white and older than Shelly ever remembered. “Will my son be all right?”

The nurse spoke in a reassuring tone, and Shelly pushed back the fear that stole over her. “He’s still in surgery. They’re doing the best they can for him. I’ll send the doctor out to speak with you as soon as possible. It may be a while.”

Shelly wanted to scream, to cry, anything. All she could do was hold her broken arm close, feeling frozen and silent. This can’t be happening. She stared at the stark white walls and floor. Jimmy’s siblings and their spouses asked her questions and she repeated the nights’ events, trying to think of anything they could have done differently. Could they have stopped it? How long before Jimmy recovered? She couldn’t think of any other outcome.

A couple of hospital workers in mint green scrubs walked past them, talking about a basketball game at one of the local high schools the previous night. A man strolled the halls with a young boy in a hospital gown, telling stories about the fun things they would do when the boy got out. A cell phone rang somewhere.

Somehow, none of it seemed real. It could all have been on a television screen and not have affected her less. I wonder if this is what shock feels like.

Hours passed before the doctor came in. His grim face said enough. Shelly didn’t bother listening to his words. The edges of her vision began to turn fuzzy, then black and she gulped in air, even as her chest grew tight.

“Shelly, hey, are you okay?” Her mom’s voice pierced her senses and Shelly felt herself being shaken. “Come on, we can see Jimmy soon. Deep breaths, honey.”

Not sure if it was the stress, the medication, or both, Shelly fought to stay alert, and after a moment, started to feel better, though the lightheadedness lingered. “How is he?”

“Out of surgery. It’s touch and go.” Her mom put a hand to Shelly’s forehead. “We have a little wait before they’ll let us into his room.”

Carol crouched beside her “Honey, are you sure they should have checked you out of the hospital? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I just need to see Jimmy.” Despite more questions, Shelly stuck to her stance. Jimmy’s sister-in-law brought her a soda and a grilled cheese sandwich from the café down the hall, and at her insistence, Shelly ate. Surprisingly, it did help her feel better.

When they were finally allowed into his room, Jimmy’s father and a brother talked in low tones about giving a priesthood blessing. Jimmy’s sister-in-law stood to the side of the doorway, hugging herself with her arms. Shelly found a seat and took Jimmy’s hand gingerly in hers, but felt little warmth. Carol sat on the other side of the bed, taking her son’s other hand.

The hospital staff only allowed everyone to stay long enough for Jimmy’s dad and brother to give him the blessing. What she felt when they finished, however, was not the reassurance she sought, but disbelief as Jimmy’s father, Allan, commended Jimmy’s spirit back to his Father in Heaven. She wanted to scream in argument, but couldn’t get out anything but a low moan.

When the prayer was over, Shelly glared at Allan and found her voice again. “You were supposed to make him better.”

“I wish I could, but I’m only the mouthpiece of the Lord, and He wanted Jim to come home.” His voice was raw and tears streaked his face, but it didn’t make her less angry with him. How could he let Jimmy go without a fight?

Then everyone acted as if a sentence had been passed. Carol sobbed over her son’s hand, his brothers took turns saying a few words and saying goodbye, and even Shelly’s parents tried to pull her from his bedside. They were wrong. She and Jimmy were getting married. She knew it.

Shelly was so numb, the tears would not fall. Inside, she felt like she was dying, too.

After a while, everyone left her alone with him. She could hear Jimmy’s labored breath as he struggled for air. He was so pale.

She stroked the matted hair on Jimmy’s forehead. The sides of his face were streaked with blood. Her fingers caressed his right cheek, searching for his dimple. She thought of all the times she and Jimmy had driven around and talked in the evenings when they were teens. Sometimes he would tease her, and despite all he could do to keep a straight face, the dimple would always give him away. He had no poker face.

She’d always loved that about him.

“Jimmy, you wouldn’t leave me now, would you? We have so many plans, a whole life together—at least six kids in that big house on Main Street. I love you.” The last words were barely a whisper as a lump in her throat blocked them. Her long hair hung limply over his body as she leaned down to plant a kiss on his cheek.

Shelly whispered memories about things they had done together and plans for the future. She knew she had to keep talking, sure the effort would keep him alive.

Her eyes were dry as she played with his CTR ring, his constant reminder to Choose The Right, twisting it from side to side and chatting away. As she spoke to him, her heart filled with fervent prayer that he would be healed, despite what the doctor had said. Despite the blessing that told otherwise.

After a few minutes, his parents came back in with the doctor. A moment later, the steady, but slow, beeping on the heart monitor slowed even further and the machine set off a warning bell. The doctor told everyone to leave and called in a crew of hospital staff.

The wait in the hall took forever, and Shelly huddled into herself against one wall. She didn’t acknowledge her mom’s arm wrapped around her.

Eventually the doctor re-emerged, covered in sweat. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.” He hesitated for a moment. “His records show he’s an organ donor. There’s never a good way to ask this, but would you give your consent for us to use this tragedy to help others?”

When Allan’s rough voice whispered agreement, Shelly pulled away from her mother’s embrace and hurried down the corridor, unable to stand it.

They were giving up.

She didn’t know if she would ever forgive herself for how it had happened.

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