Excerpt from Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Her Last Breath

A Kate Burkholder Novel

by Linda Castillo

Her Last Breath
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 320 pages
    Jul 2014, 320 pages

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A whimper yanks me from my stasis. I spin, jerk my beam left. I see something tangled against the tumbling wire fence that runs along the tree line. Another child. I break into a run. From twenty feet away I see it's a boy. Eight or nine years old. Hope surges inside me when I hear him groan. It's a pitiful sound that echoes through me like the electric pain of a broken bone. But it's a good sound, too, because it tells me he's alive.

I drop to my knees at his side, set my flashlight on the ground beside me. The child is lying on his side with his left arm stretched over his head and twisted at a terrible angle. Dislocated shoulder, I think. Broken arm, maybe. Survivable, but I've worked enough accidents to know it's usually the injuries you can't see that end up being the worst.

One side of his face is visible. His eyes are open; I can see the curl of lashes against his cheek as he blinks. Flecks of blood cover his chin and throat and the front of his coat. There's blood on his face, but I don't know where it's coming from; I can't pinpoint the source.

Tentatively, I reach out and run my fingertips over the top of his hand, hoping the contact will comfort him. "Honey, can you hear me?"

He moans. I hear his breaths rushing in and out between clenched teeth. He's breathing hard. Hyperventilating. His hand twitches beneath mine and he cries out.

"Don't try to move, sweetie," I say. "You were in an accident, but you're going to be okay." As I speak, I try to put myself in his shoes, conjure words that will comfort him. "My name's Katie. I'm here to help you. Your datt's okay. And the doctor is coming. Just be still and try to relax for me, okay?"

His small body heaves. He chokes out a sound and flecks of blood spew from his mouth. I hear gurgling in his chest, and close my eyes tightly, fighting to stay calm. Don't you dare take this one, too, a little voice inside my head snaps.

The urge to gather him into my arms and pull him from the fence in which he's tangled is powerful. But I know better than to move an accident victim. If he sustained a head or spinal injury, moving him could cause even more damage. Or kill him.

The boy stares straight ahead, blinking. Still breathing hard. Chest rattling. He doesn't move, doesn't try to look at me. "… Sampson…" he whispers.

I don't know who that is; I'm not even sure I heard him right or if he's cognizant and knows what he's saying. It doesn't matter. I rub my thumb over the top of his hand. "Shhh." I lean close. "Don't try to talk."

He shifts slightly, turns his head. His eyes find mine. They're gray. Like Mattie's, I realize. In their depths I see fear and the kind of pain no child should ever have to bear. His lips tremble. Tears stream from his eyes. "Hurts…"

"Everything's going to be okay." I force a smile, but my lips feel like barbed wire.

A faint smile touches his mouth and then his expression goes slack. Beneath my hand, I feel his body relax. His stare goes vacant.

"Hey." I squeeze his hand, willing him not to slip away. "Stay with me, buddy."

He doesn't answer.

The sirens are closer now. I hear the rumble of the diesel engine as a fire truck arrives on scene. The hiss of tires against the wet pavement as more vehicles pull onto the shoulder. The shouts of the first responders as they disembark.

"Over here!" I yell. "I've got an injured child!"

I stay with the boy until the first paramedic comes up behind me. "We'll take it from here, Chief."

He's about my age, with a crew cut and blue jacket inscribed with the Holmes County Rescue insignia. He looks competent and well trained, with a trauma kit slung over his shoulder and a cervical collar beneath his arm.

Copyright© 2013 by Linda Castillo

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