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Just Down the Road

Jodi Thomas - Author

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ISBN 9781101561485 | 336 pages | 03 Apr 2012 | Berkley | 18 - AND UP
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Since Tinch Turner lost his wife, he's spent his nights brooding, boozing, and brawling. When one of his escapades lands him in the ER, he finds himself staring up at the beautiful new doctor in town, Addison Spencer-and for the first time in years, he feels a spark. Meanwhile, Reagan Truman finds comfort in the makeshift family she's made in Harmony-and in a new baby, the first born in the Wright Funeral Home in 45 years, proving to everyone that life does go on.



Chapter 1

Saturday night

September 2011

Harmony County Hospital

Dr. Addison Spencer stood between the emergency room doors of Harmony’s only hospital and waited for the next wave of trouble to storm the entrance. The reflection of her tall, slim body dressed in white appeared more ghost than human in the smoky glass. For a blink, Addison feared she might be fading away like an old photograph facing the sun. When she’d been a child with light blond hair, her father had called her his sunshine; now there seemed little sunshine left. If it weren’t for her work she’d have no anchor to hang on to in life.

Saturday night always promised a full house in the ER, yet the howling wind just beyond the glass whispered change. She’d already been up since four A.M. delivering twins to a teen mother who yelled all the way through the birthing, but Addison’s shift wouldn’t be over tonight until the bars closed. If a fight didn’t break out in the parking lot of the Buffalo Bar and Grill, maybe, just maybe, she could be in bed by two.

She thought of the silence at the little place she’d rented ten miles from town. An old four–room house with hand–me–down furniture from decades past. Nothing special. Nothing grand. Only the porch wrapped all the way around and in every direction she saw peace. A single neighbor’s place spotted the landscape to the south. Cornfields were to the east and rocky untamed land to the north and west. Closing her eyes, she wished she were already there.

“Dr. Spencer?” Nurse Georgia Veasey’s voice echoed behind her.

“Yes?” Addison turned, trying hard not to show any hint of the exhaustion she felt. One of her med school professors had drummed into everyone he taught that a professional gives her best until she drops and can give nothing at all. He often ranted that a career in medicine left little room for life beyond the hospital walls, and for Addison that seemed perfect. One bad marriage had taught her all she wanted to know of the world outside.

“Harley phoned in from the bar.” Georgia moved closer, as though looking through the night for trouble. “Appears we got a pickup load of roughnecks coming in all bleeding and cussing.”

A year ago she wouldn’t have known what the nurse was talking about. She’d learned that roughnecks were oil field workers. “Who’d they fight?” Addison asked without any real interest. Half the time the drunks couldn’t answer that question themselves.

“One man apparently, but the caller said it was Tinch Turner. From what I hear, he never joins in a fight unless the odds are five to one.”

Addison understood. “Get six rooms ready.” She’d be stitching up the load of roughnecks and probably operating on the fool who took them all on. “I’ll go scrub up. You know what to do.”

The head nurse nodded. She’d start the staff cleaning up blood and giving shots while their drunken patients turned from fighters to babies. The nurses and aides would comfort the boys in grown men’s bodies as they sewed them up and called someone to come get them.

Addison knew Georgia would send the one who was most seriously hurt to the first room. She would be waiting there, ready to do her best one more time.

As she moved inside, Addison stopped long enough to pour a strong cup of black coffee. She hated coffee and yet seemed to live on it lately. Going into her twentieth hour on her feet, she needed something to keep her awake. Odds were good that in a few minutes she’d be going into surgery trying to save the life of some jerk who should have gone home to his wife and family after work.

Some doctors loved the emergency room and practiced there for their entire career, but Addison knew only that she wanted to be a doctor. Her father had spent years pushing her toward what he called a more promising career, meaning more money, more praise, but no matter how hard she tried, she never measured up to his standards. If she’d told him she simply wanted to practice medicine, he would have screamed his disappointment. But these past few months in Harmony had allowed her to love her career again and to think about what she wanted.

The latest problem between her father and her, the one that had driven her here, might be over by the time she returned home and she could finally tell him of her plans. If she was lucky, the career path he’d planned for her would no longer be an option.

Chapter 2

Tinch Turner waited in his pickup for all the oil field workers to pile out and go into the ER. They’d have a few black eyes, a few stitches, but he knew from experience that none of them were hurt bad enough to be admitted. Tinch just had to break up the fight as fast as he could, and sometimes the easiest way to get trouble’s attention is to hit it between the eyes.

Next week he’d buy the boys a drink and explain to them that if they were in Harmony they needed to behave. Howard Smithers shouldn’t have started calling them oil field trash, but every one of the roughnecks had been flirting with Howard’s wife. She was barroom beautiful and tended to forget she was married when she drank. Tinch had seen her flirt before, and he couldn’t help but wonder if she wanted Howard to be jealous or dead.

Closing his eyes, Tinch told himself he should have stayed out of it. Several others in the bar could have stepped in to help Howard. But Tinch had tossed caution out the window about the time he gave up on caring whether he lived or died. Somehow, taking a few blows reminded him that he could still feel, even if it was only pain.

Not that he wanted to feel again. He wanted to die and lie next to his wife in the cemetery. He just wasn’t able to kill himself. It bothered him that he was just one breath away from her. All he needed to do was not breathe and he’d be with his Lori Anne. Only God had played a trick on them. He’d made Lori Anne fragile and Tinch strong as a bull. She couldn’t make it to her thirtieth birthday and, with his bad luck, he’d probably live to be a hundred. Maybe, if he kept drinking and fighting, one night he’d get lucky and someone would put him out of his misery.

The blood dripping off his forehead bothered him enough to make him climb out of his pickup and head for the emergency room door. He didn’t much care about the pain, but he hated bleeding all over everything. He’d get a doc to stitch up the cut, and then he’d go back to his farm and drink until he washed the memories away and finally slept.

Through the blood, he saw Nurse Veasey. She was frowning at him. Hell, he thought, she was always frowning at him. “Evenin’, Georgia,” he said, thinking she had that same look when she first saw him sitting next to her in the third grade more than twenty years ago.

“Shut up, Tinch. I don’t even want to talk to you.” She grabbed his shirt and pulled him toward the first little examining room. “Didn’t I tell you I’d beat you up myself if you came in here after a fight again? I swear if there were two like you in this town we’d have to build another wing onto the hospital.”

Despite a headache the size of a mustang bucking in his brain, Tinch smiled. “You did threaten me last time, Georgia, and the fear of it kept me away for weeks, I swear.”

She slapped him on the arm and he thought of suggesting that might not be protocol for nurses, but Tinch decided to wait until he could see to run before he upset her more. He’d gone to school with her and her two sisters. All three were good girls determined to make the world a better place, or at least improve Harmony. Maryland taught school, Virginia married a preacher, and Georgia became a nurse. They were women on missions. The type Tinch had spent his life avoiding.

“Sit down on the table and keep quiet,” Georgia said as she shoved his chin back and poked around the wound running half the length of his forehead. “It doesn’t look all that bad. If you had any brains they would have dribbled out a long time ago. I’ll send in the doctor.”

“Aren’t you going to give me something for the pain?”

She shook her head. “Judging from your breath, you’ve already had enough.” She tossed him a towel. “Try not to bleed on anything.”

Tinch grinned. “Thanks, darlin’.”

“Don’t you dare darlin’ me, Tinch Turner. You’re a walking one–man demolition derby. Stay here; I’ve got people who care about themselves to try to mend.”

She was gone before he could bother her more. Tinch shrugged. He liked “the states,” as everyone called her and her sisters, but he had a feeling they were passing around a petition to have him banned from town. Maryland had told him the last time she saw him that the way he drove was a bad influence on her high school students, and Virginia had been praying for him for so long, her knees were probably callused.

Tinch lay back on the examining table, wishing he’d brought the rest of the bottle of whiskey with him. When the door opened, he didn’t even look up. He was just about beyond caring for anything or anyone in his life.

“Mr. Turner, I’m Dr. Spencer,” someone said as she moved close to the table.

Tinch opened one eye, but he couldn’t see much through all the blood.

“Lie still and I’ll take a look at that cut.”

He didn’t move as she cleaned the blood away with a warm towel. “Any chance it’s fatal?” he mumbled.

The all–business voice answered, “Afraid not. You allergic to anything?”

He closed his eyes. “Work. Women. Hospitals.” He felt a shot poke into his arm. “Silence. Snakes. And Wednesdays. I hate Wednesdays. And kids. Strange little things, always running around screaming in stores.” He thought of more things he was allergic to, but he couldn’t seem to get the words out.

For a few moments he knew the doctor was still there. He felt her pushing his hair away from his forehead like Lori Anne used to do. He could almost see Lori Anne smiling at him, saying she wanted to see his beautiful blue eyes better. She’d claimed she could measure his love for her in his eyes, and he’d never doubted she could.

Lori Anne’s face faded and he dropped away into blackness.


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