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He took one look at my face and his eyes softened with regret that I was seeing him like that.

Fifteen minutes later, I had the entire story, and it’s some crazy, whacked-out sci-fi shit too.

Apparently Duke is running a phase-one clinical trial—whatever the fuck that means—to try to eradicate a disease that is essentially terminal to patients. Recurrence of a glio-whatever-the-fuck-he-called-it is fatal. No cure. Nada. You’re going to die.

Except apparently Duke engineered some mojo fucking treatment, taking the polio virus of all things, mixed in a little bit of the common cold virus, and bingo, a half-teaspoon cocktail injected right into the center of his recurrent brain tumor.

I didn’t understand all of the technicalities, but Dave was very educated on what was going on. Apparently the virus breaks down the cancer so that it’s not invisible to the body’s own immune system. The theory is that then the immune system will in turn attack the tumor and kill it.

Hocus fucking pocus, but apparently the clinical trials have been working.


About 50 percent of the patients have done well, while 50 percent have died.

Still, as Dave says, “What did I have to lose? Fifty-fifty odds are pretty damn good when I was looking at zero percent chance of survival.”

The shitter was, those patients that died were probably due to overdosing of the drug. In a phase-one clinical, as he described it, the main priority isn’t to kill the cancer but to try to figure out the maximum dosage that would do the job without killing the patient.

So far, it appeared to be working for Dave. Perhaps a little too well, because once the virus started working on the tumor, it got inflamed, causing it to triple in size and put pressure on his brain. Dave had to go in for an emergency dose of steroids and a chemotherapy drug designed to reduce the swelling.

And amazingly, he seems to be feeling pretty good now that the inflammation is under control. He’s just under watch and will have another MRI to check the tumor’s size in a few weeks. He’s being monitored by Duke and it’s a wait-and-see game.

“Vale never hesitated,” Dave told me yesterday with equal measures of pride and guilt. “Quit her job without even discussing it with me once I got accepted into the trial.”

“Lucked out getting on with the Cold Fury,” I observed.

“Not luck,” Dave said slyly. “Called in a favor to Brian Brannon. We went to college together.”

“What did he owe you for?” I asked curiously.

“He didn’t,” Dave told me quietly. “But now I owe him everything. There wasn’t an opening on the staff, so he talked to Gray and they created that position so Vale could have a job.”

And I thought that was a fucking nice thing to do, because you don’t just add on a salary all willy-nilly within an organization like this. Made me even more proud to be part of this team and instilled in me some type of gratitude I felt like I really owed the Brannons now, on Dave’s behalf.

I watch the drills continue out on the ice, wondering if Coach is going to put me back in today. We’ve been out here almost two hours already, so it’s unlikely.

And yeah, this shit with Dave has me a bit wigged out, but that’s not the only thing that’s got my jockstrap in a twist.

In fact, probably not even the greatest thing.

No, that’s reserved for one Vale Campbell, and I can’t even begin to list all the ways in which she’s bothering me.

But I’ll give it a try, because there’s nothing else to do at this moment but ruminate on all the ways she’s tying my stomach in knots once again.

First, the long-standing grudge I’m carrying over the way in which she cut me out of her life. That sort of speaks for itself.

Second, the fact that even after all this time and all the bitter feelings, I still fucking feel something for her. I’m not sure if it’s an unrelenting longing for what we had, or the fact that I feel terribly sorry for what she’s going through right now. Hell…it’s probably because she’s still the hottest goddamn woman I’ve ever known despite how much she’s changed over the years, but it’s irking the hell out of me that I’m affected like this.

Third, the fact that she’s apparently got a boyfriend. That was clear last night when she answered the phone with a “Hi, honey,” all sweet and breathless sounding. No clue who the fucker was on the other line, but I wanted to pound him senseless, and feeling that way also irritates me.

Finally, and this is by far the most important thing that has my mind all tripped up, is that she started to say something—implied, really—that perhaps there had been an opportunity for us to reconnect years ago. It was subtle, and her words were cut off when her phone rang, but she clearly said, “Maybe you should have asked why back when…”

Asked what, Vale?

What? Why? What? Why?

All these fucking questions are driving me bonkers.

I left after she answered the phone, promising Dave I’d come back and see him in a few days. That’s one thing I’m not going to let go of, my renewed friendship with him. Not when he’s going through…

Christ, it hurts to even think about it.

Hurts to think about the way Vale must be suffering and terrified for her father.

One thing I know for sure is that she’s back in my life even if only by way of us working together, but now Dave is back in my life too, and I need to figure out a way to live with all this shit that’s been stirred up.

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