Aftershock - By Jill Sorenson

CHAPTER ONE

LAUREN BOYER CLIMBED into the passenger seat of the ambulance, nodding hello to the EMT behind the wheel.

Joe arched a brow. “I thought Alanis was working.”

“We switched a couple of shifts,” she said, stashing her purse and extra uniform. “I didn’t feel like staying home.”

“You should’ve gone to Vegas.”

“Why would I do that?”

He fiddled with the switches on the console, avoiding her gaze. “With your girlfriends. You know. For fun.”

“The bachelorette party got canceled, Joe. Just like the wedding.”

That shut him up.

She didn’t want to talk—or think—about her broken engagement, which was why she’d offered to cover for Alanis. Michael had called it off six months ago, before the invitations were sent but after the announcement had been made. Although she hadn’t discussed most of the details with Joe, he knew they’d set the date for this weekend.

“We’ve got chest pain in North Park,” he said, pulling out of the parking lot and heading toward the freeway on-ramp. Lauren glanced at the digital clock on the console. It was 8:01 a.m. The April sky was already so blue and bright it hurt her eyes.

Joe’s lucky dash-ornament, a hula girl with a grass skirt, swayed her hips gently as they drove over a bump.

North Park was one of San Diego’s rougher neighborhoods. Their ambulance station responded to emergencies there on a regular basis. Michael had encouraged her to transfer to a quieter location, away from the heart of the city. Lauren had refused. She loved the energy and diversity of the downtown area.

Joe gave her a sideways glance. “It’s his loss, you know.”

She forced a smile, touched by his words. Joe had been her partner for three years and they got along well. Maybe he was right about Michael. She wished she could say that their breakup was his fault and she was better off without him. The only thing she knew for sure was that he planned to spend the weekend with his new girlfriend in Bermuda, while she rode in an ambulance next to Joe.

At least he’d come clean with her before they’d made the worst mistake of their lives.

The ambulance continued down the crowded freeway, sirens blaring. Traffic was backed up near the interchange, as usual. Joe weaved around cars with brisk efficiency. When a man in a silver Mercedes refused to move aside, they had to squeeze by on the left shoulder.

“Jerk,” she said under her breath as they passed him. Every day they encountered motorists who were too busy to pull over.

Two freeways converged at the 163 interchange, creating a chaotic tangle. Joe and Lauren were on the middle level, with roads above and below them, and multiple exit ramps on both sides. As they headed into the sea of traffic, Joe’s hula girl began to do a frenetic dance on the dash.

Lauren tensed as the road stuttered beneath them.

Earthquake.

The ambulance jumped up and crashed down hard enough to rattle her teeth. It felt as if they’d been rear-ended, but the impact had come from below.

And it kept coming. Their vehicle bounced like a Ping-Pong ball on the shuddering concrete.

Joe slammed on his brakes in an attempt to avoid a collision. There was no way for him to maintain control of the ambulance. It scraped along the inner wall of the underpass, sending sparks into the air.

He cranked the wheel to the right. “Shit!”

She braced herself for disaster, hanging on to the handgrip for dear life. The ambulance continued to jackhammer violently. Beneath them, the road undulated like a sheet in the wind. It was difficult to see clearly because of the jolting motions. When a blur of yellow sailed by, she realized it was a car falling from the upper level.

“Watch out,” she yelled, as if he could avoid the danger.

More vehicles careened off the top section, raining on the traffic below. The sound of crashing metal rang in her ears, accompanied by a low, ominous rumble. A tow truck landed on a minivan, crushing the inhabitants. Its gas tank exploded in a giant ball of fire.

People were dying. Right before her eyes.

Joe held the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip. Through his window, she watched a sports car hit the guardrail and flip in the air. She looked to her right, anticipating an impact on her side of the ambulance.

Then the road shifted, sending several nearby cars spinning off the edge. A second later, the entire freeway just...collapsed. With a stomach-curling groan, the middle section fell away. It buckled in half, folding across the