The instant Wynter Kline ducked through the archway into Perelman Quadrangle she was accosted by a wall of sound so overwhelming she nearly turned around and left. The block-wide flagstone square, flanked on all sides by the Collegiate Gothic and High Victorian brick buildings that typified the University of Pennsylvania, was jammed with three hundred fourth-year medical students. With music, beer, and convivial shouts, the members of the graduating classes from Philadelphia's four medical schools boisterously celebrated the most important event of their professional careers to date. Match Day was the long-awaited day when a computer program--having factored the variables of student rankings, interview results, and residency choices into a complex formula--ultimately assigned each fourth year medical student from every medical school in the United States to a single residency position. At least 95 percent of the fourth-year students matched, and the other 5 percent were left to scramble madly for the final unfilled positions or go without a job after years of grueling study.

Early May evenings were still a little cool, and Wynter wore a pale yellow cotton sweater over a white Oxford shirt, khaki chinos, and docksiders. Terminally preppy, she'd often been told. It wasn't so much a style statement as how she felt most comfortable, so she generally ignored the good-natured, and sometimes not so genial, comments of her family and friends. She definitely wasn't in the mood for a party and hadn't bothered to change after a day spent on the wards. In fact, she barely felt as if she belonged with the revelers. Before she could dwell on the odd sense of detachment that had befallen her the moment she'd been handed the envelope containing her match results, the jostling, shouting mass of students magically shifted out of her way.

Now that she could see more than the back of the neck of the person in front of her, she made out at least a half dozen kegs of beer, all tapped and dispensing foamy brew nonstop, and twice as many catering tables set end to end and littered with half-empty bottles of liquor and soda.

Somewhere, a rock band competed with the human voices through speakers that must have been fifteen feet tall, if the blaring decibels that beat against her tympanic membranes were any indication. Everyone was celebrating, or drowning their sorrows.

Wynter didn't yet know which fate awaited her--joy or anguish.

The envelope that held the key to her future, or at least the next five years of her life, was tucked into her back pocket. She was on the verge of escaping, having decided that she would rather not share this moment with hundreds of others. Particularly when she expected to be disappointed.

"Hey!" A wiry African American man a dozen years older than her own twenty-three pushed his way to her side. "You made it. I thought you were going to bail."

"Rounds ran late, and then two packed subway cars passed me by." Wynter smiled at Ken Meru. It seemed like only days, and not three years, since they had first introduced themselves over the white plasticshrouded form of their cadaver. Although they had initially had little in common other than their desire to be physicians, the many Saturday afternoons they had spent alone in the eerie lab, bent over the desiccated, foul-smelling remnants of what had once undoubtedly been a vital human body, surrounded by death as they struggled to understand the mysteries of life, had forged the bonds of true friendship. Wynter squeezed his arm and forced excitement into her voice. "So? Tell me.

What did you get?"


"Just like you wanted." She threw her arms around his slim shoulders and kissed his cheek. "That's terrific. I'm so happy for you.


His smile, already brilliant, widened, and with shy pleasure, he tilted his head toward the towering buildings visible above the campus Commons. "Right here."

Wynter struggled not to let him see her reaction, which was a mixture of jealousy and disappointment. He'd gotten one of the best positions available in a highly competitive field. His dreams were about to come true. But it wasn't Ken's fault that she hadn't been able to pursue her dream with the same freedom that he had. She was truly happy for him, but her heart hurt. She forced a smile. "University Hospital. That's...that's the best news, Ken. What did your wife say?"

Ken laughed. "Mina said I better not stay too late. She wants to take me out to dinner."

"Then you should probably get going, buster." Wynter frowned and tapped her Seiko. "It's already after seven."

"I will. I will. But what about you?" He turned sideways, pressing close to allow a gaggle of excited students to shoulder past. "Did you get surgery?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean?"

Wynter shrugged sheepishly. "I haven't looked yet."

"What? What are you waiting for?"

You wouldn't understand if I told you. I don't understand it myself.

She was saved from answering when Ken's cell phone rang. He pulled it off his belt and pressed it to his ear, shouting hello. A moment later he closed the phone and bent close to her.

"I have to go. Mina got a babysitter and says I'm to come home right now."

"Then you'd better go. Another month and you won't have that many nights to spend with her."

"Call me," Ken said as he eased away. "Call me tomorrow and tell me what you got."

She nodded, realizing as she lost sight of him that she was surrounded by strangers. She didn't know the students from the other schools and had rarely socialized with those from her own. She'd been part of the accelerated combined BS/MD program at Penn State and had begun her clinical rotation at Jefferson Medical College off-cycle with the other students. Unlike her classmates, she'd preferred to study in her Center City high-rise apartment and not the medical school library.

During her clinical years, she spent her days in the hospital, took night call every third or fourth night, and had rarely repeated a rotation with the same group of students. She had acquaintances but few friends, at least not in the medical community. Now with Ken gone, she had no reason to stay. I shouldn't have come. I'm not even a part of this.

Suddenly angry, she turned abruptly, intent on leaving. Her head snapped back as her chin slammed into the face of a dark-haired woman, and when her vision cleared, she found herself staring into stunned charcoal eyes. At almost five-eight, Wynter was used to being taller than most women, and she was as much surprised by the fact that she was looking up as she was by the sudden pain in her jaw. "God.


"Ow! Christ." Pearce Rifkin brushed a finger over her bruised lip.

It came away streaked with blood. "Score one for your team."

"Oh no." Wynter reached out automatically. "You split your lip."

Pearce caught Wynter's wrist and held her hand away from her face. "It's okay. Forget it."

Pearce surveyed her assailant intently. She didn't know her, because she was certain she would have remembered had they met. An inch or so shorter, wavy shoulder-length reddish brown hair generously streaked with gold highlights, and sapphire blue eyes. With her fresh features and clear complexion, she was a walking J. Crew ad. "You're going to have a hematoma on your chin."

"Feels like it," Wynter agreed, fingering the already palpable lump. "We both need ice."

Pearce grinned, then winced. "Lucky for us there's about a ton of it here." She held out her hand. "Come on. Follow me."

Wynter stared at the outstretched hand. The fingers were long, capable looking. A broad hand, strong. It suited the woman, whose athletic build was obvious beneath her tight navy T-shirt and low-slung faded jeans. Her collar-length black hair, carelessly cut and verging on shaggy, framed a bold, angular face. She looked more like a college jock or one of the gathering's bartenders than a soon-to-be doctor. Wynter took the hand, and warm fingers closed around her own. Then, she was tugged none too gently into the crowd. In order to avoid playing human bumper cars with those being forced out of her path, she pressed against the back of the woman leading the way.

"What's your name?" she shouted.

The dark head half turned in her direction. "Pearce. You?"


"Stay close, Wynter." Pearce clasped Wynter's hand more tightly and pulled it around her middle, drawing Wynter near as she faced forward and kept shoving. "Wouldn't want to lose you."

Wynter felt firm muscles rippling beneath her palm as Pearce twisted and turned and forged ahead. She was equally conscious of her own abdomen pressed to Pearce's backside. It was oddly intimate, and wholly unlike her. She was neither impulsive nor prone to letting others take charge. But here she was, being led--no, dragged--along by a stranger. She hadn't felt like her usual self-sufficient self for far longer than she wanted to admit, so she told herself that was the reason she didn't resist. Plus, she was curious. Curious about the woman who so confidently cut a swath for them as if she owned the Commons.

"Hey, Pearce," a man called out. "You're bleeding."

"No shit," Pearce called back. "Brilliant. You must almost be a doctor."

Raucous laughter followed them, until Wynter jerked Pearce to a stop. "Hey! Hold on a minute and turn around."

Surprised by the strength in the arm encircling her waist and the command in the smooth voice at her ear, Pearce halted and angled around in the crowd. "What?"