Read an Excerpt
The door into the corridor opened and Dr. Luke Strickland strode through it, bristling with purpose. In the weeks since Wallace's diagnosis, Heather had come to greatly appreciate the good doctor's utter devotion to his profession and his deft bedside manner. She couldn't help thinking that the Hamiltons and the Davis Landing Community General Medical Center were blessed to have him, despite the fact that he again wore that carefully blank expression which she had come to dread.
"Is everyone here?" he asked without preamble. Timothy stopped his pacing long enough to frown. "All but one — as usual." Tossing out his hands, he demanded of no one in particular, "Where is Melissa?"
"You didn't seriously expect her to show up, did you?" Jeremy asked mildly.
Tim fixed his brother with his intense brown gaze and lifted an eyebrow imperiously. "Today, considering what's at stake, yes."
The pair were often at odds, but these days they just couldn't seem to keep from butting heads, whether over Hamilton Media or the family itself, and Heather quickly moved to intervene in her own mild-mannered fashion.
"I called her cell before I came up in the elevator. No answer. I don't think she's coming."
"Well, that's just great," Tim grumbled, folding his arms.
"It's probably for the best, actually," Heather offered quietly. She glanced at her twin, Chris, expecting and receiving his silent support. "You know Melissa doesn't do hospitals well."
In truth, Melissa had been edgy and distant ever since their father's diagnosis. More often than not, she seemed to try to escape her problems rather than face them head on, and that appeared to be the case today. That was an issue that would have to be addressed at another time, though. Heather decided that she would have a private talk with her baby sister as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
"I suggest we just get on with it," Amy said pragmatically. Her senior by three years, Amy was also Heather's boss at the magazine. Unlike Tim, though, Heather didn't mind yielding authority to an older sibling. Amy was everything that Heather herself was not, a high achiever, self-assured, even forceful, not to mention well-groomed, stylish, graceful. In many ways, she was Timothy's female equivalent, except that she had been blessed with their mother's beauty and was blond and blue-eyed, whereas Tim was dark like their father.
Heather, on the other hand, was just Heather. Mousy, meek and quiet, stuck in the middle, always living too much inside her own head and content to be there.
It had always been that way. Even in high school, Heather had been the sister who'd disappeared into the woodwork, while Amy had been elected homecoming queen and most popular. Heather had persecuted herself with envy back in those days. Eventually, however, she'd come to accept that God had a different role for her.
As a result she'd managed to avoid jealous feelings for their beautiful blond, but troubled, baby sister. The others considered Melissa overly dramatic and rebellious, which she could be, but Heather sensed a deep well of pain in her, especially lately. Then again, their father's illness had shaken them all.
Dr. Strickland led the way from the sitting area into the bedroom of the hospital suite, with Jeremy, Tim and Amy following in that order. Heather and Chris crowded in behind them. Their mother stood at their ailing father's bedside, looking decades younger than her husband of thirty-five years, which just pointed out how very ill he was. Heather went straight to Nora's side and squeezed her hand.
During the weeks of her father's hospitalization, Heather had grown even closer to her mother. She supposed it was natural since she and Nora were often the only ones rattling around the house these days, especially after Vera Mae, their housekeeper and cook of many years, went home for the evening. The longer Wallace was ill, the more Melissa seemed to stay away. The other four Hamilton siblings had moved out years ago, keeping apartments and penthouses around town.
Nora momentarily laid her head on Heather's shoulder in a gesture of affection, then lifted her cheeks to receive supportive kisses from her other children. She slid a look around the room.
Heather gave her head a slight shake, feeling her long brown hair ruffle against her shoulders.
"Did you call the house?" Nora asked.
"She wasn't there when I left, so I called her cell instead," Heather said. "No answer."
Nora sighed and smiled wanly at Dr. Strickland, gripping her husband's hand. "Go ahead, Luke.What do the latest tests say?"
"Have we beaten it?" Wallace demanded, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.
His silver hair had thinned over the past weeks and would soon begin to come out in clumps if they had to continue the chemotherapy.
To Heather's dismay, Luke Strickland shook his head. "I'm sorry. The leukemia has not responded to treatment." Nora gasped, and Heather closed her eyes. Standing behind them, Chris lifted protective hands, resting one upon her shoulder and the other upon their mother's.
As a police officer, Chris alone had not gone into the family business, finding nothing at either Nashville Living magazine or its sister publication, the Davis Landing Dispatch newspaper, to spark his interest. Tall and dark like his brothers and just as intelligent, Chris was somehow more physical than either of them. He was also devout in his faith, though his work schedule made regular church attendance more difficult for him than for Jeremy, whom Heather could always count upon to join her and their mother for services.
It was Amy who asked the pertinent question, "What can we do, doctor?"
"The next step is the bone marrow transplant, isn't it?" Jeremy said.
The doctor nodded. "Yes. In fact, it's our only other option at this point."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Tim demanded impatiently. "I assume that the sooner it's done the better."
"That's true," Dr. Strickland agreed, his gaze moving purposefully around the room before coming to rest on Wallace himself. "Unfortunately, none of you is a perfect match."
Heather covered her mouth with a trembling hand as Nora swayed before abruptly stiffening her spine.
"What does that mean?" Amy asked quietly. "That we have to go to the national database for a suitable donor," the doctor explained.
"How long will that take?" Tim wanted to know.
Dr. Strickland shook his head. "That's impossible to say. We'll match him as quickly as possible, though."
"People wait years for transplants," Amy murmured, frowning.
"That's true," the doctor informed her, "but your father's condition is sufficiently grave to put him at the top of the list. I have to warn you, though, that if we don't find that perfect match soon, we may have to go with our second choice and hope for the best. Time is our enemy here."
"But we do have some time, don't we?" Nora asked with obvious desperation.
"Some. We're not beat yet, and while we're looking for that perfect donor we'll keep him comfortable and support him with appropriate treatments."
"Meaning more needles, I suppose," Wallace groused. Unruffled, the doctor smiled compassionately. "As if a little thing like a needle ever intimidated you."
Wallace humphed. "Entirely beside the point. No pun intended."
"We're going to beat this," Nora declared insistently, ignoring her husband's weak attempt to inject some normalcy into a nightmarish situation.
"Goes without saying," Wallace retorted, waving his free hand dismissively, but Heather noted that his knuckles were white where they gripped her mother's fingers.
"Mom's right," Heather said softly. "We'll just keep praying and trusting God. He knows how much we need you, Daddy."
"Thank you, dear. Now, if that's all, doctor, there are more important matters to consider at the moment."
Heather bit back a groan, knowing what was coming, just as did everyone else in the room, including Nora. Well or ill, Wallace would always be about Hamilton Media. Heather took comfort in knowing that nothing had changed in that regard. Nora, whose primary concern would always be the well-being of her family, obviously did not.
"Wallace, I forbid you to worry about business at a time like this."
He sent her an affectionate, amused glance. "Might as well forbid me to die, sugar, which, by the way, is something else I have no intention of doing anytime soon."
Tammy Franklin entered the room just then through a second door that opened onto the corridor. Busily efficient, the petite, pretty nurse checked the bedside monitors and the IV line at the patient's wrist, her blue eyes flicking intently from equipment to patient. Wallace ignored her, fastening his dark gaze on his eldest child.
"Jeremy, I want to know why you haven't signed that contract with the new accounting firm."
Jeremy squared his shoulders and calmly replied, "Because I don't believe it's in the best interest of the company. Why pay to have done what we already do so well ourselves?"
"Well?" Tim echoed disbelievingly. "How can you say that?"
The whole family knew that Curtis Resnick, a trusted employee, had betrayed both the company and the family — and Jeremy, in particular — by embezzling thousands of dollars.
"We have adequate oversights in place now," Jeremy insisted.
"Nevertheless, doing our own accounting is what allowed the problem to develop in the first place," Wallace stated sharply. "What makes you think an outside accounting firm will be any more honest than our own employees?" Jeremy countered. "The people left in that department are faithful and loyal. They had no part in what happened. They deserve to keep their jobs."
"Jeremy's right," Chris put in. "It's not fair to punish a whole department for one person's malfeasance."
"You have no say in this matter!" Wallace snapped. "Since you opt to put yourself in danger every day rather than take your place in the company — worrying your mother sick in the process, I might add — you have no right to comment."
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Dad," Chris said carefully.
"Nevertheless, I agree with Jeremy."
"You would," Tim muttered.
"Meaning what exactly, Timothy?" Jeremy asked, sounding genuinely perplexed. "That he takes his faith too seriously for your comfort?"
"Please, boys, that's enough," Nora pleaded. "Now is not the time. Your father is too ill for this."
"I am not too ill to look after the welfare of the company!" Wallace insisted. "My father and grandfather devoted their lives to Hamilton Media, and I simply will not allow a momentary physical weakness to harm it in any way!"
"Please, Daddy," Heather interjected softly. "If you can trust God with your health, surely you can trust Him and your sons to take care of the company for a while."
Wallace grimaced shamefacedly. "You're right, you're right. It's just that " He passed a hand across his forehead, and Nora followed it with one of her own. "I feel so helpless, stuck here in this bed."
"All the more reason you should rest and let us take care of things," Tim said.
"Good advice," the doctor agreed. "Have a little faith, Dad," Jeremy put in. "We won't let you down."
"Not that faith is an adequate substitute for hard work and dedication," Tim muttered, and Heather inwardly winced.
Jeremy immediately bristled. "Are you implying that I'm not dedicated, that I don't work hard enough?"
Tim had the grace to look abashed. "I didn't say that."
"You might as well have, so let me remind you, little brother, that I hold the reins at Hamilton Media now."
"Then do what you should," Tim demanded. "Bite the bullet and sign that accounting contract!"
"It's my decision, Tim, and I'm not bound by your opinions."
"I have a right to my opinions!"
"Please!" Nora interjected sternly. "Now is not the time."
"We're all too upset at the moment for this discussion," Amy interjected reasonably.