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Once he'd written up the charts and the nursing shift had changed, the hospital settled down to its usual midnight calm.
The drag of an overfull day sucked at his energy, but Dr. Jared Steele kept pushing himself to stay awake, kept looking for some sign that their newest patient, a young boy from Venezuela, would make it.
Joy to the world.
The carol poured from the caretaker's radio down the hall.
Christmasit used to be such a happy time. That last one, Diana had dressed Nicholas up like Santa's elf
He slammed the door closed on the thought, forced his mind to blank out the pain.
At three o'clock one of the nurses brought a fax from Elizabeth Wisdom.
Sending you help. Best there is. Don't spoil it. E He shoved the paper in his pocket, stifled the epithet that rose up his throat. Do-gooders who thought life in Hawaii would be little more than a beach vacation. Doubtful this one would last three monthslike the others.
Jared leaned back in the chair, stretched his legs in front and began rotating his head, trying to ease out the crick in his neck. The boy awoke, watched him.
Jared checked to see if the nurses were around. They weren't. He reached out, picked up the boy's hand. Steady pulse. Good.
"Hey, champ," he whispered. "You're hanging in there. You keep doing your part and I'll do mine, okay?"
The solemn gray eyes blinked. "Not much of a Christmas for you, is it?"
No response. "I know how you feel." He rubbed his thumb back and forth over the baby-smooth skin, reminded of another child, one who'd been stolen from him. "Close your eyes and relax. It's okay. I'm here. I'll take care of you."
He kept talking and eventually the boy's lashlesslids drooped, his chest moved in a smooth even rhythm. But Jared didn't leave and he didn't go to sleep. And when the boy flatlined he was there to begin resuscitation immediately.
"Don't die on me," he whispered as he pressed the thin chest repeatedly. "Too many have gone already. You have to live."
The heartbeat fluttered back. "That's right. You can do it. Come on."
But as the dark night grew chilly and shadows moved outside, Jared recognized the signs of his own powerlessness and chafed against it.
"Don't go," he begged. "The world needs kids like you to make it better." But the boy remained comatose. At four-fifteen the little life began slipping away.
Jared forced the prayer from his heart. "Don't take him. He's just a kid. His parents have only him." The heart monitor stumbled, came back slower, less responsive. Bitterness welled in a wave so large he could hardly swallow past it.
"You have Nicholas," he said. "Isn't my son enough?" No answer.
Jared dredged up long-forgotten training, coaxing the frail body to call upon its last resources. By six o'clock he was able to hand over to his assistant, assured that for now, the child would live.
He walked out of the mission to the rocky precipice that overlooked the silver-gilt ocean and watched the flickering rays of sun smear the morning sky crimson. In the caverns of his mind Jared heard a squeaky little voice he hadn't heard in three years.
A voice silenced by a madman. "Look, Daddy, a boat on Christmas morning. Is it Santa Claus?"
"Why?" he whispered, heart squeezing in misery. The sun ascended. Humanity awoke. Around the world people were opening their gifts, laughing, loving. But inside Jared's soul lay a barrenness that yearned for answers.
Heaven remained mute.
Two days later
"It's a mission. A hospital for burned children. It's called Agapé and it's in Hawaii."
Dr. GloryAnn Cranbrook struggled to absorb the information. She'd known Elizabeth Wisdom for ten years and never once had she heard anything about a mission. Just how many projects did Elizabeth and her foundation have?
"Hawaii?" she repeated, uncertain she'd heard correctly.
"Oahu." Elizabeth's dreamy smile hinted at fond memories. "I was asked to sit on the board of Agapé many years ago bya relative."
So Elizabeth was connected to the mission. But Glory knew a lot about The Wisdom Foundation and she knew Elizabeth had no siblings, so this mystery relative was intriguing.
"Agapé has been internationally recognized for its work with injured children." Sixty-plus years hadn't left a mark on Elizabeth's clear skin. "Our mission boasts the latest in equipment, specialized staff, and with Dr. Steele's new grafting procedure, the latest treatment for burned children. Your job would involve working with him as on-staff pediatrician. For six months."
"I did spend a large part of my internship on burn wards," GloryAnn admitted. "I also spent a year studying the psychological effects of physical damage as it impacts a burn victim."
"Because of your mother." Elizabeth's austere face softened.
"Yes. She suffered greatly." Her chest constricted with the ache of loss. "She was the most beautiful woman I've ever known."
Elizabeth touched her shoulder, brown eyes melting with sympathy. "I know you promised her you'd go back to the Arctic, to the Inuit."
"I have to." GloryAnn knew Elizabeth would understand.
"Of course. But I understand there is now a temporary doctor servicing your village. If you could delay your return by six months, to help the children at Agapé, I'd really appreciate it. Only until I can find a successor."
GloryAnn took a deep breath. There was only one response she could make.
"If that's what you need, Elizabeth, I'm more than happy to go."
"I had no intention of asking you so soon, but" GloryAnn leaned forward, covered the long thin fingers with her own.
"You and your foundation gave me back my dream, paid for me to continue at medical school after Dad died, when there was no possible way I could have gone on. I can never repay you for that." She smiled at her benefactor, squeezed her arm. "I'll be happy if I can pass on even a portion of the generosity you've shown me."
"Dear Glory. Thank you so much." Elizabeth enveloped her in a hug perfumed with her favored jasmine.
"Of all the women I've selected for scholarships, you've seemed the most like my daughter. I promise you won't regret this decision. In fact, I'm praying that God will use you to do great things at Agapé."
"I don't care about great things. I just want to do His will, to make a difference wherever He sends me," GloryAnn murmured softly.
"And you will, my dear. I know it."
Elizabeth smiled with a confidence GloryAnn envied. * * *
So this was what paradise looked like in January. "We are almost there, miss," the driver told her. "Thank you."
GloryAnn peered out the window, trying to get a better look at her new home. She caught the tiniest glimpse of the Pacific through a labyrinth of volcanic slopes. Honolulu's lights had long since disappeared, leaving polka dots of brightness sprinkled across the surrounding countryside.
The car swung hard to the left. GloryAnn clung to her seat with both hands, hardly daring to breathe as they sped along the winding road. Apparently her driver knew only two ways of drivingfast and faster.
Never in a million years would Glory have guessed she'd be living in Hawaii, even for six months. But how could she refuse Elizabeth's gentle request when the same woman had come to her rescue after her father had died. His death had left her with barely enough funds to pay back the loan he'd borrowed against his life insurance for her first year's tuition money. Elizabeth had been a mentor, a friend and, as it turned out, the only reason Glory had been able to complete her education.
This was Glory's opportunity to pass on Elizabeth's generosity.
A two-story white stucco building perched ahead of them gleamed in the moonlight. It was fronted by a big sign: Agapé. The letters looked as if a child had written them. Underneath, For the Keiki. For the Children.
The sweet, heady fragrance of bougainvillea wafted in, carried by a soft sea breeze that ruffled the American flag fluttering high above the building. Bright driveway lights chased away the shadows. Behind the building Glory saw intermittent red-and-white flashes burst into the sky.
"What's that?" she asked the driver.
"Life Flight. Helicopter. They bring the little ones." Probably not the best time to arrive. The driver opened the door and held it as Glory got out of the car.
"Thank you," she murmured.
She stood for a moment to soak up the sound of swaying palms, pounding surf and whisper-wind.
She followed the driver toward the big glass door. Inside, the mission was bustling. "Incoming, Dr. Steele." A woman in a crisp white uniform pulled a cart filled with supplies from a room behind the counter.
"I heard."A tall lean man appeared, short-cropped hair tousled, pale-blue eyes narrowed in concentration. He flung a chart onto the counter, settled his stethoscope around his neck as he moved. He paused in front of Glory.
"Who are you?"
"Dr. GloryAnn Cranbrook. Elizabeth Wisdom sent me."
"About time." He didn't bother with introductions but strode down the hall and out a door without a second glance.
"I'm Leilani Maku." The nurse offered a harried smile.
"Welcome to Agapé, Doctor. Do you want me to"
"Go. I'll follow." Glory grabbed a white coat off a hanger.
The driver had already left. Her luggage was still in the car but the helicopter's rasping rotors told her there was no time to think about that now.
She hurried after the others, pushing through the door they'd left from. It led to a hallway, which in turn led to a helipad on one side, an emergency ward on the other. She pushed open the outside door and stepped into the night. Dr. Steele was already halfway across the tarmac.
Glory hurried forward. "What's been done, Leilani?"
His nurse checked her paperwork. "The fax says they've been typed and matched. I've got a clean room set up for initial assessment. If we need more help, Dr. Sanguri is visiting his mother. He's in the village but he can be here in ten minutes."
"He's an ob-gyn!" Dr. Steele exploded as he waited for the helicopter to land. "He'll be no help."
"He's the only doctor near enough to pitch in immediately."
"I'm here." Glory stepped forward.
Leilani smiled, thanked her. Dr. Steele surveyed her from head to foot, his ice-blue eyes cold as any Arctic wind.
"I hope you can follow directions."
Welcome to Hawaii.
Jared Steele had one hand on the door the moment the helicopter touched down.
"Hey, Doc." A young pilot with a British accent jumped out, helped an accompanying nurse free two stretchers strapped inside. "Meet my friends, Tony and Joseph. Hang on, boys. Nurse Leilani will have you tucked up before you can say Bob's your uncle."
The lilt of his British accent lit up the boys' eyes. Or maybe it was his quick smile.
"What happened?" Dr. Steele surveyed his patients.
"They were at an international kids' event on Maui. Somebody thought it would be fun to douse their campfire with gasoline. The trip here didn't do them any good."
One glance at Dr. Steele's face told Glory he saw what she didthe first child didn't have much time.
"Leilani," he ordered, "get another IV in if you can. Now."
Leilani waved over attendants, who transferred the boy onto the waiting gurney. They hurried inside.
The second boy was wide-awake. Though he looked in pain, he managed to twist his head so he could watch the doctor who was studying his damaged face. Dr. Steele shook his head at the sacrilege, grabbed the edge of the stretcher and began to move.
"Clean room. Stat," he ordered, his voice harsh. The boy murmured something unintelligible. Dr. Steele glanced at the pilot who was trailing along beside him.
"I can't understand him."
"German. He wants to know if he's going to die."
"We're all going to die."
"That's no answer." The pilot's lips pinched together in an angry line as the two men eased the front wheels of the rolling stretcher through the doors.
"Tell him whatever you like." Dr. Steele glared at the pilot's grip on his sleeve. "Don't they teach you to move when you're asked?"
"Yes, Doctor, they do. They also try to teach us a little human kindness. You should try that."
"Finished?" They glared at each other like leashed pit bulls.
"Yeah, I am."
"Then get out of my way." Dr. Steele pushed the boy forward, his expression implacable.
Glory grabbed the exit door and held it open so the end of the bed wouldn't jar. She followed doctor and patient to the clean room and began treatment automatically, wincing at the extent of the injury. No wonder Dr. Steele was angry.
"I need to see to the first fellow." He rested a hand on the door. "Can you manage here?"
"Yes." She glanced at him, recognized indecision on his face. "I'm fine. Go."
The boy wept silently as Glory worked. The body's ability to tolerate shock only lasted for so long. This one had just about maxed out.
"What did they give him?" she asked the nurse assisting her, mentally juggling protocols.
The nurse read from the chart that had accompanied the boy.
"Okay. Blood pressure's still dropping. Let's go about this in another way." Glory issued new orders, kept one eye on the monitors and worked hard until the child's vitals finally responded.
Working silently, she did what had to be done, but she couldn't stop a tear from trickling down her face, over the mask she wore.