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To save a sick, orphaned boy, Anna Freeman must risk her own life. Little Paulo desperately needs a new heart. It's his only Christmas wish--well, that and building his first snowman. For the surgery, Anna must take him to a hospital in the city she once called home. A place she fled in fear years ago. Which means telling Dr. Lucas Bennett that the woman he's known all this time as a caring orphanage worker is really someone else. Someone with a very frightening past. And that the danger stalking all of them ...
To save a sick, orphaned boy, Anna Freeman must risk her own life. Little Paulo desperately needs a new heart. It's his only Christmas wish--well, that and building his first snowman. For the surgery, Anna must take him to a hospital in the city she once called home. A place she fled in fear years ago. Which means telling Dr. Lucas Bennett that the woman he's known all this time as a caring orphanage worker is really someone else. Someone with a very frightening past. And that the danger stalking all of them won't take Christmas Day off.
The boy was going to die.
Lucas stared down at Paulo, the nine-year-old child in the hospital bed, listening to the heart monitor blip and beep, the sound echoing through his brain as though amplified by a hundred microphones. An innocent child with no one in the world to care whether he lived or died—except the staff at the Amazon Orphanage in Tefe, Brazil.
With compassion crimping his heart, Lucas reached out a hand to brush a finger down the silky soft skin that, in the absence of a miracle, would never know a whisker. His knuckle bumped the oxygen tube attached to Paulo's nose and he stirred, eyelids flickering up, down, then back up. The brown eyes focused in on Lucas, and the boy smiled.
"Hey, Paulo. How are you doing? Hanging in there?" The Portuguese fell from Lucas's tongue with practiced ease.
"Sim," the boy breathed. "I will get a new heart soon, right, Doctor?"
"Soon, Paulo, soon." I hope. But here in Brazil, it wasn't likely. Even in some of the bigger cities where health care was improving, a heart transplant was a rare occurrence. The boy's best hope lay in the United States. He'd had Paulo on the list there for four months now. Paulo's time was running out.
"If I don't, I will die, yes?" Speaking drained his energy, but the look in Paulo's eyes told Lucas he'd better be honest. Paulo knew all about death as he came from the slums of Brazil. A place that made the slums of America look like high-class living.
Instead of answering with a yes, Lucas asked, "How would you like to take a trip to America?"
Brown eyes shot wide, hope mingling with disbelief as he stared up his beloved doctor. "America?"
Lucas nodded. "That's the only way you'regoing to be able to get a new heart."
"As soon as I can arrange for someone to take you."
"Will I get to build a snowman? I've always wanted to build a snowman. And see snow on Christmas day."
It was all Lucas could do to keep the tears from his eyes. He'd been a doctor for a few years, even had patients he'd become fond of, but Paulo He stroked the boy's hair. "Sure thing, Paulo, as soon as we get to America and get your new heart, we'll build a snowman for Christmas. It'll be here before we know it."
"He needs to go to the States?"
Lucas whirled to face the quiet voice from the door. "Anna." As always, his heart kicked into overtime as he watched her come into the room. She'd been his best friend for three years, but lately he found himself wondering if their friendship could become something more. And yet, he was hesitant to push it further for a couple of reasons. One, he knew her faith in God was her mainstay, and he didn't put stock in religion. You could depend on yourself and that was it. Still, he had to admit, as he'd watched her over the past few years, he was becoming more and more interested in God, simply because he saw something in her he'd never seen in anyone else. And two, she was hiding something, holding something back. And until he figured out what that was
Short, sassy curls framed a perfect oval-shaped face that held stunning blue eyes, high cheekbones and full lips. He watched those lips stretch into a sad smile as she zeroed in on the sick child. "Hi there, Paulo."
She didn't ask how the boy was feeling—it was pretty obvious. Walking around to the other side of the bed, she leaned down to press a kiss to his brown cheek, brushing black curls back from his forehead with her right hand.
The sound of Paulo's rasping breaths filled the room, but his entire countenance lit up when he saw her. "Miss Anna, you came to see me. Thank you. I love you. I'm going to build a snowman for Christmas, will you help me?"
Her eyes went wide as her breath caught on a suppressed sob. "Oh, Paulo, honey, I love you, too. And if we're together on Christmas Day, playing in the snow, you bet I'll help. Just try and stop me."
Lucas reached across Paulo to take Anna's hand and squeeze. Slender fingers gripped his, her throat working, lips trembling. Lucas watched her gain control and stroke Paulo's cheek, much in the same way he'd done earlier.
Paulo's lashes fluttered shut, sleep claiming him after the effort he'd just expended. Anna's blue gaze fixed itself on Lucas. "When?"
"As soon as possible. A week max. He's fading pretty fast. I've had him on the list for a while and he's moved up to the number two spot. I think it's time to go." He stood and motioned for Anna to follow him into the hall. "I made some phone calls and managed to get a plane on its way. A craft specifically designed for transporting medically fragile patients. It's got all the bells and whistles, almost better than an operating room. I just need someone to take him."
"Where's he going? Why didn't you tell me?"
Lucas blew out a sigh, rubbing a hand through his reddish-blond hair. "I'm sorry. I haven't really had a chance. All this came together so fast."
"No, it's okay," she rushed to assure him. "I want what's best for Paulo. I knew he was on the list, I'm just a little surprised it's actually happening, that's all. Where are you taking him?"
"Rocking Wave Beach, South Carolina. They've offered to do the surgery for free. If you can travel with Paulo, then I feel confident about sending him to one of the best hospitals in the country—Travis Memorial." He studied her, wondering if he should ask. But the thought of leaving her for an extended period of time did weird things to his emotions. He took a chance and blurted, "I know that since the orphanage is considered Paulo's guardian, one of the higher-level staff will have to accompany him, and I was hoping that would be you. If I can arrange it, would you be willing to go with me?"
"Rocking Wave Beach?" She didn't like the squeak in her voice but couldn't seem to help it. "I'd rather go anywhere than there. What about another hospital, in another state?"
Lucas frowned, hope drooping at her negative response. "No, my buddy from college has offered to do this at no expense. Everything is already arranged."
"And you want me to go with you?"
"Yes. Rocking Wave is perfect. It has one of the best heart-transplant hospitals in America. I pulled some strings and got Paulo lined up on a transplant list and he's almost at the top. There's only one other person on the list who's as sick as Paulo. And the surgery will be free."
She narrowed her gaze, rubbed her chin. Nightmares from her past paraded through her thoughts, mocking her, daring her. Could she finally face her fear?
Lord, what do I do? Taking a deep breath, she said, "Okay, I'll go with him you." Almost as though to reinforce the thought, she gave a decisive nod. "Yes, I'll go."
Lucas scrubbed a hand down a cheek. "You will? You're sure? He'll need round-the-clock care until he arrives at the hospital."
"That's where you come in, right?"
Lucas furrowed his brow. The indecisiveness on his face made her wonder what was going through his mind. "Yes. I grew up not too far from Rocking Wave Beach."
She blinked at the sudden switch in topic. What did his hometown have to do with Paulo? "So you said. I remember you telling me that during one of our little talks. Haven, North Carolina, right?"
Home to the comfortably wealthy about two hours from where she'd grown up. A complete and utter contrast to her childhood of poverty and struggle. Could she really go back there? To the place where her life had fallen apart?
She had no doubt that Shawn de Chastelain, the man who wanted her dead, didn't have a clue where she was right now or she'd have seen evidence of him a long time ago. But while he may be in jail, he still had his connections to the outside world. If she returned and he found out, her life would be in danger. She'd just have to keep him from finding out. She could go, be with Paulo, and when he sufficiently recovered, return home with him. Piece of cake, right?
Anna said her goodbyes to Paulo and told Lucas, "Let me know when you have the official dates. I'll start making arrangements to leave."
She left the hospital to head back to the orphanage, her mind swirling with memories breaking to the forefront of her thoughts. Pulling into her parking spot, she leaned her head against the steering wheel to gather herself together before climbing out of the Jeep.
Shawn de Chastelain and Rocking Wave Beach. The combination was enough to send her heart crashing against her chest in sheer terror. Bringing images from the dungeons of her mind to swirl in front of her, causing bile to rise to the back of her throat. She swallowed hard and gave up fighting the memories.
Four years ago, she'd been undercover on a sting operation for the FBI, and she'd barely escaped the city with her life. Just being in the same state would be diving headlong into the memories that became nightmares the moment she lay her head on the pillow at night.
Anna sucked in a deep breath. Lord, I can't go back.
I'm not strong enough to face those memories. Just setting foot back in the United States will bring it all back and I don't want to remember!
Chewing her lip, she pondered the fact that Rocking Wave Beach was a pretty big city. Surely, with a population of a couple hundred thousand, she wouldn't run into the killer that stalked her dreams; the one she'd allowed to nose-dive her career and almost cause her to have a nervous breakdown. For a long time, she'd hidden, bogged down by depression, despair dogging her every waking moment. It had taken a long time for her to stop wishing the bullet that had pierced her uterus and left her barren had been about a foot higher to go right through her heart.
But God had allowed her to live. By trusting Him to be faithful, to get her through that awful time, she'd beaten the depression and He'd led her to the children at the orphanage in Brazil. Children who had no mother, no father and no one to tell them they were beautiful and loved. But she'd done that and slowly she'd healed at least she thought she had.
Until she'd been asked to return to the city that haunted her dreams.
The thought brought into clarity the image of the man she'd helped put away.
Shawn de Chastelain with the military crew cut, strong jaw, bright white teeth outlined by firm, full lips that stretched into the smile that often graced the lifestyle section of the Rocking Wave Beach newspaper. His muscular shoulders had looked like they could support the world's burdens. He also had a heart of evil, the soul of a killer.
Only he'd never been convicted of the murder she'd witnessed. The FBI had gotten him on tax evasion but not murder. Yet. She shuddered, pressed a hand to her abdomen and prayed for the strength to do this. Prayed for the courage to face her fear and defeat it.
Turning off her thoughts, she finally left the car and entered the front door to the orphanage. Instead of stopping by her office, she went straight for her small suite of rooms located just down the hall. Stepping inside, she paused and looked around. Nothing out of place, everything organized just so. She grabbed a can of soda from the minifridge.
Booting up her computer, she was relieved to see the Internet connection giving off a strong signal. With all the storms out here, the connection was intermittent at best. A few clicks brought up her homepage which was the Rocking Wave Beach News. She straightened. More news about de Chastelain. He was being released soon. No exact date yet.
Anna took another sip and gripped the can so hard she crunched it. The crackling noise and cold liquid running down her fingers jerked her from her memories. Breathing hard, she set the can down, wiping her hand on her jeans, ignoring the stickiness.
What had happened to that evidence she'd found? She'd lost track of how many times she'd silently asked herself that question. Her colleague Justin didn't have an answer, either. The FBI agents who'd come in behind her should have found that memory card with no trouble. The sting operation had gone off like clockwork at least up to the point where she'd been shot and they'd realized someone had slipped through the cracks. So, who had messed up? Justin didn't know, and she was going to drive herself insane running it over and over in her mind.
Gritting her teeth, she shut down the computer. It didn't matter. She'd done her job, paid the price for doing it. She was in a different line of work now, didn't have to worry about men who killed, didn't have to wonder when she stepped outside whether a bullet would pierce her flesh. She definitely didn't miss the stress and tension of the job or the adrenaline high, the satisfaction of a job well done, the knowledge she'd made a difference in keeping someone safe for one more day. She didn't miss it at all.
Much. Terribly much. Well, maybe a little. If she could get over her fear
She was going back for Paulo. Just Paulo. Because she would need to be there to sign papers and offer him love and support. And that was it. Period.
"How's he doing?" Anna asked as she settled onto the love seat beside Lucas, two glasses of lemonade fresh from the fridge clutched in each hand. She ignored the pitter-patter her heart made whenever she was close to him or thought about him or pictured them together at some point in the future or Someday, maybe Uh-uh. Don't go there, Anna.
Ella, one of the orphanage staff who'd volunteered to go along as an extra pair of hands, snoozed on the pullout sofa off to the side. The plane cruised smoothly through the clouds at thirty-five thousand feet, due to land at Rocking Wave Beach Airport in approximately one hour. They'd flown all night, the two pilots taking turns sleeping and flying. She'd just had a nap in the queen-size bed at the back of the plane and felt refreshed in spite of what lay ahead.
Lucas looked up and took the glass of lemonade. "Thanks. He's sleeping right now."
"He's such a special kid. He's been a real trouper. I just hope
" She bit her lip, looking down at the plush carpet.
Posted December 16, 2008
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As a person who has a healthy obsession with Alias (the former TV show) and spy action romance dramas in general, this was a fabulous read for me to add to my shelves. I highly recommend it. I could easily compare it to reading Jill Elizabeth Nelson's spy action as well.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>This is book #3 and I have not read the first two, and I did not feel like I was missing anything. I do not know what the first two are about, but you better believe after this one that I plan to go back and read those as well as look for other titles from Lynette Eason to come.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>Anna and Lucas both have an individual past that they would prefer to leave behind them. The problem is to move further in their relationship they must come clean with their secrets. Another problem is that for neither of them is the past really willing to let go itself.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>There are so many things in life that we see that sometimes we miss the important parts. This is a great story about realizing the big picture and going the right way in life according to God's ultimate plan while noticing that many illusions can and will attempt to lead you astray.<BR/><BR/><BR/><BR/>I personally love it, and want more. Right now!
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Posted November 17, 2008
I Also Recommend:
Lynette Eason takes you on quite the ride in "Holiday Illusion". Combining both a suspense/thriller cornerstone with former FBI agent Anna Freeman returning to her home and the threat she left behind as well as a family story surrounding Paulo and his new heart, Lynette does not disappoint. At the center of it all is the deliciously handsome Dr. Lucas Bennett who strives to save the day and protect Anna. Or is it Lucas that needs the protection?? This book really moves from the very first page and keeps you guessing all the way to the end about who is after who?? The ending was a wonderful twist that I didn't see coming! Thoroughly delightful reading. I highly recommend this book and any of the other romantic suspense novels Lynette has written.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2008
Fabulous. It was a fast paced read, which is exactly what I like in a book. I¿m new to the suspense genre, but quickly growing to love it. Lynette Eason did a wonderful job bringing everything together as the book progressed. I just had to keep reading to find out what would happen next, or what kind of crazy situation was going to present itself. She described the numerous action scenes very well, whether it was a car chase or a shoot-out. I felt like I was there, watching the action as it happened.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2012
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Posted December 28, 2011
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