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Love Comes Home
By Terri Reed
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope." - Jeremiah 29:11
She was home.
Inhaling deeply the fresh scent of pine and exhaust-free air, Dr. Rachel Maguire stared at the seven-story redbrick building, the words Sonora Community Hospital spelled out in bright blue letters across the side. A strange tightness pulled at her chest. As a child, this had been the first hospital she'd ever entered.
Her gaze dropped to another set of letters above the door in front of her. Her breath froze. The emergency entrance.
She shied away from using the double sliding doors, and instead followed the tidy walkway, carpeted on either side by lush green lawns, leading to the main entrance. The early-June sun warmed her face, and from high in the branches of a towering pine an unseen bird chirped a melodic tune. Off in the distance to the east, the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas rose to meet the clear blue sky. Even to her untrained eye, the vibrant greens and hues of brown and gold dotting the hillside were a painter's dream.
She paused, alert to the eerie peacefulness and serenity around her. With no outside noise to blend with, the unsettled, restless feelings she constantly lived with clamored for attention. She closed her eyes and willed the chaos to subside. She missed the pulsing beat of Chicago.
But not returning to California hadn't been an option.
Mom G. needed her.
Rachel took a deep breath, adjusted her grip on her small suitcase and walked through the sliding doors of the main hospital entrance. Even inside the hospital, tranquillity reigned. People waiting in the lobby area spoke in lowered tones and soothing, classical music played from somewhere overhead. She stepped briskly up to the administration desk.
"I'm looking for Mrs. Olivia Green's room."
The woman behind the desk smiled. "Hello, Rachel."
"Hello." She struggled to put a name to the round, wide-eyed face.
"Polly Anderson, now Campbell. You were a year ahead of me in school."
"Oh." Rachel didn't remember her, but smiled politely. "Hello, Polly."
"Your mom is on the fifth floor, room six. She'll be glad to see you. Welcome home."
Rachel blinked, surprised that anyone here would remember her after all this time and that there would be such open friendliness. Her fast-paced world had little time for niceties.
"Thank you, Polly," she said, and hurried to catch the elevator.
The doors opened on the fifth floor. Emotionally steeling herself, she stepped out. With a purposeful stride, she headed down the corridor. Overhead, the fluorescent lights glowed bright. A distinctive, familiar antiseptic smell assaulted her senses and settled in the back of her throat, offering her a measure of comfort.
Strange, she'd never before noticed how the quiet hum and soft beeping of machines coupled with the rumble of hushed voices lent the air a surreal quality. She'd spent so many years working in hospitals that her senses had grown accustomed to the surroundings. She couldn't remember ever noticing the atmosphere of her work. It was all part of being a doctor.
Only, this wasn't her hospital and she wasn't here as a doctor. She was a visitor. A chill ran down her spine. Someone she loved lay in one of these rooms. Even though she'd reviewed Mom G.'s chart and knew her prognosis, the older woman's condition didn't seem real. Rachel didn't want it to be real.
She stopped. Her breathing turned shallow. A long-suppressed memory surfaced, and her mind reeled. Memories of walking down a similar corridor. She'd been six years old, her hand held firmly in the grasp of Nurse Claire, the woman who'd taken charge of her after they'd arrived at the hospital.
"Is my mommy all right?"
The woman's kind gaze regarded her steadily. "I don't know, honey."
Not much comfort there. There'd been no daddy to run to, either. After her mother had died, no man had come forward claiming her as his daughter. No one had wanted her.
Until years later, when her foster mother, Olivia Green, legally adopted her. But she'd insisted that Rachel keep her last name in honor of her mother.
Mom G. gave Rachel not only a place to belong but reason to hope. The generous woman's loving nature had stirred up Rachel's pain of losing her mother. And Rachel had finally given in to the tears she'd held so long. In her gentle wisdom, Mom G. had suggested Rachel channel her grief into making a difference in the world.
God had handed her a purpose in that moment. She would become a doctor so she could improve and change the triage techniques used in emergency rooms, procedures that had cost her mother her life. That was Rachel's life goal, her focus, never to be forgotten nor sidetracked from.
She squared her shoulders and continued walking.
Standing outside of room 6, she whispered, "Lord, I need Your strength."
When she pushed open the door, the fragrant scent of gardenias greeted her and she smiled, pleased to know the flowers she'd ordered had arrived. She wanted Mom G. to be surrounded by the things she loved.
Rachel stepped inside the cheery private room, her gaze taking in the woman she loved so dearly. She'd seen thousands of patients hooked up to IVs, heart rate and blood pressure monitors, and machines that helped the body function, but seeing the once-vibrant and beautiful Olivia Green hooked up accordingly made Rachel's knees wobbly. She quelled the uncharacteristic sensation by sheer will. She wouldn't give in to any weakness.
Remember your purpose.
But she hated seeing Mom G. so still and quiet. Rachel's gaze swung to the monitors. Heart rate, steady. Blood pressure, within a reasonable range.
Then her mind focused on the complete picture. A man sat beside the bed holding one of Mom G.'s hands. His bent head caused his tawny hair to fall forward over his brow. Dark blond lashes rested against bronze skin. His mouth moved with silent words.
Rachel swallowed. Agitated butterflies performed a riotous dance in the pit of her stomach. She blinked several times, hoping the man would disappear.
Josh Taylor. What was he doing here?
As though he'd heard her question, he opened his eyes and lifted his head. Their gazes locked. A smoldering blaze ignited and heat shimmered between them. Rachel drew in a cooling breath. She wouldn't allow this man to burn her again.
Excerpted from Love Comes Home by Terri Reed Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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