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September 5, 1984
Atlanta Memorial Hospital
Rachel Williams ached all over and her muscles were stiff from hours of sitting...waiting...praying. The only sounds in the glass-fronted C.C.U. room were the rhythmic beeps of the heart monitor that kept syncopated time with the noisy respirator. After a brief glance that encompassed the narrow bed and the once-vital man who lay beneath the sheet, she stood, stretched, then walked slowly toward the only window in the room. With a shaky hand, she parted the blinds.
Darkness. No stars. No moon. Only the lonely, twinkling lights of a city gone to sleep.
How strange, she thought. Darkness, life. Light, death. It should have been just the opposite. But for her, nothing had ever been as it should. Not since the beginning of her life with Tim, then her life with Jon. The darkness of a terrible war was her life with Tim. The flashing lights of a car, a drunk driver...
She squeezed her eyes shut then opened them. No. She mustn't think of Tim now. Tim was her past, gone forever. Jon was both her past and present, her savior after Tim. And Jon was still her future, she added fiercely...still alive. But just barely.
Jon, along with J.J., Liz and Crystal were her world--J.J., Jon's son, now a grown man and a far cry from the little boy she had raised since he was three; and Liz, Rachel's daughter, the fatherless baby that Jon had so unselfishly claimed as his own; and finally Crystal, the granddaughter that both she and Jon had been so proud of, had tried so hard to help Liz raise in spite of Liz's alcoholic husband, another casualty of yet another war.
Rachel winced. PoorCrystal. So troubled, so confused. Would J.J. be able to persuade her to come home now that Jon might--might--"Please, dear God," she whispered. "Don't take Jon from us. Don't let him die...."
The swishing of the door opening and the almost silent tread of rubber-soled shoes interrupted Rachel's prayer.
It was only Margaret making her regular nightly rounds. Out of the four nurses who attended Jon, Margaret was Rachel's favorite. Her no-nonsense attitude and down-to-earth manner always put Rachel at ease. Margaret was not one to fawn and solicit like the rest. It didn't matter to her that Jon had financed one of the most modern research wings at Atlanta Memorial, the largest research hospital in the South. And it didn't matter to Margaret that just one word from Rachel could cost the nurse her job. Margaret's sole concern was her patient's welfare, a trait Rachel respected with all of her being.
Several moments passed as Margaret checked Jon's vital signs, then Rachel felt Margaret's plump hand softly pat her shoulder. "No change," she said. "He's still the same."
The tightness along the back of Rachel's neck eased a bit, and she let out the breath she'd been holding. Thank you, Lord. Then again she offered up the silent litany she'd repeated during the last three days. Please don't take Jon from me. Not yet. Please.
"Why don't you get some sleep?" Margaret said.
"It's almost midnight."
Rachel shrugged. "Maybe. In a little while."
"I promise to wake you if there's the least little change."
Rachel tried to smile. Margaret was a nag but a well-meaning nag. No one seemed to understand that sleep wasn't important, not for her. Only Jon's recovery was important.
"Come on." Margaret patted the small cot that had been placed in the room just for Rachel, an almost unheard-of precedent in the C.C.U. Ward.
"Just rest a few minutes."
Rachel glanced over at her husband and then at the monitors. Margaret said nothing had changed, that he was the same. And she trusted Margaret. Without a word, Rachel nodded. Tomorrow would come all too soon, and deep down, she had a feeling she would need her wits about her for the ordeal she would have to face.
She still couldn't believe the events of the past three days. First Jon's massive heart attack, then the strange, disturbing visit from his attorney.
Rachel, only vaguely aware that Margaret had left the room, sat on the edge of the cot and felt her stomach knot with apprehension. The day Jon had been rushed to the emergency room, his attorney had shown up at the hospital. That he'd come hadn't surprised her, since Jack Warren headed up a small but prestigious firm that worked exclusively for Jon. A well-groomed, ultraconservative man in his mid-forties, Jack had been waiting for her when she'd stepped out of C.C.U.
"Oh, God, Rachel." He'd hugged her briefly then pulled away. "I'm so sorry."
Rachel had simply nodded, still feeling too numbed by Jon's heart attack to really comprehend what was going on around her.
With his arm around her shoulder, Jack urged her toward a nearby waiting room, then motioned at a chair near the window. As soon as she sat down, he began pacing back and forth in front of her.
"I hate to be the bearer of more bad news--" He abruptly stopped. Taking her hand in his, he knelt down beside her. "I wouldn't bother you unless it was urgent, but I don't know what else to do."
Something about the desperation in his tone got through enough to jolt her out of her stupor. "You're scaring me, Jack. What is it?"
"I had visitors yesterday--a woman and a man," he told her. "They barged into my office without an appointment." Jack released her hand long enough to shove his fingers through his hair.
"Come on, Jack. Just spit it out."
For long seconds he gazed starkly into her eyes.
"She--the woman--claims that she's Jon's wife, and the man says he's Jon's son."
Rachel was so stunned she couldn't utter a sound. Even the thought of such a thing was preposterous.
"She has proof," he continued. "Legal documents."
Rachel immediately thought of the many trips Jon had made to Europe during their married life. He'd had opportunity for an affair.... Then she dismissed the thought. Jon was a good man, devoted to her and their children. He would never betray them.
"It's a lie," she was finally able to whisper. "I'm Jon's wife. Have been for over forty years. Legal documents can be forged."
"There's more," Jack continued. "The woman wouldn't elaborate, but she also indicated that there is something so sinister in Jon's past, something to do with World War II, that if it were made known, the whole world would sit up and take notice."
"Sinister? The war?" There wasn't a sinister bone in Jon's body. The woman was lying. She had to be. And Rachel refused to think about any other possibility.
Then Jack told her that the woman had threatened to go to the press with her ludicrous claims. And Jack, like Rachel, had sense enough to know that the news media was the last thing they needed right now. So far, they'd been able to keep the news of Jon's heart attack quiet. Even the hint of scandal on top of Jon's sudden illness would affect too many lives, too many jobs.
After talking a while longer, they had finally agreed that she would meet with the woman...tomorrow.
Rachel looked up and stared at Jon. It was still hard to believe that he might die, and even harder to believe there was a possibility he could have deceived her for so many years. Since his heart attack, he hadn't regained consciousness, and the doctors had given her little hope that he would. The sudden thought that Jon could die without her ever hearing the truth from his lips caused her blood to run cold.
"No," she whispered fiercely. She couldn't think that way. Jon was not going to die, and she already knew the truth. The woman was an impostor, a char-latan. Tomorrow, she would face this fraud and expose her.
Rachel lay back on the hard cot fully dressed. It didn't matter what she looked like tonight. Jon wouldn't know and Margaret didn't care. The morning was time enough to once again look sleek and sophisticated...and in control. In the morning she could once again become Mrs. Jonathon Williams. But tonight, she needed to gather her strength for the ordeal ahead. For reasons she didn't completely understand, she felt the pull of her past, her heritage. Tonight she needed to remember what it felt like to be Rachel Thompson again and how she got to where she was.
Remembering the past always made her strong....