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"We need help, Amy."
Amy Graham remembered the director of the Amazon or-phanage's words. Ever since her mother had been arrested and sent to prison, Amy had felt as if she were foundering, seeking God's plan for a life that been flung off course. So she'd told Anna Freeman that she'd be glad to come to Brazil to put her RN training to work.
Now she was here, in Tefe, Brazil, not only to help nurse some sick people back to health, but to find family she'd just learned may exist. Excitement warred with fear of the unknown. What would they be like? Would they be interested in meeting her? She shivered, praying God would lead her, show her the direction to take with her search.
She looked around her and grabbed a stethoscope from the wall next to her. In the meantime, she'd do her best to help these poor, suffering people recover.
The sparse medical staff busied themselves rushing from one patient to another. A low moan sounded to her right. She stepped around the curtain and saw a man thrashing and kicking his covers on the cot.
Quickly, she moved next to him and grabbed the cloth from the water bowl that had been placed on the little stand next to the bed. Wishing the liquid was cooler, she worked with what she had and placed the rag on his forehead, watching his eyes twitch under his lids.
Obviously dreaming, his head tossed back and forth as he muttered under his breath. Amy slid the cloth over the scars that began on the left side of his face, covered his ear, then inched down the side of his neck to disappear into the collar of his shirt. Compassion filled her. He'd been in a serious fire.
Amy jumped, her heart pounding, and scrambled backward. The patient's eyes remained clenched tightly against whatever tormented him; he continued to mutter unintelligibly.
She slid back to his side, shook his shoulder and tried to soothe him. "Hey, it's okay, wake up." Amy knew as long as his fever stayed this high, he wouldn't understand a word she said. Trembling, he quivered with the effort to fight the illness. She grabbed his chart to see when he'd last been given medication. Four hours ago. His name was Juan.
"Is everything all right?"
Amy looked up to see the woman whose call had brought her here. Anna, looking concerned, peered around the curtain.
Amy nodded. "He's having a nightmare." She gestured with the chart. "His fever's back up and he needs more meds. It's been a little over four hours."
Weariness oozing from her like a living thing, Anna took the chart, looked at it and made a notation. "Let me get something from one of the nurses. All the medicine is kept on a rolling medicine cart and is labeled if you need to get something. But I'll go ahead and get his for you. Be right back." A moment later, she returned with a filled syringe. Some of the really bad cases, such as Juan, had IVs.
Inserting the needle in the IV port, Anna said, "I'm not a nurse, but I've been trained to give injections in this emergency situation, just in case you were wondering." She nodded to the patient. "Juan is special. Why don't you stick with him as much as possible? When he's sleeping peacefully, you can work with some of the children. But I think it would really help him to have someone here."
Amy looked back at the poor man. "What's so special about him?"
"He's an amnesiac. The most we could figure out is that he survived some horrific fire, got conked on the head, woke up from an eleven-month coma and can't remember a thing about himself."
Amy gasped. "That's awful."
"No kidding. The whole time he was in the coma, Dr. Bennett, our mission doctor, worked with him tirelessly. Physical therapy, daily massages, turning him almost hourly so he wouldn't get bedsores. He became the staff's special project. Dr. Bennett even found someone to cover for him at the mission and moved into the hospital for the duration. A plastic surgeon buddy from the U.S. flew in to do some skin grafts. Thankfully, the burns on his face weren't as bad as originally believed, so the grafts were mostly successful. The scars will continue to fade with time, although they'll never be completely gone. His torso took the brunt of the burns. When he finally woke up, Juan had to learn how to walk again, feed himself, toilet himself. Everything. Daily, he went through a strenuous workout regimen with weights. I've never seen anyone so determined to get better. It's absolutely amazing he's come this far in a year and a half. In fact, they've posted more flyers around the town asking if anyone recognizes him now. He looks a lot different than he did a year ago."
"JuanJohn? As in John Doe? And you don't know where he's from?"
"No. We know he's an American simply because of his accent. But he speaks perfect Portuguese. He actually woke up speaking that and didn't realize he could speak English until one day an American tourist was in the bed next to him. Lucas walked in on them carrying on a conversation in English."
"Why didn't they fly him back to America if they knew he was American?"
"Where would they fly him to? America's a pretty big country. Lucas figured if he kept him here, someone might come looking for him."
"So, how did he end up in the hospital?"
"He just showed up on the doorstep one day as close to death as you can get without actually dying. Someone had to have helped him get there, but obviously wanted to remain anonymous. Lucas answered the knock on the door, found him and immediately got to work on him. If it wasn't for Lucas "
A scruffy, red-tinged beard covered most of the lower part of Juan's face, the part that could still grow hair. There were a few bald patches. She wondered what color his eyes were. "How long has he been this sick?"
"Almost three days. The dengue-fever outbreak hit him hard. It doesn't help that his lungs were weak to begin with. He had inhaled a lot of smoke from the fire and was on oxygen for a long time. Now this upper-respiratory thing. Lucas said his breathing's okay right now, but if he gets worse, we'll have to put him on oxygen. In addition, he often has awful nightmares. They plague him, but he can't remember what they are when he wakes up. I wish we had a good psychiatrist that could help him, but out here, there's really not anyone. Dr. Bennett offered to fly one in for him, but Juan refused." Anna sighed, folded her papers to stick into the pocket of her white lab coat. "I'll be back. I've got to check on the little ones."
Amy grabbed the wet cloth once again. The medication seemed to be working; he was calmer, resting better, although he still frowned in his sleep. Dipping the cloth, she wrung it out as she studied his face.
He looked familiar, yet she knew she'd never seen him before. She swiped the rag across his forehead, down his scarred left arm to his hand. No ring, not even a line across his finger. Raised welts, healed burns, crisscrossed the back of his hand. She turned it over. His palm was free of scars, but calloused from hard work. She ran the cloth back up to his neck over features that shouted strength, determination and stubbornness. Those traits had obviously served him well, kept him alive. Now she would do what she could to make him comfortable and pray for his healing.
She was back.
Juan coughed, but the burning, smothering sensation had disappeared. He felt sweaty and cool. Terror suddenly struck him. How long had he been asleep? Would he be able to move? Afraid to try, he wondered how much of his life he'd lost this time. What if he had to start all over again?
That familiar feminine voice washed over him, soothing him, compelling him to come out of the darkness that pressed onto him. "Hey there, Juan. We need you to wake up and start eating something."
A cool cloth on his forehead brought some relief.
When she bent over him, Juan got a whiff of lavender soap, a scent that he'd come to associate with her presence. Often he knew she was there even before she spoke. Mustering all of his nerve, he pried open eyes that wanted to stay shutand looked full into her compassionate blue gaze. A messy, dark blond pony tail trailed over her right shoulder, soft tendrils escaping to frame her face. Smooth skin devoid of makeup stretched tight over delicate, high cheekbones.
A face to match the voice that brought him comfort. His nurse? He clenched his fist and breathed a sigh of relief. His muscles worked this time. He was okay. Memory came back; part of it, anyway. Dengue. Upper-respiratory infection. Fever, cough.
She smiled revealing perfectly straight white teeth. "Glad you're back with us. Would you like a drink of water?"
Juan let her smile wrap itself around his heart. "Please," he rasped.
Something rattled behind him, and she spoke again. "We've got ice water. Romero got the freezer working again and the new one arrived two days ago. Your fever is down, but just take a few tiny sips of the water, okay? Your body needs to recover."
"Yeah, I'm having flashes of déjà vu." He cleared his throat, used a shaky hand to place the cup against dry lips and sipped. "Thank you."
The effort exhausted him. Great. Back to square one. "What's your name?"
Pretty lady, pretty name. "Nice to meet you, Amy, I'm Juan. So, when can I get up and get back to my rooms?"
Amy shrugged. "As soon as you feel like you can, I suppose. I suggest you stay put for a couple more days."
Staying put wasn't an option. Juan had had enough of being sick and lying flat on his back. He shifted, groaned and sat up. Dizziness assailed him. He gasped at how weak he felt and flopped back onto the pillow.
Amy smiled a knowing, I-told-you-so smile, but said nothing. Juan grimaced and said, "I think I'll take a nap."
"I think that's a splendid idea." She reached out a steady hand to feel his forehead and Juan fell asleep to the touch of Amy's fingers trailing down his cheek.
Two days later, Amy took on the job of opening the cardboard boxes filled with medications that lay scattered around her feet. They'd arrived compliments of Lucas Bennett, who'd come from the medical mission to make the delivery and check on patients.
She thought about everything as she stocked the medicine carts. She'd had little sleep in the time she'd been here, but that didn't seem to matter. Especially when it came to Juan. He'd become as special to her as Anna had said he was. From feeding him to provide much needed nourishment; to calling on Romero, the orphanage handyman turned do-what-needs-to-be-done man to help with Juan's basic needs; to the act of fluffing his pillow; she did it all. These were the kind of giving, selfless acts that gave her more satisfaction than purchasing a painting for six figures ever had.
Shaking her head over her past and the things she used to consider important, she thanked God for showing her the true meaning of worth, love and service. That serving Him was all that mattered. She just wished she could get over the guilt that accompanied every thought of what her mother had done and the deaths she'd caused, including that of Amy's friend, Micah McKnight. Tears always accompanied thoughts of Micah. He'd been on a SEAL mission in this very jungle, killed on the mission her mother had managed to gain information about. Her mother had then betrayed Micah.
Her mother. A woman so evil it scared her. She slapped the last of the medication into the cart with a thud, her breathing quickening with thoughts of the past. She would not turn out like her mother, she vowed on a daily basis. Amy would try her best to do everything in her power, with God's help, to make a difference in this world for the better. She'd started with revealing her mother's criminal activities, which resulted in saving Cassidy McKnight's life; unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about Cassidy's brother, Micah. He was dead, his body never recovered. Now she was spending time helping here to make amends.
Amy swung away, hating the direction of her thoughts, yet unable to send them down a different path. Needing a distraction, she set out to find Juan to see if he needed anything. Her feet led her over to his curtained-off area. Absently she noted some retreating footfalls to her right. Pulling the curtain aside, she stopped and stared, shock and horror ripping through her. A pillow covered Juan's face, indentations from someone's grip fading as the foam slowly returned to its original shape. In the blink of an eye, she propelled herself to Juan's side and yanked the pillow from him.
"Lucas! Help!" she hollered even as she leaned over to check Juan's breathing. His lips had a blue tinge, his chest was still. Without a second thought, she pinched his nose, tilted his head back, placed her mouth over his and blew.
She came up for air, then leaned over him and blew again. And again.
More footfalls sounded behind her, this time running toward her, not away.
"What is it?" Lucas demanded.
On her next breath, without bothering to turn, she said, "He's not breathing."
Then she went down to force air into his lungs, once more pleading with God to make him breathe. Finally, with her next puff of life-giving air, Juan gasped, choked and pulled in his own breath.
"Oh, thank You, Jesus." Amy slumped to the floor, shaking, trying to control her adrenaline rush and subsequent reactions while Lucas took over, checking Juan's vitals. He slipped an oxygen mask over Juan's face, cranking the knob to its highest level. Lucas patted his cheek. "Come on, man, open your eyes. Talk to me."
Juan's eyes flickered, opened and stared. He blinked. "What happened?" he mumbled around the mask.
Amy, still quivering, placed her fingers over her mouth, her gaze bouncing between Lucas and Juan to the pillow she'd tossed aside. "Someone tried to kill him," she whispered.
Lucas's eyes shot wide. He dropped the oxygen line and stared at her. "What?"
Juan's eyebrows dipped to the bridge of his nose as he processed her statement. She explained, "He must have been sleeping pretty deep. I came to check on him and found" she gulped "that pillow over his face. I pulled it off, hollering for you. He wasn't breathing so I started CPR."
"Did you see anyone?" Lucas asked. Juan watched them, not saying anything as he continued to suck in the oxygen and the conversation. His color was better.