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Gwen Yates checked the brown leather-banded watch on her wrist. Again. "Where are they?"
Okay, so it had only been all of thirty seconds since the last time she checked but still...where were her boss and his son? The group's flight would leave in less than twenty minutes and they all still had to get through security.
Her gaze scanned the crowded, sun-drenched Seattle airport terminal, searching through the throng of travelers for Dr. Ross Harper's distinctive white hair and towering frame.
"Probably stuck in traffic," offered Gwen's colleague, Joyce Kincaid.
The tall, athletic woman stood guard over her duffel bag and leaned against the wall of windows separating the foot traffic and the gift shop of SeaTac Airport. Joyce's short brown hair stuck out in tufts from beneath the brim of a khaki-green hat. She held a medical journal on childhood diseases.
Gwen admired Joyce's dedication in keeping abreast of changes in her field of pediatrics. Though Joyce had ten years on Gwen, they shared a bond of determination to be the best they could be in each of their chosen fields.
Ned Leeds, another colleague, nodded his balding head. "Monday morning. Slow commute."
His distinct abrupt way of communicating never failed to astound Gwen, even though his estimate was more than accurate for the Seattle traffic. The short, forty-something surgeon had made it clear in the beginning of her tenure at Harper Clinic that he didn't waste his breath on trivial conversation. In the three years since Gwen had joined their clinic's staff as a physician's assistant, she had yet to hear the man say more than a four-word sentence.
Gwen turned her gaze back toward the ticket area. Dr. Harper would have allowed time for traffic. Something wasn't right. She toyed with the boarding pass in her hand. "Hey, Craig, do you have your cell on you?"
The fourth member of their team sat on the floor with his back against the wall. Craig Samuels, a twenty-five-year-old intern at Harper Clinic, reached into the outside pouch of the backpack sitting beside him and pulled out a small black flip phone. "Hit number three to auto-dial the doc's cell."
As Gwen flipped the phone open, the gate agent announced their flight to London would board soon. Her stomach contracted with anxiety. Where was Dr. Harper? Usually, her boss was prompt and expected others to follow suit.
She listened to the phone ringing. He was probably late because of his son, Derek, the unexpected add-on to this trip.
Gwen didn't agree with her boss that the new CEO of Dr. Harper's brainchild, Hands of Healing International, should join the team on this particular mission. Son of the founder notwithstanding, the man hadn't even been in his position for more than six months and had failed to show up on time to the training classes to boot.
Gwen had received the disturbing impression that Derek was only biding his time, trying to please his father, until something bigger and better came along.
Gwen's limited dealings with Derek, Dr. Harper's only child, had left an indelible impression. There was a recklessness to him that was disturbing, and she didn't like his intense way of looking at her as if she were some unexplainable virus strain that needed to be studied.
Not to mention the undercurrent of competition that charged the air whenever he was present. She had no clue what prize he wanted, but she'd decided not long after he'd come aboard that minimal contact was the best option.
The deep male voice rattled Gwen from her thoughts.
Derek. "Where are you?" she asked. "Just pulling up. There was an accident on I-5." Thankful Dr. Harper and his son weren't the ones in the accident, she let out a relieved breath. "We're waiting at the security checkpoint."
"See you in a few." The phone went dead. Gwen snapped the small handheld phone closed and handed it back to Craig. "They're on their way."
Joyce pushed off from the wall and snagged her duffel bag by the strap. "Let's get in line."
The rest of the group picked up their bags and moved to the end of the long line of people waiting to enter the roped-off area for the security check.
Craig tried to reassure Gwen. "No need to worry. They'll make it."
Gwen nodded and followed the others to the line, her own backpack gripped in one hand. Their carry-on luggage held their personal items while the baggage they'd all checked would transport the medical supplies they'd need in Africa.
Her anxiety eased a bit as she stood at the end of the security line. She knew what to expect on her third trip as part of Hands of Healing International.
On the long flight to London she planned to rest, listen to a variety of music on her iPod and sleep with the help of an eye mask and a squishy pillow she'd tucked into her backpack.
After a twenty-hour layover in London they'd board another plane, then land in Kampala, Uganda, and from there they'd take a transport to the small province of Moswani, located at the southwestern corner of Uganda, bordering Rwanda.
This trip would be unusual in several ways, most importantly because Derek Harper was coming to shadow his father and learn firsthand the administrative needs of the ministry his father had started sixteen years earlier.
She looked forward to proving to Dr. Harper that she was ready to lead her own team on a Hands of Healing mission as they'd discussed several times over the last few months. Dr. Harper had indicated that this trip would be Gwen's time to be in charge of the medical personnel while Dr. Harper showed his son the meaningfulness of the work.
Gwen was grateful her dealings with Derek would be minimal. He made her uncomfortable, not in a sleazy way, but in a strange, unfamiliar way that left her feeling vulnerable and self-conscious. She didn't like the feelings at all.
Ned's low warning in Gwen's right ear invaded her space and made her quickly step back. For a breathless moment she rocked off balance onto the heels of her tennis shoes.
But then a big, strong hand grasped her elbow, pushed her slightly forward, back on to firm footing, holding her until her world steadied. She quickly extracted her elbow from the strong grip.
"Thank you," she murmured as she turned her gaze to her rescuer and met vivid green eyes.
Tall, blond and amused, Derek Harper cocked a tawny brow at her. "Too much coffee?"
Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth for half a second before she regained her composure. "I don't drink coffee."
"Ah. Maybe you should." He turned his attention to the others. "Good morning all. I guess we're really going to do this."
Joyce smiled. "So glad to have you along, Derek." Gwen stared at the slightly interested gleam in Joyce's blue gaze. Surely Joyce wasn't falling victim to Derek's surfer, beach-bum good looks.
Gwen gave a mental shrug. She certainly didn't care if Joyce set her sights on Derek. Romantic relationships were the last thing on Gwen's mind. They were too unpredictable and too easy to lose control of.
As Derek shook hands with Craig and then Ned, Gwen asked, "Where's your father?"
"He and Mother are coming."
Gwen raised her brows. "Your mother's coming on the trip?" That was also new and unusual.
From what Gwen had gathered over the years, Sally Harper didn't travel — something about a fear of flying — even though she supported her husband's vision of spreading God's word through providing medical services to those in need.
Derek's gaze bored into her. The quick negative shake of his head left her bewildered. In the past, Mrs. Harper said her goodbyes at home.
Gwen rationalized that since both son and father were traveling on this trip that Mrs. Harper had decided to see them off. Not so unusual in the grand scheme of things, she supposed. Gwen really liked her boss's unassuming and soft-spoken wife.
A small gasp from Joyce alerted Gwen's sense of unease. The little hairs on the back of her neck prickled.
"Here they are," Derek said and moved aside so they could be joined by Dr. and Mrs. Harper.
Gwen echoed Joyce's gasp and shock skipped up her spine to settle in a pounding beat behind her eyes. She blinked. But what she saw in front of her didn't change.
Dr. Harper sat in a wheelchair. The left pant leg of his dark cotton slacks had been cut away from the knee to the toes, exposing a hard white cast. His wife, looking tired, pushed the wheelchair. She was dressed in a comfortable knit two-piece suit in a demure green that brought out the color in her green eyes. Her blond hair was pulled back in a cropped ponytail.
"What...what happened?" Gwen ducked under the rope and moved to Dr. Harper's side.
Dr. Harper gave a rueful laugh. "Tripped over the dog in the middle of the night and fell down the stairs."
"Nearly gave us a heart attack," Sally piped up, placing her hand on his shoulder in a gesture of affection.