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The dry season dust surged past Maggie Everett as she halted the battered Jeep next to the sleek jet. Raising a hand, she shielded her eyes from the sun and the haze of the plains of northern Ghana in West Africa.
As the passengers disembarked from the plane, one in particular drew her attention. Maggie hadn't seen many American men near her age of twenty-eight in the last couple of years but she could still recognize a fine-looking specimen when she saw one.
He looked in her direction, while behind him the three other newcomers sorted out their luggage. A balding man pointed and issued orders while pulling boxes and baggage from the belly of the aircraft. Two young women, chatting with excitement, searched through bundles that were unloaded. They must be the nursing students who'd be working during their summer break from college.
These were the latest medical personnel to fill in at the remote hospital for a few weeks. She appreciated the assistance but what the hospital desperately needed was enough financial support to hire additional physicians who would be committed to staying for years.
The man caught her full attention again as he strode toward her. His aviator sunglasses added mystique. Slim-hipped, wide-shouldered and, if she had to guess, over six feet. He reminded her of the guys in those year-old magazines her mother sent in care packages. Like one of the models from a cologne ad. An undertone of ruggedness, offset by a touch of refinement. Maggie's pulse beat a little faster in anticipation.
Reaching her, he flipped the glasses up to rest on the top of his head, revealing crystal-blue eyes, made sharper by the deep tan of his skin. "I'm Dr. Court Armstrong. I've two sensitive pieces of equipment that need to be seen about right away."
No hello, nice to meet you. His crisp New England accent caught her off guard. Could he be? "Armstrong? As in the Armstrong Foundation? Boston?" She didn't try to keep her disgust out of her voice.
He could be the very one who had denied the hospital's request for aid, including her plan for an urgently needed children's clinic. The locals were desperate for medical care, children the most.
The hospital required help to stay open, and her new program could make a difference. But the hospital didn't meet their requirements for funds. It was in too remote an area, not seeing enough patients. She gritted her teeth. Not qualify! She couldn't imagine a project more qualified or a hospital more in need.
"So why are you here if you've already denied our application?"
His mouth compressed for a second before he said, "I'll be glad to discuss that with you after we get this equipment out of the sun."
Before she could respond with the sharp retort that sprang to mind, her name filled the air.
"Missy Maggie, Missy Maggie." Neetie, a young African boy, ran across the parched ground toward her. Clouds of dust trailed behind. He halted beside the Jeep. "Truck. Hit. Hurt," he said in his native tongue between panting breaths. "Come. Now."
"You're needed," she said to the doctor. "Get in, Neetie."
The long-legged doctor gave a curt nod and picked up a knapsack from the pile of luggage before climbing into the seat beside her. Maggie noted his split-second hesitation before he reached for Neetie.
Using one arm, Dr. Armstrong swung the boy into the back and called over his shoulder, "John, see to the machines." Turning to her, he said,
"Let's go." He returned his dark glasses to their place on his nose. She missed the clear blue coolness of his eyes. What a shame to hide those pools, and an even greater shame they belonged to such an insufferable man.
The Jeep cranked on the first turn of the key. Maggie floored the gas and the vehicle shot forward. She steered a circle around the plane and back toward the compound. "Where, Neetie?" The wind whipped the words away.
"In front of Arthur's."
Dr. Armstrong gripped the edge of the windshield, one foot propped on the raised edge, a hand on his bag as if he wasn't comfortable racing to an emergency in an emerging country. After he realized the conditions he'd have to practice medicine in, she wouldn't be surprised if twenty-four hours from now, he took off in that fancy jet, looking for his pressed-white-lab-coat world again.
She slid the Jeep to a stop in front of the hospital. When Dr. Armstrong's hand slapped against the dash to stop his forward motion, Maggie's mouth lifted slightly at the corners.
"Supplies." She gathered up a handful of her skirt's material, climbing out of the Jeep. This was one of those times when the clothes she was required to wear were a nuisance.
Minutes later, Maggie returned with a large black bag she kept prepared for this type of situation.
Dr. Armstrong jumped out and met her. "I'll take that," he said, reaching for the bag. He placed it beside Neetie.
Before she put the Jeep in gear he'd returned to his seat.
Maggie said nothing to her passengers as she drove. Instead she concentrated on weaving her way through streets lined with clay-brick, one-story buildings and filled with people and animals. She glanced at the man beside her. The doctor made no attempt to speak either, seeming to absorb everything around him.
Reaching the accident, she could see that a truck had hit a cart. People mingled around an elderly man who must have been pushing the cart. He lay off to the side, clutching his chest, while a child of about nine had her legs pinned beneath the cart. A woman chattered in a loud voice at the man standing beside the truck.
Maggie's stomach clenched. She hated to see a child hurt most of all. No matter how far she ran, she still couldn't outrun her mothering nature when a child was in trouble.
The Jeep had almost come to a jolting stop when Dr. Armstrong's feet touched the ground. Slinging his pack over his shoulder, he lifted the other bag from the back. "You check the child. I'll take the old man. Looks like a heart attack."
Well, he certainly had no trouble giving orders! Who did he think he was to drop out of the sky and five minutes later start telling her what to do? As lead nurse, she'd been the one who'd made most of the daily decisions. She knew what to do, and didn't need super-Doc to take over before he'd even seen the hospital in Teligu. She made no comment regarding his high-handedness. Having someone in charge during an emergency was critical to maintaining order, and Dr. Armstrong made it clear he believed that was him. "Neetie, you go with Mr. Doctor. Talk for him," she instructed the boy.
Going to the girl, Maggie used a gentle voice hoping to calm her fears. Her ex-emergency-room nurse instincts took over. Quickly she assessed the girl's injuries while keeping an eye on the doctor's progress. She couldn't have a newbie fresh off the plane damage the relationship and trust that the hospital had painstakingly built with these people.
He gave curt, simple directions that Neetie translated from a distance, as if the doctor had placed Neetie in that spot, not too far away but not too close.
Using hand gestures, Maggie instructed three men on how to raise the cart off the child. Maggie pulled the girl out by the shoulders and then examined the girl's injured right leg.
Dr. Armstrong joined her. "Thankfully no heart issues. The man's forehead will require stitches but those can wait. I applied a couple of four-by-four gauze bandages and told Neetie to tell him to hold them in place. The girl?"
"Fractured leg," Maggie said, not looking at him. "Thank God that appears to be the only injury."
He pulled the supply bag over to him and knelt across the girl from Maggie. The doctor ran long tapered fingers over the girl's distended skin with medical thoroughness but something was missing. No soothing voice, no tender touch, no personal involvement. His actions were all strictly clinical. "Let's get this stabilized and get her to the hospital."
Despite the negative emotions his last name and attitude kindled in her, Maggie grudgingly admitted he seemed to know his medical care despite his almost non-existent bedside manner. Still, he wasn't going to push her out of the way as if this was her first day in Ghana, instead of his.
Maggie handed him splints. He gave her a quick glance of admiration. She squeezed the girl's hand, before holding one of the boards in place while the doctor gripped the other.
Pursing her lips, she drew in a breath. The pain in the girl's eyes pulled at Maggie's heart. She reassured the girl that she would be fine. If it hadn't been for her own accident, Maggie might have been the mother of a little girl close to the same age. Because she couldn't have her own children, she'd embraced each native child as hers. She even planned to adopt Neetie. It made her livid to think about how much she could do for them if the Armstrong Foundation would support the hospital. "The bandage is in the right-hand corner of the bag, Dr. Armstrong."
He reached for it. Passing the material back and forth, they slowly began to wrap it around the boards holding the leg straight.
"You make my surname sound like a dirty word. Why don't you call me Court?"
"What?" she asked, distracted by her thoughts of getting the bandage just right.
"My name. After an emergencywhat, less than five minutes after I land?I think we can survive on a first-name basis. And you're Missy Maggie."
Her usually efficient movements faltered when his fingers slid over hers as he handed her the wrapping. "I'm Maggie Everett. The head nurse. You can call me Maggie."
He glanced at her as she returned the wrapping. With deft movements suggesting years of practice, he secured the end by tucking it under the edge of the material. Without looking at the girl, he said, "Maggie, tell her that we are taking her to the hospital."
No "please" there but Maggie did as he instructed, then went to move the Jeep closer. She couldn't fault the new doctor's care, but she was used to the visiting doctors showing more personal attention, more personal interaction with patients. He was no different than his family's foundation.
The people of Teligu needed help and this man had the influence to see they got it. Could she convince him to persuade the foundation to reverse its decision?