Книга - A Child to Heal Their Hearts


A Child to Heal Their Hearts
Dianne Drake

Brought together by a child in need…When he adopted two little girls, paediatrician Dr Reid Adams found a new sense of purpose – but it cost him his fiancée. His girls and his little patients are now his life. Then prickly, beautiful surgeon Keera Murphy arrives, with a sick and orphaned child, and turns his world upside down…Keera is clearly struggling with two-year-old Megan, who has recently been placed in her care – she’s convinced she’s not mother material. But Reid is determined to bring these two lost souls together, and soon realises that in opening up Keera’s locked-away heart he’s in danger of losing his own!

“What I think is that you show me exactly what you want me to see and believe. What I also think is that maybe you kid yourself about what you feel—even about who you are. Don’t know why. Not going to guess.”

He grabbed her arm and pulled her back to him. “But I have a confession of my own to make. I’m attracted to you. And when you talked about men looking at you … I looked.”

She looked up into his eyes. Swallowed hard. “But we can control the urges, Reid.”

“Because we want to, or because we have to?”

Nothing in her wanted to, because she liked the way he held on to her—his grip not rough, yet not gentle. And she liked his dominance. It was firm, but not unrelenting.

“Because it’s the only practical thing to do.”

“Depends on your definition of practical,” he said, pulling her up against his chest.

Keera looked up, put her hands on the sides of his face to hold him where she wanted him—which was no place but here, in this moment, this only moment. Then she wound her fingers up through his hair, tugged it slightly, and smiled when he started to breathe faster. Breaths to match hers. The edges of their bodies were melting into each other.

Dear Reader

Years ago, my husband and I met a wonderful little boy named Ryan. Ryan was an amazing kid—smart, full of life, optimistic. But Ryan had muscular dystrophy, and the degenerative process was so advanced in him that he never walked, never played ball, never did so many of the things his friends did.

He wanted to, though, because he never saw himself in terms of being different or disabled. Which was why the summer camps he attended were so important to him. All the kids there had pretty much the same abilities he had, and the fact that swimming or horseback-riding was a little different for them did not make a difference. For the time Ryan and his friends were at camp they got to be kids, doing kid things like all their other friends did.

Ryan wasn’t given a lot of time on this earth, but he exceeded all expectations—went to college, became a high school teacher, travelled the world. Much of this independence he gained through his camp experiences, and because of what I saw resulting from those summer weeks, where his differences didn’t matter, I decided to write about a camp much the same as Ryan attended—where kids, no matter what their condition, are allowed to be kids.

Did you go to camp when you were a kid? What kinds of memories do you have? I went to camp every summer and loved it. I didn’t fall in love there, the way Keera and Reid do in my story. But I remember some pretty good summer crushes, some mighty cute boys, and a lot of great fun. Definitely some great fun (and my first kiss!).

Wishing you health, happiness, and great summer camp memories!


PS I’d love to hear about your summer camp memories. Please feel free to check out my website at www.Dianne-Drake.com, and contact me through that. Or e-mail me at DianneDrake@earthlink.net. I’m on Facebook too, at Facebook.com/DianneDrakeAuthor

Now that her children have left home, DIANNE DRAKE is finally finding the time to do some of the things she adores—gardening, cooking, reading, shopping for antiques. Her absolute passion in life, however, is adopting abandoned and abused animals. Right now Dianne and her husband Joel have a little menagerie of three dogs and two cats, but that’s always subject to change. A former symphony orchestra member, Dianne now attends the symphony as a spectator several times a month and, when time permits, takes in an occasional football, basketball, or hockey game.

A Child to Heal Their Hearts

Dianne Drake

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

Dedicated to Ryan McDonald,

who squeezed every last drop out of his young life.


CHAPTER ONE (#u4cf5b92b-1efa-53ff-981a-8694b0bd20ad)

CHAPTER TWO (#u10b58b26-d9d7-5f0e-a2d7-372ea2abb7d3)

CHAPTER THREE (#u2e1ade78-afae-56ca-9159-cb801b756ddb)

CHAPTER FOUR (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER FIVE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER SIX (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER SEVEN (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER EIGHT (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER NINE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER TEN (#litres_trial_promo)


“COMING!” KEERA’S sleep-scratchy voice barely cleared the bedroom door and there was no way the person outside on her front porch could hear her. But she didn’t really care. This was her time. Off work.

She wasn’t on call, and after tomorrow she had no hospital obligations for the next week. A few days off after an entire year on. Blessed vacation time for eating, sleeping, reading. Most of all, quiet time to herself. No one to intrude, no one to disturb her. Time alone was all she had on the schedule and she adamantly didn’t want to be disturbed before her holiday started. But as chief of cardiac surgery, she didn’t always get what she wanted. Case in point, someone was knocking right now, and rather vigorously at that.

“OK, OK. Give me a minute,” she grumbled on a weary sigh, the sentiment directed more to the neon green clock light blinking acrimoniously at her from the nightstand than to anything or anyone else.

She blinked back at it, wanted to throw a shoe at it when she saw it was telling her the time was ten after two. And she’d only been in bed since twenty after one. Meaning she’d had fifty full minutes of sleep.

“Figures,” she grunted as another knock jolted her out of her blearies. Then another knock, louder this time. Last time this had happened to her, it had been the National Guard come to fetch her in the middle of a torrential storm. “Hospital’s on emergency alert, Dr. Murphy. Don’t want you driving in this because of the conditions, so we’ve come to take you in.” Yep, that had been quite a night, being hefted up into the back of a military helicopter and jostled around fallen trees and power lines.

But tonight there was no rain. No storm or adverse condition of any kind going on. And as Keera’s mind started to clear, she began ticking off the various reasons someone might be doing exactly what they were doing. Worst-case scenario—full-out disaster that wasn’t weather-related. Best-case scenario—emergency surgery waiting. But why not simply call her, like they always did?

Maybe they had. Maybe she’d slept through it. “I said I’m coming,” she shouted, cinching her robe as she plodded out to the entry hall. “Identify yourself, please,” she shouted, even though a glimpse through the peephole revealed the uniform of a police officer. “And show me some identification.”

“Will do, Miss Murphy,” the man out there shouted.

Miss Murphy. After fast-tracking her way through medical school and all the other stages that had preceded cardiac surgeon, that’s what it all boiled down to, wasn’t it? Unmarried doctor, unmarried miss... Successful at career, unsuccessful at life. It was pretty much everything that defined her.

Keera pushed her long red hair back from her face, and looked out again. Saw what she required from the first officer.

“Officer Carla James,” she said, obliging Keera with a sight of her ID. Short woman, slightly rounded, definitely hiding behind the taller officer.

“And Officer Brian Hutchinson,” the taller one added, bending down to Keera’s peephole so she’d get a good wide-angle view of his face then his badge. “Would you please open the door?”

“Is it medical business?” she shouted at them, as she unlatched the first of three safety chains then finally pulled back the dead bolt. A little extra precaution as a result of living alone.

“No, ma’am, it’s not,” Officer Hutchinson said, stepping forward as soon as the door opened to him. He held out his leather wallet for her to match his photo with his face. Then tucked it away when she’d nodded her satisfaction. “I’m sorry to say it’s personal.”

That’s when the first grain of relief shot through her. Keera Murphy didn’t have a personal life. Everything about her was medicine. “How? I mean, what?”

Officer James chose that moment to step out from behind Hutchinson, and the only thing Keera saw was the bundle in her arms. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand.” Were they bringing her a patient? A child? No. This was a mistake. Didn’t make sense. They were at the wrong house, or had the wrong person. That had to be it. They wanted the Keera Murphy who was a pediatrician, if there was such a person, and she was the Keera Murphy who did cardiac surgery.

“I’m sorry to say, there’s no easy way to do this,” Officer Hutchinson continued. “But earlier this evening your husband and a yet unidentified passenger were killed in a single vehicle crash off Mountain Canyon Road. Your daughter was thrown free, and escaped without injury. We did have her checked at a clinic near there, and except for some scrapes and bruises she’s fine. In shock, I think, because she’s not talking, maybe a little lethargic due to the trauma. But the doc who looked at her said she was basically good.”

“I’m glad, but this is a mistake because I’m not married.” Keera took a step backwards, braced herself against the wall. “Divorced. No children.”

“Kevin Murphy,” Hutchinson continued. “Kevin Joseph Murphy, ma’am. Your husband, according to some legal papers we found at the scene. House deed, this address.”

“But we’re not... Haven’t been...” She shut her eyes, trying to focus. Kevin was dead? Their marriage had been a real stinker and their divorce nasty in epic proportions, but she wouldn’t have wished this on him. “You’re sure?” she finally managed.

“Yes, ma’am. We have a full identification on your husband but not his passenger. We were hoping...”

Keera glanced at the officer holding the child, wondering why they’d brought her here. Wondering if this was the child who... It had to be. Who else could she be but the child he’d fathered while they had still been married? “Maybe the passenger is his second wife. Melanie, Melodie, something like that.” Or the one after her, if there’d already been another as Kevin seemed to have his women in fast succession. “Melania, that’s her name. Melania.” Keera’s head was spinning now the information was finally beginning to sink in. Kevin was dead, most likely along with his second wife. And their child... “She’s not mine,” she said.

“But you were listed as Mr. Murphy’s wife and next of kin, so we assumed—”

“Wrong assumption,” she said, cutting him off. “Old information. My husband and I divorced a few months ago, the papers you found were probably from part of the agreement.” Or, in their case, disagreement. “He called several days ago, said he had some final papers for me to sign, and that child...” She shook her head. “Part of his second marriage.” Kevin’s secret to keep, along with his mistress.

“Then we have a problem,” Carla James said, “because we have nowhere to take the child for the night.”

A little girl, she’d been told. Keera had never actually seen her. Hadn’t ever wanted to see her. Didn’t want to see her now, even though that was about to change. “Surely, there’s a foster-home with an opening. Or some kind of contingency in place for situations like this one?”

Both police officers shook their heads.

“Social services?” Hopeful question with an answer she’d already guessed.

“That would be me,” a perky young woman said from behind Officer James. “My name is Consuela Martinez, and I’m the temporary case manager assigned to Megan. And right now I don’t have a contingency plan that would be in the child’s best interests. We were hoping her family—”

“But I’m not her family,” Keera interrupted.

Consuela stepped out in plain sight, the yellow of the porch light giving her more of a jaundiced look than it should. And just like that Keera switched to doctor mode, her mind ticking off various conditions that came with a yellow tinge...one of the reasons Kevin had strayed, he claimed. Too much doctor too much of the time. Sadly, she hadn’t had an argument to counter his because, in the end, she had loved her medicine more than she’d loved her husband or their marriage.

“Look, I know there’s a contingency plan,” Keera said. “When a child is involved there’s always a contingency plan.” It was said without conviction because she really didn’t know that to be the case. But she hoped it was, or else...

“You’re right. Usually there is. Except right now. Every spot we have for someone Megan’s age and developmental stage is filled,” the case worker continued. “But I can have a callout to other agencies in other areas by morning, or we might be able to shift a few children to other situations, and after that—”

“Are you taking flucloxacillin, by any chance, Consuela?” Keera interrupted, so totally not wanting to hear that Megan had no place to go tonight.

Consuela looked confused. For that matter, so did both police officers. “Um, yes. I am. For an outer ear infection. Why?”

“You might want to call your doctor first thing in the morning and mention that you’re having an adverse reaction to the drug. Nothing serious, so don’t be alarmed. But it’s worth noting.” And that didn’t change the problem at hand, as there was still a child bundled in Officer James’s arms who needed a place to stay. “Sorry,” she said. “Force of habit. Part of my job is paying attention to the details, and I’ve been told I can go overboard about it.”

“It’s good to know you’re conscientious, Doctor,” Officer Hutchinson said, “but it’s two-thirty, and we’re not getting any closer to figuring out what to do with—”

“With my ex-husband’s child.” It was an irony coming back to slap her hard. This was his secret child, the one he’d told her he’d fathered but had only told her on the child’s first birthday. His first devastating confession, followed by how much he loved the baby’s mother, how he wanted a divorce, wanted to keep their house for his new family... But none of that was Megan’s fault, was it? “You’re sure there’s really no place for her to go tonight?”

“The county home,” Consuela said, “which I try to avoid when I can, especially for children so young. It’s a large facility, too many children. The younger ones get...overlooked.”

“It’s an—”

“An institution, ma’am,” Officer James volunteered. “In the traditional sense. But if you’re rejecting the child, it’s our only recourse, because I can’t stand on your doorstep all night, holding her.”

“No, of course you can’t,” Keera said, taking a step backwards as she felt her resolve start to melt. Another step, pause...taking a moment to gird her resolve. Then another backwards step, and finally the gesture to enter her home. And as Officer James passed her, Keera took her first good look at Megan, and if it weren’t for the fact that the room was filled with people...strangers, she would have fallen to her knees. Would have cried. The lump in her throat started to choke her, and the light feeling in her head caused the room to spin. “Please, lay her on the sofa. I can sit up in here with her, she shouldn’t be alone.” Shouldn’t be in an institution! No child should ever be in an institution.

Keera glanced at Consuela, who’d stopped at the mirror in the entry hall and was staring at her yellow-tinted complexion. “But this is only until morning,” she warned the social worker. “If you don’t have a placement for her before I leave for the hospital, in exactly three hours, you’ll find her in the daycare center.

“Oh, and, Consuela, I can’t look after her longer than what I’ve said. I’m not good with children. They don’t respond to me, and outside normal medical situations I wouldn’t know how to respond if they did. So, come morning, do you understand me? My early surgery will be over by ten, followed by routine rounds, and I don’t want to go into my rounds knowing I still have a child to worry about.”

It made her sound unpleasant, like a bully or, worse...heartless. Which wasn’t at all what she’d intended. But how did a person go about dealing with a situation like this? She’d just taken in the child who had caused the final curtain to drop on her marriage, and she wasn’t sure there was a proper way to deal with that.

“So, before you go, do we know if she has any allergies?” Kevin had been allergic to shellfish. “Or medical conditions that require attention...or medication?”

Consuela, who’d finally torn herself away from the mirror, shook her head. “Her doctor is Reid Adams, and his practice is in a little town called Sugar Creek, Tennessee. About an hour or so west of here. But we haven’t been able to get in touch with him yet. He’s at camp.”

“Camp?” Keera asked.

“Youth camp, for kids recovering from leukemia and all the associated conditions. He’s the camp physician, I’ve been told. And I do have a call in for him.” Consuela stepped around Keera, who made no move to help Officer James settle Megan on the sofa. “And, Dr. Murphy...she’s a good child. Very quiet. She won’t cause you any problems.”

No, the child wouldn’t. Not now, anyway, because Keera’s problems were in the past. And while little Megan hadn’t caused them, she was a result of them. “Noon at the very latest. Please find your contingency plan by noon.”

Ten minutes later, when the house was quiet again, Keera settled into the chair across from the sofa and simply stared at the child. Lovely little girl. Blonde hair, like Kevin’s. Probably blue eyes like his, too. Sadly, there was so much turmoil for one little life. Poor thing. Her heart did go out to Megan for so many reasons.

“It’s good that you don’t have to understand any of this,” Keera whispered to the child, while she pulled her feet up under herself, preparing to spend the rest of her night right there, looking after the girl. “But you’re going to be fine. You’re a beautiful little girl, and everything’s going to be fine.”

* * *

“I’m sorry, Doctor, but I really don’t have anything to tell you.” Reid Adams tossed the ball into the grass then stood back to watch the stampede of children go after it. No matter what else was going on in his life, coming to camp was always a highlight. “I’d have to look at her records before I could say anything, but I’m not in my office this week and—”

“Then find someone who can do it for you,” Keera snapped, then hastily added, “Look, I’m sorry I sound so grumpy, but...”

“Normally, if someone sounds grumpy, they’re grumpy,” Reid said, stepping behind the large oak tree as two little girls came running in his direction. Black hair, dark eyes, dark skin. Hispanic beauties, and the lights of his life. His reason for existing wrapped up in a couple of very energetic little girls, aged five and seven. “And I think your situation with Megan would make a lot of people grumpy if it happened to them. No relatives turn up yet?”

“An elderly aunt who refused the child, as well as some male cousins the social worker thought weren’t suitable. Apparently there are other family members being contacted, but I may have the child through the afternoon, and I’d feel better knowing about her health situation.”

He liked her voice. A little husky, but not so much she sounded like a three-packs-a-day smoker. More like bedroom-sultry husky...an image that caused him to blink hard, clear his throat and, more than anything else, remind him that this was a kids’ camp and he was surrounded by a bunch of kids who didn’t need a distracted counselor.

“Daddy,” five-year-old Allie squealed, as Reid sidled around the tree, only to be waylaid by seven-year-old Emmie, coming at him from the other side.

“I found him first,” Emmie shouted.

“Did not,” Allie argued, latching onto Reid’s leg. “I got him first.”

“You both got me first,” he declared.

“Excuse me,” Keera said. “Dr. Adams?”

“Sorry about that,” he said, chuckling. “But my daughters are persistent, and they won’t take no for an answer when we’re playing. Not that I’d ever want them to. So, getting back to Megan Murphy. I’ve seen her once, I think, and nothing stands out. But it’s a new practice, I’m barely settled in, and I don’t know enough about any of my patients yet to even recognize them, or their parents, on the street. Sorry about that, because I’d like to be more help. But let me call either Beau Alexander or his wife, Deanna. They’re covering my practice this week and they might know something. Or be able to see what’s in the records.” Pause.

“Girls, girls! Stay away from that fence! That’s the rule. You’ve been told if you go near the fence, you’ll get a time out with your first warning, and broccoli with your dinner with your second warning.”

“You punish the children by threatening them with broccoli?” Keera asked. “I’d think that would be a healthy choice. Something you’d encourage them to eat.”

“It is, but most kids come naturally equipped hating broccoli, so I use that to my advantage. Then, by the end of the camp session, we’ll have introduced them to a couple of ways broccoli can taste really yummy... Excuse me, I have the younger group here this week. When I mention broccoli to older kids, I usually use the term delicious. And the thing is, the majority of these children will leave here and ask their parents for broccoli. Just an FYI—raw with dip works great!”

“Raw or cooked, you’re a magician, Dr. Adams, if you get them liking broccoli.”

“Nope, just a single dad who’s figured it out. If it works with my two, it’ll work with anybody’s kid. Anyway...Angelica, Rodney! Take off your shoes and your socks before you go wading in the creek! Both socks, Rodney.”

“Look, I appreciate your time, Dr. Adams, but—”

“Reid. Call me Reid.”

“Reid. I’m sorry for sounding so grumpy, or frazzled, or whatever you want to call it, but I’m not good with children, don’t know if I even like them so much, and I really don’t want to be responsible for one, even if it’s only for a few more hours. I was hoping...actually, I don’t know what I was hoping for. But you clearly have your hands full with your camp kids, so I’m going let you go. But before I do, could you answer one more question for me?”

“Got time for two, if they’re quick.” Truth was, he wasn’t sure he wanted to hang up. Keera Murphy sounded nice, except for the part where she wasn’t fond of children. In his life that was definitely a problem. But she wasn’t in his life, so it didn’t matter. “So go ahead.”

“Megan’s two, and she’s not... She’s still in diapers. I had her in hospital daycare all morning and the ladies working there said she made no attempt to go to the bathroom or even ask someone to take her.”

“Does she speak?”

“No, but that could be the trauma.”

“She’s had a full battery of tests?”

“Everything we could think of.”

“Then she’s probably just reacting to her circumstances. Once things are normal around her again I’m sure the diapers can come off. And if she’s not totally trained, it’s perfectly natural for children that age to be a little resistant. But if you have other concerns, please feel free...” He spun around in time to catch Emmie ready to lob him with a big red water balloon. He was fast enough to dodge it, but in trying for the evasive maneuver he dropped his phone. By the time he’d manage to pick it back up, Keera Murphy had hung up.

* * *

“Who was that, Daddy?” Allie asked him. Now she was sneaking up, hiding what he guessed was also a filled water balloon behind her back. So, he could take it like a man or, actually, like a daddy, and let his youngest have her turn at dousing Daddy, or he could spin and run like crazy. After all, he was well over six feet tall, considered well muscled by some. Legs that had helped him finish in the pack at a few marathons. So if he couldn’t outrun a little girl... “She was a doctor.”

“Who takes care of little kids, like you do?” Allie asked. The expression on her face was so determined, he knew what he had to do.

“No, not that kind of doctor, sweetheart.” He braced himself for the hit. “Remember when we talked about what having surgery means?” OK, so most parents weren’t quite as forthright as he was in his child-rearing ideas, but he didn’t believe in lying, not even when it was about something Allie probably wouldn’t even understand and definitely didn’t need to know.

“Where they have to make a zipper so they can see your insides?”

He chuckled. “Actually, yes.” Which meant she did listen to him. Music to the ears of a long-suffering parent. “She’s the kind of doctor who makes the zipper.”

He thought back to the conversation with Keera. Strained, at best. Maybe more like totally stressed out. Someone he pictured as nervous. Someone he also pictured as... One momentary distraction was all it took, and Reid Adams fell victim to his daughter, who landed the perfectly placed water balloon center chest. “Got me,” he shouted, dropping to the ground, where five or six other children converged on him and bombarded him with water balloons the way his own daughters had done.

“No fair,” he shouted while laughs and squeals muffled any protest he wanted to make. Not that he really wanted to protest. This was part of his fun. What meant the most to him now was thinking about how his daughters would be exhilarated, and knowing that his two little conspirators had led a group of normally sedentary kids into an adventure was, probably, the most fun of all.

Then he wondered about Dr. Keera Murphy. Would she have seen any of this as fun? Or worthless, as she wasn’t a big one for children? More than that, why did it even matter to him? And why did he make a mental note to do a little Internet surfing on her when he had time?

“No more water balloons,” he shouted, trying to stand up. But to no avail. As he rose to his knees, a whole new group of water ballooners swarmed him, loaded down with filled balloons of every size, color and shape imaginable. He barely had enough time to cover his face before the fun began.

* * *

“I know what I said, Dr. Murphy, and I’ve got a line on someone who might take her later tonight or some time tomorrow, if there’s nobody else available. But Mrs. Blanchard prefers her wards to be toilet trained, and as Megan isn’t, I’m not sure she’ll get all the attention she needs.”

They were sitting in the parents’ waiting room across from the hospital daycare center. A very cheerful place. Lots of bright yellows and oranges, like they were tying the conventional child stimuli colors into their parents. This was only the second time Keera had ever been there. The first had been that morning, when she’d left Megan in the able care of Dolores Anderson, the director. “She could be traumatized.”

“Maybe, and if that’s the case, I’m wondering if a pediatric hospital ward might be the best place for her temporarily.”

“Seriously, you want to stick her in a hospital?”

No, that was not acceptable. While she didn’t have any strong urges toward the child, she wasn’t some cold-hearted dungeon master who wanted to lock all the untrained kiddies away until they potty trained themselves. This was a child who needed attention, not isolation, and so far all of Consuela’s ideas seemed more like isolation.

“Look, just keep trying with Mrs. Blanchard, OK? If she won’t take Megan, maybe she’ll have a suggestion about who can.”

“We’ll work it out, Doctor. I promise, that’s all I’ve been doing today.”

Consuela was deliberately not making eye contact with Keera, trying to keep her gaze focused on anything else, and Keera accepted that. She’d probably do the same thing if she found herself in that same spot. But what Consuela didn’t understand was that so far today childcare had been a breeze because she’d had the help of the whole hospital daycare staff there to get her through it.

Tomorrow was another story. It was her day off—the start of her week off, in fact. And that’s when the reading commenced with a whole stack of medical journals she’d had for a year or more. Nowhere in those plans was there room for a toddler.

“I’m not criticizing you, and I hope you don’t think that I was. But I grew up in the foster-care system. A lot of it in institutions, and it’s horrible. Being passed off from one place to another, never knowing where you might end up next. I never got adopted because I was older when I went into the system, so I was in a grand total of nine different homes and three different institutions, all before the age of eighteen. And, no, I wasn’t a good child because of that.” She closed her eyes, fighting back those memories.

“This child doesn’t need that kind of trauma in her life.” As much as she’d disliked Kevin by the end of their marriage, Keera knew he would have been a very good father. A doting daddy. Megan didn’t deserve to go from that to cold indifference, which was what would happen if she was sent to an institution. Or even the wrong foster-family.

“It’s not always a traumatic situation, Doctor. We have very good caregivers.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do, and I admire people who would take on the responsibility. Right now, though, Megan needs more that what you’re able to find her, and I know that’s not your fault. But it’s not her fault either. Yet she’s the one who’s going to be bounced around or institutionalized.”

And she was waging the battle with the wrong person. She knew that. But the right person—the one who should have made arrangements for Megan in the event something like this happened—was dead. True to Kevin’s form, he hadn’t thought about the practical things. Hadn’t when they’d been married, hadn’t after they were divorced, and now his daughter was paying the price.

“I’m sorry about your childhood, Doctor, and I understand your frustration but, like I said, I’m doing my best. There aren’t any distant relatives suited to take her, or who even want her, for that matter, so I have to come up with another plan. But you’ve got to understand that in the short term Megan might have to go to a hospital pediatric ward, a group home or even the county home. It’s not what I want to do but what I may have to do if you can’t or won’t keep her for a little while longer.”

“In the meantime...” Resignation crept in a little too quickly, but maybe she saw something of herself in Megan. Abandoned child. It was hard to get past that. “If I keep her a day or two, that doesn’t mean I want to be a temporary guardian or any other kind of custodial figure. It simply means I’ll feed and clothe her while you continue looking for a better situation.”

“Which I’ll do,” Consuela promised.

“Good. So now I’ve got to go to the grocery and buy a few things a toddler would eat. Maybe pick up some clothes, toys...” OK, so she was relating to the situation but not to Megan herself. It was the best she could do. Better than most people would do, she thought as she bundled up the child and took her to the car. This was an honest effort, and it kept the child out of all those awful places Keera knew so intimately. Shuddered even thinking about them. Dark places, bad for children...

While having children had never been part of her plan—past, present or future—there’d been a time when she’d needed what Megan needed now, and no one had reached out to her. So how could she refuse?

“Megan, did you have a good day today?” she asked as they wended their way through the hospital corridors on her way to her car. “Play with lots of nice toys? Meet new people? Conquer any toddler nations?”

In response, Megan laid her head against Keera’s shoulder and sighed.

“You’re congested,” Keera said, listening to the slight rattling she could hear coming from the girl’s lungs. Immediately in doctor mode, she veered off into one of the pediatric exam cubicles, pulled her stethoscope from her pocket and listened. Nothing sounded serious, but the fact remained that the child had something going on that needed to be attended to...sooner, not later. And every thought in her went to Reid Adams.


“IT’S OK, MEGAN,” she said, barely creeping along the mountain highway. “We’ll be there soon, and Dr. Adams will take good care of you.” She hoped so, even though she wasn’t sure the message had gotten through because he hadn’t called her back. Something about mountains and cellphone interference.

“You’ve seen him before, and he’s very good.” Not that the sleeping child cared. But Keera did. She wanted some familiarity for Megan, and Reid Adams was the closest thing she could think of. And maybe, just maybe, he’d have a solution for the child’s situation. “We’re not far away now, so you just sleep there, and when you wake up things will be better. I promise.”

What was she promising, though? What, really, could a trip to an isolated camp in the mountains in the middle of the night do for Megan? Nothing. That’s what! But it made Keera feel better. Feel like she was doing something rather than simply sitting around waiting for something to happen or, worse, doing the wrong thing. Reid Adams was all about children, he had children. And for some strange reason, he seemed like her best port in the storm. A beacon of light.

“He’ll know what to do,” she reassured the sleeping child. “Yes, I’m sure of it.” Because if he didn’t...well, Keera didn’t want to think about the alternative, since it wasn’t acceptable. That was something she knew in profound ways no child should ever have to know. Confusion, fear and long, empty days and nights when the futility threatened to eat you alive. “He’ll fix you up, and he’ll help me help you, too.”

Those were mighty big expectations for one pediatrician to fulfill, but it’s all Keera had to cling to. Reid Adams had to come through for both their sakes. He just had to!

* * *

He wasn’t sure who she was, but for some reason he thought he could wager a pretty good guess. Carrying a child in her arms, she was trying to make her way up the dirt path without stumbling, and she was quite obviously not a woman of the woods. Determined, though. With the scowl of a mighty huntress set across one of the softest, prettiest faces he’d ever seen in his life.

Which was what had brought Keera Murphy to mind. She’d tracked him down and she was bringing him the child. He wasn’t sure why, wasn’t even sure that he liked the idea that the huntress had set her sights on him. But something about a woman who would trudge all the way out here in the middle of the night just to find him did fascinate him.

“You would be Dr. Murphy?” he asked, as she approached the porch of his cabin.

“I would be. And this is Megan Murphy. She’s sick. Since nobody knows her, nobody knows a thing about her, well, with you being her physician and all, I thought you’d be the best one to take a look.”

“You couldn’t find another physician closer to you? Or even track down one of my colleagues?”

“You didn’t get my phone call?”

“Mountains and cellphones aren’t always a good combination, even in this day and age. Reception out here is spotty, which is why we still rely on the landline.”

“Well, I called because I hoped she’d remember you. With everything she’s gone through, I thought that would be good. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but...” Keera started up the wooden steps and Reid took the child from her arms, immediately seeing how sick she was.

“How long has she been this way?” he asked, turning and nearly running into his cabin.

“Just the last few hours. She’d been getting progressively sicker and I wasn’t too worried about it at first, but when I listened to her chest a little while ago, the congestion had more than doubled from earlier and her temperature had elevated two degrees.”

He laid Megan carefully on the sofa then dashed into the next room after his medical bag.

“Well, I hope I didn’t do the wrong thing bringing her here.” She shrugged. “And I’m sorry for the intrusion. Maybe I panicked a little.” Panicked because she’d known what would happen if she’d taken Megan to the hospital. The system would have gotten her. As much as she didn’t want the child, she also didn’t want the child to end up in the system, which was what would have happened because a trip to Emergency tonight would have started that process. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

“You followed your instinct. Did what you believed was best. It’s not a bad thing, Keera.” He took a quick blood-pressure reading, followed by the rest of Megan’s vitals, then pulled off his stethoscope and laid it aside.

It was a simple action yet so sexy. And she wanted to kick herself for noticing. “I may have overreacted, but—”

“Look, I don’t know the dynamics here. Don’t know why social services left the child with you when, clearly, she’s not your responsibility. Don’t know why you avoided a quick trip to an emergency room rather than driving all the way out here. But I’m not going to ask. We all have our reasons for the crazy things we do, and I don’t mean crazy in a literal sense but more from a point of observation. Seems crazy to me because I don’t know what makes you tick, but obviously it doesn’t seem crazy to you because you understand the situation. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s all good.”

“I appreciate that,” she said sincerely. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. I want to keep Megan for a day or so. It’s probably a slight upper respiratory infection, although I want to make sure before I let her go as I don’t think she’s up to another trip back with you so soon. So I’d like to keep her in the infirmary here for a little while, if you don’t mind. It’s empty and I can quarantine her there just to make sure the other kids don’t come in contact with her. Then I’ll get her hydrated and start her on some medication to make her feel better.” He frowned. “Unless you’d rather admit her to a local hospital because she is a little dehydrated. Your choice.”

No choice. This was where Megan had to be, at least for the night. “And the infirmary is...?”

He pointed to a door at the rear of the living room. “Through the kitchen, out the door, first building you see beyond my cabin. The clinic is on the other side of the compound.”

“Why do you keep them separated?”

“These kids are very susceptible to illness. Don’t want sickness anywhere near regular medical duties.”

“Makes sense.”

“Also, I bought the camp as is. Didn’t have one place large enough to house both the clinic and infirmary. Anyway, there’s always someone on duty. Usually me, sometimes Betsy, the camp nurse, who stays in the cabin adjacent to this one. We alternate nights taking call.

“As far as the infirmary, I think you may have to help a bit there because Betsy’s pregnant and I don’t let her near the sick kids. Which means it’s basically you and me, and I do have a volunteer who isn’t medical but who had leukemia when she was a kid and enjoys helping out where she can.”

“You need to know I’m not good at pediatrics.”

“Maybe not, but I don’t have a lot of options if we’re going to keep Megan here. Like I said, there’s always the hospital...”

An unacceptable choice. That was her first thought. Her second was that she could leave Megan here, go home and let Consuela, the social worker, deal with the rest of it. This was certainly her chance to step aside and know Megan was in good hands, but something inside her was stopping her from taking it. “So you want me basically quarantined with her?”

“Not quarantined as in locked up. We have a guest cabin. Nothing fancy, but a place to sleep for the rest of the night, if you want it, while I watch Megan. Then in the morning we can work out the schedule.”

“Maybe she’ll be ready to travel in the morning.” And maybe in the morning Consuela would call her and tell her she’d found a perfect placement. Maybe even a good family who would eventually adopt Megan. One who’d been on the waiting list, praying for a beautiful two-year-old girl. Sure, it was a long shot, she knew that. But it was also a very nice dream—a dream she’d never had for her own.

“That’s possible,” he said. “But unlikely. In the meantime, you look like you’re due for a few hours of sleep.”

Yes, she did want that sleep. More now that he’d mentioned it. Hypnotic effect—her eyelids were getting heavy. “Definitely no hospital, so I guess it looks like I’m staying. I think I’ll talk to Megan for a minute then I’ll take you up on that cabin. Oh, and, Reid, I really am sorry to put you through this. If there’s anything I can do...”

“How about I carry her to the infirmary then you can tuck her in while I run over to the girls’ dorm and check on my daughters?” He smiled. “They may think they’re getting away from Dad, but it’s not happening. Anyway, one last kiss goodnight while you settle Megan in, then I’ll point you in the direction of the guest cabin and you’re on your own. Oh, and breakfast is at eight. Big white building in the middle of the complex. Meals are prompt, but if you sleep in, I always have cereal and milk in my own kitchen.”

He was tall, a bit lanky. Wore wire-rimmed glasses, needed a haircut. She liked his scraggly look, though. Light brown hair, slightly curly, slightly over his collar. Slight dimple in his chin. And, oh, those blue eyes. Wow, they were perceptive. So much so they almost scared her. “I don’t sleep much so I’ll be good to grab something with everybody else.”

“I’m just saying...” he said, scooping Megan into his arms and heading out to the infirmary.

* * *

Keera opened the door to the infirmary, saw exactly four beds. It was a tidy space, not large, not lush. Just basic. “Do many of your kids get sick?”

“Not really. By the point in their recovery that they’re allowed to come to camp, they’re usually pretty far along in the whole process, with all kinds of specialists making the determination whether or not they’re ready for the whole camping experience. In other words, barring normal things like colds and flu, they’re usually doing pretty well.”

“Well, it sounds like you’re doing important work. So don’t you think the owners would put a little more effort into the medical facility that might have to treat those kids? I mean, this place will suffice, but it could certainly stand some updates and expansion.” After Reid laid Megan in the bed, Keera pulled up the blanket to cover her. “Closer to the clinic would be nice, too, to save you some steps.”

“Are you always like this?”


“Outspoken. Opinionated. Whatever you want to call it.” Grabbing a fresh digital thermometer from the drawer in the stand next to the bed, he pulled it from its wrapper, punched the button and waited for it to calibrate. “Something to say pretty much on every subject.” The thermometer end went under Megan’s tongue the same time his eyes went to Keera’s. “I’m right about that, aren’t I?”

“It’s been said.” Amongst a lot worse things. “I’m a cardiac surgeon in a large hospital, and—”

“I know who you are.”


“Internet search.”


“Earlier. After you called. You sounded like someone who might come back to haunt me later on, so I decided to read up. Good thing I did, because...”

She smiled, almost apologetically but not quite. “Because I came back to haunt you.”

The thermometer beeped and Reid pulled it out and read it. Then shook his head. “One hundred three and a couple of decimal points.” Immediately, he pulled up Megan’s eyelids, took a look. She responded by whimpering and trying to jerk away from him.

“I talked to Beau a couple hours ago. He’d looked at the records we have for her, saw nothing significant. In fact, the only time she’s been to the office was when her parents first moved to Sugar Creek, and they were establishing me as their pediatrician. I gave her a preliminary exam, sort of as a baseline, and there was nothing remarkable. She’s developed properly for a child her age, and according to her parents there’s no history of any chronic illness or condition.

“But that’s me taking their word for it because they never had her medical records transferred to us, and there’s no mention of a former pediatrician, so right now we really know very little. Which means we’re coming into her care pretty much blind.”

“Trust me, blind is bad.”

“I get the feeling that has nothing to do with Megan.”

“Actually, it has everything to do with her. But not in the medical sense.”

Pulling out his stethoscope, Reid listened to the child’s chest, her heart, her tummy then pulled out his earpieces. “Didn’t hear anything more remarkable than what you probably heard. Bilateral congestion, wheezing.” He shrugged. “Indicative of any number of things. Which means I’m going to need lab work that I’m not equipped to do here.”

“Did it before I came here. Results should be in by morning. And I have her X-ray in the car.”

“You come prepared. Too bad all my patients don’t come in with all their tests already done.”

“Like I told you, I don’t know a thing about children. Don’t treat them, don’t operate on them, don’t want to. But getting everything done beforehand seemed logical.”

“Well, even though you’ve complicated my life by bringing her here, you’ve made my complication easier.”

“You’re not supposed to treat anybody who’s not at camp? Is that the problem? Because I can talk to the owner or director. Apologize. Make the appropriate donation for her care, if that’s what’s needed to make this better.”

“Actually, I own the camp so I can do what I want. And donations are always welcome. But just so you’ll know, she’s got the start of a rash on her stomach, so I think she’s probably coming down with measles, most likely in the early part of its three or four days of infectivity. Meaning while she’s in here I can’t have other children anywhere near her. So if somebody else needs the facility...” He shrugged. “I’ll treat her here for now, certainly for the night, and we’ll do the best we can with what we have. But I can’t make any promises beyond that. Fair enough?”

“More than fair,” she said, grateful for what he was offering.

“Have you had measles, by the way?”

“Not that I remember. But I don’t remember a lot of my childhood, so I don’t really know.”


“That, I was. Required in school.” When she had gone, which hadn’t been too often. “Could this be something else, though? An allergic reaction of some sort?” Reid Adams was an acclaimed pediatrician—she’d done her Internet surfing as well. So it was highly unlikely he’d make a mistake of a pretty basic diagnosis. Still, an allergic reaction resulting in a rash beat measles any day, so she was keeping her fingers crossed.

“If I were a betting man, I’d bet she’s going to have a full-blown rash by this time tomorrow.”

“And you still want to keep her? Especially with all the other children being so susceptible? I mean, I could take her to a hotel someplace close, so she wouldn’t have to suffer that long drive back tonight.”

“She’s too congested to move her any place, if we don’t have to. It would risk complications. And she has to be sick somewhere, doesn’t she? Seeing that you’re not in favor of taking her to the hospital, which would really be the only place I’d approve sending her...”

“If she absolutely needs to be in a hospital, that’s what I’ll do. I just have personal preferences about not leaving an already abandoned child in an institution.” Keera looked down at the girl, and her heart clutched. Poor thing, she didn’t deserve cold detachment, but that’s all Keera was capable of giving. She knew her limitations.

“She’s not my child, but I want what’s best for her, and while I know you’re a pediatrician and you’ll disagree with me, I don’t happen to think it would be in a hospital. And I don’t say that lightly as I work in a hospital.”

“Couldn’t agree with you more about hospitals.” He pushed a strand of hair away from Megan’s face then stood. “Don’t like them myself if they’re not necessary. Look, I really do need to go say goodnight to my girls, then I’ll be back to put an IV in her and give her some fluids to keep her hydrated. I think that will be easier than trying to get her to drink anything right now. It’ll only take me a couple of minutes...”

“I’m really sorry about this,” Keera said, feeling the need to apologize over and over because of what she was doing to Reid and his camp. It was an inconvenience at very best and a danger at worst.

“She’s sick. Bringing her all the way out here might not have been my first choice, but it’s a difficult situation. Can’t say I understand your decisions, but I’m not going to argue about them. So why the worried look?”

“I’m still concerned about exposing the other kids. I didn’t think about that before I came here, and I feel terrible.”

“See, the thing about being a pediatrician is you’re always in contact with something that’s highly contagious. In my office, I actually have separate waiting areas for kids with something catchy, as I like to call it. They never go to the general waiting room, never come near one of the other kids. Bottom line, I’m cautious and it works. So does the fact that we’re surrounded by the great outdoors so there aren’t any environmental factors that would help promote exposure.”

“You sure?”

He nodded, smiled. “Sure.”

“Do you have a solution for my fear of children as well?”

“Afraid of children, yet you’re a good doctor.”

“Definitely afraid of children. Don’t know what to do for them, or with them. I was a nervous wreck every time I had to rotate through Pediatrics when I was a resident.”

“Somehow I don’t picture you being a nervous wreck about anything.”

“I appreciate the compliment, but I’m serious about children. They’re not my strength. Speaking of which, there’s something you should know about Megan. And it’s not really her so much as the whole situation. But only because you’re her doctor.”

He motioned Keera to the door. “Tell me as you walk me out.”

She did, then stopped at the door as he stepped out into the night. “Without dragging out all the dirty laundry, what you need to know is that Keera is the child my husband conceived with another woman while he and I were still married, still going through the motions that made it look like a good marriage. We had our share of problems, like all couples do, but I didn’t know he was cheating on me. Didn’t even know his affair produced a child until she was a year old, and he was wanting out of our marriage so he could invest himself fully in his other family. That was a year ago. Haven’t seen him since except across the table at the lawyer’s office. And I’d never seen the child until...”

“Yet here you are with her, going above and beyond the call of duty to get her what you think is the care she needs.” Reid whistled quietly. “I’d say that’s pretty admirable in an uncomfortable situation.”

“It is uncomfortable. The authorities brought her to me...well, I’m not really sure how that worked out because once I realized they intended to leave her with me the rest of it turned into a blur. But there were some papers in the car—it was a car crash that killed them—and my name was on the papers. Papers from before we were divorced, I think.

“Anyway, the child was fine, so they brought her to me because they believed she was mine. Then they more or less coerced me into keeping her because they didn’t have a place to put her for various reasons, she got sick, here I am...”

Reid laid a steadying hand on her arm. “And here you are, frantic.”

“I’m sorry. In surgery I’m in control. But with Megan?” She shrugged. “It’s hard, Reid. And I really don’t have the right to be burdening you with all this. I wouldn’t have, except she got sick and...”

“And you fixated on me as your solution.”

“Not my solution. Megan’s solution. You’re her doctor. Which is a lame reason for me showing up here the way I did, but I panicked because my alternative was to take her to the hospital, and as a place to work it’s fine, but for a child...” She stopped explaining. “So, how are we going to deal with all these problems I’ve created for you?”

He chuckled. “Minor glitches.”

“I wouldn’t call them minor as it involves more than I ever expected. I mean, tying up your infirmary, keeping you away from your daughters. And your...wife?”

“No wife. Never married. Adopted daughters. Long story.”

“Well, whatever the case, I haven’t made things easy for you here, so...”

“So, that donation you mentioned?”

She nodded. “Happy to do it.”

“Money’s always great, but I’m thinking about some clinic time while you’re here. That way I can sneak off and see my girls.”

“I’m all for you getting to spend time with your daughters, and I’ll do anything I can to help make that happen. But seriously? You want me working with your kids after what I just told you?” It was probably the most uninspired thing he could have suggested.

“Think of them as future adults and you’ll be just fine.”

“Wouldn’t it be better if I simply hired a temp to come help you? Two temps, three. However many you need?”

“But you’re going to have to stay here with Megan anyway. Or were you thinking about leaving her here with me and vanishing into thin air?”

She smiled an especially guilty smile, because that thought had crossed her mind a time or two. “Not thin air. I’m too easy to track down.”

“But she’s a ward of the state, and you, apparently, have been given some sort of temporary custody. Which means you can’t just walk away from her. At least, I wouldn’t think so. And I don’t think you’d do that anyway, otherwise you’d have taken her to the hospital in the first place and just left her there.” He grinned. “Or left her on my doorstep when you had the chance.”

“OK, I’ll admit it. Leaving her here might have crossed my mind...”

He chuckled. “You’re too transparent, Keera.”

“And you’re too perceptive, Reid. But I meant what I said about children. So if you still want me to work with your kids here, knowing what you know about me, I’ll give you a couple of days as I’m the one who messed you up. You’ll have the right to terminate my services, with no notice, though. Just thought I’d throw that in there for your protection.”

“What happens if you discover you don’t mind working with children? Or, better yet, even like it?”

“I’ll return to my blessedly all-adult practice with the memories. But you’re not converting me, Doctor. If that happens, I’ll concede a slight change of heart after the ordeal is over, if I have to—which I don’t expect I will have to do. But that’s all you’ll get from me.”

“OK, then. Now that the ground rules are established...”

“What ground rules?”

“The ones where I’m going to work super-hard to change your mind and you’re going to fight me off every step of the way.” He smiled, mimicking a gauntlet sliding over his right arm. “You threw down the darned gauntlet, so don’t blame me for picking it up and seeing what I can do with it.”

She couldn’t help it. She liked this pediatrician, in spite of his choice of medical specialties. Liked his humor, liked his rather frazzled look. In fact, while the prospect of children underfoot didn’t exactly appeal to her, spending a few days with Reid underfoot suddenly seemed like a nice way to pass time that would have been time lost in books and sleep. He was cute.

“Fine, I’ll do what I need to do. But I wouldn’t be putting on that other gauntlet just yet.” To honor the deal, she extended a hand to him then had to bite her lower lip to keep from gasping when he took it, as the smooth feel of his skin on hers ignited a spark that arced all the way up her arm.

“So, about that IV...” he said, rather reluctantly. “Let me run over to the dorm for a minute then I’ll be right back. In the meantime, maybe you could check over supplies. I’ll start the IV as you don’t do kids and you could get everything ready.”

Backing his way down the steps, he only turned round when he’d reached ground. Or maybe he lingered. In her mind, the uncertainty she saw there most certainly had to be over his routine gone horribly wrong, but she wished it could have been more. And while she wasn’t open to a relationship of any lasting sort, a nice flirtation from time to time wasn’t off her list. Except this man ran a camp for kids, and he had kids of his own—a reality that slammed her back to earth in a fraction of a breath as she went looking for IV supplies.

But a little while later, after his round of goodnights had been said to his daughters, and as she watched him skillfully master the insertion of an IV catheter into such a tiny vein, she was almost changing her mind again. No flirting allowed! Admire the man, admire his skill. Every bit of this was trouble and if she was smart, she’d turn round, go home and hire him some temps.

But she wasn’t smart. Not about the kinds of things going through her mind, anyway.

* * *

“You don’t spend much time away from them, do you?” Keera asked, catching Reid staring out the door at the cabin where the girls were sleeping. Megan was tucked in for the night, resting as comfortably as she could under the circumstances.

“Try not to. I mean, I work, have to take call when it’s my turn. But I have fantastic friends who look after them at home, which makes life easier for me. And now, even when they’re here at camp, in the dorm, I can visit them when I want.”

“If you want to be free to go over there whenever, I can spend the night with Megan.”

“That’s not it. I know they’re safe, and just a few hundred yards away. But I’m over-protective. Can’t help it. Emmie had leukemia when I adopted them. She was a little over two and Allie was still a baby. Their mother...” He shrugged.

“I never really knew what happened. Apparently, she brought Allie into the world so her umbilical cord stem cells could be used in treating Emmie. They’re only half-sisters, but the match was perfect. Their mother—her name was Maria—stayed around long enough to see that Emmie was responding to treatment, and then one day she didn’t come to the hospital. I’d heard she’d come here seeking medical care for Emmie, and once she’d found it she’d gone home to Mexico, but I really don’t know.

“Anyway, after that...” He shrugged. “Emmie improved, Allie was placed in foster-care for a while, but there was always a thought that if the stem-cell therapy failed, there was still potential for a bone-marrow transplant, with a sibling donor. So, Allie was brought back to the hospital to stay, and that’s where I met the girls, actually. Allie wasn’t sick but she was put on my service to care for.”

“And you adopted them?”

“It became legal six months ago. But I’ve had them for nearly four years. Because they had to stay together, and because of Emmie’s leukemia, they weren’t considered highly adoptable. Then the restrictions for adopting parents were huge because of the medical considerations. One thing led to another and I took them. I don’t regret it.”

“And Emmie, is she in remission?”

“I like to think of it as full recovery because she’s so healthy now. But, yes, she’s in remission. We’ve got one more year left before we can celebrate her recovery.”

“Lucky girls,” Keera commented.

“Lucky me. They slowed me down, forced me to look at life differently. I was on a pretty self-destructive path, indulging in just about every unhealthy kind of lifestyle habit there was. Smoking, fast foods three times a day, little to no sleep, amphetamines when needed. But when you have kids, you have to be...better.” He smiled. “Or else they’ll beat you down to a bloody pulp and walk all over you.

“Anyway, we have some choices here. The camp doesn’t wake up for several more hours so, like I said earlier, you can go find the guest cabin and take advantage of the time while I stay here. Or you can stay with Megan while I take advantage of the next few hours. Your choice.”

“My choice would have to be the noble thing, wouldn’t it?” she said as she headed back into the clinic. “So save whatever’s left of the night, and I’ll be fine in one of the infirmary beds. Besides, I think it would be better if I stay closer to her because if she wakes up there’s a chance she’ll remember me.”

“No arguments here. So, there are clean scrubs in the supply closet. Feel free to use the kitchen in the back of the infirmary and help yourself to tea, coffee, anything you want. And if you need me...” He held up his cellphone. “Or lean out the window and shout. I sleep with my windows open, and I’m a light sleeper.”

“Literally?” she said, grabbing a pair of scrubs from the closet then pulling the curtain around the bed next to Megan’s to afford herself a little privacy while she changed.

“Dad training is good for a lot of things,” he said.

Megan’s response was to whimper then turn on her side. Keera’s response to that was to sit down on the edge of the bed next to Megan, lay her hand gently to her cheek to feel for a temperature then go immediately for a cold compress.

Reid, on the other hand, stood back and watched. Then decided that for someone who didn’t like children, and who claimed she didn’t have a way with them, Keera had a way with them. A very nice way, when her guard wasn’t up.

* * *

One o’clock, two o’clock, and now it was going on three and he hadn’t gone to sleep yet. In fact, he wasn’t even sleepy. Which was highly unusual, because most of the time he was worn out by the time his head hit the pillow. His head had hit the pillow at least twenty times in the past three hours, but hadn’t stayed there. All because Dr. Keera Murphy, the avowed child-hater, was next door, and she was all he could think about. Pretty, with her coppery long hair and her green eyes. Feisty with her opinions. But compassionate, in spite of her blustery no-kids-allowed attitude.

He’d seen the way she’d held Megan, and protected her. He’d heard the way she comforted her. Nothing about that showed any kind of dislike for the little girl, so he wondered why the attempt at an outward persuasion against children when he didn’t believe that was her inner feeling.

We all have our fears, he reminded himself, returning to the bedroom window for at least the tenth time to look over at the infirmary, to the single light shining inside it. Fear. Such an immense word. His biggest fears were for his daughters. Always. And specifically for Emmie’s health. What were Keera’s fears?

He wondered about that as he thought back over the years, back to a time when his own life had been fearless. Or, as some might describe it, stupid. Actually, as he might describe it now that he’d grown up. He’d been typically bachelor-selfish, making his various conquests along the way. Doing nothing so different from the majority of hotshot interns and residents. Bad life, bad attitude, all changed for the love of two little girls.

And out of that love had grown his fears. But he wouldn’t trade what he had now for anything from his old life because even now, thinking about the way he’d been made him shudder.

Or was he shuddering because he could see the silhouette of Keera in the infirmary? She was awake, like he was, and standing at the window, too. Looking over at him perhaps?


“I’VE GOT YOU set up in the guest cottage,” Reid said, giving Keera a gentle nudge.

Keera opened her eyes, looked up and there he was, looking down at her, almost as disheveled as she felt. “What time is it?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes, trying to focus, and hating the fact that the sun was already up to remind her she’d only gone to sleep a little while ago.

“Going on to eight. Did you sleep well?”

“Like a baby. For three hours. Megan had a restless night. She kept waking up, calling for her mommy.” She glanced over at the child, who’d finally gone to sleep after several fussy intervals. “And she was spiking a pretty high fever for a while, which finally broke around four. Poor thing was miserable.”

“Well, there’s a nice shower waiting for you in the guest cabin, if that’ll make you feel any better.”

“If there’s a bed in the shower, that’ll be perfect.”

“I don’t know about you, but I used to have nights when three hours of sleep were a blessing.”

“Back in my residency,” she said, sitting up and stretching. “Which, thankfully, has been over with for a while. And my hospital had a very strict policy with its surgical residents about taking care of ourselves. If we came in and looked the least bit tired or sluggish, we’d get bumped out of the OR and they’d put us on chart duty and paperwork for the entire shift. Once or twice doing that and you learned to get your sleep.”

“You were lucky, then. Where I did my Pediatrics residency, they were so short-staffed we were always tired and sluggish.” He smiled. “Makes for a better story than well rested and perky, doesn’t it?”

Keera laughed. “Want to hear about all the paper cuts I got the first time I had to spend a day on chart duty?”

“Good try,” he said, holding out his hand to pull her out of bed. “But I can top that with the time I worked thirty-six hours straight in the middle of a blizzard, and I was the only pediatrician in the hospital. Didn’t even get a nap in.”

She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, then stood, and immediately brushed her hair back from her face. “Yes, but did you get physically wounded, the way I did? Paper cuts can get infected, you know.”

“Do leg cramps, aching feet and a sore back count?”

“Six paper cuts, Reid.”

“And the only food available the whole time was from a vending machine.” He smiled. “Can’t top that, can you?”

“Yuck. Vending machines? Seriously?”

“Nothing but snack cakes and candy bars and potato chips for thirty-six hours.”

“Enough!” she said, holding out her hand to stop him. “You win. I can’t top that because we had a catering service...even though I was barely able to hold a fork to eat my shrimp Louie salad.”

“You just don’t give up, do you?” he asked, leading her to the tiny kitchen in the rear where a fresh pot of coffee was awaiting her.

“Where I come from, giving up came with serious side effects,” she said, pouring a cup for Reid first then one for herself.

“And where would that be?” he asked lightly.

“The streets,” she said, quite surprised how that had slipped out so easily. Normally that was a piece of her life she didn’t put out there for other people to know about. Too often they judged or pitied her. Gave her funny looks or were wary. None of which she wanted. “Growing up was rough. My mother and I had a hard time sometimes,” she said, then took a sip. “I made it through, though, probably because I’m too stubborn to give up.”

“Then I’d say stubborn suits you.”

“Most of the time,” she conceded. “Look, I need that shower you mentioned.”

“Take all the time you need, as long as it’s not longer than an hour. I’ve got clinic this morning after breakfast, and the kids will start lining up in about an hour. So I can watch Megan only until then.”


“We do basic checks, vital signs, that sort of thing, just to make sure we’re not wearing them out. Most of the kids are in early remission or recovery, and they’re not always the best judges of how they feel, so we keep a pretty close eye on that.”

“I could do that if you want to stay here for a while and rest, because you look about as strung out as I feel. And as that’s my fault, the least I could do is some of your work.”

“Sounds like an offer I shouldn’t refuse,” he said. “You take the clinic, and I’ll stay here with Megan, get some paperwork done, do a supplies inventory, answer some long-overdue e-mails from parents interested in sending their kids to camp here.”

“Do you have more than one session a year?”

“Actually, we run eight, various ages and stages of recovery.”

“And you personally oversee them all?”

He shook his head. “I oversee the one Emmie attends. Which will probably change in another year or two when she’ll be old enough she doesn’t want Dad hanging around her all the time. For the other sessions I have some of the best medical help in the country come in.” He smiled with pride. “People are generous.”

“I’m impressed.”

He shrugged off the compliment. “Kids need to be kids, no matter what their medical condition. Camp Hope simply facilitates that.”

“And you’re too modest.”

“Not modest. Just grateful something like this worked out in my life. Like I told you, I was a real screw-up before the girls.”

“Then good for the girls for bringing out all the potential in you. Anyway, let me go grab a quick shower then...what, exactly, will I do in clinic?”

“Vitals, a few meds.”

“Anybody on chemo?”

“No, we don’t do chemo here. Our kids have, for the most part, already gone through that stage a time or two. Although giving chemo’s an option for the future because even kids who are that sick need a diversion, which Camp Hope would give them. Right now we just don’t have the facilities for it. Someday, though...maybe a chemotherapy facility. Who knows, maybe even an entire hospital devoted to leukemia.

“Anyway, right now we do follow-up therapy with drugs for nausea, and a couple of our kids are getting prednisone and methotrexate. It’s all basic stuff, pretty much. Each kid has a chart. Medicines are stored away according to the child.” He handed her the key to the medicine storage. “So check their ID with the chart and, well...you’ll figure it out.

“Betsy can come in later and help after her morning sickness has ended for the day. Just let me know if you need her, and I’ll give her a shout.”

“Basic stuff,” she repeated. “I guess I find it difficult to believe you’d leave me alone with your kids. You don’t even know me.”

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Brought together by a child in need…When he adopted two little girls, paediatrician Dr Reid Adams found a new sense of purpose – but it cost him his fiancée. His girls and his little patients are now his life. Then prickly, beautiful surgeon Keera Murphy arrives, with a sick and orphaned child, and turns his world upside down…Keera is clearly struggling with two-year-old Megan, who has recently been placed in her care – she’s convinced she’s not mother material. But Reid is determined to bring these two lost souls together, and soon realises that in opening up Keera’s locked-away heart he’s in danger of losing his own!

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