Книга - The Doctor’s Courageous Bride


The Doctor's Courageous Bride
Dianne Drake

Dr. Solange Léandre has dedicated her life to her rural clinic in the jungle of Kijé island. Involving herself in the lively community is a happy refuge from her painful past–a chance to heal through healing others.When specialist Dr. Paul Killian visits Solange's clinic, he is mesmerized by her. He wants nothing more than to work alongside this amazing woman, and to be part of the extended family she's created. This city doctor has to find a way to show her that he has the tenacity and dedication for life in the jungle, and the passion to care for a feisty, strong-willed woman!


The cutting edge of Harlequin® Medical Romance™

The emotion is deep

The drama is real

The intensity is fierce


Feel the heat—every hour…every minute…every heartbeat

Dear Reader,

I’m so thrilled to be back for my fourth medical romance, and I’d like to thank Harlequin®, and my editor, Kate Ahl, for allowing me to write these stories for you.

Years ago I knew a marvelous doctor. He had a successful cardiology practice, a beautiful home and a nice car. Then one day he gave it up. I was just a child then, and I remember people saying things like “He must have gone crazy!”

Years later I picked up a magazine and read an article about him. He’d gone to Appalachia—a region in the United States that was notoriously poor and without health care. He was a circuit doctor, hiking around the mountains to various towns and villages, performing medical care out of a backpack. At that time he’d been doing it for fifteen years, and he was quoted as saying that was his life’s dream, and all he ever wanted to do.

Where I live, a multimillion-dollar monorail was built to transport doctors from one hospital to another so they wouldn’t have to walk or drive those few blocks. Every time I see it I think about my friend, who hiked through the mountains year after year with his backpack. He achieved a dream few people can even imagine, and lived a life few would want. My friend, like Solange, the heroine of this book, had a true servant’s heart. To him, and to others like him, I dedicate this book.

Wishing you health and happiness!

Dianne Drake

Recent titles by the same author:

206—NURSE IN RECOVERY* (#litres_trial_promo)

218—THE MEDICINE MAN* (#litres_trial_promo)

245—THE SURGEON’S RESCUE MISSION* (#litres_trial_promo)

The Doctor’s Courageous Bride

Dianne Drake

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


CHAPTER ONE (#u063c13dc-fea9-54a7-a507-fa19c501bde1)

CHAPTER TWO (#u9ed3b1f0-f3b2-5221-9b2c-91a0466bc0ce)

CHAPTER THREE (#uf8db159b-5021-565b-8999-e699340c6a4d)

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)

CHAPTER ELEVEN (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER TWELVE (#litres_trial_promo)


“YOUR HÔPITAL is all you have on your mind, mon ami. You should take the night off. Enjoy with me. Drink the champagne, look at the pretty women. All work and no play makes Dr Paul Killian a very old man very fast. And once you wither up and blow away, what will become of your hôpital then?” Bertrand Léandre threw back his head and laughed heartily, then took a puff of his big fat Cuban cigar. A mountain of a man in his tuxedo, he was big, broad and obviously the domineering factor in the room, domineering in every physical aspect. And the people at the party responded positively to him, hovering around him, listening and laughing.

All except Paul Killian, who was already tired. For them, it was a party. For him, it was work. He couldn’t even remember when he’d taken the time to enjoy, and it was a pity because as parties went, Bertrand Léandre always threw the best. But raising funds for his hospital was a vital part of Paul’s job now, and Bertrand had the funds Paul needed. More than that, he attracted the funds, so there was no turning his back on generosity, especially when he wanted to add a new children’s wing and buy another whirlpool therapy tub.

Paul laughed. “All work and no play adds a whirlpool to physical therapy.” He tugged at the tight collar of his starched, white shirt. Tuxedos weren’t his style. Neither were the silk bow-ties nor the stiff, shiny black shoes that protocol demanded with the formal ensemble. Horrible dress for a man who had gotten use to the garb of Kijé and found it not only fetching but comfortable. Gauzy pants, loose cotton shirts, sandals. If anybody had told him two years ago when he arrived on Kijé that the tops of his toes would soon be tanned, he would have laughed.

But they were now, as were the toes of every other fair-skinned person who spent their time in a tropical paradise. And that’s what Kijé was. A tropical Caribbean paradise. Blue skies, blue waters and those legendary balmy breezes, none of which required formal garment.

But an evening in a tuxedo was part of the job, and shedding comfort for formality was worth all the bother because people, overall, were generous at these affairs. And he counted on that generosity to improve the condition of his hospital. Bottom line. That’s what he was about. Finding the funds that made Killian Hospital run.

Paul flagged a passing waiter for a flute of ginger ale, because he bypassed the Dom Perignon at these affairs when he was representing the hospital and so much was at stake. “And as for the pretty women, even if I did notice them, when would I have the time, Bertrand? You know my life. Do you think a woman in her right mind would even look twice at me if she knew that I was destined to run off at a moment’s notice?” He’d been married to a beautiful woman who hadn’t been able to abide the lifestyle. She’d wanted to wake up every morning looking at his face on the pillow next to hers, which had turned out to be a rare occurrence in their marriage. Traditional domesticity wasn’t his strong suit, but it’s what Joanna had needed. Too bad they hadn’t known that before they’d married. “Tried it once, mon ami, and you know how that turned out.” And trying it twice wasn’t on his agenda. So he didn’t tempt himself. All work and no play…the substance of Dr Paul Killian.

Bertrand snorted. “You are too hard on yourself. Even the most untraditional of marriages can be the most wonderful, if the two people involved are meant to be together. You and the other Dr Killian were not meant to be together no matter what the circumstances. In marriage, mon ami, that’s what you get: either meant to be or meant not to be. You, unfortunately, fell into the not category, and it had nothing to do with your absences.” He smiled wistfully, then sighed. “I know these things, Paul.”

Bertrand referred to his own marriage to the late Dr Gabriella Léandre. She had been a pioneer in heart surgery, living most of her life in Paris while her husband had lived in Miami and Kijé. It had worked nicely for them, but it hadn’t worked at all for Paul and Joanna, and he was fully aware that many, maybe even most, of the shortfalls in that fiasco of a marriage had been his. “You were the fortunate one in your marriage, but for me, like you said, it wasn’t meant to be. So now I have my work and it makes me happy.” He cast Bertrand a well-rehearsed smile, one he used so often in affairs such as this. “And speaking of work, I need to get back to it.”

Paul took a sip of his ginger ale, glancing around to size up the guests there this evening. Most of them he knew, some he did not. Some would be generous donors, others would refer him to their accountant for that obligatory contribution—the one that would make Bertrand Léandre take notice of them—and still others would simply decline. But that’s the way it was in his world, and he didn’t take it personally. “So tell me, Bertrand, to whom should I be talking instead of you now? Who will be the best use of my time here tonight?”

“My, but you have become proficient, haven’t you?”

“I’ve had a good teacher,” Paul responded, his eyes still scanning the crowd.

“Always the work, Paul.” Bertrand tsk-tsked him, shaking his head. “Always the work, and yet you are so rarely there to see the work. All that education and you reduce yourself to a common beggar.” He shook his head again, this time frowning. “It’s such a waste, my friend. You could be the head of a great hospital somewhere. You have the talents and I have connections. Would you like for me to see what I can do for you?”

Paul smiled patiently. They’d had this discussion before. Many times before. “About picking some pockets for me, yes, please see what you can do. But about finding me another job, you know the answer. I have my job.” And he loved it. Passionately. Because in the end, people who couldn’t afford treatment from other sources received treatment at his hospital. At no cost. So maybe he didn’t doctor in the traditional sense so much now, but the outcome was the same. People who needed help were helped.

Paul glanced away from Bertrand to the entryway, to the woman standing there, looking around the room. His breath caught in his throat for an instant. Then he blinked. Had she stumbled into the wrong party? Dressed in khaki shorts, a blue T-shirt and hiking boots and standing there so elegantly in her jungle attire amid all the sequins and silks and Ferragamo shoes, that had to be the case.

Whatever the reason, the Fates had sent her here only for him, and the man who never looked was already grateful for the gift, because she was the most stunning woman he’d ever seen in his life. With flawless skin and wild black hair hanging well past her shoulders, she was tall and lithe, and her legs…Dear God, those legs…Covering them in the formal wear all the other women at Bertrand’s affair wore would have been a high crime.

Quite simply, everything about her took his breath away for in that moment as she stood there surveying the room and he surveyed her, it was just the two of them. Dim lights, soft jazz, and no one else. And as her eyes searched all the people and finally came to rest on his, he didn’t hear the next words from Bertrand, neither did he hear any of the stifled gasps coming from the crowd over her audacity to gatecrash the affair dressed as she was.

No, he heard none of that because as her eyes finally met his, he heard only the pounding of his heart.

Then as she started to move across the room, her strides purposeful and not at all in the graceful manner he might have expected from one so exquisite, he found himself still drawn to her every movement—the way she pushed her hair back from her face, the way her shoulders swayed with each step she took, the way she moved through all glitz yet emerged as the most captivating person in the room.

No, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Didn’t even try. Perhaps she was looking for directions to her rightful destination—a place to which he already ached to follow her.

But she didn’t stop, not even when one of waiters approached her to offer champagne. She merely refused him with a gentle smile and continued on, showing to everyone who looked on that in a room full of tuxedos and designer gowns, that she was the standout, the one all eyes followed, and not because of her attire.

The farther into the room she moved, the more hushed it became, and by the time she reached the spot where Paul and Bertrand were standing, it was so quiet throughout, even the clinking of the champagne flutes on the waiters’ trays seemed an intrusion.

Stopping there, she glanced up briefly at Bertrand Léandre, offering him a faint smile. “Papa,” she said, pausing briefly as he bent to kiss her cheek. Then to Paul, “You are Dr Paul Killian, are you not?”

Paul nodded, and before he could utter a word she grabbed hold of his hand and started to pull him away from her father. “Good. My name is Dr Solange Léandre, and I must speak with you, Dr Killian. Privately.”

“You don’t look like your photograph,” Solange commented once they were in the hall. Then she smiled shyly, quickly adding, “I mean that in a good way. You look much better than your photo.” He was much more handsome in person. Larger, too. Well over six feet tall, with light brown, slightly long and unkempt hair, blue eyes, perfect smile—yes, he was handsome, but in a way she’d certainly never considered worth a second look. Until now.

Dr Mauricio Raúl Muñoz had certainly been a handsome one. The type who’d never failed to turn her head and, in retrospect, the type she should have turned her head away from. He was shorter than Paul, with dark, wavy black hair, and those dark, brooding eyes. Solange shivered, and not in a good way, thinking about him. Mauricio had been, oh, so wrong for her. Three years wrong, as it turned out. “I saw your photo in the newspaper. You were posing with my father at one of his charity events, and he was donating some lab equipment to your hospital, I believe.” Actually, she knew. She’d kept the copy and memorized Paul’s face in the expectation of this meeting.

And, admittedly, she’d liked his smile in that photo. The same smile he was flashing at her right now. The one that was causing her to shiver again, but in a good way this time.

“I’m flattered that you remember me and, more than that, recognize me from the photo, because it wasn’t very flattering.” He chuckled. “It’s true what they say about cameras. They put on ten pounds and, in my case, ten years.”

Solange tossed him an impertinent smile. “Are you fishing for a compliment, Doctor?”

“Having you notice me was the best compliment you could have paid me.” He snagged a flute of champagne from the tray of a waiter scurrying into the Salon Rose and handed it to Solange. “In my dreary life, that’s a rare occurrence,” he continued, grimacing. “Sadly, more rare these past two years than I should be admitting to a lady such as yourself. It makes me seem rather pathetic.”

“I think we all get noticed where we want to be noticed, Doctor. Where and how.” She took a sip of her champagne, then set the flute on a replica Queen Anne hall table against the wall behind her. “If you live a dreary life, I suspect that’s by choice.”

“Or necessity.”

“I understand necessity. That’s the reason I’m here. Out of necessity.” She drew in a deep breath. That sounded a bit too sharp-edged, she thought. But she was nervous, and this was so important. “Forgive me for getting straight to the point.” To take the edge off, she retrieved the champagne and drank it all in one effort. She simply tilted the glass back and let the bubbly slide down her throat in the hope that it would brace her for this, as well as make her a little more mellow.

“Basically, what I want is a place to send my patients for various tests. Yours is a private hospital, your money pays for the tests, your equipment performs them, and I thought that proper protocol demanded me asking you before I started sending people your way. A medical courtesy.”

“Your patients?” he questioned.

“Rurals, Doctor. I work up in the Massif des Montagnes Noires, traveling to the various villages.”

“And the rurals rarely seek out traditional medicine, Doctor?” Paul asked. “In my two years here on Kijé, I can recall only one or two instances where they came to the hospital. Most of the time they don’t trust us.”

Solange smiled. “It’s a challenge. I understand that. But for me, I like knowing there’s help available if I need it. Someplace to send my patients if the situation warrants it.”

“And how are you going to persuade them to come to me?”

“I have a partner who travels with me who is the persuasive one. I think I’ll leave getting them here up to him.”

“Another doctor?”

Solange shook her head. “A monk. He’s wandered the mountains of Kijé for thirty years, getting to know the rurals, and they trust him.”

“You can only mean Frère Léon, the one-man medical mission. I haven’t seen him for a while and I was wondering where he was.” He chuckled. “He is always a bit of a crusader, isn’t he, trying to set up better medical facilities throughout the island?”

“And I’m the conquest of one of his recent crusades.” Solange laughed. “So now I travel about half my time, and I do have a little infirmary operating at an old mission halfway up the mountain. We offer basic care there, but not X-rays and lab work. And that’s what I want from you, Doctor. The ancillary services. Something that will give me the diagnostic tools I need.”

Paul chuckled. “And here I was hoping that you’d sought me out for something other than my ancillary services.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but yours is the closest facility to my mountain, and I’ve heard you do brilliant work there.”

“Ah, you do know how to crush a man, Doctor.”

“Not crush, Doctor. Persuade.” She laughed. “So is it working? Are you persuaded yet? Or do I have more work to do here?”

“Tell me who you are, Dr Léandre. You said you’re a doctor, and it’s obvious you’re Bertrand’s daughter. Actually, I’m surprised he’s never mentioned having a family, other than…Gabriella.”

“My mother,” Solange whispered. Gone ten years now, mention of her mother still brought a lump to her throat. “My father doesn’t get past my mother, so I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of me from him. But to answer your question, I’m a doctor, specializing in public health and infectious disease. I’ve was working in a Miami clinic that closed up just over a year ago.” Locked up tight, building on the auction block, and a fiancé who’d thought it had been time to go upscale with their joint medical practice. Except, silly her, the legalities on the contract had made it his medical practice, his building, his decision. “So I came here to Kijé, took to the mountains, and the rest, as they say, is history.” Solange glanced over Paul’s shoulder to the door of Salon Rose, where her father’s party had already resumed with the next round of champagne and caviar, and where her father loomed, scowling in the doorway, a single malt Scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other. “Do you have a room here at the hotel, Dr Killian? Someplace where we can talk privately, without my father’s scrutiny? He thinks I make bad career decisions and his position on this would be to install me as a medical director in a large hospital somewhere. His solution is always the biggest and the best.”

Paul chuckled. “I’ve had that offer myself. Just a few minutes ago, actually.”

“Then he must like you. Which is high praise, as my father is an exacting man who keeps most people at arm’s length.” She smiled at her father, who acknowledged it with a half-hearted attempt at a smile. “He really hates being left out of this, you know.”

“Am I detecting a little angst in your family situation?”

“A little. My sister, Solaina, was always better with Papa. I was better with Maman, I think. Her way to love her family was to nurture it. His way was to control it.” She shrugged. “But I didn’t come here to tell you my family history, Doctor.” Here, at L’Hôtel de Brise d’Océan. How ironic, after all these years. As a child, she’d played on the white sandy beaches outside, dined in the world-class dining room, slept in the down-filled beds. And she’d loved that life. But that had been so long ago, in more innocent times when she had been young. Now she wasn’t affected by the trappings. They were nice, as were the memories, but the aspiration to be part of that life again was so far removed from her reality she had a hard time even imagining it.

Mauricio had aspired to the trappings, though. Wife, children, a nice home far, far away from the way they started out helping the needy. All desires he’d sneaked in on her, a little at a time. “So can we go somewhere and talk for a while? You tell me what you have to offer and I’ll tell you how I’d like to make use of it.”

“Do you know how long it’s been since anybody said something like that to me?” Paul said, chuckling. “Like I said before, you really do know how to crush a man.”

He grinned at her, and the warmth in his smile almost distracted her. But she had to be careful. The Mission, Sol. “Look. I want to apologize for the way I stormed in there…” She glanced down at her attire, then over at his. “I don’t always think these things through before I act, and when I read in the Port Georges paper that my father was to be here this evening, with you, I suppose you can see that I didn’t think it through as far as I should have. So why don’t you go back in there, enjoy the rest of the party, and maybe later we could meet for a chat, figure out how your hospital can work for my patients. If certain days are better than others for routine tests, what specific kinds of tests you’re set up to do…”

“And I don’t suppose I could convince you to join me?”

She laughed. “Not a chance. I’ve had my share of that life and, trust me, I don’t belong in there. So you go back, and when you’ve finished, I’ll be waiting in the lobby for you.”

“You don’t give up, do you?” he asked.

“We all do what we have to do, don’t we? Especially if we believe in it.” She wasn’t getting a good read of him yet. Definitely not a no, but also not a yes. He had kind eyes, though—eyes she caught herself trusting easily.

“Would you be more comfortable in the bar than my hotel room, or maybe having dinner?” He glanced at her father. “The lobster here is fabulous.”

“This is not a date, Dr Killian,” Solange countered, not sure what to make of this whole thing. It was promising, but on what level? Personal, professional? Was he simply scouting a bedmate for the night or honestly interested in listening to her? “I don’t need to be entertained in a bar, and I certainly don’t need lobster, fabulous or otherwise.”

Paul chuckled. “You really don’t give up.”

“I really can’t give up. My medical practice is expanding now that the villagers in the mountains are getting used to me, and even trusting me. And I want to get this arrangement taken care of before there’s an urgent need. I’m assuming that you’ll make your facilities available to my patients. Or am I mistaken?”

“Of course I’ll make my facilities available.”

“Which leaves us to the ways, Dr Killian.”

“And the means, Dr Léandre. I always have to figure in the means.” Paul glanced over at her father, who was beginning to inch closer to hear the conversation. “So about that lobster dinner…?”

Solange smiled. In spite of her caution, she liked him. He was to the point, but charmingly so. And he did so tempt her to veer off course for a little while. “I do like lobster, but I’m not dressed for the dining room and I’m sure there’s a dress code, so I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on the offer.” Safe comeback, and on the personal side, all she wanted was safe.

Paul took Solange’s arm. “You’re dressed better than anyone you’ll find in the dining room, in my opinion anyway. But I’m afraid you’re right about a dress code, so—”

Solange thrust her palm out to stop him. “So this is where you get me up to your room?”

“Purely lobster. And talk. I can give you an hour, but that’s all.”

He was back to business. That was good, because that’s all she could cope with. “So I’ll take that hour, and your lobster.”

He arched his eyebrows suggestively. “More’s the pity this is only business, because you’re good, Dr Léandre.” Paul laughed as he held out his arm to escort her to his hotel room. “Very good.”

“So are you, Dr Killian.” Good, she was sure, in ways she would never know.


PAUL’S room was heaven. Solange followed him through the door and simply stopped and stared before she was all the way inside. Pure heaven, just the way she remembered these rooms to be from her childhood. Red tile floor, two colonial king-sized beds, a vast picture window with a marvelous view of the pristine beach outside, and of the blue ocean beyond it.

Even though it was nearly dark outside now, in the pinks and golds of the twilight she could see a sailboat making its way slowly to port, its tall white sails fluttering lazily in the early evening breeze. She’d gone sailing out there with her family so many times. Her parents, her sister Solaina. Those had been good times, and she almost ached from the memory of them. But that had been so long ago, and nothing now, or in her future, was about sailboats or any of the other luxuries with which she’d grown up. She didn’t miss them much, though, because she had the memories, and nothing now could come close to that.

“The bathroom,” Solange whispered, crossing over to take a peek at the bathtub. White porcelain, deep, and curved in a way she was sure would fit to her well. Solange sighed wistfully. Only a few months up in the mountains and she’d already forgotten how nice a long soak in the tub could feel. Now it was a matter of a quick, usually cold, shower. Function over luxury. And time necessitated expediency because, no matter where she was, she was expected someplace else.

But this bathroom was so nice, she did indulge herself the fantasy of it all for a moment, picking up the scallop-sculpted soap nestled into a large abalone shell sitting at the washbasin. The lavender scent of it wafted up to greet her, and she quickly replaced the soap in its abalone shell for fear that getting caught up in the luxuries here would distract her.

“Feel free to use it,” Paul said. “Any of it. All of it.”

She laughed. “Am I being that obvious?”

“Like a kid in a candy store.”

“Out in the jungle there aren’t any such luxuries. We have buildings and we have the basics, but lavender soap…Frère Léon buys lye soap from one of the villages and, believe me, it doesn’t come close to smelling this nice.” On her way out of the bathroom, Solange stepped in front of the mirror over the vanity, almost afraid to take a look.

Her first glance at herself was such a shock. “Mon Dieu!” she whispered. Slowly lifting her hand to her face, she brushed it across her cheek, then her lips, then she raised it to her hair and ran her fingers through it. “I’ve aged so much,” she said. Her eyes were almost hollow, her hair so wild. And she was so thin…Turning away, she smiled self-consciously. “I haven’t been in front of a mirror for months and after all this time I’m afraid it’s quite a shock.”

“Then we must be looking at two different images, because what I’m seeing is absolutely stunning.”

“Kind words, Doctor, but not the ones I want to hear from you.”

“That’s right. You came to discuss lab tests and X-rays.” He laughed. “It seems to be a family trait. Your father’s a stubborn man—”

“I’m not stubborn,” Solange interrupted, turning out the bathroom light and stepping out into the hallway. “I wouldn’t argue the point over my father being stubborn, but I like to consider myself persistent.” She smiled at him, hoping not to seem too pushy. “Persistent with a purpose.”

“And I always thought that was called stubborn. My mistake.” Paul placed the palm of his right hand flat against his chest and gave her a slight bow. “And my sincerest apologies to the persistent lady. I’ll never make that mistake again.”

“Accepted,” she said, laughing. Paul was quite the charmer, and she shouldn’t be paying attention to him in a personal sense, or even liking him as anything other than a business contact. But she did, and it was very foolish! She knew that. She’d had a charmer for three years and look how that had turned out.

So why was she still susceptible? Especially when anything personal had the potential to make this situation between Paul and her difficult. She needed professional—colleague to colleague. Nothing else. Maybe not ever again, because it was turning out that being on her own wasn’t as bad as she’d feared it might have been. In fact, she rather liked her life, coming and going as she pleased. Nothing but the work to dictate her time and attention. Without Mauricio, life was good now, better than it had been in a long time, and she aimed to keep it that way. Meaning no more charmers!

“So now that you stand corrected about my persistence, shall we work out the details of your hospital schedule and arrange the best way for my patients to be seen there?” Solange went to sit on one of the two rattan chairs in a grouping at the end of the beds.

“That’s direct,” he said. “And just when I thought I might get lucky.”

“Lucky, as in…?” She tossed him an exaggerated puzzled look.

“Apparently as in it’s just my luck to be in a hotel room with the most beautiful woman on the island and all she wants to do is schedule X-rays.”

“I think you’re finally catching on,” Solange teased.

“Believe me, I may have caught on, but I don’t have to like it.”

“Is this how you raise your funds? Flirt with the women until they open up their…” Solange tossed him a sly wink “…purses to you?”

“If you had a purse, would that technique work on you?”

“Flirting? Not a chance. I learned how to be impervious to that technique, as you call it, a long time ago.”

“Sounds bad.”

“At the time, yes, it was bad. In a look back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Paul seated himself across from Solange, and plucked an orange from the fruit basket on the table between them. “Me, too,” he commented casually, breaking it apart and handing her a section. “Difficult at the time, and in a much broader perspective, it was the best thing that could have happened to her.”

“Her?” Solange asked before she popped the orange into her mouth.

He grinned. “She got everything she wanted—the husband at her side, lots of children. The life she wanted that I couldn’t give her.”

After swallowing her orange, Solange asked, “And what did you get?”

“The life I wanted. I travel and I’m not too tied into the domestic scene at this stage of my life, which is a good thing. I can’t be the perfect husband, or any kind of a good husband for that matter, and continue to do what I do. Couldn’t then either, so we split and everybody’s happy.”

“You still have contact with her?”

Paul nodded. “Our parting was, as they say, amicable. No hard feelings and we do talk every few months. Mostly because she wants to know what’s going on at the hospital, though. But it’s not strained. And you?”

“Hard feelings. Really hard feelings.” No need to say more. This conversation was becoming much too personal. But Paul was so easy to talk to, and listen to, and she was going to have to keep up her guard to avoid getting caught up in every little shade. Or in him.

“Let me guess. No one has captured your heart since.”

“I haven’t dated since,” Solange said, matter-of-factly. “One of my neighbors in Miami gave it a try…chocolates and champagne.”


She wrinkled her nose, recalling the memory. “And he had all that champagne and chocolate to himself.” Plus a pile of clothes tossed onto the sidewalk. One of her moodier moments, admittedly. But such a good one!

Paul handed Solange another section of orange and practically drooled, watching her eat it. Attraction aside, and he was surely attracted to her, this was crazy. Pure craziness. He had work to do, and in another few days he’d be back in the States. And here he was…so distracted he didn’t want to go back to Bertrand’s party at all, back to all the wealth.

That was something he never allowed.

Even so, with one hundred prospective donors awaiting his return to Salon Rose, here he was sitting in a rattan chair, sharing a piece of fruit with her like he had all the time in the world. All because he wanted to spend more time with an entanglement he’d promised himself he wouldn’t go after again. Or at least not for a very long time. And just look at him now!

Paul shook the tension out of his shoulders, handed Solange the last section of the orange, and tossed the peels at the trash can across the room. He missed, and they landed on the floor. But he didn’t go to get them. Couldn’t go. Couldn’t walk away from Solange. Not now. “My lab technician Bijou will be able to give you a better idea of how she’s able to schedule patients for lab procedures. The same is true for Zac, my X-ray tech. Unless we have an emergency, they maintain their own schedules and workloads, and they’re both much better equipped to tell you the best way to handle your patients. Also, they’ll be able to give you a better idea of what will be available to you.”

“Then I can’t wait to meet Bijou and Zac.” Solange popped the last section of orange into her mouth, leaning back in the chair to chew it—slowly, deliberately. Seductively. At least, he was seduced. Never before had he considered the way a person chewed to be sexy, but he was so transfixed watching Solange that when she stopped he wondered how long he’d been staring.

He cleared his throat, and leaned back in his own chair. “Tell me about your little infirmary.” Not that he needed to know. But his transaction with Solange had essentially ended now. She would talk to his technicians about making future arrangements for any patients she might want to send to his hospital and, for all intents and purposes, he was out of the mix. If he left the room this instant, it wouldn’t matter. She had his consent, and that’s all she’d come there for. Proper protocol, as she called it.

He wasn’t ready to end it, though. Not yet.

“It’s a nice little facility,” she said. “Frère Léon and some of the men of his order set it up in the hope that one of their own might be able to run it. But none of their own are medically trained, and apparently it sat empty for well over a year before they approached me. And to be honest, I expanded their idea a bit. Talked them into letting me spend most of my time on house calls, which works out nicely.”

“So, I’ve been on Kijé two years now, and I know a little something about the people here. Based on what I’ve seen, are the rurals accepting you as a doctor?”

“That’s the hard part. They’re accepting of my medicine, but wary of me…being a woman. I’ve made friends, and have several people who do trust me. But many don’t. Of course, I’ve only been on the mountain three months now. It all takes time.”

“And who minds the infirmary while you’re out in the rural areas?”

“I have two nurses. But don’t confuse my definition of infirmary with yours because we have one examination room and beds for four patients. That’s all, and in the three months I’ve been on Kijé, I’ve had exactly six patients spend the night. Which is why I don’t spend much time there.”

“But you’re supplied?”

“Quite nicely, actually. My father helps me out and Frère Léon is certainly a wonderful provider. We have running water and electricity from a generator at The Mission and well-stocked medical supplies…We’re doing quite well. Better now, since you have what I don’t.”

“Have you ever thought about extending the services at your infirmary? Adding that lab equipment or an X-ray machine?”

“I do think about it all the time. But the simple fact is, we’re too remote up there in the mountains. And for the numbers of people who would even consent to any kind of testing we might do, it’s a waste of money. I can do the simple things like the PPD or blood sugar with what I have.” Common tests for tuberculosis and diabetes. “But I can’t do a CBC.” Complete blood count. “Of course, I might have only one or two patients a month who would require a CBC, so even if our location would accommodate the necessary equipment, the patient load would not.”

“Which is where I come in.”

Solange nodded. “You and your hospital. Oh, and that lobster dinner you promised me—is that still part of the deal?”

Dinner was a simple affair. Lobster, an array of fresh, sautéed vegetables, baked potatoes, freshly made crusty bread. And, oh, yes, ice cream for dessert. With a wonderful dessert selection, Solange chose plain vanilla ice cream, and Paul couldn’t talk her into the truffle or the tiramisu or even the crème brûlée. It had to be the vanilla ice cream. “You have a hearty appetite,” Paul commented.

She laughed. “One thing I’ve learned, living with only the barest of necessities, is that when you do manage the good fortune to have something extra, you never, ever waste it. Especially lobster.” She longingly eyed a chunk of succulent tail meat sitting on his plate. “You’re not going to let that go to waste, are you?”

“With you around, apparently not.” He speared it with the seafood fork, dragged it through the butter and held it out for her. As her fingers brushed his in taking the fork, a shiver ran up his spine and he caught himself wondering what it would be like to feed her that lobster with his fingers.

His fingers? Where the hell had that come from? Paul shook his head, trying to rid himself of that image. He really didn’t know enough about her to be having these feelings. No, he didn’t know nearly enough to be so blithering. “So tell me about your clinic in Miami,” he said, trying to get his mind off the obvious.

“I was there three years. It was closing so I left.”

Matter-of-fact words. Too matter-of-fact for the flash of anger he saw in her eyes. “Did you like the work?” he asked, trying to return to neutral ground.

“I loved the work,” she snapped. “But that wasn’t enough.”

No, definitely not neutral ground. And to top it all off, her body language was going rigid. What had been friendly and open was suddenly cold and defensive, which meant he was wandering down the wrong path with this topic. Or probably any topic right now, judging from the scowl onto her face. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”

“I’m sorry about being so abrupt. It’s an old wound that, apparently, isn’t as well healed as I thought it was.”

Old wound. At least it wasn’t something he’d said, and he was glad about that.

“He hurt you badly, didn’t he?” Paul refilled her wineglass and handed it to her. He might have liked to have made a night of it here, sitting and talking, but the truth was, he did have to get back to Bertrand’s party shortly. The night was still quite young, and he had work to do. Funny, that! In a way, he was like Solange—going only so far, then pulling away with an excuse of work. It was safe. He knew it. Apparently, she knew it, too.

“He pulled the rug out from under me. I thought we were partners in more ways than one, but we weren’t, as it happened. So I suppose you could say that I needed the rug pulled out. After three years, when you haven’t made the right commitments, they aren’t going to come along. Not in the sense that you want them to, anyway.”

“You mean as in marriage?”

“It went far beyond that. We were medical partners.” She paused, shaking her head vehemently. “Let me rephrase that. I thought we were medical partners, but in the end I was his employee, with no say in the practice. He decided it was time to go upscale, sold out and moved on up.”

“And here you are.”

“Here I am, doing what I want to be doing. Simple, predictable story. I let him do it, he did it. But the ending was as it should have been.”

“Even though you’re not over him.”

“I’m completely over him. Maybe a little bitter around the edges about the circumstances of my medical practice with him, and definitely much wiser when it comes to life and matters of the heart. I should have taken a better look at him from the start.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t see when you fall in love. Either it sneaks up on you or blindsides you and, however it happens, it’s not exactly an objective period in your life, is it? What you’re looking at isn’t necessarily what’s really there.”

“But you got over it, didn’t you?” Solange asked him, bending forward to spoon up a bite of the ice cream.

“Better than I thought I would once I saw that Joanna wasn’t the one for me, and I certainly wasn’t the one for her. She got happy when she left me, and the hell of it is, looking back, I’m not sure I ever saw her truly happy with me.”

“Did you get happy, too, when it was over?”

“Oddly enough, yes. Even though I didn’t end up with the love of my life like she did, I got happy. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t so torn between my obligations any longer—obligations like trying keeping the hospital funded and keeping my wife happy at the same time, which was nearly impossible since the expectations of both seemed to always be on a collision course with each other. So, you said you’re a little bitter, but is there any happiness in there for you now that you’re single again?”

“I’m getting happy. I’ve got a ways to go, but the biggest part, I think, is that I’ve found what I was meant to do. My work defines me, and being back here on Kijé, traipsing around in the mountains with Frère Léon, that’s what makes me happy.”

Paul spooned a bite of ice cream from the bowl, then raised it in the air for a toast. “Here’s to getting happy, one and all.”

Solange chinked ice-cream spoons with him, then smiled shyly. “I really am sorry for getting so grumpy and making all kinds of assumptions. Mood swings…Living in the mountains will do that to you, I think.”

“Apology accepted. Look, I’ve got to get back to Bertrand’s little soirée. Believe me, I’d much rather spend the rest of the evening here with you, but that’s what I do. I mingle with the people who will give me money, and there’s a lot of money to be had in there if I make the right connections. So what I’d like to do is take you back to my hospital in the morning, introduce you to the staff, get you acquainted with what we have available, then maybe travel up the mountain with you, if that’s OK. I have a few days before I need to leave Kijé, and since I’m going to get to show you mine, I’d love to have you show me yours.”

“You are talking hospital?” she asked, scooping up the last bite of ice cream.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“And just why would you want to come back to my infirmary?”

“I need a reason?”

Solange laughed, then wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re not an easy man, Dr Killian.”

“That’s the reason,” he replied. “The way you do that cute little wrinkle to your nose. I’d like to spend more time with that wrinkle, get to know it better.”

“Not good enough since that wrinkle is strictly off limits to everybody now.”

“OK, I’d like to catch up with Frère Léon. Haven’t seen him for quite a while and he’s an old friend, so I’d like to see how he’s doing. Give him his yearly physical.”

“His physical? You’re telling me you’re Frère Léon’s physician?”

Paul dropped his linen napkin onto the table, then stood. “Yep, that’s what I’m telling you. So, have you made sleeping arrangements for the night?”

“The hotel is booked solid. I checked earlier. So I thought I’d probably go sleep in my truck.”

“Stay here tonight, Solange. In my room. I have two beds, and I know you’re dying to stretch out in the bathtub.”

“I appreciate the offer, Paul, but I’ll be fine in the truck. Really.”

He knew she would. Solange had a survivor’s heart. “Then you take the room alone tonight and I’ll sleep in the truck. And you can help yourself to all the bubble bath and perfumed soap you want.”

“I don’t want to chase you out of your bed. Believe me, I’ve spent many nights in the truck. It’s not a problem.”

“Where did you do your medical residency?”

“Chicago. Cook County Hospital.”

Cook County—one of the oldest and largest charity hospitals in the United States. That was impressive because by reputation it was demanding and by patient load grueling.

“Well, as you were at Cook County, I’m sure that you’re familiar with the old medical tradition called the on-call room?” Where beleaguered doctors on call, needed to be up and working at a moment’s notice, piled together in rooms full of beds simply to grab a little sleep any way they could, anywhere they could, until their services were next required.

“I’ve had my share of familiarity in on-call rooms. Hated the snorers, though.” She wrinkled her nose again. “Had enough of sleeping next to those in my days.”

“I don’t snore,” he said, heading to the door. “So consider this your on-call room for the night. Take either of the beds you want, and if you snore, and it disturbs me, I’ll wake you up and send you out to your truck. OK?”

Asking her to sleep in his room? Inviting her back to his hospital? Even thinking into next week and next month and next year and seeing Solange there? Outside in the hall, Paul leaned against the wall and shut his eyes. This was crazy. Absolutely crazy! “Not smart,” he muttered, straightening up and tugging his silk bow tie back into place.

Even now, though, realizing just how stupid this was, simply thinking about Solange Léandre still took his breath away.

In the bathtub, Solange watched the steam mist over the mirror before she shut her eyes and allowed herself to drift. Maybe eating Paul’s lobster, stretching out in his bubble bath and sleeping in his bed weren’t the wisest things to do…Maybe they were downright stupid…But Paul wasn’t like Mauricio, even though she tried to force the similarities on him. Not like him at all, which was the best thing that had happened to her in a long while. And he was so attractive, something she really shouldn’t be thinking about, even though she was. He was nice, too. A man who knew what he was about, and she liked that.

On that pleasant note Solange relaxed into her bath, let the raspberry-scented bubbles slide over her skin, and wiped everything out of her mind. Everything except, perhaps, the notion of what it might feel like to have Paul immersed in the raspberry bubbles with her.


SOLANGE was fascinated by the little town of Abbeville. She hadn’t been there before, and as she drove through the streets, following Paul’s SUV, she was tempted to stop and get out, walk around, greet the people, soak in the atmosphere. It was a friendly place from first impressions. Friendly, and alive with color. The short, straight dirt roads were lined with tiny wood-frame houses, each one painted in hues so bright it looked like an artist’s palette gone wild. Pinks and blues, reds and oranges…no color was too bold. No yard so ornamented and cluttered as to be gaudy either, judging from the cement statuary submitting to every imaginable form—elves and geese and pigs—all adorning the grassy patches outside the houses. And there were old rusty vehicles parked where the statuary wasn’t sitting, and over-stuffed couches and indoor beds pulled out onto the porches for easy outdoor living and to catch the cool, evening Kijé breezes.

It was an amazing splash of culture. Noisy street vendors selling everything from their push carts—fruits, shoes, cigarettes. People waving to her as she drove by, children chasing balls and kicking cans across the dirt road, dogs stretched out napping in the middle of the road and too lazy to move out of the way as Paul honked at them.

Seeing Abbeville in its fullest, everyday array made her love Kijé all the more.

“How did you find this place?” she asked Paul several minutes later, as they approached the wood-framed Killian Hospital. Unlike the other structures in Abbeville, it was white. Plain, dignified white, with no cement statuary, furniture or old vehicles in its yard.

“Frère Léon.”

“He does get around, doesn’t he?”

Paul nodded, laughing. “When Joanna and I arrived to work with one of the humanitarian organizations here, he approached us with the idea of starting it. There was no medical care anywhere near here, which made it the perfect place, not just in terms of proximity to so many of the smaller towns in this region but because the people here are outstanding—friendly, helpful. I think this is where I first realized that paradise isn’t about a beach chair, an unsullied stretch of sand and a tropical drink with a paper umbrella and a skewer full of fruit. And I owe it all to Frère Léon, a man of great insight…and foresight, who stranded me here for a day. He simply dumped me in the street and drove away in…” he glanced back at her truck “…that!”

“You, too?” Solange laughed. “He took me up to the old mission church in the mountains and didn’t come back for two days. By the time he returned to fetch me, I had two nurses and a short line of patients waiting to be seen. And I didn’t leave.”

“Tricky devil,” Paul said, taking Solange by the arm and leading her up to the entrance of the hospital.

He was all that, and more. Frère Léon had been her port in a very rough storm, and she owed him everything. “I don’t know what I would do without him.” She was pleased Paul shared her affection for the monk. In a way, it made them seem much closer already.

“We think there’s a possibility we might have a case of Pott’s disease,” Dr Allain Sebastian stated, his nose buried in a medical chart. Allain was second in command of Killian Hospital, after Isabella Mordecai, who was the chief of staff there. Paul had made the decision to leave the medical workings of the hospital in their capable hands when it had turned out that he had been spending more and more time away. It had been a good decision, too, because they were a dynamic team. Hardworking, smart and, best of all, dedicated to the kind of care the hospital stood for.

“Allain’s from an infectious disease program out of Boston,” he explained to Solange, as they both donned masks before entering the area of the patient wards. It was protocol. Universal precautions, no matter what the situation. Better safe and inconvenienced in some instances than sorry. “When he heard about all the perks we offer here, he couldn’t wait to apply for a job.”

“Perks!” Allain snorted, fighting back a grin. “Long hours, no pay. And the accommodations…I gave up a townhouse with a Jacuzzi for a room with a sink.” He winked at Solange. “What more could a man want?” He extended his hand to her. “I’ve been on my feet sixteen hours already and I’ve barely begun.”

“Believe me, I know those hours.” Solange laughed. “My name is Solange Léandre. Dr Solange Léandre. And, no, I’m not here to work.”

“That’s too bad, because I was already looking forward to eight straight hours of uninterrupted sleep tonight. Haven’t had one of those in months. So, are you open to bribes, Solange? Anything I own just to have you cover one shift for me.”

Solange smiled first at Allain, then at Paul. “I’m usually open to bribes, especially lavender soap and lobster dinners, but since I’ve had my share of those recently, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be awfully susceptible right now.”

“Lavender soap and lobster dinner?” Allain raised a skeptical eyebrow at Paul. “Don’t think I’ll ask.”

“Don’t think I’d tell even if you did,” she replied, smiling shyly at him. She could feel the heat rising in her cheeks over the ideas Allain was forming, ideas she’d had herself.

“Well, I do have a fondness for lobster, if you should ever have any left over. Don’t care much for the lavender scent, though. At least, not on me. So, Solange, is this a social call or a professional one?” Pudgy and short, with a ruddy complexion and red hair, Allain Sebastian stepped back and appraised both Solange and Paul. Then he gave them a big, toothy grin.

“She’s here to demand one more hour a day from you,” Paul teased, faking a frown.

“Stop that!” Solange laughed, hitting playfully at Paul. “It should only take half an hour of Allain’s time. You’ll have the good doctor thinking I’m quite the mercenary.”

“And just when I finally quit believing all those rumors about the pirates on the Caribbean seas,” Allain quipped.

“It’s not quite a pirate’s ransom that I want,” Solange explained. “Just a few routine tests for my patients whenever the need arises. I have a little medical infirmary up in the mountains, and I don’t have the facilities for X-rays and lab work. I came to make arrangements here.”

Actually, Frère Léon had insisted she make the arrangements and had practically shoved her off the side of the mountain to get her to do it. Now she was here, she was glad she’d come. This was a wonderful facility. Neat, tidy. Clean. Paul was terrific. Allain was, too. And it was nice getting herself back into the medical community, around doctors, after being away from it this past year. Even if this was just a cordial acquaintance since she would rarely, if ever, have the need to come here again in person, she was enjoying the camaraderie. The working dynamics here were good, and the chumminess fun. Nothing like her last months at her clinic in Miami.

“Well, for your patients, Solange, I always have an extra half-hour. But in the meantime, I need to get back to that possible case of Pott’s because, to me, it’s just not quacking like Pott’s.”

“Quacking?” Solange asked.

“Quacking,” Allain repeated. “You know the old saying, ‘If it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck…’”

“Then it must be a duck,” Solange supplied. “And your Pott’s disease isn’t quacking like Pott’s disease.” Pott’s disease, a form of tuberculosis, occurred when the TB bacillus escaped the lung and traveled throughout the body and lodged in the spine. It was a common occurrence, and in the Caribbean the leading cause of paralysis in young men.

“Something like that. He has the right symptoms, especially the paralysis below the waist. But he’s latent.” Latent TB, meaning he tested positive for exposure to the disease but didn’t have the actual disease. “And I couldn’t find any significant case history of Pott’s in latent TB.”

“Well, you’re right about that. You don’t normally see Pott’s in latent,” Solange replied. Then she deferred to Paul. “Sorry. I shouldn’t be stepping in here. I’m just the visitor.”

“The visitor who’s welcome to step in any place, any time she wishes,” Paul said, gesturing for Allain and Solange to follow him to the small, two-bed room where the patient, Agwe Bourg, was snoozing quietly in bed. “We don’t really have any kind of a medical hierarchy here so, by all means, step in, comment, offer opinion, order tests. It’s all welcome.”

“Why do I get the feeling that I’m working?” Solange asked, laughing.

“Because Paul’s like that. He just sneaks it in on you. And watch your pockets, Doctor. He’s been known to pick a few of those on occasion.”

“You left out the part where I make you think it was your idea to have your pockets picked,” Paul added, opening the door and walking straight to the bedside of Agwe Bourg, a man, probably in his mid-thirties, who had a wife and seven children depending on this diagnosis. “So in spite of Mr Bourg’s being latent, why would you suspect Pott’s, Dr Sebastian?” Paul asked, keeping his voice low so not to disturb his patient.

“Like I said, he has the latent diagnosis, which puts him close to the disease. Maybe not right on it, but definitely close. And he does have the other symptoms—paralysis, general malaise.” He drew in a deep breath, then let it out slowly through his mask. “But it’s not Pott’s. At least, that’s my gut instinct.”

Paul nodded, but said nothing, so Allain continued. “He’s in the right age category, though, so that’s not a rule-out.” Often, diseases that were difficult to diagnose were given a final diagnosis by ruling out other conditions and symptoms. Rule out enough factors, then take a good hard look at what was left.

Paul nodded again, looking down at Agwe Bourg. “Fever?”

“Yes,” Allain said.

“Weight loss?”

Allain nodded. “He says he has no appetite, and we haven’t been able to get him to eat a thing.”

“Cold abscess?” Solange asked, pulling up a chair to sit next to Agwe. An abscess, cold to the touch, was almost always present in Pott’s.

“No. I’ve checked him twice, and so far he’s negative for a cold abscess. That doesn’t mean it won’t develop, but Mr Bourg has been ill for a couple of weeks now, according to his wife, so it’s not likely to appear at this point.”

“That’s good,” Solange said, taking hold of Agwe Bourg’s hand. “Standing over a patient, looking down at him, is so impersonal. I like being on their level. It makes for a better rapport.” Gently, she gave the man’s hand a squeeze, then watched as he squeezed back. “Good muscle tone. Good reflexes. Do either of you have a stethoscope?”

Paul pulled one from his pocket and handed it to her. She listened to Agwe’s breath sounds for a moment, then handed the stethoscope back. “Clear lungs.” She looked at Agwe. “Do you have a cough?”

He shrugged to indicate he didn’t understand. So Solange repeated the question in Creole—the language spoken by most of the rurals. On Kijé, the languages were a mixed bag. Broken English, Creole, and, among the uppercrust, French.

“OK, no,” Agwe said.

“Do you think the TB might be going active?” Allain asked, totally captivated by Solange’s gentle bedside manner.

Paul noticed that the younger doctor had barely taken a breath as he watched Solange check Mr Bourg. It was such a subtle lesson she was teaching. One about eliminating the impersonal tone in medical practice and making the patient feel cared for. A chair at the side of the bed, a squeeze of the hand…these were such simple little things that mattered so much. With all the haste and hurry around his hospital, Paul thought about how often the simple things were overlooked, and he admired Solange for remembering. Somehow, she would always manage them no matter how rushed she was, and he admired that even more.

“His TB going active is a possibility,” Solange said. “It can do that, depending upon certain factors—more exposure to the active disease, other physical illnesses or weaknesses. But I think Mr Bourg is doing fine. Probably suffering from some kind of secondary infection outside Pott’s, if I’m not mistaken. Because when I took his hand, he shifted in the bed and moved his legs. Just a little, mind you, but I saw movement.” Her eyes crinkled a smile at Paul over the top of her mask. “You did, too, didn’t you?”

Paul nodded, his eyes smiling back. “So I think we’re all in agreement now that’s it’s probably not Pott’s disease, and Mr Bourg is one lucky man because of it. But we’ll still need some blood tests to rule it out.”

Solaina bent forward to speak to Agwe, to which he responded by pulling down his mask and giving her a great big grin, revealing a mouth full of rotten brown teeth. Friendly, but infected. And there it was. An uncomplicated thing now. “There, Doctors, is the source of our initial infection, I believe. Our patient here said he’s been pulling out his own teeth.”

Paul looked down at Solange over the top of his mask, and the instant their eyes met, the look they shared confirmed a diagnosis for Agwe Bourg. “Osteomyelitis,” they said at the same time.

“Told you it wasn’t quacking like a duck,” Allain chimed in. “And if it’s osteomyelitis, the pain’s probably so bad that Mr Bourg just quit moving to avoid it. So I guess he yanked his infected tooth and the infection spread.”

“When you don’t have a dentist, that’s what you do. And, personally, I’ve always hated the dentist,” Solange commented, shuddering. “But pulling your own teeth…I think I’d rather cut myself open and remove my own appendix, without anesthesia, over pulling out my teeth.”

“Well, I’m pretty good at removing an appendix, if you ever have a need,” Allain said, already bending over Agwe with a penlight and peering into his mouth. “And from the looks of things in here, I’d guess I’m about to get good with dental extractions, because we’ve got at least three potential sources for infection festering away right now.” Dental infections were often the cause of serious, even fatal, illnesses that resulted from harmful bacteria escaping into the bloodstream. When they lodged in the heart, which was common, it was called bacterial endocarditis, and out here, more often than not, it was fatal. And when they lodged in the bone, it was called osteomyelitis, and could be fatal if not treated, but if caught it was treatable. Today was Agwe Bourg’s lucky day. He was treatable.

“Allain’s the enthusiastic kind,” Paul commented. “He’ll take on anything.”

“Especially eight straight hours of sleep,” Allain called after them as Paul and Solange left the tiny room. “If anybody’s interested in giving them to me.”

“He’s a good doctor,” Paul said once Allain was out of earshot. “Young, a little unorthodox, enthusiastic, and great instincts. I’m glad Frère Léon found him.”

“Another one?”

Paul nodded. “Like I said, he’s a tricky devil.”

Solange laid her hand on Paul’s arm and gave him a gentle squeeze. “With or without Frère Léon, this is a nice hospital, Paul. If I weren’t already involved up in the mountains, I’d be honored to work here.”

“And I would be honored to have you work here.” He glanced down at her hand on his arm, and drew in a sharp breath. Another one of the simple things Solange did, and he could feel the sparks of it all the way down to his toes.

“We’re divided into several large wards, accommodating sixteen beds maximum in each one. Plus, as you’re noticing, we’ve got patients in the halls.” Bed after bed lining the walls. “With any luck, we’ll be starting a building project in a few months to add on two more patient wards and a children’s ward.”

Times like this, when he needed so much more, gave Paul the overwhelming urge to get back out there and find the support. “Right now we’re over the maximum capacity, and we’re beginning to feel it because, like the rest of the medical world, we’re short-staffed.”

“Did you anticipate this kind of need when you set up here?”

“I anticipated a few patients straggling in every day, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I was wrong.” He shook his head. “It’s frustrating at times, but we don’t turn anybody away.” Paul stepped aside to allow Solange her first good look into one of the men’s wards. “It’s not modern by any standards, but it works quite nicely,” he explained.

“Modern?” Solange exclaimed, stepping up to look through the glass in the door. “This is wonderful, Paul. Even my clinic in Miami wasn’t this nice.” Of course, Mauricio had cut corners every time he’d found one to cut, saving that money for his upscale move. Their upscale move. Only she hadn’t known it at the time. “And, believe me, if I could ever come anywhere close to something like this, I’d think I’d died and gone to heaven.”

It was a bare-essentials set-up. A bed, a bedside stand, a patient—sixteen of them lined up in two well-kept rows of eight each. There wasn’t much room in the ward, but it was tidy. “Thanks to Frère Léon?” she asked.

“In part, yes. He supplied the craftsmen to get it built. Locals who wanted a hospital nearby. He had an army of them, and it went up much like an Amish barn-raising. The men working, the women feeding the men, the children playing around the area.” He chuckled. “I think Frère Léon told them if they didn’t get it done quickly, Joanna and I might change our minds and leave.”

“The tricky devil,” Solange laughed.

“And you said you’re in an old mission chapel?”

Solange nodded. “Ayida and Keskeya—my nurses—and I actually live in the chapel, and the infirmary is in a brand-new building separate from it.” It was a nice, comfortable set-up and she loved it. “The whole compound was a cloister a century ago, but the monks moved to the other side of the mountains about seventy years ago to be closer to the major throughways.” She smiled, thinking about how glad she was they’d left the old compound behind. It was the perfect place, where several roads led in and out. The villagers were using them now to come to The Mission, as it was called, for clinic days, where medical services were offered at the infirmary instead of out in the villages. “How many people work here, at your hospital?” she asked.

“Right now I have three physicians, all specializing in infectious diseases, besides myself, although I don’t really count myself as a physician. And I have twice that many nurses and nurse aides. We also have a lab technician and an X-ray technician. Like I said, we’re short-staffed according to our patient load, but we make do.” He smiled uncomfortably. “Of course, we’re doing much better on staff than you are, aren’t we?”

A young woman dressed in khaki shorts and a T-shirt scurried to the bedside of an older man to change an IV bag, and Solange watched the interchange between nurse and patient. Pleasant, efficient. Paul had a nice concern here. “Actually, we’re quite satisfactory in numbers. I’m out a good bit of the time, and Ayida and Keskeya take care of the infirmary while I’m away. And if I need to be there as a doctor, I’m there. People don’t get all fussy and bothered over schedules and appointments out where we are, so it works out splendidly for us.”

Paul led Solange to a door marked “TB”, and they stood outside, looking in through the window. “Do you treat a lot of TB?” she asked.

“About half our patient beds are devoted to it. Not enough to call us a TB hospital, but enough that we keep busy with it. The wards I’m going to add will be much larger than our normal wards, and they’ll be specifically for people with TB. I’m actually going to build a separate building for it, so the patients won’t have to be quite so confined.

“But the good thing about our TB program is that we actually have good luck with the treatment and cure rate when the patients get to us in time, then continue to take their medicines for that interminably long year after diagnosis. Which many of them do, now that they know there’s help available. We try to dose them here in the mornings, if they’ll come here…It’s the easiest way to keep on top of things. And we do some education on TB symptoms, making it more likely that if people recognize the symptoms they’ll come to us in the early stages rather than later on. Care to join me inside?”

Paul strolled through the doorway into the ward, with Solange following. “One of the biggest problems we have is that so many of the people quit once their treatment is started and they feel better. We get a lot of recurrences, and every single one of the men in this ward fall into that category. They took their INH, felt better, stopped it, and now they’re back. Only most of them have some form of drug resistance going now, which is what usually happens when you stop treatment in mid-course. And the next time around TB is so much harder to treat.

“So to lessen our workload, we hunt our patients down when we can, just to make sure we don’t get them back in here in another few months in the condition most of these men are in.” He gestured to the men in the ward and most of them responded with a friendly wave.

“Sometimes the condition doesn’t recur, though,” Solange said. “Sometimes TB doesn’t come back.”

“Sometimes, but rarely. If we could keep them here the whole time…” He shrugged. “But you don’t treat TB that way any more.”

“Dr Paul!” a middle-aged woman shouted as she ran down the short hallway toward them. “She came in with the baby already on the way out. And it’s not waiting to get born, except the cord’s coming first.”

“What?” Paul snapped, spinning around to Gigon Giroir, one of his trained nurses.

“The baby is not waiting, but the cord is beatin’ it out. She’s prolapsing, Doctor, and it’s not looking good ’cos she’s having some hard, fast contractions.”

Paul and Solange exchanged knowing glances before they ran down the hall, following Gigon, who ran so fast she looked like a sprinter heading for the finish line. “Start an IV,” Paul shouted after her. “Get set up for a Caesarean section and go find Dr Mordecai.”

“Do you deliver babies often?” Solange called.

“No, they go to the village midwife if it’s a normal delivery. We just get the bad ones.”

Solange followed Paul into the small procedure room, where a very pregnant woman was moaning on the examination table. Gigon was already slipping an IV catheter into the mother-to-be, whispering soothing words…words that seemed to have some effect since the mother wasn’t screaming at the top of her lungs.

A nursing aide cracked the valve of a green oxygen cylinder to blow off any settling dust, then hooked rubber tubing to it in preparation of placing a mask over the patient’s face.

The initial hiss of the oxygen blast startled the patient, who struggled tried to sit up, but Solange stepped up to her side and laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder to keep her down while the aide fastened the mask over her face then scurried around the bed to pile pillows under the pregnant woman’s bottom. That made it easier to keep the umbilicus from tangling around the baby’s neck.

“Where’s Isabella?” Paul called to Gigon. Dr Isabella Mordecai was an experienced surgeon who had chosen to practice infectious disease medicine over surgery. “I’d much rather she did the surgery than me.”

“She’s got someone down there on the active ward, spittin’ up blood something awful,” Gigon said. “She’ll get here when she can. Dr Allain just got one of the patients ready to pull some teeth, and Dr Wally is in town, doing the follow-up on dosing this afternoon. So it’s up to you.” She glanced over at Solange. “Unless that one’s a doctor who can do it.”

Paul glanced over at Solange, too, as he wrapped a blood-pressure cuff around the expectant mother’s arm and started to pump the rubber bulb. “So, can you do a C-section?” he asked her. “Not that I’d put you in the position of doing it if you didn’t want to. But I’m not exactly a sterling example of a surgeon, and if you’d…” Instead of finishing, he stuck the stethoscope into his ears and inflated the blood-pressure cuff, then nodded seconds later as the hiss of deflating air showed the woman’s blood pressure to be normal.

“I can do it,” Solange said, tightening her mask. It had been a while since she’d done it in practice, but she’d had a whole year in which she’d studied up on procedures she might have gone a bit rusty on. C-sections were included in that. So she was ready. “Do you have some kind of anesthetic?”

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Dr. Solange Léandre has dedicated her life to her rural clinic in the jungle of Kijé island. Involving herself in the lively community is a happy refuge from her painful past–a chance to heal through healing others.When specialist Dr. Paul Killian visits Solange's clinic, he is mesmerized by her. He wants nothing more than to work alongside this amazing woman, and to be part of the extended family she's created. This city doctor has to find a way to show her that he has the tenacity and dedication for life in the jungle, and the passion to care for a feisty, strong-willed woman!

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