Authors: Kymberly Hunt
Genesis Press, Inc.
An imprint of Genesis Press, Inc.
Genesis Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 101
Columbus, MS 39703
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, not known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without written permission of the publisher, Genesis Press, Inc. For information write Genesis Press, Inc., P.O. Box 101, Columbus, MS 39703.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.
Copyright Â© 2011 Kymberly Hunt
Manufactured in the United States of America
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This book is dedicated to the readers who requested Valerie and Aaron's story and to the real life heroes who always come to the rescue when there is need, whether that be here in the United States or in the most distant regions of the land
I wish to thank my sister who shares the dream, as well as the friends and family whose encouragement prevented me from locking the story in the file cabinet. As always, I acknowledge the Divine Creator of the universe and look forward to the day when there will be no more foreign lands and everyone will speak the pure language of love.
Gordon J. Allard lay dying in the bedroom of the home he had once shared with his beautiful wife, Julia. The lung cancer he'd battled for over two years had spread throughout his body and he had resigned himself to no more chemotherapy, radiation, or hospitals. What difference did it make? He was ninety years old and had long since outlived most of his family and all the friends of his generation.
There wasn't much time left at all. Hours, maybe minutes, to make peace with his one major regret in life: his inability to convince his granddaughter Carolyn to change her ways. Because of the gulf between them, his will would have to remain as he'd written it a year ago. She would inherit nothing. There was no point in leaving his earthly possessions to the destructive whims of a senseless young woman who meandered pointlessly through life, hooked on illegal substances and sordid relationships. She hadn't married or left a great grandchild. Julia would be as upset as he was, but she would understand.
Most of the money, multi-millions earned from a patented invention and carefully invested in stocks and bonds, would go to his favorite charity, and the house that had been so special to Juliaâspecial to both of themâwould now temporarily pass to his nephew. The other person of significance in his will was Valerie Redmond, his young African-American nurse, who for the last few years had been the only real friend he possessed.
He gazed feebly around the dim room. Two people shifted about like sentries changing guardâthe attending physician and the black-clothed priest. Yes, Valerie was there, too, a constant presence sitting quietly by his bedside with her hand resting warmly on his cold one. He could not speak to her anymore, but she seemed to channel his thoughts and anticipate his needs. She was no blood relative, but he was convinced that in the imminence of death, ethnicities and cultural differences cease to matter as everyone confronts the same eventualityâa return to dust. Because of this knowledge he was confident that he'd selected the right one for his posthumous gift, and he almost smiled at the thought of her reaction. Valerie would be the keeper now.
As the priest spoke his final words, the lights in the room seemed to dim and the steady buzz of the now-disconnected respirator faded. A shimmering aura of peace and light filled him. It's all right, he murmured soundlessly.
Julia's waiting and I must go.
Pathetic. That's what she wasâtruly pathetic. There was no other way Valerie Redmond could describe why she, a mature thirty-something woman, should be standing in a Manhattan subway station on a frigid January day, amorously visualizing an enigmatic man with whom she had absolutely nothing in common. And if that wasn't bad enough, there was no reason why the man, Aaron Weiss, would even possibly be thinking of her. Shuddering at the realization, she tried to refocus her attention on the present moment.
going back to that dead guy's place to get those books?” her cousin Denise asked.
Valerie stiffened. “I have the key to his house, don't I?”
“Whatever, but when you do, don't expect me to come along with you.”
“Wouldn't dream of it.” Valerie glanced at her watch. Denise had definitely driven reality home.
The books were gifts willed to Valerie by Gordon J. Allard, her recently departed patient and good friend. Through the years she'd grown extremely fond of the eccentric inventor/philanthropist, and the void left by his passing still resonated deep within her.
Her unexpected inclusion in his will explained why she and Denise were in the city. But as they stood on the platform with the evening rush hour crowd waiting for the train to pull in, Valerie couldn't help acknowledging that the end result of the visit to Mr. Allard's lawyer had turned out to be more burden than gift. She definitely did want something to remember him byâa small memento of sortsâbut just what was she going to do with an international collection of over sixty Bibles, as well as all the books from his vast library?
Valerie had been shocked beyond words when she'd received a copy of the will in the mail because it had never entered her mind that she would be bequeathed anything. She had coerced Denise into accompanying her from her home in New Jersey to the Manhattan office of Mr. Allard's lawyers, Stein & Brenner, in order to ask questions.
Mr. Stein had informed her that one of his associates would go with her next Tuesday to open the decedent's house so she could collect the books, a mission that he explained had to be acted on before the house and everything in it was turned over to Mr. Allard's nephew from England. Because there was no place for countless books in her tiny apartment, she had already decided out of necessity to decline most of them, but she did want the Bibles.
The lawyer didn't know that Mr. Allard had given her his duplicate house key the year after she'd started working for him and that she'd never had the opportunity to return it. Because Tuesday was not a good day for her to go out to Long Island, she assumed it would be less complicated if she just drove down to the Allard estate over the weekend and picked up the books herself. After all, she knew better than anyone else where the Bibles were located.
As far as Denise was concerned, the trip to the city was a total waste of time. Valerie knew that her cousin had hoped that she had been willed something of significant monetary valueâmaterial prosperity that might possibly trickle down to her as well. Upon realizing that was not the case, she'd complained constantly on their trek back from the lawyer's office, saying that she should have kept her hairdresser's appointment instead of ruining the day.
Valerie felt no sympathy for her. The chatterbox actually had nothing better to do. She'd been fired from her job and wasn't even looking for another.
Denise nudged her. “Unlike you, I've got some real plans for the weekend.”
Valerie shrugged apathetically and attempted to tune her out, but the alternative to ignoring her was even worse. Ignoring Denise would mean that she would return to envisioning the seductive Aaron, whom she'd first encountered two years ago at her best friend's wedding, a man with whom she'd shared one slow dance, very little conversation, and enough heart-pounding chemistry to ruin her for life.
“Tony's oldest brother is coming up from Arizona,” Denise continued. “He's single, about your age andâ¦”
“Stop right there.” Valerie held up a hand and, with a wave, dispensed with her cousin's unfinished suggestion. “I don't do blind hook-ups, and right now meeting some guy is the last thing on my mindâ¦even if he is your fiancÃ©'s brother.”
“He's a dentist and he's nice-looking,” Denise insisted, well aware that she was being annoying. “You're being totally ridiculous, you know. Even Jasmine told you to forget
and she's your best friend.”
“Denise, we are not having this conversation.” Valerie drew herself up haughtily, casting a sudden icy glare at a nefarious-looking leather-clad male who had migrated into her space and was ogling her shamelessly, obviously thinking himself the epitome of cool.
Oblivious to anything else, Denise rambled on. “Yes, we are having this conversation. Unless you intend to stay single forever, it's about time you stop hanging on to thatâ¦that fantasy.”
Valerie glowered, watching from the corner of her eye as leatherman retreated into the shadows. She had, in fact, been married once beforeâa long time agoâand it hadn't worked. “Are you finished?”
“No. I haven't even startâ”
“I don't do fantasies,” Valerie interrupted. “That's more my mother's territory.” A faint throb prodded her temple. The headache had been threatening since morning, fanned by Denise's badgering and the realization that, once she got back home, she'd have to make her nightly visit to the local nursing home to see her Alzheimer's-stricken mother, who most of the time couldn't remember that she even had a daughter.
Denise was annoying even on a perfect day. Valerie had asked her to come along only because she didn't feel safe going into the city and using public transportation aloneâof the millions of fears her mother had attempted to impose on her as a child, that one had actually stuck. Now she was sorry she had listened to the childhood voice of impending doom.
“Once upon a time you didn't do fantasies,” Denise continued mercilessly, “but you've been like totally out of reality about men since Jasmine's wedding. You're losing every opportunity that comes by because you keep comparing every guy you meet to that one, and in your mind none of the others measure up.”
“For the last time, I'm not discussing this.”
Undaunted, Denise tugged her bright fuchsia scarf tighter around her neck “And what's really insane is I don't get what you see in him.” She hesitated for a second, frowning. “Wait. I take that back. He
kind of handsome in an exotic, evil Rambo sort of wayâ¦but he's not the marrying type. He's too old. Andâ¦well, let's face it, he's pretty darn scary.”
Valerie clenched her hands in the pockets of her thick down coat, her fingers connecting with the keys to Mr. Allard's house. “Scary? Maybe he is to someone like you, since you prefer those boring, docile mama's-boy types like Tony.” She drew in a sharp intake of breath. “And for your information, forty is not that old.”
Denise shot her a mildly scathing look, but this time she actually had sense enough to remain silent. The look, however, reminded Valerie of how much she disliked being goaded into verbal retaliation by her younger cousin.
Unfortunately, the overreaction confirmed that Denise was rightâat least the rant about comparing other men unfavorably to the fantasy one and shutting out all possibilities. In fact, in the last year alone, she had ruined at least three potential relationships with hardworking, seemingly decent men, and at this point she was almost convinced that she would remain single for the rest of her life. There just seemed no point in being with someone who wasn't able to stir the same passionate emotions in her that he had with just one steely-eyed gaze.
She was a lost cause, and it certainly hadn't helped that she had briefly encountered him again only a month ago and realized she hadn't lost one iota of her infatuation. Even after two years, she could feel the strength of his arms as he held her, guiding her effortlessly into the slow waltz step of the dance. The music still played in her headâthe romance and its potential for being right up there on the same level with that of Jasmine and Noah, the charmed bride and groom. And then there was the awful dream-defying reality that her chance of ever sharing one starlit night with the object of her affection was about as likely to happen as the moon colliding with the sun.
The masses of humanity jockeying for position on the platform had increased, their voices like a cacophony of angry bees. Deflecting tension, Denise fiddled impatiently with her watch. “Where is that train? I can't wait to get home and forget that we came all the way down here just to find out about some books.”
Valerie smiled wanly. “Not just books, Denise, Biblesâ¦God's word.”
“Yeah. Whatever. Oh, that's Tony.” She whipped her cell phone from her bag and stepped back from the crowd, looking for a good spot to talk. If such a spot really existed below street level, Denise would find it, Valerie thought, smirking. Amazing how her obnoxious cousin had heard the phone ring amidst the noise and echoes.
The train was at least ten minutes overdue. Impatiently, restlessly, Valerie moved closer to the edge of the platform and peered into the yawning abyss of the tunnel. A faint rumbling sound ensued, assuring her that the train was about to make its appearance. Instinctively, people gathered closely behind her clutching newspapers, briefcasesâcommuters eager to get home from work.
As she spotted the distant glimmer of light penetrating the darkness she started to step back, but suddenly before she was completely aware of what was happening, a violent jolt catapulted her forward, knocking the wind and the scream right out of herâlaunching her into space with her arms flailing out wildly as though demonstrating an ability to fly. In reality she was plummeting like a stone, vaguely aware that in a few seconds her life would be over, crushed by tons of hot, shrieking steel. The scream that had eluded her a fractured second ago now pierced through the station. But the ear-splitting shriek came from Denise's mouth. Was this for real? Was a human even capable of making such a sound?
Someone very familiar was speaking, and Valerie tried to rouse herself out of what had to be a partially sedated daze. Why had she been given a sedative? She didn't need one. If anyone required such treatment it should have been Denise.
“How are you feeling?”
The familiar voice again. Valerie brushed a hand against what was obviously a bandage on her forehead and looked up at her best friend, Jasmine, who was bending over her with concern etched on her face. Immediately, her sense of awareness returned. “How am I feeling? I guess not bad for a woman who almost left her body parts scattered in the bowels of Manhattan.”
“Really, Val.” Jasmine feigned irritation. “Haven't you been told never to stand on the edge of the platform?”
“I guess one can always use a little reminder.” Using her elbows, Valerie pulled herself up further in the bed. “Seriously, I can't imagine how that happened. One minute I was standing and the next I was flying through the air.”
It felt odd being the patient instead of the caregiver, and it was a most unwelcome experience that made her realize why so many patients complained about the discomfort of hospital beds. The undeniable oddity, however, was that she was even thinking about such trivia, considering that her life had nearly ended.
She barely remembered taking the tumble onto the tracks, let alone scrambling to her feet just in time to be hauled up by onlookers. The whole incident had been so absurdly atypical of her that a strange, nagging speculation persisted that she hadn't merely lost her balance and fallen but had been pushed. In the trauma of the moments following, she hadn't been able to verbalize the possibility to the police, and maybe it was just as well. Why mention something she wasn't sure of?
The overnight stay in the hospital meant she wouldn't get to visit her motherânot that Ruth Ann Redmond would even notice. In fact, Ruth Ann probably wouldn't even notice if her daughter had died. The overnighter was simply because of a minor laceration on her forehead, which normally would have been stitched up and she would have been sent home. But, no, in her case things weren't so simple. Born with a defective blood-clotting factor, Valerie was prone to unexpected hemorrhaging when traumatic injuries occurred.
The only comfort was having Jasmine Arias at her bedside instead of Denise, whose boyfriend had finally hauled her hysterical carcass home. Her childhood friend looked stunning with her long, rippled hair held back by a jeweled bandâstunning even though she was dressed for business in a conservative gray pantsuit. Jasmine had always been pretty, but in the last few years she had truly blossomed. Valerie attributed this to her being happily married with a family and a challenging job.
“So when did you get back from Africa?” Valerie asked. She had known that Jasmine would be returning home a week before the rest of the family to oversee an architectural project in Trenton. The others would continue vacationing in her husband's native country, Cielo Vista.
“Actually, I'm just off the plane. I got Denise's garbled message on my cell, and since I was at JFK, I came straight here.”
“Sorry about Denise,” Valerie replied. “How are Noah and the kids? How'sâ ” She bit her tongue, repressing the urge to ask about Aaron.
Jasmine didn't notice the slip, or pretended not to. “Noah and the kids are great, and don't apologize for Denise. Considering the circumstances, it's understandable.”
She exhaled deeply and then pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed. “Thank God you're okay. Now, do you mind telling me what you're doing in Manhattan anyway? You hate cities.”
Valerie smiled wanly and blinked. The fluorescent lighting in the tiny hospital room was way too bright. “Good question. Now you know exactly why I hate cities.”