Loving the Soldier
Nurse Kirsten Bailey places her family above all else. She refuses to give former army medic Brady Hewitt any leeway for being weeks late in visiting his ill grandmother. But Brady has a good excuse, and he's eager to show the pretty nurse that first impressions aren't always right. While working with Brady to care for his grandmother and two orphaned boys, Kirsten realizes that his charm and kindness aren't an act. But Kirsten plans on doing missionary work abroad, and she's determined not to fall for the engaging soldier. Could the man she once dismissed be the one to make her stay forever?
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Merrillee Whren is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award for best inspirational romance manuscript. She has been the recipient of the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She is married and has two grown daughters. Visit her Web site at http://www.merrilleewhren.com or connect with her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/merrillee.whren.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The familiar recorded voice on the other end of the line made Kirsten Bailey's stomach churn. The phone number had an Atlanta area code, but if it was a cell phone, no telling where the owner resided. She mustered some politeness and repeated her daily mantra. How many messages would she have to leave before she got a response? She slammed down the phone.
"Why are you abusing the phone?" Jen Chafin, the other late-shift nurse, swiveled in her chair as she tucked a lock of auburn hair behind one ear.
Kirsten grimaced. "Cora Barton asked me to call her grandson again. I've lost track of how many times I've left him a message. The man obviously doesn't care about his grandmother."
"Are you calling the right number?"
"Absolutely. The voice mail message says, 'This is Brady Hewitt. Leave a message.'" Kirsten shook her head again. "I hate the expression on Cora's face when I tell her I haven't reached him."
"Does he have a job where he's out of signal range for a period of time?"
"Cora doesn't know what he does." Kirsten shrugged.
"Sounds like he's a ne'er-do-well who picks up jobs here and there when he feels like it."
Jen turned back to her computer. "Does Cora have any other family?"
"I don't think so, otherwise I'm sure she would've asked me to call someone else. Her daughter died in a car accident when her grandson was young. Cora raised him."
Jen stopped typing. "That certainly makes him ungrateful."
"My thoughts exactly. How could someone ignore a grandmother like Cora? She's one of the sweetest women I know."
"Next time you could always leave a message telling him what you really think." Jen laughed halfheartedly.
"I'd like to, but I have to keep it professional." Kirsten grimaced. "At least Cora has lots of friends here at The Village to make up for her inattentive grandson."
Jen nodded. "And speaking of friends, look who's coming down the hall."
Kirsten peered over the counter. "Annie and her kids. That'll make Cora's day."
Kirsten waved at Annie Payton and her two small children, Kara and Spencer. The kids let go of their mother's hand and raced to the nurses' station.
Shaking her head, Annie caught up to her children. "Sorry, Kirsten. They're excited to see you."
"That's okay." Kirsten greeted the youngsters with a hug. "Who are you here to see?"
"Ms. Cora," the children said in unison.
"We want her to get better, and Mommy says our visits will help." Kara scrunched up her little nose. "I hope Ms. Cora gets out of here soon."
"We all do." Kirsten turned her attention to Annie. "How are the wedding plans?"
Annie's face brightened. "Everything's falling into place. Just ten more days."
Kirsten came around the counter and gave Annie a hug. "I'm so happy for you and Ian."
"Thanks." Annie glanced down the hallway. "Guess we better get down to see Cora. Talk to you later."
Kirsten waved as the trio went down the hallway. Seeing Annie and her children made Kirsten long for the family she'd almost had. But she shouldn't dwell on what could have been. She had to concentrate on the here and now.
"Are you going with someone to Annie and Ian's wedding?" Jen asked when Kirsten returned to her computer.
Kirsten frowned. "That's another sore topic."
"Yes. Maybe we should work and not talk at all."
"But I can work and talk at the same time." Jen waved a hand over the computer keyboard. "You know the rest of the evening is usually pretty quiet. Besides, you can't leave me hanging like this."
Shaking her head, Kirsten looked straight ahead as she input some data. "No fair. You have a husband who's a built-in date for such occasions, so you don't have to worry about someone trying to find you an escort."
Kirsten released a harsh breath. "Yeah. Ever since I came back from Brazil, he's been pushing some guy at me. I think he's hoping I'll find someone here, so I won't go back."
Jen nodded. "I can understand that. Lauren's a college senior, and I'm hoping she finds a job close to home when she graduates. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a child in another country, where you could never see them. Look at it from your dad's point of view."
Kirsten shrugged. "I suppose. Family's important to me. That's why I came home as soon as I found out how sick Mom was, and I stayed even after she passed away because Dad needed me. But he needs to let me live my own life, and he needs to get on with his."
"I'm sure the loss of your mom still weighs on him."
"I know. It hasn't been easy for either of us." Kirsten stopped typing and looked at Jen. "His duties as director here at The Village keep him busy, and that's good. But the nights are hard for him. He didn't want me to move into my own place, but I think that's better for him, don't you?"
"Probably, but your dad still looks at you as his little girl. You're an adult, but you're also his child." Jen grabbed a folder from the end of the desk. "He wants the best for you."
"I know that, but I wanted to adopt those three children in Brazil. Now that won't happen." Kirsten fingered the beaded bracelet on her wrist—the one Luciana, Nathalia and Rafael had made for her right before she came back to the States.
"Do you think they'll lift the suspension of international adoptions?"
"Those children are lost to me. But I'm still trying to get a new visa in order to go back." Kirsten tried not to think of those sweet children, but the image of their smiles and dark brown eyes looking up at her wouldn't go away. Losing them was worse than the day she'd found out she could never have children of her own.
"What about trying to adopt children here?"
"Another thing my dad suggests when I mention going back to my missionary work, but it's not the same. The kids here at The Village have wonderful homes with house parents who love them. The children in Brazil are in crowded orphanages with an inadequate number of caregivers. And there are many more on the streets." Kirsten tried to shake away the sad memories. "I love my dad and want to be here for him, but he has to move on with his life. So do I. Going back to Brazil is my plan. That's what I want more than anything."
"Even though the kids in the children's homes here have a wonderful place to live, don't you think the ones who are eligible for adoption would want a special family of their own?"
Kirsten shook her head. "I only know the children I worked with in Brazil were destitute and neglected far too often."
"Do you ever think these things happened because God has another plan for your life?"
Kirsten didn't want to answer that question. "For the ten years I was in Brazil, I knew God wanted me there. I want to go back."
"Think of it this way. You're still helping—helping your dad and these seniors who need your gentle caring spirit in their lives."
"I'm not sure my spirit is so gentle." Kirsten tried to smile. "Tracking down wayward grandsons and shoveling pills at senior citizens isn't exactly what I'd hoped to be doing with my life."
Forcing herself not to dwell on Jen's assessment of the situation, Kirsten grabbed some more charts and prayed for an uneventful evening. Were Jen and her dad right? Should she think about adopting children here? If she did that, how could she ever go back to Brazil? Why wouldn't God want her to return to Brazil as a missionary nurse? What better plan could He have for her?
After Kirsten finished her paperwork, she got up and checked the medication cart, then turned to Jen. "I've got a few meds to deliver, and I'll have to give Cora the bad news."
Jen shook her head. "I hope the unresponsiveness of her grandson doesn't affect Cora's recovery."
"Me, too. I hate giving her distressing news." Kirsten headed down the hall.
As she delivered the medications to her elderly patients, she willed herself to get rid of her negative attitude toward Cora's grandson. It would do Cora no good.
Four doors down the hall Kirsten came to Cora's room. The door was slightly ajar. A television blared with the local news.
Kirsten peered through the small opening. While Cora's roommate watched the television, Cora appeared to be sleeping. Not wanting to disturb her, Kirsten backed away, but she caught sight of a man with a scruffy appearance sitting in the chair at the foot of Cora's bed.
Who was he, and what was he doing there while Cora slept? Kirsten's radar for trouble zoomed into action.
Brady sat on the chair at the foot of his grandmother's bed and glanced around the room. What would he find here at The Village of Hope? His grandmother had come to live here after she'd had a slight stroke about four years ago. He'd prayed this place was a good home for her.
At the time, he'd been in the army over in Afghanistan. There had been no chance to get home to see her. He shouldn't use that as an excuse because even when he'd been stateside, he'd never taken the opportunity to spend time with the person who'd saved him from foster care. He'd never appreciated that until now. He should've come to see her rather than calling her a few times a year.
Guilt for the years he'd stayed away consumed his thoughts. The time had come to make amends—to renew his relationship with the one person on this earth who actually cared about him. She looked so frail lying there, her gnarled fingers resting on top of the blanket. What had happened to the robust woman of his childhood?
Was she okay? Her eyes were still closed and she didn't move a muscle, but the steady rise and fall of her chest eased his mind. Her glasses and her well-worn Bible lay on the table next to the bed. She used to read that Bible every day and had gone to church every Sunday. He'd disregarded her faith—even mocked it. He was sorry about that, too.
So many of the decisions he'd made had been made with only a thought to his own life. Could he break that pattern? It might not be easy, but the time had come for him to think about someone besides himself.
Brady's stomach rumbled, and he glanced out the window at the tall pines interspersed with oaks and maples with leaves that held a hint of fall color. He wished he'd stopped to eat, but he'd wanted to get here before the place closed to visitors. Did they have a cafeteria where he could get supper, or a vending machine? If he went searching, he might run into the disagreeable nurse who had left far too many messages on his voice mail. Shaking his head, he smiled at his ridiculous thoughts. Why was he afraid to face this unknown woman of the numerous phone calls?
He was done hiding out in his grandmother's room. He would march out there and let the nurse know he was here. Brady Hewitt—soldier, oil-rig worker, commercial fisherman and all-around good guy. That last part was a stretch, but he was working on the good-guy stuff.
Pushing out of the chair, Brady looked toward the door. A nurse stood in the doorway. Their gazes met. Her chocolate-brown eyes held him captive, and he couldn't look away. He fought to keep his mouth from dropping open. Did this attractive woman belong to the impersonal voice he'd heard over and over on his phone? Maybe she wasn't the nurse who'd called. He could hope. He hated to think that such a pretty face served as a facade for those unpleasant messages.
"Sir, may I speak with you out here in the hall?" The nurse motioned with her hand.
Nodding, Brady sauntered across the room to the door. He couldn't mistake the voice. The frosty tones on his phone's voice-mail messages belonged to the attractive nurse. He followed the nurse, whose dark hair was pulled into a knot at the back of her head. "What can I do for you, ma'am?"
Although she wasn't short, she had to look up at him. "Do you mind telling me why you're in this room?"
"Cora Barton is my grandmother. Is there a problem?" He feigned an innocent expression along with a smile as he rubbed his stubble-covered chin.
His height advantage didn't intimidate her as her dark eyes seemed to bore into his soul. She frowned. "So you're Brady Hewitt. I've been trying to reach you for days. Make that weeks. Why didn't you tell us when you arrived? Why didn't you answer my calls?"
"So you're Kirsten Bailey. Nice to meet you, too." He broadened his smile into a grin. Could he make her smile? She was the beauty and the beast rolled into one. Prickly and pretty all at the same time. Or maybe she was the beauty, and he was the beast. His disheveled looks might put him in that category. Was she going to chastise him? "Yes, I'm Brady Hewitt, and I arrived a few minutes ago. I know you've been trying to reach me."
"At least you could've told us you were coming, so I wouldn't have kept calling."
He'd lived on the edge for most of his life. He liked a challenge, and he could sense she was going to be one. "You know after listening to dozens of your messages, I figured I wasn't really interested in talking to you. But now that I'm here I'll let you know what I think."
"And what would that be?" Kirsten gave him a defiant look.
She wasn't backing down, and he liked that. But he wasn't going to back down, either. "You need to work on your bedside manner, Kirsten. Is it okay if I call you Kirsten?"
Blinking, she opened her mouth as if she was going to say something, then closed it without uttering a word. She stared at him as if she couldn't believe what he'd said. Okay, then. She obviously didn't have a sense of humor, either. Now what?
They stood there staring at each other until Kirsten finally blinked. "We have rules here, very strict rules about people coming and going."
Brady gave her a lazy grin. "Ma'am, I apologize if I broke your rules, but my name was on the list at the guardhouse at the main entrance, and the lady at the front door here had my name, as well. She buzzed me right in."
"But didn't she tell you to check at the nurses' station for Cora's room number?"
"She did, but on my way in, I met, ah... Annie was her name. She had two cute kids with her. The little girl was quite talkative and said they'd been visiting my grandmother. They gave me her room number and directions to get here." Brady could tell by Kirsten's expression she didn't have a response for his explanation. He took some pleasure in knowing he had her tongue-tied. "So you see I had no reason to check at the nurse's station."
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