Heart of the Family [Secure]
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by Margaret Daley
Description: A Christmas Conundrum.... Women, Dr. Jacob Hartman knew, were a mystery. Take the first time he met social worker Hannah Smith at the Stone Refuge home for foster children. The woman stared him down as if he'd come at her with castor oil. Why? His past was full of heavy-duty heartache, but he was positive they'd never met. And as a former foster child himself, Jacob was deeply touched by how much she cared about the kids at the home, how loving she was--to everyone but him. Which was where, he figured, the mistletoe came in!
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/Steeple Hill,
eBookwise Release Date: December 2007
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [320 KB]
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The child's name on the chart held Jacob Hartman's gaze riveted. Andy Morgan. The eight-year-old from Stone's Refuge had possibly another broken bone. Flashes of the last time the boy had been in his office, only a few weeks before, paraded across his mind.
With a sigh, Jacob entered the room to find the boy perched on the edge of the exam table, his face contorted in pain as he held his left arm, in a makeshift sling, close to his body. A woman Jacob wasn't familiar with stood to the side murmuring soothing words to Andy. She turned toward Jacob, worry etched into her face—and something else he couldn't decipher. Her mouth pinched into a frown that quickly evolved into an unreadable expression.
Jacob shook off the coolness emanating from the young woman. "Hi, Andy. Remember me? I'm Dr. Jacob," he said, using the name the children at the refuge knew him by. "How did you hurt your arm?" He gently removed the sling made from an old T-shirt and took the injured, swollen limb into his hands.
When he probed the forearm, Andy winced and tried to draw it back. "I fell." The child's lower lip trembled, and he dug his teeth into it.
"He was climbing the elm tree next to the barn and fell out of it." When Jacob glanced toward her, taking in the concern in the woman's dark blue gaze, she continued in a tense voice that had a soft Southern lilt. "I'm the new manager at Stone's Refuge. Hannah Smith. I was told when there was a medical problem to bring the children to you. This is only my second day, and no one else was around. The other kids are at school. Andy was supposed to be there, too. I—" she offered him a brief smile that didn't reach her eyes "—I talk too much when I'm upset."
No doubt the tension he felt coming from the refuge's new manager was due to Andy's accident. "I take care of the children's medical needs." Jacob buzzed for his nurse. "Andy, can you do this for me?" He demonstrated flexing and extending his wrist and fingers.
With his forehead scrunched, the boy did, but pain flitted across his features. He tried to mask it, but Jacob knew what the child was going through. He'd experienced a few broken bones in his own childhood and remembered trying to put up a brave front. He learned to do that well. Jacob unlocked a cabinet and removed a bottle of ibuprofen.
He handed the boy the pain pills and a glass of water. "Why weren't you at school?" Children like Andy were the reason he had become a pediatrician, but he hadn't quite conquered the feelings generated when he was confronted with child abuse.
The boy dropped his head, cradling his arm against his chest. "I told the other kids I was going back to the cottage because I didn't feel good. I hid instead. I don't like school. I want to go home."
"Just as soon as I get a picture of your arm and we get it fixed up, you can go home."
Andy's head snapped up, his eyes bright. "I can? Really?"
Hannah Smith stepped closer and placed a hand on the child's shoulder. Apprehension marked her stiff actions. "Back home to the refuge."
"No! I want to go home." Tears welled up in Andy's brown eyes, and one slid down his thin face.
"Andy, you can't. I'm sorry." Calmness underscored her words as tiny creases lined her forehead. Her concern and caring attitude accentuated her beauty.
Having realized his mistake, Jacob started to respond when the door opened and the nurse appeared. "Teresa, Andy's visiting us again. We need an X-ray of his left arm."
"Hello, Andy. What did you do to your arm?" Teresa, a petite older woman with a huge, reassuring smile, helped the child down from the table. "I bet you remember where our prize box is. Once we get the X-ray done, I'll let you check it out."
"Sure. If I remember correctly, you were also eyeing that red car the last time. It's still there."
"It is?" Andy hurried out of the room, still holding his arm across his chest.
The refuge's manager started to follow the pair. Jacob blocked her path and closed the door. Frowning, she immediately backed up against the exam table.
"I'd like a word with you, Ms. Smith. Teresa will take care of Andy. He knows her. She spent quite a bit of time with him several weeks ago."
Her dark blue gaze fixed on him, narrowing slightly. "I haven't had a chance to read all the children's files yet. What happened the last time he was here?"
Obviously she was upset that something like this occurred on her watch. But beneath her professional demeanor, tension vibrated that Jacob suddenly sensed went beyond what had occurred to Andy. "His mother brought him in with a nasty head wound, and I called social services. Her story didn't check out. Thankfully he was placed quickly at Stone's Refuge."
"I was in the middle of reading the children's files when the school called to find out why he wasn't there. I found Andy lying on the ground hugging his arm and trying his best not to cry, but his face had dry tear marks on it." She pushed her long blond hair behind her ears and blew a breath of air out that lifted her bangs. "When I approached him, he tried to act like nothing was wrong."
"Sadly, Andy is used to holding his pain in. I took several X-rays last time because he was limping and discovered he'd broken his ankle and it was never set properly. He probably will always limp because of the way his bone healed without medical attention."
Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Daley.