Second Chance Sweethearts (Love Inspired)

BOOK: Second Chance Sweethearts (Love Inspired)
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A Stormy Reunion

Nurse-midwife Gloria Rodriguez prides herself on her independence—but right now she needs help. There’s a hurricane approaching and she has one very pregnant patient on her hands. With so many people already evacuated, the only one Gloria can turn to is Rigo Vasquez, chief of the beach patrol in Port Provident. The man she holds responsible for the death of her husband. Rigo needs to make amends for his past mistakes, and Gloria’s desperate phone call opens the door to make things right with his first love. Rigo is honor-bound to keep her and her patient safe, but once the storm passes, will Gloria still need him?

“Vasquez.”

Although she hadn’t spoken to Rodrigo Vasquez in longer than she cared to remember, his short salutation made time stand still, and Gloria realized she knew his voice almost as well as she knew her own.

“Rigo, it’s Gloria. I need your help.” There was no time to catch up, which thankfully meant they wouldn’t have to discuss the night her husband died or why Rigo shut himself out of her life shortly thereafter.

“Gloria.” Rigo paused. “Wow, it’s been a while. What do you need?”

He didn’t hang up on her, so that was a start. Even though merely rediscovering his number in her contacts list made her shake with fear and memories, Gloria knew calling Rigo was the right move. She had to do whatever it took for the health and safety of her patient—even if it affected the safety of her heart.

Quickly, in her mind, she prayed he wouldn’t leave her all alone again, not at this moment when she needed official help so badly.

The writing bug bit
Kristen Ethridge
around the time she first held a pencil. She especially enjoys crafting stories of happily-ever-after combined with God’s love—the greatest happily-ever-after. A Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award finalist, she lives in Texas with her husband, children and a self-important poodle. She would love for you to visit her online at
kristenethridge.com
or on Facebook at
KristenEthridgeBooks
.

Books by Kristen Ethridge

Love Inspired

Saving Gracie

Second Chance Sweethearts

SECOND CHANCE
SWEETHEARTS

Kristen Ethridge

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you.

—Isaiah
43:1–2

I couldn’t have written a story about an above-and-beyond midwife if I hadn’t been blessed to have known four of the best. To Melanie Dossey, CNM, Katherine Grimes Read, CNM, Kathleen Mayorga, CNM, and Lisa Black, LM, CPM, thank you for being a part of the days my girls were born. I have nothing but wonderful memories of each of their births and it’s due in large part to your kindness, skill and trust in the process. I wish every mama could be in such caring, compassionate and knowledgeable hands during pregnancy and birth.

And to the first responders of Galveston, Texas, during Hurricane Ike, and my fellow residents who lived through Ike and then rebuilt our island even better than before, this book is for you. Thank you for being the greatest community of caring, generous people who discovered their own strength through adversity. Even though life’s path has taken me off the island now, I’ll always be proud to be B.O.I.

Chapter One

A
s a midwife, Gloria Garcia Rodriguez knew all too well how life could change in twenty-four hours, and today was no exception. By tomorrow, Hurricane Hope would be too close for comfort to Gloria’s island home.

On Monday, the Texas Gulf Coast looked in the clear.

On Tuesday, forecasters said the mass of clouds churning in the Gulf of Mexico had wobbled to the west.

And now, on Wednesday, the red line of the hurricane tracker drew a bull’s-eye for Port Provident, Texas. If everything stayed on track, it would be here soon. The swirl of violent weather was too close and moving too fast.

Gloria had tried by phone to reach Tanna DeLong, a midwifery client due to give birth any day now, but there’d been no answer.

With the hurricane bearing down on Provident Island, Gloria knew she wouldn’t be able to rest easy or evacuate herself until she’d ensured all her expectant moms were off the island and had a contingency plan in case they went into labor while evacuated.

Gloria easily reached the other two moms who were close to their due dates. Both planned to shelter with relatives in Houston, which was close enough for safety while traveling, but still far enough away to escape the brunt of the storm. There were plenty of hospitals nearby where either of those mothers-to-be could reasonably expect to be taken care of, should the need arise.

On the other hand, Tanna was younger—only nineteen—and didn’t have family to take care of her. She’d come to Port Provident six months ago after fleeing an abusive boyfriend in Georgia. Apartment L5 was technically leased to a friend who’d offered Tanna a couch to crash on. At her most recent checkup, though, Tanna shared with Gloria that her friend had been picked up by the Port Provident Police Department on a drug charge and hadn’t been home in two weeks.

Tanna was all alone, except for the baby in her belly. Gloria always felt responsible for the safety of the mothers in her care, but somehow she felt unusually protective of young Tanna.

Water was already lapping in the streets, so Gloria had decided to take her bike and stay up on the sidewalk as she made one final attempt, in person, to contact the last patient she had left in town.

Gloria locked her bike to the handrail of the narrow steps that led to the landing in front of apartment L5. As she walked up, she noticed the rust on the railing and the peeling green paint along the wall. The worn-out building depressed Gloria as much as the thought of the impending hurricane. How would a building that appeared to be on its last leg on a sunny day fare when a major storm pounded it? Gloria didn’t hold out much hope for the future of the small dilapidated apartment complex or the residents and possessions inside.

Gloria knocked at the door and waited for it to open, but it never did.

She knocked again, and the thin wood quivered a bit under the force of Gloria’s hand. The door opened slightly, the safety chain still connected at the top of the door. Tanna’s left eye was barely visible, but not much more.

“Gloria? What are you doing here?” The voice from behind the door sounded unsure.

“The hurricane is coming and I need to make sure you’re safe. All my other patients have evacuated. You’re the last pregnant mama on the island and we’ve got to get you out of here. Can you open the door?”

A warm breeze whipped up and slapped Gloria in the face, a small sign of what was to come.

“Get out of here? Where am I supposed to go? I don’t have anywhere to go.” She started to shut the door. Gloria quickly stuck her hand in and gripped the frame.

She reached up for the safety chain and poked it with a finger. “Undo this and let me in so we can talk, Tanna. We’ll figure out something, I promise.”

The crack in the door narrowed a bit. Gloria tried to figure out how she could wedge herself in the small space. She couldn’t let Tanna cut herself off like this, not with her first labor and a hurricane coming together on a collision course.

“Tanna, please. Don’t...” Gloria stuck her hand in the space and prayed Tanna wouldn’t slam the door shut on the now-vulnerable fingers.

A scraping noise came from just above Gloria’s head, and then the chain dropped free. The door opened just enough to allow Gloria a tight passage around her very pregnant patient.

“Oof. I’d really like to just go lay back down, Gloria. My back is killin’ me.”

“Your back? Upper or lower?” The door closed swiftly behind Gloria.

“Lower. Like right here.” Tanna pressed the top of her pelvis with her fingers. “I can’t get comfortable.”

Gloria had seen the start of labor more times than she could count. Normally, it didn’t faze her at all—it was just part of the whole process. But the average first-time mother in her care spent around fourteen hours in labor.

And according to the news reports, fourteen hours from now, Port Provident would be engulfed by Hurricane Hope.

Gloria took Tanna by the hand and led her to the couch. “Come on over here, Tanna. Let’s talk. Tell me more about how you’re feeling.”

The young mother-to-be moved a small cushion behind her back and sat down cautiously. Still holding her hand, Gloria sat next to her and asked a few questions about what Tanna was feeling and for how long.

Tanna’s water hadn’t broken yet, but after observing her and timing things, then doing a quick check of dilation, Gloria made a very certain diagnosis.

“Honey, those aren’t cramps. Those are contractions. You’re in labor. It’s still early and we have some time, but that’s a definite rhythmic and measurable pattern you’ve got going there. I’m getting you out of here.” Gloria reached in her purse for her cell phone.

“So we’re going to the clinic?” Tanna’s eyes darted, quick and catlike.

Gloria felt empathy for her. It was a lot to process.

Gloria did some processing of her own and furrowed her brow. “Well, no. The clinic is closed. It sits close to Gulfview Boulevard and Dr. Shipley was very concerned about flooding later.”

She’d come to Tanna’s on her bike, but clearly, Gloria would not be leaving on two wheels.

She thought about calling the paramedics, but this wasn’t an emergency. And it was far too early to take Tanna to the hospital. Women in this early of a stage of labor were sent home to wait and progress. Thanks to the imminent hurricane, she didn’t know what to do. But she knew she had to do something. Thankfully, she knew people who would know the best options. Maybe instead of going to Provident Medical Center, which would surely be understaffed tonight, someone could get them an escort off the island and she could get a hospital in Houston to admit Tanna a little earlier than usual, in light of the circumstances.

Gloria pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number she knew could bring help. It rang four times before going to voice mail.

“Tanna, go pack a small suitcase with whatever you need. We’re both going.”

She scrolled a little further through her contacts list.

Straight to voice mail.

Three more numbers, three more recorded messages.

Gloria was running out of numbers in her phone to call.

She scrolled through her list again. Maybe she’d overlooked someone.

Well, there was one more number she could call. She just hadn’t planned on ever calling it again. In fact, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t deleted it out of her phone two years ago.

Gloria’s fingers felt shaky as she connected the call. The phone stopped ringing and Gloria’s best hope for helping Tanna and her unborn child answered. “Vasquez.”

Although she hadn’t spoken to Rodrigo Vasquez in longer than she cared to remember, his short salutation made time stand still, and Gloria realized she knew his voice almost as well as she knew her own.

“Rigo, it’s Gloria. I need your help.” There was no time to catch up, which thankfully meant they wouldn’t have to discuss the night her husband died or why Rigo shut himself out of her life shortly thereafter.

“Gloria.” Rigo paused. “Wow, it’s been a while. What do you need?”

He didn’t hang up on her, so that was a start. Even though merely rediscovering his number in her contacts list made her shake with fear and memories, Gloria knew calling Rigo was the right move. She had to do whatever it took for the health and safety of her patient—even if it affected the safety of her heart. Quickly, in her mind, she prayed he wouldn’t leave her all alone again, not at this moment when she needed official help so badly.

“I need an escort off the island. I have a client in labor and I need to get her some place safe before the hurricane gets here.”

“I’m head of the Beach Patrol division now, Gloria, not back on regular patrol with Port Provident PD.”

“Your aunt told me that at church a few weeks ago. But no one else is answering their phones and I can’t call 9-1-1 for this, not with a hurricane on the way. I figure a first-time mom very early in the first stage of labor isn’t an emergency priority.”

“No, you’re right, it’s probably not. I was headed to check on a report of surfers on the east end—no one’s allowed in the water today. But I’ll radio Davis. He can go issue their citation and I can be to you in a few minutes. Where are you?”

“In the Gulf Air Apartments on Avenue R. Apartment L5.”

“On my way, Gloria—I’m close. Those apartments aren’t even safe. You shouldn’t be there to begin with. And they’re not going to make it through the hurricane unscathed. Those units are owned by a slumlord and have been falling apart for years.”

Through the phone, she heard the siren on Rigo’s truck begin to wail. “That’s why I called you.”

“Tanna?” Gloria called down the small hallway of the dingy apartment as she disconnected the call. “Are you ready? It’s time to go.”

* * *

In his years patrolling a beat around the streets of Port Provident, Rigo Vasquez had been through some of the island’s seediest crack houses, had shot criminals and had wound up with a few holes of his own, and ultimately watched as his best friend and patrol partner died.

But he’d never felt the slick, icy fear running through his veins like he did now, knowing Lieutenant Felipe Rodriguez’s widow waited on the other side of the door at the top of the stairs.

Rigo looked around the parking lot. Even as the new head of Port Provident’s Beach Patrol—a division of the police force that wasn’t just responsible for lifeguards and water safety, but also for keeping the island’s beaches safe and mischief-free—Rigo couldn’t keep from always assessing the scene. He was always on patrol. Rigo knew to trust his instincts, and he was thankful to have something small to keep his mind off what he was about to do.

He was about to face Gloria for the first time since the night his carelessness took everything away from her. Rigo knew he could never give her back her husband or her unborn child, and his gut squeezed tightly at the bitter memories.

But if he kept his focus and did his job, maybe he could get her out of here safely.

He owed that much to Felipe.

He owed that much to himself.

“Gloria! Open up.” He knocked on the door with his free hand, still gripping his weapon in the other.

Rigo felt his mouth go dry as he saw Gloria for the first time in almost seven hundred and thirty days. Not that he’d been counting. She’d changed, yet still looked completely the same.

Her hair used to come down to her shoulders, but now it fell in layers just past her chin. It seemed lighter, too, with more honey than mocha. But with the summer days just now beginning to fade away, Rigo figured those highlights were the work of hours spent with sun and sand, not in a salon.

Or maybe it was just the glow of the yellow bug light overhead. He didn’t want to think about it too much.

He looked past her into the small, dark apartment. Noticing her hair was okay, he figured, but Rigo didn’t want to see her eyes, didn’t want to remember all the tears. He wanted to get her and her patient to safety, tell himself it made up for the years of pain he’d caused and go back to his carefully orchestrated plan of quietly making amends while living separate lives on the small island.

“You ready?”

“Yes.” She let out a soft breath, like a feather floating away on the breeze. He wondered if she’d been holding it as she listened to his footsteps come up the stairs.

“Tanna? Come on, honey, we’ve got to go.” Gloria put her arm around a slightly built, very pregnant teenager. A scuffed-up suitcase rested at the girl’s feet. “Felipe will keep us safe.”

She’d called him Felipe.

He didn’t think anything could have hurt more than two years ago when the ER physician came out to tell him that his lifelong best friend, his partner on the force, was dead on arrival at the hospital. But now he knew he’d been wrong.

It was hearing Gloria call him Felipe.

It was hearing the love of his life calling for someone who’d been gone for years.

It was knowing that he couldn’t protect Felipe then, he couldn’t protect Gloria now and he couldn’t protect his heart ever.

“Rigo. I meant Rigo,” Gloria said as they stopped in front of his beach patrol truck. She looked up at him, then just as quickly looked away. “This hurricane has me distracted. Thank you for coming when I called.”

“Gloria, you know I’d do anything for you.”

She stared at him, unblinking.

“Really? So where have you been the last two years?”

She never missed a beat, and she was clearly still as direct as ever.

Rigo took a breath and stared into his cupped hands. He just wanted to get her and the young mother in his truck and get out of there, but he knew he owed her an answer that had already been put off for two years.

“A couple of steps behind, Gloria.”

“What? I had no idea what your answer would be, but I at least expected it to make sense.”

He promised himself a long time ago in a poorly lit, practically bare room that he wouldn’t run from his past anymore. He wanted to break that promise now. Badly. But he’d already broken too many promises where Gloria Garcia Rodriguez was concerned.

“I’ve been around, Gloria. I’ve just tried to stay out of your way since I’ve been back in town.”

BOOK: Second Chance Sweethearts (Love Inspired)
11.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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