The amnesiac patient in the makeshift Amazon hospital looks familiar to visiting American nurse Amy Graham. This isn't the first time she's seen those blue-gray eyes, the hard lines of his handsome face. When Amy sees his birthmark, she knows exactly who he is: Micah McKnight, the presumed-dead Navy SEAL. Her best friend's brother. The man her own mother set up to die. Amy can't bear to tell him the dangerous truth about his hidden past. But her secrets are about to explode, because now someone is after them both.
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August 11, 2008
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Excerpt from River of Secrets by Lynette Eason
"We need help, Amy."
Amy Graham remembered the director of the Amazon or-phanage's words. Ever since her mother had been arrested and sent to prison, Amy had felt as if she were foundering, seeking God's plan for a life that been flung off course. So she'd told Anna Freeman that she'd be glad to come to Brazil to put her RN training to work.
Now she was here, in Tefe, Brazil, not only to help nurse some sick people back to health, but to find family she'd just learned may exist. Excitement warred with fear of the unknown. What would they be like? Would they be interested in meeting her? She shivered, praying God would lead her, show her the direction to take with her search.
She looked around her and grabbed a stethoscope from the wall next to her. In the meantime, she'd do her best to help these poor, suffering people recover.
The sparse medical staff busied themselves rushing from one patient to another. A low moan sounded to her right. She stepped around the curtain and saw a man thrashing and kicking his covers on the cot.
Quickly, she moved next to him and grabbed the cloth from the water bowl that had been placed on the little stand next to the bed. Wishing the liquid was cooler, she worked with what she had and placed the rag on his forehead, watching his eyes twitch under his lids.
Obviously dreaming, his head tossed back and forth as he muttered under his breath. Amy slid the cloth over the scars that began on the left side of his face, covered his ear, then inched down the side of his neck to disappear into the collar of his shirt. Compassion filled her. He'd been in a serious fire.
Amy jumped, her heart pounding, and scrambled backward. The patient's eyes remained clenched tightly against whatever tormented him; he continued to mutter unintelligibly.
She slid back to his side, shook his shoulder and tried to soothe him. "Hey, it's okay, wake up." Amy knew as long as his fever stayed this high, he wouldn't understand a word she said. Trembling, he quivered with the effort to fight the illness. She grabbed his chart to see when he'd last been given medication. Four hours ago. His name was Juan.
"Is everything all right?"
Amy looked up to see the woman whose call had brought her here. Anna, looking concerned, peered around the curtain.
Amy nodded. "He's having a nightmare." She gestured with the chart. "His fever's back up and he needs more meds. It's been a little over four hours."
Weariness oozing from her like a living thing, Anna took the chart, looked at it and made a notation. "Let me get something from one of the nurses. All the medicine is kept on a rolling medicine cart and is labeled if you need to get something. But I'll go ahead and get his for you. Be right back." A moment later, she returned with a filled syringe. Some of the really bad cases, such as Juan, had IVs.
Inserting the needle in the IV port, Anna said, "I'm not a nurse, but I've been trained to give injections in this emergency situation, just in case you were wondering." She nodded to the patient. "Juan is special. Why don't you stick with him as much as possible? When he's sleeping peacefully, you can work with some of the children. But I think it would really help him to have someone here."
Amy looked back at the poor man. "What's so special about him?"
"He's an amnesiac. The most we could figure out is that he survived some horrific fire, got conked on the head, woke up from an eleven-month coma and can't remember a thing about himself."
Amy gasped. "That's awful."
"No kidding. The whole time he was in the coma, Dr. Bennett, our mission doctor, worked with him tirelessly. Physical therapy, daily massages, turning him almost hourly so he wouldn't get bedsores. He became the staff's special project. Dr. Bennett even found someone to cover for him at the mission and moved into the hospital for the duration. A plastic surgeon buddy from the U.S. flew in to do some skin grafts. Thankfully, the burns on his face weren't as bad as originally believed, so the grafts were mostly successful. The scars will continue to fade with time, although they'll never be completely gone. His torso took the brunt of the burns. When he finally woke up, Juan had to learn how to walk again, feed himself, toilet himself. Everything. Daily, he went through a strenuous workout regimen with weights. I've never seen anyone so determined to get better. It's absolutely amazing he's come this far in a year and a half. In fact, they've posted more flyers around the town asking if anyone recognizes him now. He looks a lot different than he did a year ago."
"Juan--John? As in John Doe? And you don't know where he's from?"
"No. We know he's an American simply because of his accent. But he speaks perfect Portuguese. He actually woke up speaking that and didn't realize he could speak English until one day an American tourist was in the bed next to him. Lucas walked in on them carrying on a conversation in English."
"Why didn't they fly him back to America if they knew he was American?"
"Where would they fly him to? America's a pretty big country. Lucas figured if he kept him here, someone might come looking for him."
"So, how did he end up in the hospital?"
"He just showed up on the doorstep one day as close to death as you can get without actually dying. Someone had to have helped him get there, but obviously wanted to remain anonymous. Lucas answered the knock on the door, found him and immediately got to work on him. If it wasn't for Lucas..."
A scruffy, red-tinged beard covered most of the lower part of Juan's face, the part that could still grow hair. There were a few bald patches. She wondered what color his eyes were. "How long has he been this sick?"
"Almost three days. The dengue-fever outbreak hit him hard. It doesn't help that his lungs were weak to begin with. He had inhaled a lot of smoke from the fire and was on oxygen for a long time. Now this upper-respiratory thing. Lucas said his breathing's okay right now, but if he gets worse, we'll have to put him on oxygen. In addition, he often has awful nightmares. They plague him, but he can't remember what they are when he wakes up. I wish we had a good psychiatrist that could help him, but out here, there's really not anyone. Dr. Bennett offered to fly one in for him, but Juan refused." Anna sighed, folded her papers to stick into the pocket of her white lab coat. "I'll be back. I've got to check on the little ones."
Amy grabbed the wet cloth once again. The medication seemed to be working; he was calmer, resting better, although he still frowned in his sleep. Dipping the cloth, she wrung it out as she studied his face.
He looked familiar, yet she knew she'd never seen him before. She swiped the rag across his forehead, down his scarred left arm to his hand. No ring, not even a line across his finger. Raised welts, healed burns, crisscrossed the back of his hand. She turned it over. His palm was free of scars, but calloused from hard work. She ran the cloth back up to his neck over features that shouted strength, determination and stubbornness. Those traits had obviously served him well, kept him alive. Now she would do what she could to make him comfortable and pray for his healing.