MIRACLE OF LOVE
By Victoria Chancellor
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Copyright 1996/2003 by Victoria Chancellor Huffstutler. This book was originally published by
Dorchester Publishing/Love Spell. It is now available as an e-book exclusively from
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October 8, 1896
Erina O'Shea pushed open one of the tall, heavy wooden doors of St. Mary's Cathedral, just enough to see that the church was empty. Near midnight, the priests and Bishop Gallagher were no doubt snug in bed, safe from the unseasonably cold wind that whipped off the gulf and across the island like the screech of a witch. Clutching her bundle close, she eased inside.
Neither the priests, nor the bishop, nor any mortal man could help her. Only God, if he chose . . .
Candles burned at the Blessed Virgin's altar, dancing long shadows up the wooden columns and across the many stained glass windows. But the light didn't reach all the way to the ornate wood and smooth plaster of the ceiling. The night seemed to press down on her, even inside this sacred place, as though she couldn't escape it's sheltering darkness.
She knelt at the back of the church, dipping her fingers into the holy water and quickly making the sign of the cross. Her breath came fast and shallow, or was it his breath, gasping in the night? She felt her heart hammering beneath her chest, pounding inside her head. As quickly as possible, she walked past the carved wooden pews to the front of the church, toward the only hope she could imagine.
Kneeling awkwardly with her bundle, she leaned briefly against the wide altar rail. The wood felt cool and smooth to her forehead. She wondered if she had a fever, or was the unnatural heat just a response to her fears?
After making the sign of the cross again, she lit a candle with a shaking hand and looked up into the eyes that seemed to blink and shimmer in the golden glow.
"Mary, Holy Mother," she whispered, "you are my only hope."
Beneath her breast, her bundle stirred weakly, then coughed. Erina looked down at the tiny, fragile body of her son.
"Hush now, Colin. I've come to pray for a miracle, and if the Blessed Virgin is listening, a miracle you shall have."
Even in the faint light, Colin's skin again looked blue. His eyes seemed heavy, although not with sleep. He was so weak, had been since his birth almost two months ago. The sisters at St. Mary's Infirmary had told her he probably wouldn't live. He'd been born a month early, a tiny baby who'd needed her love and care so desperately. The city physician wouldn't give her an authorization to admit Colin to the charity hospital because there was no hope. Inside his chest was a problem that no doctor or nurse could fix, since no one could operate on a beating heart.
She couldn't depend on the skills of man to save what God had made defective. No, she had to ask Mary for divine intervention. And even though Erina knew herself to be an unworthy sinner, perhaps the Blessed Virgin would intervene for the life of an innocent child.
With shaking hands, Erina placed her son on the altar rail, holding him steady with arms braced on either side of his body and hands clasped in prayer. As Colin breathed unsteadily and whimpered occasionally, she spoke aloud. "Holy Mother, you know what it is to lose your son. Please, save my baby. He's an innocent child, a victim of our sins, but innocent all the same. And you are my only hope."
She paused for a moment, watching Colin's nearly transparent, blue-veined lids close over his dark eyes. His tiny chest rose and fell with each breath. Two fists grasped his blanket, holding fast even in sleep. He was so perfect in every other way, such a bonny child--except for his heart. If only God would grant this wish and make him whole . . .
She looked up into the compassionate eyes of the statue, who seemed to stare back with calm assurance. "Please, Blessed Virgin, ask God to grant a miracle to save my son. Please, cause his heart to be healed. I ask this in the name of your son, who suffered as well, and as a mother who cannot bear to lose her own child."
Tears welled up in her eyes, but she blinked them away. She would stay on her knees all night and all day tomorrow if there was a chance of saving Colin. This was her only hope. The more he moved or cried, the worse his symptoms became. And he grew weaker every day.
Suddenly he began to cough, his little fists beating against his covers, his eyes squinted closed. Between his tears and the way he tried to draw his legs toward his chest, he could barely take a breath. Erina tried to comfort him, but he seemed past comfort or a mother's love. She wished she could somehow reach inside his chest and make his heart whole, but knew that was impossible. Not even a skilled surgeon could do that.
The skin around his mouth began to turn blue as Erina soothed him against her breast. She watched him grasp her finger with his little hand, as blue as his lips.
"Please, Holy Mother," she pleaded, tears falling down her cheeks, "grant a miracle. Save my son. Please, please. I love him so . . . She squeezed her own eyes shut, unable to continue, unable to watch the life gasp and wheeze from Colin's tiny body. When he was gone, she would be all alone. She couldn't face life without her child.
"Please," Erina said one more time, gazing into the serene features of the Virgin Mother. "A miracle . . ."
Suddenly all the candles at the altar seemed to flare to life at once, surrounding her in a light so white, she could no longer see. She clutched Colin tight, frightened even as she dared to hope. Had Mary granted her wish? Was this healing blaze her miracle?
As abruptly as the light began, it ended. Darkness cloaked her, or was it just the absence of the miraculous light? Erina's eyes searched for details of the altar, the statue of Mary, even the wall sconces at the back of the church. But nothing looked familiar.
In her arms, Colin wiggled, then began to cry. "Hush, my little darlin'," she crooned softly.
Slowly, Erina's eyes adjusted to the darkness. Strange shapes filled the room, with faint light from some unknown source providing soft illumination. Strange, tall draperies framed a huge window that stretched across one wall. Odd boxes with shiny, black fronts were stacked on shelves. The only furniture that looked familiar were a sofa and two chairs, and even they seemed oddly formed.
She was no longer in the church, that was certain. But where was she? What had happened to them in that bright light? Had Colin been cured?
At that moment he jerked, his arms pumping, his legs drawn up to his chest, and Erina felt more tears form. He wasn't cured. How could his tiny body endure this any longer? And she knew the answer; it couldn't. Despite her prayers, despite her hope for a miracle, and the white light, he was still gravely ill. A miracle had occurred, only not the one for which she had prayed.
"Oh, my baby," she said aloud, trying desperately to comfort him. But he was past a mother's comfort.
Suddenly the room was filled with golden light, not as bright as before. And Erina sensed another presence, even before she heard his harshly uttered words.
"Who in the hell are you?"
Grant jerked awake, not certain what had awakened him. He only knew something was wrong. Something besides the cold front that had arrived in Galveston shortly after him, very early Saturday morning.
He usually slept in the king size bed like a baby, with the balcony door in his bedroom ajar and the sound of the surf, twelve floors below, lulling him to sleep.
Not tonight. The wind had screeched like a banshee, swirling cold air into the bedroom. Was that what had awakened him?
No, it wasn't the wind. It was a baby! And then he heard indistinct murmur of a voice. It wasn't coming from outside, but in. Someone was in his living room!
Within a second, he was out of bed, pulling on jeans and grabbing his cordless phone. He wasn't sure if he was going to call the police or bash the intruder--not the baby--over the head with it.
And how in the hell did someone get into his condo? The building was locked at ten o'clock, and he'd activated his own security system before going to bed. The only open door was his balcony, and there was no way a person could get in that way--unless they were an experienced climber.
No one had walked through his bedroom. And only an idiot would bring a baby along to a break-in.
He took a deep breath and flicked on the overheads, flooding the living room with light. Standing between his couch and the dining table was a young woman--more of a teenager really--dressed in a long, gray dress, clutching a baby to her chest. Her eyes were wide, dark, and luminous, her face flushed, her appearance disheveled. She resembled a young Audrey Hepburn, with long, curly black hair spilling from an old-fashioned, hooded cloak.
"Who in the hell are you?" he asked.
"Erina O'Shea," she whispered, apparently as surprised to see him as he was to find her in his condo.
He felt her eyes flick across his naked chest and stomach like the tickle of a feather. As she took in his low-riding, unbuttoned jeans, her eyes widened even more. "You don't look like an angel," she said, her voice soft and tinged with an Irish accent.
"An angel?" He laughed sarcastically. "Hardly." His eyes narrowed and he remembered where he was--and that this young woman was trespassing in a seemingly secure condo. "What are you doing here and how did you get in?"
The bundle whimpered weakly, then cried a pitifully thin wail, interrupting her explanation.
"What's wrong with the baby?"
"He's very ill." Her voice and face revealed a wealth of confusion and fear. "I asked the Blessed Virgin for a miracle, and she sent me to you."
Grant blinked, unable to believe his ears or his eyes. A miracle? He was obviously having a major hallucination. He seriously doubted that any deity, especially the Catholic ones from his younger years, even remembered his address or cared for his whereabouts. He certainly hadn't frequented their houses in the last ten years or so, except to attend a few weddings and his father's funeral.
"Please, sir, I need your help. My child--"
"I don't know a thing about kids. I don't have nieces or nephews. Besides, I'm the last person you should approach for a miracle."
"But Mary sent me to you for help. I prayed to her, and then I was here, and I'm so afraid that Colin will . . ."
She obviously couldn't continue, breaking eye contact and bending her head over the child.
Placing the phone on the entertainment center, Grant walked toward her. She was small and frail in appearance, but her eyes burned with motherly love and something he hadn't seen in ages--faith.
When he neared, she shrank away. Ignoring her fears, he pushed aside the blanket covering the baby, and immediately felt a jolt of panic. He didn't know much about babies or children, but he was damned sure they weren't supposed to be blue.
"How long has he been like this?"
"He was born with a heart condition, but he's been worse lately. There's times when he turns so blue. Oh, please, sir. Please save my child."
Her pleas prodded him to action. "He needs to be in a hospital, not running around in this weather."
"The doctors at St. Mary's Infirmary told me they couldn't do a thing for him."
"St. Mary's Infirmary? What are you talking about? Why didn't you take him to UTMB, or Sealy, or a half dozen other places?"
"Never mind." Grant ran into his bedroom, pulled a sweatshirt over his head, and grabbed his jogging shoes. He pushed his feet into them as the young woman watched with wide eyes, still standing in the same spot.
"Come on," he said, reaching for her arm. "I can get him there faster than the paramedics can arrive up here."
"Move it," Grant said sternly. "You should have taken him yourself." He couldn't stand the thought of this little baby suffering because his mother wouldn't take him to the hospital. Instead, she'd dragged him out on a cold, blustery night to break into a condo.
He pulled her out the door and into the corridor, past the other doors and the bank of elevators that traveled to the lobby, then down the other hallway and into the garage elevator. He jammed his finger on the button and silently cursed each second that the doors remained closed.
Glancing at the baby again, he noticed the horrid color, the searching, deep blue eyes, and way the little tyke had drawn himself into a ball like a wounded animal. "I don't know how you managed to get inside my condo, but you should have expended your time and effort in getting your son to the hospital," he said harshly.
"I tried. The hospital said they couldn't save him," she replied, her voice ringing with distress. "I don't know what this place is. Where would we be goin'?"
"To UTMB. It's only a mile away."
At her baffled expression, he explained impatiently, "The University of Texas Medical Branch. UTMB."
"That's the place where they train doctors. I'd need a certificate from the city physician, he already told me Colin's case was hopeless."
Grant shook his head. he had no idea what she was talking about. "They'll treat him in the ER."
The baby whimpered again, but sounded weaker than the last time. Just then, the elevator doors eased open and Grant steered the woman inside.
"What is this . . . thing?"
What part of the world was she from that she'd never been in an elevator? Obviously Ireland, but they had tall buildings there, didn't they? Ignoring her frightened stance, he pushed the button for the garage. "Don't tell me you've never been in an elevator."
"I've heard of such."
"Who hasn't?" Damn. Why did elevators always travel twice as slow when he was in a hurry? He counted to nineteen before the elevator reached the bottom floor.
The young woman stumbled as he pulled her down the concrete service corridor toward the garage. "Here, let me take him," he offered, then wondered where that request had come from. How long had it been since he'd held a baby?
Years maybe. He remembered one company picnic when a baby had been shoved into his arms, kicking and squirming. this baby settled limply against Grant's chest. He felt something inside him leap to life as the slight weight of the baby rested trustingly against him, looking up with those dark blue eyes. Could they even focus yet? What did the boy see and feel--and know about his condition? Somehow, Grant knew he had to save this child . . .
"How old is he?" he asked as they reached the Cherokee.
"Nearly two months," she said breathlessly. "What is this?"
He looked at her over his shoulder as he unlocked the doors. "A Jeep. Get in and buckle up."
She stared at the vehicle as though it might bite.
"Get in, dammit. We don't have time for this."
"But where is the team? Shouldn't you hitch them first?"
He stopped himself from shaking some sense into her. "Are you nuts? Just get in the car. I'm trying to save your baby."
"I . . . of course," she said fearfully easing awkwardly into the front seat.
"Put your seat belt on."
"I don't know what you mean." She turned those wide eyes on him again. They appeared almost black in the faint light of the garage.
"Hell," he mumbled, juggling the baby with one arm while he reached for the seat belt and strapped her in, ignoring the feel of her petite body. Didn't she know how to do anything?
He thrust the baby into her hands. "Hold him. I don't have a car seat."
The baby was no longer crying, probably a bad sign, Grant thought as he jumped into the driver's seat and turned over the key. The engine leapt to life, causing a gasp from his passenger.
"Hold on," he said, slipping the gear into drive and gunning the engine.
They raced through the sparsely populated garage, up the ramp, and onto East Beach Drive before she could say another word. He wanted to know how the baby was doing, but knew he couldn't take his eyes off the road, not at this speed. Taking the turn at the end of East Beach way too fast, he felt two wheels leave the pavement as he steered south on Sea Wall Boulevard.
The woman screamed.
"What's your name again?" he asked, ignoring her unwanted commentary on his driving skills.
"Erina," she gasped. "Erina O'Shea."
"You probably don't know any more about emergency rooms than you do elevators and cars, do you?"
"No . . . no, I don't think so."
"Then let me do the talking. Just answer the doctor's questions about the baby--what's his name again?"
"Colin," Grant said, rolling the name off his tongue with a bit of the same Irish accent she used. He ran the red light at Ferry Road and cursed. He should have turned there.
Taking the next right, he careened down Harborside toward UTMB way too fast, but it was late, the streets deserted. He followed the red signs to the emergency room as Erina whimpered in the seat beside him and Colin remained way too quiet.
"Are you sure the Blessed Virgin wanted you to bring me here?"
The signs guided him in almost a U-turn and up toward the second floor entrance. He roared up a steep incline, passing the Care Flight helicopter on its pad, and pulled to a stop in a spot near the portico marked "ER Vehicles Only."
"I have no idea. All I know is that this kid needs help and this is the best place around."
"They'll save my baby?" she asked as he released her seat belt and grabbed the child from her arms.
"They'll do their best," he said, certain that they would. Galveston boasted some of the finest medical facilities in the country. He should know; one of the wings bore his family name. "Come on."
He heard her footsteps behind him as he ran toward the glass doors. Then he was inside, racing toward the triage desk with the unconscious blue baby held securely in his arms.
Erina followed the man into the strange building, with its lights that seemed to hide in the tall ceiling, yet illuminated everything so brightly. The smell was equally strange, unlike anything she'd sensed before. And the people! A few slumped in chairs made of painted metal and fabric, some walking around, wearing very plain white or blue clothing, cut in a style she'd never seen before. Doors led in different directions, some with neatly lettered signs and words she didn't understand.
"What might this place be?" she asked the man, grasping the soft fabric his shirt as he stopped beside a desk.
"UTMB Emergency Room," he said over his shoulder.
"But that's not right," she said, gasping for breath. "The University building is red brick with arched windows. Not this . . . place."
The man ignored her. "There's something wrong with his heart, or his lungs," he said firmly to the nurse behind the high desk. "He needs immediate attention."
"Have a seat."
"No. I think he's stopped breathing. He needs to be seen--now!"
The red-headed woman talked into some device. Perhaps it was a telephone, which Erina had heard about but never seen. Few people in Galveston had a telephone.
"How old is he?"
"Almost two months," Erina said, shifting her weight from side to side as she watched her son, lying in the arms of the tall man.
"How long has he had this condition?"
"Always. He was born that way."
"Was he a full term baby?"
"What are you askin' me?"
"Was he born at nine months?"
"No. Only eight months."
"And the delivery? Was it normal?"
"I . . . I suppose it was." In truth, she'd been too racked with pain to remember much of the blessed even. "Mrs. Abernathy delivered him."
The woman's head snapped up from her papers. "No doctor attended the birth?"
"No. I couldn't--"
She looked back down at the desk. "What previous treatment has he received?"
"Not a thing! The doctors were tellin' me there was nothin' they could do."
The woman looked up at her, frowning. Erina noticed that her red hair was cut very, very short, and she wore blue cosmetics on her eyelids.
"He has these . . . episodes. But saints preserve him, this one is the worst."
"Get him some help," the man said. "You can ask these questions later."
"We need background before we can perform any procedures."
"My God, he could die while you ask your questions!"
At that moment, some more people with uniforms burst through two doors and reached out for her son.
"No!" she cried, suddenly afraid that they weren't part of the miracle for which she'd prayed. What if they took Colin away, and she never saw him again?
The man handed her baby over without pause. She grabbed for him, her eyes awash with tears. "Colin!"
"Erina, calm down." She felt his hands on her arm, holding her fast. "They've got to take him to an examination room. And you've got to pull yourself together."
"I'm wantin' to go with him. Don't let them take Colin away!"
"They're only taking him inside to exam him. They'll need information from you, so you've got to calm down and answer the doctor's questions. Can you do that?"
She looked up at the man. He seemed so sincere, so certain. "I want to help my son," she whispered.
"Then go with him, but stay out of the way, and no hysterics. They need answers and you're the only one who can give them."
"He'll be in crash room one. We need these forms filled out," the woman behind the desk said. "What's the baby's name?"
"Colin," Erina said, glancing back at the swinging doors.
"I'll take care of this," the man said. "Go see your son."
Erina paused just a moment, afraid of these strange surroundings, but more afraid for her baby. She walked quickly toward the doorway where he'd been carried.
"Colin O'Shea," she heard the man say.
She stopped and turned around. "No. Colin Patrick Kirby," she said.
Dropping her gaze from the man's startled expression, she added softly, "His
father's name is Kirby." And then she turned back and hurried through the doors.
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