Zach Reynolds pulled into one of the reserved parking spots at the hospital, slid the new beanie onto his head, and wrapped the bright red scarf around his neck before jumping out of the car. Living in Wisconsin was a daily reminder of why he liked California so much. The traffic might have been horrible, the property values inflated, and the crowds suffocating, but the weather felt like being in paradise three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year. So far, this Wisconsin winter wasn’t nearly as severe as a January in Chicago, but compared to California, Bonduel seemed positively frigid.
“Good morning, Dr. Reynolds.”
Stacey, one of the nurses at the hospital, strutted past him on the way to her car. Zach smiled to himself. He loved being called “doctor.” He’d waited for the title all his life, and now he deserved it. His dad would have been so proud.
Stacey slowed and trained her eyes on Zach, letting her hips sway in a wide arc as she passed. No doubt she did the hip thing for his benefit. If she had attempted that much swing in the hospital, she would have knocked over every cart, IV stand, and orderly unfortunate enough to be standing in her path.
“Hey, Stacey. Just get off?”
“No more night shifts this week. I’ll be sitting at home bored out of my mind if you want some company.”
Zach merely flashed a smile and looked away, as if he had somewhere very important he needed to be—which he did. Stacey was cute, a little forward, but cute. He just didn’t want to expend all that emotional energy on her.
He knew what his mother would say. Zach, you’ve got to save yourself for that one special girl. He shook his head. If only she knew. He was already beyond saving, in more ways than one. College could do that to a guy. What fraternity ever encouraged something as old fashioned as morals?
He still occasionally heard his pastor’s voice in his head whenever he contemplated doing something sinful. Sometimes, even now, his upbringing and what he used to believe got in the way of his life.
Even with Anna Helmuth’s beanie pulled tightly over his ears, he heard soft crying coming from somewhere behind him. He followed the direction of the sound around the corner of the building and discovered a little girl standing alone on the sidewalk that ran alongside the busy street behind the hospital. She couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. The tears trickled down her face, and she shivered violently with cold. A black scarf covered her head, and her chestnut hair was gathered into a bun at the base of her neck. She wore a thin black coat over a pastel yellow dress with long black socks and black tennis shoes. She must have been Amish. Normal kids didn’t dress like that.
The minute she caught sight of Zach, she began wailing in earnest. He was, after all, a stranger, a male, and a terrifying giant to someone so small. “It’s okay. It’s okay,” he said in the most calming voice he could muster.
Her screaming dropped a few decibels in volume. She still cried, but at least she hadn’t turned from him and bolted into the street. He’d hate to have to push her out of the way of a speeding bus. He’d rather not be run over this early in the morning.
He took three steps toward her. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to help. Are you lost?”
She didn’t answer, so he took a few more tentative steps. He didn’t want to terrify the poor thing. She was certainly frightened out of her wits already. Getting close enough to kneel next to her, he took the scarf from his neck and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was thick and extra long and would lend her a little warmth until he could coax her inside. He immediately felt icy dampness from the sidewalk seep through his pant leg. Since the recent snow, the sidewalks had been shoveled and salted but they were still plenty wet. He’d have a nice wet spot on his knee for the rest of the morning.
“Are you lost?” he asked again. “It’s cold out here.” He held out his hand. “Do you want to come inside? I’ll help you find your mommy.”
Zach didn’t know what he said, but the girl’s uncontrollable sobbing began again in earnest. He considered picking her up and carrying her into the hospital, but he’d probably be accused of kidnapping and sentenced to five years in prison.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. I just want to help. Let’s go inside and find your family. What’s your name?”
Her distress reached frequencies that only dogs would have been able to hear. It seemed there was no reasoning with her, which Zach hadn’t really expected from a four-year-old, but he felt at a complete loss for what to do next.
“Can I help?”
Zach turned to see a cute blonde coming toward him.
No, not cute. Stacey was cute. Smurfs were cute. This woman was a beauty. She seemed to glide across the parking lot, every movement a graceful dance. The very air around her seemed to shimmer.
Zach rubbed a hand across his eyes. He must be working too hard. The lack of sleep had made him a little stupid.
He looked again. Okay, no shimmering air. Just a woman. A woman who carried herself like a queen.
No, that wasn’t exactly right either. Queens tended to be divas. Zach had dated enough of them to know that this woman was no diva.
More like an angel.
Enter to win a copy of Huckleberry Hearts below.
Jennifer Beckstrand is the RITA nominated and award-winning author of the Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series. She loves writing about the plain Amish life and the antics of Anna and Felty Helmuth. She and her husband live in Utah and have four daughters and two sons.
Sign up here to be the first to get the exclusive Amish News delivered to your inbox monthly. New books, cover reveals, coupon codes, first-look excerpts and much more.