Authors: Leonie Knight
I am a good nurse, I love the children I care for, and that’s all that matters.
She repeated the affirmation in her head, but it did little to divert her attention from the unsettling whole-body warmth she was experiencing in response to Richard’s touch.
‘Are you all right? Have something to drink.’
Clearing her throat, she tried to restore her self-control. But Richard’s eyes were firmly fixed on hers, as if he had something important to say but was uncertain how to say it.
‘I’m fine now.’ She took a sip of the offered drink.
He put his carton of coffee down, ran long fingers through his mane of unruly hair and cleared his own throat. He finally spoke.
‘I guess it’s time to talk...about you and me.’
‘Yes,’ she whispered, and fixed her gaze firmly on the ground.
The idea for this book was born after one of my writing friends had her head shaved to raise both awareness and money for a very good cause—the Leukaemia Foundation. That set me thinking about one of the worst things imaginable that can happen to a parent in their lifetime—the loss of a child to cancer. Fortunately more than eighty-five per cent of children diagnosed with cancer survive their illness and go on to lead full, healthy adult lives. So there is light at the end of what can initially be seen to be a very long, dark tunnel.
My hero is a paediatric oncologist and my heroine an oncology nurse. The people I know who work in this field are a truly dedicated group, who always have a smile or an encouraging word to give, no matter what the circumstances, and I hope my characters reflect those amazing qualities.
I make no apologies for planting Richard and Joanna in a very painful place at the beginning of their story. The challenge is for them to come to terms with (but never forget) the tragic events of their past, and find happiness in their enduring love for each other.
Of course the journey is not easy for them, but there are lots of joyful moments along the way—a scenario that mimics many real-life journeys.
I hope you enjoy the story of Richard and Joanna, and gain a little insight into an area of medicine that isn’t always smooth sailing but that can be immensely satisfying.
Best wishes and happy reading
HOW TO SAVE A MARRIAGE IN A MILLION
Originally a city girl,
grew up in Perth, Western Australia. Several years ago, with her husband, two young sons and their Golden Retriever, she moved south to a small rural acreage located midway between dazzling white beaches and the magnificent jarrah forest of the Darling Scarp. Now her boys have grown and left home, and the demands of her day-job have lessened, she finds she has more time to devote to the things she loves—gardening, walking, cycling, reading, and of course writing. The fact that she spent most of her adult life working in first a suburban and then a rural general medical practice, combined with the inspiration she gets from her real-life hero, makes it only natural that the stories she writes are medical romances.
This is Leonie’s second book.
Why not check out her fantastic debut?
SUDDENLY SINGLE SOPHIE
I dedicate this book to all cancer patients, cancer survivors and their families. I also acknowledge the devoted and caring group of doctors and nurses who provide them with support, knowledge, hope and light through their journey towards the goal of recovery. They are truly an amazing group of people.
And to Claire, who had the courage and generosity to have her head shaved.
cradled her tiny newborn son in her arms. Just three days old and so beautiful…
Although the journey she’d travelled in the past twelve months had not exactly been a smooth one, it had been worth every moment of the anguish and uncertainty. The perfect, fragile, sleeping child she held more than made up for the shock of finding out she was pregnant at the age of nineteen, when her chances of conceiving and carrying a baby to full term had been so low.
The living, breathing evidence of her love for Richard compensated a million times over for the blackness of her mind-numbing fear when she’d begun to haemorrhage at thirty-five weeks. She’d suffered the physical and emotional pain of the emergency Caesarean section without complaint because the result was akin to a miracle. After the birth she’d been told by her obstetrician that her chance of unassisted conception was even less
than before her gorgeous little boy had arrived. That didn’t worry Joanna. She had everything she had ever dreamed of snuggled up against her breast.
And Richard had been there for her all the way.
She was truly blessed.
Hearing the familiar sound of soft-soled shoes on polished vinyl, Joanna glanced towards the door of her hospital room. And she wasn’t disappointed.
‘Hello, you,’ Richard said quietly before his gaze moved to settle on the baby…their baby.
, Samuel Benjamin. 2605 grams, 49cm. A precious son…’
The succinct words of the birth notice hardly did justice to the potpourri of emotions Joanna had felt—still felt—at bringing a new life into the world. It was a joy she thought she’d never experience.
Richard beamed, offering yet another extravagant bouquet of delicately scented yellow roses. He laid them, with the others, on the shelf above the compact desk. The room would be overflowing if she stayed in hospital much longer. He’d
brought flowers every day since the birth and the tally now stood at three bountiful bunches.
She smiled. ‘Hi,’ was all she managed to say before her husband’s lips covered hers and he delivered a kiss loaded with gentleness and joy. Sam’s eyes opened briefly when his father ran a tentative finger gently across his little forehead. He then promptly drifted back into a peaceful sleep.
Taking a step back, Richard released a long, satisfied sigh.
‘What was that for?’ Joanna asked.
He hesitated a moment as if he needed the time to collect his thoughts. His voice was husky when he replied.
‘You’re beautiful. You’ve given me the gift of a perfect child and I think, at this moment, I must be the luckiest man on earth.’
He sat on the side of her bed and reached for her hand, covering it with his own before he added, ‘And I love you, Joanna Howell…More than you can ever know.’
But she did know, had always known, and she knew that those simple words didn’t do justice to the feelings they had for each other.
Eleven years later
was Dr Richard Howell’s first day at Lady Lawler Children’s Hospital and a mix of excitement, anticipation and uncertainty churned in his stomach like cement in a fully loaded mixer.
It wasn’t anything to do with the job, though.
The inevitability of bumping into Joanna again after spending three years working away in the U.K. had unsettled his nerves and filled his mind with memories, not all of them pleasant.
He snapped closed the latch of his briefcase at the conclusion of the interdisciplinary meeting which was held every second Monday morning in the paediatric oncology department. He still felt jet-lagged—he’d only arrived back in Western Australia three days ago—but was sure it wouldn’t take long to get back into the swing of his hectic oncology consultancy.
‘Coming for lunch?’ James Francis, the paediatric surgeon, asked as they left the meeting room and headed for the lift. ‘The food in the doctors’ dining room isn’t exactly gourmet but it’s far superior to the canteen.’
‘Not today.’ Richard had seen a notice on the pin board of the ward reminding the staff of ‘Shave or Colour for Kids’ Cancer Day’. Although he wasn’t sponsoring anyone he’d planned to go down and watch, with the aim of giving the participants some encouragement and handing over a donation for a very worthy cause that was close to his heart. ‘And I think I’ll take the stairs. I need the exercise.’
‘Suit yourself.’ The surgeon’s voice faded as the door of the lift closed. Richard bounded down several steps at a time and took a right turn at the bottom.
He remembered the canteen from when he’d worked at Lady Lawler on his paediatric rotation as a resident. That had been thirteen years ago, before he’d met Joanna and six months before he’d received his specialist training position at the Stirling, the largest children’s hospital in the state. A year later he’d met and married Joanna
and she’d presented him with a beautiful son the following year. He’d thought his life was as perfect as it could ever be…until their world had been ripped apart. They’d decided to separate and he had taken up a posting in the U.K. Two years had turned into three and he’d extended his stay for the simple reason that he couldn’t face coming back—and seeing his wife again.
Yes, Joanna was still his wife, though they had been separated well past the official time necessary to apply for a divorce. Joanna had never pursued the matter, though, and he’d not had the desire or opportunity to remarry. So it hadn’t seemed important.
But now he was ready to lay the demons of his past to rest by somehow making up for his cruel abandonment of his wife after the heart-breaking death of their son. He wasn’t sure how he was going to do it and it had been a difficult decision to make. He was home and there was no turning back.
Richard glanced around the busy hall. There were a couple of familiar faces but no one he knew well enough to sit with. The canteen hadn’t changed. Same monotonous menu of sandwiches,
salad and a choice of a couple of hot dishes—usually a lukewarm pasta and one of an endless number of variations of chicken and rice. He chose sandwiches and juice and then made his way to one of the few empty tables on the far side of the room.
The ‘Shave and Colour’ was well under way on a makeshift stage near the exit. Members of the nursing staff seemed to be the main participants.
His attention moved to one of the nurses who sat with her back to them, submitting to a complete head shave. What struck him were her incredible tresses. Her hair wasn’t particularly long, but it was jet-black, thick and shiny.
This woman has guts, he thought. He couldn’t think of a more powerful or personal way to show how much she cared for the children she was sacrificing a truly stunning head of hair for.
Who was she?
Richard had a sudden need to know. He wanted to meet her and tell her how impressed he was with her courage. He was intrigued, and interested in her motivation.
A few minutes later the woman on the stage turned around, grinning, her skull as smooth as
a billiard ball. Her assured gaze flitted around the room as the canteen occupants clapped and cheered. She waved and smiled at people she obviously knew.
Then her eyes locked on his. The connection lasted only a few moments but it had a profound effect.
It was Joanna.
He hardly recognised her.
She’d always had long hair, braided or swinging halfway down her back. Every time she’d gone to the hairdresser, she’d come home with different-coloured highlights and he couldn’t believe he’d forgotten the magnificence of her natural hair colour.
And she’d gained weight. She wasn’t plump but had healthy, rounded curves and colour in her cheeks. She also exuded a self-assurance he’d not seen in her during the eight years they’d been together.
Her appearance now reminded him of how much Sam’s illness and tragic death had drained her. Now her trademark love of life had returned. He suspected she had managed to come to terms
with the painful memories, as well as rid herself of any feelings she had for her estranged husband.