Jody covered her mouth with both hands.
“I’ve been held there ever since.”
“But how did you escape?”
“I didn’t,” Jeff explained. “I was freed. They dropped me off on a German street as if nothing had happened. The last two weeks I’ve been hospitalized and debriefed. From what I’ve been able to grasp this all has something to do with the breakup of the Soviet Union. There was a British man with an experience similar to mine who was released about the same time.”
“Why wasn’t I contacted right away?” Jody demanded.
“In the beginning I was too ill. Apparently the authorities communicated with my mother first. I learned that you’d divorced me.”
“I had to do that for financial reasons,” Jody told him. “It wasn’t what I wanted.”
A weak smile lit up his face.
“If you were well enough to travel, surely you could have made a phone call?” Jody wasn’t satisfied, not yet.
“All I knew was that the woman I’d loved had divorced me. I talked to my mother only once and she insisted I get home right away because you were about to marry another man.”
“Not anymore,” Timmy told him. “They’re only friends.”
Once again, Jeff looked greatly relieved. “The doctors wanted to keep me longer, but I couldn’t wait another minute. I had to reach you and talk to you face to face before it was too late.
“If getting out of Russia was miraculous, then finding an empty seat on a transatlantic flight was an even greater phenomenon. I was flying standby when some lady came running off the plane, claiming she was hearing voices over the headset that told her she shouldn’t be on this flight. The funny thing was, she insisted it was Jay Leno, speaking directly to her. Whatever her reason, I got her seat.”
“But you were dead. My father took your dental records with him to Germany and your remains were positively identified. We buried you. This isn’t possible, it just isn’t possible.”
“It wasn’t me, Jody. I don’t know why your father would do such a thing.”
“Oh, Daddy,” Jody whispered and briefly closed her eyes. “It was three years after you’d disappeared and I refused to give up hope. My life was in limbo. For financial reasons I’d had to divorce you. Your mother didn’t understand and I felt so incredibly guilty. Dad must have assumed that if we buried a body, I’d be able to put the past behind me and get on with my life.”
“Your father has a lot of explaining to do,” Jeff said without rancor.
“He died a little more than a year ago. Unexpectedly. I’d like to believe that if he’d known he only had a short time to live, he’d have told me the truth.”
“I believe he would.”
Jeff was more generous than he need be.
“Your mother was telling me the truth,” Jody whispered, remembering the calls she’d received from Gloria Potter.
“I don’t blame you for not believing her. I was terribly ill and hadn’t spoken to her myself. I want you to know that I love you, Jody. I’ve always loved you and Timmy. It was the memory of the two of you that got me through this hellish nightmare. I also realize a lot of things can change in eight years, and I won’t stand in the way of your happiness. All I ask is that you allow me to have contact with my son.”
“Mom and Glen aren’t engaged anymore,” Timmy explained excitedly. “He was in love with someone else and Mom’s still in love with you.”
Jeff’s eyes slowly sought out hers as if he were afraid to trust what he was hearing. “Is that true?”
She nodded. “I never stopped, not for an instant. I couldn’t breathe and not love you.”
Jeff held out his arms to her, Jody flew off the chair and inside a heartbeat was at his side. Jeff wrapped both Timmy and her in his embrace.
Tears rained down Jody’s cheeks as she spread soft kisses over Jeff’s face. The three of them were laughing and crying all at once.
“God answered my letter,” Timmy said excitedly. “He gave me back my very own dad.”
“A baby girl,” Leah repeated, afraid there’d been some misunderstanding. “We should have been contacted by the adoption agency before now.”
“Apparently the mother only made her decision yesterday afternoon. The crazy part is our daughter’s right here in this very hospital. She’s here, Leah. Here. Mrs. Burchell said she was born yesterday afternoon at Providence Hospital.”
According to the records Leah had been reading when Andrew arrived, there’d only been one girl delivered on December twenty-third and that had been the birth she’d assisted. Michelle Madison’s baby.
“Michelle,” she whispered, closing her eyes. The frightened young woman who was so alone and had clung to Leah. The one Leah had spent her entire shift coaching through labor and birth.
“Andrew,” she said, laughing and crying both at the same time. She took her husband by the hand. “Come, I’d like to introduce you to our daughter.” Trembling, she led her husband toward the nursery. She had him remove his jacket and put on a sterile blue gown and set him in the rocking chair. Then with her heart so full it felt as though it would burst wide open, she gently lifted the sleeping infant from her crib and tenderly placed her in Andrew’s arms.
“She’s so tiny,” her husband whispered, looking down on the plump pink face of their daughter.
“At eight pounds six ounces, her birth mother didn’t think so,” Leah said, smiling through her tears. “You two get acquainted and I’ll be right back.”
A look of panic came over Andrew. “Where are you going?”
“To talk to someone very special.”
“What if she cries?”
“One of the nurses will help you, but don’t look so worried. Everything will be all right.” Including the rest of Leah’s life.
Michelle was sitting up in bed when Leah came into the room. When she saw it was Leah, the young woman smiled and held out her hand, which Leah gripped. “Have you heard from the adoption agency yet?” Michelle asked.
Leah nodded. “My husband just told me.” Now that she was here, Leah’s heart was so full that she didn’t know if it was possible to find the words to thank Michelle.
“When I decided against the abortion, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Michelle started. “A friend suggested adoption and so I contacted New Life Adoption Agency. Their counselors were great, they didn’t pressure me one way or the other. I met with them several times and they listened. You see, I assumed that in order to give up my baby, I had to keep myself from loving her, and I couldn’t seem to make myself do that. In the beginning when Lonny left me, all the baby represented to me was heartache, and later as she started to grow and move, I discovered how very attached I was getting. I couldn’t help being curious about adoptive parents, though, and for the first time, just a few weeks ago, I read over several profiles. Your letter stood out in my mind.”
“Why?” Leah wanted to know. The letter had been written years earlier, and she couldn’t remember any of what she’d said.
“You wrote about being a delivery-room nurse and how you felt about helping young women through labor and birth. It seemed to me you must be someone very special. Then by some kind of fluke the birthing class I was attending toured Providence Hospital and we met you. Naturally I didn’t know your last name, but I remembered what you’d written. When I asked Jo Ann about you she told me you didn’t have any children yourself, I figured you must be the Leah whose letter I’d read.”
“That was why you chose to have your baby here at Providence Hospital?” Leah asked.
Michelle nodded. “It was pure chance that you could be with me. I still hadn’t decided if I could give my baby up for adoption. Then yesterday after she was born, you said something that helped me make up my mind.”
“I said something to help you decide?” Leah was incredulous.
Michelle nodded. “You told me I would be a good mother to my baby. I’m not giving her up because I don’t love her. It’s because I love her so very much that I can.
“Mrs. Burchell explained that you’d had one birth mother change her mind at the last minute. You needn’t worry, that won’t happen this time. I feel very strongly that God led me to you and your husband and you’re exactly the right couple for my baby.”
“How can I thank you?” Leah whispered through her tears.
“By loving her, guiding her through the years for me. When she’s older and has questions about me, tell her how God brought the two of us together, tell her that He handpicked her family for me.”
“I will,” Leah promised, rubbing the moisture from her cheek.
The two women hugged and after she’d dried her eyes Leah returned to the nursery. Andrew was gently rocking back and forth staring down at the face of his newborn daughter. One tiny fist was clenched around his index finger. The newborn was holding onto her daddy’s hand.
“It looks like the two of you are getting along nicely,” Leah commented.
“I still can’t believe she’s really our daughter,” Andrew said.
“I don’t have a single doubt she belongs to us,” Leah assured him.
“Have you decided on a name?”
“Yes,” Leah said, her response automatic. “Angel.” Some day she’d tell her husband and her daughter about seeing the special Christmas angel, but not now. The angel had been His sign to her, His confirmation. She would carry that very special gift with her through the years.
“Angel?” Andrew repeated slowly, glancing up. “But I thought you had three names already chosen and I don’t recall any of them being Angel.”
“It seems fitting to me. Do you object?”
“Angel Lundberg,” he said again as if testing it on his tongue. “It feels right. Angel Hannah Lundberg.”
“My turn to hold her,” Leah said.
Andrew stood and gently placed the sleeping baby in Leah’s arms. Angel arched her back and stretched, yawning before she nestled comfortably in Leah’s arms as if this were exactly where she was supposed to be. With that Angel Lundberg immediately returned to sleep.
“You’re willing to marry me?” Monica asked, unsure if she should trust what Chet was saying. “But why now?”
“Because I know you’re right. I’ll regret letting you go the rest of my life. I love you, Monica. I heard a voice telling me what a fool I was and if it wasn’t the booze speaking, then . . . hell, I didn’t think anyone up there cared about me.”
“I love you, Chet Costello. I can’t explain that voice, but whoever or whatever it was, I’m thanking God.”
He smiled and gently kissed her. “Next thing I know we’ll have a couple of kids and I’ll be a regular churchgoer.”
That sounded like heaven to Monica. “Would you kindly shut up and kiss me again?”