A marriage in trouble. An accident on a snowy night. A husband facing death in the hospital – and a wife with life altering decisions to make. Would she make the right decision? Then again, would she even have to make one? If Pete died, her life would be altered without her doing a thing. She should just go home to be with the children. But…they'd been through so much together. Although not the place she'd choose to spend Christmas eve, she couldn't leave.
Now she sat, unwilling to leave Pete's side for what might be her last vigil beside him. At last she'd found a reason to leave him, and now she might not have to. What an awful thought, she told herself, brushing away fresh tears. How awful could a person be to wish someone—her own husband—would die?
The door opened again, sending in a draught of cold, antiseptic air, and Eve zipped her hoodie up to her chin, wiping her tears with her sleeve before the nurse could see her.
"Mrs. Martin?" A male voice inquired and she snapped her head around. In the doorway stood a good-looking man about her age, well-built, with golden-blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Dressed casually, he wore a rugby shirt and chinos. Not a doctor, but a hospital ID tag hung around his neck.
"Yes?" Standing, she brushed the wrinkles from her pajama pants. She was suddenly aware of the picture she made to this stranger—a thirty-year-old mother of three, in reasonable physique, sure, but not twenty anymore, in her faded cotton pj's, with no makeup and lank, dark hair pulled back in a rather messy ponytail. And the crowning glory, a jam-stain from little Emma's hug and kiss on her left thigh.
"I'm Gabe, the hospital chaplain." He stepped forward and extended his hand. "The nurses said you might like to talk." She shook the proffered hand—warm and dry, large and strong, yet gentle. A long-forgotten thrill coursed through her. It had been a long time since any man but Pete had touched her—and it had been quite awhile since he had.
A wave of sadness washed over her as she looked up into Gabe's eyes, and she was surprised to encounter an uncompromising mirror of empathy there. For a moment, she faltered, staring at him. She'd expected him to care only for the sake of his job—a chaplain had to care, right? But he was so unlike other men, even at first meeting—so unlike Pete, that she felt a sudden and powerful attraction to him. Ignoring the heat rising to her cheeks, she recovered her voice.
"Um, sure, I suppose it would be nice to have a listening ear." She gestured to the empty chair beside hers and sat. Gabe crossed in front of her, and Pete's unconscious form came into focus beyond him. What was she doing, moving in on another man right in front of her husband on his death bed? She swallowed the momentary qualm and pacified herself. She wasn't 'moving in' on anyone, she rationalized. Merely utilizing the man's professional services. After all, if one didn't need grief counseling when one's husband was in critical condition, then when?
"So, Mrs. Martin…"
"Eve," he amended, and smiled. "You must be overwhelmed at this point. The doctors inform me your husband's case could go either way—that only time will tell?"
Eve nodded, her throat constricting reflexively.
"I'm sure you've considered the contingencies, should…"
She nodded again. "A thousand possibilities a second," she said grimly, staring at the jumping green thread of Pete's heartbeat on the monitor.
"Then perhaps it might be better to dwell on something else...the past maybe?"
Eve choked on the bitter laugh that rose, and covered the lapse with a delicate cough and a sip of water.
"Tell me your story—how did you and Mr. Martin meet?"
Eve looked at Gabe in wide-eyed amazement for a long moment. She hadn't thought about that for a long time. How long had it been since they'd met...twelve years? But Gabe looked on, clearly awaiting her response, and she forced herself to meet the memory head-on.