The Keepsake Sisters (Moonglow Cove #2) - Lori Wilde

Chapter One

Before

In her nightmares, the elderly midwife can’t escape her sins. Alzheimer’s has eroded her ability to read and recall details, but her dreams are as lucid and real as the night it happened. She’s a faded shell of who she used to be . . .

. . . until she sleeps. . . .

Slumber sends her sliding back to Moonglow Cove Memorial Hospital. Back to 1986. Back to the grave mistake that changed everything.

Gale force winds howl and lash the steel-reinforced brick building that was completely reconstructed after Hurricane Allen devastated the coastal town six years earlier.

As with most small towns, the hospital is the community nexus. It’s here where people are born and die, suffer and recover, linger and languish in a never-ending life-cycle drama.

The lights flicker and the windowpanes rattle. The staff hold their collective breath and recall that other hurricane. A full moon lurks beneath the layers of storm clouds, invisible but substantial. Scientists pooh-pooh the effects of lunar influences on the human psyche but ask anyone who works in health care or law enforcement and they’ll tell you that during a full moon, things get wild and weird and whatever can go wrong, will.

In the obstetrical department, nine women actively labor. Four of them are fully dilated and begging to push.

A dearth of nurses.

One called in sick, one got pulled to ICU, one had a car accident on the way to work and fights for her life in the emergency department. Leaving only the RN midwife and the shift supervisor to tend the toiling mothers.

The on-call doctor hasn’t yet arrived.

Relatives pop in and out of the ward. Expectant fathers, gowned and gloved, await the delivery of their offspring. Anxious grandmothers worry their purse straps and grandpas pace the floor with hands jammed into pockets. Siblings squabble. In-laws ask nosy questions.

Too many people.

Too much stress.

In a wide-open, ten-bay ward the groaning mothers labor with only drawn curtains separating each bed. This is a county hospital, not a state-of-the-art birthing center with private rooms.

One woman in the far corner is quieter than the rest. She pursues her sacred business with focus and intent, bringing her first child into the world. She is, at thirty-five, what medicine dubs a “geriatric” mother.

Her husband sits on a wheeled stool at her bedside, smoothing her hair with a damp washcloth, feeding her ice chips, and coaching her breathing. His name is Heathcliff Straus. He and his wife, Robin, have tried for over a decade to get pregnant. He’s thrilled and can’t wait to be a father.

Amid the hustle-bustle, the ward’s double doors fly open.

An orderly wheels in yet another screaming pregnant woman. Her eyes are wide, her hair electric, her face furious. She spews curse words.

Startled, Straus says a prayer of gratitude that he isn’t the man with the large black umbrella—still opened in his hand—trailing after the woman.

Bad luck, Straus muses, even though he’s not superstitious. Bad luck.

Umbrella man is not from Moonglow Cove, where everyone knows everyone else. Water drips off his expensive suit tailored to fit a hard, trim body. He wears a fedora, wing tips, and a pocket square as if he’s stepped from a 1930s mobster musical.

Straus thinks, Please close the umbrella.

As if reading his mind, Fedora snaps the umbrella closed, splattering water across the linoleum. A few errant drops hit Straus’s face.

“Get these brats out of me!” the woman screeches. “Now!”

Straus shakes his head. He knows the mother must be in great pain, but he can’t imagine his wife calling their precious child a brat under any circumstances. Robin loves children, and until she got pregnant with this baby, taught kindergarten at the elementary school near their home.

The midwife rushes to the newcomers.

Straus knows the midwife well. Her name is Winnie Newton and she’s a compassionate soul. He played football with her son, Paul. He and Paul were best friends until Paul died in a hunting accident their senior year of high school. Paul was Winnie’s only child and losing him devastated her. Since then she’s thrown her whole identity into her job of welcoming infants into the world.

Winnie gives Straus a tight smile and a half wave as she brushes past him to help the laboring woman from the wheelchair into the bed.

The new patient glances around and exclaims, “Good God, what a shithole! Thanks a million, Frank.”

“Sorry, honey, sorry,” Frank mumbles and bows his head.

Straus rolls as far from the couple as he can get while still clinging to Robin’s hand. Sweat beads her