A Mother's Love - By Dawn Stewardson


NOT FAR FROM Guatemala City’s main plaza, the taxi turned down a narrow street, then stopped in front of a tired old colonial building.

Her hands trembling a little, Natalie paid the driver and climbed out. As he pulled away, she stood gazing at the words carved in stone above the doorway. Orfanato de las Hermanas de Socorro.

Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Where her baby had spent the past four months. Being cared for by strangers.

She closed her eyes, not wanting to think about all the nights she’d lain awake in her hospital bed, the ache to hold Benjamin worse than any of the pains from her injuries.

But that was over. Now she was well enough to take him home, to what was left of the town of Villa Rosa, and start rebuilding their lives.

Lives without Carlos.

Blinking back the tears suddenly stinging her eyes, she told herself she was lucky she hadn’t lost both her husband and her son in the earthquake. And lucky she’d survived.

If there’d been no plane to transport the critically injured to the capital city, she wouldn’t be alive today.

She was, though. And she was about to reclaim her son.

Brushing her hair back from her face, she started toward the front door, her excitement tinged with a trace of apprehension that she simply hadn’t been able to shake.

From the first moment she’d been lucid enough to understand what people were saying, they’d assured her Benjamin was fine, that he’d escaped with only cuts and scrapes.

Even so, she wouldn’t entirely believe it until she saw for herself. Until she held him and hugged him. Smelled his sweet baby smell and felt the soft smoothness of his skin.

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped into the orphanage. It reminded her of the ancient grade school she’d attended as a child—a worn slate floor at its entrance and, beyond that, a broad staircase consisting of half a dozen stone stairs.

In reality, of course, she was light-years away from her childhood in Michigan. She was a doctor practicing in a foreign country where people, for the most part, spoke only Spanish.

At first, that had caused her problems. But once her college Spanish had improved to reasonable fluency she’d been okay.

Her heart beating quickly, she headed up the stairs and across the hallway to what was obviously the administration area.

A young nun, wearing a long-sleeved brown dress that hung almost to her sturdy shoes, was working at the counter. She looked up as Natalie approached. “¿Puedo ayudarle?”

“Hola. Me llamo Doctora Natalie Lawson. Y tengo una cita con la madre superiora.”

The young woman nodded, then turned and started in the direction of an office.

Natalie nervously licked her lips. Yesterday, when she’d phoned, she’d spoken personally to the mother superior, Madre María-Teresa—who’d been thrilled at an opportunity to practice her English. And she’d assured her that all the paperwork would be ready when she arrived. So in no time at all, Benjamin would be in her arms.

She waited, trying not to watch the clock on the wall ticking away the minutes, until an older nun finally walked out of the office and approached her, her gray habit swishing quietly with each step.

“Doctora Lawson,” she said, smiling. “Much pleasure to meet you.”

“And I’m very glad to meet you. I can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done.”

Acknowledging the gratitude with a slight nod, the mother superior said, “One of the sisters bring Benjamin. You will sign the forms.”

“Fine.” She followed along into the office, her legs feeling only a little rubbery, and wrote her name on each line indicated with an X.

Just as she finished, there was a tap on the open door and another nun stepped into the office, a baby in her arms.

“Here he is,” the mother superior murmured.

At first, Natalie couldn’t move. She’d been waiting so long for this moment that it seemed like a dream.

It wasn’t, though. Her son was mere feet from her. She took a deep breath, then pushed herself out of her chair, crossed the room and reached for him—her heart so full of love it was threatening to overwhelm her. But then...

This baby wasn’t Benjamin.

The realization struck with a cold, dark sense of certainty. Aside from anything else, her son had a birthmark on the left side of his neck. This child didn’t.

Telling herself not to panic, that the sister had merely brought the wrong baby from his crib, she turned to Mother María-Teresa and said, “This isn’t my son.”

The woman gave an understanding smile, rose