Texas veterinarian Delaney Blair will do anything to find a bone marrow donor for her four-year-old son, Nickolas. The only likely match is his Argentinean father, Dario. But Dario and Delaney didn't part on good terms. In fact, he doesn't even know he has a son!
Delaney travels to Argentina to find him, and Dario, shocked, returns to Texas. It's not long before Nick and Dario become close. Not only that, Dario can't hide the feelings he has for Delaneyfeelings that have been there since they met. Dario's family doesn't want him to be with her. But now they have to see if the love between them is strong enough to keep them together.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Delaney Blair stood at the window in the hospital conference room. Lightning flashed as raindrops battered the glass. The summer storm sweeping through Lubbock matched her mood. Two of her son's doctors sat at the table she'd vacated. They'd been discussing Nicko-las's prognosis, and it wasn't good.
Neal Avery, the pediatric oncologist who'd cared for Nickolas throughout his first illness, interrupted her chaotic thoughts. "Delaney, we've explored every avenue available to Nick at the moment. There simply are no marrow donor matches in the national donor bank. Nor have any emerged from the collection drives you and your friends ran."
Delaney rubbed at goose bumps on her arms and hunched her shoulders against the harsh reality of Dr. Avery's words.
Konrad Von Claus, a visiting pediatric oncologist and immunologist, chimed in. "I've gone over all of Nickolas's records from the leukemia he fought when he was eighteen months old. Like Dr. Avery and the others who treated him, I found no reason to suspect his remission wouldn't last. Regrettably, patients who fall out of remission require more aggressive measures." Switching gears, he said, "It's a fact ethnic minorities have difficulties finding matches. One reason is due to migration. Blood markers are inherited. Some families don't migrate together. And many people are from blended cultures. What about Nickolas's father, Ms. Blair? I don't see anyone named Sanchez listed among the people from your area donor drive."
Delaney turned from the window. "Dario Sanchez isn't relevant, Dr. Von Claus. He isn't now, and never has been in Nick's life. Dario lives in Argentina."
The visiting physician locked eyes with Delaney. "Hmm. I'd say he was a very crucial part of your son's life once, wouldn't you? We must face facts," he said a little more gently. "Among ten million people signed up to be bone marrow donors, less than ten percent are Latino. To complicate matters, Argentines are often of European descent. Their bloodlines are Spanish or Italian, but some have a mix of English, German, mestizo or indigenous. That essentially means Nick's chance for finding a match outside his family is well below the norm. We already know that you're not a match. For Nick's sake, you should ask his father and family to be tested."
Mouth twisted to one side, Delaney shook her head until her red curls danced. "I haven't seen Dario in over five years. Nick is four and a half. " She broke off and said, "Dario doesn't know he has a son. We met when my father, rest his soul, bought eight bulls from Estancia Sanchez. To make a long story short, my father died suddenly, the bank foreclosed on our ranch and forced Dario's family to take back their very expensive bulls and the truth is he didn't care about me." Delaney's voice faltered again because the doctor didn't lower or soften his gaze. She threw up her hands. "You're right. This isn't about me or my feelings toward a man who promised to keep in touch but didn't. This is about saving Nick's life. I'd walk to hell and back for my son. I'll see if I can find a phone number for the estancia online."
Von Claus closed the medical chart and turned to his colleague. "You should go there and speak to Mr. Sanchez. Don't you agree, Neal? Facing someone makes it harder for them to decline. A phone call may make it too easy for a man you haven't spoken to in years, one unaware he's a dad, to simply cut you off."
Dr. Avery left his chair and took Delaney's icy hands. "Dr. Von Claus is right. Time isn't on our side. No man with half a backbone would refuse to help his own child. You need to see him and explain the whole problem. I know a trip will be costly, but I agree a physical meeting offers the best chance you and Nick have. You might also be able to obtain blood samples from his other relatives while you're there."
Delaney squared her shoulders. "The good people of La Mesa recently set up a fund for Nick and me. I could use that money to fly to Buenos Aires. But is it okay for me to leave Nick?"
Both doctors nodded. Neal Avery said, "Nickolas is here where he's getting the best care possible for his spiraling condition until a spot opens for him in Dr. Von Claus's study in San Antonio. We can arrange for Mr. Sanchez and his family to be tested at a hospital in Buenos Aires. Of course, if any of them are a match, that person will need to travel here for the harvest procedure."
"It makes no sense that I'm not the best match,"
Delaney said bitterly. "After all, I'm Nick's mother. It seems crazy to think strangers may provide what I can't. I carried him in my body for nine months." She fisted a hand against her belly for emphasis.
"I know," Dr. Avery sympathized.
"It is the best decision." Dr. Von Claus scooped up the thick folder. "It's good Dr. Avery suggested Nickolas for my study. There's much we have to learn about body cells relative to blood cancers. I've had cases where neither parent was a match, and yet we found a donor miles away with near perfect markers. If only storing a newborn's cord blood was a common practice, we wouldn't need this needle-in-a-haystack search."
"True. But who thinks when their baby is born, the picture of health, that any of this could happen? At the time, storing his cord blood seemed a needless expense. I hadn't built my practice yet, and I wasn't sure I could manage a baby and the long hours required to be a large animal veterinarian. Playing the if-only game won't make facing Nickolas's father easier."
"But you will go?"
"Yes," she said. The doctors said their goodbyes, and she turned back to stare out the window. Another flash of lightning cut jaggedly through an ugly sky. She stayed for an extra minute to settle her churning stomach before going to explain to Nick that she had to leave for a few days.
She finally headed to his room, trying not to worry about what she'd do if Dario refused to see heror talk to her. And he might. She had fallen passionately in love with the dark-eyed, dark-haired Argentinian the summer after she'd aced her board exams and had been free of school for the first time in years. Back then, everything had been brighter, happier as she'd arrived home a brand-new vet. Dario and his crew had been in town delivering bulls and trying to make other contacts in Texas. If he hadn't disappeared a few weeks before her father's untimely death, their relationship might have been more than an eventful summer fling.
Too bad she had let her heart get involved.
Oh, what good did it do now to plow up old ground? She couldn't erase Dario from her mind even if she wanted to. Obviously the same wasn't true for him. He'd promised to keep in touch, then didn't. She was reminded of him daily, every time she looked at Nick. She only hoped Dario remembered her. It could be a death sentence for Nickolas if she was that forgettable.
Shaking off the gloom, she tiptoed into Nick's room on the pediatric cancer ward. His roommate had been discharged. The boy had been older, about seven, but the kids had been friendly. Today Nick looked small and alone in the too-big sterile room filled with monitors and medical trappings.
Breathing deep, Delaney bent over him and finger-combed the mop of dark curls off his pale forehead. His long lashes swept up, and he reached for her hand. "Mommy, where've you been?"
"Talking to Dr. Avery. Did you have a good lunch?"
Nick nodded. "But when can I go home? You and Miz Irene cook better," he said, referring to his longtime babysitter. "Here they always bring me bouncy red Jell-O." He crinkled his nose in a manner that acutely reminded Delaney of his father.
After Dario's disappearance, she'd made the choice to carry on alone. She had vowed her child would be a Blair. But when her beautiful baby boy was born with more of Dayo's features than hers, she'd made Blair his middle name and put Dario Sanchez as his father on his birth certificate. Her son didn't deserve to grow up with a blank spot in place of a dad. And mercy, weren't those Dario's big dark eyes imploring her now as she sat in the chair and leaned over to kiss Nick's lightly freckled nose, one of the few features he shared with her?
"Listen, my little cowboy, Mommy has to go out of town for a few days. You have to stay here so Dr. Avery can chase away that old fever that's made you feel so yucky."
His eyes glazed with tears, and he gripped her hand more tightly. "I don't like being here alone. Will Josh be back?"
Delaney stroked his hand. "Josh went home. I'll ask Nurse Pam if you'll be getting a new roommate soon. Okay?"
"Maybe Miz Irene can come be here while you're gone, like she does at our house."
"I wish she could, Nick. Unfortunately this hospital is too far away, and Irene still has to take care of Sara Beth so her mom can work. Dr. Avery needs you here, because they have the best medicine to make you better."
"I don't feel better. I'm real tired." He yawned as if to prove it.
"You take a nap, then. I don't have to go anywhere yet."
"When I wake up can I play a game on your 'puter?"
"You bet." Delaney dug his favorite stuffed cow out from under his covers and tucked his arm around it.
The toy had been given to him by Zoey Bannerman, the teenage daughter of a rancher Delaney worked for. Zoey's dad and stepmom had been so supportive throughout this latest ordeal of Nick's. All of the ranchers and townspeople in and around La Mesa, Texas had. Two neighboring vets were taking caring of her clients. The only thing the community hadn't been able to do was round up a bone marrow donor for Nick. And they'd tried.
She noticed his eyes had drifted closed and his fingers relaxed their hold on hers. She leaned back in the chair where she'd spent far too many hours. Firing up her laptop, she searched online for Estancia Sanchez. She hadn't visited their site in a while. Her palms began to sweat. Before, she'd been too busy making a living and building a home for her and Nick to spy on Darioand that's what it felt like. Then their lives had been turned upside down when, at age one and a half, Nick had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Living with dread, she'd juggled her work around doctor visits and treatments. The day Nick had been pronounced in remission gave the entire community reason to celebrate. And their lives were good until a few months ago when his fevers and unexplained leg aches had come back with a vengeance.
Delaney wasn't surprised to see a huge array of bulls on the Sanchez website. Bulls were, after all, the family business. The family sold them for stud and as trained bucking animals for rodeos. Her father, once head of the Southern Area Cattlemen's Association, had become a rodeo stockman. Some of his friends claimed he'd done so because of the prolonged droughtone of many things he hadn't bothered to discuss with her.
Wiping away tears, she scrolled through the website. The Spanish-style Sanchez compound looked beautiful. According to the information, the owner was Arturo Sanchez and his sons Vicente, Dario and Lorenzo. So Dario hadn't left the family business, although there was no indication how recently the website had been updated.
Closing the browser tab showing an image of grass-covered knolls dotted with grazing bulls, Delaney moved on to book a round-trip airline ticket leaving Texas the next morning. She also booked a moderately priced hotel in Buenos Aires. The total put a serious amount on a credit card she saved for emergencies. But this was an emergency, she thought, her heart melting as she gazed at her sleeping son.
She'd closed her laptop when staff wheeled a new patient into Nick's room. Delaney spoke quietly with his mother. Henry Nakamura, nearer Nick's age, also needed marrow and had fewer possible matches in the national donor bank than did Nick. Delaney promised herself that when they got through this and Nickolas was on the mend, she would devote her spare time to educating people, especially those of mixed race, of the dire need to be tested, hopefully to improve the terrible statistics.
The next morning she stopped to see Nick before heading to the airport. Parting from him took a toll on her heart.
"We'll spend extra time with him while you're gone," Nick's favorite nurse assured Delaney. "You just concentrate on what you have to do to get our little cowboy a donor."
Tears clogged Delaney's throat. All she could do was nod and swallow hard during her final wave to Nick. Pulling herself together, she dredged up a smile. "I'll phone you every day," she managed to remind him, pointing to the prepaid cell phone she'd brought him.
His breakfast arrived. Luckily for Delaney, her last glimpse of him showed him chatting with Henry about food.
Delaney couldn't relax on the cab ride to the airport or after she checked in. She'd brought veterinary journals to read on the long journey, but once the plane took off, her mind kept wandering. She continually reworded what she would say to Dario when she saw him.
Over eleven hours later when the flight attendant told everyone to prepare for descent into Buenos Aires, a major worry suddenly hit Delaney: What if Dario was out of the country delivering bulls? Oh, why hadn't she phoned Dario? That had been her first inclination.
Dawn was breaking. She rented a small SUV and checked into her hotel. She had managed scant little sleep on the flight. And yet, because she was anxious to put the meeting behind her and get back to Nickolas, she decided to sponge off, change and drive straight to the estancia.
Though it was fall in Texas, it was spring here in Argentina, on the other side of the equator. Most of the clothes she had taken to Lubbock were for cooler weather. Pride, though, had her opting for the one sundress she'd packed. Grabbing a cardigan, she made a face at the drawn woman in the mirror. There was nothing she could do about the plethora of freckles she'd never liked, or the dark circles under her eyes.
Delaney stopped at the front desk to ask a clerk for directions to Estancia Sanchez. She had only the address from the website.
Taking out a map and pen, the clerk drew a line that meandered through the city and out into what looked to Delaney like countryside. "I didn't realize the ranch was so far from the hotel," she murmured.
"It's actually nearer San Rafael. Depending on traffic, you should reach the estate in a couple of hours. It's a beautiful drive. Estancia Sanchez is muy bonito. The owners are well respected," the clerk said.
"Oh, do you know the family?" Delaney asked.
"I know of them. Many people mourned a few years ago when the patriarch was badly injured in a car accident that killed his wife. His second wife," she added after glancing around and lowering her voice.
Delaney blanched. "I oh, I had no idea."
The clerk broke off speaking as she reached for a phone that had started ringing.