Operation Baby Rescue Online - Beth Cornelison

Prologue

“Push!”

Elise Norris squeezed her eyes shut, gritted her teeth and pushed through the contraction that wrenched her belly in an excruciating vise grip.

The nurse at her side held her hand and wiped perspiration from Elise’s brow. “You’re doing great! Almost there…”

“Now breathe. Catch your breath. I think the next one should do it.” Dr. Arrimand peered at her over his mask and gave a confident nod.

As the pain eased, Elise rolled her head to the side to gaze at the ultrasound image of her daughter that was taped to the bed rail. The photo, which she’d carried in her wallet for weeks, had been her focal point throughout the delivery. In fact, her daughter had been her focal point for the past nine months. Longer than that. She’d been planning for, saving money for and praying for this day for years.

With a trembling finger, she traced the lines of the fuzzy picture she’d memorized in the past several weeks and smiled. Raising a child alone would be difficult. She had no illusions otherwise. But Elise had known she wanted to be a mother, wanted to raise a family, since she’d been a little girl herself. When she’d celebrated her thirtieth birthday without a husband with whom she could share the joys of parenthood, she’d researched sperm banks and set about finding the perfect donor to father her baby.

“It’s okay, Gracie,” she whispered to the ultrasound picture. “We’ll be fine. You and me. We’ll be a t-team.” The last word of her pledge caught in her throat as another powerful spasm of pain ripped through her. Building quickly to a crescendo, the contraction stole her breath.

“This is it. Keep pushing!” Dr. Arrimand coached.

She clenched her teeth and concentrated on bringing her daughter into the world. All her physical strength and love were focused on the task. Minutes later, the nurse laid a pink-faced bundle in her arms.

Elise gazed into her daughter’s eyes and fell instantly in love. The bond was powerful, emotional, solid. Her daughter. Her flesh and blood. Her dream come true.

With one finger she traced Gracie’s nose and lips. “Hi, sweetheart. I’m your mommy. Oh, you’re beautiful.” She smoothed her daughter’s tiny eyebrows and kissed her sweet forehead. A thin layer of hair the same shade of golden blond as Elise’s crowned Grace’s head, and she saw her own blue eyes reflected in her baby’s cerulean gaze. “You’re perfect. I love you.”

Elise tugged on the pink blanket the nurse had swaddled Gracie in and freed her daughter’s right arm. She lifted Grace’s hand and studied the tiny fingers, perfect fingernails, delicate skin. “So sweet and little…”

Not wanting Grace to get chilled, Elise pulled the blanket back around her daughter and noticed a small red pear-shaped birthmark on Grace’s right shoulder. “Angel kissed,” she whispered to Grace. “That’s what my mom said about my brother’s birthmark.”

A pang of regret stung her heart. Had she lived, what would her mother have thought about her granddaughter, her namesake?

At her side, the nurse fumbled with the tubes of her IV.

“What’s that?” she asked, spotting the syringe in the nurse’s hand.

“This will help with the pain so you can rest.” She injected a clear solution into the port and smiled. “Just another minute, Mom, then I need to take the baby to be checked thoroughly by the staff pediatrician.”

Already the drug she’d been given made Elise woozy. She frowned. She hadn’t asked for pain medicine. She wanted to be alert, savoring every detail of the experience. “I don’t want to sleep. I want to be with my baby, to bond…”

She heard her speech slur slightly as her eyelids drooped.

“We’ll bring her to your room later to breastfeed.” The nurse scooped Grace from Elise’s arms, and Elise felt a pang in her heart.

“Not yet. Give me…just another…minute.” But Elise could barely keep her eyes open. She forced herself to stay awake long enough to watch the nurse whisk Grace through the door to the next room. As she disappeared from Elise’s line of sight, her daughter gave a mewling cry.

Gracie…

Elise fought off the fog of sleep and blinked her surroundings into focus. The patient room at the small-town hospital was not lavishly furnished but was comfortable and painted a cheerful pale yellow. With a sigh she thought of the state-of-the-art hospital in Lagniappe, Louisiana, where she’d planned to give birth.

With her due date still three weeks away, she’d believed she’d be fine driving to the weekend crafts fair in the rural community forty-five minutes from her