When his wife dies in childbirth, Zambia conservationist Simon Hartley pours his life into raising his daughter and his orphan elephants. He has no time, or desire, to fall in love again. Or so he thinks.
Wanting to escape English society and postpone an arranged marriage, Lady Abigail Chadwick heads to Africa for a year to teach the children of the Good Shepherd Orphanage. Upon her arrival she is left stranded at Livingstone airport…until a reluctant Simon comes to her rescue.
Now only fears born of his loss, and secrets of the life she’s tried to leave behind, can stonewall their romance, budding in the heart of Africa.
On the banks of the mighty Zambezi that grief-filled morning, Simon Hartley buried not only his wife—he buried his faith, as well.
As Simon’s workers lowered the wooden box into the earth, ululating rose into the surrounding air from the gathered crowd, louder and louder, like the roar of the great waters of Mosi-oa-Tunya—the Smoke that Thunders.
The tiny form cocooned in a soft pink blanket squirmed in his arms, quickly making her distress known. Either the wailing mourners had woken the sleeping babe, or hunger, for she knew nothing of what went on around her, couldn’t feel the pain of loss for the mother who’d given her own life in exchange for that of her unborn child.
Simon eased the covering open and gazed inside. “Shh,” he whispered as he rocked his daughter in his arms, stilling her cries. An ache filled his heart. His daughter. She was so beautiful, so perfect.
Jaw clenched, Simon fixed his eyes on the gaping earth at his feet as the simple coffin sank deeper into the earth. He hugged the fragile bundle closer to his chest. Could the act ease the pain that clawed like a wounded animal trapped inside him? How was it possible to experience opposite emotions at the same time? Joy. Sorrow. Like oil and water, they didn’t mix. But here they were, thrown together by the unexpected turn of events that changed what was to be the happiest day of his life, to the saddest. And yet...
He pulled his gaze away and focused on the waters ahead. In the distance, mist from the falls turned the sky a lighter shade of blue. This was fitting. Chloe had loved this spot. She’d sit here in the shade beneath the giant sycamore fig for hours reading, pausing between pages to listen to the faint roar of the Victoria Falls. Often she’d set her book aside and gaze down the river, marveling at the haze that rose from where the falls plunged to the ravine below. “Heaven on earth,” she’d said.
Placing the pacifier back in the baby’s mouth, Simon bowed his head and kissed her cheek. Images of the day his wife found out she was pregnant filled his mind. Chloe had been beside herself. They’d waited six long years.
“Let’s give her a local name,” she’d suggested when they discovered the nursery would be painted pink. “I love the Zambian name Nataizya.”
“I love it, too.” Afraid of what the name could mean, he ventured to ask.
“It means ‘I am thankful.’” Chloe’s smile reached across her face. “We should give her a second name. What about Grace? God has shown us His favor with this child. Nataizya Grace Hartley. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?”
“It’s a good second name, darling, but—”
Simon pinched his eyes at the memory of the moment they’d chosen their daughter’s name. And the kiss from Chloe that followed, silencing his uncertainty. Never again would he know a love like hers. She’d followed him into the heart of Africa so he could pursue his passion—all because she loved him—and it had been the death of her.
“What about naming her after you? Chloe is such a beautiful name.”
She’d wrinkled her nose and laughed. “So is Simon.”
“Ah, but we’re not expecting a boy.”
“If we were, would you have named your son after you?”
“Well then, maybe we can talk about her second name once she’s born.”
Burying his face in the blanket, Simon breathed deep of the familiar scent. Even though the smell of baby fabric softener had filled their home for weeks as Chloe prepared for their new arrival, the fragrance of his beloved still clung to this one blanket she’d held close in the days before going into labor. She’d bring it to her cheek, running her fingers over its softness as she nestled in Simon’s arms. “I can’t wait to meet our little Nataizya.”
Raising his eyes, Simon gazed across the waters again, lost in the memories.
He would never wash this blanket. Never.
As the workers’ cries subsided, trumpeting sounded from behind. Simon turned to see the young elephants lined up along the fence of their encampment, trunks raised in the air, heralding their own grief, crying for their matriarch. Orphaned again. Chloe had a way with them—how could she ever be replaced? In their world, or in his?
The baby’s eyelids flickered. A frown formed across her forehead as she squinted at the wintery African sun. The pacifier wiggled with each sucking movement. He’d have to feed her. Soon as the grave was filled.
“Hey, little Nataizya Chloe Hartley.”
I honored your wish, my darling, as best I could. We were never given a chance to discuss that second name. So I made a choice. The name Chloe will never be forgotten in the Hartley household.
If it wasn’t for the express desire of his wife, Chloe would have been his daughter’s first name. Verdant and blooming—a beautiful meaning to a beautiful name. Everything their baby was. A tiny bud, waiting to blossom.
Verdant. Blooming. Everything his wife had been. Everything she no longer was.
Simon swallowed hard as he shook his head, the enormity of it all syphoning his very breath. There is no life in death. For years he’d believed there was, but with Chloe’s death, his beliefs changed. Simon could no longer place his faith in a God of mercy and love. How could he when that same God would allow a young mother to die as she kissed her newborn with her last breath? The same newborn she’d waited years to conceive, never doubting that her prayers would be answered.
How could this be love?
How could this be grace?
About The Author
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MARION UECKERMANN's passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles and stories in Winners, The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven, and her debut novella, Helsinki Sunrise (White Rose Publishing, a Pelican Book Group imprint, Passport to Romance series). Her second Passport to Romance novella, Oslo Overtures, and her first Indie novella, Orphaned Hearts (Book 1 in her Heart of Africa Romance series), both release mid-2015. Marion loves writing romances set in novel places. She lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.
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