Susan Elizabeth Lovell accompanies Sister Sarah Ann, her beloved cousin, to the Amazon jungle. Circumstances prod Susan to venture to Dr. Leon’s compound in Sister Sarah’s place. Alarm jangles every nerve when she realizes that most of the time she’s to assist Father Matthew Rapheal. His medical expertise is amazing. She’s a good nurse, but definitely not a nun. What if she does something to mortify her beloved cousin? What if Father Rapheal discovers her true identity?
Dr. Leon shows up on occaision and proves he’s an overbearing tyrant. He dumps the majority of his responsibility onto the priest. Mystery surrounds the compound. When a vivacious woman appears to meet with Dr. Leon, suspicion explodes within Susan.
Diamond smugglers invade the area. An Indian is murdered. Where’s Dr. Leon? Is he in with the criminals? An audacious stunt puts Susan in grave danger. Why do the smugglers insist that she knows the clue to the rendezvous point?
Forbidden love blossoms between Susan and Father Rapheal. What if he uncovers her guarded secret? Her heart aches, then she discovers that he has a secret, too.
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1000 WORD EXCERPT
Susan tried to swallow a lump in her throat as she hugged her look-alike cousin, Sister Sarah Ann. Turning slowly, the nun headed for the boat, the sides of her head covering hiding the sadness in her expression.
“Wait!” a man called. He raced forward. “I’ve just received clearance for Susan Elizabeth Lovell to enter Amazonas.”
“Why was there so much difficulty?” Sister Sarah asked.
The man frowned. “There’s been a problem with a smuggling ring, and Lieutenant Devares is tightening security.” Peering at Susan, he shrugged. “Be careful.”
Susan’s excitement mounted as she accompanied Sarah onto the boat. On the lower level, pigs grunted, squealed and shoved each other; goats mingled noisily with llamas. Susan peered curiously at a huge turtle turned on its carapace, rendered helpless. On an upper deck, they found brightly colored hammocks stretched under a metal roof.
At the rail, Susan looked at the black water of the Negro River. Was her excitement all caused by her quest for adventure and intrigue, or was apprehension sneaking in around the edges? The boat pulled away from the dock and headed downstream.
When they reached the Amazon, the boat veered east and headed downriver toward the mouth of the Madeira. Sarah, an nostalgic expression in her eyes, joined Susan at the rail.
“During my first trip to South America, Dad explained that the Amazon was the largest river in the world.”
“Isn’t the Mississippi-Missouri the longest?”
“The Amazon carry’s more water. I’ll never forget the anticipation and joy on Dad’s face.” She smiled. “It just seemed like a lot of muddy water to me.”
“That’s my impression.” Peering over the rail, Susan watched two dolphins playing. Then intrigued, she stared at the edge of the river, amazed at the numerous varieties of palms and ferns. A red ruffed fruit crow landed in one of the trees in a banana swamp. Her attention was drawn to a huge tree floating downstream.
“Large sections of land sometimes give way at the water’s edge.” Sarah pointed to a floating grass island. “That’s called a matuda.”
The two-story boat took them up the Madeira River, then up a tributary to a settlement. They boarded a flat-bottom boat that took them farther into the rain forest. Massive vines twisted through tall trees, and the undergrowth looked like a huge monster with myriads of leafy tentacles.
“I’m thankful we don’t have to fight through that tangled mess,” Susan murmured.
“The jungle is wonderful. I adore every leaf and flower.” Sister Sarah’s face had an angelic glow. “And I love the Indians who live here.”
The pungent scent of jungle rot shrouded Susan, and moist heat sapped her strength, but encouraged by her cousin’s devotion to her calling, she smiled.
“Oh, Susan, this is a different and exciting world, one with challenge and intrigue. And it’s filled with opportunities to be of service.”
“Doesn’t this remoteness frighten you?”
“No.” She laughed softly. “Dad said that the lure of danger and mystery was intoxicating. Each time he began a project, he was invigorated anew.”
Susan interpreted the nun’s loss. “Do you ever resent Uncle Sullivan’s premature death?”
“I miss Dad terribly, but he was where he wanted to be, doing what he desired to do. His research findings have been a tremendous aid to the Indians. I’m proud of him.” Misty eyed, she turned away, apparently absorbed in memories.
At the next settlement, an obese man boarded. His white suit was a bit wrinkled, apparently from his weight and the humidity. He glanced around, a half-smoked cigar held precariously between his thick lips. Lumbering to the rail, he leaned his bulk against it.
Susan turned away. A slight breeze toyed with her curls, tossing them in disarray around her face. The enchanting sounds of the jungle created a mystic lure. The white-clad man moved closer, giving her an eerie feeling. Aware of his scrutiny, she shivered.
Removing the cigar from his mouth, he thumped the ashes into the river, then shoved the soggy end back between his puffy lips and intently surveyed Susan. His gray eyes chilled her. Trying to appear confident, she met his gaze, and realized their dislike was mutual.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?” He touched the curl that rested on her cheek.
She jerked away, partly from repulsion, partly from fear. To appear confident, she tilted her chin. “I’m on a pleasure cruise. And you?”
“Business.” Snorting, he twisted a huge diamond ring on his pudgy finger. “This is no place for sightseers. A cute little trinket like you could get hurt.” He raised a straggly eyebrow. “Are you sure you aren’t here on business, too?”
“If I am, it’s none of yours.”
He laughed, causing the tubes of excess flesh above his collar to tremble. “Feisty little kitten.” Turning, he waddled across the deck.
Susan was troubled when she realized the man was studying Sarah. The nun’s attention was fully on her prayer book, thus she was unaware of the man’s probing stare.
When Sarah glanced up, Susan smiled vibrantly to camouflage her apprehension. Her smile vanished when the man compared them with more than a little interest. The remarkable similarity of their features seemed to intrigue him, but more than curiosity shadowed his expression.
A rifle fired. Leaping to her feet, Sister Sarah glanced anxiously around. The man flung himself to the floor as a second shot resounded. Sister Sarah fainted and slumped to the deck like a rag doll.
“Poachers!” someone yelled.
An unharmed crocodile slid noiselessly into the water. Rushing to her cousin, Susan knelt beside her. The nun’s sweet face pressed against the splintering floor boards. Her complexion was pale, and her delicate hands lay limp by her sides.
A young Portuguese man, using smelling salts, failed to bring the nun to. Gently he turned her to her back.
Susan screamed as she stared in horror at the bloodstain that oozed across the front of Sister Sarah’s blue habit.